Additions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Vincent Poirier, Javonte Green, Tacko Fall, Tremont Waters
Losses: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $33 million over.
2018-19 Record: 49-33, lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Analysis: Last season didn’t go at all how the Boston Celtics hoped as they struggled to reintegrate Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the lineup after reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018. The young players who had been so good the season prior stagnated or regressed and the team was plagued by infighting from midseason on. At their best, Boston looked like title contenders. At their worst, they looked like a group of players who couldn’t wait for the season to end.
For most teams, losing a player of Irving’s caliber would qualify as a major blow to the franchise. For the Celtics, it actually represents a fresh start. Out goes Irving and in comes Kemba Walker, who seems thrilled to sign with Boston after eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. Irving is a better player than Walker in a vacuum, but fit matters. In the case of Boston, fit matters a lot. The Celtics want to make sure that players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Hayward are afforded plenty of touches. Walker is a better off-ball player than Irving, and he’s less likely to cause an issue if he doesn’t have the ball on every possession, making it possible for others to shine.
Boston’s other big loss is far more irreplaceable as Al Horford signed with the division rival Philadelphia 76ers. Horford possesses a unique skillset as a big with his shooting, ballhandling, passing and defensive abilities. With no way to replace all of that with one player, the Celtics are trying to do it by committee. Enes Kanter was signed to replace some of the offense that was lost, while a re-signed Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Vincent Poirier are players the team hopes will bring some of the defense the team lost with Horford’s departure.
The other losses are easier to mitigate. Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier were all valuable players who swung between starting and coming off the bench, but Boston has younger options ready to step in for each of them. The Celtics weren’t going to commit big money to Morris or Rozier when they had other players at their position. Baynes was unfortunately caught up in the team’s cap crunch, as well as the Celtics having to clear time for younger big men.
As it stands today, the Celtics are a different team than the previous years, but not necessarily a worse one. Many expect the defense to take a big step back, but Brad Stevens has cobbled together a top-10 defense with less talent in the past. The offense should be just as good, and may even improve with better-fitting pieces. With Hayward looking a lot more confident in the preseason, Tatum and Brown looking like the exciting prospects they were a year ago at this time, and Walker happy to be in Boston, the Celtics might not be contenders, but don’t look for a big step back either.
Additions: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, David Nwaba, Nicolas Claxton
Losses: D’Angelo Russell, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Treveon Graham, Shabazz Napier
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $47 million over.
2018-19 Record: 42-40, lost in Eastern Conference First Round
Analysis: The Brooklyn Nets were one of the feel-good stories of the 2018-19 season. After the disastrous trade with the Celtics that saw Brooklyn convey several high lottery picks to Boston, the Nets rebuilt from nothing. Sean Marks and his staff built a roster of undervalued players and reclamation projects and Kenny Atkinson molded them into a playoff team.
Now? The Nets are pinning their hopes on superstars, as they added Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer. Despite their star stature, both players come with some measure of risk. Durant is almost certainly out for the entirety of the season as he recovers from a torn Achilles’ tendon. At age 30, that’s an injury that has ended, or drastically altered, the career of many players. The hope is Durant returns at, or near, the MVP-level he’s always been at, but that’s an unknown at the moment.
As for Irving, he’s left his last two teams under dubious circumstances. Irving asked for a trade from Cleveland, and then after promising to re-sign in Boston, he changed his mind months later. Neither Cleveland nor Boston were overly despondent to see him go either. Irving is an All-NBA talent and has demonstrated the ability to be one of the best players on a championship team. The Nets are hoping he’ll finally find the balance and happiness he’s wanted now that he’s back home.
In order to add Irving and Durant, the Nets had to clear deck of their own free agents. The big loss was D’Angelo Russell, who blossomed into an All-Star in Brooklyn, but Irving more than replaces him. It’s the depth that team lost that seems worrisome. Ed Davis, Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll were the bulk of the team’s backup frontcourt. In their place, the team added DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler (who will miss the first 25 games due to suspension). The addition of Jordan was chalked up to his good relationship with Durant and Irving. If he’s willing to accept a backup role at this point his career, he’d pair with Jarrett Allen to give the Nets 48 minutes of very good play at center each game. But if Jordan insists on starting, that would cause Allen to take a step back to a reserve role, when he had clearly established himself as a starter. That could be a problem. Prince and Chandler should be solid depth pieces and can swing between both forward spots.
