Who are winners and losers during NBA free agent frenzy? And who gets incomplete grades?

NBA free agency moves fast.

Major deals were made in the minutes after teams could begin negotiating with players on Monday.

And 48 hours later, most of the big names are off the board.

However, a few prominent free agents remain without a deal: Kawhi Leonard, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kelly Oubre Jr. and restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen.

With so many agreements made, let’s take a look at the winners, losers and undetermineds after almost two full days of free agency.

Did you like what the Miami Heat did? What is New Orleans doing? What will Philadelphia do?

The Heat upgraded their roster by adding six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry.
The Heat upgraded their roster by adding six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry.

Winners

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have become the NBA championship favorite again, and that does not just presume that LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony are there, too.

Though the Westbrook acquisition came at the cost of giving up a No. 22 pick, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka quickly addressed their other needs. The Lakers landed various 3-and-D type players they have had history with in other seasons, including Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore. The Lakers also bolstered their defense by pairing Dwight Howard with Marc Gasol. Amid the concerns about having a veteran-heavy roster, Pelinka sprinkled in some youth by retaining Talen-Horton Tucker.

Miami Heat

The Heat got their playmaking point guard in Kyle Lowry, lured P.J. Tucker from the champion Milwaukee Bucks and retained restricted free agent Duncan Robinson, a top-notch shooting guard, and Victor Oladipo (recovering from surgery on a quadriceps tendon). They also became tougher in the process. Lowry, Tucker, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo provide physical and mental toughness, giving the Heat the nucleus and defense that can propel them back to a contender in the East. The 2020 Finals appearance seems like a long time ago following a first-round exit to the third-seeded Bucks in 2021. But the Heat are ready to get back in the title hunt.

Chicago Bulls

There are two points to acknowledge with the Bulls. They just didn’t sit back in free agency, and they improved in doing so. Chicago landed Lonzo Ball, pulled off a surprise in getting DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso and now the Bulls have a potential starting lineup of Ball, DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nik Vucevic and possibly Lauri Markkanen – or another front-court player if the Bulls don’t retain Markkanen, who is a restricted free agent. Admirable and productive offseason for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley.

The New York Knicks

The Knicks brough back their own free agents (Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks and Taj Gibson) and also added Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. The Knicks have playmaking, shooting and defense around 2021 NBA Most Improved Player Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett. Does that keep them a top-four team in an improving Eastern Conference? Who knows, but if Walker is healthy, the Knicks improved their roster while maintaining flexibility for future moves.

NBA point guards

Just like on the court, point guards played a large factor in steering where free agency headed.

Teams with All-Star point guards placed a high priority in retaining them, even at their age. Therefore, it is not surprising the Phoenix Suns retained 36-year-old Chris Paul. Paul guided the Suns to their first NBA Finals since 1993, played at a high level and mostly stayed injury free. Nor is it surprising the Utah Jazz kept 33-year-old Mike Conley. Though Conley stayed sidelined with a right hamstring injury all but Game 6 of the Jazz’s second-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Jazz expect Conley to fully heal this off-season and saw how much his absence hurt the team’s title runs.

As far as the departing point guards, All-Star guard Kyle Lowry created a domino effect. After Lowry toiled through a rebuilding season in Toronto, the Raptors dealt Lowry in a sign-and-trade to the Heat. After the New Orleans Pelicans failed to make the playoffs during his first two years there, Lonzo Ball joined the Bulls through a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans. Despite fielding interest from New Orleans, Chicago, Miami and Washington, Derrick Rose stayed with the Knicks and hopes to continue his productive play under coach Tom Thibodeau.

Losers

New Orleans Pelicans

They entered their free-agency hoping to upgrade their point-guard position. But Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry, the team’s main targets, quickly went off the board. The Pelicans then lost their point guard Lonzo Ball, whom the Pelicans facilitated in a sign-and-trade to the Chicago Bulls.

The Pelicans quickly pivoted, but it remains to be seen what will bear out. The Pelicans had no plans to match Ball’s four-year, $85 million deal with Chicago considering that his chemistry with Zion Williamson was not enough to propel a playoff run. So the Pelicans received Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky and a future second-round pick in return. New Orleans then addressed its point-guard needs by acquiring Devonte Graham in a sign-and-trade from the Charlotte Hornets. But it cost the Pelicans a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick to Charlotte. It's fair to wonder why the Pelicans didn’t just pursue Dennis Schroder and Spencer Dinwiddie without giving up assets, or seeing if Kemba Walker was available in a sign-and-trade instead.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are the champions, and that’s worth something so let’s start there. But Milwaukee lost P.J. Tucker and Bryn Forbes, two players who played key roles in the Bucks’ title run. Forbes provided 3-point shooting, and Tucker was an invaluable defender and rebounder, especially in the postseason. It will be difficult for Milwaukee to replace that kind of tough mental and physical presence.

Undetermined

Boston Celtics

Boston has been underwhelming in free agency, and that’s not a good sign for a team that finished in seventh place with a .500 record last season. Featuring Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics are in danger is treading water or losing ground in the East with the moves they have made so far. It’s worth giving first-time head of basketball operations Brad Stevens some more time to make moves.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers need resolution with Ben Simmons. Either commit to keeping him (seems unlikely at this point) or trade him (can the Sixers get what they want in return?). But until there’s a decision on Simmons’ future, it’s impossible to evaluate the Philadelphia’s offseason.

Los Angeles Clippers

They don’t have clarity yet on whether they will retain star Kawhi Leonard or guard Reggie Jackson. But the Clippers still appear optimistic that they will keep both players and expect there to be some resolution within the next few days. The Clippers at least retained forward Nicolas Batum on a two-year deal with a player option for his second season.

It would be tough to imagine that Damian Lillard is impressed with the underwhelming moves the Trail Blazers have made in free agency.
It would be tough to imagine that Damian Lillard is impressed with the underwhelming moves the Trail Blazers have made in free agency.

Portland Trail Blazers

It’s hard to think Damian Lillard would be impressed with how the Trail Blazers tried to upgrade their roster. Beyond fulfilling their top priority with retaining Norman Powell, the Trail Blazers have not done much of consequence. They agreed to one-year deals on Tony Snell, Ben McClemore and Cody Zeller. They allowed Zach Collins, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter to leave.

Not exactly needle-moving moves. But some context is needed. The Trail Blazers always had to improve within the fringes because of their limited resources. So Portland GM Neil Olshey became opportunistic. Although Collins, Anthony and Kanter were all willing defenders, the Blazers also had to find better alternatives with bolstering a defense that ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams. Had the Trail Blazers not kept Powell, then they would be ripe for scrutiny. Powell gives the Blazers additional offensive help for Lillard as well as reinforcements should they ever deal C.J. McCollum.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers, Heat and Bulls are big winners during NBA's free agent frenzy

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