NBA free agency winners and losers: Knicks pursue Jalen Brunson, 76ers score, and Lakers remain unsigned for the time being

The 2022 NBA free agency period began at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, and as expected, there was a rush of signings. Do you believe these teams and players/reps were communicating a little bit earlier than they were meant to? Haha. These ridiculous petty restrictions that aren’t and can’t truly be enforced.

In any case, nobody cares. Now it’s time for the signings. The following are the winners and losers from the first day of free agency.

 

Winner: Jalen Brunson

Brunson was compensated. The Knicks allegedly signed him to a four-year, $104 million contract. This is a huge payday for a man who was drafted in the second round in 2018. That’s fantastic. He’s earned it. We’ll see how Brunson performs without Luka Doncic to divert all defensive focus. In any case, the luggage is secure. Brunson is set for life, and the cherry on top is that he will be able to play for his father, Rick Brunson, who has recently taken an assistant coaching position with the Knicks.

Loser: New York Knicks

Listen, I’m happy for Brunson, but I don’t believe he’s a good enough player to devote this much money to for the next four years. From where I sit, unless the Knicks, who are expected to spend $50 million or more on Mitchell Robinson in the coming days, can somehow make a trade for a star that they’ve been missing for the previous decade, they’ve pretty well signed themselves up for mediocrity.

Brunson, who quickly becomes New York’s best player (yes, better than RJ Barrett), cannot be more than the third-best player on a true championship-contending team, and even that may be a reach. The Knicks also signed Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16 million contract. He’ll make an excellent backup centre. But nothing that makes a difference.

At the end of the day, it’s a loss to go out and move all the components they moved to clear the space they did, just to wind up with a non-All-Star as your prize signing.

Winner: Nikola Jokic

The contract was the largest in NBA history. $264 million over five years. In the last year of the contract, he’ll earn an eye-popping $60 million. I don’t know what more to say. The man triumphed. The Nuggets did as well. Jokic is fantastic.

Loser: Brooklyn Nets

It wasn’t free will. That technically bit Brooklyn, but on Thursday, Kevin Durant requested a trade. If Durant leaves, Kyrie Irving is likely to follow. The Nets, who were expected to contend for titles in the near future, were just blown up.

Now, I’ll concede that this may work out well for Brooklyn. They’ll get a king’s ransom for Durant, which will include at least a couple ready-to-win players as well as future draught capital, because the Nets have no motivation to tank because they owe the Rockets a boatload of future selections from the James Harden trade. Durant wishes to relocate to Phoenix. It’s home run time if they can acquire Devin Booker. But I have my doubts.

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If the Nets can persuade the Lakers to part with a couple first-round selections, or even just one if Russell Westbrook returns to Brooklyn, for Irving, they will have even more resources to package and trade for another All-Star. Ben Simmons is still on the team. This might not be so horrible in the end.

However, the Nets are set to lose Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden within the next six months. Brutal.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

James Harden hasn’t signed his new contract yet, but he clearly agreed to forego enough yearly pay to allow the Sixers to sign P.J. Tucker for slightly over $33 million over three years. That’s a tremendous win. Tucker will significantly improve Philadelphia’s defence and fit in wonderfully as a corner shooter for Tyrese Maxey and James Harden drive-and-kicks. Add in De’Anthony Melton, whom the Sixers acquired from Memphis on draught night for the No. 23 selection, and Danny Green, and the Sixers are having a very good offseason.

Winner: Bradley Beal

Beal also agreed to a five-year, $251 million contract deal with the Wizards. I still think he’ll be traded before his deal ends, but by signing with Washington, which controls his Bird rights, he secured himself a fifth guaranteed year, which will add around $57 million to his financial account. That applies to him even if he is traded. I’d put money on Beal getting his cake and eating it, eventually landing on a contender while also signing the richest deal conceivable.

Loser: Washington Wizards

They should have traded Beal years ago. With Beal getting that much money, this club will never compete for anything other than a low-level postseason seed. He’s just not a 1A title contender. Given how deep the league’s talent is right now, he might not even be a sufficient No. 2. Washington should have a slew of assets ready for Beal right now.

This is what the Spurs did following the departure of Kawhi Leonard. Instead of committing to a rebuild, they sought to win with DeMar DeRozan as their top player (a very apt Beal comparison). They ultimately gave in to reality and sold Dejounte Murray to the Hawks for a slew of first-round choices, indicating a new beginning.

