By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the calendar shifts toward September, another busy NBA offseason officially ends. While perhaps the biggest shake-up of the summer brought a former Finals MVP to the Eastern Conference, the West — which now features the last 10 MVP award winners (yes, we’re counting Derrick Rose) — may be stronger than it’s ever been.
Distribution of talent aside, the offseason has become nearly as popular as the actual games themselves. The big names like LeBron, Kawhi, DeRozan and Cousins commanded much of the attention in July and August, but a number of other key players changed area codes over the summer.
Let’s recap the most impactful offseason transactions with an eye on how they’ll impact the fantasy basketball landscape.
LeBron James to L.A. Lakers
From a basketball standpoint, James leaving the Eastern Conference is a signal that, for the first time in more than a decade, his singular focus has shifted away from winning the NBA Finals. Of course, that’s not to suggest LeBron wouldn’t love to play into mid-June for the ninth straight year, but in joining the rebuilding Lakers on his own, LeBron has embraced a multi-year plan aimed toward constructing a sustainable winner. Coming off of arguably the most productive season of his career, it feels like James has to take a step back, almost by default. He’ll turn 34 in December, and while he’s shown few, if any, signs of diminished skills or athleticism, the challenges he’ll face in Los Angeles are unlike anything he’s dealt with in Cleveland or Miami.
It’s also worth noting that the previous two times LeBron has switched teams, he’s struggled out of the gates, relative to his maybe-the-best-player-ever standards. The Heat obviously figured things out in time to make the Finals, but LeBron’s scoring dropped by three points per game in 2010-11, while his assists also waned. When he returned home in 2014-15, James missed a career-high 13 games and posted his lowest field goal percentage (48.8% FG) since 2007-08, a number that now looks noticeably out-of-place as the lone sub-50% outlier over a nine-year span.
With all that said, realistically — barring the first serious injury of his career — James will likely cruise to another top-10 fantasy season. But it’ll take time to adjust to a new coach and a new system, not to mention mesh with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the parade of misfits Rob Pelinka brought in on one-year deals this summer. James playing 82 games again should be out of the question. And it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be willing to cede some playmaking duties to Ball and Ingram, which could impact his assists production coming off of a year in which he averaged career-best 9.1 per game.
Kawhi Leonard to Toronto
Even with James on the move, the Leonard trade will go down as the defining story of the 2018 offseason. After playing in just nine games last season, Leonard has more to prove than just about anyone in the league, and he’ll attempt to do so in a new location and with the specter of unrestricted free agency looming.
It’s not as simple as simply plugging in Leonard for DeRozan, but in terms fantasy expectations, DeRozan’s production should give us a rough template of what to expect from Leonard, assuming, of course, that he’s fully healthy. Those injury concerns likely won’t subside until he plays a month or two and looks like the Leonard of old, but early ADP numbers indicate that owners shouldn’t bank on a discount.
DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio
The other half of the Kawhi deal brought DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, to San Antonio, where he’ll team up with LaMarcus Aldridge for what should be an improved Spurs team. DeRozan will face the same challenges as any player adjusting to a new location, but if there’s a coach and an organization who can minimize his weaknesses and maximize his strengths, it’s Gregg Popovich and San Antonio.
Much like when the Spurs lured Aldridge away from Portland in 2015, DeRozan arrives as a perennial-All-Star teetering on the border between star and superstar. While, at age 29, he may never truly make that leap, DeRozan likely won’t experience much of a drop-off in performance. The Spurs may be the team best-equipped to integrate DeRozan’s potent mid-range game, and the hope is that he’ll continue to extend his range after he more than doubled his per-game three-point attempts last season, compared to 2016-17.
Jabari Parker to Chicago
Save for a productive, 51-game sample in 2016-17 before a second torn ACL, Parker never quite found his footing in Milwaukee. The former No. 2 overall pick will get a fresh start in his hometown, but he still has plenty of questions to answer. Chief among those is whether he can stay healthy for an entire year, something he’s been able to do just once in four NBA seasons.
