There are still more than three weeks left in July and three months before the start of the NBA season, but all the draft is over and free agency is winding down, so what better time to unveil our too-early offseason grades for the league’s 30 teams?
[Too-early NBA offseason grades: Western Conference]
Next up: The Eastern Conference.
In: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton
Out: D’Angelo Russell, Jared Dudley, Treveon Graham, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier
Like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets outmaneuvered a crosstown rival to land two of the NBA’s top players, notching another win for top-to-bottom organizational culture-setting — and the value of owning a franchise in either L.A. or New York.
The absence of an A-plus here is rooted in questions that will follow Durant and Irving through at least 2020-21 — and probably for the duration of their contracts: Will past issues and insecurities follow them to Brooklyn? How will expectations that come with signing Irving and Durant alter the chemistry of a team used to operating in obscurity? How close will KD look to pre-Achilles injury KD when he returns at age 32? And can Kyrie’s patience and left knee hold up in the meantime?
Brooklyn will essentially have a two-year title window between Durant’s presumed return and the player options for KD and Kyrie in 2022. The Nets already had a solid foundation of young talent, and general manager Sean Marks did well to surround them with veterans who should understand their roles — even if paying Jordan $40 million with Jarrett Allen already on the roster could be a source for tension. It will be fascinating to see how Irving goes about commanding this roster in Year 1.
In: De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, Bruno Fernando
Out: Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, Taurean Prince, Vince Carter, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee
The Hawks are by no means contenders, but at least they have a plan for how to get there, even if it ultimately falls short. They targeted Hunter and Reddish, two of the most talented forwards in the draft, to fit seamlessly into a promising young core of point guard Trae Young, two-guard Kevin Huerter and big man John Collins.
Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk consolidated his team’s expiring contracts into three players — Parsons, Turner and Crabbe — who will make a combined $62.2 million this season, picking up one of the pieces he used to get Hunter and a 2020 first-round pick from Brooklyn in the process. That puts Atlanta in the trade market for anyone this year or the next, when they will have a ton of cap space.
It all just makes sense, right down to taking a short-money flyer on Parker, the former No. 2 pick who is now two years removed from his second ACL surgery.
In: Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro, K.Z. Okpala
Out: Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder
Heat president Pat Riley entered free agency with no salary cap space to speak of and walked out with one of the top free agents on the market. That is honor-roll worthy stuff on its own, and he may not be done, as Miami is reportedly among those interested in Russell Westbrook. This was practically unimaginable when they entered last season with Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters slated to be on the 2019-20 books for a combined $83.6 million.
Miami had already moved Tyler Johnson at the trade deadline for the recently waived Ryan Anderson, whose $15.6 million salary will now be stretched over the next three seasons. The mercurial Whiteside is now gone, too, replaced by Leonard, who will be a refreshing presence in the locker room and on the court, where he can space the floor for Butler, Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic to work.
Adding Butler and dumping Whiteside cost the Heat a protected 2023 first-round pick when they rerouted salary to the Clippers, but Riley picked up the early second-round pick that delivered Okpala along with Herro, the No. 13 overall pick this year. That gives coach Erik Spoelstra a couple more wings with two-way potential to work into his gritty system, so long as Butler doesn’t break them first.
In: Coby White, Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet
Out: Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
The Bulls did nothing flashy this summer, and that was the smart play for a team with no chance to contend in the short-term. Instead, they quietly upgraded both their backcourt and frontcourt, which is a win when the front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman had spent previous rebuilds throwing fat contracts at stopgaps.
Their free-agent additions are all among the more underrated available players at their positions and salary slots. Satoransky brings size and stability as a ball-handler, Young toughness and versatility as a swingman, and Kornet shooting and shot-blocking as a big. Combined, they will cost less than Otto Porter this season.
Then, there is White, a beloved teammate at the University of North Carolina who can push the pace for Chicago’s young core of Porter, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen. That group may be defensively challenged, but at least there is some semblance of a real NBA roster that can stay competitive most nights.
In: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto
Out: Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, T.J. McConnell, Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe
Make no mistake: A starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid is a defensive monster stretching some 34 feet.
The Sixers did well to salvage Richardson in a sign-and-trade from Butler’s exit, and adding Horford serves them threefold — making the Boston Celtics worse, removing one of Embiid’s most difficult matchups from consideration, and adding an All-Star glue guy who does everything well and asks for little in return (save for a contract that will pay him $29 million in the final year of his new deal at age 36.) Coach Brett Brown can also stagger Embiid and Horford, saving the former’s legs.
All that said, the Sixers lost Butler, whose closing ability transformed them from pretender in 2017-18 to serious contender last season. The loss of Redick is no small shakes, either, as his shooting ability opened the floor for Simmons and served as another late-game weapon in an offense that lacked them in crunch time. Richardson represents a significant upgrade defensively, and he can shoot, but not in the never-lose-sight-of-this-guy way that Redick strained opposing defenses.
