N.B.A. Free Agency Frenzy: 5 Takeaways

N.B.A. Free Agency Frenzy: 5 Takeaways

The veteran forward Trevor Ariza was traded three times last week — from Portland to Houston to Detroit and ultimately to Oklahoma City. It was perhaps the best illustration that an expected transactional frenzy, after nine mostly dormant months for N.B.A. roster moves, had lived up to billing.

One player agent at the heart of the chaos described it to me as three months’ worth of business crammed into 10 days leading into next week’s scheduled start of training camps. From the many trades and free-agent signings that also had the N.B.A. draft wedged in between them, these are the five most important takeaways:

If Rob Pelinka finishes anywhere close to seventh in next season’s executive of the year balloting, as he did in 2019-20, it would represent peak pettiness from the voters (who, remember, are fellow executives rather than members of the media).

Pelinka’s Lakers are the early leaders in the race for best off-season honors. They:

  • Proactively traded for Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schröder in anticipation of Rajon Rondo’s exit;

  • Signed Wesley Matthews Jr. to replace Danny Green after Green was dealt for Schröder;

  • Unexpectedly signed Montrezl Harrell away from the Clippers to replace the Philadelphia-bound Dwight Howard;

  • And traded JaVale McGee to Cleveland to create the needed financial flexibility to sign Marc Gasol.

The Lakers also beat out their Staples Center co-tenants in a head-to-head showdown for Markieff Morris, preventing the Clippers from signing both Morris, who spent last season with the Lakers, and his twin brother, Marcus. Throw in a re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and it’s a lock that the Lakers, with a more dynamic supporting cast to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis, will start the new season as clear-cut title favorites for the first time in James’s time in Hollywood.

The Clippers, though, haven’t folded. They went into the off-season determined to make dramatic chemistry changes after a humbling second-round playoff exit to Denver. They upgraded from Harrell — who team officials quietly decided had to go — by luring Serge Ibaka away from Toronto. The additions of Ibaka and Luke Kennard (via trade with Detroit) are just the beginning; many rival teams also expect the Clippers to trade Lou Williams in their quest to create a fresh-start environment after they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets.

. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.)

Q: The media narrative of “giving up too much” in a trade is so much different when it’s not the Lakers. — @ikeonic_ from Twitter

Stein: The inference here is that the Bucks have been celebrated for swinging a trade for Jrue Holiday whereas the Lakers were roundly criticized for surrendering too much by sending an array of draft picks and young talent to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. I would submit that the truth is firmly in the proverbial middle.

The Lakers had to hear it constantly from naysayers — until they won the championship. The Bucks are probably in for the same sort of second-guessing until Giannis Antetokounmpo signs a contract extension. Milwaukee’s package for Holiday: Eric Bledsoe and George Hill combined with three future first-round picks and two pick swaps.

Maybe the Lakers were subjected to louder negativity, but that’s largely because A) they’re the Lakers and have the league’s highest profile, and B) Davis’s very public trade demand had essentially left the Lakers as the only team New Orleans could trade Davis to in July 2019. Davis’s narrow trade market, more than anything, is what made people question why the Pelicans’ haul was so big.

Now people around the league are wondering if the Bucks have gone too far, especially after a proposed sign-and-trade for Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic collapsed. That deal, before it fell apart, helped fuel a wave of Bucks optimism since it so closely followed the revelation of an agreement for the Holiday trade.

The truth is that the Bucks did give up too much for Holiday — unless it works. If that was the deal that persuades Antetokounmpo to commit his long-term future to Milwaukee, and so long as Holiday doesn’t bolt when he enters 2021 free agency, this all-in approach will be redeemed no matter how lopsided it may look today.

Q: We know Tim Duncan made his living on bank shots (and all-time great defense), but do we know how many points he actually scored with bank shots? Also: Is he the bank-shot leader or is there someone else more prolific in scoring off the glass? — PK (Gdansk, Poland)

Stein: As noted in this April piece on Duncan after his selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2020, bank-shot data has only been tracked in the N.B.A. since the 2003-4 season. So a comprehensive answer to your question, sadly, is practically impossible.

What I can tell you, thanks to some typically priceless research from my former ESPN teammate @MicahAdams13 is that Duncan converted 945 bank shots (good for 1,890 points) over the final 13 seasons of his career, shooting 59.1 percent on bankers over that span.

Q: You forgot Lawrence Frank! — Michael Oruch

Stein: Michael’s email arrived in response to the item in last week’s newsletter about the three former Nets head coaches who now hold jobs as assistant coaches in Los Angeles: Kenny Atkinson with the Clippers and Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins with the Lakers.

We didn’t “forget” Lawrence Frank because Frank is not an assistant coach. Perhaps he should have been mentioned because of his Nets ties, too, but Frank is the Clippers’ president of basketball operations after moving out of the coaching ranks.

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Credit…Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Golden State’s Klay Thompson last week became the fourth player who was selected to the 2018 All-Star Game to tear his Achilles’ tendon. The others in an unfortunate run of star players succumbing to the league’s most dreaded injury: DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Kevin Durant.

Marcus Morris of the Los Angeles Clippers landed a four-year contract worth $64 million in free agency — more than $60 million higher than his twin brother, Markieff, came away with by settling for a one-year veteran minimum deal to stay with the Lakers. Early in their careers, in 2014, when Markieff Morris was the more established N.B.A. player, they signed deals with the Phoenix Suns worth a combined $52 million that the brothers were told they could split however they wanted. Markieff Morris took $32 million over four years, with Marcus receiving $20 million over the same span.

Last week’s draft was the 11th in a row in which a college freshman was selected No. 1 over all: Georgia’s Anthony Edwards by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The last non-freshman to be drafted with the No. 1 pick was the Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin in 2009.

Obi Toppin, the Knicks’ draft selection at No. 8, led the nation with 107 dunks last season at Dayton.

Last week’s draft was also the N.B.A.’s first in 45 years, dating to the 1975 draft, that was not held in June.


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