As with all sports, there is really never an offseason in the NBA and this past summer proved to be more invigorating than the playoffs before it and stakes a claim as arguably the most entertaining offseason in NBA history. Though the Warriors came off such a dominant playoff, this season still brought a little sizzle to it after such a chaotic offseason. Big names dealt left and right, a historically shimmering draft class and a few big signings to boot left a lot of dust to be settled.
And now with the regular season winding down and laying out the red carpet for the playoffs, let’s take a look back at the whirlwind and assess how well each major signing and trade went for each respective team. For each trade, there will be a classic school grade assigned both teams involved depending on how well the trade panned out. For free agent signings, there will be simply one grade for how well said signings paid off.
Nuggets Sign Paul Millsap, three years, $90 million
Seeing as a Western Conference playoff spot is almost as hard to get as the MVP award for James Harden, being in serious contention for one this late in the season is a testament to how underrated the Nuggets really are. Though the spot hangs by a thread and a single loss could be enough to put them over the edge, Millsap has been a fairly big reason why the Nuggets can be so competitive. Well, when he’s on the court, at least. He’s only played in 33 games all season due to wrist injury so this signing can’t be considered a home run, but the dependable big man’s play over the homestretch (20 points, 7.2 rebounds, 59.4 percent shooting over last five games) cannot be understated.
Celtics Sign Gordon Hayward, four years, $128 million
Bringing on an All-Star usually brings only positives but infamously mere minutes into the season, Hayward goes down with a gruesome ankle. For now, the signing hasn’t paid off but being locked down for three more seasons means that Hayward will indeed get to contribute to an already very good Celtics team.
Jimmy Butler for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen
After years of dilly-dallying in no man’s land, the Bulls finally kicked off a total rebuild, moving on from resident superstar in Butler for three very bright pieces. Former Dunk Contest winner LaVine, despite coming off an ACL tear, has flashed his usual explosiveness in the form of 16.7 points over the 24 games he did appear in this season. Dunn has shown massive improvements over his rough rookie year, more than tripling his scoring average (3.8 points to 13.4 points per game) and doubling his steal totals. Though injuries stumped a lot of growth between the two, in the games they have appeared in shows them to be valuable pieces one day.
The crowning jewel of the trade Markkanen solidified himself as a top-five rookie in an absolutely stacked draft class, living up to the hype as a Dirk Nowitzki-type player. His 2.1 threes per game on 35% shooting as a true seven-footer will be a massive asset one day. While the Bulls still look years away from contention again, this trade set themselves up in very good position for a smooth rebuild period.
Everything went so well this season for the rising Timberwolves. Butler was the All-Star they knew they had, Karl Anthony-Towns took another step, and had themselves hovering in the top four seed in the loaded West. That is until tragedy struck and Butler had his season ended by a meniscus injury late in the year, leaving Towns and a struggling Andrew Wiggins to fend for themselves come playoff time. Ouch.
Chris Paul for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer
Yeah, they may have given an entire roster for Paul, considering the Rockets have a stranglehold on the first seed in the West and actually threaten the Warriors for title favorites make the trade worth it. Beverly gave the Rockets some attitude and Williams locked down the bench scoring but none of it outweighed the chemistry Paul and Harden have built that fuels the best record in the league.
As Lob City’s reign had more and more openly run its course and the pieces started to crumble in on themselves, the time for a rebuild was sooner than the Clippers wanted to accept. While they didn’t land any flashy prospects in return for their longtime star, finally breaking down the foundations of the franchise means that they can begin to rebuild and finally turn their attention to the future.
Ricky Rubio for 2018 first round Pick
Since we don’t know how the first round pick will shake out, it is a nice addition to shedding Rubio’s 13 million per year contract. Rubio never really panned out in Minnesota. He has always been a stellar passer but he never achieved the superstardom the Timberwolves had envisioned for him. The decision to call it quits on him simply felt right.
While the Jazz themselves have been brilliant all season long and are one of the best surprises the regular season, Rubio’s ho-hum career rages on, never being able to realize the monstrous potential he may or may not once had. While he does have career highs in points per game and field goal percentage, his bread and butter assist numbers have fallen off and he still can’t seem to work out his turnover problem. At 27 years of age, this might be as good as it gets with Rubio. Either way, the Jazz are soaring and his contributions, though not what we had hoped, can’t be diminished.
Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis
A rarity in the sports world as the George-Oladipo trade actually left both teams in better spots than before. For the Thunder, George declared himself the ideal second fiddle to Russell Westbrook, being offensively abt enough and a good enough spot-up shooter to contribute mightily on the scoreboard but not too ball-dominant while his defensive prowess continues to stifle opponents. No longer would the Thunder need to rely so historically heavily on Westbrook and it’s paid off. Barring a total late-season collapse, the Thunder positioned themselves for April basketball.
Wow, not needing to share the floor with Russell Westbrook and being able to actually handle the ball on a well-coached team with a good support system really allowed Oladipo to spread his wings like we all knew he could. Who knew. Currently the front-runner for Most Improved, Oladipo burst out of his shell this season, putting up averages of 23.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals per game.
And for Sabonis? The second-year forward’s solid 11.4 points and 7.8 rebounds bring consistent rebounding off the bench. Considering the Pacers sit firmly in the fifth seed of the East, moving on from George hasn’t hindered them as much as fans and analysts thought the trade would.
Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 first round pick
On such a raw team, Irving’s highlight reel play continues to be the catalyst for the second-seeded Celtics. With Thomas going on a contract year and not worth the money he would have asked for, landing a young superstar in Irving could not have been a more optimal move. They have all the young pieces they could dream of and the first isn’t much skin off their back and making room for the young talent by moving Crowder has worked out. Looking back, the Celtics absolutely robbed the blundering Cavaliers.
Lose LeBron’s right-hand man indirectly because of LeBron? Check. Deal him for an unknown rookie, a defensive-minded forward who everyone kinda forgot about, and a five-foot nine-point guard whose hips didn’t want to work anymore? Check. Deal those players for a crop of random role players at the trade deadline because the original trade obviously blew up in your face? Check. The Cavs could not have bumbled this harder and now they will more than likely pay for it during the playoffs.
A run-in with the Raptors, Sixers, or ironically the Celtics without the playoff darling Irving is a scary thought and even if the Cavs find a way to claw out of the East, the Warriors or Rockets simply wait to pick them apart in the Finals.
Carmelo Anthony for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, 2nd round Pick
After years of Anthony single-handedly forcing the Knicks to contend without a roster around him ready to do so, finally moving on from him to usher in a whole-hearted rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis was the right decision. While they didn’t get a plethora of prospects like one might have hoped, the 25-year-old Kanter (14.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 59.2% field goal percentage) has proven to be a nice incentive for the dark days that needed to be cast upon the Knicks.
Outside of a few scoring explosions, Anthony has thoroughly been disastrous to the Thunder’s offense. No longer he must carry a team, so being shipped to a team with two other stars should logically cause his numbers to droop, which they did, but his efficiency to skyrocket, which they didn’t. He retained the same ball hog mentality without the need, nor the talent to justify his off-kilter shot choice. With the playoffs right on the horizon, the Thunder will need him to smooth out his shooting or else they may find themselves victim to an Anthony dry spell, throwing up shots and dragging everybody else down with him.