They were projected to be the missing piece for teams seeking peace, players who excited the fan base when their arrivals became official and raised expectations to various degrees on the teams they joined.
And then there were games. How’s that going so far?
Well, the results from players who switched teams through free agency and trades are generally positive and the sample size is mostly small. That’s all we know right now, and all anyone could reasonably expect.
Here’s a look at the six biggest summer additions and a progress report on each:
DONOVAN MITCHELL, CAVALIERS (FROM JAZZ)
Quite simply, he’s the gold standard of the additions, a three-time All-Star who suddenly finds himself an (early) Kia MVP candidate based on his numbers and impact with the Cavs. In a sense, Mitchell could become a carbon copy of 2021 DeMar DeRozan, who left the San Antonio Spurs for Chicago and instantly changed the credibility of the Bulls. Most impressive about Mitchell is how he carried the club for nearly two weeks while Darius Garland recovered from an eye injury, and how his new teammates gave him the instant respect of trusting him with the ball in big moments.
Take an inside look at Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell, who is off to a hot start with his new team in Cleveland.
Mitchell is posting career numbers across the board in scoring, efficiency, assists and even blocks. The key obviously will be how Mitchell blends with Garland — so far, so good on that front. If all continues to go well, the Cavs will find themselves squarely among the East’s best, which would serve as the post-LeBron James mountaintop for this franchise.
JALEN BRUNSON, KNICKS (FROM MAVERICKS)
The Knicks needed a team leader and they have one. Steady, secure and sure, Brunson has brought dependability to a team that long craved direction at point guard. Coach Tom Thibodeau can trust him to make smart decisions with the ball. Here’s what Brunson isn’t, based on all reasonable indications: A savior.
While it would be unfair to place limits on such a young player, Brunson hasn’t shown the credentials to be an All-Star or game-changer or franchise rock. In order for the Knicks to reach the next level, they’ll need to upgrade the roster in other spots and continue their search for an elusive superstar. But that’s OK because thanks to Brunson, point guard is one less position they need to worry about.
RUDY GOBERT, TIMBERWOLVES (FROM JAZZ)
He came as advertised, a premium rebounder (he leads the league at 13.9 per game entering Wednesday) and interior defender who can help offensively on the pick-and-roll but whose bad hands and allergy to shooting beyond the paint make him so-so on offense. Gobert also hasn’t gotten in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns so this is another plus. But the Timberwolves are also a worse offensive team with both on the floor together and haven’t made much improvement in the standings.
So they don’t appear to be appreciatively better off with Gobert and, if anything, have been a mild disappointment. Of course, it’s still early. But they sacrificed so much of their future, in terms of young talent and picks, that Gobert’s arrival raised the bar. By comparison, look at what Gobert’s former Jazz teammate is doing for the Cavs.
DEJOUNTE MURRAY, HAWKS
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray complement each other perfectly and can score at will, giving Atlanta a lethal 1-2 punch.
The anticipated smooth connection between Murray and Trae Young has been just that. Give credit to Murray, who isn’t demanding the ball, looks comfortable playing off Young and is leading by example defensively for a Hawks team that suffers on that end of the floor. Murray is second in the league in steals (2.5 spg entering Wednesday) while averaging 22.3 points per game — not easy on a team with a volume shooter like Young — on 45.7% shooting.
When the trade was made, it had feel-good written all over it and there’s no reason to doubt if it’ll remain that way. Mainly because Murray can guard the other team’s top scorer, making him the perfect sidekick to Young.
MALCOLM BROGDON, CELTICS (FROM PACERS)
Has he given the Celtics an upgrade in terms of a playmaking point guard? The jury’s still out on that, and understandably so — the season isn’t even a month old. The Celtics are bringing him off the bench and there are times when Brogdon, who’s averaging 23.8 minutes, isn’t on the floor deep into the fourth quarter. Plus, Marcus Smart received a degree of criticism last season for his lack of playmaking skills — perhaps the main reason the Celtics traded for Brogdon — but Smart is averaging more assists and fewer turnovers than Brogdon. Anyway, Boston is a better team with Brogdon if only because he gives them quality depth at the position and takes some of the playmaking responsibility away from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
JOHN WALL, CLIPPERS (FROM ROCKETS)
Wall has been fairly solid in limited minutes (22.3 mpg), giving the Clippers an additional ballhandler and rim-attacking scorer. The Clippers are taking the careful road with Wall, who has missed two games and hasn’t cracked 30 minutes in any single outing. Therefore, the verdict on Wall (who has barely played the last three seasons partly because of injuries) is mostly incomplete.
In a best-case scenario, Wall will get a heavier workload by spring and wrestle the starting point guard job away from Reggie Jackson and improve his 3-point shooting (21.4%). If none of the above happens, then Wall won’t be the massive offseason addition that the Clippers hoped for. Remember, he was projected as the missing link for a team that entered the year banking championship aspirations.