Good afternoon, folks! The last 24 hours have been the best of my life. Let’s talk NBA free agency.
NBA free agency kicked off on Sunday at 6 pm EST for the first time ever to allow for more social media inclusion and holy hell did things get a little crazy. It wasn’t even 5 pm before my phone began to vibrate with the force of a volcanic eruption.
In less than a day, the entire landscape of the NBA has changed forever. With over 200 free agents available at the start, roughly 60 (by my count, it’s 61 as of 2:55 pm) have already been signed for over $3 billion. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are in New York, but not with the Knicks. Jimmy Butler is somehow going to force his way to Miami. Al Horford’s “mystery” team was the Philadelphia 76ers, who also added Josh Richardson in the deal to send away Butler and now boast the longest lineup in the NBA. Kemba Walker is in Boston. D’Angelo Russell is about to be on the GD Warriors. What is happening? Kawhi Leonard, arguably the most sought-after free agent, hasn’t even made his decision yet!
And that’s not even including the weirdness in Oklahoma City with Nerlens Noel or the $63 million deal that Julius Randle pulled from the Knicks. Starting with Randle, let’s break down what this move means for both player and team.
Julius Randle – New York Knicks (3-years, $63 million – team option in third year)
Before we get into anything, we need to make it clear that James Dolan – the New York Knicks owner – does not (and has not) know what the hell he is doing. It’s been evident ever since the Carmelo Anthony debacle and the subsequent signing of an injured Amar’e Stoudemire. But this is something else. After failing to land both Irving and Durant, the Knicks released the following. This is straight from the President of the organization.
Statement from Knicks president Steve Mills: pic.twitter.com/2GnBHHmvT6
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 1, 2019
This was after the team signed Randle. So even though our former Cat is rolling in cash for at least two more seasons, the front office basically said: “we’re sorry we had to resort to adding Randle and whoever else we rope along”. Then the team went out and added middling players on random, two-year contracts such as sharpshooters Reggie Bullock (2-year, $21 million) and Wayne Ellington (2-year, $16 million), veteran Taj Gibson (2-year, $20 million), Eflrid Payton (2-year, $16 million) and crazy-eyed Bobby Portis (2-year, $31 million and honestly my favorite deal they’ve made so far). They did this with $70 million in cap space and without taking on a bad contract or two in an attempt to add future draft picks. They’re keeping flexibility open for the summer of 2021 for guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo or Bradley Beal. But let’s call this what it is. Another significant failure from one of the largest markets in the NBA.
Pairing Randle next to Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett (along with the names just mentioned, who are all at least average-level players besides maybe Payton) won’t make for the 17-win shit festival we saw last season. They should easily be able to push 30 wins (what a sad sentence that is). But no All-Star in the mix means this offseason was another failure on an infinitely long list filled with ignorance for James Dolan. Randle will thrive in New York, if only because he has a relentless work ethic. But the team will not. I genuinely feel bad for Knicks fans. It’s like being a Detroit Lions fans, but they don’t go into every offseason thinking they’ll sign Tom Brady only to end up with Blake Bortles and his book club.
If you see a Knicks fan talking themselves into the idea of Bobby Portis as the future, give them a big ole hug and tell them to give up hope. The sooner you abandon a team that does not care about you, the easier the healing process becomes.
Nerlens Noel – Oklahoma City Thunder? But actually maybe not?
So this one is weird. It was initially reported by Adrian Wojnarowski that Noel had agreed to a deal to return to OKC, but no details about the deal were released. Some time went by, and Noel sent out a cryptic Instagram story with just two question marks (??) in front of a black background and no more information. About an hour or so after that, Woj backtracked the story and said Noel had asked the Thunder to re-evaluate. The two teams are still apparently discussing a deal. I’m not sure if something was miscommunicated (considering Woj is literally the source for all NBA news) or what happened, but Noel doesn’t seem to think a deal is done.
