NBA Free-Agency Report Cards for All 30 Teams so Far
Then, before you know it, the time has come to deliver feedback on everything you've seen—because, as you know, passing judgment on others from afar is among the most important basketball pastimes of all.
These report cards are based exclusively off every team's performance after the draft. Anything that happened beforehand, while subject to discussion, is not part of the final tally.
Everything from trades, signings, player departures and front-office shakeups factor into grades. Teams are judged according to their own roster situations, salary-cap limitations and overall outlooks. A squad without cap space, for example, will not be penalized because it failed to land a superstar.
Confirmed signings and departures matter more than anything, but unfinished business and missed opportunities are fair game in the grading curve. And these results aren't irreversible. There's a lot of offseason left to slog through. Teams have the ability to improve or damage their stock with whatever signings and trades they endorse next.
So smocks on and sleeves up. Some serious red ink is about to get spilt.
Atlanta Hawks: C
Notable Signings/Additions: Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala
Notable Losses: Mike Dunleavy (waived), Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap (sign-and-trade), Thabo Sefolosha
Biggest Power Move: Pounding the reset button
The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding for real this time, even though general manager Travis Schlenk wouldn't cop to it during a conversation with the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore:
"We don’t want to concede to losing. I think a lot of times that what the term rebuilding means, you are conceding to losing. We don’t want to do that. We want to be competitive every night. The term I like to use, we are investing in the future. We have young guys. We have probably five more first-round picks over the next two years to add to this group. We are investing in our future. The young guys we have, we want to keep developing them. We want to keep our flexibility, collect assets, build the guys we have."
Too long, didn't read, loosely translated version: "We're tanking, but I can't really say that, so let's roll with 'investing in our future.'"
With 75 of the Western Conference's 15 teams ready to contend for a championship, it's a good time to rebuild. Atlanta has been tiptoeing around an overhaul since its 60-win season in 2014-15. Props to Schlenk for belly-flopping into it while signing Dewayne Dedmon (two years, $14 million) and Mike Muscala (two years, $10 million) to quality deals.
But the Hawks needed to lose Al Horford (2016) and Paul Millsap for nothing to reach this point. That's not on Schlenk. He didn't join the cause until this past May. But we can't forget Atlanta passed on dealing Millsap specifically for two trade deadlines.
Getting a first-round pick for his departure as part of a three-team blockbuster with the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers was a good move. The Hawks will be flexible moving forward. It's just that there was a more graceful and beneficial way to get here. And now that they are here, they should be doing everything possible to move the three years and $54.3 million left on Kent Bazemore's deal.
Boston Celtics: A
Notable Signings/Additions: Aron Baynes, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris (trade), Daniel Theis, Ante Zizic (2016 draft)
Notable Losses: Avery Bradley (trade), Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller (waived),
Biggest Power Move: Signing Gordon Hayward
After being ridiculed for their lack of participation in the Jimmy Butler and Paul George trades, the Celtics landed their guy. And they got him for almost nothing.
Signing Gordon Hayward cost Avery Bradley, which stinks. He was their best three-and-D asset, and Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder must now spend more time switching onto point guards. But trading him while snagging Marcus Morris, an actual asset, beats out forfeiting the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 pick, Brown or Jayson Tatum.
Bradley is slated for free agency next summer, just like Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics were never going to pay all three. At least one of Bradley and Smart would leave anyway, and Boston offloaded the player who will be more expensive to re-sign.
And as for stretching the defensive job descriptions of their wings, head coach Brad Stevens isn't worried. Positions are a fluid concept to him.
"I don’t have the five positions anymore," he said, per Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press. "It may be as simple as three positions now, where you’re either a ball-handler, a wing or a big. "
This is the direction in which the league is headed, the one the Golden State Warriors have already mastered. The Celtics are closer than anyone to rivaling that versatility. If you dislike their offseason, you're either a Utah Jazz fan, stuck in the 1990s, angry that team president Danny Ainge didn't convince the Indiana Pacers to delay moving George, irrationally high on Kelly Olynyk or irrationally low on Ante Zizic as Olynyk's replacement.
Brooklyn Nets: A
Notable Signings/Additions: DeMarre Carroll (trade)
Notable Losses: Justin Hamilton (trade), K.J. McDaniels (declined team option)
Biggest Power Move: Signing Otto Porter to $106 million offer sheet (Washington matched)
Brooklyn did everything it was supposed to do.
Use salary-cap flexibility to absorb unwanted deals in exchange for first-round picks? Check.
Landing a probable starter as a result of that contract dump? Did it.
Toss a max offer sheet at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Otto Porter? Done.
Include a 15 percent trade kicker and lucrative up-front payout so that Caldwell-Pope's or Porter's teams couldn't match without screwing themselves over ever so slightly? Duh.
Some might lament Brooklyn's decision to take on DeMarre Carroll once the Porter pursuit fell through rather than chase down Caldwell-Pope. We call those party poopers "hair-splitting sticklers." The Nets continue to do smart things and should be lauded for their commitment to savvy long-term plays.
Besides, after grabbing D'Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers, they didn't technically need another wing. They pined for Porter, who is noticeably more valuable than Caldwell-Pope, and then opted for first-round compensation over what would have been a one- or two-year flyer. There's nothing wrong with that.
Charlotte Hornets: C-
Notable Signings/Additions: Michael Carter-Williams
Notable Losses: Ramon Sessions (declined team option)
Biggest Power Move: Holding onto to their mid-level exception
Pretty much all of the Charlotte Hornets' major roster moves came before free agency, with the acquisition of Dwight Howard and selection of Malik Monk at No. 11.
