Ranking Every NBA Team's Offseason Following Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul Trade

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 12, 2019

Ranking Every NBA Team's Offseason Following Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul Trade

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    The NBA offseason isn't officially over yet, but Thursday night's Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul blockbuster, as first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, signifies that the biggest moves might officially, finally be behind us. 

    For the most part, we've seen enough wheeling and dealing to make broad assessments about the quality of each team's summer. We'll consider free agency, trades and the draft in our rankings, judging all 30 teams on the strength of their actions—or, in some cases, inaction.

    Note we'll be utilizing tiers of five squads apiece. That means there's room for debate about the specific order of the teams in any section. Ideally, there won't be much of a case to move teams from one tier to another.

    As we head into the quietest stretch of the summer, here's how all 30 teams stack up based on the offseason noise they made.

30-26: Are Do-Overs Allowed?

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    30. Charlotte Hornets

    The Kemba Walker situation became a lose-lose scenario as soon as the 2019 trade deadline passed with Walker still in Charlotte. It would have been a mistake to pay him the supermax, but a low-ball offer resulted in Walker leaving for nothing.

    Actually, considering the Hornets "salvaged" the situation by agreeing to a sign-and-trade for Terry Rozier, it feels like they got less than nothing. Rozier's three-year, $56.7 million contract was among the most head-scratching signed this offseason.

    Jeremy Lamb bounced, too, signing an eminently reasonable three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Indiana Pacers.

    Charlotte heads into a bleak future with no current stars, no future cornerstones and a cap sheet that won't clear until 2020.


    29. New York Knicks

    Say what you want about the Knicks spending their cap space on short-term deals (roughly 14 of which went to power forwards) and preserving leverage with team options and partial guarantees, but understand there's no way to sugarcoat what happened this summer.

    After a year of maneuvering to clear two max slots and several months during which it seemed likely they had specific names—Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving—in mind, the Knicks saw their dreams go up in smoke. Durant and Irving didn't even seem to seriously consider the Knicks, opting instead to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

    Good luck establishing a winning culture or developing young talent like No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett when the roster is full of short-timers already thinking about their next destinations.


    28. Washington Wizards

    Ultimately, last season's Otto Porter Jr. trade netted the Wizards nothing of value. Bobby Portis signed with the Knicks, and Washington declined its team option on Jabari Parker. Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green walked away as well, making the Wizards' decision not to trade them last season even more puzzling.

    At the point, Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas will replace Tomas Satoransky, who ended up with the Chicago Bulls via sign-and-trade. Thomas Bryant, retained on a three-year, $25 million contract, isn't enough to offset the losses and general inaction that defined Washington's summer.

    John Wall's contract remains unsurprisingly on the books, and Bradley Beal is on the short list of stars who'd be most justified in demanding a trade. At least the Wizards are under the tax.


    27. Phoenix Suns

    Ricky Rubio failed as an off-ball threat alongside Donovan Mitchell with the Utah Jazz, so naturally the Suns threw $51 million at him to play with Devin Booker, an even more capable ball-dominant guard. Given Booker's capacity to run an offense or terrorize defenses off the ball, it would have been difficult to choose an ill-fitting backcourt partner.

    The Suns managed to do it, and it cost them. Phoenix moved T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Indiana Pacers for cap space and gave up on Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick just two years ago, sending him to the Grizzlies along with two second-rounders and De'Anthony Melton.

    Cam Johnson was a reach at No. 11, but now it feels like we're just piling on.


    26. Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors were either going to keep Kawhi Leonard and defend their championship or lose him and fall back into a clump of good-but-not-great teams in the East. For the most part, the decision seemed out of their control. So it's hard to fault them for losing Leonard after a year of speculation that that's exactly what would happen.

    Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were shrewd buy-low fliers, and further improvement from Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby could get Toronto's veteran core to 50 wins. But losing perhaps the best player in the league makes for a rough summer.

    Fortunately, that championship afterglow lasts a while. Maybe Toronto is disappointed, but you can be sure it has no regrets. 

