Winners and Losers from NBA Free Agency

Al Horford

With another very entertaining NBA free agency in the books, it’s time to take a look at some of the teams who really helped themselves in free agency and some of the teams who hurt themselves.

WINNER: Golden State Warriors

They signed Kevin Durant.

LOSER: Oklahoma City Thunder

They lost Kevin Durant.

WINNER: Boston Celtics

The Celtics greatly improved from where they were before free agency began, even though the position they were in was still pretty darn good. They managed to take care of the main reason they couldn’t take the extra step in the playoffs. That missing piece was a legitimate big man to stabilize the front court. By signing top free-agent center Al Horford to a hefty four-year, $113 million contract the Celtics made their lineup that much more dangerous. Placing Horford into a roster consisting of All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, up-and-coming shooting guard Avery Bradley, and legitimate role players in Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk makes Boston a lot more well-rounded. Add in third overall pick Jaylen Brown and Boston becomes that much more of a threat in a relatively wide open Eastern Conference.

LOSER: Los Angeles Lakers

This offseason as a whole was a very important one for the Lakers. After getting off to a nice start by signing Luke Walton as their new head coach and drafting a potential superstar in Brandon Ingram, free agency was very disappointing. Hoping to lure marquee free agents with the glamour and fame of Los Angeles to go along with their young but very promising core, they failed. After this plan didn’t work out it seems as though Jeanie Buss and the Lakers pulled a pair of desperation moves to try and fill out their roster. It was smart, however, to resign Jordan Clarkson who is a legitimate combo guard just entering his prime years. Despite overpaying him, he is a young but very talented player who has gotten better every season.

Now, Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng aren’t bad at all, but they were severely overpaid and their numbers just don’t match their new salaries. I mean come on, Mozgov averaged 6.3 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game, and now he is making $16 million a year! That’s a little absurd if you ask me even with the extremely high salary cap. That’s a lot of money for someone who’s 30 years old and got benched in favor of Tristan Thompson. Then you sign 31-year-old Luol Deng to a 4-year, $72 million contract. Deng has been a great player for a long time, but he is now entering the declining years of his NBA career. The Lakers will be paying Deng $18 million until he’s 35 years old! Oh boy. The Lakers still have their talented young core and added some veteran leadership, but they just paid two declining role players superstar-level money.

WINNER: New York Knicks

The Knicks made some drastic changes to their roster this free agency, and it was important for them to do so coming off a disappointing season and with no draft picks. A lot of people might say the Knicks are losers due to injury risks, but I think the new roster is a lot more respectable and can really take this team deep into the playoffs if everyone stays healthy. Now, the new pieces Phil Jackson has added do have lengthy injury histories, but they still added some legitimate weapons and I don’t think that injuries will be a major problem for the Knicks. After adding Derrick Rose via trade, they started off free agency by bringing in his Chicago teammate Joakim Noah. Noah will replace Robin Lopez as the starting center and despite a rough couple of season, I belive he will flourish on his hometown team. With many scoring options in Melo, Porzingis, and now Rose, it was very smart to add a defensive center, or one of the best defensive centers in the game. Noah is basically a better version of Lopez, and Noah is a phenomenal passer as well.

The Knicks then found their shooting guard in journeyman Courtney Lee. Lee is the perfect finishing touch to that starting five. He isn’t a big scorer, but he doesn’t need to be relied on as a scorer for the Knicks. He is a reliable scorer and great defensive guard who helps the players around him thrive. They paid a lot for him, but he will prove to be a smart signing in order to accomplish the Knicks’ playoff dreams. Then the Knicks added backup point guard Brandon Jennings. This was definitely the Knicks best move of the entire offseason. Jennings can and should be a starter in this league, but an Achilles injury has taken him back a little. I am confident he can return to his explosive self, however, and put up serious competition for Sixth Man of the Year. Also by re-signing small forward Lance Thomas, the Knicks brought back a loyal player who can play both sides of the court very well. Good job Phil Jackson.

