Additions: Torrey Craig, Tyler Lydon, Trey Lyles, Paul Millsap, Monte Morris
Subtractions: Danilo Gallinari, Roy Hibbert, Mike Miller
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $36.9 million
Analysis: The Denver Nuggets just missed the playoffs last season, extending their postseason-less streak to four years. While that is a negative, Denver showed great improvement by hanging in the playoff race until the final days of the regular season. The Nuggets now possess one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, brimming with both youthful promise and veteran experience.
After he opted out of the last year of his contract, Denver let oft-injured forward Danilo Gallinari leave for the Los Angeles Clippers via sign-and-trade. While Gallinari had become the Nuggets leading scoring, his injury history made him difficult to rely on. In addition, Denver wanted to go with a slightly bigger inside presence next to their blossoming young center Nikola Jokic.
After considering trading for Paul Millsap last year, the Nuggets signed him to a three-year contract. Millsap turned in his fourth consecutive All-Star season with the Hawks, while scoring a career-best 18.1 points per game.
In Millsap, the Nuggets have a versatile inside/outside weapon who will pair nicely with Jokic on offense. But Denver had that already in Gallinari, who has a far more versatile scoring game than most realize. What Millsap will add, that Gallinari didn’t, is his passing ability. When he shares the floor with Jokic, Denver often will have five capable and willing passers. This isn’t something most teams can boast and it will allow Mike Malone to open up an already potent offense even more.
More importantly, Millsap adds a much better defensive presence. Millsap’s overall profile on the defensive end slipped a bit, but that had as much to do with the Hawks slippage as it did Millsap’s. He remains a high level defender, who can guard 4s and 5s, as well as some of the bigger 3s.
Signing Millsap used up almost all of the Nuggets available cap space this summer, but it was well worth it. The questionable part of the offseason comes with Denver’s other additions: Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles. The Nuggets and Jazz executed the rare intra-division trade at the draft, and Denver picked up Lyles while moving back in the first round. They then selected Lydon. At the time, the Nuggets didn’t know they would sign Millsap, but that move just further crowded the power forward spot.
Denver now has Millsap, Lyles and Lydon joining holdovers Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and Juancho Hernangomez as players whose best spot is the 4. In addition, many believe Wilson Chandler should see some minutes as a small ball power forward. The good news is that other than Faried, all the others are on easily tradable contracts and allows Denver to deal from a position of strength should they so choose.
The other part of the considerable depth is that Malone doesn’t have to rely on developing youngsters like Lyles, Hernangomez or Lydon to play right away. If they aren’t ready, they can be afforded time to develop at their own pace.
Late in the offseason, the Nuggets re-signed Mason Plumlee to a new contract. Plumlee found it tough going and didn’t garner an offer sheet as a restricted free agent. For a while it looked like he might just sign his qualifying offer and hit next July as an unrestricted free agent. Plumlee and Denver ultimately agreed on a three-year deal worth $41 million. He’s a valuable backup behind Jokic, because he can run some of the same actions as Jokic because of his passing and ball handling ability.
The Nuggets are returning the same core and will be looking to lock up Gary Harris and Jokic to new deals to keep that core together. Harris is rumored to be close to a contract extension and Denver will likely decline their team option on Jokic for next year. This will make him a restricted free agent, giving the Nuggets control while working out a new deal.
The only real hole on the roster remains a questionable point guard rotation. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tim Connelly and the front office team use one of the extra forwards in a deal to acquire a point guard if no one steps forward.
Offseason Grade: B+. The Nuggets got Millsap on a great deal. It declines in value from this season to next and Denver holds a team option on the third year. If he falls off as he ages, Denver has an easy out. Re-signing Plumlee, whose deal also declines in the second year before going back up in the third, was a solid move, as he’s one of the better backup centers in the NBA. The draft day trade was perplexing, but too early to fully judge without seeing how Lyles and Lydon develop.
Long-term Grade: A. Pending how you view Faried and Plumlee, Denver doesn’t have a single bad contract. They are both paid fairly for their roles and neither is untradeable. Most importantly, the Nuggets have retained some level of flexibility. They signed Millsap, but resisted the urge to push for even more veterans by trading good young players. The team is going to get expensive quickly, after re-upping with Harris and Jokic, but well worth it to start what should be a new string of playoff appearances.
