Leading up to Bulls' preseason opener and beyond, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which team had the most impressive offseasons.
Mark Strotman: So we're not beginning our nine-day NBA primer with the most difficult discussion, but we'll delve deeper than the top of the class to go over the league's offseason winners. Still, it's not difficult to peg the Golden State Warriors at the top of the class. All Steve Kerr's group did a year ago was rewrite the NBA history books with an offensive onslaught, win 73 games in the regular season and tout the sport's first unanimous MVP. They had a near-perfect season before LeBron James became Optimus Prime and kept them from back-to-back titles.
So what did they do in July? They went and signed this generation's greatest scorer, Kevin Durant, to a max deal (not to mention they replaced Harrison Barnes with him). It's not as simple as plugging Durant and his numbers from a year ago into the Warriors' system, as there will clearly be some sacrificing in the form of touches and shot attempts (looking at you, Klay Thompson). But Kerr and his coaching staff will figure it all out and turn an already all-time great offense into an unimaginable force.
Past Durant, they swapped out Andrew Bogut with Zaza Pachulia. It's an upgrade in talent but I'm not sure it's an upgrade in fit. The Warriors needed to deal Bogut to make room for the Durant signing, and taking a hit at center was well worth it. Adding David West will help a second unit that lost Mo Buckets, and it adds another veteran presence who's chasing a ring a year after signing with the Spurs. I also loved their draft selection of UNLV shooting guard Patrick McCaw, a potential 3-and-D guy down the road who will get ample time to learn behind one of the league's best two-way players in Thompson.
OK, Vinnie. I took the softball toss and chose the Warriors as the offseason winner. Take the brunt on this one and give me a team whose offseason will propel them to a significant difference in 2016-17.
Vinnie Goodwill: Yes, you definitely took the easy road and I won’t disagree with you on the Warriors being most improved. Anytime you have the last three regular-season MVP’s on your roster, you win the offseason. Do they have questions, serious questions? Yes. No more Andrew Bogut is big. See the freeway down the lane in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals without him there, and he won’t easily be replaced.
But since the Warriors were taken, I’ll take an under the radar team that should challenge for a playoff spot this season, the Orlando Magic. For the last three years they’ve been slowly building with pieces and draft picks in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure and they’ve cashed a few in for some veterans to grow up and speed up the rebuild.
Serge Ibaka seemed like the odd man out in Oklahoma City and although his play has plateaued, he doesn’t seem like the type that will suffer a precipitous fall in the near future. Adding Bismack Biyombo means they’ll have a long, shot-blocking group on the backside of the defense that can cover baseline to baseline. Trading Victor Oladipo, as painful as it probably was, frees things up for Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja on the perimeter. Expecting Aaron Gordon to take another step in his development, while sliding to small forward, can be a slight concern but he’s got star potential.
More than anything, though, they got rid of the toxic presence known as Scott Skiles and replaced him with a real coach who has a history of developing young talent while not simultaneously spontaneously combusting in Frank Vogel, who was let go in Indiana. Vogel earned the trust of his young guys as they went through being have-nots to contenders until Paul George’s devastating injury before the 2014-15 season.
They have a good combination of youth, scoring and although it could take 30 games to mesh, I’m pretty confident the Magic will be a force in the East this season.
MS: I'm also interested to see what Vogel can do with Elfrid Payton. Skiles never seemed to fully give him the keys to the offense, and his minutes per game last season somehow went down from his rookie campaign. I see a bright future for Payton, and Vogel should help move that along.
I began the discussion with the Warriors, so naturally I'm going to shift gears and throw out the Sixers as another team that made significant strides. Wait, what? Seriously. The Process finally yielded a first overall pick, and they wisely used it on a player in Ben Simmons who I believe can be transcendent for the franchise. He's that talented. Forget concerns about his lack of a killer instinct or jumper. I'm not worried about his attitude. There's not another player like him in the league with a combination of interior moves, transition ability and passing acumen. I'm giddy to watch him.
But Philadelphia didn't stop with Simmons. Grabbing Timothe Luwawu (24th overall) and Furkan Korkmaz (26th) are both wings with plenty of upside; Luwawu showed flashes in Summer League. They'll also finally get to see what their 2014 draft class can do when a (fingers crossed) healthy Joel Embiid takes the floor for the first time. And Dario Saric, who went No. 10 that year, is finally coming over. In 24 Euroleague games last season he went 50/40/90 and was his team's second-leading scorer.
With so many youngsters in the fold it was great to see them (relatively) active in free agency by signing Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson. They also added Elton Brand, who should act more as a mentor for their trio of talented bigs in Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel -- while we're on that topic, they'll have to deal one of them at some point. Robert Covington is also one of the more underrated players in the East.
Brett Brown is the right man for the job, and while they're still a few years away from thinking playoffs you can finally see the pieces starting to come together. They've got their face of the franchise in Simmons, and if Embiid can get past his severe injury troubles the Sixers might also have a dominant big down the road.
The bar was set pretty low for the Sixers to improve on what they've done the last four years, but this was a massive offseason. If only Sam Hinkie were still around to see it through...
VG: Did you just say Philly? I might've forgotten the 76ers as the biggest offseason winners of all! Do we know if Ben Simmons will be the next LeBron James, or even the next Lamar Odom? No. Do we know if Joel Embiid will stay healthy enough to show what made him the object of affection before the draft a couple years ago? No.
But what we do know is the ill-fated "Process", no matter how it's framed by defenders (not pointing any fingers in your direction, Mr. Deerfield), was an abject embarrassment to the league and one of its flagship franchises. Getting rid of Sam Hinkie makes the 76ers a winner in every way that counts, before they even win a game. We won't see if his residue will trickle down to other teams that want to try a hand at this "tanking for years" strategy but the pain the 76ers have felt won't automatically turn around.
But they do have a plan, and it's something that revolves around being a respectable franchise compared to rigging the system in a way that felt Ponzi-esque. Just having mere competence is a step up, and some of the actual pieces can play so they'll start moving in the right direction.
Another offseason winner? The Minnesota Timberwolves. No, they didn't pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler (and good for the Bulls on resisting the less-than offers), but in getting Tom Thibodeau to coach and mold those young pieces could be considered a coup. And it's more about the maturity of the pieces than Thibs himself, as Karl-Anthony Towns is a top-25 player in his second season, Andrew Wiggins is getting closer to realizing his vast potential and Kris Dunn has Rookie of the Year written all over him.
Nobody's saying they'll make the postseason this time around, and the way things were done with Thibs at the helm of basketball operations doesn't leave the best of tastes, as it'll be an adjustment for a coach who craved having total control, actually getting total control.
The best part? The pieces are so young, there's no danger of the "Thibs miles" effect on Towns and Wiggins. What are "Thibs miles"? Think of city miles on your car, running over and hitting every pothole, every morning on the way to work and back home. Thibs miles don't affect young guys, right Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose?
Wait, can we start this over?