10 ways the NBA Draft changed free agency this summer

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft took center stage around the Association Thursday night in Brooklyn. More so than ever before, teams utilized the draft as a way to prepare for what promises to be an active free agency.

Some teams set themselves up well to go after big-name players. Other squads focused on continuing to build young assets while taking advantage of the desperation of others.

From a Nets team that is now close to having two max-contract spots to a Sixers squad setting up a run in free agency, a lot went down Thursday night.

Here’s how Thursday’s 2019 NBA Draft impacted free agency and the remainder of the offseason.

Nets set up well

By virtue of making multiple trades that limited them to only one second-round picks, the Nets are now about $2 million away from having cap room for two max-contract players in free agency. It’s rather clear that Kyrie Irving is a top target. He’s also highly likely to sign with the Nets.

Whether the other spot is used on restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell or an outside free agent remains to be seen. But the Nets saved some solid cash by moving out of the first round multiple times. They have a plan. Let’s see if it works to perfection.

Pelicans could still trade Lonzo Ball

Going with two big men in Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes within the top 10 seemed to tell us that New Orleans was placing a high value on the front court. That’s until they selected shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker 17th overall. The Virginia Tech product can be seen as pro-ready after playing a lot in college.

Sure New Orleans won’t be starting Alexander-Walker out of the gate. But it could tell us a story of a team that’s not 100 percent sold on a Jrue Holiday-Lonzo Ball backcourt. If the team can get a veteran two for Ball in a trade, we’d expect first-year GM David Griffin and Co. to consider it.

Warriors are not punting on 2019-20 season

Despite the pending free agency and injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, Golden State’s draft on Thursday night suggests that the five-time defending Western Conference champs are not punting on next season.

The Warriors surprised many by taking Michigan guard Jordan Poole 28th overall. He’s a pro-ready talent. He was also taken over higher-ceiling players such as Kevin Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. Golden State ultimately made two second-round selections, including Villanova forward Eric Paschall. He’s also someone that could play immediately. Without any cap room to work with, look for Golden State to get creative in using injured-player exceptions and other assets to add proven veteran talent this summer. Trading away three future second-round picks on draft day magnified this further.

Sixers setting up run for free agency

By moving Jonathon Simmons and a second-round pick to Washington for cash, Philadelphia saved just $1 million against the cap. That’s a small figure for a team that has to think about retaining free agents Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick.

The Sixers entered Thursday’s draft with five picks and came away with just two players. We’re still openly wondering what the motivation was behind that Simmons move. General manager Elton Brand and Co. certainly crunched the numbers and figured the trade was worth it. They are also reportedly going to get a visit with Kawhi Leonard. That could be part of the master plan. Teaming him up with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would be dynamite.

Aron Baynes trade frees up room for Celtics

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge had a somewhat tough go at it during the draft. The veteran front office man was able to rid himself of Aron Baynes $5.4 million contract in a trade with the Phoenix Suns that netted Boston a future first-round pick. That as a solid move.

The larger-scale implications here are the finances. Boston did not take back a single penny in the deal. It now has north of $23 million to spend in free agency with Al Horford and Kyrie Irving likely to depart. This could help Boston land Orlando Magic star center Nikola Vucevic.

Heat seem stuck

There were rumors leading up to the draft that Miami might look to package the 13th pick with a bloated veteran contract to create some cap space. The idea was simple. Move one of James Johnson or Dion Waiters in a trade down several spots. It was also linked to J.R. Smith in trade talks with the Cavaliers.

None of this came to fruition. Miami ultimately took Kentucky guard Tyler Herro in the first round. It then selected Stanford forward KZ Okpala after a trade up into the early stages of the second round, yielding three future second-round picks in the process. Short of finding teams to take on the huge contracts of Hassan Whiteside and/or Goran Dragic, it appears that these Heat are stuck heading into free agency.

Thunder didn’t use first-rounder to shed salary

In the days leading up the draft, suggestions were that Oklahoma City might look to use its first-round pick (21st overall) to shed some salary for luxury tax purposes. One name bandied about was starting center Steven Adams.

More importantly, moving one of these veteran contracts would have helped Oklahoma City add a third option behind Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It never came to fruition. The Thunder’s biggest deal draft night was a trade down a couple spots in the first round. They netted forward Darius Bazley and a future second-round pick from Memphis. Even if OKC is able to move a vet salary, the team likely won’t be players for even a mid-tier free agent.

Suns will look veteran point guard route

Phoenix’ decision to move T.J Warren in a salary cap dump ahead of the draft was intriguing. The team gave Indiana the 32nd overall pick in the draft in order to take on Warren’s contract. The Suns then decided against going point guard by moving down from the spot (sixth overall) they could have selected Darius Garland to pick up forward Cameron Johnson and veteran Dario Saric.

While Phoenix did end up nabbing former Virginia point guard Ty Jerome in a trade with Boston later in the first round, it’s evident that general manager James Jones and Co. are targeting a veteran point guard. One now has to wonder whether a huge offer sheet is heading in the direction of restricted free agents D’Angelo Russell or Malcolm Brogdon.

Bucks keying in on re-signing veteran core

Even before the draft started, Milwaukee dealt away two years of Tony Snell’s contract ($24 million) for Jon Leuer’s expiring deal ($9.5 million). The Bucks ultimately yielded the final pick in the first round to make this move.

While seemingly minor, a move of this ilk will help the Bucks potentially retain key free agents such as Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. In particular, Middleton is expected to get max-contract offers while Brogdon will likely receive stellar offers on the restricted free agent market.

The Kawhi Leonard dynamic

While the Philadelphia 76ers might have put themselves in position to surprisingly land Leonard Thursday evening, other teams seemingly bowed completely out of the sweepstakes.

The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t look to move any of the remaining pieces they have on their roster to clear up cap space. This was a suggestion after they traded for Anthony Davis. Instead, Los Angeles bought a second-round pick. It now doesn’t have anywhere near the cap room for a max-contract Offer.

Other longshot options such as the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics didn’t really make a dent in their cap limitations heading into free agency. While neither was a real option, it tells us about their thought process. With the Lakers seemingly out, it could be between the Raptors, Clippers Nets, Sixers and Knicks for Leonard. Toronto and LA’s other team remain the odds-on favorites.