The NBA free agency period got off to a rip-roaring start just before midnight Saturday morning. It started with the Indiana Pacers trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for pennies on the dollar. Then, just a few minutes later, the defending champion Golden State Warriors re-signed Stephen Curry to the richest contract in Association history.
Golden State’s domination of the NBA last season set into motion blockbuster move after blockbuster move. From the aforementioned George trade to the Houston Rockets acquiring Chris Paul and Paul’s old Los Angeles Clippers squad re-signing Blake Griffin, a whole heck of a lot has happened thus far.
Here’s a look at the top-10 takeaways from the early stages of NBA free agency.
Thunder making moves out west
Oklahoma City shocked the basketball world late Friday night, acquiring All-Star forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for pennies on the dollar. The deal was so lopsided that the local police department trolled Indiana on Twitter.
George might not be Kevin Durant, but he’s going to make for an intriguing running partner with MVP Russell Westbrook. These are two of the top-10 players in the Association teaming up to potentially take on the dominant Golden State Warriors out west.
The interesting dynamic here is that Westbrook and George (both Southern California natives) will become free agents next summer. George has already indicated an interest in joining the home-town Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. And Russ has been linked to the Lakers, primarily due to his time with the UCLA Bruins.
We can fully expect Oklahoma City to make a couple more moves. It sure looks like the team is going all in for the 2017-18 season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Stephen Curry sets new benchmark, Warriors retain key players
Shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, the defending champion Golden State Warriors inked two-time MVP Stephen Curry to the richest contract in NBA history. It calls for $201 million over five seasons ($40 million annually).
It’s a well-deserved payday for Curry, who had been among the most underpaid professional athletes over the past several years. Remember, he just finished up playing under a four-year, $44 million deal. Though, at least one superstar seems to think Curry got about half of what he deserved (more on that here).
Then, late Saturday night, Andre Iguodala announced that he re-signed with the defending champs. It comes on a three-year deal worth $48 million. It also comes after Iggy himself received a contract offer from the Houston Rockets and was a hot commodity on the free agent market.
Needless to say, the Warriors’ ownership group has decided to continue with this potential dynasty. We’re talking about a team that doled out $273 million in guaranteed contracts to three players. Kevin Durant and a near-max contract is soon to follow.
So while the rest of the Western Conference attempts to build up their talent level to compete with Golden State, it’s still readily apparent that the Warriors are heads and shoulders above the rest. This doesn’t even take in account ring chasers potentially set to join the team on veteran minimum deals here soon.
Celtics strike out
No Paul George. No Jimmy Butler. No Blake Griffin. The Boston Celtics and GM Danny Ainge have failed to secure any top-end players in free agency or via a trade. Considering the massive amount of assets Boston possesses, this is clearly unacceptable.
Boston ended up trading down from the No. 1 pick to third overall, picking up Jayson Tatum from Duke in the process. In that deal with Philadelphia, the Celtics acquired a first-round pick (via the Lakers) in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Add in the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick next year as well as 2016 top-five pick Jaylen Brown, and it’s absolutely absurd Ainge and Co. have not added a star to go with Isaiah Thomas.
Sure the Celtics might still be able to add Gordon Hayward to the mix. Even then, that’s not going to put the team over the top when it comes to contending with Cleveland back east.
Pacers send message to the Eastern Conference
It’s not a great message from new president Kevin Pritchard, but it surely was a message. Indiana moved star forward Paul George to Oklahoma City for pennies on the dollar. It did so while Eastern Conference rivals apparently had better offers on the table for the forward.
This is simple to deconstruct. Indiana was hellbent on moving George out of the Eastern Conference, even at the risk of its long-term viability. George was going to move on from the Pacers next summer in the first place. That likely lowered his value in potential trades. But to acquire Victor Oladipo as a headliner is what we’d call a major head scratcher for the Pacers.
Even in an Eastern Conference that has seen its talent travel out west over the past two weeks, Indiana is on the outside looking in. It now turns to youngster Myles Turner as the face of the franchise. It does so without a general direction as a franchise. That’s the biggest takeaway from the George trade itself.
Pelicans take a major risk
The New Orleans Pelicans handed veteran point guard Jrue Holiday an absurd five-year, $126 million contract on Saturday morning. Holiday’s return to New Orleans isn’t necessarily a surprise, as it was reported to being almost a done deal prior to free agency. Still, the terms of the contract are overwhelming.
Holiday himself is somewhat of a major risk. He hasn’t played more than 67 games in any of the past four seasons, missing 122 games during that span.
When on the court, he can act as that perimeter threat to go with the combination of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins inside. The 27-year-old Holiday averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists while shooting at a 36 percent mark from three-point range last season. If he can get that number up to almost 20 points per game, the Pelicans could be a force as a lower seed in the Western Conference this upcoming season.
Then again, the bigger issue here is Holiday’s ability to remain healthy. If he continues with this injury-plagued run, New Orleans won’t sniff the playoffs. Hence, why the $126 million deal was such a major risk.
Timberwolves to compete in 2017-18
Fresh off a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, the Minnesota Timberwolves made sure to upgrade their roster in short order. It started with the acquisition of All-NBA performer Jimmy Butler during the 2017 NBA Draft.
It continued on Friday with the Wolves trading away Ricky Rubio to Utah for a future first-round pick. Then, later Friday afternoon, Minnesota picked up former Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague to replace Rubio at the point. Not close to done, Minnesota itself appears to be a finalist for All-Star big man Paul Millsap.
