Every NBA Team's Biggest L of the Offseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 23, 2021

Every NBA Team's Biggest L of the Offseason

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    There is no set criteria for an NBA offseason loss. It's more of a you-know-it-when-you-see-it situation.

    Contracts might be overinflated in time span, salary or both. Teams might have failed to address an obvious area of need. Or it could be as simple as the tangible loss of an on-court contributor.

    Just about every fanbase is nodding its head right now, because just about every fanbase can relate. Nearly every franchise suffered at least one clear loss this summer, and we're spotlighting them all.

No Ls Detected

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks

    The good times keep rolling in Atlanta.

    The Hawks re-signed John Collins and Lou Williams. Trae Young got his well-deserved max extension. Delon Wright scratched an itch for a backup point guard. Gorgui Dieng covered the hole at backup center opened by Onyeka Okongwu's shoulder surgery. Oh, and Atlanta aced the draft despite picking 20th (Jalen Johnson) and 48th (Sharife Cooper).

    With more than enough wing depth to cover Tony Snell's departure—the closest thing to a "loss" this club suffered—even nitpicking doesn't yield any offseason gripes.

                  

    Charlotte Hornets

    Charlotte followed its splashy 2020 offseason with an impressively solid 2021 summer. This looks like a roster built to run with LaMelo Ball, as it should. Essentially every new arrival is a plus athlete (or better), and the signing of Ish Smith will keep the pedal floored when Ball needs a breather.

    Swapping out Cody Zeller for Mason Plumlee is a win. Replacing Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk with Smith and James Bouknight feels like another. The same goes for only partially guaranteeing the second year of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s contract. That's a lot of winning, and things will really get rolling if Charlotte can maximize high-ceiling rookies Kai Jones and JT Thor.

                

    Miami Heat

    You could maybe gripe about the years or dollars on some of the contracts Miami handed out this summer, but no team raised its ceiling more than the 2020 Eastern Conference champs.

    Kyle Lowry scratches itches for shot-creation and point-of-attack defense while being a hand-in-glove fit with #HeatCulture. P.J. Tucker teams with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in what might be the best defensive trio in basketball. Duncan Robinson is still around to keep the offensive spacing from collapsing, and Victor Oladipo becomes a fascinating wild card the further he moves from May surgery on his right quadriceps tendon.

    Locking Butler into a lengthy extension is the right way to treat a superstar, and adding Markieff Morris to the mix gives the frontcourt even more toughness and versatility. Pat Riley did it again.

                  

    Phoenix Suns

    The Suns have zero interest in being one-year wonders in the West. They leaned all the way into their Finals run by throwing major money at Chris Paul (four years, $120 million) and Cameron Payne (three years, $19 million). They turned the 29th pick and Jevon Carter into sharpshooter Landry Shamet. They covered for the loss of Dario Saric (torn ACL in right knee) by adding JaVale McGee and keeping Frank Kaminsky.

    Where are the Ls in all of this? You might be tempted to say giving a contract that rich and that long to the 36-year-old Point God, but only the first two seasons are fully guaranteed. It's an L-free summer for an ascending squad that could get used to all of these Ws.

                  

    Washington Wizards

    Did the Wizards do enough so silence the Bradley Beal trade speculation? Sorry, Wizards fans, but that isn't happening—at least not before he puts pen to paper on a new deal.

    But Washington bought itself time with Beal by reconfiguring the roster around him. It turned Russell Westbrook's mammoth contract into three rotation players, giving Beal a new backcourt mate and improved offensive spacing.

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell (the return package for Westbrook) should all walk into significant roles on opening night. Spencer Dinwiddie can help Beal steer the ship on offense. Rookie Corey Kispert could be the top sniper in the freshman class. Add in wild cards like Aaron Holiday and Isaiah Todd, and this good summer could become a great one.

Boston Celtics: Neglecting the Offense

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The Boston Celtics spent the summer cleaning up their cap situation and fortifying their defense. They must be more confident in their point-producing potential than we are.

