NBA Free Agency: 5 Biggest Winners from Week 1 

Who's No. 1?
Amulya Shekhar

The first week of free agency was action-packed, as is usual during an offseason when the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins are unrestricted free agents.

The King eventually chose to move to the Lakers for the next chapter in his life, while the likes of PG-13, CP3 and the Slim Reaper stayed on with the Thunder, the Rockets and the Warriors respectively on max deals. However, KD's ability to take a $5 million haircut on his wages annually allowed the Warriors to sign Cousins to the taxpayers' mid-level exception of $5.3 million following other teams' aversion to handling the injured superstar a max contract of his desired length.

The rest of the free agent buzz was lively as well, with a number of teams beefing up their roster depth with the requisite signings. Some teams did better than some others, and the following is a list of the top 5 performers in the free agent market from the 1st of July till the 7th:

#5 Washington Wizards

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards -  Game Four
Washington Wizards' starting backcourt - John Wall and Bradley Beal

The Wizards have been stuck between a rock and a hard place for a while now. For the past 2 seasons, they've had a pretty good team with a fully unleashed Big 3 of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. But a bad bench lineup and the inability of Marcin Gortat to provide adequate rim protection has put them a tier below the Cleveland Cavaliers as the class of the east.

Now that LeBron is gone, the Wizards have had the opportunity to draw level with the likes of the Sixers, Celtics and Raptors. They've already pulled off a couple of pretty good moves. Following Dwight Howard's buyout agreement with the Nets, who he was traded to last month from Charlotte, the Wizards were the first to obtain his signature for the taxpayer's midlevel exception of $5.3 million. They also traded Gortat away to the Clippers in exchange for depth at the guard position in Austin Rivers, who is, by now, an adequate NBA player.

Their bench now sports a renewed look with the signing of Jeff Green on a veteran's minimum deal. Green will replace Mike Scott, an able 3-point shooter at the power forward position but who didn't have the former's ability to do everything on the basketball court and falls short at the defensive end.

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat
Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat

The Oklahoma City Thunder were a big winner right from Day 1 when Paul George announced his intent to stay with them. PG-13 signed a 4-year, $137 million deal with a provision to extend it to 7 years, $290 million at the end of his second year. This means he will likely play in Oklahoma City till the end of his prime, given that he's currently aged 28.

Sam Presti brought back Jerami Grant on a 3-year, $27 million deal. Raymond Felton re-signed for the veteran's minimum, while Presti snagged the signature of Nerlens Noel for a 1-year minimum deal of $1.6 million. All of these moves addressed the need to keep their good bench players while strengthening it with new signings - Noel has the potential to be a really good backup center in the right circumstances, and as a vertical spacer, he could be the perfect replacement for Steven Adams in pick-and-roll situations.

Their most important move, however, and one that will save them over $100 million from their wage bill, will be to reach a buyout agreement with Carmelo Anthony. Melo has stated the need to start, but that wasn't what the Thunder wanted, resulting in this state of affairs.

#3 Golden State Warriors

Basketball - Olympics: Day 16
Basketball - Olympics: Day 16

If you'd told me 4 years back that a team that's won back-to-back championships would still have the ability to land the best player in the league at a position of weakness, I would've laughed you out of the room. Yet, here we are today, in a world where DeMarcus Cousins didn't get calls from a single NBA team for a reasonable contract, meaning that he contacted Bob Myers to join the Warriors for a $5.3 million salary as he rehabs from an Achilles injury that ended his 2017-2018 campaign prematurely.

The Warriors' best center during the playoffs was arguably JaVale McGee, and they still compiled a 16-5 record this year after setting the NBA record with a 16-1 run last season. Having let their in-house Shaqtin-a-Fool factory go to a rival team, they just ramped up the degree of difficulty for the rest of the league in the race to dethrone the Warriors from the top.

This was made possible when Kevin Durant took a $5 million discount to sign a 2-year, $61.5 million contract that has a player option for 2019. The Warriors also signed Kevon Looney to a 1-year, $2.4 million deal, bringing back a developing player for next season. Their final play so far was signing Jonas Jerebko as he got waived by the Jazz.

#2 Indiana Pacers

Memphis Grizzlies Team Practice
Memphis Grizzlies Team Practice

In the midst of many franchises handing out max contracts, the Pacers stand out. They didn't have the cap space to pursue any big-name free agents, but their current roster looks pretty good despite not making a big splash in this free agency window. What they've done, however, is to surround franchise player Victor Oladipo with some really good talent, putting themselves in position to make a deep playoff run next season.

After Lance Stephenson decided to move to the Lakers, the Pacers signed Kyle O'Quinn, formerly of the Knicks, to the cap space that remained. O'Quinn is a traditional center. Although undersized, O'Quinn doesn't have to contend with playing the best players on the opposition team for most of the time given the fact that Myles Turner is still the Pacers' starting center. He does, however, give them legitimate depth after they bought out Al Jefferson's contract, and projects as a much better fit in the second unit than the latter.

On top of that, they did a good job of snapping up Doug McDermott, before they made probably the best move of this summer in value-for-money terms by signing Tyreke Evans to a 1-year, $12 million deal. Evans is coming off his best campaign in 5 years, averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on 40% shooting from 3-point range. He will be a great secondary playmaker and someone who can score from all ranges while being able to play up to 3 positions as a starter.

He will probably lead the Pacers to their first 50-plus win season in 5 years.

#1 Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers v Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Lakers v Cleveland Cavaliers

The Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka front office combo has done some commendable work within 18 months of taking charge. Thus far, they've been able to get rid of the horrible Timofey Mozgov contract, clear cap space for 2 max free agents and surround a young roster with veterans who fit well with the culture of the team, leading them to a 35-47 record that is a massive improvement for them.

They've then gone on to hit a home run in free agency, signing the best player in the world and the biggest fish in the sea of free agency. LeBron James' arrival then spurred the likes of Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, whom The King personally recruited to LA.

On top of that, they got Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to sign a one-year, $12 million deal right in line with his real market value. This gives LeBron a hustler and a committed two-way wing with the capability to get hot quickly from the perimeter.

Overall, the Los Angeles Lakers have done a great job of accelerating their rebuild, which looked in shambles barely 2 years back.

Edited by Yash Matange


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