NBA free agency 2024: Biggest winners, most intriguing moves and more deals we'd like to see

We're officially a week into NBA free agency. Who are the biggest winners so far? Which moves bring the most intrigue? How is the 2024-25 title picture shaping up? Our writers break it all down.

Vincent Goodwill: Philadelphia 76ers. In saying that, offseason moves don’t always translate to postseason success. But just as an offseason proposition, the 76ers acquiring Paul George meant Tyrese Maxey not signing an extension last summer was worth it and now there’s a real three-headed monster in Philadelphia. Health, and the Boston Celtics, will have a say in May.

Dan Devine: The Oklahoma City Thunder — and, with all due respect to Philly, I’m not sure it’s even close.

How do you improve on the kind of team that fields top-five units on offense and defense, wins 57 games and tops the Western Conference? You start by replacing the one non-shooter in your starting lineup with an All-Defensive Teamer who just shot 41% from deep. Then you bolster your deficient rebounding with a 7-footer who has finished in the top 20 in rebounding percentage two years running. Oh, and you bring back two really good role players on sweetheart deals after also using some of your league-leading cache of draft picks to plug in two more perfect-fit prospects. And, at the end of it all, you make sure you still have enough future draft capital left over — control over as many as 15 first-rounders and 20 second-rounders between now and 2031, if I’m reading this Dostoevsky-length roundup right — to Bigfoot any bid for anybody you want on the trade market.

The Thunder exited the 2024 playoffs with some work to do to get where they want to go. They’ll enter the 2024-25 season as the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Sounds like a win to me.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Isaiah Hartenstein #55 of the New York Knicks line up next to each other during the second half at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2024 in New York City. The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the New York Knicks 112-106 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid and Isaiah Hartenstein are among the big winners in free agency. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Ben Rohrbach: Philadelphia 76ers. What would they have done had they not landed Paul George? They had to sign the nine-time All-Star into cap space, between Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, and they did. They also added Caleb Martin, Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon, retained Kelly Oubre and extended Maxey. This was a team that was at risk of disappointing Embiid. Instead, the Sixers re-established themselves as a title contender, inching closer to the Boston Celtics.

Tom Haberstroh: Philadelphia 76ers. After their worst season since the Trust The Process era, the Sixers reloaded by adding Paul George and upgrading their supporting cast. Last season’s disappointment demanded it. The team finished with the seventh seed in a down East and left another postseason with a first-round exit. I don’t think they're anywhere close to title favorites, but in a quiet offseason, they moved the needle the most in a positive direction.

Dan Titus: Oklahoma City Thunder. Sometimes, less is more, and OKC pulled off a couple of moves that boosted its standing in the Western Conference without disrupting its talented young core. By trading Josh Giddey for Alex Caruso, the Thunder ducked paying Giddey's looming rookie scale extension and landed one of the best 3-and-D threats — and without giving up a pick! Also, bringing in Isaiah Hartenstein addressed their rebounding woes after finishing in the bottom 10 in the league last season. The Thunder got better.

Titus: Paul George to the Philadelphia 76ers. In an era where perimeter wings are at a premium, the Sixers brought in the best 3-and-D player available on the open market to pair with two stars in Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid. The Clippers not offering a fourth-year to George proved to be the difference in PG-13 not returning to LA, and now, Embiid's not-so-subtle tampering helped rejuvenate a Philly squad that sorely lacked shot creation, playmaking and consistent effort from the forward spots. It's an expensive acquisition that Philly needed to keep pace in the East.

Rohrbach: Chris Paul to the San Antonio Spurs. It is not a championship-swinging move, but Paul brings a professionalism to the point guard position that will swiftly lift Victor Wembanyama to extraordinary heights. Just watch. Harrison Barnes fills a similar veteran role on the wing. San Antonio also quietly added the rights to three more future first-round draft picks. They now have 10 future first round-picks (in addition to their own) to continue building around Wembanyama.