This is our shocked face: 😑
The Hornets never projected to have cap space. Their biggest splashes always needed to come via trade. Striking before free agency, when many other squads weren't as willing to eat salary, was smart.
Adding Michael Carter-Williams on the other hand? That's up for debate. The Hornets clearly didn't want to dip into their mid-level exception. They're uncomfortably close to paying the tax, and adding another sizable salary to the equation only makes it more difficult to slink under the $119 million luxury threshold.
Carter-Williams is long and, if you're desperately pinching pennies, a source of untapped defensive potential. It helps that Charlotte can and will talk itself into using Monk at point guard as well.
Failing to simplify the frontcourt rotation in the aftermath of Howard's arrival isn't as easy to justify. Either Cody Zeller is going to log serious time at power forward (which, yuck), or head coach Steve Clifford will have to expertly juggle and stagger his minutes with Howard and Frank Kaminsky.
Even for a team with no real wiggle room, Charlotte's post-draft activity was patently blah.
Chicago Bulls: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday
Notable Losses: Isaiah Canaan (wavied), Michael Carter-Williams, Joffrey Lauvergne, Rajon Rondo (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Investing $32 million Cristiano Felicio
Let's just say the Chicago Bulls are lucky the Jimmy Butler trade wasn't part of their grade. There's no way they avoid a "D" if we're riffing about how they gave away their own first-round pick when jettisoning one of the 15 best players in the game.
Block that misstep from view, and the Bulls' free-agency approach was fine.
Picking up Justin Holiday on a two-year, $9 million pact is excellent value. He doesn't fit the bill for a rebuilding squad at 28, but Chicago needs competent shooters who try on defense, and he isn't good enough to ruin a tank job on his own.
Waiting out the Nikola Mirotic situation is equally shrewd. Restricted free agents lost a ton of leverage by virtue of not hitting the open market in 2016, and unsigned talents are squandering more by the day. There isn't a team left that's realistically positioned to overpay him. The Bulls might be able to bring him back on the relative cheap and parlay him into a pick or prospect down the line.
Letting go of Isaiah Canaan, Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo isn't something that can be overlooked. These were no-brainer moves, but we're talking about the Bulls. Waiving Rondo specifically shows they're devoted to their rebuilding project.
Cristiano Felicio's four-year, $32 million deal is the Bulls' lone puzzling play thus far. He's not especially young (25), doesn't space the floor beyond 16 feet and isn't a touted rim protector. It seems like they could have saved money by letting his market unfold—assuming there was one.
Cleveland Cavaliers: C
Notable Signings/Additions: Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman (2015 draft pick)
Notable Losses: None
Biggest Power Move: Irritating LeBron James
The Cleveland Cavaliers had two jobs entering the free-agency period: Figure out how to measurably bridge the solar system separating them from the Warriors, and most importantly, don't tick off franchise lifeline LeBron James.
Striking out in the Jimmy Butler and Paul George sweepstakes is whatever. Those were always long shots, and the Pacers (spoiler alert) bungled their return on the latter. Choosing Cedi Osman over Jamal Crawford isn't even a big deal. Aside from James' own interest in him, Crawford only ever made real sense at the veteran's minimum.
It's everything else that should, and has, rubbed the four-time MVP the wrong way. As Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today relayed:
"Expecting an aggressive offseason approach that would close the gap on the champion Golden State Warriors, James soon found his anticipation and optimism diminished after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert dismantled the front office, declining days before the draft and free agency to bring back general manager David Griffin and vice president of basketball operations Trent Redden."
Griffin left the Cavaliers before the draft, so by letter of the offseason law, they can't be killed for his exit. But burning time on a Chauncey Billups courtship only to come up empty-handed and be left without a discernible power structure beyond assistant general manager Coby Altman is one helluva way to follow up the departure of a James favorite.
There's nothing else inherently wrong with Cleveland's free-agency plot line. Keeping Kyle Korver is good. Jeff Green might start hitting threes when catching passes from James. The Cavaliers would be treading water if not for Gilbert's raging refusal to value front-office stability even for appearance's sake.
Dallas Mavericks: B
Notable Signings/Additions: Yogi Ferrell (team option), Josh McRoberts (trade), Dirk Nowitzki
Notable Losses: DeAndre Liggins (trade)
Biggest Power Move: Kind of, sort of steering into a rebuild
Brace yourself. Are you sitting down? Because you should probably be sitting down.
The Dallas Mavericks are rebuilding. And, get this, it's by Mark Cuban's own admission to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon:
"We're rebuilding. Right? There's no question about it. If we were in the East, we would not be rebuilding. We'd be handling things completely different. I think I'm ging to kidnap [Commissioner] Adam Silver and not let him out until he moves us to the Eastern Conference.
"Given where we are, given where the Warriors are and what's happening in the Western Conference, it kind of sealed what we have to do."
We should all be here for this version of Cuban's Mavericks. They aren't chasing expensive low-seeded playoff berths in the name of Dirk Nowitzki, and yet they didn't lose Dirk Nowitzki. He's coming back on a two-year, $10 million deal after they declined his $25 million team option.
Drafting Dennis Smith Jr. isn't part of this grade, but the Mavericks' self-restraint is—and it's earning them bonus points. Not only have they resisted shelling out big-time contracts to outside free agents, but they're slow-playing the Nerlens Noel situation.
