Every NBA Team's Biggest Boneheaded Offseason Decision
Navigating the treacherous, often uncharted, offseason waters is a perilous task for NBA teams.
Do they want to sign certain players? If they do, how much money can they offer without either insulting the sought-after contributors or creating unnecessary financial burdens? What about the trade proposals that invariably emerge or the drafting processes that so often resemble little more than educated crapshoots?
Mistakes are almost inevitable, and it's those that we're looking to uncover while poring over every aspect of the 2018 offseason.
Not every team has made one of those boneheaded decisions, but those organizations are fewer and farther between than the ones who might want to make use of a time machine. Some poor choices are worse than others, as well.
Along those lines, note that we re-used text for the franchises that made the biggest of big mistakes, since we just covered those in detail. Hopefully your rooting interest managed to avoid that ignominy.
The Boston Celtics brought back Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes on reasonable deals, used a first-round pick on Robert Williams III's high upside and didn't lose anyone of note while adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward into the mix after last campaign's season-ending injuries. Maybe you want to critique them for failing to land Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs, but that hardly qualifies as a mistake when the asking price was so lofty.
General manager Sean Marks just keeps making a name for himself, this time inking four rotation-caliber players on the cheap—Ed Davis (one year, $4.4 million), Treveon Graham (two years, $3.2 million), Joe Harris (two years, $16 million) and Shabazz Napier (two years, $3.8 million)—while picking apart the trade market to gain more assets. Dwight Howard, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur were acquired (and Howard was subsequently waived) to gain access to a few additional draft-day selections, all while preserving the Brooklyn Nets' current core and future flexibility.
Golden State Warriors
Jonas Jerebko will address a significant need with his three-point shooting off the pine. DeMarcus Cousins gave the Golden State Warriors access to yet another 2017-18 All-Star, even if he's coming off an Achilles injury that ended his tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans. Jacob Evans was a strong addition in the draft. They didn't lose anyone more important than David West or Zaza Pachulia.
If they made a boneheaded decision this summer, that's news to me.
Somewhat quietly, the Indiana Pacers had one of the NBA's most successful offseasons. They added Aaron Holiday, Doug McDermott (perhaps a slight overpay, but a justifiable one), Kyle O'Quinn and Tyreke Evans to the rotation, thereby creating a remarkably deep roster that should hang tough with even the beasts of the Eastern Conference. Glamour certainly wasn't the word of the summer in the Hoosier State, but that's a good thing in this case.
New York Knicks
Between unearthing a potential steal in Kevin Knox, successfully prioritizing 2019 cap space over ill-advised short-term decisions and taking fliers on Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh, the New York Knicks did everything right.
Did you ever expect to read those last seven words in that order?
Only Minor Mistakes
Dallas Mavericks: Paying DeAndre Jordan
Faulting the Dallas Mavericks for acquiring a convincing talent like DeAndre Jordan is a tough sell, especially since they're just bringing him aboard on a one-year contract worth $22.9 million. He'll slot in as the team's starting center, and an opening quintet comprised of Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes (or Wesley Matthews), Luka Doncic (or Matthews) and Dennis Smith Jr. should be enough to hang around on the outskirts of the Western Conference playoff picture.
But this is still a minor mistake because the Mavericks aren't leaning into their youth movement. Instead, they're trying to skip steps in the rebuilding process and likely dooming themselves to a non-elite lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Accepting their fate for one more season would've made for the wiser decision.
Denver Nuggets: Avoiding the Luxury Tax
Money has to come into consideration, but how much better would the Denver Nuggets be if they had decided to eat the full extent of the luxury-tax costs and keep their nucleus together? Though we can't force an ownership group to pay more than it's comfortable paying, we can lament the fact that a team's ceiling was diminished for purely financial reasons.
The Nuggets did well to trade Wilson Chandler into the Philadelphia 76ers' cap space, only giving up a future second-round pick in the process (to The Process?). But that's only true if we accept the underlying assumption that they had to deal a valuable two-way player at a position of need in order to cut costs.
Memphis Grizzlies: Letting Tyreke Evans Walk
The magnitude of this move is enough that it technically could receive its own featured slide. Tyreke Evans was a revelation for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2017-18, and losing the man who finished 26th in real plus-minus and 35th in total points added (despite missing 30 games) for absolutely nothing is certainly painful. Plus, the Grizzlies were a whopping 11.5 points per 100 possessions better when he played during his lone season on Beale Street.
But that would be cheating, if only because that decision wasn't made during an offseason in which the Memphis brass could only offer Evans the mid-level exception. The bigger misstep came last year, when the franchise should've realized the inevitability of this outcome and dealt him prior to the trade deadline to receive at least something for his services.
Milwaukee Bucks: Overpaying Ersan Ilyasova
Can you blame the Milwaukee Bucks for coveting Ersan Ilyasova's services? When you're building a team around Giannis Antetokounmpo, you should indeed be trying to surround him with as much shooting as humanly possible, and the stretch 4 spent the 2017-18 campaign taking 3.7 triples per game for the Atlanta Hawks and 76ers, connecting on them at a 36 percent clip.