25-21: It Could Have Been Worse

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    25. Minnesota Timberwolves

    The Wolves added depth in free agency with Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham—a respectable haul, but not enough to move the needle for a team that needed a real jolt to join the 2019-20 playoff race.

    Minnesota wanted D'Angelo Russell but couldn't get him, and then it decided not to match the Memphis Grizzlies' offer sheet for Tyus Jones.

    Jarrett Culver showed flashes of secondary playmaking in summer league. Combine that with better health for Robert Covington and another monstrous season from Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Wolves could finish above .500 for the second time since 2006.  


    24. Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cavs drafted Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler...and that's pretty much it. All three rookies could see rotation minutes, with Garland in line to start alongside Collin Sexton in a dual-combo-guard set.

    Cleveland did well in convincing JR Smith to shift his guarantee date back to Aug. 1, and it'll move up a tier if it can extract any value in a trade for the veteran's partially guaranteed 2019-20 salary.


    23. Detroit Pistons

    New additions Derrick Rose, Tony Snell and Markieff Morris bolster the rotation, and No. 15 pick Sekou Doumbouya gives the Pistons a promising young piece. But Detroit will still rise or fall with the health of Blake Griffin.

    Though they're improved after last year's first-round elimination and didn't take on any cumbersome long-term money, the Pistons' outlook appears unchanged from last season: hope to avoid injury and try to sneak into the playoffs.


    22. Golden State Warriors

    Losing Kevin Durant may have been inevitable, but that didn't make it hurt any less.

    Golden State made the only play it could by taking back D'Angelo Russell in the sign-and-trade that sent KD to Brooklyn, but that move also cost Andre Iguodala and a pair of future first-rounders because the Warriors had to get themselves under the hard cap triggered by the Durant deal.

    Compared to losing Durant for nothing, getting Russell made sense. The Warriors will need offense with Klay Thompson out, and they can flip the 23-year-old All-Star for pieces that fit more cleanly down the line.

    Kevon Looney returned for three years and $15 million, while Willie Cauley-Stein agreed to a contract for just a little more than the minimum. Both are immense bargains, and Cauley-Stein could take a leap in his age-26 season.

    Still, this summer marked the end of a dynasty—or at the very least, triggered a hiatus. In light of that, this is as high as the Warriors can rank.


    21. Boston Celtics

    The Celtics made out better on their sign-and-trade than the Warriors did, adding Kemba Walker to replace the departed Kyrie Irving.

    Al Horford's exit may have stung more, as he joined a conference rival in Philadelphia. Though his age, 33, suggests steep decline is near, Horford remains a low-maintenance winner who contributes across the board. He also never compromised his on-court value by fomenting discord in the locker room. You'd have to imagine he'll be missed more than Irving.

    The Celtics also failed to land Anthony Davis via trade, despite their best-laid plans over the last couple of seasons.

20-16: Mixed Bags

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    20. Houston Rockets

    The chatter about a rift between Chris Paul and James Harden feels accurate now.

    According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets shipped Paul, first-rounders in 2024 and 2026 and swap rights in 2021 and 2025 for Russell Westbrook.

    Russ' annual salaries are in line with Paul's, but his contract extends an extra year. For my money, Houston gave up those picks to take on a bigger negative asset than it surrendered in Paul. It's possible Westbrook raises the Rockets' ceiling in the short term, but every concern about ball sharing that arose when CP3 came aboard two years ago applies tenfold to the Westbrook-Harden pairing.

    This is a deal that could turn out to be a disaster if Westbrook's decline continues.

    Throw in the messy way head coach Mike D'Antoni's contract talks played out and the mass jettisoning of his staff, and you've got a summer of tumult that could spill over into the regular season.

    Small potatoes: Austin Rivers is a steal at the minimum, and $11.1 million over three years for Danuel House Jr. might be an even bigger bargain if the 26-year-old approaches last year's 41.6 percent hit rate from deep in a full-season rotation role.


