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NBA free agency’s 8 biggest winners and 4 losers in 2021

Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony will be living their best lives this season in LA.

Washington Wizards v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Maybe teams around the NBA saw the charmed run the Atlanta Hawks made to the conference finals, the Phoenix Suns’ shocking foray to the NBA Finals, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship this past season and decided to get aggressive. That’s the most likely explanation for all the player movement we saw from the moment free agency opened on Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. ET.

The first day of free agency provided a cascade of moves highlighted by Kyle Lowry’s sign-and-trade to the Miami Heat and the deal that sent Lonzo Ball to the Bulls. The Bulls loaded up again when they signed DeMar DeRozan on day two, but the Lakers stole the show by winning the Carmelo Anthony derby over the Knicks.

We are keeping track of every free agency signing here, and you can also check out our updated list of the best remaining free agents. Now let’s dive into some winners and losers from free agency so far.

The biggest winners in 2021 NBA free agency

Miami Heat

The Heat were the most active team on day one of free agency, and they have only added to their pile since then. Let’s run down the moves:

  • Starting with the headliner: Kyle Lowry is on his way to Miami on a three-year, $90 million deal.
  • Jimmy Butler is signing a four-year, $184 million extension that will pay him more than $50 million per year in his age-36 season.
  • Duncan Robinson is staying with the Heat on a five-year, $90 million deal
  • PJ Tucker is coming to the Heat fresh off a championship run with the Bucks. He signed for two years, $15 million with a player option on the second season.
  • Markieff Morris on a one-year deal
  • Dewayne Dedmon on a one-year deal
  • Max Strus and Gabe Vincent were also brought back

Lowry is still one of the better point guards in the game even at 35 years old, and he immediately gives the Heat another trusted weapon on both ends of the floor. His pull-up shooting should add some needed juice to the offense, and you already know Erik Spoelstra is going to deeply appreciate every charge. Tucker is another defensive ace they can go to in the toughest playoff matchups. The Heat (probably) aren’t getting swept out of the first round this year.

Yes, it’s a lot of money for Robinson and Butler, but they had to be kept long-term. The league keeps waiting for Butler to fall off after such a heavy minutes load, but he was still excellent last season. Robinson is an amazing shooter and amazing shooters get paid. Morris and Dedmon are two more big bodies for what should be one of the league’s best defensive units.

The Heat feel like they will be a factor in the East again, even if they remain a cut below the Bucks and Nets.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have missed the playoffs the last four seasons since trading Butler, but there’s no more excuses this year. Chicago felt pressure to make a postseason run with Zach LaVine entering the last year of his contract and with the franchise trading two first round draft picks for Nikola Vucevic mid-season. The Bulls still needed another major talent infusion to have a chance to shoot up the standings, and it feels like they got one on day one. Then they kept adding to it.

  • Lonzo Ball and the Chicago Bulls have agreed to a four-year, $85 million deal in a sign-and-trade agreement, according to Woj. Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, and a second round pick are reportedly going to New Orleans in the deal, per Shams.
  • Alex Caruso signed with the Bulls for four years, $37 million, per Woj.
  • DeMar DeRozan is coming to Chicago on a four-year, $85 million deal in a sign-and-trade that sends out Thad Young and 2025 first round draft pick protected in the top-10.
  • Tony Bradley to Chicago on a one-year deal as a backup center

Ball will immediately be the best passer on the Bulls. He also gives the team a stout defender on the perimeter, a high-volume three-point shooter, and a tempo-pusher who loves throwing deep outlet passes in transition.

Caruso brings ferocious on-ball defense, which will be a huge help for a Bulls team that often saw its guards get roasted on that end last season. He’ll need to prove he can score after averaging only about six points per game over the last two seasons, but he did hit 40 percent of his threes on low volume last year while also ranking in the 82nd percentile for rim attempts at his position, per Cleaning the Glass.

DeRozan fills out the starting lineup by giving them another ball handler on the wing who can create his own shot and get to the foul line. Chicago looked lost and hopeless a year ago, but suddenly they should be in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The Bulls also lost Daniel Theis to Houston in addition to Satoransky and Temple to New Orleans, but this is the sort of talent infusion they needed. Front office boss Arturas Karnisovas has fully put his stamp on the team.

Former Raptors bros getting PAID

Did anyone think these two would be signing for a combined $175 million in the year 2021?

Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors - Game Two Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Good for them. Lowry and DeRozan seem like two of the great dudes in the league, and they both found a new home on teams that want to take a big jump up on the playoff picture. It will be fun to watch them try to win at a high level in the twilight of their careers.

Chris Paul’s bank account

Chris Paul had made $300 million in NBA contracts before entering free agency again this year at age-36. He was always going to cash in again after helping lead the Phoenix Suns on an inspired run to the NBA Finals in his debut season with the team, and that happened in a big way.

Paul is signing a four-year extension worth up to $120 million. The third year of the deal is reportedly a partial guarantee, while the fourth year is unguaranteed. If Paul finishes out the deal, he’ll be making $30 million per year at age-40.

Paul’s career earnings if he finishes out this contact would be $420 million. Not bad work if you can get it.

