September 24, 2022

On Wednesday, we wrote about three big moves from the first week of NBA free agency that could make or break the immediate futures of the Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks. Every deal, plus every potential bombshell trade we’ve been anticipating involving Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and (eventually) Deandre Ayton, could rock the league for the next few seasons. But so have a number of under-the-radar deals that have helped bolster teams with championship aspirations – or at least ambitions for improvement. Here’s a breakdown of those moves, grouped by whether they can help a team find a new level or just provide them with some good old-fashioned bargain production.

Upgrade

Fresh off an NBA Finals appearance, the Boston Celtics found two significant bench upgrades for relatively little cost. One is Danilo Gallinari, who plans to sign with Boston for the mid-level exception once officially waived by Spurs; the other is Malcolm Brogdon, who the Celtics acquired from the Indiana Pacers for Aaron Nesmith, Daniel Theis, Nik Stauskas, Juwan Morgan, Malik Fitts and a protected 2023 first-round pick.

Both players have plenty of injury issues, but when healthy they’re a perfect fit for a Celtics team that values ​​flexibility. For example, Gallo and Brogdon can work on or off the ball in attacking half-court situations. And on the other end, Brogdon is a multi-position defender who should thrive in coach Ime Udoka’s scheme, while Boston has more than enough quality defenders to hide Gallinari’s weaknesses on D.

Gallinari remains a high-level threat from deep (he hit 38% on three last season, tying his career high), and he’s one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA, which could be important for a team that struggled mightily at the line late in its playoff run. He can handle or filter pick and rolls, and he’s flashed the ability to punish smaller defenders in the post or isolation when he gets a switch. Brogdon is also gang money, and playing the ball more often should allow him to rediscover his outside shot. (He made nearly 41% of his treys in three seasons with the Bucks, but only 35% in three seasons with the Pacers while taking on more ball-handling responsibility.) a bit, potentially mitigating some of the issues. ball safety that plagued them in the playoffs.

The Denver nuggets signaled confidence in the health of injured stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. with their off-season moves, which prioritized defense and versatility on the wing. They sent Will Barton and Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, converted two-way signee Davon Reed to a standard NBA contract (a few months too late, if you ask me; they could have used his playoff defense) and signed Bruce Brown to a two-year contract with their mid-level exception.

It’s hard to think of a better fit for Brown than Denver (and vice versa), where he can make hay by doing reverse pick and rolls with Nikola Jokić and sending the ball to shooters like Murray, Porter, Caldwell-Pope , Bones Hyland and Jeff Green. Also, he and KCP, alongside Aaron Gordon, should give the team a lot more defensive flexibility, which was a major weakness a year ago. (All three players ranked in the top 30 of Bball-Index’s Matchup Difficulty metric last season, out of 272 players who played 1,000 minutes or more.) If Porter’s persistent back problems prove too difficult to overcome, the Nuggets can pivot to this wing trio alongside Murray and Jokić and still confident in their goalscoring abilities.

The Los Angeles Clippers may have the deepest rotation in the NBA, but the one thing he lacked was an angled point guard. Enter John Wall, who, further weighed down by a massive contract, could prove to be bargain bargain mid-tier. Whether he starts or comes off the bench behind Reggie Jackson, Wall brings a totally different look to the Clips. Now, having extended Ivica Zubac and re-signed Nic Batum, the Clips have built a roster that can effortlessly switch between big and small, attack first or defense first, remaining competitive even when Kawhi Leonard and/or Paul George need to rest. LA is expected to have eight players rotating between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-9, giving coach Ty Lue the luxury of loading the field with shots, plays and versatile defense pretty much whenever he wants. The only team to match that mark last season was the Timberwolves, and they just traded a couple of those players as part of the Rudy Gobert deal.

