Who Won & Lost 2021 NBA Free Agency?

By Saransh Sharma, Pranav Thiriveedhi, & Nikhil Pradeep

2021 NBA Free Agency certainly did not have many big names as we are accustomed to seeing the last few free agencies. Despite that, plenty of teams capitalized and improved, while others ruined every chance they had to do so. This Free Agency class was filled with few star-level players, but tons of important role players who could make teams contenders instantly, and yet some teams just sat back and did nothing. With about a week having gone by since Free Agency began, here are the biggest winners and losers of Free Agency so far:

Saransh’s Free Agency Winner: Miami Heat

Miami Heat Key Acquisitions: 

  • Sign Kyle Lowry via sign-and-trade with Toronto (3-year, $85M contract)
  • Sign Markieff Morris via Free Agency (1-year, $2.6M contract)
  • Sign PJ Tucker via Free Agency (2-year, $15M contract)
  • Re-sign Duncan Robinson (5-year, $90M contract)
  • Re-sign Victor Oladipo (1-year, $2.4M contract)

Miami far-and-away has looked like the most improved team this offseason, having ascended themselves back into a top-3 Eastern Conference team and NBA Finals contention. Much like their roster from their NBA Finals run 2 seasons ago, this is a nasty, gritty, defense-first team that no one will enjoy playing. Kyle Lowry is coming off of a season where he averaged over 17 points and 7 assists per game, had 44/44/90 shooting splits. Not to mention, he won an NBA Championship 3 seasons ago with Toronto. He will bring intense defense, great leadership, and be the perfect ball-handler for this team. He will also allow Bam Adebayo to expand his game fully, transforming him into the clear future cornerstone of this franchise. Morris and Tucker bring even grittier defense and stability at the PF position that Miami desperately lacked last season. Bringing back arguably the 2nd-best 3-point shooter in the league in Duncan Robinson, along with Victor Oladipo (who will not return until January due to knee surgery and rehab), this team is a very balanced team that is bound to make lots of noise this season. They may not beat Brooklyn or Milwaukee and go on a magical Finals run as they did in 2020, but they will shock the world once again.

Saransh’s Free Agency Loser: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks Key Acquisitions: 

  • Re-sign Luka Doncic (5-year, $207M contract)
  • Re-sign Tim Hardaway Jr. (4-year, $74M contract)
  • Re-sign Boban Marjanovic (2-year, $7M contract)
  • Sign Reggie Bullock via Free Agency (3-year, $30.5M contract)

Dallas brought back the players they needed to, they kept their franchise cornerstone around for the foreseeable future, but did they do anything to improve upon last year’s team? Reggie Bullock is a nice bench piece who could maybe start, but he is not the guy that they were looking to sign to help Doncic and be his sidekick, as Kristaps Porzingis is not that guy. They also missed out on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, two of the biggest stars on the market. The Mavericks, however, have now gone a decade without adding a star player to their roster. Luka may have signed his extension, but this certainly is not going to make him smile. This offseason was not a complete failure but not a success either. 

Nikhil’s Free Agency Winner: Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Key Acquisitions: 

  • Sign Lonzo Ball via sign-and-trade with Pelicans (4-year, $85M contract)
  • Sign Alex Caruso via Free Agency (4-year, $37M contract)
  • Sign Demar Derozan via sign-and-trade with Spurs (3-year, $85M contract)

