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Detroit Pistons 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Detroit Pistons enter the season with their stars unusually healthy. Can new Head Coach Dwane Casey finally maximize the Pistons’ potential? Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Pistons in this 2018-19 season preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The Detroit Pistons hit the reset button on their culture this offseason without making significant roster changes. The Stan Van Gundy era officially ended after the 2017-18 season. With new head coach Dwane Casey at the helm, the Pistons hope to achieve more success in the form of playoff wins; the Pistons did not win a single playoff game – let alone series – in Van Gundy’s four years as coach and general manager.

But Van Gundy didn’t leave the cupboard entirely bare. While the Pistons are unlikely to compete for championships in the near future, the team has enough talent on the roster to surprise people this season. And the team hasn’t even been together long enough to appropriately set expectations.

The trade that redefined the Pistons just prior to last season’s trade deadline netted it Blake Griffin, who represents a clear upgrade in talent. Yes, the team’s lost 2018 first-round pick stings, as does Griffin’s contract, which stretches until 2021-22; however, the team’s roster is better positioned for success in 2018-19 than it was entering last season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Detroit Pistons were relatively quiet this summer but have reason to be optimistic heading into the 2018-19 season. The Pistons named Dwane Casey as the team’s new head coach with the hope that he can provide the same kind of internal improvement he generated in his tenure with the Toronto Raptors. Casey has talent to work with, including Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. It’s unclear how far Casey can take this team as constructed but outside of the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors, the Eastern Conference is essentially wide open. Detroit has the opportunity to jump into the second tier of Eastern Conference contenders and make some noise in the postseason. However, that will require Casey to generate significant chemistry between his core players and instill a culture that allows him to maximize the talent he has available on the roster.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Jesse Blancarte

The Stan Van Gundy era may be over in Detroit, but his aura still lingers all over the roster. This is a capped-out roster paying nearly $75 million to Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson alone, and that’s a scary thought when you consider that the Pistons went just 11-14 with Griffin in the lineup following their acquisition of the big-name power forward from Los Angeles. Does a culture change in the form of Dwane Casey do enough to overhaul things and turn this group into a legitimate contender in the East? The Pistons had very few options to improve the roster over the summer, mostly tinkering around the margins on the personnel side. They’ll be counting on renewed continuity from the core plus some ingenuity from Casey to propel them a lot further than last season’s disappointing 39-win showing.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Ben Dowsett

Could we be underestimating the Pistons? They will have their roster back fully healthy, Blake Griffin should be fully acclimated, and Dwane Casey is the reigning Coach of the Year. Even if it’s not a contender, that roster still has good talent to work with. Andre Drummond’s notable growth as a player fell under the radar thanks to the Pistons’ struggles last season. Should Detroit improve from last season, he could make the All-Star team without having to be a replacement. Also, outside of Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons have plenty of trade-able contracts at the helm. Expect the front office to be on the lookout if someone good becomes available.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Matt John

Might a change in philosophy and leadership be the answer in the Motor City? We’ll find out. Dwane Casey has decided to take on the task of being the head coach of a Pistons team that always seems to stay where it’s at in the middle of the pack. Health is going to be what defines their season. Between Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin, the two missed 61 total games combined. Detroit will need these guys in order to progress towards the goal of the playoffs. Though he’s a double-double machine and two-time All-Star, it’s not like Andre Drummond can do it by himself. Still, bringing in Casey will benefit all parties involved for the long haul. Can they put it together?

4th Place – Central Division

– Spencer Davies

$123 million; that’s what the Pistons have in guaranteed contracts going into the 2018-19 season. That’s seems like an awful lot for a team that may not win 45 games. The Pistons are trapped in a lot of really bad decisions, and unfortunately as good a coach as Dwane Casey, this roster just seems like a look of square pegs and not many square holes. There is a good possibility that Blake Griffin emerges as an elite All-Star in the East, he has that kind of potential, but its hard to envision that this Pistons team isn’t going to be much more than .500 and that means playoffs at best, but an early exit in May.

5th Place – Central Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Blake Griffin

This one is a no-brainer. Griffin is the only career 20 point per game scorer on the roster. He is entering his ninth season, and his game is still incredibly effective despite relying on his athleticism. Only he no longer relies exclusively on athleticism.

Griffin has slowly but surely morphed into a true point forward: initiating fast breaks, throwing lobs and shooting from distance. When healthy he can score the ball effectively, create for others, shoot the ball and finish around the rim better than almost anyone not named Russell Westbrook. If he can produce like he has in years past, the Pistons will present problems for many Eastern Conference foes.

Top Defensive Player: Stanley Johnson

Johnson has not developed exactly as the Pistons had hoped, but his upside remains – especially on the defensive side of the ball. NBADraft.net favorably compared Johnson to Kawhi Leonard and/or Ron Artest in its 2015 NBA Draft scouting report.

