By Mac the Intern
Sunday at 6 PM Eastern saw the opening of the NBA free agency negotiation window. While deals cannot be official until July 6th, players, agents, and teams could all get together and what they could get done. And man-they REALLY got after it.
Free agency started with a bang: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined forces in Brooklyn, and they both took less money so the Nets could ink DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal. This was a dagger to the heart of every Knick fan alive, because they thought that they would ultimately pull the talented duo, and they might have been at one point this season. But the Knicks are a dumpster fire, even with the changes in the front office and the hiring of David Fizdale to lead the team. It still isn’t a talented team whatsoever, even with the drafting of RJ Barrett third overall. So, it isn’t surprising that KD and Kyrie ended up in Brooklyn. The Nets have been able to completely change their organizational culture in a very short period of time after the disastrous Celtics trade that brought an over the hill Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They have a state-of-the-art arena to play in, a head coach in Kenny Atkinson that knows how to get the most from his players and develop young talent, a general manager in Sean Marks who was able to put good young talent on the floor even though they didn’t own their own picks for a few years, and young talent like Caris Lavert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Rodions Kurucs that will be able to put up points and pitch in where KD and Kyrie need the help.
D’Angelo Russell, who spent last year in Brooklyn and was an All-Star, found himself heading west to Golden State; and there are already noises that Russell will spend the year in a Warriors uniform and then be traded when Klay Thompson is fully recovered from the ACL tear he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals (oh yeah-he resigned with the Warriors for 5 years and $190 million). The Warriors had to ship Andre Iguodala to Memphis for salary space to accommodate Russell, where he is negotiating a buyout. After the buyout, Iguodala is being projected to sign with the Lakers (more on them in a bit). This move was Golden State knowing that next season will be one of change and flux, but they weren’t willing to just punt on the season while also getting something for KD. I like the move-it gives Steph Curry someone to run with for a year to see how he fits in Kerr’s system while the Warriors try and fight to stay in the thick of things in the Western Conference. What I didn’t like was what Golden State sent out with Iguodala: a first-round pick. Golden State is going to NEED to start getting younger and building affordable bench depth, and you do that through the draft.
Kemba Walker ended up in Boston, ending the headache that was Kyrie’s stay in green and white. While he isn’t the natural scorer that Kyrie is, it is still a great pickup. Jimmy Butler joined his third team in less than two years as part of a four-team trade that sent him to Miami to join the Heat. Khris Middleton signed a max deal to stay with the Bucks, and Kristaps Porzingis signed his max deal with the Mavericks. Players got PAID this weekend.
Ultimately, who got better? The easy answer is Brooklyn. They signed two of the top players in the league, will have good depth, and a coach that gets the most out of his players. While they might not win next year with KD out for the entire season, look out in 2020-21. The Nets will be the favorites to win the NBA title. Golden State kept Thompson and brought in Russell, but the Finals showed us that their bench isn’t as deep as it was (though they brought back Kevon Looney). JJ Redick signed with the Pelicans, which might the be the most understated move of free agency. He’s going to add a ton of shooting for the Pels (he’s a career 41.3% 3PT shooter), and that will open up the offense for Zion. The Pelicans will be fun to watch next season.
I also liked what Sacramento did during free agency in signing Trevor Ariza for two-years and $25 million and resigned Harrison Barnes for four-years and $85 million. Ariza can play solid defense, grab some rebounds, and contribute in the offense end. Sacramento just missed the playoffs last season, and with Golden State in a state of flux, the West could see changes throughout the entire conference. Do I think the Kings are winning a title? No-but I think they could break their playoff drought and give them something to build upon.
There is still one name that hasn’t signed yet, and has three teams restlessly sitting by their phones: Kawhi Leonard. NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP, Leonard is being pursued by the Raptors, Lakers, and Clippers. This isn’t an issue for Toronto-if they bring back Kawhi, they still have a championship team and will only need to make minute adjustments. The Clippers will be ok as well, with or without Kawhi (we all know they would be better with him, but they won 48 games and made the playoffs when they weren’t supposed to according to most). The Lakers, though? It’s an issue. Right now, they have AD, LeBron, Kyle Kuzma…and that’s about it. Even opening up enough cap space to make a run at another max player like Kawhi isn’t going to leave them with much in the way to spend on the rest of the team. The Lakers, with Kawhi or without him, will be a very top-heavy team next season.
We’ll see how the rest of the off-season shakes out, and who will ultimately end up where. NBA free agency is something that the other team sports really isn’t: frenetic and fun.