During this time, the Philadelphia 76ers reform Daryl Morey’s band. Morey, who previously served as general manager of the Houston Rockets and is now president of basketball operations at Philadelphia, had already acquired former Houston star James Harden at last season’s trade deadline. Now he’s signed ex-Rockets PJ Tucker and Danuel House with the mid-level and semi-annual exceptions, respectively. He also traded for former Houston draft pick De’Anthony Melton, sending Danny Green, likely out for the season, and a first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for his services.

The moves weren’t just for the good old days. Joel Embiid specifically shouted out to Tucker as the type of tough player the Sixers needed — and lacked — in recent seasons, so Morey came out and got him. He and House know how to play with Harden, and they and Melton will give coach Doc Rivers defensive options on the wing apart from Matisse Thybulle, who is too attacking to be on the pitch in some situations. Of the 375 players who played at least 500 minutes last season, Tucker ranked in the top 15 on Bball-Index’s Matchup Difficulty metric, while House and Melton ranked in the top 100.

Bargain hunting

The Milwaukee dollars used their mid-level exception on Joe Ingles, who just recovered from a torn ACL suffered in February. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be ready for the start of the season — and he might not return until after the All-Star break, given the typical ACL rehab schedule. But he’s a solid fit as a rotational winger in Milwaukee because of his ability to shoot three times (he made just under 41% for his career) and make plays as the closing batsman of the weak side. His defense is likely to drop further given the knee injury, so he may not be a high-minute playoff option.

The Toronto Raptors added to their stable of similarly sized forwards by signing Otto Porter Jr. to a two-year contract. Porter finally stayed healthy last season and reemerged as a valuable cog for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors (more on them in a minute); it should fill a similar role in the north. His shooting (40% from deep for his career, 37% last season), defensive flexibility and experience playing multiple roles at both ends make Porter an ideal candidate for chameleon coach Nick Nurse.

Speaking of players signed away from the defending champions, the Portland Trail Blazers brought in Gary Payton II, who should significantly improve his side defense. With Josh Hart, who was acquired in the CJ McCollum trade last season, the Blazers have two multi-position defensemen on the wing — one of whom (Payton) is All-Defense caliber. It’s a big departure from what Damian Lillard has been used to in his career to date, considering he’s spent much of it playing alongside attacking-minded McCollum (and defensive). Portland also re-signed Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkić, who should help Dame carry the offensive load.

Regarding the Warriors, they rebounded from losing Porter and Payton by signing Donte DiVincenzo. The versatile wing isn’t exactly suited to the role of either starting player, but he should be able to defend opposing guards and shoot from the perimeter. (That is, if he can bounce back from struggling last season returning from a foot injury.) DiVincenzo should have plenty of open eyes with Golden State, and he’ll be mingling with Jordan Poole — and maybe to Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga – to provide firepower off Steve Kerr’s bench.

The Sacramento Kings, the team that let DiVincenzo walk, came out and got two snipers to complete their De’Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis combination. One is Malik Monk, who used a strong contract with the Lakers to secure a two-year deal and reunite with Fox, his former college teammate at Kentucky. Monk emerged as a good little-man pick-and-roll screener last season alongside LeBron James, and while the Kings don’t have anyone like LeBron (duh), Sacramento should be able to capitalize on Monk’s shot to provide a driving space for Fox and to make sweet dribble-hand-off music with Sabonis. The other is former Hawk Kevin Huerter, who is expected to slip into the starting lineup and play a role similar to what he had in Atlanta. Neither player is reaching for the help Sacramento still badly needs on defense, but these guys should at least be able to burn the net on offense.

Last but perhaps not least, the Los Angeles Lakers brought in a new group of clients from Klutch Sports, signing Lonnie Walker IV, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown Jr. to one-year contracts. (They also signed Damian Jones, but he’s being replaced by CAA.) Walker took a step back last season at San Antonio, but he could thrive in a role similar to what Monk played with LeBron last season. . Toscano-Anderson should help the team’s defense if he takes the floor, and Jones made some fine signs as a finisher and passer with the Kings last season. None of these moves necessarily change LA’s fortunes, but getting younger and more athletic is a nice change of pace from last season’s sinking.