LeBron James immediately made the Lakers big winners in NBA free agency when the peerless forward signed a four-year deal worth $153.3 million.
But then Golden State Warriors, back-to-back NBA champions, made a move that seemed to say, “We’ll see you and raise with DeMarcus Cousins.”
Cousins signed a one-year deal worth $5.3 million, joining a star-studded group of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And the Warriors got richer while opening a debate about which team was the biggest free-agent winner.
Here is a look at some of the NBA’s winners and losers this summer:
Lakers: James is universally considered the best player on the planet, and that he decided to come to L.A. to play was a triumph for the Lakers and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
The Lakers kept winning when they signed Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley, and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to one-year deals. That allowed the Lakers to save enough salary-cap space to offer one top-notch free agent a maximum deal next summer.
Golden State: Even if Cousins doesn’t return from a left Achilles injury until sometime in February, or later, the Warriors won by adding the All-Star center. They would be the first team since the Boston Celtics in 1975-76 to start five All-Stars from the previous season.
Oklahoma City: All credit for Paul George re-signing with the Thunder — and not even taking a meeting with the Lakers — should go to Russell Westbrook. It had been widely assumed that George was going to join his hometown Lakers this summer, even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City last season.
It was during the soiree that George told the crowd, “I’m here to stay.” He then signed a four-year, $137-million deal.
Eastern Conference: James ruled the East the last eight seasons, taking both the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to four consecutive NBA Finals.
His Heat team defeated the Boston Celtics in the 2012 playoffs, and his Cavaliers got past the Celtics in the playoffs in 2017 and ’18.
But the Celtics will get back Kyrie Irving (left knee) and Gordon Hayward (broken left leg) from the injured list to join Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum.
The Philadelphia 76ers have the dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to lead them into contention.
The Toronto Raptors got slapped upside the head by James so many times in the playoffs that it had to leave them dizzy. His Cleveland team swept the Raptors in the playoffs in 2017 and ’18 after defeating them in six games in 2016.
Toronto replaced coach Dwane Casey with Nick Nurse, then traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
The Pacers, who lost to James and the Cavaliers in a seven-game playoff series this year, added guard Tyreke Evans and forwards Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn to help All-Star Victor Oladipo, who led the team in scoring (22.7), rebounds (8.3), assists (6.0) and steals (2.4) in the playoffs.
Now it’ll be up to Cavaliers coach Tyrone Lue and general manager Koby Altman to try to put the pieces back together with Kevin Love as the leading man.
Houston: Losing Trevor Ariza to Phoenix on a one-year deal for $15 million and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Clippers on a one-year deal for $4.3 million will hurt the Rockets’ switching defense. Plus, Ariza shot 37% from three-point range and was a strong locker-room presence.
The Rockets re-signed point guard Chris Paul for four years and $160 million. But he’s 33, is coming off a right hamstring injury that kept him out of Games 6 and 7 in the playoffs against the Warriors, and hasn’t played in all 82 games since the 2014-15 season with the Clippers.
New Orleans: It is impossible for the Pelicans to replace the 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds Cousins gave them in 48 games before he was injured, and they may miss the 10.3 points and 12.2 assists Rondo gave them in the playoffs, if they get back there.
They signed Julius Randle to a two-year, $18-million deal with the hopes that the former Lakerwould continue to progress, and they signed point guard Elfrid Payton to a one-year deal. But this is his third team since February, when he was traded from Orlando to Phoenix.
Fortunately for the Pelicans, they still have the transcendent talents of Anthony Davis and the two-way mastery of guard Jrue Holiday.
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter: @BA_Turner