2019 NBA Free Agency: Winners & Losers
The 2019 NBA free-agency period has been one of the most exciting I can ever remember. Huge names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker signed with new teams, shifting the league’s balance of power, creating at least three superteams, and altering the future of several franchises. It’s been an extremely busy week around the Association, but now that the big names have made their decisions and the dust is beginning to settle, it is a perfect time to dig into the winners and losers of this summer’s free agency.
Los Angeles Clippers
They kept Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, and Patrick Beverley while signing two of the best two-way players in Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers should be the title favorites this season with a ferocious defense and some much-needed star power. Doc Rivers is sure to be frothing at the mouth thinking about the incredible possibilities that await his team. The Clippers are easily the biggest winners of free agency.
This one pretty much goes without saying. They landed Durant, arguably the best player in the world when healthy. They also got his friends, Kyrie Irving (six-time All-Star, champion) and DeAndre Jordan, one of the game’s best rebounders. Brooklyn is the team to beat in the East once Durant returns in 2020.
Success isn’t always about star power. Sometimes fit matters too, and Jimmy Butler was not going to be a long-term fit in Philadelphia. The 76ers will build around their two young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who will both get massive paydays when the time comes. Tobias Harris, acquired midseason through a trade with the Clippers, signed a max deal to remain with Philadelphia. Al Horford also signed, making the 76ers one of the top teams in the entire NBA.
Golden State Warriors
Sure, they lost Durant, but it was a long shot that he stayed in the first place. The Warriors made the best of a bad situation and included Durant in a sign-and-trade to the Nets for emerging star D’Angelo Russell. Russell makes a nice addition to the backcourt with Stephen Curry, and the two should make a strong combo next season alongside Draymond Green. The Warriors unloaded Andre Iguodala’s $17.2M contract in a trade to Memphis to clear some cap space, and they re-signed Kevon Looney to a bargain deal at three years for $15M. Willie Cauley-Stein adds some needed depth in the frontcourt.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George really did the Thunder a solid by requesting a trade to the Clippers. The Thunder wouldn’t have traded him otherwise, and Oklahoma City received a ridiculous haul of draft picks in addition to promising young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sharp-shooter Danilo Gallinari. With George gone, Russell Westbrook is likely to be dealt soon, which will bring in another plentiful bounty for Sam Presti. A rebuild in Oklahoma City looks far more promising than wasting away in Western Conference purgatory with no cap space. The George trade will ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Just as in Oklahoma City, it was time for a rebuild in Charlotte. Kemba Walker was never surrounded with the right teammates to seriously contend, but he’s not the type of player who can put a team on his back and lead them to a championship. The Hornets smartly didn’t offer him a max contract this free agency, and even the money offered would have held the Hornets in a six-eight-seed limbo in the Eastern Conference for years to come. Jeremy Lamb left for the Pacers, and the Hornets can rebuild around new addition Terry Rozier for the future.
New York Knicks
They didn’t offer Durant a max deal. Yes, you read that right. Reportedly concerned about his Achilles tear, the Knicks decided not to go after Durant with all the money he could make. Understandably, he took his talents to a team that appreciated him. Durant will miss next season, but he’s one of the top-three players in the game when healthy. Talent aside, Knicks fans had collectively held their breath all season for a full-scale pursuit of Durant. If he signed, other free agents would have wanted to sign there too, perhaps including Irving. Instead of signing the best free agent who will ever consider joining the Knicks, the team made a low-ball offer and missed out. This horrible blunder is a perfect example of why the Knicks will remain irrelevant for the foreseeable future.
The Raptors lost the only star who ever brought a title to Toronto. Plain and simple, Leonard’s exit is a crushing blow to a team that will now be in rebuild mode rather than win-now mode. Emerging young star Pascal Siakam will be the cornerstone of the franchise, but he’s not at Leonard’s level yet, and it remains to be seen if he will ever reach those heights. The gamble to trade DeMar DeRozan for Leonard paid off for Masai Ujiri last season, but it’s back to the drawing board in Toronto. Will Ujiri have second thoughts about declining the Wizards’ $10M per year offer now that he is looking at picking up the pieces of a post-Kawhi franchise?
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has never been a premier free-agent landing spot. The team has always built through the draft and player development, with occasional trades. It wasn’t shocking to see the Spurs not attract any big names, but they certainly overpaid to keep the guys they already had. Rudy Gay at $16M a year was a clear reach. They brought in DeMarre Carroll as the only free-agent signing who didn’t play for San Antonio last season. This team won’t contend for a title next season and will likely end up as a bottom-three seed in the Western Conference should the Spurs make the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers missed on Leonard, and while waiting for his decision, they missed out on a lot of quality free agents. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma will be surrounded by guys who can hopefully get it done. Danny Green‘s two-year, $30M deal was a big overpay. Although a solid defender, he has become streaky on offense. Adding DeMarcus Cousins on a cheap deal could prove to be a home run, but it could also yield no significant returns. It’s a gamble (though an affordable one), as Cousins may not be the same player he once was with a growing list of injuries to his name. There will be no true Big 3 for the Lakers, and Leonard’s decision cost them some better signings.