2016 NBA Free Agency Grades
2016 NBA Free Agency Grades
NBA Free agency. The best time of the year. With players that the average fan wouldn’t even recognize getting more than $10 million a year, to Kevin Durant completely shocking the world by joining a team, that many thought were already going to be the best team ever, the 2016 off-season set the stage for what will be an eventful season. And, the massive money going out this year will still not be enough to avoid the fan hysteria and massive overreactions that will inevitably happen again next year, when the salary cap increases once again.
Now that it’s almost over, let’s take some time to reflect on the craziness, review all the moves, and see who has had the best and worst off-seasons. NBA Off-season grades can be a crazy thing. Last year, I gave the Portland Trail Blazers high praise for the off-offseason, commending GM Neil Oshley’s ability to conduct a path for his team quickly after LaMarcus Aldridge departed, and was treated with much disgust. However, I also gave the Milwaukee Bucks praise for a presumed fantastic off-season, and we all know how that turned out. Please, note that the grades that I will be giving for teams are all free agency grades. I will be mentioning draft picks, and how their free agency corroborated with their draft, but the grades are strictly for the team’s free agency moves.
Players added: Dwight Howard, Jarrett Jack
Players lost: Al Horford, Jeff Teague (trade)
Players retained: Kent Bazemore, Kris Humphries
Draft picks: Taurean Prince (12), DeAndre’ Bembry (21)
I really like that the Atlanta Hawks signed Dwight Howard. Especially since they were able to get the talented big-man on a short-term contract (three-years, 70.5 million). They didn’t have to sacrifice their long-term flexibility by having a 35-year old Dwight Howard have to be on their team in 2020. So, the risk is well-worth taking. Dwight Howard wasn’t used correctly at all in Houston, at least for the latter part of his time there. If any superstar like Dwight was before coming to the Rockets, got as many touches as he was getting in Houston—9th in usage rate, and less field goal attempts than Patrick Beverley – they’d be incredibly upset. As a center, Dwight needs to get his touches from his teammates, and play calls. His lack of offensive involvement, especially in his last year in Houston, had a lot to do with the personality issues that he was so heavily scrutinized for. I don’t blame a guy for not wanting to be the defensive anchor night in, and night out, while his teammates aren’t putting in any energy at all defensively. In Atlanta’s system, I definitely feel Coach Bud can optimize Dwight Howard’s talents. With the plethora of open looks created around him from outside, Dwight’s inside presence can the missing piece to Atlanta. And, if he’s involved in the offense, he can protect the paint as well as anybody, which will be a huge help if they have to face the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
I would have liked it if Atlanta were able to keep Horford to play along Dwight, as I feel Horford is best fit as a power forward, and he would have been a perfect complement to Dwight, as compared to Paul Milsap. I also think Jeff Teague would have fit better with Dwight, if they didn’t trade him, as Dennis Schroeder’s lack of shooting ability will definitely not help him in his ability to play alongside Dwight Howard. Getting Jarrett Jack for the veteran’s minimum to back him up was a great signing, as he was averaging 13.5 PPG, and 7.2 APG before his injury last season. However, that starting lineup will still be phenomenal, with a nice mix of defensive fortitude, and offensive potential. The Hawks didn’t get intensely better, but they reloaded and now have a chance to make more noise in the playoffs than they have in the past.
Players added: Al Horford, Gerald Green
Players lost: Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger
Players retained: Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller
Draft picks: Jaylen Brown (3), Guerschon Yabusele (16), Ante Zizic (23)
The Boston Celtics went into the offseason with the goals of getting Kevin Durant, and despite not reaching those goals, they come out very strong. They got the 2nd best free agent on the market in Al Horford, a signing that does more for that organization than simply his production on the court. The Celtics now can make a case to free agents next off-season that they have a great core, and have what it takes to win. Now, the Celtics add another star alongside Thomas, who will complement each other well. The Celtics big problem was shooting, and front-court production. Al Horford, who shot a career-best 34% from deep last year, while taking the most threes in a season he’s ever had (256), will definitely be at least somewhat of a threat from outside, as well as finally answer the need for reliable frontcourt production for Boston. With all the young guards there, Al Horford finally provides balance in their line-up, coming off a season scoring 15.2 PPG and grabbing 7.3 RPG. I also think Al Horford will play more at the four next season, where he most naturally fits, and that will be very successful, under Brad Steven’s prestigious coaching.
The only question I had with Boston’s offseason was their draft strategy in that they went all in on Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick, especially when Kris Dunn was available. Jaylen is definitely talented, but he is not a shooter, and Boston has enough of the athletic guards that can’t shoot from deep. However, if they think he can be special, it would have been smart to at least try and address the three-point shooting issue, that will definitely hurt them during this season, in free agency. At least Gerald Green is a decent attempt at that. However, Danny Ainge shrewdly avoided overpaying players like Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner. Now, Boston still is able to retain all the cap space they had this year, and move it to next off-season, when the maximum cap ceiling will rise again, allowing Boston to make a huge offer to a top-level free agent in 2017, such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, or more practically Gordon Hayward, who played under Brad Stevens at Butler.
Players added: Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, Greivis Vasquez, Joe Harris, Anthony Bennett, Randy Foye, Justin Hamilton, Luis Scola
Players lost: Wayne Elllington, Thaddeus Young (trade), Jarrett Jack
Players retained: N/A
Draft picks: Caris LeVert (20)
Unfair to the Nets, they almost got out of free agency with a passable grade, however things didn’t fall into their laps gracefully. If they were able to get Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, they would have had a very solid off-season. They would have fully completed their transition from old to young, and that could be nothing but commended. Allen Crabbe would have been a fantastic piece for their backcourt alongside Jeremy Lin. It might be a blessing in disguise that Miami matched the Tyler Johnson contract though, as the last two years of that contract, which could then be for when Brooklyn is ready to sign real, productive free agents, are valued at $20 million per year, which is a significant overpay for his production so far in his career. So, because these two offer sheets were matched, Brooklyn had to spend all that money on the sub-tier free agents that were remaining, such as Greivis Vasquez, Anthony Bennett, Luis Scola and Randy Foye.
