2021 Free Agency

5 takeaways from the first 24 hours of NBA free agency

Breaking down some key storylines around the NBA after an active first day of NBA free agency.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Veteran point guard Kyle Lowry is one of many reported additions for Miami over the first day of free agency.

Five takeaways from the first 24 hours of 2021 NBA free agency, which tipped off at 6 p.m. ET on Monday:


• 2021 Free Agency: Every Reported DealFree Agent Tracker | Trade Tracker •


1. The Miami Heat want back in The Finals

That bubble trip to the 2020 Finals left a far better taste in the mouths of the Miami Heat than their abrupt, four-and-gone sweep out of the first round this year against Milwaukee. The Heat want that taste back, so they hit free agency hard in its opening hours.

Securing Jimmy Butler, their overall best player, with a maximum contract extension that will average $45 million over four seasons was essential. Then came the wooing of veteran Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry on a reported three-year, $30 million sign-and-trade agreement that will reportedly send Goran Dragic to Toronto.

Miami also locked down sniper Duncan Robinson with a five-year, $90 million deal, a preemptive move on their own restricted free agent to demonstrate their commitment and lock in his floor-spreading marksmanship. Finally, the Heat added P.J. Tucker from Milwaukee, getting D and occasional 3s while plucking away a starter from the champion Bucks.

Reports: Heat to acquire Lowry, Tucker

Miami wasted no time agreeing to deals with Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker.


2. Restricted free agency isn’t so restrictive

It wasn’t that long ago that restricted free agents were used as pawns by rival VPs and GMs, toyed with to gum up the offseason plans of the competition as much as to add talent to a roster. In the old – as in, pre-2011 CBA – days, if some team signed your restricted free agent to an offer sheet, you had up to a week to match it. In the meantime, the pursuing team would have its cap space devoted to the deal locked up.

That often limited additional maneuvers. And then, finally, the player would wind up staying put if his original team matched. Naturally, that chilled the market for restricted players.

Shortening the waiting period to three days, then to its current two days has wrung out much of that gamesmanship. Sign-and-trades were in fashion on Day 1 Monday, with Chicago’s acquisition of Lonzo Ball from New Orleans kicking things off. The Pelicans couldn’t mess around making the Bulls sweat for seven days, so a deal that presumably serves both teams came together swiftly.

Reports: Lonzo to Bulls in sign-and-trade deal

Chicago bolsters its backcourt with the reported addition of Lonzo Ball.

Likewise, Charlotte worked with New Orleans on the sign-and-trade that delivered restricted guard Devonte’ Graham, the Hornets getting a 2022 first-round pick and moving on rather than dragging out the process for a week.


3. Age apparently is just a construct

This could be called the LeBron James Effect, watching a franchise bank its current and short-term future championship aspirations on a player or players who are signing fat new deals at ages by which NBA legends such as Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas had retired.

Or maybe it’s the Chris Paul Effect, based on the 2020-21 season Paul just had with the Phoenix Suns. The veteran playmaker brought guile and leadership to the Suns, leading them to The Finals while turning 36 in May. Only he and Lou Williams remain from their 2005 Draft class, but Paul – on the same day Phoenix announced he would be undergoing surgery on his left wrist – reportedly re-upped on a four-year, $120 million contract that will take him to age 40.

Reports: Phoenix retaining Chris Paul

Chris Paul reportedly will return to Phoenix on a four-year deal.

Miami reminded everyone it’s a desirable destination for seniors, too, with Lowry signing through his 38th birthday and Butler on track to draw a $50 million paycheck at age 36. It’s not just years, either, since most current players start racking up NBA miles after a year or two of college compared to the legends.


4. Loyalty hasn’t disappeared quite yet

Less than two weeks after winning the 2021 NBA title, the celebrations inside Fiserv Forum and along the parade route a couple days later still ringing in their heads, the Bucks faced an abrupt dismantling of their group. Sure enough, Tucker – a pivotal March move by GM Jon Horst – was gone almost instantly, headed to the rival Heat. Then there was Bobby Portis, whose shooting, toughness and embrace by the Milwaukee fans seemed certain to end too soon …

Except it didn’t. The legend lives on. Portis accepted a two-year, $9 million deal that clearly is below his market value in order to run it back with the Bucks and their/his fans. He’s 26, a six-year veteran and he reportedly passed on bigger, better offers. But he also has earned approximately $25.5 million in his NBA career, talks about being smart with his money and lives a modest offseason lifestyle back home in Arkansas. (There also are some contractual advantages in this move for him, ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out, such as establishing his early-Bird rights with Milwaukee and an opt-out next summer.)

At some point, this stuff has to become numbers on a spreadsheet and impactful mostly on the grandkids’ net worth. But what’s the price of happiness? And how many chances does a fellow get to be a folk hero?

Taking the silver medal as a feel-good story to Portis’ decision: Cam Payne agreeing to a three-year pact worth a reported $19 million to stay with the Suns. Chronically injured early in his career, Payne was on the verge of washing out of the NBA, playing in China and the G League for most of 2019-20 between getting waived by Toronto and signed for a pittance by Phoenix. He averaged 19 minutes, 9.3 points and 3.2 assists backing up Paul to help the Suns win the West.


5. What comes after Day 1? Day 2

Technically, anything that happens Tuesday before 6 p.m. ET counts as “the first 24 hours” of free agency. But for headline and stamina purposes, some of the deals Tuesday, such as Andre Drummond landing in Philadelphia for 2021-22, Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers and DeMar DeRozan to Chicago get counted as Day 2.

And there still will be intrigue with names on the board such as John Collins, Josh Hart, Lauri Markkanen, Reggie Jackson, Danny Green and more. Even in a digital world, things can change faster than a site’s ability to update its list of remaining available talent, though the folks here do pretty well at that.

> Every reported deal for all 30 teams

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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