NBA free agency Day 1: Grading Paul George’s Sixers move and other deals

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Day 1 of NBA free agency is in the books, and it was … kind of underwhelming? We didn’t see the big shifts in the NBA landscape we normally expect, and we didn’t see the flurry of deals come pouring out as soon as everybody was officially open for business. We saw the salary cap come in a little under the projected total. Then we saw some very conservative actions by teams when spending would normally look cartoonish. What does that all mean for this summer, and what did happen through Day 1?

We’ve got the big moves, the expected re-signs, head-scratchers, signings of great value, things we’re on the fence about and a lot more below. We’ll get through all of them from Day 1 with grades for some and emojis for others.

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Did the NBA ruin free agency?

We’re used to the clock striking the start of free agency and deals flooding the social media timelines like customers searching for a $5 4K television, rushing into a Best Buy the morning after Thanksgiving. This year? The free-agency zone went live at 6 p.m. ET and we … got … Luke Kornet returning to the Celtics and Kevin Love returning to the Heat on small deals? We waited a bit longer and found out Andre Drummond is signing a deal to join Philadelphia, which would’ve been big news a decade ago. Eventually we got to Chris Paul joining a new team, James Harden returning to Los Angeles and Paul George ending his tenure with the Clippers. But this is not the flurry of moves we normally expect.

It’s unreasonable to assume every start of free agency is going to be the start of the 2016 offseason when the cap spike happened with a new TV deal and we saw Kent Bazemore, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Bismack Biyombo and guys like Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe get big money instantly. Normally, this stuff is sewn up, and we’re expecting a cavalcade of new deals to be announced. The NBA can pretend it doesn’t want the transaction to be the big carrying point of league interest to casual and diehard fans, but the focus on that through social media and television segments turned the NBA into a 12-month league.

This new collective bargaining agreement, however, found itself in the way of that very excitement when free agency opened up this year. Luxury taxes! First aprons! Dreaded second aprons! Legalese and cap jargon have become guillotines hanging over the necks of fun and drama. Eventually, the agents will find a way to take advantage of certain rules for their clients. Until then, we’re left with wet fireworks we’re hoping will provide big bangs and pretty colors.

Since the announcement of the new CBA details, I and many others have talked about what a mistake this deal is for teams and the league overall. The owners have often overreacted to something they didn’t like, whether it’s super teams, Kevin Durant going to a 73-win Warriors team or the idea of long-term deals for players when those players are no longer tradable halfway through the deal.

They overreact, for some reason the players’ union agrees (probably because they’re still getting the majority of the revenue pie) and then we see the process of keeping a team together or making a good team better all the more difficult. We can pretend it’s about parity, but I think it’s about pouting from the owners. We still have plenty of things that can happen, which will be fun. But the NBA is going to need trades, not free-agency signings, to create the shift in the NBA landscape. Thanks for ruining the start of the summer.

The Paul George situation

Along those same lines, we’re seeing this exact thing show up as a reason for what happened with the Clippers and Paul George. After it was reported that George was likely to leave the Clippers and sign with a new team, the Clippers released a statement on the matter. I do not remember a franchise ever doing this about a player they were about to lose in free agency.

I remember Dan Gilbert throwing a comic sans fit after LeBron James left for Miami. I remember the Knicks releasing a statement about how pleased they were with their signings after missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But I don’t remember a team citing breakdowns in negotiations with a player and referencing the CBA as an obstacle to getting something done. Check out this tweet from Mike Vorkunov, properly interpreting exactly that.

That’s pretty significant! You don’t have to care about the Clippers to care about this exact situation, but it should be noteworthy that these types of scenarios are going to happen more and more in the current CBA, which runs through the 2029-2030 season. Granted, there was a very simple fix for the Clippers if they wanted to keep George on their roster: Give him the four-year max contract he was seeking. Instead, they offered up three years to keep it in the same time frame as the three-year extension they reached with Kawhi Leonard earlier this year. George wanted the longer deal, which would have paid him until he turned 38. Instead, the Clippers lost George for nothing — right before they enter their new arena.

The Sixers are now more than happy to benefit as they try to put a supporting cast around Joel Embiid to help him advance past the second round of the playoffs for once. Regardless, the PG debacle has cratered a lot of what the Clippers were hoping to do in their new building. And this won’t be the last time a franchise cites this CBA for why its team is falling apart.

Big moves through Day 1

Paul George agrees to sign with the 76ers on a four-year, $212 million deal

The Sixers cleared the cap space and created the roster flexibility to put another star next to Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Bringing George in after the season he had becomes a major feather in the cap of Daryl Morey’s plan. George will come to Philadelphia and fill in the gaps. When Embiid can’t play, he’ll take a step up the ladder of their attack and do a lot more. He’ll provide 3-point shooting, scoring, great defense and playmaking. He’s exactly the type of guy they need next to both Maxey and Embiid. We’ll just have to wait to see if this produces a different result for the 76ers in the playoffs.

