The bulk of this offseason’s free agency moves are now behind us, so we can take a look at which teams did the best and worst job.
Golden State Warriors
When a franchise that just won 73 regular season games in a single season, that was within arm’s reach of winning the championship after winning it the previous season, that features a roster with the reigning league MVP, two other all-NBA caliber players, an elite wing-defender, plenty of rotation depth and a top-notch head coach adds Kevin Durant in free agency, without question that franchise falls into the winner’s category.
There isn’t a ton to dissect here. The Warriors already had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on the roster and add a generational talent in Durant. They had to let players like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leoandro Barbosa and Marresse Speights go, but replaced them with some solid veterans like Zaza Pachulia and David West.
This isn’t just a collection of raw talent either. The Warriors play some of the most cohesive, inclusive basketball of any team in the NBA. Durant steps right in and fills the gap that Barnes left behind. While Durant has made a living in isolation over his career, he should benefit from the pass-happy, screen-heavy, free-flowing style of play that Coach Steve Kerr runs. This team was already crazy good and it just got even better. Oh, and by stealing Durant away, the Warriors simultaneously gutted their biggest challengers in the Western Conference. Talk about icing on the cake.
There isn’t a single team that can match the Warriors’ talent on paper. But, if you had to pick a team that could give the Warriors some problems based on personnel, the Jazz is a pretty good bet.
This offseason, the Jazz traded the rights to Taurean Prince (the 12th overall pick in this year’s Draft) to the Atlanta Hawks for George Hill from Indiana Pacers (who received Jeff Teague from the Hawks), traded the rights to Olivier Hanlan (41st overall pick in the 2015 Draft) to the San Antonio Spurs for Boris Diaw and a 2022 second-rounder and signed Joe Johnson to a two-year, $21.5 million contract.
In making these moves, the Jazz have added a strong defender and veteran at the point guard position in George, a versatile forward in Diaw and a veteran wing who can still score from anywhere on the court in Johnson. Add these veterans to a team that features a dominant defensive duo in the front court in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, along with a star-wing in Gordon Hayward, and the Jazz suddenly have a versatile roster that can go big and punish teams for playing small-ball.
Our Ben Dowsett broke down Utah’s bolstered roster versatility earlier this month. This is part of what he said about the Jazz’s new flexibility:
To be clear, the Jazz, just like every other team, does not have the level of collective talent that Golden State does. However, with a versatile roster, they should have a decent shot at giving the Warriors some problems in their matchups.
The Celtics were one of the most ambitious teams this offseason. General manager Danny Ainge has a treasure chest of tradable assets and was looking to trade for or sign star players like Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Al Horford. Ainge ultimately missed out on Butler and Durant, but adds a top-notch two-way big man in Horford.
Horford, age 30, fills a big hole in the Celtics’ roster. Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson are fine players, but neither is a top-level big men. Horford can plug in at starting center while adding rim protection, the versatility to guard mobile big man, as well as an effective assortment of shooting and post-moves on offense.
Horford probably doesn’t vault the Celtics into the NBA’s elite-tier of teams, but he does move the needle significantly. The Celtics now have a stud at center and plenty of assets and flexibility to use moving forward. Adding Durant and Horford would have been a grand slam, but hitting a homerun is perfectly fine too.
The Hornets entered the offseason with a lot of decisions to make. In the end, the Hornets let Courtney Lee, Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin go to other teams while retaining Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams. They also added Ramon Sessions, Roy Hibbert and Brian Roberts.
Keeping Batum is a big deal considering his age, versatility and still improving game. Batum may not be a superstar, but he’s the kind of player who makes a team better in more ways than can easily be quantified. Add in the fact that we still don’t know how good he and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can be together and there’s a lot of reason to like the roster the Hornets are developing. In fact, let’s all take a moment to get excited about Kidd-Gilchrist’s eventual return to NBA action. He is a tenacious defender, improving offensive player and should be a dynamic complement to Batum on the wing.
Williams shot over 40 percent from three last year and has found his niche as a valuable stretch-four. Hibbert has fallen off the map, but has a chance to rebuild his image as a defensive stalwart under Steve Clifford. The Hornets may not have had the best overall offseason, but they took care of their main priorities without losing sight of their long-term outlook.
Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s hard to not feel bad for the Oklahoma City Thunder and its fans. Seriously, this team was finally scratching the surface of how good it could be last postseason after years of fans and critics criticizing their inability to consistently extract optimal output from their talented roster.
Klay Thompson’s three-point barrage (11-of-18) helped the Warriors force a Game 7 against the Thunder, who ultimately lost after being up in the series 3-1. Thompson’s performance, in part, led to Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder and team up with the star-studded Warriors. Again, it’s hard to not feel bad for the Thunder.
