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Golden State Warriors 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Golden State Warriors.

Basketball Insiders

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There’s no mystery or range of expectations whatsoever for the Golden State Warriors this year. A team already in the conversation for best of all time before a few crazy weeks in May and June went out and added one of the best players of a generation squarely in his prime, instantly transforming the letdown of history slipping through their fingers into a whirlwind of excitement at fielding the most dominant on-paper squad ever assembled.

Even if title-or-bust is the obvious mantra surrounding this team, the path toward glory will have plenty of intrigue along the way. Which lessons, if any, should be drawn from last year’s eventual shortcomings? How will a combination of offensive talent never before seen on a single roster coalesce and adjust to the Xs and Os of a virtual All-Star team? Will defense or depth in certain areas be a realistic problem minus a couple key contributors, or will the overall skill level simply overwhelm these kinds of concerns?

With all this and more, Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Warriors are super good. What else really needs to be said? They’re basically an All-Star team set to play against a field of proles all season long. Kevin Durant was a huge acquisition, Stephen Curry is so in the zone and Klay Thompson is the best shooting guard in the league. Draymond Green can guard all five positions at an elite level, the bench is still stacked and Steve Kerr is a great coach. We expect big things, but that’s only because big things seem inevitable. Anything can happen (just ask the 2003-2004 L.A. Lakers), but “anything” also can include a championship.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

Adversity builds character. The heart of a champion is often determined by how well they respond to challenges that would break normal spirits. The Warriors were within one victory of capping off a historic 73-win regular season with a repeat championship, but the club dropped three straight games in the Finals and watched the Cavaliers celebrate on their own court. In many ways that setback was the first true test for the Warriors who had begun to run roughshod on the league with little resistance. The club was already built to make another trip to the Finals in 2017, but the addition of All-Star Kevin Durant essentially makes this a lock – barring major injury. See you in June.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

The Golden State Warriors were already elite and then they added Kevin Durant. And this isn’t the same as when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. The Warriors already have really good chemistry and Durant is going to fill in the starting position that Harrison Barnes held. The dynamic will have to change on offense somewhat since Durant and Stephen Curry both need the ball in their hands, so it will be up to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to adjust accordingly. Another scary part about this team is that Durant flashed defensive versatility in the postseason that reminds us of Draymond Green. If Durant can continue defending at that level, this Warriors team will basically be unstoppable. It should be noted that some key contributors from the last few seasons are now gone, but the Warriors did a nice job of plugging in the holes that were left after adding Durant. This team is stacked and should make it back to the NBA Finals this season.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the Warriors aren’t the favorites to win their division, their conference and the 2017 NBA Finals. What I will say, though, is that it’s not every day that you see a team that wins 73 games and take a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals radically redesign itself. Of course, adding Kevin Durant to the already big three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green seems worth it, but let’s take a moment to recognize that Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Marreese Speights are all gone. Those six guys were among their top 11 rotation players last season, and they have effectively been replaced by Durant, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Phil Pressey and (perhaps) JaVale McGee. I obviously like the Warriors to win the Pacific Division, but for me, there is enough intrigue with the new core in Oakland to keep me watching all season long. I doubt Steve Kerr even entertains the idea of allowing his team to chase down 70 wins again, because losing the Finals last year probably changed the perspective of everyone associated with the team. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about these guys this coming season, so I’ll end this here and just state the obvious: they’re the clear favorite.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

Anything less than a championship will obviously be a disappointment for this Warriors squad. I know a lot of NBA fans were upset about the Kevin Durant addition because they believe the 2016-17 season will now be pretty anticlimactic. However, as we saw in last year’s NBA Finals, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. Injuries, chemistry issues and more can change the landscape of the NBA in an instant. We’ll see if the Warriors can live up to the ridiculously high expectations. My guess is that they will – mainly because their star-studded squad is full of unselfish players who are versatile and complement each other well. But titles aren’t won in the offseason, so we’ll have to see how they come together.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Durant

Honestly, how is one supposed to support a single candidate here for a team that now boasts two of the five most devastating offensive players in the game? There can be absolutely zero argument against either Kevin Durant or Steph Curry here, but the nod goes to KD primarily for this reason: He’s slightly more matchup-proof.

Don’t fly off the handle, Chef Curry fans – no one’s doubting Steph’s ability to bend physics and break defenses on a night-in, night-out basis. He’d have won this category going away over Durant and any other player on earth last season.

But while some of it was surely due to lingering injury issues and other context, we saw smart defenses poke tiny holes in his preferred methods of dominance in the postseason. In particular, opponents began stationing a wing player on Draymond Green and negating the deadly Curry-Green pick-and-roll by switching it between two guys capable of hanging with Steph off the dribble for a possession at a time. Not everyone has the defensive talent or discipline to pull this off – and Curry at his full powers can often abuse these switches himself – but the theme certainly looked primed to become a blueprint for those with the right personnel.

