By Reed Becker
The balance of power in the NBA has completely shifted through free agency as about $3 billion was spent in the first 24 hours of free agency. Now that the dust has settled lets see who was playing checkers while others were playing chess.
Kyrie/Durant to Brooklyn: Months of expectations that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had interest in teaming up to play together came to fruition as they joined forces and signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Both guys took less than the max so they could fit in Durant’s friend Deandre Jordan. The main reasons why Kyrie and Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets are because the Nets are further down the road in their rebuild and are coming of a 42-win season. Also, the Nets have built a winning culture after making the playoffs this past season and playing for the Nets doesn’t have as much pressure and media attention as much as paying for the Knicks does. Once Durant reinjured himself in the Finals the leverage between the pair regarding where to sign went to Kyrie’s side because since Durant is expected to sit out the 2019-2020 season Kyrie will be the one that will be playing. This is a signing the Nets had to make because Kyrie’s skill set is much better than D’angelo Russell’s. Even though there is concern about Irving’s attitude, they signed Durant, so Kyrie won’t be the alpha dog like he was in Boston once Durant comes back from his injury. The Nets signing Durant is a risk since he will be coming off a torn Achilles injury. However, it’s a risk the Nets had to take after everything they went through with the failed Boston trade several years ago that almost destroyed the franchise.
New York Knicks: It wouldn’t have been so terrible when the Knicks lost out on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant if their owner, James Dolan, hadn’t gone on The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 ESPN NY back in March and said that they were expecting to land two max free agents. Clearly, this is a bad outcome for the Knicks, especially since Irving and Durant wound up signing across the river in Brooklyn. However, while it is a terrible outcome for the Knickerbockers, it would be unfair to not give them credit for sticking to their plan B by signing next tier free agents and role players to short term deals. For example, Julius Randle is a nice player that averaged 21 points and shot 52% from the field. While they might have overpaid by giving him $63m they also gave him only a three-year deal, with the final year being a team option. The other four players they signed are all two-year deals with a team option after the first year. What the Knicks are doing by signing these short-term contracts are looking to the future to attract more free agents after the team improves its record. If the Knicks are able to develop their players, the way the Nets did and develop a winning culture then they will be in prime position for max free agents to sign to play at the world’s most famous arena. Furthermore, the Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis to clear cap space is not the end of the world because even though they didn’t get the max free agents, they still got a very good point guard in Dennis Smith Jr and got more draft picks, which is key to a rebuild. Also, the Knicks didn’t have any option to not trade Porzingis because if they didn’t trade him he would of left in free agency and the Knicks would of gotten nothing in return, which would of been an utter disaster.
D’angelo Russell to Warriors: This was the biggest shock so far in free agency because Russell doesn’t fit in the Warriors future plans. The Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors agreed to a sign and trade that sent Kevin Durant and a protected future first round pick to Brooklyn and D’angelo Russell (signed to a four year, $117m max deal), Trevor Graham, Shabbaz Napier and cash to the Warriors (both later sent to Minnesota to clear more cap space). In addition, for the Warriors to open cap space for Russell they traded Andre Iguodala and a 2024 protected first round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for Julian Washburn, $2m, and a first-round pick. This move helps Golden State in the short term to fill the hole in their backcourt with Klay Thompson being sidelined for the start of the season. Also, a big factor that went into the Warriors making this move was to make their roster attractive since they are moving into a new building this upcoming season. The downside of this move is that the Warriors gave up draft picks to make space for a player that doesn’t seem to fit once Thompson comes back and may not be in their plans long term. It seems especially odd since the Warriors could have used those draft picks when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would be entering the end of their prime years and they will need to build for the future.
Kawhi Leonard/Paul George to Clippers: Kawhi Leonard completely shifted the power throughout the NBA by deciding to sign a four year, $141m max contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were able to secure Leonard by acquiring Paul George from the OKC Thunder in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and four future unprotected first round picks, one protected first round pick and two pick swaps.
Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi Leonard was never going to go to the Lakers. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported, Kawhi didn’t want to join a super team with the Lakers. Instead, he wanted to build one by himself with a co-star in the Clippers’ locker room at the Staples Center. The Lakers brand never fit Leonard’s attitude. Meaning, he never was a guy that was about all the distractions that playing for the Lakers and playing with LeBron James brings. Also, he never came across as a guy that wanted to ruin the competition in the NBA by joining a super team. Instead, he came across as a guy that only cared about playing basketball and winning.