The Nets don’t have their draft pick, so there would be no reason for them to tank this year. I would have liked if they overpaid veteran players that are trying to prove themselves for a new contract soon, who would definitely bring some production into Brooklyn, and perhaps bring them back to relevancy. However, new GM Marks has done a decent job at transitioning from what he inherited to a new, young core.
Brookyln had two very good value signings this off-season that I really liked. Getting Trevor Booker for $9 million per year is a good signing, especially for a bad team in this market. He will provide good leadership, and good production in the front-court, coming off a great year for Utah. However, the better signing was how Brooklyn was able to grab Jeremy Lin. His contract was worth $36 million for three years, and compared to what other back-up point guards got, he is being underpaid for his production. Jeremy had a great year in Charlotte, backing up Kemba Walker, averaging 12 PPG. He was incredibly clutch all year, and in so many games he leads the charges, and became a primary scoring option for the Hornets. I think now in Brooklyn; he has the chance to become the face of the franchise. He will definitely be the starting point guard, and there is no doubt in my minds that statistically he will put up numbers comparable to the other top guards in the East. With the poor quality team, and the plethora of garbage time minutes he is about to see, his production is about to be career-defining. Brooklyn did a nice job in transitioning to their future, however their unluckiness in their offer sheets being matched definitely forced them to make low-quality transactions to fill up space on their roster.
Players added: Marco Belinelli, Roy Hibbert, Brian Roberts, Ramon Sessions, Roy Hibbert (trade)
Players lost: Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Troy Daniels
Players retained: Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams
The Charlotte Hornets had a fantastic season last year, finishing in 6th place, with 48 wins, and being one game away from the conference semifinals. Their top priority in the off-season was getting Nicolas Batum to stay, and they achieved that swimmingly. He was so great for them and their new quicker, more spread out, style of play under Steve Clifford, and to lock down the 27-year old long-term was perfect for their future. To also re-sign Marvin Williams, who had a great year, shooting over 40% from deep, and averaging around 12 PPG and 6 RPG, for a good value at just under $14 million per year was an added bonus. However, losing shooting in Courtney Lee, and a great scoring option in Al Jefferson will definitely hurt them, but the biggest loss is Jeremy Lin. He was a fantastic back-up behind Kemba Walker last season, and was a big reason they were so successful. However, Jeremy wanted a starting point-guard job, so there is nothing Charlotte could have done to retain him. All in all, with the development of Kemba Walker, Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller, alongside the comeback of Michael Kidd- Gilchrist, the Charlotte team will continue getting better.
Players added: Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Spencer Dinwiddie (trade)
Players lost: Pau Gasol, Justin Holiday, Joakim Noah, E’Twaun Moore, Aaron Brooks, Cameron Bairstow, Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy (trade)
Players retained: N/A
Draft picks: Denzel Valentine (14)
The Bulls started off the summer with a solid off-season, finally getting rid of Derrick Rose’s contract, and choosing not to trade Jimmy Butler, and build around him. It would have been asinine to trade Jimmy Butler and completely rebuild, because Jimmy is a star of the caliber which can be built around. He averaged 27 PPG, 7 RPG, and 7 APG last season in games that Derrick Rose didn’t play in, and I was excited for the Bulls desired direction in wanting to get younger and faster to build around him and Fred Hoiberg’s system. Robin Lopez, even was a great get, because if a team was to rebuild, getting a solid rim protector is a key component. I even thought getting Rajon Rondo, at the price they got him at (2 years /$28M) was a good signing, as he can play with pace, and would have let Jimmy play off the ball more, and cut to the rim, and that could have been a great system to see.
Then the real off-season happened, and the Bulls all-of-a-sudden went all-in on completely throwing their rebuilding process out the window to get Dwyane Wade. Now, Dwyane Wade alone in the off-season would have been a solid move, as he would make Chicago a good free agent destination, possibly provide great mentorship for Jimmy Butler, and dominate when they get to the playoffs, and give Chicago that spark it needs. While that is all still possible, all the moves together present an absolute nightmare for Chicago. At this point, this roster is exactly the opposite of what Fred Hoiberg is known to succeed with. Fred runs a pace-and-space system, and that is why he has been so successful as a coach at Iowa State. This new roster is going to be a nightmare for him. Rajon Rondo shot 37% from deep last season. That was BETTER than both Jimmy Butler, who shot 31%, and Dwyane Wade, who shot an absolutely atrocious 16% from deep. And, all of these three players need the ball in their hands. There is absolutely no way this can work perfectly, especially with Rajon Rondo’s attitude problems waiting at the horizon the second pressure starts to hit this team. Now, on a personnel level, they got better pieces, they improved their chances in next year’s free agency, they were able to shed Derrick Rose’s contract, which are all great things. However, all together, this team doesn’t have the brightest future, and with the years left in Dwyane Wade’s prime, aren’t good enough to make any real noise, either.
Players added: Mike Dunleavy Jr, Chris Andersen
Players lost: Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, Sasha Kaun
Players retained: Richard Jefferson, LeBron James, James Jones, JR Smith*
Draft picks: Kay Felder (54)
Despite losing some pieces, the reigning NBA champions, did a decent job at filling them back up. With Mozgov signing with the Lakers for $65 million, there was absolutely no way the Cavs were going to want to re-sign him. He wasn’t a key piece of their system anymore. However, I do have concern now for the Cavs ability to protect the rim when they need to, especially if they have to face teams with very aggressive players, such as last year’s OKC team. However, if they face the Warriors again, having a big man that can protect the rim isn’t the most necessary part, as seen by Mozgov’s intense decrease in playing time from the 2015 Finals to the 2016 Finals.
