It’s that time of year again, where we all sit back and dream of the riches obtained from playing in the NBA. Though the free agency period marches on, five players have already received contracts worth at least $100 million (Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin, and Jrue Holliday), and Otto Porter Jr is on the verge of making it six.
Those six players can certainly chalk this offseason up as a win. But not all 30 teams can say the same. When one team adds an All-Star, another loses its franchise cornerstone; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Who’s cursing Newton’s third-law of motion right about now? Plunk yourself down against the nearest apple tree and put on your hard hat as we separate the biggest winners and losers from free agency.
Disclaimer: trades that were not influenced by 2017 free agency have not been considered (see Paul George and Jimmy Butler).
Golden State Warriors
No, re-signing Steph Curry to a five-year, $201 million contract doesn’t make the defending champs offseason winners; there was never any doubt Curry would be a Warrior for the foreseeable future, and he’s getting paid like the superstar he is. However, the deal they struck with Kevin Durant to keep the NBA Finals MVP in town for at least another season (with a second-year player option) was pure dynamite.
Durant left nearly $9 million on the table, allowing the Warriors to retain both Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, two key role players from their championship roster. The latter was being pursued by nearly half the league, and the Warriors would have been unable to offer a competitive contract if they’d paid Durant his fair-market value. But they didn’t have to, and how they have basically all major contributors returning. They may be even better than last season.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 4/5
Officially, Chris Paul opted into the final year of his contract with the Clippers, but that was only so the team could work a deal for the impending free agent, who would have otherwise opted out and hit the open market. So, unlike the Butler and George trades, that deal counts in the free-agency ledger, and it counts big for the Rockets.
In acquiring Paul, the Rockets now have two elite ball-handling guards in Mike D’Antoni’s high pick-and-roll offense. Taking the ball out of Harden’s hands once in a while could do wonders, considering he just set the single-season record for turnovers and looked downright exhausted in Game 6 against San Antonio. There’s also no issue having both on the court at the same time, as both are proficient off-ball scorers and three-point shooters.
From a defensive standpoint, the Paul deal is something of a wash. The team had to part with Patrick Beverley in the trade, and both he and Paul were First-Team All-NBA Defense. But, on the whole, the Rockets improved their 17th-ranked defense in the offseason, bringing in defensive standout PJ Tucker. After being traded to the Raptors at the 2017 deadline, Tucker helped turn Toronto into a defensive-minded team. He will be able to give Houston some quality minutes and shut down opposing wings.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 11/1
Once Paul George and Jimmy Butler were traded elsewhere, all of Boston’s eggs were forced into the Gordon Hayward basket. Fortunately, they were able to ink the 2017 All-Star to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.
Even though the offense was basically a one-man Isaiah Thomas Show, the Celtics finished as the top-seed in the Eastern Conference last year, averaging the seventh-most PPG. Hayward provides Boston with an efficient scorer, who can create his own shot and score in the post. He also gives them another solid wing defender, who has the size to play power forward in a small lineup without sacrificing too much.
This move ensures Boston remains the second-best team in the East.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 11/1
Honorable mention: Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers
Neither team made the major splashes that will make them contenders this season, but their under-the-radar veteran signings will greatly assist the growth of their young cores. (See JJ Redick and Amir Johnson in Philadelphia; George Hill and Zach Randolph in Sacramento.)
Los Angeles Clippers
Not only did they lose Chris Paul, who was the glue holding everything together, but the Clippers also saw their best shooter find a new home, too, as JJ Reddick signed with the 76ers. LA can try to spin the Danilo Gallinari addition into something great, but he’s no superstar. The former Nugget lacks the explosion to create offense and is a liability on the defensive end.
It was great to bring Blake Griffin back, but this roster has some glaring holes now. Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers will have to shoulder major offensive burdens, and it won’t take Clippers fans long to notice a difference. The personnel losses will result in the team having to fight for a playoff spot, unlike recent years. If they get in, fans won’t be left searching for terra firma; they’ll still be able to count on an early playoff exit.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 75/1
The Jazz aren’t only on here for losing Gordon Hayward, but also for allowing George Hill to walk in free agency. The two players accounted for nearly 40-percent of the scoring on an offensively challenged team.
Adding Ricky Rubio softens the blow of losing Hill, but the Spaniard has never been a scoring threat. In six seasons, Rubio has never averaged more than 11.1 PPG and is a career 31.5-percent from behind the arc. Rubio will distribute the ball well, but there will be a lot of pressure on players like Donovan Mitchell and Rodney Hood to shoot efficiently.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 175/1
One year after making Mike Conley the highest-paid player in the NBA, the Grizzlies are finding themselves in a terrible limbo. A number of the teams around them in the Western Conference got substantially better, while their roster lost several key contributors.
Zach Randolph has moved to Sacramento, while Tony Allen and Vince Carter have also likely played their last games as Grizzlies. Considering the elite teams atop the West, Memphis needed to make at least one major addition to remain competitive. Their only other reasonable option is to blow it up, which may start with dealing Marc Gasol.
Odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals: 125/1