LOSER: Orlando Magic

The moves that the Orlando Magic have made just leave you scratching your head. Going back to the trade deadline last season, the Magic have managed to get rid of some of their most talented young pieces. They traded Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings, who’s now a Knick, and Ersan Ilyasova, who’s now a Thunder. Free agency was worse. Before free agency, the Magic thought it would be smart to trade arguably their best player in Victor Oladipo, a lottery pick that ended up being Domatas Sabonis, and Ilyasocva for Serge Ibaka. Huh? You give up two talnted, young players and a reliable role player for an oft-injured power forward entering the final year of his contract? No no no. Ibaka is a great player, but he just isn’t worth that much. I also don’t see the killer need for him when they already have Nikola Vucevic at center and a rising young star in Aaron Gordon.

Then the Magic decided to sign a bunch of veterans to highly overpaid contracts to compliment the Ibaka trade. Yes they did re-sign Evan Fournier, who played well last season, but for $17 million a year? You could have just kept Oladipo and formed a dynamic young combo of him and Mario Hezonja. Then veterans such as Jeff Green, Bismack Biyombo, and DJ Augustin were brought in to add some depth to this lineup. Green is only on a 1-year deal, but he is getting paid $15 million. Biyombo, who will come off the bench, is making more than Vucevic as he receives about $18 million a year for 4 years. Then you sign DJ Augustin, a journeymen guard, to a 4-year, $29 million contract where he makes about $7 million a year. That is a lot to commit to somebody who’s now playing for his 8th team entering his 9th season. I just don’t understand what Alex Martins has in mind for this team by throwing away young talent for overpaid veterans.

WINNER: Indiana Pacers

In my opinion the Pacers did the best job of improving their roster as a whole. They already had a respectable starting five, but changes were needed. They got major upgrades at the point guard, power forward, and center positions who can contribute right away and make the roster that much better. By trading for Jeff Teague the Pacers got themselves an All-Star level point guard and one of the best playmakers at the position. He can immediately step in and thrive while helping his teammates thrive as well. Then by trading for power forward Thaddeus Young, you get a quality power forward who is only 28 years old. He was very productive for the Nets last season on both ends of the floor, averaging about 15 points and 9 rebounds. He is a guy who can also serve as a great mentor to Myles Turner, who came off of a very promising rookie season.

By signing Al Jefferson to a 3-year, $30 million deal, the Pacers found themselves a big upgrade over Ian Mahinmi. Jefferson is the perfect fit for Indiana. He provides plenty of experience, a wonderful veteran presence, and his game is one that president Larry Bird likes a lot. He is a leader and his game will translate very smoothly to Indiana. What Bird has done is made the Pacers substantially better by adding top-notch veterans and giving up virtually nothing. This is a team that can now be considered a very strong threat to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

LOSER: Memphis Grizzlies

For the Grizzlies it’s not so much that they lost or failed to add any impact players, it’s that they just threw money around like it was a dog’s chew-toy. They accomplished their main goal, re-signing Mike Conley, so I credit them for doing that. Despite his injury concerns, he is a star who is often highly underrated, or at least was. That all changed this offseason. Conley is now the highest paid player in NBA history. What did you say Alex? You must be joking, right? Nope. Mike Conley, who has never made a single All-Star team, is getting paid more than Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook combined. Ah, there’s nothing like the NBA.

Memphis then added forward Chandler Parsons, who has had big injury concerns the past couple of seasons, to a 4-year max contract worth up to about $95 million. Parsons when healthy is a great player and he was probably going to get a max contract from another team if it wasn’t Memphis, but still. Is he really worth that? No. But sadly that’s what today’s league has come to. If healthy this will look to be a nice signing since Parsons is in his prime and is a very good shooter. These signings can make the Grizzlies look smart if they stay healthy, but if the injury bug bites them again they’re screwed.

WINNER: Utah Jazz

The Jazz, like the Pacers did a very nice job of attacking multiple weaknesses and filling out their roster with proven veterans. They received point guard George Hill as part of the 3-team trade that sent the 12th pick to Atlanta. Hill serves as a great mentor for Dante Exum while he brings some great shooting and playmaking to the starting lineup. Then, in free agency, the Jazz really filled their roster with a pair of proven veterans with lots of playoff experience.

