After the play-offs, probably the most interesting time in the NBA competition calendar is the free agency period preceeding the annual players draft. This year there have been, as always, some big surprises, and some big disappointments.
Winners and Losers thus far in 2019 after the first wave of contracts are as follows…
2019 NBA free agency winners and losers after first wave of contracts
NBA free agency 2019 began Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET, and there was a flurry of activity that will shape the balance of power in the league for many years to come.
Several superstars changed teams, creating a wide open 2019-20 NBA title race that should produce lots of compelling drama. As of Monday morning, more than $3 billion in new contracts had been agreed to.
Let’s take a look at the early winners and losers from NBA free agency.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers, Al Horford
–Tobias Harris (five years, $180M)
–Al Horford (four years, $109M)
–Josh Richardson (sign-and-trade)
The 76ers kept Harris and signed one of the best defensive and 3-point shooting big men in the league in Horford. They also are expected to add a solid young player in Richardson as part of a sign-and-trade with the Heat involving Butler. The Sixers are now the likely favorites in the Eastern Conference title race entering the 2019-20 campaign. Philly’s starting five of Ben Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford and Joel Embiid probably is the best in the league.
Loser: New York Knicks
The Knicks took so much of a beating on social media and television for not being able to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that the team actually had to put out a press release explaining the situation. After that, the Knicks agreed to contracts with role players such as Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock. These additions could prevent the Knicks from being the worst team in the NBA again and thus decreasing their chances of winning the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Sunday was a total disaster for the Knicks, and to make matters worse, Durant and Irving agreed to join New York’s cross-town rival, the Brooklyn Nets.
Winner: Utah Jazz
The Jazz were bounced in the first of the playoffs this past season partly because second-year guard Donovan Mitchell was forced to shoulder too much of the burden offensively. Well, the Jazz went out and acquired star point guard Mike Conley in a trade before the draft, then agreed to sign Bojan Bogdanovic (four years, $73 million) and Ed Davis (two years, $10 million) in free agency Sunday. Utah’s depth has improved quite a bit, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they made a deep playoff run next season.
Loser: Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker was the greatest player in Charlotte Hornets history (this iteration, of course), but they weren’t willing to pay him enough and he instead went to the Boston Celtics on a four-year max contract. The Hornets lost their franchise point guard for nothing and tried to make up for it by overpaying for Celtics backup Terry Rozier (three years, $58 million). If the Hornets weren’t willing to pay up (and/or go into the luxury tax) to keep Walker, they should have traded him before the deadline in February. This was horrendous asset management by Charlotte, a franchise likely doomed to a lengthy rebuild.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Sunday was the greatest day in the history of the Brooklyn Nets. They agreed to four-year near-max contracts with superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie irving, ensuring the Nets are the marquee basketball team in New York for the next couple of seasons. Durant isn’t likely to play until the 2020-21 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, but the long-term outlook for the Nets is as bright as any team.
Loser: Orlando Magic
Does anyone know what the Magic are trying to accomplish?
Overpaying to keep veteran center Nikola Vucevic (four years, $100 million) was bad enough, and then they agreed to an even worse contract with veteran role player Al-Farouq Aminu (three years, $29 million). Terrence Ross also re-signed with the Magic for four years and $54 million! Orlando is close to the luxury tax despite being nowhere near a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. We haven’t even talked about the team’s poor drafting over the last decade, including 2018 first-round Mo Bamba, who had a very poor rookie campaign.
The Magic better hope they earn a playoff spot next season because they’ve spent a ton of money for a roster with zero players with superstar potential.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
The Warriors lost Kevin Durant to the Nets, but they were able to re-sign Klay Thompson (five years, $190 million) and acquire All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn. Russell, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green should help the Warriors stay near the top of the Western Conference while Thompson recovers from an ACL tear suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. Golden State also was able to dump veteran forward Andre Iguodala’s contract on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
The Kings exceeded expectations last season and contended for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Instead of preserving their salary cap space or spending it wisely, they wasted it on veterans such as Harrison Barnes (four years, $85 million), Trevor Ariza (two years, $25 million) and Dewayne Dedmon (three years, $40 million). Spending $150 million and not adding one established star to a very talented young core of De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles was a huge mistake.
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks
Losing talented guard Malcolm Brogdon hurts, but the Bucks were smart not to pay the four-year, $85 million contract the Indiana Pacers offered him. Milwaukee did preserve its championship-caliber roster by agreeing to deals with guards Khris Middleton (five years, $178 million) and George Hill (three years, $29 million), as well as center Brook Lopez (four years, $52 million) to surround franchise cornerstone and reigning league MVP winner Giannis Antetokounmpo with enough talent. The Bucks had to maintain a quality roster in an effort to convince Antetokounmpo to re-sign in 2021 (or sooner).
Loser: Boston Celtics
Replacing Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker could be a plus for Boston. Walker isn’t as talented as Irving, but he’s a better leader and should create a stronger team chemistry than what we saw from the Celtics this past season.
Losing Al Horford really hurts, though. You could justify the C’s not paying Horford the four-year, $109 million contract he too from the 76ers, but losing him to a division rival such as Philly is a tough pill to swallow. Horford’s leadership, defense and 3-point shooting should make him a great fit on a Sixers team that likely will be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference next season.
Horford’s departure is made worse by the fact veteran center Aron Baynes also isn’t returning, leaving the Celtics with a frontcourt lacking both depth and experience. Boston reportedly has agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with veteran center Enes Kanter. He’s a great rebounder and can provide some inside scoring, but he’s a poor defender and won’t stretch the floor as a 3-point shooter.
The Celtics still have a really good roster, but they’ve definitely taken a step back to this point in free agency.
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