Additions: Ryan Broekhoff, Jalen Brunson, Luka Doncic, Devin Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Ray Spalding
Subtractions: Kyle Collinsworth, Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell, Aaron Harrison, Doug McDermott, Nerlens Noel
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $18.1 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $53.3 million.
Analysis: The Mavericks have split the difference between competing for the playoffs and rebuilding for the past two seasons. Each year started with hopes of the postseason, but was waylaid by injuries, ineffective play, or a combination of both. Things came to a head last season when Mark Cuban was fined for openly saying it was better for his team to tank than to attempt to be competitive.
Cuban’s comments were made in the heat of the moment when their season was all but lost. However, the Mavericks’ offseason moves recently have run counter to any thoughts of tanking. Two summers ago, they signed Harrison Barnes. This summer, it was DeAndre Jordan. As the Mavs play out the final years of Dirk Nowitzki’s Hall of Fame career, they’re committed to trying to be competitive. If the season goes south, the team no longer seems overly inclined to do much to stop the slide, as the allure of high draft picks to build around is too great to pass up. This offseason delivered on both. Dallas signed some vets to bolster a playoff push, but they also drafted their building block for the future.
The Mavericks swung a draft day deal with the Atlanta Hawks to move up a couple of spots to select Luka Doncic. Dallas also sent Atlanta a future first round pick that has sliding protections to draft the European wonder-boy. Doncic joins the NBA as accomplished a player as any 19-year-old could possibly be. He’s won at the highest levels in both EuroLeague and EuroBasket, in addition putting up great stats. The Mavs have installed him as a starter from day one and will give him a chance to do what he does best: make plays. At 6’7’’, Doncic is a true wing in the new-age NBA. He’s big enough to hold his own inside on both ends, but quick enough to play on the perimeter. He can handle and pass the ball, as well as shoot. Doncic is equally as good at making plays for others, as he is getting himself open to score. Dallas has their franchise player for the post-Dirk years.
Three years after a debacle that owned Twitter for a couple of days and saw DeAndre Jordan re-sign with the Clippers, the Mavericks finally got their man. Jordan signed a one-year, $22.8 million deal to come to Dallas and anchor the center position. The five spot has long been a challenge for the Mavs and Rick Carlisle. They’ve cycled through options over the year, but haven’t found a player who can really change games on either end. Jordan should be a massive upgrade defensively and on the glass, while his rim-rolling offensive game meshes well with Doncic and second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. If it doesn’t work, it’s just a one-year contract and both sides can move on easily in the summer.
The Mavs lost a couple of backcourt players who had come into their own during their time with Dallas in Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell. Following a breakout 16-17 season, Curry missed all of last season with a stress fracture in his leg. Ferrell initially reached an agreement to return to the Mavericks, but had second thoughts on where he would fall in the rotation. Both sides agreed to go their separate ways. Curry signed with Portland, while Ferrell headed off to Sacramento.
Dallas replaced the combo guards with a veteran and a rookie. Devin Harris returns to the team for his third run, and the Mavericks drafted Jalen Brunson in the second round. Harris is a favorite of Carlisle because of his dependability. He’ll likely take Ferrell’s minutes. Brunson is a longer term project and should see plenty of time with the Texas Legends in the G League, but several teams had a first round grade on him at the draft.
The Mavericks also lost a couple of former lottery picks that they had taken shots on via trades, as both Doug McDermott and Nerlens Noel left town. McDermott got a three-year, $22 million offer from Indiana, which was both too rich and too long for the Mavs. Noel never quite came around in Dallas and left for a bench role with the Thunder. With other options on the roster, neither player will be missed all that much.
This season is likely to play out a lot like the previous two. The Mavericks will be competitive, but not quite good enough to pull off enough wins. At some point, the focus will shift to making Doncic and Smith the present as well as the future. That won’t lead to wins this year, but it should help lead to more success down the line. And with both kids in the fold, it’s finally as much about the future in Dallas, as it is trying to recapture the past.
Additions: Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss, Vincent Edwards, James Ennis, Isaiah Hartenstein, Brandon Knight,
Subtractions: Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, Aaron Jackson, Joe Johnson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Chinanu Onuaku,
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $9.9 million over Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $143.3 million over the cap.
