Golden State Warriors
Additions: Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, Omri Casspi, Nick Young
Subtractions: Matt Barnes, Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. $16 million over Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: None. $4.5 million over
Analysis: Fresh off winning their second title in three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors faced some major roster questions. They answered the first one by re-signing Stephen Curry to a five-year, maximum deal using the newly created Designated Veteran Player rules to bump him up a salary tier. This means Curry is now wedded to the Warriors for over $201 million and likely the remainder of his All-Star level years of his career.
With Curry signed long-term, it was time to figure out how to keep the rest of the core group together. Kevin Durant made it clear he had no intentions of leaving the Bay Area, so the question became how much would salary would he demand? It turned out, not nearly as much as he could have. And Durant’s willingness to take less helped the Warriors retain two key rotation cogs they might have lost otherwise.
Generally, NBA champions are able to retain their superstars. The disparity between what an incumbent team can pay versus a new team is enough to keep them home. But role players are another story. Sometimes they leave for more money, or a bigger role, or just to be somewhere else. Golden State faced this situation with both Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston this summer. Iguodala has excelled as the Warriors sixth man and as a crucial component of the Death Lineup. Likewise, Livingston is a key backup who can play 1-3, spotting several positions necessary rest. After bouncing around several teams and finally finding career peace following his catastrophic knee injury, Livingston rather quickly agreed to a three-year, nearly $24 million contract, with the final year only $2 million guaranteed. This was a great compromise of role, need and security coming together.
Iguodala was a bit of a different story. As a former All-Star and now respected veteran, he had suitors all over the NBA. Several other teams, most prominently the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, sought to bring Iguodala in as a missing link sort of piece that could lift their team to the playoffs. After bandying around that he might leave, the Warriors paid up with $48 million guaranteed over the next three seasons. This is a bit like the old Major League Baseball deal where you pay in the future for past performance. But this was necessary to keep the band together.
And it might not have happened without Durant taking $25 million, when he could have asked for a decent amount more. Even with extended playoff runs the last few years, a new arena on the horizon and huge merchandise revenues, the Warriors ownership has a limit to how much luxury tax they want to pay. Had Durant forced them to give him the max he could have earned, it very likely might have cost the team Iguodala, Livingston or both.
With all their major free agents handled, the Warriors went about the task of making over the rest of the bench. They signed Omri Casspi to replace Matt Barnes as the 3/4 3&D presence, and Nick Young replaces Ian Clark as the bench scoring guard. Both Casspi and Young are luxuries for a team that didn’t really need them, but both will have moments throughout the year.
The Warriors also re-signed David West and JaVale McGee for another run after they both had solid seasons in the backup big roles. And they acquired Jordan Bell from the Chicago Bulls at the NBA Draft when Chicago inexplicably sold the pick to Golden State. Bell has drawn comparisons to Draymond Green as a versatile, defensive-minded big man. It might be hard for him to crack the rotation this season, but potential exists down the line for a bigger role.
Offseason Grade: A. Curry and Durant are back, but both were expected. The team was able to keep Iguodala and Livingston, in addition to West and McGee. And they added Casspi and Young. The Warriors didn’t really need the help, but the NBA’s best team is poised to be just as good, if not better.
Long-term Grade: A-. Curry is signed for the next five years. Green for the next three. And Klay Thompson for the next two. Durant isn’t going anywhere and will just keep playing the “roll over the contract” game until he and the Warriors are in a spot to sign something long term. Iguodala is overpaid, probably starting as early as this season, but that is a first world problem. It might not be light years ahead, but the Warriors are certainly setting an almost unmatchable pace in the race for titles.
Los Angeles Clippers
Additions: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Jawun Evans, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Milos Teodosic, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams, Lou Williams, Jamil Wilson
Subtractions: Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick, Marreese Speights, Diamond Stone
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Right at Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $37.2 million
Analysis: For six years, the Los Angeles Clippers rolled out a roster headed by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. For six years, the Clippers season ended in the first or second round. There was always a reason, generally injury related, of why the Clippers couldn’t get over the hump. Finally, after six years, the Clippers are moving in a different direction.
