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Biggest Losers in NBA Free Agency

NBA free agency is now largely behind us and, hoo-boy, did it fundamentally change the landscape of the league. With all of the top players now under contract, here’s a look at the biggest losers from free agency in 2019. 

New York Knicks

I mean, this is almost too easy. The New York Knicks bet big on landing at least one star this summer and wound up with a bevy of mid-roster guys. A few months ago, the dream was for the Knicks to land Zion Williamson and match him with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. None of that happened.

Instead, the Knicks splashed money on a bunch of average players, with Julius Randle’s three-year, $63 million deal headlining the list. They also handed out two-year deals to Bobby Portis ($31 million), Reggie Bullock ($21 million), Taj Gibson ($20 million), Wayne Ellington ($16 million) and Elfrid Payton $16 million). None of those guys will move the needle a millimeter.

It appears the Knicks are setting themselves up to have a ton of cap space in two years. Basically, they’re psyching themselves up to miss out on Giannis Antetokounmpo in two years.

Meanwhile, the Knicks had to watch in stunned silence as the Nets became the glamour team in New York. Irving and Durant will now be playing just across the East River in Brooklyn while Madison Square Garden will remain a cocoon of sadness.

No matter how you spin this, it has been a disaster for the Knicks.

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook was supposed to have found his long-term running buddy. When Paul George decided to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, he spoke glowingly about his partnership with Westbrook and how he could see the two of them winning a championship together. That seems like a lifetime ago.

For the second time in three years, Westbrook watched as a star teammate reject him. Kevin Durant did it in 2016 via free agency, George did it this summer by forcing the Thunder to trade him. Now the Thunder may be looking to move Westbrook in a complete teardown.

When Westbrook agreed to a five-year, $206 million super max contract extension in 2017, he was expecting to finish his career in Oklahoma City. Now it’s hard to envision a scenario where that happens.

It’s hard to feel bad for Russ here, seeing as he could likely afford to buy any of a number of Pacific Island nations and have himself declared king. That said, it’s truly incredible that a 30-year-old guard who has averaged a triple-double three years running is now a pariah.

Toronto Raptors

Man, this one stings. The Toronto Raptors were still basking in the glow of their first NBA title when Kawhi Leonard announced he was headed to the Los Angeles Clippers. Overnight, the Raptors went from Eastern Conference favorites with a great shot to defend their title, to pondering a complete teardown.

Leonard leaving wasn’t shocking, but it still hurts. During his one season in Toronto he was the team’s undisputed leader. He set career-highs in points (26.6), rebounds (7.3) and minutes (34.0) per game and was named NBA Finals MVP. Had he returned the Raptors had a great shot to repeat as champs. Now, they seem lost.

So far Toronto’s additions this summer are Stanley JohnsonRondae Hollis-Jefferson and undrafted free agent Terence Davis. So, yeah, it’s going to be a struggle to compete next season.

Kyle LowryMarc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all in the final year of pricey deals and the team clearly wants to build around younger guys like Pascal SiakamFred VanVleetNorman Powell and OG Anunoby.

While it seems ridiculous that losing one player will take the Raptors from champions to battling for a playoff spot, that might be the scenario next season. With Leonard gone it might be time to start looking to the future.

DeMarcus Cousins

After a torn Achilles tendon forced DeMarcus Cousins to sign a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, most expected him to have a robust free agent market this summer. Instead, he struggled to garner any interest.

Cousins played in just 30 games after recovering from Achilles surgery. When he returned, he averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. But in the postseason he suffered a torn quad and thus questions about his health remain.

With no real market developing in free agency, Cousins was forced to sign a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. While that contract will give him the chance to compete for a title alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Boogie was hoping for a big payday this summer.

Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets opened free agency by declining to offer arguably the best player in franchise history a super max contract. As a result, Kemba Walker bolted for greener pastures in Boston. He’ll now be the centerpiece of what the Boston Celtics try to do moving forward.

To replace Walker, Charlotte imported Terry Rozier and handed the 25-year-old a three-year, $56.7 million contract. That’s the same Terry Rozier who averaged 9.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 22.7 minutes per game last season. Yeah, that guy got nearly $20 million a year from the Hornets.

Meanwhile, second-leading scorer Jeremy Lamb signed with the Indiana Pacers, leaving Charlotte with a brutal roster bereft of perimeter scoring.

With only Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller under contract after next season, the Hornets will have a ton of cap space to spend. Until then, it is shaping up to be a rough few months in the Queen City.