The Offseason Decision Every NBA Team Could Regret
There may be one or two dominoes left to fall, but the 2021 NBA offseason is mostly in the books. And because of a relatively small amount of spending power around the league, plenty of free agents had to settle for minimum deals, cap exceptions and sign-and-trades.
That means plenty of teams had summers that may have been devoid of regret-inducing decisions. Still, there were some eyebrow-raising moves here and there. All 30 squads had at least one transaction or decision that could end up going south.
Whether the following prove to be overpays, bad fits or some combination of both, these are the moves that have potential for some second-guessing in the future.
Boston Celtics: Signing Enes Kanter (but likely nothing)
Enes Kanter was a double-double machine in 2020-21, averaging 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in just 24.4 minutes. Only three players in league history have averaged a double-double in fewer minutes per game.
Over his past two seasons, poor defense hasn't overwhelmed his absurd production. His teams were better with him on the floor in both 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Still, re-acquiring Kanter could lead to a bit of a logjam at the 5. Al Horford is back, and the recently extended Robert Williams is on the rise. Williams, specifically, could use plenty of developmental minutes if he's going to be the long-term answer alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Of course, the intro warned of nitpicking, and this could be just that. Kanter's deal is for just one season and $2.6 million. If it is too crowded, there isn't some massive obligation keeping everyone in place.
Brooklyn Nets: Signing DeAndre' Bembry (but likely nothing)
The Brooklyn Nets knocked this offseason out of the park, landing scorer Cameron Thomas in the draft and adding solid role players like Patty Mills, James Johnson and Jevon Carter to a non-star core that already included Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown and Nicolas Claxton.
If there's one move that might not work out, it's the addition of DeAndre' Bembry, a 27-year-old wing who's hit just 26.8 percent of his career three-point attempts.
Like Kanter, though, the commitment here is minimal. Brooklyn signed Bembry for one year and $1.9 million.
New York Knicks: Moving On From Frank Ntilikina (but likely nothing)
The trend of good Atlantic Division offseasons continues. The New York Knicks were better than expected in 2019-20, making the playoffs and providing the vehicle for a breakout All-NBA campaign from Julius Randle.
This offseason, they essentially replaced Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. It's hard to imagine that being anything other than a massive upgrade.
Allowing 23-year-old defensive specialist Frank Ntilikina to leave when he probably could've been signed for a minimal amount may hurt in certain situations, but he also may have taken minutes away from a more promising young guard like Immanuel Quickley.
Philadelphia 76ers: Signing Andre Drummond
At just one season and $2.4 million, Andre Drummond's contract with the Philadelphia 76ers is a tough one to knock. He's still only 28 years old and is one of the greatest rebounders of all time (he's first in career rebounding percentage).
Drummond had a notable feud with starter and MVP candidate Joel Embiid back in 2018, though. The possibility for some locker room tension might exist there, even if it's a small possibility.
"For me, there was never any real beef," Drummond told reporters after signing with the Sixers. "... The way we play, sometimes we talk, I don't think it goes any further than that. … We're on the same team now."
On the court, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers may have to convince Drummond to finally embrace rim-running for him to be a significant contributor. An inefficient and more traditional game that includes too many post-ups has led to back-to-back seasons with a below-average offensive box plus/minus (BPM is "...a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference).
Toronto Raptors: Not Trading Goran Dragic
Obviously, there's still a chance the Toronto Raptors move Goran Dragic between now and the start of the season, but his presence on the roster feels a bit awkward right now.
He's since apologized for saying he has "higher ambitions" than playing for the Raptors, but the initial comment probably revealed at least some truth.
Dragic is near the end of his career, and Toronto is at the outset of a semi-rebuild following the departure of Kyle Lowry. His salary ($19.4 million) may make it a bit tricky to reroute him to a contender, though.
In the end, barring some renaissance for Dragic off Toronto's bench, a buyout might be the easiest path forward.
Chicago Bulls: DeMar DeRozan's Contract
In terms of the on-court fit, DeMar DeRozan may make more sense for the Chicago Bulls than many think. His late-career transition into a point forward suggests he'll find Zach LaVine for plenty of possessions. Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic are both plus passers for their positions, too. Offensively, Chicago should be potent.
Defense, on the other hand, could be an issue. LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic are all prone to lapses on and off the ball. Lonzo and Patrick Williams (presumably the fifth starter) will have to do some heavy lifting on that end.
