NBA offseason winners and losers: Celtics add to championship formula; Hawks, Blazers prioritize defense

We’re on our third day of the NBA free agency period and a lot has gone down. A lot of big contracts have been handed out, and a lot of smaller ones that could pay big dividends. Significant trades have also been made. We’ll slowly be factoring in draft results as we flesh out the 2022 offseason winners and losers. This post will continue to update. Here’s what we have so far. 

Winner: Boston Celtics

After finishing two wins from an NBA championship, the Celtics went out and landed Danilo Gallinari, who cleared waivers after being let go by San Antonio, and Malcolm Brogdon in a trade with the Pacers, who took back Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first-round pick from Boston. 

All of those parts are highly expendable for Boston, which essentially got Brogdon for a first-round pick that will likely land in the mid-to-late 20s. Brogdon is really good. He adds to Boston’s ridiculously stacked defense and is another ball-handler and scorer to live well in a flowing, egalitarian offense. 

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

Trading Kevin Huerter, a good player, for a draft pick that very well might not convey until 2027 is questionable to me. Now, if that pick eventually gets attached to, say, Clint Capela or John Collins and the Hawks flip for another All-Star-ish player (to go with the Dejounte Murray move), then we’ll reevaluate. But right now, losing Huerter just because you have a position logjam is tough. The Hawks would’ve almost certainly preferred to keep Huerter over Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the latter doesn’t have the trade value to bring back a first-round pick, protected or otherwise. 

Still, getting Murray from the Spurs makes this offseason a win for Atlanta. It can still get better, but Murray alone is a really nice addition. There are pessimistic points about the pairing with Trae Young. Both thrive with the ball. Young is a more natural option playing off-ball, but he has to commit, and by commit I don’t mean simply standing somewhere spacing the floor while Murray is running pick and roll. 

Young has to move. Cut. Relocate. Become a Steph Curry-like fly to track. I have my doubts about his desire to do that. I envision more of him moving once off a screen, not getting the ball, then standing around or, at best, running toward the handler for a dribble-hand-off. But even in that environment the Hawks are a better team. Murray is a second guy who can get two feet in the paint and he has really improved his midrange shooting. 

Defensively, Murray is a long, athletic monster. He’s a nightmare on-ball and a hawk, so to speak, off the ball. You’re playing with fire even trying to run a DHO with him tracking. He’ll reach in with those Inspector Gadget arms and poke that thing away in a snap. The Hawks now have two high-level perimeter defenders in Murray and De’Andre Hunter. Onyeka Okongwu can be pretty big-time on the defensive end. If they trade Collins or Capela, it has to be for another two-way player so as to keep Young as the only real target in the starting lineup. That’s how a Trae Young team can survive defensively. Without any other weak links. Atlanta is making moves to create that reality. 

The man has played 85 career games over three seasons, one of which he didn’t play a single second, and he just got a five-year contract extension that could be worth up to $231 million. I’m not sure if this is a win yet for the Pelicans. If Zion plays and stays healthy for the majority of this contract, of course, it’s a win. New Orleans has a pretty damn good team brewing. 

But if Williamson is in and out of the lineup and the Pelicans never gain real traction in a loaded Western Conference, and Zion’s trade value dips because he can’t stay healthy, this could end up ugly for the Pels. But for Zion, regardless of how it plays out, he walks out filthy rich. 

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves gave up enough capital to choke a hippo, but they got Rudy Gobert. After signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a four-year, $224 million extension that keeps him in Minnesota for the next six years, it’s twin-tower time in Minnesota, which sent back to Utah Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and multiple first-round picks: unprotected first-rounders in 2023, 2025, and 2027, and a top-five protected pick in 2029. 

Gobert is a one-man defense, and notions that he loses defensive viability in the playoffs have been greatly exaggerated. Given the Wolves’ ability to score the ball with Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, this suddenly looks like a really good team. It will have to be to justify this steep of a price, but it’s worth the risk. It’s been ages since the Wolves were actually a team to take this seriously, and I don’t subscribe to the theory that teams have to win a championship to warrant these kinds of gambles. 

