The 10 Biggest Winners and Losers of 2019 NBA Free Agency (#6-10)
The 2019 NBA Free Agency has probably been the craziest offseason in history. We heard all season long that teams were scrambling to free up cap space in hopes of competing for free agent signatures. In fact, a staggering 40% of the league was available heading into this summer. More importantly, the decisions of marquee free agents would reshape the league for the years to come. From offering super-max contracts to lifetime supplies of products, teams and fans alike did all they could to attract big-name players. The sleepless nights waiting for the next “Woj bomb” have finally paid off. After all the trades and signings, the league has more parity with the 2020 NBA title there for the taking. Check out our grades for the biggest winners and losers of 2019 NBA Free Agency!
The following list consists of teams that have made significant moves in the NBA offseason. These teams are ranked based on the least to most relevant free agency moves.
Loser: Charlotte Hornets
Michael Jordan is largely recognized as the GOAT in basketball. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his decision-making off the court. The Charlotte Hornets have only managed to make the playoffs twice in the last 8 years under Michael Jordan’s ownership. This is largely due to overpaying underwhelming players like Bismack Biyombo at 4 years / $72 million and Nicolas Batum at 5 years / $120 million. This year the Hornets will fall deeper into irrelevancy as they failed to retain Kemba Walker, an All-NBA Third Team franchise player. It’s no secret that small market teams struggle attracting marquee free agents. Yet, the Hornets refused to give Kemba a max contract, solidifying their place in the lottery for the years to come. The silver lining is the acquisition of Terry Rozier, a dynamic guard who showed flashes of brilliance in the 2018 playoffs. The young core of Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and Malik Monk will have to continue to develop as the franchise’s most valuable assets. But for now, the Hornets will struggle to sell tickets for the foreseeable future from all of the dysfunction that plagues them.
Offseason Grade: D
Tweener: Houston Rockets
Tweener is the most accurate term to describe this iteration of the Houston Rockets. They lost in heartbreaking fashion in the 2018 playoffs due to a Chris Paul injury and fell short of expectations in the 2019 playoffs even with Durant and Klay sidelined at various points in the series. With frustration mounting, Harden and CP3 finally had enough of each other, which led to the polarizing trade of CP3 for Westbrook. While Harden and Westbrook are elite in most aspects of their game — with exception to defense, turnovers, and efficiency — the all-stars both logged top 10 usage rates in the NBA last season. In a Mike D’Antoni point guard-centric system, it’s hard to imagine Harden and Westbrook finding a sustainable play style together. D’Antoni will have to work his offensive magic and adjust his system for the Rockets’ road to glory. What the Rockets do have working for them is their continuity of vital role players including a dynamic scorer in Gordon, a rim-protecting lob threat in Capela, and a world-class defender in Tucker. Daryl Morey, one of the best general managers in the NBA, will have to add quality depth throughout the season for the Rockets to break their streak of falling short. The Rockets are currently a tweener that could turn out really good to come out of the West, or really bad with Westbrook’s bad contract and poor fit with Harden.
Offseason Grade: B
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
General Manager Elton Brand went all in by trading for both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in 2018, gutting the bench in the process. The duo joined the starting lineup with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and JJ Redick in what was considered the best starting 5 in the NBA. Unfortunately, the 76ers would go on to lose in 7 games versus the eventual champions in the Toronto Raptors. Their elimination was the result of Embiid’s health issues, Simmons’ inability to shoot, Redick’s poor defense, and an abysmal bench. Brand rolled the dice once more to move on from Butler and Redick, re-sign Harris, and acquire Josh Richardson and Al Horford. The 76ers lose a knockdown shooter in Redick and a gritty closer in Butler. Harris will need to step up in the clutch to help close out games while Richardson adds a dynamic shooting guard and tenacious defender. But the blockbuster addition was Al Horford to alleviate pressure from Embiid, defend at a high level, and space the floor. Horford’s leadership and consistency will also help the younger stars to settle down and mature. The clock is ticking for the Sixers in what could be a make or break season for this roster. If all doesn’t go according to plan, Brand may be forced to choose between Simmons and Embiid as the star to build their franchise around. Simmons is an athletic, oversized playmaker at 22 years old who can defend multiple positions and create mismatches. Unfortunately, Simmons is occasionally a liability on offense, especially at the end of games, due to his inability to shoot. Embiid is a 7 foot, 250 pound monster with elite scoring and defense, great mobility at his size, and potential all-time talent. However, Embiid has been quite injury prone due to his body struggling to support his weight. For now, the 76ers have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. Brand’s genius moves built a win-now roster that could help the 76ers reach new heights as the current favorites to win the east.
Offseason Grade: A-
Loser: Boston Celtics
The basketball world believed that the Boston Celtics built a stacked team that would contend for titles for the years to come. The Celtics had stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, seasoned vets in Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and promising young talent in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier. This deep team was coached by Brad Stevens, one of the best young coaches in the NBA. Despite their formidable lineup and stellar management, the Celtics lacked chemistry and were distracted all season by internal drama. These issues held them to the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, where they would lose in 5 games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs, drastically falling short of expectations. Kyrie and Horford would go on to sign with the Nets and Sixers respectively, resulting in the Celtics’ acquisitions of Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter as replacements. Kemba is expected to fit better with the Celtics than Kyrie did due to superior off-ball play and more professional attitude. The loss of Horford’s defense and leadership is a huge blow to Boston as teams will exploit the poor pick and roll defense of Kemba and Kanter. For the time being, Ainge will continue to build around Tatum and Brown as they’ll be featured in larger roles this upcoming season. Similar to former MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas, Kemba could thrive in Stevens’ ball movement offense as an undersized guard with great scoring ability off the ball. Hayward is also expected to increase his production this season in what will be 2 years from his gruesome leg injury. While he’s questionable as a starting caliber center with defensive limitations, Kanter will be productive for Boston as a double-double machine. Ultimately, the Celtics are in rebuild mode and are projected to finish in the middle of the playoff pack in the East.
Offseason Grade: B-
Winner: Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz, led by rookie Donovan Mitchell, were a pleasant surprise in the ’17-’18 season as they defeated the OKC Thunder in 6 games. The expectation around the league was that Utah would take a jump heading into last season. Instead, the Jazz stagnated and were eliminated in the first round in a gentleman’s sweep versus the Houston Rockets. Nevertheless, the Jazz made themselves an attractive destination, securing the talents of Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, and Ed Davis. Conley joins the Jazz’s core to alleviate playmaking pressure for Mitchell and create offense for DPOY Rudy Gobert. Bogdanovic will be a dynamic scoring addition as a seamless fit with his elite perimeter shooting. This will allow Joe Ingles to lead the second unit to provide consistent scoring and playmaking, so the Jazz don’t miss a beat. Jeff Green will also serve as an athletic wing while Davis locks down the paint in the second unit. The Jazz were well respected for their hard-nosed defense in previous years but struggled to find consistent offense. The Jazz now have one of the most balanced rosters in the league with consistent offense from Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, and Ingles and lockdown defense from Gobert, Conley, and Davis. This balanced roster will be coached by Quinn Snyder, one of the best coaches in the league as a defensive specialist. With more scoring options and quality depth, the Utah Jazz are a more balanced team for Western Conference champion contention.