Too-early NBA offseason grades: L.A. Clippers headline West's high marks

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?

First up: The Western Conference.

[Too-early NBA offseason grades: Eastern Conference]

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Los Angeles Clippers

In: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Mo Harkless, Mfiondu Kabengele

Out: Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple

Grade: A+

The Clippers entered free agency with the flexibility to create two maximum salary cap slots and left with a pair of superstars. How they got from start to finish — the Finals MVP pushing them to acquire a second star before he committed, and that star being Paul Freaking George — wasn’t so straightforward, but the front office of Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger created a clearcut title favorite.

Combining a pair of the NBA’s best two-way wings with one of the league’s deepest rosters — one that pushed the healthy Golden State Warriors to six games without a star, and now has two — is a recipe for contention for the duration of Leonard’s deal. For a franchise that has lived in the L.A. shadow of the Lakers, that is well worth the risk of mortgaging your draft future from 2022-26 and the possibility that Leonard’s quad and George’s shoulders don’t survive the full four-year window.

Utah Jazz

In: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay

Out: Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Derrick Favors, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen

Grade: A

The Jazz supercharged their starting lineup, pairing Conley with Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt and Bogdanovic with Joe Ingles on the wing, all in front of two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. It is a team weaponized for any battlefront, offensively and defensively, so long as Mitchell finds some consistency and general manager Dennis Lindsey’s efforts to fill the depth chart pays dividends.

Davis is a smart and likable replacement for Favors, Mudiay is decent ball-handling insurance for Exum, and Jeff Green is Jeff Green. The questions are whether they, along with Royce O’Neale, can fill the gaps necessary to provide enough shooting and defensive help to keep the engine running when that starting lineup isn’t fully operational, or whether Lindsey can sell the buyout market on a contender in Utah.

Zion Williamson is the most hyped draft pick since LeBron James. (Getty Images)
Zion Williamson is the most hyped draft pick since LeBron James. (Getty Images)

New Orleans Pelicans

In: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, Jaxson Hayes, Nicolo Melli

Out: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Ian Clark, Tim Frazier

Grade: A

The Pelicans lost Davis, a 26-year-old who has been among the NBA’s handful of best players for years now. We knew this was coming in February. The task at hand was maximizing the return for him, and new head of basketball operations David Griffin did so with a deftness that was absent throughout Davis’ seven-year tenure.

In one summer, Griffin rebuilt a franchise, lucking into another franchise-altering No. 1 overall pick, trading for two of the more hyped recent No. 2 overall picks, and filling out the roster with a combination of veterans who understand their roles in mentoring a star-studded young core and prospects who can grow along with it.

I don’t know if this is a playoff team right away, given the gauntlet in the Western Conference, but Griffin laid the groundwork for a competitor in the coming years, when he has countless draft picks with which to continue building around Zion.

Los Angeles Lakers

In: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley

Out: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Reggie Bullock, Josh Hart, Mike Muscala, Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga

Grade: A-

Pairing Davis with LeBron James gets you on the honor roll, regardless of any other roster-building maneuvers. The Lakers also swung and missed on every max free agent on the market, ending with Leonard, who instead moved across the Staples Center hall to a younger and deeper team. They were then left to piece together a roster around Davis and James, and there are worse NBA starting points, even if James is 34 years old and Davis has yet to prove he can carry a contender alone.

There are real concerns about everyone GM Rob Pelinka ultimately spent his $32 million in cap space on: Cousins is coming off two serious tendon tears; Green is 32 years old, and his shot escapes him for long stretches; Bradley has been in steady decline since leaving the Boston Celtics in 2017; Cook and Daniels are among the NBA’s worst defenders, according to advanced statistics; and Dudley may be little more than a locker-room alchemist at this point. There is still much work to be done, and Pelinka may be tamper— er, tinkering with this roster all year.

Memphis Grizzlies

In: Ja Morant, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke, Josh Jackson, Grayson Allen, Solomon Hill, Miles Plumlee

Out: Mike Conley, Delon Wright, Avery Bradley, Chandler Parsons, C.J. Miles

Grade: B-

The Grizzlies began their rebuild when they traded Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors in February for Jonas Valanciunas, Wright, Miles and a future second-round pick. It was only a matter of time before Conley was next, and that shoe dropped just before the draft, when Memphis dealt him to the Utah Jazz for Allen, Crowder, a protected 2020 first-rounder and assets they turned into Clarke and Jackson.