Additions: Aaron Brooks, Anthony Brown, Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Taj Gibson, Amile Jefferson, Justin Patton, Jeff Teague, Melo Trimble
Subtractions: Omri Casspi, Kris Dunn, Jordan Hill, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Rush
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $21.4 million
Analysis: After 13 consecutive years without a playoff appearance, the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to end that drought by adding one of the NBA’s best players, while also retaining their two core young players. The draft night trade of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick to Chicago for Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick was the kind of all-in move fans in Minnesota have waited on for years.
Butler brings the Wolves an incredibly versatile offensive player, who is also a strong defender. Butler’s scoring average has increased for each of his six years in the league, going all the way from 2.6 points per game as a rookie to 23.9 last year. As much as anyone, he’s a self-made player. Most pegged him as a defender when he was drafted and the hope was he might develop enough of a shot to become a 3&D player. His shot has developed, but so has every other portion of his game.
In addition to increasing his scoring, Butler has also raised his assists per game each year from 0.3 as a rookie to 5.5. Rarely does a player increase both his scoring and assists, but Butler has done it. He’s also done so while carrying one of the highest minute loads of all players over the last four years.
In Minnesota, Butler will not only help show Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins how to win, but he’ll serve as a great mentor for Wiggins, who has a similar physical makeup and skillset. Butler will do so re-united with Tom Thibodeau, under whom he broke out in Chicago. There were a lot of high-profile trades and signings this summer, which have pushed Butler’s a bit to the back burner, but that is just fine with him and the Wolves. They’ll just go to work and prove how good of a deal it was.
LaVine and Dunn were both drafted by Minnesota. LaVine had developed into a big time scorer, while Dunn scuffled as a rookie. It is always hard to give up on players you drafted and developed, but Butler brings more to the table than LaVine and the jury remains out on Dunn. Giving up the mid-lottery pick would have hurt more if Minnesota hadn’t gotten back the 16th pick.
The Wolves drafted Justin Patton to be a developmental center prospect behind Towns. Patton came on a bit late in his college career, but was highly regarded coming out of Creighton. He injured his foot early in the summer, but reports are that he’s progressing nicely. He won’t be called on to do much this year but adapt to the NBA and learn.
The reason the Wolves won’t be asking much of Patton is that they added veteran Taj Gibson in free agency. After trading for Butler, Minnesota brought in another Thibodeau favorite in Gibson. He’s likely to be the primary backup big man behind Towns and Gorgui Dieng (whose contract extension kicks in this season). Despite turning 32 over the summer, Gibson remains a rugged defender and solid offensive player. He’s an ideal third big to help work with and mentor Towns and Dieng.
Minnesota wasn’t done there. They rebuilt the backcourt by signing Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford as free agents. Teague will replace Ricky Rubio as the starting point guard. While Minnesota will miss Rubio’s ball handling, passing and defense, Teague is a major upgrade as a shooter and scorer. Having his shooting on the perimeter should help open things up inside for Towns and help create driving lanes for Butler and Wiggins.
Crawford brings scoring punch to the backcourt as he enters his 18th season. Yes, 18th! He’s one of the top sixth men of all time. He’s no longer instant offense every single night, but he’s still a player defenses have to be aware of and guard on the perimeter. For a bench that was lacking scoring prowess in the backcourt, Crawford will certainly help in that area.
Late in the offseason, Minnesota re-signed Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad considered other offers, but chose to return to the only team he’s ever played for. He’ll fill the scoring forward role off the bench for the Wolves, much like he has over the last few years. He’ll also benefit from playing with Butler and learning a few new tricks of the trade.
Offseason Grade: A. Not only did the Timberwolves land Butler in a deal where they really didn’t give up much, they made several sensible signings to complement that trade. Teague and Gibson got fairly paid for the roles they will play. Crawford and Muhammad are bargain signings compared to their talent level. Rubio and LaVine will be missed, but the players replacing them are upgrades for the team Thibodeau is building. The bench is a touch shallow, but Thibodeau rides his starters harder than any coach in the league, making that less a concern than it would be elsewhere.
