Biggest takeaways from NBA Free Agency

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We are now over 24 hours removed from the most exciting free agency period of any sport in the history of sports in this country. Before I break down my thoughts on everything, let's first recognize how much better the NBA is at free agency than Major League Baseball.

In the Major League Baseball offseason we were using the words "collusion" and "embarrassing" when discussing where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were going to go. A quality closer in Craig Kimbrel didn't even make it to a roster before the season started. It is literally a 180 degree difference in the two sports when it comes to offseason entertainment. The root of the difference comes down to something very simple. In baseball, value is not clearly defined. We did not exactly know what Bryce Harper wanted for his next contract going into the offseason. We knew that he wanted to set a benchmark, but did he want to the most total money in baseball history? Did he want the most years in baseball history? Did he want the most money PER year? That was the very difficult part of reading the Harper free agency, we did not know what he was going for exactly.

In basketball, we know what these guys are going for. We can specifically categorize every athlete. Kemba Walker and Anthony Davis wanted a chance to grow a contender. Jimmy Butler wanted a respectable organization. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wanted to play together. We knew all of this before free agency began so it makes total sense that we would see deals for all of these free agents on day one. Baseball drags on and on because of that difference, however also the "max contract" requires a much longer commitment in baseball. Harper's "max contract" is a 13 year deal. 13!!!!! For a power hitter! Kemba Walker's max deal is a 4 year deal. I use these two players as examples because I think they were at very similar points in their careers heading into their free agency. Both young superstars who were about to get paid, and we could potentially see both of them as Hall of Famers one day, yet neither had been near a championship yet. Naturally, their mindsets would be similar.
So lets get to my biggest takeaways so far


Kemba Walker deal saves Boston

This will net him roughly $35 million dollars per year and it is the definition of a "deep breath" for the organization. It's amazing how quickly things can change in this sport. We saw it with the Pelicans when they brought in David Griffen to help save the day when Anthony Davis said he was not going to re-sign. The team went from no hope and losing a super star, to drafting Zion Williamson and getting a boat load of talent back for Anthony Davis in a very short amount of time and it will not surprise me if they make the playoffs very soon. The Celtics change happened over the span of a year. At the beginning of this NBA season, the Celtics were the CLEAR favorites. Everybody kept saying that if a team led by Terry Rozier, Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown can make it to the East Finals, adding Kyrie and Gordon Hayward into the mix will get them in the NBA Finals for sure. That simply was not the case, the team underperformed in the playoffs which led to Kyrie and Al Horford walking. Kemba now is the face of that Celtics and I think will be a great fit for a team that looked like it was going to take a nosedive.

The Knicks and Hornets are still big losers

As good as it is for Boston to get Kemba, it is equally as bad for Charlotte that they let him walk. The reported Charlotte offer to Kemba was a five year deal worth $160 million dollars. They could have offered $221 million if they wanted to. If I'm the Hornets, I was thinking to myself as the Anthony Davis drama was happening this year, thankfully that's not us. Thankfully our superstar has not publicly requested a trade because he does believes we can't win. That's what happened with Davis in New Orleans, and frankly it was the same situation in Charlotte. The AD situation should have been a warning sign to the Hornets that this stuff happens. Star players walk from small markets all the time, it's up to the organization to convince our superstar that we have a direction. The Pelicans didn't do that for Davis, the Knicks didn't do that with Kristops and the Hornets clearly did not do that with Kemba. To offer Kemba $50 million less than what they could have is insulting, and they had to know they were going to be outbid. If I'm a Hornet fan I am livid.

