Additions: Kadeem Allen, Aron Baynes, Jabari Bird, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Shane Larkin, Marcus Morris, Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Guerschon Yabusele
Subtractions: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Gerald Green, Demetrius Jackson, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Jordan Mickey, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Thomas, James Young, Tyler Zeller
2016-17 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2017-18 Maximum Cap Space: $1.4 million
Analysis: After finishing first in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and reaching the Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics took the logical course of blowing up the roster. Wait…what? You read that right. Boston will return just four players from the squad that won 53 games last year. Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier make up the returnees. A good deal of roster turnover was expected, as the Celtics primary offseason goal was to land Gordon Hayward in free agency. In order to do so, Boston had to clear all their free agents and make a salary clearing trade that cost them Avery Bradley.
What wasn’t necessarily expected was another blockbuster deal, one that came late in the offseason, when the Celtics initially traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, rookie Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. It took a while for the trade to finalize, as Cleveland’s concerns about Thomas’ hip injury necessitated Boston adding a future second round pick to complete the deal.
In the span of a few months, Danny Ainge had completely remade his team on the fly. Thomas is out after an incredible season that saw him make the All-NBA second team. Crowder and Bradley, two of Boston’s defensive bulldogs, who are both also underrated offensively, are also gone. And starting big man Amir Johnson has moved on. In addition, reserve big men Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko have new homes, while Gerald Green remains unsigned.
Ainge has often stated that the goal was to add star players. In Thomas, it was thought Boston had one of those stars. Concerns about Thomas’ injury, his need for a new, likely near-max contract and overall makeup as a small guard caused Boston to move on. When Irving made his trade demand, the Celtics quickly got involved and eventually landed him. Irving will give Boston much of the same as Thomas, with scoring and playmaking from the point guard spot. And he’ll do it as a player who is three years younger, under contract for an additional season and six inches taller. It will be hard to replace the heart that Thomas played with though. The numbers might ultimately be similar, but will the impact be the same?
Elsewhere on the roster, Hayward reunites with Brad Stevens and will give the Celtics the all-around player they had been missing on the wing. Hayward is as good of a shooter as Crowder or Bradley, and an underrated and versatile defender. He’s a massive upgrade as a ball handler and playmaker for others, as Hayward can find teammates for scoring opportunities, whereas Bradley and Crowder primarily looked to score. This should open up a new layer of versatility for Stevens’ equal opportunity offense, which is based on ball and player movement.
With Hayward and Irving joining Horford, the Celtics have three pieces that can matchup with most other contenders. Behind those three are role players and a host of youngsters. Marcus Morris is a solid role player, who can do a lot of things at either forward spot. The Celtics will ask a lot of Morris, as he’ll either be the second starting big or a high minute reserve. Aron Baynes will either be a token starter next to Horford or the primary backup center. Both Morris and Baynes will help the Celtics in terms of toughness and experience, but neither has been a key rotation piece on a contender before. Rookie Daniel Theis from Germany will round out the big rotation. He’s an athletic floor runner who relies on his energy. He can also shoot it better than most realize. Theis is likely to be a rotation player early on, as younger bigs develop.
Boston will be relying on more youth than any contender in recent memory. Marcus Smart will either assume Bradley’s starting spot as a defensive specialist, or he’ll function as the Celtics sixth man. Either way, as the best defender on the roster, especially at the guard position, Smart will draw most of the tough defensive assignments. Terry Rozier has a shot to crack the rotation for consistent minutes for the first time, as he should get the first minutes behind Irving. Boston loves Rozier’s potential and it is time for him to show it on a regular basis.
And then you have the players that Boston fans are most excited about. A host of youngsters led by Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Along with Hayward, the Celtics hope they are set on the wing for years to come with this trio. Brown is coming off an up and down rookie year, but is a remarkable athlete with a ton of potential. If he can tighten up his handle and grow more consistent with his jumper, he’s likely the starting wing opposite Hayward.
