NBA free agency technically began on June 30 at 6:01 p.m. ET, though it was already well underway thanks to the
tampering discussions that have been taking place all season.
What was always supposed to be a monumental moment in league history became even more complex with the recent Achilles injury to Kevin Durant, the headliner of this class. Now, Durant will head to the Brooklyn Nets, along with Kyrie Irving.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Butler is heading to Miami, Al Horford is heading to the 76ers, and D’Angelo Russell is somehow going to the Warriors.
We’ll be reacting to the most important and interesting free-agent moves as they happen in this running Winners and Losers column.
Last update: July 1, 4:41 p.m. ET
KEVIN DURANT AND KYRIE IRVING GO TO BROOKLYN
WINNER: The Brooklyn effin Nets
Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. They did it. Regardless of what happens now, what an incredible accomplishment for Brooklyn.
WINNER: The Nets’ long rebuild
Think back to the disastrous 2013 trade in which Brooklyn handed the Celtics their future for aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Could you have imagined that, six years later, TWO top-15 superstars in their prime would voluntarily choose Brooklyn, one of which came from the Celtics?
Now comes the hard part: making it all pay off on the court.
LOSER: New York Knicks
In one sense, this doesn’t have to be a disaster for the Knicks. Take your lumps, build slowly, and let this thing play out. It’s what fans have wanted for years.
But then again, it kind of is a disaster. The Knicks traded away their most promising young player in years to create enough room for two max contracts, then hinted many times publicly that their grand plans would result in success. Instead, they’re watching their crosstown rivals get the dual prize that seemed destined to head their way.
BIG LOSER: New York Knicks
If this is indeed true, scratch everything I just wrote above.
The Knicks and owner Jim Dolan were not prepared to offer Kevin Durant a full max contract due to concerns over his recovery from the Achilles injury, league sources tell me and @wojespn. Knicks officials are in Los Angeles tonight, meeting with free agents such as Julius Randle.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 30, 2019
BIGGEST LOSER: Steve Mills
Poor guy had to put his name on this.
The Knicks have released a statement from team president Steve Mills in the wake of missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving: pic.twitter.com/z4yKVILSqi
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) July 1, 2019
WINNER: DeAndre Jordan
Technically part of Brooklyn’s new Big 3, and with a four-year, $40 million deal to boot.
LOSER: The Boardroom
Hope they enjoyed the free publicity.
Source: Kevin Durant will announce his free agent decision tonight on his company owned sports business network: https://t.co/ovJCDTOEMz
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
Kevin Durant is planning to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
LOSER: Golden State Warriors
Even if we kind of knew Durant was a goner, it has to sting knowing the circumstances that led to his departure. It’d be one thing if Durant led the Warriors to another title and then decided he wanted a new challenge. It’s another for him to rush back from one injury, only to suffer the worst ailment a hooper can get, thanks in part to medical guidance that may or may not have endangered him unnecessarily.
(Also, while I appreciate the idea of retiring Durant’s jersey already, this smells like an attempt to generate good PR.)
The end result is the worst of all worlds. Not only do the Warriors lose Durant, but they do so having demonstrated they actually need him to win titles.
The Warriors also did … something else. More on that below.
JIMMY BUTLER TO … THE HEAT (probably)?
This deal is technically not done because Miami is trying to find a third team to take on salary to make it possible, but for now, we’ll assume they do that.
WINNER: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler, for whatever reason, wanted to go to the Miami Heat. He probably wanted to go to the Miami Heat back in November, when he was trying to leave Minnesota. He didn’t get there then, because the Heat didn’t have many trade assets and were protective of Josh Richardson, the one they did have. The book appeared to be closed.
Turns out, it wasn’t. Butler orchestrated a complex sign-and-trade arrangement to get to South Beach, convincing the Heat to give up Richardson and signing a four-year maximum contract in the end. Getting Miami and Philadelphia to play ball on a sign-and-trade is a heck of an accomplishment given the salary-cap difficulties that entailed.
It’s hard to see how the Heat can be a real factor in the East with Butler and a bunch of spare parts, but at least Butler got to the place he wanted.
