Biggest Winners and Losers of the NBA Offseason

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Regular-season NBA basketball is almost here. Wild, right? It seems like we went through the draft and free agency less than two weeks ago.

Because we did.

Everything about this offseason is moving at an expedited pace, so our interpretations of how every team fared must, too. That means it's time for a deep dive into the biggest winners and losers of the Association's abbreviated hiatus from actual games.

Just so everyone's on the same page, this exercise is based on the entire offseason to date. Trades, the draft, free agency, rumors—it's all up for consideration. Injuries are the only notable exclusion. Those are beyond anyone's control. More specifically, there's no point in adding to the dilemma in which Klay Thompson (Achilles) and the Golden State Warriors find themselves.

And we're off!


To Be Determined 

Atlanta Hawks

Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Atlanta is almost universally being pegged as huge offseason winners. That's fair. The roster is upgraded upgraded. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo can all make it so Trae Young spends more time without the ball. And the offense should no longer devolve into poopity poop when he's catching breathers on the bench.

Knowing that Gallinari will begin the season backing up John Collins makes the Hawks' spending even more palatable. This limits the amount of time Gallo must spend at the 3, because he should be a 4, and creates some organic staggering between him and Young that allows the former to feast against backups.

Justin Phan @jphanned

Schlenk: “We had our conversations with Danilo and his reps, we made it clear to him that the role he was signing up for was to come in and be a backup behind John.” https://t.co/lQmepm0NqV

That doesn't make Atlanta's offseason a no-brainer victory. It got better, but how much better? Gallinari will still need to play small forward during critical stretches unless one of Bogdanovic or Collins isn't going to close games. Kris Dunn's addition is a boon for the defense, but he shrinks the floor at the other end, making it difficult to play him when either Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu is on the floor.

Whether the Hawks are even noticeably more capable at the less glamorous end is debatable. Capela and Dunn are real assets, and Atlanta can bank on improvement from De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. But the minutes in which Bogdanovic, Gallinari and Young play together will be rough.

Rondo's topsy-turvy regular-season value only complicates matters. The Hawks can't afford to care that he's a monster in the playoffs. They need to reach the postseason first. And he isn't necessarily the antidote to navigating lineups without Young. Even when he's canning 40 percent of his threes, like he did in the playoffs, defenses aren't scared of him off the ball, and he doesn't put traditional pressure on the rim as someone who often seeks to score as a last resort.

Everything could wind up being hunky-dory. Atlanta might be next up in the Eastern Conference. It could also get off to a slow start, absolutely suck on defense, have trouble balancing minutes on the wings and generally struggle in a way that costs head coach Lloyd Pierce his job.


Miami Heat

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Let's get one thing out of the way: This isn't about Bam Adebayo's max extension.

The Heat cost themselves around $13 million in 2021 cap space by hashing out his deal now, which costs them ground in the potential Giannis Antetokounmpo sweepstakes. But planning around other teams' players is dangerous, and Miami can engineer sign-and-trade scenarios if he wants to join the cause. It matters just as much that the franchise is on good terms with Adebayo, who shares an agent with Antetokounmpo.

At the same time, the Heat are still prioritizing 2021 cap space overall. Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic, Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard all signed one-year deals. (Everyone except Harkless has a team option for 2021-22.) Miami clearly wants the wiggle room necessary to go star hunting.

This likely explains why Jae Crowder signed a three-year deal worth the full mid-level exception with the Phoenix Suns. The Heat weren't willing to guarantee that long of a contract. That's fine on its face. But Crowder is not readily replaced by the newcomers. Bradley doesn't have the size to guard bigger wings and 4s, and Harkless doesn't offer the same offensive optionality. His best three-point shooting has come on lower volume, and Crowder is more comfortable putting the ball on the floor.

Miami's frontcourt rotation doesn't feel as dynamic. Playing Andre Iguodala up a position doesn't help the spacing, and neither Leonard nor Kelly Olynyk projects to close games beside Adebayo.

On the bright side: Lineups with Crowder at the 4 didn't obliterate the competition during the playoffs. They were net neutral and only a slight positive when they included Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Calling the Heat an outright loser in the interim would go too far. But the absence of Crowder, borne ostensibly from the push for 2021 cap space, is worth monitoring.