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Indeed, the Wolves aren’t going to win the title next year. It’s probably a good bet that they won’t win one during the Gobert era, however long that lasts. You know why? Because only one team wins it all. That doesn’t mean the other 29 did it wrong. For the Wolves, this is a major jolt of franchise energy, building on the momentum they’ve already created with the drafting of Anthony Edwards and last year’s playoff appearance. 

Same thing as the Hawks trading for Dejounte Murray. They gave up a ton. They’re likely not going to win it all. But they’re in the ring. They’re trying to fight. Fans love that. The energy around a franchise feeds itself. There’s no way not to be excited about the Wolves heading into next season, and when was the last time you could honestly say that?

The Gobert/Donovan Mitchell tandem had hit its ceiling. Everyone knew it. The Jazz didn’t mess around. They cut bait with Gobert and brought back a gigantic haul of assets, which they’ll now use to build around Mitchell. Utah can get into a lot of conversations with four extra first-round picks and some nice salary-attachers to float in trade talks. This is a win-win. Minnesota needed to make waves with a big move, and Utah needed a fresh start. They both succeeded. 

Dallas lost Jalen Brunson and shows no signs of replacing him so far. He was the second-best player on a team that went to the conference finals, and at times served as a more-than-capable go-to guy when Luka Doncic was out. I think Brunson was worth more money on the Mavericks next to Luka than he’ll be worth in New York. I would’ve liked to see the Mavericks go after Brogdon after losing Brunson. 

But hey, at least the Mavs got JaVale McGee for $20 million. 

Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland locked up Darius Garland on a max rookie extension (but win for Garland at five years and a possible $231 million), and also brought back Ricky Rubio, who was a key piece for the Cavs as he got out to a surprisingly red-hot start last season. Rubio was the classic steadying force for a young team, averaging 13-6-4 before he tore his ACL last December. He really fit with them. Getting Rubio back for $18M over three years is a nice deal for both player and team. Robin Lopez also heads to Cleveland. He backs up Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen as Cleveland can stay huge with multiple lineups. 

Winner: Jalen Brunson

Brunson got paid. The Knicks reportedly gave him a four-year, $104 million deal. For a guy who was taken in the second round in 2018, this is a windfall. Good for him. He deserves it. We’ll see how Brunson fares without Luka Doncic around to occupy all the defensive attention. But either way, the bag is secured. Brunson is set for life, and the icing on the cake is that gets to play for his father, Rick Brunson, who recently accepted an assistant coaching position with the Knicks. 

Loser: New York Knicks

Listen, good for Brunson, but I just don’t think he’s a good enough player to commit this kind of money to for the next four years. From where I’m sitting, unless the Knicks, who gave $60M to Mitchell Robinson, somehow manage to swing the trade for a star player that they’ve been striking out on for about the last decade, they pretty much just signed themselves up for mediocrity. It’s simply too much to have $164 million tied up in Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson. 

Brunson, who immediately becomes New York’s best player (yes, he’s better than RJ Barrett and Julius Randle) cannot, in reality, suffice as anything more than the third-best player on a true championship-contending team. 

The Knicks also signed Isaiah Hartenstein at $16 million over two years, which is fine. He’ll be a nice backup center. But nothing that moves the needle. 

At the end of the day, to go out and move all the pieces the Knicks moved to clear the space they did to end up with a non-All-Star as your prize $104M signing, that’s a loss. 

The dude signed the biggest contract in NBA history. Five years, $264 million. He’ll make an eye-popping $60 million in the final year of the deal. I’m not sure what else to say. The man won. So did the Nuggets. Jokic is awesome. 

It wasn’t free agency. technically, that bit Brooklyn, but on Thursday Kevin Durant issued a trade request. Once Durant goes, Kyrie Irving will likely follow. The Nets, who were supposed to compete for championships for the foreseeable future, just got blown up. 

