The starter’s pistol goes off on 1 July each year and all 30 NBA teams burst out of the blocks of Free Agency. Within seconds, players and teams announce signings, and this year it took just 18 hours for the majority of the big players to get what they want. But this period is not necessarily a race against time, it’s a skilful navigation of a course that requires juggling contracts, emotions and negotiations while always keeping the finish line in sight. But the big question is who finished the opening round of Free Agency on the podium?
Gold: Los Angeles Lakers
It doesn’t matter that the prodigal son did not return. The few hours that Paul George took flak on Twitter from livid Lakers fans was quickly dampened by the joy of LeBron James landing in Hollywood. It’s like winning the lottery but being outbid on a nice mansion by a person with more wealth. It sucks that George didn’t come, but the Lakers landed the best player in the world. And, it was hilarious watching this unfold on Twitter in the hours before James confirmed his choice:
The team doesn’t even need Kawhi Leonard at this stage because some really useful free agents are signing up to join the King. Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Lance Stephenson, along with Javale McGee and his two championships, add experience to the gluttony of young potential. And if you consider Clint Capela could be the big who bangs inside for them, this is already a team that could secure home court advantage in the Western Conference as early as 2019.
Silver: Denver Nuggets
When Nikola Jokic announced he would not be opting in to his final year option with Denver it seemed as if instead he’d be signing a long-term deal. The five-year, $148 million contract was essential for a team like Denver that rarely boasts such talent. And for a laid back person like Jokic, who can pass like a Showtime-era player but prefers the lower maintenance way of life, the fit is perfect.
After this, the team re-upped with Will Barton, the small forward who has shown great progress throughout his six years in the league to average a career high 15.6 point per game last season. Barton was offered a $42 million extension earlier in the season but held off and worked hard during the second half of the year to impress Denver’s front office. Thanks to that gutsy move, he then received an offer of $54 mllion.
While the franchise wasn’t able to poach a headline free agent from another team, it did put itself in a position to sign another big player. Reports even arose that Denver was trying to secure a meeting with LeBron James. It never came to pass but this screams confidence and is a powerful message to others. Add that to the fact that the Nuggets young core is growing and, despite a few frustrating losses due to a Paul Milsap injury last year, the team still had to be knocked out of the playoff race in the final game of the regular season. The most important thing for this franchise was to lock up its best players for a good stretch of time – something it has struggled to do in previous years.
Bronze: Oklahoma City Thunder
This is less of a bronze medal for its performance in this year’s Free Agency, and more of a recognition that the desperate moves of the previous summer – trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for potentially one season of Paul George before everyone thought he would leave for L.A. – paid off. The Thunder bet on themselves, the city and the culture, and Russell Westbrook worked to make sure he and George became firm friends.
OKC also re-signed Jerami Grant and it looks like the team is getting the band back together, hoping for Andre Roberson to return to full health. When he was in the line-up with Steven Adams, George, Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder scored 38.9 points per game, good for sixth in the league last year, and had a +/- of 5.2, ranking fifth in the NBA. If they can improve on what they get out of Melo, either by flipping him for someone cheaper and more efficient or getting him settled into a bench role, they could be good.
The wooden spoon: Houston Rockets
Traditionally presented to the worst performing team, this year’s Free Agency wooden spoon has to go to Houston.
Have you ever eaten at a particularly good restaurant that employed a new head chef? You try it out for a while but it’s not as good, and then the place gives you food poisoning, and there’s a rumour that says the chef uses bodies from the morgue in his burgers. You’d stop going, you know?
UNFINISHED BUSINESS…RUN IT BACK ??? pic.twitter.com/KwWcsp6lx6
— Chris Paul (@CP3) July 1, 2018
The team signed Chris Paul to a maximum salary for four years after the point guard fell apart physically in the playoffs, causing Hoyston to possibly lose the NBA Finals. He will be fully recovered by the time the season starts and the team will be paying him roughly $40 million a year, even though he hasn’t played 82 games since 2014. You might have once loved Paul, but he started going downhill a few years ago and it might be time to starting looking for a new restaurant.
On top of this, Houston failed to re-sign Trevor Ariza, who was good enough to inspire a 2000-word Zach Lowe column on ESPN.com, and is on the brink of losing one of the best defensive centers in the NBA in Clint Capela. Without those two, we might see the Rockets win as many as 15 fewer games next season.
Featured photo – via Getty Images / USA TODAY Sports / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration
Huw grew up in Wales and was too much of a wimp to play rugby. He fell in love with the quiet brilliance of Tim Duncan and ended up a San Antonio Spurs fan. Huw is a Lead Writer for Double Clutch and also contributes to Sky Sports (NBA/WNBA) and Sporting News (FIBA).