LOSER: Houston Rockets
The Rockets aimed at another star player this summer, reportedly trying to lure Butler back to his hometown. It didn’t work out either because the Sixers didn’t want what Houston was offering up in the necessary sign and trade, or because Butler wanted to go to the Miami Heat regardless. Butler ended up in South Beach, and the Rockets aren’t left with many other good options on the market as talent gets snapped up.
With the Warriors wounded up and the Lakers still working to build a rotation around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Rockets had a shot to take the Western mantle and fell short. Now what?
TBD: Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons. Josh Richardson. Tobias Harris. Al Horford. Joel Embiid. That’s an … interesting basketball team. I’m gonna need some time to process this.
HOLD UP D’ANGELO RUSSELL WENT WHERE??
LOSER: Golden State Warriors
This might be the most bizarre free-agent transaction in years. Of all the possible ways the Warriors could have rebounded from losing Kevin Durant, who would have ever thought a sign-and-trade to give D’Angelo Russell a four-year, $117 million contract would be their move? This wasn’t in the same universe as even the weirdest possible next transaction. #Lightyears, indeed.
Thing is, there’s a reason nobody saw this coming. Russell, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson will combine to make nearly $100 million per season all by themselves over the next three seasons. Can they play together? Unclear. Can they fill out the roster around them? Also unclear.
To make that happen, they needed to trade an extremely lightly protected 2024 first-rounder to Memphis as collateral for them taking Andre Iguodala’s contract. Curry and Thompson will be in their mid-30s by then, so the Warriors are taking on a ton of downside risk.
Is D’Angelo Russell really worth all that on this team? Hard to see it, unless this is merely an asset play.
WINNER: D’Angelo Russell
He won’t get to stay with the Brooklyn Nets team he helped build into one of the best young groups in the league, but getting a chance to play with Stephen Curry and the Warriors is as good a consolation as he could’ve wanted. Russell won’t be a natural fit next to Curry, but with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (when he returns from injury), Golden State could still have an electric offense. Golden State could be a better team than Brooklyn next season with KD sidelined.
— Matt Ellentuck
LOSER: Andre Iguodala
Iguodala was collateral damage after Kevin Durant opted to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Desperate to make some sort of free agency splash with Klay Thompson sidelined for most of the year, Golden State and Brooklyn agreed to a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell, leaving Iguodala’s contract needing to be moved salary cap-wise.
The Memphis Grizzlies took on Iguodala’s $17 million contract in exchange for draft compensation, which is wonderful for them, but bad news for a once-key member of a dynasty. The Grizzlies are in for a full rebuild, and 35-year-old Iguodala should want nothing to do with that. Look for Andre to ask for a buyout.
At the very least, Iguodala made fantastic content out of his very bad day:
LOSER: Minnesota Timberwolves
They seemed like the favorites for Russell all day, despite not having salary-cap room themselves. Karl-Anthony Towns even went ahead and dropped this hint on Instagram.
WINNER: Klay Thompson
Despite tearing his ACL at the worst time possible, Klay’s money is secured with the team he always wanted. Thompson’s going to sign a five-year, $190 million max contract with the Golden State Warriors, despite missing most of next season to rehab the injury. Sometimes, loyalty pays.
KEMBA WALKER HEADS TO BOSTON
WINNER: Kemba Walker
Walker won’t be getting the supermax, but for the first time in his eight-year career, he’ll have a chance to compete in the playoffs after committing to a four-year maximum contract with Boston. With the Celtics, Kemba can take control over an offense that doesn’t live and die solely on his efforts. It’s as good of a landing spot as he could’ve hoped for after Charlotte declined to pay him his worth.
LOSER: Charlotte Hornets
Declining to give a supermax or even a regular five-year maximum contract to a 29-year-old small guard coming off a career year is defensible in a vacuum, especially for a non-contender. That’s not why the Hornets are losers for letting Kemba Walker go to Boston.
The issue is the lack of foresight the Hornets showed throughout this process. If they weren’t going to offer Walker everything he wanted, why didn’t they get in front of the situation and trade Walker before losing him for nothing?