But giving him a three-year, $21 million contract still represents a bit of an overpay for a man who's already celebrated his 31st birthday. The potential damage was lessened by his non-guaranteed 2020-21 salary, but FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projection system still expects the veteran to be worth only $15.3 million over the course of the pact.
New Orleans Pelicans: Potentially Upsetting Anthony Davis
The New Orleans Pelicans saved themselves by signing Julius Randle to a reasonable deal and acquiring Elfrid Payton on the cheap. Their core, comprised of Randle, Payton, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis, should be enough for the Pels to remain in the playoff hunt, despite the remarkable difficulties associated with the half of the NBA in which they play.
But they still allowed Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins to escape in free agency. The departures of those former Kentucky Wildcats could end up being positive moves (the former has clearly declined despite his enduring reputation, and the latter is coming off an Achilles injury), but they still run the risk of upsetting the franchise cornerstone. Davis—another former UK star—needs to be convinced that everything by the bayou is going swimmingly, but that wasn't a strong start to the newest chapter.
Philadelphia 76ers: Trading Mikal Bridges
The Sixers can't be too concerned about their decision to trade the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. They still landed a rookie (Zhaire Smith) with immense upside who complements the incumbents nicely and figures to contribute both with his defensive intensity and cutting prowess. That they also onboarded a 2021 first-round pick for essentially moving down six slots only helps.
But I still can't shake the feeling that Mikal Bridges was an even better fit, a piece who could have elevated the team's ceiling until it represented that of a title contender. His spot-up shooting is an element Smith can't provide, and it's a necessary one for working alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Utah Jazz: Dante Exum's New Deal
Dante Exum could easily justify his new contract (three years, $33 million if he meets all incentives), and breaking out into the player the Utah Jazz envisioned when they made him the 2014 NBA draft's No. 5 pick would fill a distinct need in Salt Lake City. The team is still searching for a complementary scoring talent alongside the fast-rising Donovan Mitchell, and if Exum blossomed into an off-the-bounce threat, that would alleviate some of the responsibilities incoming rookie Grayson Allen is sure to endure.
This is still, however, a ton of money for a player with such a lengthy injury history, particularly because he's often struggled to gain any semblance of rhythm when his body is in working order. The flashes have been present, but they're still merely flashes.
Atlanta Hawks: Passing on Luka Doncic
Sure, the Atlanta Hawks landed a top-five-protected 2019 first-round pick from the Dallas Mavericks to move back in the draft and select Trae Young rather than Luka Doncic. But even if Young does pan out, Doncic is talented enough that he could make the Hawks regret their decision.
This is not a knock on Young. Even though he struggled to find his shot for much of summer league, he's a significant talent who could become a game-changing offensive force. This summer's action may have created some concerns, but it's by no means an indictment of his status as a top-five pick.
No, this is all about Doncic.
The 19-year-old became the youngest MVP in Euroleague history, led Real Madrid to a championship and earned Final Four MVP in the process. He did all of that while averaging 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks and slashing 45.6/30.9/80.1. Even if you're concerned about that middle percentage, his step-back jumpers showed boundless upside, and he excelled in spot-up situations.
His advanced metrics are even more mind-blowing.
According to Nylon Calculus' Jacob Goldstein, Doncic had the Euroleague's second-best box plus-minus (6.9), trailing only CSKA Moscow's Kyle Hines (7.3). To put that in perspective, that would be the seventh-highest qualified BPM in the NBA, just ahead of Damian Lillard (6.7), Kyrie Irving (6.2) and Kyle Lowry (5.9). Factoring in playing time, Doncic's value over replacement player (2.31) also finished second in the Euroleague field, this time behind only Panathinaikos' Nick Calathes (2.34).
Goldstein isn't the only numbersmith with a pristine view of Doncic. Here's what ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton wrote in his predraft projections:
"Doncic is naturally No. 1, and his 5.8 projected wins above replacement player (WARP)—what we'd expect him to average over his first five seasons, discounting more distant ones to reward immediate returns—are in fact the most for any of the 800-plus players I've projected dating back to 2003. Doncic tops Anthony Davis (5.5) for that honor, though it's worth noting that I don't have a projection for LeBron James out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School or Dwight Howard the following year."
Young was down at No. 3, with Pelton projecting him to tally 3.0 WARP during his first five seasons.
Charlotte Hornets: Counting on Tony Parker
All good things must come to an end, but Tony Parker's NBA career is continuing to drag on. It'll now feature an entirely new chapter, one with him in a Charlotte Hornets uniform, ready to serve as Kemba Walker's primary backup.
This isn't to say Parker should've retired. But it'll still make for an off-putting vision, especially when it becomes more evident just how far his game has fallen.
Parker has never developed a consistent three-point stroke throughout his lengthy NBA career, topping out over 40 percent during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns (on 1.1 attempts per game) but declining quickly in the two seasons that followed. He's instead continued to rely on his fleetness of foot, darting past defenders for off-rhythm finishes in the paint or pull-up jumpers from mid-range zones.
