Additions: Maximilian Kleber, Josh McRoberts, Johnathan Motley, Dennis Smith Jr., Jeff Withey
Subtractions: Nicolas Brussino, A.J. Hammons, DeAndre Liggins, Jarrod Uthoff
2017-18 Cap Space: None (could get to $18 million). $2.6 million under Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $51.2 million
Analysis: Aside from making a draft pick that could define the future of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks essentially sat out the 2017 offseason. A year after signing Harrison Barnes to a max contract, which looks great by the way, Dallas chose patience over pushing in on a playoff pursuit. Detractors might suggest this is punting on what could be the final season of Dirk Nowitzki’s career, but given the gap between the Mavericks and the rest of the West playoff teams, it was the prudent course.
Nowitzki enters his 20th season, all with Dallas, which is remarkable in today’s climate where stars change teams on a regular basis. He re-signed on a two-year, $10 million contract, with the second season being a team option. Nowitzki is going to play it out with the Mavericks, giving the team discounts and cap flexibility, while continuing to contribute on the court as someone teams still have to guard behind the arc. Dallas intends to start Nowitzki at center, because of his inability to guard any other position. This move sacrifices rim protection, but gives the Mavs arguably the best stretch five in the league. It also opens up the power forward spot for Barnes, who has thrived as a small ball four.
The downside to starting Nowitzki at center is that Dallas has to bring Nerlens Noel off the bench. Noel was acquired at last year’s trade deadline for the low price of two second round picks and Justin Anderson. Philadelphia was looking to clear their logjam at center and the Mavericks liked the buy low opportunity. Noel played just 22 games for Dallas, but showed enough that the Mavs want him as part of their future. Unfortunately, Noel turned down a reported four-year, $70 million contract offer as a restricted free agent. No other team jumped in and Dallas eventually pulled the offer. Noel ultimately signed his qualifying offer for just over $4 million. The big impact was a breach in the relationship Noel and the Mavericks were building. Whether or not that can be repaired remains to be seen.
Despite the fracture in relations with one potential future piece, Dallas looks great with the other. After he fell to ninth overall in the draft, the Mavericks picked Dennis Smith Jr. and will hand him the keys to the offense from day one. Whether his draft slippage was caused by concerns over his surgically repaired ACL, a less than stellar freshman year at North Carolina State, or some other reason, the Mavericks benefitted by the reluctance from other teams. Smith was arguably the most impressive player at Las Vegas Summer League as he repeatedly destroyed defender after defender off the bounce and attacked the rim with ferocity. One scout gleefully exclaimed “He’s an @%^-kicking mother-#@$%^&!” after Smith broke down fellow high pick Josh Jackson off the dribble.
While being a rookie point guard under Rick Carlisle is no easy task, Smith will benefit from the tough-love. Carlisle will get the sloppiness out of Smith’s game and Dallas will learn quickly that they have their best point guard since Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. Don’t be surprised when Smith figures prominently in the Rookie of the Year race.
Beyond drafting Smith and re-signing Nowitzki and Noel, the rest of the offense was fairly quiet. The Mavericks ate Josh McRoberts’ contract in a salary dump as the Miami Heat were clearing cap space. They signed intriguing German forward Maximilian Kleber to play behind and learn from his fellow countryman Nowitzki. And following a strong Summer League, the Mavs signed Johnathan Motley, who many had tabbed as a drafted player, to a two-way contract. Motley has good athleticism, but has a lot of learning to do. He’ll spend the year growing into an NBA player in the NBA G-League.
Offseason Grade: B+. While drafting Smith is a homerun and the Nowitzki relationship is solid as always, the Mavericks and Noel couldn’t reach agreement on a long-term deal. That, along with sitting out the remainder of the offseason, knocks Dallas down a peg.
Long-term Grade: A-. Maybe the Mavericks can still work something out with Noel to keep him around. If so, they have several impressive building blocks with him, Barnes and Smith. Wesley Matthews is the only questionable contract they have, and he only has one year left after this one. In a world where very few teams project to have cap space, Dallas has incredible flexibility. They may not finish the Nowitzki tenure as a playoff team, but they’ll be one again sooner, rather than later.
Additions: Tarik Black, Demetrius Jackson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Cameron Oliver, Chris Paul, Zhou Qi, P.J. Tucker
Subtractions: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Right at Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $17.8 million
Analysis: After putting together the perfect roster for Mike D’Antoni and committing to James Harden as their franchise player, the Rockets sought to improve on a 55 win season by adding point guard Chris Paul. The price was high as Houston sent out long time starter Patrick Beverley, Sixth Man of the Year contender Lou Williams, and bench contributors Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell. For most teams, sending out four rotation players would cripple their depth, but Houston will be just fine. Paul replaces Beverley in the starting unit, Williams was a luxury for a team that boasts the actual Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, and Dekker and Harrell were more than adequately replaced.
