NBA free agency is the precursor to the regular season that shatters expectations and predictions for what’s to come in the fall and into the spring. The drama, the unpredictability, and the insanity are unmatched by any other free agency period in sports.
Year after year, we’re met with new twists and unexpected changes. This summer has been no different in the Association. And now, three weeks removed from the beginning of free agency, most of the dust has settled, and most team needs have been met.
Below we will break down our winners and losers in NBA free agency:
1. Phoenix Suns
After trading for Bradley Beal in June, Phoenix’s core has become unbelievably expensive. Outside of Cam Payne, who’s now in San Antonio, and Ish Wainright, no 2023 Suns bench player was under contract for 2024. But give it up for GM James Jones, who quickly put his nose to the grindstone and mustered a sneakily decent bench within the first couple of hours of free agency. Jones added Eric Gordon on the third day of free agency and signed Bol Bol last week. Also, the retention of defensive pest Josh Okogie cannot go unnoticed; scrappy guards are pivotal pieces of a contender.
Phoenix also added Yuta Watanabe, one of the NBA’s best shooters last season (44.4%), Keita Bates-Diop, who’s a talented half-court scorer, Damion Lee, another solid shooter; Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu, who both bring needed size behind Deandre Ayton.
2. Indiana Pacers
The 2024 NBA Playoffs will feature the Pacers, who have a cozy blend of vets and young guns wrapped in the warm and giving arms of Tyrese Haliburton. Indiana gave Bruce Brown $22.5 million per season in free agency, which appears a bit rich, but he’s shown that he can serve as the connective tissue of a competitive roster. He’s a phenomenal get for an up-and-coming squad.
Obi Toppin didn’t come via free agency, but he’s a strong and risk-free addition. He joins Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Jarace Walker, Isaiah Jackson, Andrew Nembhard, and Aaron Nesmith in the Pacers’ young stable. Plus, it seems like Haliburton is a fan of Toppin’s arrival.
ITS UPPPPPPPP https://t.co/CXHkAtwllr
— Tyrese Haliburton (@TyHaliburton22) July 1, 2023
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Say what you want about the current state of the Bucks, but so long as Giannis is in town, the goal is a championship, and retaining Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez gives Milwaukee their best shot at one. No matter how you cut it, this roster is at least the second-best in the East, and it was most certainly in GM Jon Horst’s best interests to keep its perimeter threat and defensive anchor. Horst also brought in a streaky but valuable role player in Malik Beasley. They will run it back in 2024 with high hopes and a new head coach.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
How LA retained Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, and D’Angelo Russell while adding Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent, and Jaxson Hayes is beyond me. Rob Pelinka has rendered a Western Conference Finals team considerably better, which should allow the roster to fully mesh throughout the regular season instead of overhauling in February. The Lakers’ lack of familiarity with one another during the NBA playoffs showed and hurt them at times. Now they have fleshed out the squad and should avoid the play-in tournament.
1. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are unequivocally better now than before free agency, but how they spent their massive budget is suspect. Fred VanVleet is a good player — inefficient but good. VanVleet and Dillon Brooks will help Houston develop an identity under Ime Udoka, but does that need to cost a combined $63 million per season? Most definitely not.
The Rockets have a top-three young core in the NBA, and it’s been pretty evident that both Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. need on-court guidance – but again, $63 million? By signing VanVleet and Brooks, you handicap yourself by putting two expensive non-All-Stars on the books and lowering your ceiling beyond 2024. Good on them for adding to the roster, but that money should have been spent at a different time.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
By calling the Blazers losers here, I’m pointing out that they have suspended this reality for far too long. Damian Lillard should receive loads of respect for not running from the grind for so many years, but Portland’s front office should have seen this coming and made a move a while ago. Therefore, they’re a loser. Once the Lillard trade is finalized, the Blazers will have committed to a path that they should have begun journeying down long ago. And their penalty for doing so now, rather than years prior, is Jerami Grant’s $160 million contract.
3. Toronto Raptors
Dear Masai Ujiri, please commit to a direction. VanVleet isn’t perfect, but trying to rectify his departure with Dennis Schroder feels lateral and jerry-rigged. This team lacks identity, and truthfully Toronto has put out disappointing campaigns every year since Kawhi Leonard went west. Ujiri’s rosters since then have never been bad – or even close to it – they have underperformed. Pascal Siakam trade rumors have been swirling for a while, and O.G. Anunoby’s name has been all over the place; since the beginning of last season. Are they on the move or not? Did you trade a first and two seconds for Jakob Poeltl at the previous year’s trade deadline to win now? The Raptors have good players, but the team seems aimless.
[Photo courtesy of Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images]