As the 2022 NBA free agency period dies down, all eyes turn to the deals yet to be completed. It’s presumed that Kevin Durant is headed out of Brooklyn, which could also trade Kyrie Irving, for whom the Lakers are angling. The Suns haven’t resolved their DeAndre Ayton dilemma (will someone emerge as a sign-and-trade partner?). Philly is working with James Harden on an extension, but nothing has been announced.
For now, taking into account the draft, trades and free-agent signings, here is my list of 2022 offseason winners and losers. This post will continue to update. Here’s what we have so far.
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After finishing two wins from an NBA championship, the Celtics went out and landed Danilo Gallinari, who cleared waivers after being let go by San Antonio, and Malcolm Brogdon in a trade with the Pacers, who took back Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first-round pick from Boston.
All of those parts are highly expendable for Boston, which essentially got Brogdon for a first-round pick that will likely land in the mid-to-late 20s. Brogdon is really good. He adds to Boston’s ridiculously stacked defense and is another ball-handler and scorer to live well in a flowing, egalitarian offense. Shocker: Another Celtic who can shoot, create and defend. Good luck finding a hole on this team.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks
Trading Kevin Huerter, a good player, for a draft pick that very well might not convey until 2027 is questionable to me. Now, if that pick eventually gets attached to, say, Clint Capela or John Collins and the Hawks flip for another All-Star-ish player (to go with the Dejounte Murray move), then we’ll reevaluate. But right now, losing Huerter just because you have a position logjam is tough. The Hawks would’ve almost certainly preferred to keep Huerter over Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the latter doesn’t have the trade value to bring back a first-round pick, protected or otherwise.
Still, getting Murray from the Spurs makes this offseason a win for Atlanta. It can still get better, but Murray alone is a really nice addition. There are pessimistic points about the pairing with Trae Young. Both thrive with the ball. Young is a more natural option playing off-ball, but he has to commit, and by commit I don’t mean simply standing somewhere spacing the floor while Murray is running pick and roll.
Young has to move. Cut. Relocate. Become a Steph Curry-like fly to track. I have my doubts about his desire to do that. I envision more of him moving once off a screen, not getting the ball, then standing around or, at best, running toward the handler for a dribble-hand-off. But even in that environment the Hawks are a better team.
Murray is a second guy who can get two feet in the paint and he has really improved his midrange shooting. When he’s off ball, which will be quite often with Young, Murray is a candidate to be abandoned by defenses collapsing on penetration due to his lacking 3-point game/catch-and-shoot skills, but that said, he can really take advantage of that runway on catch-and-go secondary creations.
Defensively, Murray is a long, athletic monster. He’s a nightmare on-ball and a hawk, so to speak, off the ball; he led the league with an even two steals per game. You’re playing with fire even trying to run a DHO with him tracking. He’ll reach in with those Inspector Gadget arms and poke that thing away in a snap.
The Hawks now have two high-level perimeter defenders in Murray and De’Andre Hunter. Onyeka Okongwu can be pretty big-time on the defensive end. If they trade Collins or Capela, it has to be for another two-way player so as to keep Young as the only real target in the starting lineup. That’s how a Trae Young team can survive defensively. Without any other weak links. Atlanta is making moves to create that reality.
As the icing on the cake, AJ Griffin, a consensus top-10 talent, fell to the Hawks at No. 16 in the draft. Concerns about his injury history no doubt led to Griffin’s fall, and scouting reports suggest he has lost, ir still in the process of trying to regain, a fair bit of his burst and/or foot-speed on both sides of the ball. If he regains it, this is a major steal for Atlanta.
Even if he doesn’t, Griffin is one of the best shooters — with a “nasty” step-back — in this 2022 class. At worst he’s a floor spacer with length and physicality. Perfect for Atlanta with the double-creation of Young and Murray slated to create a bunch of catch-and-shoot 3s. If Collins stays, good luck defending the rim rolls for lobs with Griffin waiting in the corner as the defense collapses.
Winner: Houston Rockets
First, Jabari Smith slipped to Houston at No. 3 in the draft. Most mocks had Smith going No. 1 to Orlando, with Paolo Banchero ending up with the Rockets. But Banchero went first, and Smith fills a big need in Houston with potential as an elite defender.