Not quite as livid as a Knick fan however. This franchise, led by the worst owner in sports in James Dolan, has repeatedly made horrible decisions. The Eddy Curry contract, the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Isiah Thomas debacle at general manager… At some point when you are in the lottery every year and you clear cap space every three years, you are supposed to get better. They don't get better because of the incompetence in the front office. Kevin Durant specifically said that the Nets front office was a major reason he and Kyrie made the move. Even if you don't believe the Knicks statement of not wanting to give Durant the max contract because of his injury, it is still an embarrassment when you clear all the cap space they did in the Porzingis deal, and come away with Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, and Taj Gibson. On top of it all, Durant and Kyrie will be IN NEW YORK. I said when the Giants passed on Sam Darnold, the one team they better hope doesn't grab him was the Jets because he will have a successful career in the same city while you struggle at the quarterback position for years. That's what happened again in New York yesterday, just different sports.

Brooklyn hits jackpot, but time will tell if it works

Incompetence leads to success for others. That's the way of the world, and the Knicks terribleness has led to the Nets fortune. Kyrie gets another fresh start after failing in Boston. Make no mistake about it, what happened for Kyrie in Boston was a failure. Kyrie wins a championship with LeBron in Cleveland and decides he wants to be his own guy, so he demands a trade. After his injury two years ago and the success of the team without him, this year was a struggle for him being "the guy" from both from a production standpoint and a leadership standpoint. He chooses to leave AGAIN even after telling season ticket holders at the beginning of the year that he is going to stay. This new fresh start will be telling because he will get to be "the guy" next year without Kevin Durant. How will it work with him accepting Durant in next year? When Durant comes back it will be his team and Kyrie will have to fall backwards into a supporting act. It is natural to question if Kyrie will be ok, sliding back into a non star role. Here is what I will tell the doubters: This situation in Brooklyn is different than his situation in Cleveland. With LeBron he was CLEARLY the number 2 player on the team. With Durant, I think he will blend into a 1B Player. This means equal playing time, equal or slightly less shots, a trade off in who's "night" it will be, and a tradeoff for who will get the last shot in close games. If we're comparing the situations to movies, Kyrie will be the lead actress compared to the supporting male actor. I think this will work.

Jimmy Butler to Miami confuses me

This was the most eye popping move from over the weekend. I really thought Jimmy was a great fit in Philly primarily because of his personality. As an east coaster I can tell you that part of the country enjoy's big personalities and straight shooters. That is exactly what Butler is, and it sounded like from everything we heard all Butler wanted to do was win. The interesting part about this deal for me is Butler talking about how blown away impressed he was at the respect they showed Dwayne Wade at the end of his career. He was impressed by the respect and love the fans showed Dwayne Wade at the end of his career. I find it puzzling that Butler thinks that he will receive "Dwayne Wade love." That was earned over a long period of time, and I actually think he would have had a better chance of receiving that in Philly.


The NBA season is 48 days away and the Houston Rockets are among the handful of teams that figure to be a part of the national conversation this year. Not only did swapping out Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook dramatically shake up Houston's on-court dynamics, it also ensured that the Rockets would be a big story this year. This was all but confirmed when the NBA released their schedule in August, revealing that the Rockets had been given 38 nationally televised games.

While there's no doubt that Houston will have a lot of eyeballs on them this season, how they perform with this shaken up team is really all anyone cares about.

Play Style

The Rockets with Chris Paul were slowly starting to form in James Harden's image as he took on more and more usage. This means Houston played at a slow, but deliberate pace that involved an unusually high amount of isolation. The fast-paced early Rockets teams with Mike D'Antoni were no longer and ushered in was this methodical, but effective play style that involved little ball or player movement.

For a Harden and Westbrook pairing to be successful, Houston can no longer play to these extremes. The reason those Rockets teams were so effective was because there were usually three or more shooters surrounding Harden at all times. They will no longer have this luxury, and will therefore have to tweak the offense.

To truly utilize Westbrook, the Rockets will have to up their pace a decent amount and run on every missed shot. They won't be as fast as the Warriors, but they should be at least middle of the pack as compared to dead last. They also have to do at least some player movement to create artificial floor spacing when there aren't multiple capable three-point shooters on the floor - which will happen.