Some thought the 23-year-old center would command max and near-max offers. He hasn't, and he won't. The money has dried up. The Mavericks should be able to lock him down at a reasonable rate, which is always a win in restricted free agency. And their marks will climb once they do. As of now, they can only be high-fived for their approach to the situation, not its outcome.
Denver Nuggets: A-
Notable Signings/Additions: Paul Millsap (sign-and-trade)
Notable Losses: Danilo Gallinari (sign-and-trade), Mike Miller (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Pairing Paul Millsap with Nikola Jokic
Swapping out Danilo Gallinari with Paul Millsap is a coup for the Denver Nuggets. They were one of the few teams who could afford to pay a 32-year-old All-Star, and they did so without getting into him for more than two guaranteed seasons. (Team option for 2019-20.)
Millsap pairs perfectly with Nikola Jokic in the frontcourt. He can chase around the most mobile big assignments, be they regular stretch 4s or glorified wings, while Jokic gets to hone his defense as more of a stationary rim protector.
Although Millsap's three-point success rate has plunged below 32 percent in each of the last two seasons, he doesn't need the ball on offense. He'll shoot better than 35 percent from deep beside Jokic, who sees through meters-thick steel, and Denver has room in its offense to let him set up shop on the block or off the dribble.
There's almost no good way to play for now in the revamped Western Conference while continuing to build for later. The Nuggets found one. Their only potential mistake: electing against the addition of a more established floor general. They were linked to George Hill after signing Millsap and had the flexibility to make things happen with a Kenneth Faried salary dump.
Maybe this says everything about the Nuggets' faith in Will Barton, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and even Emmanuel Mudiay. Or perhaps they didn't want to invest much more in a non-contender with Barton, Harris (restricted), Jokic (team option) and Wilson Chandler all nearing new contracts.
Whatever the Nuggets were thinking, they've earned the leeway to think it. They know what they're doing, right down to who they let go. Losing Gallinari isn't nothing, but their existing wing depth and the inbound Millsap rendered him more than expendable.
Detroit Pistons: D
Notable Signings/Additions: Avery Bradley (trade), Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway, Eric Moreland, Anthony Tolliver
Notable Losses: Aron Baynes, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris (trade),
Biggest Power Move: Parting ways with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Repeated questionable decisions are plaguing the Detroit Pistons' free-agency operation.
First they hard-cap themselves by signing Langston Galloway, a quality player who's redundant with Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith in the fold. Then they flip Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley, a justifiable, if sharp-witted, move that prompts them to make a controversial one by renouncing the rights to restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
This is not OK.
It's not that the Pistons' intentions aren't clear. They are. They didn't want to give Caldwell-Pope more than $80 million over five years, according to SI.com's Jake Fischer. He balked, so they did, too.
These offseason moves still don't make that much sense under the circumstances. The Pistons essentially turned Caldwell-Pope and Morris into Bradley, who will command big money as a free agent next summer. That's...something.
And it's not even the worst something. The reaction to all of this would be different if the Pistons afforded themselves the flexibility to let the Caldwell-Pope debacle play out. But they surrendered that because why?They just had to sign Galloway with the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception right out of the gate? That doesn't track.
Coach-president Stan Van Gundy is high on Stanley Johnson, and if he breaks out next season, all is forgiven. Maybe Caldwell-Pope's year-end slump follows him to Los Angeles, absolving Detroit of all criticism. But pivoting in this direction, away from an exciting 24-year-old prospect, isn't a wait-and-see move. It's one you make only if your team is undeniably better off. And the Pistons aren't.
Golden State Warriors: A+
Notable Losses: None
Biggest Power Move: Paying both Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston
Serious question for anyone expecting Golden State to receive less than perfect marks: How's the Cleveland summer treating you?
Like usual, the Warriors took their best-case scenario and made it better. They didn't just keep their most important free agents. That wouldn't have been enough. They brought back everyone while getting Kevin Durant for nearly $10 million less than his max salary. And thank their lucky stars they did. They needed to pay market value for Stephen Curry this time around.
Imagine how much it would have sucked to actually fork over full price for all of their superstars.
Where the Cavaliers picked up Jose Calderon and Jeff Green, the Warriors added Omri Casspi and Nick Young and guaranteed they'll never shoot under 75 percent on spot-up threes again. And this doesn't even include them purchasing Jordan Bell from the Bulls for a cool $3.5 million. It doesn't count toward their grade, but it doesn't need to. (Also: wow.)
JaVale McGee's status is the sole wrinkle in Golden State's free-agency masterpiece. He remains unsigned and is unhappy the team handed its taxpayer's mid-level exception to Young, according to the Mercury News' Marcus Thompson. Losing him wouldn't be insignificant, but we needn't pretend he's somehow more than nonessential.
Every team that went for it this summer rather than bending to the Warriors' window deserves a pat on the back. Their ambition, courage, bravado and Sam Cassell dances are inspiring.
After looking at Golden State's offseason, though, they also feel pointless.
Houston Rockets: A
Notable Signings/Additions: Tarik Black, Luc Mbah a Moute, Nene, Chris Paul (trade), P.J. Tucker
Notable Losses: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams
Biggest Power Move: Chris Paul trade
Extracting Chris Paul out of Hollywood is enough to win the offseason on its own. But the Houston Rockets haven't stopped there.
Adding Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker helps unlock lineups oozing matchup nightmares. Either one of them can defend power forwards, and Trevor Ariza lets them switch every wing combination while stashing James Harden on more palatable assignments.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni should not be—and probably isn't—above rolling out a Mbah a Moute-Tucker-Ariza-Harden-Paul lineup. Mbah a Moute is a sneaky post defender, and Tucker has the vinegary vim to tussle with certain bigs. Between the two of them, the Rockets can have the 4 and 5 on relative lock within baby Death Squad combinations.
