2019 NBA free agency: Early winners and losers as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving choose Nets, Knicks whiff on stars
A quick look at what has happened already
Free agency just started, so let's take an irresponsibly early look at which players and front offices have done well for themselves. What follows are the winners and losers of the beginning of the NBA's craziest time of year, starting with the team that was a laughingstock fairly recently but convinced Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to join the party.
Early Day 1 Winners
Let's get the caveats out of the way: There is risk in signing anyone, even Kevin Durant, coming off a torn Achilles tendon. The full Kyrie Irving experience can be stressful for an organization, and he will reportedly have a player option on the fourth year of his contract. Caveats over. The Nets, a team that won 28 games two years ago and only recently emerged from NBA purgatory, are about to sign Durant and Irving. This is extraordinary.
Next season, the Nets will be pretty good, even with Durant rehabilitating. They will reportedly add center DeAndre Jordan (on a four-year, $40 million deal) and wing Garrett Temple (on a two-year, $10 million deal), and they will have real depth because the front office has been quietly accumulating talent for the past few years. More important, though, is what this means for the future of the franchise. If Durant is even close to his normal self when he returns to the court, he and Irving will be an impossible-to-stop duo, and Brooklyn will be in the league's top tier.
He got a four-year, $40 million deal, at least partially, because he is close with Durant.
The Jazz could win the West. Already an elite defensive team, they addressed their offensive problems by nabbing Bojan Bogdanovic for a reported four years and $73 million. He and Mike Conley are potent offensive weapons individually, but together they will have a profound effect on the whole ecosystem. Donovan Mitchell is going to look so much better next to them. I love the versatility and playmaking options they have now, and Ed Davis, who will join the team on a two-year, $10 million deal, fills the frontcourt hole that was created by the departure of Derrick Favors. Davis is a steal.
All of the praise that Pelicans VP David Griffin has received for the Anthony Davis trade and his draft-day dealings was deserved, but it was also fair to point out that his team had a severe lack of shooting. Not anymore. J.J. Redick, who reportedly agreed to a two-year, $26.5 million deal, makes perfect sense here, and New Orleans also imported floor-spacing forward Nicolo Melli from Fenerbahce. They also traded for Favors, who will immediately become their starting center. I can't wait to watch this team play.
It seems like Butler wanted to be 'The Guy', and that was never going to happen on a team that employs Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. A sign-and-trade sent him to the Miami Heat on a four-year, $142 million maximum contract, which will please his friend and former teammate, Dwyane Wade. There was a report early Monday that the , but there were expectations on all side to get the deal restructured and done, albeit with a different third team involved. I'm not particularly bullish on the Heat in the short term, but Butler reportedly had his sights set on this.
As difficult as it might be to leave a 60-win team, it is easier when you leave for another playoff team on a four-year, $85 million guaranteed contract. Brogdon complements Victor Oladipo brilliantly, giving the Indiana Pacers some much-needed shooting and playmaking. (He is on this list because he got this deal three years removed from going No. 36 in the draft and despite some concern about his injury history). The Pacers did well by getting him, and Jeremy Lamb gives them some extra firepower, too, but they lost Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young. I'm not sure where all of this leaves them.
The 6th, 7th and 8th picks of the 2012 draft
Everybody knew Damian Lillard was going to get a supermax deal, so there wasn't much reaction to his four-year, $196 million contract extension. Nonetheless, Lillard should be recognized for developing into the kind of player that can get this type of contract without anyone batting an eye. He has put the Blazers on his shoulders, and he means everything to the city of Portland.
Harrison Barnes, the guy drafted right after Lillard seven years ago, quietly agreed to a four-year deal with the Sacramento Kings worth a reported $85 million. Terrence Ross, who was drafted after Barnes, is also staying put, agreeing to a four-year deal worth a reported $54 million. Barnes played his cards perfectly, opting out of his $25 million 2018-19 salary for long-term security, and Ross capitalized on a career year with a big payday of his own.
I like what the Bulls did on draft night, and now that they've added Thaddeus Young (three years, $41 million) and Tomas Satoransky (there years, $30 million in a sign-and-trade -- fantastic value), I am cautiously optimistic about them. I also wonder if they can get anything of value in a trade for Kris Dunn, who seems expendable with Satoransky and Coby White on the roster. (There is a bit of a frontcourt logjam, too, but finding some stretch-4 minutes for Otto Porter while primarily using a three-big rotation of Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young and Wendell Carter Jr. qualifies as a Good Problem. This might be a playoff team.)
Early Day 1 Losers
Team president Steve Mills issued a statement recognizing that "some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight's news," but insisting that the front office is still "upbeat and confident" about its rebuilding plan. So, yeah, not great.
