Demos: Winners and losers from a wild NBA free agency

Khari Demos 

"Perfectly balanced, as all things should be." — Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Finally, balance in the NBA landscape has been restored. After five years of stranglehold, the Golden State Warriors fell to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals. What happened next was so unforeseen it was almost like a script out of a movie.

Board man got paid (and brought in a co-pilot). The #LakeShow got another co-star and a supporting cast. Jimmy Butler took his talents to South Beach. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving finally landed in New York (sorry to bring it up, Knicks fans). Philly and Milwaukee both made moves and the West got even deeper.

There's a lot to break down, but here are a few of my thoughts on the biggest winners, losers, sleepers and the most overrated and underrated moves of one of the most historic free agency periods in the Association's history:


Los Angeles Clippers

Kawhi did exactly what we expected — he pulled off a move so unprecedented that only someone as media shy as himself could get away with it. It's one thing for him to go to L.A. and join the Clippers (especially considering how widely reported it was that he wanted to return home to Southern California). But to bring in Paul George as well? That's highway robbery.

Bringing another So. Cal native in PG13 to L.A. was such an unexpected move because of the type of love he showed in playing with former MVP Russell Westbrook and the extension he signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason. To see him traded so quickly and for the record assets given up — five first-round draft picks, two pick swaps, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari and promising point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — is mind boggling. OKC is in flux now moving forward (which we'll discuss later).

I know most players are not worth this much in a trade but PG is every bit worth this move. The Clippers have a 1A and 1B scoring option each night and arguably the league's best defensive backcourt, and that's before mentioning pesky point guard Patrick Beverly.

Throw in three-time sixth man of the year Lou Williams, energetic big man Montrezl Harrell, young pieces galore, championship head coach Doc Rivers, executives Jerry West and Lawrence Frank, and the richest owner in sports in Steve Ballmer, and you have the makings of a new powerhouse.

Two So. Cal kids finally get their dream of playing in front of friends and family in Staples Center. Many thought, at one time or another, that they'd be playing with Staples' other inhabitant. Now it looks like there's a legit battle of L.A. going on.

Los Angeles Lakers

Not many teams can say they lost out on Kawhi Leonard and still had a great offseason. Despite striking out on the Board Man, the #LakeShow looks to be back in the fold with the additions of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels.

I think bringing back JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso will all be solid moves for the team, too, filling out the roster with a multitude of skill sets. It is also being reported that LeBron James will be running the team as a point guard next season, allowing last year's Rising Stars Challenge MVP Kyle Kuzma to start at the small forward position.

A LeBron-Green-Kuzma-AD-Boogie Cousins starting lineup should frighten teams, especially when you have a motivated LBJ more rested than he's been in years following his first missed postseason since 2005. All hell is about to break loose in L.A.

Utah Jazz

Quietly, I think the Jazz had one of the best offseasons in recent memory. Kicking things off, they replaced Ricky Rubio with point guard Mike Conley Jr., sending Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and the draft rights to Darius Bazley to the Memphis Grizzlies in return. That move alone would have been enough for me.

But then they would go on to add sharpshooting wing Bojan Bogdanović, veteran big men Ed Davis and Jeff Green and rising young point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. They also added depth and youthful talent in the draft with Jarrell Brantley, Justin Wright-Foreman and Miye Oni.

The guys they brought in really fit Utah's blue-collar culture and head coach Quin Snyder's defensive-minded identity. Adding Conley Jr. and Bogdanović will work wonders for third-year dynamo Donovan Mitchell, alleviating him of some of the heavy lifting and adding some shooting around him as he continues to improve on his streaky jump shot.

Philadelphia 76ers

What a whirlwind its been. To see that #TrustTheProcess has finally come into fruition for the Philly faithful is so uplifting after many lost years (Do we have to talk about 10-72?). Trading away Jimmy Butler was a tough decision to make, but getting up-and-coming two-guard Josh Richardson in return and signing veteran stretch big Al Horford makes up for the loss.

Leadership, shooting ability and a defensive presence are all what Horford adds. But he also gives the Sixers some flexibility. Horford can start at the four to form a huge lineup or he can run the five position to allow All-NBA center Joel Embiid to rest and monitor his minutes, which is crucial given his injury history.

Philly also brought back Tobias Harris on a max contract, which I love to see because I think he's a better fit next to All-Star playmaker Ben Simmons. Harris' shooting and scoring ability should flourish now that he should assume the role as the primary wing scoring option. The Process was trusted and now it looks like its finally paying off.


Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC went from playoff contender to full rebuild overnight. Losing PG13 is huge, giving up on an experiment with he and Westbrook as go-to guys. It is nice to add five picks. It's nice to add Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander. It could work out for the team in the future. But now there's reports of Russ wanting out.

Oh boy Thunder fans, this is not looking good. Trading away Westbrook would signify the end of an era in OKC. Over the years, they've had KD, James Harden, Westbrook, PG, Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, with zero titles to show for it. Yikes.

Man, the 30 for 30 on these Thunder teams is gonna be crazy.

Toronto Raptors

The North earned with a championship after trading for Kawhi and Danny Green last season. Now they're both gone.

Bringing back Marc Gasol and another year of experience for the 2018-19 Most Improved Player in Pascal Siakam allows for some hope. Kyle Lowry's back and so is Ibaka. And with guards Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw and a healthy OG Anunoby returning, there's a lot of youthful depth there.