The Cavaliers were already way over the salary cap, so signing anyone to a huge contract, like Dwyane Wade, was literally impossible. Because they were already over the salary cap, I think they should have matched the offer sheet that Matthew Dellavedova signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. Even though he couldn’t find the floor against the Warriors in the NBA Finals, Delly was a crucial piece for the Cavs season, and playoff run. He shot over 40% from deep, and was 5th in the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage, at 46.9%, which is so necessary for a LeBron James’ offense. Delly isn’t your typical three-and-D player because he is a point guard, but for the Cavs, he played off the ball alongside LeBron James, made his open threes consistently, and played hard-nosed defense, which is exactly what the Cavaliers need from their role players. Delly was a nice change-of-pace player for the Cavs, as Kyrie Irving was more offensively-focused, and Delly was able to come in and play very good defense on opposing guards. Also, with Mo Williams and Kay Felder, who is a very raw talent, but will take a long time to develop, as the Cavaliers only real backup options behind Kyrie Irving now, defending opposing point guards will be a problem next year without Delly.
Getting Chris Andersen was a solid pick-up, as he has experience playing alongside LeBron, and can be insurance for the Cavs down low if needed, although he can’t produce much anymore. Also, trading for Mike Dunleavy, and having to give up absolutely nothing, including any cap room, because of the TPE received in the Dellavedova sign-and-trade, was a smart move for the Cavs, because if Dunleavy’s back is healed, he will be a fantastic shooter to place alongside LeBron, and help if Iman Shumpert can’t figure out how to play offensive basketball again. Not to mention, they got LeBron locked down for multiple more years in his prime, so regardless, the off-season is a win.
Players added: Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry, Quincy Acy, Andrew Bogut (trade)
Players lost: Zaza Pachulia, Chandler Parsons, Javale McGee, Raymond Felton, David Lee, Jeremy Evans (trade)
Players retained: Deron Williams
The Dallas Mavericks had a pretty good off-season. Now, it would have been great if they were able to finally get that dominant center to place alongside Dirk Nowtizki, in either Hassan Whiteside or Dwight Howard. However, they got better, and replaced their losses well. Chandler Parsons seemed good fit for Dallas, when they signed him, but with his injuries, and inconsistencies, it was time to move on. Harrison Barnes, although it was a big risk to offer him a max contract, has a lot of upside, and Dallas is banking on him being able to take on this bigger role. Coming out of college, he did have the potential for that, but he was relegated to an off-ball, shooter role in Golden State, obviously. So, I think offering him the max contract was a gamble worth taking. Also, getting Andrew Bogut for basically nothing, except having to take on his big salary, was a smart move, as it will help Dallas’ defense immensely, if he can stay healthy. This is becoming more and more important, as Dirk is entering the final years of his career. To repay Dirk, even more money than he even asked for, and lock him down was a great move, as it shows the organization respects and gives back to its players, unlike how Pat Riley handled the Dwyane Wade situation. Also, Dirk Nowtizki is still a good NBA player, coming off a season where he averaged 18.3 PPG, and 6.5 RPG, while shooting 45% from the floor.
Signing Seth Curry for only $3 million per year, on a short-term contract was a smart move on Dallas’ part. He actually had a great end to last season for the Kings, averaging 15.7 PPG, 4.2 APG, and shooting 49% from deep in his last 9 games. It was a low-risk, high reward move, as the Dallas Warriors, oops, I mean Mavericks now have some great pieces. Their starting five of Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowtizki, and Andrew Bogut, is actually really good, and will keep Dallas in the position to make noise in the Western Conference playoff race next season.
Players added: N/A
Players lost: D.J. Augustin, Joffrey Lauvergne
Players retained: Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller
Draft picks: Jamal Murray (7), Juan Hernangomez (15), Malik Beasley (19)
The Nuggets didn’t have the greatest free-agency period, but there wasn’t much they could do. None of the star players would want to play for the 33-win team, and even players like Dwyane Wade refused to go to Denver, despite getting a contract offer well above what he ended up signing for in Chicago. So, the Nuggets could have just signed mid-tier or sub-tier players to expensive, short-term contracts, like a lot of teams under the salary cap floor did, or they could have held pat and let their young guys grow and develop, and get more playing time. If they decided to sign all those free agents, it would have looked good on paper, but these signees would then be in it for themselves, to prove their worth for a new contract next season, or the year after. The Nuggets made the correct choice in not quilting into needing to sign many free agents, especially because they had such a good draft. Jamal Murray will get plenty of playing time alongside Emmanuel Mudiay, and that backcourt could pan out to be a fantastic duo with repetition. Also, they still have veteran leadership on this team, by resigning Mike Miller, and still having Jameer Nelson, and Danillo Gallinari. I would like to see the Nuggets trade Faried to a veteran forward, who would accept a bench role. The Nuggets future is looking bright under Coach Malone, however it will definitely take some time, and standing pat in free agency gives them that needed time.
Players added: Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, Ish Smith, Ray McCallum, Cameron Bairstow (trade)
Players lost: Jodie Meeks, Anthony Tolliver, Spencer Dinwiddie (trade)
Players retained: Andre Drummond (extension),
Draft picks: Henry Ellenson (18)
The Pistons didn’t make any bad moves, but they also didn’t make any splashes. They had a good off-season though. They’re biggest need was at the back-up point guard position, as Steve Blake last year was a complete shell of himself, and the Pistons struggled mightily whenever Reggie Jackson was on the bench. And, so they got one of the best backup PG’s in free agency, for a contract that was lower than the rate that backup PG’s were going for, by signing Ish Smith for 3 years / $18M.
