Additions: Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, David Nwaba, Quincy Pondexter, Diamond Stone
Subtractions: Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Canaan, Michael Carter-Williams, Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade
2017-18 Cap Space: None (could get to $17.7 million). $5.2 million under Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $63.7 million
Analysis: Never ones to truly bottom out intentionally, the Chicago Bulls seem headed to that exact place this season. After the “Three Alphas” experiment didn’t exactly work, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade are now much less than alphas in New Orleans and Cleveland, respectively, and Jimmy Butler is off to Minnesota to help the young Timberwolves push their rebuild forward. Following those departures, the Bulls largely sat out free agency and are building around draft picks, castoffs, and a relatively clean cap sheet.
Rondo was waived and Wade agreed to a buyout, but at least Chicago got something in return for Butler. How folks feel about that something is somewhat of a mixed bag. In exchange for their best player and lone All-Star, the Bulls got Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and moved up from the 16th pick to the seventh pick in the draft. Basically they got an injured guard, a highly-drafted player who some are already calling a bust, and moved up just nine picks. But is it really that bleak?
LaVine, when healthy, is a dynamic scorer who has shown an improved shot each year. He’s shaken off the combo guard label as he’s now firmly seen as a shooting guard, but retains his playmaking skills from his point guard days. The challenge is that LaVine is coming off a torn left ACL and won’t be back on the court until late-November or early-December. To add to it, he’s in the final year of his rookie scale contract. That means the Bulls have to reach a contract extension (unlikely, given Chicago will want to see him on the court first) or deal with LaVine as a restricted free agent. Conventional wisdom says when a young player, LaVine doesn’t turn 23 until March, shows the ability to shoot and score as he has, you try to sign him long-term. With few teams projected to have cap space this summer, Chicago will let the season play out, make sure he’s healthy and go from there.
Dunn is also nicked up to start the season, although he’s due back right around the start of the year after dislocating a finger on his left (non-shooting) hand. The bigger challenge for Dunn is shaking off a terrible rookie season. After being picked fifth overall, Dunn struggled to just 3.8 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting overall and under 29 percent from behind the arc. He also shot 61 percent from the free throw line, down from hovering just under 70 percent in college, and seemed to be avoiding contact as the year wound down. Finally, Dunn's defense wasn’t very good either and that largely contributed to his draft stock just a year ago.
The last part can be blamed at least in part on the Wolves being a train wreck defensively as a team. But the offensive woes are concerning. The drop off in free throwing shooting is particularly worrisome, as it signals Dunn lost confidence in himself on that end. If he can get back into decent shape as a shooter, there are signs Dunn can be a productive player. He’s got great size for the point guard position, still has good defensive tools and he did average 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals and one block per 36 minutes. And, if he can shoot even passably, playing time in the range of 30-35 minutes seems to be in the offing in Chicago.
As for the draft pick swap, when the Bulls moved up their fans started screaming for any number of players, none of whom were the guy Chicago eventually drafted: Lauri Markkanen. By the end of Summer League and into training camp, folks seem to be coming around on the big man from Finland that they’ve affectionately nicknamed “The Finnisher”. Markkanen’s shooting numbers were horrendous in Las Vegas, but the Bulls encouraged him to bomb away from deep. He shot over eight three-point attempts per game but hit just 24 percent, yet seemed comfortable with the shot and spacing. At 7’0’’ tall, Markkanen can be a stretch four or five and help open the floor for the Bulls. He rebounded well in Summer League and protected the rim better than he had in college. He also doesn’t turn 21 until May, so he’s going to continue to improve. Despite not being thrilled initially, Bulls fans will be happy with this pick over time.
Once free agency kicked off, Chicago made just one signing, bringing Justin Holiday back after he was dealt the previous summer in the Derrick Rose trade. Holiday is the best shooter on the roster, and when you have a lot of a young point guards, you want to give them shooters to kick to. Holiday is on a great contract and may prove to be one of the steals of free agency.
As bad teams should, the Bulls also ate a contract for an asset, when they traded for Quincy Pondexter and got a second round pick for their troubles. They also claimed David Nwaba on waivers after he was released by the Lakers, and signed Diamond Stone after he was let go by the Hawks. Eating deals and trying out young (read: cheap) talent is what a team in the position of the Bulls should do.
In addition, Chicago re-signed two of their own restricted free agents, giving Nikola Mirotic a two-year, $24 million deal after he waded in a tepid restricted free agent market, and signing Cristiano Felicio to a four-year, $32 million contract. The second year of Mirotic's contract is a team option, which makes this a very tradable contract for the Bulls. Teams always need stretch fours as the season goes along, so Chicago should be able to spin Mirotic off for something helpful. Or, if he’s playing well, they can keep him for themselves on a team friendly contract.
