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NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers: Paul George Addition Pushes Sixers to the Top



NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers: Paul George Addition Pushes Sixers to the Top

Athlete podcasts can be a mixed bag, from the excellent (New Heights) to the short-lived (Mind the Game) to everything in between. Sometimes, though, they can be informative, as the most recent episode of Podcast P—the Paul George–helmed video pod—proved to be. 

On Monday, George, fresh off signing a four-year, $212 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, pulled up a mic and unpacked how it happened. According to George, last October the Los Angeles Clippers offered him a two-year, $60 million extension. He passed. “Kind of disrespectful,” George said. Over the next few months, L.A.’s offer pushed to north of $40 million per year. Still, George declined.

In January, the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to a three-year, $153 million extension. George figured a similar offer would come his way. And if it did, George said, he would take it. 

It didn’t. Los Angeles refused to go beyond a two-year deal. After the season—a stellar year for George who posted career-best efficiency numbers and played in the most games (74) since his days in Oklahoma City—the Clippers came to George with a Leonard-like deal. George, who undoubtedly knew a four-year, max-level offer was out there for him, said he would accept it—with a no-trade clause. This time, L.A. declined. George asked for a four-year max. Again, the Clippers passed.

“At that point,” George said, “it didn’t feel right to come back.”

Instead, George is headed to Philadelphia. The signing unites George with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, giving the Sixers arguably the best top three in the NBA. He’s adaptable, having played opposite Leonard, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. No one is getting through the Boston Celtics without loading up on high-level wing defenders—and George is one of them. And at this stage of his career, he is probably more concerned with winning than All-Star nods.

And while Philly has to be a little leery about George’s motivation—George lamented the Clippers and Golden State Warriors’ inability to get a sign-and-trade done that would have landed George with Golden State—the addition of an All-Star wing makes the 76ers undeniable offseason winners. That Philly was able to round out the roster with a little shooting (Eric Gordon), defense (Caleb Martin) and rebounding (Andre Drummond) only adds to its summer success. 

The Clippers? It’s hard to view them as anything but losers. George’s defection puts Los Angeles in a tough spot. The Clippers responded by going on a midlevel signing spree, adding Derrick Jones Jr., Nic Batum, Mo Bamba, Kris Dunn and Kevin Porter Jr. while re-signing Harden to a two-year, $70 million deal. Success hinges on Leonard, 33, and Harden, 34, having healthy, All-NBA–level seasons. 

History, though, suggests that is unlikely. The Clippers have no motivation to bottom out, not with the Oklahoma City Thunder controlling L.A.’s draft picks for the next two seasons. Still, this team has a very play-in tournament feel—which isn’t the type of team owner Steve Ballmer was hoping to enter the multibillion-dollar Intuit Dome with. 

Meanwhile, the dust is still settling on this offseason. More deals could come. The Utah Jazz, still in rebuilding mode, could offload Lauri Markkanen. The New Orleans Pelicans could move Brandon Ingram. The Cleveland Cavaliers could deal Darius Garland. But with many teams starting to settle into the summer, let’s examine some winners and losers from the opening days of the offseason.

In 2019, Oklahoma City flipped Westbrook for Chris Paul. Paul was older (34), on a bloated contract (three years, $124 million) and believed to be nearing the end. At the time, the value for the Thunder was the draft capital that came with him. Instead, Paul played 70 games for OKC, leading a young team to an improbable playoff berth. 

Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul (3) shoots the basketball during the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs.

Paul will bring his playmaking to San Antonio with the goal of making Victor Wembanyama’s life much easier. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Five years later, San Antonio, which agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with Paul this week, is hoping for a similar result. At 39, Paul’s even older now and there is no denying his limitations, particularly defensively. But he’s still a strong playmaker (9.2 assists per 36 minutes last season) who will sharpen an offense that was 26th in efficiency last season. Remember: Victor Wembanyama spent most of his rookie season with a power forward (Jeremy Sochan) as his playmaker. Think of what he will do with Paul.  

Give the Warriors an ‘A’ for effort. They made a good-faith play for George and were willing to work with Klay Thompson on sign-and-trade options once it became clear Thompson wanted to go. And Golden State remains in the mix for Markkanen, who the Jazz are listening to offers for. 

And you can make an argument the Warriors did improve. Buddy Hield and Kyle Anderson are more than capable replacements for Thompson, as is De’Anthony Melton, who is a strong defender—if he can stay on the floor. 

Still, the near misses are a killer. Attempts—aggressive attempts, sources said—to acquire George ultimately failed. Paul, who was solid in the 58 games he played with the Warriors last season, was waived. Golden State needed a big move to stay with the emerging powers in the Western Conference. It didn’t get it.   