    Dennis Schroder falling into their laps was a gift, but he can't replace all of the scoring, spacing and table-setting that Boston lost when Evan Fournier bounced to the Big Apple and Kemba Walker was traded away. Asking more from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is just greedy when they're already going for 50 combined points per contest.

    So, who scratches the support-scoring itch? Schroder is streaky, Marcus Smart is a career 37.6 percent shooter, Al Horford can be reluctant to fire, and Josh Richardson is trapped in a two-year shooting funk.

Brooklyn Nets: Letting Jeff Green Go

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    The Brooklyn Nets got a lot right this summer. Patty Mills should be a human torch in this offense, and signing him with the taxpayer mid-level exception might have been as much as their luxury-tax budget allowed.

    But finding the funds to keep Jeff Green would've turned this offseason from a great one to a dream summer.

    Brooklyn likely knew it was losing Spencer Dinwiddie, but Green seemed like a reasonable (albeit optimistic) option to re-sign. He was sure to command a raise from his minimum salary, but he earned it with his sharpshooting, fiery scoring, defensive versatility and whatever else the frontcourt needed.

    The Nets are seemingly wagering on getting more out of Mills than they would have Green, and they might be right. But Green was such a great fit as this superteam's Swiss army knife, it's hard not to think that his absence will be felt.

Chicago Bulls: Overpaying for DeMar DeRozan

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls set forth on a splash-filled summer, and they managed a few cannonballs. The sign-and-trade for Lonzo Ball was drool-worthy, as they were desperate for someone who can pass and defend like him. Adding Alex Caruso with the mid-level exception was great, too.

    However, the sign-and-trade for DeMar DeRozan was...well, confusing more than anything.

    The 32-year-old had an uncertain value in free agency given his age, inside-the-arc scoring range and defensive deficiencies. Still, the Bulls deemed him worth a fully guaranteed three-year, $81.9 million pact, even though he filled no obvious wish-list needs for them.

    And the cost didn't stop there. Their side of the sign-and-trade required sacrificing a future first-round pick, two second-rounders, Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu, all for the right to (arguably) overpay DeRozan. I'd be curious to see the equation that yielded a positive result on that cost-benefit analysis.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Overpaying Jarrett Allen

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    How many modern centers are worth $100 million? The list isn't zero, but it's an exclusive group.

    What convinced the Cleveland Cavaliers that Jarrett Allen belonged in that top tier and deserved a fully guaranteed five-year, $100 million contract? He's really good at what he does, as an athletic rim-runner who holds his down defensively. However, that skill set has an established price in today's NBA, and this blows it out of the water.

    Think of all the side-eyes that the New York Knicks got for giving Nerlens Noel a three-year, $27.7 million deal, and that has a team option on the end of it.

    The contract grows even more confusing considering it came on the heels of Cleveland using the No. 3 pick on Evan Mobley. The Cavs clearly believe that the two can co-exist, but they sure both look like centers in this league.

    Cleveland might've convinced itself Allen is tradeable if he and Mobley don't fit well together. But at $20 million per season, he may not be as movable as the franchise thinks.

Dallas Mavericks: Still Not Finding a Third Star

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Dallas Mavericks have known this summer wouldn't go according to plan since Giannis Antetokounmpo re-upped with the Milwaukee Bucks in December. But this summer, the one before Luka Doncic's supermax extension kicks in, might've been their last real chance to sign an impact free agent.

    Like so many other failed pursuits before it, this one came up empty as well. Although if you're a fan of moral victories, they at least reportedly took second place in the Kyle Lowry sweepstakes, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

    It wasn't an entirely wasted summer. They re-signed Tim Hardaway Jr. and Boban Marjanovic, signed Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown and traded for Moses Brown. But they're still without a third star—assuming Kristaps Porzingis still qualifies as a second—which means they'll likely spend another season rostering one of the best players on the planet and not competing for a title.

Denver Nuggets: Not Extending a Forward

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    Michael Gonzales/Getty Images

    There isn't much to knock with the Denver Nuggets' offseason, in part because there isn't much to analyze.

    They re-signed a few vets (Will Barton, JaMychal Green and Austin Rivers) and made a few moves on the fringes—Jeff Green and Nah'Shon Hyland in, JaVale McGee and (presumably) Paul Millsap out—but they otherwise had most everything else cemented already.

