Who won the NBA offseason?
A surprising draft night with plenty of trades in the first round was followed by the wildest week the league has ever seen to start free agency. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are now on the LA Clippers. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are in Brooklyn. There were more sign-and-trades for star players than anyone could have predicted. A potential Russell Westbrook deal still looms. And the 2020 title race looks wide open.
What were the most underrated and questionable moves? Our NBA Insiders answer the big offseason questions and share what they’re most excited to watch next season.
Where would you like to see Russell Westbrook land?
Dave McMenamin: Miami. Pat Riley is 74 years old. In an NBA career that has spanned more than 50 years as a player, assistant coach, head coach and executive, his teams have made the NBA Finals an astounding 17 times, winning 10 rings. It has been five years since LeBron James left the Heat, causing Riles to retool on the fly. As he stares down retirement in the coming years, I’d like to see “the winner within” team up with Russ to see if they can’t make a run to the promised land together.
Tim Bontemps: I think Miami is the only place that makes any sense. Not from a basketball standpoint — I don’t like the fit of Westbrook and Jimmy Butler together — but the Heat are one of the few teams willing to take on both Westbrook’s money and his personality. In fact, Miami could be the only one. It would make for a fascinating story on several levels. People around the league consider it an inevitability that he will wind up there at this point, too.
Nick Friedell: If I were running a team, I wouldn’t even think about adding Westbrook. That contract is just so awful in the future. But in Miami with Butler, there would be plenty of storylines for a mediocre team — much like there were during Dwyane Wade’s one tumultuous season alongside Butler in Chicago.
Malika Andrews: Westbrook has earned a say in what team he ends up playing for. ESPN has reported that Miami is a team that appeals to Westbrook. He is the franchise player who has embraced the city, team and fan base. The front office shouldn’t banish him to Timbuktu.
Mike Schmitz: Minnesota. With a floor-spacing center like Karl-Anthony Towns as his running mate, the Wolves would entertain, and Westbrook would theoretically have wider driving lanes than ever for his thrashing rim attacks. Pending whom Minnesota would have to include in a trade, Robert Covington and (to a lesser degree) Jake Layman provide additional shooting, with versatile draft pick Jarrett Culver able to grow alongside the former MVP in the backcourt.
What was the most underrated offseason move so far?
Bontemps: Mike Conley going to the Utah Jazz has kind of been forgotten amid all the tumult of the past few weeks, but I thought it was an absolutely brilliant piece of business. The past two years, Utah has failed in the playoffs because it hasn’t had enough offensive threats around Donovan Mitchell. Now, not only do they have one of the NBA’s best backcourts, but the Jazz also have the perfect mentor to show Mitchell how to grow and expand his game.
Schmitz: There are a handful of draft picks I loved — Tyler Herro at No. 13, Nickeil Alexander-Walker at No. 17, Brandon Clarke at No. 21, Mfiondu Kabengele at No. 27, even Darius Garland at No. 5 — but Ty Jerome to Phoenix at No. 24 projects as the biggest steal relative to draft slot. The Ricky Rubio signing is earning all the buzz in Phoenix, but don’t be surprised if the sharpshooting Jerome proves impossible for head coach Monty Williams to keep off the court. It might not come in Years 1 or 2, but Jerome projects as an eventual NBA starter by my estimation, which is incredible value in the mid-20s.
Andrews: Al Horford signing with Philadelphia. Joel Embiid struggled against Horford in the past, and now that obstacle is out of the way. There are still some question marks here: Spacing the floor with shooters was a key to Philadelphia’s success in the past. How will this team operate and create space for Embiid after losing JJ Redick to New Orleans (another underrated move) and Jimmy Butler to Miami? Will Brett Brown play Embiid and Horford at the same time? Can Ben Simmons take the next step in his game? But positioned correctly, this is a team poised to make a deep push in the playoffs.
McMenamin: I don’t think the Warriors are getting enough credit for pulling off the sign-and-trade with Brooklyn for D’Angelo Russell. Rather than seeing Kevin Durant walk for nothing, Bob Myers was able to get a 23-year-old All-Star out of the deal — a player who can grow in their system or prove to be a trade chip down the line. He made chicken salad.
Friedell: In the midst of a lot of roster turnover, the fact that the Warriors were able to keep Kevon Looney on a three-year, $15 million deal was a really great move for them. He is a trusted member of that group and continues to improve over time. He is going to get even more of a chance to shine in a regrouping year for the Warriors.
The Jump crew questions whether or not it makes sense for the Lakers to start LeBron James at point guard at his age.
What was the most questionable offseason move so far?
Bontemps: The sign-and-trade for Terry Rozier (three years, $58 million) in Charlotte doesn’t make any sense. Sure, the Hornets didn’t have a point guard after losing Kemba Walker, but Tomas Satoransky and Delon Wright were both signed-and-traded for contracts that fit the midlevel exception — half of Rozier’s contract. Tyus Jones was signed by Memphis to a similarly reasonable deal. All of them are in the same range of player as Rozier. This is just the latest head-scratching move by Charlotte over the past decade. Honorable mention: Phoenix signing Rubio and having to trade two second-round picks to clear the space to do so.
Schmitz: Sacramento signing Harrison Barnes to $85 million over four years. The Kings clearly had money to spend, but this is more about taking away offensive volume from an exciting young core of De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Barnes is capable of functioning as a serviceable floor spacer, but at age 27, with that hefty price tag, he’s likely to remain empowered to play his isolation-heavy, catch-and-hold style that doesn’t figure to positively impact the development of Sacramento’s young players.
