NBA Teams that Got Worse in 2021 NBA Free Agency

| August 11, 2021 5:48 am PDT

While NBA free agency gives some teams the chance to improve, it also hampers other teams and moves them further from a championship and closer to the draft lottery.

Those are the teams I’ll be looking at here. These teams fell flat in 2021 NBA free agency and now have some question marks moving forward.

Most of the major free agents are off the market, which plays into these teams being the biggest NBA free agency losers for 2021.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans are playing with fire.

Initially, the Pelicans traded Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the 10th overall pick, and a future first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th overall pick. The teams also swapped second-rounders.

They gave up a lot, but the hope was this trade would allow the Pelicans to pursue a top point guard in free agency.

Their options ranged from Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, or even re-signing Lonzo Ball.

What do they do? They acquire Devonte’ Graham in a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets.


I’ll get into Graham’s trade, but let’s circle back to Ball. They sent him to the Chicago Bulls in a sign-and-trade of their own. You would think someone of Ball’s talent should net a good return but that’s not what happened.

Chicago traded Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a second-round pick. Those guys are decent bench options at best, but they aren’t moving the needle like Ball would.

Let me start by saying I do like Graham. His stats from last season are right on par with Ball’s.

Stat Devonte’ Graham Lonzo Ball
Points 14.8 14.6
Assists 5.4 5.7
Rebounds 2.7 4.8
Steals 0.9 1.5
Field Goal % 37.7 41.4
Three-Point % 37.5 37.8

In order to acquire Graham, the Pelicans had to send a lottery-protected first-round pick to Charlotte. I understand his contract is a lot less than Ball’s, but Charlotte got a better return in this trade than New Orleans did in the Ball trade.

New Orleans is in a very precarious state right now. There are reports that Zion Williamson’s family wants him to leave New Orleans. Who knows how serious those rumors are, but this move can’t help.

This team has missed the playoffs in two seasons with Williamson. Now, that they let Ball go, things could get even worse.

The clock is ticking for New Orleans. They don’t want another Anthony Davis situation on their hands.

Milwaukee Bucks

It’s hard to be among the most improved teams in NBA free agency after winning the NBA championship. The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t regress a ton, but I think their chances to have a repeat as NBA champs went down following free agency.

On paper, it doesn’t look like Milwaukee lost any major contributors. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday all return in the Bucks pursuit of a second straight championship.

However, they did lose one impactful player, as P.J. Tucker left the Bucks to sign a two-year, $15 million contract with the Miami Heat.

Losing Tucker is going to make a bigger difference than you think.

He averaged just 2.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 20 games with the Bucks. However, his impact goes well beyond the stat sheet.

Tucker is a menace on the defensive end. He is just 6’ 5” but his defensive prowess gives him the ability to cover just about anyone.

Okay, maybe not seven-footers in the post but you get the point. He is a Jae Crowder like glue guy that every team wants. There’s a reason Crowder has been in back-to-back NBA Finals.

It’s unfortunate for Tucker because he wanted to return to Milwaukee, but they didn’t want to go into the luxury tax. I understand the situation but Milwaukee fans can’t be happy with that one.

The Bucks should’ve been more aggressive in trying to run it back.

The big issue with Tucker leaving is his signing with the Heat. Miami knocked Milwaukee out of the playoffs in 2020. A big reason for that was the defense of Crowder on Antetokounmpo. Now, the Heat have a new version of Crowder in Tucker.

Milwaukee did make some nice under-the-radar moves, of course. Here are the guys they brought in.

  • Semi Ojeleye
  • Rodney Hood
  • George Hill

The team also held onto energy guy Bobby Portis, and swung a trade for three-point specialist, Grayson Allen.

I just think the Bucks should’ve been a little more willing to bring Tucker back in an attempt to win another championship.

Now, they’ll have to deal with a much-improved Heat team that could prove to be trouble for Milwaukee.

Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry leaving the Toronto Raptors was a formality that started during the 2020-2021 season. Teams tried to acquire Lowry at the trade deadline but the Raptors decided to hold onto the point guard.

Now, their franchise icon is on the move after nine seasons with Toronto.

They sent Lowry to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade. In return, the Raptors received Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa.

Even though Lowry is 35 years old, he is still one of the top point guards in the game. He failed to make the All-Star game for the first time since 2014, but he played at a high level.

Dragic is a fine option in his own right, but he’s a downgrade from Lowry. He also has just one season left on his contract that pays him $18 million a year.

There are rumors they could trade him, but the Raptors are rebuffing offers.

Keeping Dragic helps Toronto, but he won’t make the team much better.

Outside of Lowry, they did very little to upgrade a team that finished 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 27-45 record. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

The only two free agents they signed were Ish Wainright and Sam Dekker. Wainright has been playing overseas for the last three seasons. Dekker averaged 4.5 points in the NBA before playing overseas the last two seasons.

Toronto did a good job retaining their own free agents in Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch, but they didn’t add an impact big man. Birch is coming off a career year but the Raptors could’ve used an upgrade at center. He is also just 6’ 9” so not ideal for a center.

This just adds to Toronto’s bad offseason, as they also made our biggest winners and losers from the 2021 NBA Draft, and not for good reasons.

San Antonio Spurs

Initially, I wasn’t going to put the San Antonio Spurs on this list, but I’m starting to realize the signings they made aren’t as good as I thought they were.

Let’s start with the players they lost.

DeMar DeRozan was definitely their star, but I don’t think there was a scenario that saw him returning to San Antonio.

The Chicago Bulls acquired him in a sign-and-trade. In return, the Spurs received Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a 2025 first-round pick, and two second-round picks. The first-round pick will definitely come in handy but you can’t use it for years.

Patty Mills and Rudy Gay were the other two guys to leave San Antonio. Both players led the Spurs in three-point shooting last season, shooting 38.1 and 37.5 percent, respectively.

Now, look at the Spurs three-point shooting stats last season and see where they ranked.

  • Three-Pointers Made: 9.9 (Last)
  • Three-Pointers Attempted: 28.4 (Last)
  • Three-Point Shooting Percentage: 35.0 (24th)

Losing those guys is not ideal.

At least they made some upgrades this offseason, right? Um, let’s discuss.

San Antonio signed Doug McDermott to a three-year, $42 million contract. McDermott is a career 40.7 percent three-point shooter, but how does he fit into the Spurs timeline?

He’ll be 32 years old by the time his contract is up.

It doesn’t look like the Spurs will compete within the next three years.

The Zach Collins signing confused a lot of people.

Despite playing just 11 games in the last two seasons, Collins landed a three-year, $22 million deal with the Spurs. He underwent another foot surgery in June, so he’ll likely miss the first month or two of the season.

I understand taking a chance on a guy, but why give him that much money? Even when he played, he didn’t impress many people with just 5.7 points per game.

Today’s NBA is so dependent on stars. The Spurs don’t have one and may have to enter a rebuild.

What’s Next for 2021 NBA Free Agency’s Losers?

I expect teams like Toronto and San Antonio to make a trade or two to either clear cap space or cut down their roster.

Other than that, I don’t think we’ll see too many big moves.

Milwaukee should contend for a championship, but it’ll be tougher to repeat without P.J. Tucker. I can’t see any of the other three teams making the playoffs.

Like this breakdown of the 2021 NBA free agency losers? Consider the positive side of the debate with a look at my biggest winners from 2021 NBA free agency.

Nicholas Sterling
Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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