Did the Lakers overreact? Are we sure the Warriors are back? NBA offseason grades for the Western Conference – Sporting News - Techy Hunters

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Did the Lakers overreact? Are we sure the Warriors are back? NBA offseason grades for the Western Conference – Sporting News

It’s time to hand out final grades on the 2021 offseason.

With training camp now two weeks away, we’re taking one last chance to rehash all that went down in a blur of an offseason.

Defining success is all relative when trying to gauge the success of any offseason, and it’s important to keep in mind the shifting priorities and realistic expectations weighed by each franchise. For some teams, sitting idly by and making minor tweaks is the best way to chart a course to contention. For others, sitting idly by and making minor tweaks is the surest way to the bottom of a 6-foot hole.

No two circumstances are alike, nor does roster-building exist in a vacuum. Context matters!

MORE: The top 50 storylines to watch in 2021-22

Could we sit back and hand out As and Bs to everyone? Of course! Taking the glass half-full approach, there’s a world in which the best-case scenario plays out for every team.

But we’re not doing that. Nope, not here. These grades operate on a curve and for each conference, no more than four teams can receive an A, at least four teams must receive a C, and at least one team must receive a dreaded D or F. Even if a team accomplished its primary objective, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a high grade, especially if there’s work left to be done.

We already handed out report cards to the Eastern Conference. Now it’s time to tackle the West.

(Click on any of the teams to skip down).

DAL | DEN  | GSW  | HOU  | LAC  | LAL  | MEM  | MIN  | NOP  | OKC  | PHX  | POR  | SAC  | SAS  | UTAH

Dallas Mavericks

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  • Additions: Sterling Brown (free agency), Reggie Bullock (free agency), Moses Brown (trade)
  • Departures: Josh Richardson (Celtics), JJ Redick (unsigned), Nicolo Melli (unsigned)

Biggest offseason priority: Appease Luka Doncic

The skinny: First and most importantly, the Mavericks locked in Doncic to a new five-year, $207 million extension, the richest rookie extension in NBA history. Entering the final year of his rookie season, the ascendant superstar is now signed through the 2026-27 season. Beyond a new contract — always a given — the Mavericks and new coach Jason Kidd face the pressure to build a winner around the 22-year-old wunderkind. They added some shooting in Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown while jettisoning the underperforming Josh Richardson to Boston. Are Bullock and Brown really enough to move the needle? Dallas hopes that a full offseason of recovery for Kristaps Porzingis will lead to a rejuvenation and bounce-back year from someone they desperately need to pop. Outside of a few flashes, the on-court chemistry between Doncic and Porzingis has never been great, and while they didn’t have many attractive options to move off Porzingis this offseason, a breakup feels inevitable down the road. Outside of Doncic, the Mavericks once again look the part of a team destined for a first-round flameout.

Grade: C+

Denver Nuggets

 

  • Additions: Jeff Green (free agency), Nah’Shon Hyland (draft)
  • Departures: JaVale McGee (Suns), Paul Millsap (Nets)

Biggest offseason priority: Load up for Jamal Murray’s mid-season return

The skinny: The timing of Jamal Murray’s torn ACL couldn’t have been much worse. When Murray fell to the floor in Golden State last April, it not only sunk Denver’s title chance for 2021 but likewise placed 2022 in doubt. Just don’t tell the Nuggets.

They are operating under the guise that Murray will return sometime in the spring to make a serious run at coming out of the West. They brought back Will Barton, JaMychal Green and Austin Rivers while prying Jeff Green away from Brooklyn, which should be an upgrade over Paul Millsap (who ironically then signed with the Nets). Although they could have waited until next summer, Denver opted to extend Aaron Gordon, signing the versatile Swiss-army knife to a four-year, $92 million extension. It’s a big chunk of change, but Gordon means more to Denver than he would anyone else and is a perfect fit on both ends. With Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic in line for massive pay days, Denver is pushing its chips all in with this group. If Murray comes back healthy, this offseason puts the Nuggets on track to seriously contend in the West.

Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors

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  • Additions: Nemanja Bjelica (free agency), Otto Porter Jr (free agency), Andre Iguodala (free agency), Jonathan Kuminga (draft), Moses Moody (draft)
  • Departures: Kelly Oubre (Hornets), Kent Bazemore (Lakers), Eric Paschall (Jazz)

Biggest offseason priority: Open a new championship window

The skinny: With Klay Thompson returning from a torn Achilles, Stephen Curry performing at an MVP level and Draymond Green rekindling his DPOY potential, the Warriors fully expect to re-enter the title mix in 2022. Armed with a pair of lottery picks, 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman plus some high-dollar salary (Andrew Wiggins is on the hook for $31.6M this season), the Warriors could have aggressively pursued another star, perhaps one that rhymes with the names Chadley Neal or Ren Timmons. Instead, the Warriors maintain that they have enough firepower as currently constructed and hope at least one of the youngins pops. Perhaps they’re right to hold on to the future assets with the long game in mind. If they fall short, this could be seen as a wasted golden opportunity during the back end of Curry’s prime. 

There’s genuine excitement about Golden State’s return to the upper echelon, and for good reason. Also looming is the potential for massive disappointment. Thompson hasn’t played in two years, Green is a zero offensively, and the Warriors were throttled in non-Curry minutes. The Lakers essentially played a box-and-1 against Curry in the play-in game, simultaneously a sign of limitless respect for Curry and utter disrespect for everyone else. Buying into the Warriors hype is the NBA equivalent of going all-in on crypto. In theory, the blockchain is aligned for a massive windfall. But until that potential pays out, that’s all it is — potential. For now, Bob Myers gets the benefit of the doubt.

Grade: B-

MORE: Golden State playing with fire in latest balancing act

Houston Rockets

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  • Additions: Daniel Theis (trade), Jalen Green (draft), Alperun Sengun (draft), Usman Garuba (draft), Josh Christopher (draft)
  • Departures: Sterling Brown (Mavericks), Kelly Olynyk (Pistons)

Biggest offseason priority: Restock the cupboard

The skinny: The Rockets did about as well as they could have. Jalen Green is a strong candidate to lead all rookies in scoring while Alperun Sengun, Turkish League MVP at just 19 years old, has a chance to be one of the draft’s ultimate steals. There is a desire to find a taker for John Wall’s deal but at such a hefty price tag ($91.7 million over the next two years), the Rockets will be hard-pressed to find a taker unless they attach a pick. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, gauging the success of an offseason entirely off draft picks necessitates a wait-and-see approach, especially if Green doesn’t pan out or underperforms relative to rookies taken later. Overall, a solid offseason for the rebuilding Rockets.

Grade: B+

LA Clippers

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  • Additions: Justise Winslow (free agency), Eric Bledsoe (trade), Keon Johnson (draft), Jason Preston (draft), Brandon Boston (draft)
  • Departures: Patrick Beverley (Timberwolves), Rajon Rondo (Lakers), Daniel Oturu (Grizzlies)

Biggest offseason priority: Remain respectable sans Kawhi

The skinny: The Clippers are fascinating. On one hand, you might look at a team likely without Kawhi Leonard for the entire regular season as a lame duck squad simply waiting it out until 2022-23. On the other hand, you might look at them as a team with the opportunity to lay low pressure-free and simply bide their time in the shadows before emerging as a real threat if Leonard comes back. They brought back both Nic Batum and Reggie Jackson, that latter of whom erupted when given the opportunity to step up after Leonard’s injury. Out of necessity, Jackson averaged an efficient 21 points over his last eight playoff games, more than holding his own against both Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul. Eric Bledsoe receives his fair share of criticism, but there is zero question that he stands to be a significant upgrade over Patrick Beverley, especially if asked to take on primary scoring responsibilities for the bench unit. Justise Winslow simply can’t stay healthy, but he’s an intriguing piece to slot into an amorphous team that stumbled into an identity once Leonard went down. The offseason set the Clippers up to compete even without their best player. And if he comes back? Watch out.

Grade: A-

Los Angeles Lakers

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  • Additions: Russell Westbrook (trade), Carmelo Anthony (free agency), Dwight Howard (free agency), Trevor Ariza (free agency), Rajon Rondo (free agency), DeAndre Jordan (free agency), Wayne Ellington (free agency), Kent Bazemore (free agency), Malik Monk (free agency), Kendrick Nunn (free agency)
  • Departures: Kyle Kuzma (Wizards), Montrezl Harrell (Wizards), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Wizards), Andre Drummond (76ers), Dennis Schroder (Celtics), Marc Gasol (TBD), Alex Caruso (Bulls), Markieff Morris (Heat)

Biggest offseason priority: Lots of botox.

