Biggest Winners and Losers After Wild 1st Free-Agency Weekend

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterNovember 23, 2020

Biggest Winners and Losers After Wild 1st Free-Agency Weekend

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The NBA's first November free agency is officially underway, and the opening weekend was about as exciting as this year's class could make it.

    Gordon Hayward shocked the NBA world by leaving the Boston Celtics for the Charlotte Hornets, the Atlanta Hawks filled out their roster with high-priced veterans, and the Detroit Pistons tried to acquire every single big man available.

    Although plenty of quality free agents are still available, we've already got a feeling for who the biggest winners and losers of the 2020 offseason will be.

Winner No. 4: Portland Trail Blazers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Not that far removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Blazers have quietly put together an offseason that may just get them back to that stage.

    The Blazers were smart to keep the core of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum together, and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic will do wonders for the team's offense. Adding wing defender Robert Covington via a trade with the Houston Rockets filled a major team need, as well.

    While Portland didn't have any significant cap space to add a star, it's put together a collection of smart signings and set up future trades, all while staying under the luxury tax.

    Giving Rodney Hood a two-year, $20.1 million deal was a smart investment. The 28-year-old wing averaged 11.0 points on 49.3 percent shooting from three in 21 games before an Achilles injury, one from which he's now almost a full calendar year removed.

    The second year of his deal is non-guaranteed, which means the Blazers won't owe Hood any money past this season if he can't regain his pre-injury form. His salary could be used to match money in trades if necessary, essentially serving as an expiring contract.

    Derrick Jones Jr., 23, is an athletic young option for Portland to use as its starting small forward or off its bench. His two-year, $19 million deal is also extremely tradeable should the Blazers want to move on.

    Getting Carmelo Anthony back on a minimum deal should be great for the locker room, and taking a flier on 22-year-old Harry Giles III (who is younger than No. 8 overall pick Obi Toppin) as a reserve big was a no-brainer.

    Trading for Enes Kanter (after he picked up a player option with the Boston Celtics) is a nice reunion given how well the 28-year-old played for Portland during the 2018-19 postseason.

    A pass-first, veteran point guard behind Lillard is probably the only thing this roster needs. Portland now stands as one of the deepest and most talented teams in all of basketball.

Loser No. 3: Boston Celtics

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    It was widely assumed that Gordon Hayward would play out his $34.2 million player option for 2020-21 and hit free agency next year, giving the Celtics at least one more season with one of their core pieces.

    When the Celtics and Hayward mutually agreed to move Hayward's option deadline back, it appeared something was in the works. A new, long-term extension in Boston? A sign-and-trade that would still bring in talent to Boston?

    As it would turn out, the Celtics were left watching yet another one of their star players leave in unrestricted free agency for nothing.

    Last year, it was Kyrie Irving and Al Horford walking out the door, with Horford also turning down a massive player option to do so. This time it was Hayward, leaving 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on a 50.0 percent mark from the field now missing from the Celtics rotation.

    Will Boston still be one of the best teams in the East next season even without Hayward? Most likely, especially since the front office was still able to sign veterans Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague. Getting Jayson Tatum to agree to a five-year, $195 million max extension was expected, but it was also a bit of relief to finalize.

    The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn reported that Hayward told the Celtics he wanted to play for the Indiana Pacers, who offered a trade package of Myles Turner and Doug McDermott. He also noted the Celtics wanted Turner and either Victor Oladipo or T.J. Warren back in the deal.

    Turner would have been the perfect answer at center for the Celtics as a big who can shoot from three and block shots, areas in which Thompson has failed thus far in his career. McDermott would also have been a useful rotation piece as a career 41.2 percent shooter from three who averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game this year.

    Instead of working something out with the Pacers and getting Turner to lock down the center position, the Celtics got greedy and wound up with nothing.

    Letting Irving, Horford and now Hayward leave is a black eye on a front office that has otherwise done a tremendous job building one of the best rosters in the Eastern Conference.

Winner No. 3: Fred VanVleet

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    One of the best players on the market, Fred VanVleet was an undrafted free agent just four short years ago.

    Spending much of his rookie season with the Raptors 905 of the G League, VanVleet later thrived in his first year as a full-time starter in 2019-20 and set himself up for a nice payday.

    While the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons looked like potential suitors due to their cap space and needs at guard, VanVleet ended up getting to stay with the Toronto Raptors while still cashing out.

    His four-year, $85 million deal is the second-largest to date of any 2020 free agent, both in terms of total money and average annual salary. It's also the biggest contract ever signed by an undrafted player.

    For Toronto, losing VanVleet would have been devastating, especially with Kyle Lowry entering the final year of his deal and Serge Ibaka leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers.

    VanVleet got his monster contract, doesn't have to move and gets to hit unrestricted free agency again when he's 30.

    Bet on yourself, indeed.

Loser No. 2: Charlotte Hornets

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    One of the few teams with significant cap space heading into free agency, the Charlotte Hornets needed a big man after missing out on James Wiseman in the draft.

    Montrezl Harrell and Christian Wood looked like the best targets, both 26 or younger and likely to fit the Hornets' timeline with LaMelo Ball, P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges and Devonte' Graham.