Analysis: Houston was on the cusp of knocking off the favored Warriors and making the NBA Finals when their signature three-point shooting deserted them. Outside of Cleveland’s comeback in 2016, it was as close as anyone has come to talking down Golden State during this run.
Instead of running it back and taking another shot at the Warriors, Daryl Morey remade the rotation around stars James Harden and Chris Paul. Contributors like Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute went out and were replaced by Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis and a couple of former lottery picks the team hopes can turn it around with Houston.
Ariza got $15 million from the Suns to be a veteran influence for their rebuilding project. The Rockets, already over the luxury tax, with more work to be done, declined to go that high and let their starting small forward leave. His backup/frontcourt mate Mbah a Moute agreed to a $4.3 million deal to return to the Clippers, and it was again too rich for Houston.
To replace these key rotation players, Morey first turned to Ennis. Ennis has been an under the radar guy for the entirety of his career, most recently with Memphis and Detroit. He’s regarded as a solid defender and good three-point shooter. Essentially he’s a “3&D” player, which is exactly the role the Rockets want him to play. With Harden and Paul, they don’t need another creator, or a player who needs the ball. They need guys who can play off those two and make shots. Ennis should give them that.
The second addition is the more controversial one. Anthony isn’t the big-time scorer he once was in his prime, but he can still manufacture baskets when needed. He linked up with his good friends Paul and Harden to make a run at a title. Roles are still a little up in the air in Houston, but it seems like Anthony may be asked to come off the bench. As a reserve, he can score on overmatched second unit defenders. If Anthony embraces this type of role, it would be great for his team and could also add years on to his career as he ages.
Arguably, the most important transaction the Rockets made this summer was to re-sign Clint Capela. Capela blossomed as a shot-blocking, rebounding and rim running big man last season. He’s a perfect fit as the roll man in Houston’s pick and roll heavy offense. He understands when to go and where to get to in the paint to live off passes from Harden and Paul. He’s also the team’s best defender by a fairly wide margin. His athleticism allows him to help on the perimeter, while also getting back to protect the rim. With the luxury tax a concern, Morey and the Rockets showed patience and waited out the market before inking Capela to a five-year, $85 million deal. An average annual value of $17.5 million is a steal for a player of Capela’s ability.
The Rockets need to lessen their luxury tax bill, combined with the desire for more depth, led them to trade Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton’s draft rights to the Suns late in the offseason for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss. Anderson was ostensibly replaced in the rotation by Anthony, and Anderson’s cap number was far too high to be a deep bench option. The hope is that Knight can provide some depth behind Paul when he’s healthy. He’s currently out with continued knee problems following a torn ACL over a year ago. Chriss is a worthy flyer as Houston will look to develop him in a role similar to Capela’s. Chriss will be asked to rebound and run the floor. If he does that, Paul and Harden will make him look better than he has to this point in his young career.
If Knight can’t make it back, the Rockets took a low-risk gamble on Michael Carter-Williams. He’s an odd fit in Houston’s system, as he can’t shoot at all. But he has good size at the point guard spot and plays some defense. There is some desire to bring Paul’s minutes down a touch and Carter-Williams will be a part of that plan.
Houston is right there as far as contending for a title. The main pieces are back in Harden, Paul, Capela and sixth-man extraordinaire Eric Gordon. The big question is if Ennis and Anthony can give them the productive minutes that Ariza and Mbah a Moute did. If the answer to that is yes, then the Rockets will be right back in the mix for a Finals trip.
Additions: Kyle Anderson, Jevon Carter, Omri Casspi, Jaren Jackson Jr., Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple
Subtractions: Mario Chalmers, Deyonta Davis, Tyreke Evans, Omari Johnson, Jarell Martin, Ben McLemore
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $1.4 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $35.8 million over the cap.
Analysis: The Grizzlies are stuck at a crossroads, but seem unwilling or unable to make an actual decision between competing for the playoffs or embracing a rebuild. Memphis passed on a golden opportunity to cash in on assets at the trade deadline last year and lost one for nothing in the summer, while returning aging veterans on questionable contracts.
