A New League: 2019 NBA Free Agency

Lucas DeGrandpré

In one of the busiest free-agencies of all time, the landscape of the league has drastically shifted. Now that the chips have fallen, a wide-open league awaits. Almost 40% of players in the league signed new contracts and more than 3 billion dollars worth of contracts have been signed. For these reasons it is impossible for me to analyze every contract signed, but I’ll offer some insight on the biggest signings and trades.

Philadelphia 76ers:

•Sign Al Horford to 4-year, $109M

•Acquire Josh Richardson via trade

• Resign Tobias Harris to 5-Year, 180M deal

The 76ers were one of the teams that made the most changes in the first couple days of free-agency. I think they massively overpaid Tobias Harris. He had one borderline all-star season, and he gets close to the 5-year max? His 3-point shooting and size are good tools for the NBA in 2019, but he’s not a max caliber player. I understand that the 76ers had to pay him or let him go but it’s hard to see that many other teams are offering him that much money, they should have paid him less or not offered a 5-year contract. They will be regretting not doing either very soon. The new 76ers starting lineup has huge potential but it’s an understatement to say that they will be playing untraditional lineups. The presumed starting lineup of: Embiid, Hortford, Harris, Simmons, and Richardson has an average height of 6″8 which would be the tallest starting lineup in the NBA last year. This above average height and lengthy wingman clearly will be very handy in clogging passing lanes and deflecting balls. They have the potential to be the best defensive team in the NBA.

Offensively, they will have a lot of schemes to work out. Due to Simmons’ limitations, the previous 76ers rosters thrived on their ball movement and transition play. I’m not convinced they will be able to continue to play this way due to their new personnel. Additionally, there’s a lack of ball handlers and outside shooting.  Floor spacing may be difficult as Harris is the only above average 3 point shooter and with Embiid struggling at times and Simmons jumpshot being non-existent. I can see the lane being full and spacing bring problematic. Another concern I have is who is their closer? Last year their closer was Jimmy Butler with the second option being J.J Reddick. With both those guys gone I’m not sure what they are doing in the final minutes of a game. But overall I think they ended up with a team that has a higher ceiling than last year but also a much lower floor.

Boston Celtics:

•Sign Kemba Walker to 4-year, $141M deal

The Celtics who were said to be set up with assets for years to come and were now gonna cash them in for a big-time free-agent end up with Kemba Walker… Kemba Walker? There is a lot to love about Kemba’s game: his pick and roll ball-handling. He’s a good passer and a decent shooter as well. But he is a big liability on the defensive end. Whatever impact he has on offence will always be somewhat negated by his defence and this will be the case especially in the playoffs when the game slows down and he is targeted directly and more often by better offenses. However, with the coaching of Brad Stevens, I am more optimistic about the Celtics ability to hide him on defence.  While losing Kyrie for Kemba is a clear downgrade in my eyes, his off-ball movement is better than Kyrie’s which may allow Jayson Tatum and Brown to take another step forward and Hayward to be more prominently displayed on offence, helping the Celtics in the future. It is evident that with the loss of Horford who was their defensive pillar the Celtics will take a step back defensively but the question is whether their offence can make up for it.

Brooklyn Nets

•Sign Kevin Durant to 4-year, $164M deal

•Sign Kyrie Irving to 4-year, $141M deal

•Sign DeAndre Jordan to 4-year, $40M deal

•Sign Garrett Temple to 2-year, $10M deal

The Nets were the biggest winner of early free agency and have completed one of the most successful rebuilds of NBA history. After having three straight 20 win seasons and no future assets to speak of they managed to make the playoffs this past year with a core of young players and outcasts. Now they landed two max players and although they most likely won’t be title contenders this year as Kevin Durant is unlikely to play, it gives them time to develop some chemistry. I have no doubt it will take a while for the whole team to play well together and cohesively as both Durant and Irving have a high usage rate (both around 30%). Both KD and Kyrie need the ball in their hands to play their best. This may come at the cost of the development of players like Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie who also require the ball a lot to be successful.  Both had usage rates over 25% last year. Regardless, It was still a very successful free agency for the Nets.

