NBA Free Agency: Day 1 Winners & Losers

NBA Free Agency: Day 1 Winners & Losers
Mon 1st July 2019

Phew. Take a breath everyone. Regroup. Make sure your caffeine stocks are replenished. Tear your eyes away from Woj’s Twitter.

Day 1 of the 2019 free agency period has (mercifully) come to a close. Rarely (if ever) have we seen a day like it in professional sport. The fates and fortunes of at least a dozen franchises changed irrevocably in the space of 8 short hours.

The Brooklyn Nets went from annoying little brother to supreme alpha-dog in the basketball mecca. The Warriors somehow rejuvenated their flagging 2019-20 championship hopes despite an ACL injury, a torn Achilles and failing to hang on to one of the best 3 basketballers on the planet. The Celtics lost a franchise point guard and found a franchise point guard. The Knicks got royally screwed by all and sundry, and are now left looking wistfully towards the next free agent bonanza in 2021. The 76ers went ballistic and may be the outright favourites for next season.

It was a wild day. As the dust settles, now is the perfect time to take a step back and analyse the real winners and losers from Day 1 of NBA Free Agency.

Winner: NBA Fans
According to the Twitterverse, in the first 8 hours of free agency 48 deals were agreed to between various players and various teams. The combined net worth of those deals was $3.175 BILLION.
It’s a great time to be a fan of the NBA. The sheer number and scale of the deals done make this arguably the most entertaining few days on the sporting calendar. The real beauty of it is that any franchise seems to have the capability to attract star players. Smaller market teams – e.g. Orlando with Nicola Vucevic; Charlotte with Terry Rozier; Phoenix with Ricky Rubio – were heavily involved in the day’s dealings.
Sporting teams at their essence are in the market of selling hope to their fans. The only way to sell hope to a fan base used to a lack of success is to make moves and attract star players. The NBA does this better than almost any other sport on the planet.
Unless you’re a fan of the Knicks…
Loser: The New York Knicks
Even Bigger Loser: James Dolan

Dear oh dear. Where to begin with this colossal clusterf*ck that is the Knicks organisation.

Missing out on two players who, for all intents and purposes, had been locked and loaded for the last 12 months is one thing. Blaming your failure to sign one of the best 3 basketballers on the planet on an apparent reticence to offer him a maximum deal is another. Having those two players go to your crosstown rivals – effectively saying “we wanted to live in New York but god forbid we play for the Knicks”  – is something else entirely.

Seriously New York, WTF?

The front office then seemed to want to compound their horrendous start to the day by signing a bunch of also-rans to absurdly large deals. Taj Gibson is 34 years of age. 34. He averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds last year. He’s going to get paid $20 million by the Knicks over the next two seasons.

Julius Randle is a handy basketballer. He can score in meaningless matches, rebound and do absolutely nothing on defence. There is no way he deserves to make more than $15 million a year. He’s now making $21 million to play basketball in New York.

The less said about Bobby Portis and Reggie Bullock the better.

This roster went from young and slightly attractive to middle-aged and mediocre in record time. The Knicks went 17–65 last season. If they’re lucky they may get to 20 wins next season.

What’s the 2019-20 draft class like?

Winner: The Brooklyn Nets

It almost goes without saying, but when you attract one of the top 3 ball-handling point guards and a two-time MVP in one fell swoop you’re going to pop up in every free agency winner’s list from now until eternity.

Kudos to Sean Marks and the Nets organisation. This franchise was a rabble 3 years ago – still handing draft picks to the Celtics willy-nilly and being forced to pick up dregs off the free agent pile. They’re now one of the primary contenders for an NBA championship – if not next season then definitely 2020-21 – with a fit and healthy Durant; an improved Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen and (hopefully) an assimilated Kyrie Irving.

Oh, and don’t forget DeAndre Jordan. The 30 year-old 7-foot centre is certainly past his prime, but provides a veteran presence and has been on successful teams in the past. At the very least he can mentor Allen and help mould him to the player most pundits seem to believe he can become.

This has been a remarkable turnaround. We’ll leave the real plaudits for if/when Brooklyn hoist the Larry O’B trophy in two years time, but what they’re building is already spectacular.

Possible Loser: the Houston Rockets

There was a prevailing sense going in to yesterday’s proceedings that GM Daryl Morey and his Rockets front office had something cooking behind the scenes. It turns out they did not.

The last month and a half has been disastrous in Houston. Bombing out of the playoffs to Golden State (again); open disquiet between Chris Paul and James Harden (shock horror); rumours of a rift between ownership and coach Mike D’Antoni and a bizarre mass clean-out of assistant coaches have all combined to leave the Rockets in an unhealthy state of flux going in to 2019-20.

Morey had been vocal in the lead up to Sunday about his desire to sign Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler in a sign and trade deal. Clearly, that did not eventuate. Leaving aside the question of whether Butler would have even fit in Houston (spoiler alert: he wouldn’t have), it’s a concerning failure. This team, if the status quo remains, is not going to be good enough to come out of the West. Chris Paul is too old, James Harden surely can’t get any better than he was last season, and the only way for the role players in Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker is down.

Plus, the open flouting of Capela and Gordon as potential trade assets is hardly likely to have sat well with them. We saw how well that went at the Lakers earlier this season.

The thing with Morey though is that you can never underestimate his guile. In all likelihood we’ll be singing his praises in 24 hours after he manages to trade Chris Paul to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma and a future first rounder. Don’t laugh. It might happen.

Winner: David Griffin

It’s fair to say the New Orleans Pelicans were a rabble at the time Griffin was given the role of executive vice president of basketball operations back in April of this year.

