Unlike other sports, NBA free agency is not a crapshoot of unwanted athletes. Free agency is rich in talent and even richer in contract size. This season was especially deep, and teams either won, lost or watched the other kids play. To better siphon through how teams fared in the 2019 NBA free agency, this system uses the top-40 (later becoming the top-45) NBA free agents list.
The way the point system works is that each player was designated a specific number; the best player was given number 45 while the worst player was given number 1. That number was then subtracted from a team if they lost a player in free agency and a team would add the number of a player they retained or added in free agency.
This created a list solely made to rank how teams fared in the 2019 NBA free agency. Now, this list does not account for trades or players lost or gained in anything but free-agent decisions and sign-and-trades.
The Los Angeles Clippers have had to fight for respect in the NBA, let alone in their own city. Being the Chargers to the Lakers’ Rams, the Clippers have had to show year after year they are a team on the same level as the famed LakeShow. Even after being far better than the Lakers for most of this decade, the Clippers’ early playoff exits have incited little more than a shrug and a much too obvious joke at their expense. This offseason, with the help of Steve Ballmer and Jerry West, that may have changed forever.
The Clippers dominated free agency by signing the best player in the world, Kawhi Leonard. Appropriately, Leonard now has an opportunity to change the perception of yet another franchise long defined by their disasters rather than their successes.
The Clippers vastly outpaced other teams not only by getting Leonard, but also by securing quality players from last season and not losing anyone of note that would seriously and negatively impact them. Nearly 20 points higher than the next team, the team they lead just happens to be another franchise determined to polish its reputation.
The Nets may have successfully done that by signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving without losing anything detrimental. The trade of D’Angelo Russell makes sense, however, as it would have dinged them if they lost him for nothing in free agency.
The Magic existing in the top five is interesting. They retained most of their main free agents without losing players who would hurt their team success. The Magic did a decent job to retain talent.
The Lakers are a team that did not win free agency but produced well in this format because they lost important players via trades rather than in free agency. Large-scale player acquisitions that require one team to dump many players in return for one will always do well in this format as the negatives are very rare. This may work, however, as one could argue the trade for Anthony Davis and remedial free agent signings would still average out to about where the Lakers ended up. Ultimately, the free-agent decisions the Lakers made were not spectacular. They were forced to purchase players whose names are flashy due to 2012 success – players who are ultra-specialists.
- Troy Daniels is the most special of NBA specialists, only being able to shoot with few other positive attributes
- Jared Dudley is a smart player who can shoot but is an impact player for a max of 15 minutes.
- JaVale McGee provides decent defense around the rim but is a limited and unreliable big-man presence.
- Rajon Rondo refuses to play defense and cannot shoot without plenty of space. He is, however, still a decent floor general, albeit a pass-happy stat stuffer looking to bring glory to himself rather than to the squad he is overseeing.
This lineup of castoffs and one-tool role players is not the reliable unit that the Lakers need. With LeBron “Space Jam” dunking his way to the most NBA minutes of all time and Anthony Davis missing a large chunk of games every year, the Lakers needed reliable ball-handling, playmaking and multifaceted supplements to their two L.A. heroes.
James and Davis, on average, have combined for 22.6 missed games a year over the course of their careers. If they go beyond their average, they may lose more games than the NBA cognoscenti believes is possible for a playoff team.
The biggest losers in Free Agency this year either lost a star (Celtics, Hornets, Raptors) or were dangerously quiet, losing more than they gained (Blazers, Timberwolves).
The only team that has a chance of getting better this season is the Blazers. Outside of signings they acquired Hassan Whiteside in a trade while only losing Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, Mo Harkless and Meyers Leonard. Whiteside, while apathetic and overaggressive when it comes to blocks, provides more value for a team that had zero defensive-focused big men in last year’s playoffs. Whiteside will also likely be used consistently in the pick and roll, much like Jusuf Nurkic. Losing Curry and Harkless may prove painful, but they did land Anthony Tolliver, a 3-point shooting big man, and Mario Hezonja, a player who has more cult followers than career points.
The Blazers will likely remain where they have stood in the past few seasons, but the addition of Whiteside and a 3-point-shooting big may offset the loss of consistent impact players.
The rest of the team’s negative Free Agency numbers are simple:
- Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving and Al Horford -> Kemba Walker & Enes Kanter
- Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker -> Terry Rozier
- Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard -> OG Anunoby
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins -> Andrew Wiggins
“Cap strapped” is a very literal NBA term.
All five NBA teams were in the top 12 in payroll last season, and three of the teams are in the top five for payroll next season. The teams nearing or past the luxury tax are normally relegated to the sidelines. Luckily or unluckily, that typically means those same teams keep most of their players, as they are likely signed to long-term deals. Now, the Thunder obviously got worse, while a team like the Rockets will likely still be a contender. Ultimately, the moves made in the 2019 NBA free agency by any of these six teams were so minor they did not register in this system.
This means the players they signed were likely supplementary role players who are off the radar and won’t have too steep of an impact when it comes to winning games.