Free agency is off and running in the NBA and, predictably, chaos reigned in the opening hours. While there are many more dominos to fall, including some of a high-profile nature, it is time to weigh in on the teams that had good outcomes and bad outcomes on day one of the frenzy.
Here we go.
A lot of things happened on Sunday but the biggest domino, by far, happened in Brooklyn. The Nets picked up Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in a matter of minutes (or at least it was reported in minutes) and, quite obviously, that is a coup for the franchise. It is worth a reminder that Durant probably isn’t going to be a big factor for the 2019-20 season, but Brooklyn also added on the edges with Garrett Temple and DeAndre Jordan, fortifying its roster considerably.
Having Irving as the centerpiece of the team comes with some downside, as residents of Boston could testify, but the Nets had a fantastic start to free agency and stole the show in stunning fashion.
The Jazz threw a pre-draft haymaker with the addition of Mike Conley and, while that doesn’t necessarily contribute to their “winner” status for free agency, it definitely helped the team’s standing. Utah’s big swing was the acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic, who checks a ton of boxes as a two-way player with the ability to space the floor. They dealt away Favors, but added Ed Davis on a really good value deal at two years, $10 million, as he’ll bolster their frontcourt depth, which is very important given Gobert’s injury issues in the past.
Just imagine a lineup of Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert. That’ll work.
Out of the gate, the Kings probably overpaid to retain Harrison Barnes and that has to be acknowledged. However, the hate often goes too far on Barnes, who is a very useful two-way player, and Sacramento was always likely to retain him given the presence of a highly lucrative player options. On top of that, there’s always a bit of a tax paid by less desirable free agency destinations to get talent. From there, though, Sacramento did very, very well.
The Kings added a solid veteran wing in Trevor Ariza on a two-year, $25 million with a reported second-year non-guarantee and, perhaps more importantly, Sacramento secured a starting center in Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon won’t move the needle from a fan interest standpoint, but he’s coming off a season in which he converted 37 percent of his three-pointers and he is the rare big man that can space the floor on offense and defend the rim on defense.
Sacramento’s future appears bright and, in contrast to the past, they seem to be operating in a responsible manner.
This is kind of a weird evaluation, because Philadelphia loses both Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick. It would be easy to argue that the Sixers didn’t markedly improve from the end of last season and, as such, it might be strange to see them in the “winners” column. Elton Brand did a good job of pivoting, though, and that allows Philadelphia to earn a passing grade.
The decision to re-sign Tobias Harris to a five-year deal might have been made the moment Philadelphia traded a king’s random for him and, in short, $180 million is probably too much for him. With that out of the way, the Sixers convinced Al Horford to take less than $100 million guaranteed (less than what was reported as his market before Sunday) and they did so with the caveat that Philadelphia and Miami would agree on a sign-and-trade involving Butler and Josh Richardson, giving them a replacement at the two-guard for the departing Redick.
All told, this could be evaluated as a swap of Butler and Redick for Horford and Richardson and, quite honestly, that isn’t a bad 2-for-2 for Philadelphia. Then, when considering the reality that paying Butler a five-year max contract wasn’t ideal, nabbing a cost-controlled, two-way player in Richardson is incredibly important and Horford’s presence allows the Sixers to deploy versatile lineups, both with Joel Embiid on the floor and without him.
It is important to note that the Butler deal has hit a snag on Miami’s end, as they have to find a third team to make it work financially and the initial deal reported to involve the Mavs has fallen apart over confusion about who Dallas would be getting. That deal is still likely to get done, but it may have to wait until after a Kawhi Leonard decision is made, as the Lakers and Clippers are two of the three remaining teams that can absorb the money needed to facilitate a deal.
In any case, it was a mixed bag of sorts for Philadelphia but they did a strong job in avoiding full-fledged financial purgatory and maintained a title-contending nucleus in the process.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are already enjoying a tremendous summer, with the presence of Zion Williamson and a modern roster built for the future. What New Orleans didn’t have, though, was big-time shooting on the perimeter and David Griffin addressed that weakness with haste in signing J.J. Redick.