Haberstroh: The Spurs getting 2031 swap rights with the Kings. Last year’s team with which Gregg Popovich and Co. surrounded Victor Wembanyama was pitiful, and I’m glad they decided to respect Wemby enough to give him some real NBA teammates. I absolutely love the Chris Paul acquisition, but getting Sacramento’s 2031 swap rights in the DeMar DeRozan deal could be the gem of the summer. Know how the Boston Celtics got a top-three pick in 2017 (Jayson Tatum) after a 53-win season? It was a pick swap from the infamous 2013 Brooklyn trade. Same thing could happen here with Sacramento in 2031 while Wemby rules the NBA.

Goodwill: Mikal Bridges to the Knicks. While it was a trade and not free agency, Bridges had been playing footsies with his Villanova teammates for awhile. Bridges and OG Anunoby make for terror on the wings defensively, and Bridges' consecutive games streak gives Tom Thibodeau a new toy. But how does it all fit? And where does Julius Randle fit?

Devine: Dejounte Murray to the Pelicans. I will cop to finding almost all things Pels intriguing. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t super stunned to see New Orleans go after Murray given the glaring need for another late-game shot-creator and shot-maker. The nature of it, though — sending out a pair of first-round picks plus reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Dyson Daniels, combined with Jonas Valančiūnas leaving for Washington in free agency — leaves the Pels in a pretty interesting spot.

Who’s starting at center for New Orleans next season? If it’s not the just-signed Daniel Theis, then the most popular answer is probably, “Whoever they get in exchange for Brandon Ingram.” But if Sacramento’s out of the running after landing DeMar DeRozan, then who’s really in the market for Ingram? If the answer doesn’t include one with a starting-caliber center to line up next to Zion Williamson — or, failing that, a better-fitting player with talent commensurate to Ingram — will the Pels trade a dude who’s averaged 23-5-5 on 47/37/85 shooting splits over five seasons in New Orleans? If not, and if they decide to kick the can on the Ingram situation into the season, how does head coach Willie Green juggle Williamson, Ingram, Murray, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III — only four of whom can start, unless you start Zion at center, which doesn’t seem like a recipe for keeping him healthy?

That’s, at minimum, a handful of massive questions facing a team that won 49 games and had the conference’s fourth-best net rating. Getting Murray was a nice bit of business. What comes next, though, will determine whether it’s the start of something bigger.

Rohrbach: James Harden’s $70 million contract. Who else but the Los Angeles Clippers was giving Harden anything close to $35 million annually? Name the team. I get that they gave up the rights to three first-round picks to obtain Harden in November, so they felt like they had to retain him, but that makes it worse. Paying Harden cost them Paul George, so they paid three first-round picks for the right to sign a worse player to a contract nobody else was willing to pay.

Titus: The Magic extended Jonathan Isaac for how much? Five years, $84 million for Isaac is a hefty investment for a player who hasn't been able to stay on the court. He's played over 55 games twice in his seven-year career, missing two seasons with ACL injuries. He's a great defensive player whenever he's healthy, but that's a wild number for a player who will be playing under 20 minutes a game — even if only $40M is guaranteed through the first two seasons.

Devine: Chicago’s … whole thing? I can appreciate that, after a third sub-.500 record in four seasons under Billy Donovan, the Bulls decided that it’s finally time to stop chasing play-in gate receipts and start dismantling an underwhelming, underperforming team. The take-home, though — Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan out, the right to pay Josh Giddey and Chris Duarte in, with only two second-rounders and zero first-round picks — feels like just as underwhelming of an underperformance. Toss a five-year, $90 million extension for Patrick Williams on top, and even if Chicago might finally be heading in the right direction — read: down — it’s tough to get too excited about what the Bulls will look like as they sink.

