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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Lance’s landing spots

Lance Stephenson has not fit in too well with Charlotte. I wrote back in June that I thought this would be a good fit for the ex-Pacers guard but clearly, that hasn’t been the case as the front office is rumored to be looking to move him via trade. Today marks the first day that Stephenson can be traded because of an NBA rule regarding players who sign contracts in free agency. So now that he can be moved, it’s time to take a second look.

Believe it or not, Stephenson is actually having a career year for himself so far. He scoring 10.4 points per game and average 5 assists and 7.2 rebounds a game. All of those would be career bests. The issue is he has shot an abysmal 39% from the floor and hit only 16.7% of his three point attempts. Needless to say, he has not been an effective shooter and that is more of what Charlotte was looking for to pair with his great on ball defense. Here are the teams that I think could be interested in acquiring Stephenson.

The obvious on would be the Indiana Pacers. This is the team Stephenson walked away from in free agency because he did not get opportunities he wanted offensively. The Pacers have been decimated by injuries this year, particularly in the backcourt. Having Stephenson back could be a major boost to the team’s guard play for sure and might break Stephenson from his shooting woes. The Pacers would likely have to give up a couple of players the most likely players would be CJ Miles, Chris Copeland and maybe a future second round draft pick in exchange for the out-of-favor Stephenson. That would prevent the Pacers from giving up too much allowing them to still compete in the East and would give Charlotte a couple of talented players to work into its rotation.

Another team with plenty of guard injuries is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They struggled all year to stay healthy and have been one of the worst defensive teams in basketball this year ranking second to last in the league for points allowed per game. Stephenson would provide a much need defensive presence for a young Wolves team. He would also provide some veteran leadership on a team with rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine and second-year players Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad. In return, Charlotte could likely receive Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer. Both players have been rumored to be pieces Minnesota would like to move and could fill in as productive role players for the Hornets.

The last team is a bit of a wild card but apparently, the Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale. They would be looking move practically all of their star players. This could be the opportunity for Charlotte to snag a top player in a deal to get rid of Stephenson. The Hornets could land Kevin Garnett potentially along with a young guard in Sergey Karasev while shipping Stephenson, Cody Zeller and PJ Hariston to Brooklyn. This would give Charlotte better option at power forward creating a formidable frontcourt with Al Jefferson. It also allows the Nets to experiment with some young players.

The most likely scenario is Stephenson goes back to Indiana. I have no doubt though that Stephenson will be moved sooner rather than later. The NBA’s Eastern conference is wide open right now and if you can avoid matching up with either Chicago or Cleveland in the first round, you have a chance to run the table and win a playoff series. I think Charlotte, right now, is still thinking about competing. The Hornets made the playoffs last year and gave the Heat a run for its money in a couple of games in that series. We will see what Michael Jordan decides to do.