I would have loved it if the Pistons went all in on trying to get Ryan Anderson to come to Detroit. Maybe the $80 million he demanded was way too much for Stan Van Gundy to want to pay, but he would be a great complement alongside Andre Drummond, offensively. Jon Leuer, though, will be a nice piece off the bench to throw in a line-up alongside Drummond, which would space the floor incredible for Drummond and Reggie Jackson to do their work. The Pistons are a great young team, so it is completely fine to stay put, and let this team continue and develop under the lead of Andre Drummond. Despite getting swept, they played the eventual champion Cavaliers very close in their first round series last postseason, and showed a lot of fight and talent. Now, with some playoff experience under their belt, a deeper squad, and another year together, the Pistons are going to take another step forward.
Golden State Warriors:
Players added: Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Javale McGee
Players lost: Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush, Leandro Barbosa, Andrew Bogut (trade)
Players retained: Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, Anderson Varejao, James McAdoo
Draft picks: Damian Jones (30), Patrick McCaw (38)
A 73-win team that was one game away from winning back-to-back NBA championships just got a former MVP, who averaged 28.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 5.0 APG last season, while shooting over 50% from the field. Yeah, that happened. There is no question.
The Warriors are about to have one of the most unstoppable, efficient, lineups of all-time. Never before have four all-NBA players played on the same team, so the Warriors could perhaps be the most stacked team of all-time, barring injury. Not to mention, they were ALREADY a championship worthy team last season. A lot of critics say that the Warriors are going to have really poor chemistry, or that super teams never work out, but I beg to differ for this situation. For one, this team is already so good, and already have such great chemistry. Usually, when super teams come together, multiple stars are new, so it takes so much time to first figure out how to play together, and then build chemistry. So, I don’t think it is a possibility for this team to not be good, unless injuries occur. Also, yes chemistry can be an issue, but Kevin Durant knows what he is signing up for, and Steph Curry is the league’s most selfless superstar, and would be perfectly content with yielding to Kevin Durant as the team’s alpha.
Lastly, yes, the Warriors lost a lot of pieces, especially on their bench which was a huge part of their success over the past two years. However, look at their team’s 4th-8th best players: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and David West. How many teams can say their next 4 is as good as that? Depth will definitely be a huge issue if an injury arises, but they will be fine on the depth front. The Warriors biggest weakness will be interior defense and rim protection, but getting Zaza Pachulia, who was 15th in the NBA in defensive rating when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks two seasons ago, is a good replacement, considering the fact that the Warriors could only sign minimum deals.
Players added: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene Hilario, Pablo Prigioni
Players lost: Terrance Jones, Dwight Howard
Players retained: James Harden (extension)
Contrary to popular belief, I actually liked what the Houston Rockets did this off-season. James Harden is an absolute stud offensively. He averaged 29.0 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 6.1 RPG last season, and willed the Rockets to the playoffs. Anyone that does that is a talent that needs to be built around, and kept long-term. Convincing James Harden to renegotiate his contract to extend his stay in Houston was a great move by GM Daryl Morey. But, he just doesn’t play defense. He is an awful defender. So, the Rockets, instead of trying to improve their defense little by little, which they did over the past few off-seasons, which obviously wasn’t too successful, went all in on building around James Harden, and utilizing what he has to offer to the fullest. They hired Mike D’Antoni, who’s run-and-gun offense will be a fantastic way to maximize James Harden. They then signed players over the off-season, after moving on from Dwight Howard, who would fit this system, in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Their spacing will be fantastic, and their offense is going to be amazing. Yes, their defense will be brutal, but at least they have found a direction they want to take the team to, and are hoping they’d just be able to outscore any team they play on any given night. And that strategy, in my opinion, is a risk worth taking.
The Rockets also were able to sign one of the best value contracts of the off-season, by locking down Nene from the Wizards for a 1 year, $2.9 million contract, which is an absolute steal. They have a lot of work to do, as health will be crucial, and finding a way to make this team at least competent defensively will be tough for Coach D’Antoni, but this team is going to be fun as hell to watch next year.
Players added: Al Jefferson, Jeff Teague, Jeremy Evans, Aaron Brooks, Thaddeus Young (trade)
Players lost: Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill, George Hill (trade)
Players retained: N/A
The Pacers had a solid off-season, however, they should have made a move to sign a good free agent to add to their squad. During and before the draft the Pacers made smart moves to get Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, for George Hill, and only a late first round draft pick. Their starting line-up now, is one of the best in the Eastern Conferences, with Jeff Teague at point guard, Monta Ellis and Paul George at the two and three, while Thad Young and Myles Turner round out the rest. This team definitely took a step forwards this off-season, and should be able to compete for the Eastern Conference Finals. Al Jefferson was a nice signing, but I don’t know if it fits Larry Bird’s vision for the team, where he wanted to get faster and younger. However, he will provide great mentorship for Myles Turner, and be a good boost off the bench for their squad. The Pacers still need some more pieces to be back to how they were a couple years ago, but they are moving towards that level, and with Paul George getting another year back, and Jeff Teague being in a contract year, the Pacers will have a great season.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Players added: Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Alan Anderson
Players lost: Cole Aldrich, Jeff Green, Pablo Prigioni
Players retained: Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute
Yes, it would have been fantastic if the Clippers could sign a top-level free agent. However, they were extremely over the cap, and would have had to completely deplete their depth if they were to sign, for example Kevin Durant. They were over the tax limit, so they could only re-sign their players, and sign players for minimum deals. I like that the Clippers brought the whole squad back together. They were good enough of a team last year to give the Warriors a real challenge in the Western Conference, but unfortunately both their star leaders got injured in the semifinals. They match up well with the Warriors, a lot less now that they have Kevin Durant, but they are one of the only teams that have consistently played the Warriors close for the past two seasons.