The skinny: Whew. There’s a lot to unpack about the Lakers — too much for this space — but my overall perspective revolves around a one-word question: “Why?”

Why did the Lakers feel the need for such a drastic overhaul? The same team that won it all in the bubble looked ready to make another Finals run until Anthony Davis caught the injury bug at the wrong time. Revamping and retooling around LeBron and AD is one thing. But adding the highest-usage point guard in NBA history who also doubles as the worst high-volume shooter in NBA history feels unnecessary. There will be nights when Russell Westbrook takes over and looks amazing, but his addition feels like an 82-game decision more than a 16-game decision. Beyond Westbrook, the defense took a real hit and is a much larger concern than the low-hanging AARP fruit. 

This team will be judged on what happens in May and June. If you’re a Lakers fan, do you really want your team’s fate resting on whether Westbrook can hit wide open 3s when left alone down the stretch of tight playoff games? The Lakers didn’t need a third star to win big. We know this because we literally just saw it. They needed shooting, defense and good health. They’re still the favorites to come out of the West and likely would have been regardless of what they did, so it’s not a full-blown “our heads are falling off” overreaction. But this offseason reeks of desperation for a team that didn’t need to act desperately.

Grade: C

MORE: How Westbrook can learn from Carmelo

Memphis Grizzlies

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  • Additions: Steven Adams (trade), Jarrett Culver (trade), Kris Dunn (trade), Carsen Edwards (trade), Ziaire Williams (draft), Santi Aldama (draft)
  • Departures: Grayson Allen (Bucks), Eric Bledsoe (Clippers), Jonas Valanciunas (Pelicans), Justise Winslow (Clippers)

Biggest offseason priority: Fill in the gaps around Morant and JJJ

The skinny: I don’t understand how the Grizzlies got better. Steven Adams will fit in perfectly in Memphis, but he’s making $3M more than the departed Jonas Valanciunas this season ($17.1M compared with $14M) and has one extra year on his deal. While ridding themselves of Eric Bledsoe’s contract helps (he’s owed $18.1 million this season), the final year of his deal is only partially guaranteed for $3.9 million so they didn’t save that much. Jarrett Culver is a low-risk swing worth taking, but the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft has thus far been a colossal bust. Offloading Grayson Allen opens up room for Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton but doesn’t come without risk. Allen is only 25, averaged more 3s than anyone else on the team and proved to be a valuable crunch-time contributor.

Maybe the line of thinking is that continued patience, a clean bill of health for Jaren Jackson Jr. and a cleaner cap sheet paves the road toward progress. But this feels underwhelming for a team on the upswing.

Grade: C

Minnesota Timberwolves

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  • Additions: Jarred Vanderbilt (free agency), Patrick Beverley (trade), Taurean Prince (trade)
  • Departures: Ricky Rubio (Cavaliers), Jarrett Culver (Grizzlies), Juancho Hernangomez (Celtics)

Biggest offseason priority: Add toughness and intensity

The skinny: Minnesota’s dream is landing Ben Simmons, who would fit in perfectly alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. Of course, it’s a pipe dream if they continue insisting that Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards are all off-limits. Beyond the blockbuster that didn’t (yet) happen, the Timberwolves brought some adults in the room who will bring much-needed toughness and shooting. Taurean Prince is a legitimate 3-and-D wing who drilled over 40 percent from beyond the arc last season. Beverley’s best days may be in the past, but he’s still a tenacious thorn in the side of opposing point guards whose no-nonsense approach should help light a fire under a team that ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season. Time machines don’t exist and neither do mulligans. Minnesota can’t take back the Russell trade with Golden State, so it’s simply crossing fingers that Jonathan Kuminga’s high upside doesn’t translate into stardom elsewhere.

Grade: B-

New Orleans Pelicans

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  • Additions: Devonte’ Graham (trade), Jonas Valanciunas (trade), Tomas Satoransky (trade), Garrett Temple (trade), Trey Murphy (draft), Herbert Jones (draft)
  • Departures: Lonzo Ball (Bulls), Steven Adams (Grizzlies), Eric Bledsoe (Clippers), Wes Iwundu (Hornets), James Johnson (Nets)

Biggest offseason priority: Keep Zion engaged

The skinny: The Pelicans have been down this road before.

