As with everything in 2020, NBA free agency is unique this year, with the usual July 1 frenzy being forced back to November. Unlike previous years, the initial rush in the early minutes was subdued, although a steady stream of deals continue to be reported.
What was similar to previous years was the market being set early, with some big contracts indicating potential landing spots for key free agents. Let's take a look at some of the key takeaways thus far.
The return of the big man?
The NBA can be a copycat league at times and it shouldn't be underestimated the impact the Los Angeles Lakers have had on this year's free agency.
In winning the championship, the Lakers were led by a dominant defence with size that could physically overwhelm their opposition. While traditional big men have seemingly been getting phased out of the game, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee thrived as rim protectors who could serve as garbage men on the offensive end, hitting the glass and finishing lobs.
When the Lakers went away from that duo, they simply slid Anthony Davis to the five, once again giving them incredible size and production at the five spot.
With LeBron James and Davis set to continue their partnership in the coming seasons, some of the early deals indicate that the era of the big man could be making a resurgence.
Meyers Leonard was one of the first deals to be announced, returning to Miami on a two-year deal, reportedly worth up to $20 million.
The Meyers Leonard two-year deal with Miami is worth nearly $20M, @caa_sports agents Aaron Mintz and Dave Spahn tell ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 20, 2020
In a slightly surprising move, the Detroit Pistons then followed by agreeing to terms with Mason Plumlee on a three-year, $25 million deal. Plumlee averaged just 17.3 minutes per game with the Denver Nuggets this season, starting in just one of his 61 appearances, making the dollar amount slightly surprising.
Free agent center Mason Plumlee has agreed to a three-year, $25M deal with the Detroit Pistons, his agent Mark Bartelstein of @PrioritySports tells ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 20, 2020
That Plumlee deal was an early indication that the Pistons would likely not be retaining the services of free-agent big man Christian Wood, who would eventually agree to a three-year, $41 million deal with the Houston Rockets -- the details of a potential sign-and-trade are yet to be agreed on.
Of the title contenders, Serge Ibaka remains a coveted free agent signing, while Aron Baynes also looms as a plus addition for any team looking for a defensive presence with shooting range.
As for those Lakers...well, in some bad news for the rest of the league, they have added the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell, securing his services from the cross-town rival Clippers.
Big men set the tone early in free agency and you have to wonder how much the Lakers' success played into that.
Elite shooters cash in
Ask any team what they need heading into free agency and you will almost certainly hear the words "more shooting".
However, there is shooting and then there is elite shooting, with some of the league's top marksmen cashing in big time on night one.
Joe Harris (Brooklyn) and Davis Bertans (Washington) entered free agency as two of the most coveted outside shooters in the free agency class. Over the last couple of months, reports have suggested multiple teams were chasing their talents, which ultimately drove their market well above the mid-level exception ($9.3 million).
|Duncan Robinson (MIA)||606||44.6|
|Davis Bertans (WAS)||472||42.4|
|Joe Harris (BKN)||406||42.4|
|Bojan Bogdanovic (UTA)||457||41.4|
|Terry Rozier (CHA)||423||40.7|
|Danilo Gallinari (OKC)||439||40.5|
|Jayson Tatum (BOS)||469||40.3|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||674||40.1|
|Ben McLemore (HOU)||452||40.0|
Harris re-upped in Brooklyn, agreeing to a four-year, $75 million deal, while Bertans will remain in Washington when he signs a five-year, $80 million contract.
For the Nets, the opportunity to play Harris alongside Kevin Durant on the wing was an opportunity they couldn't afford to pass up on, while Bertans was a shining light in a long season for the Wizards next to Bradley Beal.
There were only nine players in the league to attempt 400+ 3-pointers while hitting on greater than 40 percent. Free-agent Danilo Gallinari joined Bertans and Harris in that select group, so it should be no surprise that he cashed in on a three-year, $61.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks. Several contenders were reported to have extreme interest in Gallinari, though ultimately money won out and the Italian will play alongside Trae Young on a rising Atlanta team in 2020-21.
Soon after those deals were reported, Malik Beasley was said to have agreed on a four-year, $60 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, putting him in a similar salary ballpark to the above-mentioned duo. Beasley impressed in his short time with the franchise, knocking down 42.7 percent of his triples in 14 appearances after being traded from Denver.
There's never been a better time to be a free agent who can shoot in the NBA and with cap space at a premium, it was apparent very quickly that contenders were going to struggle to pry away the best from their current squads.
The Giannis decision
For a number of teams, back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is shaping the decisions they make in free agency this year.
Antetokounmpo is eligible to sign a five-year supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason, avoiding unrestricted free agency prior to the 2022 season.
Miami, Toronto, and Dallas, in particular, are expected to chase the services of Antetokounmpo if he doesn't extend with the Bucks in the coming days, making their decisions all the more critical now.
For the Heat, in particular, this seemingly shaped their moves, with the earlier mentioned two-year deal for Leonard and a two-year, $37.4 million deal for Goran Dragic reported to be non-guaranteed in the second season.
While there has been plenty of money flying around on day one of free agency, many teams are keeping their eye on the Milwaukee star, not willing to derail their long-term plans.
Antetokounmpo is eligible to sign the extension prior to the season but not during.
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