Paul George: The Clippers gave up a haul for Paul George. However, it’s a good trade for LA because as Woj reported, Kawhi Leonard met with Paul George and told PG that he wanted to play with him and to request a trade out of OKC. Kawhi then went back to the Clippers and told them if they got Paul George then he would sign with them. The Clippers being able to acquire two stars overrules the amount of future draft picks they gave up because they are in win now mode and have Kawhi and PG locked up long term. These moves made by the Clippers puts the Lakers in the backseat in LA because the Clippers are now the better team with the addition of a two-time finals MVP and an MVP runner up. Plus, the Clippers defense is vastly improved with Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverly and Paul George. Finally, the Clippers depth is set in stone. Whereas, the Lakers missed out on a lot of role players in free agency. As we go to press, Russell Westbrook is expected to force his way out of OKC. The Thunder now have a bunch of future draft picks, and by the time those draft picks get used Westbrook will be at the end of his prime, so they are not on the same timeline. Depending on where he lands we could have another super team built before the season begins.
Lakers: The Lakers will still be a good team with the addition of Anthony Davis via trade just a few weeks ago. A lineup including LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma still has a lot of potential in the Western Conference. The Lakers turned around after Kawhi signed with the Clippers and resigned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and signed Quin Cook ,Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Demarcus Cousins. Quin Cook and Rajon Rondo adds depth to their point guard position need and Danny Green adds shooting to pair with LeBron. Signing Cousins allows him to reunite with Anthony Davis from when they played together in New Orleans. For the purple and gold, it adds another center to their roster. What the Lakers need to focus on now is filling out the rest of the roster with role players to add depth if they want to be able to challenge the Clippers when the playoffs arrive. However, as of right now, the Lakers are second fiddle to the Clippers in Los Angeles as the Clippers have two stars and better depth on their roster.
Celtics/ Hornets sign and trade: The Boston Celtics agreed to a sign and trade with the Charlotte Hornets that sent Kemba Walker to Boston and Terry Rozier to Charlotte. For the Celtics, this is a good replacement at point guard for Kyrie Irving, as Kemba has the closest playing style to Kyrie. In addition, Walker comes to Boston without any attitude concerns. For the Hornets, Terry Rozier is a major drop off. Furthermore, principal owner and chairman Michael Jordan dropped the ball by not trading Walker at the trade deadline to collect assets, especially since they didn’t even make an attempt to resign him.
Jimmy Butler to the Heat, in four team sign and trade: There was a big four team sign and trade involving the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trailblazers and LA Clippers. The main moving parts in this deal included: Jimmy Butler going from Philadelphia to Miami, Josh Richardson going from Miami to Philadelphia, Hassan Whiteside going from Miami to Portland and Mo Harkless and a protected 2023 first round pick going from Portland to Los Angeles. Regarding Butler, it has been reported by Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports and Kyle Neubeck of Philly voice that the Sixers offered Butler a five-year max extension, but Butler turned it down and opted to play in Miami. This move by Butler raises the recurring question if winning is really the important factor to him as the Heat are not expected to make any noise this upcoming season. For the Sixers side of the deal, they were able to acquire a nice piece in Josh Richardson that adds depth to the roster. This also allowed the Sixers to resign Tobias Harris to a max contract. It was important for the Sixers to resign Harris considering the amount of assets they gave up for him at the trade deadline. Shifting to the Portland end of this deal, the Trailblazers get a replacement at the center position for Enes Kantor in Whiteside. For Whiteside, this is a fresh start as he is coming off a lost season in Miami as he was never part of their plan and fell out of their rotation. What Portland is banking on is that having him play next to Jusuf Nurkic, Damian Lillard, and CJ McCollum will help him refocus and contribute to their team in a positive way. Finally, for the Clippers, they add a player that can be a starter or depth to their roster and they left a max contract spot available for Kawhi Leonard.
Utah Jazz: There was one move the Utah Jazz made recently that is extremely underrated.
Signing Bojan Bogdanovic is a major pickup for the Jazz because it gives them a player that can play both sides of the court and has the ability to shoot the ball, which is something that has been a need for them. Now with a lineup including: Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdonavic, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and Joe Ingles now makes Utah a big time contender in a wide open Western Conference.
This was one of the craziest free agent classes, one that will go down in the history books and it will be very interesting to see how these player acquisitions all work out. For the first time since the Warriors dynasty began the league is up for grabs and will make for a very interesting season.