I'm just going to lay out the facts here: In early February, the Knicks traded 23-year-old franchise player Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr. and salary relief. The move opened up enough cap space to sign two maximum contracts this summer, and it brought DeAndre Jordan, a friend of Kevin Durant, to New York. As soon as free agency began, the Knicks' main targets -- Durant and Kyrie Irving -- signed with the Brooklyn Nets, and both of them agreed to take slightly less than the max so Jordan could come with them. New York then reached reported agreements with Julius Randle (for three years and $63 million, with a team option on the final season), Taj Gibson (for two years and $20 million), Bobby Portis (for two years and $31 million) and Reggie Bullock (for two years and $21 million).
One more fact: In an interview on ESPN Radio in March, Knicks owner James Dolan said, "I can tell you from what we've heard I think we're going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents."
The Kemba Walker trade rumors started in January 2018, but the Hornets kept him until he hit free agency and offered him far less than they could have because of luxury-tax concerns, so they lost him for nothing. Giving him a supermax contract would not have been smart considering what the rest of the roster looks like, but arriving at this point represents a massive failure. Terry Rozier will take Walker's place, reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $58 million deal. That feels like an overpay.
The Confusing/To-Be-Determined Pile
The Sixers somehow got even bigger, essentially swapping Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick for Al Horford and Josh Richardson. They will miss Butler's playmaking, and their offense will look different without Redick's DHOs and off-ball movement, but perhaps this new configuration will be a less complicated fit in terms of sharing the ball. If it's going to work, Tobias Harris, who will come back on a five-year, $180 million deal, will have to increase his usage, and Horford will have to get comfortable playing much more power forward.
A four-year, $109 million deal is rich for a 33-year-old big man, even if only $97 million is guaranteed, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, with bonuses accounting for the remainder. That is mitigated somewhat, though, by Horford's cerebral game and the extra value he brings as a leader. If overpaying him at the end of the deal is the cost of having a real chance of winning the title next season, it is worth it. The question is whether or not this team will have a real chance of winning the title.
Philadelphia will also bring back Mike Scott on a two-year, $9.8 million deal. It has more work to do in terms of upgrading the bench, even with Horford solving the backup center problem.
They knew they couldn't afford to lose Khris Middleton, so the forward is coming back on a five-year deal worth $178 million, with a player option on the final season. Brook Lopez will also return to the Bucks on a four-year contract worth $52 million, a bargain based on how he performed last season. Lopez's twin brother, Robin, is reportedly on his way, too. They lost Malcolm Brogdon, but they got some draft-pick compensation and managed to keep George Hill for three years and $29 million. I wonder if they would have ponied up for Brogdon had they chosen not to offer Eric Bledsoe an extension?
The day Milwaukee gave Bledsoe that extension, it became extremely unlikely that the team would keep everybody. It still hurts to say goodbye to Brogdon, and championship contenders generally shouldn't get worse for financial reasons. We can't fully evaluate this, though, until it is time for Giannis Antetokounmpo to decide whether or not he wants to commit his prime to the Bucks. Every decision they make until then is about convincing him to do so.
D'Angelo Russell will reportedly get a four-year, $117 million maximum contract en route to Golden State. This sign-and-trade is a stunning development, and it's certainly a creative move by the Warriors. In the short term, this seems sort of miraculous for a team that will be without Klay Thompson, who is still expected to stay on a max contract of his own, for most or all of next season. In the long term, Russell is a weird fit next to Stephen Curry, and their payroll is going to be ridiculous, especially if Draymond Green re-signs next summer. For the privilege of giving Russell the max, Golden State had to send a first-round pick and Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies, and it will be hard capped for the rest of free agency. This almost certainly means that Kevon Looney, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook are all gone. The Warriors will reportedly get Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham from Brooklyn along with Russell, and you should expect them to be in the rotation.
I love the way Ricky Rubio sees the game. I think they Suns needed a competent floor general and an above-average defender next to Devin Booker in the backcourt. I do not, however, think the Suns needed to add Rubio on a three-year, $51 million deal. I'll reserve judgment on their offseason as a whole until Kelly Oubre's restricted free agency is settled and we find out what else they have planned, but their draft night was strange and I'm not terribly encouraged by the way free agency started.
Bringing back Nikola Vucevic for $100 million over four years is a solid value. So is getting Al-Farouq Aminu for three years and $29 million. They splurged to keep Terrence Ross, though, and they have a lot of money tied up in a team that is not close to being a contender. I don't hate what the Magic did, but I am concerned by their relative lack of flexibility going forward.
Replacing Kyrie with Kemba Walker was awesome. They do not have a single proven center on the roster.
They wanted Jimmy Butler and didn't get him. There has been so much noise about this team, and I'm not going to overreact to their lack of immediate activity.
They have three players on their roster. They are reportedly in the mix for Kawhi Leonard. There is time for free agency to go spectacularly well or spectacularly wrong for them.
Toronto Raptors/Los Angeles Clippers
They're waiting on a guy. Fun.
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