NBA Free Agency 2022: What we learned during our first wild weekend, from Kevin Durant’s journey to Lakers dreams

Well, take a deep breath. The 2022 edition of the NBA Free Agency started with a typical flurry of moves that were somehow finished in the first 30 seconds of the negotiation window, but things finally slowed down, giving us time to think about all the moves and surprises and Oscar-worthy Brian Windhurst memes.

Every free agency period is different, with stars sometimes making shocking decisions to change teams, other times leaving us waiting and wondering while major decisions are left until July days — or later. This time around, there’s one significant name everyone is waiting to see in action (psst, chimes with Devin Kurant), and once that happens, it will surely trigger the chain reaction that will shape the league for the 2022-23 season.

Now, however, let’s take a step back and look at six things we learned from the first weekend of the 2022 NBA Free Agency.

1. It pays to be a star

Within hours of the official start of Free Agency 2022 on Thursday, NBA teams had already pledged over $1 billion to five players. yes, five Players:

Not long after that, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson agreed to a five-year extension that could amount to $231 million with incentives. Reminder: He’s played 85 games (including no playoff appearances) in three seasons. All-star guard Darius Garland, who has yet to reach a plateau of 70 games in a single season, has agreed to an almost identical deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The lesson is simple, no matter how trite. The NBA is a star league, and it’s almost impossible to win without it. Steve Curry. Giannis Anticonmo. LeBron James. Kawhi Leonard. Kevin Durant. These are just the last five winners of the title. To find a team that last won a title without any players you could consider a superstar, you have to go back to the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

NBA teams know this, which is why we’ve seen amazing numbers being scored for players who are likely to be the best player on their title team. Get used to it, because those numbers will just keep going up. Jokic is set to earn $61 million in 2027-28, the final year of the newly agreed extension period. When the NBA negotiates its new rights deal after the 2024-25 season, it may be realistic to expect the league’s top players to earn more than $100 million in a single season by the final years of their contracts. Simply crazy.

2. Traders are the new free agency

Close your eyes and think back in the summer of 2017. It was a simpler time when NBA fans all over the world were glued to their phones, laptops, and TVs waiting to find out where free agent Gordon Hayward would take his talents. First, it turns out he was signing with the Boston Celtics. Then this report was refuted. Then, finally, on the Fourth of July, exactly five years ago, Hayward revealed in a Players Tribune article that he was, in fact, heading to Boston. What an exciting journey.

One year ago, Kevin Durant made the decision to free agency that unraveled the NBA world and spawned an understated meme that is as relevant today as it was then.

But in recent years, free agency has lost most of its power. Specific player extensions and contracts (colloquially known as supermax) are designed to give teams an edge in retaining their superstars. However, the advantage has become so great that it makes no financial sense for the player to sign elsewhere. Take Bell for example. Had he chosen to change teams in this off-season and rejected Washington’s five-year, $251 million bid, his contract with another team could “only” hit the field for four years, $185 million. You must be completely disgusted with your home town and absolutely hate your teammates for leaving nearly $70 million in guaranteed money on the table.

It makes a lot more sense to secure the windfall, and then, if things don’t go the way, simply ask for a deal (why hello again, Mr. Durant!). That’s why there hasn’t been a whole lot of credible debate about which of the year’s top potential free agents – Bill, Zach Lavigne, James Harden – actually left their teams. Until something changes in the CBA, you can expect most players to continue to re-sign and/or extend with their current teams and find out later, dramatically reducing what was once a frenzied free-agency period.

However, in its place we have had huge commercial demands and deals that rival, and perhaps exceed, the excitement that free agency would bring. So we’re not exactly complaining.

3. KD may not be satisfied

Unless you’re one of the seven remaining people in the world who hasn’t seen “Hamilton,” you’re probably familiar with one of the production’s most impressive and revealing numbers. As her sister prepares to marry the protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, visionary Angelica Schuyler realizes that she and Hamilton have a constant desire that he can’t fill.

And Schuyler concluded his speech by saying, “I know that she will be happy as his bride.” “And I know he will never be satisfied. I will never be satisfied.”

One of the music’s themes is that the drive and determination that allowed Hamilton to rise from humble beginnings to one of the most outstanding figures in American history is also what prevents him from being content with his accomplishments and accolades.

It’s easy to think of this when looking at Durant, who requested a deal from the Brooklyn Nets after signing a four-year, $198 million extension with the franchise less than a year ago. Durant’s displeasure came to a head when contract talks between Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving were briefly deadlocked, but most predicted that Irving’s selection for the final year of his deal would keep Durant in Brooklyn alongside his good friend and partner who chose Three Summers. Ago.

Instead, Durant asked, the Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat are reportedly at the top of his list of favorite destinations. The paradox is almost too obvious. Durant has consistently resisted criticism for his decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors’ 73-game winning streak. He’s also been pushed back against those who say his Golden State titles have dwindled due to their loaded roster. Joining the Nets alongside Irving – and later James Harden – gave Durant a chance to be the undisputed alpha in the potential title team, but that quickly went south due to injuries and the eventual commercial demand from Harden.

