2019 NBA Free Agency Awards (Part Two)

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 One of the 2019 NBA Free Agency Awards)

Best Saves:

Colin: Warriors Lose Kevin Durant, Get D’Angelo Russell, Keep Klay Thompson

Outside of the Kawhi-PG to the Clippers move, the Warriors’ ability to salvage D’Angelo Russell from the Nets was arguably the next most shocking move of free agency.

Reports began to surface well before the beginning of Free Agency that Durant had already chosen the Nets to play with Kyrie Irving. The Nets’ acquisition of the latter made DLo expendable, and the Warriors swooped in on DLo in the franchise’s last ditch effort to keep open their beloved core’s title window.

DLo gives the Warriors a second scorer to pair with Steph while Klay’s out (Who they were also able to keep by the way). With KD gone and the Strength in Numbers bench completely dissolved, the Warriors desperately needed the offensive firepower that Russell will provide.

But what might be more important is the fact that Russell is a valuable trade asset. At just 23 years-old and already with an all-star under his belt, several teams will be attracted in the point guard, which gives the Warriors opportunity to add pieces around their Big Three.

Nobody expected the Warriors to receive anything in losing the two-time Finals MVP in free agency. Their ability to salvage KD’s departure with the acquisition of Russell is further proof of the supreme competence of this decade’s best franchise.

Kirby: Sixers Lose Butler and Redick, Get Al Horford and Josh Richardson

Without JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, it’s hard to imagine how the Sixers would have fared in the 2019 playoffs. They were the Sixers’ offense for many parts of the postseason, especially since Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons struggled mightily on that end.

Fast forward two months later: Redick and Butler are both gone. In their place is Josh Richardson and Al Horford –– two of the last guys I would have expected to be Sixers. 

It was a confusing fit at first glance. Horford is more a center than a power forward, and despite his respectable career 36.8 3PT%, many came from wide-open attempts. Teams have shown to be more than willing to clog the lane and let Horford bomb from deep. Richardson is a good, but not great three-point shooter –– nowhere near the level of Redick. Harris now shifts as a full-time wing, which is less than ideal since he thrives at the four. 

But man, THAT SIZE. Richardson, who is 6’6” with a 6’10” wingspan, is somehow the smallest member of the starting five. Their length last year already bothered teams in the postseason, and now they’re straight up frightening with Horford and Embiid patrolling the paint, and Simmons and Richardson hawking ball-handlers. Their defensive upside gives them the highest floor among contenders. 

It remains to be seen how they’ll finish games with Butler gone. But his departure is good in the long-run; it forces Simmons to develop into a closer and fortify his game in the halfcourt. Philadelphia will only transform into perennial contenders if Simmons does so, and letting go of Butler and Redick are the first steps for 22-year-old to accept this reality. 

Joaquin: Thunder Lose Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Get a bajillion draft picks

Around 2 weeks ago, I shared the same feelings as OKC Mayor David Holt.

If you ask me, a quiet free agency is a blessing when you’ve still got an MVP & an MVP finalist on your roster. Presuming better health, a second full year to hone this dynamic, the return of Roberson, plus renewed league parity, I like our squad just fine. #GoodToBeAThunder pic.twitter.com/zDiVf1j5YF— Mayor David Holt (@davidfholt) June 30, 2019

Did I know that the Thunder, with that roster, probably did not have a realistic shot to make the Finals or even make it past the second round? Yes. Was I happy to resort to blind optimism anyway? Absolutely.

Man, did things change fast. While the Thunder will never publicly admit it, GM Sam Presti and the team’s top brass likely realized that this team desperately needed a shake-up if it wanted to escape Playoff limbo, let alone a massive tax bill. 

First, OKC traded Paul George to the LA Clippers in the biggest future asset fleecing ever. Because the Thunder were essentially sending George and Kawhi to LAC, they bullied a Point GOD of the future out of them (I’ve already practiced spelling Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s name) plus all their lunch money for the next six years.

Then in a move that saved $40 million in tax dollars, they flipped Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a 2020 first-round pick.

Then, they shipped their favorite son, Russell Westbrook, to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul and even more picks.

Here’s a summary of the dizzying amount of assets they’ve collected in the span of one week – one week!

