2021 NBA Free Agency Winners & Losers
The NBA’s free agency period began August 2 at 6pm EST, and in just a day and a half, we’ve witnessed a flurry of high-profile deals. Most of the major free agents have signed, some notable studs have signed extensions, and new rosters are beginning to take shape for the 2021-22 season and beyond. Let’s dive into the winners and losers of free agency from a fantasy and real-life basketball perspective!
- Trae Young signs 5-year deal worth up to $201.5M to remain with Hawks
- Jimmy Butler signs 4-year deal worth over $184M to remain with Heat
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander signs 5-year, $172M deal to remain with Thunder
- John Collins signs 5-year, $125M deal to remain with Hawks
- Chris Paul signs 4-year deal worth up to $120M to remain with Suns
- Jarrett Allen signs 5-year, $100M deal to remain with Cavaliers
- Kyle Lowry signs 3-year, $90M deal with Miami in sign-and-trade
- Norman Powell signs 5-year, $90M deal to remain with Trail Blazers
- Duncan Robinson signs 5-year, $90M deal to remain with Heat
- Lonzo Ball signs 4-year, $85M deal with Bulls in sign-and-trade
- Evan Fournier signs 4-year, $78M deal with Knicks
- Tim Hardaway signs 4-year, $74M deal to remain with Mavericks
- Mike Conley signs 3-year, $72.5M deal to remain with Jazz
- Spencer Dinwiddie signs 3-year, $62M deal with Wizards
- Richaun Holmes signs 4-year deal worth up to $55M to remain with Kings
- Gary Trent signs 3-year, $54M deal to remain with Raptors
- Devonte’ Graham signs 4-year, $47M deal with Pelicans in sign-and-trade
- Derrick Rose signs 3-year, $43M deal to remain with Knicks
- Doug McDermott signs 3-year, $42M deal with Spurs
- Alex Caruso signs 4-year, $37M deal with Bulls
- Kelly Olynyk signs 3-year, $37M deal with Pistons
- Daniel Theis signs 4-year, $36M deal with Houston in sign-and-trade
- TJ McConnell signs 4-year, $35.2M deal to remain with Pacers
- Nerlens Noel signs 3-year, $32M deal to remain with Knicks
- Talen Horton-Tucker signs 3-year, $32M deal to remain with Lakers
- Kelly Oubre signs 2-year, $26M deal with Hornets
- Zach Collins signs 3-year, $22M deal with Spurs
- Cameron Payne signs 3-year, $19M deal to remain with Suns
- PJ Tucker signs 2-year, $15M deal with Heat
- Kendrick Nunn signs 2-year, $10 deal with Lakers
- Bobby Portis signs 2-year, $9M deal to remain with Bucks
- Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore sign with Lakers on 1-year deals
- Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard sign with Lakers – deals TBD
- Kemba Walker reaches buyout with Thunder, plans to sign with Knicks
The Duncan Robinson deal is a bit lofty for me, even for a knockdown three-point shooter, but otherwise, Miami has already nailed free agency. The Heat landed an elite point guard in Kyle Lowry, signed 3-and-D specialist and NBA champ PJ Tucker, and inked Jimmy Butler to a max extension. Next year’s starting five should be strong enough to put this team in title contention.
Devonte’ Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis
Graham will leave a crowded Charlotte backcourt to join the fast-paced Pelicans in what should be a starting role with plenty of minutes. After breaking out in 2019-20, he took a step back in 2021-22 with the emergence of ROY LaMelo Ball. He’ll look to bounce back with his new team.
NAW similarly experienced a breakout sophomore campaign, filling in admirably when called upon and playing quality minutes off the bench. He looks poised to take on a starting role in New Orleans’ new-look offense.
Lewis may be the odd man out here and the player most likely to come off the bench in 2021-22. Still, with Lonzo Ball and Eric Gordon out the door, Lewis’ minutes should rise from the 16.7 he logged as a rookie.
