I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is my favorite time of the year. Teams are trying to keep their contending window open, some are trying to open it up for the first time, and others have seen theirs slam shut. There are some clear winners and losers in the free agency of this frenzy, I’ll offer up four of each in the following paragraphs.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
Man, the 76ers had an incredible start to free agency. Let’s recap. Jimmy Butler is out. In trading him, however, they received Josh Richardson. Consider him a Diet Jimmy who will make about $25 million less than Butler this season. So where did the money they didn’t give Jimmy go? Well to Al Horford of course. Turns out they were the mystery team all along. They gave him four years $109 million. It’s a massive contract but they basically signed the only big man in the East that can shut down Embiid. Back-up center was at times the weakest part of the Sixers last season and this plugs that whole as they can stagger the two. Horford is also an awesome locker room guy and will bring experience to this young Philly core. They also re-upped Tobias Harris to the tune of 5 years $180 million (more than Middleton, woof). After all they traded to get Harris it would look foolish to let him walk. Sometimes you need to overpay for a player twice to really show him you care.
All jokes aside the Sixers got better this offseason. Who’s going to score on them? How do you score on them? The one concern is that there is not a single player in the starting lineup that can create their own shot. Ben Simmons is a transition demon but a zero on offense beyond that, Josh/Tobias/Horford are all spot up shooters, and Embiid can work the post but that isn’t enough. They’re going to need Simmons to take another step or hope Brett Brown can scheme up something nice. Despite these concerns, the Sixers are certainly one of the biggest winners of free agency thus far.
Loser: New York Knicks
I’m going to keep this short as every podcast on earth is talking about the misery the Knicks are. It just wouldn’t be right not to mention them in the loser section. Here’s a quick rundown of the Knicks season. They traded their franchise player for picks and cap space. Their owner goes on radio shows to talk about how that cap space is going to be used for stars in free agency. The rumors are that KD and Kyrie are going there. Not only did that not happen, they went to the OTHER New York team in the process. Now you’re getting sonned in your own city. The cherry on top is that they’re overpaying numerous free agents now to save face. They now have THREE starting caliber power forwards on the roster making at least $10 million a year. *sigh*. I thank God I’m not a Knicks fan. I’d say stick in there but it’s been a decade of this stuff.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Did someone say the other New York team? Much like the Lebron Cavs facing the Raptors in the playoffs , this was a clean sweep (surely this joke fills the Eastern Conference Finals hole in my heart, right?). The Nets signed Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Deandre Jordan without losing their core! It is really unbelievable. Was D’Angelo Russell their only All-Star this season? Yes. Are they going to miss him? Not really. D-Lo was great in his time here but he can’t compare to Kyrie Irving. At the same time, they still have Spencer Dinwiddie. He is a much better complementary guard and a more complete basketball player. They also still have my boy Caris Levert, who was their best player until he got injured early in the season. This team, even without KD for what should be the whole season, will be better than last year’s squad.
Also, please stop complaining about the ‘overpaying’ of Deandre Jordan. Oh he’s not worth $10 million a year? You’re so observant. KD and Kyrie took less so they would give him that contract, as if the Nets ever had a choice. I’m also one of the people that think him being washed the last two seasons attributed more to the Clippers ripping out his love for basketball after begging him to stay and then trading away all his friends. He’s playing with friends again and he’s still athletic. At the very minimum he’s another guy to throw at Embiid in the playoffs. If it wasn’t for a Kawhi “KaWHY did you take so long” Leonard (yeah no these jokes aren’t helping I’m still sad) going to the Clippers, the Nets would have been the biggest winners of free agency.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves
I’m not kidding I get a headache whenever I think about the Timberwolves. KAT is cool but he doesn’t seem super committed to this team (who can blame him?) and the rest of the team is gross. Andrew Wiggins is so uninspiring. Side note, the top 4 of that draft class is so weird, right? Wiggins and Parker are borderline non-NBA players while Embiid and Porzingis are stars. Anyways, there’s not much else to like about the Wolves. Robert Covington is a fine small forward. Dario Saric, who actually paired well with KAT, has been moved to Phoenix. Josh Okogie is the annual ‘man if he figures out his shot he could be a real NBA player’ guy. Jeff Teague took a dramatic step back in his age 31 season.
But how about their free agency? Well, they were the favorites to landing D’Angelo Russell and taking a step in the right direction as a franchise. But, as we all some coming, the Golden State Warriors swooped in and traded for him? I mean, you can’t make this stuff up. Their only signing so far has been Jordan Bell, who signed a one year minimum deal with them. He’s a nice flyer and a near free look. He isn’t a needle mover. They did draft Jarrett Culver however, who actually has the potential to be a good sidekick to KAT). I’m a big Gersson Rosas believer but as of right now, this headache isn’t going away.
UPDATE: Moments after writing this article, Minnesota acquired Jake Layman in a sign-and-trade with Portland. He has been called a very good under the radar free agent and he signed a very team-friendly deal. They’re still losers in FA but this makes it sting a bit less.
UPDATE #2: The Timberwolves did not match the offer sheet for Tyus Jones. That hurts. Here’s to saving cap space for 2020!
Winner: Utah Jazz
Three teams were considered for this spot. The Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers, and Utah. Portland was eliminated because they have Hassan Whiteside now. So, yeah. I really like the moves the Pacers made this offseason but they lost their starting small forward and power forward and didn’t plug those holes. Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren should do an admirable job of replacing Bogdanovic but there’s no insurance if starting Sabonis at PF doesn’t work out. I don’t like that.