Shortly after that news settled down, the Thunder announced the addition of Mike Muscala, a 6-foot-11 center who can stretch the floor better than Noel but is not nearly the caliber of defender. Did Muscala end up as the backup plan in case the Noel deal fell through as it did? The two could still very easily complement each other well off the bench, especially if the Thunder do decide to move Steven Adams (something that has been churning in the rumor mill lately). But the whole situation smells fishy. Something within the negotiations obviously went south, so now we just have to wait and see if they can return to that point. After some of the deals that were handed out on Sunday to other big men ($10 million per season from the Nets to DeAndre Jordan, who is objectively worse than Brooklyn’s current starting center Jarrett Allen, $8 million per season from the Wizards to Thomas Bryant, $5 million per season from the Jazz to Ed Davis, $11 million per season from the Mavericks to Dwight Powell), maybe he wasn’t satisfied with what the Thunder were offering. My guess is he wouldn’t earn more than $5-6 million per season, but now cap space is quickly drying up.
Enes Kanter – Boston Celtics (two-years, $10 million- player option in second year)
The Boston Celtics now have their Al Horford replacement. Well, kind of. Enes Kanter earned himself this deal due to his solid performance with the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this year. $5 million per year is a downgrade from the four-year, $70 million deal he signed with Oklahoma City back in 2015, but the player option in his second season is key. Similar to what Noel did last summer (signing a cheap*er*, two-year deal with an option to become a free agent after the first season), Kanter has checked off the three most important items from that list; the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs, future flexibility, and legit playing time.
And Kanter is better than Noel in the sense of what they bring to the court, especially with this roster. Kanter’s scoring inside the paint is above average and his rebounding on the offensive glass is top-tier. With no Aron Baynes either (traded to the Phoenix Suns), Kanter will come in as the Celtics best option at center to start the season. Ideally, the Celtics will look to add another player that can defend the rim to work alongside Kanter. If not, it might be time to throw third-year center, Daniel Theis, some more minutes.
This is a great deal for both sides. The Celtics get a center they can work with and Kanter will have a chance to prove he’s worth a bigger contract next summer. Win, win.
Other signings of interest
The deal that I wanted to talk about most was the Phoenix Suns signing point guard Ricky Rubio to a three-year, $51 million deal – about $17 million per season. And just like that, Devin Booker FINALLY has the point guard that he has so desperately needed. And he got one that should slot perfectly next to him. Rubio is a pass-first lead guard who limits turnovers and plays excellent defense. Those attributes alone make him a great fit next to Booker, who isn’t all that great on defense and works better playing off the ball. Rubio isn’t a reliable shot-maker though, and he goes through serious fits of hot and cold streaks. Sliding him next to Booker allows him to play similarly to how he did with Donovan Mitchell in Utah. The price point might be a bit about Rubio’s actual value, but the Suns have plenty of value in young contracts, so adding in Rubio is the right move.
I also have to talk about D’Angelo Russell being sign-and-traded to the Golden State Warriors, which also ships Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies in order to make the money work. As we know, Klay Thompson’s ACL injury should hold him out for the majority, if not the entirety, of the 2019-20 season. Adding in Russell, while not a perfect fit by any means next to Steph Curry, allows the Warriors to at least maintain some roster power and not lose Durant for nothing.
Russell had a surprise year in 2019 and some are skeptical about him being able to repeat, but if he were to do so, I think this is the perfect situation. Steve Kerr has shown a willingness to get the most out of all of his players, no matter if they’re the star or the 12th man. Working off Curry’s gravity will open up space for Russell when they share the court and then he can go into isolation mode when Curry sits. Not to mention Draymond Green, one of the best playmaking bigs in NBA history, will still be roaming the court. And even if the Warriors do decide to flip Russell and trade him elsewhere (as some rumors have suggested), then they recouped an asset(s) despite losing Durant. I personally love the fit with Russell and Curry in Oakland and think it could benefit both sides well. The Warriors are aging, Russell is knocking on the door of superstardom, but with still a long hallway to go down. The Warriors could get him there if they decide to let him stick around.
Still no news just yet on Willie Cauley-Stein, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, and others. But it shouldn’t be much longer. Once Leonard makes his commitment, the rest of the dominoes will follow.