Gold, Silver and Bronze – Warriors and Thunder climb the podium

Free-Agency-2

There is still a sense of urgency to proceedings, but if the opening day of  free agency was about who got out of the blocks in the best way, day two saw those with slower starts and a bit more patience make up for lost ground quickly.

Gold: Golden State Warriors (New Entry)

Something that wasn’t even addressed on day one’s Free Agency Podium was the Golden State Warriors securing the two-year deal for the two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant. Like all things basketball, LeBron James made a superstar taking a one-plus-one deal (one year guaranteed, then the player’s right to opt in for a second year) popular during his second Cleveland stint. It all gives the player maximum power because if he doesn’t like the way the franchise is headed, he can step aside. But for a team with masses of success and another two-time MVP in Stephen Curry on the roster, the Warriors will be just fine with a shorter contract.

Not only is its length friendly to the team, but the cost isn’t damaging either. When you compare it with the $40million contract yesterday’s wooden spoon winners, the Houston Rockets, handed to what will a 37-year-old point guard in the final year of a four-year deal, $30million-ish each year for someone who might be the best player in the NBA is a bargain.

It is for this reason the Warriors sat just off to the side looking at the Free Agency Podium yesterday, but after losing their Finals starting center, Javale McGee to the LA Lakers, GSW has some moves to make.

Credit must go to Demarcus Cousins for this move. Having surgery on a torn Achilles mid-way through last season meant offers for the All-Star big man weren’t pouring in. The league will have signed him but there were bigger, healthier fish to fry. However, Cousins is not one to be patient or ignored, and he decided to take the onus upon himself and call the Warriors’ General Manager Bob Myers. After such a career-threatening injury, Cousins just needed a one-year flyer to prove himself A) healthy and B) able to still play at an All-NBA Team level. He averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists before the injury last year, and if he can offer just half of that to the back-to-back champions, it will still be a huge improvement on McGee’s regular season stats.

Head Coach Steve Kerr has a great system that highlights his players strengths, while having two elite players to lean on in crunch time, along with several other trustworthy All-Stars. Golden State also has great culture and a history of taking suspect players (McGee and Nick Young) and keeping them grounded. If they can do that with someone who, talent-wise, might be the second-best center in the game, we could see a Golden State starting five in the All-Star Game next season.

Silver: Oklahoma City Thunder (Up from Bronze)

Patience can be a virtue but standing still can be a detriment when flurries of free agents are being signed. Despite a promising start from the Denver Nuggets to earn a silver medal on the opening day of negotiations, the Mile High City has struggled to attract another big free agent, thus slipping off the podium altogether.

Taking its place is yesterday’s bronze medal winner, though how Oklahoma City Thunder can afford to do so is anyone’s guess. Signing the much maligned, but talented defensive big man Nerlens Noel gives center Steven Adams a reliable back-up for the first time in his career. Noel is a player that rolls hard to the rim on offense so he can catch lobs from Russell Westbrook or the newly signed Paul George.

For his talent, the contract is likely to be a cheap one-plus-one. This will help OKC keep costs low but give Noel a chance to rehabilitate his image slightly after falling out with the Dallas Mavericks. In 2015-2016 he averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds, but with an unsettled role and an unwillingness to accept a back seat, he has lost playing time and a lot of money. This year could see him return to form without having to be a top guy.

Bronze: LA Lakers (Down from Gold)

The NBA’s golden franchise has slipped slightly from its pole position because the list of players currently under contract who shoot higher than 33% from three are Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez. And when you add to the fact that Ingram is probably the only real trade piece for LA’s coveted Kawhi Leonard, and the team would surely have to throw something else in to prize him away from San Antonio, some upgrades are required.

The players they signed to join LeBron James, someone who loves shooters around him, include Javale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. Good players they are, but shooters they are not.

However, the bonus is that many of them are one year deals, and will come off the books ready to splash cash for Leonard next season if they can’t trade for him now. This is a risky move, especially since the Lakers did nothing to get Paul George last year via trade and he burned them by not even having a meeting them during this year’s Free Agency. Could a similar thing happen with Leonard?

Still, the Lakers have the biggest prize in the NBA and have surrounded James with enough pieces that he could finish in the top half of the Western Conference playoff race. And there is still time to make more moves via trade to improve even further.

Wooden spoon: New Orleans Pelicans (New Entry)

When you and your best friend sit next to each other in school, but one of you gets moved away because you were talking too much, it sometimes has the opposite effect of making you worse. Instead of messing around occasionally, you slump and become demotivated.

It took a lot to take the wooden spoon away the aimless Houston Rockets, who are only avoiding another one because there are fewer teams available now that can offer Clint Capela an maximum deal, but somehow the worst performing team in Free Agency so far has been the Pelicans.

New Orleans managed its best season as a franchise last year, finishing just shy of 50 wins and advancing to the second round of the Playoffs only to be ousted by the eventual champions Golden State.

They got there with the support of Demarcus Cousins, who star forward Anthony Davis became close to, and point guard Rajon Rondo. While Cousins went down before the playoffs, the team was bolstered by the good play and swept the favoured Portland Trailblazers. And while the injury was a concern, it made absolute sense to keep him around, which would please their All-Star and help get back to the post-season, selling Davis on the idea that there is hope for the franchise before they pitch him in Free Agency.

But with New Orleans not even pitching Cousins to stay and losing him for a measly $5.3million, the Pelicans might be in danger of frustrating Davis. The fit with new signing Julius Randle, for a much higher contract of $18million, will take a while to develop, after Davis said last year that he enjoyed playing with Cousins. The team also lost Rondo for a low contract, and have only replaced him with Elfrid Payton, someone who has largely disappointed so far in his career.


Featured photo – via Getty Images / USA TODAY Sports / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration