So now is a good time to look back at what has happened and see who the winners and losers were from this NBA offseason, one that’s had plenty of player movement, intrigue and drama.
The Celtics entered this offseason needing to strike big in free agency. With several players set to have cost-controlled deals expire next summer, Boston had one final chance to hit it big on the open market. And by landing Gordon Hayward, the Celtics now have acquired an all-star in consecutive summers, since Al Horford also signed with them last July.
Boston still has work to do, with Isaiah Thomas’s free agency looming, the lack of a shooting guard on the roster and a collection of combo forwards still to sift through. But the Celtics have talent, and more of it coming in the form of several future high draft picks, making both the present and the future bright in Beantown.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Three weeks ago, it wasn’t clear that Russell Westbrook would still be part of this team come mid-July. After accepting the 2017 MVP award at the NBA’s inaugural awards show in late June, Westbrook wouldn’t say he would sign an extension this month — and, if he wouldn’t, it would’ve been hard for Oklahoma City to go into next season with the possibility of losing him next summer for nothing.
So while Westbrook still hasn’t signed that extension, trading for Paul George, landing Patrick Patterson and retaining Andre Roberson has reestablished Oklahoma City as a contender in the West, and George gives the Thunder the second superstar they needed to fill the gap left by Kevin Durant’s departure last summer. The Thunder now have 12 months to convince Westbrook and George to stick around before they hit free agency next summer. If they don’t, Oklahoma City can start over with a clean cap sheet and rebuild through the draft.
After the Golden State Warriors won the championship, Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey told an ESPN reporter that teams would have to increase their risk profile to compete with Golden State. Morey followed through on those words by landing Chris Paul in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for a package of players, then re-signed Nene and added depth pieces P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to fill out the roster.
Morey still would love to add Carmelo Anthony, which could make things in Houston volatile, given his prior issues with Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni in New York. But Morey deserves credit for swinging for the fences and avoiding standing pat with a good team when everyone would’ve understood why he might have done so.
When Tom Thibodeau was given the dual roles of coach and president of the Timberwolves, many expected he would rush headlong into shortsighted moves that would cripple the franchise. Instead, he has been prudent in his management of the team’s roster, and this summer he turned Minnesota into a potential force in the Western Conference.
Thibodeau landed Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Chicago Bulls, then signed point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Taj Gibson to reasonable, short-term contracts. He added even more offensive punch with Jamal Crawford. Those moves, along with young building blocks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, should allow Minnesota to do something it’s never done: make the playoffs without Kevin Garnett on its roster.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State could’ve gotten a spot on this list simply for re-signing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, ensuring the Warriors will be the favorites next season to win a second straight title — and third in four years. But in addition to keeping its stars, Golden State managed to improve at every spot on the roster.
Intriguing rookie Jordan Bell replaced James Michael McAdoo. Omri Casspi replaced Matt Barnes. Nick Young replaced Ian Clark. In all three instances, Golden State got a better and more versatile player than who they were replacing. Not bad for an already-loaded team.
New York Knicks
How could the Knicks not be on this list? Phil Jackson spent the first part of the offseason trashing the team’s two best players, Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, before exiting after the draft. He didn’t leave soon enough, however, as the Knicks drafted a player (Frank Ntilikina) who fits Jackson’s triangle offense over a more-talented player (Dennis Smith Jr.) who doesn’t.
Then, after Jackson left, the Knicks threw a four-year, $71 million offer sheet at Tim Hardaway Jr., who Jackson, in one of the few good moves of his tenure, had traded away three years earlier. The Atlanta Hawks, Hardaway’s former team, didn’t match the offer, leaving the Knicks with the worst contract of the summer for a second straight year and a point guard rotation of Ntilikina and Ron Baker. Now they want to trade Anthony, but might not be able to. As always, chaos reigns at Madison Square Garden.
Utah spent the past few years patiently building through the draft. Last season, it won 51 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time this decade. It seemed like things had finally turned, and the Jazz would be a good team for the next several years.
Then Gordon Hayward left in free agency, dealing Utah a crushing blow. Yes, the Jazz have a great front office led by Dennis Lindsey, an excellent coach in Quin Snyder and a terrific defensive center in Rudy Gobert. But this team will struggle to make the playoffs in the brutally tough Western Conference, and if it couldn’t keep Hayward past a second contract, how can it feel confident anyone will stay long term?
Los Angeles Clippers
This offseason was supposed to be a chance at a reset for the Clippers. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin set to become unrestricted free agents, Los Angeles could either keep their stars together, continuing the best stretch in franchise history, or blow things up and start over.
Instead, the Clippers did neither. Once Paul left in a trade before free agency (which admittedly got Los Angeles a nice haul in return), the Clippers gave a gigantic contract to Griffin, a wonderful talent but someone who hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Then they lavished a $20 million annual contract on Danilo Gallinari — another talented player who hasn’t been able to stay healthy and who plays the same position as Griffin. The Clippers have talent, but they also don’t seem to have much of a direction, and they now their cap sheet is tied up.
Restricted free agents
It hasn’t been a good summer to be a restricted free agent. Otto Porter Jr. got a max contract from the Washington Wizards, Hardaway got his outsize offer sheet from the New York Knicks, and Joe Ingles picked up a nice four-year, $52 million deal from the Jazz.
That’s the end of the restricted free agency success stories.
Some players, such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jonathan Simmons and Bojan Bogdanovic, were renounced and agreed to lesser deals than anticipated after becoming unrestricted free agents. Others, such as Nikola Mirotic, Mason Plumlee and Nerlens Noel, remain stuck in limbo, waiting for agreements while having no leverage to force their current team into giving them one. All of them are feeling the pinch of a shrinking cap environment.
Big men and older players
The market also shifted away from big men and older players. As every NBA team is looking to play smaller and faster, there is a glut of big men who can’t find jobs — or, if they can find them, aren’t getting the dollars and years expected. The same goes for teams trying to trade players, with centers Greg Monroe, Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter and Nikola Vucevic all on contracts their teams would like to move but can’t — despite all of them being solid contributors.
Older players, meanwhile, also felt the squeeze. Kyle Lowry signed only a three-year deal. Paul Millsap signed for only two, plus a team option. Veteran guards such as Rose, Williams and Ellis remain on the market with seemingly little interest. With money drying up, teams are choosing to go both smaller and younger — and the result is older players getting priced out of the market.