Another day of NBA Free Agency has passed us. Traditionally, that’s meant another day of overpaid contracts, superteams forming, and teams foolishly throwing money around to salvage what’s left of a competitive organization.
Not this time. This time, we have teams like Oklahoma City making legitimate power moves. We have Gordon Hayward becoming a heart-breaker as the biggest fish in a free agent pool. We have news reporters nearly facing G-League relegation after a near news mishap, only to be vindicated later.
Most of all, we have the scene shaping for yet another exciting season of NBA basketball. Independence Day came and went, and we’re still here. Here’s a few winners and losers of a festive day in free agency.
WINNER: Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge needed a big win. After amassing as big a pool of assets as anyone’s ever produced, he let both Paul George and Jimmy Butler get traded for pennies on the dollar. He didn’t even offer anything for Butler and was only going to take George after signing Hayward, which the Pacers didn’t want. Had he also failed to land Hayward in free agency, the inevitable rumbling of his managerial ineptitude would surely have gotten louder.
But Ainge got the deal done. He signed the biggest fish in the pond to a four-year, $128 million max contract, creating a legitimate Big 3 of Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, and Al Horford. In an Eastern Conference that watched two perennial all-stars get traded to the West, Boston’s all but solidified itself as second place in the East.
Now, Ainge could be considering the idea of flipping some of those assets in a trade for Marc Gasol. Man, it must be good to be a Celtics fan right now.
LOSER: Salt Lake City
Sorry, SLC. I hate it had to be you. But you lost the biggest star your franchise has seen in years for nothing, and there was nothing your team could do about it.
Your team did go and picked up a non-scoring point guard in Ricky Rubio, who would have been a great fit next to Hayward. It’ll still remain competitive for the next few seasons, competing for and losing grasp of a lower playoff seed. Then, before you know it, Rudy Gobert’s contract will be up, and this nightmare will replay itself once more.
Don’t worry. At least you have Joe Ingles.
LOSER: The Cavaliers
Any time your immediate competition adds a superstar and you do nothing in response, that’s a loss.
Are the Celtics favorites to beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series? That’s a negative. But the series will be infinitely more competitive than last year’s five-game dispatch of Boston in the conference finals. And if you’re a Cleveland team playing for a championship, the last thing you want to do is spend energy beating a conference foe.
They’re going to need that energy to avoid getting swept by the Warriors, anyway.
WINNER: Kings Fans — yes, I just said that
The Kings had a really good draft night, picking De’Aaron Fox at No. 5 then trading No. 10 for Nos. 15 and 20 to take Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. They followed that with some even better free agent signings this week.
Sacramento added veteran, battle-tested point guard George Hill to a three-year deal worth $57 million. GM Vlade Divac then reunited Dave Joerger with Zach Randolph, a tough-nosed big man he coached in Memphis.
The Kings are in a youth movement, building around players like Fox, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein for the future. But in any youth movement, the OGs are needed to bridge the gap. That’s exactly what Sacramento now has with Hill and Z-Bo, who will make sure the young Kings stay competitive while teaching them the tricks of the trade.
WINNER: Thunder fans
Thunder fans went from having Russell Westbrook and a bag of Skittles to having Westbrook, Paul George, Patrick Patterson, and ... well, pretty much the same bag of Skittles.
But in all seriousness, Patterson is a huge bargain at three years and $16.4 million. He should fit in nicely as possibly the Thunder’s starting power forward. Amazingly, he’s the most lucrative Thunder free-agent signing ... ever?
Patterson is Sam Presti's biggest open market free agent signing. Previous was Nenad Krstic at $15.8 million for 3 years.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 5, 2017
WINNER: ESPN’s Chris Haynes
Haynes (and other news breakers) almost lost their entire credibility with a single tweet:
Free-agent Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell ESPN.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 4, 2017
That’s because the biggest news breaker of them all said someone had jumped the gun with their info:
Gordon Hayward's agent, Mark Bartelstein, tells ESPN: "Gordon hasn't made a decision yet. We are still working through it."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 4, 2017
Hayward eventually dropped a 2,100-word essay on The Player’s Tribune titled “Thank You, Utah,” so his mind was probably made when Haynes tweeted the news. But man, it could’ve gotten really ugly for Haynes had Hayward changed his mind and signed elsewhere.
Instead, Haynes got the last laugh.
July 4, 2017
LOSER: Early Birds
Not talking about contracts, either. I’m talking about people who had to be up early for work, school, or mischief the next morning.
Hayward made the world wait an additional six hours before formally announcing his decision. Then, once you thought the coast was clear, the Nets made a max offer on Otto Porter, the Clippers completed its sign-and-trade for Danilo Gallinari, and Patterson agreed to with the Thunder.
This is the beauty of the league we cover. It’s a love-hate relationship that saps your energy, but gives you hope (sometimes) for our team’s future.
The best part is this is only the beginning of free agency. We have over a week until contracts are actually signed, and even though most of the big fish have been caught, the moderate and mid-sized fish are still looking for a place to latch onto.
This is only the beginning.