    19. Orlando Magic

    Nikola Vucevic came back on a four-year, $100 million contract, and Terrence Ross returned for four years and $54 million. Orlando didn't have a lot of great alternatives, and both contracts descend in annual value, so it's hard to be too critical about moderate overpays.

    But the Magic effectively committed to keeping last year's No. 7 seed together, and it feels like they may be aiming a little too low. At the same time, 2018-19 ended with Orlando's first postseason trip since 2012. Maybe it's unfair to ding a team for wanting another taste at games beyond April.

    One final nit to pick in an otherwise defensible offseason: The Magic agreed with Al-Farouq Aminu on a three-year, $29.2 million contract. With Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac both best utilized at the 4 (much like Aminu) and a need for reliable help at the point, this deal might not have been the best allocation of resources.


    18. Portland Trail Blazers

    Portland's decision to shrink its wing rotation and emphasize shooting made sense in the wake of yet another postseason in which opponents mostly ignored Aminu and Moe Harkless on the perimeter. By re-upping with Rodney Hood and dealing for Kent Bazemore, the Blazers emphasized scoring at the expense of defense and rebounding. On balance, that may prove to be a lateral move.

    Adding Hassan Whiteside felt odd in the moment, but with GM Neil Olshey saying starter Jusuf Nurkic could be out until February while he recovers from a broken leg (h/t Michael Gallagher of NBC Sports), it became clear the Blazers would need someone who could operate in their drop pick-and-roll defense.

    Whiteside has major limitations on offense, and opponents will double down on trapping ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll knowing Whiteside poses no threat as a playmaker. Still, in a contract year, the moody big man could dominate as a shot-blocker and rebounder.

    Portland is different, but it may not ultimately be any better than it was last season.


    17. San Antonio Spurs

    DeMarre Carroll offers size at the wing—a major need for a Spurs team that'll feature several smallish guards—and three-point shooting. The Marcus Morris signing fell through, which allowed the Spurs to take a cheaper shot on Trey Lyles. If anyone can rehab his value, it's San Antonio.

    The defense Carroll brings may have come at the expense of offense, though. Davis Bertans is gone, and he was a deadeye shooter from deep last season. His 42.9 percent conversion rate was fifth among players who attempted at least 300 triples in 2018-19.


    16. Milwaukee Bucks

    Malcolm Brogdon is a very good player who occupied a key role for the Bucks, and it's never a great sign when a team with a real shot at a title gets a little stingy with its spending. But four years and $85 million is a lot of money for someone who would have been no better than a third option in Milwaukee. The Bucks did well to get a first and two seconds from the Pacers in what turned into a sign-and-trade exchange for Brogdon.

    Plus, Milwaukee spent what it took to keep Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, two critical pieces of last year's 60-win outfit. George Hill is also back, and Wesley Matthews signed up for the minimum, a terrific value for a player who should replace much of Brogdon's production. Don't forget Robin Lopez, who joined up to relieve his twin brother and relentlessly prank poor Bango, the Bucks' mascot.

    Tony Snell joined Brogdon in the outgoing category; a casualty of Milwaukee's need for cap space so it could keep Brook Lopez.

    Add up all the additions and subtractions, and the Bucks figure to be just about as good as they were last year. Considering their financial restrictions (some of which seem to have stemmed from ownership's unwillingness to pay a hefty tax bill), that's an acceptable outcome. 

15-11: More Hits Than Misses

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    15. Atlanta Hawks

    Few teams were busier than the Hawks this summer, but Atlanta's relentless maneuverings didn't always produce clear transactional wins.

    A trade that returned Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore, the Jabari Parker signing and a swap of Omari Spellman for Damian Jones and a future second-rounder from the Warriors all fell into the category of "OK, sure...but why, exactly?" The same goes for the exchange that netted Chandler Parsons for Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee.