Haberstroh: Nuggets giving up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. At some point, Nikola Jokić will voice his concern with management, right? His teammates no-showed in the Minnesota series and the Nuggets’ front office basically bailed on a key member in KCP, letting him walk to Orlando for three years, $66 milliion. The Nuggets are officially in danger of not making the playoffs if Jokić doesn’t stay fully healthy next season.

Goodwill: The inactivity of Miami and Milwaukee. Hello? Do both of these well-run franchises know the offseason has begun and first-round exits aren’t the standard? Maybe both are wisely keeping their powder dry and not putting themselves deeper into tax territory, but the silence feels loud. Both have needs that warrant addressing, beyond the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.

Haberstroh: Lauri Markkanen traded to Golden State. I proposed the trade back at the deadline, basically as a way for Golden State to acquire Tall Klay. I still think it makes a lot of sense for both sides if Utah is (and should be) all-in on the youth movement. The Warriors owe it to Curry to keep contending, and they have the young pieces — Jonathan Kuminga, Brandin Podziemski and Moses Moody — to lure Utah to the table.

Devine: The Knicks need a backup center. Taj Gibson is still available. I’m not saying; I’m just saying. (Maybe check in with Utah first, though, and see what it’ll cost to pry Walker Kessler out of Danny Ainge’s vise grip.)

Goodwill: Zach LaVine to get out of Chicago limbo. He’s at the “contract, not player” stage where you forget there’s a really good offensive player, a really efficient one and still young. DeMar DeRozan leaving Chicago signals a full rebuild, and it seems the Bulls have dangled LaVine since he signed his big deal. Find a taker, attach a pick to him and get it over with. It’s long overdue.

Rohrbach: Brandon Ingram to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jarrett Allen. The New Orleans Pelicans need a rim protector to pair with Zion Williamson, Dejounte Murray and Co., and the Cavs need to unclog the frontcourt around Evan Mobley. Why not pick up a one-time All-Star forward in the process, slotting him between Mobley and the dynamic backcourt duo of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell? Both rosters would fit better and inch closer to real contention.

Titus: The Blazers' fire sale. Portland's frontcourt is riddled with veterans who don't fit their rebuilding timeline. Can we get Jerami Grant to the Lakers and Robert Williams to a contender? Deandre Ayton becomes extension eligible on July 18 — why lock up that kind of money with an inconsistent player during the early stages of the rebuilding process? Oh, and Anfernee Simons said that he's tired of losing, so it's beyond time for the Blazers to make moves.

Devine: Celtics, Thunder, Mavericks, Nuggets, Knicks. OKC worked its way to the front of the line in the West, but defending conference champion Dallas (whose offense should be better after importing Klay Thompson, Naji Marshall and Quentin Grimes) and erstwhile champ Denver (who will still bring Nikola Jokić to every firefight) deserve to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. I prefer New York’s top-end depth to Philly’s superior top-three talent, though I wouldn’t shout you down for going the other way; either way, though, right now I’d pick Boston over either in a seven-game series.

Goodwill: Celtics, Nuggets, Thunder, Timberwolves, 76ers.

Titus: Celtics, Thunder, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Knicks. Boston will be without Kristaps Porziņģis for a while, but they’re still the best team in the league. OKC brought in Mr. Hustle aka Alex Caruso with Isaiah Hartenstein, stellar complements to SGA, J-Dub and Chet Holmgren. The T-Wolves stayed the course, adding more bench depth in Rob Dillingham and Terrence Shannon Jr., while Denver got a slight downgrade after losing KCP. The Nova Knicks round out the top-five after re-signing OG Anunoby and trading for Mikal Bridges.

Haberstroh: Thunder, Celtics, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Nuggets.

Rohrbach: (1) Celtics. The defending champions earned that respect. (2) Thunder. Caruso and Hartenstein, a pair of hand-in-glove fits. (3) Nuggets. Losing KCP is no small concession, but Nikola Jokić is still king. (4) Mavericks. The offense is scary. The defense has work to do. (5) Knicks. Nobody is going to want to face these hounds in a playoff series.