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NBA Free Agency Roundtable: Best Signings and Worst Moves

The Crossover staff breaks down the most notable deals and surprising contracts.
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Day one of NBA free agency began with fireworks with Lonzo Ball joining the Bulls, Kyle Lowry signing with the Heat and the Suns re-signing Chris Paul to a four-year deal.

There are a lot of notable names still available on the market such as DeMar DeRozan, Dennis Schröder, Victor Oladipo and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Crossover staff breaks down the best moves, worst moves and a sneaky signing that might have gone unnoticed.

What was your favorite move so far?

Michael Pina: Kyle Lowry to the Heat

In tandem with every other move the Heat made on Day 1—most notably signing PJ Tucker, not losing Tyler Herro, re-signing Duncan Robinson and extending Jimmy Butler—this right here is a home run for an organization that’s desperate to win at the highest level. Even if Lowry takes a slight age-related step back, his defensive intelligence, selfless approach and outside shot will be perfect beside Butler and Bam Adebayo. This is a bona fide contender, with more trade chips on deck should they want to make another win-now move.

Chris Herring: Lonzo Ball to the Bulls

Chicago has a lack of defense and two All-Star level scorers, who require the ball a lot. The Bulls had no true point guard to fill those holes, with Coby White showing inconsistency as a young player and Tomas Satoransky being too passive as a scorer. Ball certainly isn’t Russell Westbrook when it comes to looking for his own shot. But he upgrades the position in nearly every regard, is an improved shooter and will get the Bulls to their spots from a scoring standpoint. Was surprised to see him go for just $21 million a year when so many other teams—the Knicks in particular—needed point guards.

Ben Pickman: Jeff Green signs with the Nuggets

It’s not the splashiest move, but it’s the kind of move that could pay major dividends in next year’s postseason. So much about the Nuggets 2021–22 campaign will depend on Jamal Murray’s status when he returns, but adding a player like Green on a two-year, $10 million deal is indicative of management seemingly thinking they will be in the title chase again next year. Green is a versatile defender capable of playing multiple positions. He’ll knock down three-pointers and spell Nikola Jokić minutes too, when needed. He further solidifies Denver’s bench and will likely prove to be a really valuable bench piece next spring.

Michael Shapiro: The Jazz retaining Mike Conley

This wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but Utah made a major step toward the Western Conference crown in retaining Mike Conley. The veteran point guard was an effective backcourt complement to Donovan Mitchell in 2020-21 after a shaky first season in Utah, and bench units featuring Conley and Jordan Clarkson outscored teams by 15 points per 100 possession last year. Conley's three-year, $72 million deal is likely to age better than Chris Paul's contract, and another All-Star season is firmly in play.

Good on the Jazz for dipping into the luxury tax in order to keep their core intact. With a healthy Conley, we could very well see Utah in the Finals next summer.

Robin Lundberg: Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker to the Heat

I don't know whether these will wind up the best moves but they are definitely the most interesting. And while I still have Miami a level below the likes of Brooklyn and Milwaukee, they will absolutely be one of the toughest teams in the league.

What was your least favorite move?

Pina: Devonte’ Graham to the Pelicans

This isn’t anything against Graham, whose three-point shooting, especially off the bounce, will be welcome on a team that sorely needs to spread the floor. But for this to be the Pelicans’ big acquisition on Day 1, after losing Lonzo Ball in a separate sign-and-trade, and after they cleared a bunch of cap space by using a first-round pick to shed Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams’s salary, is a humongous disappointment. The Pelicans couldn’t have just signed Dennis Schröder or Spencer Dinwiddie, or even given that same protected first they slid to Charlotte for Graham to the Thunder for Kemba Walker? It’s early in free agency and more moves are to come, but for a franchise that supposedly wants to win right now, New Orleans really isn’t acting like it.

Herring: The Knicks re-upping with Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel to the tune of three years each, for $43 million and $32 million, respectively

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Both were extremely valuable contributors to the Knicks this past season, essentially playing starters’ minutes on the No. 4 seed in the East. I wrote the other day that New York’s surprisingly good season wasn’t a fluke, in my opinion. At the same time, they looked as if they had a pretty clear ceiling in the playoffs. So I assumed the Knicks would use their league-high $54 million in cap space to remake aspects of the team. But by bringing back Rose, Noel and Alec Burks (three years, $30 million)—and adding Evan Fournier for four years and $78 million—the team largely decided to run it back with just one tweak. But the East should be stronger now, as Brooklyn and Boston get healthy, and Miami loads up. The Knicks got a ton of contract value out of their rotation last year. But that seems less likely to be the case this year.

Pickman: Evan Fournier to the Knicks

I guess it gives the Knicks another scoring option, considering Fournier averaged 19.7 points per game with the Magic last season and has averaged 17 or more points three other times throughout his career. But New York adding Fournier on a four-year, $78 million deal is an expensive upgrade that I don’t think really does anything to push the Knicks to truly being Eastern Conference contenders. Plenty of other teams, namely the Heat, continue to get significantly better in the East and I think New York continues to look more like a prime regression candidate next year.

Shapiro: The Knicks signing Evan Fournier

$78 million for Fournier harkens back to Knicks mismanagement of yesteryear, where major money was thrown at players who wouldn’t make an impact on the championship picture. Fourier is a nice enough piece, but is he really the player to vault New York into the next tier in the Eastern Conference? I don’t see it. 

Brooklyn and Milwaukee are relative juggernauts. Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami are all likely better teams in 2021-22. The Knicks now feel destined for mediocrity, which could get stale in a hurry despite last year's thrilling run to the postseason. Unless this contract is used in a future blockbuster, Knicks fans will likely be disappointed by the Fournier deal rather quickly.

Lundberg: The Lakers losing Alex Caruso

I liked the Kent Bazemore acquisition for L.A., but given how thin the roster is outside of the top guys, I do think letting Caruso (who is a very good defender and plays well off LeBron James) walk away will be a bit of a blow to the Lakeshow.

What is a sneaky move you liked?

Pina: Jeff Green to the Nuggets

Denver’s offseason is far from over, but this signing is a nice depth add at an important position for a team that should still see itself as a contender, despite Jamal Murray’s ongoing ACL rehab.

Herring: Bobby Portis staying put with Milwaukee

We all knew Portis loved soaking up all the love from Bucks fans this past season, especially in recent weeks. But the NBA champs couldn’t afford to pay him the most this offseason—not even close. So I figured there was at least a decent chance he’d land elsewhere. That he chose to stay with the Bucks will help their bench scoring immensely, even if he doesn’t shoot 47% from three again this year.

Pickman: Doug McDermott to the Spurs

McDermott joining the Spurs is not a move that will heavily impact the title hunt, but the former Creighton star provides the Spurs with a career 40.7% three-point shooter and a player who last season averaged career highs in points (13.6), field goal percent (53.2%) and shot attempts (10.1), all while starting more games (29) than he had his entire career up to that point. McDermott is a more-than-capable slasher and should provide the Spurs a boost on offense and be a really solid complimentary piece to the rest of the roster, no matter who ends up being on it or what it ends up looking like.

Shapiro: Suns re-signing Cam Payne

Payne sticking around for less than $7 million per year is great value for the Suns. Phoenix now has some affordable Chris Paul insurance as the veteran point guard enters his age-36 season with a fresh $120 million deal.

Lundberg: Otto Porter to the Warriors

Golden State will look to return to contending status next season upon Klay Thompson's return and Porter has proven to be another threat from deep. I'd bet playing in the Warriors system will maximize his value and they got him for cheap.

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