But he was unable to create as much separation in 2017-18, which led to declining percentages in his patented ranges. His 47.9 percent shooting from inside the arc was his worst mark since his rookie season, and the Spurs' net rating correspondingly dipped by 5.3 points per 100 possessions with him logging minutes—a product of both his diminished shot-creation skills and shoddy defensive work.
Still, why focus this much on a backup point guard, even one whose name carries as much cachet as Parker's?
Had he signed elsewhere, this likely would've been a relative non-issue. But the Hornets have struggled to get over the hump in part because of their dearth of talent behind Walker. When the speedy floor general took a seat last season, Charlotte was out of options, scoring 8.9 fewer points per 100 possessions. Said dip was nearly three times larger than that of any other rotation member's in the Queen City.
Parker is taking over as the primary backup, filling in for a departed Michael Carter-Williams and—to a lesser extent—Treveon Graham. Both of those players posted superior scores in real plus-minus during the 2017-18 campaign and are projected by FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO model to earn more wins above replacement player.
Chicago Bulls: Doubling Down on Zach LaVine
When the Sacramento Kings and Zach LaVine came to terms on a four-year offer sheet worth a whopping $78 million, the Bulls couldn't let him walk, viewing him as a sunk cost from the Jimmy Butler trade the prior summer. So, Chicago doubled down and created an unnecessary financial liability.
Sure, the Bulls need to place competent scorers around Markkanen and Carter. But LaVine hasn't displayed enough consistency to earn that type of payday, especially since returning from his ACL tear. He has yet to post a positive box plus-minus during any of his four NBA seasons, two of which have been shortened by injuries.
Returning to FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projections might be painful after their pessimistic view of Jabari Parker, but they do help to clarify what to anticipate from LaVine. Below are both his past three years and the expectations over his new pact:
- 2015-16: Minus-1.5 WARP
- 2016-17: Minus-0.3 WARP
- 2017-18: Minus-0.5 WARP
- 2018-19: 0.4 WARP
- 2019-20: 0.8 WARP (a projected career high)
- 2020-21: 0.7 WARP
- 2021-22: 0.7 WARP
To be clear, these are wins over replacement-level players, not league-average ones. He's still checking in with negative numbers, dragged down by his enduring status as a defensive traffic cone, but they're marginally better than what's expected from contributors who could be signed at any point during the year.
Add it all up, and LaVine is projected to be worth $27.8 million over the course of his four-year deal—significantly below the $78 million he'll actually bank. The Bulls dug this hole for themselves, as they were unwilling to acknowledge they might've made a mistake by sloughing off Butler for a relatively meager return.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love Getting All the Money
This isn't to say Kevin Love can't be a great player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. On the contrary, he should continue to earn All-Star appearances while calling Northeast Ohio home, perhaps even providing some team-leading performances that hearken back to his double-double days of dominance with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But this is still an awful lot of money to pay an aging star, and the burden becomes even more crippling because the four-year extension doesn't even kick in until the conclusion of the upcoming campaign. Just look at these payouts:
- 2018-19: $24.1 million during his age-30 season
- 2019-20: $28.9 million during his age-31 season
- 2020-21: $31.3 million during his age-32 season
- 2021-22: $31.3 million during his age-33 season
- 2022-23: $28.9 million during his age-34 season
No options exist, whether on the team or player side, which means this money isn't coming off the books without a buyout, the stretch provision or a trade. And perhaps having Love locked into the lineup will make it easier to deal him down the road, but that doesn't change the simple fact that it's a significant overpay—FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO forecast projects Love to be worth $85.2 million during the next five years, well shy of the $144.5 million he'll actually make—for a shot to remain mired in mediocrity throughout the foreseeable future.
The Cavaliers are attempting to rebuild and remain competitive simultaneously, which leads them down a meandering path that has ensnared so many squads before them. Love as the leading star isn't enough to experience contention and will likely result in, at best, some first-round playoff exits (the team, per PBPStats.com, had a 1.2 net rating when he was on the floor without LeBron James last year, which would've ranked No. 13 in the seasonlong standings). But he's also talented enough to prevent Cleveland from falling too far down the standings and having a shot at acquiring a franchise-altering talent in the draft.
Even the return of Minnesota-style Love won't change any of that.
Detroit Pistons: Failing to Upgrade at Point Guard
Now that the Detroit Pistons have teased some facilitating ability from Andre Drummond's oversized frame and boast the services of Blake Griffin, they lay claim to an unorthodox roster construction that minimizes the need for traditional skills from point guards.
Their floor generals can focus on scoring, providing spacing for the complementary talents in the Motor City lineup and occasionally leading the charge as primary distributors—a far cry from the typical job description of 1-guards. But that doesn't change the fact that the players at the smallest position have been rather ineffective recently.
According to 82games.com, Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith headed a 2017-18 corps that earned a 16.1 player efficiency rating while giving up a 17.5 PER to their adversaries. Not only is that a negative split, but it was rather easily the worst mark earned by any of Detroit's five positional groupings. That's not likely to change moving forward, because Jackson and Smith are still in place as the likely starter and primary backup, only joined by the corpse of Jose Calderon, who's coming aboard on a one-year minimum salary.