    That's why the bigger summer focus was on extension talks with Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon. It would've been nice to get at least one locked in, since both players could play their way into big raises next offseason.

    The extension window hasn't closed, so maybe one deal or both will still get done. It isn't shocking that neither have so far since both players are a bit polarizing, but that might've been even more incentive for the Nuggets.

    Since each has something to prove—Porter staying healthy and defending, Gordon finding a consistent offensive niche—their imperfections could manifest in discounts that won't be available should either reach free agency next summer on the heels of a breakout season.

Detroit Pistons: Splurging on Kelly Olynyk

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    Robert Seale/Getty Images

    It's always a little puzzling whenever a rebuilder pays up for a veteran. Their best days won't align with yours, so why spend the money?

    With the right contract, it can sometimes work. Kelly Olynyk's three-year, $37.2 million deal with the Detroit Pistons isn't it.

    Why didn't the Pistons invest those resources in someone who better fits the timeline of their rebuild? Why give the 30-year-old Olynyk a three-year deal in the first place? Where does he even play?

    Slotting Olynyk alongside Isaiah Stewart could be a defensive disaster. If he's primarily a backup 5, he might eat up any small-ball center minutes that could've been available for Sekou Doumbouya or newcomer Trey Lyles.

    It's hard to see the value here from Detroit's side.

Golden State Warriors: Kent Bazemore Taking Less To Leave for L.A.

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The Golden State Warriors seemed to have several ins with Kent Bazemore entering free agency. They had already employed him twice, so the familiarity was strong. He has a close connection with Stephen Curry, so they didn't need recruiting pitches from relative strangers.

    And judging by their perimeter rotation, the Warriors could promise him a fairly significant role on a championship hopeful. That's what Bazemore wanted—just not from Golden State. He left a longer, richer offer on the table to instead join the Los Angeles Lakers.

    "Bazemore turned town more money and years (two) from the Warriors, sources say, but believes he will have a bigger role and opportunity to win a championship with the Lakers," The Athletic's Shams Charania reported.

    Losing talent always stings. Losing it to a division rival in the same championship race as you—for less money than you were willing to pay—is a different kind of burn.

Houston Rockets: Giving Daniel Theis 4-Year Deal

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    You know who could've really used Daniel Theis? James Harden's Houston Rockets. They would've appreciated his ability to switch on defense and space on offense.

    This Houston front office apparently appreciates those skills, too, hence their four-year, $35.6 million commitment to Theis this offseason.

    The Rockets know they're rebuilding, right? They drafted four 19-year-olds in the first round last month, so the answer is clearly yes, but what's with the Theis signing?

    It's one thing to value his veteran know-how and want him to absorb some of the physical punishment that would otherwise be doled out to Christian Wood. It's another for a rebuilder to give a four-year pact (technically, three years with a team option) to a 29-year-old who has probably peaked already.

Indiana Pacers: Giving T.J. McConnell a 4-Year Deal

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    T.J. McConnell spent his first few NBA seasons in the anonymity that came with being a Philadelphia 76ers role player during the height of The Process. Philly went 38-126 across his first two campaigns. Only gluttons for punishment paid close attention to the roster.

    That's a long-winded way of saying fans outside of Philly may not realize McConnell spent four seasons there. Or that he was 23 years old before the first one tipped.

    He's older than you probably think in other words—29 as of March—which makes it curious why the Indiana Pacers deemed it necessary to give him a four-year contract. There's half of an escape clause for the final season, but the majority of his 2024-25 salary is guaranteed ($5 million of $9.3 million), so things would have to play out pretty poorly for Indy to opt for the minor savings.

Los Angeles Clippers: Losing Patrick Beverley's Energy, Leadership

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Any list of offseason winners would be incomplete without the Los Angeles Clippers. They had the only superstar in free agency with Kawhi Leonard, and they kept him around on a four-year, $176.3 million max.