Paul is gone. He made it clear to the Clips that he was heading out of town and LA worked with him to help him get to the Houston Rockets, while also ensuring themselves of a solid return in trade. Los Angeles then put to rest any talk of rebuilding by re-signing Blake Griffin to a five-year, near max deal. They followed that up by completing a sign-and-trade for Danilo Gallinari and then closed the offseason by signing EuroLeague star Milos Teodosic.
Let’s start with Griffin. While many were speculating that with Paul leaving town, the Clippers would let Griffin also walk, trade DeAndre Jordan and kick off a rebuild. Instead the Clippers re-signed Griffin and made it clear they were building the next iteration around him. Griffin is no longer the athletic marvel who dunks on any and all comers. His game is better all-round now. He’s a great passer for his position and has improved his range on his jumper to the point where he’s starting to take three-pointers. He has good chemistry with Jordan, which will help, as the Clippers are integrating a lot of new faces throughout the rotation.
Patrick Beverley is the replacement for Paul as he was the main piece Los Angeles got in return in the trade. Beverley is highly underrated as a shooter and playmaker, mostly because he’s played off the ball next to James Harden for the past several years. He’s well-known as a top notch defender and one of the guys opposing guards hate to go against. Paul talked a lot when he played, but most of it was directed towards the officials. Beverley will talk to anyone and everyone and should fit right in with Jordan as a fiery personality.
The Clips also got Lou Williams in the trade and he’ll replace Jamal Crawford in the sixth man role. Like Crawford, Williams is a perennial contender for Sixth Man of the Year, but he’s slightly younger and a bit less of a volume shooter. He’ll help give scoring punch to a bench that looks like it will need it.
Part of that bench will be role players Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell who were also acquired in the Paul deal. Both showed flashes of being ready for more in Houston and will likely get the chance in Los Angeles. Dekker is more athletic than you think and has a decent shot. Harrell is just as athletic as you think and attacks the glass and the ball like a modern day Jason Maxiell.
For most of the Paul run, the Clippers glaring flaw was the lack of a scoring small forward. Oddly enough, they filled that hole in a big way, almost the minute Paul left. Danilo Gallinari came over from Denver in a sign and trade and will get the first crack at replacing some of the scoring LA lost with Paul and J.J. Redick gone. There was a time when Gallinari was thought of as strictly a perimeter scorer, but he’s rounded out his game nicely over the years. He gets to the line a good amount and has improved as a playmaker for others as well. Health is always a concern with Gallinari.
To give the team a bit more depth up front, they added Willie Reed, who is coming off a nice run with the Miami Heat. Reed has bounced around the NBA, but seems to have found a role as a backup big man. He’d like to play more, but he’ll see about 10-15 minutes a night backing up Jordan.
Last but not least, the Clippers brought passing wizard Milos Teodosic over from Europe. Long-lauded as the best player outside the NBA, Teodosic is finally coming over. His passing is easily his best attribute, as he completes passes that most other players wouldn’t dream of attempting. He’ll be a nightly highlight for a team that might lack a bit in that category. His shooting and ability to defend in the NBA will go a long way towards how big his overall role will be.
Offseason Grade: B-. Losing Paul is a tough blow, but Beverley and Teodosic are solid replacements. The team should see almost no drop off with Lou Williams replacing Crawford. Gallinari, for as long as he’s healthy, will be the best small forward the Clippers have had in nearly a decade. The challenge is that LA looks different, but may finish similarly. The rest of the Western Conference loaded up, while the Clippers stayed relatively flat.
Long-term Grade: C+. The good news is that Los Angeles only has $56 million in guaranteed money on the books for the 2018-19 season. The bad news is that over $53 million of it is tied up in Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari. While both are extremely talented, their health records read like a Stephen King tale of horror. Having such a large sum tied to two players who struggle to make 60 games a season is a challenge. And the same situation exist in 2019-20 as well. If Griffin and Gallinari can’t stay healthy, the Clippers will struggle to stay relevant as the Lakers begin their rise back to the top.
