The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Assessing the 2017 NBA Offseason

Now that the dust has settled on one of the wildest NBA offseasons to date, it feels like a safe time to make a few snap judgments. Some front offices should walk away from this summer with a sense of pride, others- well, not so much. Rather than filling out every team’s report card with a clickbait-friendly letter grade, we’ll keep it simple by highlighting The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

 

The Good:

Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Moves:

-Acquired Paul George via trade for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis

-Signed Patrick Patterson (3 years, $16.4M)

-Signed Raymond Felton (1 year, $2.3M)

-Resigned Andre Roberson (3 years, $30M)

-Drafted Terrence Ferguson (21st overall)

The Thunder entered this summer as a capped-out six-seed with little hope for improvement. $90 million dollars was set to be distributed between four players next season, leaving OKC with limited options to improve their roster… or so we thought.

Sam Presti, as he often does, was working in silence. Then out of nowhere on July 1st, Ramona Shelburne dropped a bomb on Twitter announcing that Oklahoma City had acquired PG13 for Oladipo and Sabonis (Side note: Can we call Shelburne scoops “Shell Shocks”, or is that offensive?)

Whether Paul George bolts to LA after one year or not, this trade was a no-brainer for the Thunder. Oladipo’s lack of improvement this year made his extension look like an overpay; and Sabonis, though he had a solid rookie season, hardly looked like a future star. The trade even saved OKC money, allowing them to bring in a much-needed backup point guard in Raymond Felton, as well as the bargain signing of the summer, Patrick Patterson.

Overall, this offseason was a resounding success for Sam Presti and the Thunder. Renting Paul George could backfire, but it’s absolutely worth the risk if it could help convince the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook to sign an extension.

Houston Rockets

Key Moves:

-Acquired Chris Paul via trade for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, and a 2018 first round pick (Top-3 protected)

-Signed PJ Tucker (4 years, $31.2M)

-Signed Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (1 year, $2.1M)

-Signed Tarik Black (1 year, $3.3M)

-Resigned Nene Hilario (3 year, $11M)

“It’s a weapons race in the NBA. You’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines.” Those were the words Rockets GM Daryl Morey used to rationalize bringing in Chris Paul to form an unorthodox backcourt pairing. From the Rockets’ perspective, this move is a bit of an experiment. Over the past year, they watched James Harden go from ‘disgruntled star’ to ‘high-speed, record-shattering, life-loving superstar’. New head coach Mike D’Antoni put the ball in Harden’s hands and told him to run the show as their starting point guard. Now that the equally ball-dominant CP3 is in the fold, it will be interesting to see how their offense responds.

There’s certainly hope for the duo to thrive. In the modern NBA, you can never have too many ball-handlers. Chris Paul, at 32, is still one of the most efficient players in the league and fully capable of playing off-ball. A potential model for Paul and Harden’s coexistence could possibly be found in Portland, where Lillard and McCollum run alternating pick-and-rolls on opposite wings. Houston may even provide a better supporting cast for this kind of offense as Clint Capela grows into one of the best lob targets in the league.

The Rockets’ tremendous offseason didn’t stop there. PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are perfect defensive-minded wings to bring in to improve a Rockets defense that was below average last year. H-Town may have gone from a dark horse, pseudo-contender in the West, to a legitimate threat to pressure the Dubs. Oh yeah, and a Melo trade is looming.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Moves:

-Acquired Jimmy Butler and the #16 pick via trade for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the #7 pick

-Signed Jeff Teague (3 years, $57M)

-Signed Taj Gibson (2 years, $28M)

-Signed Jamal Crawford (2 years, $8.9M)

-Drafted Justin Patton (16th overall)

A lot of people picked the Wolves to make the playoffs last year before a disappointing 31-51 campaign highlighted just how necessary veteran leadership is in the NBA. So, what did Minnesota do this offseason? They brought in a vet who’s arguably a top ten player in the league without letting go of their two best assets. Reuniting Butler with his former coach Tom Thibodeau will help improve a Wolves defense which ranked in the bottom five of the league last season. Sure, adding another prospect to their core at #7 would have been enticing, but when presented with the opportunity to add a player like Jimmy G. Buckets, you make that move 10 times out of 10.