Paul is a future Hall of Famer, but that can wait, as he’s showing little signs of slowing down. He continues to be one of the most effective floor generals in the NBA and a high-level defender. Paul also shot a career-best 41.1 percent from behind the arc as he embraced the three-point shot more than ever with five attempts per game. While Harden excelled in an MVP-level season as the Rockets point guard, he wore down by season’s end. D’Antoni’s system is demanding as he stresses pace, multiple pick and rolls per possession and he only plays 8-9 players per night at most.
Having Paul in the fold gives Harden a chance to play off the ball and take a breather when necessary. While Harden’s counting numbers might drop, it is well worth it to have him fresh come the postseason. Paul will also excel playing next to Harden as he has never played alongside another playmaker like Harden. Some worry about two ball dominant players teaming up, but both have more than enough talent and leadership ability to make it work.
Speaking of Harden, he was grandfathered into being able to sign another extension under the new Designated Player Veteran Extension rules. And Harden and the Rockets did just that, agreeing to add four more years and over $169 million to his deal. This contract should keep him in Houston for the remainder of the productive years of his career.
After adding Paul, the Rockets needed to replace some of the depth they lost. With plenty of offense, Houston focused on wing defense and added two of the best players in that category on the market in P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Both players can defend 2-4 and both can knock down open shots. Having them, along with holdover Trevor Ariza, gives D’Antoni plenty of players he can throw at the top wings on a night to night basis.
Up front, Houston re-signed Nene to a three-year, $11 million deal, after their original four-year agreement was found to have violated the updated “Over 38 rule” in the CBA. Nene had a productive year for the Rockets, mostly playing behind Clint Capela as the backup center. He is a perfect fit in the pick and roll heavy offense the Rockets run and his acceptance of a backup role has prolonged his career.
Behind Capela and Nene, Houston added a third layer of depth with Tarik Black. Black is a solid rebounder and defender. In addition, in Houston’s relatively simple offensive system, Black could do well as a roll man. You can’t ask for much more from a third center.
The Rockets also re-signed Bobby Brown and added Demetrius Jackson on a two-way contract. Considering they lack a traditional backup point guard, both players could come into play at some point. And keep an eye on Troy Williams. He was re-signed and given a healthy guarantee. Williams is Houston’s developmental player on the wing behind Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute, and he’s someone the Rockets like quite a bit.
Offseason Grade: A-. Getting Paul is as good an addition as any other team made in the offseason. And despite giving up so much depth, the Rockets recovered nicely with the role players they added. They have more than enough players to handle D’Antoni’s limited rotation. Paul could set a new career-high in assists (currently 11.6 per game) if he has the ball enough as he’s never played with this much shooting around him. Even he doesn’t, his presence will keep Harden at the top of his game all year long.
Long-term Grade: B+. Paul is only signed for this season, and rumors will persist that he plans to team up with the rest of the Super Friends when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony all hit free agency this summer. Losing Paul after just one year would hurt, but having Harden and several other players signed long-term makes the Rockets a destination for the foreseeable future.
Additions: Dillon Brooks, Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, Vince Hunter, Ben McLemore, Ivan Rabb, Kobi Simmons, Rade Zagorac
Subtractions: Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Troy Daniels, Zach Randolph
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: None. $183,447 over.
Analysis: The Grizzlies are caught in no man’s land. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to be a contender. In one of the NBA’s smaller markets, they made moves to extend their shelf life as a playoff team, by re-signing Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to some of the richest deals in the league, and then added Chandler Parsons to address the lack of perimeter shooting that has plagued the team.
Unfortunately, by handing out so many big contracts, Memphis is left with minimal avenues to improve the roster. They split the non-taxpayer exception to add Ben McLemore, continuing the never ending quest for shooting, and to give an extra year to Dillon Brooks, Ivan Rabb and Rade Zagorac. The Grizzlies then signed Tyreke Evans with the bi-annual exception in hopes of upgrading their bench scoring.
While all the additions are nice (McLemore in particular could pay off in a more stable, professional environment), Memphis lost more than they gained. Veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen were the heart of the “grit ‘n’ grind” culture that the Grizzlies built and Vince Carter remains a productive player despite his advanced age. Even Troy Daniels, who was traded to clear a roster spot and help Memphis stay under the luxury tax, is a more proven shooter than anyone the Grizzlies brought in.