The bigger problem, though, may be DeRozan's age (32) and the size of his contract (three years, $85 million). There aren't many stories of below-average defenders suddenly figuring it out between their age-32 and -34 seasons. And if the trend of his teams being better when he's off the floor (as has been the case in 11 of his 12 seasons) continues, that $29.7 million in 2023-24 could feel mighty onerous.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lauri Markkanen's Contract
After waiting nearly a month, restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen finally found a home when the Bulls sent him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade that gave him a four-year, $67.5 million deal.
Markkanen's potential as a floor spacer makes sense in lineups including slashers like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. And if Cleveland settles on a three-big rotation with him, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, each one could play around 30 minutes per game.
If the team tries to rehab Kevin Love's trade value with playing time and the frontcourt winds up a little crowded, though, Markkanen and his decent-sized salary could become an impediment to developmental minutes for Mobley.
Detroit Pistons: Signing Trey Lyles (but likely nothing)
As was the case with a few of the Atlantic Division teams, it's hard to pinpoint a decision from the Pistons with serious regret potential.
Even when you narrow it down to Trey Lyles, whose only season with a positive BPM was back in 2017-18, you also have to note that he's only going to make $2.5 million in 2021-22 and that he has a $2.6 million team option for the following season.
With Isaiah Stewart, Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk, Sekou Doumbouya and Saddiq Bey on the roster, though, you'd think all the frontcourt minutes would already be accounted for.
Indiana Pacers: Drafting Chris Duarte
Chris Duarte had a solid college career, playing two seasons at a Florida junior college before finishing at Oregon, where he averaged 14.9 points and shot 38.0 percent from three.
But for a relatively deep team (assuming decent health) like the Indiana Pacers, drafting a 24-year old is a little tougher to wrap your head around.
Any late-lottery guard or wing likely would've struggled to leapfrog Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell, Caris LeVert, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig, so a younger player with a bit more moldability may have made more sense.
Milwaukee Bucks: Signing Rodney Hood (but likely nothing)
Rodney Hood will turn 29 in October. He tore his Achilles in 2019. And in his first season after the injury (2020-21), he posted an unfathomably bad minus-7.1 BPM.
For context, among the 12,797 individual campaigns of at least 500 minutes in the three-point era, Hood's minus-7.1 is tied for 12,759th.
In theory, he could have a bounce-back year as a catch-and-shoot option off of drives by Milwaukee Bucks slashers, but the Achilles injury has cratered careers in the past.
Like others here, though, Milwaukee really isn't committing much to this shot at a comeback. Hood's deal is for one year and $2.2 million.
Denver Nuggets: Moving On From Paul Millsap
The Denver Nuggets seemingly replaced Paul Millsap with Jeff Green. Though the latter is a year younger, the downgrade in versatility could cost Denver.
There's obviously more to the game than advanced stats, and Green's 41.2 three-point percentage in 2020-21 is encouraging, but Denver may miss Millsap's leadership, familiarity with the team and system and malleability on the floor.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Swapping Ricky Rubio for Patrick Beverley
Ricky Rubio is bigger, three years younger and a better passer than Patrick Beverley. Additionally, face-of-the-franchise Karl-Anthony Towns performed comfortably better with Rubio on the floor.
Essentially replacing him with Beverley may be understandable (thanks to his hard-nosed defense), but losing the chemistry boost Rubio provided could hurt. Towns famously struggled with the in-your-face leadership of Butler, and he could bristle at the same from Beverley.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Trading Moses Brown (but likely nothing)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the middle of a full-scale tank. At this point in the asset-accumulation phase, it's all about making decisions for the future, and OKC really hasn't strayed from that in years.
Even the trade that 21-year-old Moses Brown was involved in qualifies. He was sent to Boston with Al Horford, but the Thunder got a first-round pick in return.
There's a chance the team will regret moving on from Brown, though. Last season, he averaged 8.9 rebounds, 8.6 points and 1.1 blocks in just 21.4 minutes and looked like a prototypical rim-runner at times.
Portland Trail Blazers: Not Doing More
It was a pretty quiet offseason for the Portland Trail Blazers until they acquired Larry Nance Jr. That pickup should help, but if Portland remains outside the tier of title contenders, and Damian Lillard eventually asks out, the Blazers may regret not chasing stars more aggressively.
Of course, it's hard to fault Portland for indecision. For all we know, they have pushed for more dramatic moves and other teams simply wouldn't engage. After a disappointing season-ending series against the Jamal Murray-less Denver Nuggets, though, the situation in Portland may be getting precarious.