Felicio has shown promise as a backup center and his contract is more than fair for what he offers. It rises from year one to year two, before declining over the final two seasons. That creates good flexibility down the line, when Chicago might be looking to add free agents.
Offseason Grade: D+. Butler is right on the borderline between star and superstar and he was signed for at least two more seasons. Things seemed to have soured between him and the organization, but it is still hard to let him go for anything more than a homerun of a package. Chicago did okay, but there are a lot of questions with the group they got back. The Holiday signing was great and the Bulls still have plenty of cap space to eat another deal or two if they get the chance and add to their asset base.
Long-term Grade: C. LaVine and Dunn have too many questions to push this grade much higher. Mirotic is unlikely to be in Chicago beyond this year, if he even finishes the season with the Bulls. Holiday is on a team friendly contract, but that only goes so far. Same with Felicio. Everything hinges on LaVine’s recovery, Dunn’s improvement and Markkanen’s development. That is an uneasy group to bet on getting three positive results from.
Additions: Jose Calderon, Jae Crowder, Jeff Green, John Holland, Cedi Osman, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Ante Zizic
Subtractions: Kay Felder, Kyrie Irving, Richard Jefferson, Dahntay Jones, James Jones, Edy Tavares, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. $18.6 million over Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $20.9 million
Analysis: With uncertainty swirling around the future of the franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers made win-now moves, complemented with picking up some future assets. As such, Cleveland is still the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, while also being well-positioned for potential post-LeBron James years as well.
The biggest move came late in the offseason as Cleveland traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, who also serve as their most obvious rival in the East. The Cavs got back Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic, but the biggest get in the entire trade was the unprotected 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick. Pending Thomas’ health, Cleveland might take a slight step back on the court this season, but are now set up to have some assets moving forward.
On its face, Irving for Thomas is a pretty even swap. Irving is younger, healthier at the moment, and signed for an additional year. Thomas was the heart and soul of a Celtics team that performed better than expected for three years, coinciding with him blossoming into a superstar. He also has a serious hip injury that he’s in the midst of recovering from and is a free agent at the end of the season. Given those concerns, Boston balanced the offer with Crowder, Zizic and the Nets pick.
Crowder wasn’t a throw-in however. He gives the Cavaliers the versatile, defensive-minded piece they’ve been unable to throw at the Golden State Warriors the last three years. Crowder is able to guard 2-4, he’s an underrated shooter and brings a good deal of toughness and grit to the floor. To take full advantage of their newfound versatility, the Cavs are sliding Kevin Love up to center, while James and Crowder will handle the forward spots. Without Crowder in the fold, this isn’t something Cleveland wouldn’t have been able to pull off nearly as easily. It also has the added benefit of Tristan Thompson transitioning to the bench, where he’ll fill the role of the reserve big man the Cavs have long missed.
Around their big trade, Cleveland made their annual makeover of role players by signing several veterans. Derrick Rose was added with his initial role assumed to be backing up Irving. He’ll now slot into the starting point guard spot while Thomas recovers. Despite an up and down year in New York, Rose was relatively healthy and fairly productive. He’s also likely to be motivated, as he’s playing for the league minimum after coming off a maximum contract. This is a chance for him to show he can still play at a high level when the stakes are at their highest.
Jeff Green and Jose Calderon were added as second and third string veteran types. Neither is likely to have a large role, but both are professionals who will be ready when called upon. Having those kinds of options on a title contender gives Tyronn Lue more comfort than turning to an untested youngster.
While Green and Calderon were added to bring veteran depth, the Cavs last addition is expected to play a much bigger role, as they signed Dwyane Wade following his buyout with the Chicago Bulls. Wade was almost immediately given the starting shooting guard role and will team up with LeBron James for another run at the Finals, after they made four straight together in Miami. Wade might not be an ideal fit on a team that needs spacing, which is what J.R. Smith gave them previously, so don’t be surprised if Wade starting is more of a token thing. He and Rose also have the potential to be one of the league’s worst defensive backcourts and there isn’t a rim protecting big behind them, with Love starting at center.
All of the Cavs veteran additions mean that their two rookies, Cedi Osman and Zizic, are unlikely to have any impact in Cleveland this year. Osman was signed after spending two years overseas following his being drafted in 2015. Zizic spent a year overseas after the Celtics tabbed him in 2016. Both players will see spot minutes here and there, and are likely to play for the Canton Charge in the G-League to help their development.
