NBA free agency winners and losers: Knicks reach Jalen Brunson, 76ers score, Lakers incomplete yet
The 2022 NBA free agency period opened at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, and as usual, there was a flood of signings rushing in right away. Do you think these teams and players/representatives were just communicating a bit before they were supposed to? Haha. So stupid, these sticky little rules that aren’t and can’t really be enforced.
Either way, nobody cares. Place for signatures. Here are the winners and losers of opening day free agency.
Winner: Jalen Brunson
Brunson was paid. The Knicks reportedly offered him a four-year, $104 million deal. For a guy who was taken in the second round in 2018, this is a godsend. Good for him. He deserves it. We’ll see how Brunson fares without Luka Doncic to occupy all the defensive attention. But anyway, the bag is secure. Brunson is ready for life, and the icing on the cake is playing for his father, Rick Brunson, who recently accepted an assistant coaching position with the Knicks.
Loser: New York Knicks
Look, that’s good for Brunson, but I don’t think he’s a good enough player to commit that kind of money for the next four years. From where I’m sitting, unless the Knicks, who are likely to throw more than $50 million at Mitchell Robinson in the next few days, somehow manage to swing the trade for a star qu ‘they’ve been hitting for about the last decade, they’ve pretty much registered themselves for mediocrity.
Brunson, who immediately becomes New York’s best player (yes, he’s better than RJ Barrett) really can’t do much more than the third-best player on a real team in contention for the championship, and even that might be exaggerated. The Knicks also signed Isaiah Hartenstein for $16 million over two years, which is nice. It will be a good backup center. But nothing that moves the needle.
At the end of the day, to go out and move all the pieces they moved to clear the space they did to end up with a non-All-Star as their price signing is a waste.
Winner: Nikola Jokic
The guy signed the biggest contract in NBA history. Five years, $264 million. He will earn $60 million in the final year of the deal. I don’t know what else to say. The man won. The Nuggets too. Jokic is awesome.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
It was not free agency. technically, it bit Brooklyn, but on Thursday, Kevin Durant issued a trade request. Once Durant is gone, Kyrie Irving will likely follow. The Nets, who were supposed to compete for the championships for the foreseeable future, just blew themselves up.
Now, I will say that could turn out well for Brooklyn. They are going to get a royal ransom for Durant which will include at least a few players ready to win in addition to future draft capital because the Nets have no incentive to tank is that they owe a boat full of future picks to the Rockets for the James Harden deal. Durant wants to go to Phoenix. If they somehow get Devin Booker, it’s home run time. But I doubt it.
If the Nets persuade the Lakers to give up a few first-round picks, or even just one if Russell Westbrook returns to Brooklyn, for Irving that will be even more capital they could pack up and move for another All-Star. They still have Ben Simmons. It might not end so badly.
But right now, the Nets are set to lose Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in six months. Brutal.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
James Harden has yet to sign his new contract, but he has obviously agreed to give the Sixers enough annual salary to pay PJ Tucker, whom they signed for just over $33 million over three years. It’s a big score. Tucker will seriously lift Philly’s defense and position himself perfectly as a corner shooter for Tyrese Maxey and Harden drive-and-kicks. Add De’Anthony Melton, who the Sixers landed on draft night Memphis for the No. 23 pick, and Danny Green, and the Sixers have a very nice off-season.
Winner: Bradley Beal
Beal also signed a massive extension with the Wizards: five years, $251 million. I’m still betting he’ll be traded before that contract expires, but by signing with Washington, who owns his Bird rights, he’s guaranteed himself a guaranteed fifth year, which will equate to about an additional $57 million in his bank. It goes with him even if he is traded. I’d bet a lot of money that Beal ends up having his cake and eating it too, eventually winding up on a competitor while signing the biggest contract possible.
Loser: Washington Wizards
They should have traded Beal a long time ago. There’s no way this team is competing for anything other than a playoff seed with Beal making that kind of money. He’s just not a 1A championship guy. Honestly, he might not even be a good enough No.2 given the depth of talent in the league right now. Washington should have a bunch of assets right now for Beal.
That’s what Spurs did after Kawhi Leonard. They tried to win with DeMar DeRozan — a pretty good Beal lineup — as the best player instead of committing to a rebuild. They finally conceded to reality and recently traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks for a bunch of first-round picks, signaling a fresh start. Perhaps Washington will eventually come to the same conclusion with Beal. They definitely should. But until then, they pay Beal and Kristaps Porzingis just under $80 million next season. Good luck with that.