Tatum is coming off a strong Summer League performance that had many around the NBA buzzing. Stevens will likely take it slow with Tatum, similar to the approach with Brown. If he can be even decent defensively while making an impact on offense, minutes will be there for Tatum. If he’s not ready for either of those things, he’ll find himself watching more than playing.
Along with the two high draft picks, the Celtics are bringing in a trio of versatile young players in Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader. Getting nightly contributions from any of these three is unlikely, but Boston is enamored with the versatility all three provide. They’ll all have a chance at making impacts eventually, it just might not be this year.
Offseason Grade: B-. By giving up so much of the roster, the Celtics have changed their identity. They were a scrappy, defensive-minded group the past few years. This year’s team has far greater offensive potential, but they aren’t likely to defend like past iterations. And relying on so many young players isn’t something many contenders have done. In addition, with so much roster turnover, a slow start won't be unexpected. Boston will be at or near the top of the conference, but the margin for error is fairly slim.
Long-term Grade: A. Hayward and Irving represent two of the three stars it takes to win in the NBA these days. Brown or Tatum could develop into the third, or be part of a trade package to get that third star. Horford’s game should age well and the Celtics are still not carrying a single bad contract. Despite trading the last of the Nets' picks, Boston still has extra draft picks that most would envy, including a future pick from the Lakers or Kings that projects to be a good one. If another star hits the trade market, Ainge remains poised to make an offer that others will have a hard time beating.
Additions: Jarrett Allen, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Timofey Mozgov, Yakuba Ouattara, D’Angelo Russell, Jake Wiley, Tyler Zeller
Subtractions: Randy Foye, Archie Goodwin, Justin Hamilton, Brook Lopez, K.J. McDaniels, Andrew Nicholson
2016-17 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2017-18 Maximum Cap Space: $37.9 million
Analysis: Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson continue rebuilding without much to rebuild around. Brook Lopez had been Mr. Everything for the Nets for nine years, including becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. But with the team still at least a couple of years from contending for a playoff spot, they shipped Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. With Russell, Brooklyn now has a young piece they believe they can rebuild around.
Marks has done a good job creating something out of, if not nothing, certainly not much. Last year he acquired a pick to draft Caris LeVert, who had an impressive first season for the Nets. This year, he hopes to hit on Russell. The young guard remains an impressive scorer, but it is unknown if he’s a point guard, shooting guard or a combo guard. With more and more teams transitioning to multiple ball handlers on the floor at once, Russell should fit in just fine. He’ll team with Jeremy Lin to give the Nets a duo that can score, while also making plays for others.
Mozgov, despite being overpaid and coming off a down year, remains a serviceable player. He’s still a good rebounder and rim protector. He has a smooth jumper from about 15 feet. In Atkinson’s system, expect Mozgov to be asked to extend his range to the arc, not unlike Lopez last year. If he can pull it off, it would add a new dimension to his game. Behind Mozgov, the team drafted talented offensive center Jarrett Allen. He needs time to figure out the NBA game, especially on the defensive end, but Allen should develop into a solid backup center, if not more over time. While Allen develops, the Nets have Tyler Zeller on a league minimum deal to play the backup minutes behind Mozgov. Despite not playing regularly for the Celtics last season, Zeller was lauded for being a professional and staying ready for when his number was called.
On the wing, the Nets traded for Allen Crabbe. In the summer of 2016, Brooklyn signed Crabbe to a large offer sheet, only to see the Portland Trail Blazers match. A year later, with Portland looking to lessen their luxury tax burden, the Nets got their man in a salary dump trade for Andrew Nicholson. Crabbe is one of the league’s best three-point shooters and he’s a better defender than he’s given credit for. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’ll fit in perfectly in the Nets three-point happy system.
