NBA Free Agency, The Whiteboard

Lonzo Ball, Knicks bumbling and more NBA free agency reactions

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NBA free agency opened with a bang — Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat, Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Jimmy Butler re-upping with the Suns, Jazz and Heat, and big rookie max extensions for Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. There is still a lot more to shake out but here are my thoughts on the first day of action.

What does Lonzo Ball give the Chicago Bulls?

Lonzo Ball was one of the biggest signings on the first day of free agency and the way it shook it was a definite win for the Bulls. Earlier in the day there had been rumors of a three-team sign-and-trade that would have had Lauri Markkanen heading out as part of the Ball acquisition, instead, they just had to part with Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky.

Ball will likely take over as the starting point guard, pairing with Zach LaVine in the backcourt in an extremely interesting combination. Ball’s value was revived in New Orleans mostly by his development as a spot-up threat and his comfort playing off the ball around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, as I pointed out yesterday:

“The perception of Lonzo as a shaky shooter has persisted but he made 37.6 percent of his 7.2 3-point attempts per game over two seasons in New Orleans. He ranked in the 73rd percentile in scoring efficiency on spot-up possessions, a category that includes both spot-up jumpers and plays where he drove to score against a closeout. Lonzo is nominally a point guard but he averaged fewer frontcourt touches per game last season than either Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram and only barely edged them out in time of possession. He has increasingly functioned as a secondary creator, someone who can lead and push the ball in transition but just as often works off-the-ball in halfcourt settings.”

That all seems like a nice offensive set-up next to LaVine, who often functioned as Chicago’s primary creator last season and averaged more frontcourt touches and time of possession per game with the Bulls than Ball did with the Pelicans. Ball should benefit from sharing creation responsibilities with LaVine. And LaVine should benefit from having a secondary creator of Ball’s caliber to work off of. Ball is also a huge defensive upgrade over anyone else the Bulls played next to LaVine last season. The Bulls still have lots of holes to plug but they can also explore other options with Markkanen and the lift Ball gives them should be immediately obvious next season.

The Spurs and Warriors made sneaky good moves in NBA free agency

They were dramatically overshadowed by the bigger names and the enormous rookie extensions but I love what the Spurs and Warriors did with small moves on day one. The Warriors grabbed Otto Porter Jr. and although the terms weren’t released yet this is almost certainly a value signing for Golden State. Injuries have dramatically changed the trajectory of his career but he’s still a smart passer and 40 percent 3-point shooter with the size to defend multiple positions. He’s a role player and connective tissue at both ends but he’s also a perfect fit for what they need and both the cost and risk are certain to be low.

It’s not clear what the end game is for the Spurs, who are likely losing DeMar DeRozan and looking for the next centerpiece to really build around. But for about $20 million per year over the next three years they nabbed one of the best shooters available (Doug McDermott) and took a high-upside flyer on Zach Collins. The latter has been injured so often it’s hard to know what his exact ceiling is at this point, but when healthy he should be a mobile, athletic big man who helps on defense. Both pieces are solid role players who preserve flexibility and versatility and should be able to help in whatever structure the next iteration of this team takes.

How are the Knicks still Knicksing so hard?

A week ago, the Knicks had the No. 19 and No. 21 picks in the NBA Draft and over $50 million in cap space. In the span of six days, they turned that into a future first-round pick that’s almost certain to be worse than the No. 19 pick they traded for it, two low-upside, defense-first rookies (Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride) to satisfy Tom Thibodeau’s hard-nosed kink, and $183 million committed to Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose over the next four years.

Don’t let one playoff appearance and a fun Julius Randle resurgence distract you from the fact that no one, and I mean NO ONE, turns lemonade into lemons like the New York Knicks.

Which NBA veteran would you want at the end of their new contract?

Some serious NBA veterans got some serious extensions on the first day of free agency. While all were essential to keeping contenders together or championship windows open, it’s unavoidable that some of these will look brutal by the time they’re finished. So, from best to worst, here’s my gut rankings of just the final years of some of these deals:

Derrick Rose, age 34, New York Knicks, ~$14.3 million
Chris Paul, age 39, Phoenix Suns, ~$33.2 million
Mike Conley, age 35, Utah Jazz, ~$25.9 million
Kyle Lowry, age 37, Miami Heat, ~$31.4 million
Evan Fournier, age 31, New York Knicks, ~$20.8 million
Jimmy Butler, age 36, Miami Heat, ~$51.6 million

Rose seems, to me, to be the least likely to have any utility left by the end of his contract but the dollar amount isn’t a deal-breaker. Chris Paul, by virtue of shooting and stubbornness, seems like he could still play meaningful minutes at age 39. Conley has developed as a shooter enough that even as his defense and athleticism continue to fade he can still contribute. Fournier’s contract seems absurd right now, let alone by the time he’s 31. And then there’s the Heat … for their sake, I’m really hoping they can pull a championship run out in the next year or two because things could get very, very ugly.


Catch up with all the signings from the first day of NBA free agency, large and small. And don’t forget to check out our picks for winners and losers.

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