Five players, $1.1 billion: NBA free agency kicks off with a bang

The NBA generated more basketball-related income than ever this past season, the total number coming up just short of $9bn.

Business is good. The first night of free agency underscored how good.

Nikola Jokić agreed to the biggest contract in NBA history, Bradley Beal agreed to a deal worth a quarter-billion dollars, and the money just kept flowing. Shortly after midnight Friday in the Eastern time zone, three more players – Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Ja Morant – also agreed to huge-money extensions.

Towns and Booker agreed to four-year deals that will commence in 2024 and are worth at least $224m, their agent, Jessica Holtz of CAA, said. Morant will sign his first rookie extension, one that’ll be worth at least $193m and could reach the $230m range, according to Tandem Sports, which represents him.

Those five players – Jokić, Beal, Towns, Booker and Morant – had more than $1.1bn in money committed to them in their new deals, highlighting the moves made Thursday when the NBA’s annual free-agent negotiating window opened.

Jokić agreed to a supermax extension to remain with the Denver Nuggets, the two-time reigning MVP guaranteeing himself at least $264m over five seasons starting with the 2023-24 campaign. The final number may go up slightly depending on what the league’s salary cap is going into the ’23-24 season and if it exceeds current projections.

Beal will make $251m over the next five seasons after re-signing with Washington, one day after turning down $37m for this coming season from the team with whom he’s spent the entirety of his 10-year career.

Towns and Booker got their deals not long afterward, as did Morant. More big-money extensions are coming at some point, particularly rookie extensions – Miami’s Tyler Herro and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson among the names on that list.

All those moves, even the biggest-money ones, were overshadowed by a piece of non-free-agent news that came earlier Thursday when Kevin Durant, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, told the Brooklyn Nets that he wanted a trade. That undoubtedly had some sort of an impact on the decisions some teams were making, or were considering, with the surprise development that one of the world’s elite players is looking for a new place to play.

Jokic and Beal have signed lucrative contracts before. For some, the ones they get this summer will be their first.

Jalen Brunson, as had been widely speculated given his deep ties to the Knicks – his father played there, for starters – agreed to sign with New York, on a deal that ESPN reported would be worth $104m over four years. He had earned about $6m, total, in his four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and saw his value soar by averaging 21.6 points in 18 playoff games this past season.

Anfernee Simons, who had a breakout season for the injury-plagued Portland Trail Blazers last year – taking advantage of his opportunity, and then some – agreed to a four-year, $100m contract to remain with that club. And Lu Dort, undrafted three years ago and someone who made about $4m combined in his three seasons with Oklahoma City, will stay with the Thunder for the next five years on a deal worth nearly $88m.

The NBA set the new salary cap, luxury tax and other numbers that will be used this coming season and go into effect Friday.

The cap is $123.655m, the tax level is $150.267m. The minimum team salary level is $111.29m and the exceptions were set as well. The non-taxpayer mid-level is $10.49m, taxpayer mid-level is $6.479m, and the mid-level for a team with room under the cap is $5.401m.