In the backcourt, Brooklyn will be asking Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie to continue their solid play as complementary players, while simultaneously hoping for one or both take a big step forward. Both LeVert and Dinwiddie have signed long-term extensions, and should be solid alongside the team’s new stars.
The Nets are making a gamble that they needed superstars to push things forward. A playoff appearance was never the goal. Winning a title is. That’s not on the docket this season, as Irving will largely be a solo act. The real show starts whenever Durant returns, which is probably a year away.
New York Knicks
Additions: R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Ignas Brazdeikis, Reggie Bullock
Losses: DeAndre Jordan, Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, Lance Thomas, Mario Hezonja, Henry Ellenson, Luke Kornet, John Jenkins
2020 Projected Cap Space: $47 million
2018-19 Record: 17-65, 15th in the Eastern Conference
Analysis: The New York Knicks hit the summer with as much cap space as anyone and a shopping list full of superstars. Unfortunately, an offseason that started to go sideways when the Knicks dropped from first to third at the draft lottery, went further off the rails over the summer. When the dust cleared, the Knicks used all that cap space, but nary a dollar of it on a superstar.
But all isn’t lost. The Knicks smartly structured the vast majority of their signings as one-year or pseudo one-year deals. So, while they struck out on stars, New York will be able to roll over the vast majority of that cap to 2020, when they’ll be one of a handful of teams with maximum cap space available.
For this season, things should be better on the court than last. That’s a low bar, but the Knicks added a lot of veteran talent that should allow them to be competitive. Julius Randle was the one player who got two fully guaranteed years. He’ll give New York a big who can score, rebound and pass. It went somewhat unnoticed because the Pelicans fell off the radar last season, but Randle averaged 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game last season. He should pair with developing young big man Mitchell Robinson to give the Knicks an exciting frontcourt.
Somewhat curiously, the Knicks didn’t stop there. They signed three more veterans who have spent large portions of their careers playing the power forward position, when they added Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis. Morris can swing down a spot to the three, while Gibson and Portis can play at the five, but it seemed to be an over-indulgence to spend so much at one spot. And this is without factoring in that last season’s first round pick, Kevin Knox, is probably best as a power forward.
But it wasn’t just up front that the Knicks created logjams. After drafting wing R.J. Barrett in the first round, New York signed Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. Bullock will miss time with a back injury, but Ellington brings some much-needed shooting to the roster. However, Barrett should see the bulk of the minutes at the two.
New York also complicated their point guard position as they added Elfrid Payton to a mix that already included young guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith and Ntilikina both need time for the Knicks to decide exactly what they have in the young lead guards.
The result is a confusing mix of veterans who are basically on one-year deals and young players who need as many minutes as possible. David Fizdale will have his hands full trying to balance playing time with competing agendas. One thing to keep an eye on: with so many pseudo expiring contracts, New York could be very active in shipping out players at the trade deadline.
The veterans will help the team be more competitive, which will help the kids to some extent. But the Knicks future is with Barrett, Smith, Robinson and Knox. Failure to develop them will be a failure of a season. Their development should be this season’s primary goal in New York, even it means another season of losing.
Additions: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Trey Burke
Losses: Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, Boban Marjanovic, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe, Jonathon Simmons
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $38 million over.
2018-19 Record: 51-31, lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Analysis: In an NBA that has increasingly downsized, the Philadelphia 76ers have supersized their lineup. After adding Al Horford and Josh Richardson as starters, Philadelphia will go: 6’10’’, 6’6’’, 6’9’’, 6’10’’ and 7’0’’ to open games. No other team can match that size, and Philadelphia is hoping that it’s enough to bully opponents into submission.
