The 2021 NBA offseason featured blockbuster trades, draft-day
surprises and some big-name players changing teams. Those are
typically the transactions that garner the most attention, but what
were some of the under-the-radar moves that deserve to be
Now that most of the free agents have signed and the dust has
settled, we asked our writers:
What was your favorite
"underrated move" of this offseason?
Jackson Frank: I really liked the Pistons nabbing Kelly
Olynyk. A versatile offensive big man to pair with their young
guards in Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes is so important. He’s
going to help facilitate their development and ease some of their
creation burden with his pick-and-pops, dribble handoffs and
mismatch-hunting in the post. Good, complementary players for young
dudes is critical and Olynyk is exactly the former.
Victor Oladipo went from being regarded as one of the top free
agents in this class to a complete afterthought. After signing a
one-year, minimum deal with the Heat, he's the ultimate low-risk,
high-reward addition. If it doesn't work out, Miami can cut him or
let him walk. If he gets healthy and has a strong bounce-back
season, he'll be a steal. The 29-year-old will need to make an
impact in order to ink a more lucrative deal next offseason.
Oladipo's days as an All-NBA player are likely over, but he doesn't
even need to play at that level in order to drastically outperform
this contract. Despite his struggles last year, he averaged 20.8
points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.6 threes and 1.3 steals in 29
games with the Rockets and Pacers. After Oladipo's season-ending
quad surgery in May, his surgeon told ESPN, "I was amazed he was
playing with what he had. I'm very optimistic that I could clear
him in six months, by November." If he was able to put up those
numbers on a badly-injured quad that he had no business playing on,
he should be able to help the Heat. Miami had an exciting offseason
— from acquiring Kyle Lowry to signing P.J. Tucker to extending
Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson — but re-signing Oladipo at the
minimum was another impressive move that could look really smart
come playoff time.
I like Isaac Bonga heading to Toronto. There’s been a clear
emphasis in adding rangy defenders, and Bonga fits the bill while
adding a hint of ball skills. I felt like he was a bit buried in
Washington, so I’m interested to see if he gets more
Spencer Davies: Patty
Mills to the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year, $12 million deal. With
Spencer Dinwiddie leaving and no regularly-dependable backup in the
backcourt, Mills will bring an edge and depth to Steve Nash’s
second unit in this go-round. While he may not be the FIBA Patty
that everybody loves, Mills will not hesitate to take shots and
bury triples when one of James Harden or Kyrie Irving is getting a
rest. That’s going to make Brooklyn a tough customer from a pace
standpoint, as well.
It’s not that the move itself was underrated, but I'm surprised
that people are more focused on what the Wizards-Lakers trade means
for Los Angeles and for Bradley Beal rather than focusing on how
much of a win it is for Washington. John Wall’s massive contract
was widely considered one of the worst deals in the league, yet
they turned him into Russell Westbrook and then turned Westbrook
into multiple talented rotation pieces and no behemoth contract.
Just a massive win for the Wizards' books.
Chris Sheridan: That
would be Miami signing P.J. Tucker away from Milwaukee. I am a huge
fan of guys who kill it on defense, and we saw P.J. do a great job
against the Brooklyn Nets in their second-round series when the
Bucks came back from being down 3-2. Milwaukee is going to miss
that guy. The reason they got him in the first place was to have
someone who could guard opposing forwards in the postseason, and
there will come a time when the Bucks realize how much they miss
him. Both Tucker and Jimmy Butler really get after it on the
defensive end, so kudos to Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra and Andy
Elisburg for snatching Tucker away from the Bucks in free
I'm a big fan of the Los Angeles Clippers' draft class as a whole.
The Clippers went after their favorite prospects, trading up to get
uber-athletic Keon Johnson at No. 21 and cerebral playmaker Jason
Preston at No. 33. Then, they took a flier on a former five-star
player in Brandon Boston Jr. with the No. 51 pick. All three
possess immense upside, and the Clippers are deep enough where they
don't need any rookie to step into the rotation right
In terms of overall value, the
Phoenix Suns hit a home run re-signing backup point guard Cameron
Payne to a three-year, $19 million deal. Compared to other backup
facilitators, Payne’s annual value fell well below what others have
been paid over the last few offseasons. After Phoenix gave Payne a
chance to revive his NBA career, the 27-year-old point guard
returned the favor by giving the Suns a discount. Payne, who has
become a wonderful fit within their system, will continue to play a
vital role for the Suns as a key cog to their improved second unit.
Payne, Landry Shamet, Cameron Johnson and JaVale McGee will give
Phoenix such a strong bench.
Jesse Blancarte: The Los Angeles Clippers’ trade for Eric
Bledsoe. There may be some pushback on this selection, but hear me
out. Yes, Eric Bledsoe has struggled over the last few seasons.
Yes, Patrick Beverley is a high-level defender (when healthy) and
was an emotional leader for the Clippers. Yes, Rajon Rondo has
championship experience and is capable of elevating his game in the
postseason. But with this deal, the Clippers lowered this season's
luxury-tax payment significantly, opened a needed roster spot and
took a reasonable chance on Bledsoe having a bounce-back season.
With Kawhi Leonard sidelined for possibly the entire season,
Bledsoe offers another playmaker who can attack the basket and
defend multiple positions.
This one’s easy — Kemba Walker to New York. It flew under the radar
given the timing of the move relative to the other major signings,
but adding a legitimate point guard who is just two years removed from an All-Star
selection is a big deal for a team that’s been looking for a
reliable point guard for (literally) decades. Just two years ago,
Walker signed a four-year max contract worth $141 million, so the
fact that New York was able to sign him to a two-year, $18 million
deal makes the move even more impactful.
Concool: P.J. Tucker to the Heat. 100%. I think
this also wins because absolutely no one saw this move coming.
Tucker, who is coming off his first championship with the Milwaukee
Bucks, was expected to remain with the team considering how much he
contributed during their postseason run. However, Pat Riley had
other plans. The Heat nailed their offseason — re-signing Duncan Robinson and Jimmy
Butler, acquiring Kyle Lowry, and then bringing in more veteran,
championship experience in Tucker. Tucker does so many things that
don’t show up on a box score and he'll be a key contributor for the
Heat, who are clearly serious about making another deep playoff
Jannelle Moore: My pick for the best underrated
move is JaVale McGee joining the Phoenix Suns. The Milwaukee Bucks
exposed Phoenix’s lack of depth at center. By signing McGee
— a serviceable big with
playoff experience and three championships on his resume
— the Suns addressed that