The 2024-25 NBA Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers.

Given the way free agency is unfolding and the changing dynamics of the league, which has seen six different teams win the title in the past six seasons, there’s a good chance this will be a finals game.

Will the Thunder-76ers win the 2025 title? That will take 82 regular-season games and two months of playoff basketball — and of course, trades and injuries change the landscape.

But in the early days of free agency, the Thunder and Sixers have made moves that put them in a great position for this season.

Thunder-Sixers Finals? The Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves are among the teams that will try to prevent that.

These are the winners and losers in the early days of free agency:

NBA Free Agency Winners

Philadelphia 76ers

In win-now mode, the 76ers wanted a high-value wing and a long-term deal for restricted free agent and All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey. They got that and more in a free agency period they had pegged as the right time to make significant moves. The Sixers added All-Star forward Paul George, who had a fantastic 2023-24 season, and agreed to a long-term extension with the 23-year-old Maxey. With All-Star and 2022-23 MVP Joel Embiid, the Sixers have perhaps the best guard-wing-center trio in the league. They brought back Kelly Oubre, added depth at center in Andre Drummond and depth at guard in Eric Gordon. Plus, they have five tradable first-round picks if the right opportunity presents itself.

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Oklahoma City Thunder

In 2021-22, the Thunder won 24 games. They won 57 games last season and are ready for the present and future with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams. They traded Alex Caruso and added Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency. Those two additions fit the Thunder’s philosophy of hard work and professionalism without sacrificing financial flexibility or stunting the development of their three young stars. And the Thunder still have a wealth of draft capital. They have the ability to be one of the best teams in the West through at least the end of the decade. Adding a title is part of the mission.

Magic of Orlando

The Magic are on the rise in the East. How high can they go? We’re about to find out. They’ve landed one of the top free agents in guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, out of Denver. He brings championship experience (titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and Nuggets) and is a two-way player who can provide the Magic with shots. He’s shot 40.6% on 3-pointers in 2023-24. The veteran is a remarkable story. The Pistons waived him in 2017, and his career was on the line. He’s become a valuable player, and Caldwell-Pope and his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, have negotiated $150 million contracts over the past few seasons.

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New York Knicks

The Knicks added Mikal Bridges in a trade and re-signed OG Anunoby to a roster that also includes Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and Mitchell Robinson. They’re better equipped to compete with Boston for the Eastern Conference’s top seed, and the Knicks will have an improved defense. Do they have enough offensive creators?

boston celtics

Rarely is the status quo good enough. Unless you’re the Celtics, who captured the 2024 title with 64 regular-season wins and a 16-3 playoff record. They reached extensions with Derrick White and Jayson Tatum (a record-breaking contract) and have secured their starting lineup of White, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday for at least the next two seasons. No title is guaranteed, but the Celtics are in an excellent position to be in the conversation, even with that massive payroll that will pay those five players nearly $200 million starting in the 2025-26 season. Tatum and NBA Finals MVP Brown should improve as well.

Victor Wembanyama

Wembanyama, the 2023-24 Rookie of the Year, will continue to develop and in 2024-25 he’ll get the bonus of playing alongside future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract to play for the Spurs. Wembanyama will learn from Paul and accelerate his progress. The Spurs may not be contenders next season, but they’re trending in the right direction and it won’t be long before they’re near the top of the West. Or before Wembanyama moves into All-NBA first-team territory.

Eastern Conference

The East is getting better. Maybe not as good as the 1-10 West, but definitely better. The Knicks, Magic, 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Indiana Pacers (remember, they reached the conference finals) should be better, and the Celtics aren’t going anywhere. Even if they don’t match or surpass last season’s win total, the confidence they gain from winning the championship more than makes up for a few regular-season losses, so they’re primed for a long playoff run. And can the Miami Heat return to conference prominence? Will there be a surprise team? Either way, the East has made strides, and the conference champions live there.

Worth mentioning: Dallas Mavericks (Klay Thompson), Cleveland Cavaliers (Donovan Mitchell extended), Dejounte Murray (traded from Atlanta to New Orleans)

NBA Free Agency Losers

Golden State Warriors

The dynasty that won four titles in eight seasons with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is over. Thompson left the Warriors for the Dallas Mavericks. While this is the best for the Warriors in the long run and for Thompson in the short run, it is still a disappointment for the Warriors. All things must come to an end, and unhappy endings are part of the story.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers kept James Harden and still have Kawhi Leonard, but it’s hard to see how the Clippers improved from a 51-win team after losing Paul George to the 76ers. They’re moving to a new $2 billion arena, the Intuit Dome, in Inglewood, and owner Steve Ballmer prefers a team that can compete for a title. Looking at the landscape of the West, the Clippers aren’t among the top five teams.

Denver Nuggets

A year ago, the Nuggets were celebrating after winning the franchise’s first title. The hangover comes quickly and lingers. Denver lost Bruce Brown after a championship season and lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope after a 57-win season this year. The Nuggets understandably wanted to maintain financial flexibility, but two key players from a championship team are gone and they haven’t found equal replacements while other teams in the West have improved. Championship windows open slowly and close quickly.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns were 49-33, in fifth place in the West, and were blown out in the first round of the playoffs by Minnesota. Two (Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal) of their top three players (Devin Booker is the other) are in their 30s, and it’s hard to see what the Suns did to make them better, hard to see how they could get better, and hard to see that the Suns are better than the fifth-best team.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks don’t have the ability to make significant roster moves without a major trade. They’ve committed $151.4 million in salaries to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez through 2024-25. Looking east, the Bucks see teams improving and potentially passing them in the standings. It’s Boston, Philly, New York in that order, with Cleveland and Orlando moving up. Do the Bucks, like Denver, see the championship window closing in?


Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers and LeBron James agreed to a two-year, $104 million contract . That’s a good start, but the Lakers still need to make improvements to their roster. D’Angelo Russell exercised his player option for 2024-25, so right now the Lakers are essentially the same team as last year (save for drafting Dalton Knecht and Bronny James) and haven’t made the roster moves that propelled them up in the West after losing to Denver in the first round in April. At least not yet. Let’s give the Lakers a minute in free agency and until July to see what they can do on the trade market.

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt