NBA teams spent serious money during the three days of free agency, but there weren’t many surprises (except for the dollar amount given to some players).
Of the top 20 players in USA TODAY Sports’ free agent rankings, only two changed teams by signing a new deal. Fred VanVleet left Toronto for Houston and Donte DiVincenzo went from Golden State to New York.
But Kyrie Irving returned to Dallas, Draymond Green went back to Golden State, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton stayed with Milwaukee, Kyle Kuzma, even among Washington’s rebuild, will be back with the Wizards, and Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell did not leave the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, two big players have situations that need to be addressed, but they weren’t free agents. James Harden wants a trade out of Philadelphia and Damian Lillard requested a trade from Portland.
But status quo among the big names was the theme.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers in the early days of NBA free agency:
In 2016, right after no team selected him in the draft, Fred VanVleet was famous tweeted, “Bet on yourself.” Since then, VanVleet has signed contracts worth $18 million, $85 million, and on Friday, VanVleet inked a three-year, $130 million deal with the Houston Rockets. VanVleet’s contract is the largest for an undrafted player in NBA history.
The seventh-year guard from Wichita State became an All-Star with the Toronto Raptors in 2022 and was an integral member of the Raptors’ 2019 championship.
Following his new deal with the Rockets, he doubled down on his original tweet, write, “Again,” with dice.
Rich Paul/Klutch Sports
Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul and his team of agents negotiated nearly $500 million worth of contracts in the first three days of free agency: three years and $130 million for Fred VanVleet; five years and $160 million to Jerami Grant; four years and $100 million for Draymond Green; three years and $55 million for Jordan Clarkson; two years and $8 million for Troy Brown; and two years and $4.6 million for Cam Reddish.
With a few of his clients still free agents but expected to sign with teams, that amount will grow.
Rob Pelinka/Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations continues to improve the roster in small but meaningful ways. It started at the trade deadline when the Lakers acquired D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley, and it continued in free agency.
The Lakers retained restricted free agents Rui Hachimura (three years, $51 million) and Austin Reaves (four years, $56 million) and then reached deals with Russell (two years, $37 million), Gabe Vincent (three years, $33 million), Taurean Prince (one year, $4.5 million), Cam Reddish (two years, $4.6 million) and Jaxson Hayes.
That leaves the Lakers with a starting lineup of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell, Reaves and Hachimura, and depth with Vincent, Prince, Vanderbilt, Reddish, Hayes and Max Christie.
There may not be a big-time free-agent signing worth $100 million plus, but the Lakers made improvements that should ensure they are a contender in the West after reaching the conference finals last season.
Draft class of 2020
Memphis’ Desmond Bane, Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball and Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton cashed in massive extensions worth more than $200 million over five seasons, and for Ball and Haliburton, the total could top $250 million if they meet the rookie designation’s maximum extension criteria , such as winning MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or one of the league’s three All-NBA teams.
The Grizzlies secure Bane, who is the last pick first round in 2020and maintaining a championship timeline with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Pacers have built an All-Star backcourt with Haliburton and Benedict Mathurin, and they just acquired Bruce Brown (free agency) and Obi Toppin (trade with the Knicks) to go along with Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. The Pacers have something cooking.
The Hornets have work to do with their roster, but they are building around Ball and should get an infusion of cash from a new majority ownership group.
With Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal on the roster taking up a lot of salary cap space, the Suns didn’t have many financial options in free agency, but on paper they filled the roster and added depth with exciting players: Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Keita Bates-Diop , Drew Eubanks, Damion Lee, Josh Okogie and Chimezie Metu. Time will tell how good these deals are, but it looks to be a good start for Phoenix.
It’s hard to be a loser when you’re less than a month away from winning a championship. I can’t take that away from the Nuggets. But the NBA moves quickly, and Denver lost quality depth in Bruce Brown (Indiana Pacers) and Jeff Green (Houston Rockets) in free agency.
The Nuggets will have to find ways to rebuild what they lost.
Although Brown said it wasn’t just about the money, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone said on parade day that Brown wasn’t going anywhere, the $45 million from the Pacers was too much to ignore.
Portland Trail Blazers
Losing the face of a franchise, especially one as beloved as Damian Lillard is in Portland, is never good. You could see this break coming for miles, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The Blazers can salvage Lillard’s trade request by quite a bit, but it could be a few seasons before the Blazers see the benefits of such a trade. Portland GM Joe Cronin has franchise-altering decisions to make with Lillard.
James Harden entered the final season of his deal with the expectation that the Sixers would trade him. They are not extending Tyrese Maxey, and they lost Georges Niang, Shake Milton and Jalen McDaniels in free agency.
This is close to a to-be-settled situation, and the Sixers could very well end up with a nice return on a Harden trade. But right now, the Sixers haven’t done enough to keep up with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Pressure is on for president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to make a trade that ensures the Sixers are contenders for 2022-23 MVP Joel Embiid.
New York Knicks
The Knicks traded Obi Toppin, number 8 2020 draft, to Indiana for spare parts, and Derrick Rose (not a huge loss) went to Memphis. Josh Hart entered the final year of his contract with the Knicks, and the team reached a four-year, $50 million deal with Donte DiVincenzo. But the Knicks didn’t do enough to improve their 47-35 record (fifth in the East).
NEEDS TO BE CLARIFIED
In free agency, the Heat lost Gabe Vincent (Lakers) and Max Strus (Cleveland), two key players for the Eastern champions. Because now it hurts. But if the Heat acquire Damian Lillard in a trade with Portland, their offseason will be a success. Lillard, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will keep the Heat in contention. Can they handle it?
The Mavs were in a difficult position. If they didn’t re-sign Kyrie Irving, they wouldn’t have an elite player next to star Luka Doncic. Dallas gave up players and draft picks for Irving in February, so there was a pressing need to keep him. The pairing didn’t work well enough to get the Mavs into the playoffs, but it’s worth seeing how this plays out from the start of a season, especially considering how much Dallas invested in Irving: three years, $126 million. The contract isn’t too bad for the Mavs either, as Irving is one of the top guards in the league.