Understanding every move made on the first day of the NBA free agency
You’ve come to the perfect location if you’re looking for instant satisfaction. NBA free agency for 2023 started on Friday night, and as is customary, transactions were made quickly and fiercely. The Dallas Mavericks continued to pursue Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green agreed to re-sign with the Golden State Warriors, and Fred VanVleet earned a sizable salary.
We won’t know how these transactions will turn out in the long run, of course, but that won’t stop us from making snap judgments about them now. On Friday, some clubs made significant financial commitments without necessarily having a certain chance of winning. While others pursued a star, they worked in the periphery, building their squads with shrewd role players.
Here are some of the NBA free agency’s day one winners and losers.
Winner: Fred VanVleet
Point guard VanVleet, who is 6 feet 1 inches and joined the Toronto Raptors as an undrafted free agent in 2016, just inked a three-year, $130 million max deal with the Houston Rockets. If that isn’t a victory, I’m not sure what is. Sure, he might experience a little bit more defeat when he moves to Houston, but VanVleet is being recruited for his leadership and way of thinking about the game as much as for his performance on the court. He will be expected to guide the youthful Rockets forward and, ideally, get them on the winning track. VanVleet will also have the opportunity to play for a young, developing squad led by Ime Udoka, who most recently served as an NBA Finals head coach.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
There was no doubt that the Mavericks would re-sign Kyrie Irving, but the three-year, $126 million price tag is difficult to comprehend. The 20 games Irving played for Dallas last season saw him contribute, but the team struggled throughout that span, going 8-12, and 5-11 when he and Luka Doncic were both active. The Mavs didn’t have many options, but it was risky to rely on Irving, who over the course of several seasons had issues with availability due to injuries, discipline issues, and personal issues. Was Irving being offered a $40 million+ salary by other teams, or were the Mavs competing with themselves?
Irving has a player option in the third year of the contract that might allow him to once again hold the Mavericks hostage, even if he and Doncic succeed. If Irving can remain focused and present on the court, it could be a tremendous contract, but history tells us that’s just not going to happen.
Winner: Kyrie Irving
He has undoubtedly made mistakes, yet the individual nevertheless receives compensation. Even if things haven’t worked out with any of his last three clubs, Irving was able to negotiate a $126 million contract to play with one of the best young players in the league. Irving’s potential is obvious—he averaged 27 points and six assists per game over the last four seasons. Kyrie, you are you.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
It will be difficult to watch Fred VanVleet leave since he was the heart and spirit of the Raptors, even while Kawhi Leonard was in town. Dennis Schroder, who they immediately replaced, was given a two-year, $26 million contract by Toronto, although it seems a little steep for someone who played for the minimum last season and shot 33% from outside the arc. Despite the significant decline from VanVleet, he is unquestionably serviceable.
Winners: Golden State Warriors and Draymond Green
There has never been a better time to use the handshake emoji. Green has essentially been associated with the Warriors for his entire career, and it wasn’t widely believed that he would play his final season anyplace else than Golden State. But since he was a free agent, there was always a possibility that he may be seduced by… greener fields? (Excuse me; it’s been a hard day; my editor allowed me.)
Green, the Warriors’ defensive wizard, offensive playmaker, and locker room leader, was instead signed to a four-year, $100 million contract in the first minute of the free-agent window. (In the fourth year, he will have a player option.) For the most recent incarnation of Warriors basketball, Steve Kerr is delighted to have Green back alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and new guy, veteran Chris Paul. Kerr claimed that his team has little chance of winning a title without Green.
Loser: Denver Nuggets
It’s difficult to label a team a loser when all of those smudges on the Larry O’Brien trophy are still visible, but the Nuggets must have felt helpless as Bruce Brown signed a $45 million contract with the Indiana Pacers. The pay cap restricted the Nuggets’ ability to offer Brown as much as they would have liked, despite the fact that Brown was an essential component of Denver’s tight playoff rotation. The Nuggets must have been particularly displeased when they learned that the Pacers have a team option for the second year of Brown’s contract. Brown chose to accept the money and move to Indiana, which is absolutely his prerogative. The foundation of Denver’s championship team is still there, but Brown’s ball handling, finishing, defense, and 3-point shooting are impossible to replace.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
There are businesses who buy fruits and vegetables that are bruised or malformed and sell them to restaurants at a reduced price. These produce items are fully edible, but regular grocery shoppers will never choose them because of their unattractive appearance. On the first day of free agency, that is exactly how the Suns’ bargain-bin shopping proceeded. Along with the re-signing of Josh Okogie and Damion Lee, the new players they acquired — Drew Eubanks, Keita Bates-Diop, Chimezie Metu, and Yuta Watanabe — aren’t likely to stir any heads.
However, with superstars Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal already on the roster, those players have great value in terms of shooting, size, and defense and are signed to team-friendly contracts. The Suns’ lack of depth was evident throughout the previous series, but even though they aren’t exactly household names, they have made some good strides in that direction.