The second-year man averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 boards in his second season with the Spurs in 2020-21, marking a real ascension from the numbers he posted as a rookie. With DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay gone and the Spurs in full rebuild mode, Johnson looks primed for a breakout campaign. He should already be in Gregg Popovich’s good graces after playing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, and the increased opportunity could be a major boon in his development and fantasy relevance. Devin Vassel should see an increase in usage and playing time as well, but Johnson is the guy I like the most.
After a career-best season in which Powell went for 18.6 points and 2.5 triples on 47/41/87 shooting splits, he got handsomely rewarded with a fat new deal to remain with the Blazers. If the Damian Lillard rumors have any truth to them, Dame could be traded before the season is out, leaving Powell as a primary offensive weapon on a team that would be severely lacking for scorers.
After a disappointing exit in last year’s playoffs, Utah will return its core in 2021-22 for another run. The Jazz re-signed Mike Conley to a three-year deal and added key reserves in Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gay who should make an impact off the bench.
Ball’s big contract instantly makes him a winner, but the fantasy fit makes a lot of sense too. Ball improved his outside shot tremendously in 2020-21, so he’s got some offensive upside, but his real strength is as a facilitator. He’s got DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic to feed, and those counting stats should pile up quickly.
Chicago landed Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso. Next year’s starting five projects as: Ball, Zach LaVine, DeRozan, Patrick Williams, Nikola Vucevic. That’s far from the cellar dweller to which Bulls fans have become accustomed. The Bulls are the biggest winners of this free agency, and it’s not particularly close.
Los Angeles Lakers
Defense, schmee-fense. The Lakers signed Russell Westbrook and a bunch of shooters and playmakers which should take a lot of the pressure off of the aging LeBron James and injury-prone Anthony Davis.
Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown
With Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker out the door and no significant free-agent signings to speak of, Smart should be in line for a larger backcourt role in 2021-22. The 3-and-D specialist took on a more prominent facilitator role last season, averaging a career-best 5.7 assists per contest. Tatum and Brown could be in line for even bigger offensive roles as well.
The Cavs showed how committed they are to Allen with a big, five-year deal. The big man averaged career highs in points (12.8) and rebounds (10.0) while shooting better than 60% from the field and 70% from the free-throw line. Even with Evan Mobley in the fold, Allen should be a quality fantasy center for years to come.
Chris Paul & Phoenix Suns
The Point God finally made it to the Finals, and while his Suns came up short, this team should only get better in years to come. The young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges, complemented by key role players will get Paul’s leadership for at least four more years. Three years ago, it would have seemed ludicrous to suggest CP3 would be in the position to sign a massive contract and lead a team to the Finals, but here we are.
Fournier will move from fourth or fifth banana to a primary offensive option as New York’s go-to scorer behind only Julius Randle. The Knicks are in clear need of scoring, and Fournier immediately fills that need.
One of the most surprising fantasy studs of the last two seasons, Holmes will remain with the Kings for the next four years on a lucrative deal. After starting his career as a role player for the Sixers and Suns, Holmes has become a preeminent big. He averaged 14.2 points, 8.3 boards, 1.7 dimes, and 1.6 blocks in 2020-21 – all career highs. Expect him to remain a featured player for a team lacking frontcourt depth.
Way back in 2018-19, Kuzma (as a second-year player) went for 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists across 33.1 minutes per contest. Across the last two seasons with LeBron James, Kuz has seen his playing time and averages drop to 12.9 points, 5.3 boards, and 1.6 assists across just 26.5 minutes per contest. He now joins a team in Washington that was first in pace in 2021-22 but just 21st in offensive efficiency. Kuz should be a starter right away and get far more opportunities than he had in Los Angeles over the last two seasons.
Much like Kuzma, Dinwiddie will see an expanded opportunity with his new team. Likely to be overshadowed by Brooklyn’s Big 3 if he remained with the Nets, Dinwiddie will get a starting role with the Wiz, a team severely lacking outside of Bradley Beal. In 2019-20, Dinwiddie averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 dimes to earn his first All-Star appearance. After playing in just three games in 2020-21 due to injury, he’ll look to bounce back in a big way in DC.
