Ranking the Most Overrated Moves of the NBA Offseason
Don't let the NBA offseason's optimistic leanings ruin your nose for nonsense. Not every transaction worth slight praise deserves all the recognition it ultimately receives.
Parsing through a list of this summer's most overrated moves demands a strong stomach. We're not pilfering through low-hanging fruit.
Bad additions and subtractions have already been dutifully destroyed. The focus here turns to applauded, or off-handedly-accepted, decisions that have more cracks in them than advertised.
That doesn't mean they're destined to fail, though they might. It also doesn't mean some of these inclusions won't come back to bite this author in the long run, because a few could.
Leading into the regular season, though, these particular moves aren't worth the acclaim or universal nonchalance they've engendered—even if, in the end, they're not completely indefensible.
7. Los Angeles Clippers Sign-and-Trade for Danilo Gallinari
Danilo Gallinari is an offensive mastermind, so this stings.
Just four players last season added value in every offensive play type, according to NBA Math: Bradley Beal, Kevin Tweet Through It Durant, C.J. McCollum and Gallinari. Eye-test purists won't argue the other three, which makes Gallinari's finish legit.
Some of his shots are still wild, but he makes up for these wayward heaves with an insatiable sweet tooth for trips to the foul line. He puts defenders on skates with his pump-fake-to-dribble-drive-to-step-back-jumper combos, and the most disciplined stoppers continue to bite on his trademark head fakes around the rim.
Among the 105 players who have attempted as many shots as Gallinari since 2010 (3,995), only three have a better free-throw-attempt rate: Jimmy Butler, James Harden and Dwight Howard. That he maintains this charity-stripe frequency while also working so well off the ball should make for a powerful one-two punch beside Blake Griffin.
Harken back to the Los Angeles Clippers' yearslong search for a solution at small forward, and support for this sign-and-trade isn't hard to engineer. Yet, at the same time, optimism must be checked.
Gallinari has missed fewer than 19 games twice in his career. He hasn't even taken the court for the Clippers and already suffered his first setback—a right thumb injury he incurred after punching an opponent during an exhibition game ahead of the Eurobasket tournament.
Most of his minutes also came at the 4 with Denver last year. The Clippers don't have the lineup flexibility to use him as that playmaking power forward. They gave Griffin $171.2 million to man that position, and using him at the 5 profiles as a defensive disaster. The Clippers coughed up 129.2 points per 100 possessions in the scant time (46 minutes) he spent as the lone big, according NBA Wowy, and Gallinari won't provide any defensive relief as a rim-protector.
Investing more than $50 million per year in such a shaky dynamic is excessive. The coup de grace: Completing the sign-and-trade cost the first-round pick acquired from the Houston Rockets as compensation for Chris Paul. The Clippers have no business shelling out draft selections so early into the post-Big Three era. Getting off Jamal Crawford's salary in the process doesn't change that.
6. Los Angeles Lakers Drafting Lonzo Ball
LaVar Ball's inflammatory comments no doubt factor into Lonzo Ball's placement. That much is on us, all of us, for allowing his 50-win guarantees and "Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry" slants to get run, even if it's out of exasperated irony.
But this isn't just about LaVar's piping-hot takes that verge on professional troll jobs. He didn't place Lonzo at No. 45, just ahead of Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, in SLAM's player rankings. Nor did he slot him at No. 63, ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Nicolas Batum, in ESPN's NBA rank.
And it was Los Angeles Lakers team president Magic Johnson, not LaVar, who showed Lonzo a wall of retired team jerseys and told him (per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes): "We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day."
Saddling a 19-year-old with these expectations before ever playing a second in the pros is unfair. Rookies go through learning curves. Even legends-in-waiting take time to marinate. But, right now, he doesn't have the luxury of hiding behind "eventually." He's being peddled as a savior. What happens in the event he isn't that player out of the gate?
The extent to which LaVar has brought this upon Lonzo is up for debate. But outside forces don't have to indulge his schtick—or, worse, let it impact their view. And maybe they aren't. Rookies can be top-50 players, and Lonzo's finish in ESPN's rank isn't much better than Karl-Anthony Towns' 75th-place badge from 2015.
At some point, though, the hype doesn't add up.
Yes, Lonzo won summer league MVP. Yes, he appears to have the sheer basketball IQ to win Rookie of the Year. Yes, his Lakers teammates should take to his devout selflessness more than they would D'Angelo Russell's attack-first mentality. And yes, he could be a transcendent talent.
