Breaking down the best and worst fits of NBA free agency so far.
Most seamless fit: Bruce Brown, Nuggets
We harped on Utah’s lack of perimeter defenders earlier, but Denver didn’t have many, either.
Hell, we watched 6'9" power forward Aaron Gordon try his best—and still fail—to slow down Stephen Curry during the playoffs, because the Nuggets had no one better who could realistically handle the task. Tough, tough scene.
From that standpoint, Brown, a stocky 6'4" utility man, can handle tougher wing assignments when needed. But beyond that, he’ll probably be a far better fit offensively than he is on defense, even.
Brown is a fantastic cutter, which means Nikola Jokić will probably get him the ball through telepathy several times this season. He has a career usage rate of about 15%, which should work perfectly with a group expecting to have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back alongside the two-time reigning MVP—a trio that will certainly launch its fair share of attempts.
He was obviously used to that role when serving as a safety valve for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last season, and at two years and just $13 million, it’s hard to imagine how the Nuggets could have spent that money any better. (They also landed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to help on defense, though it cost them impressive backup guard Monte Morris and swingman Will Barton.) The statement becomes even more true if he can replicate last year’s three-point shooting numbers, which marked a career best for him.
Least seamless fit: DeAndre Jordan, Nuggets
Speaking of how the Nuggets spent their money … why did they make a point to come to terms with DeAndre Jordan so damn quickly?
Like, we all watched Milwaukee get in trouble two years ago for seemingly having aspects of the Bogdan Bogdanović sign-and-trade worked out in advance of free agency beginning. We saw the Bulls and Heat get slapped on the wrist for tampering with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry, respectively. We all saw the potential for those accusations to get thrown around as it relates to Brunson, given how long the rumors concerning the Knicks’ offer had been floating around.
In that same vein: On June 30, at exactly 6 p.m. Eastern time—the very minute free agency began—newsbreaker Shams Charania tweeted: “Free agent center DeAndre Jordan has agreed to a deal with the Denver Nuggets, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.”
I don’t know whether I’m more confused by how Jordan was a first-possible-minute signing in the year 2022, or by the fact that they signed him at all, given that DeMarcus Cousins—the same Cousins who has positive history with Nuggets coach Michael Malone and performed well with Denver last season—could have been re-signed on the cheap. (Hell, he presumably still can be.) He strikes me as a far superior player to Jordan at this point.
It remains to be seen whether the almost 34-year-old Jordan would actually have a place in the rotation. But again: You generally aren’t signing guys to begin free agency that you have no intention of playing. Which is why it was such a strange step.
Biggest improvement: Celtics
Maybe this needs a bit of a qualifier, since I could imagine some might really like the Blazers’ or Sixers’ set of moves most. Yet among the heavyweights, it’d be challenging to argue that anyone’s taken a bigger step forward than the defending Eastern Conference champs have.
Adding a shooter like Danilo Gallinari, who canned almost 46% of his wide-open triples last season, was a win on its own. But coming off an NBA Finals in which they turned the ball over like there was no tomorrow, the Celtics seemed like they could benefit from one more good, solid ballhandler and playmaker.
Enter Malcolm Brogdon, someone who instantly addresses that shortcoming while also being a big, switchable defender (check), a decent outside shooter (check), a guy who can play just as well away from the ball as he can on it (check), and someone who’s a strong, even-keel presence who won’t get rattled by the stage (check).
I can’t help but think of Andre Iguodala joining the Warriors back in 2013–14 when I consider the potential impact Brogdon could have with Boston. His availability has been a bit of a question the past few years. But the team didn’t lose much depth in acquiring him, and, if he’s healthy, he should register as a near-perfect pickup for the Celtics.
The team I’m most puzzled by: Bulls
At two years and $6.6 million, I’m a fan of Chicago—one of the worst offensive-rebounding teams last season—picking up Andre Drummond. And beyond that, getting Goran Dragić at the veteran minimum is an O.K. pickup, one that frustrated Mavs fans certainly would’ve liked for themselves in the wake of losing Brunson to New York.
Still, it felt to me like that Chicago’s biggest weakness last year, aside from durability and outside shooting from role players, was a lack of capable bodies they could throw onto the league’s best players, like Giannis, Durant and LeBron. There aren’t that many guys—usually 6'6" and up, with good discipline and enough brawn to avoid getting backed down—who can realistically do the job. The best defensive teams, like Boston, have an array of people who can step in, ranging from Jayson Tatum, Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown to someone like Grant Williams. Then you have a team like the Bulls, who, when healthy, have Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, a pair of frisky guards who play much bigger than their heights but also struggle to stay healthy. After them, there’s a dropoff: Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green and so on.
P.J. Tucker, who got $11 million a year from the Sixers because of the indispensable sort of defender he is come playoff time, is the type of player Chicago still needs but hasn’t landed any of this offseason. Even if there isn’t a vast array of those guys around, the Bulls—a big-market club that led the Eastern Conference for more than half of this past regular season—don’t get an excuse when it comes to why they haven’t been able to find one yet, given how glaring a problem it generally was for them. They were too promising for too long last season to have not gotten any closer on that front. That said, with their roster full of guards, it’s fair to wonder whether someone like 22-year-old Coby White—one of the team’s best shooters—might be the odd man out and utilized to bring in a bigger, more versatile body on defense.
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