Like every year with NBA free agency, there’s too much for fans to handle. Free agency opened 6 p.m. EST June 30, Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania raced to twitter to unleash an avalanche of new signings. After 72 hours of nonstop player-movement frenzy, several lingering questions still remain regarding the big names and big contenders of this year-round league.
What’s happening with Kevin Durant?
After three seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, Durant has requested a trade. He left the Warriors in 2019 to pursue his own “self-made” championship, one without a supposed asterisk. But all Durant and company have to show is a single playoff-series win. The Durant-Kyrie Irving star duo on which the super team bet its success could not find the court; they played only 44 games together due to injury, COVID-19 vaccination restrictions and turmoil with the front office. The Nets’ Durant experiment has suddenly become the greatest “what if” in NBA history.
The trade request has nuclear-sized ripple effects on the league. With four years left on his contract, Durant commands an unprecedented king’s ransom — young all-star level talent plus multiple unprotected first-round picks. However, trading for Durant is complicated.
Because of the Ben Simmons trade earlier this year, the Nets cannot trade for another player on the designated rookie scale contract extension. That takes names like Devin Booker and Bam Adebayo off the table, unless they can deal Simmons as well. And while Durant has preferences for the Suns and Heat, neither team can bid packages worthy of his talent or even match the salary-cap math. The Durant situation feels like a stalemate: The market does not have the sizable trade package needed for the Nets’ rebuild and Durant cannot get to a new contender without that contender draining their talent to obtain him, leaving him in a new situation without pieces to win.
Was the Rudy Gobert trade to the Timberwolves a good idea?
Minnesota essentially gave up a Durant-level bounty to obtain Rudy Gobert — dumping half of its role-players, including Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt and four first-round picks, (three unprotected) and a pick swap to the Jazz. That is an insane trade package to obtain a center who hasn’t proven he can stay on the floor in crunch-time minutes during the playoffs.
The Timberwolves made this trade after watching a winnable playoff slip through their fingers due to Karl Anthony-Towns’ lack of defense. Minnesota had to resort to gimmicky trapping defenses that Ja Morant and the Grizzlies solved very quickly. Fit wise, Gobert becomes the defensive anchor on a team with better perimeter defenders and better playmakers than Utah, easing the burden on him compared to his role on the Jazz.
I understand the move to a degree. The Timberwolves franchise has two playoff appearances in the last 17 years, neither of which went past the second round. Critics say this doesn’t raise their ceiling to championship level, but frankly, this franchise just needs to learn how to win on the most basic level. If that means rising to a 50-win fourth or fifth seed, I think Minnesota fans would take that over middling in the play-in tournament every year. It was an oversell for sure, but maybe a necessary one for a small-market team that’s never won anything in its entire existence.
Which contenders elevated themselves with key free agency moves?
The Celtics addressed their two roster needs in one weekend. They traded the backend of their bench to the Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon, a big playmaking guard with scoring and defensive capabilities. They also added forward Danilo Gallinari, who provides much-needed wing depth and shooting behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. I also liked the marginal improvements of the Nuggets, who added defender Bruce Brown for cheap and obtained Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith at the expense of Monte Morris and Will Barton. They added defense and spacing as they recover from the injury bug.
Big names left on the market?
Deandre Ayton is the big name whose market has cooled as teams run out of salary cap. He’s still an excellent young talent capable of putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night. He’s the only player left who can drastically swing a team’s future. If the Suns want Durant, they’ll have to work with him to create a sign and trade. James Harden is technically still on the market, but all signs point to a 76ers reunion, at a discounted price reportedly. Otherwise, we are headed to a quiet NBA offseason (supposedly).