It took me a while to realise that we are barely a month removed from the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors reigned supreme over a clearly overwhelmed Cleveland Cavaliers despite a historic series from LeBron James. Both the finalists romped their way to near-perfect records before reaching the Promised Land (aka NBA Finals). One would think, then, that other teams would gear up towards either beating these two juggernauts, or at least giving themselves a chance to do so in the near future.
There has been a slew of activity, but none that would threaten either the finalists’ crowns. Sure, there is always the possibility of an injury here and a few bad games there that could see a new champion. However, as it stands, this seems highly unlikely.
Without further ado, here are the biggest winners and losers (thus far) in the 2017 NBA Free Agency.
Loser: New Orleans Pelicans
I get that Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps wants the DeMarcus Cousins/Anthony Davis duo to reach its potential. I get that he has one more year to make it happen before Cousins tests the market for a near-max contract. I get that Davis and Jrue Holiday are close friends, helping anchor Davis to the organization long term. None of that, justifies the five-year, $125 million contract that Pelicans’ General Manager Dell Demps handed Holiday.
Only three players have received five-year contracts thus far: Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin. No need to elaborate why Holiday does not belong among those names. He has made exactly one All-star game, has been riddled with injuries and is yet to prove he is an elite point guard. In a league stacked with point guards, such a pricey deal on such a long term commitment defies logic and common sense. Simply put, if any of the Pelicans’ “big” three go down to injury, this contract will come back to bite Demps.
Winner: Denver Nuggets
The Paul Millsap signing is sneakily good. Millsap is a battle-tested playoff veteran who may have already hit his peak. He is coming off a season with career highs in points (18.1) and assists (3.7). At three years and $90 million, Millsap is slightly pricey. That should not tarnish his value when he suits up alongside phenom Nikola Jokic. Wilson Chandler will be expected to step up in the light of Danilo Gallinari’s departure. And both Jamal Murray and Gary Harris will be expected to make the leap. With this much young potential on a team that barely missed the playoffs last season, the Nuggets did well to bring in an experienced All-Star forward in Millsap.
Loser: Indiana Pacers
Kevin Pritchard is going to have a hard time explaining why he did not take up Boston’s offer for Paul George. Or better yet, why not wait out to see what better offers open up for Paul George. The simplest explanation is that he did not want George going to an Eastern contender. That still doesn’t explain how Pritchard turned one of the best two-way players in the NBA into an overrated player (Victor Oladipo) and a hit-or-miss long term project (Domantas Sabonis). The parallel storyline to this is: What if Paul George and Russell Westbrook do not get along? Oklahoma City Thunder would happily flip the All-Star, and one would hope, unlike Pritchard, seek a bigger haul than the one they sent to the Pacers.
Winners: Minnesota Timberwolves
This was confusing to grade in black or white. The Tom Thibodeau reunion-of-sorts in Minnesota is neither overwhelmingly good, nor convincingly bad. The pros are obvious: Jimmy Butler is a certified star, who will be invaluable in Wiggins’ journey to becoming a top-10 NBA player. Karl Anthony-Towns’ new running mate Taj Gibson isn’t exactly the firebrand forward he was a couple of seasons ago, but still brings a hunger that Towns will readily learn and feed off.
None of the Timberwolves’ moves thus far, however, have addressed their woeful 3-pt shooting, and trading away Zach LaVine was a nail in that coffin. Thibodeau did well to address that hole by bringing in Jeff Teague who has shot 40% from 3-pt land for a season before (he shot 35% last season). Add that to the smart signing of Jamal Crawford, and the signs of a great season are there. It all just has to come together.
Losers: LA Clippers
This too, isn’t all black and white. The Clipper did lose Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade to start the offseason. They, however, quickly locked down Blake Griffin (and his shaky history of injury) to a monster contract of his own, and brought in Gallinari. Gallinari is the wing they always needed but never had. Losing a franchise star like Paul ought to have been devastating, but GM Doc Rivers has held fort.
Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic who came in the deal for Paul are both solid players; Beverley, an ace defender who could spur a defensive renaissance of sorts in Clipperland, and Teodosic, the greatest European point guard to have not played in the NBA yet. Both will fit seamlessly alongside a rising Austin Rivers. With DeAndre Jordan still bringing his elite level play at center every night, the Clippers are good for a 6 or 7 seed. Question is: is that enough for a team that reigned among the NBA’s elite for so long?
Winners: Houston Rockets
Although technically not a team that did anything in “free agency”, it is hard to overlook how smart Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been in taking the fight to the Warriors. The Paul move was brilliant. Here is one the greatest point guards in NBA history, a top-5 point guard, who is a top-10 NBA player for at least half the games in a season.
He is also the model pass-first guard, and the perfect captain to steer the offensive warship that is the Houston Rockets. As if that wasn’t good enough for a successful offseason, Morey saw the Warriors $201 million deal for Curry and raised it: a four-year, $225 million extension deal for his own star James Harden, the biggest deal in NBA history. The Rockets failed to stay focused against the Spurs, a team they should’ve beaten in seven, if not six games last season. With Paul at helmsman, Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, have all the freedom in the world to unleash an offensive tsunami on unsuspecting NBA defenses this season. Is 170 points in a single game in reach? I’m betting it is.
Losers: Utah Jazz
I’m also betting every Jazz front office executive, player and fan wants to get this offseason over with. They do not deserve to be in this position. After years of making the right moves in the draft and loading the team with the right players, the Jazz, at the very least, rattled the West’s elite last season. In all fairness, Gordon Hayward was clear that he wanted to join a contender, and that’s exactly what the Jazz were assembling for him. Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood are the future that the Jazz wanted to sell to Hayward, even bringing in point guard wizard Ricky Rubio. Maybe Hayward felt it was not enough, maybe he realised the West got insanely better this season, maybe he knew that no matter what they (Jazz) did, the Warriors stood in their way to a Finals appearance. It doesn’t matter. Hayward is no more a member of the Utah Jazz.
Winners: Boston Celtics
Hayward is a Celtic now. Danny Ainge had the most precarious position this offseason. The reported George deal did not work out; nor did the Griffin dream come true. They gave up Markelle Fultz too. The Hayward ace was always up his sleeve. Though, even Ainge will admit that he wasn’t sure he’d even find the ace where he left it. Thankfully, Hayward said yes; and just like that the Celtics have a Finals contender.
Hayward fits in right away in a death lineup that will feature Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford. Avery Bradley is gone, and either Marcus Smart or Jae Crowder are being discussed in possible trade scenarios. All that matters though, is how the Celtics, if healthy, will match up against a still more talented Cleveland Cavaliers squad.
Losers: Cleveland Cavaliers
Talented? Yes. Also, lazy, cheap and confused. Lazy, because they made no noise whatsoever thus far in the offseason. As talented as the Warriors are, the Cavaliers are the only team that can truly take advantage of a Warriors weakness. They clearly have the roster to match up, and need one more biggish star to complete the quartet they needed to topple the Warriors. They missed the boat on George, but that may not have been their fault.
Carmelo Anthony is willing to let go of the buyout clause if he gets traded to a team he wants, one of them in the Cavaliers. So what are the Cavaliers doing? They are being cheap. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, him of the angry letter fame, allegedly cheaped out on hiring LeBron’s recommendation, Chauncey Billups as GM. So how are the Cavaliers managing without a GM? Well, they are confused. Confused that their owner would be penny wise and pound foolish. Confused that stars do not want to join the party in Cleveland. Most of all, confused how their probable Finals trip this season is going to be any different from last season’s.
Winners: Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are a feared team. Feared because no matter what defensive adjustment you throw at them, they figure out a way to come out with a score. Much like they are on court, off it, the Warriors are just as calculated.
They locked up the star of his generation, Stephen Curry. They got Durant to buy into the vision and take a huge discount on his new deal. They brought back Andre Iguodala, David West and ZazaPachulia. Just those three moves would’ve been enough for a champion that was bringing back 100% of its core. Not the Warriors. They doubled down; signing Nick Young, a swaggy 3-pt shooter who can suddenly explode for 30 on a given night, for the mid level exception, and signing Omri Casspi, arguably the most underrated role/bench player in the NBA.
Simply put, yes, the Champions got better.
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