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The Ripple Effects of NBA Free Agency's Early Moves

The market's top two point guards, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, are already (ostensibly) off the board. Where does that leave the rest of the free agent market?

Even before the official start of the NBA’s free agency period, deals were being consummated in a hilarious disregard of the league’s anti-tampering rules. Kyrie Irving is reportedly headed to Brooklyn. Kemba Walker is reportedly on his way to the Celtics. Nikola Mirotic is straight up leaving the NBA (for a more lucrative contract in Spain.) All these moves will have an effect on subsequent signings, so let’s discuss some of the ripple effects of the early decisions…

• Boston using most of its cap space on Walker means it will have to turn its attention to filling the hole in the frontcourt created by Al Horford. Robin Lopez makes a lot of sense for the Celtics, who will almost certainly have to use their mid-level exception to address the center position, where both Horford and Aron Baynes won’t be back next year. Dewyane Dedmon could be a nice fit, but he’s been rumored to be a target of the Kings. Replacing Horford is going to be a tough task, and Boston won’t have a ton of options in the mid-tier center market. One thing to keep an eye on—what if a team with cap space doesn’t go after Boogie Cousins? Is there any chance he would take another one-year deal at the mid-level? Signing Walker is a nice rebound from Kyrie for Boston, but figuring out the frontcourt rotation post-Horford will be just as crucial. 

• Speaking of Kemba, the Celtics, and Kyrie, Irving’s rumored dalliance with Brooklyn opens a lot of doors elsewhere. Terry Rozier has been renounced by Boston and he becomes an intriguing free-agent point guard. Will he get a big offer from the Suns? Would the Mavericks be interested in Scary Terry as a third banana? D’Angelo Russell also now hits the open market, and he will have several suitors. Would the Lakers really use most of their cap room to bring back D-Lo? Can Minnesota really work out a sign-and-trade? Irving and Walker have basically set off a game of point guard musical chairs. Rozier could stand to benefit from a big deal, because after Russell in particular, he’s arguably the next best offensive-minded point in free agency. (Feels right to mention here that I haven’t forgotten Ricky Rubio, who is reportedly headed to the Pacers.)

• Another potential consequence of Irving being off the market is how the Lakers will decide to approach free agency. L.A. is clearly star hunting, which means Rob Pelinka doesn’t listen to my blogs. With one less star on the market, the Lakers could basically be Kawhi or bust, though bust in this instance means filling out the roster with a cadre of capable veterans. Basically, Irving—a Lakers target—signing with the Nets could be a blessing in disguise for Pelinka. I still believe L.A. should be looking to add as many solid pieces as possible around AD and LeBron as opposed to one star. The earlier the Lakers enter the role player market—and now this will depend on Kawhi’s decision process—the better. Because those guys are going to get paid, and some may get paid quickly. L.A. can’t afford to wait for a star who ultimately says no and then also miss out on not only creating an NBA-level rotation, but signing guys who could maybe even be part of an important trade package in the future. (You need non-max and non-minimum contracts to make trades!) 

• Mirotic heading back to Europe is a sneaky big-deal. There aren’t a ton of 3-and-D guys with his size on the market this summer. His departure could ramp up the market for Bojan Bogdanovic and Marcus Morris, guys who can shoot and play the four spot against smaller lineups. Bogdanovic is already a rumored target of the Jazz, while Morris figures to have a few suitors once the free agency period opens. If those guys get big money, it becomes harder for the contenders to fill out their roster with 3-and-D types. For example, both of those players would be sensible fits on the Lakers, Nets, or Clippers, but those teams may get priced out as they try to figure out different superstar combinations. The Bogdanovic-Morris market affects those below and above them. Maybe Tobias Harris is now a shoo-in for the max if Morris is getting paid big bucks. And maybe a team is forced to overpay for someone like Trevor Ariza or JaMychal Green to fill in their own shooting gap. The bottom line is nearly every signing has a consequence for multiple teams, either in who they target or how much they have to pay who’s left. That’s only one aspect of the chaos to come.