This prognosis has obviously not come to fruition, but Johnson remains a long, smart defender who can still lock down good wings. In fact, Coach Casey suggested at his own introductory press conference that Johnson is the best defensive matchup for the league’s best player, LeBron James.

Look for Johnson to play a bigger role in 2018-19. If he’s successful, Johnson’s career trajectory could take a positive turn. And much of Johnson’s overall success, as well as the team’s, will be tied to his defense and motor.

Top Playmaker: Reggie Jackson

Griffin received serious consideration given his ability to create and lead fast breaks relative to his peers, but Jackson is the right answer. Jackson is a creative and confident lead guard. In his only professional season playing more than 60 games (79 games played in 2015-16), Jackson posted 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game en route to 44 wins and the team’s only playoff berth since 2009.

So while Griffin is the team’s best player and first option, Jackson’s influence is potentially as great in that he changes the pace of the game and creates scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. This is exemplified perfectly by the following statistic: when Jackson injured his left ankle on December 26, 2017 – which sidelined him for 37 games – the Pistons were five games above .500. The team went 20-29 following his injury.

Top Clutch Player: Reggie Jackson

It’s difficult to refer to any of the Detroit Pistons as clutch. Some are more so than others, though, and Reggie Jackson is the most clutch of the bunch.

Jackson is viewed as injury-prone more so than clutch. And to be fair, he has missed a combined 126 games in his seven seasons in the league. But Jackson is also a confident shooter who is not afraid of big moments. His swagger is infectious to teammates and fans. If Jackson stays healthy and can lead the Pistons to playoff victories, he can begin to change his narrative from fragile to clutch.

The Unheralded Player(s): Ish Smith and Glen Robinson III

The Pistons have two players who could easily overachieve this season. The first is Ish Smith, a journeyman guard who has played for 10 teams in his eight NBA seasons. But don’t let Smith’s transient nature mislead you into thinking he doesn’t get results. Smith is a crafty six-foot tall guard with a motor that more than makes up for his lack of size. He is a good finisher who can get buckets in a hurry. He averaged 10.9 points and 4.4 assists per game while posting a 15.4 PER in a full 82 games last season, 35 of which he started. Smith is reliable and dynamic in ways that a lot of backup players are not. His contract isn’t ideal at $6 million in 2018-19, but it’s far from the worst deal on the roster.

Glen Robinson III is the Pistons’ other sleeper. He was a second round pick and has mostly flown under the radar throughout his career. He was beginning to find a role in Indiana two seasons ago, where he logged career highs in minutes per game (20.7), points per game (6.1) and rebounds per game (3.6), but a poorly timed ankle injury prohibited him from continuing to improve. Robinson is an above-average three-point shooter who can still slash and finish around the rim. He is not a big time difference maker, but if the Robinson reaches his potential in the near future, consider him a steal at $4 million.

Best New Addition: Dwane Casey

The 2018 NBA Coach of the Year joined the Pistons shortly after being fired from his job in Toronto, but not before he led the Raptors to a franchise-best 59-win season in 2017-18. He possesses a calming influence few coaches have and is widely viewed as a player-friendly coach, unlike his predecessor, Stan Van Gundy. Coach Casey must now go about developing trust with the Pistons’ roster. If Casey can maximize the potential in the Griffin-Drummond-Jackson big three, then the team should have a relatively successful season.

Looking beyond next season, challenges remain in the form of the Pistons’ 2019-20 cap situation. Casey must focus on developing camaraderie and getting the most out of each player this season so his roster can hopefully continue overachieving the following season. After all, the Pistons are cash-strapped through 2020 and have limited resources to improve the roster via free agency next year.

– Drew Maresca

WHO WE LIKE

1. Andre Drummond

The six-year veteran has been mostly effective throughout his career thus far save for free throw shooting. But who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Drummond shot a much-improved .605 from the free throw line last season after shooting a dismal .386 the year prior. In fact, prior to last season, he had never shot above .418. Will he continue shooting free throws at the same rate as last season? Might he improve? The Pistons hope so, because while he is an obvious target for intentional fouls, Drummond is also a difference maker. He posted a PER of 22.9 in 2017-18, which is just slightly higher than his career average (21.8). He is an above average athlete who is constantly among the league leaders in rebounds. He is also a strong finisher and an above-average shot blocker.

2. Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia

Simply because of their veteran know-how and grit, Calderon and Pachulia are assumed to be one addition for this piece. Neither is likely to log heavy minutes, but the Pistons roster lacked a veteran presence. In Calderon, the team added a high IQ player and a patient leader. Similarly, the team added savviness and fortitude in Pachulia. The Pistons need both to influence the rest of the roster as much as possible so the team develops poise.