Bradley Beal

It just feels like the Wizards make so much more sense this year, doesn’t it? Russell Westbrook is off to Los Angeles, Spencer Dinwiddie has arrived in Washington on a three-year, $62 million deal, and the role players around that backcourt have completely switched over.

The Wizards have some nice three-and-D style options now on the wing with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. They have an energy big off the bench in Montrezl Harrell. They also brought in a young backup point guard in Aaron Holiday.

This feels like a much better situation for Beal than the one it looked like he had a year ago with an injured John Wall taking up most of the Wizards’ salary cap. Washington still needs major development from young guys Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, and Daniel Gafford to really level up, but this is a nice start. Now if they can keep Beal around on a max contract extension, that’s even better.

David Nwaba

The headline names always get the most coverage in free agency, but sometimes the best stories come from the role players only hardcore fans have heard of. David Nwaba is an example of that after he signed a three-year, $15 million deal with a team option on the final season.

Nwaba’s path to the NBA is wild. He started his career at the DII level, transferred to a junior college, and then found a home at Cal Poly, a low-major DI school. Nwaba went undrafted but grinded his way into an NBA opportunity on the Lakers’ G League team. After the Lakers, he had stints with the Bulls, Cavs, and Nets. His tenure in Brooklyn ended with a torn Achilles.

A torn Achilles is the type of injury that could end the NBA career of a player on the fringes of the league, but it didn’t stop Nwaba. He returned to play 30 games for the Rockets last year and looked fully healthy in showing off his signature brand of energetic defense. The Rockets liked him enough to give him $10 million guaranteed with the potential to reach $15 million. That’s life changing money for a player who has had to bust his ass for every opportunity to this point in his career.

Cheers to Nwaba for finally securing a multi-year deal and a nice bag.

Lakers exes

The Lakers brought back a lot of old friends on day one of free agency. Let’s run down the list:

  • Dwight Howard is back
  • Trevor Ariza is back
  • Wayne Ellington is back
  • Kent Bazemore is back

It’s Howard’s third stint back with the team. Ariza hasn’t been a Laker since his breakout role player days on the team that reached the NBA Finals in 2008 and won it all in 2009. Ellington hasn’t been on the team since 2014-2015, which was Kobe Bryant’s penultimate season.

Former Lakers had a good run in free agency, too, with Alex Caruso signing for the midlevel exception and Reggie Bullock netting $30 million.


For Russ, it’s a return to his native LA. For Melo, it’s a chance to finally team up with his pal LeBron James.

2021 NBA free agency losers

Dennis Schröder

While the rest of the big name point guards went off the board in day one, Schröder stayed on the market. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and there’s no doubt Schröder will sign a contract soon. It just won’t be for the reported $84 million the Lakers offered him in-season.

Schröder initially thought he could get $100-$120 million on the open market when he rejected the Lakers’ big offer. Instead, he had a rough end of the season and struggled in LA’s first round playoff loss to the Suns. The Lakers were ready to move on, and his market around the league was quiet enough for him to go unsigned through the first day.

Schröder will still get a nice deal, but he’s not getting nearly as much money as he turned down a few months ago. File this under ‘when betting on yourself goes wrong.’

Damian Lillard

Lillard has been loyal to Portland throughout his career, but he’s been adamant that he needs more help this offseason. The Trail Blazers changed coaches from Terry Stotts to Chauncey Billups (which was controversial because of a past sexual assault charge), kept Norman Powell on a $90 million deal, and then added .... Cody Zeller and Tony Snell.

Cody Zeller and Tony Snell? That’s it?

Powell is a nice piece to keep for sure, but he was also on the team when they lost in the playoffs to a Jamal Murray-less Nuggets team. Maybe a big trade with materialize at some point, but right now it sure feels like the Blazers are running it back.

Uh, is Neil Olshey not listening to Dame?

The Pelicans

What exactly is the Pelicans’ big long-term plan? There are already reports that Zion Williamson is unhappy with the organization only two years into his career. It’s easy to imagine we could be headed for another disgruntled superstar situation in New Orleans like the ones we saw with Chris Paul and Anthony Davis.

This offseason hasn’t helped. The Pelicans lost Lonzo Ball as a restricted free agent by choosing not to match Chicago’s contract offer. They added Devonte’ Graham which is a nice piece, but .... that’s it for free agency so far.

New center Jonas Valančiūnas should help, and he can space the floor for Williamson a little bit better than Steven Adams. Maybe rookie Trey Murphy III can make an impact on the wing. It still feels like new coach Willie Green will have his hands full.

Zion is awesome and Brandon Ingram should be a wonderful second option, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough talent here to make a meaningful leap up the standings.

Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls forward was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft, but four uninspiring seasons in Chicago have dimmed the initial hope for his career. Markkanen is still a young 7-footer who can shoot, but he can’t seem to find a market this summer. Teams around the league reportedly don’t value him as highly as he thought they would.

Maybe Markkanen’s lost upside can be unlocked by a team with a gifted creator, since he never really played with one in Chicago. For a guy who looked like he’d get a max extension two years ago, this is really an unfortunate fall.