Some of the optics on this change if Carmelo Anthony enters the fold. Talks with the New York Knicks remain stalled, according to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears, and Houston's defensive appeal starts to dip if they're forced to cough up Ariza in potential deals.
Failing an inexplicably lopsided offer for Anthony, the Rockets rank among free agency's biggest winners. Establishing offensive balance between Harden and Paul is their only potential hiccup, and while the one-ball rule prevents an "A+," the 50 percent clip State Farm's chief endorser posted on catch-and-shoot threes last season is blistering enough for yours truly to hate himself by the end of this sentence.
Indiana Pacers: D
Notable Signings/Additions: Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph (trade), Victor Oladipo (trade), Domantas Sabonis (trade)
Notable Losses: Monta Ellis (waived), Paul George (trade), C.J. Miles, Jeff Teague
Biggest Power Move: Passing on better Paul George trades
The Pacers mucked up the Paul George trade. It's perfectly fine to say this, because it's true.
It doesn't matter that his intent to leave caught them off guard (it shouldn't have), or that they didn't have leverage, or that remaining entrenched in mediocrity was their muse. They could have acquired more for their top-20 player.
Indiana turned down a three-team trade with Cleveland and Denver that would have netted Gary Harris, according to The Undefeated's Mike Wise. If chasing seventh- and eighth-place postseason bids was the goal, the Pacers could have cut out the middle guy (Denver) and traded for Love straight up. Wait just a little longer, until the dust settled in free agency, and the Celtics probably construct an offer around Avery Bradley and top-tier picks.
Instead, the Pacers agreed to take on Victor Oladipo's four-year, $84.4 million deal and a sound, if unspectacular, prospect in Domantas Sabonis. That return feels aimless—kind of like every move since.
Snagging Cory Joseph beefs up the backcourt rotation, and neither Bojan Bogdanovic (two years, $21 million) nor Darren Collison (two years, $20 million) is on a bad deal. But what are the Pacers trying to be?
Trading George and cutting ties with Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles and Jeff Teague should mark the start of a reset. Bottoming out in small markets is hard, and something the Pacers won't try to do. But they needed to figure out a sufficient compromise.
Striving to be perennially OK isn't it.
Los Angeles Clippers: C+
Notable Signings/Additions: Patrick Beverley (trade), Sam Dekker (trade), Danilo Gallinari (sign-and-trade), Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell (trade), DeAndre Liggins (trade), Willie Reed, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams (trade)
Notable Losses: Jamal Crawford (trade), Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah a Moute, Chris Paul (trade), J.J. Redick
Biggest Power Move: Going all-in on next season without Chris Paul
Losing three starters from a 51-win playoff squad is, in most cases, the beginning of a thorough rebuild.
Unless you're the Clippers.
Bringing back Blake Griffin on a five-year max was the right call. We can quibble later over how that deal will look two or three years down the line. The Clippers have a 28-year-old, at-times-injury-prone superstar who would have garnered max offers from at least a half-dozen other teams, and they elected to play the ace up their sleeve with that fifth year.
Faulting them for that is lazy—especially when there's so much else to nitpick.
Three years and $65 million is too much for Danilo Gallinari when you can't play him almost exclusively at the 4 and are doling out a first-round pick you just acquired in the Chris Paul trade. And on that note: What in the bleeping bleep are the Clippers thinking? They have no business choppering out a first-round pick after losing Paul. Doc Rivers' brand remains strong.
Yes, the Clippers are deeper. But they're sniffing the luxury tax without any clear path to embracing the ground-up reinvention typically associated with the loss of a top-10 player.
Playing out next season with Griffin, the return from the Rockets trade and maybe Milos Teodosic would have represented a happy medium. Getting into bed with Gallinari and going all out to field a playoff hopeful in a loaded Western Conference is taking things too far.
Los Angeles Lakers: A-
Notable Signings/Additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Notable Losses: Tarik Black (waived), David Nwaba (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Remaining transfixed on 2018
Foresight and patience look good on the Lakers. Cross-country pettiness does, too.
ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne said during a SportsCenter hit that the Pacers didn't want to send Paul George to Los Angeles out of spite (h/t Lakers Nation's Trevor Lane). The decision to hold serve and prioritize next summer's flexibility was, on some level, made for the Lakers.
But they could have figured more prominently into the conversation. That they didn't is refreshing, and a testament to the vision set forth by team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.
"The Lakers’ holding firm on their stance is a show of bustling confidence that George will be one of the players they sign next summer," Silver Screen & Roll's Drew Garrison wrote. "Every single report points to the Lakers being unwilling to even discuss Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram in any trade for George, and clearly that was the case or the Thunder wouldn’t have been gifted an extra at-bat for its future by Indiana."
Refusing to cede assets for a player you can sign outright later seems like a mindless concept. It's also not one the Lakers could be trusted to grasp before now. And they've been rewarded for their cap preservation and restraint with a one-year marriage to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a player who would normally be out of reach under these circumstances.
Legitimate questions remain. The Lakers must find a taker for Luol Deng's contract over the next year, and from there, they'll need to poach the stars they're waiting on. But they haven't halted their rebuild to salvage pipe dreams. Worst-case scenario, they soldier on without another star, but with plenty of spending power, one year of face-time with Caldwell-Pope and a pair of top-two prospects in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
Memphis Grizzlies: C+
Notable Signings/Additions: Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Rade Zagorac (2016 draft)
Notable Losses: Vince Carter, Zach Randolph
Biggest Power Move: Moving on from Grit n' Grind
All things considered, the Memphis Grizzlies are having an alright offseason. They didn't have that much money to play around with, and moving on from aging vets like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and, presumably, Tony Allen was never going to be easy.
Memphis has managed to plug some holes on the cheap with Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore—unremarkable additions who should help the team finish better than 28th in pace while playing more four- and five-out lineups.
If not for the JaMychal Green situation, the Grizzlies might've scraped together a "B." But he remains unsigned at this writing, and his agent, Michael Hodges, wasn't exactly a beacon of good vibes on July 4.
"I’m looking at two offer sheets and sign-and-trades," he told the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery. "Seems to us Memphis is going in a different direction."
Whatever you think about Green, however much you believe his value was propped up by playing beside Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies need him. He can switch more defensive assignments than anyone else they have, and his offensive development remains paramount unless Chandler Parsons returns to form.
Hypothetical points aren't being deducted for how the Grizzlies have tackled Green's restricted free agency. They levied an initial offer, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. Waiting for someone to match is an acceptable play.
Still, this dance isn't like the one between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. The Grizzlies are paying $74.2 million for Gasol, Parsons and Mike Conley next season. They're not rebuilding; they're trying to hang tight in the Land of Superpowers—something they can't reasonably fake doing without Green.
Miami Heat: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters
Notable Losses: Chris Bosh (waived), Josh McRoberts (trade), Willie Reed
Biggest Power Move: Doubling down on last year's 30-11 finish
Whiffing on Gordon Hayward doesn't impact the Miami Heat's grade. He was flagged for Beantown the moment Brad Stevens assumed the head-coaching reins in 2013, and they, unlike 27 other teams, were at least able to secure a sit-down.
Wasting time on Hayward also didn't cost the Heat elsewhere. Funneling $60 million into James Johnson and $52 million into Dion Waiters adds up, but they don't have the look and feel of truly terrible deals. Miami was even able to capitalize on Hayward's eventual decision. The Celtics renounced Kelly Olynyk to make room for the All-Star forward, and the Heat scooped him up on a four-year, $50 million agreement.
Put all this together, and things start to get murky—unsettling and reckless, even.
Miami now has $162 million committed to Johnson, Olynyk and Waiters over the next four years. That's a lot of coin to re-invest in a team that started last season 11-30, with a bottom-two offense.
Footing the bill for career years from Johnson and Waiters is one leap. Signing Olynyk is a different kind of risky. The Heat sparked their turnaround with a lot of small-ball lineups. Three bigs figure prominently into next year's rotation—Johnson, Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside.
Stir in the return of Justise Winslow and his broken jumper, and it's really four. The Heat aren't necessarily steering into last year's half-season of magic. They're trying to repackage it, with a much higher price tag, and there are few reassurances in that blueprint.
Milwaukee Bucks: B+
Notable Signings/Additions: Tony Snell
Notable Losses: None
Biggest Power Move: Giving Derrick Rose a second meeting
Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe didn't leave the Milwaukee Bucks with any wiggle room by opting into the last years of their contracts. They're presently a taxpaying team, albeit just barely, which isn't conducive to making large-scale changes.
Locking up Tony Snell on a four-year, $44 million deal early in the process remains an underrated move. By getting him at a fair price, the Bucks are one small midseason salary dump away from evading the tax line. Delaying his new deal might've left him subject to a Tim Hardaway Jr. special—an obnoxious overpay from a desperate franchise that, if matched, would've coaxed Milwaukee into some tough decisions.
Alas, the Bucks are winners by virtue of staying the same. The Eastern Conference is worse than last season, and Milwaukee is working off a 42-win campaign anchored by a 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo who hasn't yet reached his peak.
Holding multiple meetings with Derrick Rose is cause for skepticism, but it's minimal. The Bucks cannot offer him more than the taxpayer's mid-level exception, and he would presumably join the cause as a second-unit maestro behind both Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon.
Minnesota Timberwolves: B
Notable Signings/Additions: Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague
Notable Losses: Omri Casspi, Shabazz Muhammad (renounced), Nikola Pekovic (waived), Ricky Rubio (trade)
Biggest Power Move: Locking up Jeff Teague right away
Concerns over the Minnesota Timberwolves' offensive spacing are a tad overblown. They didn't reel in a lights-out shooter, but Jeff Teague is more of an outside threat than Ricky Rubio, and their offense wasn't chopped liver in the first place.
Minnesota finished 10th in points per 100 possessions last season while putting down almost 35 percent of its three-point attempts. That conversion rate will climb without the addition of a C.J. Miles or J.J. Redick. Karl-Anthony Towns (36.7 percent) is another year deeper into his career, and playing next to Jimmy Butler will free up Andrew Wiggins for more catch-and-fire looks.
Buying into this default improvement let the Timberwolves go for quantity over specificity. Kyle Lowry would have been the better fit, but prying him from the Toronto Raptors doesn't leave enough rom for Taj Gibson. Choosing him and Teague over one addition is not an incomprehensible stance.
And yet, Minnesota still feels a bit too clunky.
Teague might turn out to be a noticeable upgrade over Rubio, but the Timberwolves will have some warts to work through up front, where Towns is now their best floor-spacer. Gibson and Cole Aldrich don't shoot threes, while Justin Patton will be lucky to see the court. Nemanja Bjelica has the makings of a stretch 4, but his three-point accuracy plummeted below 32 percent as a sophomore.