Milwaukee Bucks

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Milwaukee becomes an instant winner if Antetokounmpo signs his supermax extension. End of story. It doesn't matter whether the agreement includes a wink-wink understanding that the team will trade him if it can't win in a year or two. The Bucks still get something—a whole bunch of somethings, actually—if he leaves under those circumstances. That's objectively way better than the prospect of losing him for nothing in free agency.

They even have a path to winner's territory if Antetokounmpo declines the supermax and opts to play out the season. They just traded for Jrue Holiday, who is a demonstrative upgrade over Eric Bledsoe by virtue of having an offensive game that cannot be neutralized during the postseason. If he increases their chance of re-signing Antetokounmpo next offseason and arrives planning to re-up with the team himself (he has a player option), Milwaukee is still positioned to come out on top.

Counterpoint: What if he doesn't? Never mind Antetokounmpo's future. What if Holiday leaves after one season? The Bucks flipped four unprotected firsts to the New Orleans Pelicans beginning in 2024 to get him (two swaps, two outrights). That's an untenable price to pay for a rental.

Oh, and we cannot forget the Bogdan Bogdanovic debacle. That flubbed sign-and-trade cost Milwaukee an opportunity to truly postseason-proof its best lineup. Some of the rebound signings were nice—Torrey Craig and Bryn Forbes specifically–but someone like Pat Connaughton is still alarmingly important to the rotation.

The secondary wing depth, in general, is pretty meh. Wesley Matthews' departure hurts. Craig offers the same positional range on defense but is a de facto non-shooter. The D.J. Augustin acquisition will be most valuable in the regular season, if it's valuable at all. He is 33, stands under 6'0" and just shot under 30 percent on pull-up three-pointers with the Orlando Magic.

If the Bucks are measurably better, it'll show during the postseason. But that improvement is no longer a given after the Bogdanovic gaffe. Failing a midseason trade—Donte DiVincenzo and salary filler?—Milwaukee is more talented at the top and shallower in the aggregate.


New Orleans Pelicans

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Kudos to the Pelicans for making out like bandits in the Holiday deal. The rights to four unprotected firsts from a team that can't yet be sure it'll still have Antetokounmpo when they convey is a monstrous win. They also picked up Bledsoe, a useful regular-season player, and the lights-out-shooting George Hill, who they already rerouted to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

New Orleans' subsequent moves put its winner's status in doubt. The Steven Adams trade cost Hill, a 2023 first-rounder (via the Denver Nuggets) and two future seconds from potentially bad teams (Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards).

Signing Adams to a two-year, $35 million extension after giving up all that only exposes the Pelicans to additional risk. I wrote about the complexities of Adams' fit on the front line beside Zion Williamson here, but in a nutshell, he gives them a dirty-work conscience that should manifest on the defensive end while severely handcuffing their spacing at the other side.

Playing him in tandem with Zion puts a ton of pressure on the latter to take and make wide-open threes. And he was already facing that burden. New Orleans hasn't exactly surrounded him with a bunch of shooters.

Josh Hart and JJ Redick fit the mold, but Bledsoe is below average from the outside, Lonzo Ball's long-range splits tend to fluctuate and Brandon Ingram just wrapped up his high-volume season from downtown. Their roster would look appreciably better if they found a way to send Bledsoe to the Thunder instead of Hill, who posted a league-best 46 percent clip from distance last season.

Not to be forgotten amid all this: Where are all the wings? Ingram is New Orleans' only perimeter player who stands taller than 6'6". Wenyen Gabriel might actually see time at the 3—and no, that's not a good thing. The Pelicans were always going to have a lot to figure out, but their roster, as currently constructed, doesn't make as much sense as it should.



Dallas Mavericks

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Few seem to be praising the Mavericks' offseason. They deserve better.

Burning some of the mid-level to include a third year on Trey Burke's deal limited shopping elsewhere, and Seth Curry's exit goes down as a major loss. But Dallas by and large had one of the more sensible offseasons.

