By Shawn Dennis
The start of the 2021 NBA Free Agency had lived up to expectations as people who follow transactions, trades, and signings knew that this was going to be a busy offseason. Although it hasn’t exactly come to a close yet, most of the big name free agents have come off the board and have signed to their desired locations.
With that being said, let’s get right into it.
Here are the three winners, three losers, and some honorable mentions of the NBA Free Agency thus far, starting with the losers.
Loser: Portland Trail Blazers
It’s not because of what the Blazers decided to do this offseason, but instead, what they didn’t do.
The rumors around CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard playing elsewhere next year were swirling into the Ben Simmons dilemma in Philadelphia. The Portland Trail Blazers have done nothing to increase their chances of winning, nor of helping Dame have a stronger frontcourt to distribute the ball and play defense.
By losing Carmelo Anthony and Zach Collins, while acquiring Cody Zeller and Tony Snell to make up for their absences, it’s as if they went down a complete letter grade. Portland isn’t much of a desired destination for free agents, but if they’re seeking to improve with or without Dame Lillard in the process, they need to either make trades that include picks for a rebuild or give Lillard the help he’s been needing for the past decade.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
Similar to that of the situation over in Portland, the Philadelphia 76ers have to make moves this offseason if they hope to be the top-seed in the East again.
Sure, the Sixers managed to keep a hold of Danny Green while bringing on Andre Drummond to make up for losing Dwight Howard, but is that going to get them past a team like the Atlanta Hawks, who upset them badly last year? Probably not.
What’s super frustrating about this situation is that the fans of Philadelphia, likely the head coach Doc Rivers, and the face of the franchise Joel Embiid, don’t want to see Ben Simmons play for the 76ers ever again. Likewise, Simmons himself doesn’t seem like he wants to play with the media blasting him for not responding to anyone in the organization or training in the 76ers facility.
Daryl Morey can’t be greedy or too patient in waiting for the perfect deal to come, because it’s more than likely not going to happen. Trade Simmons for a true point guard, make the die-hard fans of Philly happy, and have a restart from the last few seasons of disappointment while your franchise guy is still healthy.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
Perhaps the most confusing team to try to figure out, aside from the Detroit Pistons, is the Toronto Raptors, solely because they are in between being a playoff team or finishing towards the bottom of the standings.
Instead of packaging Kyle Lowry in a trade last season, they waited until he was a free agent to make a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat, which resulted in the return of Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. It had to have been obvious that Lowry wasn’t going to finish out his career on a team that is confused on what their future is. Especially knowing that he did all he could for that franchise to win them their first title. Lowry will retire being known as a Raptor, but Toronto should’ve made earlier moves to better their future instead of keeping their hopes up that their future Hall of Famer would stick around.
If I was the GM of Toronto, I would try to trade Pascal Siakam to clear cap space, acquire picks, and prepare for the future knowing that teams like the 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and other teams that will be solid for the next 4-5 seasons are dwindling down.
Honorable Mentions for Losers: New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s make this one short and sweet…
The Lakers brought on one of the best point guards in the league, Russell Westbrook, to try to create a “big three” that can put up a fight with the Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James also brought on his long-time friend, Carmelo Anthony, who’s still looking for his first-ever championship. Lastly, and what I think is actually most important, is the signing of two young guards in Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn.
The fact that both Nunn and Monk were willing to take pay cuts to try to help LeBron win another championship in LA is crucial. LeBron desperately needed help in the backcourt and knowing that the majority of this roster is filled by veterans who need rest throughout the long season is relieving to see that Westbrook will get the help he needed for averaging a triple-double again this season.
Winner: Chicago Bulls
Looking at the starting roster for the Chicago Bulls this upcoming season in comparison to last is like night and day. The backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine is going to be a show. How the Bulls managed to bring on a wing in DeMar DeRozan is also super impressive. Plus, you can’t forget that the Bulls brought on Laker legend Alex Caruso to come off the bench and keep the intensity up for when Ball is off the floor.
I don’t think this team is anywhere near being contenders for a championship, but they pulled off a myriad of signings that will definitely improve their spot in the standings for next season.
Winner: Miami Heat
GM Pat Riley made money moves this offseason to better his Miami Heat team towards going on another championship run. Head coach Eric Spoelstra has to be feeling better about his odds now that he has Kyle Lowry, a healthy Victor Oladipo, PJ Tucker, and Markieff Morris now on the roster.
It seemed all too likely that the Heat were going to have to get rid of Duncan Robinson or create a package for the Kyle Lowry signing to happen, but only had to give up a high salary player in Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa, as previously discussed.
This team is high caliber on all aspects of the floor and although it’s unlikely that they would surpass the Nets or Bucks if they meet in the playoffs, there’s always the chance that they could stay healthy and other teams could be riddled with injuries, like what happened last season.
I’m excited to see Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry play together, as they are two dogs that are willing to sacrifice themselves on the floor for every loose ball and do whatever it takes to win a game.
Honorable Mention for Winners: New York Knicks