NBA free agency isn’t what it used to be. In the past, there would be bidding wars over the game’s best players almost every summer. For example, there was Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant in 2019, Lebron James in 2018, and Durant in 2016 as well.
In recent years, the market has become much weaker, with players like Demar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Jalen Brunson headlining the latest free agent classes. No disrespect to those players, but no one would argue they’re on the level of players like Lebron and Durant.
Many will complain about the free agent market’s downgrade, yet here we are, refreshing Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter for the next signing. Fans still find interest in the less significant free agent acquisitions, obsessing over players like Fred Vanvleet’s and Brook Lopez’s next destinations.
Among all these non-glamorous moves, some are bound to surprise people and make a big impact on a team’s future, for better or worse. Here are my predictions for which teams will end up as winners and losers based on the first few days of free agency.
Winner: Houston Rockets
No matter how you feel about the price tags that came with Fred Vanvleet and Dillion Brooks, there’s no denying how impactful they will be for this Rockets team, along with Jeff Green, a smaller but still impactful signing. Houston has failed to win more than 22 games in each of the last three seasons since the James Harden trade and is now acquiring three proven veterans that come from winning organizations.
Of course, Vanvleet’s and Brooks’ contracts are overpaying. However, the Rockets had money to spend and entered free agency intending to build a playoff-caliber roster. I have some doubts about whether or not they’ll succeed at that, but at the very least, Houston will win some games, a valuable experience for their young players.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
While it’s understandable that Toronto didn’t want to pay Vanvleet $138 million to retain him, they still ended up breaking the bank to keep someone else, Jakob Poeltl. Toronto gave Poeltl a four-year, $80 million deal. Poeltl is a good player but nowadays, it’s very easy to find a big man who can provide defense, rebounding, and not much else for $5-$10 million.
This is a situation Toronto put themselves in at the trade deadline, giving up a 2024 first-rounder for the soon-to-be free agent Poeltl. Still, it has them coming out of free agency as losers, especially considering the money they’ll likely have to be handing out to Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes in the near future if they’re not traded.