September 30, 2022

Flying in off the top rope, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled a Donovan Mitchell trade out from under the Knicks on Thursday. Mitchell in Cleveland makes the Cavs a very interesting team, but what does missing out on him mean for the Knicks

Thursday was also a big day for Collin Sexton, who was sent to Utah in the deal and inked a four-year, $72 million extension. We’re all still waiting on a Lakers trade. Will it happen? Until we know, the Lakers are among the teams with an incomplete offseason grade so far. 

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 as additional transactions are made.

Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers

Sexton was not in their long-term plans anyway. Lauri Markkanen is a fringe piece on a Cleveland team with plenty of size and now plenty of scoring (Hopefully Kevin Love can replace Markkanen’s spacing impact). Cleveland gave up three unprotected picks, but Mitchell is 25 years old and under contract for the next three years. That timeline matches Cleveland’s roster perfectly. They’re ready to win now, and if it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, Mitchell — or Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley or Garland, for that matter — still will hold plenty of trade value in a couple years to go another route. Low risk, big reward move for the Cavs. 

In other offseason moves, Cleveland locked up Garland on a max rookie extension (big 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 and he will reunite with Mitchell, whom he played with in Utah. Robin Lopez also heads to Cleveland. He backs up Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen allowing Cleveland to stay big with multiple lineups. 

Winner: Donovan Mitchell

A New York kid, Mitchell might not see it like this just yet, but he’s in a better basketball position in Cleveland than he would’ve been with the Knicks. Darius Garland and Mitchell immediately comprise one of the most explosive scoring backcourts in the league, and Cleveland has two rim-protecting anchors to cover for the backcourt’s collective defensive deficiencies. 

Winner: Utah Jazz

Utah had seemingly hit its ceiling with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz would’ve loved to become a true title contender with that duo, but the collective haul they brought back by trading both of them is the next best thing. Between the Gobert and Mitchell deals, the Jazz collected seven future first-round picks, six of them unprotected, plus the right to three pick swaps. 

Counting Ochai Agbaji, who was drafted No. 14 overall by the Cavs a few months ago, and Walker Kessler, who went No. 22 to the Timberwolves, that’s effectively nine first-round picks the Jazz netted from these two trades. 

In addition to the picks, the Jazz brought in solid talent in Sexton, Markkanen, Talen Horton-Tucker (courtesy of shipping Patrick Beverley, who came over in the Gobert deal, to the Lakers), Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt (an awesome young defender) and Leandro Bolmaro. 

On top of that, the Jazz are now positioned to develop these young guys while simultaneously entering the tank race for presumed 2023 top pick Victor Wembanyama. To that end, now that the Jazz are incentivized to lose, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and perhaps even Beasley are all good bets to be moved for even more return. 

It stinks to lose two players like Gobert and Mitchell, but this summer has been an unequivocal success for Utah. Danny Ainge strikes again. 

Incomplete: New York Knicks 

I originally had the Knicks as an offseason loser. But I’ve reconsidered and taken a longer view. Here’s where I come out. 

Not landing Donovan Mitchell is a disappointment, but I’m on record saying the Knicks are better off keeping RJ Barrett and future flexibility with eight trade-eligible draft picks still in the chamber. I don’t think Mitchell is quite good enough to pay that heavy a tag. 

That said, the Knicks need to do something with all that ammo. Barrett has to develop into an All-Star or they need to package him for another star trade pursuit. Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson have to prove they’re worth the combined $164 million that the Knicks committed to pay them over the next four years — or, again, they have to figure into a future trade that gets New York closer to contention. 

These are a lot of IFs. The instant gratification of a Mitchell deal didn’t happen, but the potential is there for all this to come together for Leon Rose and the Knicks. We shall see. 

Winner: Collin Sexton

Sexton was an odd man out in Cleveland with the All-Star development of Darius Garland, but he can play. And he just set up him and his family for life with a $72 million contract. He’ll get a chance to show what he can do in Utah under no real pressure. 

