Join us as we react to signings in real time.
NBA free agency technically began on June 30 at 6:01 p.m. ET, though it was already well underway thanks to the
tampering discussions that have been taking place all season.
What was always supposed to be a monumental moment in league history became even more complex with the recent Achilles injury to Kevin Durant, the headliner of this class. Now, Durant will head to the Brooklyn Nets, along with Kyrie Irving.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Butler is heading to Miami, with the 76ers replacing him by signing Al Horford.
We’ll be reacting to the most important and interesting free-agent moves as they happen in this running Winners and Losers column.
Last update: June 30, 7:21 p.m. ET
WINNER: The Brooklyn effin Nets
Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. They did it. Regardless of what happens now, what an incredible accomplishment for Brooklyn.
WINNER: The Nets’ long rebuild
Think back to the disastrous 2013 trade in which Brooklyn handed the Celtics their future for aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Could you have imagined that, six years later, TWO top-15 superstars in their prime would voluntarily choose Brooklyn, one of which came from the Celtics?
Now comes the hard part: making it all pay off on the court.
LOSER: New York Knicks
In one sense, this doesn’t have to be a disaster for the Knicks. Take your lumps, build slowly, and let this thing play out. It’s what fans have wanted for years.
But then again, it kind of is a disaster. The Knicks traded away their most promising young player in years to create enough room for two max contracts, then hinted many times publicly that their grand plans would result in success. Instead, they’re watching their crosstown rivals get the dual prize that seemed destined to head their way.
BIG LOSER: New York Knicks
If this is indeed true, scratch everything I just wrote above.
The Knicks and owner Jim Dolan were not prepared to offer Kevin Durant a full max contract due to concerns over his recovery from the Achilles injury, league sources tell me and @wojespn. Knicks officials are in Los Angeles tonight, meeting with free agents such as Julius Randle.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 30, 2019
BIGGEST LOSER: Steve Mills
Poor guy had to put his name on this.
The Knicks have released a statement from team president Steve Mills in the wake of missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving: pic.twitter.com/z4yKVILSqi
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) July 1, 2019
WINNER: DeAndre Jordan
Technically part of Brooklyn’s new Big 3!
Brooklyn is making a clean sweep tonight: Brooklyn will sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
LOSER: Golden State Warriors
Even if we kind of knew Durant was a goner, it has to sting knowing the circumstances that led to his departure. It’d be one thing if Durant led the Warriors to another title and then decided he wanted a new challenge. It’s another for him to rush back from one injury, only to suffer the worst ailment a hooper can get, thanks in part to medical guidance that may or may not have endangered him unnecessarily.
The end result is the worst of all worlds. Not only do the Warriors lose Durant, but they do so having demonstrated they actually need him to win titles.
LOSER: The Boardroom
Hope they enjoyed the free publicity.
Source: Kevin Durant will announce his free agent decision tonight on his company owned sports business network: https://t.co/ovJCDTOEMz
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
Kevin Durant is planning to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
WINNER: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler, for whatever reason, wanted to go to the Miami Heat. He probably wanted to go to the Miami Heat back in November, when he was trying to leave Minnesota. He didn’t get there then, because the Heat didn’t have many trade assets and were protective of Josh Richardson, the one they did have. The book appeared to be closed.
Turns out, it wasn’t. Butler orchestrated a complex sign-and-trade arrangement to get to South Beach, convincing the Heat to give up Richardson and signing a four-year maximum contract in the end. Getting Miami and Philadelphia to play ball on a sign-and-trade is a heck of an accomplishment given the salary-cap difficulties that entailed.
It’s hard to see how the Heat can be a real factor in the East with Butler and a bunch of spare parts, but at least Butler got to the place he wanted.
LOSER: Houston Rockets
The Rockets aimed at another star player this summer, reportedly trying to lure Butler back to his hometown. It didn’t work out either because the Sixers didn’t want what Houston was offering up in the necessary sign and trade, or because Butler wanted to go to the Miami Heat regardless. Butler ended up in South Beach, and the Rockets aren’t left with many other good options on the market as talent gets snapped up.
With the Warriors wounded up and the Lakers still working to build a rotation around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Rockets had a shot to take the Western mantle and fell short. Now what?
WINNER: David Griffin
When David Griffin took over as President of Basketball Operations with the Pelicans, he had the remnants of a disjointed, disappointing roster and an unhappy superstar in Anthony Davis. After dealing AD to the Lakers for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart, drafting Zion Williamson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and finding a taker for Solomon Hill’s bad deal, Griff could have called this offseason a smashing success.
He took it one step further by signing J.J. Redick to a smart two-year deal and adding European import Nicolo Melli. The Pels now have shooting and a bit of veteran moxie to provide Zion with a comfortable learning environment. Not bad.
WINNER: Phoenix Suns and Ricky Rubio
The Phoenix Suns were mocked at the NBA draft for making several on-brand decisions in the absolute worst possible ways, but they bounced back by kicking off free agency with a three-year, $51 million offer to Ricky Rubio.
The move fills a long-time devastating hole on Phoenix’s roster with a pass-first point guard who will help everyone else fall into their natural place. That applies more to Devin Booker — who will run more action off the ball — than anyone else.
It’s unclear how much of Igor Kokoskov’s offensive system will be scrapped now that Monty Williams is Phoenix’s head coach, but much of it came from Rubio’s former team, the Utah Jazz, where Kokoskov spent three years teaching Quin Snyder’s dribble hand-off, side-to-side, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach. The fit is splendid from that perspective.
