September 25, 2022

With the first week of free agency over, signings are slowing. Most teams have a taste of what their rosters will look like unless they add a potential top-five player who will undoubtedly shake up the entire league.

Aside from the Kevin Durant trade, five teams stood out for what they did in the first week. Here are my biggest winners from the 2022 NBA free agency period.

PLUS: Free agency notes and instant analysis

Clippers wing depth makes them Western Conference Finals favorites

Major transactions:

  • Signed John Wall at two years, $13 million
  • Signed Nicolas Batum at two years, $22 million
  • Signed Amir Coffey at three years, $11 million
  • Ivica Zubac signed at three years, 33 million dollars

NBA analyst Danny Leroux likes to say that ownership is the NBA’s biggest competitive advantage. Steve Ballmer of the Clippers proves that adage to be true. According to Spotrac, his team is expected to pay $144 million in luxury tax this season. That’s nearly the entire payroll of all teams in the league that don’t pay taxes.

Ballmer uses that money wisely. John Wall is a nice low-risk addition that can still pack a punch. Nicolas Batum gave the Clippers excellent production, and Amir Coffey might be the best completely unknown wing in the league.

While other teams scramble to find any wing that can play, the Clippers now have an embarrassment of riches with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Terance Mann, Batum and Coffey on their roster.

The Clippers lost big man Isaiah Hartenstein to the Knicks (they couldn’t bring him back because of the addition of Wall), but they locked Zubac into a long-term contract. They may not need much depth behind him at center — they’ll have one of the deadliest small-ball formations in the league come playoff time.

They are my very first choice to come out of the Western Conference this season.

Jazz won big in Rudy Gobert trade

Major transactions:

  • Traded Rudy Gobert in exchange for Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, four first-round picks (unprotected in 2023, 2025, 2027, and top five protected in 2029), traded first-round picks round in 2026
  • Traded Royce O’Neale for a first-round pick

The Rudy Gobert trade was good for both teams, but it was exceptional for the Jazz. That kind of draft pay — four first-round picks, a 2026 pick trade and Walker Kessler, the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft — is outrageous from a historical perspective.

Wolves are betting Gobert will keep them out of the lottery this 2027 window. But the NBA is an unpredictable league. The Nets made the same bet when they traded for James Harden. Ask them how it works for them now.

MORE: How Kevin Durant’s trade request completely changes Rockets deal for Harden

Lost in the mix of all draft fairness, including another pick the Jazz got by moving Royce O’Neale, is that they also picked up some fine Wolves veterans.

Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt were the main reason Wolves formed a respectable No.13 defense last season. These guys will have commercial value if the Jazz want to completely tear their team down to the posts. If they decide to keep them, it immediately solves the huge Achilles heel of the Jazz’s perimeter defense that led them to playoff disappointment in the Gobert-Donovan Mitchell era.

NOH: Jarred Vanderbilt is the Disney Plus version of Dennis Rodman

The Celtics have filled all their holes with Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari

Major transactions:

  • Received Malcolm Brogdon in exchange for Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, 2023 first-round picks
  • Signed Danilo Gallinari to a two-year deal with mid-tier taxpayer exception

The Celtics were a fantastic team last season, but their two most glaring weaknesses were a lack of play from a ball-handling playmaker and consistent 3-point shooting.

If Malcolm Brogdon can stay healthy, he fulfills this first need perfectly.

That’s a big if, as he’s only averaged 55.5 games per season in his career and was healthy enough for just 36 last season. Brogdon is an intoxicating pick-and-roll player who can save the Celtics from themselves when their offense experiences dreaded lulls during games.

Danilo Gallinari is a nice addition to the bench who fills that second need. He will be 34 in August and can no longer stand in front of anyone in defense, but he can still shoot the ball hard. He hit 38% of his 4.5 attempts per game last season for the Hawks.

The Celtics have added offensive punch to what should be the best defense in the league next season. They are my first choice to come out of the East barring a Durant trade to one of the other teams in contention.

Irving-Westbrook-FTR

The Lakers have found a potential trade for Russell Westbrook with Kyrie Irving

Major transactions:

  • Signed Lonnie Walker to a one-year, $6.5 million deal
  • Signed Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown Jr. at minimum offers
  • Damian Jones signed a two-year, $4.9 million contract

The Lakers are the big winners here not for what they did in free agency, but for potentially finding a massive upgrade over Russell Westbrook. The Westbrook trade for Kyrie Irving has yet to happen. But even the possibility of this deal is a big win. The Lakers had no serious title aspirations prior to the opening of this trade. Now they have a viable path.

Westbrook was obviously a terrible choice for the Lakers as soon as this trade was announced last year. They badly need shots to put around Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Westbrook was the opposite – a ball-dominating non-shooter who obstructed the way for everyone.

Irving solves many of these same problems. He’s a fantastic 3-point shooter and can deliver a much more effective offense.

I didn’t particularly like the other moves the Lakers made in free agency. Their biggest acquisition was bringing in Lonnie Walker with their Mid-Level Taxpayer Exception. It’s a failed prospect that Spurs have given up on. It’s a bit of a sideline move, but I thought they could have done better. Juan Toscano-Anderson is a nice addition. It won’t have a major impact, but it’s solid in a bunch of different areas. Damian Jones is a decent young big who can provide some athleticism. And Troy Brown Jr. is another failed prospect I don’t believe in, but they’re safe with a flier on the minimum.

The Kings improved by adding Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk

Major transactions:

  • Acquired Kevin Huerter in exchange for 2025 protected first-round pick Justin Holiday, Mo Harkless
  • Signed Malik Monk to a two-year, $19 million deal

Everyone loves to clown around the Kings, but they’ve made some nice under-the-radar moves this offseason.

I loved their Kevin Huerter pickup. He has a lot more playing ability than he was able to show alongside Trae Young with the Hawks. And his 38% 3-point shooting career is obviously hugely valuable, especially since so many of them have come off the move.

Huerter is a tough and heady player who turns 24 in August. It still has room to improve and the cost to get it was incredibly low. The Kings aren’t missing out on much as they lose two veterans whose contracts are expiring and a future protected first-round pick.

Another great addition was Malik Monk. Monk was one of the Lakers’ few bright spots last season. He’s another great 3-point shooter who has improved defensively and, also at 24, he still has room to improve.

Monk and Huerter are perfect pieces to put alongside the De’Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis duo who will control most of the action on offense. The Kings have improved both in the present and for their future. They deserve some credit for that.