The Winners And Losers Of NBA Free Agency So Far

We are just about a week into the start of the 2024-25 NBA season, and we have already seen most of the big expected moves of the summer take place. Most of the big contract extensions have been agreed to, the top free agents have signed, and a handful of impactful trades have shaken up the NBA landscape.

There are still some potential trades lingering that could shuffle the pecking order and some free agents still waiting to find a home, but for the most part we have an idea of how teams rosters will look next fall. Here, we wanted to take stock of who has had the best and worst starts to the new league year, with the understanding that there’s still time for some of the teams in the Losers category to turn their fortunes around — for example, the Warriors were in that category in an early draft before a flurry of moves brought in Kyle Anderson and Buddy Hield to help fill the void left by Klay Thompson.


Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have had a terrific summer so far, as they’ve kept almost their entire main rotation from last year’s 1-seed intact while upgrading their biggest player weakness (trading Josh Giddey for Alex Caruso) and addressing their biggest need (signing Isaiah Hartenstein). The Thunder are clearly still looking to take their time with a young roster, but after failing to make any real upgrades at last year’s trade deadline (Gordon Hayward ended up being a non-factor), they went out and got two veterans that fill important needs and fit their overall identity.

With Giddey getting played off the floor, they had to upgrade that spot with someone that can be a 16-game player, and seem to have done that with Caruso, who also adds another elite perimeter defender to the rotation. Inside, they were desperate to land a big time center who could help them on the glass, but needed to find a guy who could run the floor, play defense at a high level, and play in space when absolutely needed. Hartenstein fits the bill, and coupled with what the Thunder hope will be continued strides from their young key contributors, Oklahoma City looks like a formidable squad in the West once again. On top of their own work, they also have seen most of the West’s top teams from a year ago stagnate or get a little worse, which doesn’t help their cause.

New York Knicks

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I had a feeling the Knicks would try to take a swing this summer, but wasn’t expecting them to successfully land Mikal Bridges considering it had been 40 years since the Knicks and Nets made a trade. However, five first round picks will get you pretty far in any negotiation, and they bring in a tremendous wing upgrade to bolster their hopes of challenging Boston next year. On top of acquiring Bridges, they were able to re-sign OG Anunoby to a big contract and now have one of the best wing rotations in the NBA. The only thing that kept this from being a perfect summer for New York was seeing Hartenstein leave for OKC, as they still need to get a backup for Mitchell Robinson. With Robinson’s injury history, they probably don’t want to roll with just Jericho Sims and small-ball lineups as their options beyond him, and that’s certainly the biggest area of concern in New York going into the season. Still, with the top-end talent on the roster, this should be the best Knicks team since the 90s, and they may be a legit threat in the East.

Orlando Magic

Some thought Orlando would take some really big swings this summer, but I actually think their approach has been smart. They went out and addressed their biggest need by signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, adding the kind of veteran presence and three-point shooting threat the desperately needed, without sacrificing on the defensive end. Beyond that, they’ve brought the band back together from last season, but have done so without overpaying anyone (as often happens to teams that make a surprising leap). Their frontcourt is once again very crowded after re-signing Goga Bitadze and Moe Wagner, while inking Jonathan Isaac to a 5-year, $84 million extension, and they even brought back Gary Harris for backcourt depth.

However, the key is they are now all on extremely movable deals. Bitadze, Wagner, and Harris make $7.5-$11 million each annually on two or three year deals, while Isaac’s extension could prove extremely valuable if he stays healthy (a huge if) and plays defense like he did at the end of last season. None of those moves stop the Magic from making another swing later, if they want to, and if anything they make it easier to make moves next summer. What Orlando has done is fill their biggest need and give themselves a chance to evaluate their young core for one more season to see how their internal development plan goes, while providing a ton of flexibility for combining contracts to trade for a player at any price point (without losing all their depth). The Thunder and Timberwolves showed how patience can pay off in a big way last year, and the Magic managed to follow that kind of plan without having to overpay anyone to stick around. That’s good work, and now they can get a true sense of where they fall in the East’s pecking order this season and make long-term plans from there.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers came into the summer with a ton of cap space and all of two guys signed when the league year began (Joel Embiid and Paul Reed). With all that space, Philly had to get a third star between Embiid and Tyrese Maxey (who will sign his max extension as soon as the Sixers fill out the rest of the roster) and did just that by landing the biggest free agent on the market in Paul George. On paper, it looks like a tremendous fit, but as we’ve seen plenty of times it’s never quite as simple as it seems to make three stars work together. Still, if they didn’t land George things could’ve gotten dicey quickly, with a fairly shallow group of free agent wings and not many clear fits on the trade market. Getting George was their best path to being a contender, and while there’s still work to do to fill out their depth, they’ve got a solid start there with the return of Kelly Oubre Jr. (who was sneaky good last year) and the signings of Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon.