Banchero, an NBA-ready scorer who doesn’t project nearly as well as a defender, would’ve overlapped to a degree with Alperen Sengun, another highly skilled, offensive-minded big. With Jalen Green emerging as a big-time scorer, Houston is already offensively lopsided. Smith, who is also a terrific shooter and athlete, balances that out, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he ends up the best player in this class.
In addition, the Rockets could stand to be a major beneficiary of the Brooklyn Nets’ teardown. Here’s a refresher on all the future draft picks Brooklyn sent to Houston in the James Harden trade:
When Houston made this trade, the belief was that Brooklyn was entering what would be an extended stretch of championship contention. Those picks, certainly through at least 2025, were reasonably expected to end up in the late-20s range.
Once Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are traded, which seems like an inevitability, those picks stand to become a lot more valuable. Brooklyn has no incentive to outright tank precisely because they owe these picks to Houston, but even in a case where they bring back established players in a Durant deal, those players are not going to be Kevin Durant. Even if the picks end up in the mid-to-late teens, or even the low-20s, that’s still somewhere in the ballpark of 10 draft slots higher than expected for Houston.
The man has played 85 career games over three seasons, one of which he didn’t play a single second, and he just got a five-year contract extension that could be worth up to $231 million. I’m not sure if this is a win yet for the Pelicans. If Zion plays and stays healthy for the majority of this contract, of course, it’s a win. New Orleans has a pretty damn good team brewing.
But if Williamson is in and out of the lineup and the Pelicans never gain real traction in a loaded Western Conference, and Zion’s trade value dips because he can’t stay healthy, this could end up ugly for the Pels. But for Zion, regardless of how it plays out, he walks out filthy rich.
The Wolves gave up enough capital to choke a hippo, but they got Rudy Gobert. After signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a four-year, $224 million extension that keeps him in Minnesota for the next six years, it’s twin-tower time in Minnesota, which sent back to Utah Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and multiple first-round picks: unprotected first-rounders in 2023, 2025, and 2027, and a top-five protected pick in 2029.
Gobert is a one-man defense, and notions that he loses defensive viability in the playoffs have been greatly exaggerated. Given the Wolves’ ability to score the ball with Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, this suddenly looks like a really good team. It will have to be to justify this steep of a price, but it’s worth the risk. It’s been ages since the Wolves were actually a team to take this seriously, and I don’t subscribe to the theory that teams have to contend for a championship to warrant these kinds of gambles.
Indeed, the Wolves aren’t going to win the title next year. It’s probably a good bet that they won’t win one during the Gobert era, however long that lasts. You know why? Because only one team wins it all. That doesn’t mean the other 29 did it wrong. For the Wolves, this is a major jolt of franchise energy, building on the momentum they’ve already created with the drafting of Anthony Edwards and last year’s playoff appearance. Gobert almost locks in Minnesota as a 50-win team, and potentially closer to 55.
Towns could still be traded. Same for Russell. Minnesota raised its floor and ensured it won’t be one of those feel-good stories to fall back into the wasteland the next season.
That’s what happened to Atlanta after it’s surprise run to the 2021 conference finals. It decided not to build on that momentum, and fell flat. So the Hawks got busy this summer, trading for Dejounte Murray. Just like the Wolves for Gobert, the Hawks gave up a ton for Murray, and they’re likely not going to win it all. But they’ve raised their floor. Reestablished the franchise energy. And they might not be done. John Collins and/Clint Capela could be moved. There’s no way not to be excited about the Hawks could be with Young nad Murray, just as there’s no way not to be excited about the Wolves heading into next season with Towns, Gobert and Edwards, and when was the last time you could honestly say the Wolves were a legit team to watch?
The Gobert/Donovan Mitchell tandem had hit its ceiling. Everyone knew it. The Jazz didn’t mess around. They cut bait with Gobert and brought back a gigantic haul of assets, which they say they’ll use to build around Mitchell. If Mitchell eventually asks out, he’ll bring back an even bigger haui and Utah will be armed to the teeth for a full-scale rebuild.