This isn't really a knock on Calderon. The soon-to-be 37-year-old veteran is coming off a season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he averaged just 4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while slashing 50.3/46.4/80.0 in his minimal run, proving he was no longer capable of doing much more than scoring a few points in efficient fashion...so long as he received the right kind of spot-up opportunities.
The expectations should be minimal, if not nonexistent.
No, the bigger problem is that Detroit, which is attempting to rise up the standings after acquiring Griffin midway through the 2017-18 campaign, only landed Calderon. It didn't make any (successful) plays for superior floor generals on the open market, didn't trade for Dennis Schroder and failed to find a way to land a 1-guard in the draft. It was content to basically run it back, and that's bad news for the position that needs the most work.
Unless you're convinced Jackson is going to break out after two consecutive seasons of declining box plus-minuses and 67 absences in the last two campaigns, you must be a bit fearful about this type of disadvantageous continuity.
Houston Rockets: Shuffling the Wings
Carmelo Anthony hasn't signed with the Houston Rockets, but that move might as well be a lock. Per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, he's just biding his time until he clears waivers after he completed a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks.
That acquisition shouldn't be calamitous for Houston, even if Anthony proves unwilling to accept a smaller role. And if his message to those who think he should come off the bench is any indication, as relayed through The Undefeated's Jemele Hill, he's going to prove unwilling:
"I know how to play this game of basketball. I've been playing it for a long time. When I feel like I'm ready to take that role, then I'll take that role. Only I know when it's best for me to take that role. I'm not going to do that in a situation where I still know my capabilities and what I can do. And at the end of the day, the people who really matter know my capabilities and what I can still do. You start getting to the media and debates, it's going to always be kind of back-and-forth."
Regardless, the acquisition alone isn't too troubling. It's only when we look at the overall shuffling of wings, which includes Anthony's impending arrival and the departures of Trevor Ariza (Phoenix Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles Clippers) that the Rockets' offseason seems to be pushing them into a tier well below that of the Golden State Warriors.
Teams often only get a single shot at taking down a dynasty, and the Rockets missed out on theirs when Chris Paul's hamstring betrayed him late in the Western Conference Finals. Now, they may not get another opportunity quite like the one squandered.
PJ Tucker is still in Houston, again set to play his physical brand of defense. But the Rockets struggled (relatively) when neither Ariza nor Mbah a Moute was on the floor. They posted a 4.9 net rating, per PBPStats.com, which was dragged down by a 110.9 defensive rating. Not only is that net rating well below their season-long mark of 8.5, but the defensive rating, which would've been dead last in the league, isn't going to get better with minimized depth and Anthony's porous habits entering the fray.
Take solace in the continued positivity of the Rockets in those disadvantageous situations. But we aren't talking about this set of moves like it'll push Houston outside the realm of playoff contenders. We're worried about its status as a Golden State challenger, and even the most minor slippage can have massive ramifications in that conversation.
Los Angeles Clippers: Jerome Robinson Pick
Jerome Robinson is talented enough to make us regret this choice.
He's a proficient scorer who can knock down long-range attempts off the bounce or curl around screens and hit spot-up jumpers. He's comfortable attacking the basket, using his athleticism to create beneficial scenarios that allow for either easy finishes or whistles that send him to the line. And while he's not particularly adept on the defensive end, succumbing to mental lapses and failing to record many possession-ending plays, he has the physical tools necessary to blossom into a versatile, switchable stopper.
Still, Robinson is a relatively raw lottery prospect, and he's already 21 years old. Stints in the G League shouldn't be unexpected. He also doesn't have quite the ceiling you'd expect from a player coming off the board at No. 13, as you can learn from Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, who pegged his projected long-term role as such:
"Streak scoring will be Robinson's bread and butter. His level of efficiency and the roster he plays on will determine whether he'll be valued more as a sixth man or starter. He'll turn 22 years old as a rookie, raising questions about his window to improve. But Robinson should have enough potential to average double digits throughout his career. His perimeter skills, specifically the pull-up, will be his signature weapon that will continue to be difficult to guard."
That's still not why this was the biggest mistake of the Clippers' busy offseason.
With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander coming aboard two slots earlier (a more laudable selection), Los Angeles has an overcrowded backcourt. It could've used far more depth at bigger spots in the lineup rather than an addition to a mix of guards that already included Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers (he hadn't yet been traded for Marcin Gortat), Jawun Evans, Lou Williams and Sindarius Thornwell, some of whom were sure to play up in small-ball lineups.
Robinson may have been a reach at No. 13, if only a slight one. The far bigger concern is the unideal allocation of resources. Los Angeles unnecessarily created a logjam that, while mitigated by the Rivers deal, could still hinder the development of younger backcourt members while creating weaknesses at other spots in the rotation.
Los Angeles Lakers: Grabbing Rajon Rondo
Regardless of how you feel about the Los Angeles Lakers' decision to sign Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, those moves likely won't have long-term consequences. They're all coming aboard on one-year contracts, and they shouldn't get too many minutes at the expense of the young Purple and Gold core.