But after losing a two-time Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, along with battle tested champ like Green, there's just not enough for this team to be anywhere near the level it was last season.

Houston Rockets

The reports of the unrest between Harden and fellow future Hall of Famer Chris Paul have been buzzing for the last few weeks. Sometimes in sports, doing nothing to your roster is almost better for your team. This was not the case for the Rockets.

It's not that the Rockets aren't a good enough to win a title, I just think their system is a problem at this point. They brought back head coach Mike D'Antoni and with his extension falling through, it seems like this analytics era may be coming to an end soon.

Running isolation basketball, with a 34-year-old CP3, sticking to the ideas of only taking layups and 3s while Harden builds up a 41% usage rate, that's just inefficient basketball if you ask me.

Where there's smoke, there's fire. And the Rockets championship window may be closing.


Denver Nuggets

Remember how I said doing nothing to your roster is sometimtes better? This is the case in the Mile High City. The reason this works is because their big "free agent" acquisition is the return of a healthy Michael Porter Jr. The 6-foot-10 swingman can be the wing scoring option they've missed to really put them over the top. They did receive lengthy stretch-four Jerami Grant as well, bolstering their already deep frontcourt. 

They also added top-five talent Bol Bol in the draft, who slid all the way down to the 44th pick in the second round after only playing nine games at Oregon last year. Imagine being on the fast break seeing a front line that ranges from 6-foot-10 to 7-foot-2, then add a 7-foot playmaker, first team All-NBA center Nikola Jokić, kicking it out to the two gargantuan talents pulling up from deep. That's today's NBA, folks.

With crafty combo guard Jamal Murray, two-way guard Gary Harris, veteran Paul Milsap, silky scorer Will Barton and talented young guards Malik Beasley and Monté Morris, arguably the league's deepest team just got even deeper.

Golden State Warriors

Only the Dubs could lose two-time finals MVP Kevin Durant and be just fine. They lost Boogie Cousins to free agency and sixth man Andre Iguodala to trade, and two-way star Klay Thompson will miss the majority of the season recovering from a torn ACL. But getting D'Angelo Russell to start the season in his replacement is a huge deal.

The first time All-Star is entering his prime at 23 years old and is a perfect fit for the Warriors offense as space-creating shooter and talented playmaker. I'm not sure what he'll be able to provide on the defensive end, but I like the move because the Warriors can take the ball out of two-time MVP Steph Curry's hands and let him play even more off the ball for catch and shoot opportunities. What a scary sight.

Another year of Curry, Shaun Livingston and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, with a rising talent like D-Lo (even if he is used as trade bait for once Thompson returns) provides hope for a core that will have to replace KD's dominant scoring ability.


Milwaukee Bucks

Bringing back Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez are crucial, giving reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the spacing he needs for his inside-out game. Alongside point guard Eric Bledsoe and the addition of veteran Wesley Matthews, their chemistry should remain intact, with a group that finished with the league's best record in 2018-19.

Indiana Pacers

Poaching Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks was probably my favorite move of free agency. The 2016-17 Rookie of the Year is a jack-of-all-trades player coming off a 50-40-90 season. Indy also added a tough wing scorer in TJ Warren (18 points, 43% from deep in 2018-19) and more spacing with the addition of Jeremy Lamb.

Losing Bogdanović, Tyreke Evans and Darren Collison will hurt. But Brogdon, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and head coach Nate McMillan should hold it down until Oladipo returns.

Boston Celtics

Sometimes less is more. I think adding Kemba Walker is nice — he gives you 90-95% of what Irving gives you on the floor with way less of a headache off the court. Losing Horford, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier will be tough, but that just means that it will be time to hand the mantle over to Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown.

A healthy offseason will be key for Gordon Hayward too, so he can hopefully return to All-Star form. Regardless, I'm sure head coach Brad Stevens and front office man Danny Ainge have a few tricks up their sleeves.


Miami Heat

Getting a bonafide two-way player like Jimmy Butler is good. Getting rid of an underachieving player like Hassan Whiteside with a hefty contract is great. Bringing in a multifaceted big like Myers Leonard helps a bit.

But even in the Eastern Conference, this team isn't good enough to get over the hump. Jimmy B may fit the culture of the Vice City, but he can't be a solo act. He needs another star to at least help him get to that point. Enter Russell Westbrook ... maybe.

Brooklyn Nets

Listen, I get it. KD and Kyrie Irving are two of the most talented to ever touch a basketball court. And they have a deep group with scrappy talent and are well coached with Kenny Atkinson at the helm. But hear me out:

1) Durant isn't even going to play next year. Not only will he not play, but he's also coming off an achilles injury that won't allow him to play until he's 32 years old. The only superstar player to get back to that level after an achilles tear is Dominique Wilkins. KD does have the skill set and style to bounce back from it, but he is still a 7-footer who will naturally have a hill to climb coming back from the worst basketball injury you can deal with.

2) I love Kyrie but he has his own health concerns — he's averaged 63 games played over the last four years. He also has had trouble being an alpa dog and team leader (ask last year's Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron and Kevin Love).

I absolutely love the potential of these two playing together. But there's much less of a guarantee about this team's success then most would tend to believe.

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