Boston Celtics

Key Moves:

-Signed Gordon Hayward (4 years, $127.8M)

-Signed Aron Baynes (1 year, $4.3M)

-Acquired the #3 pick and the LAL 2018 first round pick, if 2-5 (SAC/PHI 2019 if not conveyed) via trade for the #1 pick

-Acquired Marcus Morris via trade for Avery Bradley and a future second round pick

-Drafted Jayson Tatum (3rd overall)

There isn’t a single team that has been tied to more rumors in the last four years than the Celtics. Boston’s seemingly never-ending supply of Nets picks and young assets has put Danny Ainge right at the center of almost every trade discussion, and that’s exactly how he likes it.

Many have criticized Ainge for somewhat of an irrational obsession with his treasure chest. Despite plenty of potential moves, the blockbuster has yet to come, in large part due to Ainge’s reluctance to part ways with a Nets pick… or Terry Rozier… or Marcus Smart… or Jae Crowder. The list goes on and on.

Whether or not this stinginess has cost the Celtics is up for debate. Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the results of Boston’s rebuild. Four years removed from bottoming out with the Pierce/Garnett trade, the Celtics just turned in a 53-win regular season and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. For the second straight summer, Boston has added a top free agent and a Top-3 pick.

Ainge’s decision to trade the first overall pick for the #3 pick and a future first is one that probably cannot be fairly evaluated until years down the road. Celtics brass claimed that Jayson Tatum was the guy they’d take even if a trade was never made. If we’re to take this as fact, then making this swap was the right decision. Gaining the rights to another potentially top five pick in either 2018 or 2019 prolongs Boston’s tank-less rebuild, and once again proves that Ainge is looking to build a sustainable roster that can contend now AND far into the future.

Philadelphia 76ers

Key Moves:

-Signed J.J. Redick (1 year, $23M)

-Signed Amir Johnson (1 year, $11M)

-Acquired the #1 pick via trade for the #3 pick and the LAL 2018 first round pick, if 2-5 (SAC/PHI 2019 if not conveyed)

-Drafted Markelle Fultz (1st overall)

On the other side of the pick swap at the top of the draft was the Philadelphia 76ers looking to finally put an end to their years of tanking. Equally loaded with assets, Philadelphia was able to offer up a future first to Boston because it presented them with the opportunity to draft the perfect guard to pair with last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons.

Simmons, who is limited as a long-range shooter, represented a predicament of sorts to the Sixers. His combination of size, vision, and passing ability gives him the potential to become a lethal offensive weapon. The only problem is that his full potential will never be realized unless his supporting cast is comprised of effective outside shooters.

Trading for the #1 overall pick allowed Philly to select one of the most polished and skilled guard prospects in recent history. Markelle Fultz serves as the ideal complement to Ben Simmons’ game. He’s capable of playing off-ball as Simmons runs the offense as point forward, but also capable of taking on the ball-handling responsibilities when need be. A core of Fultz/Simmons/Embiid is one that, if healthy, could dominate the league in a few years.

The Bad:

 

Los Angeles Clippers

Key Moves:

-Acquired Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, and a 2018 first round pick (Top-3 protected) via trade for Chris Paul

-Acquired Danilo Gallinari via sign-and-trade (3 years, $65M) for Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, and the HOU 2018 first round pick (Top-3 protected)

-Resigned Blake Griffin (5 years, $172.3M)

-Signed Milos Teodosic (2 years, $12.4M)

-Signed Willie Reed (1 year, $1.5M)

-Drafted Jawun Evans (39th overall)

-Drafted Sindarius Thornwell (48th overall)

When evaluating the Clippers’ offseason, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than “This was not the plan.” Sure, you could possibly argue they never really had a long-term plan, but even if that was the case, it’d be hard to believe they intended to lose Chris Paul this summer.

I’ve heard many people optimistically claim that the Clippers “actually had a really good offseason, given the circumstances!” I mean, sure. LA could have seen CP3 walk without getting anything in return. Fortunately for Doc Rivers and company, it financially benefited Chris Paul to be sent to Houston via trade rather than free agency. Compared to the returns of similar talents this summer, LA actually received a pretty decent haul for the guard. In the end, however, losing the best player in your franchise’s history is Bad™ and not Good™.