Golden State’s young players will continue to develop—Brandin Podziemski and Jonathan Kuminga are bona fide starters—but will it be enough to compete in a brutal Western Conference? Andrew Wiggins is coming off of a disastrous season and Draymond Green is a year older. It says here not even Stephen Curry’s brilliance will be enough to push the Warriors back to contender status. 

It isn’t easy improving a 57-win team without breaking it up. But the Thunder pulled it off, flipping Josh Giddey (who didn’t fit) for Alex Caruso (who does) and fixing their rebounding issues by signing Isaiah Hartenstein to a three-year deal. 

The Thunder have scary potential. The NBA’s fourth-ranked defense just added an All-Defensive Team wing in Caruso, who won a title with the Lakers in 2020. A team that finished 27th in rebounding during the regular season (42 boards per game) and 10th out of 16 teams in the playoffs (41.5) gets a relentless rebounder in Hartenstein whose passing should make him a seamless fit on offense. 

Armed with draft capital, moveable contracts and the urgency to win while LeBron James is still playing at a high level, the Lakers were widely expected to make a significant deal this summer. Instead, after L.A. whiffed on Thompson, the most substantive addition will be 23-year-old rookie Dalton Knecht. 

The Lakers, for now, appear ready to run it back with largely the same group for the third consecutive season. Gabe Vincent, who played in just 11 games last season, can be looked at as a de facto free agent signing and the defense will improve if Jarred Vanderbilt stays healthy. But L.A. will also need to get the same durability from James (71 games last season) and Anthony Davis (76)—no sure thing at this stage of their careers. 

The Nova Knicks got more Nova-ey with the addition of Mikal Bridges. They also got a lot better defensively, with the versatile Bridges joining OG Anunoby and Josh Hart as sturdy wing defenders New York can throw at Boston. After finishing 10th in defensive efficiency last season, the Knicks can expect to get a whole lot better. 

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives past Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) during a game.

Bridges will now team up with his former Villanova teammates in Madison Square Garden. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There are still questions at center after Hartenstein’s exit—a healthy Mitchell Robinson goes from a luxury to a necessity—and reintegrating Julius Randle into a Jalen Brunson–led offense that was humming after Randle went out with a shoulder injury could be tricky. But the Knicks are eight deep with versatile, playoff-ready players and are as well positioned as any team to challenge the Celtics in the East. 

The slow bleeding of the Nuggets continued this summer, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope becoming the latest veteran to flee Denver for richer pastures. The loss of Caldwell-Pope, a durable, reliable wing defender and 40-plus percent three-point shooter, is a body blow. Caldwell-Pope was a wall on the perimeter, routinely taking on top perimeter assignments. And his willingness to be selfless offensively was a key to the Nuggets’ success. 

Pencil Christian Braun in to replace Caldwell-Pope. Braun is strong, athletic and a good defender. But he doesn’t have Caldwell-Pope’s experience and he’s not the same level of shooter. For Denver to keep up with the rest of the Western Conference powers, Braun—and Peyton Watson, and Julian Strawther—will have to play well in bigger roles.  

The Magic didn’t make a big splash this summer—they were among the teams expected to make a run at George before free agency opened—but they did upgrade with Caldwell-Pope, who brings championship experience to the NBA’s fifth-youngest roster last season. 

On paper, Caldwell-Pope is a perfect fit. He’s an elite defender who will slide nicely into a Magic rotation that finished second in defensive efficiency last season. And his perimeter shooting will enhance an offense that ranked 24th in scoring and 13th in three-point percentage—as well as 13th and 14th out of 16 teams in the playoffs, respectively. 

The talent drain continued this summer in Miami with Martin, a durable, 60-plus-game part-time starter for the last three seasons, signing with Philadelphia. The Heat will lean on Jaime Jaquez Jr. more and Alec Burks should provide some shooting off of the bench but the recent exodus of rotation players—Martin, Max Strus, Vincent—is alarming. Even a team that plays as hard and as disciplined as Miami has to be expected to take a step back. 

Does Miami have another big trade in it? The Heat re-signed Bam Adebayo to a three-year, $166 million extension so there won’t be any rebuild. Miami could kick the tires on Damian Lillard and see if the Milwaukee Bucks—another team that has had a quiet offseason—could be interested in a Tyler Herro–centric package. Offense was an issue for the Heat last season—they finished 21st in offensive efficiency and 16th in three-point percentage—and without a deal, it could be again in the next one. 

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