None of which is unique to Lonzo. Top-two picks are supposed to carry that cachet—minus the reserved spot in the rafters. But everything since the draft makes it seem like he's supposed to be the best player from his class, if not an all-timer, when we cannot know for sure whether the Lakers would have even taken him over Markelle Fultz if given the chance.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves Pick Up Jamal Crawford
Parades weren't thrown after the Minnesota Timberwolves burned through their room exception by bringing in Crawford. But they didn't receive nearly enough flak for their decision, either.
Coach-president Tom Thibodeau needs playmaking, shooting and defense from his backups. Crawford only checks one of those boxes. He can run some point in a pinch, but as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote, he doesn't come with a dependable outside stroke or perimeter stopping power:
"Crawford's porous defense is one thing, but his ball-dominant (and often ineffective) offense that relies upon commandeering possessions and taking risky jumpers won't mesh well with Minnesota's key pieces. It also doesn't help that he shot just 36 percent from behind the arc last year, as well as only 35 percent on catch-and-shoot treys."
Adding Crawford looks more misguided when the Timberwolves didn't assemble the rest of their roster accordingly. They whiffed on Dante Cunningham, a sneakily mobile defender who could have helped offset Crawford in the second unit, and re-signed Shabazz Muhammad, another ball-dominant weapon with an unreliable jumper and zero defensive value.
Price points limit the amount of vitriol that can be spewed. Muhammad's minimum contract won't break the bank. But the fit is awkwardly, if untenably, imbalanced when almost one-quarter of Crawford's shot attempts came off seven or more dribbles last season.
Hiding behind the playmaker umbrella doesn't help the optics. Crawford is fine when part of a multi-headed monster, but he could end up being Jeff Teague's primary backup if Tyus Jones doesn't deliver a meaningful punch.
Waiting on another distributor, or well-established defender, would have been a smarter use of funds. And Minnesota didn't need the benefit of hindsight to see that. The market had long since cooled by the time Crawford signed—it was freezing in the first place, relative to 2016—and more suitable options like Tony Allen and Ian Clark remained on the board.
Even now, as the Timberwolves speed toward training camp, offseason leftovers such as Monta Ellis or Deron Williams project as better fits.
4. Brooklyn Nets Acquiring Allen Crabbe
The Brooklyn Nets pieced together one heckuva offseason. Yours truly gave them an "A" on their mid-July report card, and flipping Andrew Nicholson for Allen Crabbe doesn't detract from their summertime craftiness.
Taking this flyer is a solid, if really good use, of an open-ended timeline. Crabbe is still only 25 and finished fifth in effective field-goal percentage last season among 53 players to hoist at least 300 catch-and-shoot attempts. That deadeye touch should slide seamlessly into head coach Kenny Atkinson's motion offense, and at 6'6", he offers some switchability on the defense—with the caveat he's not yet a neutralizing option in pick-and-roll or one-on-one situations.
Plus, more than anything, it was the Nets who gave Crabbe his four-year, $74.8 million contract. The Portland Trail Blazers merely matched their over-the-top play. They've picked up a player they wanted while lopping off the $19.9 million remaining on Nicholson's pact. And viewed that way, without having to pay him in 2017-18, Crabbe effectively becomes a $12 million cap hit.
As Cleaning the Glass' Ben Falk pointed out, though, this rosy view won't make the contract any easier to trade if Brooklyn goes in another direction. Crabbe will be treated as an $18.5 million player in any hypothetical discussions—a billing to which he'll never live up, unless he becomes a reliable shot-creator and All-Defense candidate.
He also represents the Nets' third soak-up job since the end of last season. They will pay him, DeMarre Carroll and Timofey Mozgov a combined $49.4 million in 2017-18 and $49.9 million in 2018-19. But where they received compensation for Carroll (picks) and Mozgov (Russell), Crabbe's salary was the sole "asset" Portland forked over.
"They could have signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year deal instead of tying up cap space on Crabbe through 2020," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "Depending on what happens with [Jeremy] Lin and other free agents, the Nets may be out of the salary-dump game until then."
Another team would have paid more to rent out the Nets' cap space if they didn't want to join the Caldwell-Pope sweepstakes. Actual interest in Crabbe helps them spin this as a win, and he did waive his trade kicker, but they still had the leverage to extract a pick or young player from the Blazers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers' 1-Year Deal for Amir Johnson
Amir Johnson has earned a fortune playing placeholder. He took home $24 million for his two years of work with the Boston Celtics and will get another $11 million as a one-year stopgap with the Philadelphia 76ers. And good for him.
Philly is a different story.
Nothing's wrong with paying Johnson $11 million. He's a quality rim-runner, a decent paint protector and gradually incorporated the three-pointer into his offensive repertoire, capping his progression with a 40.6 percent clip (27-of-66) during his final year in Boston. His salary doesn't eat into the Sixers' flexibility beyond this year, and they still have enough room to renegotiate-and-extend Robert Covington.