Then came free agency. The Clippers, perhaps desperate to stay relevant for the sake of moving to their own arena down the line, threw a 5 year max at the oft-injured Blake Griffin. This move, on its own, is not the worst decision ever; Blake, when healthy, is an elite talent in the NBA. However, the critical mistake of their offseason came with their next big move: A sign-and-trade to bring in another injury-prone player, Danilo Gallinari. The three-year, $65 million deal to Gallinari all but guarantees that the Clippers will be stuck in basketball purgatory, as they’ll be firmly lodged in the middle of the standings with no real shot to win a title and slim odds of adding a star player through the draft. Hey, at least Milos Teodosic will be fun to watch.

Toronto Raptors

Key Moves:

-Acquired CJ Miles via sign-and-trade (3 years, $25M) for Cory Joseph

-Acquired Justin Hamilton via trade for DeMarre Carroll, a 2018 first round pick, and a 2018 second round pick

-Drafted OG Anunoby (23rd overall)

-Resigned Kyle Lowry (3 years, $100M)

-Resigned Serge Ibaka (3 years, $65M)

Ahhh, Clippers East… The Toronto Raptors, another team that just made a long-term commitment to a roster that probably isn’t going to get them anywhere other than the first or second round. Kyle Lowry got max money, but not max years; Serge Ibaka got overpaid because people like the idea of Serge Ibaka; and the solid group of role players up North either got traded or decided to take their talents South. The only thing that’s keeping their offseason out of the “Ugly” category is that they actually made a couple of smart moves along the way. Unloading DeMarre Carroll’s horrible contract allows them to give Norman Powell a more prominent role. Similarly, completing a sign-and-trade for CJ Miles allows Delon Wright to see more minutes in the backcourt. The Raptors are still likely to compete in the East, it’s just hard to see them as any more of a threat than they were last season.

Miami Heat

Key Moves:

-Signed Kelly Olynyk (4 years, $50M)

-Acquired A.J. Hammons via trade for Josh McRoberts and a 2023 second round pick

-Drafted Bam Adebayo (14th overall)

-Resigned Dion Waiters (4 years, $52M)

-Resigned James Johnson (4 years $60M)

After an abysmal 11-30 start, a second half surge almost granted the 41-win Heat a spot in the playoffs. Their roster full of NBA misfits suddenly turned into a roster full of lovable cult heroes. People started whispering as early as January that this Miami team with James Johnson and Dion Waiters was the ONE team that Cleveland should be afraid of facing in the postseason. Was the hype train a little out of control? We’ll never know. Or will we?

In October, Miami will start the season with essentially the same roster that garnered so much attention last year. Sure, they’ve made a couple frontcourt additions but outside of those moves, not much has changed. Why, then, am I so down on their offseason? Well, for starters, they may have just paid big bucks for a .500 roster. Dion Waiters got the bag. Kelly Olynyk got the bag. James Johnson, a player who was almost OUT OF THE LEAGUE last year, got the bag. I’m not saying that each of these deals on their own are the problem. The problem lies in Miami’s vision.

Pat Riley’s focus is to land the big fish. In 2011, he brought LeBron and Bosh to town. Ever since that era ended he’s been trying to reel in another big fish. Last summer, he missed out on Durant. This summer, it was Hayward. If Riley’s vision for the Heat is to land a superstar via free agency and return to title contention, cap flexibility has to be a priority. You know what doesn’t give you much flexibility? Capping yourself out for the 2018 summer before the ’17-18 season even starts.

The Ugly:

 

New York Knicks

Key Moves:

-Signed Tim Hardaway Jr. (4 years, $71M)

-Drafted Frank Ntilinkina (8th overall)

Oh boy, where do I begin? The Knicks had quite an offseason, even by Knicks standards. Phil Jackson started the fun early by publicly feuding with Carmelo Anthony. He killed the 10-time All Star’s trade value and turned New York into a free agent destination that players wouldn’t even consider. Then Phil did the unthinkable… he started shopping Kristaps Porzingis, the unicorn himself, the only source of hope that still shines on the dark, desolate basketball hellscape that has become the New York Knicks. He let his pride get in the way of rational thinking (or was that the ayahuasca talking?) and created a rift with the team’s best player, all because Kristaps skipped an exit interview.

