NBA Free Agency
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Well….that was quick! Whilst we’re still digesting the draft, the NBA free agency period is just about done and dusted. This most accelerated offseason means that we as observers are having to evaluate what we see in a sprint, rather than the usual amble.

If you’re still getting your head around what your incoming rookies mean for your team, then luckily for you we’ve taken the thinking out of which team made a leap in free agency, who took a step backwards and who still has unanswered questions.

Today, we’ll take a look at the Eastern conference, before examining the west.

Atlanta Hawks: B+

There’s no doubt that the Hawks’ signings of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari will help them win games right now. With young superstar Trae Young reportedly getting antsy about making the playoffs this season, general manager Travis Schlenk really had no choice other than to make a push for postseason action.

But this marks a major change of tack for the Atlanta decision maker. Schlenk has spent the past three seasons meticulously trading away veterans for draft capital in order to take as many swings at the incoming young talent as possible. He hasn’t previously supplemented his team with free agents prior to this cash splurge, either. Schlenk has surpassed his previous highest spend (Dewayne Dedmon for $14 million over two years) thrice this week. This all gives off the impression of a GM under pressure not just from the superstar player, but also ownership.

Given the sudden depth of his roster, expect Schlenk to make more moves. John Collins is surely on his way out the door; will any of the team’s cadre of young wings follow?

Boston Celtics: C

Tristan Thompson is a great fit in Boston. For all of Daniel Theis’ superior shooting and play making, he’s smaller than some small forwards and understandably struggles to contain the silverbacks down low. The Canadian Thompson is somehow still only 29 years old – he has plenty left to give. He is a solid rim protector and an excellent rebounder. He should be able to find his groove as a roll man for the Celtics array of ball handlers, too.

That said, you can’t escape the fact that losing Gordon Hayward for nothing (after losing Kyrie Irving for nothing a season back) certainly lowers the Celtics ceiling. Hayward was never going to be used in his optimal role with Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on board, but no team in the league could boast the play making depth of Boston with Hayward on the roster. Boston are still a legitimate contender in the East, but their ceiling has taken a hit.

Brooklyn Nets: B

A relatively quiet offseason in Brooklyn compared to the past few seasons. Their primary piece of business was to bring back Joe Harris (re-signed for $75 million over four years) to maintain elite spacing for Irving and Kevin Durant. Jeff Green is a shrewd signing who will give the team a different look at centre when the team needs to play faster.

That said, the elephant in the room is the rumoured James Harden trade. With redundant assets like Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, and possible Spencer Dinwiddie all potentially available, bringing in an elite bucket getter like Harden – winner of the past three scoring titles – will give the Nets a devastating three-headed monster. Sure, guard defense would be a problem, but with a potential 60 point per game backcourt, I don’t think rookie head coach Steve Nash (yep – still weird) won’t mind.

Bring Harden aboard and this instantly becomes an A+.

Charlotte Hornets: C+

If you happen to be an injury-prone, 6’8” professional basketballer named Gordon, then Charlotte has had an A+++ free agency period. Gordon Hayward will help the team, especially in the first couple of years of his deal. He is still an excellent all-round talent. He’s not elite at any one thing, but is very good at practically every facet of the sport.

As a small market franchise, the Hornets will always struggle to attract free agents. In that context paying the overs to obtain a model professional that can help shepherd the team towards the playoffs is a good move. If in two years time Charlotte are in the playoffs and attracting a better class of player, then the Hayward signing pays for itself. If the team can’t break through, those last two years of that contract will cost the team much more than what appears on a balance sheet.

Chicago Bulls: C

The Bulls new front office and coaching staff decided to stick rather than twist – at least for the upcoming campaign. Considering the health concerns and the lack of bench stability/ability, that’s fair.

Their only moves were on the fringes. Kris Dunn’s defense will be missed, but he’s not a core piece. Garrett Temple will provide a wonderful example to the Bulls young core, but at this stage of his career he’s a deep reserve.

Cleveland Cavaliers: C-

Similarly to the Bulls, the Cavs only made moves around the edges. Letting Tristan Thompson leave was the correct call, although not as correct as trading him for the 1st round picks that were reportedly offered up by Boston and Dallas at the trade deadline.

Damyean Dotson will provide some shooting from the second unit, though if any of the Cavs recently drafted young guards pop, he won’t see too much floor time.

Detroit Pistons: C-

One could write a 5,000 word deposition on the Pistons free agency moves. After a solid draft day, picking up their point guard, wing and centre of the future, they’ve suddenly decided to sign all of the centres. Mason Plumlee is a solid player, but is realistically a low end starter and certainly not worth $25 million over three years.

Jerami Grant profiles as the perfect complimentary player: able to defend multiple positions, hit just enough three’s, make just enough hustle plays on defense. Next to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, he looks like a pivotal support player. Next to Hayes and Plumlee? I guess we’ll find out. There is a player that would look much better next to Plumlee. A player who was signed as a free agent for around 65% of what the Pistons handed to Grant. Who is that player? One Mr Christian Wood.

Indiana Pacers: C

The Pacers were reportedly up to their ears in the Hayward stakes. A sign and trade involving Miles Turner would have benefited both teams. Alas, the Pacers were not able to make a deal and are left with the same roster that is certainly a solid playoff team, but with no realistic chance of landing a punch on the heavyweights.