Josh Richardson is a huge get, and his player option for next season jibes with the Mavericks' cap-space plans—which are now grander after turning Justin Jackson and Delon Wright into the expiring contract of James Johnson. That deal not only gets them out from under the final year and $8.5 million of Wright's pact, but it also gives them a much larger salary to work with in midseason trades. Johnson also arms them with another body to roll out at the 4 or 5, a necessity more than a luxury given Dwight Powell's Achilles injury and Kristaps Porzingis' recovery from yet another knee surgery.

Feel free to pour one out for the Wes Iwundu signing. I already have. He has the length to hold up across three positions on defense, and his offense shouldn't be written off. He buried 42.9 percent of his threes on 2.0 attempts per game after Jan. 1 and has some juice to offer when turning corners with the ball. Dallas can now build intriguing wing-heavy lineups with him, Luka Doncic, Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith—and be much better equipped to get stops as a result.


Gordon Hayward

Blue Wire Podcasts @bluewirepods

The Hornets: *no longer have one of the NBA's worst contracts* Michael Jordan: https://t.co/0Yl5pa7r1g

Gordon Hayward turned down a $34.2 million player option in a cap-poor market and then proceeded to land a four-year, $120 million contract despite battling injuries in two of his three seasons with the Boston Celtics.

He wins. Period.


Los Angeles Lakers

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Full disclosure: The Lakers almost landed in the TBD section.

All of their acquisitions bring great value in a vacuum. Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder are last year's two leading bench scorers, Marc Gasol comes out of hibernation to mess up Joel Embiid's life every once in a while, and they replaced Danny Green with the much cheaper Wesley Matthews, who also happens to have the extra strength necessary to wage battle against the Jimmy Butlers and Kawhi Leonards of the NBA.

Los Angeles' additions look even better through the lens of their predecessors. Going from Rondo, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee to Schroder, Harrell and Gasol is objectively ridiculous.

Something still feels off. The Lakers are banking an awful lot on Schroder to build upon last year's career performance, in which he basically shot a personal best from every spot on the floor. And the Harrell fit is prickly. Anthony Davis can't be the roll guy if they share the floor, and Gasol, while a floor-spacer, isn't a much more seamless partner if he's not getting shots up in volume.

Maybe this is akin to overthinking...everything. Davis shared the floor with Howard and McGee for much of last year. Harrell isn't going to hurt him. And Davis' fit with Gasol verges on divine.

Still, out of all the Lakers' moves, the only player they acquired who's guaranteed to be in playoff crunch-time lineups is Matthews. (Count Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if you'd like, but he wasn't an addition.) That feels problematic. Perhaps Schroder overturns this sentiment. He killed it when sharing the floor with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul. Playing with Davis and LeBron James might have a similar effect.

Lack of progression from fellow contenders is what ultimately renders the Lakers a big, fat, reigning-champion-sized winner. The Mavericks are the only top-tier Western Conference threat that is definitively better. Throw the Portland Trail Blazers in there, too. Everyone else lost key pieces, including the Los Angeles Clippers, or is mostly treading water.


Oklahoma City Thunder

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Yes, the picks. The Thunder have a lot of them, maybe all of them, between now and the 2026 draft. General manager Sam Presti and his staff deserve credit for mining so many first-rounders out of their win-now veterans. They even received one while moving Adams' $27.5 million salary—and got Hill to boot. He might yield a high-end second, low-end first or prospect at the trade deadline. The Celtics and Clippers should have their eyes peeled.

Really, though, Oklahoma City wins for its gall.

Tommy Beer @TommyBeer

Teams with the most future net draft picks (first and second-round picks incoming minus first and second-round picks outgoing) over the next five years: 1. OKC Thunder: 22 total picks 2. New York Knicks: 16 total picks 3. New Orleans Pelicans: 15 totals picks

Starting over is tough, particularly in a smaller market. Just this offseason we've seen two teams on the rebuilding track—the Hornets and Detroit Pistons—make moves that compromise their draft stock. The Thunder leaned into theirs, stockpiling more picks and opening up the court-time pipeline for their prospects in the process.

Bottoming out now is a shrewd move. The West housed 15 teams that profiled as playoff hopefuls, at least internally, before the Thunder lit their stick of dynamite. And they followed through. Four of their five best players from last year—Adams, Gallinari, Paul, Schroder—are elsewhere, and their 2021 lottery odds are much better for it.