    Atlanta also shuffled up its draft, ultimately landing De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, both of whom GM Travis Schlenk claimed were among the team's top five prospects. Bruno Fernando, a second-rounder, could be in line for rotation minutes behind Alex Len, who became the projected starter upon Dewayne Dedmon's jump to the Sacramento Kings.

    The one deal that felt like an obvious victory returned Allen Crabbe and two first-rounders from the Nets for Taurean Prince and a future second.


    14. Dallas Mavericks

    Despite once profiling as the biggest threat to sign Kemba Walker, the Mavs couldn't attract a star in free agency. Compounding matters, they even missed out on high-level role-fillers like Danny Green and Patrick Beverley. 

    Disappointed but unswayed, Dallas did well to add Seth Curry and Delon Wright while also retaining Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith on new deals. Kleber, in particular, has a chance to make a real impact with versatile defense and three-point shooting either alongside Porzingis or as a devastating weapon against second units.

    The West remains a punishing gauntlet, and a playoff trip may be too ambitious. But Dallas kept key pieces and shored up its backcourt on fair deals.


    13. Miami Heat

    Jimmy Butler, on board and maxed out with a new four-year, $142 million deal, arrived via a four-team sign-and-trade hurricane that cost the Heat Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and a 2023 first-round pick.

    On a basic level, this is a win for the Heat. They didn't have a star on the roster, and now they do.

    That said, Butler will be 30 before the season starts and has a frightening recent history of prickliness. Considering salary, Richardson might have been the more valuable asset. The Heat determined star power mattered most. They might be right, but there's significant mid- and long-term risk here.

    Note for posterity: Heat draftee Tyler Herro looked terrific in summer-league flashes.


    12. Sacramento Kings

    Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes are all quality rotation pieces acquired at reasonable prices. Maybe you could quibble with $37.2 million over three years for Joseph or $25 million for two years of Ariza, but both deals have partial guarantees on the final season, which makes them sufficiently team-friendly.

    The four-year, $85 million contract for Harrison Barnes is too rich for a player likely to be a fourth option if Marvin Bagley III progresses as expected. But Barnes provides durability, decent shooting and professionalism, so it's not like the Kings set that $85 million on fire.

    Sacramento's retooled rotation should help it improve on last year's 39 wins, though organic growth from De'Aaron Fox, Bagley, Buddy Hield and Harry Giles III will be the biggest determinant of the franchise's success.


    11. Chicago Bulls

    Tomas Satoransky, acquired via sign-and-trade with the Wizards, is a perfect fit in the backcourt alongside Zach LaVine. A solid defender with size who chips in on the margins and can run the offense makes sense next to LaVine, who gets numbers but does very few of the little things that produce wins.

    Further bolstering the backcourt, Chicago snagged Coby White with the No. 7 pick. He can play on or off the ball and ups the pace of the game whenever he's on the floor. Both he and Satoransky should be ahead of Kris Dunn on the depth chart.

    Thaddeus Young will work well at the 4 if the Bulls want to stagger Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. at center, and his three-year, $41 million deal looks great with a partial guarantee on the third season.

    Quietly, the Bulls addressed key needs and didn't overspend.

10-6: Clear Improvers

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    10. Indiana Pacers

    Though it might have been risky for the Bucks to pay Brogdon $85 million, the fit with Indiana makes that contract easier to justify. Once Victor Oladipo returns, he and Brogdon will make up a defensively deadly backcourt in which either player can score or facilitate.

    Jeremy Lamb for three years and $31.5 million was one of the better budget signings of the summer, and Indy also bolstered its offense (a weak point all last season) by taking T.J. Warren into cap space. Losing Bojan Bogdanovic hurts, but credit the Pacers for not overspending to keep a 30-year-old who may have peaked last season.

    Indiana made three key acquisitions, and each felt like a smart play. Combined with the savvy reserve they showed in letting someone else pay big money for Bogdanovic, the Pacers improved their roster and didn't overextend themselves financially.