UNtil then, just with the Minnesota assets, Utah can get into the thick of a lot of trade conversations with four extra first-round picks and some nice salary-attachers. This is a win-win. Minnesota needed to make waves with a big move, and Utah needed a fresh start. They both succeeded.
Dallas lost Jalen Brunson and, unless it’s going to pull a sneak attack for Kyrie Irving, shows no signs of replacing him with a high-quality creator. He was the second-best player on a team that went to the conference finals, and at times served as a more-than-capable go-to guy when Luka Doncic was out.
I think Brunson was worth more money on the Mavericks next to Luka than he’ll be worth in New York. I would’ve liked to see the Mavericks go after Brogdon after losing Brunson, or just not lose Brunson in the first place.
Dallas did trade for Christian Wood, who should pair nicely as a pick-and-roll/pop complement to Doncic, but treading water by subtracting Brunson and adding Wood feels like an effective step back in what is going to be a death march through the Western Conference.
But hey, at least the Mavs got JaVale McGee for $20 million.
Cleveland locked up Darius Garland on a max rookie extension (but win for Garland at five years and a possible $231 million), and also brought back Ricky Rubio, who was a key piece for the Cavs as he got out to a surprisingly red-hot start last season. Rubio was the classic steadying force for a young team, averaging 13-6-4 before he tore his ACL last December. He really fit with them. Getting Rubio back for $18M over three years is a nice deal for both player and team. Robin Lopez also heads to Cleveland. He backs up Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen as Cleveland can stay huge with multiple lineups.
Winner: Jalen Brunson
Brunson got paid. The Knicks reportedly gave him a four-year, $104 million deal. For a guy who was taken in the second round in 2018, this is a windfall. Good for him. He deserves it. We’ll see how Brunson fares without Luka Doncic around to occupy all the defensive attention. But either way, the bag is secured. Brunson is set for life, and the icing on the cake is that gets to play for his father, Rick Brunson, who recently accepted an assistant coaching position with the Knicks.
Incomplete: New York Knicks
I originally had the Knicks as an offseason loser. But I’ve reconsidered. Taken a longer view. Here’s where I come out.
At the moment, the Knicks allocating a combined $164 million to Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson, with a potential max extension looming for R.J. Barrett looming, doesn’t look great to me. It appears to have taken the flexibility the Knicks had created over the past few years with minimal long-term commitments and turned it into a ticket to mediocrity.
That said, the Knicks don’t think they’re done, and indeed they’re armed with a bevy of flippable pieces. Barrett could, if he takes another step this season, be the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade. Obi Toppin, Cam Reddish and Immanuel Quickley are young assets. The Knicks turned the No. 11 pick in this year’s draft into three future first-round picks, albeit with significant protections attached.
So there’s an optimistic outlook here where the Knicks are a pretty good team this season, establishing credibility, then they use this aforementioned collateral to eventually land the true star they’ve seemingly been waiting on for the last (almost) decade, pairing said addition (Donovan Mitchell?) with Brunson. That’s a win.
There’s also a scenario in which the three picks New York traded for (again, all highly protected) don’t convey for close to a half decade, and don’t hold enough value in the interim to facilitate a needle-moving trade. On top of that, the Knicks could drag their decision on Barrett’s extension throughout the year onto realize he didn’t make the strides necessary to justify a max deal or serve as the centerpiece of a big trade.
Now New York is forced into the position of have to either overpay Barrett or lose him for nothing in restricted free agency (Go ask the Suns, who are still trying to figure out what to do with DeAndre Ayton). New York didn’t create all this possibility to end up paying Brunson, Robinson and Barrett north of $300 million.
This was a multi-year plan Leon Rose put into motion. We’re still in the middle of it. To pay off, the big move has to come through. The pieces are in place to have a shot at that. Whether it happens remains to be seen.
The dude signed the biggest contract in NBA history. Five years, $264 million. He’ll make an eye-popping $60 million in the final year of the deal. I’m not sure what else to say. The man won. So did the Nuggets. Jokic is awesome.