    Even L.A.'s biggest loss might be an on-court gain, depending on how Eric Bledsoe responds to returning to his first NBA employer and how much Patrick Beverley has left in the tank. But there must be at least a little worry about how the Clippers will respond without their fiery emotional leader.

    This club has had a tendency to sometimes play to the level of its competition. It might be easier falling into the trap of complacency without Beverley's vocal leadership.

Los Angeles Lakers: Downgrading Perimeter Defense

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers clearly sought better balance after finishing last season first in defensive rating but 24th on offense. They devoted one resource after another to perk up their attack, igniting their fast breaks in the Russell Westbrook blockbuster and improving their spacing with a horde of new shooters.

    But nearly all of their additions skew significantly toward the offensive end. While that's where they needed the most help, it's fair to wonder whether they made too many sacrifices with the thing that made them great.

    Alex Caruso could pester either guard spot, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope defended anywhere along the perimeter, and Kyle Kuzma made major strides as a versatile stopper. All three are gone, and it's unclear who will take on the toughest assignments now.

    Trevor Ariza might get some marquee assignments by default, but he's 36 years old and clogs the offensive end when his threes aren't falling. If the Lakers wind up tasking LeBron James and Anthony Davis with top defensive duties, it's hard not to worry about their stars burning out at some point during the regular season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Devaluing the Present

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Non-contending NBA front offices can get themselves in trouble by not thinking enough about the future. However, it's fair to wonder whether the Memphis Grizzlies have veered too far in the opposite direction.

    In nearly all of their offseason moves, they sacrificed present contributions for the possibility of future assets.

    They dumped Jonas Valanciunas—arguably their most reliable player not named Ja Morant—to move up in the draft for intriguing-but-raw forward Ziaire Williams. They traded established 2-guard Grayson Allen to Milwaukee for Sam Merrill and two second-rounders. They added more players than they can use in the Eric Bledsoe trade, but they opened a potential pathway to meaningful cap space next summer.

    Memphis might come out ahead in the long run, but the optics can't look great to Morant. The Grizzlies could take a step back next season, and if they don't, it will only be because internal growth covered up for the subtractions.

    The Grizzlies are OK with practicing patience, but is Morant on board? If not, there's a lot of risk here for an uncertain reward.

Milwaukee Bucks: Losing P.J. Tucker to an Eastern Conference Rival

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    Mike E. Roemer/Getty Images

    P.J. Tucker's transformation from championship parade MVP to ex-Milwaukee Buck went down in record time. And no, this wasn't a case of a championship role player taking the money and running elsewhere.

    He wanted to stay with the Bucks. An emotional post on Instagram—which included things like "still in [shock]," "took a hard turn" and "all you can control is what you can control"—made that pretty clear. But Milwaukee let him walk to Miami on a two-year, $14.4 million deal reportedly because of luxury-tax considerations.

    "While Tucker's salary with the Heat might seem relatively small, all things considered, consider this math: An offer that started at, say, $7 million would have cost the Bucks approximately $23 million in tax and, thus, would mean a $30 million bill. That, above all else, is why he's not coming back to the Bucks," The Athletic's Sam Amick reported.

    It's easy to second-guess financial decisions when it's #NotMyMoney, but losing a championship starter to a conference rival aiming for the same crown over economic reasons seems like a powerful gut punch.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Musical Chairs at Backup Point Guard

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves didn't necessarily err in deeming Ricky Rubio expendable. He didn't have a great 2020-21 season, and $17.8 million is plenty to pay for a point guard who isn't locked into a starting spot.

    But why turn around and replace Rubio with Patrick Beverley? He's three years older, struggled to stay on the floor last season (37 games) and is only marginally less expensive at $14.3 million. Beverley is the better shooter but a much worse passer. Minnesota has plenty more spacers than table-setters, so it's a curious choice in a vacuum.

    Widening the lens to account for both trades, the Wolves essentially turned Rubio, Jarrett Culver and Juancho Hernangomez into Beverley, Taurean Prince, a second-round pick and cash. It's debatable that Minnesota is better off now or in the future for these trades, and it's a disappointing waste of an asset with Culver, whose value tanked in the two years since the Wolves selected him with the sixth overall pick of the 2019 draft.