3. Luke Kenard

Kenard performed as expected for a late-lottery pick – inconsistently. The 2017 first-round pick showed flashes, though, especially down the stretch. In the final three games of the season, Kenard scored 18, 20 and 23 points, respectively. Further, when given the opportunity to play 30-plus minutes, Kenard averaged 16.5 points per game. He is a strong three-point shooter, but needs to be put in the position to shoot more regularly. He should benefit from the leadership of Coach Casey and veterans like those outlined above. Thankfully for the Pistons, he remains relatively cheap for as long as the next three years given his rookie deal.

4. Bruce Brown Jr.

It remains a long shot that Brown develops into a serviceable player for the 2018-19 season. Brown dropped to the second round due in part to a foot injury that cost him much of his sophomore season. But the 6-foot-5 point guard impressed the Pistons front office as well as others around the league with his summer league performance. In four games, Brown averaged 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Brown must work on shooting more consistently, but he is a tenacious defender whose ceiling is a poor man’s Russell Westbrook. But Brown must ignore those comparisons and focus on becoming the best version of himself. If he develops properly, he could be the Pistons’ next starting point guard.

– Drew Maresca

STRENGTHS

The Pistons possess two of the better big men in the league: Blake Griffin and Andrew Drummond. Griffin enters his first full season as a member of the Pistons with ample experience playing alongside an athletic, albeit limited, center. Drummond is similar in many ways to Griffin’s former frontcourt mate, DeAndre Jordan. And the two complement each other equally nicely. Griffin is an excellent passer and Drummond is a strong, agile finisher.

But the Pistons must exploit mismatches as much as possible prior to the final minutes of close games. While the team is hoping that Drummond’s free throw shooting continues to improve like it did last season, he is still a liability, shooting .605 from the line. Further, as teams continue to play with smaller, more versatile lineups, how can Drummond stay on the court when opponents attack him in pick-and-rolls? Unfortunately, that means the team will likely need to limit late game minutes in which Griffin and Drummond are on the court together.

– Drew Maresca

WEAKNESSES

Unfortunately for the Pistons, they play in the NBA and not the Big3. The team has a solid core centered around Drummond, Jackson and Griffin that can score points, block shots and clean the glass. But the team’s effectiveness will likely be compromised as games wear on.

The Pistons are especially thin at the wing positions, with Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson as projected starters. Neither has been a consistent contributor, and it only gets worse from there. Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Glenn Robinson III are likely to be the back-up wings. And while all have strengths and upside, the Pistons need proven players, not assets.

Additionally, the Pistons’ roster lacks a reliable backup center. Yes, the team signed Zaza Pachulia, but he is as much a locker room voice as he is a contributor at this stage of his career. Lucky for the Pistons, the league has deemphasized the need for meaty bigs. But if the Pistons fail to address any of its depth issues, the team’s core will be run ragged from the strains of the 82-game schedule.

– Drew Maresca

The Burning Question:

Can the Pistons’ stars stay healthy?

Yes, the team has talent. No, it’s not likely to be enough to propel them deep into playoffs. But for most teams in the NBA, making noise in the playoffs constitutes a successful season. While the playoffs should be as near a sure thing as exists in the NBA, all of the team’s success is contingent on health.

And the Pistons are headlined by two oft-injured stars: Jackson and Griffin. In fact, they have missed 67 and 107 games over the last two seasons, respectively. But the other side of that argument is when all three of the Jackson-Drummond-Griffin triumvirate played together – only 44 minutes in 2017-18 – they outscored opponents by 13.7 per 100 possessions.

Jackson and Griffin must remain on the court alongside Drummond as much as possible for Detroit to reach its potential. They are all impactful separately, but the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The Pistons’ front office recently identified injury issues as a point of emphasis. The team attempted to combat them by bringing back former strength and conditioning coach, Arnie Kander, this offseason as an injury consultant. Kander has historically emphasized stretching and range of motion exercises. While this alone does not guarantee any player’s health, it shows that the team is taking its players’ health seriously.

Further, Van Gundy’s preference for long, grueling practices can lead to fatigue, which can easily cause injuries. Conversely, Casey’s philosophy on practice is to wrap them up more quickly in at attempt to preserve his players’ bodies. If the Pistons can remain healthy, they could see themselves back in the playoffs in a less top heavy Eastern Conference.

– Drew Maresca

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free-agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind-bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked within the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5-year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of an NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two-part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also a side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the sideshow that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick, the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick, the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20 is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks’ selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably affect the NBA game beginning on Day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot-blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented frontcourt and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game-changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdanović add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, the free agency period went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be a good value for the Sixth Man of the Year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanović will be a great get, maybe on the high side money-wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of the direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assumed he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30-year-old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did manage to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career-high in rebounds (6.7), but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets’ future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bogdanović slipped through their fingers.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head-scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly-average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted in to a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering from an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One Move We’d Like To See:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go with Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. This is why if Houston wants all the Nets’ and Wizards’ cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless of which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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