This is my second installment of NBA Offseason Grades. To check out the first, click this link:
The Northwest Division hasn’t had an NBA championship since the Seattle Supersonics won it in 1979, and haven’t been to the Finals since 1998 when the Jazz lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. It seems that this trend will continue this season, but there are some strong playoff contenders in the bunch that could cause problems for Golden State. Without further ado, the Northwest Division draft grades, plus related GIFS.
Denver Nuggets: B
Free Agency: Waived G Mike Miller, and re-signed F Darrell Arthur to a three-year deal.
Trades: Sent F Danilo Gallinari to the Clippers and signed F Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million deal. There are also picks involved in this sign-and-trade but those details aren’t clear at this time. On draft night Denver traded the No. 13 overall pick (SG Donovan Mitchell) to Utah for the No. 24 overall pick (PF Tyler Lydon) and F Trey Lyles.
Draft: In order, PF Tyler Lydon, SF Vlatko Cancar, G Monte Morris
Other: Promoted Arturas Karnisovas to GM and Tim Connelly to president of basketball operations.
Analysis: Denver is one of the messier teams in the West right now, but they have a lot of potential. It’s unclear what new GM Arturas Karnisovas is looking to do just yet, but he’s going to have to drop some weight before the season starts depth-wise. The entrance of Millsap pushes PF Kenneth Faried out of his starting power forward spot. He could see some run at small forward as a mismatch opportunity, but I’m not sure he has the skill and I KNOW he doesn’t have the range to play the way most small forwards play today in the NBA (averaged 0.0-0.1 3pt-made vs 3pt attempted in 2016-17). In this respect Wilson Chandler will likely retain his position as the starting small forward. The only position without questions about playing time is in fact, the center position, in which C Nikola Jokic and C Mason Plumlee have very clear roles as starter and back-up. This being said, I predict that the backcourt will see the most shake-up this season, as there’s still not a clear answer as to who the starting point guard will be, Emmanuel Mudiay or Jamal Murray. Murray is still developing, and Emmanuel Mudiay is…well Emmanuel Mudiay. Poor guy. SG Gary Harris is steadily improving his game and is probably the strongest backcourt threat they have. SG Will Barton serves as a decent back-up for him and provides a nice spark off the bench. Denver has a good squad but it’s not likely they are a serious playoff contender in the stacked Western conference due to their weaknesses at the 1-spot comparatively. Hopefully they can resolve this point guard issue in the draft next year.
Minnesota Timberwolves: A
Free Agency: Signed PG Jeff Teague to a three-year, $57 million deal, PF Taj Gibson to a two-year, $28 million deal, and G Jamal Crawford to a two-year, $8.9 million deal. Signed undrafted free agent PG Melo Trimble.
Trades: G Zach Lavine, PG Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 overall (PF Lauri Markannen) pick for Bulls’ SG Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 overall pick (C Justin Patton), and PG Ricky Rubio to the Jazz for a protected 2018 first-round pick from the Thunder.
Analysis: New logo, new swagger. The Timberwolves aren’t kidding around this year. Finally, they were able to move towards a win-now scenario on draft night when they traded for the Bulls’ lone All-Star, Jimmy Butler. They also traded away Rubio to the Jazz for a 2018 first round pick before picking up former All-Star Jeff Teague, and added a young center, Justin Patton with a lot of potential to play backup at both power forward and center positions alongside new pickup Taj Gibson. So now coach Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls..er…excuse me….Timberwolves starters will be: Teague, Butler, SG Andrew Wiggins, PF Gorgui Dieng (or Gibson), and KAT. Not bad. The Wolves most recently addressed backcourt depth concerns caused by the Butler trade by picking up Crawford and Trimble in free agency, but they’ll need a couple more cheap (hopefully, shooters! — S/O to G Matt Janning) pick ups to finalize their roster. Despite these depth needs not yet totally met, the Wolves made serious moves this summer and are expected to contend for a playoff spot for the first time in 13 years. Winter is coming, Minnesotans. And it’s actually a GOOD thing.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Free Agency: Re-signed G Andre Roberson to a three-year, $30 million deal and PF Nick Collison to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal. Signed PG Raymond Felton to a one-year, $2.3 million deal, PF Patrick Patterson to a three-year, $16.4 million deal, and F Dakari Johnson to a two-year deal.