Oklahoma City isn't even done. Hill and Trevor Ariza will draw midseason interest. Maybe Al Horford recaptures some of his value. Regardless, the Thunder remain well positioned to add top-tier talent through next year's draft and, eventually, go all-in on a superstar trade if the right name emerges.


Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee, Tristan Thompson

Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

So much for bigs getting squeezed in this year's market. Sure, some did. Aron Baynes not getting two guaranteed years (2021-22 team option) is weird. Hassan Whiteside also went for the minimum. But this offseason also was kind to non-shooting tall people.

Derrick Favors received the full MLE over three years from the Utah Jazz—with a player option on that final season. Tristan Thompson landed the full MLE across two years from the Celtics. Mason Plumlee got three years and $25 million, all of it guaranteed, from the Pistons. For some reason.

None of these paydays are unequivocally great value from the team perspective. Favors' contract comes closest, but giving a player-controlled third year to someone who struggled with back injuries last season is a little harrowing—especially when you're paying him to back up a highly paid star like Rudy Gobert.

For the players, though, this constitutes a home run. They didn't enter the market as Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol—players who signed for equal or less guaranteed money, but only because it was their choice. They were the exact type of center who stood to get the shaft. And they didn't.


Philadelphia 76ers

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

The Sixers have succeeded in doing what they didn't last offseason: filling out the supporting cast around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with players who actually make sense.

Trading Al Horford came at an opportunity cost, but not a stark one. Giving up the No. 34 pick (Theo Maledon) is whatever. Forking over a lightly protected 2025 first-rounder stings; shipping out distant picks always does. But Embiid and Simmons are young enough, and Philly's window is wide enough, to justify it.

Alternative scenarios probably dictated the Sixers give up two imminent firsts. Consolidating their risk by pushing the obligation is justifiable. And they didn't just get pure cap relief. Danny Green receives a lot of flak whenever he misses big shots, but there's a reason he's played for so many teams who needed him to hit big shots. He is a workaholic on defense and will rain fire from beyond the arc on most nights, without ever cannibalizing possessions.

Swapping Richardson for Seth Curry is a net-talent negative. Richardson wasn't himself last year. Hamstring issues messed with his mobility. He will hit a higher percentage of his threes (34.1 percent) and has more to offer as an off-the-dribble jump shooter.

But Curry is clearly the cleaner fit. His on-ball defense is better than advertised, and most importantly, he's incandescent from three-point land. Among every player who has launched at least 1,000 triples since 2015-16, his 44.3 percent clip ranks first.

Philly is getting him on an ultra-reasonable deal. He's owed just $24.5 million over the next three years. Richardson will be up for a new, probably far steeper contract next offseason (player option).

Selecting Tyrese Maxey at No. 21 keeps in theme with the Curry and Green additions. He shot just 29.2 percent from deep at Kentucky, but his mechanics and 83.3 percent clip at the foul line paint the picture of a much better sniper, and long-term, the Sixers won't be giving up anything on defense by having him on the floor.


Phoenix Suns

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Imagine not loving the Suns' offseason.

Trading for CP3 vaults them into the Western Conference playoff conversation, and they did a nice job of rounding out the rest of the roster. Crowder is a perfect signing given the rest of their personnel, and they preserved their replacement-level backcourt depth by retaining Jevon Carter, another ideal fit, and Cameron Payne.

Dario Saric's three-year, $27 million deal has the potential to be a steal if he plays like he did at Disney World, where he was cooking defenses off the bench as both a backup 4 and 5. Signing Langston Galloway and E'Twaun Moore is just good business. Galloway is a defensive try-harder, and both players converted more than 40 percent of their catch-and-fire threes last season.

Backup center could morph into an issue. Damian Jones and Jalen Smith don't inspire confidence. But that just opens the door for more Saric at the 5. Head coach Monty Williams can even get weird and throw Cameron Johnson into the fold.

Drafting Smith at No. 10 is Phoenix's sole controversial move. Devin Vassell, a three-and-D wing with some ball skills, made so much more sense. Taking Tyrese Haliburton and having him learn the ropes under CP3 would've also been a made-for-NBA-Twitter move.

Whatever. The Suns built up the type of goodwill this offseason that leaves margin for error. They still come out on top.


