Top 5 Biggest NBA Free Agency Winners: Los Angeles Lakers The Top Candidate?

The 2023 NBA free agency dust has finally settled outside of Damian Lillard and James Harden trades, so it’s time to crown the top five biggest winners. The criteria included championship equity change, salary per added win, opportunity cost, and whether the moves align with the optimal future direction.

Top 5 NBA Free Agency Winners

Which teams managed to crack the list?

Los Angeles Lakers

They reached the Western Conference Finals last season, and Rob Pelinka ensured their ability to replicate this performance. He managed to re-sign combo guard Austin Reaves to an extremely team-friendly deal (4 yr, $53.8M) and fortunately escaped any poaching attempts. Roughly $14M per year for a 25-year-old guard that just averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds on a 46/44/89 shooting split during the playoffs while excelling defensively is absolute sorcery.

Pelinka slightly overpaid when re-signing D’Angelo Russell (2 yr, $37M) and Rui Hachimura (3 yr, $51M), but neither were egregious in the slightest. Russell’s outside shooting and playmaking mean 38-year-old LeBron James isn’t forced to run the offense every possession, which grants him needed rest. Meanwhile, Hachimura’s on-ball defense and intriguing self-creation upside give Los Angeles a youthful two-way forward. If his outside shooting holds, then he has a real chance of outperforming this contract.

In addition, the Lakers poached point guard Gabe Vincent (3 yr, $33M) from the Heat and signed veteran forward Taurean Prince (1 yr, $4.5M). Both bring gritty defense and the ability to knock down threes in a playoff setting. Finally, Los Angeles bought low on a pair of top ten picks from the 2019 Draft in wing Cam Reddish (2 yr, $4.6M) and center Jaxson Hayes (2 yr, $4.6M). Neither have come close to reaching their pre-draft projections, but the tutoring of LeBron James and Anthony Davis could unlock them.

Overall, Los Angeles added championship equity while avoiding unsightly contracts. That’s no small feat, so the Lakers are a massive free agency winner.

Dallas Mavericks

After missing the play-in, Dallas clearly needed to re-tool the roster around superstar Luka Doncic. First off, they re-signed All-Star Kyrie Irving (3 yr, $126M), which ensures the offense features two dynamic scorers. Doncic and Irving can both create for themselves and others, and the results were astounding. Across 444 minutes with those two on the court, the Mavericks produced a 119.2 Offensive Rating. For context, the Kings (119.4) just broke the record for best single season Offensive Rating ever.

They also re-signed Dwight Powell (3 yr, $12M) on a cheap deal to anchor the backup center position and mentor rookie Dereck Lively II. Powell’s pick and roll chemistry with Doncic is exceptional, so the Mavericks locked down a reliable backup center here. That statement doesn’t seem vital to team building, but ask the 76ers about what it’s like to not have one.

Next, they acquired Grant Williams from the Celtics to shore up their defense. He’s strong enough to stonewall bigger forwards while maintaining enough lateral agility to defend well on the perimeter. His elite spot-up shooting complements Doncic and Irving perfectly too, so the spacing isn’t compromised. It’s worth mentioning that Williams is battle-tested; over the past two postseasons, he’s played 39 games and 919 minutes. During that span, he averaged 7.3 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 41.1% from three. The Mavericks still must add numerous defenders, but Williams can ensure they don’t rank 25th in Defensive Rating again.

Finally, the Mavericks added an elite three-point shooter in Seth Curry (2 yr, $9.2M) and defensive specialist Dante Exum (1 yr, $2.7M). Exum’s inefficient shot basically forced him out of the NBA after the 2020-21 season, but he produced a 41.9 3PT% in the EuroLeague across the past two years. If his efficiency can be average, then Exum could be a solid bench piece for the Mavericks.

It wasn’t an earth-shaking free agency period for Dallas, but they secured Irving, improved their bench, and added much-needed defense. Considering the disaster that could have been – Irving leaving – Dallas is a big winner.

Indiana Pacers

Indiana entered the off-season with plenty of spending power, and they weaponized this cap space to sign Bruce Brown (2 yr, $45M). He’s a positionless player that is comfortable as a pick and roll ball handler, screener, or catch-and-shoot threat. As a result, Brown fits perfectly into the starting lineup with Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Jarace Walker, and Myles Turner.

