The 2021-22 NBA season has come to a close, but the new league year is right around the corner. Players have already begun accepting player options for 2022-23, but plenty of big names are still mulling over their options. Restricted free agents can sign offer sheets as early as July 1, and some impactful Fantasy assets could be switching teams. We’ll go over seven of the most important names to watch ahead of the upcoming season here.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (player option)
Beal missed the back half of 2021-22 with a wrist injury and will be one of the most sought-after targets on the free-agency market if he opts out of his $37 million player option for 2022-23. The Washington Wizards guard remains one of the league’s elite scorers and has grown as a playmaker over the years. Beal’s mindset will likely determine his Fantasy value next season. If he simply wants a big payday, he can reject his option and see what fringe team is looking to give him the big bucks while he stuffs the stat sheet. However, opting in would make a blockbuster trade more realistic and help him join a more talented squad like the Boston Celtics. Beal will likely be a top five Fantasy shooting guard as long as he’s healthy, but I think opting out will do the most for his ceiling.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (unrestricted)
The Chicago Bulls threw everything they had into building a contender for the 2021-22 season, and LaVine thrived with the most talented group he’s ever played with. The dynamic combo guard was a top-eight player at his position in points leagues despite the addition of DeMar DeRozan, who averaged a team-high 27.9 points per and led the team in total assists. LaVine can surely replicate last year’s stats in the same situation, but he could ascend to another level should he decide to sign with a team with fewer high-level Fantasy assets. All signs point to LaVine re-signing right now, but he’s worth monitoring until he agrees to an extension.
Russell Wesbrook, Los Angeles Lakers (player option)
Westbrook was a top-five Fantasy point guard in a down year last season and it’s not clear whether he’ll remain in La La Land for a second run with the Lakers. The point guard is on the decline but can still get you close to a triple-double nightly from hustle alone. He’s been an elite asset for four different teams over his previous four campaigns, and that’s unlikely to change in 2022-23 regardless of where he’s playing. Westbrook should probably be considered an early to mid second-round talent in 2022 NBA Fantasy drafts.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (restricted)
The Phoenix Suns have a big decision about Ayton’s future this summer. They didn’t offer the big man an extension ahead of the 2021-22 season and are at a crossroads after failing to return to the NBA Finals. Ayton averaged a double-double for a fourth consecutive season, but might not be deemed worth the big-time counteract he’s seeking. Several teams are looking to make major upgrades at the five. The Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs are among the teams who could benefit most from his sturdy play in the post. He’s a borderline top-10 center when healthy and his best years could still be ahead of him.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers (restricted)
Darius Garland’s spectacular sophomore season made Sexton an afterthought for most of 2021-22, but the Cleveland Cavaliers guard is still capable of filling it up. He was more productive than Fred VanVleet, Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday, and Malcolm Brogdon from a Fantasy standpoint, posting 24.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game in 2020-21. Sexton’s been cleared for full-speed basketball activities since tearing his meniscus last season. Garland will likely become Cleveland’s long-term lead guard after an All-Star season, but Sexton can be more than serviceable with the Cavs or elsewhere.
Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets (restricted)
Bridges bet on himself when he turned down a four-year, $60 million extension last season. He might’ve been right to do so en route to his best campaign so far with the Hornets. While reports suggest that Charlotte might be hesitant to come up with a max offer, other teams would love to bring in a versatile wing who can rebound and score from all three levels. Charlotte is rumored to be interested in bringing in Westbrook to free up money for a Bridges extension. Moving other forwards like Gordon Hayward and PJ Washington during that process could help Bridges retain his status despite the addition of such a ball-dominant guard in the backcourt.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets (player option)
Irving still has superstar-level talent, but his vaccination status and gripes with the Brooklyn Nets caused his Fantasy basketball production to take a step back last season. He impacted the Nets in the 29 regular-season games he did play in 2021-22. His demands for a max contract have been met with skepticism, but he’s a top 10 Fantasy point guard when healthy. I expect Irving to return to prominence as a full-time player in 2022-23. NBA cities have eased up on allowing unvaccinated players to suit up, so Irving is more likely to be an active member of whatever squad he joins. However, I’d still exercise plenty of caution when drafting him.