Long-term Grade: A. Sure, Teague’s deal could look a little rough by the third year. But it was a three-year deal and not four. And Teague hasn’t yet cracked the once-dreaded 30 year mark for point guards. He has the game and body type that should age well. Minnesota has a standing offer to Andrew Wiggins for a max contract extension. Some are split on whether or not Wiggins is worth the max, but it is important to note that he just turned 22 last year and averaged 23.6 points per game on solid shooting. Not many 22 year olds have done that and scoring is always at a premium.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Additions: Carmelo Anthony, Isaiah Canaan, Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, Daniel Hamilton, Dakari Johnson, Patrick Patterson
Subtractions: Norris Cole, Taj Gibson, Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. $14 million over Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $9.7 million
Analysis: There is a popular narrative whenever a team makes a trade or signing that goes something like: “Who cares? They can’t be the Warriors anyway.” No team in the NBA disregarded that narrative this summer like the Oklahoma City Thunder. In two trades that redefined the landscape of the NBA, Sam Presti gave reigning MVP Russell Westbrook more help than he’s had since You Know Who went to those aforementioned Warriors.
One the eve of free agency, Oklahoma City seemingly came from nowhere to land Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Not only did Presti acquire a multi-time All-Star who is still in his prime, but he also got off a questionable contract in Oladipo. It is fair to point out that Presti was the one who gave Oladipo that contract in the first place, but when you make a mistake, the hope is you learn from it and do something sensible to make up for it.
As the offseason went along, Presti continued adding pieces. Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton were brought in to play veteran roles. Patterson will give the Thunder the stretch 4 element they were missing after trading Serge Ibaka. Felton will give them the quality backup behind Westbrook that OKC has sorely lacked.
Terrance Ferguson was selected as arguably the ultimate developmental prospect at the draft. It will be several years before he’s ready to make an NBA impact, but picking late in the draft it was a worthy flier. OKC also brought in one of their former draftees Dakari Johnson, after he spent two years honing his craft in the NBA Gatorade League.
But Presti wasn’t done. While he filled out his rotation and tinkered around the edges, he remained patient waiting for one more star. When Carmelo Anthony expanded his list of teams he would approve a trade to on the eve of training camp, Presti moved quickly as he did with George. A deal was reached hours after it was reported Anthony would approve a trade to Oklahoma City. Presti traded rotation players Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott along with a second round pick to acquire Anthony.
In the span of a few months, the Thunder went from saying “We have to get Russ more help” to landing more help than could have been reasonably expected. In George and Anthony, OKC now has two players who are more than complementary scorers alongside Westbrook. It is fair to question if three primary scorers can function together. The same questions were asked about the Miami Heat when they assembled their big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Talent finds a way, and this should be no different. George can unleash his underrated playmaking, Westbrook won’t have to do it all by himself and Anthony can focus on being the most successful version of himself: Olympics Melo.
Key to making this work is that OKC has quality role players around this big three. Steven Adams is one of the better defense/rebounding centers in the league. Andre Roberson is all-defense level performer who can guard 1-4. Neither Adams nor Roberson are amazing offensive talents, but they won’t need to be. Patterson will a terrific fit off the bench and will likely feature in a big way in closing lineups. He can defend the 4 and 5 and add spacing. Felton can spell Westbrook better than any backup point guard the Thunder have had in years, while also being able to play beside him for stretches.
The bench might be a bit thin with five rotation players having been sent out, but Presti can address that during the year. Look for Jerami Grant to enjoy a breakout season. With more playing time available, Grant can use his athleticism to play off the more accomplished offensive players and will excel in the paint. Alex Abrines will have increased pressure to perform, but he’s played in high stakes games in Europe and with the Spanish National Team for years.
Finally, even with adding Anthony and George, the most important move of the summer was signing Westbrook to a five-year, $205 million extension. Westbrook, having signed a new contract last summer, was grandfathered in under the new collective bargaining agreement to be eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Extension. The Thunder gave Westbrook the extension paperwork as soon as they were able to do so, but he held off on signing until the start of the preseason. Whether that was to see what else Presti did or not will probably never be known, but it doesn’t matter now. OKC has their guy locked in for what are likely to be the remainder of his productive years.
Offseason Grade: A+. When you break it down, the Thunder gave up Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to bring in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. While those first four are all nice enough players, they are just that: nice enough players. George and Anthony are game changers and All-Stars. Add to it that Patterson and Felton are perfect fits and Grant and Abrines should continue to improve and you have one heck of a summer put together by Sam Presti. They might not beat the Warriors, but they are closer today than they were at the end of last season. That alone is worth a high grade.
