Additions: Brad Wanamaker, Robert Williams III
Subtractions: Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe, Abdel Nader
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $3.8 million over Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $69.2 million over the cap.
Analysis: Following a 2017 offseason in which the Celtics turned over 11 of their 15 players, the 2018 summer was notable for being uneventful. Boston switched out just two roster spots and both of those were back of the rotation players. But to take such a high-level view of the Celtics summer would be to miss the solid work Danny Ainge and the front office did.
In an injury-filled season, Ainge’s offseason machinations jelled quicker than anyone could have ever imagined. The Celtics came within one game of the NBA Finals, despite playing almost the entire season without Gordon Hayward, and the back quarter of the year without Kyrie Irving and Daniel Theis. In many ways, those three feel like additions to what now may be the deepest team in the NBA.
Beyond getting healthy, Boston retained two key free agents: Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Smart’s restricted free agency dragged into the middle of July, but that may have helped Ainge get Smart back on more team-friendly deal that he might have otherwise. As cap space dried up around the NBA, there were rumblings Smart might sign his qualifying offer and hit the unrestricted market in 2019. In the end, Ainge re-signed Smart on a four-year, $52 million deal. That represents more than fair value for one of the NBA’s best and most versatile defenders.
While Smart’s free agency dragged, Baynes’ time as a free agent ended almost before it even started. One of last summer’s best bargains for the Room Exception, Baynes found a home in Boston and quickly agreed to re-sign for the max he could get using his Non-Bird Rights. Baynes signed a two-year, $10.6 million contract that includes a player option for the 2019-20 season. Baynes’ value to Boston really showed in the playoffs, when he did a capable job defending Joel Embiid, while also showing his range by hitting 11 three-pointers, after knocking in just seven total in his career before the postseason. Assuming the Celtics are healthy, Baynes will likely come off the bench, after starting 67 games last season. He’ll be the primary backup to Al Horford and will play more when the opponent features a true center.
With Smart and Baynes re-signing, after the team added high-priced free agents the previous two summers, Boston’s remaining moves were around the margins. They traded Abdel Nader to the Oklahoma City Thunder to lessen their luxury tax burden. Last year’s third string/change of pace point guard Shane Larkin was allowed to leave and was replaced by European import Brad Wanamaker. Boston will hope to repeat their success with Larkin with Wanamaker this year. Wanamaker’s role will be minimal, given the Celtics have Irving, Smart and Terry Rozier at point guard. But Brad Stevens tends to make use of the entire roster, so Wanamaker will get a chance at some point to prove he’s an NBA player after seven seasons in various European leagues.
The Celtics replaced last year’s buyout season pickup Greg Monroe (who never really had the impact the team hoped for) with rookie Robert Williams III. Williams was thought to have lottery-level talent, but he fell due to concerns with the health of his knees and immaturity. After some early bumps with the latter to start his career, Boston is planning for this season to be a “redshirt” development year for Williams.
The Celtics also re-signed one of last year’s two-way players, Jabari Bird, to a two-year standard NBA contract. After an impressive Summer League, this looked like a steal for deep bench depth, but Bird’s recent legal issues have cast doubt over his NBA future.
It was a quiet, but businesslike summer for Boston. They have established themselves as contenders built around terrific young talents in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and star veterans like Irving, Hayward and Horford. With LeBron James off to the Western Conference, the Celtics have as good a chance as anyone to take control of the East.
Additions: Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Kenneth Faried, Treveon Graham, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa, Shabazz Napier
Subtractions: Quincy Acy, Dante Cunningham, Jeremy Lin, Timofey Mozgov, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, Isaiah Whitehead
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $7.7 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $51.7 million.
Analysis: Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are on the tipping point of turning things around after years of rebuilding the Nets. The Nets made some targeted veteran free agent additions this offseason, while also continuing to add assets by eating undesirable contracts. In a period of two weeks, Marks completed four trades and a handful of signings that have Brooklyn poised to have their best season since the disastrous 2013 trade with Boston.