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Now, I will say that this could actually turn out OK for Brooklyn. They’re going to get a king’s ransom for Durant that will include at least a few ready-to-win players in addition to future draft capital, as the Nets have no incentive to tank is that they owe a boat full of future picks to the Rockets for the James Harden deal. Durant wants to go to Phoenix. If they somehow get Devin Booker, it’s home-run time. But I doubt that. 

If the Nets talk the Lakers into giving up a few first-round picks, or even just one if Russell Westbrook is going back to Brooklyn, for Irving, that will be even more capital they could package up and move for another All-Star. They still have Ben Simmons. This might not end up so bad. 

But for now, the Nets are about to lose Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden inside of six months. Brutal. 

James Harden hasn’t signed his new contract yet, but he obviously agreed to give up enough annual salary for the Sixers to afford P.J. Tucker, whom they signed for just over $33 million over three years. That’s a big score. Tucker will seriously lift Philly’s defense and slot perfectly as a corner shooter for Tyrese Maxey and Harden drive-and-kicks. Throw in De’Anthony Melton, whom the Sixers landed on draft night from Memphis for the No. 23 pick and Danny Green, and the Sixers are having a very nice offseason. 

Beal also signed a massive extension with the Wizards: Five years, $251 million. I still bet he gets traded before that contract expires, but by signing with Washington, which owns his Bird rights, he guaranteed himself a fifth guaranteed year, which will equate to about $57 million extra in his bank. That goes with him even if he does get traded. I’d bet good money that Beal winds up having his cake and eating it too, eventually ending up on a contender while also signing the biggest deal possible. 

Loser: Washington Wizards

They should’ve traded Beal a long time ago. There’s no way this team is competing for anything other than a bottom playoff seed with Beal making that kind of money. He’s just not a 1A championship guy. He honestly might not even be a sufficient No. 2 given how deep the talent is across the league right now. Washington should have a bundle of assets right now for Beal. 

This is what the Spurs did after Kawhi Leonard. They tried to win with DeMar DeRozan — a pretty good Beal comp — as their best player instead of committing to a rebuild. They finally conceded to reality and recently traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks for a bunch of first-round picks, signaling a fresh start. Maybe Washington will eventually come to the same conclusion with Beal. They certainly should. But until then, they’re paying Beal and Kristaps Porzingis just shy of $80 million next season. Good luck with that. 

I’m not sure if I like Anfernee Simons more than Jalen Brunson. I think, at this moment, I would take Brunson because he’s a playoff defender. But it’s close. So why do I think the $100 million Portland gave Simons over four years is a win but consider the $104 million that the Knicks gave Brunson over the same amount of time to be a loss? Simple: Simons doesn’t have to be the best player on the Blazers. He’s got Damian Lillard for that. 

Frankly, Simons doesn’t have to be the Blazers’ second-best player either. They just traded for Jerami Grant. Simons is a potential future star but he doesn’t have to carry that burden right away. 

Then late on Thursday night, or early Friday morning in the east, the Blazers stole Gary Payton II from the Warriors for $28 million over three years. Payton is awesome. Portland fans are going to fall in love with him. He’s an elite defender and a special cutter and floor runner. He can hit corner 3s. Portland had to address its defense, and Grant and Payton are two huge additions in that regard. 

Winner: Sacramento Kings

Kevin Huerter is a good player. The Kings did well to land him for essentially a first-round pick (no offense to Justin Holiday or Mo Harkless, but the pick was the value). And the pick is lottery-protected in 2024, top-12 protected in 2025 and top-10 protected in 2026. In other words, if the Kings still stink in 2024 and miss the playoffs, they’ll still get that pick. And they could very well keep it through 2026 with the West as deep as it is. 