Friedell: Crushing the Knicks for missing out on KD and Kyrie, after so many in the league thought they would land there is too easy, so … I really like the Al Horford move for Philadelphia, but is Tobias Harris going to improve to a point where he will live up to his $180 million contract? Harris has lots of talent, but can he both take and make the big shots that Butler hit for this group? If Harris can elevate his game and Ben Simmons learns how to shoot with consistency, the Sixers can get out of the East. But by committing to Harris with that deal, they have to hope he’s ready for the challenge.
McMenamin: The Hornets signing Rozier. Not only is he replacing one of the most beloved figures in franchise history in Kemba Walker; not only was he one of the major voices of unrest in a testy Boston locker room last season; not only did he once go 2-for-14 from the field (0-for-10 from 3) in a Game 7 at home with a trip to the Finals on the line; but we’re also talking about a guy with career numbers of 38% shooting and 2.3 assists per game at point guard earning $19 million a year. It’s mind-boggling.
Andrews: It was not so long ago that Paul George publicly declared his affection for Oklahoma City and chose to stay there and compete alongside Russell Westbrook rather than go to a Los Angeles team. That’s why seeing him request a trade to the Clippers came as somewhat of a surprise. Yes, OKC was in a tough spot: Honor George’s trade request and rebuild in a tight Western Conference or decline to trade him and potentially end up with a disgruntled star (see 2018-19 Anthony Davis). Now, though, the Thunder are at risk of losing their franchise player in Westbrook.
You get to give out one A grade to an NBA team for its entire offseason. Who gets it?
Andrews: The Clippers. Figuring out a way to lure the duo of Leonard and George was impressive, but they also were able to position a complete roster around those stars. In this league, depth coupled with superstardom is a recipe for a championship. They re-signed Patrick Beverley, who has become the heartbeat of the locker room. They have depth off the bench with Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. And Doc Rivers is ready and able to coach this team to Finals contention.
Friedell: Utah. Adding Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic were two solid moves that will provide even more stability to a very good roster. If Donovan Mitchell develops into superstardom this season, Utah has seemingly all the pieces it needs to make a real run in the West.
McMenamin: The Clippers. This is pretty simple, guys. They signed the best player on the market, becoming the first team in league history to lure a Finals MVP away as a free agent immediately after he just won a championship. Throw in trading for Paul George and Moe Harkless; re-signing Beverley, JaMychal Green, Rodney McGruder and Ivica Zubac; and drafting Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele, and they earn the A.
Schmitz: I’m rolling with the New Orleans Pelicans. Not only did David Griffin land the draft’s crown jewel in Zion Williamson, but he secured an endless supply of future draft picks, bought low on Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, added key veterans who can both contribute and positively impact culture in JJ Redick and Derrick Favors, and lastly snagged two studs in Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, one of the biggest draft-day steals. For a team that was once at the mercy of its fleeing star, Griffin nailed it in basically every area.
Bontemps: Amazingly, I’m going with Memphis. The Grizzlies will stink next year, but they’ve done a ton of stuff I’ve liked this offseason. Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke are both perfect fits with Jaren Jackson Jr. Getting a first-round pick to take on Andre Iguodala was a nice piece of business. Getting two seconds for Wright was good business, especially when coupled with signing Tyus Jones for essentially the same deal. Getting two seconds and De’Anthony Melton from Phoenix for taking on Josh Jackson and clearing the cap space to sign Rubio was brilliant business. Bad teams have to walk before they can run. Memphis is walking quickly after a nice series of moves this summer.
What are you most excited to watch next season?
McMenamin: The four times the Lakers and Clippers play at Staples Center. In an 82-game season, you’re not going to get that many games that truly elevate to an event. Sure, there are the standard reunions, the Finals rematches, the holiday games, but rivalry games can be hard to come by. Between Kawhi spurning the Lakers for the Clippers to the two teams sharing not only the same city but the same arena, these will be four charged nights and hopefully will serve as a playoff preview.
Bontemps: A league where there isn’t a clear favorite. Sure, certain teams like the Clippers or Bucks might get the most love in terms of being a title favorite, but the days of the Heat or Warriors looming over the league are over. That is what has helped usher in this absolutely insane summer, as teams see the opening to compete and are going after it. The result is a league that has plenty of compelling teams to watch and a more wide-open landscape than we have seen in years.
Schmitz: The Memphis Grizzlies. Yes, the Memphis Grizzlies. I’m fascinated by the star power of Ja Morant, particularly his fit with a floor-spacing, rim-protecting, switchy big like Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizz also stole one with Brandon Clarke at No. 21 overall, and he’s an ideal fit with JJJ up front. They may still be a few years away from consistent winning, but long gone are the grit-and-grind days. The Grizzlies are young, exciting, athletic and flush with future building blocks.
Friedell: The Clippers. The idea that Leonard and George are coming to a team that has already created a great culture and core is going to be fun to watch. Doc Rivers knows how to pace teams and talked in the postseason about how much fun he had coming to work every day with this group. If the Clippers stay healthy, they will be one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch — and they should win it all.
Andrews: With exciting young talent like Zion Williamson entering the league and All-Stars such as George and Leonard pairing up for the first time, it’s too limiting to just pick one thing. For the first time in years, the NBA truly feels wide open, and that race to the top is what will be most intriguing. Will one of the new Los Angeles superteams make it out of the West, or will a team like the Denver Nuggets be the last group? Have the Sixers added enough shooting to complement their talented big men, or will Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks avenge their 2019 conference finals loss? That air of mystery is reason enough to be excited. Is it October yet?