It wasn’t free agency. technically, that bit Brooklyn, but on Thursday Kevin Durant issued a trade request. Once Durant goes, Kyrie Irving will likely follow. The Nets, who were supposed to compete for championships for the foreseeable future, just got blown up.
Now, I will say that this could actually turn out OK for Brooklyn. They’re going to get a king’s ransom for Durant that will include at least a few ready-to-win players in addition to future draft capital, as the Nets have no incentive to tank is that they owe a boat full of future picks to the Rockets for the James Harden deal. Durant wants to go to Phoenix. If they somehow get Devin Booker, it’s home-run time. But I doubt that.
If the Nets talk the Lakers into giving up a few first-round picks, or even just one if Russell Westbrook is going back to Brooklyn, for Irving, that will be even more capital they could package up and move for another All-Star. They still have Ben Simmons. This might not end up so bad.
But for now, the Nets are about to lose Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden inside of six months. Brutal.
James Harden hasn’t signed his new contract yet, but he obviously agreed to give up enough annual salary for the Sixers to afford P.J. Tucker, whom they signed for just over $33 million over three years. That’s a big score. Tucker will seriously lift Philly’s defense and slot perfectly as a corner shooter for Tyrese Maxey and Harden drive-and-kicks. Throw in De’Anthony Melton, whom the Sixers landed on draft night from Memphis for the No. 23 pick and Danny Green, and the Sixers are having a very nice offseason.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC got Chet Holmgren with the No. 2 overall pick. Just that pick alone is a big win. Holmgren could well be the best player in this draft — a potential generational defender who fits perfectly as a skilled, shooting big in OKC’s stretched offensive layout that makes room for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s penetration and Josh Giddey’s sixth-sense passing.
OKC wasn’t done there. It traded three future first-round picks to the Knicks for the No. 11 pick, where they took Ousmane Dieng. Then with the No. 12 pick, the Thunder selected Jalen Williams — not to be confused with one Jaylin Williams, whom the Thunder took in the second round. The common trait in all these guys: length. OKC is prioritizing positional size and skill. All of these guys, including Holmgren, could be projects. But the Thunder are not in a terrible rush.
One other move that kind of slipped under the radar: Oklahoma City traded the No. 30 overall pick to the Nuggets for JaMychal Green and a 2027 first-round pick. Green, who is on an expiring $8.2M contract this season, could very well be flipped at the trade deadline for yet another future draft pick. This is classic Sam Presti. Right as he depletes his asset chest with the three outgoing picks for Dieng, he builds it right back up by getting, in essence, two future picks for the price of one.
The Thunder also re-signed Lu Dort to a five-year, $87 million deal. Dort had a team option for $1.9M for this upcoming season, and the Thunder could’ve held him to that. Instead, they let him out of that deal so he could sign a bigger deal and start making bigger money a year earlier. Now Dort is slated to make over $15 million this season. This is why agents and players like dealing with the Thunder, who we know worked in concert with Chris Paul to get him to a preferred destination. They consistently do right by their guys.
Beal also signed a massive extension with the Wizards: Five years, $251 million. I still bet he gets traded before that contract expires, but by signing with Washington, which owns his Bird rights, he guaranteed himself a fifth guaranteed year, which will equate to about $57 million extra in his bank. That goes with him even if he does get traded. I’d bet good money that Beal winds up having his cake and eating it too, eventually ending up on a contender while also signing the biggest deal possible.
Loser: Washington Wizards
They should’ve traded Beal a long time ago. There’s no way this team is competing for anything other than a bottom playoff seed with Beal making that kind of money. He’s just not a 1A championship guy. He honestly might not even be a sufficient No. 2 given how deep the talent is across the league right now. Washington should have a bundle of assets right now for Beal.
This is what the Spurs did after Kawhi Leonard. They tried to win with DeMar DeRozan — a pretty good Beal comp — as their best player instead of committing to a rebuild. They finally conceded to reality and recently traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks for a bunch of first-round picks, signaling a fresh start. Maybe Washington will eventually come to the same conclusion with Beal. They certainly should. But until then, they’re paying Beal and Kristaps Porzingis just shy of $80 million next season. Good luck with that.