They added a real quality reserve in Boris Diaw via trade, who has shown really good passing skills, defensive versatility, and high quality shooting percentages throughout his 13-year NBA career. He is a guy who will serve as a sensational backup to Derrick Favors and is the kind of player every team wants to have due to his experience and multiple talents on the court. Then to top it all off with the signing of long-time veteran Joe Johnson, they managed to add another fantastic reserve who is a quality veteran that has proven he still can play at a high level. Despite being 35 years old, Johnson averaged about 12 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. After being overworked in Brooklyn, he was dealt to Miami mid-season and showed new signs of life in a complementary role. The Jazz filled a lot of their weaknesses and added both a quality starting point guard, and some talented veterans who provide some much-needed depth.

LOSER: Miami Heat

Pat Riley had himself a rough offseason. He managed to re-sign star center Hassan Whiteside and schedule a meeting with Kevin Durant, but he lost a pair of quality players, including their most prized possession for the past 13 years. He lost the man who has carried and lead this team, shown loyalty and the will to win, and has become the greatest athlete in Miami sports history. All because Riley wouldn’t pay him what he rightfully deserved. After taking less money to improve the team around him multiple times, the one time he asks for more money results in him leaving the only team he’s ever known. Congratulations Pat Riley, you really messed up. Not only that put you also lost a pair of veterans who performed well for you in Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. Now this team is facing some really major problems. No matter what anybody says, they aren’t a contender anymore. They are a 7th seed at best.

They still have the trio of Whiteside, Chris Bosh, and Goran Dragic to go along with promising rookies in Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, but Bosh is having some serious medical problems that can possibly force him to retire. Even if he doesn’t retire he and Dragic are getting up there in age, and it’s still unknown if Whiteside can be that main guy for the Heat. This team will look a whole lot different than last season, and it’s not a good thing. They really blew it by losing Wade and now it leaves a scar in Wade’s time with the Heat which is exactly what nobody ever wanted to see.

WINNER: All NBA Free Agents

Mozgov got $64 million. Solomon Hill got $48 million. Kent Bazemore got $70 million. Nicolas Batum got $120 million. Conley is the highest paid player in league history. The list goes on and on. I can’t wait for next offseason. 

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go work on my jump shot.

 

 

 

 

Kevin Durant: Golden State Warrior

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I was sitting on the curb with my family, as all the town spread out through the neighborhood to watch and enjoy the annual 4th of July parade. Everything was going great, and then my Dad came to me and all he said was “he’s a Warrior.” My brother and I just looked at each other, not saying a single word. Then my brother, a huge Kevin Durant fan, got mad and kept asking himself why he would just abandon Oklahoma City like that. I was wondering the same thing, and muttered under my breath a single word: “coward”.

What Kevin Durant did this past week is something we have never seen before. It’s something we all would have laughed at just a couple of months ago, when Durant and the Thunder lost Game 7 to the Warriors after having a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals. It’s something that despite being a strong possibility, a lot of us really didn’t think twice about. And it’s definitely something we couldn’t fully grasp when it actually happened. Kevin Durant is a phenomenal player, arguably one of the best ever, but I am beyond frustrated by this move. I absolutely hate the choice he made, but on the other hand I understand why he chose to do it. Still, despite my understanding for him making the choice, he shouldn’t have made it. I desperately hope that the Warriors somehow don’t win the championship this year, and I desperately hope that at the end of the season Durant opts out and signs with another team, realizing that he made a stupid decision.

I always thought Durant was one of those very loyal players who will stay a Thunder for the majority or even the entirety of his career. It never even crossed my mind that he could just abandon the city and the team that took him into the NBA, raised him as both a player and a person, and made him the man he is. The Thunder were always in championship contention, and this offseason I thought they took the extra steps needed to win it all by acquiring Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis. Add all of that the brotherhood he has with superstar point guard Russell Westbrook and there was no possible way Durant could leave, right? Wrong. Durant ditched the only NBA team he’s ever known, the fans that have been cheering and supporting him for the past nine seasons, and a group that has been by his side every step of the way in exchange for the bay area.

