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NBA Roundtable: Free agency fallout

76ers too big a risk to bet to win NBA title?
Jay Croucher and Drew Dinsick discuss whether the Philadelphia 76ers are a good bet to win the NBA Championship with their huge addition of Paul George.

After a busy week of free agency action in the Association, the dust has mostly settled. Big dominos such as Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, Klay Thompson and James Harden have fallen. After losing Thompson, Golden State was among the busiest teams over the last week. Likewise, Philly reshaped its roster with a flurry of moves. On the flip side, neither Los Angeles team made any positive splashes, and Denver’s roster got worse.

With the major moves already in the books, Zak Hanshew, Raphielle Johnson and Noah Rubin got together to share their thoughts on the 2024 NBA free agency period.

Q: Which player was the biggest winner of free agency?

Yves Missi. I’ll go off the beaten path with this pick. The Pels traded Larry Nance Jr. as part of the Dejounte Murray deal, and Jonas Valanciunas signed with Washington as a free agent. New Orleans’ center depth got absolutely gutted, and Missi - the No. 21 pick in this year’s draft - could be the team’s starting five in Year 1. The addition of Daniel Theis on Monday doesn’t concern me regarding this pick. The 6’11 Missi averaged 1.5 blocks across just 23.0 minutes per tilt last season at Baylor, and that strong shot-blocking ability paired with a golden opportunity sets him up nicely to be a successful fantasy option right out of the gate. -Hanshew

Patrick Williams. I know some higher-profile players signed new deals, but $90 million over five years for a restricted free agent was an eye-opener. Even with the salary cap due to increase once the NBA finalizes its new television deals. The question for me regarding Williams: who were the Bulls competing with that made them feel the need to make that kind of financial commitment? Injuries limited him to 42 games last season (Williams played all 82 in 2022-23), but the bigger concern is that there hasn’t been substantial growth offensively.

DeMar DeRozan’s imminent departure should free up more opportunities for Williams, and the addition of Josh Giddey has the potential to help as well. However, Chicago has been unable to move Zach LaVine’s contract, and Nikola Vucevic remains in the fold as well. This deal is good for Patrick, as we love to see people get paid, making him the big winner in free agency. -Johnson

Tobias Harris. Harris has been at the forefront of criticism from Philly fans for the past few seasons, and his reputation around the league seemed to take one last hit at the end of last season. However, he still got a $52 million contract to return to Detroit. He’ll get a chance to start and have a better season on a team with lower expectations. Harris will be instrumental in helping Detroit begin to move towards playing competitive basketball, and he should be a really strong option in fantasy hoops. At least until the tank for Cooper Flagg campaign begins. -Rubin

Q: Which team was the biggest winner of free agency?

Philadelphia 76ers. I’m not going to pick Philly to win the Finals let alone win the East, but they made the most impactful signing in free agency. The addition of Paul George should give the Sixers some flexibility to rest Joel Embiid periodically throughout the season to ensure he’s healthy for a deep playoff run. George has always been a 1A or 1B, but he’ll likely be the third offensive option in Philly, which could give him some more energy on the defensive end and take away some pressure. Adding Andre Drummond was a much-needed move to give Philly a reliable backup big, and re-signing Kelly Oubre Jr. gives the Sixers a nice scoring punch. Signing Caleb Martin was a savvy move to bring in another quality 3-and-D guy. -Hanshew

Philadelphia 76ers. With the addition of Paul George, the 76ers made a needed upgrade on the wing as they look to chase down Boston in the East. Tobias Harris put up solid numbers, but something appeared to be missing when the 76ers needed him to step up for a hobbled (or absent) Joel Embiid. That shouldn’t be an issue for George, although availability may give some people pause despite PG playing 76 games last season. Locking in Tyrese Maxey was another win for Philadelphia, while the additions of Andre Drummond and Caleb Martin should strengthen the bench rotation. -Johnson

Golden State Warriors. Sure, they lost one of the greatest players in the organization’s history this summer. However, Klay Thompson simply isn’t the same player that he once was, and they were able to replace what he brought through players like Buddy Hield, De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson. Golden State still has the ammo to make another big move for a star if they are willing to part with some of their young assets, but they should be better than they were last season either way, even if their rotation is difficult to manage in fantasy. -Rubin

Q: Which player was the biggest loser of free agency?