Los Angeles Lakers
Additions: Lonzo Ball, Andrew Bogut, Thomas Bryant, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Brook Lopez
Subtractions: Tarik Black, Tomofey Mozgov, David Nwaba, Thomas Robinson, D’Angelo Russell, Metta World Peace, Nick Young
2017-18 Cap Space: None. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $52.3 million
Analysis: In many ways, the Los Angeles Lakers treated this past offseason as part one of a two-part plan, with part two to come this coming July. With several prominent free agents scheduled to hit the market, at least a couple with some level of interest in playing in Los Angeles, the Lakers more or less kept their powder dry and retained flexibility.
The Lakers' big move was to draft Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick. While LaVar Ball will have you believe that this move was pre-ordained and orchestrated by him, it was the best pick for Los Angeles. They had a need for a pass-first point guard and Ball fits that mold more than any player to hit the draft in recent memory.
Over the course of a week or so at Las Vegas Summer League, Ball flashed all the passing skills that had everyone drooling since he was a high schooler. He not only made both simple and flashy passes, but he passed his teammates open on a regular basis. This helps guys who aren’t so skilled get easy buckets, because the pass leads them to the right angle to score. Just as importantly, passing the ball is contagious. One guy gets the hit-ahead pass and he’s more likely to make it happen the next time he has a chance. The ball starts pinging around the perimeter and the defense is forced to scramble and adjust. When a team is lacking in the one-on-one scoring department, great passing can make a huge difference.
The point guard spot opened up for Ball and became his from day one when the Lakers traded former number two overall pick D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets, along with failed free agent signing Timofey Mozgov, in exchange for Brook Lopez and a first round pick. Russell remains a talented player, but he’s a scorer first and wasn’t going to be a good match with Ball in the backcourt. This trade freed things up for Ball to run the show right from the jump without any sort awkwardness.
In addition, the Lakers got off the money owed to Mozgov after they made him a priority signing just a year earlier. If they are to chase max level free agents this coming summer, they had to create space to do so. And the Lakers, who don’t own their own draft pick this year, got better at center in the trade, with the acquisition of Lopez.
Lopez is one of the best offensive big men in the game and last year added the three-pointer to his game. He made 134 triples on 34.6 percent shooting, after attempting just 31 total three-pointers in his first eight years in the NBA. Lopez also remained a quality inside scorer and decent shot blocker as well. By adding range to his game, it allows him to fit in the modern NBA versus being played off the floor.
With his options dried up for a long term deal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope agreed to a one-year deal with the Lakers for $17.7 million. He’ll get to shine playing with Lopez and the Lakers youngsters, and can hopefully prove worthy of a long term contract next summer. He remains a quality defender, but an inconsistent offensive player. He can average 15 points per game, but he might get there by scoring 25 points one night and five the next. For Caldwell-Pope to get to where he’s worth a four or five year contract, he has to become a consistent threat night to night.
Late in free agency, the Lakers took a flyer on Andrew Bogut. He’ll back up Lopez and may prove to have some trade value by the deadline, if he can prove he’s recovered from multiple injuries he’s suffered the last couple of years. If not, he’s on a very lightly guaranteed contract that LA can move on from easily and free up time for younger players.
And it is those younger players who have the Lakers and their fans buzzing. In addition to Ball, Los Angeles is expecting big things from Brandon Ingram in year two and they love their draft additions of Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. Kuzma has been particularly impressive, carrying over a strong Summer League into an equally as strong preseason. He may force his way into the rotation sooner rather than later with his energy and ability to shoot the ball. Hart and Bryant need more seasoning, but the signs are there. Hart should eventually be a nice bench guard and Bryant is the type of big that all good teams have in reserve.
Offseason Grade: B-. The draftees all look terrific, led by Ball. Lopez and Caldwell-Pope should be good, in what could be their only years in purple and gold. Russell probably had to go with Ball coming in, but by attaching him to Mozgov, the Lakers weren’t able to get a great return. Lopez is a good player, but he’s an expiring contract. The Lakers might have gotten lucky with Kuzma at the end of the first round, but an expiring big and a late first isn’t a great return for a former number two overall pick, even if they did get off Mozgov’s contract.
