2019 NBA Free Agency Awards (Part One)

Free Agency has quickly become an integral part of the NBA season because of the simple fact that winning and losing matter here.

Entering a year without a clear King of the East or the West, NBA fans were blessed with the excitement, chaos, and sheer lunacy that came with teams desperate for a fresh start or retooling for a shot at the throne.

This year’s class was loaded with top talent whose moves transformed their old and new teams in one way or another. While the dust and debris from Woj Bombs and other explosives of similar nature (welcome to the league of NBA whisperers, Kendrick Perkins!) are still thick in the air, here’s our take on the immediate aftermath.

(READ: Part Two of the 2019 Free Agency Awards)

Biggest Winners

Joaquin Santos: Nuggets

The Nuggets quietly had one of the strongest offseasons of any team, and more importantly, of any of its fellow contenders in the West last year, by simply not doing too much.

Their most headline-grabbing move was re-signing Jamal Murray to a 5-year, $170 million dollar deal. While Murray isn’t a top-tier point guard yet, he’s still 22 years old, a fantastic fit with Nikola Jokic (Who is only 24!!!!!!!!) , and provides the mercurial ability that elevates Denver’s system.

They opted into the final year of Paul Millsap’s deal, which keeps one of the most proven bigs in the league on their roster while also giving them a valuable expiring contract which they could flip in a package for other assets. The trade for Jerami Grant now offers them the security to go with either option; he’s a starting-caliber forward that could play back-up for Millsap, but projects to be their long-term replacement for him moving forward.

That Grant trade cements the Nuggets’ depth as maybe the most enviable in the league. Add to that the long-awaited return of Michael Porter Jr., who possesses true star potential, and rookie Bol Bol, and the Nuggets can unleash two high-reward prospects without having to pay a heavy gambling debt.

And if Denver chooses to go the route of star power, they can dangle their collection of assets to land an elite scorer to take them over the hump (Bradley Beal, maybe?).

Losing to Portland in the second round last season raised major question marks about the ceiling of this team, but Denver played this offseason smart and will enter open season in the NBA built to contend now and in the years to come.

Kirby Jalandoni: Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have come a long way from fans watching games wearing paper bags over their heads and somehow being “the other team” in a city that also hosts the Knicks. They struck quickly in the opening hours of free agency, signing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the BFF of every NBA superstar, DeAndre Jordan, to long-term deals.

Despite the valid question marks surrounding Durant’s health and Irving’s well-chronicled character issues, this offseason is still a home-run for the Nets. It’s not everyday that you pick up a pair of superstars in their prime. At the present, their additions have placed Brooklyn a tier below the Eastern Conference elite, but the real fun begins when KD returns from his injury in the 2020-2021 season.

By that time, the Nets will be able to deploy two playoff-proven top-15 players, Caris Levert (who had been playing like a fringe All-Star before his injury last November), and a glut of shooters and cerebral talents who will be snug fits around the ball-dominant superstars. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, that is a damn good championship contender –– especially with the title race WIDE open.

Sean Marks built an Eastern Conference powerhouse overnight. For a guy who patiently and painstakingly built the Nets from scratch without any high draft pick, waiting one year for his team to turn into a contender is nothing.

Colin Salao: LA Clippers

As Kawhi Leonard basked and What It Do Baby-d through the triumph of single-handedly lifting a country to the precipice of the NBA, many began to find it difficult for him to part with the Toronto Raptors.

Then as free agency began to unfold, it began to become clear that the revamped Lakers were actually the frontrunners to acquire the Finals MVP in a quest to secure the NBA’s next superteam.

The Clippers were written-off by so many in early July that great shows like Skip and Shannon: Undisputed were starting to argue solely between the Lakers or Raptors as Kawhi’s destination.

Then after what felt a season’s worth of rumours, Board Man made his decision:

Five minutes later, Woj decided to detonate another C4:

In a blink of an eye, the Los Angeles Clippers acquired the consensus best player of the ‘18-’19 playoffs AND the second runner-up for MVP of the ‘18-19 season. And they added that to a roster already consisting of Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, Trez Harrell and Landry Shamet.

