NBA free agency opened up Monday afternoon with a whole heck of a lot of movement around the Association. Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball changed cities in sign-and-trades. The Los Angeles Lakers added multiple veterans to a championship-caliber roster.
On the other end of the spectrum, two longtime title contenders in that of the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors whiffed big time. Below, we look at the biggest winners and losers from Day 1 of NBA free agency.
Winner: Lonzo Ball gets paid, joins a true contender
Despite the New Orleans Pelicans being an unmitigated disaster of an organization, the 23-year-old Ball was still able to put up a tremendous 2020-21 campaign. The former No. 2 pick averaged a career-high 14.6 points to go with 4.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 38% from three-point range. A restricted free agent, he was hoping to cash in on this.
That’s exactly what happened on Monday. Ball is now a member of the Chicago Bulls after a sign-and-trade netted him $85 million over five seasons. Not only is the enigmatic figure getting that first huge payday of his career, he’s joining a legit playoff contender in Chicago. The Bulls added All-Star center Nikola Vučević at the NBA trade deadline to pair up with stud wing Zach LaVine. They now have a legit point guard to run the ship and were not done adding after the Ball acquisition — signing Alex Caruso away from the Lakers. It’s in this that Ball has to be seen as a major winner from Day 1 of NBA free agency.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs overpay for marginal players
With a ton of cap room heading into free agency, San Antonio was a true wildcard. Would the team look to reinvent itself as a way to contend during the twilight of Gregg Popovich’s career? Perhaps, the Spurs would simply tear the whole thing down and rebuild.
Whatever the expectations were, San Antonio did not meet them on Monday. The team signed forward Doug McDermott to a three-year, $42 million deal while doling out $22 million over three years to injury-plagued former Portland Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins. While McDermott fills a role as a three-point specialist (39% last season), this was an overpay. Meanwhile, Collins has played a grand total of 11 games over the past two seasons due to a series of injuries. He also just recently suffered a fractured foot in late June. What exactly are the Spurs’ plans here?
Winner: Miami Heat finally land Kyle Lowry, land P.J. Tucker
We first reported back in 2014 that there was mutual interest between Lowry and the Heat. That’s not hyperbole. This is how long Pat Riley and Co. have been courting the six-time All-Star. By virtue of pulling off a blockbuster sign-and-trade for Lowry, the Heat have now added another star to the mix to go with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They also didn’t give up much of substance.
In addition to this, Miami was able to retain restricted free agent Duncan Robinson on a five-year, $90 million contract and brought in three-and-D forward P.J. Tucker in free agency. As of right now, Miami’s starting five is pretty much set with Lowry, Robinson, Butler, Tucker and Bam. Heck, Tyler Herro appears to be the sixth man right now. That’s crazy.
Loser: What in the world are the New Orleans Pelicans doing?
We already know that some within Zion Williamson’s camp is not happy with the direction of the organization after just two seasons in New Orleans. The backdrop heading into free agency was the necessity of front office head David Griffin to find Williamson some legitimate veteran options and the status of restricted free agent Lonzo Ball.
In what turned out to be an uninspiring trade with the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans sent Ball north of two margin players in Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple as well as a second-round pick. Obviously, this isn’t going to move the needle too much. The astonishing thing here is that New Orleans pushed back against moving Ball during the NBA trade deadline in March when it had much better offers on the table. New Orleans then decided that it made sense to replace Ball with a career 39% shooter in Devonte’ Graham while yielding a 2022 first-round pick to the Charlotte Hornets in the process. Ouch!
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers add ton of veteran capital
Los Angeles is going to miss the defensive prowess of Alex Caruso after he signed with the Chicago Bulls on Monday. It needs to find a way to add more talent on that end of the court with the limited resources the team has.
Even then, the ability to add the likes of veterans Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Dwight Howard without using their mid-level exception has to be seen as a win for the Lakers. Ariza and Ellington will create both spacing and three-point shooting ability. Howard is still good for roughly 20 minutes per game and a double-double. After the blockbuster acquisition of Russell Westbrook in late July, bringing in three core veteran pieces was absolutely huge for general manager Rob Pelinka and Co.
Loser: Golden State Warriors went AWOL on Day 1
After missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons, most expected Golden State to flip its lottery picks in last week’s NBA Draft for veterans. That did not happen. Following the draft, the Warriors’ brass pointed to free agency as an option to add experienced players to the roster. The idea here was that ring chasers might want to join Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Thus far that has not happened. As the Lakers added everyone under the sun, Golden State, came up empty. It had interest in Nicolas Batum before he re-signed with the Clippers. The team was also apparently in on the aforementioned Dwight Howard. The end result was a disastrous first day of NBA free agency and the need for Golden State’s brass to do something outside of what seems to be an imminent extension for Stephen Curry.