Tre Jones. Jones has been a top-120 fantasy option each of the last two seasons, but he’s been far from “must-roster” territory. The Spurs signed Chris Paul in free agency and drafted Stephon Castle in the lottery, meaning Jones’ days of fantasy relevance are likely numbered thanks to fewer minutes and opportunities. -Hanshew

Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was reported that the Bucks were looking to make changes around Giannis and Damian Lillard, but nothing happened trade-wise, and they didn’t have much room to make things happen in free agency. Meanwhile, Boston locked in its championship core, Indiana and Orlando solidified their respective rosters, and New York and Philadelphia made significant additions. If one wants to add Cleveland to that mix due to the Donovan Mitchell re-signing, feel free to do so, but Milwaukee’s task of getting to the top of the East became more difficult. -Johnson

Tre Jones. Jones was never supposed to be the long-term option at point guard, but things may have changed a bit quicker than expected. Jones was one of the few reliable fantasy options in San Antonio last season, but they signed Chris Paul and drafted Stephon Castle and Juan Núñez this summer. Núñez isn’t going to impact Jones in the short term, but they were intentional about upgrading at point guard this summer. Jones should still play a significant role off the bench, and he will be a valuable streaming option when CP3 is forced to miss games. However, his upside will be severely limited by their recent acquisitions. -Rubin

Q: Which team was the biggest loser of free agency?

Los Angeles Lakers. I strongly considered the Clippers and the Nuggets here, but how the Lakers handled free agency was so bad, I had to give it to them. LeBron James reportedly offered to take less than a max deal to bring in guys like Klay Thompson or James Harden, but Los Angeles couldn’t attract either of them, and the most notable free agents of 2024 have signed or been traded. After striking out so publicly with coach Danny Hurley, the free agency debacle looks even worse. For what it’s worth, James took the max then shaved a couple million off of it to get his team under the apron, but the list of available free agents isn’t filled with needle-movers. A team that was gentlemen swept out of the first round of the playoffs looks like it will go into next season with essentially the same roster, making the Lakers the biggest losers here. -Hanshew

Denver Nuggets. Much has been made of their financial situation and how that would make it difficult to keep the core that won the 2023 NBA title together. One offseason after losing reserves Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, Denver lost a starter in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who agreed to a deal with the Magic. And that rumored extension for Jamal Murray still has yet to be finalized. The KCP loss is the more pressing issue for Michael Malone, as it places the spotlight on Christian Braun and Julian Strawther. Are they ready to step up? If not, Denver could be in trouble next season, even with Nikola Jokic in the middle. -Johnson

Chicago Bulls. As a team, Chicago is moving in the right direction. They’re not going to continue to be stuck in mediocrity, though that may take a few years to correct. However, their total return for DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso was Josh Giddey, Chris Duarte, two second-round picks and some cash. That isn’t the best way to kick off a rebuild, though they can still move Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic to recoup more assets. Based on the moves they’ve made so far, I’m not confident that they’ll be able to bring much back. -Rubin

Q: Which playoff team from last season will miss the playoffs this year?

Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers were certainly in consideration here, but the Clippers had an almost equally as poor offseason. The Clippers lost Paul George, but they were able to sign a strong 3-and-D option in Derrick Jones Jr. Otherwise, there were no notable additions, and the team will head into the 2024-25 campaign with Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and a highly underwhelming supporting cast. The Kings, Warriors and Pelicans improved in the offseason, and the Spurs and Rockets should be better. Both Los Angeles teams could be on the outside looking in. -Hanshew

Los Angeles Lakers. While I do like the Dalton Knecht pick, as he can represent significant value given where he was selected compared to pre-draft projections, how much better did this team truly get? Having a healthy frontcourt rotation (Jarred Vanderbilt, Christian Wood) will help, especially with Anthony Davis preferring to play most of his minutes at the four. But they didn’t get demonstrably better in free agency. Are they convinced that D’Angelo Russell is the answer at point guard? I believe JJ Redick will do a good job, but the strength of the West and the Lakers’ inability to make significant changes are why I see them missing the playoffs. -Johnson