Marks started the summer by shipping Timofey Mozgov, who the Nets took on in order to acquire D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers, to the Charlotte Hornets for Dwight Howard, who was almost immediately bought out. Brooklyn ate some money this season, but got off the $16.7 million owed to Mozgov in 2019-20. This type of move can viewed as taking a small step backwards in order to take a big jump forward.
Then, with Russell in the fold and Spencer Dinwiddie coming off a breakout season, Brooklyn traded Jeremy Lin to the Atlanta Hawks. This freed up some cap space for the Nets and got them a couple of second round picks. Marks then turned that cap space into further assets by eating the contracts of Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried when the Denver Nuggets dumped the pair to avoid the luxury tax. That trade netted Brooklyn a protected first round pick, as well as an additional second round pick.
Marks wasn’t done there, as he shipped Arthur off to the Phoenix Suns a week later for Jared Dudley and yet another second round pick. In the span of two weeks, the Nets got off a bunch of future money, added a first round pick and re-stocked their second round picks. By timing moves and never settling, Brooklyn is in better shape for the future than they have been in some time.
But what about this season? The Nets did some nice work there too. They added veteran backup big man Ed Davis with the Room Exception. Davis will play a similar role to the one he played for the Portland Trail Blazers the last few years. He’ll be asked to defend and rebound off the bench and push young center Jarrett Allen in practice on a daily basis. For $4.4 million, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Brooklyn continued to add veteran depth by signing Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham. Napier is coming off the best season of his career with Portland and will give the Nets some additional point guard help behind Dinwiddie and Russell. Graham is a defense-first wing, who fits nicely in the collection of hardnosed wings Atkinson has at his disposal.
Dudley and Faried, who were added in the flurry of trades, will give the Nets further veteran depth up front. Dudley could play a role, as Brooklyn doesn’t have a real stretch four option on the roster. If Faried plays, it will be as a change of pace, energy guy off the bench.
Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs were added in the first and second rounds of the 2018 NBA Draft respectively. Both young players (Musa is 19 and Kurucs is 20) will see lots of development time in the G League this season, given the Nets relatively good depth at the forward spot. Both are worth keeping an eye on though, as Brooklyn did a nice job helping to develop Bojan Bogdanovic, who has a somewhat similar makeup as Musa and Kurucs.
The Nets also re-signed Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million deal, as Harris went from afterthought to rotation shooter off the bench under Atkinson. This is the type of diamond in the rough find that rebuilding teams thrive on and the Nets seem to have hit on Harris.
Brooklyn is finally ready to make a long-awaited playoff push. They probably won’t get there this year, as they’re still relying on some fairly young players, but this could be the final season you can count them out for some time. The Nets are poised to have a ton of cap space next summer and will look to add a star to their burgeoning core.
New York Knicks
Additions: Mario Hezonja, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Noah Vonleh
Subtractions: Michael Beasley, Jarrett Jack, Kyle O’Quinn, Troy Williams
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $13.1 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $32.8 million.
Analysis: For far too long it has seemed like the Knicks have been unwilling, or unable, to have a quiet summer. Last year’s offseason went quietly until training camp was upon us and New York sent Carmelo Anthony off to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This year? It’s been draft picks, flyers on young free agents, and not much else.
With Kristaps Porzingis out for a chunk of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL, the Knicks largely sat out the 2018 offseason. They seem willing to let their franchise centerpiece get healthy and to build around some of the youth they’ve acquired over the last few years.
The latest injection of youth came at the draft, as New York added Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Knox occasionally got lost in the machine that is the Kentucky basketball program, but has all the talent in the world. He had a strong Summer League and fits in very well in the new NBA. He can play both forward spots and is capable of developing a very strong offensive game. He showed a strong off the dribble game in Las Vegas, while also being a solid rebounder and defender. Without Porzingis in the lineup, Knox will be the most-watched player in New York to start the year.