Memphis made a whole lot more moves — absorbing Iguodala’s contract (which will likely be moved again), swapping Miles for Dwight Howard (who will be waived), sign-and-trading Wright, waiving Bradley and sending Parsons out for Hill and Plumlee — all of which did little beyond ensure they will be really bad this season, when their own first-round pick is protected 1-6 in a prior trade with the Celtics.

As a result, the Grizzlies added a protected first-round pick from the Warriors and two second-round picks from the Mavericks, with which to build around Morant — the dynamic point guard who they drafted second overall as a Conley replacement. The Grizz entered into this process willingly, and they emerged with a handful of young players who might eventually mark the dawning of a new era in Memphis.

Dallas Mavericks

In: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic

Out: Dirk Nowitzki, Trey Burke

Grade: C+

I am not fully prepared to live in a world where Boban Marjanovic might be an upgrade over a retiring Dirk Nowitzki. But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to team-building for the Mavericks. Dallas once again entered free agency with significant cap space and once again whiffed on the best available players.

They did retain the rehabbing Kristaps Porzingis on a five-year max deal, and his integration into a team led by 20-year-old Luka Doncic should — should — make them a destination in the years to come. For now, they are not, and that is OK in a season marked for development of two of the best European players in basketball history, neither of whom is named Boban. There is hope beyond Nowitzki yet.

Instead, the Mavs acquired Curry and Wright, giving coach Rick Carlisle a pair of ball-handlers capable of playing alongside Doncic or behind him. They also retained Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith, who can fill in the forward spots around Porzingis in big and small lineups. More importantly, they signed all of them for short money, maintaining salary cap and trade flexibility for whenever the evolution of Porzingis and Doncic leaves Dallas one player away from contention.

Denver Nuggets

In: Jerami Grant, Bol Bol

Out: Trey Lyles, Isaiah Thomas

Grade: C+

Denver’s moves this summer were made to ensure the roster that pushed Portland to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals stayed together. They gave Jamal Murray a max extension and picked up Paul Millsap’s $30 million option. The expectation is that Murray and fellow franchise cornerstone Nikola Jokic continue their march to stardom as they enter their mid-20s. Only things do not always go according to plan, especially when inconsistent score-first guards are involved.

For this season, at least, it was worth choking up on the bat and ensuring they kept the ball in play with what few swings they did make. Nuggets show-runner Tim Connelly essentially let Lyles walk in favor adding Grant, one more versatile wing to work into the mix of Gary Harris, Will Barton, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig.

The Nuggets will take the same approach with Bol Bol as they did with Michael Porter Jr., redshirting a once-coveted high school phenom with the goal in mind to restore his health along with the skill set that once made him a blue-chip prospect.

Sacramento Kings

In: Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon, Richaun Holmes, Cory Joseph, Kyle Guy

Out: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer

Grade: C+

We may never get a satisfactory answer for how the Kings spent $40 million for 29-year-old Dedmon and let 25-year-old Cauley-Stein walk for the minimum. It is the sort of head-scratching move that has plagued Sacramento for decades now, but an encouraging sign for the Kings faithful is that the puzzling decisions ended there.

The signings of Dedmon and Ariza may well be enough to get them the few more wins they needed last year to reach the playoffs. Joseph and Holmes are also capable players who will not rock a boat captained by young stewards De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley and the recently re-signed Harrison Barnes.

These are all malleable pieces, both for coach Luke Walton on the court and Vlade Divac in the trade market. The Kings did not make any crippling decisions for a second straight summer, and that is a welcome sign of progress in Sacramento.

Minnesota Timberwolves

In: Jarrett Culver, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell

Out: Taj Gibson, Dario Saric, Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver

Grade: C

Minnesota’s biggest offseason move may have been the hiring of Gersson Rosas as president of basketball operations. He is one of the architects behind the Houston Rockets’ success over the past decade, and his first summer on the job was marked by a free-agency miss on D’Angelo Russell, who chose a sign-and-trade to the Golden State Warriors over a seemingly better fit with the Timberwolves.

