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8 winners and 4 losers from NBA free agency so far

NBA free agency was overshadowed before it even began this year. Kevin Durant requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets hours before the free agency moratorium opened on June 30. While everyone around the sport was busy coming up with their own fake KD trades, the majority of the best free agents flew off the board in the first 24 hours after teams and players were allowed to agree to deals. Durant still hasn’t been traded, but at this point the few impact free agents who remain unsigned feel like they’re waiting for the Nets to make a move before everyone gets a deal.

We’ve been following free agency closely since it began. Check out our tracker of every free agent agreement so far. We also have an updated list of the best remaining free agents still unsigned. Now we’re checking in on the biggest winners and losers of the offseason so far.

Here are the teams and players that should be feeling great going into next year, and the teams that feel like they dropped the ball.

Winner: Boston Celtics

The Celtics came two wins shy of the championship last season, but weren’t content to run it back with the same roster. On day two of free agency, Boston acquired Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers for their 2023 first round pick, Daniel Theis, and Aaron Nesmith. Even if he’s not exactly the “true point guard” so many said the Celtics needed after their NBA Finals loss, Brogdon fits right in with Boston’s identity of defense, ball movement, and shooting while also providing another pinch of playmaking.

Brogdon went from a spot-up shooting specialist in Milwaukee to more of an all-around point guard in Indiana who averaged 20 points per game. He’s been slowed by multiple injuries the last few seasons, which is why Boston was able to get him for only a late first round pick. The Celtics deserve credit for going deep in the luxury tax to take on Brogdon, who makes about $22.5 million per season through 2024-25. While other ownership groups treat the tax line like a hard cap, Boston is showing it’s serious about trying to win the championship.

The Celtics also added Danilo Gallinari this offseason, who gives them a big shooter in the front court. Gallinari feels like he’s started to slow down the last few years, but he should be good in a smaller role in Boston even if he can’t find the fountain of youth like Al Horford. The Celtics and Bucks will enter next season as the favorites in the East.

Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Winner: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets were supposed to be championship contenders until Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. both went down with season-ending injuries. Nikola Jokic won his second straight MVP last season even without his two best teammates, and now he’s getting the help he needs to make a deep playoff run. With Murray and Porter set to return, Denver targeted defense in free agency. First, Denver acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith from the Wizards for Monte Morris and Will Barton. While the move was partially motivated by shedding salary, it feels like KCP is a perfect fit for what Denver needs in a fifth starter. He’ll be able to space the floor, hit threes, and defend bigger wings alongside Aaron Gordon. Smith will give Denver a competent backup point guard to replace Morris.

Denver then added Bruce Brown in free agency. Brown is a physical 6’4 guard who will add toughness, ball movement, and an improving three-point shot. Brown and Caldwell-Pope are natural fits in a playoff rotation. It now seems like this team has every piece it needs to compete with the best of the West. We haven’t even mentioned Denver’s best move of the offseason yet: re-signing Jokic to a five-year, $264 million deal. While we’re skeptical the DeAndre Jordan signing will help much, everything else is feeling really promising for the Nuggets.

Winner: Gary Payton II

Payton was almost out of the league after going undrafted in 2016, and bouncing around with four teams in his first six years. He finally found the right fit on the Warriors after beating out Avery Bradley for the team’s final roster spot, and quickly developed into a lockdown defender and impactful cutter on offense. By the time he returned from injury in the NBA Finals, Payton was guarding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the biggest moments of the season. Now he’s taking his talents to Portland on a three-year, $28 million deal.

The Blazers needed defense and athleticism in the backcourt next to Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons. Payton can provide that. More than anything, it’s excellent to see Payton’s hard-work get rewarded with life-changing money. Even as the son of a legend, he’s one of the true feel-good stories of the league, and someone who has had to bust his ass for everything he’s gotten.

Loser: Golden State Warriors

Losing Payton is a big blow for Golden State. It doesn’t feel all that different from the Lakers losing Alex Caruso last season. The Warriors also lost Otto Porter Jr. — a starter in the NBA Finals — to the Toronto Raptors on a two-year deal. It’s going to be hard to replace Porter’s length and shooting, and Payton’s defense and athleticism. The Warriors did add Donte DiVincenzo on a smart two-year deal to replace some of what Payton and Porter provided, but losing two key contributors is going to hurt for Golden State. Their margin for error against the best teams in the league suddenly got a lot smaller.