It’s undeniable that the Clippers gave up the motherload to OKC for George. And this team is not guaranteed of a title by any means with this roster. But acquiring two superstars who are both squarely in the prime of their careers made that a no-brainer deal.

My personal favorite part about this is that the Clippers picked up two high-character guys who should slide perfectly into the culture bred by Jerry West, Doc Rivers and the rest of the organization.

There is no doubt in my mind (nor should there be in anyone else’s) that the Los Angeles Clippers were the biggest winners of the 2019 Free Agency.

Biggest Losers:

Kirby: Lakers

Let me be clear: The Lakers did not have a terrible offseason. They acquired Anthony Davis, who is >pretty good. The LeBron-AD duo is arguably the most seamless fit between two superstars in NBA history, and their combined greatness alone makes the Lakers contenders.

But how the rest of the roster is looking? Take it away, Pete:

Let’s run down the supporting cast. The Lakers slightly overpaid Danny Green, MASSIVELY overpaid Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (thanks Klutch!), and signed Avery Bradley –– who is washed. They also signed JaVale McGee and DeMarcus Cousins, a pair of centers who will probably played off the floor in the postseason. The rest of their minimum or near-minimum signings don’t move the needle either.

Overall, it’s an underwhelming haul. They have zero perimeter creators outside of LeBron, and don’t have a single wing that can match-up the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George –– and both just happen to play on the same team.

Their AD acquisition raised their ceiling to title contention, but how the rest of the offseason played out has given them the lowest floor among the handful of contenders. This, combined with the outcome of the Kawhi sweepstakes, is what makes them one of the losers of the offseason.

Colin: Hornets

In the summer of 2016, the Hornets did really dumb stuff. Like just flat out stupid stuff. They gave:

– $120M to Nic Batum, who had never averaged more than 15ppg in his career>
– $70M to Bismack Biyombo, who has about 2 actual basketball skills
– $54.5M to Marvin Williams, who is literally the most ‘eh’ player in the NBA

So you’d think that a team willing to give so much money to scrubs would actually offer the farm to the only player with talent that they’ve ever had?

Nope.

The Hornets didn’t even offer Kemba Walker the regular max (even if he was eligible for the supermax, and even if he said he actually wanted to stay).

“Okay, maybe they’re being frugal this time. They probably want to rebuild.”

Nope.

On July 1st, the Hornets went out and signed the Celtics’ back-up point-guard to $58M over three years.

FIFTY-EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS FOR TERRY ROZIER.

And after the trade was made official, this is what Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak had to say:

What a trainwreck.

Joaquin: Knicks

Last February, the Knicks traded away their franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis, as part of a cap-clearing effort to land the big fish in the summer. In turn, the Knicks effectively awarded themselves (if you can call it that) the worst record in the league and space for two max contracts. Just over a month after that trade, Knicks owner James Dolan turned up the excitement and expectation by vowing for success in free agency, setting up yet another offseason circus for the fragile hearts of Knick fans.

Zion Williamson was coming, and Durant and Irving’s names were written in pencil on those max deals.

Then the Knicks whiffed on all three of them. Instead of the crown jewel of the draft, they landed the third pick and used it to select Zion’s teammate, R.J. Barrett, whose luster wore off in his one-and-done year at Duke.

Then they were left scrambling after Kyrie and KD both went to New York but preferred to play for a franchise with significantly less of everything except on-court basketball quality: fans, history, pedigree (the only exception being star power now!), the Brooklyn Nets.

Turning one eye immediately towards the 2021 free agent class, they turned all that cap space into the flexible contracts of Julius Randle, who at least kinda looks like Zion if you squint a little, Bobby Portis – yes, the guy who fractured his teammates face, and 34-year old Taj Gibson.

Now, the only thing the Knicks are ‘The Mecca’ of is failed expectations. While people can point to the promise of R.J. Barrett and young players like Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, and Mitchell Robinson, the elevation that a superstar signing provides simply cannot be replicated. And for a franchise as dire as the Knicks have been, this was the season that they needed one the most.

Photos from Getty Images

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