Still, the Wolves did not walk away with nothing this summer. They convinced the Phoenix Suns to take the No. 11 pick and Saric for Culver, the NCAA tournament star whose skill on the wing is hopefully everything Andrew Wiggins has not been.

None of their other moves move the needle, and Russell would have been a wonderful addition to a team building around 20-year-old Culver and somehow still only 23-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns. This still feels like an incomplete roster, and Russell — D’Angelo or Westbrook — may be available to fill the point guard hole.

Portland Trail Blazers

In: Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, Mario Hezonja, Nassir Little

Out: Enes Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Jake Layman

Grade: C

Blazers GM Neil Olshey was busy, and it is unclear whether any of his many moves made them markedly better. Portland found its ceiling with Aminu, Harkless, Turner, Leonard and Layman filling roles around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Even if Jusuf Nurkic had not broken his leg in March, the Blazers were not emerging from the Western Conference finals. As it were, they barely survived the second round.

As it is, Whiteside, Bazemore, Tolliver and Hezonja may not represent upgrades over the corresponding rotational players they are replacing, and they do little to improve the perimeter shooting around a dynamic backcourt. Portland did commit to paying Lillard $50 million in 2023-24, which means Olshey will continue picking through the salary cap pieces in hopes of finding the right ones to finish the puzzle.

It seems more likely that the Blazers will take the next step toward contention if promising homegrown prospects Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons and now Nassir Little make the leap necessary to surround Lillard and McCollum with a third star.

San Antonio Spurs

In: Marcus Morris (maybe), DeMarre Carroll, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson

Out: Davis Bertans

Grade: C

The Spurs are doing what the Spurs do. After building Bertans into a floor-spacing monster, they got rid of one relatively unknown European big in favor of another — 19-year-old Luka Samanic, for whom patience is already being preached. They then doubled down on jump-shooting, trying to add Morris to a group that already includes mid-range craftsmen LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay.

Although:

As with other lower-rung playoff teams in the West, they are banking on the development of the existing roster more so than new additions. Dejounte Murray will be back, hopefully at the breakout level the Spurs expected him to reach before his ACL injury last preseason, and he is penciled in the backcourt alongside Derrick White, hopefully at the breakout level we saw him reach in a first-round playoff exit.

None of this is worth getting overly excited about, and that is the true mark of a Gregg Popovich team. They will play hard, and on most nights that will be enough in the regular season. Whether it means anything more than a 23rd straight playoff appearance depends more on who steps up rather than who just stepped in.

Houston Rockets

In: Deyonta Davis

Out: Nene

Grade: D+

Here’s what I said about Houston before the Russell Westbrook trade ...

Rockets GM Daryl Morey is running it back with a roster whose chemistry after last season was reportedly deemed “unsalvageable,” at least for now. They re-signed Austin Rivers, Danuel House and Gerald Green. The biggest roster shakeup was grabbing Deyonta Davis off waivers and not picking up 36-year-old Nene’s option.

By standing pat, the Rockets are as much contenders this year as they were the last two seasons with James Harden and Chris Paul throwing lobs to Clint Capela.

This is more than passable, but the failures through the start of free agency include putting every member of the team on the trading blockespecially Capelawhiffing again where the Miami Heat succeeded in acquiring Jimmy Butler, and turning their focus to the “long-shot” possibility of trading for Russell Westbrook. These are all signs that Morey is not satisfied with his roster, and yet it remains unchanged.

And here’s how I feel about Houston after the swap of Paul for Westbrook ...

I don’t know, to be honest. It is as bizarre a pairing as I can remember. Both Harden and Westbrook are best with the ball — the former carefully breaking his man down with remarkable efficiency, and the latter relentlessly attacking opponents with remarkable inefficiency. It is easier to imagine Harden playing off of Westbrook than the other way around, and it will be interesting to see how Harden responds if (when?) his usage rate declines and his space gets crunched. (Paul shot 43.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season to Westbrook’s 31.9 percent.)