It'll be interesting if Houston decides to change up their defense too, as half of the coaching staff was completely overhauled this summer. Former Rockets coach Elston Turner was brought in as an associate head coach and will now be taking over the defense. Although they tweaked their scheme when things got rough, the Rockets still did a ton of switching defensively last season. It led them to the 17th ranked defense after finishing 7th the year before and one of the poorer defensive rebounding teams.

Houston did a lot of their switching because the Warriors were their chief opponent in the Western Conference for the last several years. There's a possibility they adopt a more conservative defensive scheme under Turner and the Warriors potentially being a shell of themselves next season.

Westbrook should help clean things up for Houston on the rebounding side of the ball, but that will only go so far. The Rockets will have to recommit to whatever style they choose to adopt next season, because the West got better. Houston won't make it past the second round in this revamped conference playing the kind of defense they did last season.

Continuity

Despite the major shakeup at starting point guard, the Rockets will be bringing back 77.1% of their total minutes from last season. Houston re-signed Danuel House, Austin Rivers, and Gerald Green in the first few days of free agency on nice value deals. Nene Hilario was also recently brought back. For some context, the Rockets won at a 60-win rate once Danuel House returned to the team from his contract dispute. Aside from obviously Chris Paul, Houston's roster at that point of the season is nearly identical to the one the one they will play next season.

This familiarity should serve them very well in the regular season as they get acclimated to Westbrook.

Load management

'Load management' became a popular (and mocked) term in the NBA last season, but for the Rockets, the concept of a system to keep players healthy and rested has a lot of value. Houston will have one of the NBA's oldest rosters going into training camp. For some context, aside from Clint Capela and Danuel House, every significant Rockets rotation player next year will be over the age of 30. To compound the matter, both James Harden and Russell Westbrook have logged significant minutes in their career as the lead horse on their respective teams.

In a recent interview on the Rich Eisen show, Daryl Morey brought up the idea of a flexible rest program for Houston's key players.


Resting Harden and Westbrook sporadically throughout the season makes a ton of sense and it's something the Rockets can do since they each have a counterpart that can shoulder some of the burden for a game or two. Seeding is obviously important and Houston has made it clear that it values homecourt advantage in the playoffs, but the long game has to be played if they want to reach their desired heights.

Possible midseason additions

The possibility for midseason improvement is always on the table for a team like the Rockets. GM Daryl Morey has shown time and time again that he's willing to put future assets on the table even if it means given the team a slightly better edge over the field. However, this year, it seems more likely that the Rockets add someone via the buyout market than the trade deadline.

With Houston leveraged several years out for draft picks because of the Westbrook trade, giving up even more picks doesn't sound like something they would do right now. The Rockets are also on the very edge of the luxury tax, so taking on any additional salary in a trade seems unlikely.

A name to watch on the buyout market is Andre Iguodala. Given his championship pedigree, several teams will be competing for Iguodala's services. However, the Rockets have tried to sign Iguodala in the past and should be considered as good a destination as any. For what it's worth, Iguodala was reportedly impressed with Houston's presentation in 2017 and nearly left the Warriors to sign with Houston.

How will they perform?

Record prediction: 54-28

James Harden sets the floor of this Rockets team so high year after year. Under Harden, the Rockets have had a top seven offense in 6 out of the 7 years he's been in Houston. With Harden and a decent amount of floor spacing, the Rockets are a virtual lock for a top five offense, which should be enough to guarantee 50 wins. Defensively, the Rockets should be a slight step better than they were last year (17th in the NBA) given that they have better personal to start the season than they did last year.

Where they finish defensively is what will ultimately dictate how accurate this prediction is. It's hard to see Houston being elite, but anywhere from a fifteenth to tenth place finish on that end of the floor is very much in play. If they exceed that, this number is admittedly too low. However, given how they performed last year and how much the rest of the Western Conference got better, this feels like a reasonable number for now.

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