I’m not sold on the Sixers being the clear-cut No. 2 team in the East by simply landing George, but they are in the conversation, the alternatives were much worse, and I like to reward those that execute on Plan A.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs didn’t seem to have a lot of avenues to upgrade their roster this summer, but managed to bring in two impact rotation players for the price of 1.5, which is solid maneuvering for a team that’s obviously in the title contender realm. Dallas pivoted off of their plan to run it back and re-sign Derrick Jones Jr. into the mid-level, and instead brought in Naji Marshall from New Orleans as his replacement before making a splash with Klay Thompson’s arrival in a sign-and-trade. The Finals showed Dallas that they needed to upgrade their playoff rotation to compete with the absolute best, and I think they’ve done that to a degree.

Marshall is a different kind of wing than Jones Jr., and they will lose some defensive versatility in the move, as Jones was extremely valuable in his ability to defend opposing guards. However, they’ll get more out of Marshall as a rebounder and he’s a more stout defender at the forward spot, and if his three-point shooting leap last year (38.7 percent) is real, he’ll provide some more spacing as well as being a good connective player. We’ll have to see if that is a real upgrade, but Thompson, even at this point in his career, should be a fairly clear step forward from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Josh Green. You lose a touch of regular season depth (which, they could still add another player in the rest of the mid-level), but you gain someone you can trust to hit shots in the playoffs.

That’s something the Mavs were desperately lacking in the Finals, and we saw how incredible they could be when they had that because PJ Washington shot out of his mind for the first two series. Thompson is not the two-way monster he once was and isn’t even the shooter he was at his peak, but even in this current form, he’ll be the best floor spacer around Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic that the Mavs have had. That’s meaningful, and while it is far from a guarantee they’ll be back in the Finals, it was a good summer by Dallas to recognize needs even in a Finals run and try to address them.

Boston Celtics

Speaking of the Finals participants from this year, Boston won a title and proceeded to re-sign everyone. Derrick White and Jayson Tatum got big extensions, Luke Kornet re-signed for another year, and Xavier Tillman is coming back for two more as well. When you were as dominant as Boston was this past year, you don’t need any splash outside signings, but you do need to keep as much continuity as you can. As we have seen this summer, keeping a contender together is harder to do than ever before, and as the Nuggets showed a year ago, losing even a sixth-man is enough to put a serious crack in your championship foundation. The Celtics will avoid that fate for at least one more year, and are the deserving favorites to go back-to-back as a result.

San Antonio Spurs

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The Spurs may not be done dealing, but I want to note that they had one very clear need, even understanding their desire to build slowly, and they went out and addressed it. Anyone that watched the Spurs last year was driven insane by the team’s guard play and their inability to get Victor Wembanyama the ball when he got great positioning or had a lob opportunity (which is, like, always when you are 7’5). There is no one in the world better at doing that exact thing than Chris Paul, and paying him $11 million to come throw Wemby passes for a year and teach him some of the finer points of basketball is a terrific move.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs got Donovan Mitchell to re-sign and at least prolonged their ability to stay in the conversation near the top of the East. That makes them a mild winner in my book, as they now at least have some time to figure out what their best combination of talent is and then can look to make a trade to consolidate — with Darius Garland or Jarrett Allen both figuring to fetch a strong return should they move either. The clock is still ticking, with Mitchell only locked in for two more years, but buying themselves a bit more time to figure things out and leaving themselves in a position of power from a negotiating standpoint on any of their guys was vital.


Denver Nuggets

For the second straight summer, the Nuggets saw a key player walk for nothing. After Bruce Brown got paid by Indiana a year ago (with Denver literally not being allowed to match), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took 3-year, $66 million deal in Orlando. The difference this year is the Nuggets could have tried matching that offer to keep KCP, but weren’t willing to dip into the second apron to do so. As such, the plan is to make Christian Braun the starter and continue hoping for some internal development from their youngsters. When you have the best player in the league on your roster, and thus a legitimate shot at a title every year because of it, taking a step back for financial purposes is never going to sit well with folks. There are reasonable arguments to be made for ducking the second apron because of what it does to your ability to make moves, but it’s a hard sell to fans when you willingly take a step back out of fear of a potential step back later. Beyond that, Denver’s missed out on some of the top veteran minimum free agents so far, and options are getting low to bolster their rotation for next year.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have missed out on every single player they’ve been connected to so far in free agency and saw an important role player in Taurean Prince walk and take a vet minimum deal in Milwaukee. That’s not ideal, and for all the chatter about LeBron taking a smaller deal to bring in some real help on the mid-level, that never came to fruition and he’s back on a max deal. Perhaps they can find a sign-and-trade opportunity for someone, but without any exceptions to slide contracts into, they’ll have to send someone out to bring someone in. As much as I liked them landing Dalton Knecht in the Draft, it’s hard to see him as the upgrade needed to boost their standing in the West, and you’d have to be really optimistic to think they’ll be able to avoid another trip to the Play-In next year.