The defensive trio of Brown-Walker-Turner will shut down opponents, and the offense should soar with another creator in the lineup. Plus, Brown can act as a culture setter and teach this young squad about championship intangibles. The money may be classified as an overpay, but Indiana has plenty of space. There’s a team option on the second year too, so the Pacers can get out of the contract if they desire.

Indiana also essentially swapped wing Chris Duarte for power forward Obi Toppin. With Mathurin, Brown, Hield, Nesmith, and Sheppard on the roster, the Pacers had no dire need for Duarte’s services off the bench; however, the frontcourt needed remodeling. Toppin immediately steps into the backup forward role as a dangerous opportunistic scorer and developing outside shooter. His lob threat pairs nicely with Nembhard and especially Haliburton when they share the court.

Most importantly, Indiana extended Haliburton to a five year, $205M contract. He’s well on his way to earning an All-NBA berth due to his exceptional playmaking, tremendous efficiency, size, on-ball defense, and unselfishness. Haliburton fits the Chris Paul mold, so Indiana is ecstatic to secure him long-term.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Like Indiana with Haliburton, Minnesota extended future superstar Anthony Edwards (5 yr, $205M) for the long haul. Edwards is fresh off an outstanding 31.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 5 RPG performance against the eventual champions Denver Nuggets, and he’s only scratching the surface. This contract was arguably the best move of free agency.

The Timberwolves re-signed Naz Reid (3 yr, $41.9M) to a team-friendly contract too. He’s a good roll man that spaces the court from deep and thrives in transition. Reid hasn’t received the proper recognition from a national standpoint, but don’t expect that to last for long. Minnesota got a steal here, and he makes the decision to trade Towns easier should the Timberwolves pursue this course.

In addition, Minnesota re-signed Nickeil Alexander-Walker (2 yr, $9M) to a low risk, high reward deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and effective playmaker in small doses, but the 6’6” guard’s bread and butter is defense. Alexander-Walker mirrors on the perimeter well, and he optimally uses his length to disrupt passing lanes. These traits were on display in Minnesota’s play-in game versus Oklahoma City. Alexander-Walker stopped Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from getting to his spots numerous times, which is no small feat.

As for new additions, Minnesota brought in Shake Milton (2 yr, $10M) as a bench scorer and Troy Brown Jr (2 yr, $8M) to replace Taurean Prince’s 3&D role. Minnesota’s depth is certainly a strength, so they have the tools to make a deep run.

Overall, the Timberwolves extended their franchise player and signed four team-friendly deals to build an adequate supporting cast around the stars.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City traded for Vasilije Micic’s rights in 2020, and the overseas star is finally coming to the NBA. The 6’5” veteran point guard is a superb passer, lethal three-point shooter, and crafty ball handler. He’s certainly capable of running the second unit as a high-level sixth man, and there will be plenty of interest should the Thunder seek to trade him. He’s signed long-term (3 yr, $23.5M), so they will likely be able to net a quality first rounder for the EuroLeague star. The Thunder also signed forward Jack White (2 yr, $3.9M), who will fight for a roster spot.

In addition, Sam Presti flexed his asset accumulation skills by leveraging the clean salary sheet. Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, Isaiah Joe, Jaylin Williams, Cason Wallace, and Aaron Wiggins combine for $54,109,232 of total salary next season, which is only 39.7% of the salary cap. Include Gilgeous-Alexander, and Oklahoma City’s top ten playoff rotation accounts for only 64.3% of the cap. That’s insane for a competitive team!

As a result, Presti acquired Oladipo’s $9.4M expiring contract for two future second round picks and sent Atlanta cash considerations for Mills’ $6.8M expiring contract and three future second round picks. He then masterfully flipped Mills for Gay’s $6.4M expiring contract, 2022 first rounder TyTy Washington Jr, 2021 first rounder Usman Garuba, and a future second round pick. Essentially, Presti took on $20,837,840 of expiring salary for Rudy Gay, Washington Jr, Garuba, and six second round picks.

This is the genius of Presti; he understands that cap space isn’t an abstract void that simply facilitates transactions when needed – it’s actually a tangible asset that doesn’t need to be evoked and can compose the transaction itself.

Overall, the Thunder added an impactful player in Micic, two young former first rounders, and six future second rounders for expiring salary. Garuba especially has a real chance to stick due to his mobile defense and floor-stretching potential as a center.

Braxton has been covering the NBA for Lineups since the 2022 season. He's worked with multiple collegiate coaching staffs regarding analytics and scouting, which has allowed him to understand the game on a deeper level. Braxton is also a contributor at Thunderous Intentions.

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