The NBA Players Under The Most Pressure Following Free Agency

Now that the NBA’s free agency period has largely settled down, we have a pretty good idea of what rosters will look like heading into the 2024-25 season. Obviously, the potential exists for other moves elsewhere in the league — looking at you, Lauri Markkanen — but for the most part, teams have put their rosters together save for some moves on the fringes.

All of this gives us a sense of what the league will look like next season, and which teams and players are going to be under the brightest spotlights. Today, we wanted to highlight the players that are going to be under the most pressure for one reason or another as next year rolls around.

Everyone on the Knicks

For years, the New York Knicks have waited for the moment that they could push their chips all-in and put together a roster to compete for a championship. They clearly viewed the last few months as a chance to do that, as the team acquired OG Anunoby and Mikal Bridges via trades, then gave Anunoby a gigantic contract extension. The result: An expensive team built around Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, Julius Randle, Bridges, and Anunoby. The Knicks lose Isaiah Hartenstein because he cost too much, and if Mitchell Robinson can’t stay healthy, things get really thin, really quickly in the frontcourt. The good news is New York should still be quite good, and the team very well could compete in the East.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

On the balance of things, the Warriors had a nice offseason, as they added three really good pros (Kyle Anderson, Buddy Hield, De’Anthony Melton) to their roster, and all three of them should help, especially if Melton can get past the back issues that plagued him last season. Of course, losing Klay Thompson goes far beyond just basketball, but the team itself is in a good spot. So, why is Green on this list? Two reasons: 1. Golden State decided to give him a 4-year, $100 million extension, while reports indicated the team couldn’t commit to a 2-year, $40 million deal for Thompson, essentially meaning they chose to give Green a long-term deal over Thompson (albeit at different times), 2. The team just cannot afford to have him miss 27 games again, with a number of them coming via suspensions. If he’s at anything but his best for the entire season, the Warriors are going to be in a tough spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Klay Thompson, Dallas Mavericks

Thompson got what he wanted this offseason: A multi-year contract that would pay him good money on a contender. That team is not the Warriors, but instead, it’s the defending Western Conference champions and a team that could really use his services, even if he is not the player that he was prior to his knee and achilles injuries (although it is going to be interesting to see just how much of his struggles last year were related to the uncertainty with his professional situation). But he’s also heading to a situation where he has to produce, as the Mavs are going to be expected to compete as long as Luka Doncic is in town. A revitalized Klay Thompson can do that, but he will have to hit the ground running as he suits up for a new team for the first time in his career.

Christian Braun, Denver Nuggets

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is gone. That is a gigantic problem for the Nuggets, as Caldwell-Pope was the perfect guy to play in the backcourt alongside Jamal Murray — he was low usage, but always was ready when opportunities to hit shots came about, and he dogged opposing players on the defensive end whenever he was on the floor. That is the perfect role player for a team with championship aspirations, and Denver let him leave for financial reasons, which is an absolute gut punch. Braun has been a very nice role player for the Nuggets since he broke into the league, but he’s going to have to slide into that role as the team’s wing stopper and lowest usage offensive player. If he can, Denver should be ok. If not, there is going to be some major criticism headed the team’s way for letting KCP go.

Paul George and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

I mean, yeah. There may not be two players in the league right now who are more defined by the fact that they have never been to the NBA Finals — in Embiid’s case, he’s never been to the conference finals. Now, the two are paired up after George went looking for a max contract and got one from the front office trying to build a contender around Embiid. It goes without saying, but at some point, the Sixers have to get over the hump with Embiid, and putting a player of George’s caliber next to him means that the team now has, quite possibly, the best trio in the entire NBA with Tyrese Maxey. If they can’t do it now, it’s safe to wonder if it will ever happen, which is a horrifying proposition for everyone in the City of Brotherly Love.

Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

A bit of an outside the box pick, but remember two years ago, when Cleveland got Donovan Mitchell and there was a belief that they’d be in an excellent position to compete going forward, in large part because they had Evan Mobley and he looked to be a future star? And then, Mobley’s development on offense stalled out, and the Cavs never took that step into the top tier of the Eastern Conference? I thought about that with the Thunder after their big offseason, and how so much of the optimism around their future (both immediate and long-term) revolves around Holmgren becoming a star. The good news is I think he’s wired to be that kind of impact player, but the difference between OKC being a contender in the West and OKC being potentially the NBA title favorites just might be Holmgren avoiding a sophomore slump.

Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks essentially decided to run it back while making a couple of nice moves to bring in Taurean Prince and Delon Wright. They didn’t make any trades to shake up their roster, and while part of this is surely that they don’t have a ton to move, the bet is clearly that the second year of Lillard in Milwaukee will go much better than the first. This sentiment applies to Kevin Durant in Phoenix, too, but the Bucks went all-in on Lillard being the championship-level superstar their team needed, and last year, it was nowhere near good enough. The bet is that continuity will be the thing that fixes everything, and Lillard looking like the guy who can single-handedly give you an elite offense would fix a lot of problems in Milwaukee.