Also, with that financial inflexibility, the Clippers were able to acquire Brandon Bass, who had a great season with Doc Rivers back when he was in Boston, and Alan Anderson, who will be a great shooter off the bench for Los Angeles. Raymond Felton had a decent year for Dallas, so he will be great insurance behind Austin Rivers and Chris Paul. The squad, when healthy, is a very, very good team so it’s worth it to give it one more go, and see if this team can win a championship.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Players added: Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Jose Calderon
Players lost: Kobe Bryant, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass
Players retained: Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Marcelinho Huertas
Draft picks: Brandon Ingram (2), Ivica Zubac (32)
Is this the first A you’ve seen the Lakers receive in all these free agency grades, Laker fans? I think the Lakers had a good off-season. So many people think the Lakers had a failure of an off-season because they couldn’t sign a Kevin Durant, or a DeMar DeRozan, etc. But, news flash, no superstar in today’s NBA is going to leave a good situation to go join an awful team (unless your name is LeBron James who leaves Miami for Cleveland, but that’s another story). So, the Lakers had to go out and prove that they CAN be a good team, and they ARE headed in the right direction, so in the future, they can convince free agents to come play for them. And that’s what they did!
They had a terrific draft, as they got the 2nd best player in Brandon Ingram, who will be perfect for Luke Walton’s offense, if he pans out to his potential. Then, they have D’angelo Russell still, last year’s #2 overall pick, who will finally get his chance to be the main ball-handler, and run the show in Los Angeles. With Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour last season, D’Angelo Russell didn’t get to have a true rookie year, where he can play and develop, because he couldn’t run the show and facilitate as much, which is what made him so successful at Ohio State. Now, he will have the true chance to develop his game. They were then able to re-sign Jordan Clarkson for $12.5 million a year, which is a lot less as compared to other point guards who got paid this off-season. Signing Luol Deng will be so fantastic and necessary for their locker room. He also can still contribute both offensively and defensively. Brandon Ingram, who is from Duke already has that connection with Luol, will definitely be learning so much from him. Jose Calderon, an acquisition from a trade with Chicago, will also help out the young, immature guard in D’Angelo Russell.
The big questionable move of the Lakers off-season was signing Timofey Mozgov for a 4-year, $64-million deal. Yes, this was a lot of money for someone who couldn’t make the Cavaliers rotation at the end of the year. The Lakers could have definitely signed him for less, but they wanted a veteran rim protector, and did all they could to lock him down before they proceeded with the rest of their free agency. Mozgov was great for the Cavaliers in their first season with LeBron back, and his rim protection was a big reason for their ability to turn their season around after starting 19-20. So, if he is able to get another off-season to make sure his knee is completely healthy, I can see him being a great piece for the Lakers, who will help cover up many of the defensive mistakes of the young players.
Players added: Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, Troy Daniels (trade)
Players lost: Matt Barnes, Tony Wroten, Chris Andersen, Lance Stephenson, Ray McCallum
Players retained: Mike Conley
Draft picks: Wade Baldwin (17), Deyonta Davis (31)
If the Grizzlies were able to get a great spot-up shooter like Chandler Parsons, perhaps four years ago, this would have been the greatest move, and would have been a real solution to that team, when all their stars were in their prime. Now, the move still fills a huge hole, but it’s just not enough, as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are on the decline, as well as the natural aging of their team. However, nobody can give the Grizzlies a poor grade for this off-season, when they filled the three-point shooting deficit for their team, and re-signed their point guard to a long-term deal. They have a fantastic starting five, that will compete with the best of them when healthy: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies were good enough to make the playoffs last year, despite being completely rampaged with injuries all season long. Now, with the team back together, and a new coach that might utilize a new pace-and-space style to add to the gritty Grizzlies can be a new twist. However, Dave Joerger was a fantastic coach for them, so it’ll be an interesting transition. The Grizzlies are in fact relying a lot on health, when they have players like Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, who all were hurt with debilitating injuries last season.
Players added: Derrick Williams, Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Dion Waiters
Players lost: Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson
Players retained: Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson
Usually when teams have a star player leave, and still make moves to build for the future, I still give them a fine grade, because usually there was nothing they could have done to prevent the star from leaving. However, in this case, the Miami Heat could have kept Dwyane Wade, but did an AWFUL job at trying to keep him in Miami. The Heat were a great team last year, and were a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, without Chris Bosh, and with Hassan Whiteside absent for the previous series. It makes all the sense in the world to want to keep the player that was the reason this team was able to contend last year in Dwyane Wade, for just a two-year contract, which he would have signed. However, the Heat weren’t willing to raise the value of the contract, to avoid having to rearrange their team to afford him. Dwyane Wade, especially for the Miami Heat organization and fanbase, is exactly the type of player you make some smaller moves to be able to afford him. Also, if the Heat were able to contend again next year, with a potentially healthy Bosh, and a re-signed Whiteside, that would have been HUGE for their free agent search in the 2017 summer. Now, with their young team, full of sub-tier players, their case for free agents in the summer isn’t the strongest. And even if Bosh wasn’t able to get healthy, that wouldn’t have been as debilitating for Miami, as his contract would then not go against the team’s cap, so they could afford a star free agent next summer to play alongside Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside. Now, the Heat got a lot of sufficient players, which looks like they are trying to make a run for a playoff spot next year. The 8th seed spot won’t be as convincing for players next summer, or help them acquire a top draft pick, so the Heat’s free agency was an obvious failure.
