The NBA free agency period started a little earlier this year and we saw one of the busiest first days ever. All teams combined spent or committed to just over three-billion dollars in contracts with what seems like half the league changing teams.
Most of the dust has settled on this free agency period so far: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up in Brooklyn, Golden State managed to sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell and Boston nabbed Kemba Walker from the Hornets among other news.
All is done except Kawhi Leonard. And fair enough, he’s the best player in the league and the best free agent, he can take his sweet time. Jabari Young of The Athletic reported that it could take a few more days before he makes a decision.
But before that, let us go through some early winners and losers of the 2019 NBA free agency period:
The Brooklyn Nets and fans of smart team
We know the story with the Nets. After a win-now move that failed to work, they slowly built a playoff roster around overpaid contracts and young prospects.
Them being able to sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, two players that were almost locks to head to the New York Knicks for quite a while was a sweet, sweet victory.
The Nets rebuilt without their own draft picks for essentially five seasons while the Knicks, also rebuilding, had their own first rounders and essentially controlled their destiny. But for every Frank Ntilikina on the Knicks, the Nets got a Jarrett Allen.
It was this young, playoff core that likely convinced the two stars to come to Brooklyn instead of New York. Why head to New York and pull a rebuilding team up, when they can come to Brooklyn (same city. Their practice facility is actually closer to the city) and have a better opportunity to win now.
Small market title contention
The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets are both large chances to win a championship next season. How cool is that?
Utah traded for Mike Conley before the draft and signed Bojan Bogdanovic which hopes to fix their playoff problems of not enough diversity on offence. These two new additions can take the ball handling duties and pressure away from Donovan Mitchell in the postseason.
On top of that, Conley has been one of the best guard defenders and he’s going to be paired with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
They also added some buy-low minimums in Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay.
The Nuggets went about their off-season a bit differently; they extended Jamal Murray in what seems like a good faith move and picked up the final year on Paul Millsaps contract. They’ll also be adding in Michael Porter Jr. who didn’t play in his rookie season and Bol Bol who dropped to them late in the second round.
With the Golden State juggernaut fading away, plenty of new teams have a chance at a title. The small market teams in Denver and Utah didn’t trade for Anthony Davis or sign Kevin Durant, but they know how to win and can see a chance at glory, why can’t they take it?
Joel Embiid playoff matchups
The 76ers were very active at the start of free agency agreeing, in principal, to a sign-and-trade based around Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson, resigning Tobias Harris to a five-year less than max contract and signing Al Horford.
The jury is out on whether they’ll be good, we still have to wait and see how they address their biggest problem: their depth. At the very least, they’ll be a huge lineup with no holes on defence at all.
Ignoring that for now, one of Philadelphia’s biggest problems in recent history were defensive-minded centres locking down Embiid, their best offensive player. One of those defensive stoppers was Al Horford and now he’ll be the one passing it to Embiid in the post.
In their five-game series in the 2018 playoffs, Embiid averaged 23 points, 41 percent from the field and 24 from three with 5.6 free throws attempted. For reference, that season he averaged 23 points on 48/ 31 percent and 7.4 free throws attempted.
Now all he’ll have to do is avoid Marc Gasol.
Marcus Morris Sr.
He changed his name and jersey to include ‘senior’ after he had a child in the off-season. That’s worthy enough of being a winner, what a tight jersey.
But why he is a winner is because of his position and situation. Once Kawhi signs, a few teams will be a bit upset and left with a hole at the wing. That’s where Morris slides right in, he’s the best available wing player left after the Finals MVP.
Morris can end up on the remaining LA team if they sign him or if he stays with the Raptors, he can have his pick. What a life, big winner to Marcus Morris Sr.
The New York Knicks and their MSG allure
Here is a quote from Knicks owner James Dolan in March this year:
“Look, New York is the Mecca of basketball. We hear from people all the time, from players and representatives about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us, and they do. I can tell you, from what we’ve heard, I think we’re gonna have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
Their big free agency acquisitions so far have been Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock and Bobby Portis.
Not to knock those players at all, Randle is actually on a very good contract and a great player and Bullock proved he can be a solid answer on the wing. But, they’re not KD or Kyrie and for all the hype, they even missed out on the second tier of free agents (Middleton, Horford, Walker, Harris etc.).
It’s the same old story. The Knicks try and fail to sign the big names. They say they’re committed to the long-term plan but then turn around and trade Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Maybe now they’re trying the long-term plan.
The ‘watch out for 2021 free agency’ crap has already begun sadly. Spoilers: it probably won’t work again.
Poor Boogie. The music has stopped, most teams are set for next season (minus the Kawhi destination) and Cousins doesn’t have a team. Unhappy with his results, he fired his agent and signed with Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports.
After a make-good minimum with the Warriors coming off an Achilles injury in New Orleans, Boogie hoped to revamp his value. But now, it’s not looking great. Most teams that needed a centre already got one: Boston/ Kanter, Lakers/ Davis or New York/ half their roster.
Sadly, he can’t even resign with the Warriors. After signing-and-trading for D’Angelo Russell they’re restricted against the hard cap and can only afford minimum contracts from here on out. To resign Boogie, who was on a minimum, they legally need to pay him 120 percent of his last contract; bigger than the minimum.
Most rebuilding teams with space would rather use their space, time and money on a younger prospect.
The only string of hope left is a report that he has been in contact with Demar Derozan. It might be smarter to deal with someone in the front office though…
To be decided…
Whoever is left without Kawhi:
The Lakers traded the rest of their roster and replaced Reggie Bullock with Troy Daniels. Other than that, they’ve stayed quiet as they wait for Kawhi to make his decision. If that decision isn’t with the purple and gold, they’ll have to think very fast and hope their Summer League team finds a couple of gems.
If the Clippers miss out on Kawhi, they don’t have LeBron James and Anthony Davis to sit back on, they have Patrick Beverly and Danilo Gallinari. They’ll maintain the flexibility to go after 2020 free agents, but unless Kawhi is on a one-year contract, it’ll be slim pickings.
Instead of going to the Knicks (like I predicted before free agency) and putting up as many shots as he likes, scoring as many points as he can and playing basketball in New York every night. He has become a pawn in a depleted Golden State roster.
The Warriors turned KD leaving into a last-minute sign-and-trade and scraped up the value on what would’ve otherwise been a bad look for the former champs.
However, Russell will either be an injury replacement until Klay Thompson returns from his ACL tear or be an actual long-term part of this Warriors team. I’m sure they’ll be dangling him in trades all year and maybe someone will bite;
“A 23-year-old on a four year contract, yes please! Here is Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock and some future assets! What are the chances? their contracts fit perfectly together,” says a visibly excited James Dolan.
Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver and their (multi) million dollar question
Memphis Grizzlies players Iguodala and Korver will make around $17 and seven million dollars respectively this season. Both in the twilight’s on their careers, the two with have to decide what they value more: making their full salary and play for the non-playoff Grizzlies or leave some money on the table and chase a ring with a title contender.