The first weekend of the NBA league year has not been lacking for drama and excitement, as we have seen multiple major trades, big extensions signed, a trade request from one of the NBA’s all-time greats, and plenty of free agent signings.
While this year’s free agency class lacked top stars, there have been plenty of big names on the move via trades, big contracts handed out to free agents, and some curious deals as well. Here, we’re going to look at who’s had the best and worst first four days so far — and whose fate is still pending.
The Celtics are winners not only for what they pulled off in the Malcolm Brogdon trade, but what’s happened around them in the Eastern Conference. Adding Brogdon without giving up a rotation piece from their Finals run a year ago was a terrific job by Brad Stevens of identifying a need and buying low. Given how the market for Brogdon had bottomed out, it’s clear his medicals aren’t great and it’s possible he never looks like the 50/40/90 player he was previously, but the Celtics are the type of team that can take that gamble. Even if he is simply a fairly average rotation point guard who is a 20-minute a night type player, that’s an upgrade for the Celtics who just need another ball-handling option. If he can rebound from injuries and be an above-average starting caliber guard who hits 40 percent of his threes, it’s a heist, but either way this was a great move by Boston.
Adding to the Celtics strong offseason is what the rest of the East’s contenders have been up to. The Sixers have done well, adding PJ Tucker and De’Anthony Melton to the roster, addressing two big needs in the process, but everyone else has mostly been treading water. The Bucks have re-racked it, with their most notable addition being a flyer on Joe Ingles coming off a knee injury, believing (probably rightly so) that all they need is health to be back in contention for a title. The Heat lost Tucker and haven’t added anyone of significance, and despite being on Kevin Durant’s list of preferred destinations, don’t have a trade package that is valuable enough to net the superstar. Then there are the Nets, who seem poised to blow it up and no one knows what the future holds in Brooklyn, and the Hawks, who added Dejounte Murray but are likewise still looking to sell off some players and what their roster will look like remains something of a mystery.
For the East champs to have been the team to make the biggest move of last year’s top teams seems notable, and Boston will be the favorites to repeat in the conference for good reason.
The Thunder are still rebuilding, but they’ve gotta spend money somewhere to get to the cap floor and the beneficiaries of that are the players internally that get rewarded for strong development and play in what could be a difficult situation for some. Lu Dort might be the shining example of that, as the former undrafted player out of Arizona State grinded his way from a two-way contract into being an important playoff piece in 2020 to steadily improving into one of the best players in OKC amid their rebuild.
That earned him an $87.5 million deal when free agency opened, as the Thunder rewarded his growth and locked him in long-term on a 5-year deal that places him as part of the core they clearly believe in. Playing for a team more interested in the long game than immediate success can’t be easy, but Dort has excelled in his role, averaging 17.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year, and now gets a well-earned big pay day.
Getting a $224 million extension would make most anyone a winner, but on top of that, Karl-Anthony Towns has a new frontcourt partner in Rudy Gobert after the Wolves made the blockbuster deal to acquire the three-time Defensive Player of the Year from the Jazz. Time will tell if the Wolves or Jazz win that deal (or if it can be a net positive for each), but I feel confident in giving Towns a winner designation immediately. I’m not even completely sure the Towns-Gobert pairing will be a great fit or not, but what I do know is that if it doesn’t work, the brunt of the blame will go to the French star and not the longest tenured Timberwolf.
The hope, of course, is that having a defensive ace next to Towns will free him up to dominate offensively, but there will be a feeling out period as Towns is pushed even more to the perimeter on that end of the floor as the two figure out their spacing. After last year’s playoff exit, not everyone in Minnesota was thrilled with Towns’ play compared to, say, Anthony Edwards, and where next season would’ve likely been a referendum on Towns coming off a new max deal and the expectation to push Minnesota to new heights, the pressure shifts more to Gobert (and the coaching staff/front office) than him.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have had a nice offseason, starting with the Jerami Grant trade and running through free agency. They locked in their guys, and while I’m not completely sold on the Simons-Lillard pairing, $25 million per year for a quality young scorer isn’t bad value at all from a team or player perspective. Gary Payton II is a really nice addition and retaining Nurkic was their only real option, and 4/70 is perfectly reasonable. I don’t think the Blazers are title contenders as they stand, but if the goal was to be back in the playoff conversation in the West, they’ve succeeded.