2017 Draft Class Extendees

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Life is pretty good right now for Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. They all signed max five-year extensions without having to go through the dance of restricted free agency.

This win is even bigger for Mitchell and Tatum. Both have player options after the fourth year of the deals, giving them the chance to re-explore the open market when they could qualify for the designated veteran extension.


Portland Trail Blazers

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

The Blazers have the look and feel of a team prepared to shoot up the Western Conference standings.

Their wing rotation hasn't been this deep during the Damian Lillard era. Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Rodney Hood, Derrick Jones Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. give them a multitude of combinations at the 2, 3 and 4 spots.

Anyone overly concerned with Anthony's return needs to chill. He came back knowing he wouldn't start. That's one crisis averted. How head coach Terry Stotts uses him is a separate matter. But Melo just averaged more than 15 points per game while shooting better than 38 percent from behind the rainbow. Unless he's closing games over Covington, his return on an afterthought contract isn't a concern.

Besides, the Blazers can stand to get creative. They might be able to steal minutes with Melo at the 5 if they're playing both Covington and Jones beside him.

Portland's overall center rotation is just plain deeper. Enes Kanter will get played off the floor in certain matchups, but he proved more serviceable in pick-and-roll coverage during his 2019 stint with the team. Harry Giles III brings a flair for passing off the block, a trace of a floor game and, potentially, some pick-and-pop range. Zach Collins will unlock five-out combinations when he returns from his left ankle injury.

Hood's two-year, $21 million deal is the riskiest play the Blazers made, and they've insulated themselves against any real downside. He's working his way back from an Achilles injury, but the second season is non-guaranteed. If he's healthy, he gives them a lethal floor-spacer—he was shooting 55.3 percent on spot-up treys before he went down—and a useful salary anchor for other midseason trades.

What this all amounts to is a matter of course. The Blazers aren't quite built to withstand the Lakers or Clippers, but theirs is a roster that, at full strength, should contend for a top-four playoff seed.


Rudy Gobert

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Picture this: You're Rudy Gobert. You're eligible for an extension. And you just saw Hayward get four years and $120 million in a market largely devoid of cap space.

You have to be feeling pretty good about your next contract.

In the event Gobert's asking price nears the moon, it likely diminishes the chance he agrees to an extension with the Jazz. That's fine. The league will have more cap space floating around next offseason, and as the Hornets have so graciously shown us, it only takes one team to come over the top.



Boston Celtics

AJ MAST/Associated Press

The Celtics aren't landing here because they lost Hayward, per se. Matching his $120 million price tag wouldn't have made a ton of sense even for a team entrenched in title contention.

Jaylen Brown's extension kicks in this year, and Tatum's max deal will follow suit in 2021-22. Kemba Walker is already maxed out. Marcus Smart is due to hit free agency in 2022. This core is about to get expensive, and while no one should care about saving billionaire team governors money, the reality is Boston must pick and choose where to spend.

Hayward's exit is only part of the calculus because it sounds like the Celtics passed on—or didn't seriously enough consider—sign-and-trade scenarios with the Indiana Pacers. As Zach Lowe entertained on The Lowe Post, the Celtics might've balked at deals with Myles Turner as the centerpiece. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reported that they wanted T.J. Warren or Victor Oladipo tacked on to the package.

Vincent Goodwill @VinceGoodwill

If you’re the Celtics, you gotta tell me why you don’t do that S/T with the Pacers for Hayward? Myles Turner fits all the Celtics needs, way more than Hayward did honestly

That is...certainly a decision if it's true. Turner is a utopian complement to Boston's core: a shifty rim protector and low-usage floor spacer. He wouldn't provide the strength necessary to topple Adebayo or Embiid regularly, but so few do.

Considering what could have been hurts the Celtics only so much. The exact parameters of sign-and-trade talks can't be known for sure. Leaks are always agenda-driven. And who knows whether Hayward would've been on board when the Hornets were peddling so much more money? But Boston did little to settle the unease with its other moves.

Funneling the entire mid-level into Tristan Thompson is questionable. He gives them a strong diver with floater range who will battle on the glass and brings more raw strength than Turner, but the Celtics have Daniel Theis, Robert Williams III and Grant Williams. Burning their best free-agency tool on a non-shooting big when they just lost their third- or fourth-most important playmaker puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Tatum, Walker and Smart.

