In the run-up to free agency, it seemed possible that a relative lack of salary cap space around the league could harm the earning power of third-tier stars who weren’t certified top-10 players or rising centerpieces. Of course, Jokic, Towns and Devin Booker were heading for supermax extensions. Of course, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and Darius Garland were going to cash in with big-dollar rookie extensions.
Yet LaVine, 27, and Beal, 29, entered the summer coming off down years because of nagging injury issues. LaVine finally made the playoffs with the Chicago Bulls, but knee problems and a reduced role alongside DeMar DeRozan kept him from career-year production. Beal, who earned 2021 third-team all-NBA honors, missed more than half the season with a wrist injury and saw his numbers drop dramatically. Both guards are bankable scorers, but they are underqualified to be No. 1 options for a contender because they aren’t elite playmakers or perimeter defenders.