They had to know their team was going nowhere. They had to know Walker could potentially make himself eligible for the supermax and put them in this pickle. They had to know he’d want a normal max contract regardless, and that multiple teams would have four-year offers ready for him should he hit the open market. Did the Hornets care more about a doomed playoff push and/or having one of their own in the All-Star Game they hosted? That’d be foolish if so.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 30, 2019
THE BUCKS KEEP (MOST) OF THE CORE
WINNER: Khris Middleton
When Middleton was last a free agent, he took far less than his market value at five years and $70 million. Nothing to sneeze at, of course, but he could have looked for a larger offer sheet or tried to get a shorter-term deal to hit free agency again sooner. That below-market contract helped Milwaukee build the 60-win juggernaut it built last season.
This time, Middleton secured the absolute best contract he could: five years, $178 million, with a player option. He had the Bucks over a barrel due to his low cap hold and their lack of cap space to replace him, and he used that leverage to secure the bag. Given the way he gave them a break last time, this was well deserved payback.
WINNER: Brook Lopez
Lopez took a chance on the Bucks last year, signing a one-year, $3.3 million contract that could have been seen as an insult given his All-Star pedigree. Instead, he happily played the perfect role for a great team, rebuilt his value, and locked in a four-year, $52 million deal that’ll earn him security through his age-35 season.
LOSER: Milwaukee Bucks
They didn’t keep the full band together, because they lost Brogdon to the Pacers on a contract they clearly weren’t able to match. They didn’t preserve a ton of long-term flexibility, because they still gave Middleton and Lopez fat four-year contracts while taking the leftover money saved on Brogdon to give 33-year-old George Hill a three-year, $29 million deal to stay. Re-signing Eric Bledsoe during the year doesn’t seem like the best call either, given his postseason struggles. (Wes Matthews was a nice addition at the minimum, and Robin Lopez at least unites the Lopez brothers).
So the only thing they really accomplished appears to be ducking the luxury tax, which is not ideal given Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future. The Bucks had a tricky task this summer, but it’s hard to see how this outcome puts them on any sort of defined path forward.
ALL THE OTHER STUFF
WINNER: Frank Kaminsky
He really got two years and $10 million? That dude has a great agent.
LOSER: Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers made a big move, swapping the expiring contracts of Meyers Leonard and Mo Harkless to the Heat for Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside will work as a replacement for Jusuf Nurkic, who could miss most of the season with a broken tibia and fibula, but his fit is a huge question mark. Whiteside saw his playing time steeply decrease last season, as he’s a limited defender in space and provides little on the offensive end aside from dunks and layups.
There’s only one year left on his deal, so this isn’t a huge risk. But it’s tough to see how Portland looks better without Harkless and Seth Curry, who will sign with the Mavs, and with someone whose skillset isn’t made to play defense in the playoffs.
WINNER: David Griffin
When David Griffin took over as President of Basketball Operations with the Pelicans, he had the remnants of a disjointed, disappointing roster and an unhappy superstar in Anthony Davis. After dealing AD to the Lakers for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart, drafting Zion Williamson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and finding a taker for Solomon Hill’s bad deal, Griff could have called this offseason a smashing success.
He took it one step further by nabbing J.J. Redick to a smart two-year deal, acquiring Derrick Favors from Utah, and adding European import Nicolo Melli. The Pels now have shooting and a bit of veteran moxie to provide Zion with a comfortable learning environment. Not bad.
WINNER: Utah Jazz
This is what it looks like for a small-market team to get serious. No longer are the Jazz content with being a nice regular-season team without enough offense to get it done when the going gets tough.
Now, they have a clutch floor general in Mike Conley, and one of the league’s best spot-up shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic on a four-year, $73 million contract. A starting lineup of Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert provides a ton of shooting and playmaking, with the Defensive Player of the Year back there to clean up any messes. Look for Mitchell to have a huge third season now that he actually has some real shooting on the floor. (Ed Davis for two years, $10 million was also nice).
The Jazz are gonna be a damn problem.
WINNER: Phoenix Suns and Ricky Rubio
The Phoenix Suns were mocked at the NBA draft for making several on-brand decisions in the absolute worst possible ways, but they bounced back by kicking off free agency with a three-year, $51 million offer to Ricky Rubio.
The move fills a long-time devastating hole on Phoenix’s roster with a pass-first point guard who will help everyone else fall into their natural place. That applies more to Devin Booker — who will run more action off the ball — than anyone else.
