NBA free agency winners and losers: Heat upgrade roster; Pelicans, Knicks make confusing moves

This year’s NBA free agency period started off with a bang, as more than 50 new contracts were handed out on Day 1.

Several players still haven’t reached agreements with teams, but 13 of Stock Market Pioneer’ top 20 free agents are already off the market. Kawhi Leonard, the No. 1 player in SN’s rankings, is technically available, but he is widely expected to sign a new deal with the Clippers at some point in the near future.

A surprise signing or trade could pop up later this week because, well, that’s how the NBA offseason works. But for now, let’s roll through the early winners and losers from free agency based on what we know so far:

NBA FREE AGENCY: Full list of signings, best available players

NBA free agency winners

Miami Heat

Pat Riley did it again. After a disappointing first-round exit in the 2021 NBA playoffs, the Heat reloaded and will enter the 2021-22 season with an intriguing roster.

Miami’s first major move in free agency was acquiring Kyle Lowry via a sign-and-trade with the Raptors. The six-time All-Star averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds last season, but his value goes beyond the numbers. His leadership, toughness and overall mentality should fit perfectly with this group.

The Heat didn’t stop there, though. They also snagged P.J. Tucker, retained Duncan Robinson and extended Jimmy Butler. Miami isn’t necessarily in the same tier as Brooklyn and Milwaukee, but the Heat will be a tough out come playoff time.

Veterans who wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has given sportswriters in the LA area so many opportunities to write “The Old Guy Has Still Got It” stories.

Los Angeles also added Malik Monk (23 years old) and re-signed Talen Horton-Tucker (20 years old), but it’s unclear if they will be allowed to sit at the adult table.

Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul

Speaking of veterans, how about these longtime NBA point guards getting paid?

  • Conley: Three-year, $72.5 million contract with the Jazz
  • Lowry: Three-year, $90 million contract with the Heat
  • Paul: Four-year contract with the Suns that could be worth up to $120 million

Conley earns bonus points for the best free agency announcement:

Jarrett Allen

Look, if you lock up a five-year, $100 million contract at 23 years old, you have to be a winner.

The Cavaliers clearly view Allen as a key part of their core, which currently includes Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and rookie big man Evan Mobley. It will be fascinating to watch how Allen and Mobley work together as a frontcourt combination.

Zach Collins

Collins underwent ankle surgeries in September and December of 2020 and missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season. He played in only 11 games for the Trail Blazers the previous campaign because of a shoulder injury. He had another setback in June when he required surgery to repair a fracture in his left foot.

And yet, despite all of the health concerns, Collins somehow landed a three-year, $22 million contract. It’s a puzzling move by San Antonio, but a great deal for Collins.

NBA free agency losers

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans’ poor offseason began prior to the 2021 NBA Draft when they executed a trade with the Grizzlies that allowed them to create enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent. Multiple reports pegged New Orleans as one of the teams planning to pursue Lowry, but obviously that plan didn’t work out so well. Hey, it happens.

But is there a reason the Pelicans seemed so eager to let Lonzo Ball leave? New Orleans sent Ball to Chicago as part of a sign-and-trade agreement in exchange for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick. The Pels also acquired Devonte’ Graham via a separate sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets, sending a lottery-protected first-round pick to Charlotte in order to complete that transaction.

Once Lowry was off the board, wouldn’t it have just been easier to re-sign Ball and let him develop alongside Zion Williamson? What kind of team is the front office trying to build around its franchise cornerstone?

New York Knicks

Coming off a feel-good season, the Knicks had a ton of cap space. Instead of making a huge splash, though, New York brought back a lot of decent-yet-unspectacular players on longer deals: Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Derrick Rose each got three-year contracts, and Evan Fournier received a four-year, $78 million deal.

The Knicks should be able to compete for a playoff spot in 2021-22, but their ceiling won’t be much higher than that. It seems odd that New York’s front office didn’t employ a similar strategy as last year when it handed out short-term deals and maintained flexibility.

How the Los Angeles Lakers handled Alex Caruso

Why would the Lakers allow a valuable piece of their rotation to walk away instead of matching a completely reasonable offer from the Bulls?

From The Athletic’s Sam Amick:

“The Lakers did a very puzzling thing today, and only time will tell if they pay a price for it in their pursuit of an 18th championship. When faced with the prospect of losing Alex Caruso, the 27-year-old guard whose Bird rights they carried and could thus pay whatever they wanted, they didn’t put up any free-agency fight en route to him agreeing to a four-year, $37 million deal with Chicago. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Caruso’s camp went back to the Lakers after the Bulls made their offer and were told that there would be no counter.”


No one will confuse Caruso for Magic Johnson, but he excelled with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers will miss his contributions, especially on the defensive end.

How the Milwaukee Bucks handled P.J. Tucker

Tucker signed with the Heat, but it sure doesn’t sound like Miami was his first choice.

“I’m still a little lost for words to be honest,” Tucker wrote on Instagram. “Still in (shock) but it is what it is. Today took a hard turn on the road of my career but like my grandma used to tell me… All you can control is what you can control.”

Amick reported that Tucker didn’t return to Milwaukee after the Bucks’ championship run because of luxury tax concerns. Lame.

Victor Oladipo

Back in February, Oladipo turned down a two-year, $45.2 million contract extension from the Rockets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported at the time that Oladipo would be pursuing a long-term deal.

So, uh, Oladipo remains unsigned. Probably should have taken that extension.

Following the “official” free agency rules

Wow! How did those players and teams reach so many agreements right after free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Monday?

What incredible negotiators! Definitely no tampering involved!

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