Los Angeles Clippers. First off, the West is going to be even more competitive next season, with Memphis healthy and Victor Wembanyama entering year two. There are going to be some very, very good teams that don’t even make the Play-In Tournament. While the Clippers won’t be a bad team, it will be difficult to replace Paul George’s production. One injury could easily derail a team’s season in the loaded Western Conference, and their roster doesn’t have a reputation of health. However, even if they’re healthy, it’s difficult to bank on them being as good as they were last season. -Rubin

Q: Which team that missed the playoffs last season will make the playoffs this season?

Sacramento Kings. I’m not as high on Memphis as my esteemed colleagues, so I’m going with the selection that feels easy to me. Sacramento essentially replaced Harrison Barnes with DeMar DeRozan and re-signed Malik Monk. This team was the No. 3 seed in 2022-23 and due to a hyper-competitive conference, they missed the playoffs at 46-36. Only three games separated the Kings from the No. 6 seed and a guaranteed playoff berth, and both the Clippers and Lakers will likely regress. Sacramento can get to 50 wins this season, and that will be enough to make the playoffs. -Hanshew

Memphis Grizzlies. This feels like an easy answer for me, simply because the Grizzlies will be healthy. When healthy, this has been one of the best teams in the Western Conference, led by Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane. The one question for Memphis will be the center position, as JJJ has been at his best when paired with a “true” big man. Zach Edey isn’t in the Steven Adams mold, but I think he’ll work well next to Jackson defensively. And good luck getting around the two-time National Player of the Year when he sets screens for the Grizzlies’ perimeter playmakers. -Johnson

Memphis Grizzlies. This is a pretty easy pick, since Memphis had the second-best record in the West two seasons ago, and their entire rotation was hurt last year. They’re healthy now, so they should return to the postseason with Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart healthy. Players like Vince Williams Jr. and GG Jackson were given a chance to shine in expanded roles last year, which should benefit the team’s depth this upcoming season. -Rubin

Q: Who is your pick to win the 2024-25 Finals?

Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks deserve a ton of love here. They’re as deep as any team in the Association. They can score, they can defend, and they have a star who can take over the game. OKC isn’t quite as deep as New York, but the team added an excellent defender in Alex Caruso, and the addition of Isaiah Hartenstein brings some much-needed size to this roster. The Thunder earned the top spot in a ridiculously competitive Western Conference last season, and the team became the youngest group in history to win a playoff series. Winning the Finals would constitute an unprecedented leap, but the Thunder took an unexpected leap and greatly exceeded expectations last season. They can do that again. -Hanshew

Minnesota Timberwolves. Since the Warriors won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, we’ve seen six different teams win it all. Boston is well-positioned to repeat, but the Kristaps Porzingis leg surgery (and 5-6 months of recovery time) concerns me. Al Horford managed to stay healthy this past season, only missing games due to back-to-backs, but he’ll be a year older. And no Porzingis means more will be required of Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser, and Xavier Tillman. Will Porzingis be fully healthy come playoff time? That’s the big question.

As for my pick to win it all, Minnesota made good moves in the draft, acquiring Robert Dillingham and selecting Terrence Shannon Jr. to strengthen the bench. Losing Kyle Anderson does leave a noticeable hole due to his abilities as a supplementary playmaker, and he was also solid defensively. But this is a good rotation led by Anthony Edwards. And in this era of “aprons,” it feels like the NBA will continue to be “wide open” regarding which team ultimately wins the title. -Johnson

New York Knicks. Had New York been healthy last season, they likely would have made the Eastern Conference Finals instead of the Pacers. They probably wouldn’t have beaten Boston, but they may have pushed them to six games, which would’ve been the closest series that the Celtics played. They were able to add Mikal Bridges without parting with any rotation pieces, which gives them one of the deepest rotations and best perimeter defenses in the league. Losing Isaiah Hartenstein isn’t ideal, and I’ll feel even better about them winning if they add another rotation piece at center alongside Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims. However, being able to bring Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart off the bench behind Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, OG Anunoby and Julius Randle is unreal. -Rubin