NBA free agency has been lively since the market opened, with several teams making big moves while others added peripheral pieces to a championship core. Here are the winners and losers of free agency so far.
Winner: Zach LaVine
The Chicago Bulls are also big winners, but LaVine is the king right now. The guard has turned into an All-Star and is eligible for a big extension. For too many years, he had to carry the team every night while watching the front office fail to add talent around him. That changed this year.
The Bulls brought in Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline to give the team a second star. They added Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso in free agency to bolster the perimeter rotation and add playmakers. There’s still defensive questions for this team and those future draft assets could come back to bite the front office, but for now the Bulls are playoff locks. LaVine will be very happy with this offseason.
Winner: Pat Riley
The Heat made a surprising run to the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble, but fell flat on their face in the 2020-21 season in a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami knew it had to make moves but it was unclear how the team would progress with limited draft assets to trade and financial hurdles.
Riley got to work, adding point guard Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal and inking Jimmy Butler to a maximum extension. The Heat locked up Duncan Robinson on a slight discount before he commanded a large deal as a restricted free agent. Adding PJ Tucker further bolsters an impressive defense. The Heat have an impressive rotation with Lowry, Butler, Bam Adebayo, Robinson and Tyler Herro. This team might not challenge the Brooklyn Nets on paper, but don’t count Riley out from making yet another move if the pieces don’t fit as planned.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
The Warriors did get Otto Porter Jr. on a minimum contract and signed Stephen Curry to a big extension, but the team didn’t do enough with the significant assets it had to land the difference maker for an aging core.
Golden State had the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in the draft and actually stuck with both selections, adding players who have upside in Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, but likely won’t contribute right away. Klay Thompson’s injury situation does create some buffer room for the front office, but this was the offseason to swing for the fences on another star. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the “Big 3” to carry the franchise once again and hope the peripheral pieces are enough to compete for a championship.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs entered the market with the second-most cap space in the league at $48 million. San Antonio had some veteran players it was likely to part with in exchange for young talent and future draft picks as part of a rebuilding situation. However, it has not gone as planned.
The Spurs ended up with Doug McDermott, Zach Collins, Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu and future draft picks with that space. DeMar DeRozan’s sign-and-trade deal netted them a future first-round pick, but this is not a squad likely to challenge for a playoff berth. San Antonio is now locked into some long-term deals with players who have not panned out in the league and there’s no guarantee on Gregg Popovich’s future with the organization. This could get rough.
Winner: Former Los Angeles Lakers players
The Lakers pulled off a big trade for Russell Westbrook, forming a superstar trio with him, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The question now was how the team would fill out the roster with no financial flexibility.
Luckily, there’s plenty of former Lakers still running around the league looking for a championship chance. Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard were some of the team’s first signings, re-uniting the players with the franchise. Howard and Ariza won titles with the Lakers. Ellington and Bazemore will bring some shooting to a team severely lacking it.
Loser turned winner: John Collins
UPDATE: Collins ended up inking a five-year, $125 million deal with the Hawks. This is a massive deal for a player who seemingly had no market when free agency opened. Atlanta keeps its core intact as it hopes to build on a conference finals run from last season.
While free agency deals broke left and right, Atlanta’s big man was seemingly cast aside from the action. The Hawks inked Trae Young to a massive extension, but did not make any progress on a new deal with Collins.
The franchise secured Nate McMillan as head coach by removing the interim tag and Collins was seemingly in line to get a deal. However, the sides reportedly remain very far off on terms. The Hawks had previously come to the table with an extension in the $90 million range, according to reports. Collins wants a maximum deal and used his playoff performance to justify that demand. Atlanta shouldn’t let money get in the way of a team on the rise, but it’s hard to see Collins coming back to the Hawks at this rate.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
It has been a good offseason for the Nets, who hope to fulfill their championship potential after injuries derailed their 2020-21 campaign. Brooklyn was able to add high-potential scorer Cam Thomas after he fell in the draft and then continued to bolster the roster in free agency.
The Nets brought back Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown, two key rotation pieces from last season’s playoff run. They added Patty Mills, a veteran point guard with playoff experience to replace Spencer Dinwiddie. If Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving stay healthy, these rotation players are more than enough to take the Nets to a title. Even though it lost some notable players from last year, Brooklyn maintained a championship core.