NBA Free Agency 2019: Early Takeaways (Fantasy Basketball)
Whew! The NBA free agency period opened at 6 p.m. ET Sunday, and new contracts began flying off the board with extreme rapidity. Some of the biggest names like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker had agreed to new deals almost immediately after free agency officially began. Smaller dominoes began to fall quickly, and in no time, huge deals had been completed and rosters had been reshaped.
— Spotrac (@spotrac) July 1, 2019
With such a lucrative and frenzied signing period fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some quick thoughts on all of the major signings that occurred so far, with some fantasy implications noted. Here are some early takeaways from 2019’s NBA free agency.
The Nets made some enormous moves
Brooklyn not only signed Irving to a four-year, $141M deal and DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40M deal, but they also signed the biggest free agent available in Durant for four years and $164M. Although Durant won’t be with the team in 2019-20 while recovering from his torn Achilles, the Nets will be more competitive this season with Irving and Jordan than they were with D’Angelo Russell. Irving’s fantasy stock rises in Brooklyn for one season, as he’ll shoulder more of the offensive load. Jordan’s arrival hurts young center Jarrett Allen’s value for the immediate future. This team should be the favorites to win the East in 2020-21, even if Kawhi Leonard stays with the Raptors.
The Knicks (unsurprisingly) blew it again
The Knicks made it no secret that Durant was their prime target in free agency, and it seemed that the entire city was on pins and needles awaiting the inevitable signing of #35. Instead, they did not offer him a max deal, reportedly due to concerns about his torn Achilles. Without a max offer, Durant was never going to sign with the Knicks — he’s arguably the greatest player in the world when healthy. Despite the injury concerns, the Knicks have not had the opportunity to make such an incredibly franchise-altering move … ever? Now the team will continue its rebuild, which will center around a young core of recent number-three pick R.J. Barrett, big man Mitchell Robinson, and new addition Julius Randle.
Randle, who agreed to a three-year, $63M deal, will almost certainly be the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition considering New York used its excess cap space to also sign Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Reggie Bullock. In just a couple of hours, Knicks faithful have seen their hopes dashed once again with another strikeout in free agency. From a fantasy perspective, Randle’s value is trending up, as he could find himself the first or second scoring option. Barrett’s 2019-20 value also rises, and his dynasty value is way up without Durant signing.
A possible Nets/Lakers Finals in 2021 is incredible
Could there be any better Finals matchup in two years than this one? Irving and Durant would both have their chance to escape the shadow of LeBron James. Irving won his only championship with James, and Durant has always been compared to the King without ever truly surpassing him in the all-time greatest players conversation. James and Durant have faced off in three Finals, with James’ Heat besting Durant’s Thunder in 2012 and Durant beating LeBron in two straight Cavs/Warriors matchups. James could lead his third different team to the Finals and possibly cement his legacy as the greatest ever with another ring. This would be an all-time matchup.
Jimmy Butler takes his talents (and bad attitude) to South Beach
Butler agreed to a four-year, $142M sign-and-trade deal with the Miami Heat that sent forward Josh Richardson to the 76ers. Butler has a history of locker room problems and has gained a reputation as a difficult teammate. The Heat will be his third team in two years after demanding a trade from the Timberwolves last season that sent him to Philly. Butler will get his chance to prove that he’s “the man” for a contender if he can lift the Heat to prominence. Unlike in Minnesota and Philadelphia, he is unquestionably the most talented player on the roster. Of course, Butler’s season-long and dynasty values go up now with him taking on a much larger role in Miami.
Kemba Walker will be a great fit in Bean Town
Walker agreed to a four-year, $141M deal with the Boston Celtics in what will surely be a match made in heaven. He’s a blue-collar guard without the same attitude issues presented by Irving. Walker shouldered the load in Charlotte as the primary playmaker out of necessity. He still has point guard DNA and will be great setting up teammates. His assist totals are sure to rise in his first season with the Celtics. Brad Stevens has a history of getting the most out of his guards, such as Isaiah Thomas, and Irving averaged a career-high 6.9 assists last season. Walker played his college ball at UConn, so he’s a regional fit too. This deal makes a lot of sense.
A couple of big men were vastly undervalued
Nikola Vucevic’s lukewarm free-agent market was a big shocker. He averaged career highs in points (20.8), rebounds (12.0), and assists (3.8) last season, earning his first All-Star selection. He landed a $100M deal, but that pales in comparison to other deals already agreed to by some less deserving players. Similarly, Jonas Valanciunas received a deal that seemed a little paltry given his skill set, but the market was in the range of what he was offered. He traded his extra $2.6M that he was slated to make in 2019 for two more guaranteed years. He’ll be a great fit with the Grizzlies’ new-look offense featuring Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Valanciunas averaged a healthy 19.9 points and 10.7 boards for Memphis in 19 games last season.
The Hornets will be terrible next season, but hope could be on the horizon
The consolation for losing Walker? Terry Rozier. OK, not such a great prize, but the Hornets are better in the long run for losing Walker. He was never going to get a max contract from the Hornets, and rightfully so. Even with three straight All-Star appearances dating to 2016, Walker can’t carry a team to a championship on his own, and the Hornets would have been crushed beneath the weight of a supermax deal had they offered it to him. The team also lost Jeremy Lamb to the Pacers, but he was not in the long-term plans. While the Hornets will be awful this season, that should lead to a high lottery pick in 2020. Better days are ahead.