Players added: Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic
Players lost: Jerryd Bayless, Joe Inglis, O.J. Mayo
Players retained: Miles Plumlee
Draft picks: Thon Maker (10)
Signing Mirza Teletovic was my favorite under-the-radar signings of the off-season. He shot 39% from deep last season, which is exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks need, as a team that struggled mightily with spacing. They also were able to add Matthew Dellavedova, who is a fantastic catch-and-shoot player, that can play tough defense. He shot 41% from deep last season, and was in the top 6 in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. He, along with Mirza fill a big need for Milwaukee. The Bucks had an awful year last year, as the Greg Monroe signing voided the defensive identity that the Bucks were so successful with a year ago. I think the Bucks will end up finding a trade partner for Greg Monroe at least by the trade deadline, which will allow them to maximize John Henson’s length. With Giannis Antetokounmpo planning to run the point next season, Delly will provide great back-up for him, with Jerryd Bayless departing to Philadelphia. The Bucks had a solid off-season, and are hoping to get back to what made them successful. Next off-season is when they will need to make a splash in free agency, as their young guys will develop, and a solid veteran contributor would be so helpful for them.
Players added: Jordan Hill, Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich
Players lost: Greg Smith
Players retained: N/A
Draft picks: Kris Dunn (5)
After missing on Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to make any huge moves in free agency, to let his young guys develop and play together. So, in that sense, they were able to get decent pieces, especially to add to their front-court depth in Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich. I like how Minnesota got veterans that will help their young guys, without taking away too much playing time from them. With Kris Dunn here, their youth is crazy talented, and they will be a force to be reckoned with, if not this year, inevitably next year. They could probably have traded Ricky Rubio and let Kris Dunn be the starting PG, but Rubio will be great for the youth development with his selfless play. I would have liked for Minnesota to get at least one veteran player than can actually contribute in the rotation, because the Timberwolves lost a lot of close games last year, and that extra piece would have been great for them. Regardless, they had a solid off-season.
New Orleans Pelicans:
Players added: Solomon Hill, Terrance Jones, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore
Players lost: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt, James Ennis
Players retained: Alonzo Gee, Tim Frazier
Draft pick: Buddy Hield (7)
The New Orleans Pelicans had the steal of the off-season: getting Terrance Jones for the veteran minimum. For a young player with potential, and just injury concerns, that is a fantastic bargain and would provide great depth behind Anthony Davis. E’Twaun Moore is a fantastic three-point shooter who will be a fantastic piece for their team, because he shoots 45% from deep, was also a good signing. Drafting Buddy was a great move as well, as he has the potential to be a high-end three-and-D player in this league.
Other than that, the Pelicans did nothing to increase their chances of even making the playoffs, which they missed last season. Anthony Davis is injury prone, the team can’t just bank on him being healthy for the majority of the games next season. They need to build a team that can support itself without AD, and then AD will be the piece that makes them from a playoff team into a contender. Signing Solomon Hill, a player that despite playing good defense, for $52 million over 4 years, when he averaged only 4.1 PPG, and 2.8 RPG last year is an overpay. They have a massive hole at the center position with Omer Asik being close to irrelevance, averaging 4.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and less than 0.5 BPG last season. They should have tried to address that position during free agency, because Anthony Davis playing a center will lead to more injuries for the talented bigman. They need to make sure Anthony Davis is happy being the franchise player, and if they’re goal is to just make the playoffs every year, as their off-season moves dictate, he might not be there for too long.
New York Knicks:
Players added: Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Justin Holliday, Derrick Rose (trade)
Players lost: Arron Afflalo, Langston Galloway, Tony Wroten, Derrick Williams, Lou Amundson, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon (trade)
Players retained: Sasha Vujacic
The Knicks got a lot of criticism from sportswriters all off-season for their risky off-season. However, if you look at it, the Knicks had a very good off-season. The risk was worth taking. They need to try to win-now, if they are positive they want to keep Carmelo Anthony as their franchise centerpiece. Trading for Derrick Rose was a risk worth taking, because if he is able to commit to a secondary role, and is able to be at least a contributing point guard, losing just Robin Lopez for that is definitely worth. And, compared to having Jose Calderon as their best point guard last year, this is a big upgrade. It would have been best if they were able to keep Langston Galloway, as he only signed for $6 million with New Orleans. They solidified their starting five with players that complement each-other well, if they are able to stay healthy. Courtney Lee is that knockdown shooter that every competent team needs, and Melo can finally get some help offensively with Kristaps Porzingis developing, Brandon Jennings off the bench, and Derrick Rose. That Brandon Jennings signing was very cheap, at just $5 million a year to be the back-up point guard. And with Derrick Rose’s injury concerns, he’ll be playing a lot more than your usual back-up point guard.
The Joakim Noah signing was insanely optimistic, at $70 million for four years. However, if he can stay healthy, he’s exactly what the Knicks need as a big man that can be a playmaker, and anchor a team’s defense. Not to mention, he’s a great teammate, and will be crucial for the Knicks playoff hopes. The Knicks didn’t automatically make themselves into a super team, as Derrick Rose thinks, but they did get immediate impact-contributors for a team with a star that’s on the low-end of his prime in Carmelo Anthony, which is exactly what a team in their position should do.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Players added: Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo (trade)
Players lost: Kevin Durant, Randy Foye, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka (trade)
Players retained: Russell Westbrook (extension).
Draft picks: Domantas Sabonis (11)
Yikes. KD was going to leave, and there was nothing OKC could do about it. It would have been nice to see OKC go all-in for Al Horford, and have that be convincing enough to get KD to want to stay, but Horford wasn’t willing to take the gamble, unfortunately. Usually when teams lose a big star, I grade them based on how they bounced back from it. The Thunder bounced back by signing Russell Westbrook for three more years, in a deal that allows the Thunder to build around him, instead of just having absolute uncertainty in the direction of their franchise. I have questions about how the Oladipo-Westbrook back-court will work out, especially with the lack of consistent three-point shooting there, but again, that was a move made before KD left. Also, the loss of Serge Ibaka will hurt this new team that will be completely built around Russell Westbrook, as the defensive identity of long and athletic players is no longer there in OKC. So, despite not going anything after KD left to salvage their off-season, locking down Russell Westbrook for the future is enough to prevent this grade from being an F. They still have a superstar to build around, which is remarkable.