  1. Draft generational talent No. 1 overall.
  2. Underwhelm in surrounding said talent with help.
  3. Allow seeds of discontent to sprout.

If New Orleans isn’t careful, what happened with Anthony Davis could happen again with Zion Williamson. Siphoning off Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams to clear up room to bring in a star makes sense. Deciding not to spend $20 million a year on Lonzo Ball and his questionable fit is defensible. Coordinating those moves to make a run at Kyle Lowry is admirable. But doing all that just to sign Devonte’ Graham WHILE ALSO GIVING UP A FIRST-ROUND PICK? Not great, Bob! Jonas Valanciunas is a good player and Trey Murphy is one of the best shooters in the rookie class. But by failing to surround Williamson with needle-moving pieces, the Pelicans are inching one step closer to history repeating itself.

Grade: D

Oklahoma City Thunder

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  • Additions: Derrick Favors (trade), Josh Giddey (draft), Tre Mann (draft), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (draft), Aaron Wiggins (draft)
  • Departures: Tony Bradley (Bulls), Svi Mykhailiuk (Raptors), Kemba Walker (waived)

Biggest offseason priority: Collect all the infinity sto-, ur, draft picks

The skinny: The loudest splash OKC made was inking Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a five-year, $172 million extension. Beyond that, Sam Presti continues to acquire as many picks as humanly possible in a long, drawn-out rebuild that seemingly has no end in sight. The 6-8 Josh Giddey should slot in nicely next to SGA as a high-IQ prospect who might be the best passer in the draft. OKC traded Al Horford to Boston for Kemba Walker and the 16th overall pick but then flipped that pick to Houston for two future protected first-round picks that likely won’t convey for years as the Rockets are in a similar rebuild. Houston used that pick on 19-year-old Turkish MVP Alperen Sengun, who might be the steal of the draft. Would the Thunder have been better off just drafting Sengun? The Thunder bought out Walker, a curious decision as they could have gone the Chris Paul route and waited to trade him for — you guessed it — more picks. OKC got yet another first-round pick from the Jazz for agreeing to take on Favors. Giddey is a start but at some point the Thunder will need to actually add more foundational pieces next to SGA, who at this rate might be 38 years old by the time that happens.

Grade: C+

Phoenix Suns

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  • Additions: Chandler Hutchinson (free agency), JaVale McGee (free agency), Elfrid Payton (free agency), Landry Shamet (trade)
  • Departures: Jevon Carter (Nets), Torrey Craig (Pacers), E’Twaun Moore (Magic)

Biggest offseason priority: Re-sign Chris Paul and commit to contending

The skinny: On the heels of the team’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1993, there were quiet murmurs that Phoenix wouldn’t break the bank to bring back Chris Paul. The franchise notorious for penny pinching instead forked over the bag to run it back, giving the 36-year-old Point God a four-year deal worth up to $120 million. Though perhaps not an Achilles heel, frontcourt depth behind DeAndre Ayton proved to be a serious pain point in the postseason, which the Suns addressed by signing JaVale McGee to a one-year deal. Fresh off the heels of an Olympic gold medal, McGee brings championship experience from his time with the Warriors. Re-signing Cameron Payne and bringing in Elfrid Payton shores up the backcourt depth behind Paul and should give the Suns enough rope to keep him fresh through the rigors of an 82-game season. The Suns did everything in their power to remain on the short list of teams capable of winning the West.

Grade: A-

Portland Trail Blazers

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  • Additions: Ben McLemore (free agency), Tony Snell (free agency), Cody Zeller (free agency), Larry Nance Jr. (trade), Greg Brown III (draft)
  • Departures: Carmelo Anthony (Lakers), Zach Collins (Spurs), Derrick Jones Jr. (Bulls), Enes Kanter (Celtics)

Biggest offseason priority: Appease Dame and graduate from frisky to legitimate contender

The skinny: Let’s start here: Portland will not be bad. In fact, there’s a chance that Portland will be really good. Could the Blazers finish in the top four in the West? Absolutely. Could they win a playoff series? Sure. But Portland is kidding itself if it thinks that anything it did this offseason changes its fortunes in any meaningful way. Norman Powell is a nice player. Does giving him $90 million over five years to be the team’s third-best guard equate to substantial improvement? No. Ditto for Larry Nance Jr., a nice role player who offers plus playmaking and defense but likely isn’t making or breaking Portland’s chances.

