Additions: Michael Porter Jr., Isaiah Thomas, Jarred Vanderbilt
Subtractions: Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Devin Harris, Richard Jefferson
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $7.3 million under the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $33.1 million over the cap.
Analysis: Denver’s offseason wasn’t as much about adding new talent as it was about keeping their current talent around. And for good measure, the Nuggets cleared away some bad salary to get themselves under the luxury tax. For a squad that many like to make the leap to playoff team, this qualified as a productive summer.
At the draft, the Nuggets benefited from Michael Porter Jr.’s slide. Sitting at the end of the lottery, Denver never could have expected to draft a player of Porter’s talent. Concerns about his back caused Porter to fall, but with plenty of frontcourt players already on the roster, the Nuggets could afford the risk. At one point, Porter was considered the best player in his class. If he pans out, Denver will have the sort of cheap, cost-controlled player that all good teams need to balance their roster.
After the draft, the Nuggets shifted to retaining their own free agents. Denver re-signed Nikola Jokic to a five-year contract that was just shy of the maximum. Jokic has blossomed into the NBA’s most versatile offensive center, with the ability to score inside, shoot from the outside, and to run the offense with his passing. He’s every bit the franchise player the Nuggets have been looking for since trading Carmelo Anthony, and to get him for anything less than the max is a huge win for the club.
Denver also re-signed wing scorer Will Barton to a four-year, $53 million deal. Barton broke out after coming to the Nuggets from Portland and has excelled as both a starter and reserve. This year, he’s slotted in as one of the starting wings next to Gary Harris. Barton’s ability to run the floor and seemingly never-ending energy is a key in Denver’s fast-paced offense.
The Nuggets also took advantage of landing a couple of good Two-Way players last year as they signed Torrey Craig and Monte Morris to standard contracts. Both players outplayed their Two-Way deals and earned their new contracts. Craig may be the best defensive wing on the roster, while Morris will start the season as the backup point guard behind Jamal Murray.
Morris is the backup to Murray to start because Isaiah Thomas, Denver’s lone veteran addition, won’t be ready at the beginning of the season. But the Nuggets can afford to wait on Thomas. When he’s ready, Thomas could be the best sixth-man in the NBA. He’ll provide instant offense and a scoring punch off the bench when the team needs it.
Denver also worked to clear significant salary off the books and to get out of the luxury tax. They traded Wilson Chandler to the 76ers and Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nuggets gave up a protected first round pick and multiple second round picks in the trades, but getting off the $43 million combined for all three players saved the team a considerable amount in tax payments.
Denver was one game away from a playoff appearance last year. With all their weapons back, and Paul Millsap healthy, the Nuggets should make the jump to the postseason this time around. And it might be a while before that’s even so much as a question again.
Additions: Keita Bates-Diop, Luol Deng, James Nunnally, Josh Okogie, Anthony Tolliver
Subtractions: Cole Aldrich, Nemanja Bjelica, Aaron Brooks, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Amile Jefferson
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $1.3 million under the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $69.2 million over the cap.
Analysis: The Timberwolves offseason isn’t as much about what they did as what they didn’t do. Minnesota added a few nice pieces this summer, but they hung on to Jimmy Butler, even after his well-publicized trade request went sour. What started as a fairly benign offseason, has ended with all eyes on the franchise.
As of this writing, Butler remains on the Wolves. This is despite Minnesota getting so close to a trade with the Miami Heat that the teams exchanged medical information. And despite Butler returning to the team and proceeding to cuss out Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden and his teammates, he’s expected to open the year on the Timberwolves roster. This qualifies as one of the more stunning situations in recent NBA history.
Elsewhere on the roster, Minnesota added a couple of veterans who should fit right in under Thibodeau. Anthony Tolliver will be the stretch big off the bench that the team has lacked for a couple of seasons now. He’s a rugged defender inside and can really help open the floor on offense with his outside shooting.
Longtime Thibs’ favorite Luol Deng was also added as was almost preordained following his release by the Lakers. It difficult to know how much Deng can contribute as he played in just one game last season. An optimist would say he’s well-rested and ready to go. A pessimist would counter that Deng is washed up. It’s likely we’ll find out soon as he could be in the mix as a backup forward right away for the Wolves.
