Golden State Warriors
Additions: DeMarcus Cousins, Jacob Evans, Jonas Jerebko
Subtractions: JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Nick Young
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $22.9 million over Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $79.8 million over the cap.
Analysis: Fresh off their third NBA title in four years, the Golden State Warriors only made a few roster changes, but a couple could be major improvements in their rotation. Golden State let veteran big men JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia leave in free agency while David West retired. The Warriors brought in upgrades in DeMarcus Cousins and Jonas Jerebko.
To be fair, both of those signings could be termed role players, but that’s assuming Cousins is unable to get back to an All-Star level this season. Cousins is coming back from the torn left Achilles’ tendon he suffered in late January. That injury has been a career-ender for several players, and has permanently altered the trajectory of those who did make it back. Cousins faces an uphill battle to return, but no team in the NBA can afford to let him take his time getting back like the Warriors.
If Cousins can return to full health, he’ll make an already unstoppable Golden State offense even more potent. During their run, the Warriors have lacked a low-post player like Cousins. On the rare occasions when the offense stagnates, he gives the team a player they can dump the ball inside to and trust that he’ll get a bucket.
Cousins is also a better passer than most recognize. He’s equally adept at finding cutters from the high post and top of the key, as he is passing out of the paint to open shooters. Both the Pelicans and Kings ran significant amounts of their offense through him and the Warriors will do the same.
The obvious worry is that Cousins might be unable to get back to his former level. In that case, the Warriors could be a bit short on depth up front. They re-signed Kevon Looney, who had his best season after having his fourth year team option declined. Damian Jones returns for his third year, but he’s shown little to this point. Steve Kerr isn’t going to want to call upon Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to play the five full time in the regular season, as he prefers to save that option for when it really matters.
The other concern is how Cousins fits in on an interpersonal level due to his reputation as a mercurial presence. With title aspirations, and a few other emotional players on the roster already, the Warriors can’t afford to have Cousins getting himself taken out of games because of altercations with the officials. He’s also been a prickly presence in the locker room at times. The Warriors have their fair share of personalities already on the team, making this arguably Steve Kerr’s biggest coaching challenge to date.
Back on the court, Golden State also added Jonas Jerebko to the frontcourt mix. Jerebko has played well in his last two stops with Boston and Utah, after some ups and downs to start his NBA career with Detroit. He’s a professional who stays prepared to play, despite an uncertain role. Given Kerr’s mix and match philosophy with his rotation in the regular season, this approach will suit Jerebko well. He’s likely to play a bigger role early on, before Cousins’ expected return sometime after the New Year.
Beyond the two bigs, the Warriors offseason was very quiet. They drafted wing Jacob Evans, but he’s a developmental prospect behind the team’s host of established options. He could eventually be a replacement for Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston, but Evans is unlikely to factor in this season.
Golden State also added a good mix of players as camp bodies, including veterans Tyler Ulis, Danuel House and Alfonzo McKinnie. One of them could pop and win a roster spot. Helping that effort is the fact that wing Patrick McCaw has yet to re-sign as of this writing. He remains a restricted free agent and his options beyond the Warriors have seemingly dried up.
With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant and Green and still around, along with key role players Iguodala and Livingston, the Warriors aren’t worried about the players who left town. The impact Cousins is able to have will go a long way towards deciding if they hang another banner, or if some upstart is able to trip Golden State up along the way.
Los Angeles Clippers
Additions: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jerome Robinson, Mike Scott
Subtractions: Sam Dekker, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, C.J. Williams
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $3.1 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $54.6 million.
Analysis: A year after trading Chris Paul, the Clippers’ roster overhaul is nearly complete. Blake Griffin was dealt away ahead of the trade deadline, and this summer the longest tenured player in team history left town when DeAndre Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Faced with a still pricey roster remaining, Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank made targeted acquisitions in an attempt to get the Clippers back to the playoffs.
The offseason started with the Clippers swinging a draft day trade with the Charlotte Hornets. The Clippers swapped future considerations and Miles Bridges to acquire point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Clippers then selected Jerome Robinson with their additional first round pick. The two guards could well form the backcourt of the future with the Clippers, but this will be a learning season in a very deep guard group.
In early-February, Los Angeles reached an agreement with a veteran contract extension for Lou Williams. That three-year, $24 million deal will keep Williams with the Clippers in his sixth man role. Fellow guard Milos Teodosic exercised a player option to extend his contract, following an injury-plagued rookie season in the NBA.
