NBA free agency roundtable: The early winners, losers, and Lakers

The NBA free agency period began Sunday, and we’ve already seen several big moves that will shake up the 2025 title pursuit, as several contenders retooled their rosters in attempts to knock off the defending champion Boston Celtics.

Nine-time All-Star Paul George and five-time All-Star Klay Thompson are the biggest names to change teams so far this summer. George joins the Philadelphia 76ers after five years with the LA Clippers to link up with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, creating a formidable big three to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy.

And it’s the end of an era with Thompson leaving the Golden State Warriors, where he won four NBA titles. The 13-year veteran will join the Dallas Mavericks via sign-and-trade, joining stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in their quest to return to the Finals.

What moves have been the most surprising? Which teams are poised to win the summer, and who is already falling behind? What are the Los Angeles Lakers up to? Our NBA Insiders answer the top questions following a hectic start to free agency.


What’s the most surprising move so far in NBA free agency?

Kendra Andrews: Klay Thompson leaving the Warriors for the Mavericks, not only because his tenure with Golden State is over, but because of how it happened. Contract talks between Thompson and the Warriors stalled over the past few months, and it seemed he had one foot out the door once the offseason began. After everything he and the Warriors have been through, this abrupt ending is quite shocking — especially when Thompson’s final game in a Warriors uniform was an 0-for-10 performance in a play-in tournament loss.

Tim Bontemps: Thompson joining the Mavericks. Even though it was clear that Thompson’s exit from The Bay was coming for some time, the finality of him departing from the only franchise he has played for will feel weird for some time.

Jamal Collier: Tobias Harris’ contract with the Detroit Pistons. I certainly understand the thought process and fit for a young team that has cap space available and could use a veteran to help add some wins. However, a two-year, $52 million deal was surprising, especially considering Harris’ up-and-down tenure with the Sixers after his last contract. Harris is now set to earn more than $300 million in his career at the end of this deal.

Chris Herring: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s still just 31, getting a three-year deal for just $22 million per season. He is a fantastic fit for Orlando, which desperately needed shooting and wins with its defense. But I’m also shocked Denver, one year after losing key reserve Bruce Brown, wouldn’t pay what’s necessary to keep KCP. Christian Braun is a solid young player — he had a huge showing in the 2023 NBA Finals as a rookie — but it’s still asking quite a bit of him to fill Caldwell-Pope’s shoes as a third-year player.

Andrew Lopez: The Chicago Bulls giving Patrick Williams a five-year, $90 million contract. Instead of hitting restricted free agency first, Williams locked in a deal to stay in Chicago the day before free agency began. The number of years is surprising because of Williams’ injury history; he played just 17 games in 2021-22 because of a wrist injury and just 43 last season with a foot injury. Chicago is betting big on the homegrown talent.

Fact or fiction: The Lakers will be the biggest losers of free agency.

Herring: Fiction. That’s only possible if you viewed this offseason as an opportunity for them to become true contenders. But nothing was going to put them in that stratosphere. Getting Thompson wouldn’t have made them a contender. Neither would someone like DeMar DeRozan or Trae Young. There’s a reason the biggest storyline around them was the possibility of drafting Bronny James.

Andrews: Fiction. While there was definitely a lure to land Thompson, the mid-level exception wasn’t going to get the job done. The Warriors, for example, have come up far shorter this summer. They lost Thompson for nearly nothing, missed out on Paul George, and waived Chris Paul because they couldn’t find the right trade partner, essentially turning the move they made to acquire him last season into a salary dump. Golden State had more at stake than the Lakers heading into free agency and hasn’t made a high-impact move yet.

Lopez: Fiction. There are other teams that are losing talent with no real way to replace them (hello, Denver Nuggets) and the Lakers still have avenues available to make moves. Missing out on Thompson doesn’t automatically make them losers, let alone the biggest.

Collier: Fiction. I’m also not sure there was a move for them to make that could have won. Also, it’s hard to make the argument for the Lakers when a team that plays in the same city just lost one of its superstars in free agency for nothing in return. The LA Clippers went all-in to bring in George and Kawhi Leonard, and now that era is over without even an NBA Finals appearance to show for it, and their path forward is unclear.

Bontemps: Fiction. They’re just not very good compared to their peers in the Western Conference. Landing Thompson would have been a splashy move, but it would have only marginally improved their chances of advancing out of the play-in. I’d actually argue that waiting to potentially use their salaries and draft picks on hand to make significant additions later is a far better strategy than rushing into a move now.

Knicks or 76ers? Which team got closer to the Celtics?

