NBA offseason report card: Teams that are lookin' good, ah-ite and lost
BOSTON -- No matter where your allegiance lies, the NBA has been treating fans like moths to a flame with all the non-stop movement, which this summer has involved some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars.
The most recent stud on the move is Russell Westbrook, who was traded from Oklahoma City to Houston for Chris Paul in an exchange of perennial All-Star guards. In most offseasons, the trading of two such prominent guards would be far and away the biggest story of the offseason. But this year, it might not even crack the top three.
Lots of teams are feeling great about themselves right now after engineering deals that on paper at least, look pretty good. But who's really lookin' good, lookin' ah-ite or lookin' lost this offseason?
Here’s NBC Sports Boston’s NBA Offseason Report Card centered around the teams that stand out — some for all the wrong reasons.
Los Angeles Clippers
Convincing Kawhi Leonard to leave Toronto after winning an NBA title would have been an impressive feat on the part of the Clippers. But them pairing him up with Paul George (a must if they were going to land Leonard) was a move that reconfigured the NBA landscape more so than any other move this offseason. Yes, they gave up a ton of future assets to the Oklahoma City Thunder to get George. But here’s what you have to understand. The calculus to compete for a title is a much, much shorter window — like two years — which is why this Kawhi-PG13 marriage has the Clippers well-positioned to win it all.
Los Angeles Lakers
Despite all the drama and the circus-like atmosphere that the Los Angeles Lakers can’t seem to stay clear of, give them credit for hauling in the biggest catch of them all this season: Anthony Davis. It goes without saying that he will provide LeBron James that much-needed second superstar that should be enough to propel the Lakers back into the postseason for the first time since 2013. But the additions of DeMarcus Cousins, ex-Celtic Avey Bradley and Danny Green provides the Lakers with the kind of depth that makes them more than just a two-man show. And to think, they did it without Magic Johnson (well, mostly without Magic anyway).
Nobody in the East improved their lot this offseason more than the Philadelphia 76ers. On the verge of losing Jimmy Butler for nothing, they engineered a sign-and-trade with Miami that netted them Josh Richardson, who is one of the more underrated two-way players in the NBA. They also re-signed Tobias Harris, which was a huge get for them when you consider all the assets they used in acquiring him last season from the Los Angeles Clippers. But the deal that really put them at the head of the pack in terms of offseason deals in the East, was acquiring free agent Al Horford from Boston. Not only does it now pair Joel Embiid up with his biggest nemesis (Horford), but it also significantly weakens one of the Sixers’ biggest competitors (Boston) in the wide-open Eastern Conference. However, it remains to be seen how well the two will play together, especially when teams go small in the frontcourt. The Sixers also acquired rookie Matisse Thybulle on draft night, a promising two-way talent out of Washington who has played well for Philly’s summer league team.
Photo courtesy @sixers
Usually when a team adds a pair of all-NBA players in one big offseason swoop, they instantly go to the head of the class when it comes to awesome offseason moves. But the pairing of ex-Celtic Kyrie Irving and former Golden State star Kevin Durant isn’t your run-of-the-mill superstar tandem. For starters, both left organizations that have a much deeper, more sustained track record of success than the one they're walking into in Brooklyn. And then there’s Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury, which is expected to keep him out all season. That means this tandem won’t get on the floor until sometime in the 2020-2021 season. And that’s why more than anything else, I have them graded lower than I would if Durant were healthy. Still, they are going to be a playoff team with Irving leading the way this season, well aware that the best days for him and the Nets will still be a year away.
What would the NBA be like without Daryl Morey? I don’t ever want to find out, because for fantasy league owners such as myself, he is our spirit animal with his never-ending quest to stockpile as many superstars as he can regardless of whether they seemingly fit well together. But in acquiring Russell Westbrook and pairing him with his former OKC teammate James Harden, Morey is once again rolling the dice that elite scoring will get the Rockets over the hump out West. Many (including this guy) aren’t convinced. But win or lose, the Rockets will once again be entertaining as hell to watch this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
To call what the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing as rebuilding, doesn’t do justice to the lengths by which Sam Presti is tearing this thing down. They are poised to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. That’s a given. But to Presti’s credit, he is setting the Thunder up to be a major player in a hurry with the accumulation of a treasure’s trove of draft picks. But here’s the thing. Many of the picks are coming from good teams, which means those picks are likely to be in the teens or later which is not where stars are often discovered. But to Presti’s credit, he has made the most of a horrible situation by trading Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers and most recently, Russell Westbrook to Houston. Only time will tell whether all those draft picks are good as gold, or wind up having bitcoin-like value.
Indiana kind of snuck up on folks last season. And their offseason moves were indeed the kind that fall under the spectacularly stealth category. They now have their backcourt of the present and future by adding Malcolm Brogdon from the Milwaukee Bucks. Pairing up Brogdon, a former NBA Rookie of the Year, with Victor Oladipo gives the Pacers one of the better two-way backcourts you’ll find in the NBA. Add in high-scoring wing T.J. Warren from Phoenix and Jeremy Lamb from Charlotte, the Pacers are on their way to once again being one of the top teams in the East.
In what’s clearly a sign of changing times, the Utah Jazz were among the more active players this summer when it came to making moves -- something we don’t often see from them. Utah gets a nice upgrade at the point guard spot in acquiring Mike Conley from Memphis. And they add good depth by bringing in Bojan Bogdanovic from Indiana. One of the sneaky good additions for them was Ed Davis, a steady but far from spectacular big man backup, along with former Celtic Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay. That’s some quality depth right there, behind Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert. This isn’t a title-contending team, but they are an above-average playoff-caliber club that could cause some problems for teams this season.
The loss of Kyrie Irving by itself had the potential to be devastating. Tack on Al Horford choosing to play for Philly next year and trading away Aron Baynes, and any semblance of veteran leadership was gone. But the Celtics rebounded in adding Kemba Walker, whose talent will help fill the void left by Irving’s departure. It’ll be a big-by-committee approach in the frontcourt for the Celtics as they added veteran Enis Kanter in addition to french 7-footer Vincent Poirer while re-signing Daniel Theis. You never know about rookies, but the Celtics are feeling really good about a couple (Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards) who seem poised to be in the mix for playing time this season. The loss of Horford will be a tough blow for them to overcome, but outside of that the Celtics had a decent offseason.
Trading Kemba Walker to Boston and getting Terry Rozier in return isn’t the worst thing the Charlotte Hornets could do. They are very much in reset mode now, hoping Rozier can lead them back to the playoffs and possibly out of the first round. But more telling than the additions by Charlotte, were the players who left to join other teams. In addition to Walker, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Jeremy Lamb also left for a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Indiana Pacers. The Hornets also waived Frank Kaminsky, the former first-round pick that the Hornets were intent on drafting in 2015 after Danny Ainge had reportedly offered multiple draft picks for the rights to take Charlotte’s No. 9 pick that year and use it to draft Justise Winslow. That’s in the past which hasn’t been good for the Hornets. And their future? That’s not looking all that bright, either.
New York Knicks
There’s no need to sugarcoat it. The New York Knicks struck out in a big way this summer. You can’t whet the appetite of New York Knicks fans with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, only to serve up Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis. All are good players for sure, but a deep, deep, deep drop-off talentwise from the guys New York has spent months positioning themselves to acquire. No matter how the Knicks try and spin it, this offseason was a disaster because the goals they set out to accomplish — find a star — never materialized.