The 2017 NBA offseason was one of the craziest offseasons the sports world has ever seen.
Let’s be real: It may have been crazier than the regular season and playoffs combined. During the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors lost a whopping one game en route to their second NBA Championship in the past three seasons. A team starring Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is liable to do it again if the injury bug takes the season off (sorry, Celtics fans).
NBA season is officially back. And there’s a lot to look forward to.
The Hawks, while at the top alphabetically, are likely to be at the bottom of the league all season. The roster lacks talent as well as reasons to be excited about them. Dennis Schroder will be running the show again at point guard, but without Paul Millsap on the roster, the team lacks any sort of punch or gusto.
DeWayne Dedmon is the player to watch on this team. He’s a freak athletically, and he has a year of Gregg Popovich’s coaching under his belt. Last season, Dwight Howard put up 13.5 points per game, 12.7 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game for a similar Atlanta team. Expect Dedmon to be in that vicinity as the team’s best big man.
Remember that part about the crazy offseason? The Celtics are a big part of the madness. General Manager Danny Ainge pulled off two of the biggest trades of the offseason. Just before Draft night, Ainge sent the 2017 first overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd overall pick and another first round pick in either the 2018 or 2019 NBA Draft. In free agency, the Celtics caught a big fish in Gordon Hayward and swapped Avery Bradley for the Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris. However, Ainge wasn’t done there. He capped off the offseason by trading for the disgruntled star Kyrie Irving. In exchange, the Celtics lost Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.
With the huge roster shake-up, the Celtics might finally have enough to topple the Cavaliers in the East. Irving has been enjoying a LeBron-free offense and is in for a big year. Al Horford is a strong second option, and coach Brad Stevens has two exciting forwards in Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum to mold. Needless to say, the Celtics are one of the most talented teams in the NBA; they just need to start grabbing rebounds. Finishing 26th in the league in total rebounds won’t cut it if they want to hang banner number 18 in the rafters anytime soon.
Losing Hayward on opening night is a huge hit. Brown and Marcus Smart will need to come up big for the Celtics to stay near the top of the East. Nevertheless, it’s too soon to say this team is doomed. They still have Irving and Horford, and they’re still probably better than the Raptors and Wizards.
When trying to find the right word to describe the Nets, I stumbled upon the word “gallimaufry.” Dictionary.com defines it as “a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley.” That sounds about right. The roster features a glut of intriguing players, and trying to figure out how they will work together is a task in itself.
Over the summer, the Nets acquired D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov from the Los Angeles Lakers, DeMarre Carroll from the Toronto Raptors and Allen Crabbe from the Portland Trailblazers. This quartet find themselves on a roster that already features Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If that wasn’t enough, Brooklyn also added former-Celtic Tyler Zeller. None of those players—aside from maybe Lin—are household names or even remotely close to star players. As a result, someone will have to take over and be the star. It appears Russell will be that guy.
If nothing else, this team should play hard and occasionally be fun to watch. Now that Cleveland is in possession of their 2018 first-round draft pick, they have no incentive to stink it up.
Next stop on the carousel of the Dwight Howard-isn’t-quite-washed-up-yet tour is Charlotte. Over the offseason, Howard was traded from Atlanta in exchange for sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and fellow-journeyman Miles Plumlee.
Aside from that trade, the Hornets had a quiet summer. The core of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nic Batum and Marvin Williams is still intact, though Batum is expected to miss 8-12 weeks with a torn elbow ligament.
The Hornets could very well be a sleeper team in the depleted East. While they are essentially a lock for the playoffs, they could upset a powerhouse if Walker gets cooking. Jeremy Lamb should also get plenty of run at the shooting guard position with Batum out. That should allow him to get in rhythm and become a lethal scoring option off the bench.
Welcome to the basement, Bulls. Robin Lopez is the best healthy player on the roster right now. Let that sink in.
Once a top team in the East, the Bulls have officially hit rock bottom. After trading Jimmy Butler for peanuts and buying out Dwyane Wade, the Bulls are left with a roster that rivals the Hawks for worst in the league. Unlike the Hawks, however, the Bulls have a decent number of young guys who could develop into solid NBA players. Zach LaVine could become a star, but he could be out for most of the season recovering from an ACL tear.