Utah Jazz: Signing Hassan Whiteside
If the Utah Jazz get the 2019-20 version of Hassan Whiteside, when he averaged 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in 30.0 minutes for Portland, his one-year, $2.4 million deal will look like one of the steals of the summer.
Barring injury to Rudy Gobert, he probably won't be called upon to play more than 10-15 minutes per game. So, there shouldn't be too much pressure to return to previous levels of productivity.
However, Whiteside has had his issues with team chemistry in other situations, and his numbers fell off a cliff in 2020-21. If things keep trending in the same direction, Utah may wish it had just entrusted the backup 5 role to Udoka Azubuike.
Golden State Warriors: Not Going All In
The same caveat shared for the Blazers applies here. The Golden State Warriors may have tried to do something dramatic, but they just couldn't pull it off.
Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman won't necessarily doom the Warriors, but it's fair to expect a few years of learning, bumps and bruises for them. One of this offseason's seemingly available stars, like Ben Simmons, is probably more ready to return the team to contention now.
Los Angeles Clippers: Trading for Eric Bledsoe
This one could go other way.
If the Los Angeles Clippers get the regular season version of Eric Bledsoe from 2018-19 and 2019-20 (when he was top 40 in BPM), they'll remain competitive in what figures to be a gap year without Kawhi Leonard.
If 2020-21, in which Bledsoe's BPM, true shooting percentage, assist percentage and steal percentage all plummeted, is a sign of decline, L.A. may regret trading Beverley for him.
Los Angeles Lakers: Trading for Russell Westbrook
This is the biggest high-risk, high-reward move of the summer.
Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double over a whopping five seasons (and he's 0.1 board per game shy of being able to claim six years). He's one of the game's most competitive and productive players.
Pairing him with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two other high-usage players who aren't elite floor spacers, could make things awfully crowded.
And if it doesn't work (emphasis on if), having all three on the books through 2022-23 isn't ideal.
Phoenix Suns: Trading for Landry Shamet
Landry Shamet is a solid NBA floor spacer. Over his three seasons, the 24-year-old guard has shot 39.7 percent on 5.3 three-point attempts per game. But he provides almost nothing else, including on defense.
Jevon Carter, who Phoenix traded for Shamet, is a significantly better defender. He plays with a tenacity that can inspire teammates and force mistakes out of the opposition.
He's also proven to be a fairly reliable three-point shooter. The volume isn't quite at Shamet's level, but Carter has hit 39.7 percent of his attempts over the past two seasons and 38.1 percent for his career.
Sacramento Kings: Trading for Tristan Thompson
The Sacramento Kings' trade to land Tristan Thompson was a head-scratcher. Richaun Holmes is the obvious starter at the 5, Harrison Barnes works best as a 4 and Marvin Bagley can seemingly play either position.
The 6'9" Thompson, meanwhile, may be a bit undersized as a 5 in plenty of matchups. And his game simply precludes him from playing the 4 in today's NBA. His only above-average BPM season came back in 2015-16. It's hard to see how he moves the needle in the right direction for Sacramento.
The deal makes even less sense when you consider what was given up for him. The Kings sent out Delon Wright, a multifaceted defender and passer who's hit 37.1 percent of his threes over the past two seasons.
Sacramento may have been concerned about Wright taking minutes from Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Fox, but recent NBA history has taught us there is value in playing multiple playmakers.
Atlanta Hawks: Re-Signing Solomon Hill (but likely nothing)
The Atlanta Hawks had a relatively lowkey but encouraging offseason. Trae Young, John Collins and others in the young core should continue to develop.
And replacing minuses like Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando with pluses like Delon Wright and Gorgui Dieng gave Atlanta more 2020-21 wins over replacement added than any other team in the league.
If you had to get exceptionally nitpicky, you might point to the $2.4 million the Hawks shelled out to re-sign Solomon Hill, who shot 32.1 percent from three last season and posted a well-below-replacement-level BPM.
Charlotte Hornets: Terry Rozier's Contract
Terry Rozier has already proved critics of him and the deal he signed with the Charlotte Hornets in 2019 wrong.
After averaging 7.7 points and shooting 38.0 percent from the field over four seasons in Boston, he's gone for 19.3 points on 43.8 percent shooting in Charlotte (including 39.6 percent from three).
But the Hornets are more than doubling down on their 6'1" shooting guard with the four-year, $96.3 million extension he signed this summer. He'll be 31 by the time the deal expires, and the Hornets have actually been worse with him on the floor.