DeMarre Carroll was acquired from the Toronto Raptors in a salary dump. He’s struggled to live up to the big contract the Raptors gave him, but reunited with Atkinson, he could get back to the level that got him that deal. Carroll will pair with Hollis-Jefferson to give Brooklyn two versatile forwards that can defend both the 3 and the 4. If he can pick his shooting back up, the Nets will have a capable 3 & D player, much like Carroll was for the Hawks.
Offseason Grade: C. The Nets initial move to get Russell and Mozgov was a good one. Lopez was great, but not a necessity on a rebuilding team. Russell gives Brooklyn the potential building block they lacked. The follow up trades for Crabbe and Carroll were more of a mixed bag. Crabbe, while overpaid, should fit in perfectly. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him gain recognition as one of the best shooters in the NBA, as Atkinson will maximize his skillset. Carroll is far more questionable. The Nets are eating $14.8 and $15.4 million for each of the next two years. That is fine when you have more cap space than you can spend, but Brooklyn isn’t really in that spot anymore.
Long-term Grade: B. Russell is the Nets version of a lottery pick. When you don’t have your own, you go out and get one. He’s still got two years of his rookie deal left and is just 21 years old. If he can show he can play point guard, Brooklyn has a nice trio with him, Crabbe and LeVert. Eating the second year of Carroll’s deal and two more years after this one for Mozgov is tough. That puts a strain on the cap space, just as you are hoping to add complementary pieces around your young players. But if Atkinson can get both players back to their former levels, it won’t look nearly as bad. And 2018 is the last year Brooklyn doesn’t own their own first round pick.
New York Knicks
Additions: Michael Beasley, Damyean Dotson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jarrett Jack, Luke Kornet, Frank Ntilikina, Ramon Sessions
Subtractions: Justin Holiday, Maurice N’dour, Marshall Plumlee, Derrick Rose, Sasha Vujacic
2016-17 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2017-18 Maximum Cap Space: $28.2 million
Analysis: Unlike last year’s big spending, it was a fairly quiet summer for the New York Knicks. In terms of roster moves at least. Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony’s stare down was only partially resolved, as Jackson is out as the head of the Knicks basketball operations. Anthony is still around, but both he and New York remain interested in a trade, if one can be found.
On the court, New York chose to let Derrick Rose leave in free agency. While Rose had a fairly productive year for the Knicks, the club chose to go younger at point guard and drafted Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina was presumed to be Jackson’s pick, as he’s a bigger guard who fits well in the triangle offense. While Jackson and the triangle are gone, Ntilikina should still bring New York solid play at a position that has been a problem for a while. He’s a good defender with a developing offensive game. With Ron Baker re-signed and Ramon Sessions in the fold, Ntilikina will be afforded the chance to develop at his own pace. Jarrett Jack was also added on a “make good” deal for training camp. If he can prove he is sufficiently recovered from his past knee issues, Jack could give New York a scoring point guard off the bench, which is something they currently lack.
Finding themselves with cap space for a second consecutive summer, the Knicks couldn’t help but spend it. Unfortunately, they again spent it in a questionable way. The Knicks extended a four-year, $71 million deal to Tim Hardaway Jr. to lure him away from the Atlanta Hawks as a restricted free agent. The Hawks, who are rebuilding, chose not to match. Hardaway developed into a solid wing scorer in Atlanta, but remains limited as a defender and playmaker. He’ll give the Knicks some scoring on the wing, but as long as Anthony remains on the roster, along with Courtney Lee, Hardaway seems duplicative.
Speaking of duplicative, perhaps as sign they may still be hoping to deal Anthony, New York added Michael Beasley. Beasley does only one thing well, and that is score the ball. If Anthony is playing elsewhere, Beasley will be a decent replacement as a poor man’s Anthony in terms of scoring the ball.
Of the things the Knicks did right this summer, easily the best was not trading Kristaps Porzingis. For whatever reason, Jackson chose to make Porzingis somewhat of a scapegoat and reportedly put him on the trade block. With two years remaining on his rookie deal and loads of potential, he could have fetched an incredible package in return. But nothing would have matched the ability to have team control over one of the NBA’s youngest and most unique talents.
