NBA Teams Blowing It in Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2019

NBA Teams Blowing It in Free Agency

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    The 2019 iteration of free agency has permanently transformed the NBA.

    Several teams will lament that fact for years to come.

    Some invested massive funds in the wrong places. Others missed opportunities to address glaring needs. One major-market club talked a huge game and then awkwardly tried to walk it back once things went awry.

    As the following clubs can all attest, free agency isn't fun for everyone.

Dishonorable Mention

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    Milwaukee Bucks

    It was never going to be easy for the Bucks to fit everyone into the budget, but letting go of Malcolm Brogdon, a restricted free agent, could be a decision they regret. He defends multiple positions, shot 50/40/90 this past season and had moments in the Eastern Conference Finals when he was Milwaukee's second-best player.

    The Bucks could've taken a big tax hit to keep him, but that's often a price paid to contend. They can only hope his absence isn't too noticeable between now and when Giannis Antetokounmpo hits the open market in 2021.

                   

    Sacramento Kings

    The Kings deserve mild props for not being content with their mini-breakout (39 wins, their most in over a decade) and showing a willingness to spend while so many of their key contributors are on rookie contracts. But was this really the best way to stretch the budget?

    Technically, big, defensive-minded combo forwards topped their wish list, so Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza sort of fit the bill. But four years, $85 million is awfully rich for Barnes, and two years, $25 million is by no means a discount on Ariza. Both have career player efficiency ratings of 13.3; league average is 15.0. Maybe $110 million doesn't stretch as far as it used to?

                

    Toronto Raptors

    We don't mean to kick the Drakes while they're down, and their mention comes about by no fault of their own. But when a championship team loses its best player and starting shooting guard in the same summer, that qualifies as some degree of failure, right? Cheap fliers on Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could pay off, but you wonder if demolition is evident for the senior members of this core.

                   

    Washington Wizards

    The Wizards didn't have the flexibility to truly blow it this summer, but man, this team is depressing. Can someone free Bradley Beal already?

    The departures of Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis mean the Wizards have only a protected future second-rounder to show for the Otto Porter Jr. trade. Ariza's exit means Washington has nothing left from the Kelly Oubre Jr. deal. The Wizards couldn't keep restricted free agent Tomas Satoransky (at least Thomas Bryant stayed!), but they did find room for Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith and C.J. Miles.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Anyone have a clue what the Charlotte Hornets are doing?

    Forgoing a supermax offer for Kemba Walker is fine. That could've gotten dicey on the back end. But low-balling him was basically an open invitation to leave, so why not move him for something at the trade deadline first? He was a better player after the All-Star break than before it, so it's not like his play reduced his offer. The Hornets could not have handled his exit any worse.

    Ditto for Jeremy Lamb. The smooth scoring wing skipped town for a three-year, $31 million deal with the Indiana Pacers, a reasonable rate for a lottery pick who seemingly started connecting all the dots the last two seasons. If Charlotte was uncomfortable going even that high—or weary of paying Lamb without Walker around—then again, why not trade him for something before he exits for nothing?

    And yet, we still haven't arrived at the biggest head-scratcher. In what world is Terry Rozier a three-year, $58 million player? Apparently, the same one in which Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak can say this: "We feel like if he was in the draft this year, Terry Rozier would have been a lottery pick."

    What does that even mean? Post-Louisville Rozier would've been a lottery pick in this draft, which was seen as one of the weakest in recent years? Or current Rozier could've slotted in somewhere among 2019's first 14 picks?

    He has 30 starts in four NBA seasons, none of which he's finished with a 40 percent field-goal rate. Three of his four campaigns have featured a negative box plus/minus and a below-average player efficiency rating. Sounds like someone deserving of a nearly $20 million annual salary, doesn't it?

New York Knicks

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    This was supposed to be the summer of statement (read: superstar) acquisitions for the New York Knicks.

    Instead, it devolved into the summer of the statement:

    "While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight's news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents," team president Steve Mills said in a press release in the wake of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant agreeing to sign with the rival Brooklyn Nets.

    The Knicks shifted to the cap-space-preserving route, signing a bunch of new players—many of them power forwards, for some reason—to short-term contracts.

    Julius Randle scored a three-year, $63 million deal. Their other high-dollar investments inked two-year pacts with team options on the second season, like Bobby Portis (two years, $31 million) and Taj Gibson (two years, $20 million), who play the same position as Randle. Elfrid Payton (two years, $16 million) is either a high-paid backup for Dennis Smith Jr. or exorbitantly paid third-stringer behind him and Frank Ntilikina.

    Conceptually, there are worse contingency plans than preserving flexibility. But when is this cap space going to materialize into actual big-ticket items? The allure of playing in the Big Apple isn't enough, not when this team is tied for the most losses over the past six seasons. (The Los Angeles Lakers share that disgraceful distinction, but the Knicks don't have the history that helped convince LeBron James to take the plunge.)

    During the draft, ESPN aptly described the Knicks' needs as "everything." A week-plus into free agency, that might still ring true.

Orlando Magic

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Zigging against a leaguewide zag can be a clever way of doing business, but does anyone believe in what the Orlando Magic are doing?

    Their playoff breakthrough after a six-year hiatus surely elicited a euphoric reaction, so some of their free-agency expenditures were predictable. Nikola Vucevic booked his first All-Star spot this past season, so Orlando rewarded him with $100 million. 2012 lottery pick Terrence Ross played his best basketball to date, so the Magic threw $54 million his way.

    While there's something to be said for continuity, that's less certain when it involves 28-year-old free agents and a—wait for it—42-win team.

    Are the Magic banking on internal growth to complete their climb up the standings? That's a tough sell when Vooch potentially buries 2018's No. 6 pick, Mohamed Bamba, and fellow signee Al-Farouq Aminu threatens the playing time of 2017's sixth selection, Jonathan Isaac. Not to mention, this year's first-round pick, Chuma Okeke, is coming off a March ACL tear they're prepared to handle with kid gloves.

    Orlando is massive in a time when size seems less important than ever. This roster is a puzzle elite floor generals would struggle to solve, and the task instead rests with underwhelming veteran D.J. Augustin and unproven (in health or ability) prospect Markelle Fultz.

Phoenix Suns

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The Phoenix Suns are Phoenix Sunning again. Their entire offseason has been a trudge from one dumpster fire to the next.

    They opted against pursuing All-Star point guard—and Devin Booker's close friend—D'Angelo Russell so they could pay non-shooter Ricky Rubio $51 million over the next three seasons. The former turned 23 in February and just had his best season as a scorer, distributor and shooter. The latter turns 29 in October, owns a career 38.8 field-goal percentage and saw his former team plot its championship hopes around upgrading over him.

    They dumped T.J. Warren (a reasonably priced 25-year-old scorer) and Josh Jackson (2017's No. 4 pick) to have money for Rubio, Frank Kaminsky and presumably Kelly Oubre Jr. Kaminsky is somehow both a 7-footer and a career 41.9 percent shooter. He could have trouble finding consistent minutes. Oubre fits the outline of a three-and-D wing until you realize he's shot just 32.1 percent outside over four NBA seasons.

    Rubio is overpaid, maybe to a brutal degree. Kaminsky is unnecessary and not a lock for the rotation. The Suns have gone through a ton of trouble for Oubre, who may not be worth it and, if he stays, might make it tough for second-guessed lottery pick Cameron Johnson to make much of an impact.

    Business as usual for the Suns, in other words.