Winner: New York Knicks

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Knicks crashed back to Earth in Tom Thibodeau’s second season after being the most pleasant surprise in the league in his first year as head coach. The team entered the offseason needing a new lead guard to help juice the offense, and more depth in the front court. They accomplished both. The Knicks stole Jalen Brunson away from the Mavericks with a four-year, $104 million deal to become the team’s new starting point guard. They also landed big man Isaiah Hartenstein from the Clippers on a two-year, $18 million deal, and re-signed Mitchell Robinson to a four-year, $60 million deal. After a strange draft day that saw the team trade out of the No. 11 pick, New York fortified the roster with veterans in free agency to try to get back in the playoff mix.

There’s some initial sticker shock on Brunson’s contract, but there’s no denying he’s a good, young guard who can help improve what was the league’s No. 22 offense last season. The Hartenstein signing is even more shrewd. A huge 7-footer who offers play finishing, rim protection, and connective passing, Hartenstein was everyone’s favorite sleeper free agent this year. He’ll give the New York front court a dimension they didn’t have before. These don’t feel like “final pieces” for the Knicks, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Loser: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas’ surprise run to the Western Conference Finals couldn’t have happened without Brunson. He was arguably the team’s second-best player behind Luka Doncic, and the team simply has no way to replace him after losing him for nothing in free agency. The Mavericks only move so far this offseason was signing JaVale McGee to a three-year deal. That’s fine, but it’s not moving the needle. It feels like Dallas is going to take at least a small step back without Brunson.

Atlanta Hawks Introduce Dejounte Murray

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Winner: Spurs and Jazz

The Spurs and Jazz each traded away their best players in Dejounte Murray and Rudy Gobert, so why are they winners? It comes down to two things: a) picking a direction, and b) recouping a ton of draft picks to kickstart their respective rebuilds. The Spurs traded Murray at his apex value with two years left on his contract for Charlotte’s 2023 first round pick, and unprotected first rounders in 2025 and 2027. San Antonio wasn’t going anywhere in a loaded West with Murray, and now gets to maximize its own draft position while clearing out space for their young players (including their three first round picks this year) to develop.

The Jazz finally decided that a Gobert-Donovan Mitchell pairing has run its course. Utah got an incredible return for the 30-year-old center, landing four future first round picks, plus this year’s No. 19 overall pick Walker Kessler. Don’t be surprised if a Mitchell trade is next. San Antonio and Utah might be the two smallest markets in the league, and they’re choosing to rebuild at a time when French super prospect Victor Wembanyama is set to hit the draft. Read our big breakdown on Wembanyama and our 2023 NBA Draft mock. Both are going to be especially relevant to the Spurs and Jazz this season.

Winner: Lu Dort

Dort has been one of the league’s most underpaid players since joining the Thunder as an undrafted free agent. Dort immediately outplayed his original contract that paid him about $4 million total in his first three years. The Thunder could have kept Dort around on a super cheap deal for one more year, but instead they rewarded him with a massive five-year, $87.5 million contract. That’s a lot of money for Dort — who brings point of attack defense, connective passing, and volume shooting to OKC — but it’s great to see him finally get paid after being on an extremely team-friendly deal for so long.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets - Play-In Tournament

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Loser: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls boldly remodeled their team last offseason by adding DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso. Chicago was the top seed in the East at the All-Star break, but completely fell apart down the stretch after Ball was shutdown with a knee injury. The Bulls needed to get better this offseason to take the next step, but instead they mostly just stayed the same. The team deserves major credit for re-signing Zach LaVine to a $215 million deal, but then they chose not to use their full mid-level exception to avoid the luxury tax. All the Bulls did this offseason was sign Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic, and re-sign Derrick Jones Jr.

While the rest of the East got better, the Bulls are relying on continuity. The team should still compete for a playoff spot, but it’s disappointing to see them go cheap at a time when they should have been adding talent.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves landed the best player moved in free agency so far when they traded for Rudy Gobert. Minnesota also made a great free agent signing by adding Kyle Anderson on a two-year, $18 million deal. Throw in a max extension for Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Wolves made moves like a big market this offseason. They could challenge to win 50 games next year.

Of course, Minnesota also paid a ridiculous price for Gobert, sending over what was essentially five first round picks. We thought the Wolves overpaid because it’s hard to think they have a championship ceiling, but they deserve credit for actually going for it. Minnesota is going to be one of the most fascinating teams in the league next season. How many Big 3s are better than Towns, Gobert, and Anthony Edwards? Not many.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Loser: Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving haven’t been traded yet, but Brooklyn is already the biggest loser of the offseason. Durant wants out of a town, and Irving is only still here after his power play for a long-term max contract failed. The Nets also owe all their future draft picks to the Houston Rockets for the failed James Harden trade. Even if the Nets try to bring back KD and Kyrie against their will, it’s hard to see how this ends well for Brooklyn.

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