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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Can the Clippers bounce back?

Blake Griffin and DeAndre JordanThe Clippers were pretty much set to move on. They were up three to one over the Rockets needing to win just one of the next three games. They even got one on their home floor with a chance to end the series and advance to the team’s first ever Western Conference Finals. Instead, Doc Rivers is explaining how his team fell apart at press conferences and the front office is gearing up for the offseason. This seemed like the Clippers best shot at a championship unfortunately. There will be some turnover surrounding this team in the coming months. The question that is being floated out there is how much needs to change for LA?

DeAndre_JordanThe answer is not so simple. Let’s start with free agency. The Clippers have six unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market this summer. Most of them are role players but among them is DeAndre Jordan. Jordan will likely demand some pretty big money from the Clippers or another team if Los Angeles cannot get the deal done. The Clippers are slated to have the sixth largest cap number in the NBA heading into next season with very little financial flexibility.

However, with the cap set to skyrocket in 2016, the Clippers could find a way to backload Jordan’s deal and wait until they have more flexibility to start paying him. The only other free agent that scored more than four points a game is Austin Rivers and with his dad coaching the team, I think this will be where he continues to play. The Clippers are not losing anyone significant heading into next season.

The Clippers have a lot of the pieces needed to compete. They have an All-Star point guard and a secondary scorer. They have tons of athleticism. They also have a good deal of chemistry as this unit has been playing together for basically two years. They have elite three point shooting. In fact, the Clippers were the second best shooting team in the league behind only Golden State. There are a couple of things that the Clippers are desperately missing though from really competing.

Despite having the association’s best rebounder on a night-to-night basis in Jordan, the Clippers ranked 20th in the league in total rebounding. They tied with the Lakers for rebounding differential at 16th as well. The Clippers desperately need some rebounding from their bench and on the offensive end. Los Angeles ranked 28th in offensive boards and Spencer Hawes was the top rebounder off the bench with 3.5 per game.

For some comparison, the Rockets, who are another middle of the road rebounding team, had four bench players come up with more rebounds per night than Hawes. On top of all of that, Los Angeles was outrebounded 120-80 in Games 5 and 6. Without a doubt, there needs to be some more depths on this squad in terms of rebounding for them to compete.

Another point of emphasis this offseason has to be finding a replacement for Matt Barnes at small forward. At 36, Barnes is a good player who knows his role but he is really much better suited to come off the bench. He only average 7.8 points per game with 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.6 steals in the playoffs. He always seemed to be carrying a lot of fouls as well. Not to mention that his shooting percentage tanked to 38 percent from the field. He did have an ankle injury late in the Houston series but he was struggling before that.

Chris PaulIf LA could have Barnes make his effort plays coming off the bench, that would be a huge asset for them. However, him contributing that much as the starting small forward is not enough. If somehow DeMarre Carroll, Tobias Harris, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler or even Jae Crowder slip away from their current clubs, LA should pounce.

Overall, this team really is not broken. It just needs some tinkering. Doc Rivers has this team headed in the right direction but their championship window is definitely closing. Chris Paul is not getting any younger and his contract, along with Blake Griffin’s and J.J. Reddick’s, is set to expire in 2018. Keeping the band together past that point is not too likely. The Clippers are not out of time but the clock is definitely ticking a little louder now.