The NBA offseason is not complete.
But at this point, other than Capela, Smart, Hood, Nwaba, and Harrell, the free agency cupboard is barren. And barring a trade, most rosters are essentially set.
With that, it is time for some offseason rankings. These rankings take the following factors into account:
- How much better or worse did a team get: this obviously matters, after all
- How well did teams do, in comparison to their options: Essentially, offseasons cannot be judged in a vacuum. For example, the Sixers upgraded more than the Jazz did. But the Sixers had a ton of cap room, to strike big. On the other hand, the Jazz lacked flexibility, so it made sense to run it back with a good team. The Sixers probably upgraded more. But did they really do better given their hopes?
- How important were the good and bad moves: counting moves and grading them is not critical. The impact is what matters. The Lakers, for example, made more bad moves than good ones. But their one good move trumps all.
- Thought Process: you lose points if your moves reflect a thought process that is #hyperconcerning for your direction, and vice versa.
By necessity, thirty ranked teams means the analysis, for each, will only be brief. In addition, only significant moves and non moves will be mentioned.
With that, on to the rankings (from worst to best).
30) Cavs: Sorry. When you lose LeBron, you had the worst offseason in the league. Collin Sexton may become a nice player, and with Channing Frye, the Cavs have the luxury of giving him floor spacing, even if they trade Kevin Love. But, it’s mLeBron freaking James.
29) Rockets: Tillman Fertitta was supposed to buy the Rockets and spend. So far he has penny pinched. Letting Ariza walk to save money was awful; James Ennis will not bridge the gap. A team this close needs to go for it, not pull back. Especially when Chris Paul is on a now gigantic contract — the goal should have been to go all in on the front end of his deal, knowing you will pay the price when he starts aging on the back end of the deal. Given the magnitude of the loss, and how close Houston is, this qualifies as an awful offseason – even if Capela is retained.
28) Hornets: Charlotte should be opening flexibility to surround Kemba Walker — not taking on contracts like Mozgov and Biyombo to save money. Alas, this is what happens when an owner puts his wallet over the good of the team. Enjoy your cut of the luxury tax savings, Hornets fans! Oh, wait.
27) Pelicans: Yes, Julius Randle can play. But letting Cousins walk for nothing is a big blow. Not just on the court next year, but going forward. The Pelicans should have made it work with him and Davis, or dealt Cousins if it did not. This is the type of player defection that could frustrate the Brow. In three years, we could be reading articles about Brow on another team, and a choice like this serving as a source of frustration that sewed the seeds for his departure. For that, they are buried in these rankings.
26) Hawks: Derision is deserved here. With the third pick in the draft and a ton of cap space, the possibilities at the draft seemed endless. The Hawks, however, put ticket sales over the best interests of the organization, trading down for Trae Young and refusing a first rounder to obtain Jeremy Lin. A GM is hancuffed when an owner hijacks the process. In a vacuum the Hawks added a lot this summer. In context, a HUGE opportunity to add young talent was blunted, for $$$$.
25) Blazers: If the Blazers were going to penny pinch on all of their decent role players, they never should have handed out big commitments in 2016 that locked them into a good but not great core. The Blazers’ offseason of cheapness has been befuddling. Fortunately for them, they had little options this offseason anyway, so their poor tactics have not really caused any harm.
24) 76ers: This is here for disappointment. A summer of grandeur became the summer of kicking the can down the road. And with extensions coming for the kids they don’t have too many more chances to do that. This was a critical offseason, and a huge lost opportunity to pay outside stars before their drafted stars eat flexibility.
23) Wolves: Similar to Portland, Minnesota acted super weird this summer with the Tolliver replacement of Bjelica, but with little flexibility in tow, they did nothing actively harmful. Butler declining an extension was a financially responsible decision stay or go, so that is not a factor here. Still, a big offseason to improve was lost, before Butler hits his UFA summer.
22) Bulls: Why deal Jimmy Butler to pay big money to Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker. Jabari will not want a paycut off his absurd $20 million figure next year. The Bulls should have rented their vast space for a first — not paid Jabari Parker.
21) Clippers: I am ok with Jordan walking given the price tag but not getting a deadline asset stings. And the Clippers have deliberately entered a phase that I dislike when some teams lose stars. Rather than taking their medicine and rebuilding, they want to show the star and fans they are still strong, so they keep trying to win to prove the point. LA, even without Jordan is too good to tank but not good enough to compete, but also lacks high end young talent. Not a good place to be unless a star bails them out with their cap room.
20) Kings: Signing LaVine was not smart but has been absolved. Otherwise the Kings have not done much of anything. They still have a ton of cap space despite a barren free agent pool — so they can improve their summer if they find a first rounder.
19) Heat: Miami has literally done nothing this summer because they capped themselves out in 2016. This is why I harped on their being in a bad spot last year — having a mediocre, round 1 speed bump ceiling, with a capped out future, is a bad place to be.
18) Celtics: Ranking Boston ahead of some teams that improved more (Boston has not really done anything) is an example of not judging offseasons in a vacuum. With such a strong roster in place, and little flexibility, Boston had few options to improve — and not many areas in which they can improve. Largely standing pat, while gambling if Robert Williams will fill the void of rim protector — is fine. This ranking goes down if Marcus Smart walks, or is severely overpaid.
