NBA free agency: Experts’ grades for biggest deals and best remaining players

NBA free agency: Experts’ grades for biggest deals and best remaining players


With the 2024 NBA Draft in the rear view, this week marks the start of NBA free agency. Multiple current or former All-Star players hit the open market to decide their next stop, including LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, and DeMar DeRozan.

Some of those top names and others have signed major deals in the first few days of free agency. George signed with the Philadelphia 76ers on a four-year max deal; Harden signed a two-year deal to remain with the Los Angeles Clippers; Thompson joined the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year deal with the defending conference champions.

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All of their deals were official within the first few days of free agency. Here’s how experts at ESPN, Bleacher Report, The Athletic, and The Sporting News graded those out – plus other top deals so far:

NBA free agency grades

Paul George: Four years, $212 million with the Philadelphia 76ers

ESPN: A. “Pursuing George was the obvious path once the Sixers committed to using cap space this summer at the trade deadline. Unlike teams that trade for stars, Philadelphia has managed to accumulate three All-Stars without jeopardizing future draft picks… Given the concerns about depth, adding George might not bring a long-awaited title to Philadelphia. No matter what, it’s going to make for a fascinating 2024-25 season and beyond.”

Bleacher Report: A. “George isn’t quite the defender he once was, but he can still handle a variety of assignments on that end. He can be a high-end floor spacer flanking actions with Maxey and Embiid… He might still be good enough to be more of a 2B than a No. 3 option, and the 76ers are emerging from this all-important offseason as a bona fide title contender.”

The Athletic: A. “George will come to Philadelphia and fill in the gaps. When Embiid can’t play, he’ll take a step up the ladder of their attack and do a lot more. He’ll provide 3-point shooting, scoring, great defense and playmaking. He’s exactly the type of guy they need next to both Maxey and Embiid. We’ll just have to wait to see if this produces a different result for the 76ers in the playoffs.”

The Sporting News: A. “George was the premier free agent in this class. The 76ers were able to make a run at him thanks to diligent planning. Their $60-plus million in cap space paid off, getting them a star that puts them right next to the Knicks as the Celtics’ greatest challengers. George is still very capable of making an All-NBA team and is one of the best two-way wings in the game.”

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James Harden: Two years, $70 million with the Los Angeles Clippers

ESPN: B. “The Clippers’ first-round loss to the Mavericks, played largely without star Kawhi Leonard, featured the usual mix of brilliant performances and duds from Harden. He scored a combined 61 points on 20-of-34 shooting in the Clippers’ two wins, then went 7-of-28 from the field over the final two games as Dallas closed out the series in six. All of this suggests Harden is still a borderline All-Star but no longer a superstar, making $35 million a reasonable annual salary on a short-term deal.”

Bleacher Report: B+. “Harden essentially moving up to No. 2 in the pecking order means his numbers could see a bit of a boost. When Harden was on the floor last season with Kawhi (and without George), he averaged 19.4 points and 9.3 assists per 75 possessions. This deal only being two years (with a second-year player option) is a plus, too. If things don’t go well, it should be more tradable than a three- or four-year contract.”

The Athletic: A. “Regardless of what Harden is still capable of doing on offense, the Clippers need him to be better this season. But it’s a great discount and deal for the Clippers to get him back at this rate.”

The Sporting News: B. “Harden started off the season terribly after getting traded to the Clippers but picked it up in the middle of the year, looking like an All-Star caliber player again. His scoring has dropped off considerably, particularly as a finisher in the paint, but he’s still a great 3-point shooter and facilitator. The Clippers didn’t have a ton of avenues to replace Harden, so bringing him back on a short-term deal at a reasonable price is a good move for them.”

Klay Thompson: Three years, $50 million with the Dallas Mavericks

*Note: This deal was technically done via a three-team sign-and-trade involving the Charlotte Hornets, Mavericks, and Warriors.

ESPN: B-. “If Thompson is going to finish games at small forward alongside one of Dallas’ two strong centers (Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II), that will probably compel P.J. Washington to defend wings with size. Washington struggled in that role before enjoying more success defending power forwards… Adding Thompson undoubtedly makes Dallas a more interesting team but I’m not totally convinced it makes the Mavericks a better one.”

Bleacher Report: A. “This was a no-brainer for Dallas. Getting a proven talent and four-time champ in Thompson while also weakening an opponent in the West is a massive win. The Mavs don’t have a lot of draft picks, cap space or young talent to improve the roster with, so landing Thompson was a best-case scenario in terms of talent acquisition. Keeping him away from the Los Angeles Lakers was important as well.”