Al Horford signed with the 76ers in a surprise move
Horford unexpectedly agreed to a four-year, $109M deal with the 76ers, joining Joel Embiid in the frontcourt to form a formidable defensive pairing down low. Tobias Harris will likely slide to the three, creating one of the biggest and longest starting lineups in the league with 6’10” point guard Ben Simmons orchestrating the offense. Horford’s fantasy value will understandably go down, but his real-life value as a professional, respected veteran, and mentor will be extremely important to his new team.
The Warriors pulled off a huge signing just hours after losing Kevin Durant
With KD gone and Klay Thompson likely to miss most of the 2019-20 season with a torn ACL, the Warriors’ future seemed bleak. Then, in an unexpected twist of fate, Golden State landed D’Angelo Russell.
Russell, who was given a four-year, $117M deal in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn, will pair with Stephen Curry to form an incredible backcourt. Thompson will likely play the three when he returns, with Draymond Green and a yet unknown center (Kevon Looney?) rounding out a pretty impressive starting five. The dynasty still feels like it’s over, but with the Russell signing, Bay Area fans can cling to a little scrap of hope for another title in the near future. Andre Iguodala’s $17.2M salary came off the books with a trade to the Grizzlies, freeing up cap space to sign additional talent or retain Looney and/or DeMarcus Cousins.
The Eastern Conference is on the rise
The Eastern Conference retained Butler, Harris, Horford, Irving, and Walker while gaining Durant. That’s a huge win for what has been considered the weaker conference in recent years. If Leonard ends up staying in Toronto, the quality of talent in the East and West will be very comparable.
Players Staying with the Same Team
Klay Thompson (GS): 5 Years, $190M
Staying a Warrior was always the most likely scenario if they offered Thompson the max. He’ll sit out all of next season after tearing his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Tobias Harris (PHI): 5 Years, $180M
This move made sense after the 76ers gave up a sizeable haul to get Harris at the February trade deadline. It made even more sense with the looming Butler exit.
Khris Middleton (MIL): 5 Years, $178M
This was an incredible overpayment for a guy who made his first All-Star team in his seventh year in the league. Over the last three seasons, Middleton averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 boards, and 4.o assists — all great numbers, especially considering he is a good shooter. Those numbers, though, don’t translate to nearly $38M per season. That’s a tough contract to swallow.
Nikola Vucevic (ORL): 4 Years, $100M
The market wasn’t too keen on Vucevic, who still landed a sizeable deal, but not a huge contract like many of his peers.
Harrison Barnes (SAC): 4 Years, $85M
The move was expected, and Barnes will be a great long-term addition to a team that looks to be just one piece away from success.
Terrence Ross (ORL): 4 Years, $54M
Ross has been big in spots, leading the Magic in scoring on some nights and disappearing for single-digit duds in others. He’s a great scorer when he gets into a rhythm, but he’s very inconsistent. It’s unclear why the Magic wanted to keep him around for $13.5M a year.
Brook Lopez (MIL): 4 Years, $52M
It’s a very affordable contract for Lopez, who took a big step forward with his three-point shooting last season. He’s a serviceable defender, too. Lopez could stand to shoot and defend more consistently, but his overall skill set warranted a deal like this.
Jonas Valanciunas (MEM): 3 Years, $45M
This one seemed a little low, but it’s great news for Memphis, which will feature Jackson and Valanciunas in the frontcourt.
Rudy Gay (SA): 2 Years, $32M
Gay was in and out of the starting lineup last season in San Antonio, so his return for two years and $16M per season is a little puzzling.
George Hill (MIL): 3 Years, $29M
Hill was a great role player for Milwaukee last season. His dependability and professional attitude are the intangibles that make him a great signing at just north of $9M a year.
Biggest Names Remaining
- Kawhi Leonard – His choices have apparently narrowed to the Raptors and a Los Angeles team. If Leonard wants to get paid, he’ll stay in Toronto and sign a max deal. If he wants one to three nearly guaranteed titles, he’ll join James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers.
- DeMarcus Cousins – The word has pretty much been mum on Boogie’s likely landing spots, but some of his best options are the Lakers, Mavericks, and returning to the Warriors.
Some Odds and Ends
The Kings’ signing of Dewayne Dedmon could be a great move if he can provide some stability in the frontcourt. Bojan Bogdanovic is a huge pickup for the Jazz, who can really use his sharp-shooting abilities. The Pacers will give Domantas Sabonis the starting PF job next season with Thaddeus Young off to Chicago. He’s an exciting fantasy prospect. Indiana’s roster will look different next year with new additions Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb, and it will be interesting to see how they fit with Victor Oladipo. The Bucks spent too much money on Middleton, Lopez, and Hill, but this is likely the only window in the foreseeable future the team has for a championship if Leonard leaves the East and Durant doesn’t play all season.
The Derrick Rose signing doesn’t add much to the Pistons, who will get an oft-injured guard who can’t shoot. The Kings and the Pelicans should make the playoffs in 2020 after missing them last season. The Grizzlies are headed in a very promising direction after trading Mike Conley, drafting Morant, signing Valanciunas, and accumulating draft picks. Ricky Rubio signing with the Suns seems like a big deal. Phoenix locked him up at a reasonable $17M per year, and he should be the point guard the team desperately needs to orchestrate the offense. David Griffin is a genius and should already be awarded Executive of the Year. He landed J.J. Redick on a very affordable two-year, $26.5M deal in addition to all of the other moves he’s made since taking over the team.