Additions: Justin Anderson, Vince Carter, Daniel Hamilton, Kevin Huerter, Alex Len, Jeremy Lin, Omari Spellman, Trae Young
Subtractions: Antonius Cleveland, Malcolm Delaney, Damion Lee, Jaylen Morris, Mike Muscala, Dennis Schroder, Isaiah Taylor
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $17.5 million under the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $37.5 million.
Analysis: The Hawks enter the second year of their rebuild, having almost completely scrapped all remnants of the team’s 10-year playoff run. Only Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Bembry remain from their last postseason team as Atlanta continues to get younger, a trend that was emphasized at the 2018 NBA Draft.
Travis Schlenk completed a draft night trade with the Dallas Mavericks that saw the Hawks drop back a couple of slots, while picking up an additional future first round pick. With their three first round picks in 2018, Atlanta added players they hope will help launch them back towards the playoffs. Trae Young was picked fifth overall after a standout freshman season at Oklahoma. In both Summer League and preseason, Young showed the offensive game that led the Hawks to believe he can be their franchise player. His range is only limited by his imagination. Young regularly launches shots from the logos. He’s also just crafty enough off the bounce to get to the rim. Young is also a terrific passer and that skill may be the one that stands out most of all as a rookie.
Atlanta also drafted Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman. Huerter is the kind of wing shooter the Hawks have had a lot of success with in the past. He’ll take some time to get there, but the team can afford to let him develop. Spellman might be more ready to contribute now. He’ll spend the year backing up John Collins, who is entrenched at the four following a great rookie season. Spellman can do a little bit of everything and is showing signs of extending his range to the NBA arc.
The Hawks aren’t in a position in their rebuild to use their cap space to add cornerstone free agents, so they made the smart move and ate some money from other teams in exchange for future assets. Atlanta picked up a pair of second round picks from the Nets to take on the final season of Jeremy Lin’s contract. Lin gives the Hawks a veteran backup behind Young, but not one that will threaten the rookie’s status as the starting point guard. In addition, if Lin shows he’s fully recovered from the ruptured patella tendon he suffered last year, Atlanta might have a nice trade asset come the deadline.
In late July, the Hawks swung a trade the further freed up time for the younger players. Atlanta dealt Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City and Mike Muscala to Philadelphia in a three-team trade. In exchange, the team absorbed the final season of Carmelo Anthony’s contract, while picking up a future first round pick and Justin Anderson. The Hawks later reached a buyout with Anthony, freeing him up to join the Rockets. While the first round pick is nice, as is taking a flyer on Anderson, the real benefit for Atlanta was getting off the $46.5 million owed to Schroder for the next three seasons. With Young in the fold, Schroder was a potential high-paid backup, a role a rebuilding team has no need for, and one Schroder wouldn’t be happy with.
With Muscala gone, Atlanta filled the backup center spot with Alex Len. Len’s market as a free agent was barren the last two years, but the Hawks hope they can develop him as a stretch-five option. The team hit with DeWayne Dedmon and hopes to have similar luck with Len, who signed a two-year deal for less than the Room Exception.
The Hawks also signed Vince Carter to come in and be a veteran influence for the young roster. Carter played this role with the Kings last season. In addition, he still flashes the athleticism to make plays on occasion, even if expecting it nightly is a bit much at this point.
Leading the youthful Hawks will be new head coach Lloyd Pierce. Pierce was a highly-respected assistant for years and is finally getting his shot at the top job. Much like where Philadelphia (where Pierce came from) once was, winning isn’t really the priority right out of the gate. Developing the young players is the goal. Atlanta won’t win much this year, but if Young, Collins and burgeoning potential All-Star Taurean Prince come along as hoped for, the wins will soon follow.
Additions: Bismack Biyombo, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, Tony Parker
Subtractions: Michael Carter-Williams, Treveon Graham, Dwight Howard, Julyan Stone
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $3.4 million under the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $47.3 million over the cap.
Analysis: After years of extending their own players and adding high-priced players via trades, the Charlotte Hornets seem to have settled down a bit. With an expensive roster that was threatening to be a luxury tax team, the Hornets moved off some salary and rebalanced the rotation in a way that makes more sense.
Charlotte dealt Dwight Howard away to the Brooklyn Nets in a salary dump that brought back Timofey Mozgov. Howard never quite fit, and the Hornets have Cody Zeller, who has experience starting and fits better with the other starters. Continuing the center shuffle, the team traded Mozgov to Orlando to bring Bismack Biyombo back to Charlotte. Biyombo isn’t cheap as he’s owed $34 million over the next two years (assuming he exercises a 2019-20 player option), but he’s comfortable as a backup, something Howard wouldn’t have accepted. Biyombo gives the team a different look from the more offensively-focused Zeller, as his skills lie with protecting the rim and rebounding.
