The NBA has proved to us again that it’s become a year-round cycle of never-ending entertainment, and that the free-agency period might be its most compelling attraction. After a wild final few days of June that saw Chris Paul traded to the Rockets and Paul George to the Thunder, the free-agency period itself — (well, technically the moratorium period) — gave us Gordon Hayward to the Celtics, Paul Millsap to the Nuggets, and so much more. Now free agency is on the downslope to its eventual conclusion, but not before we pass instant judgment on each team’s moves.
Here are our winners and losers from the most wonderful time of the year.
Winner: Dion Waiters
Haley O’Shaughnessy: No Gordon Hayward in Miami makes for two things: a sad Pat Riley, and enough cap space to re-sign Dion Waiters. The Heat appeared open to retaining him even before My Next Chapter 2.0, having met with the guard Sunday. But Waiters has other suitors, reportedly the Lakers and Knicks.
If Hayward had chosen Miami, the franchise wouldn’t have been able to offer the kind of money warranted for Dion after a career season. Now, with $34 million still available in cap space (after both waiving Chris Bosh and announcing, on the same day, that the team will retire his number), the Heat are in a position not only to match, but to top any other offer for the 25-year-old. With the Kings locking up George Hill on Tuesday, only a few free-agent guards are left with TBD status. Along with Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Shelvin Mack, Waiters is one of the best.
Loser: The Cavs
Paolo Uggetti: Here are the Cavs’ offseason moves: signing Jose Calderon and retaining Kyle Korver. That’s it. Here are the Cavs’ offseason departures: GM David Griffin, though not of his own volition. As it seemed like every West contender decided to counter the Warriors with a move of its own, the Cavs, in an even more lackluster Eastern Conference now without the likes of George, Millsap, and Jimmy Butler, either couldn’t do anything, or didn’t want to do anything. I don’t know which course of action is more of an indictment of Cleveland’s current situation.
Calderon and Korver are 35 and 36, respectively. They are closer to Griffin in age than they are to Waiters. Think about that for a moment. The Cavaliers added a point guard who hasn’t been anything above mediocre for the past few years and re-signed a shooter they needed, but whose failure to add any tangible impact in the playoffs makes it almost painful to have to keep him, especially on a three-year deal worth $21 million that will take him to age 39.
And in a stunning turn of events, Dan Gilbert actually made Chauncey Billups — Mr. Big Shot — pass up a big shot. Billups, apparently the Cavs’ only target to fill the vacant GM role, turned down the job Monday.
Loser: Decision-making Skills
O’Shaughnessy: Blink twice if this isn’t what you wanted, Gordo.
Uggetti: While his team was scrambling in free agency without a GM, LeBron was presumably in Vegas and/or Los Angeles celebrating the holiday, playing agent to Steph Curry, best friend to Chris Paul, and longtime teammate to Chris Bosh — all while listening to Jay-Z’s new album and making Kendrick Lamar jokes.
LeBron isn’t worried about anything.
Loser: The Race for the East
Uggetti: Fast-forward nine months. Marv Albert slumps in his chair. He clears his throat and sighs, trying to muster up the excitement in his voice. "The Hornets! The Pistons! It’s the battle for the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference next on TNT. We know drama."
Loser: The Fourth of July
O’Shaughnessy: In 2015, LaMarcus Aldridge signed on the Fourth, and then in 2016, Kevin Durant did the same. This year Gordon Hayward followed the same inconvenient, inconsiderate fad of dumping his Player’s Tribune departure article when the fewest people (read: Utah fans) are paying attention to the news. Except we have Twitter, and Woj, and Shams (Shams! Welcome to these references; you’ll be here a lot), and Chris Haynes sending out leaks while we, distracted, char the burgers well-done, instead of cooking them medium, to the judgment of our fellow partygoers. Grill time is hijacked. Next Fourth, it’ll be LeBron. Land of the free, home of the mad online.
Winner: Sam Presti and OKC
Uggetti: I doubted Sam Presti. It’s OK to admit that you did, too. After losing KD, doubling down on an awful contract to Enes "Can’t Play" Kanter, and trading for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson, the legend of Presti was starting to lose some of its luster. Enter the theft for Paul George in a can’t-lose proposition, the signing of highly underrated forward Patrick Patterson, and the drafting of Terrance Ferguson, too. A pretty perfect offseason when you consider the circumstances. You know who never doubted Presti? Josh Huestis.
#SamPrestiWorksInSilence. The legend lives.
Loser: Ainge Get-togethers
O’Shaughnessy: The saga between Danny Ainge, father and Celtics president, and Tanner Ainge, son and candidate for Congress in Utah, started long before Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with Boston. Throughout free agency, Tanner (not associated with the Jazz in any way other than location) begged Hayward to stay by channeling the grown folks who tweet at college recruits.
A little taste: Here is Tanner, Republican, linking to an article about Massachusetts’ new proposed tax for millionaires in a tweet directed to Hayward:
And here is Tanner on the Fourth, once again mentioning Hayward and asking him to do the right thing, as Tanner, who is not a professional basketball player, sees it:
Voters could see Dad Ainge as being at fault for their star leaving, and by association, take it out on Son Ainge this election (as a Kentuckian, I know basketball influencing politics wouldn’t be too far a reach). And you think your Thanksgiving conversations are awkward.
Loser: The District of Columbia
Uggetti: The Washington Wizards are stuck. They are a team with young, promising players, but a ceiling that could top out in the Eastern Conference finals if they simply retain their core. As John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to improve, their ceiling may rise, but in the near future, the team would have to give Otto Porter Jr. the max to keep that ceiling high.
Brooklyn, as has become its customary modus operandi, sent Porter a max offer sheet worth $106 million over four years, which the Wizards have until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to match. (Otto is a winner here, regardless of the outcome.) The Wiz have been adamant that they are willing to match on any offer to Porter, but saying it isn’t the same as doing it or wanting to. The reality is that re-signing Porter to a behemoth deal like that one isn’t just about whether he is worth being the second-highest-paid athlete in the greater D.C. area. The deal would virtually terminate any roster flexibility the Wiz have going forward. With $88.2 million (just $11 million under this year’s cap) in guaranteed money already committed for 2018–19 without Porter’s $26.5 million on the books, the Wiz with Porter would have no space to add another player or boost one of the league’s worst benches. Yet if they let Porter fly freely from the coop, they’ll have to bank on the development and projection of Kelly Oubre Jr. and hope that they can lure other free agents next summer to the city with limited cap space due to having to pay Wall, Beal, and being saddled by bad contracts like Ian Mahinmi. A known quantity is hard to pass on.
Winner: The Kings’ Bench
O’Shaughnessy: The Kings beat out the Lakers, Nuggets, Wolves, Spurs, Knicks, and Jazz for George Hill (or might have, at least, as he was linked to all of those teams). Considering the franchise hasn’t popped out a 40-win season in a decade, signing any free agent over that laundry list of teams is a win on its own. But this is George Hill, and some mix of him, Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Frank Mason III is a considerable upgrade from the former backcourt of Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo.
When the deal went through, Paolo touched on the fact that Hill’s signing means more bench time than is optimal for developing players. But he’s also an invaluable veteran presence on a suddenly young team, missing the playoffs just once in his career. Plus a little positional depth, as vouched for by this season’s Wizards, Cavaliers, and Thunder, always trumps the alternative (Semaj Christon getting 20 minutes against the Rockets in the playoffs).