A month into free agency, all major free agents have been signed, and most trade targets have been dealt. With that being said, this summer has been quite eventful, and the landscape of the league has changed drastically, so let’s take a look at some of the biggest winners and losers of the 2021 NBA offseason.
Winner #1 - Chicago Bulls:
The Bulls are easily the biggest winner of the offseason after signing star guards Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to great contracts, adding to their star-studded lineup already including Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
Chicago had to make some changes after coming off a season where the Bulls went 22–43, claiming the 11th seed, just missing out on one of the spots in the play-in tournament. The Bulls traded for Vucevic at the trade deadline, hoping to help push the team to the playoffs, but their plans were thwarted when LaVine contracted COVID-19.
LaVine has always been an incredible player, but last season, he proved that he was one of the best in the league after averaging 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game on some of the best efficiency in the NBA. However, he is an unrestricted free agent next summer, meaning that he could walk away from the Bulls for nothing. Because retaining LaVine will be such a priority for Chicago, the signings of Ball and DeRozan make the Bulls the biggest winner of this offseason, as the proactivity of Chicago’s front office is something that every star, including Zach LaVine, would love to have in their corner.
Ball and DeRozan both fit very well with this Bulls squad. Both can take some of the ball-handling duties from LaVine, allowing him to get open off the ball. They essentially both make the Bulls less LaVine-reliant. In previous years, Chicago’s entire offense, from playmaking to scoring, went through LaVine. As an elite scorer, DeRozan will alleviate scoring duties from LaVine, and Ball will do the same with playmaking. DeRozan also adds some playoff experience to the young squad, which will accelerate the others’ transition to playoff basketball. With these advantages, the team should be well-rested when playoff time comes, hopefully leading to a deep playoff run.
Loser #1 - Dennis Schroder:
Last offseason, after coming off a championship, the Lakers offered a 4 year/$84 million contract extension to Dennis Schroder. Even though he was offered more money than most people would see in 10 lifetimes, Schroder bet on himself and declined the deal, hoping to get a deal worth over $100 million this offseason. However, a week into free agency, Schroder reportedly got no interest in the market, and most teams with cap space had already made large deals.
So, Schroder had to settle for just a $5.9 million deal with the Celtics, an astonishingly small sum compared to the Lakers’ deal last offseason. There is still a glimmer of hope that he’ll get his desired contract next offseason, but giving a non-shooting point guard north of $20 million a year in 2022 is quite unrealistic.
Winner #2 - Los Angeles Lakers:
After trading for Russell Westbrook before free agency, the Lakers had a lot of work to do in free agency. Their starting lineup consisted of Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Marc Gasol. Though they obviously had a lot of raw talent and experience, a team can’t expect success without elite shooting from deep in this era, as mentioned in this article.
Needing to address this glaring issue, the Lakers entered free agency hoping to sign quality shooters with minimal cap space, a daunting task. But they were able to end the offseason with a plethora of excellent shooters and young, athletic role players.
They signed Kendrick Nunn, Carmelo Anthony, Wane Ellington, Malik Monk, and Kent Bazemore. Each player is an above-average long-range shooter, as all of them, besides Kendrick Nunn, who shoots 38.1% from deep, shoots over 40% from beyond the arc.
Nunn and Monk are the most exciting pickups for me, as they are both young and explosive that can be sparks off the bench, leading the second unit. Additionally, Monk and Nunn are clearly willing to sacrifice to win, as they turned down more lucrative contracts from other teams to prioritize winning. Selfless players that bring as much to the table as these young studs are always excellent additions to contenders like the Lakers.
Carmelo Anthony was also a fantastic acquisition. He will mesh fantastically with the current roster as he has experience moving from team to team and getting accustomed to many different rosters in a relatively short period. In addition, he is great friends with LeBron James, improving the locker room chemistry in the new team, making him that much better of a fit.
Entering the 2021–22 season with this much talent, the Lakers’ next task is to find some chemistry on the court. This may take some time with this many new faces, but with the resilience and experience each of the new players has displayed in their careers, I expect them to jump over this hurdle with relative ease.
Loser #2 - Sixers and Ben Simmons:
After the Hawks shocked Philadelphia and eliminated the Sixers from the playoffs, I wrote this article to emphasize the importance of trading Ben Simmons in the offseason.
The Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons experiment has run its course, and these playoffs made it clear that Simmons is the problem on the court. Due to a lack of shooting and general decisiveness, the downfall of Simmons’s performance has almost always coincided with the team's downfall in the playoffs, as Joel Embiid has consistently played at an All-NBA level.
Embiid even voiced his frustration after the Sixers’ collapse in Game 7, when he said that the game's turning point was when Simmons passed up a free layup to his defended teammate.
With all that being said, keeping both Embiid and Simmons on the same team is similar to allowing a time bomb to keep ticking because when one of them undoubtedly demands a trade, their trade value will plummet. So, the Sixers are losers because they have allowed a clearly toxic locker room and lack of chemistry to progress.
Ben Simmons is also a loser of this offseason because he desperately needs a change of environment and a fresh start. Staying in Philadelphia with the fans and teammates who have recently spoken out against him is far from the typical situation for a young player who needs to switch his game completely.
Winner #3 - New York Knicks:
Last season, Julius Randle and the Knicks shocked the world when they claimed the 4th seed in the East. Unfortunately, they failed to maintain their momentum into the playoffs when Trae Young and the underdog Atlanta Hawks defeated them in just 5 games.
Their main issues were a lack of efficient and consistent scoring, as their only player with heavy experience was Derrick Rose. And Julius Randle, their main scoring option, was outscored by Rose and shot just under 30% from the field.
After this playoff disappointment, the Knicks looked to make a splash in free agency, and they came up with solid acquisitions to bolster their roster.
They signed scoring guard Evan Fournier to a 4 year/$78 million contract and Kemba Walker to a 2 year/$16 million contract. These additions give New York more guard depth, scoring, and playmaking.
Kemba is an experienced scorer and playmaker, as he proved during his time in Charlotte. Though he did have two alright seasons with the Celtics, he will have ample opportunity to return to his past excellence with more touches in New York.
Fournier has been an efficient bucket-getter his entire career. When he was on the Magic, he consistently flew under the radar due to his team’s lack of success. However, in the second half of last season, Fournier showed his elite efficiency on a big stage as he got traded to Boston, where he nailed over 45% of his three-pointers.
These two acquisitions may be enough to push New York into the conference semifinals or even the conference finals this season!
Loser #3 - Dallas Mavericks:
So far in his short career, Luka Doncic has shown that he is on the path to becoming one of the greatest players of all time. But, the one thing that can hold him back is team success.
In fact, Doncic was reportedly upset at the organization's direction since their first-round exit last season and got more frustrated after the Mavs decided to fire longtime GM Donnie Nelson. After back-to-back first-round losses, Dallas hasn’t made any major roster additions to address their repeated playoff shortcomings, which may cause more unrest in Doncic’s camp.
Dallas is on the verge of ending an offseason in which all they did was lose Josh Richardson and sign Reggie Bullock. So, in short, Luka will have to shoulder all the load for another season. And, though watching Luka’s magic in full effect is a treat for us NBA fans, the Mavs’ front office is, to put it simply, failing Luka Doncic.
If Dallas continues to make minimal acquisitions and trades, there is no reason for Doncic to stick around with an incompetent front office. For this reason, be on the lookout for a Luka Doncic trade request next offseason.