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What Have We Learned From NBA Free Agency So Far?

As fireworks continue lighting up across the United States in honor of Independence Day, the NBA has witnessed its share of them. Since last Thursday, the 2022 NBA free agency has kept fans, media, and even players glued to their phones in great anticipation of what could be next.

Sparked by the evolving nature of player movement, the known and unknown worked together in creating the madness we experienced during free agency’s opening stretch. While fans knew of the likelihood that Jalen Brunson would sign with the New York Knicks, we were thrown a curveball upon the news of Rudy Gobert getting traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even the broad daylight robbery of a trade done by the Boston Celtics with the Indiana Pacers threw us in for a loop.

As free agency’s opening week concludes in two days and the shift turns to the second wave of signings– while we’ll also wonder who gets traded first: Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant?– now is the perfect time to examine what has happened so far.

Here are our five biggest takeaways from the opening weekend of NBA free agency.

Why leave home when there’s a super-max deal?

Even with the combined desire by fans and media to see players leave their home teams, it’s becoming less of a reality given the introduction of super-max contracts. Fueled by incentives including All-Star and All-NBA selections, players are quickly putting pen to sheets near the end of their rookie or latest deal.

Within the first 48 hours of free agency, six super-max contracts were signed that totaled over one-point-two billion dollars (Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, and Zion Williamson).

Put some respect on Brian Windhorst’s name

The long-time ESPN Insider was arguably the MVP this past weekend, given his memorable explanation behind the Utah Jazz’s way of thinking before they moved All-Star center Rudy Gobert.

All meme-worthy moments aside, Windhorst’s connecting of the dots between the Jazz suddenly moving Royce O’Neale and current team CEO Danny Ainge’s willingness to start from scratch painted a great picture of what would happen in Salt Lake City.

Productive veterans will always be paid

Even for a league that is getting younger, they will always pay productive veterans– even if it’s expensive. The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, two legitimate Eastern Conference competitors, both signed or resigned productive veterans, PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis, at a combined cost and commitment of $79 million over seven years.

You never know when the trade market will be active

Minus an on and off busy night from the Draft, there wasn’t much happening in the trade market before Kevin Durant’s sudden trade request last Thursday. But you still have to remember this: Even with a busy rumor mill, it doesn’t mean trades will happen right now.

In the case of KD, the Nets can let his situation play out longer due to four years remaining on his contract. Regarding a potential Kyrie Irving for Russell Westbrook trade, the hold-up can be over one thing. And if you’re the Jazz, you must be 100% certain you want to let go of All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.

Who you got: Woj or Shams?

I’m more of a Woj guy but Shams is nice too *shrugs.

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Sports

ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical Previews The 2022 NBA Free Agency

*This article was written prior to the news of Kevin Durant requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets early Wednesday afternoon.

As much action is filled on the court every NBA season, the same is said for off of it. Through the growing nature of free agency and trade talks, it’s become common for NBA fans and media to speculate about the future of players and teams. And that development will play out again as the 2022 NBA Free Agency begins at 6 PM EST tonight.

While this year’s free agency isn’t defined by its star power, it includes impactful contributors (Jalen Brunson, Zach LaVine, and Deandre Ayton) who have enticed teams that are determined to improve. Before the start of free agency, ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical came together and shared their expectations for this time of year.

Will there be any surprises? Is there a certain signing each team should make? Continue reading to find out more!

What is your biggest expectation for free agency this summer?

Justin Cohen: I think there will be a lot of player movement. I don’t expect a lot of blockbuster trades, but I expect teams to buff out their rosters and add depth with impactful role players. The CBA is set to expire at the end of this season, so I’m intrigued about how that may affect teams signing players to longer-term contracts. 

Martino Puccio: My biggest expectation is a team like the Lakers to make some sort of move that doesn’t waste time on the partnership of LeBron and AD. Whether it’s getting rid of Westbrook or adding great role players. They have the most pressure to figure it out

Which teams do you expect to be the most and least active?