Trades: G Victor Oladipo and F Domantas Sabonis for F Paul George.
Draft: SG Terrance Ferguson
Analysis: The Thunder started off slowly but their offseason picked up very quickly when they traded with the Pacers for Paul George. (!!!) No longer will reigning-MVP PG Russell Westbrook need to do it all by himself. I personally think Westbrook will still be a nightly triple-double threat, but he’ll have to do it much more efficiently with George on the floor. Combine this with the free agent signings of Patterson and Felton, and the Thunder look a lot scarier than they did in 2016-17. Their starting five will now likely be Westbrook, Roberson, George, Patterson and C Steven Adams. Felton will add badly needed depth to the point guard position, and the Thunder are now fully committed to Roberson starting at shooting guard with Oladipo now in Indiana. It’s hard to say where the Thunder will end up in the stacked Western Conference, but my bet is they’ll move past the falling Clippers and Jazz to get the 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs. This also means we could potentially see a Thunder-Warriors series in 2018. So basically…GO CRUSH THAT SNAKE RUSSELL!!
Portland Trail Blazers: C+
Free Agency: Nix. Although, dynamic duo Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are rumored to be attempting to persuade Carmelo Anthony to join them.
Trades: G Allen Crabbe for Brooklyn Nets’ F Andrew Nicholson, and G Tim Quarterman to Houston for cash considerations.
Draft: In order, C Zach Collins, PF Caleb Swanigan
Analysis: The Trail Blazers didn’t make many moves this offseason. I mean…I get it I suppose. They trust in Lillard and McCollum, and they drafted well. Collins and Swanigan both are excellent additions to a front court that needed depth. Trading C Mason Plumlee for C Jusuf Nurkic ended up paying off well. Trading Tim Quarterman for cash was smart considering his irrelevance to the rotation, and made for a funny NBA meme. Trading Allen Crabbe for Andrew Nicholson seemed unnecessary, and I think actually weakened their roster. Crabbe shot 44% from deep in 2016-17. Why any team would give up an asset like that in today’s three-heavy NBA for Nicholson is absolutely beyond my comprehension. Unless the Trail Blazers do eventually end up with Carmelo Anthony somehow, this offseason has not done them many favors. With all the other Western teams trying to ante up to take down the Warriors, they are likely in for a bit of a fall, placing them just out of playoff contention.
Utah Jazz: C-
Free Agency: Lost SF Gordon Hayward to the Celtics on a four-year, $128 million deal, and G George Hill to the Kings on a three-year, $57 million deal. Released C Boris Diaw. Signed F Royce O’Neale and F Eric Griffin.
Trades: Future draft picks for Timberwolves’ PG Ricky Rubio. Traded away Trey Lyles and the No. 24 overall pick to the Nuggets for the No. 10 overall draft pick (Mitchell).
Draft: In order, SG Donovan Mitchell, PF/C Tony Bradley, & PG Nigel Williams-Goss
Analysis: I cringe for Jazz fans this offseason. They were so good, and had so much potential. The Jazz failed to keep their playoff contention hopes alive with the loss of free agent Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. They had counted on him to stay with them this season, and gave up a lot to try and convince him, including trading up for defensive-minded shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, and trading a future draft pick for assist-savant PG Ricky Rubio. In losing both Hill and Hayward in free agency, the Jazz lost their top-two scorers, and while they could potentially have the top defense in the league, they have no real consistently strong offensive-minded players. I mean, I love the saying “defense wins championships” as much as the next bear but they really, really need scoring. The Jazz’s starting five looks something like this: Rubio, SG Joe Ingles, veteran SF Joe Johnson (could have been the answer to their scoring problem if he wasn’t 36), PF Derrick Favors, and C Rudy Gobert. I predict they’ll either be a low playoff seed or completely out until they can address this need and find someone who won’t tire out at small forward. Sometimes when it rains, it freakin’ pours. My apologies, Jazz fans.