So, let’s talk about the Jazz. They have had two straight postseason trips cut short due to Donovan Mitchell having too big of a load and being their only scorer/shot-creator. So what did the Jazz do? They traded for Mike Conley. A great passer and shooter. They then signed Bojan Bogdanovic, a shot creator and shooter. He even plays hard enough defense to fit into Quin Snyder’s scheme. Out of the non-Gobert starters, Mitchell is now the worst shooter percentage-wise. That is drastically different than last season. While they did lose Derrick Favors, they bolstered their bench with cheap signings for Ed Davis and Jeff Green. As it stands right now, the Jazz are a top contender in the West and have a real shot for the NBA title this upcoming season.
Loser: Orlando Magic
Let me start by saying this. Malcolm Brogdon is the only second rounder to win Rookie of the Year. Giannis Antetokounmpo is tied with Steve Nash as the latest pick in the draft to win MVP. Both of these players were taken by John Hammond, who is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Orlando Magic. There are a very small number of GMs with as big of a hit as either of those draft picks and he hit both. Now let me also say this. The Orlando Magic have no direction and their free agency signings make no sense and I hate them. Hammond’s resume beyond those picks isn’t incredible and those are the parts the Magic has gotten so far. Let’s take a look at their off-season so far.
The Magic have holes in their roster and they have surpluses at other spots. For example, they had Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba and Khem Birch at center this season. At power forward they had Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. That’s five big men that deserve minutes. At the same time, they really only had one small forward in Terrence Ross. They also basically have 1 shooting guard with Fournier and 1.5 point guards in D.J. Augustin and Markelle Fultz. And yeah, the Magic made it work. The DJ/Ross/Gordon/Isaac/Vooch lineup was surprisingly good offensively and even more surprisingly good defensively. However, the Magic need depth at guard and could use a new piece at point. Fultz may live up to his #1 pick potential someday, but I’m not betting on it. Now, the Magic don’t have a ton of cap either. Resigning Vooch and Terrence Ross to pretty hefty contracts hurts but makes sense to keep that dangerous starting five. They really should sign a guard with that remaining 10ish million in cap they still have. Delon Wright is a great guy to check out and would come in cheap (he was signed after this article was written and SIGNED FOR THE SAME AS AMINU. Ugh).
So what do the Magic do? They sign AL-FAROUQ AMINU FOR THREE YEARS THIRTY MILLION. Now, I really like Aminu as a player. He’s a tough defender on the perimeter and makes enough threes (in the regular season) to get people to guard him. He’s a great value power forward, especially at that price. BUT HE’S STILL A BIG MAN. What’s he going to be, they’re fourth big guy in minutes? Third at best? Jonathan Issac’s FLOOR as an NBA player is Aminu. Why pay him? It makes no sense. The Magic make no sense. Ugh.
UPDATE: The Magic resigned Khem Birch yesterday. The could legit run out like two different lineups consisting only of power forwards and centers. Small Ball be damned I guess?
Biggest Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
Uh oh. The Lakers, who traded for Anthony Davis early in this offseason, are the biggest loser. How? Well they endured one of the biggest strike outs in free agency history. Instead of using their $30 million plus to fill out a roster that literally only had three players, they elected to wait to see if they could get Kawhi. Is that the right choice? Absolutely, if you have a chance at Kawhi Leonard, you take it every time. Does that make the consequences of missing out sting less? No. Instead of Kawhi they over paid Danny Green, took a flyer on DeMarcus Cousins, and signed Avery Bradley. Surprisingly, the Lakers actually do have two playable guys at every position. Are they even 60% as good as they would have been with Kawhi? No. They lost big.
Biggest Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
Much like the New York teams, the Lakers strike out swings the other way in their city. The Los Angeles Clippers made out like thieves in free agency. If Pat Riley is Al Capone, Jerry West is Marlon Brando. The Clippers won the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes. That alone would have put them near the top of free agency rankings. But they did more. Not only did they trade for another star, they traded for one that wasn’t even available! They sent a bounty to the Thunder for Paul George. I would take Paul George and Kawhi over LeBron and AD. Personally, I’m just a two way wing guy. They sent more than the Lakers did for AD and yet still have TWICE the depth than the Lakers. Let me put it this way. If a man with $100 spends $60 and a man with $200 dollars spends $80, technically the second man spent more. But did he LOSE more? Not a chance.
Remember when I asked how a team was going to score on the 76ers? This teams makes them look like defensive sieves. Their worst defender in the starting lineup is Maurice Harkless, who was the BEST DEFENDER on the Trail Blazers last season. You’re not scoring on these guys. Another key difference from Philly is that Kawhi and PG are two of the most devastating shot creators in the league. Do you know who the most devastating shot creator off the bench is? Lou Williams. My one concern with this team is that there is a lack of playmaking in terms of passing on the team. The roster is made up of solely iso ball guys, catch and shooters, and rim runners. They can easily win the title without that, although it would have been nice to see them pick up a Rondo type. This is the best team in the league and the biggest winners of free agency.
This has been a roller coaster of a couple days. A ton of players changed teams. Tons of teams of better. A few got worse. There is no clear favorite for the NBA title as of right now. There are like 11 teams you could make a case for. The Clippers are the favorite but they aren’t as overwhelming as the super teams of the past.. It should be an incredibly fun season that should end with us having a different team win the NBA title for a third straight year for only the third time in the 2000’s. It’s a good time to be an NBA fan. This is Cloutless Woj clocking out, see you next time.