Now that most of the chips have fallen into place following Kevin Durant’s decision to head to California, we can look back at the past few days that were around the NBA.
Durant’s decision to move on from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors puts his former team in an unenviable position. Meanwhile, the Warriors themselves appear to be the overwhelming NBA title favorites.
Staying in California, the Los Angeles Lakers continue to struggle as it relates to attracting top-end free agents, instead deciding to rely on a couple mid-tier free agents to upgrade a talent-stricken roster.
Back east, the New York Knicks remained incredibly active, adding four key players to the mix in hopes of contending for a playoff spot in 2016-17.
These are among the biggest winners and losers thus far during NBA free agency.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
The two-time defending Western Conference champions won one of the biggest free-agent sweepstakes in modern history.
Golden State plucked four-time scoring champion and former MVP Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder, creating one of the most-potent lineups we’ve ever seen.
Warriors’ new super awesome, absolutely ridiculous lineup of death. 2015-16 numbers are absurd.
While this move did cost Golden State the likes of Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, it also might have set into motion a situation in which veterans come to Oakland on the cheap (more on that here).
Either way, the signing of Durant makes Golden State the odds-on-favorites to win a second title in three seasons.
The team now boasts two MVP’s with a combined five scoring titles. It has a lockdown interior defender in Draymond Green, a sharpshooter of epic proportions in Klay Thompson and two veterans in Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston coming off the bench.
It will definitely be interesting to see how the rest of the summer plays out, but there’s little doubt that the Warriors have built a super team in Oakland.
Loser: Oklahoma City Thunder
On the flip side, Oklahoma City has to be in a bit of a panic mode right now. Not only did the team lose its MVP, Russell Westbrook has indicated that he’s not prepared to sign an extension with the Thunder (more on that here).
For Russ, this makes a ton of sense. He’ll earn $40-plus million more by waiting until he’s a free agent next summer to sign a long-term deal. Though, this does absolutely nothing to calm the nerves of Thunder fans the world over.
If Westbrook were to leave the Thunder in free agency, a potentially all-time great dynasty with four All-Star-caliber players would have been wasted in Oklahoma. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.
It has also led some to believe that the Thunder might be best served trading their star point guard in order to avoid losing him for nothing, much like we’re seeing with Durant right now.
The Thunder’ roster as its currently formed stands no real chance in the Western Conference. Not only did Durant leave, he left for a conference rival that just defeated the Thunder in the playoffs.
You then have the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, all of whom join Golden State ahead of the Thunder in the west’s pecking order.
Winner: Free agents
Made a cap conversion chart to show what first-year salaries under this cap would have looked like last season.
As you can tell, the increase in the salary cap has reshaped the entire NBA. No longer are role players looking at making just a couple million per season.
E’Twaun Moore averaged 7.5 points and 21.4 minutes per game for the Chicago Bulls last season. He turned that into a contract with the New Orleans Pelicans that will pay him $8.5 million per season. Though, that’s not even the most ridiculous contract handed out thus far.
Instead, that has to go to a play in Solomon Hill who received a four-year, $52 million deal with the very same Pelicans after averaging 4.2 points in 14.7 minutes of action with the Indiana Pacers a season ago. In reality, the list goes on and on here.
It’s the new NBA. Four of these players will earn more than Stephen Curry next season.
We can pretty much conclude that those waiting in line for free agency simply need to bide their time and hope they remain healthy. The cap is going to continue increasing, and with it, contracts will become even more ridiculous.
The NBA’s cap increased 35 percent from last season to this year. That’s the largest increase in terms of percentage in over two decades. The expectation here is that we will see a similar increase next summer.
Before you go off the rails here, understand one thing. The primary reason for this increase is due to the ridiculous amount of popularity the NBA has seen recently. That’s good for the overall health of the sport. More than this, it’s great for the players set to hit the open market over the next couple years.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
The Luol Deng signing was actually pretty solid for Los Angeles. Even at $72 million over four seasons, Deng should be able to come in and provide the veteran leadership this team desperately needs. He will also be a solid presence for rookie first-round pick Brandon Ingram.
Outside of that, the Lakers simply proved themselves to be nothing more than that deprived stepchild that’s forced to sleep in the basement. Handing out a combined $115 million to Jordan Clarkson and Timofey Mozgov is absolutely absurd.
It’s not as much about the money the Lakers have doled out to three players ($187 million). Instead, the team simply has found itself in a position where it’s not an attractive landing spot for free agents.
By signing these three players to massive deals, the Lakers also eliminated the possibility that they could add two max contracts next summer.
It’s a narrow-minded front office philosophy that makes no sense when we look at the team’s young core and equally green head coach.
