2020 NBA Free Agency: Anything but Boring

The National Basketball Association (NBA) offseason, as with everything else in 2020, was far from normal. However, it delivered a frantic and exciting free agency nonetheless, including a blockbuster trade and multiple notable players switching teams.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) offseason, as with everything else in 2020, was far from normal. However, it delivered a frantic and exciting free agency nonetheless, including a blockbuster trade and multiple notable players switching teams.

The Explosive Wall-Westbrook Trade

The major headline from the NBA’s unprecedented 2020 offseason was the blockbuster trade between the Houston Rockets and the Washington Wizards, in which the two clubs swapped MVP Russell Westbrook and five-time All-Star John Wall. In addition to Wall, Washington sent Houston a protected 2023 first-round draft pick. Despite surrendering the pick, Washington clearly won the trade. Westbrook arrives after an impressive regular season with Houston, averaging 27.2 points and seven assists per game while shooting a career high 47.2 percent from the field. His season wasn’t without it’s miscues, however, as he shot an abysmal 25.8 percent from three-point range and turned the ball over 4.5 times per game, tied for second most in the league, not to mention his postseason meltdown in the Disney World bubble. Yet, Westbrook’s explosive athleticism makes him one of the most impactful X-factors in the NBA. Pairing Westbrook with Bradley Beal, who is fresh off a season where he averaged 30 points per game, Washington will immediately re-enter relevancy in the Eastern Conference. Good or bad, Washington knows exactly what they’re getting with Westbrook, while Houston has no idea what to expect from Wall. By the time he takes the court for Houston, he will not have played in an NBA game for over two full years due to the catastrophic achilles injury he suffered in 2018. For a player who relies so heavily on speed and athleticism, a devastating foot injury most likely means he will only be a shell of his former self, especially given he is now 30 years old. He is also a high-usage player who has never been particularly efficient; in his last full season (2017-18), Wall ranked ninth in usage but 49th in player efficiency. It will be first-year Head Coach Stephen Silas’ job to craft an effective system that maximizes Wall and Harden’s superstar abilities, yet pairing two of the highest usage players in the NBA would be difficult for any head coach, let alone one entering his first season with the team. Harden has already made it clear that he does not want to remain in Houston much longer, and trade rumors involving Harden and potential suitors in the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are all the more reason to believe that the Wall & Harden era will be short-lived.

Gordon Hayward’s Payday

The Charlotte Hornets made headlines as well in the offseason, signing veteran forward Gordon Hayward to a four year, $120 million deal. Although the figure may seem excessive for an aging, injury-prone player who has not played at an All-Star level since 2017, Hayward is exactly what Charlotte needs right now. Charlotte isn’t attracting big-name free agents any time soon, so Hayward’s addition is the perfect move to improve the team in the short-term, providing a veteran presence for the budding young core. In a season where Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker demanded the spotlight for the Boston Celtics, Hayward quietly turned in a solid year of production, averaging 17.5 points and a career-high 6.7 rebounds through 52 games. He was the only player in the NBA last season to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 35 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free-throw line, demonstrating his consistency and dependability. He brings accurate shooting to a team that desperately needs it; Charlotte finished 19th in the league last year in team three-point percentage and dead last in field goal percentage. Additionally, he will adopt a much larger role in Charlotte’s offense than he had in Boston, providing substantial scoring and relieving pressure from Charlotte’s young core. Although not quite the same player he was in his prime days for the Utah Jazz, he was, as Celtics Head coach Brad Stevens described him, the ‘stabilizing force’ that Boston needed. He will surely adopt the role of veteran leader to guide the young core of Devonte Graham, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, and polarizing number-three pick LaMelo Ball, as Charlotte looks to be the hot new team in the Eastern Conference.

The Lakers Upgrade

The NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers came away with the most impressive free agency haul of the offseason, significantly boosting their chances for a repeat. Their most notable pickup was forward Montrezl Harrell, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Harrell, coming off an excellent season, agreed to a two year, $19 million deal with the Lakers. At 6’8”, he is undersized for a big man; however what he lacks in size, he makes up for in dynamism, dominating in the paint at both ends of the floor. Coming off a year where he averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, he is an immediate upgrade on the Lakers’ former starting center JaVale McGee, who has since been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers also cleaned house and solidified their bench, including the backup center slot. The Lakers moved on from Dwight Howard and signed veteran center Marc Gasol, a key piece for the highly successful Toronto Raptors over the past two seasons. Although Gasol’s numbers the past two years don’t jump off the page, his 12 years of NBA experience make him a valuable leader whom the Lakers can trust as a playmaking big and defensive presence. Additionally, the Lakers’ traded the heavily criticized Danny Green and a first round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for point guard Dennis Schröder, who finished second in last year’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting. Schroder is coming off possibly the best year of his career, averaging 18.9 points per game. He’s a crafty scorer and a good shooter who can immediately assume the starting point guard role or come off the bench if need be. Finally, the Lakers added wing Wesley Matthews, one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason. Matthews can offer a solid 20-24 minutes per game of great defense and solid shooting. By adding Harrell, Gasol, Schroder, and Matthews, the Lakers’ are surely the title favorites entering the 2020 season.

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