NBA free agency winners and losers: Raptors retain Ujiri, but next steps unclear

Michael Grange joined Faizal Khamisa to chat about Masai Ujiri's tenure with the Toronto Raptors and why it was so important for him to stay with the team.

Well, that was quite the week.

As usual, the NBA’s moratorium period was a week of whirlwind action with some league-shifting activity from all corners of the NBA.

Not all free agency business is done, mind you – Kawhi Leonard still, technically, hasn’t signed his new deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, for example – but enough business has been taken care of that we feel we can now make some assessments from free agency.

Here are the biggest winners and losers from the NBA’s major off-season event.


Miami Heat

The undisputed winner of free agency because the Miami Heat landed the biggest fish in the sea that was actually available: Kyle Lowry.

The now-former legendary Toronto Raptors point guard is off to Miami as part of a sign-and-trade transaction that saw him sign with Miami for three years at $85 million.

Along with this piece of business, the Heat also managed to re-sign Duncan Robinson, lock up Jimmy Butler long term to a massive extension and, while they were at it, add P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris to the bunch.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Miami is now at the same level as a fully-healthy Brooklyn Nets or a Milwaukee Bucks squad with Giannis Antetokounmpo firing on all cylinders as he was in the Finals, but there’s no doubt the Heat look significantly better now than they did at the end of their season when they got swept by Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs.

The additions of Lowry, Tucker and Morris are a match made in heaven for the vaunted “Heat culture,” as they’re all tough and, particularly in the case of Lowry and Tucker are excellent defenders who know a thing or two about getting underneath the skin of their opponent.

Miami will be among the hardest and most annoying teams to play against next season, and that will be in no small part because of these additions Miami’s made.

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls need to be applauded for how aggressive they’ve been during free agency.

Right as the horn sounded on the start of the moratorium, it was announced that Chicago was signing restricted free agent Lonzo Ball, poaching him from the New Orleans Pelicans, a player whose pass-first mentality and strong defensive chops make him a great-looking fit beside Zach LaVine in the Bulls backcourt.

Additionally, the Bulls managed to add Alex Caruso in free agency, an underrated move as his defensive ability, shooting and athleticism are all things Chicago needs.

The biggest move the Bulls made, however, was their sign-and-trade with the San Antonio Spurs to bring in DeMar DeRozan.

The price was steep as DeRozan was inked to a fully-guaranteed, three-year, $85-million contract and the Bulls ended up giving up a 2025 first-rounder, two second-round picks and talented, multi-positional Thaddeus Young.

DeRozan is obviously a talented offensive player and he’ll likely work out better for the Bulls than most think because he figures to be the perfect complementary to LaVine as far as the scoring load goes, in addition to being one of the league’s best pick-and-roll operators and playmakers, which could unlock even more of Chicago’s offence.

With that said, defensively, DeRozan has never been anything greater than a net neutral and is often a minus in that department, and seeing as the Bulls gave up their best all-around defender in Young for DeRozan and how poor the Bulls were defensively last season, it’s understandable that there might be some trepidation over the move.

However, no major move comes without risk, and in the Bulls’ case they’ll be banking on becoming an elite offensive squad with their star duo of LaVine and DeRozan to help make up for their apparent weakness defensively.

So kudos to Chicago for making a go of it and trying to make it out of the doldrums of mediocrity and irrelevance it’s been stuck in for years now.

Chris Paul

Chris Paul, at age 36, opted out of a guaranteed $44.2 million that he would make next season for a contract that, long-term, will be even better as he signed a four-year, $120-million deal to stay with the Suns.

He was instrumental in Phoenix’s run to the Finals, and deserves to be recognized and compensated for that, but this contract is kinda nuts, no?

Paul will be 40 by the time this thing is over and who knows what kind of player he’ll be by then.

However, because of that, full power to Paul for managing to cash in yet again.


Toronto Raptors

I could very well be eating crow for saying this as there’s a lot not known yet about this Raptors team. But as things stand, this hasn’t been a good free agency and off-season, in general, for them.

Yes, Toronto did manage to lock up its most important free agent in Masai Ujiri, something that may well have washed away any pain Raptors fans might have been feeling from this free agency, but the fact remains that this was a team that finished with a 27-45 record in a 72-game season, finished with just the 16th-best offence and 15th-best defence and hasn't demonstrably gotten that much better heading into the 2021-22 campaign.

The haul the Raptors got back in the Lowry trade was fine enough. Goran Dragic looks like he could be a good bridge as the team transitions out of the Lowry era, and Precious Achiuwa has the potential to be a defensive force. But it’s worth mentioning that this was a deal the Raptors reportedly had on the table in front of them at the deadline and, ultimately, balked at. So what’s changed since then?

Additionally, as good as Dragic could be for this Raptors team, his true value lies in the $19.4-million contract he’s on for next season and how that might be able to grease the wheels in trade the Raptors may look to make at next season’s deadline.

The Raptors are likely going to have to get something of real value using Dragic to make this deal all worth it, because as things stand now, this is a team with a lot of promise, but nothing really concrete looking.

For example, with a core moving forward, presumably, of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Achiuwa, that’s a team that looks like it could be an insanely fun switch-everything defensive squad, but who’s going to score?

Of those players, only Siakam looks like a reliable go-to scoring option, and it’s not like he can do it all himself.

Essentially, the Raptors appear to be banking hard on someone else to emerge and become a near star-level scorer to complement Siakam, and it’s not all that apparent who that might be.

The moves the Raptors have made, on an individual level, look fine – Khem Birch’s new deal, in particular looks like it can offer tremendous value to the team – but looking at what the Raptors are doing as a whole, it’s tough to see exactly what the plan is.

Maybe the fog will clearer a little later, but as things now, even with Ujiri officially back on board and in the fold, this has been a poor free agency for the Raptors.

Los Angeles Lakers

This tweet from Arash Markazi sums up the Los Angeles Lakers very well:

That’s a ton of star power and if you were playing franchise mode on NBA 2K12 this is probably the team you’d be looking to assemble, but the year is 2021 now and this is a roster full of some very old dudes.

The Lakers faltered last season because of some bad injury luck to LeBron James and Anthony Davis and didn’t have the depth required to sustain such significant losses.

So their solution was to go out and not only ship out and allow a lot of their young players to walk, but to replace them with old, faded stars?

Sure, the name recognition of adding the likes of a Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and, previously in a trade, Russell Westbrook will certainly win you headlines, but will it win you games?

Heaven forbid James and/or Davis are forced to miss time again next season and this team of soon-to-be retirees need to take the reins.

This whole Lakers team just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.


Dennis Schroder made a monumental mistake before this past season when he reportedly turned down a four-year, $84-million contract extension from the Lakers, believing he could get more on the open market.

Well, the market’s been open for a while and Schroder still remains unsigned, although it looks like there could be some momentum between him and Boston Celtics.

Schroder likely had dreams of becoming a $25-million-per-year man, and he would’ve been close to that had he taken that extension from Los Angeles, but now even cracking the $15-million annually barrier seems like it might prove to be difficult for Schroder.

Sometimes when you bet on yourself, you end up falling flat.

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