Beyond pushing the rookies from the rotation, the Cavs vets have also thrown their rotation out of whack. Thompson and Smith are both headed to the bench and neither seems overly happy about it. Cleveland also re-signed Kyle Korver and he’s a lock to play because of his shooting, which means rotation mainstay Iman Shumpert may be out of a role. And once Thomas returns, minutes become even sparser. Depth is great, especially with an older team that has injury history, but too much depth can undo a good team. Lue has his hands full keeping everyone happy.
Offseason Grade: A-. Adding veterans for depth was a given for a championship level team led by James. But the Cavs added players who are good fits and should be more than just names on the bench. All should contribute in some way. Thomas is the headliner of the return for Irving, but Crowder is arguably the more important player for this year. He’s the key to unlocking the versatile lineups needed to beat the Warriors. And the Warriors are the only team the Cavs are really focused on. The only thing Cleveland is missing at the moment is big man depth. Love, Thompson and Channing Frye are the only real bigs on the roster. The Cavaliers will remain a prime destination for buyout candidates. And they could also spin off some of the excess wing depth for a big in a trade.
Don’t discount some of the loss of chemistry for the Cavs as well. When Irving asked for a trade, the chemistry was long since broken. But broken turned into gone by trading away a great locker room guy like Richard Jefferson, and with James Jones moving on to the front office phase of his career. Those two are guys that LeBron James counted on as veteran voices. Also, the players on this team knew their roles. Now, they have considerably shaken that up as well. Only time will tell if they can get back all that chemistry they built over the last three years.
Long-term Grade: C. Rumors are swirling around James looking to leave Cleveland once again. Losing their franchise player for a second time is something the Cavs won’t easily recover from. Irving, who is still young enough to build around, is now gone. Thomas, his ostensible replacement, is no lock to stick around either. That made getting Crowder, whose contract is one of the best in the NBA, and the Nets pick imperative for future planning. If they can’t have Irving, those are pretty good assets to start what is looking more and more like an inevitable rebuild.
In addition, Koby Altman made a nice trade in his first big move as the Cavs general manager. But Altman has pretty big shoes to fill as David Griffin had done a great job building a championship level roster. With Dan Gilbert not being the easiest guy to work for, nor Cleveland being an ideal market for free agents, Altman has his work cut out for him, if James does leave once again.
Additions: Avery Bradley, Dwight Buycks, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard, Luis Montero, Eric Moreland, Anthony Tolliver
Subtractions: Aron Baynes, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Gbinije, Darrun Hilliard II, Marcus Morris
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $1.7 million
Analysis: The Detroit Pistons were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They committed max money to Andre Drummond only a year prior and Reggie Jackson got what was near max money the year before that. Tobias Harris came with a large, but reasonable deal when the Pistons snagged him from the Orlando Magic. That meant the big decision this summer was whether to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a contract equally as big as his teammates or to let him walk with no real way of replacing him.
Instead the Pistons pivoted and tried to rebuild on the fly. They let Caldwell-Pope leave in free agency, traded starting forward Marcus Morris and allowed backup center Aron Baynes to leave as well. Out the door went two starters and another rotation player, not to mention a boatload of toughness. But in their place are players who help make up a roster that makes as much, if not more, sense than the one they’ve rolled out in recent years.
Avery Bradley came in the trade for Morris and he’ll replace Caldwell-Pope. He’s a better defender than Caldwell-Pope and a more consistent offensive player. Over his time in Boston, Bradley developed into a 15-16 points per game scorer and weapon from behind the arc. That improvement on offensive combined with his all-world defense, gives Detroit right now what they hoped they might someday get from Caldwell-Pope.
Baynes is being replaced by Anthony Tolliver, who returns to the Pistons to give them a different type of look as a backup big. Baynes, like Drummond, was a banger who would rather hang out around the paint than around the perimeter. Tolliver isn’t afraid to mix it up on defense, but on offense he’s content to stay outside and knock in triples. He’s a career 36 percent shooter from behind the arc and will give Detroit a consistent stretch element.
Morris, who was always a starter in his time with the Pistons, will be replaced by Harris starting nightly and like some combination of veteran Jon Leuer and youngster Stanley Johnson. On nights when Stan Van Gundy needs a bit more size and offense, he can turn to Leuer. When he wants defense, he can call on Johnson. Each night, Harris needs to be there to provide scoring and rebounding. All too often, Harris is just kind of out there, unnoticed as having any sort of discernable impact. That has plagued him since his Orlando days. If he can shake that off, Detroit will benefit in a big way.
