NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NBA free agency officially kicked off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free-agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after existing in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free-agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with the team.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets. He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a banner day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

Winner: Orlando Magic

Retaining star center Nikola Vucevic at less than the max ($100 million over four seasons) was absolutely huge for a Magic team that’s coming off a surprising playoff appearance. Vucevic, 28, had the best season of his career under first-year head coach Steve Clifford last season. He averaged 20.8 points and 12.0 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field.

This move also enabled Orlando retain an impressive Terrance Ross on a team-friendly deal while adding a solid rotation piece in Al-Farouq Aminu from the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency. While the Magic can’t be considered top-end contenders back east, they made some solid moves on Day 1 of free agency.

Loser: New York Knicks

Where to start? It was just a few short months ago that Knicks fans were dreaming of a Zion Williamson, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant trio. After losing out on the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, those dreams were crushed big time.

Unfortunately for New York’s second NBA team, free agency did not pan out, either. Irving didn’t even give the Knicks a visit. Durant spurned the team he had been linked to for an in-city rival. Meanwhile, the Knicks are scouring the second-tier market. They signed Julius Randle to a massive three-year contract. And for some reason, New York signed veteran forward Taj Gibson to a multi-year deal. All of this led to the Knicks’ brass actually releasing a statement directed at their fans. How fun.

Winner: Indiana Pacers

Indiana came out of nowhere to sign former NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon away from the Milwaukee Bucks. In return, the Pacers sent a first-round pick and two second-round picks to Milwaukee for the restricted free agent. This is a move that’s going to have wide-ranging ramifications back east.

Brogdon will join Victor Oladipo to form a tremendous duo in the back court. Add in Myles Turner at center, and these Pacers are certainly going places. Just tremendous stuff from general manager Chad Buchanan and Co.

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

Free agency started with the Lakers hoping to land a max-contract player after adding to the Anthony Davis trade for cost-cutting reasons. Day 1 concluded without anything really happening on that front. Kawhi Leonard remains undecided. Kyrie Irving joined the Brooklyn Nets to team up with Kevin Durant. It appears that Jimmy Butler is between the Rockets and Heat. Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell prefers the Timberwolves, with the Golden State Warriors becoming an option.

Sure there’s still time for the Lakers to sign Leonard or hit the second-tier market. In fact, the latter option might be the best way to go. But the team certainly didn’t make the waves most expected on Sunday.

Winner: Sacramento Kings

It might not be Clint Capela or another front-line starter, but the addition of Dewayne Dedmon is pretty solid for this young Kings squad. The veteran averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds last season. He’ll fit in nicely next to youngster Marvin Bagley III and recently re-signed Harrison Barnes in the front court.

Sacramento was not done there. It also added a veteran wing in Trevor Ariza who will automatically become one of the best sixth men in the entire NBA. Ariza knows how to win and will be a major veteran presence in the locker room. Not a bad day for Vlade Divac and Co.

Loser: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks grotesquely overpaid to retain Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez in free agency. Middleton getting a max contract always seemed to be in the cards, but it doesn’t make that a great signing. Meanwhile, Lopez landing $52 million over four seasons was also an overpay.

Unfortunately for the Bucks, they could not retain former NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. Sure the team got compensation from Indiana in a sign-and-trade, but this is going to hurt their depth in a big way. Day 1 of free agency was not grand for the Bucks.

Winner: New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans surprised a lot of people by landing sharp-shooting veteran J.J. Redick on a team-friendly two-year contract on Sunday. The team had not been linked to a player in Redick who has shot 40-plus percent from three-point range each of the past six seasons.

Redick’s presence on this otherwise youthful roster is going to be absolutely huge. His shooting will open things up for rookie No. 1 pick Zion Williamson inside. He’ll also help the likes of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball live up to expectations following a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. New Orleans was then able to add another veteran presence in the front court in the form of Derrick Favors from the Jazz in free agency. Favors will help the young core of Williamson and Co.

Loser: Los Angeles Clippers

A weekend that started out with Los Angeles being in a four-team race for Kevin Durant while looking at teaming Kawhi Leonard up with Jimmy Butler has fallen flat. As you already know, Durant is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. Meanwhile, Butler got his wish and was dealt to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade.

Where does this leave a Clippers team that has room for two max-contract players? Leonard remains undecided but is favored to either return to Toronto or sign with the Lakers. Meanwhile, the Clippers missed out on other top-end free-agent targets. Sure this is a solid young team, but it’s not going to be competitive in an ultra-talented Western Conference moving forward.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

We have to give Philadelphia general manager Elton Brand credit for what he was able to pull off Sunday. The day started with J.J. Redick bolting for the New Orleans Pelicans and with Jimmy Butler seemingly headed out of town. It culminated in Philadelphia adding Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade for Butler, re-signing star forward Tobias Harris and signing All-Star big man Al Horford.

That’s not a bad day at the office for Mr. Brand. It also creates potentially the best starting five in the Eastern Conference with Harris, Horford, Richardson, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Whew.

Loser: Houston Rockets

General manager Daryl Morey and Co. attempted to acquire Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Sixers. Once that didn’t come to fruition, things changed drastically for Houston.

More so than failing go acquire Butler, reports of Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker being on the trade block could have wide-ranging ramifications. How could they possibly be happy with the Rockets after being bandied about as trade bait? Meanwhile, there’s still an open question relating to Chris Paul’s relationship with James Harden. Yeah, Sunday was not a great day for Houston.