Golden State Warriors

•Sign D’Angelo Russell, 4-year, $117M deal via sign-and-trade with Nets

•Sign Klay Thompson to 5-year, $190M deal

•Sign Kevan Looney to 3-year, $15M dea

•Sign Willie Cauley-Stein

I think both Klay Thompson and D’Angelo Russell are massively overpaid with these contracts but these signings were necessary to keep the Warriors afloat. The Russell signing reeks of desperation to stay competitive. I would have thought that an organization as smart as the Warriors would have known the difference between a guy who had 1 borderline all-star season and an actual max contract talent. In addition, they had to get rid of 2 first round picks and Iguadola to make room for that signing! I understand the intention of Russell’s signing which is to address the lack of scoring and shot creation due to Durant’s departure and Klay’s injury, but it is not a calculated move and Warriors-like. However, it’s probable that Russell is flipped this year or next year for other assets if he plays well in this period without Klay. It is unfortunate that Igoudola had to be the player to go. An original member of the Warriors dynasty, a lockdown defender and a guy who always stepped up when it mattered. Him getting traded from the Warriors marks a change in basketball in the Bay. 

Utah Jazz

• Sign Bogdan Bogdonavic to 4-year, $73M deal

Acquire Mike Conley via trade

•Sign Ed Davis to 2-year, $10M deal

•Sign Jeff Green to 1-year $2.5M deal

The Jazz significantly improved in free-agency and have now given themselves a legitimate chance at a finals appearance in the coming season. The majority of their struggles in the playoffs against the Rockets arose due to their lack of ball handlers and spacing in their starting lineups. Conley, an experienced point guard will help alleviate the offensive load from Donovon Mitchell who looked overburdened at times in the playoffs. Bogdanovic, who averaged 20.6 points per game on 61.2% true shooting in the 35 games stretch in which Oladipo was injured, will help stretch the floor and increase the potency of the Utah offence. These personnel changes may come at the cost of some defense but, nevertheless, these moves increase the ceiling for a Jazz team who will be a force next year and a dark horse title contender.

New York Knicks:

•Sign Reggie Bullock to 2-year, $21M deal 

•Sign Taj Gibson to 2-year, $20M deal 

•Sign Bobby Portis to 2-year, $31M deal

•Sign Julius Randle to 3-year, $63M deal

•Sign Wayne Ellington to 2-year, $16M deal

Oh, Knicks! Hopes of signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are gone, as you were outmaneuvered by your New York counterparts. While the patheticness of the Knicks is always fun to laugh at, at least they somewhat salvaged their free-agency by signing a lot of serviceable role players to short-contracts which will keep them in the market for future big name free agents. But this summer begs the question if the prestige and glam of the Knicks is all but gone and if that free-agent is ever coming. It is also questionable why they decided to take the approach of overpaying mid-level guys instead of taking on bad contracts to obtain future draft picks to accelerate the rebuilding process. Did they not just see what the Nets did? 


Los Angeles Clippers 

•Sign Kawhi Leonard to 4-year, $141M deal 

•Trade for Paul George 

Sign Patrick Beverley to 3-year, $40M deal

Wow! While many Raptors fans including myself were anxiously awaiting the news about Kawhi, many reports and media figures claimed that Kawhi was close to joining the Lakers but, in fact, it was the other L.A team he joined. What a tremendous haul it was for the Clippers to get not only Kawhi but unexpectedly trade for Paul George as well. On paper this Clippers roster is fantastic. They have a duo of two stars that eclipse that of every team except perhaps the Lakers and the depth to allow Kawhi and George to stay healthy in the regular season. I expect them to be very good defensively as they have three of the best perimeter defenders in the game in Kawhi, George, and Patrick Beverley who can guard almost every position. Their interior defense may be a bit questionable for now as it looks like they will be starting Ivica Zubac who is not a good defender. On the other side of the ball, I have a feeling they will be above average but not elite as there is a lack of playmaking and creating shots for others. Both Kawhi and George have traditionally not been good passers and, before this lineup, both players played alongside players who fit this role instead of them. In George’s case Russell Westbrook and in Kawhi’s case Kyle Lowry.  All of this to say that it is a possibility that the Clippers offence becomes very isolation heavy which could handicap them from them becoming an elite offence. The two signings establish the Clippers not only as title contenders but title favourites.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors