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NBA free agency opens Thursday, starting deal-making season

NBA free agency opens Thursday, starting deal-making season

Let the talking begin. The trading, too, and eventually the signing.

Free agency officially opens Thursday in the NBA, with teams able to begin negotiating at 6 p.m. Eastern with players who are not under contract — although, in reality, free agency and the slew of offseason movement is already off and running.

James Harden declined his $47 million option for next season with Philadelphia on Wednesday and became a free agent — but told the team he intends to stay on a new deal that will allow the 76ers the flexibility they need to sign other players this summer, according to a person with direct knowledge of that situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither Harden nor the 76ers confirmed those plans publicly.

And Harden’s decision came almost simultaneously Wednesday with another massive move — the San Antonio Spurs are trading All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for Danilo Gallinari and three first-round picks, according to another person with direct knowledge of the terms of that deal who spoke to AP with anonymity because the trade had not been announced by either side. ESPN first reported the completion of that deal, which pairs Murray with another All-Star in Trae Young in the Hawks’ backcourt.

Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook have already made their decisions; both could have been free agents this summer and found a combined 84 million reasons not to hit the open market — $47 million for Westbrook to opt-in for the last year of his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, and nearly $37 million for Irving to do the same with the Brooklyn Nets.

Jalen Brunson will be in demand early, with the expectation that he’ll quickly agree to leave Dallas and become the new point guard in New York. And there will be players who might decide to look elsewhere, or accept huge $200-million-plus deals with their current teams — opportunities that are presenting themselves to Zach LaVine with Chicago and Bradley Beal with Washington.

The largest deal, in terms of actual dollars, coming in the next few days almost certainly won’t have anything to do with a free agent: All signs point to two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic being offered a supermax extension in the $260 million range by the Denver Nuggets. The only question there will be how quickly he finds a pen to put to that paper.

Minnesota can give Karl-Anthony Towns a supermax of about $210 million this summer, as can Phoenix with…

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