New Orleans Pelicans: Not Listening to Zion Williamson

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    Harrison Barden/Getty Images

    Lonzo Ball's split from the New Orleans Pelicans remains puzzling. On the surface level, why wouldn't a team with a young core want to keep around a 23-year-old who defends, dimes and drills three-point shots?

    And how did New Orleans let Ball escape from restricted free agency when star big man Zion Williamson went on record to say, "I hope he stays"? How is that wish not granted?

    The Pels should be doing everything in their power to keep Williamson happy, and they could've done that while also making a sound basketball decision. To lose Lonzo and not get a first-round pick and then add Devonte' Graham at the cost of a first-round pick ranks as one of the summer's biggest head-scratchers.

New York Knicks: Paying a Premium for Evan Fournier

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    The New York Knicks needed support scoring, shooting and distributing, so their interest in Evan Fournier made sense from a skills perspective.

    However, their decision to hand him a four-year, $78 million contract seems ill-advised, even while accounting for the fourth season being a team option.

    Forunier posted decent numbers on some forgettable Orlando Magic teams. Once he linked up with the Celtics—a better but still not great club—he wasn't even third on the offensive pecking order. In what world does that describe a near $20 million talent? And given the leaguewide cap crunch, who was a threat to pay him that much on a contract this long?

    Fournier is 28 years old, so the Knicks aren't paying for the promise of growth. Instead, they'll have to hope he stays plateaued long enough not to spend the bulk of this deal on the decline.

    The payoff isn't worth the price, not even with New York's pressing offensive needs.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Tough Luck at the Lottery

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    Steve Freeman/Getty Images

    From now until proved otherwise, the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder's entire calendar year boils down to the draft lottery drawing. No team's future is more directly tied to that event.

    This could have been a dream drawing for the Thunder. They had a 52.4 percent chance of their own pick landing in the top five and a 47.9 percent chance of getting Houston's pick if it fell to No. 5. That would have been a great get for any draft, let alone one featuring what could be an all-time class.

    But lottery luck wasn't on the Thunder's side. Instead of getting two top-five picks, they landed none.

    They wound up with picks Nos. 6, 16 and 18. They spent the first on Josh Giddey, traded the second and used the final one on Tre Mann. Maybe history will prove this take wrong, but that certainly doesn't seem like a transformational haul.

Orlando Magic: Overcrowding the Center Spot

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    What's one universal truth we all know about the modern NBA? Teams can never have too many centers.

    The Orlando Magic seem to be the only team that subscribes to that theory, and they're committed to beating this same drum no matter how awful it sounds.

    The franchise that once put Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka on the same roster just spent $5 million to put Robin Lopez in the same position group as Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr., the sixth and seventh picks of the 2018 draft, respectively.

    There was already a minutes crunch between Bamba and Carter, both of whom are polarizing players who need new contracts by next summer. And is Orlando sure that Jonathan Isaac's best fit isn't at the 5 spot?

    This fascination with centers is mind-boggling.

Philadelphia 76ers: Setting an Unreasonable Asking Price on Ben Simmons

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers were smart not to panic-trade Ben Simmons despite the awful optics created by his playoff flop. But someone might want to let them know they won't be getting a gargantuan haul in return, since that's apparently what they're after.

    "At minimum, the Sixers are seeking control of at least four future first-round picks via direct trade or pick swaps, along with an All-Star-level player in most (but not all) scenarios," The Athletic's David Aldridge reported earlier this month.

    On a directly related note, B/R's Jake Fischer reported that "the overwhelming sense among league insiders continues to be that Simmons, for now, is expected to remain a Sixer once training camp opens."

    Philly's objective is finding a package that could be immediately flipped for Damian Lillard, per Fischer. There's just one minor issue: Simmons isn't the same caliber of trade chip. His shooting woes limit the height of his ceiling, and he has yet to show any evidence suggesting they'll go away.

    Rather than waiting for a trade offer that isn't coming, Philly should swap out Simmons for realistically obtainable players who fit better alongside Joel Embiid.

