Anyone who follows the NBA closely enough knows that this summer was always going to be a wild one. Players spent the past couple of years structuring contracts to try to cash in on a spike in the salary cap, which led to an unprecedented 40 percent of the league available to change teams.
The NBA moved the start of free agency up six hours this year, to 6 PM on June 30 as opposed to midnight on July 1, which is good because I’d be writing this at 6 AM if they didn’t.
It’s already been a whirlwind. Here are 10 thoughts on one of the wildest openings to free agency we’ve ever seen.
1. The Boston Celtics are both winners and losers so far
Danny Ainge replaced an All-NBA point guard with another All-NBA point guard. That’s a win. Getting Kemba Walker is a very nice recovery for Danny Ainge. Swinging a sign-and-trade with Charlotte that will reportedly net Boston another asset on top of that is even better.
But they not only lost Al Horford, they lost him to the division-rival Philadelphia 76ers. That stings.
The Sixers are reportedly giving Horford a monster four-year deal that could be worth more than $100 million if the Sixers win a title. Boston wasn’t going to get near that number and they moved on, but the thought of having to face the Sixers and Embiid while their Embiid-stopper is now his teammate is not pretty.
Boston has also watched a lot of decent centers get scooped up already. There are some good players still out there, but the Celtics are running out of options quickly.
2. The Los Angeles Lakers really need to land Kawhi Leonard
The Lakers made a splash trading for Anthony Davis. They canvassed the league and found takers for the spare parts to essentially create a max salary slot. And on day 1 of free agency…
… they waited.
Kawhi Leonard was reportedly in no hurry to take meetings or make a decision on day one, which left the Lakers in a lurch. Their plans B have mostly, seemingly, gone elsewhere. With Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, D’Angelo Russell on the Warriors, and Jimmy Butler apparently headed to Miami, it’s Kawhi or bust in La La Land.
If the Lakers can’t get their third star, the supporting cast around the remaining two might be a lot thinner than they anticipated in Los Angeles.
3. The New York Knicks are everyone’s favorite punching bag
Madison Square Garden is supposed to be “The Mecca,” but after this free agency, It’s more like the “meh-ca,” AM I RIGHT?
(hold for laughter and applause)
The Knicks were allegedly turned off by Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury, so instead of giving him max money for four years, they committed to at least two years of Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis.
The Knicks have been a farce ever since the league rules changed and eliminated New York’s ability to buy their way out of trouble. At the very least, we’ve been gifted by this brilliant performance art by Stephen A. Smith.
Even if Smith isn’t your normal cup of tea, that was nine minutes of Emmy-worthy suffering.
The Knicks have zero incentive to change anything. MSG is always packed, their cable network prints money, and James Dolan gets to flaunt his toy and ban people who disagree with him from the stadium. Until fans revolt, this will be par for the course.
4. The Brooklyn Nets got everything they wanted
Maybe the Nets can trigger that revolt. They got their two stars, they got DeAndre Jordan who, when he tries, is still productive. They will likely pick up a trade exception in the sign-and-trade transaction that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors.
They are sitting pretty.
It’s an amazing turnaround for the Nets who, a few short years ago, were reeling from the aftermath of the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade. Now they’ve leapfrogged Boston and, depending on where Kawhi Leonard goes, could be a top seed in the east in the not-too-distant future.
There is only one potential downside: personalities.
Durant is one of the league’s most sensitive players. He can be found on social media engaging in online arguments over perceptions of himself. Irving is mercurial, and he’s had sudden turns that have confused two franchises.
The Brooklyn Nets made a run to the playoffs as a fun, happy-go-lucky group that played free, fun basketball. They’re adding Kyrie Irving to that mix along with a guy coming off a catastrophic injury.
If only there was a past scenario that we could look to and see how things might turn out.
5. The New Orleans Pelicans are having an amazing offseason
They got Zion Williamson, they got a haul of assets from the Lakers, and they made draft night deals to bring in even more picks and dump salary.
The Pelicans then signed JJ Redick, dealt for Derrick Favors, and signed Euroleague star Nicolo Melli.
They’ve built out a roster that has a myriad of options. They are in the spot Danny Ainge was after the Brooklyn trade, except they have a rookie phenom expected to take the entire league by storm. They have the assets to flip for a star or supplement their roster for years.
It’s wild to say, but they traded Anthony Davis and got better.
The Hornets could learn something from them.
6. The Golden State Warriors made a very interesting move
Their acquisition of D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade seems curious. After they sign Klay Thompson to his max deal, they’ll have $100 million tied up in four players and they’ll be hard-capped at about $139 million.
In the short-term, the deal may not make sense. In the long-term, the necessary purging of most fringe contracts could be their version of a reset button. Rather than tying themselves to DeMarcus Cousins or Kevon Looney, they forced themselves to start fresh.
Meanwhile, Russell will be very tradeable down the road, and he could be the key to getting more useful role players around their core of Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green.
Who knows what the Warriors are thinking, but this could be something we look back on as a slick move.
7. The Utah Jazz might have just become the favorite in the West
They turned a boring offensive team into a potential powerhouse. By signing Bojan Bogdanovic away from the Indiana Pacers, the Jazz added another big-time shooter alongside newly acquired Mike Conley.
The Jazz are already a top defensive team in the league, but their offense has the strong potential to be among the best in the league. Adding Ed Davis on a two-year, $10 million deal was a sneaky-good move to add depth.
Depending on what Kawhi Leonard does, the Jazz could go into the season as the top Western Conference team in many people’s eyes.
8. Someone messed up the Jimmy Butler deal
In a move that rekindled memories of the Dillon/Marshon Brooks mixup last December, the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, and Philadelphia 76ers thought they had a deal to send Butler to Miami, Goran Dragic to Dallas, and Josh Richardson to the Sixers.
Dallas didn’t want Dragic. For some reason, they thought they were getting Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones, Jr. Miami needs to send Dragic out to make the money work, but Dallas doesn’t seem to want him.
The Sixers already welcomed Richardson to the team, but now the deal appears to be dead.
Somehow, this deal will be resurrected with or without Dallas’ help, but someone screwed this up in a bad way, and it will be interesting to see if it’s revealed who did.
9. The Houston Rockets did nothing
For all the noise out of Houston’s camp leading up to free agency, the Rockets were almost silent. They brought back Danuel House and Gerald Green, but that’s the extent of their moves.
Daryl Morey isn’t one to take setbacks lying down, but this might be an indication of how little wiggle room the Rockets really have to do anything. With prime target Jimmy Butler out of the mix, They’re kind of stuck.
After some high-profile shopping of Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker, it’ll be interesting how an already combustible situation plays out.
10. We’ve only just begun
Free agency isn’t even officially 24 hours old! We’ve got so much more left to figure out!! That feels impossible!!! I’m using a lot of exclamation points!!!!