Incomplete: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs got three first-round picks (one via Charlotte), plus a potential pick swap, from the Hawks for Dejounte Murray. That haul sounds better than it might actually turn out. From our Sam Quinn:
Charlotte’s 2023 first-round pick is so heavily protected it might only ever convey as second-rounders. Unprotected control over Atlanta’s first-round picks from 2025-2027 looks a bit more enticing until you realize how young their team is. Those will be Trae Young’s age 26-28 seasons. Murray will be 30 when the last pick changes hands. Barring injuries or a team-wide split, those picks probably aren’t going to be especially valuable.
So that’s the first thing. Let’s see how these picks turn out. Atlanta is no lock to be an upper-crust playoff team in the East. Those picks could easily be mid first-rounders, which would be a win for a player like Murray, who is very good but not a superstar.
Mostly, San Antonio is now in position to tank. It has put this off in the past. Instead of trading Kawhi Leonard for a boatload of picks, it tried to stay competitive with DeMar DeRozan. Murray, likewise, was just good enough to keep the Spurs competitive enough to really get in the mix for a high lottery pick.
Now the Spurs can join what will be a growing group of teams trying to position themselves for presumed 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama. More from Sam Quinn:
For those of you who don’t obsessively track European teenagers, Wembanyama is going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. He is, by nearly universal consensus, the highest-rated prospect to enter the draft since at least Zion Williamson in 2019. Some believe we must go back as far as 2003, when a 16-year-old kid from Akron had already been dubbed the chosen one, to find a better prospect. Imagine stretching out Anthony Davis by a few inches and giving him a more reliable jumper. “The ultimate goal is to acquire Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strength and conditioning, and Kevin Durant’s skills,” Wembanyama has said. That’s the sort of prospect we’re talking about here. The Spurs were the first team to make a transparent play for the French MonStar. They won’t be the last.
The lottery odds are now equal (14 percent) for the three teams with the worst records, so you can’t just guarantee yourself the best shot at a prospect by ending up dead last in the standings. And like Sam said, the Spurs won’t be the only team angling for Wembanyama. The dude is 7-foot-3 with a 7-9 wingspan, and look at the skill and fluidity he possesses.
If San Antonio somehow lands Wembanyama, obviously trading Murray and bottoming out will have been a major win. If it doesn’t happen, the 2023 draft is still considered talent rich. I lean toward calling this offseason a win for San Antonio, but will keep it at incomplete for the possibility that the ping pong balls don’t fall their way and those draft picks don’t turn out to be very valuable. We’ll see.
I’m not sure if I like Anfernee Simons more than Jalen Brunson. I think, at this moment, I would take Brunson because he’s a playoff defender. But it’s close. So why do I think the $100 million Portland gave Simons over four years is a win but consider the $104 million that the Knicks gave Brunson over the same amount of time to be a loss? Simple: Simons doesn’t have to be the best player on the Blazers. He’s got Damian Lillard for that.
Frankly, Simons doesn’t have to be the Blazers’ second-best player either. They just traded for Jerami Grant. Simons is a potential future star but he doesn’t have to carry that burden right away.
The Blazers also stole Gary Payton II from the Warriors for $28 million over three years. Payton isa beast. Portland fans are going to fall in love with him. He’s an elite defender and a special cutter (Portland needs to find a way to take advantage of this as Golden State did with all its movement) and floor runner. He can hit corner 3s. Portland had to address its defense, and Grant and Payton, who honestly could be one of the highest-value signings that any team made this offseason, are two huge additions in that regard.
The Blazers are still looking at small lineups and to say they’re defensively deficient in the backcourt would be an understatement. They really need one more move, and it needs to be a good one, and I think Joe Cronin will get it done. I think it’s clear this regime intends to keep the pedal down.
Winner: Sacramento Kings
Kevin Huerter is a good player. The Kings did well to land him for essentially a first-round pick (no offense to Justin Holiday or Mo Harkless, but the pick was the value). And the pick is lottery-protected in 2024, top-12 protected in 2025 and top-10 protected in 2026. In other words, if the Kings still stink in 2024 and miss the playoffs, they’ll still get that pick. And they could very well keep it through 2026 with the West as deep as it is.