Long-term Grade: A. The goal was to take on no long-term money, while improving the team for this year. Mission accomplished. Ball, Kuzma, Hart and Bryant all look like keepers. Ingram should take major strides forward this year. And, most importantly, the Lakers have as good of flexibility as anyone cap-wise. And, unlike anyone else, they’re the Lakers and NBA players still hold Los Angeles in high standard despite the recent down years.
Additions: Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, Mike James, Alec Peters, Davon Reed
Subtractions: Leandro Barbosa, Elijah Millsap, Ronnie Price
2017-18 Cap Space: $12.3 million. $2.4 million under Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $22.3 million
Analysis: The Phoenix Suns finished last season with a confusing blend of veterans, who they were stashing on the bench so they wouldn’t get hurt, and young players, who were a mixed bag as most young players are. The thought was the Suns would pick a direction and move in it over the summer, but here we are on the eve of the season and almost all the same players are still in place.
Phoenix parlayed another poor season into drafting Josh Jackson at number four. Despite saying they are happy to have Jackson, the hope was that one of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Jayson Tatum would slip to the Suns. One of those three would have given Phoenix the second potential star, along with Devin Booker, to build around. Instead, the Suns picked another good player, who has a serious flaw in his game with his inconsistent jumper.
Jackson should be solid for Phoenix, but his fit isn’t perfect. Booker is in place at shooting guard and the Suns signed small forward T.J. Warren to a four-year, $47 million contract extension. Where does that leave room for Jackson? He might be one of the best defenders in his draft class, but he’ll find it hard to have an impact from the bench. Warren isn’t a bastion of health, and with teams going smaller and smaller, maybe Jackson sees his minutes either of those ways. But the Suns continued their maddening trend of duplication at positions.
Beyond the drafting of Jackson, Phoenix had a very low-key offseason. Mike James was brought over from Europe on a two-way deal, which he may quickly outplay. Alec Peters and Davon Reed are low-risk, low-reward draftees. And the Suns ate Troy Daniels’ contract from the Grizzlies at the low cost of a draft pick.
Phoenix did re-sign highly underrated backup big man Alan Williams to a very team-friendly deal. Unfortunately, Williams got hurt and will miss most, if not all, of the season. Fellow big Alex Len ultimately signed the qualifying offer after not getting much interest as a restricted free agent and the Suns being unwilling to commit to a long term deal.
In many ways, this summer was as much about what the Suns didn’t do, as it was about what they did do. They didn’t trade any of their veteran holdovers out of Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight. All four are still on the roster, although Dudley is already batting injuries and Knight is out for the year after tearing his ACL in the offseason. Phoenix could move any combination of these players during the season and probably needs to do so, in order to free up playing time for the youngsters.
Offseason Grade: F. Jackson is a nice enough prospect, but he’s now blocked at his two primary positions. No one else the Suns added is likely to have much of an impact for them this year. When you are a bad team, the best path is to clear out the flotsam and make room for growth. Phoenix didn’t accomplish that and may hurt down the line for it.
Long-term Grade: C. The Suns didn’t clear any of the veterans, but they also didn’t take on any bad money either. The Warren extension is a bit of a head-scratcher, but should ultimately be fine. If nothing else, he could eventually be a solid reserve scorer. If Phoenix properly reads the season and sells off the vets early enough, they’ll suffer record-wise, but the long term pay off would be worth it.
Additions: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Vince Carter, Jack Cooley, De’Aaron Fox, Harry Giles, George Hill, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason, Zach Randolph, JaKarr Sampson
Subtractions: Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Rudy Gay, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore,
2017-18 Cap Space: $4.2 million. Over Salary Floor. Under Luxury Tax.
2018-19 Maximum Cap Space: $42.6 million
Analysis: The Sacramento Kings have been in a perpetual rebuild since their last postseason appearance in 2006. For a while it looked like they had something going with DeMarcus Cousins, but it never quite clicked and the Kings moved on from the mercurial big man at the trade deadline. That moved essentially kicked off another round of rebuilding the rebuild.
