This year’s installment of the offseason in the NBA has been nothing short of entertaining. All throughout the league, star players have been on the move since the Finals ended.
While the Association saw an influx of franchise-changing talent move westward to continue stacking the Western conference as a whole, potentially no other division within the league added as much star power as the Northwest Division.
Over the course of last season, both Jimmy Butler and Paul George were talked about most frequently when it came to star players potentially on the move. In two separate deals this offseason, they wound up in the Northwest. Free agency was also utilized greatly this summer by big time veterans looking for a new home and a fresh start. Paul Millsap took his opportunity to move west and landed in the Northwest Division as well.
But for all of the great established players that joined the ranks of the Northwest Division this summer, there was an influx of fresh blood that could potentially shift the balance of power in years to come. However, for the time being, the Northwest is holding as much star power as any other division in basketball.
Oklahoma City Thunder acquire Paul George from Indiana Pacers in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis
When Paul George being traded from Indiana became inevitable, the return expected by fans was probably a lot more than what it turned out to be. Nevertheless, a deal was struck by the Pacers and Thunder involving one of the game’s top-12 players, a starting shooting guard, and a big man entering his second season.
Clearly, for the time being, at least, the Thunder are the winners of this trade deal. Pairing George with reigning MVP and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook gives the Thunder that 1-2 punch they lacked last season after Kevin Durant bolted for the Bay Area.
There is still the caveat, however, that George can walk after next season as a free man into free agency. But in order to truly contend in the Western Conference, a team needs at the very minimum two established stars. Now that Oklahoma City is wielding both Westbrook and George, they at least make things interesting heading into next season.
Minnesota Timberwolves acquire Jimmy Butler in exchange for Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 overall pick
On a draft night stunner, Minnesota formed their new big three.
By parting ways with Lavine and Dunn, Tom Thibodeau was able to entice his old employer just enough to send his former star player to his current team. As a result, the Timberwolves field a squad that boasts Butler alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
And just to throw salt in the wound of Bulls’ fans, Chicago also somehow had to include the No. 16 overall pick on draft night to get the deal done, which Minnesota used to select 7-footer Justin Patton.
Giving Thibodeau his old star, a legitimate two-way veteran, to pair with his two budding stars in Towns and Wiggins allows the coach to turn the corner in the contending process for the Timberwolves. As Butler enters the strides of his prime and Towns and Wiggins continue to grow their already impressive skill sets, the Golden State Warriors biggest threat in the league very well may be in Minnesota.
Denver Nuggets sign Paul Millsap
Chalk up Millsap as the third Eastern Conference star from last season to suit up in the Northwest Division next year.
During this wild bout of free agency, Denver went all-in on their continued plan of contention by inking Millsap to a three-year $90 million deal. Adding an established All-Star to the fold around a core of young promising players gives Nuggets fans a reason to be excited about next season, and many seasons to come.
By leaving Atlanta and the roadblock in the East that is LeBron James, Millsap gets a fresh start in the Mile High city sharing a frontcourt with one of the league’s most promising young big men, Nikola Jokic. Alongside each other, Millsap and Jokic seem to be a perfect fit. Millsap is a versatile power forward who can defend at a high level and also stretch the floor with his shooting ability. Jokic, on the other hand, has a knack for finding the open man, even as a center. Last season, Jokic averaged nearly five assists per game. Placing a sweet shooting four alongside him could work wonders for the Nuggets.
With the talented youth Denver possesses, adding in Millsap makes them more than relevant in the stacked Western Conference and they should be one of the more fun teams to watch next season.
Minnesota Timberwolves sign Jeff Teague
After trading for Butler on draft night, Minnesota just kept pouring it on the rest of the division once free agency hit by inking Teague to a three-year $57 million deal.
After trading away two guards in the Butler deal, the Timberwolves essentially replaced those two roster spots with more established players. Pairing Teague and Butler in the backcourt, while having Wiggins on the wing and Towns on the block, the Timberwolves legitimately have four impact players on the court to start the game.
Teague also fits the Thibodeau mold as an athletic and aggressive defender. The Timberwolves perimeter defense could look scary next season after the players and Thibodeau work in the chemistry.
In an offseason where adding Teague isn’t your biggest move, you know you’re doing pretty well. For the Timberwolves, their front office work this offseason has positioned the team as a true heavyweight in the NBA.
Utah Jazz acquire draft rights to Donovan Mitchell in exchange for Trey Lyles and draft rights to Tyler Lydon
Losing Gordon Hayward is going to sting for a while in Utah, but after the performance Mitchell put on in Summer League, there seems to be a silver lining for the future.
By trading up on draft night for Mitchell, Utah installed a fail-safe option for the talent level on their team should Hayward ultimately decide to walk. After their star small forward took his talents to Boston, the Jazz wasn’t left completely empty handed in the “hope” department.
Mitchell brings one of the purest shooting forms in his draft class to Utah, and with a feisty attitude on the defensive end of the court, he presents the potential of turning into a very solid two-way player in the NBA.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Louisville set Twitter ablaze during Summer League when he went off for a tournament-high 37 points in 34 minutes, while also registering eight steals. In another performance, he checked up No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum, holding him to just 12 points.
Utah may have lost their current star player this summer, but from the early returns on Mitchell, they may have added their next star player this summer as well.
Portland Trail Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Andrew Nicholson
Normally, trading a player who shot 44 percent from three-point range last season wouldn’t be considered an ideal move. But for the Trail Blazers, shedding Crabbe’s overbearing salary makes parting with his shooting well worth it.
Portland already boasts the likes of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. Their core is established, and moving forward the best possible way to contend is to build a roster cost-effectively around those three players.
Set to make roughly $56 million over the next three seasons, Crabbe does not fit that mold.
By ridding themselves of Crabbe’s contract, the Trail Blazers now possess the flexibility to move forward and shape out the rest of their roster around the key players they already have under contract. On top of that, just the simple removal of Crabbe’s deal drops Portland’s tax bill from $48.3 million to $4.4 million. Talk about a relief.
Finding a trade partner like Brooklyn, willing to eat a bad contract, provided Portland with a much needed addition-by-subtraction move this offseason.
While the entire league was busy this offseason wheeling and dealing, arguably no division saw as much movement as the Northwest. With a bevy of new arrivals for next season, this division could find itself in one of the hotter races throughout the league, potentially adding some much-needed spark to regular season competition. With some shiny new toys on display in the Northwest Division, the rest of the league will be smart to keep an eye on what takes place there next season.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.