Time flies in the NBA, but the condensed schedule due to the league’s efforts to return to the regular NBA calendar have put things into overdrive.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the NBA title back in July 21, and a little over a week after, the 2021 NBA Draft saw future stars in Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley get selected by the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.
Now with a few days having gone by since the draft, free agency is upon us.
It’s during this time that the dreams of NBA Twitter as shown by their photoshopping their team’s jerseys on players turns into reality. Or not.
Just as the clock struck 6:00 AM (Manila time) on August 3, NBA teams wasted no time in coming to terms with stars and players they eye to be key rotation pieces. While deals can’t become official until August 7, the terms agreed to in principle have provided a clearer picture of the market.
When the dust settled after the first two days of agency, reloading was the common theme except for the Los Angeles Lakers, who also decided to fill their roster with a handful of Laker alumni (Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington Jr., and Kent Bazemore as of this writing).
The Miami Heat looked poised to be among the big winners of free agency right out of the gate as they signed Kyle Lowry (three years, $90 million), Dewayne Dedmon, and managed to pry PJ Tucker out of the Bucks for two years and $15 million. This was all on top of re-signing all-star Jimmy Butler long term (four years, $184 million), Duncan Robinson to the highest contract by an undrafted player (five years, $90 million) and bringing back both guards Max Strus and Gabe Vincent with respective two-year, $3.5 million deals.
Getting swept out of the playoffs after a finals appearance in 2020 must’ve left a bad taste in the mouth of the three-time NBA champions. With the current makeup of their lineup, expect more of the smashmouth defense that played largely into their finals run in the Orlando bubble.
Not far behind are the Phoenix Suns, who signed Chris Paul to a four-year, $120 million extension. Cameron Payne also returns to Phoenix with a three-year, $19 million deal that rewards him for his efforts the past two seasons and further secures the backcourt of the Suns for the future. These moves, along with the signings of JaVale McGee and Abdel Nader, also signal the Suns’ desire to win now and maximize their current title window.
Apart from a Lakers homecoming, Los Angeles brought in Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, and Kendrick Nunn. One of their more intriguing re-signings would be that of Talen Horton-Tucker, who is primed for a big role and will have to repay the Lakers’ faith (in the form of a three-year, $32 million dollar deal) in him. Age certainly stands out when one goes through the current roster, but only time will tell if age is just a number or something that will bite the Lakers back in the end.
While they didn’t have any blockbuster signings compared to the aforementioned teams, the Denver Nuggets quietly enhanced their roster by bringing back Will Barton (two years, $32 million), JaMychal Green (two years $17 million), and Austin Rivers while also agreeing to a two-year, $10 million deal with Jeff Green.
Fresh off a title, the Milwaukee Bucks have also been relatively quiet as they only brought back Bobby Portis (two years, $ 9 million) and agreed to terms with Semi Ojeleye on a one-year deal.
Amidst all these, there were also intriguing signings that make you wonder how all of them will be put together.
The Chicago Bulls signed Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, acquiring Demar Derozan and Daniel Theis via separate sign and trade deals. Bulls Executive Vice-President Artūras Karnišovas made some solid signings during his time with the Nuggets and he is hoping to bring the success achieved in Denver to the Windy City.
While knee-jerk reactions point to a loaded Bulls squad, there still remain questions on fit and how Billy Donovan will work everything out. Does Chicago want to go fast and if so, can Vucevic adjust? Where does Demar Derozan fit in the grand scheme of things considering Ball, Caruso, Zach Lavine, Coby White, and last year’s first round pick Patrick Williams will take up perimeter minutes?
These are just some of the questions Chicago currently faces and will continue to do so as they navigate this new era.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs have so far signed Doug McDermott (three years, $42 million) and Zach Collins (three years, $ 22 million), who honestly deserves the name ‘Street Clothes’ more than Anthony Davis. This is on top of bringing back newly crowned NBA champion Bryn Forbes.
Even with the loss of the likes of Derozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay, the Spurs still have too many backcourt players. It also underscores the lack of a solid post presence that they can go to when they need a basket.
If Gregg Popovich and the rest of San Antonio’s management are trying to go small, it may be hard to do so with the current personnel on hand. It also remains to be seen if this is just all part of a grander plan.
With all the signings that came to fruition over the past two days, it’s hard to forget that a lot can still happen in free agency. The situation for most, if not all teams remains in flux, with the pandemic keeping things still relatively uncertain only complicating matters.
The torrid pace at which NBA free agency typically goes means that the blockbuster deals usually happen on the first day. Save for a few who usually entertain a number of suitors, deals are more often than not struck even before free agency officially starts.
Regardless, teams have already shown their hand in terms of what they’ve been in search of. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does give clarity to the rest of the league on who the contenders and pretenders will likely be.