Memphis also re-signed JaMychal Green to a deal on the eve of training camp after he failed to garner any substantial offers as a restricted free agent. Green broke out as the Grizzlies starting power forward last year. He’s a good rebounder and fits nicely next to Gasol up front as he’s adding range to his jumper. He hit 37.9 percent of his three-pointers last year on 1.9 attempts per game. While not exactly a true stretch four by any means, extending his range adds a ton of value to Green’s game.
Evans should give Memphis some scoring and playmaking off the bench as he’s finally healthy again. He’s better in the sixth man role than anyone the Grizzlies have had in recent years, at least offensively. If McLemore can get healthy, he may finally develop into the shooter many hoped he would coming out of college. Memphis gave him most of their mid-level exception on a two-year deal hoping for just that.
The three rookies are all interesting players. Brooks has some versatility to his game, but needs seasoning. Rabb might already be the best power forward on the roster behind Green. And Zagorac has become a good shooter/scorer in Serbia. For Memphis to make any sort of noise, one of these three has to step forward and produce as a rookie.
Offseason Grade: C-. Re-signing Green to a two-year, $16.4 million deal that declines in the second year was the best move Memphis made. Evans will help as a bench scorer, and maybe McLemore develops. Brooks, Rabb and Zagorac are all nice developmental players for a squad lacking in that area, but none are likely to help this season. Losing the “Grindfathers” in Randolph and Allen, along with Carter, is more than Memphis can bounce back from this year.
Long-term Grade: C. Green’s deal will pay off this year and next. The three rookies should all help eventually. And at least Memphis didn’t overpay their veteran free agents out of sentimentality. But the Grizzlies cap sheet is still a mess. Gasol and Conley are still very good, but both are aging and have had injury issues. Parsons’ deal is one of the worst in the NBA. Memphis paid to stay in the mix for the playoffs, and they will, but they don’t have the flexibility to climb any higher for the next few years.
New Orleans Pelicans
Additions: Tony Allen, Ian Clark, Charles Cooke, Frank Jackson, Jalen Jones, Darius Miller, Rajon Rondo
Subtractions: Quinn Cook, Tim Frazier, Donatas Motiejunas, Quincy Pondexter, Axel Toupane
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Right at Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $5.2 million
Analysis: The Pelicans join their division brethren in Memphis as a team in the mix for the playoffs, but carrying a very messy cap sheet. Unlike the Grizzlies, at least the Pelicans have two younger stars to build around in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. That alone gives them a minor leg up on teams in a similar position.
In many ways, Cousins’ acquisition at the trade deadline was the Pelicans' big offseason move. Despite falling out of the playoff race and both Cousins and Davis sitting out some games, New Orleans got enough of a look at them together to see that it can work. It just takes the proper players around them to work out best.
Jrue Holiday is presumed to be one of those players. Or at least he better be after the Pelicans re-signed him to a five-year, $131 million contract. Holiday has battled injury issues in the past, but was healthy last season (his missed games were due to tending to his wife after her successful brain surgery). New Orleans managed his minutes and moved him off the ball when he came back. Moving Holiday off the ball was as much due to injuries and the need for him as a scorer, as it was to manage his health. Nevertheless, the Pels discovered something that worked and planned the rest of their offseason around its success.
To that tune, New Orleans’ big swap this summer was Rajon Rondo replacing Tim Frazier, who was essentially given away to the Wizards. Rondo struggled through large portions of his one year with the Chicago Bulls, but came on late and had a couple of nice playoff games before being injured. He’s slated to step into the starting point guard role and the Pelicans will welcome his playmaking and passing ability. The challenge comes that New Orleans is planning to play two traditional bigs and still lacks shooting on the wing. Rondo is at his best when he’s surrounded with shooters and can break down a defense off the dribble. With cramped spacing, that may prove difficult.
To help open up the floor, the Pelicans added Ian Clark from the Golden State Warriors. Clark is limited as a playmaker and defender, but has plenty of promise as a shooter and scorer. He’ll team with the returning E’Twaun Moore to give the team shooting off the bench.
New Orleans also re-signed Dante Cunningham, who returns for his fourth year with the Pelicans. Despite still being seen as a better fit at the four than the three, Cunningham projects as the starting small forward. The good news is that he shot a career-high 39.2 percent from downtown on almost three attempts per game. If he can sustain that, it will go a long way towards helping the Pels shooting woes.
The Pelicans are also bringing 2012 second round pick Darius Miller back to the NBA. Miller has spent the better part of the last three years in Germany and has developed into a solid three-point shooter. He’s hit at least 41 percent of this threes over the last three years and has improved his defense. If he can do that in his return to the NBA, New Orleans will have the 3&D player they’ve lacked for so long at the small forward position.