Long-term Grade: A. George was rumored to be heading to Los Angeles following this season no matter what and that depressed his trade market considerably. Anthony can opt out of his deal next summer, but will he give up $29 million to do so? With Westbrook locked up long term, Presti has a piece he can build around, no matter if George or Anthony leave. He also has Adams and Roberson on solid deals, so good pieces are in place to build with. To make two star trades without emptying the cupboard of future picks, while also retaining a modicum of financial flexibility, is incredible work.
Portland Trail Blazers
Additions: Zach Collins, Archie Goodwin, Anthony Morrow, Caleb Swanigan, C.J. Wilcox
Subtractions: Allen Crabbe, Festus Ezeli, Tim Quarterman
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. $2.9 million over Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: None. $11.8 million over.
Analysis: In the summer of 2016, Neil Olshey spent Paul Allen’s money like it had a time limit on it. Evan Turner got a large deal. Portland matched a huge offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets for Allen Crabbe. Meyers Leonard also got a larger deal than anyone expected him to get. And Festus Ezeli got over $7 million to sit on the bench all year, unable to play following continued knee issues. The Trail Blazers also reached a max contract extension with C.J. McCollum, which kicks in with this season. For all that cash outlay, Portland got 41 wins and a team that seemed on the way up in 2016 barely scraped their way into the playoffs in 2017.
Facing an enormous luxury tax bill for the coming season, something had to give. The team wasn’t good enough to carry that sort of cost and Olshey began undoing some of the previous summer’s work. Crabbe was traded to the same Nets team that gave him the big offer sheet in what amounted to a straight salary dump, as the Blazers waived and stretched Andrew Nicholson after the trade. Ezeli was waived and the team chose to stretch the $1 million owed to him to further lessen the tax burden.
All of the previous additions and new contracts meant the Blazers sat out the summer for the most part. Beyond the Crabbe salary dump, the most exciting move Portland made was to turn three first rounds picks into two, as they traded up with the Sacramento Kings to draft Zach Collins and then used their second pick to draft Caleb Swanigan.
Swanigan looks slightly more ready to make an impact in the NBA this year. He’s far stronger than Collins and is willing to mix it up inside. Collins has more potential, but he’s further off, after entering the draft after his freshman season, where he didn’t start a single game at Gonzaga. Both players will have to earn their way on the court in a somewhat crowded Portland frontcourt.
The Trail Blazers kind of made their offseason acquisition at last year’s trade deadline, when they picked up Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee. Nurkic played better in Portland than he had at any point in his NBA career to date, before suffering a leg injury that cost him most of the second half of the season. He’s due for a contract extension, and if previous dealings set any sort of precedence, he’ll get one. Olshey likes to lock up his own players when he can.
The same scenario exists for Noah Vonleh, as he’s also eligible for an extension for the first time. Vonleh still has considerable potential, but hasn’t shown it on a nightly basis. He’s been a starter for long stretches of his time in Portland, but one that is more of the token variety. This was to be a big camp and start to the year for Vonleh, but he recently suffered a shoulder injury that has him sidelined. The Blazers will likely pass on an extension, unless it is of the team friendly variety, and will re-address with Vonleh as a restricted free agent in the summer.
Offseason Grade: D+. Portland didn’t get better this summer for this year. Crabbe was a key rotation player, as the team’s best bench shooter and scorer. The Blazers didn’t replace him and will have to cobble together his minutes with lesser players who won’t have the same impact. The big men outside of Nurkic and backup Ed Davis remain a largely uninspiring group. They all have potential, but remain unproven. Because of this Al-Farouq Aminu will have to play a lot of stretch 4, which is probably his best position. But Aminu has suffered through injuries in the past and can’t always be counted on. Lillard and McCollum are good enough to keep the Blazers in the playoff race, but in an improved Western Conference, they’ll have their hands full.
Long-term Grade: C. Getting off some of the money they had previously spent was good work. Ideally, they would have gotten out of Turner or Leonard’s deal as well, but Olshey, while good, isn’t a miracle worker. Because Lillard and McCollum are so good, Portland will be in the mix for the playoffs in the Western Conference for as long as they are there. But unless the young bigs develop rapidly, those playoff appearances will be short ones.
