The ink isn’t even dry on most of the contracts signed since last week’s start of free agency and a great many more remain in the works. So in the grand tradition of my NBA Twitter forefathers, it’s time to make some gravely premature assessments. Take them with a hefty pinch of salt as there’s still a lot of free agency to go … and maybe use that salt to line a margarita, because it’s looking like there might be a long couple of months of Kevin Durant speculation ahead. (Do the people who were tracking Kawhi’s flights still have access to that technology?)
The Celtics weren’t in dire need of change heading into this offseason: they made it to the NBA finals, after all. But after falling just short of their goal of a championship, depth was clearly a primary goal for the team heading into next season and their free agency signings accomplished just that. Danilo Gallinari, while probably past his prime, still contributes size and shooting, and they secured him for the $ 6.5m dollar mid-level exception. And Malcolm Brogdon, a savvy, well-regarded 6ft 5in guard who can plug-and-play into multiple roles if needed, is just the remedy for a lack of depth at the point guard position that proved troublesome in the playoffs. As their finals tormentor Draymond Green observed on a recent episode of his podcast, the move for Brogdon “could be the best trade (of the summer)”.
I’d be remiss not to preface any praise of the Lakers’ offseason moves with an acknowledgment that any success this coming year, or lack thereof, hinges on what happens with one Russell Westbrook … and the outcome there remains to be seen. But the Lakers did wisely flip the script on their free agency philosophy of 12 months ago. If last year’s credo could be described as “the more experience the better”, it’s safe to say that this year’s is more along the lines of “those who can’t competently navigate TikTok need not apply.” After a disastrous season with a roster stuffed to the brim with the NBA equivalent of AARP members, the Lakers have clearly made a deliberate choice to go younger: the average age of this year’s signees is 25, and they were able to address some of their shortcomings as well. Thomas Bryant, a big man who missed substantial time due to an ACL tear, can shoot well from distance in addition to bringing size. And Lonnie Walker, an under-utilized San Antonio Spur who’s shown a lot of promise, will bring a jolt of much-needed athleticism.
Another team who would’ve been foolish to make any rash moves in this free-agency market is Milwaukee, who were, in all likelihood, a Khris Middleton knee injury away from another trip to the NBA finals. So good on them for throwing the bag at Bobby Portis while also retaining free agents Wesley Matthews and Jevon Carter. The addition of excellent spot-up shooter Joe Ingles, of Utah Jazz fame, also makes the grade. Yes, he’s a guy who looks more like your uncle Joe than a shockingly adept professional athlete, and he is coming off of an ACL tear, but it’s still a great pickup for a team in need of more perimeter shooting.
Listen, paying Jalen Brunson $110m for four years isn’t exactly a no-brainer, and I don’t fault the Mavericks for letting him explore greener, more James Dolan-sponsored pastures in the Big Apple. But all who watched Dallas’s unlikely run in the playoffs this year would agree: he’s a more than competent point guard who played a not-insignificant role in the breaking of the Mavericks’ dreaded first-round curse. And if you’re going to let a puzzle piece that valuable walk for nothing, it’s probably best to have a solid plan of who you’re going to acquire to replace him. The rumblings were that the Mavericks had their eye on Goran Dragić, the veteran point guard and Luka’s brother-in-Slovenian-arms, but those dreams were quickly dashed as he was scooped up by the Chicago Bulls. There’s still plenty of time for the Mavs to fill the void at the point, but it seems increasingly unlikely that it will look like a net positive compared to what they let go.
In my playoffs roundup, I suggested that the Jazz channel their inner volcano and blow this team to smithereens, once and for all, after years of disappointing playoff performances that ranged from “almost there” to the doldrums of mediocrity. And they’ve sort of done that, trading away their microphone-massaging, perennial defensive player of the year candidate, the Frenchman Rudy Gobert, along with shipping Royce O’Neal to Brooklyn. What they’ve gotten back, though, is perplexing: mostly of note are the slew of first-round draft picks, which would indicate a full rebuild is imminent. But as of press time, they’ve held on to perhaps their most valuable asset in Donovan Mitchell, a 25-year-old precipice superstar who has seemed openly confused with the direction of the franchise. If a Mitchell trade is in the works, the offseason choices make more sense. But if they’re trying to assemble a win-now team around him, their moves seem misguided at best and half-hearted at worst.
At the time of writing, both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still technically on the Nets roster. And if you ask the Brooklyn front office, that’s where they’ll remain until they receive a tantalizing enough trade offer for them. The news that Kyrie might be requesting a sign and trade kicked the offseason off with a bang, and the subsequent announcement that Kevin Durant, too, wanted out of Brooklyn, proceeded to send the Twittersphere ablaze. The meteoric rise and spectacular fall of this superstar-fronted iteration of the Nets has been something to behold. It’s understandable that management and ownership alike would’ve grown tired of their stars’ antics by now: Kyrie famously missed the better part of last season due to his refusal to get vaccinated, and while Durant has been less of a walking tabloid story himself, his loyalty to his immunologically challenged friend has proved puzzling at times. But the inalienable truth remains: no version of this team that can be acquired by trading away their two superstars will, most likely, have a potential ceiling even close to the heights of the one they have now. If ever there had been a moment for a front office to swallow their pride and ride a rollercoaster until the wheels fall off, this would’ve been it.