Chicago Bulls

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The Bulls seem headed for a reset, which I think is needed, but they’re running into a problem where they’re not bringing in great assets and are apparently being asked to send out picks to move off of their big trade piece. That’s not what you want when you’re trying to shift your timeline forward, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in this Bulls front office to pull this off. Trading Alex Caruso for Josh Giddey was…we’ll call it bold to be nice, but by declining offers that would’ve netted them draft picks, they are in a position where they absolutely cannot afford to attach anything to Zach LaVine.

With LaVine’s value as low as it could be, the rest of the league clearly believes Chicago is desperate enough to just get rid of him that they’re refusing to even take him on in relatively fair offers and would rather just duck the tax/apron instead. So now the Bulls are left hoping someone gets desperate after this upcoming round of trade market musical chairs and is willing to take him on for something more than a salary dump. That’s very much TBD, and it seems just as likely that LaVine starts the season on the Bulls in an attempt to recoup some value. That isn’t a catastrophe, it’s just a process issue to continually make a guy very available on the trade market and fail continually to move him.

From there, DeMar DeRozan is likely to leave in a sign-and-trade that figures to, at best, net them a trade exception and a second rounder. Again, not a disaster, but asset management by the Bulls front office continues to be dreadful as they get the absolute least out of just about everyone that leaves because they can’t make up their minds on what they’re doing. The Bulls aren’t operating with the stakes of a contender, so their struggles this summer aren’t impacting their ability to reach some goal for next season. Instead, they are just continuing to operate without a coherent plan, and that’s just as frustrating to their fans.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are running out of options to make an upgrade to their roster, and after running it back last year and getting passed by a handful of teams in the West, it seems like a distinct possibility that happens again. I really liked the deal they negotiated to keep Malik Monk, but it needed to be the precursor to another move. Instead, they’ve been apparently close on Lauri Markkanen and Brandon Ingram (and again kicked the tires on Kyle Kuzma), but to this point haven’t landed either and it’s not clear if they’ll get the chance to do so. If they don’t, they’ll be bringing back the same roster that has shown they aren’t at the level needed to make noise in the West playoffs.

Miami Heat

A year after missing out on Damian Lillard, the Heat are back again trying to figure out how to proceed, and while they’ve been linked to star pursuits again, the efforts seem half-hearted this time around. So far they’ve brought back Thomas Bryant and Kevin Love and their big outside signing is Alec Burks, which isn’t exactly moving the needle. From there, it’s not clear if they’ll be willing to meet Caleb Martin’s asking price to keep him, and if he walks, the Heat are in some real trouble. Looming in the background of all of this is Jimmy Butler’s future with the organization, as extension talks have apparently gone nowhere and it seems he may just play out the last year of his deal and see what free agency has for him next summer.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves were never going to make big moves this summer, but I think they’ve gotten marginally worse. Swapping in PJ Dozier and Joe Ingles for Monte Morris and Kyle Anderson feels like a small step back. In the Western Conference, that’s always dangerous because the margins are so slim at the top that losing rotation pieces can make a real difference (ask the Nuggets). They do get a three-point shooting boost in Ingles, which is needed, but Anderson provided some real defensive versatility off the bench and their point guard depth behind Mike Conley was an issue last year and gets worse losing Morris. There is going to be considerable pressure on Rob Dillingham to come in and help out immediately as a rookie, and we’ll see if the young man is up to the task.

Los Angeles Clippers

Do you know what the Clippers are doing? Because I sure as hell don’t. Losing Paul George hurts, but they had a clear line in the sand on what they’d offer and weren’t willing to budge. I think people are understandably remembering George’s inconsistencies in terms of his playoff impact, but he has been really important to keeping their regular season baseline pretty high. With that gone, a lot more pressure is on Kawhi Leonard to be available and James Harden to be consistently really good.

They have added Derrick Jones Jr., Nic Batum, and Kris Dunn, who I think are all legitimately helpful players to have in your rotation. However, adding Mo Bamba doesn’t exactly move me, and they brought in Kevin Porter Jr. who missed all of last season after being charged with misdemeanor assault and has had issues in locker rooms in both Cleveland and Houston.

This team is pretty obviously not as good as they were a year ago when they…weren’t all that great, and I just can’t figure out what the overall plan here is beyond “duck the apron, but don’t be terrible for the first season in the new arena.”