The Kings parted ways with a series of veterans who had given them mixed returns. Darren Collison, who proved he could be a solid, but unspectacular starter, moved on the Indiana Pacers. Rudy Gay, fresh off rehabbing his torn Achilles’ tendon, left the place he once called “Basketball Hell.” And Sacramento finally gave up on former lottery pick Ben McLemore and let him leave town. They also let some short-timers like Arron Afflalo, Tyreke Evans (in his second go around with the club), Langston Galloway and Ty Lawson go.
In their place, the Kings went with a mix of youth and experience, as they try and stay competitive in the Western Conference, while also developing for the future. The vets brought in are Vince Carter, George Hill and Zach Randolph. All three players are now closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but all were still playing productive minutes for good teams last year. All three could start, but would likely just be keeping the spots warm for young players. Behind Randolph the Kings have Skal Labissiere, who came on late last season, as the power forward of the future.
Hill and Carter could hold serve until new players are ready to take over the starting role. Hill will mentor the Kings top 2017 first round pick De’Aaron Fox. Fox was lauded during the draft process for his competitiveness and drive to win. Normally those platitudes help mask something that a player isn’t capable of doing. In Fox’s case, they merely complement the rest of his considerable skillset. He may be the best defensive point guard in the draft class and he excels at attacking the rim. If he can improve his shot, Sacramento will have a lead guard to pair with fellow youngster Buddy Hield in the backcourt for years.
In the meantime, Hill will hold down the fort at point guard. He was off to an outstanding season with the Utah Jazz, before going down with a toe injury. He never fully recovered and his play dropped off as the year went along. Assuming he’s back to normal, Hill will give the Kings a steady hand at point guard. He’s solid defensively and a very good shooter. He’s also skilled at getting his team in a set and then floating off the ball, which is important given the young guys who need the ball in their hands in Sacramento.
Carter is going to have to simultaneously mentor and hold off two challengers on the wing. Sacramento drafted Justin Jackson in the first round and signed Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose draft rights they acquired in a trade from the Suns after Phoenix drafted him in 2014. Bogdanovic, given his years of experience in Europe, is closer to ready to make an impact in the NBA now. He’ll give the Kings solid shooting from the wing and he’s a tough-minded scorer. A few bad stretches won’t get him down.
Jackson on the other hand is an interesting prospect. He’s a little older than you like for a rookie at 22 years old, but he's a solid rebounder and passer, and he might be the best wing defender on the roster at the moment. He’ll need to shoot it better to crack rotation minutes nightly, but that is something he can work on.
If nothing else, the Kings' young wings can watch Carter and how he prepares and keeps himself in shape to endure the grind of the NBA season. Carter may not be “half man, half amazing” on a nightly basis anymore, but the fact that he can still bring it on occasion says a lot. He’s also on a one-year deal and could be a nice trade chip come the deadline.
Sacramento also drafted two other intriguing players. Big man Harry Giles, once one of the top recruits in the country before a spate of injuries, will almost certainly take a redshirt year. The Kings will not rush him and will hold him out until he builds up his strength and conditioning. But he’s a guy who could pay off big time, assuming he’s able to get and stay healthy.
The other player is point guard Frank Mason. Mason is the prototypical old school floor general. He gets after it defensively and does a nice job running the offense. Opportunities to play might be scarce with Hill and Fox gobbling up most of the point guard minutes, but Mason is a player to watch.
Offseason Grade: B-. The draft was solid, as Fox, Jackson, Giles and Mason could all be rotation members before long. Getting Bogdanovic to finally come over is a win and he’ll be a good fit alongside the rest of the young talent. Some have speculated that signing the veterans was a waste of time and money, but the Kings can’t continue to just wallow in pity. They want to push things forward and be competitive. And the Western Conference is so deep, it might not change things much record-wise anyway. Even if they lose just as much, but the games are closer, that is a win.
Long-term Grade: B. The Kings have more players on rookie scale deals than any other team in the league. They have no bad money on their books, even if Hill is slightly overpaid next season. Sacramento fans are some of the best in the league and have hung in there with the team despite a decade plus of losing. They deserve a winner and might not have to wait too much longer with one of the NBA’s best young cores.