Article by: Harrison Weaver
The season just concluded, and you think the action is over, right? Wrong. NBA free agency opened on Sunday night at 6PM, and the madness began right from the get-go. A handful of the decisions were already announced before the free agency period began. This is quite possibly the most impactful free agency period in NBA history, with literally 40% of NBA players being free agents as of Sunday when the signing period started. With names like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, D’Angelo Russell, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, all available at the start of this period, the NBA landscape is going to look completely different, and we will have a completely new balance of power come next season. In a league where we have seen a level of certainty the past 4-5 seasons, the field is now completely open. This bidding and persuasion war will shape the NBA for the next few seasons to come, marking this period as the true beginning of the 2019-2020 NBA season.
Brooklyn Nets: ‘Netting’ Big Superstars
The Nets used the momentum of their strong season combined with cap space for two max contracts for free-agents and went out and acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Kyrie was no surprise, as we knew his intentions well before free agency opened. He has agreed to terms on a 4-year, $142 million contract. As for Kevin Durant, it was reported that he would make his announcement that night, with teams like the Warriors, Knicks, Clippers, and Nets all still in consideration. Just minutes after 6 o’clock, the decision was made as Kevin Durant agreed to a 4-year, $164 million deal. While he will likely miss the entirety of next season, or at least majority of it, the Nets now have a very dangerous two-headed monster and a lot of young talent in guys like Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie. On top of that, Kyrie and KD took slightly team-friendly deal to leave space to acquire both DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple for 2 years, $10 million. The Nets are now set up to be a title contender for years to come, with two perennial superstars and a solid supporting cast.
Philadelphia 76ers: We’re Running it Back…. Sorta
Yeah, Philly lost Jimmy Butler in free agency. I will be the first to admit, I was angry about the return we got for Jimmy Butler when the deal first broke the surface. We acquired Josh Richardson in exchange for Jimmy Butler, while I was hoping for Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow. While they both would have been good returns, let me break down the true exchange that took place.
Josh Richardson will cost Philly only about $10.5 million per year. Let's look at his numbers. 16.6 PPG, 4.1 AST, and 3.6 REB along with 5.6-win shares during 2018-2019. He is also only going to be turning 26 this year, so he has a ton of room to develop. He is also a great defender and has incredible leap and athleticism which will make him rangy and able to close out on shooters. Now, let's look at Jimmy Butler. He is currently 30, and will be under a max contract. Last season he averaged 18.7 PPG, 5.3 REB, 4.0 AST with 7.9-win shares. That is not a massive difference between a 10-million-dollar player (who is on the rise) and a max player in Jimmy Butler who is on the back end of his prime. Josh Richardson will give us a nice, up-and-coming 3 and D player with potential to develop as a scoring option. I highly encourage anyone who has not seen any highlight film of Josh Richardson to check it out. The dude is a chase-down-block machine, and dunks like a beast.
On top of the trade, which turned out quite alright, Philly also managed to agree to terms on a 4 year, $109 million with Al Horford, and resign Tobias Harris to a 5-year, $180 million deal. Al is an excellent post player who can stretch the court and can be a valuable weapon next to Joel Embiid, and bringing back Tobias Harris means retaining another perimeter shooter and core piece after losing JJ Redick to the Pelicans. I agree with a lot of NBA analysts out there when I say that the Sixers are a more solid team this year than they were last year. Without Redick, the Sixers lose an absolute assassin from the perimeter, but on the flip side, they will be injecting a young, athletic 3 and D player in his spot where Redick often stood as a defensive liability. In addition, Horford will be able to take some of the load off Embiid throughout the season. Signing another shooter will be key, and there are few left on the market that Philly can afford. Either way, as the Sixers currently sit, I see them as the favorite in the East, and maybe even to win the title depending on where a certain someone named Kawhi Leonard lands.
Bonus win: As I am writing this, the Sixers have signed Kyle O’Quinn and offered Ben Simmons a 5-year, $170 million extension. Kyle O’Quinn is a gritty post presence and will be useful through the regular season as someone Philly can throw in to give good energy minutes and at a defensive and rebounding spark when the team may lull. Obviously, if/when Ben Simmons and agent Rich Paul reach an agreement with Philly, that will be a big win for the organization. I am still a bit hesitant. If Ben refuses to shoot threes, there will be a formula to attempt to sputter or stop the Sixers’ offense. Simply put, it puts a limitation on the Sixers offense. No more, no less. If a point guard cannot shoot threes, then the defense does not have to guard them on the perimeter, which means Joel Embiid, Tobias, Al, or JRich get more attention. Let us just cross our fingers and hope this super-max extension pays off.
Whoever Wins the Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes #BoardManGetsPaid
Three teams are left in the running for Fun Guy, Board Man, Klaw, whatever you want to call him. It will either be the Lakers, Clippers, or Raptors. Which means there will be one winner, and two losers from these three. All of them have been handcuffed from signing additional pieces because they all need the cap space in order to be able to afford Kawhi Leonard. If the Lakers get him, it would be hard to debate against the trio being the best “Big Three” in NBA history. LeBron, Kawhi, and AD would be instant title favorites, and rightfully so. If the Clippers win, they add Kawhi to a hungry, seasoned core with some tremendous young pieces that are ready to take the next step. All they are missing is a superstar capable of leading them to the promise land, and Kawhi would most certainly check off that box. If the Raptors won, they would be stealing the Sixers offseason motto and be more than happy to ‘run it back’. They already proved they have exactly what it takes to win a title and bringing back Fun Guy would lock them as a title contender for years to come.
The two teams that miss out are in trouble. They have held out on pursuing other big free agents and now that Kawhi is in a different city, they have a gaping hole in their roster that they now must fill with the scraps left over. Majority of the quality, playoff minute free agents have been signed. It will be hard to fill the place of a max-contract player with the remaining free agents in the field.
The Sad, Sorry, New York Knicks
If any of you readers know a Knicks fan, whether that's a friend, family member, or coworker, just give them a call and make sure they are okay. Buy them a ‘get well soon’ card and a box of chocolate. Tell them they still have the Yankees to root for. Just a few weeks ago the Knicks were favorites to win the Kyrie and KD sweepstakes, as well as having hopes for the #1 overall pick a.k.a. Zion Williamson. Now look at them. Julius Randle is their prized free agent, and that's what the fan-base is supposed to get excited about? Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, and Bobby Portis. No offense to any of those guys, they are all good players that bring their own valuable skillset, especially Julius Randle, but none of them are a max player that will get the team to playoff contention or playoff success. The Knicks will be hoping for the very best from their young talent, and for future free-agency classes to offer another chance. My sincerest condolences go out to you, Knick fans.
The Golden State Warriors
For losing a guy like Durant, the Warriors got a pretty good haul in return. But they lost Kevin Durant. That automatically qualifies you as a free agent loser. They have reached agreements with Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney, and D’Angelo Russell (whom they will trade at some point next season). Russell does not fit their scheme at all, he is simply too ball dominant and will disrupt the flow Steve Kerr likes to see, but the way the Warriors see it, they got a 23-year-old reigning All-Star in return for Kevin Durant, instead of getting nothing. I am just intrigued to see what trade avenues they explore, as they are almost certainly be looking for a small forward who can shoot. They traded away Andre Iguodala to create cap space, which will haunt them next season, especially lacking Klay Thompson to an ACL injury for majority of it. Ultimately, there is still a lot left up in the air for the Dubs but at this point in free agency, the L’s outweigh the W’s.
My Best Remaining Free Agents:
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