    While Wood ultimately signed with the Houston Rockets, the Hornets at least made an offer to Harrell, who took less money to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, per Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times. The only center the Hornets were ultimately able to sign was their own, bringing back Bismack Biyombo on a one-year deal.

    Losing out on both Harrell and Wood was a disappointment, but at least Charlotte still had cap space, right?

    Enter Gordon Hayward, who surprisingly turned down a $34.2 million player option from the Boston Celtics. We soon found out why.

    The four-year, $120 million deal for the 30-year-old wing is easily the worst contract handed out to any player in free agency this year, and it's a signing that doesn't even guarantee the Hornets a playoff spot in the East.

    Hayward doesn't fit the timeline of the young core whatsoever. If anything, he's only going to take the ball out of the hands of those who need it most to develop.

    What makes the deal even worse is Charlotte's waive-and-stretch of Nicolas Batum and his remaining $27 million. Spreading this out over three years to clear the necessary cap space to sign Hayward means the Hornets are actually spending $39 million per year for the next three seasons on a player who's probably not even going to make an All-Star team.

    After disastrous free-agent deals for Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov ultimately got Mitch Kupchak fired by the Los Angeles Lakers, the veteran general manager is back to making some questionable signings, this time in Charlotte.

Winner No. 2: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers had no future firsts to trade, no cap space and a handful of rotation players hitting free agency. They somehow still got much better.

    Montrezl Harrell switching L.A. franchises was one of the most surprising moves of free agency since he passed on a bigger payday (and likely a starting job) from the Charlotte Hornets in order to chase a title. Using their mid-level exception to sign the 26-year-old to a two-year, $19 million contract is an absolute bargain for a player who probably could have gotten $15 million per year elsewhere.

    After they lost Danny Green in the trade for Dennis Schroder, getting Wesley Matthews to take his place really isn't that much of a downgrade and comes at a fraction of the price. A one-year, $3.6 million deal for the 34-year-old was a smart signing as he's capable of taking over Green's starting job with his defense and three-point shooting.

    A three-year, $40 million deal for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is pretty fair value and gives the Lakers a contract around which they can base future trades if they need to do so.

    Trading JaVale McGee and a 2026 second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to create space to sign Marc Gasol was the icing on the cake, giving the Lakers an upgrade at the starting center position.

    While Gasol doesn't put up All-Star numbers anymore at age 35, he has become a good three-point shooter (40.0 percent in 70 games with the Toronto Raptors) and improved Toronto by 7.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. He and Anthony Davis now become one of the more talented defensive frontcourt combos in the league.

    Coming off a title and having LeBron James on the roster certainly makes recruiting easier, but general manager Rob Pelinka and Co. have still done an excellent job.

Loser No. 1: Detroit Pistons

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What looked like a promising offseason with the addition of three first-round picks (Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey) quickly turned into "What's the plan here, exactly?" in Detroit.

    For a Pistons team that was desperate to dump two-time All-Star Andre Drummond for cap space, they did an awful job filling it.

    Mason Plumlee was one of the first signings of free agency, getting more guaranteed money (three years, $25 million) than fellow centers Montrezl Harrell, Serge Ibaka, Tristan Thompson and Marc Gasol. The 30-year-old doesn't fit the Pistons' rebuild, rarely shoots from outside 10 feet and would not have likely been paid that much anywhere else.

    Jerami Grant is a fine two-way player who can play multiple positions, but giving him $60 million over three years feels like a massive overpay, The 26-year-old averaged 12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.8 blocks in 26.6 minutes per game for the Denver Nuggets last season, splitting his time between starter and reserve. If Blake Griffin remains on the roster, Grant could be a $20 million backup.

    Detroit wasn't satisfied signing just two bigs, however, adding Jahlil Okafor on a two-year, $4 million deal. While the 2015 No. 3 overall pick is still just 24 years old, he is an awful defender who can't guard outside the paint and isn't an exceptional rim protector, either.

    With the Houston Rockets getting former Pistons center Christian Wood for a reasonable three years and $41 million, Detroit should have offered far more to keep him instead of paying Plumlee and Grant.

Winner No 1: Gordon Hayward (and Priority Sports)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Hats off to Gordon Hayward, who now has more contracts of at least $120 million than All-Star appearances in his career.

    After a devastating ankle injury caused him to miss nearly the entire 2017-18 season, Hayward's $128 million deal, signed in July 2017, looked like it would be one of the worst in the NBA. Just three years after the injury, the 30-year-old has now signed another monster pact.

    While the Charlotte Hornets won't be nearly as good as the Boston Celtics, Hayward will be featured far more on a nightly basis and should be the team's leading scorer this season. That's a role he probably thought he would play when he originally signed in Boston. At worst, he seemed likely to be a second option to Kyrie Iring.

    Hayward's agency, Priority Sports and Entertainment, had a tremendous weekend all around.

    In addition to Hayward's $30 million per year, Joe Harris re-upped with the Brooklyn Nets on a four-year, $75 million deal. Even Mason Plumlee received a three-year, $25 million contract with the Detroit Pistons while Bobby Portis signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal to chase a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    While the Portland Trail Blazers, Fred VanVleet and the Los Angeles Lakers should all feel great about themselves coming out of the weekend, no one is a bigger winner than Hayward.