Grading the Biggest Deals from Day 1 of NBA Free Agency

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterAugust 3, 2021

New Orleans Pelicans' Lonzo Ball, left, and Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine greet one another after an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex ArbogastPhoto by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The NBA's 2021-22 free-agent period began on Monday with an explosion of agreements. 

Nearly all deals won't be official until August 6, after the NBA's annual moratorium. The league's salary cap came in where it was expected to be at $112.414 million, with the luxury tax at $136.606 million.

What are the biggest deals from Day 1 and how do they grade out from the team's perspective?

We've got you covered below and will be adding more deals and grades throughout the night.

Chicago Bulls Sign-and-Trade for Lonzo Ball 

Four Years, $85 million, via Shams Charania of The Athletic

Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple (sign-and-trade) and a second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.


The New Orleans Pelicans did not want to lose Lonzo Ball, a restricted free agent, for nothing to the Bulls. In return, they get a couple of steady veterans in Satoransky and Temple (price to be determined).

But the big story is Chicago getting a desperately needed starting point guard. Ball, who turns 24 in October, will fit in nicely with Chicago's All-Star scorer Zach LaVine. Given LaVine is headed into the last year of his contract, the Bulls need to look into renegotiating and extending his contract to make sure their core of Nikola Vucevic, LaVine and Ball are together for more than just a year. If they can get that done and add yet another piece (perhaps with Lauri Markkanen, Al-Farouq Aminu and/or Thaddeus Young going out in a trade), the grade climbs by one letter.




Phoenix Suns re-sign Chris Paul 

Four years, $120 million, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports


This shouldn't be a surprise. As first reported by Bleacher Report in June, Paul intended to opt out of his final year at $44.4 million to explore free agency with an eye on a $100 million contract over three seasons. Then the Suns advanced to the NBA Finals.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

While on the surface, Paul's deal looks like it would trigger the “Over-38 Rule,” his specific situation allows for a four-year contract (for a player re-signing at 35 or 36 years old). Given the Suns' need to reward Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges this offseason with rookie-scale extensions and Devin Booker's rich deal, Phoenix will be paying luxury taxes starting with the 2022-23 season.

But that's tomorrow's problem. The Suns brought back their leader on a rich contract to make sure they have an opportunity to return to the NBA Finals this coming season.



Utah Jazz re-sign Mike Conley

Three years, $72.5 million, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN


The Utah Jazz are one of the top competitors in the Western Conference. They weren't willing to take a step backward because of luxury taxes, agreeing to pay Conley a starting salary of roughly $22.4 million. 

Given the Jazz had had no means to replace Conley had he left in free agency, the deal is a no-brainer at that price, especially with the team trading Derrick Favors to the Oklahoma City Thunder (sending out a first-rounder) to shed payroll. Conley could have looked elsewhere, like Dallas, but was one of the first players to commit on Monday.



Cleveland Cavaliers re-sign Jarrett Allen

Five years, $100 million, via Wojnarowski of ESPN


Well, then, that's a lot of money to invest in Allen. That's going to need a moment to take in. Allen was limited to $120.8 million over four years from any other team as a restricted free agent. His $20 million a year is undeniably lower than the $30.2 million maximum from another franchise, but it certainly feels rich.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Allen is a very steady, athletic shot-blocker/rebounder who can finish efficiently at the basket. Cleveland is not bringing back a bad player, and the franchise must believe he'll complement recent No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley for many years to come.

But what will the Cavaliers do with Kevin Love, who has two years left at $60.2 million? Could they look to trade him at a price (giving up a first-round pick)? Buy him out like the Detroit Pistons did with Blake Griffin last year? If so, look for it around March with Love ending up on the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James.



Miami Heat Sign-and-Trade for Kyle Lowry

Three years, $90 million, via Wojnarowski of ESPN 


The Heat tried to acquire Lowry at the trade deadline, and Miami was always his preferred destination. The Toronto Raptors were happy to help Lowry, arguably the most important player in franchise history, get to where he wanted. The exact details of the deal aren't clear, but expect Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa to head to Toronto.

Miami gets a proven champion at the point to play along with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and a very solid roster. Lowry, 35, is older, but he is joining a team for which he won't have to do too much but will have the ability to rise to the occasion in close playoff games and series. The $30-million-a-season price tag is worth paying.




Miami Heat extend Jimmy Butler  

Four years, maximum extension, via Charania of The Athletic


The Heat looked exhausted as they tried to push through a fast turnaround following their loss in the 2019-20 NBA Finals. Adding a key piece in Lowry, Miami took away any uncertainty that Butler could leave by declining his player option after the 2021-22 season.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Will it be too much in three or four years? That doesn't matter today, especially if the Heat can duplicate their 2020 playoff success over the Milwaukee Bucks with Lowry in the fold. Butler is Miami's best player and he'll be compensated as such, even if it might feel like a bit of an overpay toward the end of the contract.