More so than even Houston or Oklahoma City, the Timberwolves have done a ton to up their standing in the Western Conference. The idea of a Teague/Butler backcourt to team up with young stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is all sorts of sexy. If the Wolves can add a solid power forward to the mix, we’re probably looking at a top-five seed out west this upcoming season. How the remainder of free agency plays out there will dictate Minnesota’s standing heading into the fall.
Rockets looking to contend
The acquisition of Chris Paul to team up with James Harden made headlines last week. In reality, Houston now boasts the second-best backcourt in the game behind the defending champion Warriors. But the Rockets don’t seem to be done quite yet.
Houston reportedly offered Warriors super sub Andre Iguodala a contract after the two sides met on Saturday. While Iggy decided to return to Golden State, GM Daryl Morey is surely showing some moxie in the face of overwhelming odds out west. That was magnified by Houston’s pursuit of Paul George before he was ultimately traded to Oklahoma City. It was also brought to the forefront late Saturday night when Houston added veteran P.J. Tucker to a four-year, $32 million contract.
Whether it’s Carmelo Anthony or someone else that is the next move Houston makes, it surely has put the Warriors on notice. Heck, there’s a chance the Rockets add Iman Shumpert in a salary dump from the Cavaliers. Either way, a team that won 50-plus games last season has improved its standing leaps and bounds out west.
Trade values seemingly at all-time low
Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a trade down nine spots in the first round. That’s all it took for Minnesota to add All-NBA performer Jimmy Butler to the mix. Even then, that seems like a mighty fine haul in comparison to other blockbuster deals that have gone down thus far this summer.
How in the world did Oklahoma City swindle the poor Indiana Pacers so bad in the Paul George trade? We’re talking about an overpriced and tapped out Victor Oladipo and an unproven youngster Domantas Sabonis with absolutely no draft pick compensation.
Meanwhile, the Rockets sent seven players that aren’t worth a hill of beans to Los Angeles for Chris Paul. One really has to wonder why the trade market is so bad for sellers in today’s NBA.
There’s a few different components to look at here. First off, teams simply aren’t willing to give up the house for short-term fixes when tasked with taking on two of the most dominant teams in the recent history of the Association. Yes, we’re talking about the Cavaliers and Warriors here.
Another point that’s equally as important. Players like Paul George will hit the open market next season. There’s no reason for the Los Angeles Lakers of the world to give up long-term assets for him when they can sign him without any compensation next summer.
Under both scenarios, buyers are seemingly in a better position than sellers. That’s likely what has led to lopsided trades with free agency itself taking a back seat early in July. Whether this continues remains to be seen.
Clippers just circling the wagon with Blake
Signing an injury-prone Blake Griffin to the second-richest contract in the NBA makes absolutely no sense for the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s only magnified by the fact that the team traded Chris Paul and lost J.J. Redick in free agency.
What are the long-term plans for Doc Rivers squad? Does this include being swept out in the first round? Heck, does it include missing out on the playoffs altogether in a vastly improved Western Conference? That’s surely what we would call circling the wagon.
It’s now being reported that the Clippers are interested in veteran Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, who will require an absolutely huge payday. It’s a payday that will likely include north of $20 million annually. Meanwhile, rumors persisted during the draft that Los Angeles was looking into the viability of trading center DeAndre Jordan.
There’s so many issues here that we could write a 3,000-word column on what’s happening in Los Angeles. Even with Paul and Redick aboard the past several seasons, this team didn’t make it beyond the conference semifinals.
Are we really to believe that the new Clippers dynamic with the seven players they acquired in the Paul trade is better off than that roster? In reality, Los Angeles should have blown it up completely. That would have included firing Doc Rovers, trading Jordan and letting Griffin walk in free agency. Paying him north of $170 million is absurd. Doing so after two consecutive seasons in which he exited the playoffs early to injury makes even less sense. Congratulations, the Clippers are back to being the Clippers.
Outside of a potential sell-off of Iman Shumpert’s contract, the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers have been incredibly quiet in free agency. Sure signing Jose Calderon for depth helps the team off the bench. But that’s not a move that’s going to pay huge dividends.
Without the necessary assets to add a top-end player, Cleveland missed out on both Paul George and Jimmy Butler. In fact, the Cavs were shocked when George himself was trade to Oklahoma City Friday night. Cleveland was in the midst of three-team trade talks with Indiana and Denver that would have landed the team the All-Star while sending Kevin Love packing to the Nuggets. It never materialized.
We can expect the Cavaliers to make some moves here soon, especially if the team is able to trade off the $21-plus million remaining on Shumpert’s contract. Though, without a general manager, the Cavaliers are unlikely to add anyone of real substance unless the likes of Dwyane Wade and/or Carmelo Anthony hit the buyout market.
The interesting dynamic here is that LeBron James has taken a hands-off approach in terms of recruiting potential free agents.
LeBron James has played an active role in recruiting for the Cavaliers in the past, but not this summer. https://t.co/K570Zw9DtV
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 2, 2017
Could that be a sign that he’s not committed to Cleveland long term? Set to become a free agent following the 2017-18 season, James could potentially move on to the Los Angeles Lakers or another west coast team.
What we do know is that Cleveland has yet to do anything that suggests it can compete with the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game set. With that said, the team is in a great position to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals based on the trades of Butler and George out west as well as the Celtics’ inactivity in free agency. How the remainder of free agency plays out will dictate the Cavs’ title hopes moving forward into the upcoming season.