Meanwhile, Sacramento continues to quietly put a pretty nice five together with De’Aaron Fox, Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Domantas Sabonis. Fox is 24 years old, Huerter and Davion Mitchell are 23. Sacramento just drafted 21-year-old Keegan Murray No. 4 overall. They can remain patient while continuing to put a competitive product on the floor. Dare I say, there are some actual good feels around the Kings at the moment. 

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Winner: Lu Dort

Dort didn’t even get drafted. He had to grind his way into the league on two-way contracts. Now he just signed with the Thunder for $87.5 million over five years. By turning himself into a brick of a defender while improving greatly as a shooter, Dort will never have to worry about money or his place in the NBA again. 

Also, good on the Thunder for rewarding Dort with this money a year before they had to. They could’ve exercised the $1.9 million team option they had in place for Dort this season. Instead, they let him out of that to sign a much bigger deal that can now kick in right away. Instead of $1.9 million, Dort will make over $15 million this coming season with much more to come over the next half-decade. 

Winner: Gary Payton II

Like Dort, Payton was un-drafted. He bounced around the G-League and played on two-way contracts and was let go six separate times from NBA rosters. Finally, he found a real role with the Warriors last season. He killed it. Now he’s got a $28 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. Dream-come-true stuff. 

Winner: Devin Booker

Secured $224 million over four years. Again, not much else to say. The man is filthy loaded. I don’t think Booker will end up in a Kevin Durant trade. If he does it wouldn’t be the worst thing to go to a Nets team that is still going to be pretty good this year with whatever they get back for Durant with a ton of picks to get even better in the coming years to build around Booker. Life is good. 

Loser: Golden State Warriors

Golden State lost Gary Payton II to the Blazers. This hurts. Payton was so great in his role for the Warriors, who were already thin on perimeter defense even when they had Payton. Golden State is deep in the repeater tax. It simply decided it couldn’t justify paying Payton this much money given the massive tax implications for every dollar they spend. 

Golden State decided it couldn’t afford both Kevon Looney and Payton. They opted for Looney, whom they brought back for $25.5M over three years. I’m not sure I agree with that decision. Looney is fantastic for the Warriors. No way they win the title without him. But they drafted James Wiseman. Looney, through that lens, is more replaceable on the Warriors’ roster than Payton is. I would’ve ponied up for Payton and depended on Wiseman to start earning his keep. 

Reasonable minds can disagree on that stance, but either way, everyone can agree that losing Payton is a big loss for Golden State, which also lost Otto Porter Jr. to the Raptors. That’s two rotation pieces from a championship team gone. Signing Donte DiVincenzo, who, I really like, eases the sting of losing Porter, but not Payton, who is simply another kind of player who has a unique impact that is so hard to find in this league. I think the Warriors are a worse team today than they were a few days ago. 

Morant signed a max rookie extension with Memphis for five years and a guaranteed $193 million. Morant has the potential to make up to $231M over the life of this contract based on incentives. Towns got a four-year, $224 million extension that will begin in 2024, meaning the Wolves have him locked up for the next six years. LaVine is staying with Chicago on a five-year, $215M extension. 

Incomplete: Lakers

I think the Lakers jumped the gun on a few of their Thursday signings. They used their MLE on Lonnie Walker, who isn’t as good as Malik Monk, whom they lost to Sacramento. I like Juan Toscano-Anderson. He’ll help. Troy Brown Jr. isn’t exactly moving the needle. Damian Jones is a nice signing. I just think the Lakers could’ve waited to see if Donte Divincenzo, who remains unsigned after the Kings opted not to extend him a qualifying offer, or a TJ Warren might’ve become available at the MLE level. 

The Lakers didn’t do terrible on day one. I wouldn’t call it a win or a loss. They didn’t have much to work with. What this comes down to is whether the Lakers can find a way to land Kyrie Irving. If they do, the offseason is a win. If they don’t, and they go into next year with Russell Westbrook as their starting point guard, nobody is going to give two you know whats about Lonnie Walker or Damian Jones. This offseason will have been a loss. So we’ll wait and see. 

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