Los Angeles would have been much better off attempting to build its young core much like what we’ve seen in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors. One has to wonder if Luke Walton knew exactly what type of situation he was getting himself into here.
Winner: New York Knicks
The four players New York has acquired this summer have missed a total of 190 games over the past two seasons. That’s the risk president Phil Jackson and Co. had to take to improve a fledgling non-playoff roster.
Is Derrick Rose the same player that saw him win the MVP back in 2010-11? Not nearly. He does, however, have enough in the tank to be an above-average point guard. With Carmelo Anthony in the mix, that’s all New York needs from Rose.
The same question regarding regression surrounds Joakim Noah, who adds a defensive presence down low for the Knicks. The 31-year-old big man missed 53 games to injuries a season ago and averaged just 4.3 points per outing.
Again, taking the value of Noah’s deal out of the equation, it’s a move New York needed to make. Despite his inability to fit into Fred Hoiberg’s scheme a season ago in Chicago, Noah still found a way to average 8.8 rebounds in less than 22 minutes of action.
Adding to the plethora of free-agent signings, New York also picked up guards Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee. They’ll pack a scoring punch with Rose in the backcourt.
With Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis already in the mix, New York now has a roster capable of competing for a top-six spot back east. It’s now all about these new additions remaining healthy. If that happens, the team’s summer will have proven to be a success.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
Almost in the same vein as the Lakers, it really does appear that Dallas is not an attractive free agent destination. For the sixth consecutive summer, the Mavericks have missed out on their top free-agent target.
That came when young center Hassan Whiteside decided to re-sign with the Miami Heat instead of heading to Texas.
With other free agents, Mike Conley included, also opting to turn down Mark Cuban’s cash, the Mavericks have now been forced to offer Harrison Barnes a max contract.
To top all this off, Dallas lost starting small forward Chandler Parsons to the Memphis Grizzlies and still hasn’t retained Dirk.
A team that was a bottom-rung playoff contender a season ago, Dallas now appears to have fallen even further back.
Unlike the Lakers, there’s no real explanation for this. We’re talking about a team that has made the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 seasons and exists in a state where the tax code should be an attractive draw. Equally as important, Cuban himself has proven he’s willing to dole out the large bucks.
Now, forced to go after second-tier options with the cash this team has, the Mavericks are quickly turning irrelevant in the Western Conference.
Acquiring Warriors’ castoffs such as Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes isn’t going to help this team remain relevant. And until the Mavericks are actually able to become a legit destination for top-end free agents, they are not going to be anything more than bottom-rung playoff contenders.
Winner: Injury-plagued “stars”
This definitely starts with the five-year, $130 million deal the Washington Wizards handed out to Bradley Beal. While definitely a dynamic young scorer, Beal’s injury history is well known.
He missed 27 games to multiple injuries a season ago, and has been forced out of 25 percent of Washington’s games since entering the NBA back in 2012.
Averaging 62 games played per season, if this number stays the same, Beal will end up earning an average of $419,000 per game under his new deal.
As mentioned before, Chandler Parsons opted to leave Dallas for Memphis. It came in the form of a four-year, $94 million max deal, something the wing himself had previously indicated he was worth.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, there’s no reason for the team to rely on him for a full 82-game season. Parsons, 27, has missed 37 games over the past two seasons to multiple injuries. When on the court, he’s played nothing like a max performer, averaging 14.8 points in his two seasons with Dallas.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing deal thus far this summer is the one that sent Joakim Noah to the New York Knicks on a four-year, $72 million deal.
Loser: NFL players
To say that those who make a living on the gridiron were thrown for a loop by all the cash being doled out to basketball players would be an understatement.
The issue here is that these NFL players exist under the umbrella of one of the most inept labor unions in the United States.
Head honcho DeMaurice Smith and Co. gave into the suits in New York City during the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, setting into motion a situation where players are getting the shaft.
Look at it this way, there are now 103 NBA players making $10-plus million per season. In the NFL, that numbers currently sits at 85. Considering we are comparing a sport with 15 roster spots to another with 53, that’s a huge gap in terms of percentages.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective, NBA contracts are guaranteed while deals signed in the NFL include only a portion of guaranteed money. In this, 21 NBA players are currently under deals that include $90-plus million guaranteed. Not a single NFL player can say this.
It sure is going to be interesting to see what happens when the next CBA negotiations come up, but we join in Washington Redskins corner Josh Norman in believing a work stoppage is possible (more on that here).
As it relates to the NBA, this new era with exploding cap figures is only good for the sport. It tells us a story of a league that’s grown in popularity over the past several years. Fans of the hardwood can’t complain about that.