The Chicago Bulls have been mired in mediocrity for countless seasons, but have found a solid piece to build around in Zach LaVine in recent years. Having given up on the Lauri Markkanen project, the Bulls had neither the salary leg room nor the willingness to invest in any sort of help to aid Lavine and contend for the playoffs. They instead opted to invest in other young studs like Coby White and Patrick Williams. The Bulls then made a splash last year by trading for All-Star Nikola Vucevic, who was getting nowhere with the Orlando Magic. By slowly gathering pieces and picks, the Bulls showed all their cards in this summer’s Free Agency and managed to pick up 3 huge pieces, which turned their rather uninspiring roster into one that is expected to compete deep into the playoffs. Firstly, Lonzo Ball solves the team’s point guard vacancy issue. Coby White is an intriguing talent however, with the ever passing primes of both LaVine and Vucevic, it is simply not one that the organization has time to deal with. By picking up an established yet still young facilitating guard in Lonzo Ball, the Bulls gain presence in their offensive schemes and open up even more opportunities for their stars, all the while still having Ball’s solid 3-pt shooting to fall back on. Alex Caruso helps with bench defense tremendously, bringing championship experience having played with the Lakers. And finally, Demar Derozan brings absolute consistency and production to a team that has not found an identity for years. Derozan has been known for his mid-range shooting, and with a team with strengths in 3-pt shooting and low post presence, his abilities neatly complete the team’s offense and give the Bulls many avenues for production. The Chicago Bulls have set themselves up brilliantly for the coming season, and look to be able to keep this core for the foreseeable future as well.

Nikhil’s Free Agency Loser: Portland Trail Blazers

Dallas Mavericks Key Acquisitions: 

  • Sign Cody Zeller via Free Agency (1-year, $2.3M contract)
  • Re-sign Norman Powell (5-year, $90M contract)
  • Sign Tony Snell via Free Agency (1-year, $2.3M contract)

For a team seemingly desperate to keep one of the top scorers in the NBA in Damian Lillard for the long run, they have done nothing to show for it. Quite simply, the Blazers needed to get better to attract Lillard to stay with the team, and they have not done so. Cody Zeller and Tony Snell are not high-profile players, nor do they provide enough offensive or defensive production to make Portland significantly better. Norman Powell is a good piece to have next to Lillard and CJ McCollum, but again, he was already there, to begin with. If this is the way free agency is to go with Portland, a trade request from Lillard is imminent, and in all honesty, who can blame him? The Trailblazers must look to invest in young players, trade for picks, anything to get some net positive heading into next season. Leaning into a rebuild would be the best possible scenario, especially given the lack of pieces they have right now, even if it means letting go of Damian Lillard.

Pranav’s Free Agency Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers Key Acquisitions: 

  • Traded for Russell Westbrook (2 years left on contract, $91.2M)
  • Sign Carmelo Anthony (1-year, $2.5M contract)
  • Sign Trevor Ariza (1-year, $2.6M contract)
  • Sign Malik Monk (1-year, $1.8M contract)
  • Sign Kendrick Nunn (2-year, $10M contract)

The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be improving every year, adding new key players to the team based on what they need for the next season. The Lakers, who are championship favorites every year, have made a really big splash this off-season after the entry of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and a slew of more players. The Lakers have solidified an amazing starting 5, and have created an interesting bench of solid veterans and energetic young potential stars. We all know about the performance of Russell, Carmelo, and Trevor, but signing Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn were two of my favorite additions. Alongside Lebron and AD, Malik Monk will become a breakout player this year. Kendrick Nunn will also surface as an established guard for the Lakers. I think the Lakers will make a strong championship push this year and who knows, maybe they might just get the ‘chip.

Pranav’s Free Agency Loser: New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans Key Acquisitions: 

  • Traded for Jonas Valanciunas (1 year left on his $45M contract)
  • Devonte Graham (4-year, $47M contract)
  • Tomas Satoransky (3-year, $30M contract)

Even though the New Orleans Pelicans smartly traded Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe, and received Jonas and Tomas, the Pelicans are still losers so far. Losing Lonzo Ball is so detrimental to not only the chemistry on the team but also to the basic team mechanics. Lonzo is such an efficient passer and always creates plays on the court, and that is something you rarely find. The Pelicans still have Zion and a new group of players, so don’t count them out yet. Even though they lost free agency, they have a chance to make a strong push for the playoffs.

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