Robinson came into the draft as somewhat of a mystery man. Due to various issues, Robinson didn’t play in college and that caused him to drop to the second round. At Summer League he showed that everyone but New York might have missed out big time. Robinson was one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in Las Vegas, while also showing a solid inside game on offense. He needs lots of work to understand how to play at the NBA level, but Robinson has all the talent in the world.
The Knicks also took a couple of flyers on “second draft” players in Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. At one point, both were highly sought after prospects and New York is hoping they might be late bloomers. Hezonja struggled with inconsistent, both in performance and role, in his three years in Orlando. He’s has shown flashes at times as an offensive player, but hasn’t developed his defense enough to stay on the floor. In addition, he’s never settled into an NBA position or role. The Knicks are hoping that is more on the Magic and not on Hezonja, who is still just 23 years old.
Vonleh was signed to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum contract, but could prove to be a bargain on that deal. The Knicks need depth at the big positions while Porzingis is out and it was only a couple of years ago that Vonleh was starting for the Portland Trail Blazers. Don’t be surprised if he plays a lot to start the season. If he plays well, Vonleh could lock down a rotation spot even after Porzingis returns.
New York also re-signed Luke Kornet, who played for the team on a two-way contract last season. Kornet got a standard contract because he played well when given an opportunity in the NBA. He shot over 35 percent from behind the arc and fits the modern game as a 7’1’’ stretch four.
As of this writing, Joakim Noah is still on the Knicks’ roster. He’ll reportedly be traded or waived and stretched prior to the season, which will end his turbulent time in New York.
The team also hired a new coach with David Fizdale taking the top job. Fizdale was surprisingly let go by the Memphis Grizzlies, but that was to the Knicks benefit. He’ll bring excitement and enthusiasm to the sideline, and his players will know he has their backs. Fizdale did a nice job with a perennially banged up Grizzlies team, so he should have no problem working through some early season injury issues in New York.
The most important thing the Knicks did this summer was keeping their powder dry. They’ve been seeking a star to pair with Porzingis and can get to enough cap space to add a max free agent this summer. This season is about keeping the cap sheet clean, or continuing to shed long term money if they can, developing the kids and getting Porzingis healthy. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
Additions: Jonah Bolden, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, Zhaire Smith
Subtractions: Justin Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Richaun Holmes, Ersan Ilyasova, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $21 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $35.9 million.
Analysis: The Sixers made a huge jump from the bottom of the standings all the way to the NBA Playoffs. A late win streak propelled Philadelphia into the third seed in the Eastern Conference and a first round win. That run was buoyed by picking up a couple of veterans, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli on the buyout market. It was also accomplished even though the team got next to nothing from Markelle Fultz, the number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Philadelphia made the big jump because Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons got and stayed healthy. Both young players were able to show the tremendous promise they have, as they turned in terrific seasons. Dario Saric also took a step forward and last summer’s veteran additions of JJ Redick and Amir Johnson added depth and leadership.
This year Ilyasova and Belinelli both got richer deals than the 76ers were willing to match, but the club bounced back nicely. As with the Nets, Philadelphia benefitted from Denver looking to dodge the tax, and the Sixers acquired Wilson Chandler and a future second round pick for essentially nothing. Chandler will give the Sixers much of what they lost from Ilyasova and Belinelli as far bench scoring from the forward spot. He’s also more versatile and fits in nicely with Philadelphia’s other pieces.
Later in the summer, the 76ers were able to pick up Mike Muscala when they helped facilitate a cap/tax clearing trade between the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City Thunder. Muscala will give the team a big with range off the bench. He’ll also make a nice spot starter when Embiid needs a night off. The deal cost Philadelphia Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, but the team has more than enough developmental wings to make up for it.
The Sixers re-signed both Redick and Johnson, as they value their production and what they brought to a young locker room last year. Both vets re-upped on one-year contracts, which gives both them and the team flexibility going forward.