It’s unclear how much of Igor Kokoskov’s offensive system will be scrapped now that Monty Williams is Phoenix’s head coach, but much of it came from Rubio’s former team, the Utah Jazz, where Kokoskov spent three years teaching Quin Snyder’s dribble hand-off, side-to-side, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach. The fit is splendid from that perspective.
For the sake of Deandre Ayton’s development, few attainable ball-handlers make more sense than Rubio, who can help turn last year’s No. 1 pick into a destructive roll man. Neither Phoenix nor Rubio will have to worry about his flawed shooting in the playoffs, either, because Phoenix isn’t getting there anytime soon.
For now, putting young talent in roles where they can learn and thrive should be a priority. Rubio seamlessly helps that happen, and, for his trouble, he’ll somehow make more money next season than he did in 2018-19. It’s a win-win all the way around.
WINNER: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers made the steal of the NBA Draft night when they traded cash considerations to the Suns for T.J. Warren. Then, they pulled a huge curveball on Day 1 of free agency, trading a first-round pick and two second-round picks for Malcolm Brogdon, a sharp defender and 50/40/90 shooter.
With Indy losing Bojan Bogdanovic to a four-year, $73 million deal to Utah, this was an elite backup plan. Brogdon is one of the league’s most underrated guards who’ll compliment Oladipo well when he returns from injury. Brogdon doesn’t need to take possessions away from Oladipo to be successful.
WINNER: Sacramento Kings
The Kings had a totally rational, sane free agency plan: replace restricted free agent Willie Cauley-Stein at center, retain Harrison Barnes, add a couple of veterans who won’t block the young rising stars. Check, check, check.
The Kings added 3-and-D center Dewayne Dedmon, signed Barnes to a 4-year deal around $20 million per season, and used the rest of their cap space to add Trevor Ariza (who should come off the bench behind Barnes and Marvin Bagley III) and Cory Joseph (who should back up De’Aaron Fox). None of these deals should be albatrosses, and none of the veterans should stand in the way of upward growth for the most promising of the kids (Fox, Bagley).
Decisions — like an extension for Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic’s future on the team — still loom. And it’s still weird that the Kings fired Dave Joerger after a strong season. But the Kings just might be on the right track. What a world.
WINNER: Chicago Bulls
Since the 2019 trade deadline, the Chicago Bulls have added Otto Porter, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, and Coby White while giving up Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, and two second-round picks. In doing so, they’ve transformed their team from an archaic relic of the past into a young, dynamic, defensive-minded, and versatile crew.
All four of those acquisitions have positional flexibility, which means they can slot in a lot of different places around the young core of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Wendell Carter Jr. Satoransky could start at point guard next to LaVine, or play off the ball if White develops. Porter is a solid starting small forward, but he can also play the 4. Young can play with either Markkanen or Carter.
If Jim Boylan can actually coach — the jury’s still out — this is a nice young core that’ll grow organically.
LOSER: Orlando Magic
The Magic were clearly caught in the high of their first playoff appearance in six seasons, opting to sign and re-sign contributors rather than take the long rebuilding route. Orlando kept Nikola Vucevic, the team’s All-Star, for four years and $100 million, Terrence Ross for four years and $54 million and signed free agent Al-Farouq Aminu for three years and $29 million.
Though keeping Vucevic on a value deal was a strong move, signing two in-their-prime role players for a steep price is a questionable choice. Orlando is years away from truly competing with Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and (hopefully) Markelle Fultz. Those guys will only take minutes and spotlight from the franchise’s future.
— Matt Ellentuck
LOSER: Tampering purists
So much for NBA teams respecting the sanctity of the moratorium. By the time the official free-agent negotiating period opened, two of the top five free agents (Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving) were on their way to new teams, multiple Al Horford mystery suitors were floated and debunked, and D’Angelo Russell was zeroing in on a Timberwolves team that didn’t even have cap space to sign him.
Theoretically, that sort of maneuvering shouldn’t start until after 6:01 p.m. on June 30. In reality, it’s always started earlier, and the only difference now is that nobody cares to pretend otherwise.
This could all be avoided if the NBA moved free agency to immediately after the draft and ended the league year after the Finals, rather than on June 30. Then again, given the interest free-agent rumors generate, perhaps this is a problem that doesn’t need to be solved.