NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

kawhi_leonard_vs_charlotte_2019
Leonard turned the NBA on its head by signing with the Clippers. (Wikimedia Commons)

Chaos. Absolute chaos. That is the best way to sum up NBA free agency in 2019. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are teaming up with the Clippers. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined forces in Brooklyn. Anthony Davis finally landed in Los Angeles alongside LeBron James and DeMarcus Cousins. That doesn’t even include Al Horford, Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker signing with new teams.

It was one of the craziest weeks in the history of the league. At the end of the day, the league’s power dynamic has completely shifted. The NBA officially runs through Los Angeles. It is time to assess the winner and losers from this wild free agency period.

los_angeles_clippers_logo_1984-2010Winners: Los Angeles Clippers
Wow. No one saw this coming. The Clippers were long linked to Kawhi, but no one expected him to go there alongside George. The former Thunder superstar forced his way out of OKC and now creates a superstar pairing with a ton of depth around them. Los Angeles has to be the title favorite heading into the season.

Russell WestbrookLoser: Russell Westbrook
This cannot be where Russ expected to be when free agency opened. The talks are already rumbling about a potential Westbrook trade so Oklahoma City can truly enter a rebuild. He finds himself without a co-star on a team that still couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. His days in OKC are numbered.

800px-adam_silver_281584700477129Winner: The NBA
Do you remember there ever being a more exciting free agency period in another sport? MLB is coming off a year where huge names moved, but it took so long that the fun was lost. The NBA is in a league of its own when it comes to exciting offseason drama. It is clearly dominating the headlines and will be the talk of the sports world well into the month of July, not a typical situation for basketball.

toronto_raptors-wordmarkLosers: Toronto Raptors
Leonard is gone. Danny Green is gone. That’s 40 percent of the Raptors’ championship-winning starting lineup set to play next year in Los Angeles. Toronto is far from a rebuild, still boasting Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. The bench is deep, but this team no longer has a top-five star to lean on. The Raptors will be good, but they are no longer anywhere near the title conversation.

Nets logoWinners: Brooklyn Nets
It is easy to almost forget about the Nets given the moves the Clippers just made, but Brooklyn set itself up to be a contender from 2020 onward. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan join a team full of young talent and perimeter shooting. The Nets even made the playoffs last season without their new big three. Without Durant, they don’t have the makeup of a real contender, but when he returns, they will be firmly in the conversation.

9163126439_ba341593de_bLoser: New York Knicks
It’s hard to talk about one basketball team in New York without bringing up the other. The narrative all season was that the Knicks were poised to land a bunch of stars in the offseason. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis were all mentioned. Instead, New York’s big free agency move was to land Julius Randle. That is barely a consolation prize by comparison to what could have been. Given the fact the Knicks also missed out on the Zion sweepstakes, fans are going to be very unhappy with how this offseason went.

1280px-los_angeles_lakers_logo.svg_Winners: Los Angeles Lakers
No, they didn’t win the Kawhi sweepstakes, but it might be a good thing for the Lakers for this year. With limited cap space, the Lakers filled out the rest of their roster, bringing back Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Then they landed the floor-stretching Danny Green and continuing reclamation project DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins showed flashes of his All-Star potential in the postseason, before he suffered another injury. There is a decent amount of injury risk with this team, but if it can stay healthy, Los Angeles is much closer to an NBA title than it was a year ago.

charlotte_hornets-wordmarkLosers: Charlotte Hornets
This continues to be one of the worst run franchises in the NBA. Kemba Walker skipped town and the Hornets overpaid to bring in Terry Rozier. He might be 25 years old, but paying him over $19 million a year seems pretty steep. This team is capped out otherwise and seems to be nowhere near the playoff conversation. Charlotte will finally have more flexibility next season, but losing Walker makes it tough to qualify this as anything other than a loss.

philadelphia76ers2Winners: Philadelphia 76ers
Lost in the shuffle of all this is the fact the Sixers reloaded for another run. Signing Tobias Harris, sending Jimmy Butler to Miami for Josh Richardson and signing Al Horford makes Philly one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how this team lines up, Ben Simmons could play point guard, but it seems like this is the best positioned team to challenge Milwaukee in the East next year.