Meanwhile, Sacramento continues to quietly put a pretty nice five together with De’Aaron Fox, Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Domantas Sabonis. Fox is 24 years old, Huerter and Davion Mitchell are 23. Sacramento just drafted 21-year-old Keegan Murray No. 4 overall. They can remain patient while continuing to put a competitive product on the floor. Dare I say, there are some actual good feels around the Kings at the moment.
Winner: Lu Dort
Dort didn’t even get drafted. He had to grind his way into the league on two-way contracts. Now he just signed with the Thunder for $87.5 million over five years. By turning himself into a brick of a defender while improving greatly as a shooter, Dort will never have to worry about money or his place in the NBA again.
Also, good on the Thunder for rewarding Dort with this money a year before they had to. They could’ve exercised the $1.9 million team option they had in place for Dort this season. Instead, they let him out of that to sign a much bigger deal that can now kick in right away. Instead of $1.9 million, Dort will make over $15 million this coming season with much more to come over the next half-decade.
Winner: Gary Payton II
Like Dort, Payton was un-drafted. He bounced around the G-League and played on two-way contracts and was let go six separate times from NBA rosters. Finally, he found a real role with the Warriors last season. He killed it. Now he’s got a $28 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. Dream-come-true stuff.
Winner: Devin Booker
Secured $224 million over four years. Again, not much else to say. The man is filthy loaded. I don’t think Booker will end up in a Kevin Durant trade. If he does it wouldn’t be the worst thing to go to a Nets team that is still going to be pretty good this year with whatever they get back for Durant with a ton of picks to get even better in the coming years to build around Booker. Life is good.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
Golden State lost Gary Payton II to the Blazers. This hurts. Payton was so great in his role for the Warriors, who were already thin on perimeter defense even when they had Payton. Golden State is deep in the repeater tax. It simply decided it couldn’t justify paying Payton this much money given the massive tax implications for every dollar they spend.
Golden State decided it couldn’t afford both Kevon Looney and Payton. They opted for Looney, whom they brought back for $25.5M over three years. I’m not sure I agree with that decision. Looney is fantastic for the Warriors. No way they win the title without him. But they drafted James Wiseman. Looney, through that lens, is more replaceable on the Warriors’ roster than Payton is. I would’ve ponied up for Payton and depended on Wiseman to start earning his keep.
Reasonable minds can disagree on that stance, but either way, everyone can agree that losing Payton is a big loss for Golden State, which also lost Otto Porter Jr. to the Raptors. That’s two rotation pieces from a championship team gone. Signing Donte DiVincenzo, who, I really like, eases the sting of losing Porter, but not Payton, who is simply another kind of player who has a unique impact that is so hard to find in this league. I think the Warriors are a worse team today than they were a few days ago.
Morant signed a max rookie extension with Memphis for five years and a guaranteed $193 million. Morant has the potential to make up to $231M over the life of this contract based on incentives. Towns got a four-year, $224 million extension that will begin in 2024, meaning the Wolves have him locked up for the next six years. LaVine is staying with Chicago on a five-year, $215M extension.
I think the Lakers jumped the gun on a few of their Thursday signings. They used their MLE on Lonnie Walker, who isn’t as good as Malik Monk, whom they lost to Sacramento. I like Juan Toscano-Anderson. He’ll help. Troy Brown Jr. isn’t exactly moving the needle. Damian Jones is a nice signing. I just think the Lakers could’ve waited to see if Donte Divincenzo, who remains unsigned after the Kings opted not to extend him a qualifying offer, or a TJ Warren might’ve become available at the MLE level.
The Lakers didn’t do terrible on day one. I wouldn’t call it a win or a loss. They didn’t have much to work with. What this comes down to is whether the Lakers can find a way to land Kyrie Irving. If they do, the offseason is a win. If they don’t, and they go into next year with Russell Westbrook as their starting point guard, nobody is going to give two you know whats about Lonnie Walker or Damian Jones. This offseason will have been a loss. So we’ll wait and see.