Jack Tien-Dana: Considering the Knicks have already made three trades and loosened up $30 million in cap room, it’s hard to imagine a team being more active than them. To a degree, this activity is necessary—the Knicks have 22 draft picks over the next seven years and can’t possibly add that many guys to a roster that already has a critical mass of developing young players.

Continuing their decades-long trend, the Knicks will be confusing at best and smooth-brained at worst. Whereas the Knicks chronically do too much, Oklahoma City is devoted to never doing anything. With mega-prospect Victory Wembanyama looming as the prize of next year’s lottery, the Thunder are in no rush to try to be an actual team for the foreseeable future.

Justin Cohen: A team like the Miami Heat will be extremely active this free agency. Miami Heat president Pat Riley is never satisfied, and a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals surely left a fire burning in his seat.

I expect them to try and target another superstar to pair with Butler and Adebayo. I don’t think the Warriors will be active in acquiring new players but instead will focus on resigning players. 

Jael Rucker: I expect Brooklyn to be very active {laughs}.

If there’s a signing that makes TOO much sense, what would it be?

Bo Templin: You know what signing makes a lot of sense? The MASSIVE 5-year deal for the St. Louis product, Bradley Beal. Go get that bag.

The other fit that seems nice is PJ Tucker going to the Sixers. He’s played with Harden and would be an outstanding voice for that team.

Jack Tien-Dana: Mo Bamba to the Lakers. Despite having two of the very best players alive, the Lakers are a sclerotic team without many avenues to improve. Accordingly, Mo Bamba (of “Mo Bamba”  fame) is the sole realistic option who could make a meaningful difference.

An expert shot-blocker and budding marksman, Bamba was one of only four players to average more than 1.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per game. And he’s somehow rumored to be available for just the $6.5 million mid-level exception. Still only 23, Bamba offers an enticing package of immediate production and future promise.

Justin Cohen: Blake Griffin to the Clippers. Yes, this wouldn’t be the most impactful or even the best fit, but to see Blake Griffin in a Clippers jersey one more time would be beautiful.

It would also be quite poetic to see Griffin win a championship with the franchise he brought back from the dead. 

Martino Puccio: A signing that would make too much sense to me is Brunson to NYK. For the Knicks to move all these mountains and for him to get insane money for just four years is something that should be a no-brainer, IMO.

Speaking of Jalen Brunson, do you believe he’s worth a max contract?

Bo Templin: While I think Jalen Brunson is a very solid player, I’m not sold on him being a max contract player on a championship-contending team. He would help the Knicks, sure. But what would really change? A first-round exit maybe?

Jael Rucker: Yes! Give Jalen Brunson what he deserves!

Justin Cohen: When dissecting who ‘deserves’ a max contract, the context of player availability is crucial. I don’t think there are many great point guards slated to be free agents this summer and Brunson has proved he can put up wins in the postseason.

I’ve personally gotten the opportunity to watch Jalen grow since his freshman year of high school and the progression he continues to show is worth a max in my mind. 

Given the likelihood of James Harden and Bradley Beal resigning with their teams, do player options carry as much weight as they use to?

Bo Templin: This is a really interesting question. I think the player options only hold weight if the dominoes fall in your favor. Every off-season, it feels like there is a 1-2 domino falling process that really kickstarts everything else.

People with options have the luxury of waiting. So I think they still hold weight with the timing of the offseason.

Jack Tien-Dana: Player options are the most basic, effective way that players can control when and what they’re paid. Since Bradley Beal is opting out of his deal, the Wizards have no choice but to lavish him with a quarter-billion dollars to stick around—by turning down his $36.4 million option for next year, he’s now positioned to make $50 million for the next five.

Conversely, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving all exercised their options because it guarantees them a payday they wouldn’t receive otherwise. What teams are lining up to throw a max deal at two guys who are probably bad now and another guy who’s a terminally flighty weirdo? More than Brechtian trade demands or sub-tweet melodrama or podcasting, player options are how players are empowered.