Minnesota had a nice draft, adding a couple of potential “3&D” players in Josh Okogie in the first round and Keita Bates-Diop in the second. Okogie has a versatile all-around game, but needs to shoot it better before he’s ready for consistent minutes. Bates-Diop has better size, but needs to refine his skill game. Both are likely to see at least some time with the Iowa Wolves of the G-League.
The team also signed James Nunnally to a two-year deal. Nunnally came back stateside after becoming one of the best shooters in Europe over the last several seasons. For a Wolves team that doesn’t have a lot of shooting, Nunnally should pair with Tolliver to help rectify that off the bench.
The Timberwolves last big transaction of the offseason was signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a five-year max contract extension that will kick in with the 19-20 season. Towns joins Andrew Wiggins on full max contracts as the two are clearly the faces of the franchise. This is despite whatever negative feelings Butler may have towards the two young players.
Minnesota clearly has the talent to repeat as a playoff team for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era. Butler is good enough to drag them there, as he did last year. But he clearly doesn’t want to be with the Wolves any longer. That cloud has the potential to hang over the franchise all season. Or is happiness not really a factor in winning basketball? That question is about to answered in a big way in Minnesota.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Additions: Hamidou Diallo, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Abdel Nader, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroder
Subtractions: Carmelo Anthony, Corey Brewer, Nick Collison, Josh Huestis, Dakari Johnson, Kyle Singler
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $22 million over the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $61.7 million over the cap.
Analysis: Oklahoma City accomplished their two major goals of the offseason in re-signing Paul George and significantly decreasing their tax penalty by trading Carmelo Anthony. Almost anything beyond that was considered a bonus for the Thunder, who are as locked into their current roster as any team in the NBA.
On the eve of free agency, George announced he would remain with the Thunder at a party hosted by Russell Westbrook. With George’s hometown Lakers looming, this was a relief for the capped out Thunder. George is an ideal running-mate for Westbrook, not unlike Kevin Durant once was. He can create his own offense, which allows Westbrook valuable periods of rest throughout games. Locking George up to a four-year, $137 million contract matches him with Westbrook as one of the league’s top duos for the foreseeable future.
The Thunder also added backup point guard Dennis Schroder when they dumped Anthony’s salary on the Atlanta Hawks. Schroder has the potential to be the NBA’s best backup point guard as he was an average to good starter during his time with Atlanta. With Westbrook frequently banged up, including a knee procedure late this summer, Schroder gives Billy Donovan peace of mind that he’s got a quality player to step in.
In that same trade, Oklahoma City picked up wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot from the 76ers. Luwawu-Cabarrot could get a chance, as the Thunder don’t have great two/three depth. With Andre Roberson on the shelf to start the year, Luwawu-Cabarrot and some younger options have a chance to grab early playing time.
One of those younger options is Hamidou Diallo, who was picked up from the Charlotte Hornets in a draft night trade. Diallo brings good size and shooting to the wing position. He’ll battle second-year player Terrance Ferguson for minutes while Roberson is out.
Up front, the Thunder re-signed versatile forward Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27 million contract. Grant is the most athletic of the OKC bigs and is equally comfortable starting or coming off the bench. Joining Grant is Nerlens Noel, who the Thunder are taking a flier on with a two-year, minimum contract. Noel flamed out in Dallas due to a combination of injury, ineffective and disinterest. The Thunder hope to get him back on track, as he can give them a handful of minutes a night behind Steven Adams.
With Roberson out until sometime around the start of the calendar year, and Westbrook questionable to open the season, Oklahoma City could start slow. But they know what they have now. If a few of the younger options step forward, this is fairly deep team that should be solid defensively. They need another shooter or two to emerge, but there aren’t a lot of holes. A slow start might have them more in the battle for homecourt for advantage, but come playoff time this is a team no one is going to want to see.
Portland Trail Blazers
Additions: Seth Curry, Anfernee Simons, Nik Stauskas, Gary Trent Jr.
Subtractions: Pat Connaughton, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, Georgios Papagiannis
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $7.9 million over the Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $38.7 million over the cap.
