NBA Free Agency winners and losers: VanVleet, Hayward cash in

Tas Melas of The Athletic joined Good Show to discuss the state of the Raptors franchise after losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to free agency, and why things still look very good for Toronto.

Though not finished yet, the brunt of business in NBA free agency was taken care of over the course of a whirlwind weekend beginning with Friday’s 6 p.m. ET start.

A lot has happened so far and there has been a seemingly endless list of transactions to parse through.

As such, to help wrap your head around all this insanity, we’ve distilled all the biggest moves down into the winners and losers of free agency, so far.

Winners

Toronto Raptors

Despite the departures of a couple of key pieces from a memorable, championship-winning era of the team, the Raptors have had themselves a pretty good off-season so far.

If for nothing else, the Raptors are winners because they managed to get their biggest piece of off-season business done, and at a excellent rate, to boot.

Signing Fred VanVleet to a four-year, $85-million deal is a great deal for both sides. This is the kind of generational money VanVleet was always looking for, but the Raptors didn’t have to break the bank to do so by giving him a max contract, something that allowed them to keep flexibility and have access to the full mid-level exception to shore up the rest of the roster for this season.

Better yet with this VanVleet deal is, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, during the second year of VanVleet's contract he’ll be taking a pay cut over the first year before seeing it ramp back up in the third year.

This is significant because it offers Toronto more cap-space flexibility for the 2021 off-season and its monster free-agent class.

For better or worse, the moves Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have made for the team this off-season have clearly been with an eye towards the next one.

In all likelihood, the deals for Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol couldn’t happen because the Raptors wanted to ensure they wouldn’t be on the hook with contracts that might threaten the max-player slot for the 2021 off-season, meaning unless the second year would be coming with a team option, two-year deals were out of the question.

This is why all the free-agent deals the Raptors made after VanVleet just make sense for what the team is trying to accomplish. They’re all either for just one year or have some kind of opt-out for the Raptors in the second year, and honestly shouldn’t impact the team’s ability to remain competitive this season as much as people may think.

Remember, VanVleet got done and the team still has players like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell on the roster, who, last time we checked, are all pretty good themselves.

Plus, though he may not be a familiar name now, Aron Baynes can really play and will fit in seamlessly with what the Raptors want to do on the floor.

So, in other words, even though the Raptors lost a couple of very good centres, they’re still likely to be competitive next season. They'll probably be vying for one of the top four seeds in the East and they’ll have the flexibility they need to go after a big fish next off-season.

That’s a major win.

Gordon Hayward

Congratulations to Hayward! You and your representation somehow convinced Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets to pay you $120 million over four years despite missing the majority of your three-season stint with the Boston Celtics due to injury and no one really being sure if you’ll ever be able to regain your All-Star form again.

Seriously, all the power to Hayward for managing to secure this kind of payday again. Don’t think anyone coming into free agency saw Hayward landing something like this even in their wildest dreams.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks, armed with an abundance of cap space, made clear that they want to make the playoffs this coming season, and good on them for going for it.

With one of the league’s most dynamic scoring point guards at the helm in Trae Young, Atlanta brought in Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn to help serve as the team’s backup to Young and to improve defensively in the backcourt.

Additionally, the team signed Danilo Gallinari, who should help off-load the scoring burden on Young a great deal, and even sent an offer sheet worth $72 million over four years to Bogdan Bogdanovic -- something that if the Sacramento Kings don’t match would not only give the Hawks another next-level shooter alongside Young, but optically would be a major thorn in Eastern Conference power Milwaukee’s side.

Atlanta hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017 and have been downright putrid since that time, purposefully trying to lose, it seems. That’s all changed now.

Phoenix Suns

It’s been 10 long seasons since the Suns last played a post-season game with mediocrity and just plain awful play in the years since.

However, thanks to an inspiring 8-0 bubble run during the summer and the apparent ascendance of Devin Booker, Phoenix finally looks ready to end this playoff drought.

It started with the team’s trade for Chris Paul before the draft and then during free agency, the Suns were able to nab Jae Crowder for three years at $30 million.

The addition of these two players will instantly give the inexperienced Suns an edge they were always lacking. Paul and Crowder aren’t exactly known as the soft-spoken types and won’t be afraid to get after their own guys in practice.

Additionally, the Suns managed to re-sign Dario Saric at a reasonable $27 million over three years, bringing back a valuable stretch-four.

With Booker and DeAndre Ayton, the Suns have the talent to be successful but the club’s often lacked discipline -- something that now shouldn’t be an issue with Paul and Crowder in the mix.

Losers

The centre market

One of the most impactful moves of free agency was when word came down that Montrezl Harrell was symbolically walking across the hall in Staples Center and joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is great news for the Lakers as they add the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and a player who was one of the top free agents available.

In order to sign with the Lakers, however, Harrell probably took less than he was worth, signing at the full mid-level exception for two years with a contract value of $19 million.

Now, Harrell was an unrestricted free agent and he had every right to sign for as much or as little as he may have wanted, but in signing for the mid-level exception he may have inadvertently screwed up the market for others in his position.

Think of it this way: Before Harrell signed, there was word that Meyers Leonard re-signed with the Miami Heat at $20 million for two years and that Mason Plumlee had agreed to a deal with the Detroit Pistons worth $25 million for three years.

Harrell’s deal is obviously comparable to those two despite being a much better player than both of them.

However, Harrell made the deal he did, and that effectively set the marketplace for centres this year at about the mid-level exception, leading to other centres at or around his level -- like Ibaka -- to take similar deals.

You have to wonder what may have happened had Harrell went hunting for a contract closer to $20 million per season or more and what that may have meant for a guy like Ibaka and his free-agency decision. Would he have been more willing to take a short-term deal at more money with the Raptors had Harrell not run the price of his position down?

Denver Nuggets

After making the Western Conference Finals and feeling good about the future of the franchise thanks to the emergence of Jamal Murray as a bona fide superstar guard in the league, the Nuggets took a step back in free agency with the loss of Jerami Grant.

Grant was an unrestricted free agent, and after coming off a couple seasons that’s seen him become one of the best two-way combo forwards in the game -- capable of guarding multiple positions and knocking down threes efficiently -- he wanted a bigger role than to just be a high-level role player. As such, he worked out a sign-and-trade with Denver to send him to the Detroit for $60 million over three years.

This is a massive blow to the Nuggets because his game fit in so seamlessly with Denver’s Murray and Nikola Jokic one-two punch, as a player like Mike Malone could throw onto the opponents’ best player and be relied upon to hit clutch shots when needed.

Being unable to retain Grant will hurt the Nuggets this coming season.

New York Knicks

The Knicks were once again armed with a ton of cap space and hoping to make a big splash with someone like VanVleet and Hayward.

Instead, they appeared to strike out on every target they were going after and ended up using that space on Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, Alec Burks, Austin Rivers and Omari Spellman.

Not to beat a dead horse or anything here, but even with Leon Rose, the Knicks are still the Knicks.

Trevor Ariza’s real-estate agent

Over the course of last week, Ariza was traded to three different teams.

Looking for a new place to live is always stressful and annoying. Having to do so once every few days or so, however, sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

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