NBA free agency lucrative so far for NC players

North Carolina products have already signed for a combined $375 million

Kyrie Irving, right, activated his player option for next season after the Lakers and Nets were unable to come to an agreement on a sign-and-trade deal, but Brooklyn could still send the point guard to Los Angeles this offseason. (John Minchillo / AP Photo)

A week after the NBA Draft, the league’s veterans step into the spotlight.

The NBA’s silly season continues with the official opening of the free agent period. As usual, players with ties to North Carolina — either as natives or alumni of the various college programs around the state — are among the veterans on the move in the early days of the signing period.

While no one from the state had landed one of the headline-grabbing deals that leaps off the ESPN crawl, North Carolina products have still had a pretty good week. In the early days of the offseason frenzy, a total of nine players had agreed to deals that cover a combined 22 years and will pay at least $375 million.

That’s without all the terms being released.

The two biggest names have accounted for more than half of that total by staying put.

Zion Williamson, the 2019 first overall pick out of Duke, had the biggest payday. Despite battling injuries in his three years in New Orleans, Williamson signed a five-year extension to his rookie contract at the maximum of $193 million.

Williamson missed all of last season with injury and has played in just 85 of New Orleans’ 225 games during his NBA career so far but could increase the value of his deal to $231 million if he makes All-NBA or wins MVP or Defensive Player of the Year next season.

The extension covers the 2023-24 through 2027-28 seasons, kicking in after his four-year, $44 million rookie deal reaches completion.

Despite Williamson’s health issues, the Pelicans were more than willing to extend him. VP David Griffin said last month it would be an “easy decision.”

There was more drama — as there always seems to be — surrounding another former Duke one-and-done who eventually decided to stay put. Kyrie Irving initially gave the Brooklyn Nets a list of teams he would have been willing to be traded to, including the Lakers.

While the prospect of a sign-and-trade sending Irving to join LeBron James enthralled NBA observers, a deal couldn’t be worked out and Irving announced he would exercise his one-year option to remain in Brooklyn, paying him $36.5 million.

In typical Irving fashion, he announced the decision with a flourish, saying, “Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow. I’ve made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall.”

Of course, the drama isn’t completely dead. There’s still the possibility a trade with the Lakers could be worked out, just not as a sign-and-trade. Depending on the breathless source you use, at press time, a Kyrie to L.A. deal is “being actively pursued,” a “done deal” or something the Lakers aren’t “aggressively pursuing.”

Two other former Duke one-and-dones have also re-upped with their current teams. Marvin Bagley III chose to remain in Detroit, where he was traded in February. The second overall pick in 2018, Bagley agreed to three years, $37 million with the Pistons. Bagley just finished his four-year, $35 million rookie deal, originally signed with Sacramento. The Pistons made him a $7.8 million qualifying offer to keep him off the unrestricted free agent market.

Point guard Tyus Jones, a first-round pick in 2015, opted to re-sign with Memphis, where he has played the last three seasons. Jones signed a two-year, $30 million contract to remain a Grizzlies playmaker. Jones is getting a raise after completing a three-year, $26.4 million deal with Memphis.

Raleigh’s John Wall expects to return to the floor for an 11th NBA season. Wall, who has missed two of the last three seasons and hasn’t played an NBA game since April 2021, signed a two-year, $13.2 million contract to join the Los Angeles Clippers. After playing his first nine seasons with Washington, Wall missed 2019-20 with an Achilles injury then played 40 games with Houston in 2020-21. He worked out with the team but didn’t play in any games this past season. Now Wall, who will turn 32 before the start of next season, attempts to revive his career in Los Angeles.

Another Raleigh native, P.J. Tucker, is on the move, agreeing to a three-year, $33.2 million contract to join the 76ers. The 37-year-old has played for five teams in his 11 NBA seasons, most recently last year for Miami, where he started 70 of his 71 games.

Former Tar Heel Theo Pinson will remain in Dallas, agreeing with the Mavericks on a one-year deal. The dollar amount was not immediately released. Another UNC product, Danny Green, was traded on draft night, going from Philadelphia to Memphis.

NC State had two former players inked to deals. T.J. Warren signed a one-year contract — terms were not disclosed — to join the Nets. Warren last played for the Pacers in 2021 before missing all of last season due to injury.

Cody Martin, who began his college career at State before transferring, will remain with the Charlotte Hornets, agreeing to re-sign for four years and $32 million.