Rod Beard ranks the winners in busy NBA offseason
The NBA offseason has had its usual soap opera storylines, with superstars changing teams and others getting big contracts to stay put.
It’s the annual summer rite to set up the coming season and watching the drama play out. With most of the action done in free agency, along with the draft and Summer League in Las Vegas, there were plenty of winners and plenty who still have a lot on the line ahead of the season.
The Lakers obviously made the biggest splash, getting LeBron James, making the Western Conference no sure bet in the race for the last few playoff spots. The result was putting the Eastern Conference up for grabs — with the Sixers and Celtics as the leading contenders.
Many teams did well for themselves in free agency, while others didn’t take big risks, hoping for a bigger payoff next summer, when free agency will be as bountiful as a Las Vegas buffet.
Here’s a look at some of the winners in a busy NBA offseason:
Lakers: They got LeBron James, which was somewhat expected, but still a win. The harder task will be building around him. They didn’t get Paul George in free agency and will have to wait for a chance to get Kawhi Leonard. Signing Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley to affordable one-year contracts is shrewd, but the chemistry in the locker room could become combustible if things go south.
Warriors: Just when it seemed the two-time defending champions had maxed out on superstars, the rich just got richer with the addition of one of the league’s best centers, DeMarcus Cousins. They’ll still be the favorites in the crowded Western Conference and their juggernaut will continue until another team can match them in star power. If they can just get back to the NBA Finals, they should be able to roll over any East champion.
Thunder: General manager Sam Presti had an outstanding summer, convincing Paul George to stay for four more years. Unloading Carmelo Anthony’s massive contract in a deal with the Hawks and getting point guard Dennis Schroder to bolster their bench depth was a bonus. Just when it looked like they’d be a forgotten entity in the strengthened Western Conference, they figured out a way to stay competitive.
Spurs: The situation with Kawhi Leonard looked to paint the Spurs into a corner, but they made the best of it, trading Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. The Spurs can keep a superstar in DeRozan for at least two more years and remain relevant in the highly-competitive West for a few more years.
PLAYING THE SLOTS
Suns: After suffering through another tough season, the Suns have some light at the end of the tunnel. They got Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick and added Mikal Bridges later in the first round. Keeping their centerpiece, Devin Booker, on a long-term rookie extension, was expensive, but a necessary move. Adding veteran Trevor Ariza could prove to be an underrated move to solidify things.
Nuggets: They were on the cusp of making the playoffs last season and signed Nikola Jokic to a five-year deal for $142 million and Will Barton for four years and $53 million. They took a risk on the oft-injured Michael Porter Jr. in the first round of the draft, but adding Isaiah Thomas on a minimum contract could pay off for them.
Pistons: The salary cap-strapped Pistons couldn’t make a splash in free agency but their big move was hiring new coach Dwane Casey. The offseason brings a healthy outlook for Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Jon Leuer, and optimism of getting back to the playoffs in the newly-opened East. Adding free agents Glenn Robinson III, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon, plus their two second-round picks, puts significant depth on the roster.
TAKING A GAMBLE
Raptors: They didn’t want to stand pat after their loss in a sweep to the Cavaliers. They fired Casey and dealt DeRozan, their best player. They’re taking a big risk in trying to convince Leonard to stay long-term and if it doesn’t work, they can trade him for lesser assets or begin their rebuilt aggressively. They’ll still be relevant in the East, but for how long?
Hawks: The East bottom-dwellers used their biggest asset, salary-cap space, to try to acquire draft picks. They got a first-rounder and two second-rounders after taking on Carmelo Anthony’s massive contract and helping facilitate Anthony going to the Rockets, potentially. Taking Trae Young in the draft was a bit risky and it has to pay off to justify their passing on some of the other talent in the top of the draft.
Nets: They could have made some other moves, but appear to be putting all their hopes into next summer, when some bigger free agents will be available. In the meantime, they’ll need to build a solid foundation, which seems to be their aim. It’s been a rough ride since they traded their future for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. It might be another year before they start pulling up from the nosedive.
Wizards: Two words: Dwight Howard. It’s been a risk for Howard’s last few teams, with his reputation of being a locker-room nuisance. If it works out, Howard could be a good complement for their trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. If not, it’s another year of mediocrity in the capital.