For the sake of Deandre Ayton’s development, few attainable ball-handlers make more sense than Rubio, who can help turn last year’s No. 1 pick into a destructive roll man. Neither Phoenix nor Rubio will have to worry about his flawed shooting in the playoffs, either, because Phoenix isn’t getting there anytime soon.
For now, putting young talent in roles where they can learn and thrive should be a priority. Rubio seamlessly helps that happen, and, for his trouble, he’ll somehow make more money next season than he did in 2018-19. It’s a win-win all the way around.
WINNER: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers made the steal of the NBA Draft night when they traded cash considerations to the Suns for T.J. Warren. Then, they pulled a huge curveball on Day 1 of free agency, trading a first-round pick and two second-round picks for Malcolm Brogdon, a sharp defender and 50/40/90 shooter.
With Indy losing Bojan Bogdanovic to a four-year, $73 million deal to Utah, this was an elite backup plan. Brogdon is one of the league’s most underrated guards who’ll compliment Oladipo well when he returns from injury. Brogdon doesn’t need to take possessions away from Oladipo to be successful.
WINNER: Utah Jazz
This is what it looks like for a small-market team to get serious. No longer are the Jazz content with being a nice regular-season team without enough offense to get it done when the going gets tough.
Now, they have a clutch floor general in Mike Conley, and one of the league’s best spot-up shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic on a four-year, $73 million contract. A starting lineup of Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert provides a ton of shooting and playmaking, with the Defensive Player of the Year back there to clean up any messes. Look for Mitchell to have a huge third season now that he actually has some real shooting on the floor.
The Jazz are gonna be a damn problem.
LOSER: Orlando Magic
The Magic were clearly caught in the high of their first playoff appearance in six seasons, opting to sign and re-sign contributors rather than take the long rebuilding route. Orlando kept Nikola Vucevic, the team’s All-Star, for four years and $100 million, Terrence Ross for four years and $54 million and signed free agent Al-Farouq Aminu for three years and $29 million.
Though keeping Vucevic on a value deal was a strong move, signing two in-their-prime role players for a steep price is a questionable choice. Orlando is years away from truly competing with Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and (hopefully) Markelle Fultz. Those guys will only take minutes and spotlight from the franchise’s future.
— Matt Ellentuck
WINNER: Khris Middleton
When Middleton was last a free agent, he took far less than his market value at five years and $70 million. Nothing to sneeze at, of course, but he could have looked for a larger offer sheet or tried to get a shorter-term deal to hit free agency again sooner. That below-market contract helped Milwaukee build the 60-win juggernaut it built last season.
This time, Middleton secured the absolute best contract he could: five years, $178 million, with a player option. He had the Bucks over a barrel due to his low cap hold and their lack of cap space to replace him, and he used that leverage to secure the bag. Given the way he gave them a break last time, this was well deserved payback.
WINNER: Brook Lopez
Lopez took a chance on the Bucks last year, signing a one-year, $3.3 million contract that could have been seen as an insult given his All-Star pedigree. Instead, he happily played the perfect role for a great team, rebuilt his value, and locked in a four-year, $52 million deal that’ll earn him security through his age-35 season.
WINNER: Kemba Walker
Walker won’t be getting the supermax, but for the first time in his eight-year career, he’ll have a chance to compete in the playoffs after committing to a four-year maximum contract with Boston. With the Celtics, Kemba can take control over an offense that doesn’t live and die solely on his efforts. It’s as good of a landing spot as he could’ve hoped for after Charlotte declined to pay him his worth.
LOSER: Charlotte Hornets
Declining to give a supermax or even a regular five-year maximum contract to a 29-year-old small guard coming off a career year is defensible in a vacuum, especially for a non-contender. That’s not why the Hornets are losers for letting Kemba Walker go to Boston.
The issue is the lack of foresight the Hornets showed throughout this process. If they weren’t going to offer Walker everything he wanted, why didn’t they get in front of the situation and trade Walker before losing him for nothing?
They had to know their team was going nowhere. They had to know Walker could potentially make himself eligible for the supermax and put them in this pickle. They had to know he’d want a normal max contract regardless, and that multiple teams would have four-year offers ready for him should he hit the open market. Did the Hornets care more about a doomed playoff push and/or having one of their own in the All-Star Game they hosted? That’d be foolish if so.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 30, 2019
WINNER: Klay Thompson
Despite tearing his ACL at the worst time possible, Klay’s money is secured with the team he always wanted. Thompson’s going to sign a five-year, $190 million max contract with the Golden State Warriors, despite missing most of next season to rehab the injury. Sometimes, loyalty pays.
LOSER: Tampering purists
So much for NBA teams respecting the sanctity of the moratorium. By the time the official free-agent negotiating period opened, two of the top five free agents (Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving) were on their way to new teams, multiple Al Horford mystery suitors were floated and debunked, and D’Angelo Russell was zeroing in on a Timberwolves team that didn’t even have cap space to sign him.
Theoretically, that sort of maneuvering shouldn’t start until after 6:01 p.m. on June 30. In reality, it’s always started earlier, and the only difference now is that nobody cares to pretend otherwise.
This could all be avoided if the NBA moved free agency to immediately after the draft and ended the league year after the Finals, rather than on June 30. Then again, given the interest free-agent rumors generate, perhaps this is a problem that doesn’t need to be solved.