VanVleet to Houston; many big names stay put as NBA free agency opens
Published 10:09 pm Friday, June 30, 2023
The Associated Press
Fred VanVleet bet on himself, and the Houston Rockets are the beneficiaries.
On an opening night of free agency where most big names — Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Kyle Kuzma and more — stayed put, VanVleet is headed to a new home. He agreed to a three-year deal Friday with the Rockets that’ll pay him about $130 million, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press.
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ESPN first reported the agreement between VanVleet and the Rockets.
VanVleet — who famously uses the phrase “bet on yourself” to describe his career trajectory from undrafted player to NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors — will make about $525,000 per game over the next three seasons.
That nearly matches what he made as a rookie in Toronto, total — about $550,000.
“Love seeing guys getting paid,” Boston star Jayson Tatum tweeted.
And a whole bunch of them did on Friday night — with more to come.
Irving and Luka Doncic are going to try again together in Dallas. Green is going to chase more championships with Stephen Curry in Golden State, just like Middleton is alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.
And Jerami Grant is staying put in Portland, for serious money. All those decisions came quickly Friday night as free agency in the NBA got off to its traditional fast and free-spending start — with roughly $1.5 billion in deals getting struck in about the first three hours alone.
Irving agreed to a three-year, $126 million deal to remain with the Mavericks, who acquired him in a splashy move in February but sputtered down the stretch and missed the playoffs. A person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed the agreement to The Associated Press, the deal taking quite possibly the biggest name in free agency off the board.
The Mavs had made clear that keeping Irving was their top priority — and got it done in the first hour of the NBA’s free agency window that opened at 6 p.m. EDT.
“DA11AS,” Irving tweeted, using his traditional jersey number in there.
Grant is getting $160 million over the next five years, part of a plan that Portland hopes keeps Damian Lillard happy enough to not ask for a trade. Grant is staying put, as is Kuzma in Washington and Cam Johnson in Brooklyn.
Kuzma essentially doubled his annual salary, agreeing to a $102 million, four-year deal with the Wizards. Green got a new contract that’ll pay him $100 million over four seasons with the Warriors. Both of those deals — first reported by ESPN and subsequently confirmed to AP by people with knowledge of the negotiations — got done very quickly once the offseason player movement window opened.
Kuzma had opted out of a contract that would have paid him $13 million in Washington this coming season; he’ll now average $25.5 million over the next four years after scoring 21.2 points per game this past season.
Green staying put keeps him alongside Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, where they have won four titles over the last decade. He opted out of a $27.6 million contract for this coming season, and now is under contract for more years.
Middleton also traded bigger salary in the short term for more years. He could have made $40 million this coming season; instead, he agreed to $102 million over three years to stay with Antetokounmpo and a Bucks team that’s only two years removed from an NBA championship.
Johnson — who flourished and averaged 16.6 points in 25 games with Brooklyn after getting traded there this past season — is getting a four-year, $108 million deal from the Nets, agent Steve Heumann of CAA confirmed to AP. New Orleans also saw one of its key players stay put; defensive standout Herb Jones agreed to a four-year, $54 million contract.
The reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets lost a free agent they wanted to keep, with Bruce Brown agreeing to sign with Indiana, a person with knowledge told AP, on a two-year deal that could be worth $45 million. There is an option affecting the second year.
There was simply nothing the Nuggets could do to compete with that offer — they could only offer Brown $7.8 million for this season. Brown will average nearly three times that much over the next two years.
The team that Denver beat for that title, the Miami Heat, also lost a key player from their club. Gabe Vincent agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal to join LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers — who went to the Western Conference finals before falling to the Nuggets. The Lakers also kept Rui Hachimura on a three-year deal worth about $50 million.
The Eastern Conference champion Heat are retaining Kevin Love — who quickly became a locker room leader after arriving in Miami — and brought back former Miami guard Josh Richardson. Love is getting $3.7 million this season; both he and Richardson have an option for 2024-25 as well.
Meanwhile, Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero has a new veteran with him in Orlando; Joe Ingles agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal to join the Magic. And Tre Jones will sign a two-year, $20 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs to play alongside No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, agent Kevin Bradbury said.
And once VanVleet picked Houston, the Raptors moved quickly and agreed with Dennis Schroder on a two-year, $26 million deal, according to his representation at Priority Sports.
Shortly before the 6 p.m. window opened, the NBA confirmed the financial particulars for the coming season.
The salary cap that goes into effect Saturday will be $136.021 million — the highest in league history, as expected. The tax level is $165.294 million.
All teams will have to commit at least $122.418 million in salaries for the coming year. The first apron level is $172.346 million, the second apron has been established at $182.794 million, the midlevel for non-tax teams is $12.405 million, for taxpayers it is $5 million, and the room mid-level is $7.723 million.
Most deals cannot be officially completed until July 6, when the league’s offseason moratorium is lifted.