None of their draft or free-agency additions do much to solve the depth problem on a team that expects to be in title contention this season. This all puts a massive onus on backup point guard Zhaire Smith, because McConnell’s departure makes worse their most pressing issue: Who runs the offense when Simmons cannot? I am fully prepared to eat crow when Simmons makes his full transformation into a juggernaut and this Sixers roster clicks just right, but for now I have my concerns.
In: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr.
Out: David Nwaba, Marquese Chriss, Nik Stauskas
The Cavs sat out free agency, which is a reflection of the wreckage that LeBron James left behind. They had no cap space and no chance to remain competitive.
That said, they swung big with their own lottery pick and a late first-round selection they nabbed for spare parts on draft night. Garland and Porter were two of the highest-upside guards on the board. They come with risks, injury and otherwise, and are an odd fit with last year’s lottery pick, point guard Collin Sexton. But when you are an NBA franchise in Cleveland, you take every crack you can at your next superstar, and you sort out the mess later. LeBron at least left them with that.
Besides, Cleveland GM Koby Altman had already picked up another first-round pick in exchange for carrying Chriss, Stauskas and Brandon Knight’s contracts at the trade deadline. The Cavs used that one, which was slotted 26th, on Windler, who might make up in 3-and-D consistency what he lacks in name recognition.
In: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya, Tim Frazier
Out: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III, Zaza Pachulia, Jon Leuer
Building is no easier in Detroit than it is in Cleveland. The Pistons paid Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson a combined $79.4 million to get swept in the first round. They will pay them even more this year, hoping Griffin can stay healthy into the playoffs and that a few roster tweaks will make them more dangerous in a watered-down Eastern Conference. Granted, it requires a suspension of disbelief.
But what is the Pistons brass supposed to do? Forfeit the season before it starts? So, they went to work with their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, landing Rose and Morris — a pair of high-risk, high-reward veterans with playoff experience. They turned Jon Leuer into Snell’s sharpshooting and four future second-round picks. And they drafted Doumbouya with their own first-rounder, gambling on the untapped potential of an 18-year-old French forward who can learn under Griffin.
They made themselves marginally better without doing further damage to their future, and that is all you can ask for from a team trying to dig out from the middle.
New York Knicks
In: R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris (maybe), Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton
Out: Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, DeAndre Jordan, Noah Vonleh, Lance Thomas, Luke Kornet
I thought about giving the Knicks a failing grade, but that would be weighted solely against the ridiculous expectations that owner James Dolan set for his organization. He let Manhattan believe that their team had a chance at Durant and Irving, when in fact they had no such thing, so let us set aside an F-minus-minus for false hope.
When it comes to the actual business of creating a basketball team, the Knicks brass did not cripple the franchise in the face of failing to secure a serious meeting with any of the top-flight free agents. That is a tiny step in the right direction, even if it came after the team traded Kristaps Porzingis for cap space and it marks the latest sad annual reminder that this mess cannot be cleaned in one summer.
The Knicks are better today than they were a month ago. R.J. Barrett is a potential franchise-altering draft selection, and each of their free-agency signings is relatively short on salary and years. Gathering almost every mid-tier power forward was a head-scratching decision, but the Knicks are trying to set a culture before they give it another shot in 2021 free agency. Here we go getting everyone’s hopes up again.
In: Davis Bertans, C.J. Miles, Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Rui Hachimura, Mo Wagner, Admiral Schofield
Out: Tomas Satoransky, Trevor Ariza, Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green
The Wizards reshuffle the deck around John Wall and Bradley Beal every year, and this time they are doing so with Wall nursing an Achilles injury that should keep him out all season. That afforded interim GM Tommy Sheppard (seriously, the Wizards went through the draft and start of free agency without a stable figurehead) the chance to make incremental changes as opposed to the usual temporary fixes.
Signing Thomas was reminiscent of reclamation projects past, but at the veteran minimum, the former All-NBA guard is worth the shot. Miles and Smith are also solid depth additions who will not break the bank. Sheppard then leveraged Washington as a landing spot for extraneous pieces in larger deals elsewhere around the league, nabbing Bertans from the San Antonio Spurs and Wagner from the Los Angeles Lakers — acquiring a potential frontcourt of the future for nothing.
The Wizards also drafted Hachimura, who at No. 9 overall might have been a stretch, and acquired the second-round rights to Schofield for cash, restocking the wings after losing every major contributor to last season’s abominable campaign. Beal cannot carry this roster to the playoffs, but in one offseason Sheppard made more malleable a roster that is still saddled with Wall for another four years.