There is not a more ubiquitous sight on NBA Twitter right now than Brian Windhorst memes. Windy’s long, winding monologue asking what the Jazz are doing the morning before they dealt Gobert to Minnesota has become everyone’s favorite, but beyond that, he was also proven right in pondering what the Jazz were setting up and pointing to the last time Danny Ainge was in this position, he reset the franchise by trading its stars for picks.
Restricted Free Agents
It is a tough time to be a restricted free agent in the NBA. The market for RFAs has become almost non-existent in recent years and that has only continued in 2022. Deandre Ayton’s future seems tied to a Kevin Durant trade, with him likely getting a solid, but non-max deal as part of a sign-and-trade involving a third (or fourth) team, alongside Phoenix and Brooklyn — unless Toronto jumps in and swipes KD, in which case who knows where Ayton ends up.
Collin Sexton likewise hasn’t seen anyone bid for his services and seems destined to return to Cleveland on a lesser deal than he’d like unless one of these teams that’s opened cap space — like San Antonio — ends up not being the salary dump location in a KD trade and decides to take a swing. This follows how John Collins (and we’ll get to his summer in a few) found things to be last year in his quest for a near-max deal. There was a time when teams would throw a big offer sheet at guys and try to see if their current team would blink — see: Allen Crabbe, Tim Hardaway Jr. — but those days seem long gone and the result is the non-max RFAs who don’t work out an extension end up as afterthoughts on the market to most of the rest of the league.
There’s a chance the Nets can salvage things with what they get back from the Kevin Durant trade, but let’s be honest, any time a top-15 all-time player demands a trade, it’s a bad offseason — and I even liked the value they got on the Patty Mills and Nic Claxton deals. For three years, the Nets were willing to cede almost total control of their franchise to KD and Kyrie, firing a coach, trading promising young players, shipping out almost all of their future draft assets, and signing their friends to try and appease them.
The results never panned out and the first round sweep this year to the Celtics seemed to be the breaking point for Joe Tsai, who suddenly decided to play hardball. That’s fine, but it’s quite the course correction in a pivotal offseason and they have to live with the consequences there. They should get a lot back for KD, so it’s not like they’re completely in the wilderness here, but it’s been a rather stunning fall from where they were just over a year ago coming inches away from beating the eventual champs.
The Heat, handcuffed by moves made last offseason, haven’t managed to get any better this summer and have, to this point, gotten worse with the departure of PJ Tucker. On top of that, as noted, their top competition in the East has had better offseasons so far, from Boston to Philadelphia to Milwaukee, all of them have, at minimum, bolstered their depth and tried to address roster concerns. Pat Riley might have something up his sleeve in the form of a trade, but at this point it’s looking a lot like the Heat will be running it back while those around them are making at least minor positive additions.
The Hawks have made it painfully clear that they would like to trade John Collins, with it widely expected that he’d be somewhere else by the time the NBA Draft ended two weeks ago. Instead, Collins is still in Atlanta and remains in limbo because no one is trying to trade for him so long as Durant is still floating out there in the ether. While the Nets try to gather together the best possible package to reset their franchise, Collins will be waiting and wondering where his career will continue next fall.
A year after failing to find a market in restricted free agency, Collins is finding the same to be the case on the trade market despite seeming like a player so many teams would want and could use. If he’s back in Atlanta (again) one would think that’ll be a bit awkward given how hard they shopped him, so you’d expect them to work hard to move him once Durant’s deal is done, but that could be weeks if the Nets really want to drag things out.