Kevin Durant

Early winners and losers in NBA free agency may be pretty cut and dry. The salary cap went up $24 million and this gave every team in the league an excuse to spend money on players who will helm their mediocrity for the next five years. At the end of the day, either you have acquired a tier one, superstar, NBA player, maintained your ability to acquire one or surrounded the one you have with much needed help. Let’s take a look at some early winners and losers.

In the Western conference, let’s be frank, everyone not named Golden State lost. Golden State signed Durant and now every achy knee veteran is willing to pay Golden State to be on their roster. San Antonio is still Golden State’s toughest foe but they lost to Durant sans the league’s MVP and company, so their prospects might be hopeless enough to send Duncan into retirement. They added Pau Gasol to help replace and dare I say, upgrade their frontline, in case Duncan moves on. Outside of the Spurs and Memphis, no team in the western conference has actually gotten significantly better.

The Eastern conference is far more interesting.  The Indiana Pacers improved their roster through trades before free agency started. With the additions of Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague, they’ve improved the offensive prowess of a team that struggled to score consistently, last year.

The Bulls are no longer an interesting destination for tier one free agents, but the addition of Rajon Rondo gives them the potential to be more potent offensively. There are also rumors that Dwayne Wade is in play to join his hometown team for $25 million for two or three years. Good luck with that. The Atlanta Hawks lost Al Horford, but added hometown product, and habitual dimwit, Dwight Howard. They traded Jeff Teague to open up the clear starter role for Dennis Schröder. The signing of Kent Bazemore (4 yrs/70 million) was important to their growth. I believe Howard finally realizes he has something to prove as opposed to his previous mindset that everyone owed him something. This could spell trouble for teams in the East and make for a much needed makeover for the Hawks.

The New York Knicks rolled the dice on oft injured players in hopes of tapping into their elite abilities. Trading for Rose, signing Noah and Brandon Jennings, gives the Knicks punch in their starting lineup and off the bench. The Knicks, like most teams, were unable to lure tier one free agents, but arguably made smart low risk, high reward moves. If he’s healthy, the Knicks should be in the playoffs making noise.

The Boston Celtics grabbed their guy in Al Horford and improved their prospects by only a smidge. He’s a solid player with all the tools, but by no means a game changer, evidenced by the Hawks’ lack of game when it counted the most. My sense is Ainge isn’t done on the trade market either.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Pat Riley may have been reading his good press about being an awesome recruiter and got ahead of himself. The Heat resigned Hassan Whiteside, lost Deng, lost Tyler Johnson and managed to anger Dwayne Wade, in their pursuit of Kevin Durant. The Heat already had a relatively bad off season but if they lose Wade…disaster.

Finally the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors have been quiet. Toronto lost Bismack Biyombo (4 yrs/72 million) to the Orlando Magic’s need to collect big men who play the same position. His loss will sting. Toronto is the type of team that is one hiccup away from being in the lottery. I hope that wasn’t it.

The Cavs are riding high, but their cheap, “I want to play with LeBron”, talent might be looking for a pay day. The Cavs do not have the cap space to make many signings. Their core is intact regardless and they’re the best team in the East, as long as James and Kyrie are there. Everyone else is fighting for second place.