You Played Yourself: NBA Teams That Blew It This Offseason
There are loads of ways for an NBA team to goof up its offseason.
Some set themselves back by getting too little in return for outgoing stars. Others collected talent in a misguided rush to inch closer to playoff contention.
Impatience, half-measures and an unwillingness to embrace a rebuild can also mangle an NBA summer.
Generally, these specific mistakes stem from a team's lack of self-awareness.
As we run through clubs that failed to see the forest for the trees this summer, we'll do them the courtesy of trying to outline (where possible) the thinking that led to the missteps in question. Maybe it won't satisfy frustrated fans, but at least it'll keep this from being an unmitigated bash-fest.
Running an NBA team is hard. It's just that, based on some recent decisions, some clearly find it harder than others.
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Cavaliers
We're going honorable mention here, even though the Cleveland Cavaliers didn't add significant talent and may have cost themselves leverage in a potential Kyrie Irving deal by not aggressively pursuing a move before his trade request leaked.
In the most basic terms, the Cavs haven't really gotten anything wrong yet because they're still the same team that reached the Finals last year. And the year before. And the one before that.
That's because they still have LeBron James, and his presence means they deserve favored status in the East until something happens to disrupt that norm.
It's still possible the Cavs smooth things over. James and Irving could sit down and agree to hash this out, or at least back-burner the beef until after another Finals run—when James will be a free agent anyway. Failing that, we shouldn't dismiss the chances that trading Irving actually improves the Cavaliers.
What happens if a deal brings back, say, Eric Bledsoe, a veteran shooter and a prospect? When you consider how poorly the Cavs performed with Irving on the court sans James, along with the point guard's shoddy defense, it's not that hard to imagine net gains with new personnel.
The Cavs can't replace Irving's shot-making, but there are other ways they can get better.
Cleveland's offseason has been far messier than expected, but nothing catastrophic has happened yet. And even the theoretical "worst" outcome, losing Irving, doesn't necessarily constitute disaster.
So: honorable mention.
The Sacramento Kings made several signings that would have graded out fantastically—if not for the specific circumstances surrounding the franchise.
George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter will help an exceptionally young Kings team mature. There's value in mentorship, and perhaps the youth on the roster is better off not spending its first post-DeMarcus Cousins season in a full-blown tank.
But there was an opportunity for the Kings to really build something in 2017-18, to truly put the franchise on a path toward redemption. And they decided not to take it.
Sacramento owns its 2018 first-round pick but doesn't have the rights to its 2019 selection, which means that if ever the Kings were seriously going to embrace a rebuild, this was the season to do it. Hill, Randolph and Carter ate up cap space that could have been better used to absorb bad contracts with assets attached. That's what the Brooklyn Nets did by taking on DeMarre Carroll and getting a first- and second-round pick from the Toronto Raptors.
That's how you use cap space when you're a club in need of more assets.
Yes, the Kings have loads of young players as it is. But not all of them are going to pan out. Chances are, none of them will develop into cornerstones.
So why not use cap space to get more picks, let the youth take its lumps and gain experience, get in position for a high lottery selection and bring on the veterans next summer?
Hill, Randolph and Carter will keep the Kings from the top of the lottery, take minutes from players who need them and soak up money that could have been better used.
The upside is a win total in the mid-30s, and the long-range cost feels immense.
Why now? Why not wait just one more year to supercharge this rebuild?
There might be some bias there, as Cleveland was in the hunt for the former Pacer and might be a little sore about coming up empty.
But Victor Oladipo may actually be a negative asset with four years and $84 million on his contract, and Domantas Sabonis hardly looks like a building block after posting a 46.9 true shooting percentage in 81 games as a rookie.
Basically, nothing has changed since The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor sought opinions from several decision-makers in the league earlier this month:
Front-office executives I've chatted with this week at the Las Vegas summer league are still in disbelief. The fact that Indiana didn't get a draft pick still puzzles executives. The Pacers' impatience only looks worse after Hayward chose the Celtics, who had made it known that adding Hayward and George was their ultimate plan. Had they waited just four days, Indiana would have likely been offered a significantly more appealing package than Oladipo and Sabonis.
Even if we accept there was nothing better out there in return for George at the time he was traded, Indy looks foolish from a timing perspective.