With uncertainty at the shooting guard spot as Caldwell-Pope was a free agent and Bradley is one this coming summer, the Pistons added Luke Kennard at the draft. Kennard showed the ability at Summer League to be a shooter, scorer and better playmaker than most thought. With Bradley in the fold, Kennard is likely to be given some time to develop, without the pressure of stepping into the rotation right away. It should be noted that Bradley does tend to get nicked up and miss time, which could open up minutes for Kennard to play.
If Kennard isn’t ready, Detroit could turn to Langston Galloway, who’s likely to play a combo guard role off the bench. Galloway is a nice enough player, but handing him three-year, $21 million deal to fill a spot where the Pistons already have options, was a bit confusing. That the deal also made Detroit subject to the hard cap, by using most of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception on Galloway, made it even more confounding.
Finally, keep an eye on Eric Moreland. While everyone is buzzing that Boban Marjanovic will get to play with Baynes gone, Moreland might eventually grab those minutes. He’s far more athletic than Marjanovic and plays extremely hard. After a cup of coffee with the Kings, Moreland had to work his way back to the NBA through the NBA G-League. This time around, he’s going to prove he’s here to stay.
Offseason Grade: B-. Picking up Bradley to replace Caldwell-Pope was a great move. He’s a better player on both ends of the floor and it delays the free agency decision for one more year. If the Pistons are a better team and Bradley is a part of it, he’s likely to cash in next summer. Tolliver gives them a solid stretch element they were missing from their bigs at times last year. Galloway’s deal is odd, but more so for the long term. He’s a nice piece to have while Kennard develops. And Moreland will prove good depth behind Drummond.
Long-term Grade: C-. Morris was on one of the NBA’s best contracts and it still has two years to run. Losing Caldwell-Pope was necessary, but he was still a young talent. Galloway’s deal will look like a waste after this year. And if they can’t re-sign Bradley, they have a hole they can’t reasonably fill, unless Kennard is ready. But none of it matters if Drummond doesn’t get back to the guy he was before he got paid. If he’s the disengaged, going through the motions mess that he was last year, the Pistons are in trouble both short and long term.
Additions: Ike Anigbogu, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, T.J. Leaf, Victor Oladipo, Alex Poythress, Domantas Sabonis, Edmond Sumner, Jarrod Uthoff, Damien Wilkins
Subtractions: Lavoy Allen, Aaron Brooks, Rakeem Christmas, Monta Ellis, Paul George, C.J. Miles, Georges Niang, Kevin Seraphin, Jeff Teague
2017-18 Cap Space: $6.1 million. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $56.2 million
Analysis: On one hand, it was nice Paul George didn’t string the Indiana Pacers along by telling them he’d consider staying. On the other hand, by going public with his desire to play elsewhere, he crushed his trade value and put the Pacers in a tough spot. While many lampooned Kevin Pritchard with criticisms of “That’s all they got?”, what was the expected return for a free agent to be that already indicated his desire to play in Los Angeles? All in all, getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis isn’t as bad a return as it may have initially seemed.
Oladipo has never averaged less than 13.8 points per game and hit for 15.9 last year on the best shooting percentages of his career. He’s also good with the ball in his hands, as he was around four assists per game before last year, when he played off the ball. Oladipo is also an Indiana legend, and having a fan favorite is something that can’t be undersold when your franchise is kicking off a rebuild.
The other part of the trade, Sabonis, is coming off a promising rookie year, in which he started 66 of the 81 games he played. Despite being a good shooter, Sabonis was a bit miscast as a stretch four. Oklahoma City asked him to hang out around the perimeter, akin to Serge Ibaka’s role, and Sabonis did okay. But he’s better when he can play inside, either on post-ups, duck-ins, or as a roll man. Look for Indiana to open up more of this part of his skillset, as opposed to being a stationary jump shooter.
With or without George, the Pacers had the potential of a good amount of cap space. When George was traded, veterans Jeff Teague and C.J. Miles followed him out of town. This, combined with an earlier waiver and stretch of Monta Ellis, opened up a bunch of cap space and roster spots. Rather than spend it all in one place on a questionable veteran, Pritchard made a series of moves that should keep the Pacers competitive, while retaining flexibility for the future.
To replace Teague at point guard, the Pacers signed Darren Collison and traded for Cory Joseph. Both Collison and Joseph have played well as starters and as backups. Even more importantly, both have played well off the ball when paired with another primary ball handler, which is what Oladipo will do for the Pacers. Collison got a two-year, $20 million deal, but only $2 million is guaranteed in the second year. Joseph has a player option for next season of $7.9 million. If he opts out, the Pacers can look to use the cap space created. If he opts in, Indiana has a good backup/spot starter who is fairly paid.
