NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

The most consequential days of NBA free agency each year feel like a freight train of news, transactions, incredible surprises, and preposterous overpays. This year was no exception, but the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement and its substantial penalties for teams that could previously bring back all of their players with Bird Rights added an element of strategy for big-name contenders.

While we didn't see any current all-stars change teams in the past week, it was still a consequential time for roster building across the league. Here are three winners and three losers from the most important days of the offseason.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

Austin Reaves, in just his second season as an undrafted player, was unquestionably the third-best player on a team that made the West Finals and gave L.A. a much-needed rim-attacking and shooting threat to complement Anthony Davis and LeBron James. But because of restricted free agency and Reaves being undrafted, another team could have thrown up to $100 million for four years on an offer sheet, which the Lakers would have been forced to match.

Instead, Reaves opted to skip the offer sheet process, getting four years and about $55 million. With a $136 million salary cap, that's a bargain for a third option who could improve in the coming years. The Lakers had to spend a bit more per year to keep D'Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura, but maintained salary flexibility for trades and coming offseasons. The additions of Gabe Vincent and Taurean Prince are solid rotation pieces.

I don't think the Lakers will be up to par with the Nuggets in the West next regular season, but they look to have a playoff rotation that's as good as anyone else in the conference.

Loser: Portland Trail Blazers

This will sound hyperbolic, but I think signing Jerami Grant to a full five-year contract for $160 million is one of the biggest overpays for re-signing a player in recent memory. Was Grant even the tanking Blazers' second-best player last season? Probably, but there's an argument to be had that he wasn't. This is the type of contract that a team should only offer to a second- or third-best player on a contending team, and Grant has put up all his best numbers on uncompetitive teams.

Then, when you consider that Dame Lillard apparently put in his trade request before the start of free agency, it brings up a whole different set of questions. Why not just hand the team over to Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson? Why not get as many pieces for Dame as you can from Miami or a third/fourth team and start the rebuild? I don't understand the value of a player like Grant for Portland when you're probably maxing out at 30-35 wins without Dame.

Winner: Phoenix Suns

I'm still a bit skeptical of how the nucleus of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Deandre Ayton will fit together, but that's beside the point of what the Suns did in the free agency period. Because of the big-money contracts of those four and the new second apron CBA rules for team salaries, Phoenix was limited in how it could fill out the roster.

The Suns did excellent business and signed an array of potential high-ceiling players on minimum deals, including Yuta Watanbe, Keita Bates-Diop, Drew Eubanks, and Chimezie Metu. Phoenix also re-signed Josh Okogie and grabbed Eric Gordon for cheap. Both stand to feature prominently in the Suns' rotations this season.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers cut James Harden such a team-friendly deal 12 months ago that their offseason had to be investigated by the league for tampering, resulting in the loss of two second-round draft picks. Now, Harden isn't even going to be re-signed by Philly long-term! And to add insult to injury, everyone knows Daryl Morey has to part with Harden.

Instead of asking if the Sixers can possibly contend with Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and whatever the return for Harden is, many league observers seem to be counting down the days until league MVP Embiid asks out. Bench players Georges Niang and Jalen McDaniels have also departed in free agency.

Winner: Indiana Pacers

The last two teams I'll mention in this article show two vastly different approaches to having cap space. The Pacers, after being in playoff contention and on a 46-win pace midway through the season before star point guard Tyrese Haliburton got hurt, had more than $32 million work of cap space, spending most of it on newly-crowned NBA champion Bruce Brown. It's a $45 million contract, but with a team option on the second and final year of that deal, the Pacers can see if Brown lives up to the price tag. Additionally, the Pacers were able to take Obi Toppin from New York for a couple of second-round picks.

I'm not sure if Indiana is a playoff or play-in team, but the Pacers unquestionably have salary flexibility and trade potential in the next year and beyond with a potential franchise player in tow.

Loser: Houston Rockets

Meanwhile, the Rockets came into free agency with $60 million of cap space in tow after what many people thought was the best draft in the league. Despite that, I don't think Rockets management should have been under any illusions of a playoff push with the free agent class available and much of the roster on rookie contracts.

Houston used that cap space on Fred VanVleet, Jock Landale, and Jeff Green, and turned a sign-and-trade for recent playoff villain Dillon Brooks. Those are all nice pieces in their own right and with the right situations, but do they even get the Rockets to the level of 35- to 40-win mediocrity in the next two years? I'm not so sure.

Due to the new CBA and teams wanting to avoid the second apron and harsh luxury tax penalties, the next few years of NBA roster building will likely include opportunities for teams to find solid players at reasonable cap hits. Teams that are hesitant to hand out $30 million per year deals may yet have a chance to jump into playoff contention in today's NBA.

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