Too much of the Timberwolves' offensive potential rests on Gorgui Dieng continuing to expand his range and Jamal Crawford and Tyus Jones combining to shoulder backup playmaking duties. That's a little too precarious for prevailing tastes—particularly when they would've had the financial juice to sign Miles or another marksman if they passed on paying Gibson $28 million over the next two years.
New Orleans Pelicans: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo
Notable Losses: None
Biggest Power Move: Forming a Jrue Holiday-Rajon Rondo backcourt
Defending Jrue Holiday's five-year, $126 million contract isn't hard. The New Orleans Pelicans had no choice.
Showing him the door wouldn't have left them with enough money to find a worthy replacement, and they needed to compensate him for the concessions he'll be making in the heart of his prime next to DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. There are worse things than paying near-max money for an above-average point guard through his 31st birthday.
What's happened since isn't as easy to spin.
New Orleans investigated a trade for Reggie Jackson, according to Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto, because it obviously makes sense to pursue a point guard with more than $50 million left on his contract after signing another one for $126 million.
Nothing ever materialized on that front, but the Pelicans are persistent seekers of bedlam, so they signed Rajon Rondo...to start beside Holiday. There's a better-than-good chance this doesn't end well.
Davis and Cousins are capable snipers at the 4 and 5 spots, but New Orleans needed to boost its court balance around them. Signing the ball-dominant Rondo, a career 30.4 percent marksman from distance, to play with a point guard who shot under 31 percent on spot-up threes last season runs against the grain—unless the Pelicans are dead certain Rondo's 37 percent knockdown rate from downtown these last two years is his new normal.
New York Knicks: C-
Notable Signings/Additions: Ron Baker, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Notable Losses: Justin Holiday, Maurice Ndour
Biggest Power Move: Overpaying Tim Hardaway Jr.—for the culture
Please save all benefit-of-the-doubt counterarguments for teams that deserve them.
Canning Phil Jackson helped the Knicks save face. Tabbing Scott Perry as general manager is, objectively, a good move. But New York's free-agency victories stop there.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s four-year, $70.6 million deal is proof the Knicks haven't really changed—the "greatest sign of their dysfunction" a rival executive told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck.
Freshly promoted team president Steve Mills slung some bunk during Perry's introductory presser about the need to be over the top when courting rival free agents, but the Hawks weren't willing to go much higher than $48 million for Hardaway, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. There was zero need for New York to ante up another $23 million. And even if there was, Mills ponied up for the wrong reasons.
"As we look at the numbers, we believe Tim is a starting 2-guard in this league, our trajectory for him is to be a starting 2-guard," he said, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "[He has] the capability of being a ... starting 2-guard for the rest of his career. And those guys average 16, 16.5 million dollars today."
This isn't 2016, when steep contracts were flying around all over the place. Teams shouldn't be paying more than an average of $17.5 million per year for players they deem starters. Those salaries should be earmarked for those who can be a top-three contributor on a contender.
Hardaway isn't that, and the Knicks haven't come close to showing they can turn anyone into that. This passing grade is based solely on their commitment to a youth-driven reboot—flawed and misinterpreted as their vision might be.
Oklahoma City: A+++
Notable Signings/Additions: Raymond Felton, Paul George (trade), Jerami Grant (team option), Patrick Patterson, Andre Roberson
Notable Losses: Taj Gibson, Victor Oladipo (trade), Domantas Sabonis (trade)
Biggest Power Move: Renting Paul George(?)
Ten out of 10 scientists* agree: It is physically impossible to portray the Oklahoma City Thunder's free-agency results in a bad light.
Rolling the dice on a Paul George rental is the biggest risk they took, and considering what they gave up to land him, it's hardly a shot in the dark. Either he stays, and they have the perfect superstar complement to Russell Westbrook, or he leaves, and they begin a rebuild without Victor Oladipo's four-year, $84.4 million contract weighing them down.
Oklahoma City's other moves have been similarly win-win.
Andre Roberson isn't suddenly shooting like Kawhi Leonard, but his three-year, $30 million deal is cheaper than the four-year, $48 million extension the Thunder offered him last fall. Raymond Felton isn't the best backup point guard in the league, but he's more reliable than Semaj Christon.
Most impressively, the Thunder pulled in Patrick Patterson with the most team-friendly deal of the offseason. He'll make less over the next three years ($18 million) than the Raptors are paying Serge Ibaka in 2017-18 alone ($20.1 million).
Ibaka is a touch more consistent than Patterson, most notably on offense, but the newest member of the Thunder is more versatile. Head coach Billy Donovan can unleash him at the 5 next to George, Roberson, Westbrook and Jerami Grant, as a Death Squad knockoff. That lineup won't space the floor worth a darn, but it's a defensive nightmare for opponents—one of many options Oklahoma City has from a roster that now looks like a top-four contender in the West.
Orlando Magic: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons
Notable Losses: Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Watson (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Opting not to add proven shooters
Indifference rules the day when looking at the Orlando Magic. Their free-agency developments incite nothing—no strong feelings of approval and displeasure.
And after the way Orlando closed out last summer, this is probably a good thing.
On the one hand, the Magic took the NBA's second-worst outside-shooting offense (32.8 percent) and tacked on Shelvin Mack and Jonathon Simmons, neither of whom posted a 31 percent clip from beyond the arc. On the other hand, they didn't get into either of them for too much money or try overpaying anyone with a recognizable face—something we in the Bare-Minimum Expectations Department like to call progress.
Plus, Simmons notched a 35.1 percent three-point clip from long range during the playoffs and finished 2015-16, his rookie season, with a 38.3 percent success rate (18-of-47).