Redick is already 35 years old, which isn’t ideal for a rebuilding franchise, but he’s one of the best shooters in the league. In addition, the contract was of reasonable length (two years) and Redick is a perfect fit with the other options in New Orleans. As a kicker, he provides an element of stability and leadership to a youthful team, checking every possible box in a supporting role. On top of the Redick addition, they also added Derrick Favors in a trade with Utah, taking the big man into space and adding yet another quality veteran to help balance out their young core, which now seems poised to potentially make a playoff run this season.
New York Knicks
The Knicks stay the Knicks.
Not only did New York lose out on the massive dream to nab Durant and Irving (after trading Kristaps Porzingis in part to open additional cap space), but the team’s cross-town rival was able to get the job done. Forever, the prevailing notion is that the country’s largest city is dominated by the Knicks and, well, that has always seemed true. The landscape could change if the Nets really ascend, though, and that’s now in play.
There are plenty of jokes out there with regard to the Julius Randle contract but, honestly, that might be reasonable given the presence of a team option. The Bobby Portis contract, valued at two years and $31 million, was less palatable and combining that with a two-year, $20 million investment in Taj Gibson doesn’t make a lot of sense. Overall, New York struck out in a high-profile manner on day one and the fans are… not pleased.
It’s not entirely clear what Orlando’s plan actually is. On the surface, none of their reported agreements are individually egregious. Nikola Vucevic was an All-Star last season and “earned” his $100 million payday. Al-Farouq Aminu is a thoroughly reasonable contract at approximately $30 million total over three seasons. Even Terrence Ross, although overpaid, has substantial appeal as a shot creator. The entire package… just doesn’t make sense.
The Magic used the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on a center-only player in Mo Bamba, and he is now completely blocked by Vucevic. The same phenomenon is in play at the power forward spot, where Orlando invested the No. 16 pick in Chuma Okeke, with Aaron Gordon and 2017 lottery pick Jon Isaac already on board, and the signed Aminu at the same slot. The Magic have considerable talent on their books but the theory of the actual formula for contention is pretty much incoherent. They’re now extremely close to the luxury tax and have failed to address the point guard situation.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State has to be on the “losers” list because, well, Durant isn’t walking through that door. The Warriors scrambled to attempt to find value in the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell but, in doing so, the team hard-capped itself with severe roster constraints and lost Andre Iguodala in the process.
Golden State will still be (very) good with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson but it is fair to acknowledge that while also questioning the rationale for targeting Russell specifically. This may be an example of a situation in which “getting something back” for Durant might actually hamper the team’s roster building but, if nothing else, the Warriors aren’t as good, in a long-term sense, as they would’ve been if Durant returned.
Before free agency even began, reality set in that Kemba Walker wasn’t going to return to Charlotte. That is a substantial blow for the organization, especially when considering the Hornets could have traded Walker before the 2019 trade deadline, but instead chose to ride it out and lose him to Boston for nothing.
From there, things got worse for Charlotte, with the bizarre decision to invest a three-year, $58 million deal in Terry Rozier. The Hornets did have a need at point guard but, in Rozier, they are getting a thoroughly unproven player with substandard efficiency and overpaying to do so. Finally, the Hornets lost Jeremy Lamb to the Pacers and, even if the contract (three years, $31 million) was probably too much, that is another talented player out the door without anything in return.
On the bright side, the Hornets will probably be forced into the rebuild they needed to start previously, but they didn’t exactly maximize their standing, either before Walker left or immediately his departure.
Separate from the Warriors, Curry is a personal loser on Sunday as, according to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic, the superstar guard flew all the way from Shanghai to New York to meet with Durant, only to find out mid-flight KD had decided to go to Brooklyn. Flying halfway across the world for nothing is a definite Day 1 loss.