Additions: Tony Bradley, Eric Griffin, Jonas Jerebko, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Nate Wolters
Subtractions: Boris Diaw, Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Trey Lyles, Shelvin Mack, Jeff Withey
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $18.3 million
Analysis: The Utah Jazz did everything right. They drafted well and developed their own talent. They made smart trades and underrated free agent signings to complement the homegrown players. It finally all came together last year, as Utah won the division and made the playoffs for the first time after a four year absence.
Yet, in the span of a few days in early July, everything the Jazz built is a lot shakier. When Gordon Hayward bid adieu to the only NBA home he had known, that solid foundation developed a crack that Utah didn’t have the resources to fill. Veterans George Hill and Boris Diaw followed Hayward out of town. All of a sudden one of the feel good stories in the NBA didn’t feel very good at all.
Replacing Hayward isn’t really possible, especially not for a small market team that had limited resources to do so. The good news is that Utah has Rodney Hood, who can help replace some of Hayward’s scoring, and they re-signed Joe Ingles, who can help replace some of everything else Hayward did. Some suggested that the Jazz re-signed Ingles to entice Hayward to stay, since they are close, but that is an insult to Ingles. Ingles is one of the NBA’s better ball movers and has become a very good shooter from the outside. He’s also a competitive defender. He’s the type of player who makes a team better, but in more quiet ways than flashy ones.
As for the point guard spot, Utah got a jumpstart on replacing Hill before he even left. Sitting on cap room that was going to expire at the end of the 2016 league year, the Jazz swung a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire Ricky Rubio. This move, combined with Hill’s reluctance to commit to signing an extension or re-signing over the summer, signaled the Jazz heading in a new direction. Rubio will fit in wonderfully in Quin Snyder’s offensive and defensive systems. On offense, Rubio is a premiere ball mover, which Snyder requires. On the other end, Rubio is a better defender than many give him credit for and he’ll spearhead the perimeter defense.
The Jazz also filled out their rotation nicely by picking up veteran role players Jonas Jerebko and Thabo Sefolosha and by bringing Ekpe Udoh back to the NBA from overseas. None of the three will garner All-Star consideration, but all are solid role players. Jerebko fills a bench forward role nicely with his positional defense and ability to stretch the floor. Sefolosha can be a solid 3&D weapon. And Udoh should be a quality backup to Rudy Gobert at the center spot.
Utah’s most exciting move was the draft day trade with the Nuggets to move up and select Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell excelled in Summer League on both offense and defense. He’s a bit of a combo guard at just 6’3’’ and without traditional point guard skills, but he has the mindset of a starter. He’s strong for his size and likes to get into the body of the player he’s defending. Offensively, he’s good at getting to the basket and using his strength to create space. With Utah’s depth on the wing and at point guard, Mitchell will be allowed to develop slowly, but he’ll force his way into the rotation before very long.
The Jazz also return several other regulars like Gobert, who has established himself as unquestionably the best defensive center in the game, while improving his offense each season. Derrick Favors is back up front and has been working on adding range to his jumper to adapt to the current NBA climate. Joe Johnson is back, this time around having added the ability to function as a stretch 4 at times. Dante Exum returns to backup Rubio and to continue to build on his still fully untapped potential. And Alec Burks is finally healthy, which could go a long way towards replacing Hayward’s scoring.
Offseason Grade: C. It is hard to have better than an average offseason when you lose your best player and two other starters. That said, the Jazz bounced back nicely. Rubio will fit in perfectly and might even be an upgrade over Hill, who spent a large part of the year sidelined with injuries. The role players they added for the bench, combined with Mitchell’s ascension and Burks’ return to health, will all pay off nicely. Utah won’t be a certain playoff team, but no one is going to want to play them from night to night. Their defense paired with one of the league’s best home court advantages will have the Jazz in the mix for the playoffs.
Long-term Grade: C+. Replacing Hill, who would have been on a new, likely large contract, with Rubio is an upgrade both short and long term. Hayward leaving is tough, because he’s still young enough to be part of both the short and long term outlook. It also leaves Utah short a second star to partner with Gobert. But Dennis Lindsey and team didn’t overreact and make bad moves. They have good flexibility with no long term deal, outside of having Gobert and Ingles locked up. Moving up for Mitchell might not pay off immediately (and it still may!), but should down the line. Things are down in Utah right now, but by sticking to their proven plan, the Jazz will be on the upswing again soon.