On the wing, Oladipo will be the one most look at to replace George, but Bojan Bogdanovic can go a long way towards replacing George’s offensive production as well. Before being traded to the Wizards at the trade deadline, Bogdanovic was the Nets primary wing scorer and was hitting for a career-best 14.2 points per game. He’s a good shooter and better off the dribble than most think. He’s also played in high stakes situations, as he’s led the Croatian National Team in several international tournaments. He got a similar deal to Collison at two years and $21 million, with just $1.5 million guaranteed in the second year.
Before knowing they’d have Sabonis as their power forward of the future, the Pacers drafted T.J. Leaf with their first round pick. Leaf fits the mold of the new age four, as he can rebound and block some shots, while stepping out to hit jumpers and rolling to the rim on the other end. Leaf’s UCLA teammate, Ike Anigbogu, was drafted in the second around as a developmental center prospect. He’ll spend the year learning behind Myles Turner and Al Jefferson.
Offseason Grade: C. A perfectly average offseason for a perfectly average ball club. Indiana, despite the presence of George, hasn’t been a real contender for a few years now. He didn’t want to be there anymore and the Pacers were going to take care of that eventually. He forced their hand, which lessened their leverage, but they bounced back just fine. None of their additions are going to make anyone jump out of their seats, but all were solid and all are good values on the contracts they are signed too. In addition, several are tradable, like Collison and Bogdanovic. The Pacers also have a Thaddeus Young trade in there somewhere, as they have several other young power forward options and Young could fetch a nice return from a contender.
Long-term Grade: B. Myles Turner now becomes the player for the Pacers to build around instead of George, and he’s probably even better with where the NBA is headed. Having a 4/5 who can step out and hit threes, while protecting the rim on the other end is something everyone wants, but very few teams actually have. Oladipo, freed from an off-ball role in OKC, should be a consistent high teens, low 20s scorer. After hovering around .500 in recent years, even with a slight step backwards, the Pacers should bounce back towards the playoffs quickly.
Additions: Sterling Brown, Gerald Green, D.J. Wilson
Subtractions: Michael Beasley, Spencer Hawes
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $11.4 million
Analysis: The Milwaukee Bucks might have had the most nondescript summer of any playoff team. They re-signed Tony Snell, who enjoyed a breakout season as he initially replaced Khris Middleton and then Jabari Parker last year due to injuries to both. They drafted D.J. Wilson, who fits the athletic, bouncy mold the Bucks like in their big men. After bringing a host of veterans to training camp to fight for a roster spot, Gerald Green won the team’s final roster spot. And second round pick Sterling Brown will spend the year developing with the Bucks new G-League team.
When Milwaukee traded for Snell on the eve of last season for Michael Carter-Williams, most shrugged, viewing it as a swap of one unproductive first rounder for another. Instead, Snell seized a starting role, first in place of the injured Middleton and then, when Middleton returned, for Jabari Parker. Snell responded with a career-high 8.5 points per game and hit over 40 percent of his three-pointers. With Parker still out following a second ACL tear, Snell will continue to start. When Parker returns, he’ll be part of a very good rotation with Parker and Middleton.
Drafting Wilson was a nice upside pick, given Parker is a restricted free agent this summer. Wilson needs time to develop, as he’s still an inconsistent shooter and defender. But the Bucks love athletic forwards, and Wilson should fit in nicely with the crop they have.
Milwaukee’s biggest move actually happened last year, as they signed Giannis Antetokounmpo to a four-year, $100 million contract extension. That deal kicks in this year and the Bucks actually got a slight discount. With Antetokounmpo being arguably the NBA’s brightest young superstar talent, Milwaukee will happily take it. Everything the Bucks are building is based around Antetokounmpo’s growth and every little bit of savings will help.
Offseason Grade: C+. You can’t give the Bucks credit this offseason for Antetokounmpo’s new deal, since it was inked a year ago. But Snell’s deal was a solid value. Wilson has potential. But Milwaukee is likely to look very similar to a year ago, with one more year of growth from their young core.
Long-term Grade: B+. Antetokounmpo is signed for the next four years, which is as good as you can hope for. Middleton has two years left followed by a player option, and Snell is now signed for the next three years at least. Parker’s next contract is the tricky one. Unless he takes a very team friendly extension, which is unlikely, he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer. Very few teams project to have cap space, but those who do would love a high scoring wing. If Parker proves he’s back to full health and is scoring 20 points per game, as he was when he got injured, someone could force the Bucks hand. But if Parker is healthy and back, the Bucks won’t really need their hand forced. It is only if he’s somewhere in the middle and not quite back, that things could get complicated.