At the draft, Philadelphia added wings Landry Shamet and Zhaire Smith. Shamet has a reputation of a shooter, and he’ll compete with Furkan Korkmaz for developmental minutes behind Redick. Smith was acquired in a draft night trade that saw Philadelphian Mikal Bridges’ draft rights traded to the Phoenix Suns. The Sixers see Smith’s defensive skillset and offensive potential as a good fit with the young core, but he’ll miss time this year as he suffered a broken foot in the offseason.
While Philadelphia had a nice summer adding complementary pieces, arguably their biggest addition will be a return to play for Fultz. He seems over the issues that kept him from playing for most of the 2017-18 season. If Fultz is right, he’ll give the Sixers some scoring punch off the bench and peace of mind as they move forward in the team building process. Next summer is likely the last one where the 76ers will have cap space for some time. Embiid’s already been extended and Simmons and Saric are up next. Getting production from Fultz will give the team that much more flexibility and options, as they figure out how to challenge for the Eastern Conference’s berth in the NBA Finals.
Additions: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Greg Monroe
Subtractions: DeMar DeRozan, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $16.7 million over Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $81.3 million over.
Analysis: Early in the summer, it looked as if the Raptors were going to run it back yet again, except with Nick Nurse taking over as head coach in place of Dwane Casey. The team fired the 2018 Coach of the Year following another playoff flameout at the hands of LeBron James. Then in mid-July Masai Ujiri made the kind of franchise-defining move he’s never been afraid to make when he acquired Kawhi Leonard in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs.
Ujiri sent franchise icon DeMar DeRozan, promising young big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected first round pick to acquire Leonard and swingman Danny Green. Trading away the best player in Raptors history for a player who missed almost the entire 2017-18 season might seem like a gamble, but Leonard’s talent is so prodigious that it’s a worthy one. If healthy, Leonard is the game’s best defensive player, an underrated offensive player and somewhere between two and five on the list of the best players in the NBA. All reports are that he’s ready to go and he could help lift Toronto to a place they’ve never been: The NBA Finals.
Green is no throw-in either. He had struggles last year and seemed to be out of the mix in San Antonio. But Green’s still a solid 3 & D player in a league where you can never have enough of those. He’ll likely join Leonard as the Raptors new starting wings, giving Toronto what he gave the Spurs on the perimeter. If Green is slipping, the Raptors have enough other players who can take his place without much worry.
DeRozan is a loss, not only in the scoring department, but also in the locker room. He was the face of the Raptors after Chris Bosh left town and was very well-liked by his teammates, especially Kyle Lowry. Unfortunately, after several good, but never great years, it was time for Toronto to go in a different direction. As much as he’ll be missed on the floor, his production should easily be replaced by Leonard. It’s team chemistry that will need to be watched.
That chemistry will be in the hands of Nurse, who has long been one of the most respected assistant coaches in the league. After Ujiri decided the team had gone as far as Casey could take them, he turned things over to Nurse. It’s hard for a first-time head coach to step in with a contender, and Nurse’s job is made even harder after the big trade. How he gets his roster, which had been one of the league’s more stable, to adapt to the new additions will be key in determining both his and the Raptors success.
The other transaction of note for Toronto was retaining the services of backup point guard Fred VanVleet. He signed a two-year, $18 million contract to stay with the Raptors. VanVleet has been a solid player not only behind Kyle Lowry, but even closing games alongside him at times.
Poeltl had developed to the point that his inclusion on the Leonard/DeRozan swap can’t go unnoticed. He was a big part of Toronto’s league-best bench unit. Poeltl also gave the Raps good depth behind Jonas Valanciunas, who continues to regularly play himself off the floor with foul trouble. Toronto is replacing Poeltl with Greg Monroe, who can provide some offense and rebounding, but isn’t the defender Poeltl has become.
The Raptors have some depth issues up front, but have what could be the best team in franchise history. Such is the impact of adding Leonard. The challenge is the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers should both be improved as well. The only more important thing for the Raptors staying with their division rivals this year is: Can they keep Kawhi Leonard long term? And that’s a question we won’t have an answer to until next summer.