“Sources: Durant will sign a 4-year, $164M deal with the Nets; Irving will sign 4-years, $141M,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted at 5:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 30, 2019. While Wojnarowski reported other signings earlier in the day, that tweet came at the exact minute free agency opened as teams were officially allowed to negotiate with NBA free agency. And it came 114 days before the scheduled start of the 2019-20 season.
Last year, teams had nearly four months between the start of free agency and the start of the season. This year, teams have barely four weeks as the most unusual offseason in NBA history wreaks havoc on the typical league year.
Like last year, there were a few blockbuster agreements reported on the first day of free agency, including De’Aaron Fox’s five-year deal with the Sacramento Kings, but arguably the top five free agents didn’t agree to terms on November 20: Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram, Fred VanVleet, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Gordon Hayward.
It didn’t take long for Hayward to land a 4-year, $120-milion sign-and-trade agreement with the Charlotte Hornets a day later, the same day Fred VanVleet’s 4-year, $85-million deal with the Toronto Raptors was reported. And Bogdanovic agreed to a four-year, $72-million deal with the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 22. But it wasn’t until the fifth day of free agency that Brandon Ingram agreed to a max contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. Ingram was one of only two free agents under the age of 30 who averaged at least 15 points last year. The second overall pick in the 2016 draft, Ingram was a first-time All-Star in 2020 and the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
All eyes were on Anthony Davis, the other under-30 free agent who averaged at least 15 points last year. All eyes were already on the seven-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA First-Team selection, but with Ingram et al. off the board and calming trade winds after an explosive weekend, the NBA world waited and wondered why Davis hadn’t re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s unusual for AD to delay his re-signing for this long,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Monday, Nov. 23. “One of the things he could be watching is what Giannis does. If Giannis commits to sign an extension, we could see AD to sign for longer.”
Giannis didn’t sign an extension that week, nor did Davis, leaving two of the best players in the world with undetermined futures.
Supermax to Max
In late May 2018, Anthony Davis, then in his sixth season with the New Orleans Pelicans, was named to the All-NBA First-Team for the third time in four seasons, triggering his eligibility for a supermax contract the following summer. At the time, the deal was projected to be worth five years and roughly $230 million.
Eight months later, Davis informed the Pelicans he had no intention to sign the extension and requested a trade. Six months after that, Davis was traded, officially passing on potentially the largest contract in NBA history. And one year later, two weeks after the start of 2020 free agency, Davis finally signed a five-year, $190-million deal with the Lakers, who sit atop 2021 NBA Finals odds. The Lakers are also atop the NBA betting lines for most likely NBA Finals matchup.
The trade demand cost Davis about $40 million, but he did win an NBA championship and is in position to secure his place as one of the best big men in league history. Despite the projected $40-million hit, it was still the largest deal of free agency, topping Ingram’s $158-million contract, which stood for nearly two weeks. Hayward remains the only other $100-million signee.
Gordon Hayward was technically traded from the Boston Celtics to the Charlotte Hornets, though it was a sign-and-trade that included no other notable pieces. The Hornets also acquired two future second-round picks while sending a conditional future second-round pick to Boston. There were several true trades, however.
In the days prior to free agency, reports swirled of James Harden’s desire to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets, but as free agency opened and in the days that followed, Harden stayed put as other players around the league were dealt, including former teammate Chris Paul and current teammate Russell Westbrook. And in-between those deals that sent Paul to the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 16 and Westbrook to the Wizards on Dec. 3, dozens of other pieces were moved.
In addition to Paul and Westbrook, several other notable players were traded, including Jrue Holiday and the other piece of the Westbrook deal, John Wall, but several under-the-radar trades were made. After the Nets declined the $5-million option on Garrett Temple, they were in the market for a defensive-minded combo guard, whom they landed in Bruce Brown in a three-team deal with the Clippers and Pistons. The 24-year-old Brown arrives as a dirt-cheap ($1.6 million) complementary piece for an offense-heavy Nets’ team.
Other under-the-radar trades before and during free agency that impacted the market: The Memphis Grizzlies filled a likely free-agency hole by trading up to draft TCU shooting guard Desmond Bane, the Minnesota Timberwolves acquiring little-used Utah forward Ed Davis, and the Detroit Pistons acquired guard Delon Wright in a three-team trade with the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Of the more than 300 free agents who hit the open market this offseason, 63 are at least 30 years old, a group that doesn’t include free agents Vince Carter and Marvin Williams, who retired at 43 and 34 years old, respectively.
As noted, Brandon Ingram was the only under-30 free agent who averaged at least 15 points per game last year. The average age of the other seven 15-point free agents: 33. And that doesn’t include 33-year-old Mike Conley, a 13-year veteran who averaged 14.9 points for the Jazz last year and will return after declining his termination option. All six of the over-30 15-point free agents were unrestricted free agents, and four of them joined new teams: DeMarcus Cousins to the Rockets, Dwight Howard to the 76ers, Danilo Gallinari to the Hawks, and Hayward to the Hornets.
Through the first three weeks of free agency, Udonis Haslem is the old free agent to sign a new contract. The 40-year-old re-signed with the Miami Heat, agreeing to return for an 18th season with the only team the Florida native has played for during his career.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88