Offseason Grade: C-. The Hardaway deal was an unnecessary overpay. Ntilikina is a fine prospect, but most had Dennis Smith Jr. rated higher and he would have given the team more upside. Beasley and Sessions are fine additions as minimum salary vets. Baker received a curious deal that saw him get the full Room Exception for this year and a player option for next. It wasn’t likely any other team was threatening to beat that on the open market. And, of course, Anthony remains a Knick despite neither side seemingly having much interest in continuing that relationship.
Long-term Grade: B. The Knicks have bad money on the books for Joakim Noah for the next three seasons. But most teams are carrying at least one bad contract. Hardaway was overpaid, but it isn’t by an unworkable amount. Anthony is bound to be traded eventually and the team could and should pursue a deal to trade Lee. But they kept Porzingis, drafted an intriguing player in Ntilikina and have two good young players in Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
Additions: Markelle Fultz, Amir Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz, James Michael McAdoo, J.J. Redick
Subtractions: Gerald Henderson, Shawn Long, Alex Poythress, Sergio Rodriguez, Tiago Splitter
2016-17 Cap Space: $12.8 million. $4.4 million under Salary Floor.
2017-18 Maximum Cap Space: $75.8 million
Analysis: After years of trusting the process, the Philadelphia 76ers are pushing things forward with a pair of veteran additions and adding to their young talent base. At the draft, Philadelphia selected Markelle Fultz after trading up with the Celtics. It cost the Sixers either the Lakers or Kings pick they own down the line, but a team can only have so many young players. By drafting Fultz, the 76ers filled the point guard spot, the final hole on their roster that didn’t have a top tier young option. Fultz will give them a big time scorer, whose game fits in nicely with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. With talented passers and defenders around him, Fultz can focus on what he does best by scoring the ball.
The veteran additions are J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson. Redick gives an extremely young roster the sure-thing shooter they lacked. He’s also a seasoned professional, which helps the kids know how to prepare on a daily basis. Redick got a lot of money for one year, but it was well worth it, considering all he’ll bring on and off the floor.
Johnson will provide much of the same, just with more of it coming in the locker room versus in games. He’ll help Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes and, to a lesser extent, Simmons and Dario Saric grow into better big men. Johnson will help this young group get the best of their physical gifts by teaching them how to position themselves on both ends of the floor. In addition, after surviving for over 12 years as the last player to make the jump from high school to the NBA, Johnson will show them how to make the most of an NBA career.
Korkmaz, like Saric before him, comes over after being a draft and stash player. With Redick and Nik Stauskas in front of him, Korkmaz may not have much impact on the floor. He needs to add strength and to understand NBA defense, but he’s a willing and able shooter. You can never have too much shooting, especially with talented, but shooting challenged players elsewhere on the roster.
Finally, Philadelphia is still sitting on $12.8 million in cap space, but don’t expect any further signings. That money seems to be targeted towards a re-negotiation and extension with Robert Covington. Covington has played under one of the NBA’s best bargain contracts the last few years and appears poised to cash in as a key member of the Sixers going forward.
Philadelphia may not be quite as ready to make the leap from tanking to the postseason as some are suggesting. But they should be in the mix at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. And this might be the last season for a while where making the playoffs is a question.
Offseason Grade: A. The Sixers were coming away with a good player in a loaded draft no matter what, but by cashing in an extra pick to move up, they might have come away with the best player in Fultz and they filled a hole in doing so. Redick and Johnson are exactly the type of vets you want at this point in the process as well. Philadelphia is now legitimately two or three deep at most positions. They might need one more year before they are ready to win at a high level, but they are knocking on the door.