Damian Lillard wants the Blazers to be aggressive in their pursuit of loftier ambitions. Even if the rumors of Lillard’s trade demands proved premature, the Blazers are once again setting themselves up for a predictable ho-hum season that ends with another early playoff exit. Never change, Blazers.

Grade: D

Sacramento Kings

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  • Additions: Alex Len (free agency), Tristan Thompson (trade), Davion Mitchell (draft), Neemias Queta (draft)
  • Departures: Hassan Whiteside (Jazz), Delon Wright (Hawks)

Biggest offseason priority: Solve an identity crisis

The skinny: The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. A combination of recent draft picks plus indecisiveness makes it difficult to assess how exactly the Kings see themselves. Drafting Davion Mitchell one year after drafting Tyrese Haliburton signals that perhaps they’re ready to move on from either Buddy Hield or even De’Aaron Fox. While they nearly dealt Hield to the Lakers, the Kings were outbid by Washington’s offer of Russell Westbrook and so he remains. Though he might be a turnstile defensively, no player in the entire league has made more 3s than Hield over the past three seasons. That type of voluminous floor spacing combined with a unique contract that actually goes down over the next three seasons makes him a potentially juicy trade chip. Add in Marvin Bagley and Harrison Barnes, and Sacramento has an enticing war chest to throw Philly’s way should it want in on Ben Simmons or a player of his ilk. If the Kings are done, then the unresolved backcourt logjam could prove problematic. But if there’s one team primed for a big-time preseason shake-up, it’s the Kings.

Grade: C+… for now

San Antonio Spurs

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  • Additions: Zach Collins (free agency), Bryn Forbes (free agency), Al-Farouq Aminu (trade), Doug McDermott (trade), Thaddeus Young (trade), Joshua Primo (draft), Joe Wieskamp (draft)
  • Departures: DeMar DeRozan (Bulls), Gorgui Dieng (Hawks), Patty Mills (Nets), Rudy Gay (Jazz), Trey Lyles (Pistons)

Biggest offseason priority: Transition into a full rebuild

The skinny: The Spurs finally did it. After two years of hanging on the fringes of playoff chatter, they are leaning into the rebuild. Instead of overpaying to keep DeMar DeRozan, they wisely agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Bulls and in the process picked up a future first-round pick and veteran Thaddeus Young. Long-time Spur Patty Mills, the last holdover from the glory years, signed with the Nets in free agency, leaving 25-year-old Dejounte Murray as the longest-tenured Spur. With the 12th overall pick, the Spurs took a surprise flier on Joshua Primo, the youngest player in the draft who many draftniks pegged as a likely second-round pick. Although the consensus rules it a major reach, it’s the type of back-end lottery swing you take when fully committing to a rebuild with no bona fide foundational pieces in the cupboard. Doug McDermott adds shooting on the heels of a career year while Zach Collins is a potentially shrewd buy-low addition with the massive caveat that he needs to stay healthy. San Antonio took an honest look in the mirror, inhaled deeply and did what it should have done a year ago.

Grade: B

Utah Jazz

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  • Additions: Rudy Gay (free agency), Hassan Whiteside (free agency), Eric Paschall (trade), Jared Butler (draft)
  • Departures: Derrick Favors (Thunder), Georges Niang (76ers) 

Biggest offseason priority: Re-sign Mike Conley

The skinny: Above all else, the Jazz could not afford to lose Mike Conley. Yes, $72 million over three years is a risk for an injury prone 34-year-old point guard. And yet if the Jazz let him walk, they had no means to replace him by virtue of being cap strapped and unable to spend that money elsewhere. Adding Hassan Whiteside on a minimum contract to back up Rudy Gobert is an absolute high-reward, low-risk no-brainer. Best case scenario is he rebounds, rolls and blocks a ton of shots. Remember, Whiteside led the league in blocks per game as recently as 2019-20. At worst, he’s a bad fit for the Jazz and they let him walk for next to nothing. Rudy Gay gives the Jazz more small-ball flexibility for the non-Gobert minutes while Eric Pascall can dependably fill in back-of-the-rotation minutes. There were some rumblings that Utah may unload Joe Ingles, but so far the sweet-shooting lefty playmaker remains in the fold. Short of pivoting away from the Mitchell-Gobert tandem, this is about as well as they could have realistically hoped for.

Grade: A-



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