Grade: A

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope agrees to sign with the Magic on a three-year, $66 million deal

Caldwell-Pope leaving Denver puts the Nuggets in a bad spot. They can’t just replace Caldwell-Pope and the money they would have given him, and they have even more pressure for the young guys on their roster to step up into the hole this creates in the starting lineup.

Second, what a coup for the Magic. This is a team that built its identity on defense with a young core that exceeded expectations. Their problem was they couldn’t throw the ball into the Epcot Center last season. Caldwell-Pope keeps the defensive identity going while also providing reliable shooting. We also could see him do a little bit more as a scorer. Fantastic contract for him, and the Magic.

Grade: A

James Harden agrees to re-sign with the Clippers on a two-year, $70 million deal

George’s departure makes this signing even more important for the Clippers. They’re getting Harden on a discount for essentially a year, maybe two if he picks up the player option for the 2025-26 season. With George gone and Leonard needing to be brought along carefully so he will hopefully be healthy in any kind of postseason run, Harden’s role needs to look more like what we saw out of him in Houston. I’m not sure if that’s possible, because that’s a big shock to the system for him getting back to that caliber of player and to what the Clippers would want to do offensively in the first place. Regardless of what Harden is still capable of doing on offense, the Clippers need him to be better this season. But it’s a great discount and deal for the Clippers to get him back at this rate.

Grade: A

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Chris Paul will bring veteran leadership to the Spurs. (D. Ross Cameron / USA Today)

Chris Paul agrees to sign one-year, $11 million deal with the Spurs

Bringing in Paul to whip things into shape immediately matures this young Spurs core, however much of it will remain going into next season. In almost every stop of his career, Paul has immediately raised a team’s floor. He will teach the Spurs all the things they don’t know, and he’ll have this team operating at a more professional level on the court.

There are two concerns. He’s 39 and has missed 64 games over his last three seasons with various injuries. Considering it’s just a one-year deal, it lessens the concern; but it’s tough to believe he’ll be healthy all season. My other concern is he wants to still prove he’s an elite guard in the NBA. The Spurs just need him to be the mentor to these young guys and not try to have an Uncle Rico moment to prove he’s still got it. Get Victor Wembanyama the ball, knock down shots and teach. That’s all Paul needs to do for this to be a great success.

Grade: B+

Derrick Jones Jr. agrees to sign three-year, $30 million deal with the Clippers

This is potentially a big move for the Clippers to help replace the loss of George. Jones had a fantastic season with the Mavericks, helping them reach the NBA Finals. His defense can be really good. His athleticism is tough to match. But he’s not the reliable shooter teams need him to be. It’s improved over the years, but you’re rarely expecting him to outright knock down that corner 3-ball. Replacing George will be a group effort with Harden, Norm Powell, Terance Mann and Jones all picking up the slack. If Jones can shoot like we saw flashes of in his time with Dallas, this becomes a brilliant signing. Good pivot by the Clippers either way.

Grade: B

Expected re-signs through Day 1

Pascal Siakam agrees to re-sign with the Pacers on a four-year, $189.5 million deal

The Pacers made a risk last season when they traded for Siakam, considering he could walk this summer. No drama needed with Siakam agreeing to re-sign with the Pacers before we even hit free agency. Siakam had a really good run for them in the postseason as they made the conference finals and provides a very solid second option alongside Tyrese Haliburton, as long as the star guard is healthy. The end of this deal could potentially be rough when Siakam is 34, but this was the cost of doing business. Good enough contract to keep him.

Grade: B+

Malik Monk agrees to re-sign with the Kings on a four-year, $79 million deal

This is a big coup for the Kings, as there were plenty of concerns the CBA limitations could lead to him signing elsewhere for more money. This was the most the Kings could re-sign him for, and he probably could have pursued somewhere in the $25 million annual range. But he likes it in Sacramento, he’s had great success there, and he still gets a healthy contract to give him roughly $20 million per season. Great move for the Kings.

Grade: A

OG Anunoby agrees to re-sign with the Knicks on a five-year, $212 million deal

That number scared a bunch of people after the Knicks traded five first-round picks for Mikal Bridges in the same week. Over $40 million per season for Anunoby is probably too much money. I would have guessed he was somewhere in the $30 million to $35 million range, so it’s probably a bit of an overpay for someone who has struggled to remain healthy. However, we saw the impact of Anunoby on the court for the Knicks. If he doesn’t get hurt in the playoffs, the Knicks make the conference finals, and the team is even better now. The Knicks had to re-sign him with what they gave up for him.