Still, why sign him on July 1? Really, why?
The Sixers didn't have the benefit of peeping the market for a few weeks before landing him, as the Timberwolves did with Crawford, but they, of all teams, had the flexibility to wait. They made their veteran splash with J.J. Redick's one-year, $23 million offering, and tabling the rest of their Benjamins would have enabled them to target an intriguing young player shafted by the unexpectedly tepid market.
Subbing in his $17.7 million deal for Johnson's salary leaves the Sixers with a little under $8 million of spending power, down from the $14-plus million they have now. That hamstrings them as they enter talks with Covington, but who the bleepity bleep cares? They could let his situation leak into next summer anyway, and Caldwell-Pope would have given them an extra wing to evaluate before an offseason in which Covington, Justin Anderson (extension-eligible) and Nik Stauskas (restricted) are all up for immediate or imminent raises.
Leaning on the hindsight disclaimer only gets the Sixers so far. It doesn't exonerate them from acting too quickly. They pounced at the opportunity to pay a big man who will either be buried behind or steal minutes from some combination of Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. They didn't need to know someone like Caldwell-Pope would be hunting for a one-year fix to realize this wasn't necessary.
2. Boston Celtics' Trade for Kyrie Irving
Skip ahead a few years, and this might look stupid.
A 25-year-old Kyrie Irving under contract for two more years (player option in 2019-20) is a better fit for the Celtics' long-term timeline than a 28-year-old Isaiah Thomas on an expiring deal and working his way back from a hip injury.
Immediately, though, this deal poses more pomp than promise for Boston. Irving is the bigger name, but not by far and away the superior player. Thomas has graded out as more impactful over each of the past two seasons, according to NBA Math's Total Points Added.
Make of this what you will. Call Irving a lateral move or upgrade. Either is fine. But Irving's lead over Thomas when both are healthy isn't that substantive—if it exists.
Not to be lost in this: Thomas doesn't need to be the better player. The Celtics also gave the Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder, rookie Ante Zizic and the Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick.
Losing Crowder alone, as previously stated, gives Boston a TPA differential of minus-218.69—a net negative Gordon Hayward's arrival doesn't offset by itself (plus-201.66).
The turnover in this deal alone is nuts. Crowder and Thomas were two of the Celtics' three most-used players in 2016-17, and their exits come on the heels of other collateral damage—namely Avery Bradley, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk.
All told, Boston is losing almost two-thirds of last year's total minutes, a level of instability typically reserved for rebuilding squads. Irving's arrival alone isn't responsible for this seismic shift, and the Celtics are hardly short on quality talent. But this gamble is the riskiest one they made, both because of how much they gave up—that Brooklyn pick could still fall in the top three—and the fact they pulled the trigger after so many other changes.
Things would be different if forecasts accounted for all this upheaval. They don't. As of Aug. 29, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook still had the Celtics winning more games than any other team in the East, per ESPN.com's Ben Fawkes.
Celebrating them as the toast of the conference jumps the gun. This deal is more about the future. And while the present still looks pretty damn good, deeming the Celtics better off before this new product takes the court ignores the gravity of what they're undertaking.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves Give Taj Gibson 2 Years, $28 Million
Here we have another instance of Minnesota getting a free pass.
Taj Gibson's two-year, $28 million deal should be generating more what-the-what buzz. The Timberwolves, again, needed shooters and defenders off the bench. Gibson promises physicality—and a whole lot of offensive rebounds—but he's not a threat outside 10 feet and doesn't finish well enough as a pick-and-roll diver for his screens to negate that lack of range.
Whatever, though. His play style isn't the problem. It's only a problem at all because of how much he's being paid.
Rather than give him $14 million, Minnesota could have, theoretically, signed C.J. Miles and Patrick Patterson—and still had around $1 million to spare.
Free agency doesn't work like this, but that doesn't make the sentiment any less damning. And the Timberwolves last real hope at making up for it, in Cunningham, opted for the New Orleans Pelicans over them, per The Vertical's Shams Charania.
Karl-Anthony Towns' next deal won't kick in until Gibson is off the books, which helps a bit. Paying just over $34 million for a Gibson-Towns-Gorgui Dieng tricycle isn't bad value. But the Timberwolves shouldn't need a rookie-scale bargain to save them. They made Gibson their fourth-highest-paid player to back up the positions—power forward and center—manned by two of last year's three most-used players.
Never mind compliments or total indifference, or even the veteran leadership Gibson promises.
This decision deserves to be skewered.