Aside from the UCLA standout, the rest of the young players’ futures are uncertain. Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen were all lottery picks, while Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant were both first-round picks. Moreover, when this season is over, odds are that the Bulls will have another high draft pick to build around.
On Opening Night, Portis and Nikola Mirotic got into a shoving match that left Mirotic hospitalized and Portis suspended for eight games. Fighting in practice is nothing new for this team; just ask Michael Jordan, but he no one ever ended up in the hospital. This is a new low for the Bulls. On the bright side though, it is hard to imagine the season getting any worse.
Is this team in the East? Check. Does this team have LeBron James? Check. Yeah, this team is going to the Eastern Conference Finals and likely the NBA Finals as well.
A roster with James, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and the aforementioned Dwayne Wade would’ve been absolutely nuts in 2011. In 2017, it doesn’t quite pack the same punch, especially with the latter two slowing down. However, if Rose and Wade can start making threes at a respectable clip, this team could be good enough to hang with the Warriors.
The addition of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder via the Kyrie trade was a good move, but it completely changes the team’s dynamic. Thomas is out until January, so his impact will be delayed; and Jae Crowder is the best 3-and-D forward that LeBron has played with. This team is starting to look a lot like the LeBron era Miami Heat with the floor spacing All-Star at center (formerly Chris Bosh, now Love), Crowder filling the Shane Battier role, Wade playing himself, and Thomas and Rose acting as upgraded versions of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.
Overall, this team could be roughly as good as that Heat team was, if not better. The talent level looks to be there, but chemistry issues could arise. JR Smith and Tristan Thompson, who have been starters for the past three seasons, have been moved to the bench. While I doubt that will last because of the defensive issues of the starting lineup, it could pose a problem down the line.
Another season of aging Dirk Nowitzki is upon us. Head coach Rick Carlisle will have some athletic young studs to place around his slowed down superstar in the forms of Nerlens Noel, rookie Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes.
Last season, Barnes lead the Mavericks in points and minutes played. He will likely be the focal point of the offense once again as Dallas transitions into the post-Dirk era. Moreover, with Smith running the show and Noel in the middle, the Mavs have a nice trio to build around. They also have former G League standouts Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell to work with Smith as he finds his footing in the NBA.
While the Mavericks are unlikely to make a big splash this season, they should be a fun team to watch as long as Dirk can keep up with his speedy new teammate.
Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler combine to make one of the best frontcourts in the NBA. Chandler is a phenomenal 3-and-D player; Jokic is on the cusp of stardom; and Millsap was the perfect offseason pickup.
Throw in rising stars Jamal Murray and Gary Harris and you just might have yourself a playoff team in the gantlet that is the Western Conference. This team could be a lot like the 2015 Atlanta Hawks in that they have a very strong, well-rounded starting lineup without any glaring weaknesses (and Millsap was on both teams).
Aside from trading for Avery Bradley, this team feels a lot like last year’s team. They lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, so there is a gigantic dip in the cool name rankings, but the rest of the core is back for one more.
Bradley and Reggie Jackson should make for a stifling defensive backcourt. Last season, Jackson was coming off of an injury and did not look good whatsoever. But if he can return to form this season, the rest of the team should flourish.
A lot of the Pistons’ success this year will hinge on Andre Drummond. He’s their best player, but he hasn’t made the leap to elite yet. He’s showed glimpses of greatness during his career. He even had a stretch of 20-point, 20-rebound games. But he has never been consistently dominant.
On a positive note, Tobias Harris has been slowly and steadily improving over the course of his career and this season shouldn’t be any different. Also, even if the Pistons show little to no growth this season, they should be a playoff contender in the weakened Eastern Conference.
Golden State Warriors
Does anyone else remember the Megazord from Power Rangers? You know, the giant robot that they would all combine to form?
Yeah, that’s what the Warriors were last year. And then they went and added Nick “Swaggy P” Young.
Golden State is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as NBA Champions this year. Despite losing on opening night, I don’t see that changing unless they are hit by a series of devastating injuries.
James Harden finally got a superstar teammate in Houston. After Carmelo Anthony was rumored to be eyeing the Rockets, GM Daryl Morey opted to trade for 9-time All-Star Chris Paul. In exchange, the Rockets gave up Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a ton of trade fillers.