In comes Durant, and out goes that theory.

Want to switch the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? Fine with them. Go right ahead and switch a smaller guy onto Durant, who shot an unreal 61 percent in the post last year and was the league’s most efficient per-possession volume player on the block, per Synergy Sports. The opponent is clogging the block and denying the entry? Cool, either they’ll rotate to another knockdown shooter for an open three or simply give Durant the ball in isolation, where he was also a top-10 efficiency player last year among volume guys (in a less spacious offense and more commonly against guys closer to his own size, at that).

None of this even gets into KD’s numerous other prodigious skills, most of which fit like a glove within what was already the league’s most dominant offense. With Durant’s ability to rip up the one meager trump card the league had finally managed to conjure against them, this group could be primed to set records.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

Ah, much easier. Green is already among the most versatile elite defenders in the history of the game – seriously, how many other guys ever have been capable of locking down all five positions on the floor individually, from running with jittery guards to protecting the rim against giants and LeBron James? The list of players who have done so at a consistently elite level while also playing a large role on the other end of the floor is probably limited to one hand, maybe even with a couple fingers to spare. Green will have even more defensive responsibility after the departure of guys like Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli in the frontcourt, but he’s proven more than up to the task.

Top Playmaker: Steph Curry

There’s an under-the-radar case to be made here for Green, a fantastic passer who actually averaged more nightly “assist opportunities” (passes which either became an assist or would have if the shooting player had made his resulting shot) than Curry last season, per SportVU data. On a deeper level, though, even Draymond himself would likely admit that many of these were simply a trickle-down result of the way Steph’s magic forces teams to contort themselves. Many of those four-on-three chances where Green is free to rumble down the lane and take his pick of open shooters evaporate with any other ball-handler in the world as his partner.

Curry makes those plays possible while also maintaining his own strong passing numbers. His percentage of passes which led to a positive team event (assists, free-throw assists or secondary “hockey” assists) – a Holy Grail-type category topped consistently by consensus elite creators like Chris Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook – fell in the league’s top 10 last season, decimals behind LeBron James and Ricky Rubio. Curry remains the distributing engine that powers this offensive machine, and could even be in for an uptick with another elite offensive player in the lineup next to him.

Top Clutch Player: Steph Curry

This is another category likely to end up in a split of some sort between Curry, Durant and the general sort of team scheme that the Warriors have generally done well at sticking with during rare clutch moments the last couple seasons. Curry took about a third of the team’s regular season shot attempts during these minutes last year, with Durant right in the same neighborhood with OKC, albeit in a far different team context. Curry was more efficient than KD, particularly from deep (he shot 38.1 percent from three compared to 32.4 percent for Durant in the clutch), and who can forget that legendary game-winner on Durant’s own floor?

The Unheralded Player: Andre Iguodala

Iguodala should have won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, but his remarkable importance to his team continued to fly under the radar in favor of more traditional metrics. He doesn’t post flashy box score stats or make many highlight-reel plays, instead contributing in exactly the sort of ways that go overlooked. He was a constant presence in crunch time lineups last season (appearing in nearly 90 percent of all such minutes while healthy), and his on court-off court impact on variations of Golden State’s “Death Lineup” was comparable to or even perhaps greater than any other member besides Curry himself. He’s the most important defensive player outside Green and a vital locker room presence, and shouldn’t be looked past as part of the heart of this team.

Top New Addition: Kevin Durant

Yeah, the contrarian pick might be a bit difficult to sell here. We covered much of Durant’s potential impact, but a couple other summer signings will be meaningful as well.

Zaza Pachulia took a huge pay cut to chase a ring, and should take over for Andrew Bogut in the starting center spot. He’s not the passer, defender or overall basketball savant Bogut is, but he’s a more durable body who brings consistent effort and performance. David West brings another veteran voice to the locker room as a solid backup who can play both big positions, though it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank at 36 years old. Neither are stars, but with so much skill at the top of the roster there’s no need – these guys will provide solid complementary skills and depth.

– Ben Dowsett

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Klay Thompson

Oh yeah, him. It’s a little insane that a truly legitimate case can be made for the second-best shooter in the entire NBA as just the fourth-most important piece of the equation for his team, but here we are.

Concerns about Thompson’s usage and involvement are at least partially valid, but questions about his role aren’t: It’s the same. He’ll use wildly underrated conditioning (almost certainly best on the team and among the tops in the league) to continuously rocket around picks and open up space with his gravity offensively, then spend most of nearly every game locking down the opponent’s top guard defensively. Thompson is prone to the sort of shooting barrages even Curry can’t match, and we should see even more of these with Durant around to draw attention.

If the number of mouths to feed in the offense becomes a problem, the Warriors will cross that bridge when they come to it. For now, they’ll simply plug even more talent into his lineups and turn Klay loose with the exact same mandate as last season. A not-so-bold prediction: He leads the NBA in three-point percentage among volume shooters next season.