The Athletic: B+. “He’s not the guy you expect to hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers every year and lock down an opposing scorer, but Thompson is still a feared shooter… Adding this level of shooting and poise in the postseason could be massive for a Mavericks team that just made the NBA Finals. We just aren’t sure how the 34-year-old Thompson’s body is going to hold up.”

The Sporting News: A-. “Thompson is going to be earning less-than-average starter money over the course of this deal. The Mavs were creative in creating an avenue toward landing him, and they deserve their flowers for getting this deal across the finish line.”

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Chris Paul: One year, $11 million with the San Antonio Spurs

ESPN: A. “The Spurs experimented with several options at point guard during Wembanyama’s first season, but none had the pedigree of Paul, who is currently third all time in career assists. After finishing with a 22-60 record last season, Paul’s veteran presence will be a positive change for the young San Antonio roster.”

Bleacher Report: A+. “Though he’s now pushing 40, CP3’s feel for the game, experience, pass-first mentality and leadership should do wonders for both Wembanyama and the Spurs next season. This is a win for Paul, too. He gets the opportunity to play with the next potential all-timer, and San Antonio has proved more than capable of extending the careers of stars (just think back to the twilights for Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan).”

The Athletic: B+. “In almost every stop of his career, Paul has immediately raised a team’s floor… There are two concerns. He’s 39 and has missed 64 games over his last three seasons with various injuries. Considering it’s just a one-year deal, it lessens the concern; but it’s tough to believe he’ll be healthy all season. My other concern is he wants to still prove he’s an elite guard in the NBA.”

The Sporting News: A+. “The Spurs desperately needed a veteran point guard, and they got the Point God to help Victor Wembanyama’s development. Paul was still a good bench guard for the Warriors last season, rarely turning the ball over. He’s not capable of playing big minutes anymore, so this is the perfect mentorship role for him.”

Tyrese Maxey: Five years, $204 million with the 76ers

ESPN: A. “Maxey has surely been in on these plans since last fall, when Philadelphia declined to extend him ahead of the final season of his rookie contract with an eye toward using cap space. By that point, Maxey already had a reasonable case to command the smaller 25% max salary for players with six or fewer years of experience. Winning Most Improved Player and making the All-Star Game for the first time only strengthened Maxey’s bargaining position.”

Bleacher Report: A+. “The plan worked out perfectly for both Maxey and the Sixers, as Philly used this strategy to sign Paul George, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andre Drummond and others and give Maxey the max deal he deserves… The Sixers get bonus points for not having to tack a player option onto the end. All five years are guaranteed, with Maxey earning (a very reasonable) $46.4 million during the 2028-29 season when we could see some stars making over $70 million.”

The Athletic: A. “This was a no-brainer… There was no real danger of losing Maxey because the Sixers could match any offer sheet he signed with another team. And they weren’t worried about him signing the one-year qualifying offer and then bolting next summer. Maxey’s ascension has been great for the Sixers, and it will only get better.”

The Sporting News: A. “Maxey is going to be worth every penny of this new deal. He’s turned into an All-Star with upside to break into All-NBA by the end of this contract. He is going to be worth more than what the 76ers can pay him.”

Top five remaining NBA free agents

LeBron James

James remains unsigned after opting out of the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s widely expected to re-sign with the Lakers, especially after the team drafted his son No. 55 overall in last week’s draft.

DeMar DeRozan

ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reports DeRozan is looking for a one-year deal so he can re-enter free agency next summer. Wojnarowski reported the Lakers are interested.

Miles Bridges

Bridges put up career numbers last season in Charlotte. The Hornets are interested in bringing him back but his off-court issues – a domestic violence charge in 2022 and violating probation in 2023 – may take him off the board for some teams.

Buddy Hield

Hield isn’t an All-Star like the prior two but his outstanding three-point shooting makes him an easy fit for multiple teams. No frontrunner has emerged at time of publishing but the Warriors were identified as a potential team due to Thompson’s departure.

Tyus Jones

Jones put up career-highs in points (12.0) and assists (7.3) per game and shot career-bests from the field (48.9%) and three-point range (41.4%) last season on one of the worst teams in the league. Washington is considering sign-and-trade scenarios to send the 28-year-old point guard elsewhere.

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