As long as Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are healthy, Memphis will be competitive. They could even make the playoffs. The additions this summer all harken to the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” days. None jumps off the page, minus rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., but all are solid NBA rotation players. For a team that has seen several consecutive seasons undermined by a lack of depth as injuries struck, this alone is an upgrade.
At the draft, the Grizzlies selected Jackson, who some analysts have projected as the best player in the draft. Jackson’s defensive skills are immediately present. He’s huge, long and athletic, which are all traits big men need in the NBA now, as they are asked to defend on the perimeter while also protecting the basket. Where Jackson really surprises is his offense. At both Summer League and in the preseason, he’s shown a better than expected shot. But what really stands out is his basketball IQ. He makes quick passes and seems to move deliberately on the floor. There isn’t a lot of wasted motion in his game, where it looks like he’s doing things, but he’s actually not doing anything. Every move has a point. He’ll primarily play behind Gasol this year, while being groomed to eventually replace him as a modern center. There isn’t a better player for him to learn from.
Speaking of moving deliberately and for a reason, no player better exemplifies that than Kyle Anderson. Nicknamed “Slow Mo” because of his measured pace of play, Anderson has become a solid rotation forward. He’s good against most threes and fours and can hold his own on switches against twos and fives. Nothing Anderson does will make the highlight reel, but it’s all effective. After growing up in the Spurs’ system, he may move slowly, but he does everything quickly. He gets rid of the ball when and where he should. His shot has improved enough that you have to respect him. When you do, he’s adept at meandering is way to the paint for a hoop or to find a cutting teammate. Anderson was given a larger than usual contract for a role player, but Memphis seems to have found a market inefficiency there, while also taking a player away from a division rival.
The rest of their moves were about veteran depth. Omri Casspi and Shelvin Mack are smart players who stay prepared when they are called upon. For third level guys, you can’t ask for more. Garrett Temple was acquired from the Kings and he might give Memphis a little more than just depth. He’s able to play one through three and will be a good mentor for similarly-sized young wings Dillon Brooks and Wayne Selden. The team also drafted Jevon Carter as a development point guard, but an injury will keep him out early. He’s likely to play most of his minutes this year for the Memphis Hustle in the G League.
By not trading Tyreke Evans and losing him for nothing, Memphis lost out on a chance to get an asset. Following that, they made smart moves towards trying to pry that postseason window back open. They aren’t ready to move on from Gasol or Conley yet, but if this season goes south, it’s past time for the Grizzlies to accelerate the rebuilding process.
New Orleans Pelicans
Additions: Jarrett Jack, Jahlil Okafor, Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, Troy Williams
Subtractions: DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Crawford, DeAndre Liggins, Emeka Okafor, Rajon Rondo
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $5.9 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $23.7 million.
Analysis: New Orleans made a lot of transactions this summer, most of them designed around the edges of the roster. They have a seemingly never-ending collection of intriguing camp guys. But those players aren’t going to keep the Pelicans in the playoffs. A pair of departures and their replacements will answer the postseason question.
DeMarcus Cousins was on a roll before he tore his Achilles’ tendon mid-season. Not only did the injury cast doubt on New Orleans’ playoff hopes (they bounced back better than most expected with a first round win over Portland), but it also made Cousins’ NBA future a question mark. Cousins is 28 years old, a big man and certainly not a workout fanatic. That trio of characteristics lend doubt to his ability to return to an All-Star level. A torn Achilles’ has ruined the career of most players who have suffered it. Very few have made it back to play at anything resembling a productive level, and those players saw their games change in a big way.
With worries about Cousins’ future, the Pelicans were understandably reluctant to commit to a long, large contract. Both sides reached a decision fairly early in free agency that they were at an impasse and Cousins headed off the Warriors for one year. Presumably, he’ll have all the time in the world to get healthy, will compete for a title, and hit the market again next summer when half the NBA will have cap space.
New Orleans replaced Cousins with Julius Randle on a 1+1 deal for just under $18 million over the two years. Randle had a breakout year with the Lakers and fits the Pelicans style quite well. After losing Cousins, the Pels amped up the pace and ran more than ever. This allowed Anthony Davis to flourish, while masking some of the team’s lack of halfcourt offense. Randle excels in the open court. He’s good at filling the lane and can also run the break himself some. When he’s in the game, look for him to “rip and run” a lot, where he grabs the rebound and initiates the offense himself. On defense, Randle isn’t great, but he’s competitive and hits the glass. Davis makes up for a lot of his teammates’ ills on that end and Randle will be no different.
