BOSTON -- Some of the most significant players in the free agency market hitched their lot to teams within minutes of free agency beginning on Sunday at 6 p.m., creating what will be an undeniable domino effect for the rest of the NBA.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will form a lethal 1-2 punch in Brooklyn after Durant’s “redshirt” year after recovering from an Achilles injury.
The Milwaukee Bucks plan to bring back (most of) the band from last season’s squad which finished with the best regular season record in the NBA by re-signing Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez although Malcolm Brogdon (four years $85 million) is bound for Indiana via sign-and-trade.
And of course, the Celtics came to terms with Kemba Walker on a four-year, $141 million deal.
Indeed, the deals are getting done at a furious pace which is setting the tone for what should be a much-improved Eastern Conference.
Here’s a (really, really early) look at the playoff pecking order of teams in the Eastern Conference after Day One of free agency.
Philadelphia -- The sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami was about the only hint of a bad night for the Sixers, who got a younger 3-and-D player in Josh Richardson. And then there was the ultimate punch-in-the-gut for Celtics fans with Al Horford agreeing to a four-year, $109 million deal ($97 million of which is guaranteed). Joel Embiid’s biggest nemesis is now a teammate, and the Sixers are poised to not just be the best team in the East but on the very short list of legit title contenders.
Toronto -- This is assuming the best-case scenario for Toronto which would be for NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to return and seek a repeat. Of course, the Raptors return several key players from their championship squad, but their future as an elite team in the East hinges heavily on which team Kawhi Leonard hitches his lot to in the coming days.
Milwaukee -- The Bucks kept their core (minus Malcolm Brogdon) intact, and will begin the season as one of the top two teams in the East depending on whether the NBA champion Toronto Raptors are able to re-sign Kawhi Leonard. Khris Middleton’s deal puts him among the highest-paid players in the NBA. The Bucks also brought back George Hill (three years, $29 million) which will help fill the void left by Brogdon’s departure.
Indiana -- The backcourt tandem of Victor Oladipo and newly acquired Malcolm Brogdon will solidify a Pacers team that continues to be one of those teams on the rise. The growth of Myles Turner into a consistent stretch big will go far in their chances of being among the last team’s standing.
Boston -- The Celtics will have a drop-off with the departure of Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia), but it won’t be that far off from where they were a year ago. Kemba Walker will come in and help fill the void left by Irving. But Boston has no one who can replace Horford. Still, there’s more than enough talent for the Celtics to stay in the mix with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and what should be an improved Gordon Hayward (Celtics fans fingers crossed).
Brooklyn -- With Kevin Durant (Achilles) expected to take all year to recover, Kyrie Irving will be very much a one-man show with the Nets, surrounded by good but not great talent. It’ll be enough to continue building off the success of last season and just as important, position Brooklyn to be a major force in 2020 when a healthy Durant returns to action.
Miami -- Pat Riley has been great at getting free agents to visit. But with no cap space a bunch of bad contracts, he made the most of his opportunity in landing one of the better fits for the Heat in Jimmy Butler. Several pieces had to be moved in order to get Butler in the fold, but it’ll be worth it because Butler is one of the best late-game closers and who knows, maybe he’ll convince Dwyane Wade to come out of retirement for one last dance through the league.
Orlando -- The Magic had an effective-but-stealth Day One when it came to free agency. They made the playoffs a year ago and went into free agency content on keeping most of their guys around. Mission accomplished with the Magic re-signing Nikola Vucevic (four years, $100 million) and Terrence Ross (four years, $54) as well as adding free agent Fariq Al-Aminu (three years, $29 million).
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