    9. Denver Nuggets

    The wisdom of extending Jamal Murray on a max deal a year ahead of restricted free agency is debatable, but you can't be too critical of an organization locking down a player it views as a cornerstone. Murray doesn't have to wonder what his team thinks of him, and a willingness to pay promising players isn't the worst thing to broadcast to the rest of the league.

    Jerami Grant is the real reason Denver ranks this highly in a mostly uneventful summer. The Nuggets dealt a 2020 first-rounder to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the springy, defensively versatile forward, adding badly needed frontcourt athleticism and physicality in the process.

    Grant also shot 39.2 percent on a respectable 3.7 three-point attempts per game last year. That level of shooting, if sustainable, is useful in any frontcourt player. In one that can credibly guard five positions and finish above the rim, it's doubly valuable. Get ready for Nikola Jokic to dime Grant up for at least two highlight finishes every night.

    Finally, the Nugs took a flier on Bol Bol, the draft's biggest victim of last-minute slippage. At No. 44 (via Miami), Denver added a guy many projected as a lottery-level talent. There's no such thing as too much risk that late in the draft.


    8. Memphis Grizzlies

    Memphis didn't hit any homers this summer, but few teams ripped more doubles off the wall.

    The draft yielded Ja Morant, the no-brainer at No. 2, and Brandon Clarke, an alarmingly bouncy forward out of Gonzaga who profiles as a dominant and versatile defender alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies figure to have plenty more cracks at young gems in the draft as a result of their other moves.

    Memphis hoarded picks, using cap space and slick opportunism to grab a lightly protected first-rounder (plus Andre Iguodala, who could net them another asset via trade) from the Warriors, two seconds in the Delon Wright sign-and-trade and two more seconds from the Suns for taking a flier on Josh Jackson.

    Don't forget the haul of the Mike Conley trade, either. Memphis copped a 2020 first-rounder in that one, along with a handful of players headlined by Jae Crowder, who, like Iguodala, could net another pick in a trade to a contender.

    Maybe the Grizz overpaid in their three-year, $45 million deal with Jonas Valanciunas, but they did well in effectively choosing Tyus Jones over Wright. Jones is four years younger, which makes more sense for Memphis' timeline.


    7. Philadelphia 76ers

    Josh Richardson replaces some of JJ Redick's shooting and some of Jimmy Butler's perimeter defense, though he won't be nearly the late-game creator Butler was. If the Sixers struggle on offense next year, it'll be because they lack a classic go-to option. Still, with Richardson making only $10.1 million next year (Butler's at $32.7 million, and Redick will get $13 million from the New Orleans Pelicans), the value play is undeniable.

    Also, might I suggest dumping the ball into Joel Embiid when a bucket is necessary? As a fallback option to replace Butler's crunch-time offense, you could do worse than counting on Embiid to score or get fouled down low—especially if he gets in shape and improves his passing out of double teams.

    Back to the transactions, though. Philly also took the closest thing to an Embiid-stopper out of the equation by adding him to the roster. Al Horford gives the Sixers excellent defense, facilitation, leadership and the certainty of having a star-level big man on the floor at all times if the Sixers stagger him with Embiid.

    Together, he and Embiid will compose the top defensive frontcourt tandem in the league.

    Tobias Harris isn't worth $180 million over five years, but considering age, fit and personality, it made sense to max him out over Butler—even if Butler may not have been interested in staying anyway.

    The Sixers might feature the league's best defense next year, and it's been a long time since any first unit has looked this physically imposing.

    We've gone on for too long already, but don't forget sleeper rookie Matisse Thybulle or the solid signings of Kyle O'Quinn, James Ennis III and Mike Scott.


    6. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Talk about making the best of a bad situation.

    OKC had to have been blindsided by Paul George's trade request, but knowing that PG's presence on the Los Angeles Clippers was a prerequisite to them getting Kawhi Leonard, it squeezed every last drop of value from L.A. in the bargain.