Fortunately for Knicks fans, however, the Phil Jackson experiment soon came to an end. Just six days after the draft and three days before free agency, the Knicks and Jackson “mutually agreed to part ways” (Translation: He was fired). Maybe this decision would mark the end of the madness for New York. Maybe they could start anew and focus on making sound basketball decisions.

Never mind. On July 6, Tim Hardaway Jr received a laughable 4 year, $71 million offer sheet to return to New York, the place where he started his NBA career in 2013. THJ is a nice player. He was worthy of a pay raise this summer, just not like this. It was rumored that Atlanta was willing to possibly bring Hardaway Jr back on a $48-50 million deal. Knicks just unnecessarily blew this figure out of the water. Why? Well, because they’re the Knicks.

Chicago Bulls

Key Moves:

-Acquired Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the #7 pick via trade for Jimmy Butler and the #16 pick

-Signed Justin Holiday (2 years, $9M)

-Drafted Lauri Markkanen (7th overall)

The Bulls started this summer with Jimmy Butler, one the best two-way players in the league on a team-friendly contract. Sure, not everything was sunshine and rainbows in Chicago, but at least they had Jimmy Butler. A star like that gives you the opportunity to do two things: Build around the player, or trade the player for blue chip prospects to help jumpstart a rebuild. The Bulls may have done neither.

Leading up to draft night, plenty of rumors were swirling involving Jimmy Butler’s name. There were talks that Cleveland was looking to make a move, as well as the annual tradition of Boston initiating a dialogue. Once draft night came along, Butler received a call as he was playing spades with Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in Paris. The call came with word that he had been traded to Minnesota.

The return package coming back to the Windy City? Nothing to get too excited about. GarPax, in typical GarPax fashion, made the wrong move and accepted a trade that netted them an injured Zach LaVine, a disappointing rookie Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick that turned into Lauri Markkanen. Chicago even gave up the 16th pick in the draft, for some inexplicable reason.

Failing to put a competitive team around Jimmy Butler over the last couple years was bad. Trading Butler away and not getting much in return was downright ugly. Bulls fans are fed up.

Indiana Pacers

Key Moves:

-Acquired Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis via trade for Paul George

-Acquired Cory Joseph via sign-and-trade for CJ Miles

-Signed Darren Collison (2 years, $20M)

-Signed Bojan Bogdanovic (2 years, $21M)

-Drafted T.J. Leaf (18th overall)

-Drafted Ike Anigbogu (47th overall)

-Drafted Edmond Sumner (52nd overall)

The Indiana Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. That is ugly.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Moves:

-Signed Derrick Rose (1 year, $2.1M)

-Signed Jeff Green (1 year, $2.3M)

-Signed Jose Calderon (1 year, $2.3M)

Never a dull moment in The Land.

Coming off of a disappointing Finals loss, the Cavs’ focus this summer had to be on improving the roster to match up better with Golden State. GM David Griffin was reportedly hard at work, seeking out a deal that would bring either Paul George or Jimmy Butler to Cleveland. It’s been reported that at least one of these potential deals was close… But then David Griffin stepped down.

The Cavaliers then went through the draft and free agency without a general manager and failed to make any transactions that moved the needle in their pursuit to get better. LeBron even admitted that he was putting no effort into recruiting. After a failed attempt to hire Chauncey Billups as Griffin’s replacement, it seemed like Cleveland had hit rock bottom. It hadn’t.

On July 21st, word got out that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade from the Cavaliers. The 25-year-old star point guard that has served as the Robin to LeBron’s Batman for the last three seasons made it known that he would rather play elsewhere than return to the squad that is still the favorite to win the East. Kyrie, reportedly, wants the opportunity to be the focal point of a team and is tired of playing in LeBron’s shadow. How much of this situation can be blamed on the Cavs organization? It’s hard to say. This may just be a case of Kyrie wanting to challenge himself as a player. This may be a “writing on the wall” situation where he just wants to get out of town before LeBron has the opportunity to strand him there next summer. No matter what Kyrie’s motives are, it’s hard not to argue that Cleveland’s dysfunction may have played a role in his discontent. It’s possible that a Kyrie Irving trade fetches a strong return. But regardless of how this all shakes out, it certainly isn’t a good look for the Cavaliers.