The backcourt transactions continued over the summer as Avery Bradley re-signed for just under $25 million over the next two seasons. The second year of Bradley’s contract is only guaranteed for $2 million, however, giving the Clippers great flexibility following this year.
And late in the summer, the Clippers matched an offer sheet signed that Tyrone Wallace signed with the New Orleans Pelicans. Wallace came on last season as a Two-Way player, when he saw time due to the Clippers multiple injuries. New Orleans structured the deal in such a way that Los Angeles had to match or risk losing the talented guard for next to nothing.
Helping to clear up the backcourt quagmire a bit was a trade of Austin Rivers to the Washington Wizards for Marcin Gortat. When the Clippers had an inkling Jordan might not return, they dealt some of their guard depth to fill a hole up front. Gortat should immediately step in and give the Clippers a quality starter.
The rest of the busy offseason saw Los Angeles add forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Mike Scott. Mbah a Moute is a defensive key to matching up with the versatile offenses of the Western Conference in Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City and Utah. Meanwhile, Scott is coming off the best season of his career. He was an efficient frontcourt scoring option for the Wizards and should play a similar role with the Clippers.
With Mbah a Moute and Scott added to the roster, the Clippers re-signed promising young big man Montrezl Harrell to a two-year, $12 million deal. That should represent really solid value for one of the only players remaining from the Chris Paul trade. The Clippers then cleared some salary by dealing Sam Dekker to the Cavaliers as he was out of the team’s plans.
After seeing the last two years be waylaid by multiple injuries, the Clippers have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. They have 17 legitimate NBA players under contract, which means another move or two could come before opening night. In addition, Los Angeles has cleared out almost all of their long-term salary obligations. Keeping that flexibility, while trying to get back to the playoffs, is the goal for this coming season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Additions: Michael Beasley, Isaac Bonga, LeBron James, JaVale McGee, Svi Mykhailiuk, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Moritz Wagner
Subtractions: Thomas Bryant, Luol Deng, Tyler Ennis, Channing Frye, Andre Ingram, Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas,
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $20.8 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $35.6 million.
Analysis: The end of the 17-18 NBA season saw the Lakers miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, easily the longest stretch in franchise history. Los Angeles stumbled through the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career, then were turned down by multiple star players in free agency as the team fell from the NBA elite. In the span of one summer that all changed.
As free agency opened, the Lakers had an agreement from LeBron James. In order to sign James and their free agent targets, the Lakers cleared out nearly every player not under contract. Out went Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, along with a couple of others.
No player in the NBA instantly makes his team a contender like James. Heading into his 16th season, James shows no signs of slowing down. He may not be able to lift the Lakers past the Warriors and Rockets and others in the Western Conference, but this season is about laying the groundwork for the future. Luke Walton will use this season to experiment with James alongside the Lakers younger players. This will allow Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to decide who fits and who doesn’t.
After agreeing with James, the Lakers made overtures to other star players, but were rebuffed in those efforts. Paul George re-signed with the Thunder and the Lakers was unable to swing a trade for Kawhi Leonard. But Johnson and Pelinka didn’t overreact. They instead maintained their flexibility going forward by signing free agents to only one-year contracts.
First up was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who re-signed for $12 million. Caldwell-Pope was signed by the Lakers to a bigger than expected deal last summer, and we now see why. Think of his contract last year and this year as a two-year agreement and it makes sense. He gives LA defense and shooting on the wing, while younger players develop behind him.
The Lakers then signed free agent point guard Rajon Rondo. He gives them a different look at point from Lonzo Ball. Ball is recovering from offseason knee surgery, so Rondo could lead the offense out of the gate. In addition, he’s a veteran that James trusts and Walton can rely on to make sure his younger players execute his offensive vision.
Los Angeles signed veteran Lance Stephenson, who gives them some bench depth on the wing behind Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram. Stephenson will be asked to make some plays on a second unit that could use an offensive jolt from time to time.
Part of their Room Exception went to Michael Beasley, who will provide some scoring off the bench at the four. Beasley and second-year big man Kyle Kuzma will both be asked to play the backup center position, as LA lacks an established backup pivot man. This gives the Lakers an offensive weapon at that spot, even if they sacrifice on the defensive end.
Beasley and Kuzma are expected to backup JaVale McGee, who was brought over from the Warriors. McGee will likely open both halves and then head to the bench as the Lakers go small. When he’s in the game, McGee will be asked to block shots, rebound and run the floor. This is essentially the role he played quite well with Golden State.