OKC 1sts:
2020 Own (1-20)
2020 DEN (11-30)
2021 Own (HOU 5-30 swap right)
2021 MIA (HOU 5-30 swap right)
2022 Own (1-14)
2022 LAC
2023 Own (LAC swap right)
2023 MIA (15-30)
2024 Own
2024 LAC
2024 HOU (5-30)
2025 Own (LAC and HOU 21-30 swap right)
2026 Own
2026 LAC
2026 HOU (5-30)— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) July 12, 2019

The moves were cold, but OKC tearing their team down was a necessary evil for a shot to be truly competitive in the long run. Force a team to overpay for a superstar that wanted out? Check. Alleviate tax burden? Check. Tear down a roster stuck in the mud and be in the best possible situation for a rebuild? Check. Avoid completely embarrassing your city mayor? Check.

In Sam Presti we trust.

Best Under-The-Radar Moves

Joaquin: Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana

I love this move for Indiana. The Pacers have quietly engineered one of the most active offseasons of any team this summer. All five of their free agents are gone and they’ve been replaced with younger, more potent role players to fit around star guard Victor Oladipo.  But among all their new additions, Malcolm Brogdon figures to be the player to take them beyond just another hopeful playoff berth. 

It’s tough to measure the full extent of Brogdon’s impact last year because of his injury, but he still managed to post 15.6 PPG on 50/40/90 shooting splits and should only bolster a Pacers team that registered the third best Defensive Rating in the league last year. Lining Brogdon up with Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner forms one of the more formidable starting fives in the conference. If he and Oladipo can stay healthy, it’s hard to think of a two-way backcourt better than them, and that could be the key to playing dark horse in the East to perfection.

Kirby: Delon Wright, Mavericks

Wright wasn’t the sexiest name on the market, but for a team like the Mavs that needed length and playmaking at the lead guard spot, he’s a snug fit. He’s the perfect foil for Luka Doncic. Wright’s 6’5” frame and quick feet allow him to corral opposing guards, and he’ll thrive as a secondary driver and distributor playing beside the reigning Rookie of the Year. 

Wright’s versatility shone as the starting guard last season, with averages of 14.5 points, 7.4 assists, and 7.2 rebounds in his 13 games at the starting lineup. Despite the small sample size, Wright has shown enough glimpses that he can scale his game further with more minutes and responsibilities. If Wright can shore up his subpar shooting from deep, then the Mavs may have gotten away with the steal of offseason. 

If the season started tomorrow, who would win the NBA Title?

Colin: Clippers

Let me flag this early on: The Clippers are NOT going to be the one seed in the West, and might not even be the two seed. This team is going to load manage their way to about 53 wins and the three seed. 

Why? Let’s put it in a way NBA bettors would understand: Take the under on Kawhi and PG playing +/- 55 games together.

However, when the playoffs come around, these Clippers will skyrocket to the top of the league simply because no other team in the league has the tools to be both an elite offense and defense. And considering how stacked they are at every position, they should have some of the freshest legs of any playoff contender.

LA should start to gear up for their 17th title, but not courtesy of the Lakers.

Joaquin: Bucks

It hasn’t been very long since many NBA fans were convinced that the Milwaukee Bucks were the Chosen Ones to dethrone the Warriors last season. 

By all accounts, the Bucks boasted one of the more solid units overall, owning the best defense and the highest Net Rating in the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo, recently crowned MVP, was in full superstar mode and had an All-Star in Khris Middleton flanking him, but if not for one of the greatest postseason runs in NBA history care of Kawhi and the Toronto Raptors, we would have almost certainly seen them on the Finals stage.

Losing Malcolm Brogdon will hurt, but they can count on 24 (24!!) year old Giannis to continue pushing the boundaries of human and basketball player evolution to carry the Deer back to the top of the East. 

The Bucks are by no means a sure shot to win the title, but in an Eastern conference now without Kawhi, I’ll pick the Bucks and see who’ll take it from them.

Kirby: Houston

Before the Woj decided to go nuclear for the 1,0348th time this offseason, I originally wrote this about the Rockets: “Houston stayed sober while the rest of the Western Conference went on a drunken frenzy.”

Welp. Daryl Morey always has a trick up his sleeve. 

It’s debatable how much better the Rockets are with Westbrook in CP3’s place, but at least Russ is younger and has a much better health record compared to Paul. There’s real value in having a co-star that plays 70+ games each season and remains healthy in the playoffs. 

It’s also worth remembering these Rockets were the only team to pose a real challenge to the peak Warriors, and the majority of that team still remains. That kind of continuity is extremely valuable.

All I’m saying: Don’t sleep on the Rockets. James Harden just came off his greatest season ever, and doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. Houston isn’t the most compelling pick, but they have the talent and experience to make a real run for the chip.

Photos from Getty Images