cleveland_cavaliers_wordmarkLosers: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are undoubtedly in a rebuild and seemed poised to move high-priced veterans like Kevin Love and JR Smith. With free agency mostly over and every roster seemingly set, it is going to be more difficult to move either or both players. Cleveland had a window to reshape the roster and it feels like it missed out.

miami_heat_wordmarkWinners: Miami Heat
For whatever reason, Pat Riley never wants to go through a rebuild. Miami reloaded again by adding Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade deal with Philly. Suddenly, the Heat are in the mix to continue to build. Don’t expect the Riley to sit around idly either. He will be aggressive in acquiring more pieces to surround Butler and Dion Waiters.

minnesota_timberwolves_wordmarkLosers: Minnesota Timberwolves
There were a lot of rumors this was a likely destination for DeAngelo Russell. Not only did Minnesota not land him, they failed to move Andrew Wiggins’ bloated contract as well. Signing Jordan Bell was a savvy, but Minnesota went through another offseason without finding a way to build around Karl-Anthony Towns. In a loaded Western Conference, this team feels further away from the playoffs than they did a year ago.

memphis_grizzlies_wordmarkWinners: Memphis Grizzlies
Make no mistake, Memphis is nowhere near competing with the top tier teams in the West, but they are leaning into the rebuild. The Grizzlies sent Mike Conley to Utah and acquired Andre Igoudala and a first round pick from the Warriors as part of a salary dump. They will continue to be active, already adding Delon Wright to the list of veterans shipped out.

 

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What do you do if you are the Nets?

Let’s talk about the NBA without discussing Steph Curry or LeBron James. I know novel concept, right?

Mikhail Prokhorov
Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov mortgaged the team’s future in 2013 in attempt to build a super team.

No instead we are going to talk about a certain New York team that has a bit of a foggy future. We are going to tackle the task of rebuilding the Nets.

The Nets are not an enviable team right now. They have a banged up starting five, just bought out their best players’ contract and have no draft picks until the next we have to deal with presidential campaigns again. In short, they don’t have a lot to work with.

You have to start somewhere though and the best way would be with drafting smart. Only issue is, Brooklyn can’t even do that. Remember that trade they swung a couple years back to get Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett from Boston? Well the Nets are paying for that now. As I mentioned before, the Nets don’t have control of their own draft pick until 2019. They will have one next year, but it will likely be the Celtics’ pick after Boston opts to swap.

So the next plan would be to build a roster that can be blown up at any time. That way if the young talent starts to come through, Brooklyn can start building in earnest whenever they want. For right now though, the Nets just need to weather the storm and prepare for the future.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.JPG
Hollis-Jefferson was a star at Arizona and was selected in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft.

Brooklyn made a couple of savvy moves during the draft last year to bring in raw, high-ceiling rookies in Markel Brown, Chris McCullough, Sergey Karasav and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. None of them were ready to contribute much at the NBA level this year, but all have the potential to be decent pieces down the road. For right now, that is the future core of the Nets’ roster. All of these guys have potential and if Brooklyn is patient enough they could develop into a good group to work with.

They took out a couple of flyers on Thomas Robinson and Shane McClellan as well. Unfortunately, the Nets only have two players that should be starting on NBA teams right now. Brook Lopez is doing everything he can to keep this team afloat and Thaddeus Young has put together a solid season. Injuries haven’t helped, as Jarrett Jack was lost for the season relatively early on.

With Joe Johnson officially coming off the books during the summer, Brooklyn will have a ton of money to spend. The challenge will be putting together a pitch for prospective players to join the team. They have don’t have much to sell free agents on and likely won’t be a playoff team for the foreseeable future.

Ideally, the Nets would go out and splash some cash to bring in Kevin Durant, Mike Conley or Bradley Beal. But since that isn’t likely to happen, here is who they could nab instead.

Brandon_Jennings
Jennings was traded to the Magic at the trade deadline this year.

During the 2016 offseason, the Nets need to find themselves a point guard. Donald Sloan is not cutting it and he will be a free agent after the year is done anyway. Brandon Jennings and Aaron Brooks are set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Either one of them would be a significant upgrade. Even with Jack returning, he will be coming off a major knee injury and there is no telling how he will bounce back.