    The Thunder's haul for George may be the most impressive in recent history, and it's certainly the best package a team has ever gotten for a player who asked to be moved: four unprotected first-rounders (three from the Clippers and one via Miami), one protected first (via Miami), swap rights on two more first-rounders in 2023 and 2025 and Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

    Under normal circumstances, Oklahoma City would have done well to get Gallinari's expiring deal and SGA for George, with maybe one first-rounder attached. Leverage is a glorious thing.

    The Thunder also got two more firsts and a pair of swap rights in 2021 and 2025 from the Rockets in the Westbrook-for-Paul exchange, an absolute steal. Throw in one more first in the Grant deal with Denver, and that's a grand total of eight incoming first-rounders between now and 2026, plus four sets of swap rights.

    Oklahoma City was locked into perennial first-round-exit status with its previous core. This offseason means a short-term step back is inevitable, but few teams are better positioned to build for the future.

5-1: Consider the Offseason Crushed

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    5. Utah Jazz

    Utah faltered in the playoffs last season because it couldn't hit the quality shots it generated. By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, revamping 40 percent of their starting lineup, the Jazz addressed that issue.

    Conley is a career 37.5 percent shooter from deep who works his way to the line with guile, sets up teammates and defends well in a team scheme, even if we should expect mild declines in all those areas ahead of his age-32 season. Bogdanovic's deal is weighty, but he gives the Jazz a four-out late-game offense that opponents will struggle to handle.

    Jeff Green and Ed Davis offset Derrick Favors' departure up front. Neither will tempt the Jazz into using two-big lineups like Favors did, which also bodes well for postseason success.

    Utah improved on a 50-win roster in all the most important ways.


    4. New Orleans Pelicans

    The Anthony Davis trade brought back Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick in the draft (which became picks No. 8, 17 and 35) and a pile of future first-rounders.

    Zion Williamson arrived as the top pick, followed by fellow rim-assailant Jaxson Hayes and sneaky dime-up artist Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

    Just two second-rounders for Derrick Favors? Yes, please!

    JJ Redick for two years and $26.6 million? Why not?

    It's been a long time since a rebuild took shape as quickly as the one in New Orleans.


    3. Brooklyn Nets

    Plenty could go wrong with the Nets' rebuilt roster. Kevin Durant could miss the entire 2019-20 season and never recover the game he had before his Achilles tear. Kyrie Irving could continue salting the earth wherever he goes, the great dissent-sower of these modern NBA times. He has his own injury history to ponder as well.

    But let's not overthink this one.

    Brooklyn added two marquee stars because it built itself into a desirable big-market destination with one hand tied behind its back. Sans useful draft assets, the Nets engaged in an all-time stretch of wheeling and dealing to reach this point.

    We're in standing ovation territory at this point in the rankings.


    2. Los Angeles Lakers

    It cost a fortune, but the Lakers got Anthony Davis.

    That would have been enough to finish in the top five on its own, but L.A. also improved on last year's post-star-acquisition moves (it would have been hard not to) by landing Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook while bringing back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso.

    Kawhi Leonard would have vaulted the Lakers into their own separate tier, but it's hard to get too down on the consolation prizes they secured.

    The Lakers are contenders now, and they weren't before. That seems like a big deal.


    1. Los Angeles Clippers

    The injury downside for both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is very real.

    Leonard load-managed his way to 60 games last season and was clearly hobbled (not that it mattered) in the playoffs. Meanwhile, George's health history is even more alarming. In addition to the broken leg he suffered in 2014, he also underwent knee surgery last offseason and had both shoulders operated after this year's postseason elimination.

    There are ways for this to go very badly for the Clips, especially considering the ransom they paid to get George.

    That said, the Clippers have two of the best five wings in the NBA, and they're supported by a ready-made cast of role players headlined by re-signees Patrick Beverley, JaMychal Green, Rodney McGruder and Ivica Zubac.

    Throw in newly acquired Maurice Harkless along with holdovers Lou Williams, Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell, and you've got a 10-man rotation with zero holes.

    The Clips were bolder than anyone this offseason, and though nothing's ever assured, the payoff looks awfully good right now.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.