When healthy, Parker has proven he can be a 20-points-per-game scorer, but on a Bulls team that also features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and rookie lottery pick Wendell Carter, offensive possessions will be at a premium. Still, Parker is enough of a talent that even if he’s used as a sixth man, he should be able to provide decent points/rebounds value in standard leagues, with a smattering of three-point production (1.2 made threes per game over his last 82 games).
Carmelo Anthony to Houston
For the first time in his 15-year career, Anthony failed to top 20 points per game last season. The future-Hall-of-Famer never fully settled in alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and he’ll now face a similar adjustment process as he teams up with James Harden and Chris Paul. Whether Anthony recognizes it or not, at age 34 he’s entered the post-superstar phase of his career.
Anthony shot just 40.4 percent from the field last season, and he attempted only 2.5 free throws per game, by far a career-low. And while his three-point percentage (35.7%) was actually higher than his career mark, there were times when it felt like Anthony was just a glorified version of Anthony Tolliver. Anthony’s best days as a fantasy asset are behind him, but the good news is Houston is the ideal spot for him to maximize the areas in which he can still contribute: points, made threes, and, to a lesser degree, rebounds.
DeAndre Jordan to Dallas
With all due respect to Dirk Nowitzki and Salah Mejri, the Mavericks finally have a true center. Jordan should do wonders for the Mavs’ overall defensive scheme, but from a fantasy perspective he’s a bit of a question mark. Jordan is still one of the league’s premier volume rebounders, but his shot-blocking fell off considerably last season, as he failed to record at least one block per game for the first time since his second year in the league, when he averaged 16.2 minutes per game. Jordan’s field goal percentage also dipped from 71.4 percent in 2016-17 to 64.5 percent last season, marking the first time in six years that he failed to lead the league in that category.
Maybe a change of scenery will be all the 30-year-old needs to return to peak form. He should have a better supporting cast around him than the rag-tag group of guards the Clippers were forced to patch together last season. And it’s worth noting that Jordan has gradually improved as a passer, as well as at the free throw line, where he shot a career-best (by far) 58.0 percent last season.
Tyreke Evans to Indiana
Outside of Toronto, Indiana may be the most improved team in the East. Evans revived his career in Memphis last season and will essentially fill a juiced-up version of the role vacated by Lance Stephenson’s departure. Evans’ season-long fantasy value was hurt by missing 30 games, but he put together averages of 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds, while hitting nearly 40 percent of his career-high 5.5 three-point attempts per game. He’s unlikely to play enough minutes to replicate that production, but Evans is a significant upgrade over Stephenson and Cory Joseph as the Pacers’ third guard.
DeMarcus Cousins to Golden State
Projecting Cousins’ production coming off of a torn Achilles would have been difficult enough, but factoring in the move to Golden State makes the four-time All-Star one of the season’s biggest wild cards. While Cousins has been adamant about his desire to be back ahead of schedule, the Warriors have no reason not to be cautious, and Cousins, who will be seeking a lucrative, long-term deal next summer, should feel the same way.
With that in mind, Cousins should be approached with caution in most fantasy drafts. Even if he’s back before Christmas, he’ll settle into a much more limited role that’s unlikely to grow significantly as the season progresses. That’s not to say Cousins still can’t be a viable fantasy option — he’ll just be nowhere close to the 25/13/5 player he was a year ago.
Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel to Oklahoma City
The Thunder added much-needed backcourt depth in Schroder, who will go from full-time starter to likely sixth man. He’ll still be a key piece for a top-heavy team, but Schroder’s minutes will almost certainly decrease, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly. The 24-year-old should still provide enough scoring and assists — and perhaps some steals — to be viable in standard leagues, and the hope is that spending time alongside Russell Westbrook will equate to more catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond the arc, though he regressed from that distance (29% 3PT) last season.
Noel is more of a deep-league consideration at this point. His stock is about as low as it’s ever been, but he’ll be in position for backup center minutes, provided he stays in shape and buys in to Billy Donovan’s scheme. Noel has played only 148 games over the last three seasons, but he’s posted the fifth-best steal rate in the league over that span. If Steven Adams misses any time, Noel becomes an intriguing waiver option.
Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton to New Orleans
As great as DeMarcus Cousins was in New Orleans, the numbers say the Pelicans were a better, and certainly a more well-rounded, team after his injury. While Randle burns his fair share of possessions playing one-on-one, he’s a more efficient scorer than Cousins and appeared to turn a corner last season when he bested his previous career-high field goal percentage by seven points (55.8% FG). Randle isn’t going to offer much as a defender, but he’ll be a productive points/rebounds contributor who’s underrated as a passer (3.0 APG over last two seasons).
Payton will essentially fill the void left by Rajon Rondo’s departure. The former lottery pick is on his third team since the start of last season, but he projects to step into a major role for a team with one of the shakiest guard depth charts in the West. Don’t depend on Payton suddenly developing a reliable outside shot, but if the minutes are consistently there, he’ll be a viable assists/rebounds/steals contributor.
Dwight Howard to Washington
Washington probably held on to Marcin Gortat a year too long, and trading the veteran to the Clippers paved the way for Dwight Howard to continue his valorous quest toward playing for all 30 teams. It’s actually illegal in some states to write this, but Howard is coming off of a quietly productive season in Charlotte, where he started 81 games and averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. While his pledge to become a stretch-five proved to be a little too ambitious, Howard was more aggressive as a one-on-one scorer, attempting his most field goals and free throws per game since his first year in Houston as a 28-year-old.
As always, Howard’s value will be significantly lower in roto leagues that count free throw percentage. But in certain points formats, Howard has a strong case to be a top-30 overall player. Over the past two seasons, only Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Karl-Anthony Towns have grabbed more rebounds than Howard. And of those four, Howard has blocked the most shots in that span.
Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaughton to Milwaukee
Of the three, Lopez is the one to keep an eye on for fantasy purposes. He could end up unseating John Henson as the starting center, and his ability to hit the three should do wonders for the Bucks’ spacing issues. Ilyasova projects to play the same 3-and-D/energy rebounder role he has for most of his career, and Connaughton will add backcourt depth and more shooting.
Trevor Ariza to Phoenix
Ariza cashed in as an unrestricted free agent at a cost of moving from one of the best teams in the West to one of the worst. The 33-year-old has been one of the most reliable two-way wings in the league for the better part of the decade, but the volume three-point shooting fantasy owners have come to expect could begin to wane with Brandon Knight passing him the ball instead of James Harden and Chris Paul. Phoenix didn’t pay up for Ariza to sit the bench, but the Suns have some sorting out to do with their crowded wing rotation.
Marcin Gortat to L.A. Clippers
Brought in as DeAndre Jordan’s replacement, Gortat’s best days are in the rear-view, but he remains one of the league’s better per-minute rebounders. His workload dipped by nearly six minutes per game last season, and he’ll likely end up splitting time with Montrezl Harrell.
Austin Rivers to Washington
Coming off of the best season of his career, Rivers was dealt in the Gortat trade, and he’ll move back into a bench role after starting 59 of 61 games in L.A. last season. With a reduction in minutes all but inevitable, Rivers should be firmly in the wait-and-see zone in most fantasy leagues.
Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi to Memphis
On the heels of a disappointing season, Memphis beefed up a shallow wing rotation, adding both playmaking and shooting. How Anderson fares outside of the Spurs’ system is something to monitor, while Casspi will look to reassert himself as a productive rotation player after appearing in 89 games for four different teams over the last two seasons.
Jeremy Lin to Atlanta
Lin is among the most difficult players to project given his injury history and place on perhaps the NBA’s worst team. He’s played only 37 games over the last two years, but Atlanta is one of the few teams that can willingly hand Lin a decent-sized workload as he attempts to get back to being the player who averaged 11.8 points, 3.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 made three per game from 2014-16.
Isaiah Thomas to Denver
Thomas finishing as a top-five MVP candidate feels like a decade ago. His tours in Cleveland and Los Angeles didn’t go as planned, to say the least, and he’ll join the Nuggets on a minimum deal. Denver is counting on Thomas for productive minutes behind Jamal Murray, and if he’s healthy there’s a chance he could be a decent source of points and made threes.