Each summer, the landscape of the NBA is flipped upside down, and rosters change during the free agency period. This year there weren’t any star players on the move. Still, plenty of deals were made with quality rotation players. Some teams got better, and some got worse, as contenders are bolstering up before the 2023-24 year gets underway. Here are a few winners and losers from the first week of free agency.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
Photo Cred: Valley of the Suns
Earlier in the offseason, the Suns decided to go all in on offense and star power after they traded for Wizards star Bradley Beal. The trio of Beal, Kevin Durant, and Devin Booker will be a headache for defenses to stop, but heading into free agency, the Suns lacked depth and didn’t have much money to spend. The task at hand for the Phoenix front office was a difficult one. With mostly just minimum deals available, they needed to fill out a bench that could help them compete for a championship. They did an excellent job.
The Suns were able to keep wings Damion Lee and Josh Okogie on small deals, retaining some of their bench from a year ago. Lee was a solid minute-eater during the regular season for Phoenix, while Okogie contributed with his on-ball defense. The Suns picked up a few more wings on minimum deals as well. Sharpshooter Yuta Watanabe signed to Phoenix after shooting a blistering 44% from three-point range last season in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, two-way wing Keita Bates-Diop will fill in the gaps for the Suns. The Ohio State product is a solid wing defender on the perimeter and improved his shot last season. Both Watanabe and Bates-Diop should provide good outlets if defenses want to send extra help to the three stars.
The Suns lost backup big Jock Landale, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets, but replaced him with former Portland Trail Blazer Drew Eubanks. Then, a few days in, they made a bigger splash when they signed Eric Gordon away from the Clippers. While he may not be as quick as he was in his prime, Gordon will serve as a secondary creator who is always a threat off the ball as a spot-up shooter. Defensively, he competes hard and uses his strength to bother opposing guards, and he should see significant playing time on this Suns roster. With no cap room after the Beal trade, Phoenix’s brass did a great job around the margins to fill out the rest of the roster.
Loser: Denver Nuggets
Photo Cred: The Denver Post
In a way, Denver’s hands were tied. Bruce Brown headed to free agency, having wildly outplayed his contract last season, and Denver was limited in what they could offer him. Brown accepted a lucrative two-year, $45 million contract from the Indiana Pacers early in the free agency period. That’s not why Denver ended up as a free-agency loser. They didn’t have a plan for Brown’s seemingly inevitable departure, using their taxpayer mid-level exception slot to bring back Reggie Jackson.
Many people thought Jackson would re-sign for the minimum, and using the TPMLE on him prevented them from making a bigger splash elsewhere. Jackson fills a need as a backup point guard but didn’t make the playoff rotation due to his ineptitude on defense last season. The defending champs also lost Jeff Green, another wing who played valuable minutes throughout their playoff run and a well-respected veteran in the locker room. The Nuggets did sign free agent Justin Holiday to a minimum contract, and he should theoretically provide shooting and some perimeter defense in the Nuggets’ rotation.
However, he is not on the same level as Brown or Green, and it’s no guarantee that he will be in the rotation when it matters most. It’s now looking likely that Denver will need significant internal growth from guys like Christian Braun and Peyton Watson. It’s not uncommon for championship teams to lose critical pieces, but the Nuggets seemed unprepared to compensate for the departure of two key players from last year’s team.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Photo Cred: SportsKeeda
The Lakers didn’t make major splashes, but they took a team that was in the Western Conference Finals a year ago and made it better. The Lakers priority was to take care of their own, retaining three key pieces from last year’s team. Forward Rui Hachimura is back in Los Angeles on a four-year deal after arriving in a mid-season trade last season. Hachimura was great on both sides of the ball for the Lakers last year and provides a lot of size in the frontcourt.
Los Angeles also retained their backcourt, re-signing D’Angelo Russell, and Austin Reaves to multi-year contracts. Both guards return means the Lakers will have initiators and creators all over the floor next year and can limit LeBron James’ workload during the regular season. The Lakers did lose backup point guard Dennis Schroder but replaced him with Heat point guard Gabe Vincent. Vincent can do the same things as Schroder, serving as a point-of-attack defender and a versatile weapon as a scorer and a facilitator on offense. Los Angeles still has some spots to fill, but they have done an excellent job reloading for another run behind James and Anthony Davis.
Loser: Portland Trail Blazers
Photo Cred: Oregon Live
Portland hasn’t been super active in free agency, nor have they lost any key pieces. But the trade request in recent days from Damian Lillard changes the calculus for the Blazers. Portland went into this offseason looking to build a contender around Lillard, but after failing to find a trade partner for the No. 3 pick, the franchise point guard made it known that he would like to play elsewhere next year.
Before requesting a trade, the Blazers re-signed Jerami Grant to a five-year, $160 million contract. Grant is a talented player, providing significant two-way impact and positional versatility on the wing. He has grown to a scorer in the half-court and can guard elite opposing wings out west. Grant makes Portland better, and the $32 million annual salary isn’t terrible for a wing of his caliber. But Grant isn’t a transformational talent, and with Portland headed for a rebuild, such a long-term, expensive commitment doesn’t fit the timeline in the pacific northwest.