  1. Steve Kerr

Whether you do or don’t believe Kerr had his share of correctable errors at various points last season, there’s little doubt the year will serve as a vital learning experience. Even the best of us make our share of mistakes, and failure is necessary before success can truly be attained for most in the NBA. Kerr has had the summer to reflect on his bigger picture (when he’s not fist-pumping at the team’s offseason acquisitions at least), and should have more perspective for a group almost certain to chase some more history. He’s already proven himself times over as one of the most adaptable and player-friendly coaches in the league, with strong tactical chops and a willingness to critique himself. It’s easy to forget he’s only entering his third NBA season at the helm – he’s still likely improving as a coach.

  1. Shaun Livingston

Livingston has put a catastrophic injury well behind him in becoming a key bench cog for the Warriors, one with the skills to prop up an offense for a few minutes a game (his midrange post game felt unstoppable for long stretches last season) plus the size at the point to maintain the Dubs’ switch-everything defensive identity. His size makes him capable of fitting in alongside starter-heavy units when there’s a need, and he may have been the single Warrior most capable of exploiting a one-on-one size mismatch in a pinch until Durant came along. He’ll continue to do important work behind the scenes.

  1. David West

West brings experience, savvy and guile as the team’s new elder statesman, and more importantly might save Kerr from his maddening tendency to trot Anderson Varejao out at strange times. He’s physical enough to help make up for a general lack of size at the big positions, and could be a great mentor for someone like Green.

– Ben Dowsett

SALARY CAP 101

Once Kevin Durant agreed to join the Warriors, the team renounced the rights to free agents Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and others, then traded Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks. Once they had enough room under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, they signed Durant to a two-year, $54.3 million contract. Durant can opt out next season, and either re-sign with Non-Bird Rights at $31.8 million — or push Golden State to use cap room to pay him a maximum salary that projects to be $33.5 million with a $102 million projected salary cap. The former makes a lot more sense for the team, and is probably a necessary sacrifice for Durant.

Meanwhile, the team has 14 guaranteed salaries, with five players vying for one spot (Elliot Williams, JaVale McGee, Phil Pressey, Cameron Jones and Elgin Cook). The team has until the end of October to pick up Kevon Looney’s rookie-scale option. Next summer, the Warriors can get to about $60 million in cap space, but that number assumes Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Durant move on as free agents. Naturally, the Warriors would seriously prefer to not drop under next year’s cap.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Barring catastrophe, the Warriors will contend with some of the most dominant offenses in league history. They’re the most talented group of shooters ever assembled by a wide margin, and Durant brings them one of the league’s most efficient one-on-one options for the brief stretches where gravity within their team scheme isn’t enough. Expect them to once again be near the league lead in transition chances and efficiency, plus overall pace – no one is more comfortable trading quick possessions. They could be in for some amount of defensive slippage, but it’s possible this still remains a strength with a number of talented, like-sized guys in the rotation and Green at the helm. Green was also the linchpin for strong team rebounding figures, which should likely continue this year.

– Ben Dowsett

WEAKNESSES

Depth concerns are probably overstated among those simply trying to find something negative about this team, but Green could be the exception here: Where guys like Durant, Curry and Thompson at least have some of the same overlapping skills and gravity, no one else on this roster does what Draymond does or even comes close. Any prolonged absence or slippage from Green is the only semi-realistic regular season scenario that really casts doubt on the team’s depth, but that scenario could be scarier than most assume. Age and durability are concerns for basically the entire frontcourt outside of Green. It’s also fair to wonder whether the likes of Pachulia and West are as capable on either end of the ball as Bogut and Festus Ezeli, particularly defensively, and whether the season-long trickle-down might be enough to drop the Warriors out of the league’s top 10 for defensive efficiency.

– Ben Dowsett

THE BURNING QUESTION

Do the Warriors win a ring or not?

Every team has an abundance of smaller queries that add up to this big one, but few others in recent memory have been in a situation where that all-important question is so singularly prominent. This is arguably the strongest collection of talent to ever share a court in this league, and anything but the ultimate prize will, right or wrong, be considered a failure. What the Warriors do during the regular season is about as close to irrelevant as it gets – their entire year will be sculpted with that couple-month stretch from April to June solely in mind. Expectations are sky-high, but so is this group’s confidence and, of course, their skill level. Only the hardware will represent a successful season this time around.

– Ben Dowsett

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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 on 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 with in 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 Bogdon Bogdonovic (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 a 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 the side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the side show 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 effect 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 front court 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, Bogdon Bogdonovich 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 Bogdonovich 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, free agency 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 good value for the reigning 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 Bogdanovic 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 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 assume 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 mange 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 Bodganovic slipped through their fingers. Like getting a bogey on the final hole. Or, in the Bucks’ case, a “Bogi”.

  • 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 into 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 form 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 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. Which 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 which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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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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