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Whatever Joe Tsai, Sean Marks and/or Steve Nash said, somebody, or everybody, deserves a lot of credit for weathering this Durant storm and getting everybody back on board. A month ago Durant was all but gone. Kyrie Irving was almost certain to follow. Losing Durant, Irving and James Harden over a six-month stretch was going to be a disaster, regardless of return. 

Now the Nets have a big three that really makes sense, with Ben Simmons (if he actually plays and is at or near his previous form by playoff time) activating a defensive switch Brooklyn previously lacked without the pressure of being a primary scorer/creator. 

In the background of the Durant/Irving drama, the Nets went out and signed a really good two-way wing in Royce O’Neale in addition to another scorer in T.J. Warren while resigning Patty Mills. Oh, and Joe Harris should be back. Throw in Seth Curry, and the Nets are loaded with shooting to absorb the Simmons spacing hit with a dangerous defensive foundation. 

Oh by the way, Brooklyn also has a 2027 first-round pick from the Sixers (Harden deal) that can be used in a trade (Myles Turner?) to further solidify the roster. Indeed, the Nets went from blown up to a top-tier title contender in a blink. 

Winner: RJ Barrett

Barrett wasn’t dealt to a rebuilding Utah team. He stays with the Knicks and gets a four-year, $120 million extension. Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that New York didn’t want to pay Barrett until the October deadline, preferring to trade him, but the trade with Utah for Donovan Mitchell didn’t go through and the Knicks, as som might see it, then paid Barrett as a sort of consolation prize. 

This may or may not be true, but either way, Barrett wins. He gets paid. He stays in New York for now. 

Winner: LeBron James

Not that he’s hurting for cash, but anyone who signs a $97 million extension that is guaranteed, if he chooses, to take him into his age-40 season is a winner. The Lakers have also reportedly assured James that they will do what it takes to put a team around him that can compete for a title, meaning they are willing to move their well-chronicled 2027 and 2029 first-round picks if the right trade presents itself. 

Also, it wouldn’t appear to be a coincidence that LeBron can opt out of this new deal in the summer of 2024, which is when his son Bronny is expected to enter the NBA Draft. In other words, LeBron really checked off his list here. He got paid. He gets to stay in L.A. where he openly loves living. And he has the flexibility to relocate to play with his son in a couple years should he choose that route. 

Also, LeBron is in line to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader this season (he needs just 1,326 points), and doing so in a Laker uniform will only make the moment and achievement more iconic. 

Winner: James Harden

As mentioned above, Harden guarantees himself just under $70 million over the next two years but can opt out after year one if he plays well and sees a longer, bigger contract in his future. That’s not bad for a guy whose game appeared to be on a steep decline last season, particularly in the playoffs. 

Harden has a real chance to compete for a title with Joel Embiid and a Sixers roster that has been rounded out nicely with the additions of De’Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker. 

Incomplete: Lakers

The Lakers moved closer to being an offseason loser with the news that the Nets are not going to trade Kevin Durant, which means Kyrie Irving is likely staying put as well. But there are still a couple cards in the deck that can help them: Indiana’s Buddy Hield and Myles Turner.

If the Lakers are able to pull off the wheel and bring both Hield and Turner in while shipping out Russell Westbrook, this will have been a successful offseason. For my money, Hield and Turner would make the Lakers better than Irving would have. 

Until that happens, however, the Lakers’ biggest move has been swapping Talen Horton-Tucker for Patrick Beverley and they still have the Westbrook anchor tied around their ankle. 

During free agency, the Lakers 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, but same on the non-needle-mover scale. 

The Lakers didn’t have much to work with. What this comes down to is whether the Lakers can find a way to make a Westbrook deal and add some shooting, at the very least. If they don’t, and they go into next year with Westbrook as their starting point guard and no shooting to speak of, nobody is going to care about Lonnie Walker or Damian Jones. We’ll wait and see, but the Lakers are currently trending toward Loserville. 

Ayton agreed to a four-year, $133 million max offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers on Thursday. Ayton is a restricted free agent, so the Suns had 48 hours to match the offer, which they reportedly did, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Ayton will be starting the 2022-23 season with the Suns, who simply couldn’t afford to lose Ayton for nothing. 