"If the young holdover Lakers can't execute the way [LeBron] James needs, the incoming veteran Lakers will get more of the opportunities," Lakers.com's Kevin Ding wrote. "Lakers coach Luke Walton, [Magic] Johnson and [Rob] Pelinka are already saying no one but James is promised a starting spot."
This isn't too troubling with regard to Stephenson, McGee and Beasley, all of whom are built to fill minor, specialized roles. But Rondo has a chance to win the starting nod from the get-go now that Lonzo Ball is spending the offseason recovering from knee surgery.
That could be problematic if he ends up inhibiting the development of a special talent at point guard.
Ball was far better as a rookie than his basic numbers indicate. He struggled to find any shooting rhythm and never put up big scoring tallies, but his defensive brilliance and passing wizardry allowed him to make a significant impact all the same. Ball finished the year ranked 20th among point guards in real plus-minus, and his defensive RPM trailed only Dejounte Murray's and Tyus Jones' at the position.
Just as significantly, Rondo wasn't as stellar as his reputation might indicate. RPM had him grading out as a negative on both ends of the floor, and his score left him behind 43 other players classified as point guards, sandwiched between Jarrett Jack and Austin Rivers. As Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report made clear, a competition between Ball and Rondo shouldn't exist, particularly on defense:
"The on/off splits also favor Ball's defense. Los Angeles' defensive rating was 2.7 points better with Ball on the floor, whereas New Orleans' was 1.3 points worse when Rondo played.
"The 6'6" Ball is bigger and a better rebounder, and he projects as a superior switch option. The 6'1" Rondo is notorious for quitting when posted up by a larger opponent, and his consistent failure to fight over screens up top compromises his team's pick-and-roll defense. Rondo ranked in the 50th percentile as a pick-and-roll defender last year. Ball was in the 66th.
"It's damning for Rondo that Ball is already so clearly a superior defender.
"Rookies are supposed to get abused on D, but Ball's physical profile and high intelligence contributed to his positive impact on that end. It seems reasonable to assume there's growth ahead for Ball, and legitimate All-Defense production could arrive as soon as next year. Meanwhile, Rondo is entering his 13th season, having not played well on defense since roughly 2011."
Rondo earning minutes at Ball's expense wouldn't just inhibit Ball's development, preventing him from gaining chemistry alongside LeBron James and the other up-and-comers in Tinseltown. It would also make the team significantly worse, thus diminishing the appeal it needs for the big-name signings it covets in the summer of 2019.
Miami Heat: Sticking with Hassan Whiteside
Addition by subtraction is real.
When watching Hassan Whiteside go to work, you can fool yourself into thinking his enduring presence with the Miami Heat is a positive. Focused and not falling into block-chasing traps, he can be a scheme-altering interior defender who possesses a soft, feathery touch around the basket and a convincing mid-range stroke.
But those games come too infrequently for him to get many minutes at the expense of Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. The latter provides the three-point spacing needed from frontcourt members in head coach Erik Spoelstra's drive-and-kick schemes, while the latter is imbued with immense potential that he's tantalizing close to realizing.
Plus, neither one seems to possess the attitude issues that have created a chemistry nightmare.
"Man, it's annoying. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don't have a good center. They're going to use their strength," Whiteside said last season, per Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel, lamenting his failure to get on the court down the stretch of a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. "It's bulls--t. It's really bulls--t, man. There's a lot of teams that could use a center. S--t. That's bulls--t."
That attitude would be problematic from a player who was making the team better, but it's downright disastrous from someone who isn't. The Heat were 4.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Whiteside on the floor during the regular season, and that number swelled to 10.8 throughout their brief playoff experience.
Maybe they have been holding out hope they could get a first-round pick for Whiteside's services, convincing themselves another organization should pay for the breakout potential the big man will enjoy when granted a chance at a sorely needed fresh start. But at this point, they should just be trying to give him away, taking back a meager return for the chance to enjoy that aforementioned addition by subtraction.
Inactivity is a decision in and of itself, and each day he remains on the roster is a day gone by without clearing uninhibited paths for Adebayo and Olynyk.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Blocking Tyus Jones
Giving Derrick Rose $2.4 million to remain with the Minnesota Timberwolves isn't a problem in and of itself. He should prove worthy of that meager contract. Continuity should also serve him well after he suited up for three different organizations during the last two seasons.
But Rose's presence means Tyus Jones won't receive the minutes he deserves—minutes that could be used to aid Minnesota's cause in the brutal Western Conference postseason push.
Despite Jones' lack of national name recognition and Rose's proficiency putting up points (albeit often inefficiently), the former has been the superior player over the last calendar year.
During the regular season, the T-Wolves' net rating skyrocketed by 5.8 points per 100 possessions when Jones was on the floor. Meanwhile, it fell by 4.4 points per 100 possessions when Rose was playing. In the playoffs, Rose helped Minnesota's net rating rise from minus-14.4 when he was off the floor to minus-2.3 with him on it. But Jones, admittedly in far fewer minutes, fostered a gain from minus-11.2 to 2.6.
This isn't just the product of playing alongside superior teammates, either. Real plus-minus, which seeks to negate those effects, pegged Jones at 4.78—the seventh-best mark among the 91 players classified as point guards. Rose sat far lower in the pecking order, checking in at No. 82 with a score of minus-3.59.