However, Thunder general manager Sam Presti did bring in some nice talent by trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Donatas Sabonis (11th overall pick in this year’s Draft). Getting a player like Oladipo, who will be under team control for several years, as well as Ilyasova and Sabonis is a pretty nice haul for a player who is on an expiring deal and whose defensive impact had steadily waned in recent seasons. Though they will likely lose Dion Waiters to another team after Oklahoma City rescinded their qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Losing Durant is a major blow (to say the least) for the Thunder and could lead to Russell Westbrook leaving town after this upcoming season as an unrestricted free agent. If any front office could successfully navigate a situation like this, the Thunder’s can.
Los Angeles Lakers
Not so long ago, the Lakers were the league’s most desirable franchise. However, after putting together some historically bad seasons, missing out on major free agents, dealing with internal strife in the front office and saying farewell to Kobe Bryant, this once proud franchise has been knocked down a peg or two.
Proof of this is the fact that Durant declined the invitation to meet with the Lakers to discuss the possibility of joining them as a free agent. It’s one thing to meet with a superstar and to be told ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ It’s another thing to not even be given the opportunity to meet and discuss the possibility of making a deal.
Instead of getting a star player like Durant or a rising talent like Hassan Whiteside, the Lakers threw down big money on Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Deng and Mozgov are still both decently productive players and nice veterans to add to the locker room. However, $136,000,000 is a lot of money to commit to Deng and Mozgov over four years. Yes, the cap spiked and that changes the way we assess the value of contracts these days. It doesn’t matter—that’s still a lot of money. Even signing Tarik Black to a two-year, partially-guaranteed $12.8 million contract is a pretty hefty investment when guys like Hibbert, Speights and Ezeli are earning only slighter more, or less per year.
Having said all of that, adding Luke Walton on as coach, re-signing Jordan Clarkson to a four-year, $50 million contract and drafting Brandon Ingram are nice moves that help the rebuilding process in L.A. With a good core of young talent and a bright head coach, the Lakers are slowly but surely heading toward a better future. But again, $136,000,000 is a lot of money for two aging veterans whose best days are likely behind them.
Asserting that the Bulls are losers in free agency may draw some ire considering they added Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as free agents. Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time and Rondo is one of the best passers in the league. However, Wade’s past his prime and has a less than ideal injury history and Rondo has struggled in recent seasons and is always a concern in the locker room.
These issues are exacerbated by the fact that Wade and Rondo would form arguably the worst shooting backcourt in the entire NBA considering Wade and Rondo have shot below 30 percent from three-point range in their respective careers. Additionally, Wade and Rondo are ball-dominant guards, which may be a problem considering star forward Jimmy Butler also needs the ball in his hands. Each of these three players has strong personalities and will have to set their respective egos aside to make this dynamic work.
Fortunately for Chicago they do have a nice crop of young talent on the team in players like Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Jerian Grant, Cristiano Felicio and Denzel Valentine, and added a good center in Robin Lopez in the Derrick Rose trade. Additionally, adding Wade and Rondo doesn’t jeopardize the team’s future flexibility. Nevertheless, the Bulls have added two strong personalities to a team that suffered issues in the locker room last season. One way or another, this will be an interesting season in Chicago.
San Antonio Spurs
After 19 years in the NBA, Tim Duncan decided to call it a career. Losing Duncan is a sad thing for NBA fans and even tougher for those in and around the Spurs organization. While the Spurs did manage to land Pau Gasol to offset the loss of Duncan, at age 36, it’s hard to see how Gasol helps the Spurs get past the Warriors in the Western Conference.
The issue for San Antonio is that by failing to land Durant, losing Duncan and not bringing in a significant boost in talent, they remain more than a step behind the Warriors in the Western Conference with an aging roster. The same logic can be applied to the Los Angeles Clippers, who also missed out on Durant and had to settle for re-signing their own free agents while adding depth on the fringes of their roster. However, in the Clippers’ case, they kept most of their key pieces and got value signings in Brandon Bass and Speights. Unfortunately for both of these teams, not being able to take a step forward in free agency constitutes a loss considering how much better the rival Warriors became by signing Durant.
This Spurs roster has nice pieces in LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. But players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gasol are in their mid-30s and it’s hard to see how they can match against the prime-year athletes in the Bay. However, if there is any coach that could find out a way to maximize his roster’s talent and the formula for stopping the Warriors, it’s Gregg Popovich.
The Wizards spent the last two seasons or so preparing to make a strong run at Durant in free agency. Despite their careful planning, the Wizards didn’t even get a meeting with Durant.
Instead, the Wizards brought in some decent big men in Ian Mahinmi (four-year, $62 million), Andrew Nicholson (four-year, $26 million contract, player option in final season) and Jason Smith (three-year, $15.7 million contract, player option in final season). They also reportedly agreed to re-sign Bradley Beal to a five-year, $127.2 million contract.
The Wizards still have a good crop of young talent to build this team around and a new coach in Scott Brooks to lead the way. But failing to get a meeting from Durant, who grew up in Washington D.C., is a punch to the gut for a team that had the talent (John Wall, Bradley Beal) and flexibility to make a viable pitch. It also doesn’t help that Durant seemed to take a less than veiled swipe at the team in his letter on The Players’ Tribune announcing his decision to join Warriors: “I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me. It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man.”
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