Horford is a key addition for the Sixers in a lot of ways. Not only is he a talented player who brings an all-around game to the power forward spot, but signing him has also weakened division rivaled Boston. Adding Horford also allows Philly to spot Joel Embiid rest days without severely downgrading to a backup. And Horford should fit in fairly seamlessly, as he can swing from the perimeter to post depending on what space Embiid is occupying.
When Jimmy Butler wanted to leave town for Miami, the only way that was possible was via sign-and-trade, and Philadelphia got back a really good player in Richardson. Richardson can play anywhere from 1-3 and has become a good spot-up shooter. He’ll be the primary defender of opposing point guards in the new lineup. That’s been a weakness for the 76ers, so Richardson’s ability in that arena bears watching.
The other big move was retaining Tobias Harris on a five-year, near-maximum contract. Harris is a terrific scoring forward, but he’s an inconsistent defender and rebounder. That may not come into play with plenty of good defenders and rebounders around him, but if Harris can’t hold his own defending perimeter scorers, it could be an issue.
Beyond adding Horford and Richardson and re-signing Harris, Philadelphia retained some depth by re-signing Mike Scott and James Ennis. Scott is the primary frontcourt reserve, while Ennis may be the best shooter on the team. The Sixers also added Kyle O’Quinn to back up Embiid, and Raul Neto and Trey Burke to give the team some traditional point guard depth.
Two players who have fans in Philly really excited are second-year wing Zhaire Smith and rookie guard Matisse Thybulle. Both players are NBA ready as defenders right now. It’s offensively that they need some more polish. Coaches trust defense, so both Smith and Thybulle should have a shot at minutes this season.
It’s not quite championship or bust for the 76ers, but it’s not far off that either. The five starters are under contract for the next few years. Harris, Embiid and Simmons (as of next season) are signed to what are essentially max deals. This is a roster that has gotten expensive and, beyond Smith and Thybulle, doesn’t have a ton of projectable internal improvement. That makes it imperative to maximize the window while Horford is a top-flight big man. Anything less than a run to the Eastern Conference Finals this season would be a disappointment.
Additions: Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, Dewan Hernandez, Terence Davis
Losses: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $2 million over.
2018-19 Record: 58-24, won 2019 NBA Finals
Analysis: It almost doesn’t matter what the Toronto Raptors do this season, following last year’s dream run to the NBA title. Raptors fans weren’t even overly scorned by Kawhi Leonard leaving town after just one year. Such is life basking in the glow of a championship.
But the NBA calendar moves inexorably forward. And things are moving forward for the Raps without Leonard and Danny Green, who were two key components to the championship. With no cap space to replace them, Toronto’s depth took a hit.
On the plus side, the Raptors return Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell. They’re also bringing back OG Anunoby, who missed the stretch run and the playoffs due to an appendectomy. Anunoby and Powell are expected to replace Leonard and Green in the starting lineup this season. Both players have earned the franchise’s trust that they are ready to handle bigger roles this season.
Toronto needs their returning players to step up, as the offseason signings are an underwhelming group. Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jeffers were buy-low additions, but Nick Nurse recently commented that neither player is ready to help the Raptors right now. Beyond the two veterans, Toronto didn’t add much. Matt Thomas seems poised to help the most of the rest, as he shot 46 and 48% from behind the arc over the last two years in Spain.
It was thought that this year would be somewhat of a reset for Toronto without Leonard and Green. Lowry, Siakam, Gasol and Ibaka were all scheduled to become free agents in 2020. But the Raptors aren’t ready to fully break up their title team just yet, as they reached a one-year contract extension with Lowry and a four-year, maximum extension with Siakam. That doesn’t mean Masai Ujiri won’t be aggressive in moving one of his veterans if the deal helps keep Toronto relevant, but it should keep the familiar faces around for a while longer.
This season is about celebrating last year, while the reins are transitioned from Lowry to Siakam as the franchise player. Toronto won’t compete for a title again, but with continued growth from Siakam and development from Anunoby and Powell, the Raptors will comfortably remain a playoff team.