The gap between the two isn't quite that large. But Jones' defensive acumen is severely underrated, whereas many casual fans don't grasp the full detriment of Rose's ball-commandeering style and inadequacy on defense.
It also doesn't hurt that the less-ballyhooed floor general rarely turns the ball over. Cleaning the Glass puts his turnover rate in the 67th percentile relative to position and his assist-to-usage ratio in the 82nd percentile, whereas the former MVP sits in the 48th and 54th percentiles, respectively.
None of this would be problematic if Minnesota was planning to use Jones as Jeff Teague's primary backup while handing Rose a more sporadic role. But the playoffs painted a far different picture, with the former nearly falling out of the rotation and playing 10 fewer minutes per game than the latter.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Taking on Dennis Schroder
Clearing Carmelo Anthony's albatross salary from the books was a positive after he opted in to 2018-19, but the Oklahoma City Thunder were still forced to take on another unappealing contract in order to part with the veteran forward—not to mention deal a protected 2022 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks.
Dennis Schroder could very well justify the expenditures—$15.5 million during each of the next three seasons—but that means buying into a role vastly dissimilar to the one he filled in the Peach State. Whereas he was free to take over possessions and morph into an inefficient volume scorer, he'll be tasked with serving as Russell Westbrook's primary backup while leading the second unit. Even if he's now operating on a squad with far higher hopes, it'll be tough for him to avoid viewing that as a demotion.
Per-game numbers indicate Schroder is easily worth the investment. The speedy 1-guard is coming off a campaign in which he averaged 19.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, after all. But he did so while slashing just 43.6/29.0/84.9, playing traffic-cone defense that would make a Schroder-Westbrook backcourt untenable and making the lowly Hawks 1.8 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the floor.
He does, however, possess an ideal skill set for the intended role.
Schroder profiles as the type of change-of-pace point guard who could do plenty of damage as an offensive spark who leads the bench mob. But accepting that role could be difficult for a two-year starter who hasn't yet celebrated his 25th birthday. Plus, even if real plus-minus indicates he was a subpar contributor (minus-1.79, which ranked 61st among the 96 classified 1-guards), and even if FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO forecast pegs him as a $25.1 million value over the next three years combined, he has his points-per-game laurels to boost perception—both self-perception and the external kind.
This may be a move with upside, and that upside could very well become reality. But the risks are immense, particularly when the Thunder also parted with a first-round asset down the road just to facilitate the transaction.
Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon Extension
The Orlando Magic were in a pickle this summer with regard to Aaron Gordon. They could either pay him an exorbitant sum to keep him in Orlando or let him walk and treat the prior investment in his skills as a sunk cost.
Neither option would make for a guaranteed success story, but choosing to hand him a four-year, $76 million deal—even with a team-friendly declining structure—created a shaky investment that isn't likely to pay off.
The uberathletic power forward has shown signs of breaking out in the past, most notably when he began the 2017-18 campaign knocking down triples with aplomb and looking the part of the wing-dwelling, new-age forward perennially envisioned by Magic brass. But those signs have always been followed by extreme regression that leaves Gordon unable to fill the role into which he's been thrust.
The Arizona product did finish this latest season with a positive score in real plus-minus, even earning above-average marks on each end of the floor. But he settled in at No. 21 among the 80 players who qualified as power forwards, sandwiched between Luc Mbah a Moute and Montrezl Harrell.
Gordon could continue to improve. He's won't celebrate his 23rd birthday until mid-September, and he's displayed tantalizing tools over the years. However, the Magic aren't building a roster that sets their most expensive investment up for success.
With Gordon joining recent lottery picks Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, the frontcourt is crowded enough. Throw in Nikola Vucevic, and Gordon seems almost guaranteed to slide back into an uncomfortable fit at the 3 for some of his minutes. During his time there in 2017-18, he thrived on defense—Cleaning the Glass has him in the 98th percentile for points allowed per possession—but he struggled immensely on offense (6th percentile for points per possession).
He was still a net positive, but the fit is even shakier with the addition of Bamba, who can't provide the offense Vucevic does at this stage of his young career. And most importantly, the Magic are no longer paying Gordon to function as a one-way asset; stardom should be expected with his new hefty contract.
Phoenix Suns: Trevor Ariza Blocking the Youngsters
For most rebuilding teams, the acquisition of a three-and-D player such as Trevor Ariza would be quite the boon. On a one-year deal worth $15 million, he can provide steady production on both ends of the floor to help lift the squad out of the dumps, and his veteran presence in the locker room will help expedite the professional developments of so many young up-and-comers.
That's still true for the Phoenix Suns, which is why I was tempted to move the desert-dwelling franchise into the group of teams that only made minor mistakes.
But the Suns are not most rebuilding teams. Their roster construction is set up in such a way that Ariza's arrival could actively hinder the growth of a few forwards, pushing some into smaller roles and some entirely out of the rotation. Even if Ariza plays fewer minutes than he did for the Houston Rockets in 2017-18 (33.9 per game), he'll still be earning some run that comes at the expense of Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, TJ Warren, Marquese Chriss and/or Dragan Bender.
As Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes detailed, someone getting left out in the cold is an inevitability:
"Giving Trevor Ariza a one-year, $15 million deal was bizarre. Not just because the Suns seemingly signed the veteran small forward with short-term competitiveness in mind, but also because they have so many players they need to see develop at his position.
"Is Josh Jackson going to be a quality starter? What about Mikal Bridges? Can TJ Warren extend his range and become a complete scorer? Where will those guys find minutes with Ariza occupying the 3? If your answer involves undersized lineups, fine, but then you're marginalizing Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, a pair of lottery picks entering make-or-break years."
This was a short-term move that could have long-term repercussions, and it'll only look worse if Ariza ends up pursuing a late-season buyout or jets for a different franchise in the summer of 2019, right before this one is ready to let the youngsters compete for a playoff berth in the brutal Western Conference.
Portland Trail Blazers: Letting Ed Davis Walk
As a general rule of thumb, never risk upsetting your stars.
"Look man, for me, the same way D-Wade was in Miami all those years and Udonis Haslem was there because he brought something to the team nobody else had ... that's how I feel about Ed [Davis]," Damian Lillard said prior to the 2018 trade deadline, per Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest. "I always want Ed to be on my team. That's the best way I can put it. I always want him on my team."
Then came the offseason, and the Portland Trail Blazers watched as Davis signed a one-year, $4.4 million contract to join the Brooklyn Nets. Lillard and co-star CJ McCollum both took to Twitter, expressing their unhappiness that Davis wasn't being retained even after he'd remained on the roster through the deadline.
This isn't about the on-court benefits of continuing to roster Davis—a valuable backup who certainly belongs in a competitive NBA rotation. It's instead centered around potentially upsetting the two franchise centerpieces with heretofore unseen miserliness, as Jamie Cooper of Uproxx opined:
"The Blazers' sudden penny-pinching is misguided, to say the least, especially if it potentially comes at the expense of sowing discord between the front office and their two superstars. Portland absolutely needs to shuffle around its roster and try to clear space for the future, but allowing Davis to walk for a $4.4 million deal given his productivity on the interior seems like the wrong application of newfound frugalness.
"The organization's real cap problems stem from the enormous deals they handed out to [Evan] Turner and Meyers Leonard, both of whose contracts continue to hamper their ability to upgrade the roster and have become nearly impossible to move."
For the time being, the Blazers are inextricably tethered to the successes and failures of Lillard and McCollum. Even the tiniest shred of discontent is problematic, especially when that discontent may only be manifesting because the organization didn't bring back a productive player.
Sacramento Kings: Nemanja Bjelica at Small Forward
Don't be fooled by the fact the Minnesota Timberwolves outscored opponents when Nemanja Bjelica was slotted in as a small forward during the 2017-18 season. As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale explained, that was a fluke:
"The Timberwolves outscored opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions when he played the 3 last season, but that return is skewed toward the rosier side by intractable circumstances, according to Cleaning the Glass.
"Two outlier lineups buoyed Minnesota's plus-differential. One was made up of Karl-Anthony Towns and a bunch of bench players. Sacramento won't have that kind of safety net. The other is propped up by a 17-game stretch in which he replaced Jimmy Butler as the starting 3. That arrangement overachieved on defense—and still barely held up, allowing a so-so, at best, 108.4 points per 100 possessions. Almost every other Bjelica-at-the-3 iteration had a defensive rating north of 116.0."
This isn't going to stop Bjelica from trotting out at the 3 for the Sacramento Kings. He has to out of sheer necessity, as his new organization is already rostering Marvin Bagley III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles III, Kosta Koufos, Skal Labissiere and Zach Randolph as well. Some of those players might not carve out rotation roles, but they're bodies on the active roster all the same.
What's especially concerning, though, is that Sacramento is prioritizing the wrong ideas—a message sent loudly and clearly by signing a 30-year-old to play away from his natural position and provide floor-spacing acumen as his greatest skill.
While teams can't have enough shooting in today's NBA, the Kings already made a number of moves geared toward shoring up their offense during the 2018 offseason. They drafted Bagley (an all-around scoring threat who was a less-than-inspired defender at Duke) and swapped Garrett Temple (a two-way contributor) for the enduring hope of Ben McLemore's offensive breakthrough (and Deyonta Davis, a second-round pick and cash). Tripling down with Bjelica means taking too heavy-handed an approach toward fixing one end of the floor.
San Antonio Spurs: Not Matching Kyle Anderson's Contract
The Memphis Grizzlies offered Kyle Anderson a four-year, $37.2 million contract to end his time as a restricted free agent, and the San Antonio Spurs did not match it, letting him walk away to another Western Conference organization without any recompense. Given the nature of Anderson's skill set—he's unglamorous and slow—that makes for a string of events that will inevitably cause divergences in analysis.
Based on the placement here, though, you can probably guess on which side of the fence I fall.
Anderson's shooting deficits and slow-footed nature make him a liability against some of the top lineups employed by the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, who can give him the Tony Allen treatment in the corners. However, he makes up for that weakness with well-rounded defensive play and steady production as a secondary facilitator.