CelticsBlog @celticsblog

all other things aside, I'm happy with the Celtics center rotation the conventional wisdom is that you pay big bucks for only the top star level centers the C's are spending less on Theis, Thompson and Timelord than Myles Turner alone makes

Picking up Jeff Teague alleviates some of that burden. He is an upgraded game manager compared to Brad Wanamaker, his predecessor who's now with the Warriors. That the Celtics let Wanamaker walk, without even tendering a qualifying offer, for such a paltry amount ($2.3 million) is bizarre in itself. He provides more reliable off-ball shooting, power driving and defense than Teague.

Nothing Boston could've feasibly done would completely offset Hayward's exit. That's not up for debate. But the way it navigated the rest of the offseason underwhelms.


Charlotte Hornets

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

To the Hornets' credit, the idea of signing Hayward isn't ludicrous. Every team could use a 6'7" secondary ball-handler capable of hitting catch-and-launch jumpers and guarding up to opposing 4s. His presence will lighten the workload for rookie LaMelo Ball, who needs safety outlets just as much as he does creative agency.

But, like, $120 million? Seriously?

Charlotte cannot defend this investment. Hayward has missed 111 games over the past three seasons and has failed to make an All-Star team since heading over to the Easier Conference. Even if he makes good on his pay grade for the first year or two, this deal isn't going to age well when it runs through his age-33 season. He never guaranteed a trip to the playoffs at the peak of his powers. That's not going to start now.

This move looks even worse if the Hornets have to waive-and-stretch Nicolas Batum to make it happen. They'd have more than $9 million of dead money on their books for the next three seasons. Hayward would, in essence, be costing them $39 million per year through 2022-23. (Pointing out that the Hornets have to pay Batum no matter what this season doesn't help. If they were going to stretch him independent of Hayward, they would've spent the resulting flexibility on other acquisitions.)

Figuring out a way around the waive-and-stretch scenario won't count as victory. It only means the Hornets surrendered an asset or two to get Batum off their books or gave away Cody Zeller, who is currently the only person standing between them and a whole bunch of Bismack Biyombo minutes.


Denver Nuggets

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Nuggets did not lose Jerami Grant because they failed to pony up. They were willing to offer him the same three-year, $60 million agreement he signed with the Pistons. They just couldn't compete with the offensive role Detroit promised, per T.J. McBride of the Rocky Mountain Hoops podcast:

T.J. McBride @TJMcBrideNBA

League source: The Denver Nuggets offered the same contract to Grant as the Pistons did (3 years, $60 million) but Grant wanted a bigger role as I reported earlier. That is the defining reason for his departure. https://t.co/7kY6No6paT

That doesn't make Grant's departure sting any less. Denver's road to the Finals runs through some combination of Luka Doncic, Paul George, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Between Grant's departure to Detroit and Torrey Craig's landing with Milwaukee, the Nuggets have lost their best options to guard of all them.

Denver did skirt disaster by bringing back Paul Millsap and signing JaMychal Green. Millsap will be able to pitch in defending LeBron. But they no longer have the rangy wing to cover stud 3s and 4s. Gary Harris and Will Barton aren't big enough, and Michael Porter Jr. looks like he'll be a better off-ball defender than primary-assignment blanket once he's fully developed.

There can be no overstating the importance of Grant's departure. The Nuggets have a chance to be an equally dangerous regular-season squad, if not more dangerous, in the event Disney World represented Jamal Murray's new normal and MPJ holds up in a larger role. And the addition of R.J. Hampton, who they acquired for a lottery-protected first in 2023, is interesting. But they'll need to swing a midseason trade to match last year's playoff ceiling.

Fresh off a Western Conference Finals appearance, that qualifies as a major letdown.


Detroit Pistons

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Though Grant isn't your typical $20-million-per-year player, this isn't an unreasonable price to pay for a 26-year-old wing who can switch across almost every position, runs the floor and has shot 39.1 percent from long distance over the past two seasons.

At the very least, it isn't on the same level as Charlotte's paying Hayward. There's deemphasizing cap space in smaller markets, and then there's wasting it. The Hornets went the latter route. The Pistons are taking a more calculated gamble with Grant, who is much younger and cheaper and on a shorter contract.

