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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George needs to be back on the court for Indiana

Paul George needs to come back to the Pacers’ as soon as he is healthy enough to do so. The notion that he could disrupt the team’s chemistry is laughable. There will probably be a slight adjustment period where George acclimates himself to playing in the NBA again but that shouldn’t take too long. The sooner George returns the better for both Indiana’s hopes of making the playoffs and making some noise when they get there.

The Pacers currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, holding tiebreakers over both the Heat and the Celtics. Obviously, the race is very tight and with those three teams fighting over two playoff spots, it is still entirely conceivable that the Pacers miss the postseason altogether. This is the first part of where having George back is a necessity. He is the unquestioned leader of this Indiana squad and even if he has yet to suit up for them this year, he will still fill a very notable void. Not to mention that George will be a much-welcomed replacement to Solomon Hill in the starting lineup.

Statistically, George represents an upgrade in every facet of the word. George, in his career, has a better career shooting, three-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounding, assisting, stealing, blocking and scoring average than Hill has this season. That is an across the board improvement on both offense and defense. George will instantly make this team better, even if he is a little rusty at first and leads to some small adjustments in the Pacers’ play.

From a team perspective as well, the two-time all-star will provide an immediate boost in some key areas. Indiana has struggled all year to score, ranking as the 25th best scoring team in the league. Their leading scorer right now is George Hill, with only 15 point per contest and he has only appeared in 27 games anyway. The next highest is Rodney Stuckey, who is averaging under 14 point a night. George over his last two season tallied roughly 19.5 points per game. He will provide an immediate injection of offense into a team struggling to make baskets. Additionally, the Pacers have been a below average three-point shooting team in George’s absence. His 36 percent career shooting percentage from beyond the arc should provide a boost as well. George is also one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA. The small forward clocked in with the most defensive win shares in 2013 and the second most in 2014, according to Basketball Reference.

Those added benefits should carry Indiana to a playoff berth. Even without George, the Pacers could likely make it to postseason but if he is not on the court, then they have no shot of legitimately competing. I mentioned before that George is the unquestioned leader of this team. He also turns up his level of play come playoff time. During Indiana’s run last season to the Eastern Conference Finals, George carried the team. He posted phenomenal numbers, averaging over 22 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals per game while draining more than 40 percent of his shots from three-point territory. Having a player who understands what is at stake and raises his game when the postseason roles around is invaluable.

If George is playing at full strength come the playoffs, it becomes a lot harder to count the Pacers out. If they were to matchup with Toronto or even Cleveland, it is not unconceivable that Indiana could find a way to win. They have the type of team that can wear you out over the course of a series and if they manage to push it to six or seven games, I would definitely pick the Pacers to win. Another little nugget that should convince you of how dangerous Indiana might be with a healthy George in the postseason is their record in the division. The Pacers actually have the best in division record for anyone playing in the Central region. At 7-5, Indiana ranks higher than Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. Those first three teams all sit ahead of Indiana in the standings and will be part of the playoff field.

It is not guaranteed that George will immediately return to the same level he played at before his injury. But if there is even a possibility he might and he is healthy enough to be in the lineup, then Frank Vogel would be crazy to hold him out. The Pacers are a much better team when George is on the court and if he can play, Indiana might just find itself back in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.