Players added: Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Green, CJ Wilcox, Jodie Meeks, Serge Ibaka (trade)
Players lost: Brandon Jennings, Jason Smith, Dewayne Dedmon, Andrew Nicholson, Shabazz Napier, Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova (trade)
Players retained: Evan Fournier
The Magic did great in adding a rim protector, and re-signing a great young player in Evan Forunier for the long-term future. But then they added another rim protector, overpaid for a player in Jeff Green who hasn’t been as much of a contributor, and won’t be the best help for the young guards there, and some more questionable players, all while trading away their best player from the season before and a lottery pick for a player set to be a free agent come next summer.
The direction that the Magic want to go is so questionable right now. It was a fantastic move to hire HC Frank Vogel, as he is the definition of a winning coach. But to pay $72 million for Bismack Biyombo after already giving up so much for Serge Ibaka is very debatable. Especially when Aaron Gordon will lose so much playing time at power forward now, with Evan Fournier set to be the long-term answer at the three. They are so loaded in the front-court, but not in a good way. And, if Serge Ibaka has a great season, and the Magic can’t afford him after this off-season, that could be devastating. The Magic were close to a playoff spot next season, and instead of increasing their chances, they went in a huge circle. If they truly didn’t think Victor Oladpio was the solution for the future, it was smart to trade him before his contract season, but the way they traded him, by sending the 11th overall pick alongside him for Serge Ibaka was the issue. Also, their back-court will still struggle as Mario Hezonja will have a bigger role, but didn’t show any signs of being able to handle that last season. However, if it works out, his shooting will finally be the right complement alongside Elfrid Payton.
Players added: Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Sergio Rodriguez
Players lost: Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, Christian Wood
Players retained: N/A
Draft picks: Ben Simmons (1), Timothe Luwawu (24), Furkan Korkmaz (26)
Honestly, the 76ers had a great off-season. First off, they finally got a franchise cornerstone in Ben Simmons, who is way too talented to be a failure. Now, their job is to start building around the kid, and the 76ers did a great job of doing that in the first year with him. Convincing Dario Saric to come to the United States is also a big win, as the MVP of the Olympics qualifying tournament in Europe is a fantastic scorer that can spread the floor and defend, at least abroad. Jerryd Bayless is a good add as their point guard, as he will provide great veteran leadership, run the show when he needs to as the point guard, as well as defer the ball handling and facilitating duties to Ben Simmons when he is playing. Signing Gerald Henderson for just $9 million a year is a good contract for both sides, as Gerald will get a chance to play for a bigger contract, as well as solidify the young 76ers line-up! There was much pressure from the fans for Philly to sign Dion Waiters, but it is so great that he didn’t, as he would be the worst kind of player to have on a young team trying to build around a fantastic distributer. All in all, you can’t find any realistic negatives in Philly’s off-season this year. Great work.
Players added: Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa,
Players lost: Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic
Draft picks: Dragan Bender (4), Marquese Chriss (8), Tyler Ulis (34)
The Suns have a solid direction for their team. I’m still waiting for them to trade either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight, as I think Devin Booker can be a superstar in this league, given the minutes and opportunity. Last year, he was only the 7th teenager to score at least 900 points, following in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Tracy McGrady – all superstars. When he was a starter last season after Jan. 8th, he averaged 18.5 PPG, which will only increase with development and better pieces around him. The Suns had a great draft, adding two lottery players, and then added smart veterans to help these young guys. That is exactly how you build a team. Dudley cost $10 million a year for three years, too, which is decent for this market. He is still a very great shooter, and just does all the right things on the court.
Portland Trail Blazers:
Players added: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier (trade)
Players lost: Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts
Players retained: Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, CJ McCollum (extension)
Last year, despite LaMarcus Aldridge leaving, I loved the Blazers off-season. They did a great job of building their team with LA gone, and getting the pieces necessary to complement their star-studded backcourt. This off-season, I was ready for the Blazers to finally use their success from their quick rebuild into turning into a contender. They had so much cap space available, and they used that money to give Evan Turner a 4-year, $70 million deal. He’s a great player no doubt, and was a key piece to the Celtics success over the past two seasons, but I don’t see how his fit as a daily starter at the small forward position for a team that needs him to be a tough physical defender day in and day out to be successful.
They also used that money to re-sign all their pieces, especially by overpaying for Allen Crabbe, a player that is a fantastic piece, but will just be on their bench. By signing Allen Crabbe for around $19 million a year, that contract will really hurt them in the future. They have locked up potential available cap space next summer to re-sign a piece that is just not that important for them. They should have saved that cap space for next year, to sign a big free agent in the 2017 class, which is absolutely loaded. Now, the team they have now is the team they will be stuck with, because they utilized the majority of their available cap room. They are already a good team, and if they had another great season next year, they could have completely gone from playoff contender to championship threat with one big signing. I would have also liked if they made a run at a center this free agency. Hassan Whiteside wanted to stay in Miami, but if they offered Dwight Howard the money they used on Crabbe/Ezeli, they could have made a convincing offer for Dwight, whose skillset would have fit better in Portland than it does in Atlanta. I feel Portland will now be stuck in this stage of above-average just waiting to take their team to the next level, and if no team is willing to take on Allen Crabbe’s contract in a potential future trade, especially if he doesn’t live up to the value, the Blazers will miss their championship window.
