NBA Free Agency: Winners, Losers of Early Offseason Moves

Pat Pickens
Last Updated: Jul 6, 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for NBA fans.

Sure, the regular season and playoffs are where the actual action is, but the offseason soap opera is what fans have come to enjoy most about the basketball year — provided your team isn’t on the wrong side of things.

This is the first offseason under the new rules of the newly-enacted collective bargaining agreement, which will change the way executives approach roster management.

Although there are still a couple of extremely high-profile trade requests — we’ll cover each below — it should be mostly quiet on the NBA front until training camps open.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top five winners and losers from the NBA offseason.

NBA Free Agency Winners

Damian Lillard

By requesting a trade, Lillard took control of his fate. After years of lugging the Trail Blazers to contention, Lillard is almost certainly going to play for a championship contender (likely Miami) to create an All-NBA pairing with reigning Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jimmy Butler.

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The Heat, who have been to the Finals twice in the past four seasons, appear to be the frontrunners to land the superstar guard. Miami will almost certainly become the title favorite if/when it lands Lillard, but we can’t call it the winner until it does so.

Phoenix Suns

The Mat Ishbia era is off to a cracking start.

First, the Suns landed Kevin Durant at the trade deadline before turning 38-year-old Chris Paul and spare parts into Bradley Beal, who is just two years removed from averaging 31.3 points per game and should be rejuvenated playing for a championship contender.

Sure, Phoenix is way over the new second luxury-tax apron, which will hamper GM James Jones’ ability to craft his roster in-season.

However, the Suns have never won a title, and that’s reason enough for them to go all-in. In fact, the Valley of the Sun has only one men’s pro-sports championship, the 2001 Diamondbacks, to its credit.

Houston Rockets

It’s been a painful three seasons for Rockets fans, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Houston looks poised to make the leap, if not this year then not far down the road.

The Rockets added two of the top free agents, point guard Fred VanVleet and swingman Dillon Brooks and the top free agent coach, Ime Udoka, to a young, extremely talented core that seemed to come together down the stretch last season.

Houston reportedly told James Harden it wasn’t interested when the superstar guard requested a trade, opting instead to sign VanVleet.

If they want to supercharge their rebuild, the Rockets have the assets to go get a star of Harden’s caliber, since they own the Nets’ first- and second-round picks in 2024 as well as their first in 2026 and a pick-swap option in 2025.

Draymond Green

Green continues to win in spite of detractors and naysayers. The 33-year-old two-time All-NBA forward and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year landed the proverbial bag, with a four-year, $100 million deal from the Golden State Warriors.

Green also won the in-house battle against Jordan Poole, a younger and far more offensively potent player. Poole, who reportedly had beef with multiple Warriors (but none higher profile than Green), was shipped out to the Wizards for Paul on June 22.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the biggest winners of the offseason, landing a bonafide unicorn in Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

San Antonio is about to become a destination again. You can bet high-profile free agents will want to play with Wembanyama, the favorite in the NBA Rookie of the Year odds, similar to how LeBron James was in Cleveland.

Plus, adding Wembanyama alongside small forward Keldon Johnson and coached by Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich, will at least make the Spurs a more competitive club.

NBA Free Agency Losers

James Harden

Harden is becoming the poster child for fans who denounce the player-empowerment era. Yes, he’s an ultra-talented former MVP who puts up near-incomprehensible regular-season numbers, but he’s becoming notorious for his historic offseason numbers as well.

Harden has now requested a trade from three different organizations in a span of 30 months after picking up his one-year player option and asking out of Philadelphia.

Harden would ultimately lose out on millions since he restructured his deal to a more team-friendly number for the Sixers last offseason and could further lose credibility if Philly doesn’t end up trading him.

If the 76ers trade him, whichever team acquires the seven-time All-NBA guard will be Harden’s fourth team in less than three seasons. Each fan base has been underwhelmed by his output, especially in the playoffs, since Harden has only reached the Finals once.

Toronto Raptors

Somehow, it’s only been four years since the Raptors won it all, yet Toronto will look like a shell of its former self in 2023-24 after parting ways with coach Nick Nurse and watching VanVleet bolt for Houston.

Not only is the Raptors’ identity shaken, but GM Masai Ujiri is paying the penalty for going for it. Toronto owes San Antonio two first-round picks — its picks are top-six protected — and at least one second-rounder in the Jakob Poeltl trade.

That could lead to two straight drafts without a selection for a club that finished 41-41 and lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference play-in.

With Nurse and VanVleet gone, Ujiri could be forced into reloading, which is why rumors are swirling about a Pascal Siakam trade.

At least the Raps got their ring.

Kyrie Irving

Irving got his max contract from the Dallas Mavericks, but between the new CBA — which severely punishes teams for overspending the second luxury-tax apron — and his own self-induced drama, Irving cost himself an opportunity to get a max from a preferred destination, like the Lakers.

It’s always possible a player of Irving’s talent level and league-wide popularity can force a trade — he’s done so twice in his career — but the new CBA will limit club flexibility.

Plus, the Mavericks went 8-12 in Irving’s 20 games last season, and he didn’t seem to fit with NBA MVP odds favorite Luka Dončić. Who knows how Dallas will be over 82 games with the mercurial guard — especially since it will owe the Knicks a first-round pick that’s not in the top 10.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards traded their two best players this offseason in Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis. Somehow, they could not fetch a better haul than Poole, Landry Shamet, Tyus Jones, four first-round pick swaps with Phoenix, a protected first-rounder in 2030 from Golden State, and a collection of second-rounders in return.

The Wizards have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and have not won a postseason round since 2017, and now appear to be fully committing to a rebuild. Plus, as if the cupboard didn’t look bare enough, the Wizards could end up owing their 2024 first-round pick to the Knicks from the John Wall trade in 2020.

Teams With Cap Space

Free agents like Irving could’ve gotten a max contract from a bulk of suitors, but he was looking at signing with clubs like the Pistons, Pacers, Magic, Jazz, Thunder, or Spurs.

The Rockets were the sole club to pony up big bucks and get its desired free agents, but otherwise, teams with space went largely unchanged. Detroit settled for acquiring Joe Harris from Brooklyn, and Indiana overpaid useful role player Bruce Brown with a two-year contract.

If you’re a destination organization, like the Suns, Lakers, Celtics, or Heat, a player can command his own way there via trade since teams have become adept at pulling off complex, multi-team trades.

However, between the new CBA and player empowerment, it’s difficult to build a roster in free agency.

Other sports have proven free agency is an inefficient way to acquire talent. The NBA may be finally catching up to that as well.


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered the NHL since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times,,, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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