During the week leading up to the NBA draft, I kept asking why the Celtics would trade the third overall pick to the Sixers for a big man when they could have just easily signed one in free agency instead.
Because Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are young.
Because they have upside.
Because they're cheaper than the free-agent bigs.
Sure, sure. But what we've seen so far in free agency is team after team solidify — or attempt to solidify — the frontcourt with expensive signings. Everyone has money to spend this offseason, as you can clearly tell at this point, because of the substantial salary cap increase.
And while some of these big men lack the upside/offensive ability of Okafor, or the upside/defensive ability of Noel, they're still skilled. It's not like Timofey Mozgov was the top option on the market. There was Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol. There were and still are options.
And now, because of Kevin Durant's controversial decision to sign with the Warriors, there are two more big men available, further crowding a market the Sixers were hoping developed in their favor.
The Warriors will almost certainly have to trade center Andrew Bogut and let 6-foot-11, 26-year-old Festus Ezeli walk in free agency. That gives teams in search of a big man two more ways to fill out their frontcourt without having to part with assets to acquire Noel or Okafor.
Now, these are all different players. Okafor has by far the most offensive ability of those four. Bogut is the best, most consistent rim protector. He's also 31 and oft-injured, meaning he'd make the most sense for a team that thinks it can truly contend.
Noel and Ezeli are the most similar of the four — both are 6-foot-11, both do their best work on the defensive end, both shoot about 50 percent from the field and both struggle from the line. Noel is four years younger than Ezeli, 40 pounds lighter and more active in passing lanes, though you wonder if Ezeli would have compiled similar numbers had their situations been reversed.
In any event, because of the Durant signing's impact on Golden State's salary cap space, Bogut and Ezeli will likely be changing teams. It gives the Raptors, reportedly interested in Noel, another avenue to explore. Would a contending Toronto team rather trade key pieces and draft picks for Noel, or try to sign Ezeli to a big deal? The Raptors have approximately $35 million in salary cap room, so it doesn't matter that Noel would be significantly cheaper financially.
Other teams that need a big?
• The Celtics signed Horford, so their need is lessened.
• The Nets could use another big man, but they're depleted of draft picks because of that Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade from years ago. The Celtics can swap picks with them next June, which limits the strength of that Brooklyn pick. The Nets just don't have much else to trade.
• The Mavericks need frontcourt help, but they also look like they could be one of the worst teams in the NBA next season. Would they give up a potential high lottery pick for one of the Sixers' bigs? ESPN's Marc Stein quickly reported after the KD news that Dallas has emerged as a suitor for Bogut.
Two other teams to keep an eye on for Noel and/or Okafor:
• The Bulls lost Joakim Noah to the Knicks and Gasol to free agency. They need an infusion of young talent to help fuel their rebuild.
• The Rockets lost Dwight Howard to the Hawks and added shooters who barely defend in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Noel would make a lot of sense for them, and he's a player new Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni saw first-hand last season while with the Sixers' staff.