Beyond firming up the center rotation, the Hornets added around the edges of the rotation. Miles Bridges joined a crowded wing group at the draft. He flashed enough potential during the preseason that he’s likely to force his way on the floor sooner, rather than later. Charlotte also added developmental point guard Devonte Graham in the second round. He’ll spend the year learning behind new backup point Tony Parker.
Parker joins the Hornets after playing the first 17 years of his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs. As jarring as it may be to see Parker in teal and purple instead of black and silver, he’s a good signing for Charlotte. The team has lacked a quality backup behind Kemba Walker since Jeremy Lin left for Brooklyn. Parker will give them a scoring option and someone Graham and combo-guard Malik Monk can learn from.
The Hornets also hired Spurs assistant James Borrego to replace Steve Clifford as head coach. Borrego was briefly the interim head coach in Orlando a few years back and now gets a shot to run the show. He’ll bring elements of the Spurs offense to Charlotte, which had grown a little stale under Clifford. He’s got Parker to help him and a largely veteran roster should adapt fairly quickly.
Charlotte should be back in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. There is too much talent on the roster for them to be a bad team. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough top-end talent to push the Hornets much further than a short postseason appearance. It’s going to be another year before some of the bad money is off the books too. With Walker an impending free agent, this season is about getting back on track and proving to him that it’s worth signing on in Charlotte long-term.
Subtractions: Luke Babbitt, Jordan Mickey
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $6.3 million over the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $48.6 million over the cap.
Analysis: No team did less transaction-wise this summer than the Miami Heat. Outside of the obligatory training camp signings, Miami’s summer consisted of re-signing Dwyane Wade, Wayne Ellington and Derrick Jones Jr., and adding Yante Maten and Duncan Robinson on Two-Way contracts. That’s it. Barring a move on the eve of the season opening, the Heat will enter the 2018-19 season as the only team in the NBA to not add at least one new player on a standard contract.
Miami is bringing back Wade on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum. Given his importance to the franchise, and still effective play as a reserve, this is a no-brainer. Wade will give the team somewhere in the range of 60 or so games of solid play off the bench, and then he’ll likely retire following the season. He was close to retirement this summer, but decided to give it one more go.
Despite Wade’s status as franchise icon, retaining Ellington was the more important move for Miami. Ellington has become one of the league’s best shooters off the bench. The Heat don’t ask him to do much else, and Ellington doesn’t need to in order to be effective. He changes games with his gravity and that opens things up for his teammates inside. Like Wade, Ellington also signed for just one year, at $6.3 million. That represents great value and allows for future flexibility for Miami.
Jones has flashed tons of athleticism and improving skill both with the Suns and Heat. Miami inked him to a two-year, minimum deal. Given the franchise’s success with under the radar players like Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder, Jones’ development bears monitoring.
Late in the offseason, Miami signed Justise Winslow to a three-year, $39 million rookie scale extension. The final season is a team option, which gives the Heat good flexibility. Winslow has a lot of potential, but has been waylaid by injuries in the past. If he’s past that, $13 million a season is well-worth it for a player of his ability.
The Heat got close, exchanging medical information close, on a trade for Jimmy Butler. Given the club’s lack of cap space for the next year or so, a trade is the only reasonable avenue to adding a star player. Miami has enough talent to get to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. To get any further than a cameo appearance is going to take adding a star. The Heat got close, but the failure to seal the deal leaves them behind in the East.
Additions: Mohamed Bamba, Isaiah Briscoe, Melvin Frazier Jr., Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin, Timofey Mozgov
Subtractions: Arron Afflalo, Bismack Biyombo, Mario Hezonja, Shelvin Mack, Rodney Purvis, Marreese Speights
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $5.9 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $23.7 million.
Analysis: Since trading Dwight Howard in 2012, Orlando has wandered the NBA wilderness. The Magic have never been truly awful over the last six years, but they haven’t been good either. In truth, they’ve just been kind of forgettable. Aaron Gordon provides some highlights and dunk contest mastery, but that’s about it. A lack of clear direction has led to the team being out of the collective minds of NBA fans. Two years into a reset under Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, that finally seems to have changed.
Weltman and Hammond have a type of player they like: long and athletic. Their first draft delivered Jonathan Isaac, who showed promise in a rookie season ruined by an ankle injury. Isaac is healthy now and again flashing the potential that everyone loved last year. The 2018 draft brought in Mo Bamba, who possesses the longest measured wingspan in NBA history. Beyond that physical marvel, Bamba is athletic and a potential building block at the center position. He can run the floor, protect the rim and rebound, and, increasingly important in today’s NBA, he can step out and hit jumpers. Bamba is a backbone the Magic intend to build around.