Durant didn’t look satiated after winning his MVP titles and finals as part of a super team. Now he doesn’t seem satisfied with trying to do it alone, and wants to join one of last season’s players. 1 seed to bear cash again? It’s all baffling on the outside, and it probably should be. We like to think we understand what NBA players have in mind, but we really don’t have any proof. Durant has the right to seek out any situation that he feels would bring him joy.

But as he prepares to leave a franchise for the third time in his career, it’s fair to wonder if Durant is seeking satisfactions he’ll never find.

4. Lakers Gonna Lakers

The Lakers were criticized last season for cornering LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook with old players who couldn’t shoot, ultimately leading to a disastrous season in which they missed the playoffs. So Rob Pelinka and the front office decided this act on my pivot. Choose to sign small Players… who can’t shoot either:

As you can see, Walker is the only high-volume 3-point player to shoot the set, and his 3-point percentage has consistently deteriorated over his four years in the NBA, all the way to a career decline of 31 percent last season in five Attempts for each game. Toscano-Anderson, despite being a clever winning piece on the championship team, also posted a career drop of 32 percent from last season.

The Lakers would have been wise to inject some youngsters and defensive assists (maybe?), but they seem to be repeating their mistakes by ignoring one of the most important skills in the game today. However, in true Laker style, there is a semi-attainable machine waiting to solve all their problems!

With Durant ordering a trade, the consensus is that Kyrie Irving will be next, and the Lakers and Nets have reportedly been in initial contact over a potential Irving Westbrook trade-off. This would obviously go a long way toward resolving the Lakers’ shooting problems, especially if Brooklyn throws Joe Harris or *swoon* Seth Curry (although they wouldn’t do much for the Lakers defensive issues).

Irving’s market doesn’t appear to be strong, so the Nets will likely enjoy Westbrook’s massive expiring contract if the Lakers are willing to part with one or both of their available future picks in the first round to prepare the Irving-James reunion in Los Angeles.

Whether that happens or not, man, it must be exhausting being a Lakers fan. There are always some legendary moves in the works that will bring the franchise back to the promised land, but no one is guessing if that really happens. When that happens (Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, LeBron James, Anthony Davis), it tends to work well. But if that doesn’t pay off, it’s hard to find a way to compete for a franchise that’s always in Tournament or Depression mode.

5. Wolves really wanted Rudy Gobert

Imagine someone telling you that an All-NBA mainstay has been traded for four first-round picks (three unprotected naked), three promising young prospects and two seasoned rotation players.

“Oh, Kevin Durant has been traded?” You ask innocently, unaware of the shock of confusion you are about to receive.

Well, Rudy Gobert went to the Timberwolves.

We could debate whether the trade was worth it till midnight in our face, but that’s undoubtedly a huge amount, very few – if any – anticipated in Gobert’s previous trade rumors. All told, this is what Jazz took home in the bargain:

It’s hard to imagine any other team would have offered anything close to this package for Joubert, but who knows?

This trade raises the asking price for any big star in the market for the foreseeable future, including Durant. That’s similar to the return the Lakers sent to Anthony Davis in 2019, but Davis was 26 at the time, while Joubert was 30. Not to mention that Davis was considered a top 10 player in the league, something Joubert didn’t come close to – despite his defensive talents and awards.

It’s always better if the deals fit both sides, so hopefully Gobert fits right in in Minnesota. But if he’s not, and Wolves don’t end up getting much better with him, this deal might look pretty tough a few years from now.

As for jazz, the world now seems to be their oyster, whether they choose to retool Donovan Mitchell or begin a complete rebuild by entering the Victor Wimpanyama sweepstakes.

6. Knicks are OK with him, and that’s okay

Jalen Bronson in a four-year deal worth $104 million?

yes.

Mitchell Robinson on a four-year, $60 million deal?

yes.

Signing the highly coveted Isaiah Hartenstein backup center?

yes.

Ditching the salaries of Kemba Walker, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel while adding three somewhat attractive future picks in the first round?

yes.

New York’s unofficial moves so far haven’t exactly instigated festive festivities outside of MSG.

In fact, New York’s Offseason has been a whole lot of “meh,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of these moves are bad. Even if it’s a slight overpayment, it’s almost certain that Bronson’s deal won’t be the albatross holding back future dealings. Robinson’s contract seemed to be about the right price, and the fantasizing of the front office securing some first things in the future on draft night was impressive.

Knicks fans may have wanted a big thrill, but – like the last season and one before that – that move simply wasn’t available. There is a lot of value in trying to be a strong playoff team while building a good culture and developing young players. In the end, either these players become good enough that you can jump from a marginal postseason team to a title contender (like the Boston Celtics) or you become attractive enough that superstars want to plant their flag with your franchise (like *cough* the Brooklyn Nets).

While they certainly won’t be the usual suspects in the title contender’s pre-season talks, the Knicks will be fine next year, which could make them better than OK at some point down the road.

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