The Pelicans will also have a new player running the show this year, as they replaced Rajon Rondo with Elfrid Payton. Rondo had a bounce-back season after a few tough years with the Mavericks, Kings and Bulls. But the Pelicans wanted to get younger, bigger and to bring in a player who is a little better defensively. Enter Payton, who replaces the player he is most often compared. Entering his fifth season, Payton still can’t shoot, but he can get to the basket and make plays in the paint. He’s a good rebounder for his position. And he has shown that he can get after it on defense at times. Payton gives you essentially 75-80 percent of what you got from Rondo. For just $3 million over one season, it’s a worthy shot for the Pelicans to take.
The presence of Davis and Jrue Holiday alone would have New Orleans in the mix for the playoffs, but to get there they need some help. They couldn’t afford to wait on Cousins to get back, as they had no viable in-house replacement. Rondo was fine, but Payton should be an adequate replacement. There isn’t a ton of upside for the Pelicans, but most wrote them off after Cousins got hurt last year too. Flying a little under the radar seems to work just fine for this group.
San Antonio Spurs
Additions: Marco Belinelli, Dante Cunningham, DeMar DeRozan, Chimezie Metu, Jakob Poeltl, Quincy Pondexter, Lonnie Walker IV
Subtractions: Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Joffrey Lauvergne, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Brandon Paul
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $1.2 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $26.4 million over the cap.
Analysis: The model of franchise stability in the NBA showed some cracks in their foundation last season.
After the retirement of Tim Duncan, it was assumed Kawhi Leonard would be the face of the Spurs for years to come. Instead, he and the team feuded publicly and privately over his rehab from a quad injury and he finally asked to be traded. The Spurs eventually traded Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. With Manu Ginobili joining Duncan in retirement, and Tony Parker signing with Charlotte, the starting five of the Spurs’ last title team is no longer in San Antonio.
On its face, the loss of Leonard is massive. He’s an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year caliber player. He’s just entering his prime and his quiet, unassuming nature seemed to fit the headline-adverse Spurs perfectly. But the reality is that Leonard missed almost the entirety of last season and it’s not known if his injury will hamper him going forward.
Enter DeRozan, who has played much of his career to mixed reactions. His detractors see him as an inefficient chucker, whose mid-range game doesn’t fit in the modern NBA. DeRozan’s backers see him as a player who can get you 20-25 points per game with only a modicum of effort. Gregg Popovich will undoubtedly get the best basketball out of DeRozan possible. It’s unlikely that will be an upgrade over prime Leonard, but it will certainly be better than anything the Spurs got from Leonard last year.
Poeltl is a nice addition up front for a team that has LaMarcus Aldridge and aging Pau Gasol as their only viable big man options. Poeltl was a key to Toronto’s “Bench Mob” and played big minutes behind the often foul plagued Jonas Valanciunas. He’ll benefit from the Spurs read and react system, where they’ll ask him to play near the basket and play off the perimeter players.
San Antonio also brought back former Spur Marco Belinelli. He’ll replace Green as a wing shooter, but is a decided downgrade as a defender. The Spurs also drafted Lonnie Walker IV, as the long-term Green replacement. He showed a nice offensive game in Summer League, but got hurt during the preseason and will miss the first couple of months of the season.
At point guard, Parker’s departure is more sentimental than it is impactful on the court. He had transitioned to a backup role behind Dejounte Murray. While still effective as a scorer in short bursts, Parker’s best days are behind him. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Murray suffered a torn ACL during the preseason and will miss the entire year. Oddly enough, with precious little point guard depth, San Antonio could actually use a veteran like Parker.
The Spurs will still be good. They have too much talent to be anything but good. But being good isn’t enough in a deep Western Conference. For the first time in over two decades, making the playoffs is a question for San Antonio. Without his trusted veterans, and with Murray injured, who can Popovich turn to when the going gets tough? If the Spurs are going to extend this improbable run, that’s a question they’ll need to answer sooner, rather than later.