Miami Heat re-sign Duncan Robinson 

Five years, $90 million, via Wojnarowski of ESPN


Shooting is a premium in the NBA. The Heat agreed to bring back their young sniper on a significant multiyear contract. Robinson was restricted, and the Heat could have forced him to sign an offer sheet, which they would have matched. Instead, they paid him an amount to be happy with at $18 million a year.

Five years is longer than any other team could offer, so knock the grade down slightly, but the market had very few available wings, to Robinson's benefit.



P.J. Tucker to the Miami Heat

Two years, $15 million, via Charania of The Athletic


The Heat have been busy, and while their other transactions may involve bigger names and bigger contracts, Tucker is a huge loss for the Bucks, Miami's current rival in the Eastern Conference. The 36-year-old versatile defender can hit the corner three and was a vital part of Milwaukee's run to the title.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

The Heat both add to their core and subtract from a conference contender's in the same move. That's a home run.




Tim Hardaway Jr. Back with the Dallas Mavericks

Four years, $72 million, via Charania of The Athletic


The Mavericks made Hardaway a priority and very quickly came to terms. An average annual value of $18 million is on par with his previous contract with the team. Dallas, a team needing to add shooting around star Luka Doncic, couldn't afford to lose one of its top floor-spreaders.

The Hardaway deal alone won't vault the Mavericks above the competition in the West, but he was an essential step along the way as the franchise looks to improve.




Evan Fournier to the New York Knicks

Four years, $78 million, via Wojnarowski of ESPN


The Knicks came into the summer with significant cap space and a need for both scoring and shooting. Fournier is a competent offensive player who will help spread the floor for All-Star Julius Randle.

Adam Hunger/Associated Press

New York needed to spend enough to sway Fournier to leave the Celtics, and $19.5 million per year got it done. The free-agent market for wings was very weak, and Fournier was among the best available. The team option on the final season gives the Knicks a little extra flexibility.



Norman Powell Back with the Portland Trail Blazers

Five years, $90 million, via Wojnarowski of ESPN


The Trail Blazers are under enormous pressure to give All-Star Damian Lillard a reason to stay long-term. Lillard is under contract for multiple seasons but can try to force a trade if he doesn't like the team's direction. Portland needs to add talent to the roster and couldn't afford to let valuable pieces walk.

That gave Powell tremendous leverage, which is why he locked in five full years at $90 million. The $18 million a season is about right for one of the top wings on the market, but that's a lengthy deal.



Warriors Add a Key Piece; Portis To Defend Title

  • Gary Trent Jr. to the Toronto Raptors ($54 million, three years)Wojnarowski: A-

  • Otto Porter Jr. to the Golden State Warriors ($2.4 million, one year)Haynes: A

  • Bobby Portis to the Milwaukee Bucks ($9 million, two years)Charania: A


The Toronto Raptors sent Powell to the Trail Blazers before the deadline to get Trent. Re-signing him was a significant priority (at the going rate for a borderline starting wing at $18 million), with a slight grading ding for a player option in the last year.

The Warriors get a veteran wing who can defend and hit the three if healthy. At that price, an easy home run. After breaking out to help the Bucks win the championship, Portis gave Milwaukee a nice discount to fight for a repeat.

Two Supermax Extensions ($172-207 million over five years)

  • Trae Young to extend with the Atlanta HawksWojnarowski: A

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the Oklahoma City ThunderWojnarowski: B-

Two bright young point guards in Young and Gilgeous-Alexander will sign designated rookie-scale extensions that could climb to supermax deals. While the specific criteria in their deals may not surface until they're signed, if they are named Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year or named to an All-NBA Team, they'll get a bump from the base salary of $172 million.

Young should have been an All-Star last year for a Hawks team that went deep into the playoffs. Gilgeous-Alexander is a bit of a surprise, not because he hasn't shown he can play, but he has still yet to show he can carry a franchise to the postseason.


Honorable Mentions

Los Angeles Lakers Bring Four Back, Let Caruso Go to the Chicago Bulls

  • Alex Caruso to the Bulls ($37 million, four years) — Wojnarowski: A

  • Dwight Howard to the Lakers ($2.6 million, one year) — Charania: B

  • Trevor Ariza to the Lakers ($2.6 million, one year) — Wojnarowski: B

  • Kent Bazemore to the Lakers (2.4 million, one year) — Charania: B

  • Wayne Ellington to the Lakers ($2.1 million, one year) — Haynes: B


Los Angeles adds four helpful role players—all former Lakers—at the minimum. Howard was missed last year, Ariza is a seasoned defender (albeit no longer in his prime), and both Bazemore and Ellington can shoot. That the Lakers didn't pay Caruso to stay at that price is a D+, even with luxury taxes.

The Bulls add another unselfish role player who likes to play defense (along with Ball) who are great fits with LaVine and Vucevic.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.