Along with their additions, the Lakers made a pretty big subtraction, at least in terms of their cap sheet. Veteran forward Luol Deng agreed to a buyout and then was waived and stretched by the Lakers. This move will open additional cap space in the summer of 2019.
And it’s that summer of 2019 in which everything is building towards for the Lakers. Landing James was the first major development. Everything after that was about maintaining, and creating even more, long-term flexibility. The Lakers have solid young talent and substantial cap space. While they’ll likely enjoy a return to the postseason this year, it’s next summer that really matters. That’s when we’ll know if the Lakers can start planning annual trips deep into the playoffs and perhaps even the Finals again.
Additions: Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Darrell Arthur, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Isaiah Canaan, Richaun Holmes, De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo
Subtractions: Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Elfrid Payton, Tyler Ulis, Alan Williams
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $18.4 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $25.7 million.
Analysis: The Suns remain in a seemingly perpetual rebuilding phase, as the playoff drought has stretched to eight consecutive seasons. Phoenix has swung and missed at adding max free agents, and their draft record has been mixed despite several years of lottery picks. This summer saw the Suns pick number one overall and then add veterans to the curious mix of youngsters and aging players already on the roster.
At the draft, Phoenix bypassed Luka Doncic and chose DeAndre Ayton number one overall. The Suns see Ayton as a can’t-miss prospect that will anchor the middle for years to come. In addition, Ayton’s already potent inside scoring should pair well with the perimeter scoring prowess of Devin Booker.
Passing on Doncic was somewhat of a surprise given Phoenix had already hired Slovenian National Team coach Igor Kokoskov to lead the team. Kokoskov is a longtime NBA assistant and had been mentioned for top jobs over the last several years. His success on the international level seems to have propelled him forward. He’s known for running a creative and efficient offense. This should pair well with the talent on the Phoenix roster who could use some consistent scoring outside of Booker.
The Suns also swung a draft dray trade to add versatile wing Mikal Bridges as they sent the draft rights to Zhaire Smith and a future draft pick via the Heat to the 76ers. Bridges has his work cut out for him to crack the Phoenix rotation this year, but should fit in nicely with the other young players on the roster. Bridges was regularly cited as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in this draft.
In the second round, the Suns added talented French point guard Elie Okobo. Okobo was signed to a four-year contract, and he could be called on to play immediately, given the team’s lack of point guard depth.
In free agency, Phoenix struck early by agreeing with Trevor Ariza on a one-year, $15 million deal. Ariza joins a crowded forward rotation that already included second-year player Josh Jackson, rookie Bridges and veteran TJ Warren. But Ryan McDonough couldn’t pass up the opportunity to land Ariza, whose impact will be felt on the court and in the locker room for the young Suns.
Phoenix then facilitated a series of trades designed to clear out some of the roster’s logjam at spots while also bringing back assets. The team acquired big man Richaun Holmes from Philadelphia. Holmes will provide the Suns with some depth behind Ayton and veteran center Tyson Chandler.
McDonough also cleared a little bit of salary off the books by trading Jared Dudley to Brooklyn for Darrell Arthur. This trade is unlikely to have much impact on the floor as Arthur could be waived before the season.
Then in late-August, the Suns worked a deal with the Rockets to acquire Ryan Anderson and rookie guard De’Anthony Melton for Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight. Anderson will bring the Suns some shooting in the frontcourt, which they lack from their other bigs. As part of the trade, Anderson also reduced his guaranteed money in 19-20 to an amount equal to what Knight was on the books for. This move means Phoenix took on no long-term cap hit and can move on from Anderson with relative ease down the line.
Giving up on Chriss is somewhat of a surprise, but the Suns had given him plenty of chances over his first two years in the NBA. He hasn’t developed beyond the profile of a rotation big to this point, which is a disappointment given his draft position. In addition, the team still has fellow third-year big Dragan Bender on the roster and having the two compete for minutes wasn’t working.
Swapping Knight, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL and underwent a second surgery later in the summer, for the rookie Melton is a win for Phoenix in the long-term. Short-term, it hurts some, as the Suns have precious little point guard depth. But if Knight wasn’t going to be able to play anyway, the team got the upside of Melton. Melton impressed at Summer League and was often mentioned as a player who fell further than he should have in draft.