Grade: A-

Immanuel Quickley agrees to re-sign with the Raptors on a five-year, $175 million deal

I don’t love this contract for Quickley because I’m not certain he’s shown himself to be a definite franchise point guard. That’s what this kind of money over five years makes him for the Raptors. But you’re paying him for what you think he’ll be and not what he has been so far. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Quickley can become a franchise point guard on a good team (which the Raptors are not yet), but I don’t think it’s a given either. Still, he’s a good player, and that’s just the cost of doing business.

Grade: B

Royce O’Neale agrees to re-sign with the Suns on a four-year, $44 million deal

Keeping O’Neale on a very team-friendly, below-midlevel exception deal is a huge win for the Suns. They need 3-and-D role players, and even though O’Neale struggled in their brief playoff cup of coffee as a team, he’s the right guy to have with this group for as long as it sticks together. The Suns struggled to fill out a rotation and O’Neale can do that competently. If they decide to blow up the team, he’s extremely easy to move with this deal, and by the end of it, he’ll be a great value.

Grade: A

Obi Toppin agrees to re-sign with the Pacers on a four-year, $60 million deal

This feels like a lot of money for Toppin, even though he had a good season with the Pacers. The hope is that he can continue to build his relationship on the court with Haliburton, be a great push-ahead option for the Pacers and put a lot of pressure on defenses. His jumper looked pretty good this past season too. At some point, they’ll need him to be better defensively, but they need that from everybody.

Grade: B

Patrick Williams agrees to re-sign with the Bulls on a five-year, $90 million deal

The idea of Williams has been a lot better than the reality of him. The Bulls are banking on the idea that the reality will come through, he’ll stay healthy, and he’ll become a very productive 3-and-D wing. Maybe even something more than that? He’s been a good 3-point shooter but on low volume. He’s been a good defender, but not a great one. He’s someone the Bulls need to be a lot better than he is, especially if they’re eventually going to retool this roster around the little youth they have. It won’t be difficult for Williams to justify this contract, but it doesn’t feel like a certainty either.

Grade: B

On-the-fence deals through Day 1

Kevin Porter Jr. agrees to a two-year with the Clippers

Porter has a pretty troubled past, and he’s hoping to prove himself moving forward. The Clippers are banking on the on-court talent coming through for him and giving them a big boost in the void George left. This deal looks a lot better, even a cheap deal, with the signing of Jones. I would guess Porter is more of a luxury than a necessity on the court for them.

Grade: C-

Andre Drummond agrees to sign with the 76ers on a two-year, $10 million deal

Drummond still rebounds like a madman. He’s one of the best in the NBA at it. He had a pretty good season for Chicago, and the Sixers will need him to play enough to keep Embiid healthy and fresh for the postseason. Can Drummond provide enough on the court to make the Sixers comfortable to play Embiid less in the regular season? Without sacrificing wins?

Grade: B

Eric Gordon agrees to deal with the 76ers

It’s a minimum deal, so I do like the value play for the Sixers in theory. We just need to know if the Sixers are getting the happy, productive version of Gordon or if they’re getting a disgruntled version who won’t be content with his role. Morey is going with someone he trusts and knows from their time together in Houston. If Gordon can still score off the bench, it’ll work. If he doesn’t have it anymore, maybe they should’ve gone after younger, more versatile minimum plays.

Grade: B-

Great values through Day 1

Naji Marshall agrees to three-year, $27 million deal with the Mavericks

Instead of waiting on what Jones might do, the Mavericks pivoted to Naji Marshall. He didn’t get a lot of time on the court with New Orleans, but he did show improvement in his 3-point shooting this past season. That should look a lot better with Luka Dončić delivering him the ball. He might be a better, more trustworthy player than Jones, and it’s a slightly cheaper deal than Jones got with the Clippers.

Grade: A-

Mason Plumlee agrees to one-year deal with the Suns

Plumlee should be an upgrade over Drew Eubanks, who was fine for Phoenix. You can do more with Plumlee on both ends of the court, in theory. And to get this depth on a one-year deal should prove to be savvy for the Suns. We just don’t know if the rest of the roster is going to fill out in a way where teams fear the Suns next season.

Grade: B+

Kelly Oubre Jr. agrees to resign with the 76ers on two-year, $16.3 million deal

I’ve never been the biggest Oubre fan on the court, but the Sixers need guys in the rotation who can occasionally get hot and compete on defense. Oubre does that, and they have to hope the 3-point shot will hit an above-league-average rate (typically around 35-36 percent). Oubre’s deal has a player option for the second season, so he either outplays this deal and hits free agency next summer or he is easy to move next summer if he underperforms and picks up the option.

