Top talents began reaching new deals even before the official 6 p.m. Eastern deadline. Within 10 hours, 26 of The Washington Post’s Top 30 NBA free agents had already been snapped up.
Here’s a rapid-fire rundown of NBA free agency’s early winners and losers.
Winners: Brooklyn Nets
There are good reasons for caution when judging the Nets’ splashy haul and long-term outlook, but they cleanly netted Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to complete a remarkable turnaround. After spending most of the past decade as the NBA’s bleakest outpost, Brooklyn will welcome two of the league’s most entertaining players. Durant’s delayed return from an Achilles’ injury will require patience and managed expectations, but the wait should be worth it.
Losers: New York Knicks
The Nets get to enjoy a double celebration because their successes came directly at the expense of the crosstown Knicks. New York had painstakingly cleared salary cap room, even parting with Kristaps Porzingis, to pitch Durant and Irving on a team-up scenario. Instead, the Knicks whiffed, then incomprehensibly settled for three mediocre power forwards: Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis.
As their dream scenarios slipped away, New York executive Steve Mills felt compelled to issue a public statement: “While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight's news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future.” That’s a surefire sign that carefully laid plans went awry.
Winners: Utah Jazz
The Jazz emerged as the darlings of NBA Twitter, earning round after round of kudos for their moves: Bojan Bogdanovic ($73 million over four years), Ed Davis ($10 million over two years) and the Mike Conley trade that was completed before the draft. Utah deserves the acclaim, as it has constructed a fearsome starting lineup — Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert — that appears to finally have the right balance of scoring, playmaking and shooting, while still maintaining an elite defensive presence.
It’s worth noting, though, that the Jazz did part with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors along the way. Neither player is a crucial loss, but this was a two-way flow of talent rather than a one-way influx.
Losers: Golden State Warriors
It’s now official: The injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson during the NBA Finals ended the “super villain” Warriors. Durant is gone to Brooklyn. Andre Iguodala was traded to Memphis. Shaun Livingston must go, and others will follow. After so many years of record-setting success, Sunday was a sad and formal funeral for an extraordinary era.
Golden State then shocked everyone with an aggressive retooling, agreeing to sign Brooklyn guard D’Angelo Russell to a four-year, $117 million max contract. Russell, a pick-and-roll practitioner, is an odd fit for Golden State’s offense and a poor defender. The deal has three clear benefits: Russell gives the Warriors a dose of star power to sell during their first year in San Francisco’s Chase Center, he will help fill minutes until Thompson returns from injury, and he could turn into a nice trade piece down the road. Even so, the Warriors suddenly have some heavy lifting to do to get back into the contender conversation.
Winners: Philadelphia 76ers
Philly managed to qualify as a winner despite handing out the day’s most objectionable deal — $185 million over five years to Tobias Harris — and losing Jimmy Butler less than a year after acquiring him by trade. Why? Because the Sixers’ front office displayed impressive creativity, nabbing Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade for Butler and poaching Al Horford from the Boston Celtics.
Butler’s scoring instincts will be sorely missed, as will JJ Redick’s frenetic off-ball energy, but the Sixers now possess the league’s most imposing defense and arguably its best starting lineup. What's more, Horford severely weakens Boston’s ability to match up with Joel Embiid, he helps Philadelphia match up with Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he should be able to help keep Embiid from logging too many regular season minutes. Win-win-win.
Losers: Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge deserves credit because it definitely could have been worse. Plugging in Kemba Walker as an Irving replacement was smart and nifty, and opening up a mid-level exception by participating in a sign-and-trade will certainly come in handy as Boston tries to address its frontcourt holes. But Horford leaving for the Sixers is a major power shift in the ongoing rivalry between the two franchises. If Philly reaches the Finals or wins a title with help from a former Boston star, the trash talk may never end.
Winners: Milwaukee Bucks
Bucks GM Jon Horst was in a tough spot this summer, needing to keep together Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast and facing an endless series of outside threats hoping to pry away his talent. After a busy Sunday, Milwaukee managed to retain Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill, while adding Robin Lopez for some extra depth at center.
The Bucks did lose Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon, but the former went to Spain and the latter brought back a first-round pick and two future second-round picks in a sign-and-trade with the Pacers. While Philly arguably moved past Milwaukee in the East’s pecking order, Horst kept most of his core intact and didn’t suffer any defections to major rivals.
Losers: Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte seemed headed for a demoralizing summer as soon as it decided that it wasn’t willing to pay up for Kemba Walker. Losing a beloved franchise player is a tough blow, but things quickly got worse for the Hornets. Terry Rozier, their Walker replacement, arrived on a three-year, $58 million deal that was simply too rich for a player who will be one of the league’s worst starting point guards. Charlotte also lost Jeremy Lamb to Indiana on a very reasonable three-year, $31.5 million contract.
Good luck selling Rozier jerseys and season tickets. Charlotte’s next playoff trip feels at least three years away.