For a team lacking a true franchise player, and Isaac and Bamba too unproven to carry that mantle, Gordon is about as close as it gets for Orlando. The Magic acted quickly to sign him to one of the summer’s best contracts. Gordon got $76 million over the next four years, but the structure benefits Orlando. The deal starts at $21.6 million in 2018-19 and declines annually to $16.4 million in 2021-22. If the club shows progress and needs to add to the roster, the increased flexibility of a declining deal will help greatly.
In need of a point guard after trading away Elfrid Payton at the 2018 trade deadline, the Magic made a couple of low-risk gambles. The team signed Isaiah Briscoe to a partially guaranteed three-year contract, after he spent his first year as a pro overseas. Briscoe impressed at a tryout camp and then went on to show he belongs in the NBA during Summer League.
Briscoe will be in the mix behind holdover starter D.J. Augustin with Jerian Grant. Grant was acquired from the Chicago Bulls in a three-team trade that saw Orlando ship Bismack Biyombo to Charlotte, while acquiring Grant and Timofey Mozgov. Grant hasn’t shown the ability to be a starter in either New York or Chicago, but will get a shot to compete with the Magic. He’s got the size the team likes for a point guard, but Grant has got to show the skill to go along with it.
Clearing out Payton last year, trading Biyombo this summer and letting Mario Hezonja walk is Weltman digging out from beneath the salary cap rubble the previous regime left the team under. The Magic had far too bloated of a cap sheet for a rebuilding team. The new front office has done what they can to reset things moving forward.
Helping to move things forward is a new coach, as Frank Vogel was let go and replaced by Steve Clifford. Clifford is coming off an up and down run with the Hornets, but his consistent approach should benefit a largely inconsistent Magic squad. Clifford will run a relatively simple offense, where they players are asked to read and react. This should allow the Magic to take advantage of their athleticism, instead of being bogged down running sets that all too often lead to nothing.
Orlando has all the pieces to push things forward, minus a starting level point guard. The club says they are fine with Augustin and that he’s better than most realize, but that seems like preseason optimism. Augustin is a very good backup, but he’s overmatched against most starting guards. The Magic probably need one more year of development, followed by the front office further resetting the roster. But the talent is evident and, more importantly, so is the direction for how Orlando gets back to the postseason.
Additions: Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers
Subtractions: Tim Frazier, Marcin Gortat, Ty Lawson, Chris McCullough, Mike Scott, Ramon Sessions
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $11.3 million over the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $80.5 million over the cap.
Analysis: With one of the NBA’s most restrictive cap situations, the Wizards weren’t getting much help from free agency. Instead, they swung an early offseason trade and followed it up with veteran additions on the cheap. For a team stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference, this kind of feels like more of the same.
Washington traded longtime starting center Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers as the offseason opened. Rivers was caught in a glut of guards in LA and the Clippers sensed a need at center if DeAndre Jordan left town. The Wizards could no longer afford to pay two centers big bucks, while leaving a hole behind oft-injured John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt. Rivers gives the team a valuable swing guard off the bench, and some insurance if Wall or Beal miss time.
Up front, the Wizards could have gone with Ian Mahinmi in the middle, but when Dwight Howard unexpectedly became available they couldn’t pass him up. Howard was traded from Charlotte to Brooklyn and bought out by the Nets. Washington then pounced with the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. If healthy and motivated, Howard will give the Wizards a good shot-blocker and rebounder. Despite his advanced age, he’s still more athletic than most of the bigs Washington has rolled out in recent years. The challenge is that Howard has now left the Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets since leaving the Magic, and none of those franchises were sad to see him go.
The Wizards did some nice work, despite their lack of cap flexibility, to add Jeff Green for the minimum and by claiming Thomas Bryant on waivers. Green will replace Mike Scott, who had a terrific year and headed off to the Clippers as a free agent, as the primary forward off the bench. Green may even see some minutes as a small-ball center. Bryant is a nice flyer behind Howard and Mahinmi, neither of whom is a picture of health. He’s shown the ability to score in bunches in the G League and could get a shot in Washington to show the same.
None of the Wizards losses this summer will jump out as being all that impactful. Gortat was replaced by Howard. Scott by Green. A collection of very average backup guards by Rivers. The downside is that while the additions carry big names, they don’t really bring big games. They’ll all be helpful, but not necessarily much more so than those they replaced.
Washington is firmly stuck in the middle of the East. They aren’t good enough to challenge the best teams at the top, but they’re far too talented to bottom out. Exacerbating the situation is one of the league’s messiest cap sheets. Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are locked into long-term deals that pay them a combined $163 million over the next three years. Wall inked a Veteran Extension that doesn’t even kick in until the 2019-20 season and already looks like one of the NBA’s most questionable contracts. Because they’ve been in the middle of the pack for years, the Wizards haven’t hit on a game-changing draft pick either. This season should play out similar to the last few. A short playoff appearance, followed by some shuffling of the deck chairs. The personnel and cap sheet just don’t allow for much more.