Speaking of defense, the Pels added one of the league’s best defenders when they signed Tony Allen. Allen had a limited market as a free agent and signed on for the veteran minimum in New Orleans. Allen will play both the two and the three, possibly more at small forward, depending on how Miller’s return goes. Allen is still a plus defender, but his lack of shooting will give Alvin Gentry pause of giving him too many minutes when Rondo and both bigs are in the game.
Offseason Grade: C+. Re-signing Holiday was a must as the Pelicans had no way of replacing his production if he left. That said, giving five years and over $25 million per year to a player with his injury history is unquestionably unnerving. The other re-signings and additions were all good values, but it would have been nice to see New Orleans add some sort of proven shooting, especially at the forward spot.
Long-term Grade: C-. Holiday is now signed long-term, which is either great or awful. It will all depend on his health. Because the Pelicans have traded draft pick after draft pick, only Cheick Diallo and Frank Jackson are in place as developmental young players. Both are nice enough prospects, but neither projects to be a starter. And Cousins is signed for just this year. If it doesn’t work out with him and Davis up front, it might be time for New Orleans to blow the whole thing up and start fresh.
San Antonio Spurs
Additions: Matt Costello, Rudy Gay, Darrun Hilliard II, Joffrey Lauvergne, Brandon Paul, Derrick White
Subtractions: Joel Anthony, DeWayne Dedmon, David Lee, Jonathon Simmons
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $40.6 million
Analysis: It was a very low-key summer for the Spurs. They made moves to open up cap space, presumably to pursue Chris Paul, but those plans were foiled by the division rival Houston Rockets. Once that fell through, San Antonio turned their focus to retaining their own free agents, while adding to their wing depth.
On the retention front, the Spurs re-signed Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Pau Gasol. Ginobili took $5 million spread over two years to return to the only NBA home he’s ever known. Despite turning 40 over the summer, Ginobili remains a high-end backup guard, witness his block on James Harden to clinch the series win over the Rockets in last year’s postseason.
Mills, who helped replace Tony Parker after he went down with a quad injury, signed for $48 million over the next four years. Mills can spot start, but remains best as a scoring threat off the bench. He understands the Spurs system as well as any of the other San Antonio mainstays and continues to be very productive.
Gasol is another story, but his new deal appears to be a bit of a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” situation. After opting out to help open up cap space, Gasol re-signed for more than may have been originally intended. He got nearly $49 million over three years, but the final season is only partially guaranteed for just under $7 million. If he is able to transition to being a backup, as was the case for large chunks of last year, Gasol might return solid value on that deal. As it stands, he looks like he’ll have to start and he might not be able to handle that defensively for 82 games.
The reason Gasol may need to start is because the Spurs let Dewayne Dedmon walk as a free agent. Dedmon had been San Antonio’s starter for most of last year, before he fell out of the rotation as teams went smaller in the playoffs. The Spurs ostensibly replaced Dedmon with Joffrey Lauvergne, who should offer them at least passable play behind Gasol. If Lauvergne steps up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eventually take the starting role, with Gasol sliding back to the bench again.
On the wing, San Antonio signed Rudy Gay to back up Kawhi Leonard. Gay is returning from an Achilles’ tendon tear that caused his last season with the Kings to end early. If Gay can return to form, he’ll partner with Mills, Ginobili and possibly Gasol to give the Spurs one of the deepest reserve groups in the league. That allows Gregg Popovich to rest his players on a regular basis and keep them healthy for the postseason.
The Spurs also drafted Derrick White late in the first round and signed Brandon Paul after a standout Summer League. Both players have some promise and will get the chance to develop in the Spurs system that has cranked out both Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons, who left this summer for the Orlando Magic, in recent years. With Green eligible to be a free agent after the season, White and Paul could be developed to eventually replace him.
Offseason Grade: C+. San Antonio struck out on adding a star to pair with Leonard, but did reasonsably well otherwise. Mills, Ginobili, Gay, Lauvergne and Paul are all good values on the deals they got. Gasol is another story, but if used properly he’ll be fine. The big challenge is that the Spurs don’t have the star power to compete at the top of the Western Conference. The system can get them close, but Leonard alone isn’t enough to take them over the top. Add to it that both Leonard and Parker have lingering injury issues to start season and the Spurs might be stretched more than usual.
Long-term Grade: C. Leonard is signed on a pre-cap explosion deal that is an absolute bargain. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Danny Green might all clear the books this summer. But San Antonio still has Gasol’s money on the books and that will hurt flexibility some. More importantly, while there is some young potential on the roster, no one screams out that they are the next star. It has been a while since you could say that in San Antonio.