An Offseason to Remember
The summer of 2016 introduced the new NBA salary cap, which in turn paid loads of money to multiple NBA players. This offseason also created a Hall-of-Fame caliber team with Kevin Durant making the fantasy move to the Golden State Warriors. And as per usual, in the Summer Leagues, unproven NBA rookies showcased their talents and gave the basketball community a progress report on where they’re at in their development.
Players Getting Paid
People may not have liked some of the events in this offseason, but it set a precedent for what fans should expect next season when the salary cap increases again. This free agency period paved the way for the NBA’s elite to earn twice as much as they were getting paid with role and bench players, like Timofey Mozgov, Matthew Dellavedova and Mike Conley Jr., all cashing in on their newly increased value. Mike Conley’s signing drew a more significant uproar among free agents not named Kevin Durant. Conley, who averaged 15 points (on 42% shooting), 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in the 2015-16 NBA season (only played 56 of the 82 regular season games), didn’t exactly post All-Star caliber numbers, and yet, by the previous salary cap’s standards, will be making the most money per year since Michael Jordan at around $30.6 million dollars for the next 5 years; that is more than just All-Star money, it’s global icon money. But with the new, larger salary cap in place, and an even larger cap next off-season, fans should expect the ridiculous looking deals to keep on coming, especially when Steph Curry becomes a free agent next year. Also, some food for thought: free agent LeBron James has yet to sign a new deal with the Cavaliers under this new salary cap. One can surmise it will be at least around the $28 million per year mark like Kevin Durant will be making with the Warriors this upcoming season. Speaking of which….
KD to the Bay
No doubt the most noticeable move in the NBA since LeBron famously took his talents to South Beach, Kevin Durant dropped the proverbial bomb on the basketball community (not just in OKC) this off-season by signing with the defending Western Conference Champion, Golden State Warriors. Durant going to the Warriors shook the NBA in a similar, if not more severe, way than when LeBron went to the Heat. The Bay Area will now house the best three shooters on the planet. The Warriors may look invincible on the offensive end, but signing KD meant they had to blow up a good portion of their depth and start over. Their center and rim protector, Andrew Bogut, had to be traded to the Dallas Mavericks along with now fellow-ex Warrior and small forward Harrison Barnes, who signed Dallas’ offer sheet as a restricted free agent since the Warriors couldn’t match the offer to keep Barnes while adding Durant. The Warriors also lost Marreese Speights to the Clippers, Festus Ezeli to the Trailblazers, Brandon Rush to the Timberwolves and Leandro Barbosa to the Suns. The Warriors were able to retain Ian Clark, Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo and also added veterans Zaza Pachulia, David West and rookie draftees Patrick McCaw and Damian Jones. Simply put, their interior defense will come into question against a good team, but as of now in the off-season, no team looks like they can handle the onslaught of perimeter shooting that Golden State possesses for that to be a problem.
The NBA Summer League Showcases
Going into the NBA summer leagues, a few names were on everyone’s mind. Heading out of the summer leagues, a few more names were added to that mental list. Ben Simmons was probably the most common name coming out of the draft and into the summer league. Being the first overall pick of the draft by the 76ers, Simmons didn’t disappoint his expectations, showcasing the as-advertised court vision college scouts were raving about and seeing why fans and fellow rookie Denzel Valentine were comparing him to 4-time MVP LeBron James. I echo that comparison based on his passing ability, hard drives to the basket, and unwillingness to shoot a pull up jumper at that age due to lack of efficiency at it; hopefully we will continue to get better at it. Ben Simmons was definitely the right choice for the 76ers to make with the first pick and I expect he will have a much greater impact on a game than former first round picks Okafor and Noel have in Simmons’ rookie year; the 76ers will be better this year, if only by a handful of games, they will be better.
Other names on everyone lips were those of NBA sophomores like Emanuel Mudiay, Larry Nance Jr. and DeAngelo Russell. The trio showed a maturity and confidence on the court against NBA rookies knowing what pace and intensity they had to play with at times. The biggest stride, I thought, was made by DeAngelo Russell, who was the best player on the Lakers’ summer league team, not the lottery pick, Brandon Ingram, who looked like he needs to gain about 20 pounds or so in order to not be pushed around so easily by the better competition; granted Ingram is able to create his own shot, but putting on some weight will help him. Overall, the summer league always hints at what we can expect in years to come from the crop of rookies and sophomores.
Biggest Winners of the NBA Offseason
- Warriors. They got KD. Even though they had to get rid of key bench players to do it, they got the big free agent to form the super team. Clear winner. They also added David West who will contribute a much needed interior toughness to a depleted bench.
- Timberwolves. Minnesota hired former Bulls head coach and defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau as head coach to lead this young core of talent into a new era without Garnett (even though he is still with the team) and without Love. The T-wolves also drafted the versatile guard Kris Dunn out of Providence which only adds to the team’s potential.
- 76ers. I know right? Why on earth would the 76ers be winners here? They got rid of their GM and drafted the clear number one pick of the NBA draft. I believe Simmons makes the 76ers that much better to call them a winner in the offseason. The regular season, however…. Eh maybe not yet.
- Bucks. Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon add similar potential to that of the T-wolves; summer league showed me they are on pace to be at the very least, quality NBA players. Jason Kidd ought to lead the Bucks to the playoffs this year and hopefully make the Eastern Conference more interesting.
- Knicks. Despite not having any draft pick in this year’s draft, Phil Jackson did make some moves. Trading for Derrick Rose, who’s on the last year of his contract, was a good move since it got rid of an aging Jose Caulderon, an unproven Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez. The Knicks put themselves in a good position next off-season for other free agents and a draft pick or two, all awhile making themselves a team to keep an eye on with the additions of Brandon Jennings and Joakim Noah. I’m not saying they’ll be winners and get to the postseason, but they are not losers in the off-season.
Biggest Losers of the NBA Off-season
- Kings. They draft and trade for two big men when they already have three, and one of the three is an NBA All-Star named Demarcus Cousins. What is Divac doing?
- Bulls. They sign Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade. Two guards that can’t hit perimeter shots and prefer to have the ball in their hands in order to create offense. Add that to a budding star in Jimmy Butler who practically ran Derrick Rose out of the organization and who also can’t hit consistent perimeter shots and you have a very isolation oriented offense. Did I forget to mention that coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t really command the team well in his first season?
- Rockets. Hiring Mike D’Antoni was the Rockets first mistake in the offseason; D’Antoni is notorious for not employing any type of high level defense, if any defense at all. The Rockets were already one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year, so this isn’t a good move at all. The Rockets next mistake was letting their best defender and rim protector in Dwight Howard go in free agency. Then they added shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Defense will be the team’s downfall.
- Heat. Miami failed to keep Dwayne Wade, the franchise’s most valuable player in its history. Seeing him leave South Beach will take some time getting used to. They managed to keep Whiteside, but couldn’t land Durant. The Heat also let Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire and Luol Deng go. Miami should now be in full rebuild mode. Pat Riley needs to hope that Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow become players the Heat can market closer to the levels that Minnesota and Milwaukee are presenting themselves at; young, hungry and talented.
With NBA news now going quiet until LeBron announces his new deal with Cleveland, baseball season in full swing and football preseason preparing to kickoff, the NBA won’t be short of any story-lines when the season starts in October. I can’t wait to sit back and watch it all unfold.