The Warriors are now a super team like nobody has ever seen, possessing an extremely lethal big four. They have the last three MVP’s in Durant and Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson who is widely considered the best shooting guard in the league, and Draymond Green who is arguably the best power forward in the league. That’s flat-out unbelievable. Durant didn’t need to go to the Thunder’s enemy, though. The Thunder were one game away from beating the Warriors just last season! And they got better this offseason! They were in as good of a position as ever to win a chip until he left! Durant would have been the hometown hero who stuck it through and brought a championship to OKC. Imagine how great his legacy would have been then. But no. Stop the daydreaming because in reality Durant made the move that will forever dent his legacy and damage his reputation by joining what already was the best team in NBA history statistically speaking. He basically said to the entire Thunder organization “I gave up on you.”

This is much worse than Lebron’s decision. When Lebron left Cleveland for Miami in the summer of 2010, he was joining a Heat team that couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs and needed that extra asset to put alongside his good friend Dwayne Wade. Durant however, leaves the Thunder who were championship contenders every year for the one team they couldn’t beat; the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Durant joined a team that was already the juggernaut of the league, and made them basically unstoppable. He took the easy way out because he wanted to win a chip so badly that it seems as if he completely ignored the fact that the Thunder were a top three team in the league before he left. Lebron left Cleveland for a non-contender at the time, Durant left a contender for the best team in the league. It’s really a shame. I, for one, have lost a lot of respect for Durant after seeing this move. I don’t know if I’m on the level where I would burn his jersey or blow up a pair of his shoes, but I lost a lot of respect for KD throughout the past couple of days.

I understand that Durant wanted to put himself in the best position to win a championship as soon as possible, and obviously Golden State was the best place for that, but he is taking the easy way out. He is hopping on the bandwagon and sort of “cheating” himself into winning a title, so to say. I feel bad for the Thunder and all the small market teams in the NBA. This is their Achilles heel. They have big players who they often can’t hold onto due to the big market teams with more to offer. But I thought the Thunder did everything they needed to do to hold on to Durant. Apparently they didn’t. I really hope that the Thunder make it to the playoffs and do some damage, and I hope Russell Westbrook plays the best basketball of his career with the end result being an MVP trophy. Durant even said himself that it pains him to disappoint so many people. If it really pained him that much, I don’t think he would have made the decision.

The Warriors will be quite the sight to see for however long Durant stays on the team. Every other team in the league can basically start preparing for next offseason since the Warriors basically have the championship in their hands already. There is so much pressure on the Durant and the Warriors as a whole to win a chip that even if they go 82-0, not winning a championship would equal a disappointing season. This move makes me mad at the NBA and the Warriors. It seems as if they have an endless wallet of cash. I bet they will even find some sort of way to keep all four of them as each of their contracts expire. I don’t know anymore.

I want to wrap up my seemingly endless rant with this. Kevin Durant is an amazing basketball player. If the chemistry works out the Warriors will be able to do some amazing things. And for all you Warriors fans in basketball heaven right now or all the “Warriors fans” writing Durant’s name on an old Warriors jersey, it’s going to be one hell of a show to watch. But to Kevin Durant I just ask this one question: why? Why would you leave the team who has meant so much to you to join forces with the team you couldn’t beat. It doesn’t make any sense. I hope you have fun dealing with the fact that you let so many people down and you essentially left all of Oklahoma City feeling as if they were nothing to you. I hope that if you do hold up that Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season you realize that you made a silly mistake and that it would have meant so much more if you had won it as a Thunder. It seems as if all the past nine years went down the drain and all the progress you and the Thunder have made as a team vanished. Now the Thunder need to regroup themselves and figure out how to cope without your leadership. Doesn’t that make you feel bad? All I know is it’s sad to see such a superb player make a decision that hurts so many people and erases his legacy as much as it does.

