NBA free agency winners and losers: the break-up of the Splash Brothers and the Sixers reload

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jayson Tatum;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jayson Tatum</a>, <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Paul George;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Paul George</a> and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Klay Thompson;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Klay Thompson</a> have made headlines in the last week. </span><span>Composite: Guardian Picture Desk</span>

The NBA’s free agency period kicked off this week with a flurry. Here are highlights of some of the league’s biggest moves and how they may shape the season to come.

Winners: The 76ers and Paul George

Philly are big winners here, in that they’ve added Paul George to franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid at center and Tyrese Maxey at guard. George, who signed a four-year, $212m deal after opting out of a player option, will be a valuable wing piece for the 76ers. He moves from the Los Angeles Clippers, where he failed to live up to the loftiest expectations in his pairing with Kawhi Leonard and, later, James Harden. But that wasn’t all on George; he and the Clippers were not always healthy, and not all pairings of stars have excellent chemistry or supporting casts.

The mix in Philadelphia is a potent one, though. George is 34 but remains one of the NBA’s better two-way athletes, and the Sixers will hope that he can be a more stable (and less ball-dominant) part of their core than Harden was during his tumultuous stopover in Philly a few years ago. He should at the least be a veteran help to the freshly extended Maxey, the fifth-year point guard who was a revelation last season and made his first All-Star game. The 76ers will revolve around Embiid, and getting George may not be enough. But with an extra star, they should be an Eastern Conference contender.

Losers: Klay Thompson and fans of the Splash Brothers

Thompson is a bit of a loser here, in that his legendary career with the Golden State Warriors has arrived at the opposite of a fairytale ending. The Warriors found themselves dramatically reduced and staring down an eternity in salary cap hell, and Thompson, one of the greatest shooters of all time, had looked for weeks the most likely odd man out. Thus it ends in the Bay Area for a four-time NBA champion and five-time All-Star who teamed with Stephen Curry to form the “Splash Brothers”, the most entertaining backcourt ever. To add insult to injury, in Dallas, Thompson will no longer be able to commute to the arena in his boat. He’ll also make about a third as much money as he did with Golden State last year, though $15.9m next season without state income tax will hardly leave Thompson in financial disarray.

For the Mavericks, Thompson is an optimal addition to play alongside Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. Dallas were 13th in three-point shooting percentage last season and so had to scrape and claw to post the ninth-best offensive efficiency in the league (117.6 points per 100 possessions). They lacked the firepower to contend seriously with the Boston Celtics, who had the league’s best offense, in the NBA finals. Thompson’s marksmanship from deep could be a critical addition.

Winner: Jayson Tatum

Tatum is having one the spells in the history of basketball. A few weeks ago, he hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy as a champion for the first time, putting to rest any doubts that a team could win the whole enchilada with Tatum as its headliner. Now he has agreed to the richest contract in league history, a five-year supermax pact worth $314m. Tatum is a winner, and the Celtics are merely paying the cost of doing business at a championship level.

That cost is steep, though, and the Celtics’ rapidly escalating payroll is surely one reason that the team’s ownership group announced this week a plan to offload the franchise by 2028. The Celtics should fetch a record price, maybe around $7bn, and the new controlling owners will be responsible for the big salaries due to Tatum and running mate Jaylen Brown. The Celtics are soon poised to be spending more than $300m a year in salary and luxury tax payments. But don’t weep for the Celtics’ ownership. The current owners bought the team for $360m in 2002, an investment that will soon pay out many times over. Whoever gets the team next will inherit a goldmine, and it’s players like Tatum and Brown who ensure the Celtics’ place in the NBA hierarchy.

Winners: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder’s slow rebuild finally paid off with a 57-25 record and a trip to the second round of the playoffs last season. OKC has one of the best players in the NBA, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and a supporting cast that’s talented and young. SGA will be 26 next season, wunderkind center Chet Holmgren will be 22, and swingman Jalen Williams will be 23. These are exciting times for a franchise that may finally be on to something for the first time since the long-ago days of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Thunder had an achilles heel: rebounding. Their 21% offensive rebounding rate was 27th of the 30 teams. In a six-game playoff series loss to the Mavericks, Dallas dominated the rebounding margin, taking 28% of their offensive rebound chances to just 22% for OKC.

Enter Isaiah Hartenstein, on a three-year, $87m deal, who will move from the New York Knicks to Oklahoma City. The 26-year-old averaged a career-high 8.3 rebounds last season, including 3.2 offensive boards – exactly double the offensive rebounds that anyone for Oklahoma City pulled down. (Holmgren led the way with 1.6 per game.) The Thunder have some terrific offensive players, and Hartenstein’s addition means that they’ll get a few more chances a game to put the ball through the hoop. For that, OKC are big winners.

Losers: People who want to see Chris Paul win a ring

The Spurs signed the future Hall of Fame point guard to a one-year, $11m contract. The big winner of the deal is Victor Wembanyama, who will get to play alongside a living legend and soak up a bit of knowledge from CP3. Paul, who turns 40 in May, will get to make a bit more money as his career winds down, and perhaps he’ll soak up some youthful energy from Wembanyama and the still-developing Spurs. But the Spurs aren’t a contender yet. And so those hoping Paul will end his career with a ring will be banking on the idea that Paul could boost his trade stock by the mid-point of the season. Play well enough, and he could find himself traded to a contender late in the season, giving him one last serious crack at winning the finals.

To be decided: LeBron James

James opted out of the final year of his contract with the Lakers, but that’s not as ominous for LA as it sounds. The Lakers just hired his podcast partner to be the team’s head coach and spent a second-round draft pick on LeBron’s eldest son – all to keep The King happy. Nobody seems to think LeBron is about to leave Southern California. Rather, he may return to the Lakers on a lower salary, his agent says, to help the franchise round out its roster. Let’s wait and see if James actually does so, and if the action has the intended impact of improving the Lakers’ depth.

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