Miami Heat: B-

This mark was higher until the Heat inked Bam Adebayo to an extension. Their prime moves – retaining Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard; signing Mo Harkless and Avery Bradley; losing Jae Crowder – all pointing towards the team hoarding cap space for a certain Freak of Greek extraction next off season. Does the Adebayo signing signal that the Heat are officially out of the race for Antetokounmpo?

Focusing on this season, losing Crowder will hurt, although pivoting into Harkless is a nice recovery. Bradley is an underrated signing. He was a low-key major piece of the Lakers puzzle prior to withdrawing from the Orlando bubble. He’s a great addition.

As an aside, Duncan Robinson must be salivating at the prospect of his next contract negotiations. With Harris and Davis Bertans being signed to premium deals, Robinson (a marginally better shooter than either) is surely going to become a very rich man in the near future.

Milwaukee Bucks: B+

The botched Bogdanovic sign and trade would have made this grade a clear A. Even without the newly minted Hawks guard, the Bucks have still made some very nice moves for the now. Sure, they’ve given up far too much in bringing in Jrue Holiday but if your choice is making a move to win today, or keeping picks to recover from losing Giannis Antetokounmpo, then it’s not really a choice at all.

Holiday is a superior to Bledsoe in just about every way. He’s a marginally better defender with superior length and flexibility and of course he’s far and away the better offensive weapon. He surely won’t shrink the playoff spotlight as Bledsoe so famously does. DJ Augustin is quietly one of the best backup guards in the NBA. He’s not the defender that George Hill is, but he’s a crafty pick and roll orchestrator who managed to keep a moribund Orlando offense breathing. He’ll have so much more to work with in Milwaukee, even coming off the bench.

Whisper it, but the addition of Bobby Portis could be a masterstroke. Portis has literally never been in an above average professional basketball setting and that has allowed his worst habits to thrive. On a team with a clear hierarchy, providing him a clearly defined role, Portis’ combination of size and shooting could prove vital off the bench.

The team has lost important depth pieces in Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez, though that depth doesn’t matter nearly as much in the playoffs and that’s where the Bucks are rightly focused.

New York Knicks: C+

The Knicks have been unusually restrained in their offseason thus far. With practical cap space of over $30 million, the Knicks of yore would have splashed the cash on a motley crew of has-been and never-was types. This time around, they’ve re-signed Elfrid Payton for a reasonable number, brought in Austin Rivers as a reserve combo guard, and acquired Nerlens Noel to provide backup minutes to Mitchell Robinson.

New head honcho Leon Rose likely still has moves to make. Noel and Payton’s new deals are very flippable and he’ll surely want to move on from Julius Randle if that’s at all possible. Given Rose’s stated goal of being a cap dumping ground, look for something to happen around the trade deadline that will make the team’s current restraint look all the more prudent.

Orlando Magic: C

In truly shocking news, the NBA’s most middle of the road outfit continues to be middle of the road.

Orlando haven’t made any noteworthy moves in free agency. They’ve lost valuable point guard DJ Augustin, though the re-emergence of Michael Carter-Williams will help offset that. Gary Clark is a reasonable flyer.

You suspect that the Magic are still to make their move. With a glut of forwards and centres, they would surely be looking to trade for a wing or a guard. This being the Magic, however, it wouldn’t be wise to hold your breath.

Philadelphia 76ers: A-

Daryl Morey’s impact has been immediate. Morey has very quickly downgraded the Sixers cap woes from catastrophic levels to merely worrisome. In doing so he’s even managed to reconstruct the roster into something that might actually fit around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Morey’s best work came on draft night where he was able to rearrange the guard rotation and clear the lane for Tobias Harris to play in his natural power forward spot. However his free agency signing of Dwight Howard is a cheap and astute signing to back up Embiid. If Howard’s Lakers run was genuinely his last hurrah as a serviceable NBA player, Tony Bradley – much improved last season – provides an alternative.

Toronto Raptors: C

General Manager Masai Ujiri’s primary objective in free agency was to keep hold of Fred Vanvleet – $75 million saw to that. Outside of that re-signing, the Raptors lost their centre rotation.

Marc Gasol was expected to leave, most likely back to Spain but with the outside chance of chasing another NBA ring – he chose the latter. The loss of Serge Ibaka hurts the most, though. Ibaka became fast friends with Kawhi Leonard during their single season together in Toronto which clearly helped turn the head of the Congolese born big man.

Signing big Aussie Aron Baynes is a good response to losing Gasol. Baynes is a fearless (if not always successful) rim protector who organises his defense well and provides excellent spacing. As things stand, they haven’t replaced Ibaka and that puts a huge dent in Toronto’s chances of a deep playoff run.

Washington Wizards: B+

Like the Raptors, Toronto came into free agency with the main focus of tying down their own man; in this case sharp shooting forward, Davis Bertans. The Latvian Laser was inked to an $80 million deal which is certainly an overpay, but was probably required to keep their man in DC, given the league wide interest in prying him away.

The Wiz also made a quietly solid signing in Robin Lopez. Given Thomas Bryant isn’t stopping anybody on defense, the option of a quality defensive big man who positively thrives in doing the dirty work will please coach Scotty Brooks, who loved Steven Adams when with the Thunder.

Around the edges, general manager made some smart moves in resigning the sharp shooting Garrison Matthews and taking on undrafted rookie Yoeli Childs.

Next time out, we’ll head west.

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