James Bouknight, Terry Rozier
With Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk gone, both the rookie Bouknight and veteran Rozier should be in line for more minutes and opportunities. Bouknight is the biggest winner here, but Rozier should get a boost as well.
John Collins & Atlanta Hawks
Collins’ deal is far from outrageous, especially considering his versatile skill set. The move is good for both sides. From a fantasy perspective, Collins could have potentially landed with a team that featured him more than Atlanta, but he showed that even with a loaded roster, he’s still a fantasy superstar.
New York Knicks
The Kemba Walker deal, while not super splashy, fills a great position of need for a squad that I called losers just yesterday. The starting five of Walker-Fournier-Barrett-Randle-Robinson will definitely be an improvement over last year’s squad.
San Antonio Spurs
After a huge reach to take Joshua Primo at No. 12 in the NBA Draft, San Antonio’s big free agency splashes have been Doug McDermott and Zach Collins. Collins has played a combined 11 games across the last two seasons, and McDermott has never been more than a three-point specialist with barely any upside. DeMar DeRozan was lost to the Bulls in a sign-and-trade that netted Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu. For a rebuilding team, there sure aren’t a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future.
Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan
As mentioned above, the Bulls’ roster got some huge upgrades, and Chicago should be a top-4 or top-5 seed in the Eastern Conference this season. For fantasy purposes, LaVine and DeRozan are clear losers. DeRozan will go from his high-usage role with the Spurs to sharing the ball with LaVine and other quality scorers like Nikola Vucevic. LaVine is also likely to see his usage reduced with DeRozan in the mix as another capable scorer.
New York Knicks
The Knicks once again came up short in free agency. After finishing as a No. 4 seed in 2020-21 and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs, New York used a large chunk of its available salary cap to re-sign the likes of Nerlens Noel and Derrick Rose while adding only one significant free agent in Evan Fournier. Maybe the Knicks are playing the long game and looking to build for a championship in future years, or maybe this is the best the team can do. After continually striking out in free agency, New York has done it again. The Garden will not be erupting for some efficient Noel defense or 17 points from Fournier. Julius Randle will still have to be superhuman to get this team to the playoffs, and this free agency feels like a real letdown.
Stewart looked poised to take on the starting center role in Detroit after Mason Plumlee was traded, but with Kelly Olynyk on board, Stewart’s minutes and usage are now in question again.
Portland Trail Blazers
If the Knicks are having a disastrous free agency, then I’m not sure how to describe Portland’s. The team is seemingly in the playoffs every year and only competitive because of Damian Lillard‘s nightly heroics. Rather than make significant trades or sign quality free agents, the Blazers signed Cody Zeller and Tony Snell – bleh. Enjoy another early playoff exit, Portland.
With the trade for Russell Westbrook and bevy of signings, James’ team should be stronger than it was in 2020-21, but that means that he’ll likely spend more time off the ball or resting in his 18th season. From a fantasy perspective, I’m not buying into LBJ this season unless his ADP falls into the third round.
Schroder turned down a 4-year, $84M extension from the Lakers last season, and the team dodged a huge bullet. Schroder, however, has been left in the dust. As most of the major free-agent dominoes have fallen, Schroder remains without a team. The jury is still out on his fantasy appeal for 2021-22 depending on where he plays, but from a pure financial standpoint, Schroder is a clear loser.
Martin was electric to close out the 2020-21 season, going for 19.7/8.7/3.7 with 2.9 triples across the final seven games (all starts). Now, he’ll face plenty of competition for frontcourt minutes in the form of Daniel Theis, Usman Garuba, and Alperen Sengun.
Drummond signed with the 76ers where he’ll backup Joel Embiid. The move is great for the team, who should be comfortable resting Embiid and scaling his minutes back when needed. This, however, is a huge blow to Drummond’s fantasy value.
Oubre’s move to the Hornets is a huge boon for Charlotte’s playoff chances, but it’s a death knell for his fantasy value. This team already features the likes of Terry Rozier, LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges, so it’s very possible Oubre comes off the bench and sees a reduction in minutes and usage for his new team.