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NBA Free Agency Diary: The Winners And Losers From A Chaotic First Day

After a whirlwind start to NBA free agency — in which almost every big, available name settled on a home — there was plenty to sift through. Almost too much! So we did the dirty work for you. Here are some of our initial takeaways from Day 1 of free agency.

The Warriors may not be a contender, but they’ll still be entertaining

For the third time in four offseasons, Golden State added an All-Star to its roster, arranging a sign-and-trade with the Nets to acquire D’Angelo Russell in the wake of Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with Brooklyn.

The move is a compelling one: While it gives the Warriors another scorer to make up for the absences of Durant and Klay Thompson this coming season, it also figures to weaken Golden State considerably on defense — especially because the deal forces the Dubs to part ways with Andre Iguodala. No, Iggy isn’t a spring chicken anymore, but he is still an above-average defender who, along with Draymond Green, has long been one of the most important pieces of that unit. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Warriors fall outside the top half of the league on defense at this point, a jarring thought given how great they were on that end for several years.1

But what makes the deal most interesting, aside from seeing how Russell does next to Stephen Curry,2 is that it gives the Warriors a young, valuable asset to trade for other parts — and a deeper roster — once they get Thompson back healthy again. Being able to pivot like that is a plus and is a better alternative to basically losing Durant for nothing.

Aside from the Nets, the Pacers had maybe the most interesting day

If you had told Pacer fans that they were going to lose not only Bojan Bogdanovic — their leading scorer, at 21 points per game, after Victor Oladipo got hurt — but also Swiss Army Knife Thaddeus Young, you probably wouldn’t have gotten a great reaction from them. But that was the reality Sunday. And there’s a decent chance that Indiana comes out of it OK anyway.

As Bogdanovic joined the Jazz and Young made a deal with the Bulls, the Pacers agreed to pacts of their own with Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon and Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb. Brogdon had several suitors, and Indiana had to part ways with a couple of picks in order to complete a sign-and-trade for him. But he could be a solid fit, both because of his tough defense and his ability to play on and away from the ball once Oladipo is back in the mix.

For that reason, this seemed to be a much better signing than Ricky Rubio would have been. The offense-challenged Pacers desperately needed someone who was at least something of a shooting threat to take pressure off Oladipo. (Though it remains to be seen whether Brodgon will shoot just as well without the crazy spacing he benefited from with the Bucks.) And the Lamb signing, for three years and $31 million, was arguably even better from a value standpoint.

In fact, based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projection model, Lamb is projected to provide $22.3 million worth of production per season in his deal. Only four players who reached agreements Sunday — all of whom were max-level stars3 — are projected to outproduce their deals by more than the $12 million per season of excess production expected from the 27-year-old Lamb.

By contrast, the model wasn’t high at all on Bogdanovic’s agreement for four years and $73 million with Utah, even though he seems like a great fit with the Jazz on paper. Our model suggests that Utah overpaid by around $14 million a season in order to get someone of his production level, based on his aging curve. (The system did find Young to be a great value for Chicago, however, with the Bulls getting an almost $5 million bargain for him over his three-year deal.)

Sacramento won’t get high marks

The Kings made a couple of head-scratching decisions. They kept Harrison Barnes for four years and $85 million and then also picked up Trevor Ariza for two years and $25 million. Both were on the short list of players our CARMELO projection model deemed to be overpays by more than $10 million per season. The Kings were the only club to sign two such players on Sunday.

Many of the other players on that dreaded list — Klay Thompson,4 Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton — were on contending teams and were in position to command max or near-max deals because their clubs risked losing them for nothing otherwise. That wasn’t true of Barnes or Ariza, though. (Nor was it true of someone like Bobby Portis, who, for all his scoring ability, registered in our system as a nearly $14 million overpay per season with the Knicks.)

Sacramento’s other deals, for Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph, were more or less in line with their value.

The Sixers overhaul themselves yet again

It’s somewhat stunning that the Sixers either couldn’t or wouldn’t bring back Jimmy Butler after the postseason he had with Philly, but now that he’s moving on, Al Horford is a fascinating signing. Some will gasp at the four-year, $109 million price tag. (Our model actually pegs him right at $109 million over that length of time.) But between him and Josh Richardson, who figures to be on the way to Philadelphia in a Butler sign-and-trade, the Sixers are going to have a scary amount of length on D. Losing JJ Redick’s shooting will sting, but Richardson and Horford are both good from outside.

The Sixers will miss Butler’s ability to facilitate as a secondary ball-handler. But Butler’s exit may streamline things on offense for Harris, who was all but forgotten at times in the playoffs — something that simply can’t happen given his salary and what the team gave up to get him.

Other winners and losers

Two other teams that deserve credit for their deal-making: The Magic got almost $14 million worth of bargains per season between Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu, according to our model. And the Clippers, who saw all their star targets aside from Kawhi Leonard fall off the board, decided to lock in Patrick Beverley at just three years and $40 million. While the contract was easily the biggest of Beverley’s career, our system pegged his value at $51 million over the next three seasons.

The Knicks had a frustrating day, even prompting the team’s brass to put out a statement to fans who were disappointed to see a pair of stars team up in the wrong borough. (Other fans were disappointed to see the team spend more than $100 million in contracts on three players that all could play power forward.) And the Hornets have had a lot of us wondering what they’re up to. Why not trade Kemba Walker ahead of the deadline if there was a chance you were simply going to let him walk in free agency?

Some questions, we’ll likely never get an answer for. Others, hopefully, will become more apparent over the coming days, as teams continue to fill in their free-agent blanks.

Footnotes

  1. Losing free agent Kevon Looney would be another blow.

  2. The Nets struggled at times when Russell was paired in the backcourt with fellow guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

  3. Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. Durant and Irving are believed to be taking slightly less than the max to allow DeAndre Jordan to sign for $10 million per year. There’s a good chance that Durant won’t outplay his contract the same way the others in the group might, as he will likely miss most of this coming season. But there’s no way to adjust for that in our projection model just yet.

  4. Our system has always been tough on Klay — it would likely be even tougher if it were able to account for his ACL tear.

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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