In: Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Goga Bitadze
Out: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn, Cory Joseph
The Pacers made savvy moves. They stole Brogdon from the Milwaukee Bucks in restricted free agency. The trade for Warren, which again cost them only cash considerations, was practically robbery. Lamb was one of the more underrated free agents and came at a reasonable price. McConnell is an inexpensive stopgap after Collison’s sudden retirement and until Victor Oladipo returns to the backcourt. And Bitadze is a promising big-man prospect who may allow the Pacers to part with either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis in exchange for some help on the wing.
The Pacers also saw the core of their team rocked by free-agency departures. Bogdanovic was their best player in Oladipo’s injury absence last season, and Young was the backbone of one of the more hard-nosed teams in the league. They also lost Matthews to the Bucks, Joseph to the Kings, O’Quinn to the 76ers and Evans to the anti-drug program, none of which is entirely inconsequential.
It feels like the Pacers salvaged what could have been a devastating offseason and will settle into something that resembles the plucky team that made life difficult for the showier East contenders the last couple years, so long as Oladipo returns to form. Maybe that is enough for a small-market team that refuses to bottom out.
In: Al-Farouq Aminu, Chuma Okeke
Out: Timofey Mozgov
Much of Orlando’s offseason was spent ensuring the core that earned a No. 7 seed and won the franchise’s first playoff game in eight years stayed together. Magic GM John Hammond re-signed Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross for a combined $154 million, which is quite a bet that they will continue building off career contract years.
The Magic also signed Aminu away from the Portland Trail Blazers for $29 million. This all seems like a lot for a team that is trying to develop young bigs Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, and has Aaron Gordon signed to his own hefty contract. None of this solved their issue at point guard, where last season they started D.J. Augustin. Banking on Markelle Fultz to fill a backup role is yet another gamble.
They spent their first-round pick on Okeke, the Auburn wing who tore his ACL in the NCAA tournament. And they waived Timofey Mozgov, whose expiring contract may have helped in a trade for ball-handling help. This was an awful lot of maneuvering to end up right back in the same place, but that’s where the Magic find themselves.
In: Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Out: Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell
The Bucks signed the brothers of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, which they should hope takes some of the sting off losing Brogdon, at least emotionally. Basketball-wise, the restricted free agent was a big loss, as he was either Milwaukee’s second- or third-best player at times during a conference finals run. The decision came down to cost, and that is a tough pill to swallow for a team that is trying to maximize the reigning MVP’s prime before he enters 2021 free agency.
The Bucks did retain Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill for a combined $259 million, which is no small investment for a Midwest franchise, even if it is owned by billionaires who split the cost of a new arena with the city’s taxpayers. Kawhi Leonard’s exodus West ensures the Bucks will stay in the East elite, joining the 76ers as conference co-favorites this year, albeit in a slightly weakened state.
In: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Vincent Poirier
Out: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes
Walker was quite the save for losing Irving, and the former Charlotte Hornets point guard may well deliver the Celtics a better regular-season record. At the very least, he will lift a cloud in the locker room that Irving and Terry Rozier created. Signed to a four-year max contract, Walker probably will not be planning a future with Durant by February, although I guess we can never rule anything out in the modern NBA.
Horford is the bigger loss, because his versatility is not so easily replaced. That he left for the rival Sixers makes it tougher to swallow. Nothing the veteran Kanter, rookie Williams and European Poirier can do this year will fill the big-man void left by Horford. It is more likely they soften the blow of losing Morris and Baynes, too.
The Celtics will remain competitive, especially if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can make the leap we imagined for them last year, but the simple fact of the matter is that the ceiling for Boston fell from championship contender to East also-ran.
In: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson
Out: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green
The Raptors lost Leonard, arguably the best basketball player alive, and replaced him with Hollis-Jefferson, statistically one of the league’s least impactful players, at least as far as real plus-minus is concerned. The swap of Green for Johnson is the role-playing version of that same cliff dive. Devastating, as far as free agency is concerned, and their trade for Leonard left them without a first-round pick in June.
But the Raptors won the freaking NBA title. You cannot get a failing grade when they are sizing your finger for a ring. Not all hope is lost in Toronto, either. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and O.G Anunoby are the future, and Marc Gasol picked up his option to run it back with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka once more. Free agency was a loss, but it’s one you can swallow when “the Larry O’B” resides in your city.
In: Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington
Out: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky
Hornets owner Michael Jordan reportedly refused to pay Walker a max contract, much less the supermax, and then signed the inconsistent Rozier for $57 million over the next three years. Do not pass go. Do not collect the $3 million annual difference between what the Celtics and Hornets offered. You lose free agency.
Charlotte also lost Lamb for short money, which presents a debate about the new face of the franchise that includes Rozier, Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — an overpaid group that left Jordan without any salary cap space once again this season. Bad times.
On the bright side, maybe P.J. Washington won’t be the next Frank Kaminsky.
[Too-early NBA offseason grades: Western Conference]
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