NBA Offseason Grades: Northwest Division

This is my second installment of NBA Offseason Grades. To check out the first, click this link:

NBA Offseason Grades: Atlantic Division

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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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NBA OffSeason Grades: Atlantic Division

The NBA offseason always seems to be the most dramatic of all professional sports. Could it be that it’s the only sport making moves in the summer? Maybe it’s due to the lack of football for people to watch. In my spare time I’ve decided to prepare for the upcoming NBA season by grading teams’ offseason moves. I’ll start with the Atlantic Division, find some team-appropriate GIFs, and predict which teams will make the playoffs in 2018. Last year the Atlantic had two strong playoff contenders in the Celtics and the Raptors, however they also gave us three of the most discombobulated franchises ever to grace the NBA due to key injuries that just keep happening, bad past trade decisions, or just an outdated GM trying to win now without many strong young assets to back up his veterans. See the mess that was the 2016-17 Knicks if you want more information on that last one. Anyways, lets get started.

 

Boston Celtics: B+

Free Agency: Signed SF Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $128 million contract, German F Daniel Theis to a 2-year deal, and C Aron Baynes to a one-year, $4.3 million deal.
Lost PF Amir Johnson to Philadelphia on a one-year, $11 million deal, and F Kelly Olynyk to Miami on a four-year, $50 million+ deal with a player option in the fourth year.

Trades:  SG Avery Bradley to the Pistons for PF Marcus Morris and a 2019 2nd round pick.

Draft: In order, F Jayson Tatum, F Semi Ojeleye, G Kadeem Allen, and SG Jabari Bird

Analysis: GM Danny Ainge did it again. Somehow Boston landed offensive-star Gordon Hayward despite the Jazz making several moves in an attempt to entice him to stay. The Celtics drafted well too, picking up a lot of what I believe to be underrated prospects. Jayson Tatum had a fantastic Summer League performance and is pretty likely to make an impact off the bench right away. Boston didn’t need to make too many moves to bolster their roster due to the Tatum and the other young talent they picked up in the draft — not to mention the plethora of future first-round draft picks at their disposal. I personally am not a fan of the Bradley-Morris trade as he was a huge source of perimeter defense for them with 1.2 SPG, and although now-presumed starter G Marcus Smart is a decent, cheaper option, I thought keeping Bradley and dropping nearly anyone else would have given them the best chance to topple the Cavs without sacrificing their defensive identity. Either way, they are still the most likely candidates to come out on top in the Atlantic division.

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Brooklyn Nets: C
Free Agency: Nothing. Nothing at all.

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Trades: C Brook Lopez and the 27th overall draft pick for PG D’Angelo Russell and C Timofey Mozgov, and C Justin Hamilton for SF DeMarre Carroll and two 2018 draft picks.

Draft: In order, C Jarrett Allen, Aleksander Vezenkov

Analysis:  The poor, poor Nets. It seems this year they worked hard to put the disastrous 2013 trade that decimated their future for faulty win-now hopes, but it’s not going to improve overnight. Mozgov is slated as Brooklyn’s starting center while Allen will likely develop behind him. Russell will undoubtedly become their starting point guard and hopefully put his snitching days behind him. Carroll will take over the small forward starting spot, allowing second-year SF Caris Levert more time to develop. Vezenkov will add some front court depth. Overall, the Nets may win more games, but their long-term health is still in peril and they are almost certainly not making the playoffs. It’s almost smarter to look to next year, as they will have three draft picks, albeit once again will be unable to control their own destiny since two of them are the Raptors’ picks.

New York Knicks: C+
Free Agency: Re-signed G Ron Baker to a 1-year deal, and signed SG Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million deal, and waived F Maurice Ndour in June. Lost SG Justin Holiday to the Bulls on a 2-year, $9 million deal.”Lost” PG Derrick Rose to Cleveland on a one-year, $2.1 million deal.

Trades: Nichts! (See what I did there, German speakers?) but lets be real — Carmelo’s days with the Knicks are numbered.

Draft: In order, PG Frank Ntilikina, SG Damyean Dotson, SG Ognjen Jaramaz

Other: Fired GM Phil Jackson, promoted Steve Mills to president, and named Scott Perry the new GM.

Analysis — Even if the they can somehow land PG Kyrie Irving in a trade, the Knicks are still a mess. It’s gotten to the point where I’m not sure if any of the Knicks actually enjoy playing for New York, other than, you know actually living in New York City. There’s reason for hope with the addition of Ntilikina, Dotson, Jaramaz, and a new GM not named Phil Jackson, but it’s still unclear what direction they are trying to go. Carmelo Anthony is likely to be traded before the offseason is over, and PF Kristaps Porzingis seems disappointed with his team. It didn’t inspire confidence when Hardaway Jr. was signed for a whopping, seemingly undeserved $71 million. Rose leaving for Cleveland was a good step, but there are several moves likely to be made by the Knicks before their roster is complete, and maybe years before they can make it back to the playoffs.

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Philadelphia 76ers
: A-

Free Agency: Signed SG J.J Reddick to a one-year, $23 million deal and PF Amir Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal.

Trades: Nada. C Jahlil Okafor continues to be a trade option for the 76ers if they want to make moves before the offseason is over.

Draft: In order, PG Markelle Fultz,Anzejs Pasecniks, SF Jonah Bolden, Matthias Lessort

Analysis: Drafting Fultz and trusting the process will only work if the 76ers can stop getting injured. Fultz was pulled from Summer League after spraining his ankle, but is expected to be okay. SF Ben Simmons (foot) has been cleared for contact, but was kept out of Summer League. C Joel Embiid (knee) played just 31 games in his debut season due to injury but was impressive and showed flashes of excellence. What would it look like if suddenly Philadelphia could put all of their pieces together? They now have a very solid deep threat that can stretch the floor in Reddick, and added to their power forward depth with veteran Amir Johnson. Their young talent is promising. As I said previously, a lot hinges on the 76ers getting their players healthy, but with the East weakening, they could have a shot at the playoffs with everyone intact. If they can’t? We very well could see another No. 1 pick by Philadelphia, for the third year in a row.

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Toronto Raptors: B-

Free Agency: Re-signed PG Kyle Lowry to a three-year, $100 million deal and PF Serge Ibaka to a three-year, $65 million deal. Signed F Alfonzo McKinnie to a multi-year deal.

Trades: PG Cory Joseph for SF C.J. Miles in a sign and trade agreement and SF DeMarre Carroll and two 2018 draft picks for C Justin Hamilton, who was waived immediately.

Draft:  SF OG Anunoby

Other: Promoted Bobby Webster to GM and Dan Tolzmann to Assistant GM.

Analysis: Toronto was able to keep both Lowry and Ibaka in free agency, which was big in keeping the team intact. The only change to their starting five is the addition of C.J. Miles in place of Carroll, who was traded in what was simply a salary dump. Drafting Anunoby was a bit of a risk due to his mid-season ACL tear with the Hoosiers, but he has high upside if he can get recover fully to his previous form, as he’s known for his extreme athleticism. G Delon Wright will now be backup point guard to Lowry, which will be interesting. The one thing I can’t get over is their trading away of two picks for a mediocre center they were just going to waive anyways. The real question is: Will Toronto have what it takes to make it past both Cleveland and Boston in the playoffs? Doubtful, but with much of their roster still there, they are definitely in the playoff mix.

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Playoff prediction: As a recap, the Celtics and the Raptors are shoe-ins for playoff spots in the East. The only other team with a legitimate chance in the Atlantic Division is the 76ers, but hey if you #TrustTheProcess, anything is possible.