Portland Trail Blazers: Not Listening to Damian Lillard

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard had a message for the Portland Trail Blazers' front office ahead of the offseason.

    "Be more urgent about what our next step is and how we move forward," Lillard said, per B/R's Sean Highkin.

    Guess how the Blazers responded? By adding Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore and Tony Snell to the team. Yikes.

    Lillard is ready to contend for a championship. He wanted Portland to prove it was capable of joining the title race. Instead, the Blazers basically brought back the same group that couldn't survive a first-round series against a Nuggets squad missing its starting backcourt.

    Either they know something the rest of us don't about internal avenues to massive improvement, or they're at serious risk of shoving their franchise player out the door.

Sacramento Kings: Not Cashing in Trade Chips

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III remain on the Sacramento Kings. Good luck to anyone who cares to decipher why.

    Hield had one foot out the door before his reported trade to the Lakers fell apart at the goal line. Bagley has done nothing to quiet the trade talk started by—wait for it—his father on social media.

    Each seems like he's living on borrowed time in Sacramento, and neither seems bothered by that.

    The Kings should be resetting their culture around young guards De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. That process can't start in earnest until the team moves on from two of the league's most obvious trade candidates.

San Antonio Spurs: Overhauled Roster and Still Lack Star Power

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    The San Antonio Spurs were overdue for an overhaul, and they finally leaned into the rebuilding project that's been unavoidable since the 2018 Kawhi Leonard trade. They split from all of their veteran free agents this offseason and finally showed an interest in something other than maximum competitiveness.

    But it's tough to tell what they're chasing, and it's even harder to see how they'll get there.

    They have a decent collection of talent that's screaming for a consolidation trade—turning several good assets into a great one—but they haven't brokered a big deal yet. Free-agent deals with veteran shooters Doug McDermott and Bryn Forbes aren't the moves made by a team aiming for the bottom. Neither is bringing back Thaddeus Young in the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade as opposed to Lauri Markkanen.

    San Antonio seemed to accept its ceiling wasn't high enough, but it doesn't look comfortable letting the floor far too fall. That's how teams get trapped in the middle, and it's unclear whether the Spurs have anyone who can help them climb out.

Toronto Raptors: Giving Gary Trent Jr. a Player Option

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    When the Raptors swapped out Norman Powell for Gary Trent Jr. at last season's trade deadline, it made sense. Toronto was nearing the end of the Kyle Lowry era and on the verge of a youth movement, so investing in the 22-year-old Trent over the 28-year-old Powell better fit the direction of the franchise.

    But the way the Raptors ultimately invested is a head-scratcher. They gave Trent a three-year, $51.8 million deal with a player option on the third season. It's a hefty salary for his track record, and as The Athletic's John Hollinger noted, the structure of the deal gives Toronto no path to surplus value:

    "In this case, the player option is a sucker's bet: If he underperforms, he'll stay the extra year on an undesirable number; if he's good, he'll leave or force Toronto to pay him more. And if he somehow does outperform, the fact his option is in the third year also makes it impossible to extend the deal before he hits free agency again."

    The Raptors would have been better off signing Trent to a longer deal or making him take three fully guaranteed years.

Utah Jazz: Burning a 1st-Round Pick to Dump Derrick Favors

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    The San Antonio Spurs were overdue for an overhaul, and they finally leaned into the rebuilding project that's been unavoidable since the 2018 Kawhi Leonard trade. They split from all of their veteran free agents this offseason and finally showed an interest in something other than maximum competitiveness.

    But it's tough to tell what they're chasing, and it's even harder to see how they'll get there.

    They have a decent collection of talent that's screaming for a consolidation trade—turning several good assets into a great one—but they haven't brokered a big deal yet. Free-agent deals with veteran shooters Doug McDermott and Bryn Forbes aren't the moves made by a team aiming for the bottom. Neither is bringing back Thaddeus Young in the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade as opposed to Lauri Markkanen.

    San Antonio seemed to accept its ceiling wasn't high enough, but it doesn't look comfortable letting the floor far too fall. That's how teams get trapped in the middle, and it's unclear whether the Spurs have anyone who can help them climb out.

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