Analysis: Hamstrung by luxury tax concerns, the Trail Blazers are stuck making moves around the fringes of their rotation, while hoping that young players are ready to take on bigger roles. This summer was about adding backcourt depth without taking on any money long-term. Looking at what Portland lost vs added, it’s fair to say it was mission accomplished.
Portland’s first order of business was to retain center Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic got a four-year, $48 million contract with an interesting structure. His contract climbs each of the first three years, before declining for the final year. That final season is also only $4 million guaranteed. This protects the Trail Blazers in case Nurkic drops off, or the league trends further away from traditional centers. As it stands for right now, Portland got solid value for a big man who fits perfectly with the rest of the roster.
The Blazers lost rotation contributors Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier, as well as occasional contributor Pat Connaughton. They didn’t replace Davis as they want to give his minutes to 2017 lottery pick Zach Collins. Collins seems ready for a bigger role as a backup four/five, but Portland could be in the market for a backup big in-season if he’s not.
The spots behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been somewhat of a revolving door in recent years. This summer, Shabazz Napier, who had developed into a reliable backup while in Portland, went out and he was essentially replaced by Seth Curry. Curry isn’t a traditional point guard, but more of a combo guard. That should allow the Trail Blazers to run the same sets whenever Curry is in to replace one of the starters. He’ll also play regularly with Evan Turner off the bench. Turner is more than capable of facilitating the offense, while Curry works off the ball.
The Blazers added talented, but very young, guard Anfernee Simons at the draft, along with Gary Trent Jr. Both players will take some time to get acclimated to the NBA game. In part, because of their youth, the team signed Nik Stauskas to replace Connaughton. Stauskas hasn’t lived up to the reputation of being a shooter that he carried into the NBA, but Portland will hope he’s simply a late bloomer.
The Trail Blazers overachieved in the regular season last year, only to be swept in the first round by the Pelicans. Many are projecting Portland to miss the playoffs this year. Because their division rivals should be better, the Blazers will be in a battle to make the playoffs. Their starters are all more than capable of keeping Portland in the mix. What will ultimately decide their fate is the performance of a largely unproven reserve group.
Additions: Grayson Allen
Subtractions: Jonas Jerebko, David Stockton
2018-19 Cap Space: None. $6.4 million under Luxury Tax.
2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $40.6 million.
Analysis: The Jazz are essentially running it back from last year. The 2017-18 team made strides forward behind breakout rookie Donovan Mitchell and one of the league’s best defenses. Utah re-signed all of their key contributors, but did so in a way that allowed the team to maintain maximum flexibility.
The Jazz re-upped with Dante Exum, Derrick Favors and Raul Neto. Exum got three years and $28.8 million. All three years are fully guaranteed, but each season checks in at under $10 million. If Exum is able to stay healthy, he can eventually be the long-term replacement for Ricky Rubio at point guard. If not, Utah has minimal risk, as that figure represents fair payment for a backup point guard.
Favors and Neto both got two-year contracts, but the second year for each is fully non-guaranteed. Essentially, Utah committed to one more year for each, with the option to bring them back if everything breaks right this year. Favors is a valuable player, as he opens games next to Rudy Gobert, while also playing as Gobert’s primary backup as well. Neto provides steady depth behind Rubio and Exum, as he’s a veteran that Quin Snyder knows he can trust to run the offense.
Utah also added Grayson Allen at the draft. He’ll likely have a light workload as a rookie, assuming the rest of the roster stays healthy. Mitchell has the majority of the shooting guard minutes locked down, and the Jazz have great depth behind him in players like Royce O’Neale, Alex Burks and Thabo Sefolosha. Allen should be a good shooter though, and showed some smart passing in the preseason. This means he could force his way into the rotation before the year is out.
The Jazz also promoted Two-Way player Georges Niang, as they gave him a three-year deal using some of their remaining cap space. Niang has good size for a wing player and is the kind of smart, system oriented player who does well under Snyder.
With almost the entire team back, Utah is a favorite to grab the three seed behind Golden State and Houston. They play stifling defense and benefit from one of the NBA’s best homecourt advantages. If Mitchell can be a little more efficient after an incredible rookie year, the Jazz will be a trendy pick to pull an upset and reach the conference finals.