Perhaps Washington will finally reach the same conclusion as Beal. They very surely should. But, in the meanwhile, they’ll pay Beal and Kristaps Porzingis just under $80 million next season. Best of luck with it.

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Winner: Portland Trail Blazers

I’m not sure if I prefer Anfernee Simons to Jalen Brunson. At the moment, I’d choose Brunson because he’s a playoff defender. But it’s getting there. So, why do I regard Portland’s $100 million over four years to be a gain but the Knicks’ $105 million over the same period to be a loss? Simple: Simons does not have to be the Blazers’ top player. Damian Lillard is his man for the job.

To be honest, Simons doesn’t have to be the Blazers’ second-best player. They just acquired Jerami Grant in a trade. Simons has the potential to be a future star, but he does not have to bear that responsibility right immediately.

The Blazers then acquired Gary Payton II from the Warriors for $28 million over three years late Thursday night or early Friday morning in the east. Payton is fantastic. Portland supporters will fall in love with him. He’s a great defender who can also cut and run the floor. He has the ability to hit corner 3s. Portland needed to improve its defence, and Grant and Payton are two significant acquisitions.

Winner: Lu Dort

Dort was not even drafted. On two-way contracts, he had to work his way into the league. He recently inked a five-year, $87.5 million contract with the Thunder. Dort will never have to worry about money or his spot in the NBA again if he can transform himself into a brick of a defender while also growing substantially as a shooter.

Also, kudos to the Thunder for awarding Dort with this money a year ahead of schedule. They could have exercised the $1.9 million club option on Dort this season. Instead, they let him out of it so that he could negotiate a far larger contract that would begin immediately. Dort will earn more than $15 million this season, up from $1.9 million last year, with much more to follow over the next half-decade.

Winner: Gary Payton II

Payton, like Dort, went undrafted. He moved around the G-League, played on two-way contracts, and was cut from six different NBA clubs. Last season, he finally earned a legitimate job with the Warriors. He annihilated it. He is now under contract with the Portland Trail Blazers for $28 million. It’s dreamy stuff.

Winner: Devin Booker

Over a four-year period, $224 million was secured. There isn’t much else to say. The dude is fabulously rich. I don’t believe Booker will be traded for Kevin Durant. If he did, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for him to join a Nets team that is still going to be fairly strong this year with whatever they get back for Durant and a tonne of selections to get even better in the future to build around Booker. Life is wonderful.

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Loser: Golden State Warriors

The Blazers acquired Gary Payton II from the Warriors. This is painful. Payton was outstanding in his job for the Warriors, who were already short on perimeter defence even with Payton. Golden State has a high repeater tax. It simply determined that paying Payton this much money couldn’t be justified given the significant tax ramifications for every dollar spent. You have to worry whether they’ll lose Kevon Looney for the same reason.

I’m not sure I agree with Golden State’s decision to focus on Looney since it couldn’t pay both Looney and Payton. Looney is an excellent player for the Warriors. There is no way they can win the championship without him. They did, however, draught James Wiseman. Through that view, Looney is more replaceable on the Warriors’ roster than Payton. I would have paid for Payton and hoped Wiseman would start earning his keep.

Reasonable minds might argue, but everyone can agree that losing Payton is a significant blow for Golden State.

Winners: Ja Morant, Karl-Anthony Towns

Morant agreed to a five-year, $193 million contract deal with Memphis as a rookie. Morant has the potential to earn up to $231 million in incentives during the life of this deal. Towns agreed to a four-year, $224 million contract deal that will begin in 2024, giving the Wolves him for the next six years.

Incomplete: Lakers

I believe the Lakers rushed a couple of their Thursday acquisitions. They used their MLE on Lonnie Walker, who isn’t as excellent as Sacramento’s Malik Monk. Juan Toscano-Anderson appeals to me. He’ll assist you. Troy Brown Jr. isn’t exactly a game changer. Damian Jones is a good addition. I just believe the Lakers might have waited to see if Donte Divincenzo, who is still unsigned after the Kings declined to make him a qualifying offer, or TJ Warren became available at the MLE level.

The Lakers didn’t have a bad first day. It’s not a victory or a defeat in my opinion. They were limited in their options. What it comes down to is if the Lakers can acquire Kyrie Irving. If they do, the offseason will be a success. If they don’t, and they head into next season with Russell Westbrook as their starting point guard, nobody cares about Lonnie Walker or Damian Jones. This offseason will be remembered as a failure. So we’ll have to wait and see.


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