Winner: Portland Trail Blazers
I don’t know if I like Anfernee Simons more than Jalen Brunson. I think right now I would take Brunson because he’s a playoff defenseman. But it’s close. So why do I think the $100 million Portland gave Simons over four years is a win, but the $105 million the Knicks gave Brunson over the same period is a loss? Simple: Simons doesn’t have to be the Blazers’ best player. He has Damian Lillard for that.
Frankly, Simons doesn’t need to be the Blazers’ second best player either. They just traded for Jerami Grant. Simons is a potential future star, but he doesn’t have to carry that burden right away.
Then late Thursday night, or early Friday morning in the east, the Blazers stole Gary Payton II from the Warriors for $28 million over three years. Payton is awesome. Portland fans will fall in love with him. He is an elite defender and special cutter and ground runner. He can touch the corner 3s. Portland had to respond to their defense, and Grant and Payton are two huge additions in that regard.
Winner: Lu Dort
Dort wasn’t even drafted. He had to work his way through the league on two-way contracts. Now he just signed with the Thunder for $87.5 million over five years. Transforming into a brick-and-mortar defender while vastly improving as a shooter, Dort will never have to worry about money or his place in the NBA again.
Also, of course the Thunder for rewarding Dort with that money a year before they did. They could have exercised the $1.9 million team option they had in place for Dort this season. Instead, they let him out of it to sign a much bigger deal that can now go into effect immediately. Instead of $1.9 million, Dort will earn over $15 million this season and many more to come over the next half-decade.
Winner: Gary Payton II
Like Dort, Payton was not drafted. He bounced around the G-League and played on two-way contracts and was fired from NBA rosters six times. Finally, he found a real role with the Warriors last season. He killed her. He now has a $28 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. Dream stuff come true.
Winner: Devin Booker
Obtaining $224 million over four years. Again, not much to say. The man is badly loaded. I don’t think Booker will end up in a trade with Kevin Durant. If he does, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to go to a Nets team that’s still going to be pretty good this year with everything they get back for Durant with a ton of picks to get even better in the years to come to build around Bookeur. Life is Beautiful.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
Golden State lost Gary Payton II to the Blazers. It hurts. Payton was so good in his role for the Warriors, who were already thin on perimeter defense even when they had Payton. Golden State is mired in the repeater tax. He simply decided he couldn’t justify paying Payton so much money given the massive tax implications for every dollar spent. You wonder if they will end up losing Kevon Looney for the same reason.
If Golden State decided they couldn’t afford both Looney and Payton and chose to focus on Looney, I’m not sure I agree with that decision. Looney is fantastic for the Warriors. No way they win the title without him. But they drafted James Wiseman. Looney, through that lens, is more replaceable on the Warriors roster than Payton. I would have paid for Payton and depended on Wiseman to start making a living.
Reasonable minds may disagree on this position, but either way, everyone can agree that losing Payton is a big loss for Golden State.
Winners: Ja Morant, Karl-Anthony Towns
Morant signed a maximum rookie extension with Memphis for five years and a $193 million guarantee. Morant has the potential to earn up to $231 million over the life of this contract based on incentives. Towns was awarded a four-year, $224 million extension starting in 2024, meaning Wolves have him locked in for the next six years.
I think the Lakers jumped on a couple of their signings on Thursday. They used their MLE on Lonnie Walker, who isn’t as good as Malik Monk, who they lost to Sacramento. I like Juan Toscano-Anderson. He will help you. Troy Brown Jr. isn’t exactly moving the needle. Damian Jones is a great recruit. I just think the Lakers could have waited to see if Donte Divincenzo, who remains unsigned after the Kings chose not to offer him a qualifying offer, or a TJ Warren could have become available at the MLE level.
The Lakers didn’t hurt on day one. I wouldn’t call it a win or a loss. They didn’t have much to work with. It comes down to whether the Lakers can find a way to land Kyrie Irving. If they do, the offseason is a win. If they don’t, and they go into the next year with Russell Westbrook as the starting point guard, nobody’s going to give two, you know what about Lonnie Walker or Damian Jones. This offseason will have been a loss. So we’ll wait and see.