And yet, the context under which he arrives doesn't inspire confidence. The Pistons promised him a larger offensive role, but he's never flashed a ton of off-the-dribble panache. Gifting him license to create may not translate to a better player.

Grant's efficiency from beyond the arc is similarly much less of a sure thing in Detroit. He isn't benefiting from the vision of Nikola Jokic and gravity of Murray. The Pistons are surrounding him with a bunch of questionable-shooting, ball-dominant talent.

Some of their lineups are going to be caps-lock CLUNKY. Sekou Doumbouya, Killian Hayes, Derrick Rose, Delon Wright and Josh Jackson all project as below-board shooters. Grant won't have a ton of room to operate off the dribble, if that's what he was even acquired to do.

Blake Griffin is now the lone big with outside touch after Detroit let Christian Wood walk and waived Dewayne Dedmon. Keeping either one—or both—would've made far more sense than giving Plumlee $25 million. I still cannot see why Jahlil Okafor is on this team, even at an afterthought price tag.

Turning Luke Kennard into Saddiq Bey was a solid big-picture play. It also cost the Pistons four second-round picks. The decision to waive Zhaire Smith after getting him for Tony Bradley barely registers compared to every other dubious move made by the Pistons.

Perhaps general manager Troy Weaver has a plan those so far removed from the organization can't see. At least, that's what Pistons fans need to be telling themselves. It's otherwise impossible to rationalize Detroit's non-draft moves.


Houston Rockets

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Believe it or not, the Rockets' offseason isn't all bad. They signed Wood, took a nice risk-free flier on DeMarcus Cousins and acquired a first-rounder for a change.

Bringing in Wood is a fantastic roll of the dice. He can play both the 4 and 5, stretches defenses, has an operable floor game and covers a lot of, let's say, chaotic ground at the less glamorous end. At only 25, he fits whatever direction Houston takes itself.

Good thing, too. Because:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Rockets star James Harden wants to be on a contender elsewhere, and Brooklyn and Philadelphia are believed to be his top desired trade destinations, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Houston is fully comfortable keeping Harden and Russell Westbrook into the season.

The Rockets have no way of coming back from James Harden's trade request. Russell Westbrook's is problematic in the sense they might not be able to readily move the three years and $132.7 million left on his contract even if they decide to trade his co-star. That nightmare scenario costs them a top-five player while inhibiting any rebuilding efforts.

This says nothing of both head coach Mike D'Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey's exit from the organization. Their departures definitely accelerated, if not flat-out incited, Harden's unhappiness. Now, inside a month of the regular season, the Rockets' future is at once aimless and unhinged.


Sacramento Kings

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

I waffled on whether to dub the Kings a loser. The Tyrese Haliburton pick has me ecstatic, and it is possible to spin Bogdanovic's exit in not-disastrous terms:

Dan Favale @danfavale

one implication of the kings not matching bogi: it seems they're content *not* to get caught up in the race for a 10-seed—which is really smart. still think they should've matched and figured it out later. but the front office at least appears to be playing a longer, larger game

This slant is essentially the equivalent of "Hey, the Kings have done worse!" That's not enough to spare them from the list of those who took an L.

Bogdanovic was somewhere between their second- and fourth-most valuable player. Allowing him to find the door without getting anything in return isn't a great look. It doesn't matter that general manager Monte McNair wasn't in charge at the trade deadline. He's at the helm now. Bogdanovic's four-year, $72 million offer from the Hawks was worth matching and trying to move later.

That move wouldn't be without risk. Letting him go isn't either. Even if the Kings have the best of intentions, they may be too good to truly bottom out. The West is brutal, but a core of Fox, Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, Buddy Hield and Richaun Holmes can reach high-20 to mid-30 wins over the course of a 72-game season. That isn't a low enough floor to compete with teams that are steering harder into the organic tank.

Cashing in on other talent stands to change the optics. Sacramento hasn't done that yet. And signing Hassan Whiteside for the league minimum isn't purely a footnote transaction. It suggests they're not prepared to lean on Bagley for a ton of minutes at the 5, which feels like a mistake—and yet another example, however minor, of poor asset allocation.


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Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.


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