The lack of point guard depth is enough of a concern that on the eve of training camp, McDonough mentioned the team is still searching for a starting level floor leader. The Suns allowed Elfrid Payton to leave for New Orleans in free agency and never replaced him. The options currently on the roster feature unproven young players and veteran castoffs. This is the spot to watch for Phoenix before the season tips off.
As we enter year nine of the rebuild, things don’t seem quite as bleak as they have in the past. Booker, Ayton and Jackson form an intriguing young core. If the team hits on either Okobo or Melton, they’ve got an additional backcourt weapon. They also have a surplus of tradable veterans in Ariza, Chandler, Anderson and Warren. They’ll likely miss the postseason for a ninth straight year, but things are looking up for the Suns.
Additions: Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, Yogi Ferrell, Ben McLemore
Subtractions: Bruno Caboclo, Vince Carter, Nigel Hayes, Garrett Temple
2018-19 Cap Space: $11 million.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $46 million.
Analysis: A year after signing veterans George Hill and Zach Randolph to questionable contracts, the Kings kind of seemed to learn their lesson. Sure, there was a dubious offer sheet extended to Zach LaVine. But after Chicago matched, Vlade Divac and the front office sat out the beginning of free agency. The Kings then were opportunistic when a few situations materialized unexpectedly.
The offseason started with a surprise as Sacramento selected Duke big man Marvin Bagley III with the second pick in the draft. The Kings did this despite Doncic remaining on the board. While this decision came unexpectedly to many around the NBA, Divac had honed in on Bagley as a player the team can build around going forward. Sacramento believes the 6’11’’ forward can eventually swing between the three and four spots. This might be a stretch, but it speaks to Bagley’s versatility as an offensive weapon.
After drafting Bagley, and seeing the Bulls match the offer sheet for LaVine, the Kings changed gears. They didn’t throw good money after bad, and remained patient for the rest of the summer. Sacramento traded Garrett Temple to Memphis as the Grizzlies sought to add some reliable wing depth. The deal brought Ben McLemore back to the team, along with since-waived big man Deyonta Davis and a future second round pick. This trade was as much about moving on from Temple as it was acquiring either player or the draft pick.
Then the Kings’ patience paid off as two players backed out of agreed upon deals with other teams and signed with Sacramento instead. Nemanja Bjelica originally agreed to sign with the 76ers for the Room Exception, but had second thoughts and backed out of the deal. Early reports had Bjelica heading back overseas before Divac stepped in and signed him on a three-year deal worth just over $20 million. The final year of that contract is fully non-guaranteed, representing great value for the Kings, who can really use Bjelica’s scoring ability from either forward spot.
Shortly thereafter, Yogi Ferrell changed his mind about re-signing with the Mavericks. With Sacramento offering a chance to play, along with having cap space available, Ferrell signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract. The second year of this deal is fully non-guaranteed, again giving the Kings a no risk, high reward deal.
By remaining patient, Divac was able to get two relative bargains in Bjelica and Ferrell. Both players will provide Sacramento with rotation minutes and don’t harm the team’s long-term cap flexibility. Even after signing both players, the Kings remain the only team with cap space remaining ($11 million), which puts them in position to help facilitate trades as a third party, or to eat a bad contract in exchange for a future asset.
The Kings are loaded with young talent after years drafting in the lottery. It will be a surprise if any regular in the Sacramento rotation is north of 30 years old. De’Aaron Fox has the point guard role locked down, with Frank Mason backing him up. Bagley should start at the power forward spot before long. Justin Jackson, one of last year’s first round picks, was the regular starter at the three last season. Bogdan Bogdanovic, when healthy, and Buddy Hield will feature prominently in the perimeter rotation, while young bigs Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere will hold things down up front. Harry Giles returns from what was essentially a redshirt year to provide frontcourt depth.
The only veterans who will feature in the rotation are Bjelica and potentially Zach Randolph. Randolph may play early on, as Bagley and Giles adapt to the NBA. Randolph has the trust of Dave Joerger from several years together in Memphis and Sacramento. But as the year goes along, Randolph will fade from the rotation, if he isn’t traded to a contender before then.
This year is about letting the young players develop. After trying to speed up the learning curve with veteran signings last year, the Kings are playing the long game now. The fan base is used to losing, after 12 straight years outside the playoffs. But they can endure a baker’s dozen of postseason-less seasons, if it means getting to watch their kids grow together into a team that can eventually end that streak.