I say starting the season because the Suns could opt to trade Ayton as soon as they’re legally allowed, which would be Jan. 15. That seemed like a more plausible scenario when Kevin Durant was still an option, but now that Durant is seemingly staying with the Nets Ayton feels more firm in Phoenix. 

Either way, Ayton is now generationally wealthy while very likely remaining on a top title contender. 

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. 

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, or is 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. 

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. 

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. You can talk about how much the Wolves gave up, but the reality is teams like the Wolves almost always have to overpay to land elite players. Gobert almost locks in Minnesota as a 50-win team, and potentially closer to 55. 

And this doesn’t have to be the final iteration of a contending roster in Minnesota. Towns could still be traded. Same for Russell. In the meantime, 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/or Clint Capela could be moved. There’s no way not to be excited about what the Hawks could be with Young and 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? 

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.

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. 

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. 

James Harden’s discount deal is a win-win for Harden and the Sixers, who don’t have to commit to Harden long term after a sketchy postseason showing, but also don’t lose him for nothing after trading Ben Simmons to get him. Also, Harden agreeing to a smaller annual salary gave Philadelphia enough cap space to sign P.J. Tucker, who’ll be a massive addition for depth, defense and 3-point shooting on the wing.

Tucker is a big score. He 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 have had a very nice offseason. 

Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC got Chet Holmgren with the No. 2 overall pick. Then promptly lost him for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, for which he has already undergone successful surgery. 

This stinks for Holmgren and the Thunder, but OKC isn’t in a big rush to be good. Getting Holmgren is still 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 after the Holmgren pick. 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 again, the Thunder are not in a terrible rush. 

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. 

We’ll wait and see if the Blazers actually manage to field a more competitive team than the one they had with CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Larry Nance Jr. and Robert Covington. But those deals are done. All that matters now is have they gotten better this summer, and the answer is yes. 

In essence, the Blazers flipped McCollum and Powell for Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II. In a vacuum, I’m not sure that’s a win for Portland, but within the context of a Lillard-led roster, wing length and versatile defense had to be a priority. 

The Blazers signed Anfernee Simons to a $100 million deal. They’re still stuck with a small, defensively lacking backcourt, but again, there’s a bit more defensive support around them now. That’s still not optimal. Defense in today’s NBA is oftentimes more about the weakest link than the strongest. 

Still, Simons and Lillard are going to light up the scoreboard. Grant is now properly positioned as a supporting scorer rather than the go-to guy. Payton is a total 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.

The Blazers are still looking at deploying a lot of small lineups and, again, 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 if they have any intention of even threatening to sneak in through the back door of the contender conversation. 

Problem is, I don’t know what other cards they have to play. I don’t think Portland is anything more that its ever been — which is a puncher’s chance team that you can’t ever totally rule out because of Lillard. And now they have better balance and a few top-shelf defenders. It’s a win given what they were working with. They did the most they could. But it’s not like they vaulted themselves into another tier of contention. Frankly, this team could still be in a battle to even make the playoffs. 

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. 

Secured $224 million over four years. Again, not much else to say. The man is filthy loaded and whatever tiny chance there potentially was of him being included in a Kevin Durant trade has gone bye-bye. Booker, as was almost certainly, always the case, is  officially in the desert for the foreseeable future. 

(Slight) 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 and Kevon Looney given the massive tax implications for every dollar they spend. 

They prioritized 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 2021-22 title without him. But they drafted James Wiseman. Looney, through that lens, is more replaceable on the Warriors’ roster than Payton. 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, whom I really like, eases the sting of losing Porter, and JaMychal Green could be one of the bigger under-the-radar signinga of the offseason. I just can’t get past the loss of Payton, who is is one of the most unique players in the league. It feels like the Lakers losing Alex Caruso. It’s a much bigger deal than the casual fan might think. 

I think the Warriors, if ever-so slightly, are a worse team today than they were a couple months 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. 

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