Then Brooklyn needs to address the issue of not having a solid-scoring wing who can act also as a perimeter defender. The Nets score the second fewest points per game in the league right now, only ahead of the Sixers. They also rank 28th in opponents’ field goal percentage. Bojan Bogdanovic is not the long term answer. This one is a bit trickier as there aren’t too many great options that the Nets could realistically sign. Luol Deng might jump at some money if the Nets are willing to throw it his way.

This way, the Nets can at least be semi-competitive in 2016-2017. A starting lineup of Jennings, Wayne Ellington, Deng, Young and Brooks would be a lot better than what they have now. And keep in mind, the Nets have nothing to tank for without control of their own draft pick.

Overall, Brooklyn can only hope to keep fans interested and build through free agency for the time being. They are all but tapped out in terms of resources to trade for draft picks. They do not have the means to build through the draft. They just have to hang on to the young talent they have and continue to bring in unproven players with the potential to develop. One day they will have a chance to rebuild, but until then, they have to suffer through a few seasons of below-average ball.

Nets looking to restart?

The rumors have quieted a little bit but apparently, the Brooklyn Nets might be looking to hit the reset button. The Nets front office locked up what was occasionally referred to as “The Big 5.” It began years ago when the Nets picked Brook Lopez in the 2008 NBA Draft. Brooklyn traded with Utah back in 2011 to land Deron Williams. The front office stepped up and traded for Atlanta’s Joe Johnson in 2012. The Nets finished collecting superstars in 2013 when they made a draft night trade to acquire Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics. This group has been together for less than two full years. That is a pretty small window of opportunity to prove that this group win a title, but it seems like they are running out of time fast.

Pierce already jumped ship and joined the Washington Wizards as a free agent this past off-season. Lopez has been injury prone playing only 33 games since the start of last season. Williams’ ankles have rendered him slow and unable to cope with the same number of minutes he once played. Garnett is starting to show his age. Not many players can still contribute at 38 years old. Johnson is the only one who has continued to perform in a Nets uniform into 2014. He is the only one of this starting five (well now four with Pierce gone) that I can see staying with the Nets past this years’ trade deadline. At least the only one the Nets might want to keep. Plus, his contract is difficult to move. Lopez might not be able to be moved because of his injury history. Brooklyn should find suitors for Garnett and Williams. Neither one of them can carry a team the NBA anymore but they can both contribute to a title contending team. Here is where I could see those two moving.

Williams could go to another team in the Eastern Conference such as Indiana who has been devastated by injuries at guard this year. Williams could also move to the other team from the Eastern Conference Finals last season in Miami. The Heat has been looking for an upgrade at point guard over Mario Chalmers for years. Shabazz Napier could become that player in a few seasons but he is not that player right now. Houston has been busy recently with trades but it could potentially be in play for a move for Williams. Having him setting James Harden and Dwight Howard is a scary thought. I think the most likely possibility here is Miami as they are the ones with the most tradable pieces.

For Lopez, if he is moved. I could see him landing in Golden State. The Warriors tried hard to land Kevin Love but instead they could land Lopez and make a title run if he can stay healthy. The Lakers have also been in the market for anyone who is not currently under contract. Getting a big man who can score in the paint won’t get the Lakers to the playoffs but it will get them on the right track and maybe help them acquire another big name player in the off season. The Suns could also be in play for Lopez. Phoenix could use an upgrade at center and could move Eric Bledsoe finally as has been rumored for about a year now.

Lastly, Garnett might find his way back to one of his former teams. I could see him playing for either Minnesota or Boston in his final few seasons as a way for the organizations draw fans while they rebuild. I could also see him joining Toronto if it chooses to add another frontcourt weapon before making a playoff run. The Raptors currently sit atop the Eastern Conference but a deeper team featuring Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Garnett rotating in could be scary for teams to deal with.

I don’t know if the Nets organization will definitely hit the panic button and restart but I think it might be a wise move. The longer this team stays together, the more Brooklyn is putting off attempting to find young talent to replace this aging crew. I think the Nets need a fresh start. Building around Joe Johnson for the time being could be the plan. They might also hope that building around Lopez is still an option. Either way, this team needs to start moving in a different direction.