The Magic aren't the San Antonio Spurs, but Simmons' flashes of athleticism, developing vision, situational finishing at the rim and, yes, three-point touch are worth a three-year, $20 million stab.
Philadelphia 76ers: A
Notable Signings/Additions: Robert Covington (team option), Amir Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz (2016 draft), J.J. Redick
Notable Losses: Gerald Henderson (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Preserving long-term flexibility
Don't bother fighting this grade. Embrace it. Sing its praises. Tell the world how the Philadelphia 76ers did free agency the right way. It won't hurt. Promise.
Anyone up in arms about the Amir Johnson ($11 million) and J.J. Redick ($23 million) signings can check their knee-jerk bitterness at the door. Committing a combined $34 million to the two of them would be a disaster over the long haul, but the Sixers are only on the hook for one year.
Overpaying them in the short term is a stroke of genius. Philly has added strong veteran personalities to one of the league's youngest locker rooms while elevating its place in the wide-open Eastern Conference—all without sacrificing big-picture flexibility.
If Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons remain healthy and play up to snuff, the Sixers have given them the surrounding support to flirt with a playoff appearance. If health becomes an issue or their cornerstone prospects don't have the intended impact, they'll be ready to re-evaluate their situation next summer without any onerous contracts reminding them that they prematurely bought into the hype surrounding their latest iteration.
Either way, the Sixers project to have gobs of cap space in 2018, when there will be fewer cash-flush suitors vying for superstar affections. Embiid is extension-eligible now, so his new deal, whether it comes this fall or next summer, could throw some rain on the parade. But even then, with him getting a raise, Philly will be armed to leave an enviable dent on the free-agent market.
Phoenix Suns: B+
Notable Signings/Additions: Alan Williams
Notable Losses: Leandro Barbosa (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Pivoting into full-tilt rebuild
The Phoenix Suns are just like you and me: At some point this summer, they looked at the Western Conference, saw that it's overrun with powerhouses and postseason hopefuls and deftly decided: "Yeah, we're out."
Sources told ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski the Suns pulled out of the Paul Millsap sweepstakes to focus on their youth movement. And so far, so good.
Phoenix hasn't overpaid any mid-tier free agents or wrapped itself up in the usual race for a star destined to sign with another team. Alan Williams is back on a three-year, $17 million deal, and Alex Len continues to float around the restricted-free-agent pool—all good signs.
Renounce Len's cap hold, and the Suns are looking at more than $20 million in space after waiving Leandro Barbosa. Other than the Bulls and Mavericks, there isn't another team that can chisel out that much flexibility with a flick of the wrist. Phoenix is perfectly positioned to absorb unwanted deals that come with pot-sweetening picks and prospects as the summer wears on and into next season.
Fully committing to a rebuild, of course, eventually means deep-sixing the contracts of Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley and, if the Suns can find someone, Brandon Knight. But general manager Ryan McDonough might wait until around the February trade deadline, when the Association's buyers market is more defined and aggressive.
For now, credit must be given where credit is due. And the Suns deserve kudos for recognizing the West's pecking order is too wild for them to do anything special right now.
Portland Trail Blazers: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: None
Notable Losses: Festus Ezeli (waived), Tim Quarterman (trade)
Biggest Power Move: Throwing a wrench into Houston's pursuit of Carmelo Anthony
The Rockets thought they found a team to facilitate a Carmelo Anthony trade in the Portland Trail Blazers.
But the Blazers had—and continue to have—other plans, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
"Portland's players are reaching out to Melo," he said on ESPN's The Jump (via KGW's Jared Cowley). "Portland would love to get involved in this and become a team that Melo would consider. ... They would like for Carmelo to waive his no-trade and go to Portland, but right now, that's not something Melo's considering."
Ah, well. The Rockets can't blame the capped-out Blazers for trying. They don't have the scratch to leave a mark on free agency, so they might as well recruit the disgruntled Anthony with texts, Hug-E-Grams and photoshopped Instagram posts.
Trying to blow up the Melo sweepstakes is worth a "B" to "B+" by itself—mostly because the Blazers are basically heel-turning all over the Rockets. Points were arbitrarily subtracted from the final marks since the rumor mill isn't alive with their attempts to pawn off Meyers Leonard or Evan Turner.
Such is the risk of people with red markers going on report-card power trips.
Sacramento Kings: B+
Notable Signings/Additions: Vince Carter, George Hill, Zach Randolph
Notable Losses: Arron Afflalo (waived), Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Eric Moreland, Anthony Tolliver (waived)
Biggest Power Move: Prioritizing culture over pipe dreams
Place whatever (justifiable) biases you hold against the Sacramento Kings on the back burner. We should all be proud of their approach to free agency this year.
Paying Vince Carter (one year, $8 million), George Hill (three years, $57 million) and Zach Randolph (two years, $24 million) doesn't advance their rebuild in the conventional sense. But these short-term obligations don't stunt their reinvention, either. As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote:
"Look: I get assuming everything the Kings do is dumb. They've earned skepticism. These signings, including Thursday's one-year deal for Vince Carter, are not dumb. You cannot rip the tanktastic Sixers for failing to surround their baby bigs with a veteran point guard who could, you know, set up the offense, and then rip the Kings for signing Hill.
"These deals may thread the needle in bringing veteran mentors who won't produce enough wins to derail the tank, or clog Sacto's cap sheet beyond this season. The Kings are still going to be really bad."
