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Grading The Biggest Deals of Day 1 of NBA Free Agency: A New Big Three Forms Overnight

With a lackluster free agency class coming into the off-season, Day 1 of NBA free agency followed suit. Typically, in the first five minutes of the free agent period opening, we have a big deal leaked from either Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charnia. Yet the first deal reported was the Celtics re-signing Luke Kornet. Things did start to pick up as the night went on, leading to the big news at 3 a.m. with Paul George heading to the Philadelphia 76ers to form a big three with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

Let's review the notable moves on Day 1 of NBA Free Agency!

Philly Creates a New Big Three: Paul George (Four Years, $212 Million)

Grade: B+

For the second time in his career, Paul George decided to wait until the wee hours of the morning to make his massive free agency decision. This time, George heads back to the Eastern Conference to join Joel Embiid and the recently re-signed Tyrese Maxey (5 years, $204 million) to form a new big three.

George fits perfectly with the 76ers as he becomes a primary scoring option on the perimeter and can hurt teams in many ways. He can handle the ball in iso situations, he's a three-level scorer and is one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league. George is also still one of the best defenders, which makes Embiid's job a lot easier defending in the paint. The issue for me is giving a 34-year-old an average of $53 million per year until he is 38 years old, as well as the health concerns with Embiid and George.

This deal now gives the 76ers a two-year window to compete with the Celtics, Knicks, and Bucks before the two main stars age out (Embiid is 30). I like the complement that Paul George provides Philly, and I think this is an improvement over having Tobias Harris in the lineup. However, the money and injury history give me great concerns over the potential of this group.

The Beard Stays in LA: James Harden (Two Years, $70 Million)

Grade: D+

After deciding not to re-sign George to stay under the second tax apron, the Clippers pivoted and re-signed James Harden on a "discount."

I am typically a James Harden defender and apologist. He was one of my favorite players to watch during his prime with Houston while he had Chris Paul by his side trying to dethrone the Kevin Durant Warriors. Yet at this stage of his career, with him turning 35 by the start of next season, I can't understand why the Clippers gave him $35 million annually. Harden was a solid contributor as a third option behind George and Kawhi Leonard, averaging 16.6 points, 8.5 assists, and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 42.8% from the field and 38.1% from three. The flip side is that those 16.6 points were the lowest of his career since his third season in OKC when he averaged 16.8 as a 22-year-old.

As mentioned earlier, Harden will be 35 heading into this season. With his continual drop in production and lack of effort on defense (now with no Paul George to help cover it up), it's hard to see Harden return to anything close to what he was in Houston. With where the Clippers are, they will need a lot more out of Harden, and I'm not sure he has the gas in the tank to give it.

Orlando Splurges for 3 & D: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Three Years, $66 Million)

Grade: B-

The Magic were one of the three finalists for Paul George and came down to the final two once the Clippers said they were out on George. Yet just an hour and 30 minutes into the free agency, the Magic pounced on the two-time champion, paying him an average of $22 million per season.

In his last season with Denver, KCP averaged 10.1 points per game, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting 40.6% from beyond the three-point line on 4.1 attempts per game. Caldwell-Pope slots in perfectly with a young Orlando team looking to make a push toward the next level in the Eastern Conference after finishing as the 5-seed and pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games. While it's not the offensive guard that fans believed the Magic would go after, they have created an incredible defensive starting 5 of Jalen Suggs, KCP, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, and Wendell Carter Jr. The fit with Orlando is fantastic; my only issue is with the money in the deal. A role player like KCP should fit closer to the 15-20 million dollar range rather than 20+. It's not an outrageous overpay, but it's slight enough, given his age (31) and production.

San Antonio Nabs the "Point God": Chris Paul (One Year, $11 Million)

Grade: A

One of the worst trades in Warriors franchise history ended when the Warriors cut Chris Paul after one season in the Bay. Just a few hours later, Paul found a new home in the Western Conference, signing a one-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs.

There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal, so on the contract side of things, there is no problem. As much as I love the contract, I love the fit with Paul and Victor Wembanyama. Chris Paul has always been at his best when he has a big lob threat in pick-and-roll situations, and Wemby might be the best he will ever play with. That's no slight to Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan, but in terms of potential and size, Wemby has that combination. Paul will provide veteran leadership for a team with a ton of young players, including Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Jeremy Sochan. While I don't expect the Spurs to make the playoffs this year, I don't think they will be one of the worst teams in the league again and could sniff a play-in game this year.

Cover Image Courtesy of ESPN


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