Atlanta has shown a unique ability to pursue different avenues of improving from summer to summer. A year ago, the team splurged on Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and this year pivoted into tidying up a roster that had just a couple small weaknesses.
Adding Delon Wright on a backup point guard basis was great work. Wright can finally settle back into his more natural role, and gives the Hawks a point guard with some size to contrast with Trae Young. Adding the underrated Gorgui Dieng essentially serves the same purpose behind Clint Capela. Re-signing Lou Williams helps ensure Atlanta’s high-powered offense will remain in good shape.
The Celtics continue on one of the NBA’s most confusing paths to true contention. The Kemba Walker trade was an unfortunate reality for a team that had to surrender picks and give up one of their only scorers. They did bring in intriguing young center Moses Brown in the deal, only to ship him to the Mavericks in exchange for Josh Richardson using the Gordon Hayward trade exception.
The endless rumors about the future of Marcus Smart can finally be put to rest, as he signed a max deal to remain in Boston. But the addition of Richardson shouldn’t have been the team’s biggest move. Richardson is on a modest deal, and can help fill the shoes of Jaylen Brown while he recovers from injury, but it is hard to overstate just how rough Richardson’s season was in Dallas last year. Losing an interesting prospect in Brown for a player who has declined so steeply in recent years is a loss.
The Nets made a couple strange decisions this offseason. They brought in Patty Mills using the taxpayer-mid-level exception, but lost Jeff Green to the Nuggets. General manager Sean Marks is very familiar with Mills from his days in San Antonio, but the fit here is questionable. Mills is going to need most of his outside shooting to come off screens, and this team doesn’t really possess a true setter of them.
Retaining Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown on dirt cheap deals helps restore at least a little bit of depth, but losing Green is a problem. Having their three top guys healthy will put this team up to the task against anyone in the world, but at best, Brooklyn went laterally this offseason.
LaMelo Ball has the Hornets pointed in the right direction. Letting go of both Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk was the right thing to do for a team needing to begin centering its offense around Ball. Getting a protected first rounder for Graham came out of nowhere as well. Terry Rozier being re-signed long term and the addition of Kelly Oubre has Charlotte in good shape in the backcourt and on the wings.
Up front, they’re still a bit lacking. Mason Plumlee is a small upgrade at center, but he’s far from any kind of long term solution there. Charlotte’s decision to give Rozier a multi-year extension does take them out of some trade possibilities, as his expiring eight-figure salary would be extremely powerful near the trade deadline. But throw in Gordon Hayward, and Charlotte has a terrifying offense to try and stop.
Perhaps the single most aggressive team this summer was the Chicago Bulls. Lonzo Ball, Demar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso are joining forces with Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine in an effort to not just make the playoffs, but make some considerable noise once there. They do indeed have some of the horses to do it.
Chicago’s decision to pay DeRozan over $80 million was bound to be questioned, but only three years for him is not the worst investment ever. They will struggle defensively, but the Bulls now boast four ball handlers who can all push the ball up the floor, and should they get into a more half court-oriented battle in the playoffs, have a star center to pound it into in the meantime. There are reasons to wonder how far this team can really go long term, but few got better than the Bulls did this summer.
The Cavaliers are stuck in a tough situation. They are among the least attractive markets in the league, and have had so-so results from their multiple years drafting in the lottery Colin Sexton seems more and more like a head case than anything else, while Darius Garland is still early in his development. They hit a grand slam by getting involved in the Harden trade and adding Jarrett Allen, but were essentially forced to give him a long term deal worth $100 million just to pencil in at least one cornerstone player.
After drafting Evan Mobley, the Cavs are least doing a good job of not exactly caring about the fits on the roster just yet, and are instead more concerned with just adding talent altogether. They have to be disappointed in not having moved Kevin Love or Cedi Osman yet, but there’s still time to move both of them and potentially Larry Nance Jr.
As always, the entire league was on pins and needles waiting to see what exactly the Mavericks were going to do in free agency. In a story as old as time, they missed on their top target. Kyle Lowry quickly chose the Heat, leaving Dallas with all the cap space in the world and nothing to show for it.
That’s not to say it was all bad, however. Reggie Bullock is a very underrated player that surprised many when he took the mid-level instead of a much larger deal from somewhere else. Sterling Brown gives Dallas one more shooter for the bench, but he can’t be expected to play more than spot duty. Dallas did lock up Tim Hardaway Jr. long term, who has been absolutely excellent since arriving in Dallas in a trade with New York. Bringing back Boban Marjanovic will keep the peace in the locker room as a new coaching staff is assembled.