 

 

Grading the “New” York Knicks

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The Knicks have been one of the busiest teams this offseason, starting it all off with a blockbuster trade and following it up with quality free agent signings. It’s time to take a look at each player the Knicks acquired and give my opinion on what I thought. A little segment I like to call “Grading the New York Knicks.”

PG Derrick Rose

Before free agency even started, the Knicks were very involved and made the most headline-worthy move prior to the draft. In exchange for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant, the Knicks acquired ex-MVP point guard Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 second round pick. There is a wide range of opinions about this move, drawing both positive and negative reviews as every move does. But this is the kind of low-risk, high-reward that many believe the Knicks needed to make. First of all, I agree with that, but I myself am also on the fence about this move. I know the lack of a legitimate point guard was arguably the biggest hole on the roster, and the Knicks definitely fixed that problem by bringing in Rose, but they also happened to get the most injury prone player in the NBA. Yes Derrick Rose is great, one of the best, when healthy, but lately it has been very rare for him to stay healthy. He has had a long list of injuries throughout his eight-year career that have put a lot of wear and tear on his body.

Nevertheless, despite all his injury woes, this was also a smart move for the Knicks for a number of reasons. In performing this trade, the Knicks dumped the pricy contracts of Calderon and Lopez, clearing a good amount of cap space to bring in other free agents. The Knicks also have themselves a big three consisting of Rose, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristaps Porzingis. Rose also makes the Knicks a more attractive destination for free agents so hopefully they can have success bringing in quality players. But the main reason the Knicks were smart to make this move was for the reason I mentioned earlier: this is a low-risk, high-reward move. Say the worst possible outcome happens where Rose gets injured right away. The Knicks will have to get past the season but then they can just let him go since he becomes a free agent after this year. On the other hand, if the best possible outcome happens where Rose returns to his MVP form and plays really well for the Knicks, they can resign him. All in all I think this was a classic Knicks move, but this one actually made sense. It isn’t as if they’re paying 20+ million dollars for Rose over the course of a number of seasons. It’s only one year. They basically get a free look at one of the most explosive players in free agency. If it works out correctly, this can make Phil Jackson look like a genius. I give it a B+ only because of the injury concerns.

Grade: B+

SG Justin Holiday

It is easy to overlook Holiday, the throw-in of the Rose trade, but maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to do that. While Holiday is the starting shooting guard right now, that will change over the course of free agency. This is an inconsistent but potentially high-quality reserve who is still young and has great length on both ends of the floor. He needs to show that he can produce consistently but I think he falls into a nice situation with the Knicks and he will have the best chance to prove his worth.

Grade: C

C Joakim Noah

To kick off free agency the Knicks added yet another guy who played for the Bulls last year in 31-year-old big man Joakim Noah. Despite an injury-riddled season last year in which Noah played only 29 games, Noah has had a pretty great career. The two-time All-Star and 2014 Defensive Player of the Year has widely been regarded as an elite center when healthy, and one of the better ones in the league. He isn’t the kind of guy who will rack up lots of points, but he is a defensive monster with a high intelligence for the game. Whether it comes to blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, or just being an immovable force he can do it all. Noah is also a phenomenal passer for his size as he has great court vision to go along with that.

Noah is a very important leader both on and off the court. He helps make his teammates better and was the heart and soul of the Bulls for his whole career there. The Knicks desperately needed a real vocal leader and they finally have a pretty darn good one. People say Noah is getting old; he’s only 31. Relax. He still has plenty of good basketball left. Yes they overpaid for him, but due to the new salary cap Tomofey Mozgov is getting $64 million over 4 years, so I wouldn’t panic. Assuming Noah can return to his 2014 form, he will be the perfect fit for the Knicks and help this team see the playoffs year after year.