Hill might add some digits to Sacramento's win column, but that's fine. His mentorship of De'Aaron Fox, which is enhanced by his capacity to play off him, is more important. The Western Conference has 12 teams that can talk themselves into playoff pursuits. The Kings won't want for losses.
And for the first time in approximately forever, they won't pine for a desirable culture.
So let the Sacramento Grizzlies bask in the afterglow of their pretty-good, not-at-all-terrible free-agency transactions. They've earned it.
San Antonio Spurs: B
Notable Signings/Additions: Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili(!), Joffrey Lauvergne, Patty Mills, Brandon Paul
Notable Losses: Dewayne Dedmon, Jonathon Simmons
Biggest Power Move: Flying under the radar
After two consecutive summers of pitching A-listers, the Spurs were overdue for a trademark quiet, understated, un-sexy free agency—though, to their credit, they tried to be cool and hip.
Eventually, though, they settled into a low-key spot on the offseason food chain.
Rudy Gay will help introduce more small-ball lineups into the rotation if he successfully recovers from his Achilles injury, Brandon Paul is a long guard who could be the ideal replacement for Jonathon Simmons and Joffrey Lauvergne might find a mentor in Davis Bertans. Otherwise, the Spurs' most impactful move was re-signing Patty Mills (four years, $50 million)—a necessary play when Dejounte Murray is but a sophomore and Tony Parker is rehabbing a torn left quad.
There's nothing drastic to see here, and it's tough to know whether that's good or bad. San Antonio overachieved by winning 61 games last year, and running it back with just a few tweaks could portend significant regression.
Or, more likely, it could mean what it always does: The Spurs are going to be really friggin' good and embarrass any skeptics. That, along with the spending power they preserved for 2018, is enough for a rah-rah reaction.
Toronto Raptors: B-
Notable Signings/Additions: Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles
Notable Losses: DeMarre Carroll (trade), Cory Joseph (trade), Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker
Biggest Power Move: The absence of a power move
Faced with the prospect of an untenable luxury-tax bill, the Raptors were always going to aim for maintenance amid salary-shedding.
This is what that looks like.
Investing a combined $165 million in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka over the next three years equates to paying a lot more for a slightly older version of the same thing. C.J. Miles' lethal spot-up shooting and switchy defense are phenomenal gets, but it's difficult to feel good about Toronto's defensive setup following the exits of Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker.
At the same time, there's nothing else the Raptors could have done without racking up tax penalties or sacrificing star power in Ibaka or Lowry for depth retention.
Neither option sits well. Diving into the luxury tax for an identical roster stings no matter the situation, let alone after getting swept by the toast of the Eastern Conference, and passing on Ibaka to keep Patterson and Tucker is the type of choice that puts team president Masai Ujiri's job on the line.
Fortunately for the Raptors, the East is more of a joke than last year. They should be able to run in place despite hemorrhaging depth.
Utah Jazz: B+
Notable Signings/Additions: Joe Ingles, Jonas Jerebko, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh
Notable Losses: Boris Diaw (waived), Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Shelvin Mack
Biggest Power Move: Playing for next year in spite of Gordon Hayward's exit
Only so many negative takes can be lobbed the Jazz's way after Hayward's relocation. It's not their fault he left. Free agents leaves. It happens.
Harping on how they handled his restricted free agency in 2014 is dumb. A perfect storm of events, including that, paved his path to Boston. The Celtics offered him the unique opportunity to play for his college head coach, Brad Stevens, while ratcheting up his All-Star selections and title chances in a laughably bad Eastern Conference.
Utah is more prepared for life without Hayward than many realize. Some moves don't make as much sense without him—signing a 29-year-old Joe Ingles to a four-year, $52 million deal, for starters. But the general response before and after Hayward's exit leaves this team firmly in the playoff hunt.
Laboring through all those injuries last year helps just as much. Rudy Gobert logged nearly 200 minutes of court time without the since-departed Hayward, Boris Diaw and George Hill, during which time the Jazz outscored opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions—akin to a second-place net rating.
Small samples can be misleading, and the Jazz weren't squaring off against starters in every one of those minutes. But they still added Jonas Jerebko, Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha to a nucleus of players that's already shown it can survive small stretches without big-name players when left untouched. (Rookie Donovan Mitchell isn't part of this post-draft package, but it bears mentioning his summer-league ascension gives Utah yet another bullet in the chamber.)
And when that extra depth doesn't come at the stark expense of big-picture flexibility, there's no underselling it.
Washington Wizards: B
Notable Signings/Additions: Otto Porter, Jodie Meeks, Mike Scott
Notable Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic, Trey Burke (no qualifying offer)
Biggest Power Move: Paying the luxury tax (probably)
With no space to spare, the Washington Wizards' free-agency mission statement was easy: Re-sign Otto Porter or bust.
Letting him walk for whatever reason—including luxury-tax bills—was the only way the Wizards could fail. They matched the Nets' offer sheet, trade kicker and all, so they are fine.
Accepting life in the luxury tax is worth a small bump. They dipped into the taxpayer's mid-level exception to grab Jodie Meeks, a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter who will feast off John Wall's passes if healthy, and shook the Magic 8-Ball with small-ball 4 Mike Scott.
Bidding farewell to Bojan Bogdanovic's sharp shooting cuts, but it doesn't gash. Meeks should replace his dead-eye marksmanship for one-third of the cost, and running four- or five-out lineups with Bogdanovic at power forward is a tried-and-true defensive catastrophe.
Washington's free-agency experience has been, in a word, solid—which, for a reigning second-round team from the East, should result in an extra five to seven wins.