All told, it was an eye-popping opening night for a league that has suffered billions in lost revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic. Within less than 90 minutes of the 6 p.m. Eastern time start to free agency, the NBA’s 30 teams agreed to deals worth more than $1.1 billion. Lowry was one of several veteran point guards who scored big. Chris Paul agreed to re-sign with Phoenix on a four-year, $100 million contract after leading the Suns to the NBA Finals. Mike Conley agreed to re-up with the Utah Jazz on a three-year, $72 million deal.
But the spending spree in South Florida could have the biggest ramifications. After advancing to the 2020 Finals, Miami was swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Milwaukee following a season marred by injuries and health protocol absences. Lowry, a six-time all-star who averaged 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists last season, should help address the Heat’s offensive woes, as he is a traditional point guard who can keep the ball moving and hit an outside shot.
Miami had chased Lowry at the March trade deadline, but a deal never materialized and the Heat paid for it, posting a league-worst 95.4 offensive rating in the postseason. At 35, Lowry remains an efficient and high-IQ floor general, and he was a key leader of Toronto’s 2019 title team. Lowry shares a friendship and a take-no-prisoners approach to basketball with Butler, and he should be a natural fit with Coach Erik Spoelstra’s demanding style.
The deal marks the end of an era for Lowry, who blossomed into a Raptors icon over nine memorable seasons. Arriving in 2012 after forgettable stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, Lowry teamed with DeMar DeRozan to build the Raptors into consistent winners for the first time in franchise history. After a number of playoff heartbreaks, a trade for Kawhi Leonard helped Lowry break through with the 2019 title. The thought of leaving Toronto left Lowry emotional in March, but his focus Monday was on his new digs.
“Miami Heat x Kyle Lowry. Let’s Goo!!” he wrote on Instagram, appending five fire emoji for emphasis.
Butler’s potential new extension, which was reported by the Athletic and can’t be made official until later this week, carries some risk, as he will be 32 at the start of next season and has logged a heavy minutes load throughout his prime. But the five-time all-star, who averaged 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists last season, keyed Miami’s run to the Finals in the bubble. Paying up to keep him as the franchise centerpiece was the price of doing business. Without a happy Butler, Miami had no need for Lowry and no hope of making another deep playoff run.
While $90 million sounds like a lot of money for Robinson, who averaged 13.1 points last season, the agreement is in line with previous deals for sharpshooters. Last November, the Brooklyn Nets paid Joe Harris $75 million over four years and the Washington Wizards gave Davis Bertans $80 million over five years. Robinson has shot 42.3 percent on three-pointers over his three-year career.
Besides Lowry’s move, most of Monday’s early action centered on teams retaining their own players, in part because only a handful of teams entered the summer with meaningful cap space. Paul’s return to Phoenix, after transforming the Suns from a perennial lottery team into Western Conference champs, felt inevitable. By declining a $44 million player option for 2021-22, Paul was able to secure a nine-figure golden parachute that will carry him through his age-39 season.
Conley’s return to the Jazz was similarly expected, as he earned his first all-star selection and helped Utah claim the NBA’s best regular season record. The Jazz traded center Derrick Favors to the Oklahoma City Thunder over the weekend, clearing out his $9.7 million salary to facilitate Conley’s return.
Although the New York Knicks entered free agency armed with more than $50 million in cap space, their biggest early addition was Evan Fournier. The French guard, who led an upset of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics last week, received a four-year, $72 million deal after spending last season’s stretch run with the Boston Celtics. Fournier’s departure leaves new Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens with another backcourt hole to plug following his June trade of Kemba Walker to the Thunder. Meanwhile, New York reached relatively modest agreements to retain three of its own free agents, Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks.
The Chicago Bulls were another of the busiest early shoppers. Arturas Karnisovas, hired as vice president of basketball operations in 2020, put his stamp on the Bulls by trading for all-star center Nikola Vucevic at the deadline. Karnisovas then turned his attention to his backcourt on Monday, landing Lonzo Ball from the New Orleans Pelicans in a four-year, $85 million sign-and-trade agreement and poaching Alex Caruso from the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $37 million contract. Ball and Caruso pencil in as 3-and-D complements to star guard Zach LaVine and Vucevic.
Leonard, the top overall player in this summer’s free agency class, has yet to reach an agreement. The two-time Finals MVP is widely expected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he has issued no public statement since undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn ACL last month.