NBA off-season winners and losers
Are you really an NBA writer/journalist if you don’t classify teams as either “winners” or “losers” of an off-season, before any games are even played, with no gray area at all? No, you’re not. You have to do this to write about the NBA.
A few teams had good off-seasons and a few had bad ones. I‘ll also highlight some teams that nailed the 2020 Draft, since free agency started two days after and we barely got to talk about it before all hell broke loose.
Winners: Charlotte, Dallas, Portland, Philadelphia
Let’s get the bias out of the way; the Hornets had an objectively good off-season, adding LaMelo Ball in the draft to be their franchise cornerstone and Gordon Hayward in free agency to be their star player that leads them through this transition from cellar-dweller to playoff fixture. Second-round picks Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards bolster the frontcourt depth, along with the return of Bismack Biyombo. Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, and Grant Riller are a solid group of young role-players. If Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington, Miles Bridges and Malik Monk hit their ceilings, they’re gonna be cookin’ with GAS in Charlotte. Soon come.
No team surrounded their stars with more supporting talent than Dallas this off-season. Acquiring Josh Richardson and the 36th pick (Tyler Bey) in the draft from Philadelphia for Seth Curry was a coup, and James Johnson, Josh Green and Tyrell Terry are all great fits on a roster that needs defenders and/or shooting between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks still need one more All-Star caliber player to reach the next level, but they’re the most legitimate “one piece away” team in the league.
The entire NBA media has been obsessing over Portland’s off-season acquisitions, almost to where it’s annoying, but for good reason. Rodney Hood’s return from a torn Achilles is an addition in itself, but they also added Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington to the NBA’s sorriest group of wings/forwards. Harry Giles is an upgrade from Hassan Whiteside at backup center, and C.J. Elleby is a nice find at pick 46 as a potential high-motor 3&D wing. Trading for Enes Kanter and not adding a veteran backup guard are the only drawbacks for my Trail Blazers.
Daryl Morey came into Philadelphia and corrected nearly every wrongdoing by the front office before him. Joel Embiid has an actual backup in Dwight Howard, and the team’s spacing issues were alleviated some with the additions of Seth Curry, Danny Green and Isaiah Joe. Tyrese Maxey at pick 21 could be the steal of the first-round, and Theo Maledon can play a multitude of on or off-ball roles whenever he comes over from France. If the Sixers can land James Harden without sacrificing too much of their supporting cast, they become an instant Finals contender.
Losers: Boston, Denver, Houston, Milwaukee
Oh, poor Danny Ainge. Mr. Deals had a sign-and-trade lined up that would’ve sent Gordon Hayward to Indiana in exchange for Myles Turner and Doug McDermott, but he balked and asked for Victor Oladipo or Turner and TJ Warren, causing the Pacers to walk away from negotiations, and then the Hornets swooped in and stole Hayward from Boston, leaving the Celtics with empty-handed and with no cap space to replace his production. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown having larger roles will help the Celtics long-term, but for 2020–2021, they didn’t improve while most teams at the top of the East did.
Like Boston, Denver didn’t get “worse,” they just sat on their hands and watched the teams around them get better. Granted, they offered Jerami Grant the same contract Detroit did, he just turned it down in favor of a bigger role. They replaced him with JaMychal Green, which is fine but still a downgrade, and replaced Mason Plumlee with Zeke Nnaji, which is fine too. The Nuggets shouldn’t be relying on the likes Nnaji, RJ Hampton or Bol Bol to contribute in the playoffs, but it seems as if they are. Best of luck to them.
Houston lost this off-season as soon as James Harden even considered requesting a trade. Russell Westbrook wanting out is probably more positive than negative, but losing Robert Covington is definitely a negative. Christian Wood is a nice free-agent pickup and Mason Jones and Trevelin Queen are solid undrafted free agent signings, but I’m not sure how far any of that goes towards keeping Harden in town. Whether it’s before the start of the regular season or right at the trade deadline, Houston will emerge from this off-season as emphatic losers.
The Bucks aren’t “losers” in the traditional sense, because they did replace Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday — a move that substantially improves their championship odds — but they are “losers” at the end of the free agency period because they kinda dropped the ball with their roster construction. As they tend to do, I’m sure Milwaukee will steamroll through the regular season and coast into the playoffs as a top-two seed. Giving DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes significant minutes deep in the playoffs, though? Hard pass on that one, chief. Bogdan Bogdanovic was so close, yet so far…
Crushed the draft: Memphis
The Grizzlies’ front office is collectively ran by Draft Twitter. Memphis went into the night with just the 40th pick, and left it with Desmond Bane at 30, Xavier Tillman at 35 and Killian Tillie as an undrafted free agent. Talk about a haul. Nabbing three first-round talents while only being on the hook for one first-round rookie-scale deal is masterful work. Memphis is assembling a really intriguing young core led by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Blew the draft: New York
Honestly, this part was hard; every team had a pick that was at least decent. Obi Toppin wasn’t even a top-15 player on my board, but the Knicks selected him eighth, though their reasons for doing so (Brooklyn native, decent fit next to Mitch Robinson, floor-spacing screener for RJ Barrett) make some sense. They probably could’ve moved back a couple of spots for him or gotten a player with a higher ceiling at eight, and even though I’m fairly high on Immanuel Quickley, there’s no chance they “had” to take him at 27. A trade-back would’ve been prudent. I don’t blame the Knicks for liking their prospects, they just didn’t get good value, and the draft is about maximizing value at each slot.