Perhaps no team in basketball had worse luck than the nuggets last year, losing Jamal Murray from what was a championship-worthy roster. Adding Jeff Green was an interesting call for a team relatively already set at the power forward position. If they were going to make a move there, it might have simply made more sense to extend either Michael Porter Jr. or Aaron Gordon. JaMychal Green was brought back as well.
Retaining Will Barton for only two years was a win for the Nuggets, who appear willing to bet a healthier roster can push them back into the western conference finals. Denver was pressed for resources, but didn’t bring in the most fitting piece in the world as they wait on Murray’s return.
The addition of Cade Cunningham alone ought to give the Pistons plenty of reason for excitement. Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, and Jerami Grant is an interesting stable of talent for Cunningham to walk in with, as well as Dwayne Casey at head coach. When it came to free agency itself, Detroit opened up a few other options to pursue, and that started with re-upping Hamidou Diallo.
They quickly scooped up Kelly Olynyk on a three year, $37 million deal, which raised eyebrows at first. But for Detroit, they can simply look to trade him at some point in that deal, as contending teams would love to get their hands on a very capable power forward playing on a rebuilding team. The same can be said for Cory Joseph and Trey Lyles. As far as the Pistons are concerned, there isn’t much reason to be too worried about those two signings, and future picks could well be coming down the line for them.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State has always had one of the more clever front offices in basketball. They religiously find capable players for remarkably cheap prices, and they struck again this year. Getting Otto Porter Jr. on a minimum salary deal is a crazy win for a team with a gargantuan payroll. They also added Nemanja Bjelica on another minimum deal.
Getting these two sharpshooters in the door in addition to a healthy backcourt will make this team extremely dangerous out west. Few make better use of limited resources than Golden State, who in Porter, may have brought in the league’s most underrated free agent this year.
Houston has for the most part been solid since the overdue departure of Daryl Morey. They brought in Christian Wood, Jae’Sean Tate, Kevin Porter Jr., and now Jalen Green in recent years. All are positive assets for a team that failed to get a single exciting young player in the James Harden trade.
They did bring in Daniel Theis on a multi-year deal from Boston this year, which on the surface is a bit weird for a team this early in a rebuild. But between Green and Wood, Houston could launch into sleeper status once John Wall’s miserable contract is mercifully off their books. Theis could be a nice role player for them at that point. He also provides a nice yin to Wood’s yang.
Hiring Rick Carlisle back will raise the floor of this team considerably. They gave T.J. McConnell a major payday over four years, and added Torrey Craig from the Suns. The true ceiling of this team depends on the status of Caris LeVert, but as the conference continues to get better and better, it will be a test for the new-look Pacers to make themselves relevant right away.
Not splurging on any major free agents was good business for a team that is still kind of figuring out what it has in Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogdon next to LeVert as a core. Carlisle can probably get this bunch into the playoffs and perhaps somewhat beyond, but they’re still a ways from truly threatening the top guns.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers made two of the strangest moves of the entire offseason, and still cannot seem to solve their eternal problem at point guard. First, bringing in Justise Winslow makes little to no sense. Yes, Kawhi Leonard will be out, but Winslow is not going to rehabilitate his value sitting behind Luke Kennard. Worse yet, there’s no facilitator to help get him some looks on the perimeter. He’s set up to fail.
The trade for Eric Bledsoe feels like an over-correction from LA. Just to make the trade legal, they had to part with both Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley, both of whom bring an edge and toughness to the position that Bledsoe seemingly hasn’t in ages. Bledsoe gives them a more downhill presence from the point, but not waiting until he was inevitably bought out was a mistake.
Los Angeles Lakers
There are old teams, there are ancient teams, and then there are the Los Angeles Lakers. The team’s average age as of now is 32.4 years old, far and away the oldest in the league. The Lakers have become the latest team to convince itself that Russell Westbrook is going to outplay every other star point guard in the conference. That simply isn’t going to happen. Westbrook makes the Lakers thoroughly worse, and having your top three players all be lacking shooters is a bad mistake by management.
Adding Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk on cheap deals at least gives the Lakers something to be excited about going forward along with Talen Horton-Tucker, but bringing Wayne Ellington back was both predictable and unhelpful. Ellington is best coming off screens, which now will likely have to be set by Dwight Howard, who is easily on his last legs. The Lakers are in dire need of depth and shooting, but instead they now have Russell Westbrook.
