2018 NBA free agency winners and losers: Warriors get better; Lakers land LeBron James, but still fall short
There were some pretty big surprises on the first day of NBA free agency, and some teams fared better than others
NBA free agency is far from over, but there have been enough moves, particularly with the big names at the top, that we can start to assess the situation around the league. With any decision there are always pros and cons, winners and losers, so we decided to sort things out for you as rosters for next season continue to take shape.
Obviously things can change with a big signing or trade before the season starts, but as of now, here are the winners and losers of 2018 NBA free agency.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
Until the days leading up to the start of free agency, Paul George going to Los Angeles was considered one of the strongest locks for this NBA offseason. So much for that. All credit goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder, from Russell Westbrook to Billy Donovan to Sam Presti, for convincing George over the past year that his future was in OKC. The Thunder now get to run it back with a Big Three of George, Westbrook and Steven Adams, with all three under contract through at least 2021.
Almost as important as the George signing is the fact that OKC management somehow reportedly convinced Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and move on from the team. The Anthony experiment clearly didn't work last season, and it appeared that he wasn't ready to accept a reduced role, so it only made sense for the two sides to end their partnership after a year. The Thunder also re-signed Jerami Grant, a bouncy, switchable big who will presumably take quite a few of Anthony's minutes.
That's addition by subtraction, to go along with good old addition by addition. The Thunder couldn't have asked for more this offseason.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The unquestioned prize of the free agent market is taking his talents to Tinseltown. Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss delivered LeBron James, the star they pledged to bring to their city, and locked him up with a four-year deal (player option in the final year). This immediately takes the Lakers from an up-and-coming young team to a sure bet for the playoffs and, depending on the rest of their moves, possibly a fringe contender in the West.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
In the astute words of the inimitable Gloria Clemente from White Men Can't Jump: "Sometimes when you win, you really lose." Any team that secures LeBron James is automatically a winner, but the subsequent bizarre moves from the organization leave us no choice but to label them a loser as well. LeBron reportedly wants more playmakers, so they went out and signed Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, along with bringing back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
All those players are on one-year deals, so perhaps the team is just aiming for the 2019-20 season after potentially getting another superstar free agent next summer, but the lack of shooting and odd fit of their players might make it impossible for this team to be a true contender in 2018-19.
Loser: Houston Rockets
With LeBron out of the picture, Houston's best course of action was to bring back the team that was one win -- and one ill-timed Chris Paul injury -- away from dethroning the Warriors. That meant re-signing Paul (done), retaining restricted free agent Clint Capela (likely) and re-signing free agent Trevor Ariza (whoops). Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns of all teams, eliminating a huge piece of the Rockets' winning formula last season. Adding to the misery, the Rockets also lost Luc Mbah a Moute to the Clippers. Both two-way veterans were perfect cogs in Houston's system, and were big reasons why the Rockets were able to push the Warriors to the brink. Now they'll have to rely on new acquisition James Ennis to fill in the gaps -- all due respect to Ennis, but that's a downgrade and a half.
Even if the Rockets are able to bring back Capela, they will be a weaker version of last year's impressive 65-win squad -- unless Daryl Morey has some tricks up his sleeve, which is highly probable.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
Just when you thought the whole, "the Warriors ruined the NBA" narrative could get any more salient, Golden State goes out and signs DeMarcus Cousins -- arguably the best offensive center in the NBA when healthy. Sigh.
Obviously this is a win for the Warriors, but perhaps not for the reason you think. There are some fit issues in terms of Cousins joining the Warriors offense and questions about both his rim-protection and his explosiveness coming off a devastating Achilles injury in January. But, if nothing else, the Cousins addition will help keep the Warriors engaged during the regular season -- something they struggled with mightily last year.
Just as the team starts getting bored and looking ahead to the playoffs come January or February, Cousins will make his debut and re-energize the team, presenting them with the fresh challenge of having to bring Boogie into the fold. The Warriors lost JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia, but were able to retain Kevon Looney, who some thought would be drawn away by a more lucrative offer after playing well for the Warriors during their most recent title run. He and promising second-year player Jordan Bell will likely man the center position while Cousins recovers.
The rich get richer, and the mad get madder -- just another Warriors offseason.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
Look, you don't always need to make a big splash to have a successful free agency period. The Pacers may not have wrangled in any big names, but they added exactly what they needed. They got an elite shooter in Doug McDermott (Indiana made the fifth-fewest 3-pointers per game in the NBA last season) and a scoring machine combo guard in Tyreke Evans (Pacers were bottom-third of the league in bench points per game). The Pacers were a surprise contender last season, taking the Cavs to seven games in the first round, but they don't want to regress. They've made moves to help ensure they stay in the mix for a suddenly wide-open Eastern Conference.
Winner: Zach LaVine
In what has been an otherwise lukewarm market for restricted free agents, LaVine leveraged an offer sheet from the Kings into a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. Most teams are saving money this offseason, and players who have gotten relatively decent money have been on one- or two-year deals. LaVine, however, inked the largest non-max contract of the NBA offseason. Well done for the 23-year-old coming off of ACL surgery.
Loser: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard wants out of San Antonio, and for a minute it looked like the Lakers were going to throw the kitchen sink at the Spurs to get him. But instead they stuck to their guns, reportedly refusing the Spurs' hefty demands, and now we're nearing mid-July with Kawhi still a member of the Spurs. The Lakers appear content holding onto their young stars and waiting to take a swing at Leonard (and other stars) next summer, while teams like the 76ers and Clippers reportedly haven't been able to produce packages tempting enough for San Antonio to pull the trigger.
The Spurs appear happy to wait things out until they get the right offer, which means Kawhi might not be dealt for a long time. Add in the rumor thatearlier this year while rehabbing in New York, and this hasn't been a great summer for the former NBA Finals MVP.
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