Now, with both Anderson and Kawhi Leonard plying their trades in new locations, head coach Gregg Popovich will have far more difficulty squeezing a top-tier defense out of his troops. Per PBPStats.com, the Spurs allowed 107.0 points per 100 possessions without either forward on the floor in 2017-18, and that defensive rating would've been No. 16 in the league-wide hierarchy.
Oh, and the man with the league's No. 16 score in defensive real plus-minus, which left him trailing only Andre Roberson, Robert Covington and Dejounte Murray among non-bigs? That would be Anderson, not Leonard. The Spurs were still 0.9 points per 100 possessions better on offense when Anderson played.
San Antonio, clearly, already knew how to use him. He's only 24 years old, in possession of a game that's not based upon athleticism and should age rather well. He's a three-point stroke away from becoming even more of an all-around threat, and he already connected on his triples at a 37.5 percent clip in 2016-17, albeit with minimal volume. He's projected to be worth $126.2 million over the next four years, per FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO forecasting system.
By failing to exercise their right of first refusal, the Spurs made a big mistake.
Toronto Raptors: Firing Dwane Casey
Even if Dwane Casey hadn't been named Coach of the Year after the Toronto Raptors canned him, this would've been an ill-advised move. He was unabashedly brilliant throughout the 2017-18 campaign, teasing out pristine production from the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan core while getting the entire roster to buy in to an egalitarian system that maximized the production of both the starting five and the bench unit.
Sure, the Raptors fell apart in the playoffs yet again, but that occurred in conjunction with a deviation from the style they employed throughout the first 82 games. Perhaps the pressure of facing—and losing to—LeBron James for the umpteenth time was too great. Maybe the system wasn't perfectly suited for postseason play.
But that second concern should be mitigated by Toronto's willingness to engage in internal promotion, as new head coach Nick Nurse was the assistant responsible for making so many of the offensive changes. Additionally, the numbers show how drastically the style changed after the regular season ended.
Just look at the seismic shifts in a number of notable categories:
- Assist percentage: 59.0 in the regular season (No. 11); 56.0 in the playoffs (No. 9)
- Assist-to-turnover ratio: 1.8 in the regular season (No. 4); 1.6 in the playoffs (No. 11)
- Assist ratio: 18.1 in the regular season (No. 6); 16.9 in the playoffs (No. 9)
- Passes made per game: 300.0 in the regular season (No. 16); 270.9 in the playoffs (No. 6)
- Secondary assists per game: 3.3 in the regular season (No. 5); 2.9 in the playoffs (No. 4)
- Assist-to-pass percentage: 8.1 in the regular season (No. 10); 8.0 in the playoffs (No. 10)
- Isolation frequency: 5.9 percent in the regular season (No. 22); 7.4 percent in the playoffs (No. 13)
Each of those seven marks trended in the wrong direction. The Raptors were sloppier with their passes, didn't pass as frequently, threw passes that didn't lead to assists either directly or indirectly and began reverting to their iso-heavy habits of yesteryear.
Part of that is on Casey. After all, he was responsible for his players' divergence from what had led to historic levels of success, failing to implement the discipline necessary to keep them playing to those strengths.
But this is also an indication that Toronto's regular-season exploits were by no means fluky, and those exploits led to third- and fifth-ranked finishes in offensive and defensive ratings, respectively. His style and his supervision worked, and he never deserved to be the scapegoat for president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
Washington Wizards: Here Comes Dwight Howard
The Washington Wizards weren't only looking to revamp the center position by acquiring a talent superior to a 34-year-old Marcin Gortat. They were also seeking an infusion of chemistry, striving to counteract the growing discord between John Wall and the now-departed 5 by finding someone who would get along better with the incumbents.
Instead, they landed...Dwight Howard.
Howard can still rebound with aplomb. He's a quality defensive presence who thrives on the interior, even if he can occasionally be exposed when asked to show off his fading lateral mobility. But he's not exactly known as a high-quality teammate, especially when he isn't filling a high-usage role. His tenures with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets are enough testament to that.
Moreover, the Wizards certainly aren't going to give him one of those high-usage roles.
The Washington offense simply isn't built around post touches, and it's coming off a season in which it used such plays on only 5.2 percent of its possessions—the eighth-lowest frequency in the Association. Gortat's job description involved rolling to the hoop and awaiting dimes from his guards or setting brutal, often thankless, screens on the perimeter (something he did extremely well).
Plus, Gortat was just flat-out better at creating space for Wall, Bradley Beal and all other ball-handlers in the nation's capital. Only Rudy Gobert (6.2), Steven Adams (4.9) and Andre Drummond (4.7) generated more screen assists per game than his 4.5, and the gap between him and Howard (4.2) is larger than it appears. After all, the incoming center suited up for 5.1 more minutes per contest than the outgoing one.
Howard simply isn't a natural fit in this offense, which would be troubling enough if he didn't also invite the chemistry concerns that seem to be following him everywhere in the post-Orlando portion of his Hall of Fame career.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.