Long-term Grade: A. Giving up the Lakers/Kings pick won’t hurt and Fultz more than makes up for it if it did. Redick and Johnson are both on one year deals, so if they don’t work out, nothing lost. The big question left for the future is an extension for Joel Embiid. After missing his first two years, he’s already extension eligible. It is likely to take the max, which could make the 76ers a little queasy, given Embiid’s health concerns. In the end, they’ll swallow hard and give Embiid the max and hope that the injuries are all behind him. Even if they aren’t, his potential is far too high to mess around.
Additions: OG Anunoby, Lorenzo Brown, K.J. McDaniels, Alfonzo McKinnie, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
Subtractions: DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker
2016-17 Cap Space: None. Above Salary Floor. Right at Luxury Tax.
2017-18 Maximum Cap Space: None. $13.5 million over
Analysis: Facing incredible luxury tax concerns with two starters and three key reserves hitting free agency at the same time, the Toronto Raptors were almost in a no-win situation. Instead they came away with better than expected deals for the two starters and committed to a youth movement for their bench.
Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka both re-signed for three years, which is a win in and of itself given their age. That they got both for less than the max is an additional win. Lowry got $93 million and Ibaka $65 million. While neither is checking into the poor house anytime soon, both took less than their respective max amount to remain in Toronto. All around, this is a win for the Raptors. Both are productive and fit in great with DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas in the starting lineup.
Filling out the opening squad is likely to be C.J. Miles or Norman Powell. Miles replaces DeMarre Carroll, who was traded to the Nets in a salary dump designed around avoiding the luxury tax. Miles brings shooting and defensive versatility, both things the Raps hoped to get from Carroll, but all too often didn’t.
Powell has had an interesting run in Toronto. He’s either started or he’s barely seen time, especially last year. He’s a good defender and decent shooter and ball handler. He’s arguably the most athletic player of the Raptors regulars and plays extremely hard. If he doesn’t start, he’s likely to fill the sixth man role this year.
Beyond the Miles/Powell starter/sixth man decision, the rest of the Raptors rotation seems reasonably set. They gave up Carroll and Cory Joseph in trade and let productive reserves Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker walk. There was no reasonable way to retain all of them, as the luxury tax bill to do so would have hit unprecedented territory for the franchise. By letting each go, the Raptors not only saved money, but also freed up time for younger players, with whom the team needs to figure out exactly what they have.
Delon Wright will take Joseph’s spot as the primary backup behind Lowry. Given Lowry’s sketchy health history recently, Wright may be called upon to give Toronto quality minutes on a regular basis. Joseph, while he has his flaws, was steady playing behind or next to Lowry. Wright has a lot of potential, but hasn’t shown much in his limited playing time to date.
Patterson’s minutes will largely go to last year’s lottery pick Jakob Poeltl. He flashed at times and is an interesting contrast to Jonas Valanciunas, with his offensive game. There has occasionally been buzz that the two can play together, but that screams defensive deficiencies that can’t be overcome. More likely is that Poeltl continues to develop behind Valanciunas and one or the other eventually becomes a tradable piece.
Offseason Grade: C+. Toronto has been a playoff team for four straight seasons, but the question has to be asked: Did they peak in 2016 with 56 wins and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance? The Raptors weren’t in a position to rebuild, not when they’ve been this good for a while now. They also didn’t want to lock in for four to five years with this group. They did a good job of straddling both, by signing Lowry and Ibaka, but not crippling the franchise by signing everyone. That said, this team still has major holes on the bench. Only Miles/Powell, Poeltl and Wright seem ready to contribute and the Raptors are about out of tradable assets. They need someone else to step forward or injuries and lack of depth could sink them.
Long-term Grade: C-. While they avoided the pitfall of being capped out forever, Toronto still has considerable money tied up for the next three seasons in players who are all in their post-prime years in Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka. They also don’t have any surefire young talent on the roster. The best hope is that OG Anunoby develops into a 3&D plus player or Powell takes a major step forward. And hey, maybe Bruno Caboclo really is now just a year away!