Suppose the Pacers had been proactive and traded George at last year's deadline. Or imagine what they could have gotten by waiting until after Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics, who badly wanted George. Consider the possibility that some patience might have made a Kyrie Irving acquisition possible.
Indiana was in an unenviable position. Its star wanting out sapped leverage from negotiations. But when everyone thinks you failed to extract full value in a deal, and reports keep turning up superior return packages, it means you probably handled it wrong.
It was all going so well, too...
The Nets would have gone into 2017-18 as huge offseason winners if they'd only backed away from the deal that brought Allen Crabbe over from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Yes, the Nets dumped Andrew Nicholson's dead money on the Blazers, who promptly waived and stretched the remaining $19.9 million on his contract. And yes, Crabbe shot 44.4 percent from three-point range last year.
But by slotting Crabbe and the remaining $56 million on his three-year deal into their salary sheets, the Nets have clogged their books with the worst kind of contract: an overpay for a fringe starter with limited upside. Worse still, Crabbe creates a positional crunch that could cost Caris LeVert, one of the Nets' few developing prospects, playing time.
It's clear the Nets believe in Crabbe; they were the ones who signed him to an offer sheet last summer, forcing Portland to match. But it's telling that all it took to get Crabbe was dead salary.
The Nets hit homers with the D'Angelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll trades, deals that proved what cap space could do for a team without picks to trade. But this last move was so incongruous, so seemingly devoid of big-picture thinking, that it puts a major dent in an otherwise pristine summer.
The Chicago Bulls' botched 2016 offseason is partly responsible for their inclusion here. If they hadn't given Dwyane Wade a player option on the second year of his deal last summer, the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild could really get moving.
Now, even after getting younger by adding Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for Butler, the full reset still won't commence without a Wade buyout or trade.
But back to that Butler deal.
Roundly criticized, Chicago's decision to move its best player (on a team-friendly max deal signed under the old CBA) simply didn't bring back enough in return. Dunn floundered in his first year, defending with tenacity but showing no signs of contributing on the other end. As an older rookie (he's already 23), his growth prospects aren't great.
LaVine's torn ACL means he won't truly be himself until sometime next season. That means whether the Bulls decide on an extension now or try to judge LaVine's worth in restricted free agency next summer, they'll be doing it with incomplete information.
What we know about a healthy LaVine—he can score efficiently but hurts his team on defense—would make him a dubious max-out candidate to begin with. As the centerpiece of the Butler deal, that kind of one-way game doesn't cut it.
If it was clear internally that there was no possibility of a shared future between Butler and the Bulls, much of this becomes easier to explain. But Butler wasn't an expiring contract like Paul George, and comments he made on Bill Simmons' podcast make it seem as though his relationship with the Bulls wasn't totally shot.
"I mean I thought I was going to be (in Chicago)," Butler said of his exit meeting with the Bulls. "I'm not going to say word for word what they said, but when I left there, I did think I was going to be there."
Bottom line: The Bulls didn't extract nearly enough value for a star player they may not have had to trade in the first place.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks' offseason blunders came in three stages, each with increasing levels of win-stunting severity.
The most defensible decision was signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million contract.
That's correct: Spending that kind of money on a guy whose career season included 14.5 points per game and very little else counts as the easiest move to justify.
The Knicks could have just kept Hardaway in the first place, rather than trading him for Jerian Grant in 2015, but let's move past that for a moment to see the limited positives here.
Hardaway is a 25-year-old wing with a developing scoring touch—one who had marquee moments and showed flashes of more offensive versatility with the Atlanta Hawks than he ever did in New York.
Hardaway will never live up to his salary, but it's not unreasonable to imagine him being a positive contributor. But let's not overlook the fact that nobody else (not even the Hawks) believed the market for Hardaway was so robust.
Which brings us to Ron Baker, whom the Knicks signed to a two-year, $8.9 million contract.
As a rule, when the player breaks news of his own signing, it's a good indication he wasn't the subject of much league-wide interest. How the Knicks concluded Baker was worth more than the minimum is a mystery. And why they gave him a player option on the second year (which negates any possible upside in the deal by giving Baker an out if he outperforms his salary) will baffle historians for centuries.
Finally, the Knicks installed Steve Mills as president, replacing Phil Jackson with an executive who's been with the team for 14 of the past 18 seasons.
This, more than anything, makes the Knicks' offseason a disaster. A franchise that needed change worse than any other signed up for more of the same.