Collier: The 76ers. Patience for Philadelphia has paid off. The Sixers found the right player and right fit to complement the stars already on the roster. Even though the Knicks made a big move, losing Isaiah Hartenstein to the Oklahoma City Thunder puts a damper on their chances. So while I still wouldn’t sleep on New York, Philly has positioned itself as the best challenger in the East for Boston this offseason.

Bontemps: The 76ers, who have the higher ceiling now that they’ve put three All-Stars together. While Philly’s health and depth are obvious concerns, star talent is what wins in this league.

Herring: The 76ers, for now. Mikal Bridges fits the Knicks extremely well, but it’ll be interesting to see how the team fills out its center rotation without Hartenstein on the roster. Mitchell Robinson regularly has injury issues, and this wasn’t a particularly deep free agent class of centers — particularly for the sort of physical big men whom coach Tom Thibodeau covets. I wouldn’t be surprised if New York swung a move to add big man depth.

Lopez: The 76ers, but mostly because the Knicks lost a key piece in Hartenstein. There’s still time for New York to make other moves beyond trading for Bridges and retaining OG Anunoby, but Philadelphia (along with signing George) also added a backup center in Andre Drummond, who averaged 8.4 points and 9.0 rebounds in just 17.1 minutes last season for the Bulls.

Andrews: The 76ers. Landing Paul George is probably the biggest move of free agency, and while the Knicks have done some incredible work so far this offseason to acquire Bridges and keep Anunoby, the star power on the 76ers suggests they made up more ground. Even before acquiring George, the Sixers were in a strong position, but now they have their big three with Embiid and Maxey.

The Chris Paul-Victor Wembanyama connection will be _____.

Lopez: Something that has long-lasting positive effects. By going to the Spurs in his 20th NBA season, Paul is giving up his immediate pursuit of an NBA championship. But in doing so, he will help Wembanyama in his chase for titles. Paul is the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Wembanyama and Tre Jones, last season’s starting point guard. Also, rookie guard Stephon Castle, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, will also be able to learn from the Point God himself.

Collier: Fun as hell. After a year of watching Wemby get ignored on fast breaks, we will see Paul find so many creative ways to get him the ball and throw alley-oops. Let’s hope he stays healthy enough for that connection to help propel Wemby to his full potential after suffering a hand fracture last season.

Andrews: Exactly what Wemby needs. The Spurs desperately needed a veteran to help guide their young core and rising star. Equally, they get a point guard who, with 715 alley-oop assists in his career, can set up the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama for some highlight plays above the rim. San Antonio was searching for its floor general, and now it has one of the best point guards of all time, with 11,894 career assists (third in NBA history).

Herring: A perfect fit. You can’t necessarily make Paul younger, but the Spurs’ guards can learn from Paul’s veteran experience, and Wembanyama can learn a ton on how to perfectly orchestrate pick and rolls. Paul is a smart addition for the team with the league’s fourth-worst turnover percentage last season.

Bontemps: Perfect for San Antonio. The Spurs have handed their young phenom a point guard who can get him the ball and a veteran who can help Wembanyama navigate his evolution into one of the faces of the NBA. On top of that, the Spurs should still have a good shot to stay in the Cooper Flagg sweepstakes next year.

The early winner of free agency is _____.

Bontemps: Philadelphia. The 76ers spent a year preparing to get a third star to put alongside Embiid and Maxey. Not only did they get one in George, they got the only difference-maker available. There’s plenty of health risk when it comes to George, but this is unquestionably a massive win for Philadelphia.

Herring: With all due respect to Philly, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. They addressed arguably their two biggest issues by replacing non-shooting threat Josh Giddey with two-time All-Defensive Team member Alex Caruso (whose shooting has improved considerably), and cleared up their glaring offensive rebounding issue by signing Hartenstein to the richest free agent deal in team history. In my opinion, they should be favored to come out of the West next season. They have everything they need, and because they relinquished no picks in the deal for Caruso, they still have plenty of draft capital to upgrade as necessary.

Andrews: Philadelphia. Not only did they land George, but they put together a few other moves to solidify their core, including bringing back Drummond as a backup center. The Sixers were already in a decent position heading into the summer, though it was clear they needed more pieces. They spent the past year positioning themselves to do so and executed big time.

Collier: Oklahoma City. Already last season’s No. 1 seed in the West, the Thunder addressed both of their needs on defense with two players who are still very capable on offense. With a deep roster of versatile two-way players, the Thunder’s roster has been built in a similar fashion to that of the Celtics team that just won the NBA championship.

Lopez: Oklahoma City. After trading for Caruso and adding Hartenstein on a three-year, $87 million deal, the Thunder have bolstered their roster in a big way. OKC had a two-year window to use its cap space and upgraded from Giddey — who was played off the court in the playoffs — to two plus defenders in Caruso and Hartenstein.

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