Most people will point to the Grizzlies when talking about some of the better run teams in the league. They’ve done a manful job over the years putting together a young, pesky roster with a budding superstar in Ja Morant leading the way at point guard. But this offseason was just completely weird for Memphis.
They traded valuable center Jonas Valanciunas in a move to trade up in the draft, but had to take back Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe in the deal. Neither are of any help to this team, and Bledsoe has already been moved a second time. They then managed just Sam Merrill and a second rounder for the still ascending Grayson Allen as well. Memphis got quantifiably worse this year, during a time when they should be making a strong push to get better.
The Heat captured the most headlines this go-around, nabbing Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, and re-signed Victor Oladipo. Miami’s roster is extremely old and the majority of guys on it are past their primes, but this is no doubt going to be a difficult team to beat four times in a playoff series.
Lowry, Tucker, Jimmy Butler, Morris and Bam Adebayo will be as nasty a lineup defensively as any other in the entire league, and that alone should prevent them from going out in the first round the way they did this past year. The Heat have a fascinating wild card as well in Oladipo, who due to the team’s depth, is not going to need to return to the floor until he is fully ready to play.
The Bucks took some heat for letting P.J. Tucker go after he had a profound impact on the team’s second ever NBA championship. But the reality is, the Bucks remain in a tiny market and are paying Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antentokounmpo major money. Further attention was given to the fact Tucker went to the rival Heat, but that was pretty much out of Milwaukee’s control.
They responded well, adding another potential shot creator, something that was lacking at times last year in Rodney Hood. Semi Ojeleye could be an interesting flier, while the acquisition of Grayson Allen was one of the more under-the-radar moves of the entire offseason. The Bucks could’ve kept Tucker ideally, but under the circumstances, they did quite well.
The NBA’s losing-est franchise over the last 20 years is still stuck in-and-out of the lottery. It is only a matter of time before Karl Anthony-Towns gives up and asks for a move elsewhere, even after the trade for fringe all-star D’Angelo Russell. They’ve simply made little to no progress on the court year after year, and this offseason looks like it was no different.
Trading Ricky Rubio for a second rounder is helpful at least, but this was another offseason in which Minnesota failed to make any kind of significant change to a roster saddled with several large contracts and absolutely nothing to show for it in the standings.
New Orleans Pelicans
There’s a reason the Pelicans aren’t a very popular team around the league. This offseason was an utter debacle for a team clearly just making up a plan as they go along. For reasons few will ever comprehend, they decided they were good without Lonzo Ball, and moved him to the Bulls for Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. Both of hem are at best veteran stopgaps on their last legs, which no one should be bringing in for a player as talented as Ball.
They then panicked and shipped out a protected first for Devonte’ Graham who will sorely hurt the team’s chances of competing this year. Add in a trade for Jonas Valanciunas and the roster is full of two big talents, and then a bizarre cast of misfits that looks like it was thrown together at the last minute.
New York Knicks
New York had some real New York moments this offseason, specifically in theIr major contract handed out to Evan Fournier. They also gave three-year deals to Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and Alec Burks. But they lost arguably their best free agent, Reggie Bullock to the Mavericks. Choosing Burks over Bullock makes little to no sense, but the Knicks did somewhat recover in their addition of Kemba Walker, who gives them some of the scoring they just lacked in last year’s playoffs.
While all these multi-year deals seem silly for a free agent destination, the reality in the NBA is that cap space is grossly overrated. The Bulls added Lonzo Ball, Demar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso in one summer without a penny in cap space. The Knicks can play the sign-and-trade game as well, and with some young assets and future picks, they’re well equipped to play it well.
Oklahoma City Thunder
People are right to wonder about the Thunder’s eventual plans for using their infinite chest of draft picks to their advantage. They continued to add to their collection with a draft day trade from Houston, and by taking in Derrick Favors and Kemba Walker in salary dump trades. They did make it clear they were going to keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander long term.
Eventually however, Oklahoma City needs to start putting their foot on the throttle. Enough time has passed without good enough luck in the lottery, and it’s time for them to make a push forward. They have more than enough assets to do it, and letting another year go by without bringing in some more proven talent is a miss.
No team embodies the hamster wheel better than the Orlando Magic. Season after season, the Magic are stuck well outside the playoff picture, saddled with major deals to fringe all-stars and starters. But, finally, Orlando has hit the reset button by selling off Nikola Vucevic to Chicago and Aaron Gordon to Denver.
They were smart to let Evan Fournier depart as well. Through their drafts, Orlando has amassed a young group featuring Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton, and Wendell Carter Jr. With new coach Jamahl Mosley injecting some new energy into the operation, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for Orlando.