17) Knicks: By picking in their slotted position (note: I am not judging any picks until the regular season — summer league means 0), and adding Hezonja, the Knicks essentially rolled things into 2019, getting a little better without doing anything harmful.
16) Jazz: The Jazz were smart to largely run it back, and roll things into next summer’s cap space. Bringing Jerebko back would have been nice, but waiving him was not a huge error.
15) Magic: Orlando essentially drafted Mo Bamba where slotted pre draft, and rearranged deck chairs. But with limited assets, they could not do much more.
14) Nuggets: Can we rank ownership differently than general management. As for the GM, the strategy of knowing they need a boost to contend, and thus choosing to take risks on Michael Porter and Isaiah Thomas, rather than playing it safe and knowing you won’t move the needle, is smart. Ownership, on the flip side, has been brutal. Denver dealt a first rounder and three second rounders, for no future gain. All they did was dump three EXPIRING contracts — saving money came first, over hoarding as many assets as possible. An important thing, for a team with limited future options to improve.
13) Spurs: I am mixed regarding the Spurs’ Kawhi return. On one hand, if the goal in a trade is to remain competitive, they would have been very hard pressed to beat a DeRozan led package. On the other hand, should the goal be competing rather than rebuilding? This feels like a missed opportunity to grab assets.
12) Wizards: When good teams who are noncontenders are capped out, I love when they take risks on high ceiling talent. The Wizards are in win now mode, and need a boost to become contenders; but they had no cap room. I much prefer a risk on a piece like Dwight – who COULD be that boost — rather than a clear role player. Tolliver got Dwight money — we KNOW that does nothing. At least take a chance. Washington gets a ding for Dwight’s player option, but I like the thought process.
11) Nets: The Nets essentially added a mid first, control over Shabazz Napier, and opened cap space in 2019. That makes for a solid offseason (keeping this one brief given other content on this site).
10) Pistons: The roster moves are irrelevant; Detroit basically shuffled around deck chairs. They are up this high for hiring Dwane Casey, who I think can coax more from Drummond and Reggie Jackson than Stan Van Gundy did. In addition, paring away from a dual role coach/GM combo is a win in and of itself. This could be a playoff team now.
9) Grizzlies: This is a weird team to rank. On the one hand I hate the process of turning down a pick for Tyreke just to piss him off and drive him to walk, and the process of seeking to win now (ownership, once again), despite being so far from contention. On the other hand, Kyle Anderson was a nice signing, and if Jaren Jackson is the goods, none of this matters – results would trump process.
8) Pacers: The Pacers ranking lower than the Lakers is an example for the fact that big moves matter most. The Pacers made an assortment of strong moves on the margins, adding Tyreke, McDermott, and Kyle O’Quinn to last year’s roster, together with Aaron Holiday. This was a shining example of how to operate when you have some cap limitations. But multiple good moves aside, one great move is a trump card.
7) Mavs: If you are going to pay players instead of renting space for picks, you better pay good ones. Dallas at least did that with Jordan. For the first time in years, the roster has a true structure going forward. Things can take off if Doncic pans out.
6) Suns: Phoenix does need a veteran point guard to feed their kids — Knight is a risk. But I love the idea of consolidating assets to move up in the draft to get a better kid in the present (to improve the core), and adding Ariza’s leadership and on court productivity. The Suns had a strong offseason.
5) Raptors: I love the Leonard trade for them. They were staring at either 3 years of being a pretender before either launching a rebuild or paying max money for DeRozan’s 30’s (bleh), or a rebuild. They had no cap space or assets to build a contender. The Kawhi deal was the ONLY means they had to potentially contend. In the worst case scenario, a necessay rebuild is expedited. In the best case, Toronto has itself a contender for years to come.
4) Bucks: Not finding an asset for Jabari Parker was bad asset management. That said, asset management of small assets is overrated — only big transactions really matter (the Lakers have not exactly aced asset management – does it matter now?). The Bucks are ranked this high for two reasons. First, the one issue they had was an outdated offense. Budenholzer was the PERFECT coach for this team, and they got him. This hire truly could be transformative. Second, Lopez was a strong addition and should thrive under a coach so similar to Kenny Atkinson.
3) Warriors: The champs came into the summer with no cap space. They came out with an all star center in DeMarcus Cousins and strong role player in Jonas Jerebko. JaVale McGee was the only defection of any import. Some worry about the Cousins fit. But if he does not fit, they can cut him, and at their miniature price point, he was the best talent they could add — and the only talent that could solve their one weakness, which is their play up front. The reward potential, that Cousins upgrades their ceiling, is great. This was an excellent offseason on the bay.
2) Thunder: OKC did not upgrade the roster much, but bottom line: they bet on themselves with Paul George, and it worked. Him and Russ are in the fold long term, Nerlens Noel shores up the frontcourt rotation, and Melo is on the way out, which should be subtraction by addition. With Russ and PG in full flight, and good (read: not Melo) fits around them, the Thunder can challenge out west for a long time.
1) Lakers: You sign LeBron freaking James, you win the offseason, period. Sure, the moves to surround him were awful — they reflect a lack of understanding of the modern game from Magic Johnson, and LeBron himself. But because they were 1 year deals, and the Lakers hit the deadline market and 2019 summer with LeBron, a cache of good young talent, and (in the summer) max cap space, the bad 1 year deals don’t really matter — a title winner was never coming in year 1.