Players added: Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, Anthony Tolliver, Lamar Patterson
Players lost: Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Acy, Caron Butler, Seth Curry
Players retained: N/A
Draft picks: Georgios Papagiannis (13), Malachi Richardson (22), Skal Labissiere (28)
Let’s face it: nobody WANTS to play for the Kings. Their owner is a lunatic. Their organization is in shambles. Their basketball is centered around a head-case that has no winning bone in his body. So, the Kings have to take what they can get. In free agency alone, the Kings made nice moves to get veteran pieces who will definitely be giving it their all as they are playing on short-term contracts in hopes of securing one final huge contract before their career is over. In Arron Afflalo, they’ll get a great shooter, fresh of a nice season with New York, and in Matt Barnes they’ll get someone trying to show that he can still have a solid role in this league. However, I do wonder how Matt Barnes will fit alongside DeMarcus Cousins. They are going to get in a lot of heated fights this season. If we’re grading the Kings draft, however, that’s a different story. First off, trading Marco Belinelli for a late first draft pick was questionable, although Malachi Richardson was my pick for the steal of the draft. Also, taking a center who didn’t even start in Greece in Georgios Papagiannis with their lottery pick is super questionable for a team that needs some immediate young contribution to get their team out of the awful phase it is in now around DeMarcus.
San Antonio Spurs:
Players added: Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee
Players lost: Tim Duncan, Boban Marjanovic, David West, Boris Diaw (trade)
Players retained: Manu Ginobili
Draft picks: Dejounte Murray (29)
The Spurs were the closest team to catch up to the Golden State Warriors during the regular season last year. This free agency period, they did nothing to lessen that gap. Tim Duncan retired, and they replaced him with Pau Gasol. The Spurs lost to the Thunder because they were too slow, and not athletic enough for the young, lengthy Thunder team. So, signing Pau Gasol to fix those issues is not a great solution. Yes, Pau Gasol is still a great offensive player, but his defense is completely suspect at this point in his career. He can still moderately protect the rim and get blocks, but his pick-and-roll, and low block defense is abysmal, which is what the Warriors will definitely be exposing a lot next season. Golden State is one of the best pick-and-roll teams, and now with Kevin Durant, they will be so efficient in the post. The Spurs did well by using their limited financial resources to get Dewayne Dedmon who could be a decent rim protector. With, a Gasol-Aldridge frontcourt incoming, that pairing will be a defensive nightmare. It was good that the Spurs got to sign one of the most talented free agents available, but I think their free agency period was definitely not a success, because their window of opportunity with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is not the largest.
Players added: Jared Sullinger
Players lost: Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, James Johnson
Players retained: DeMar DeRozan
Draft picks: Jakob Poeltl (9), Pascal Siakam (27)
The Toronto Raptors did what they needed to this off-season: re-sign DeMar DeRozan to ensure the Kyle Lowry-DeRozan duo was present in Toronto for the long-term future. That’s a successful off-season in of itself. However, the Raptors didn’t do anything to increase their title chances. They still have long ways to go to catch up to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. Kyle Lowry will not be getting any younger, so the Raptors need to do all they can, albeit a trade, or a massive free agency signing to get their team in the position to match up against the Cavaliers before the window of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan both being in their primes will slowly disappear. The Jared Sullinger signing is a nice bargain, at just $5 million for a year, as he will need to have a great season if he wants to earn himself some money next season, and the Raptors could use his front-court spacing help. Other than that, the Raptors did nothing extremely impressive in free agency that makes me think their team is going to be any better. However, making sure DeMar Derozan didn’t leave to Los Angeles is the biggest WIN, of course.
Players added: Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, George Hill (trade)
Players lost: Trevor Booker, Trey Burke (trade)
Players retained: N/A
I LOVED the Utah Jazz off-season. I’m still a believer that if Dante Exum didn’t tear his ACL last summer the Utah Jazz would have made the playoffs. Under Coach Snyder, the Jazz’s defense was insane, and with Exum back, their length will be so hard to score against. George Hill is also an insane improvement at the point guard position for them. Also, they got veterans that they actually needed in the rotation in Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson. They were able to secure JJ for 2 years, $22 million, so they didn’t have to overpay for a player that will help their scoring lapses in crunch time. His shooting and ability to create his own shot will be a much needed piece for the Jazz’s playoff hopes next season. Also, Boris Diaw will be fantastic for teaching players like Trey Lyles and Rudy Gobert more about the game.
Players added: Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, Trey Burke (trade)
Players lost: Nene Hilario, Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Ramon Sessions, Alan Anderson
Players retained: Bradley Beal (extension)
The Wizards didn’t do anything special in this free agency. They did a really swell job by getting Trey Burke for just a 2nd-round pick, who has a chance to revive his career backing up John Wall. However, other than that, they just made some little moves that won’t make a big difference, for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year. They had a chance to get Al Horford in free agency, which would have been a fantastic signing, as him playing PF for Washington would have given them a really strong, balanced line-up. They also in the past few years were getting in position to convince Kevin Durant to come home to Washington, and then weren’t able to get a meeting with him. That shows the kind of disaster it has turned into in Washington. It was nice that they signed Bradley Beal for long-term, which as though was a risk, it was necessary.
They signed Ian Mahinmi for a four-year, $64 million contract, which makes him one of the most overpaid values in free agency. He’s a great piece, and will really help their interior defense, but for someone who averaged 9.3 PPG, and 7 RPG last season, the contract was definitely high. So, if a real contender made the moves that the Wizards made this off-season, it would have been great, as adding Jason Smith, Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi, and Trey Burke in a single off-season would be great pieces for a team trying to add depth to take a small step forward. However, the Wizards need to take a big step forward, after only having 41 wins last season. They should have tried to overpay for a big contributing free agent, instead of overpaying for sub-level players. And they have to make sure they’re good, because John Wall is set for a new contract soon.
It’s been a great off-season. The 2016-2017 season will be incredible. The story lines are just demanding our attention. Continue checking www.opencourt-basketball.com for more off-season reviews, to prepare you for the craziness!
Pavan Peketi is a designer, journalist, and administrator for Open Court, and NBA Buzz.