Yet, Westbrook tries to rip your throat out every night and succeeds on most, and he has not been surrounded by this much talent since last he came within a Klay Thompson barrage of his second NBA Finals. The Rockets still have Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker on the wings, with two of the best passers in the game tossing lobs to Capela. There is at least a chance that Harden’s longstanding relationship with Westbrook brings out the best in both, which means they are contenders again.

There is also the chance that the Rockets just downgraded from Paul to Westbrook in terms of fit, committing four future first-round picks and $47 million to do so.

Golden State Warriors

In: D’Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Poole

Out: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell

Grade: D

The death lineup is dead. Durant left via sign-and-trade. Resulting salary cap constraints also cost them Iguodala and two first-round picks. D’Angelo Russell was the consolation prize, so Stephen Curry has another All-Star to play with until Klay Thompson returns from ACL surgery and Golden State rethinks the fit of its three-guard lineup. It is not nothing, but it is a long way from “light-years ahead.”

Up against a hard cap, the Warriors did well to retain Kevon Looney and sign Willie Cauley-Stein in free agency for a combined $6.4 million this season, which is better value at the center position than DeMarcus Cousins was for the bargain basement price of $5.3 million last season. The ceiling is much lower, of course, and that is the point here. When faced with Durant’s departure, the Warriors did the best good to salvage a passing grade, but losing a generational talent is no less of a failure.

Phoenix Suns

In: Ricky Rubio, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky

Out: Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Richaun Holmes, Troy Daniels, De’Anthony Melton

Grade: F

The Suns are stumbling through the offseason with no clear direction. In one of the strangest moves of the summer, the Suns sold Warren — one of their more useful players last year — and the No. 32 pick for cash considerations on draft night. New Suns shot-caller James Jones supposedly wanted to clear cap space for July.

In the draft, Jones traded out of the sixth spot for the rights to pay Saric in free agency next summer and select Cam Johnson well before any prognosticators figured he would go. Jones also acquired Jerome in exchange for a future first-round pick, absorbing Baynes into some of that new cap space in the process.

In free agency, they needed a point guard and signed Rubio, whose playmaking and defense fit with Devin Booker, but whose shortcomings may not be worth the $51 million he will get for the next three years. Their other big signing was giving Kaminsky $10 million when the Charlotte Hornets refused to pay him $4.4 million.

They capped off the first week of free agency by dumping Jackson — who they drafted fourth overall in 2017 — and a pair of second-round picks in a deal for Kyle Korver (who will be waived) and G League defensive specialist Jevon Carter. It is unclear if any of the Suns’ deals made them better than they would have been by standing pat, and it only cost them a recent lottery pick and four future picks.

Russell Westbrook may be the next superstar on the move this summer. (Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook may be the next superstar on the move this summer. (Getty Images)

Oklahoma City Thunder

In: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Mike Muscala

Out: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Markieff Morris, Raymond Felton

Grade: Incomplete

Here’s what I said about Oklahoma City before the Westbrook trade ...

On one hand, everything Thunder GM Sam Presti built since they were the Seattle SuperSonics is crumbling around him. He traded James Harden for a package that has left Oklahoma City with only Steven Adams. Kevin Durant left for nothing in return. Serge Ibaka begot Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis begot Paul George begot Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander. And Russell Westbrook may be next.

On the other, trading George also returned a draft-pick haul unlike anything we have ever seen: five first-rounders, four of which are unprotected, and two swaps. Another blockbuster trade could add even more picks to the pool. None of that may ever turn into a Durant, Westbrook, Harden or George, let alone any combination of them, but at least Presti is left with a blueprint for how to restore the wreckage.

And here’s how I feel about OKC after the swap of Westbrook for Paul ...

The conclusion is the same, and the blueprint is clearer. Westbrook was next. The return Presti has gotten thus far from finally giving in to an inevitable rebuild: seven first-round picks, including four unprotected and two top-four protected, plus four swaps between 2020 and 2026. They also saved $47 million and hastened their path to cap space. And now Paul may be next, possibly to Miami for more assets.

[Too-early NBA offseason grades: Eastern Conference]

– – – – – – –

Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

More from Yahoo Sports:

What to Read Next