Daryl Morey continues to prove himself to be one of the most overrated and underachieving skippers in all of basketball. He bizarrely set the asking price for Ben Simmons into James Harden-level territory, and inexplicably brought in Andre Drummond to back up Joel Embiid. Ok?
He then brought in Georges Niang for no apparent reason other than he was available. The Sixers are being led by someone who plunged the Houston Rockets into irrelevance, jumped ship just as it sank, and is now throwing roster spots at ineffective players who don’t solve the Ben Simmons crisis.
Most assumed Cameron Payne was a goner in free agency. He played great throughout an entire postseason, giving him exposure in game after game on national television. But surprisingly, he turned around and re-signed with Phoenix for just six million a season. That, combined with the retention of Chris Paul should keep Phoenix’s door open.
They also shrewdly added Landry Shamet, surrendering only Jevon Carter and a late first in the process. Phoenix did lose Torrey Craig to Indiana, but for a smaller market fresh off a finals appearance, losing just one role player and adding another is a win. Adding JaVale McGee will give the Suns another big body when they inevitably clash with the Lakers again in the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers
Much was made of the Damian Lillard situation this offseason, even though it never appeared as though any sort of deal was close to happening. Similarly to Dallas, there was some expectation that Portland would try to make something of the splashier variety happen. Cody Zeller is about the furthest thing from splashy.
But to be fair to Portland, there wasn’t exactly a clear way to go about making that happen. If they are really intent on making a move for Ben Simmons, waiting for his exorbitant price tag to come down was easily the right decision. With Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s contract, there just wasn’t a clear way to get substantially better in one swoop. Chauncey Billups also deserves a chance to prove himself as head coach.
A grade for the Kings this offseason might as well be incomplete. They have multiple players that have been essentially publicly dangled in trade talks, so it is still hard to grasp the full picture right now in Sacramento. They did smartly bring back Richaun Holmes over four years, keeping intact a core that could legitimately cause some problems out west.
For Sacramento, it might just be time to finally pull the trigger on a trade involving either Harrison Barnes or Buddy Hield, or both. De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Holmes look like a serious core to build around, but further assets around them are going to be needed in a small market.
San Antonio Spurs
It’s officially time to be concerned about the San Antonio Spurs. This was a critical summer for them to begin to choose a new path after again missing the playoffs. They were correct to let Demar DeRozan seek huge money elsewhere, but the way they responded from there was remarkably disappointing.
San Antonio inexplicably invested major money in two shooters, Doug McDermott and Bryn Forbes. In the case of Mcdermott, they gave him $14 million per season. Surely the Spurs know they have the best player development staff in basketball led by shooting extraordinaire Chip Engelland, right? To top it off, they threw $22 million at Zach Collins, who answers the question “What would happen if the word ‘shrug’ became a basketball player”?
The Raptors’ championship campaign sure seems like a long time ago. They have lost nearly every major contributor since that run, and do not seem all that imposing going forward with just Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet left. Scottie Barnes is extremely raw, meaning Toronto is going to have to give themselves plenty of tarmac to work with in the meantime.
Bringing in Goran Dragic gives them an expiring contract to play with in the future, but the main focus for Toronto this season is going to be to continue to develop the Chris Bouchets and Malachi Flynn’s of the team. Masai Ujiri has proven to be as good as it gets finding quick solutions to improve a roster, but it looks as though the Raptors were content to start over this year.
Utah’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Clippers further called into question the legitimacy of the core they currently boast. But without a clear way out of any of their bigger contracts, the Jazz did well for themselves under the circumstances. Nabbing Rudy Gay gives them the stretch four Georges Niang was always pretending to be, and Hassan Whiteside will at least help them continue to rebound efficiently.
Utah did have to part with a draft pick merely to move off of Derrick Favors, a price they should never have trapped themselves into having to pay one day in the first place. Giving him the entire mid-level a year ago was an awful mistake at the time and only got worse the less and less effective he was throughout the playoffs. Managing to bring Mike Conley back was necessary, but that number could get ugly a few years down the road.
One got the sense this was the last chance for the Wizards to begin building something big around Bradley Beal. Somehow, they managed to move off Russell Westbrook and turn him into two quality rotation players, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. They then nailed down a sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie on top of it.
The Wizards now have a good group of players around their star, a statement they just couldn’t make with Westbrook alone. They have a long way to go to make themselves players in the eastern conference, but they had as good an offseason as any team in basketball.
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