In the space of 2 and a half months they’ve become arguably the most exciting team in the NBA. Winning the Zion lottery was, of course, all down to blind luck, but the haul the Pelicans received for Davis and the moves they’ve made to start free agency have been tactically outstanding.

JJ Redick is, quite literally, the perfect addition to this team. The Pelicans had to find a way to space the floor around Zion, and Redick does that as well as anybody in the history of the NBA. $26 million over two years is also hardly an overpay. Redick brings veteran experience and is clearly a fantastic locker room presence to boot.

Losing Julius Randle is neither here nor there given he was replaced almost immediately by Derrick Favors. Favors is defensively elite and comes fresh off 7 years in a brilliant system in Utah. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that he’s an upgrade on Randle.

New Orleans are going to be good. Really good. There’s a distinct possibility that they’re in serious contention for a high playoff spot as early as next year.

Losers: Anyone Waiting on Kawhi

When you’re the best basketball player on the planet and just carried an entire country to its first ever NBA Championship you’re allowed to take your sweet time to do anything you want.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying for the Lakers, Clippers, Raptors and whoever else is still involved in the Kawhi sweepstakes (Houston anyone?…). After all, it would be nice to know if your franchise is about to receive the blessing of instantly becoming a championship contender, if not championship favourite.

In the meantime front offices are left in the lurch. That’s bad when upwards of 50 deals were made in a single day of action. Of those 50 deals just 1 came from one of the three aforementioned teams – the Clippers signing Patrick Beverley for 3 years and $40 million (an excellent decision for what it’s worth).

The implication is clear. No one involved in the race for Kawhi can afford to take their eye off the prize, because the prize is so earth-shatteringly excellent. But in doing so you lose your perspective, and the chance to build a full roster.

The list of available players is dwindling by the hour. Demarcus Cousins is currently the clear consolation prize on the remaining list, beating out the likes of Kelly Oubre, Marcus Morris and Danny Green. Yeesh.

We’ll never know if the Lakers could have snared D’Angelo Russell if they’d been less attentive to what was happening with Kawhi, but it’s not an impossibility. For whoever wins the Klaw it’ll be all worthwhile, but for the 2 losers things just became very difficult. The Lakers have $32 million in cap space and the Clippers $55 million. If Kawhi goes elsewhere there’s not a lot on the market to put that towards.

Reserve Judgement: The Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers had a fantastic opening day, but just when everything was going so well their deal with the Miami Heat seems to have fallen apart.

It appeared the 6ers had done an incredible job by picking up Heat swingman Josh Richardson in a sign and trade for Jimmy Butler, but the deal has hit a snag thanks to some confusion by the Dallas Mavericks as to whether they were receiving Goran Dragic or Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jnr in the trade.

That small hurdle has put a dampener on an excellent opening day. Al Horford – on a four-year $109 million deal ($97m guaranteed) – is an over-pay given he’s 33 years old, but Philly has made very clear its desire to win and win now. It’s tough to argue with their logic. Horford is the perfect three-point shooting, safe-passing foil to the occasionally erratic, trigger-happy Joel Embiid.

Tobias Harris for $180 million is also a fair way off true market value, but it is again the type of move by a team with all their chips on the table. It’s defendable, and if Harris can build on some of his better playoff performances from last year it may even end up paying off.

Now the Butler deal just needs to get done.

Winner: The Utah Jazz

This Utah team was low-key nice even prior to this free agency period. Now it’s high-key nice.

Mike Conley was a fantastic trade pick-up (despite the huge contract), because he takes the ball-handling pressure off Donovan Mitchell.

Bojan Bogdanovic on a four-year $73 million deal is, again, an over-pay, but not an absurd one. The Croatian wing shot above 40% from three last season and averaged 18 points per game in the absence of Victor Oladipo. His addition takes some scoring load off Joe Ingles (who did not handle it particularly well) and gives Mitchell a reliable second-scorer.

Losing Favors was a shame, but gaining Ed Davis should ease the pain. Davis is only earning $5 million a year and has made a career out of being a hard-working, defensively-minded glue guy. He directly replaces Favors and doesn’t overly detriment the feel of the squad – this was a shrewd pickup and may end up being one of the most underrated of the offseason.

In a suddenly wide-open Western Conference, the Jazz are right in the thick of the action.

Honourable Winning Mentions:

Golden State Warriors – D’Angelo Russell keeps them in the championship frame (barely). If they can make it to March next year and still be in contention by the time Klay Thompson recovers from his ACL, they remain a threat. That back-court is delightful.

Indiana Pacers – Losing Bogdanovic sucks, but gaining Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb on relatively inexpensive deals is a massive win. A core built around Oladipo, Brogdon, Lamb, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis is weirdly appealing.

Ricky Rubio / Devin Booker – Phoenix had to find a way to get the ball out of Booker’s hands on offense, and Rubio is the perfect fit. He doesn’t need to score and loves to distribute. Perfect for Booker.

Honourable Losing Mentions:

Los Angeles Lakers – Yes, they have Anthony Davis and LeBron James. But with the free agent field as it currently stands, if LA lose the Kawhi fight they’re going to be scraping the barrel to fill out their roster. Marcus Morris anyone?

Adrian Wojnarowski – God this guy is good. Too good. He must not be sleeping or eating. Enjoy the fame Woj, but at what cost?

James Dolan – Once wasn’t enough. Jimmy D is well on his way to becoming the most hated man in New York, and probably for good reason. At what point does he just give up and sell the team? If not now, then when?

Bring on day 2. We can’t wait. Don’t leave us hanging, Kawhi!

Written and produced for by Eddie Dadds

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