Miami Heat: Signing P.J. Tucker
There are actually a couple contenders here. The Kyle Lowry trade likely makes the Miami Heat better, but there's certainly a chance that age and injuries make his three-year, $85 million deal look bad as early as this season.
For now, though, the tougher decision to rationalize is the two-year, $14.4 million deal Miami gave 36-year-old P.J. Tucker.
The veteran forward had his moments on defense during the Bucks' title run, but he's become a massive liability on offense (he was near the bottom of the league in offensive BPM) and he isn't likely to get any quicker on the other end.
Orlando Magic: Signing Robin Lopez
Rebuilding teams wanting veterans around the young guys makes sense. Examples of work habits are important.
But the Orlando Magic have a number of bigs who need on-court development time, including Wendell Carter, Jr., Mo Bamba, Mo Wagner and Franz Wagner. The more Orlando plays combinations of those four, the quicker it can figure out who has a future with the organization.
Lopez has had a long and solid career, but playing him at the expense of those young guys probably doesn't do much for the Magic in the long run.
Washington Wizards: Trading Russell Westbrook
There's a reason the headline uses the word could, rather than will. Just as the Westbrook trade could go either way for the Lakers, there's a pendulum here too.
Right now, the "depth for star" trade makes plenty of sense. Lineups with Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura, Kyle Kuzma and Thomas Bryant are relatively young and should be dangerous offensively.
But Westbrook was a beast (even by his standards) in the second half of last season. After the All-Star break, he averaged a mind-blowing 23.6 points, 13.1 assists and 12.8 rebounds. He willed Washington, which had a plus-1.1 point differential with Russ on the floor over that stretch, to the playoffs.
They may very well miss that drive next season.
Dallas Mavericks: Hiring Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd is one of the greatest players of all time. He's 17th in league history in career wins over replacement player and fourth in triple-doubles. But his old-school, "psychological warfare" coaching style rubs some players the wrong way, and he's below .500 in this phase of his career.
For a young superstar like Luka Doncic, who already had some tension with Rick Carlisle (another hard-nosed coach), that could mean conflict.
That's not always bad, though. And while wins and losses may not paint a pretty picture of Kidd's time in Milwaukee, he was instrumental in empowering Giannis Antetokounmpo. If he can have a similar impact on Doncic, this hire could work out.
Houston Rockets: Moving On From Kelly Olynyk
The Houston Rockets are leaning all the way into a rebuild. So, it makes sense that they let 30-year-old Kelly Olynyk walk.
But if they were going to bring on a veteran big like Daniel Theis anyway, they may as well have paid Olynyk, who signed for three years and $37.2 million in Detroit.
Last season, he averaged 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 threes in just 31.1 minutes with Houston.
Memphis Grizzlies: Trading Jonas Valanciunas
Steven Adams is a more dedicated rim-running, pick-and-roll center than Jonas Valanciunas. In theory, that means he should fit better with Ja Morant than the sometimes paint-clogging Lithuanian. But the latter has been far more productive over the past two seasons.
More importantly, Valanciunas was perhaps the driving factor behind the Memphis Grizzlies' better-than-expected play during the same stretch.
In 2019-20 and 2020-21, the Grizzlies were plus-2.4 points per 100 possesisons with Valanciunas and Morant on the floor and minus-1.3 when Morant played without Valanciunas.
New Orleans Pelicans: Moving On From Lonzo Ball
It may have required some maneuvering to avoid the luxury tax, but the New Orleans Pelicans declining to retain Lonzo Ball in restricted free agency may come back to haunt them.
Ball is one of the game's more unique point men thanks to his size, positional versatility and desire to move the ball up the floor with the pass instead of the dribble.
During Zion Williamson's two seasons, New Orleans was plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions when he shared the floor with Ball and minus-2.2 when he played without him.
The Pelicans seemingly tried to make up for the loss with a piecemeal approach, adding Tomas Satoransky and Devonte' Graham, but it would've been nice to keep what both provide in the form of one player.
San Antonio Spurs: Signing Zach Collins
Zach Collins is 23 years old and 6'11". He's shown flashes of an ability to space the floor and protect the rim.
But three years and $22.1 million for a player who's appeared in 154 games over four seasons (and just 11 over the past two) is, as Pepper Brooks might say, bold.
He's not taking up a huge portion of the cap, but if he struggles to stay healthy, the San Antonio Spurs front office may wonder if the roster spot would've been better utilized on another project.