Grade: B+

Head scratchers of the day

Max Christie agrees to re-sign with the Lakers on a four-year, $32 million deal

It’s not bad money, and I do think Christie has value for the Lakers at some point. I’m just not sure if this is the time for that. I’m also a little surprised the Lakers felt the need to get this done so quickly, unless they were worried about him getting a bigger offer sheet they’d have to match. We won’t know just how good or egregious this deal will be until we know the rest of their moves this summer, but this didn’t feel like a Day 1 thing to get done.

Grade: C+

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Jonas Valanciunas is heading to the Wizards in a curious move. (Alonzo Adams / USA Today)

Jonas Valanciunas agrees to sign with the Wizards on a three-year, $30 million deal

Valanciunas had a real case for the best big man on the market, and Day 1 he signs a three-year deal with arguably the worst team in the league under the midlevel exception value? The Wizards get a solid option, and maybe this is more of a trade option down the road for them when a team needs a big man. I just don’t see why Valanciunas would jump into this on Day 1, unless he’s a massive Smithsonian fan.

Grade: C

Trades of the day

Dallas Mavericks acquire Quentin Grimes
Detroit Pistons acquire Tim Hardaway Jr. and three second-round picks

The Mavericks made a salary-dump move that actually makes them better, and I don’t understand what’s in it for Detroit other than the second-round picks. Grimes will be a restricted free agent next summer, so maybe Detroit was hesitant to commit money to him in the future. But Grimes is a good two-way player who still has so much growth in front of his career. Hardaway is a good bench scorer who lost his spot in the Mavs’ rotation on their run to the finals. Hardaway makes nearly four times what Grimes does next season. And the Mavericks needed to unload salary, so why didn’t the Pistons demand even more compensation? Better compensation? Maybe the Pistons just love reunions in bringing THJ back to Michigan?

Grade: A for Mavs, C+ for Pistons

Quick-hitter small deals

Luke Kornet agrees to re-sign with the Celtics on one-year deal

They love him, and he’s on a one-year minimum again. This is an easy re-sign, even if it doesn’t yield much on the court.

Yay or nay?  🤝

Bol Bol agrees to re-sign with the Suns on one-year deal

The internet loves to pretend he’s the first version of Wemby, but the reality is he’s a one-year, minimum guy until he proves otherwise. He needs to carve out a real role this year.

Yay or nay?  🤝

Kevin Love agrees to re-sign with the Heat on two-year, $8 million deal

Good value to bring Love back to the Heat, although as the years go on, it needs to be in a more and more limited role.

Yay or nay? 👍

Neemias Queta agrees to re-sign with the Celtics on two-year deal

He barely played for the Celtics this season, but Boston keeps the championship core together here.

Yay or nay? 🤝

DeAndre Jordan agrees to re-sign with the Nuggets on one-year deal

He hasn’t done much in the NBA in the last three years, but he’s a cheap salary and the Nuggets seem to like him. They still need a guy to actually give Nikola Jokić a rest.

Yay or nay? 🤝

Names to keep an eye on

Big names still available: Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Miles Bridges, LeBron James

Restricted free agents still available: Isaac Okoro, Simone Fontecchio, Tyrese Maxey, Jose Alvarado, Precious Achiuwa

Veteran lead guards: Tyus Jones, Spencer Dinwiddie, Delon Wright, Monte Morris, Markelle Fultz, Kyle Lowry, Cameron Payne, Kris Dunn

Important veterans: Derrick Jones Jr, Justin Holiday, Gary Payton II, Jeff Green, Taurean Prince, Caleb Martin, Kyle Anderson, Alec Burks, Gary Harris, Nicolas Batum, Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton, Gary Trent Jr.

Young guys to take a chance on: James Wiseman, Jalen Smith, TyTy Washington, Isaiah Joe, KJ Martin, Dominick Barlow

Mentors: Wes Matthews, Taj Gibson, Patty Mills, Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles, Robert Covington, Isaiah Thomas

Big men: Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Christian Wood, Thomas Bryant, Isaiah Hartenstein, Bismack Biyombo, Mike Muscala, Moe Wagner, Goga Bitadze, Mo Bamba, Drew Eubanks, JaVale McGee, Richaun Holmes, Xavier Tillman

Forwards: Marcus Morris Sr, Markieff Morris, Haywood Highsmith, Jae Crowder, Danilo Gallinari, TJ Warren, Thad Young

Wings and shooters: Saddiq Bey, Lonnie Walker IV, Davis Bertans, Reggie Bullock, Doug McDermott, Luke Kennard, Yuta Watanabe, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Buddy Hield, Josh Okogie, Cedi Osman, Talen Horton-Tucker

Plumlees and Zellers: Marshall, Miles, Cody, Tyler, Luke

(Top photo of Paul George and James Harden: Harry How / Getty Images)

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