Grade: B+

 

SG Courtney Lee

The Knicks added another quality player to round out their starting five by signing 30-year-old SG Courtney Lee to a 4-year, $48 million dollar contract. Lee is in my opinion a very underrated player in this league, and I like the signing. Not only does Lee make plays and is a nice, reliable shooter, but he also is very good on defense. He is one of those guys who makes whatever team he plays for better, and locking him up for four years I think is smart. He hasn’t had any major injury problems, and with guys who tend to have trouble with injuries playing alongside him, it’s good to have somebody you can rely on to stay relatively healthy. On the other hand, the Knicks did overpay for a guy who doesn’t put up very great averages, but that’s okay for two reasons: the cap and his presence. The cap is getting higher and higher every year, so everybody is getting highly overpaid. When you look at it that way Lee got a pretty solid amount compared to other contracts. He may not be the kind of player to fill up the stat sheets and put up high averages, but Lee does a little bit of everything and his presence will be felt and noticed on the court when the season begins.

It’s easy to like what the Zen Master is putting together here for the Knicks, and I really think he is assembling a team that can make the playoffs next season. He still has a long way to go, the Knicks have no bench, but he is definitely making the right moves and putting together a very respectable starting five. Let’s see what he does next.

Grade: B

PG Brandon Jennings

Here is where Phil Jackson flashed his genius by making his best transaction. Desperately needing to fill out their empty bench, the Knicks found their crucial backup point guard by inking seven-year vet Brandon Jennings to a 1-year $5 million deal. This was one of those moves where to be honest, I completely forgot Jennings was available and thought the Knicks wouldn’t have enough money left to sign any real productive backups. With that being said, once I found out about the signing, I went and jumped into my pool. Alright, maybe that was because it was very hot outside, but I also was very excited about the signing. Jennings is one of those guys who is more than capable of being an impact starter, but now is one of the best backups in the league. The Knicks, after having terrible point guard depth, now have a very explosive and potentially dominant duo in Rose and Jennings. While both have major injury concerns, they can be a top 10 point guard tandem in the league when healthy.

Jennings is the kind of super quick, athletic, explosive playmaker that the Knicks really lacked on the bench. He can come in immediately, keep the pace going, and completely light up a court when he’s hot. The Zen Master also got him for a really nice price, another reason I was so excited about the signing. With the way bench players are getting paid this offseason, I thought Jennings would get something around $9-$10 million a year on a multi-year deal. But Jennings was willing to take only $5 million to help the Knicks further accomplish their playoff dreams. Jennings definitely is a guy who deserves more than $5 million a year, especially when you look at who is getting paid more. Nevertheless this is what I would call the definition a sexy pick-up and is one of the best signings in free agency based on low price for high production. Nice job Phil.

Grade: A

SF Lance Thomas (re-signed)

The Knicks had to bring back at least one of their guys, right? Well they did, and they brought back the best one on the market in small forward Lance Thomas. Being pretty popular in around the league and drawing interest from a number of teams, it looked as if the Knicks would have a hard time bringing Thomas back. But, being the loyal team player he is, Thomas made it clear that he wanted to stay in New York and would take a discount to do so. The Knicks then inked him to a 4-year $24 million dollar contract, keeping him in what he described as his “new home” for the forseeable future. I think this was a crucial re-signing and was the most important one to make. Thomas is the kind of guy you want on your team, probably the reason why he drew so much interest from numerous organizations. He is a quality role player who can give you a good amount of playing time per game. He is a solid starter and can do a good job of filling in. He has great defense, the strongest area of his game, but he also has greatly improved his 3-point shot, hitting a career-high 44 of his 109 attempts last season.

This is an extremely loyal guy who is very humble and grateful for where his life journey has led him. He is a team player, and puts the success of the team and his teammates first. He is the kind of guy people love to coach and have on their team. Inking him long-term was a very smart idea and will definitely pay off.

Grade: A-

Phil Jackson and the Knicks decided to throw away a rebuilding plan for the future and focus on a rebuild where they win now. They possess a much better roster then they did last season, and have a number of quality players. They have solidified their status as a very respectable team who I definitely think can make the playoffs. They have a number of nice options and will be very appealing to major free agents on the market next year. Knicks fans should be very excited for the start of the season, as things are moving in the right direction for this team.

Overall Grade: B+