Jael Rucker: Yes and no. I think it depends on the player, the team, and the situation. I will say that I think owners are kind of starting to take control back of situations.

Justin Cohen: They do because it’s just another way to give the players more freedom. I really like James Harden taking a page out of Tom Brady’s book and taking a pay cut to allow the 76ers flexibility with their cap space.

With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of next season, we could see a change in how player and team options work. 

Martino Puccio: I think these player options don’t hold as much weight depending on the situation, but the money for these superstars after the tv deals are so great that they have so much flexibility.

Seeing what an Evan Fournier can grab via FA these guys know the leverage they have so they probably don’t stress the options.

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Sports Strength

What To Expect During 2021 MLB Free Agency

Major League Baseball has shifted gears following an exciting postseason as their offseason is underway, and free agency is the point of every team’s focus. With a loaded class of free agents ready to figure out their next steps, this year’s MLB Free Agency period could be one of the craziest this league has witnessed in a long time. Here’s what you should expect in the following weeks and months.

There’s going to be a battle royale over the top available pitchers

Reports of the demise of starting pitchers were exaggerated. Although teams increasingly turned to their bullpen during the postseason, it’s clear that front offices still place a premium on starting pitching; Justin Verlander (one year, $25 million), Noah Syndergaard (one year, $21 million) and Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) have all inked lucrative contracts since free agency began in earnest last week.

As such, it’s possible that the market for starting pitching will be reset this winter, especially considering that Robbie Ray (the 2021 American League Cy Young winner) and Max Scherzer (the best pitcher of the last five years) are still available. No pitcher will be able to match the $324 million mega-deal that Gerrit Cole signed in 2019, but Scherzer seems poised to become the first pitcher in baseball history to receive an annual salary worth more than $50 million. 

Correa’s market could only be one team based on expectations

When stars of Carlos Correa’s caliber become free agents, they naturally attract a great deal of attention and fanfare. Unsurprisingly, Correa headlines this year’s free-agent class, coming off a season in which he produced more than seven wins above replacement. 

Although Correa has spent his entire career as a major part of the Houston Astros’ infamous almost-dynasty, the Detroit Tigers have emerged as the favorite to sign the 27-year-old infielder. Beyond having the financial wherewithal to offer the $300+ million contract that Correa rumored to want, the Tigers have one key advantage over Correa’s other suitors: A.J. Hinch, the ex-Astros manager who won the World Series with Correa in 2017. If there’s anything that talks as loud as money, it’s connections.

The Seattle Mariners will go on a shopping spree

Coming off their winningest season in 18 years, the Seattle Mariners could be major players in free agency, eager to end their 20-year postseason drought, the longest in all of American professional sports. Despite notching 90 victories last season, the Mariners have glaring holes in their lineup, most notably in their middle infield. 

Fortunately, this offseason boasts a historically great crop of shortstops and second basemen. Beyond Correa, All-Stars like Corey Seager (the 2020 World Series MVP), Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Chris Taylor. This offseason is the perfect opportunity for the Mariners to make the leap from a good team to a great one. 

The Yankees will make a splash

No matter how many times the Yankees’ brain trust says that they’re constrained by the punitive luxury tax and that they’re committed to maintaining a flexible, relatively low payroll, it’s hard to take them at face value. After all, they’re the Yankees—they haven’t won 27 rings because of their fiscal responsibility. In this light, the Yankees have been linked to several marquee free agents even while publicly avowing that they won’t make a big splash. 

What’s more, the situation of the Yankees’ current roster almost necessitates a big move. This is an incredibly talented team, yet one that’s too flawed to be a true contender. In particular, the Yankees need an athletic middle infielder—like, say, Correa or Seager or Semien or Story or Baez— who can stabilize their shaky defense and juice their enfeebled offense.