The duo will make up arguably the most talented backcourt in the NBA. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if that will move the needle enough against a team like Golden State, though their win against them in the season opener is certainly a good start. Most importantly, it gives them a significantly stronger chance of making it to the Western Conference Finals—assuming they can get past the San Antonio Spurs or revamped Oklahoma City Thunder.
The post-Paul George era has begun in Indiana.
Earlier this offseason, George was rumored to have requested a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, citing the fact that he planned to sign with them next year once his contract was up. As a result, the Pacers granted him his wish and traded him…to the Thunder.
In return, the Pacers acquired Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo went to Indiana University, so this should be quite the homecoming. Like the team Oladipo played for in Orlando, this Pacers team lacks an abundance of talent, but they do have rising star Myles Turner to build around.
Now it’s Turner’s team. He’ll be the one they turn to when they need points on the board or when they need someone to step up defensively. While he appears ready for the challenge, expect a learning curve that will result in plenty of losses.
Off the court, Oladipo used this summer to record and release his first album. It is surprisingly good and well worth a listen.
Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin is back. DeAndre Jordan is back. Other than those two and Austin Rivers, this is a very different Clippers team than last season. They traded CP3 for Beverly and some change and added Italian sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari. Rivers and Williams will likely round out the rotation at the two-guard position. That is a very solid lineup. Though keeping up with the powerhouses of the West is going to be a challenge, this roster is almost certain to make the playoffs and should be pretty fun to watch along the way.
Beverly is essentially a pit bull in a human’s body, and Milos Teodosic, who finally came over to the NBA at age 30, looks like a top-tier passer already. Combine that with the remnants of “Lob City” and you have a team worth watching every time they step on the court.
Los Angeles Lakers
It is Lonzo Ball time in LA. On draft night, the Lakers sent Russell and Mozgov to the Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and the pick that became Kyle Kuzma. In the preseason, both rookies—Ball and Kuzma—looked stellar. Ball has missed a few games, but Kuzma has absolutely showed out every night. Despite preseason games being a poor indicator of talent, Kuzma looks legit—averaging 17.3 points per game through six games.
The rest of the roster is a solid mix of up-and-comers (Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Larry Nance Jr.), solid veteran contributors (Caldwell-Pope and Lopez), as well as whatever is left of Andrew Bogut, Luol Deng, and Corey Brewer.
Although Lavar Ball has had a knack for “speaking things into existence,” I wouldn’t bet on his playoff predictions holding up for very long. While Lonzo was at UCLA, he blamed the lack of success on the white players being too slow. We’ll see what his excuse is when the Lakers are sitting out the Playoffs in April.
As the West gets stronger, the Grizzlies are slowly being pushed further and further from competing with the top dogs. Gone are the days of the Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizzlies. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph left in free agency, and the team has already announced their intentions to retire both players’ numbers, 9 and 50, respectively.
While that is an awesome testament to what those two players brought to Memphis, they aren’t there anymore. Instead, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley’s supporting cast is comprised of Tyreke Evans, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green and Mario Chalmers. Three of those players have recently battled a serious injury, so their production could be all over the place.
The playoffs are still well in the realm of possibility, but with how strong the West is, nothing is guaranteed.
After a slow start last season, the Heat found their stride and nearly make the playoffs. Now that the growing pains are out of the way, this team should be good enough to grab a playoff spot. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches on the planet, and he has a team of defensive stalwarts and Goran Dragic.
Hassan Whiteside is the man in the middle for Miami. He is the last line of defense on a team full of wing defenders. At his side are Rodney McGruder, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. If they all buy in defensively, their speed, athleticism and grit will give any opposing team nightmare.
Rounding out the roster is world-renowned shot taker Dion Waiters. This Syracuse product is a treat every time he steps on the floor, especially now that he doesn’t have to share the ball with a ball-dominant point guard like he did in the past with Irving and Russell Westbrook. Now, he gets to be the ball-dominator. Sometimes it works out well and he makes the game-winning shot, and other times he ends up on Shaqtin’ A Fool, the TNT miniseries made famous for its NBA bloopers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering world-destroyer status. He’s 6’11”, can play and guard any position on a basketball court, and is only getting more skilled. Kobe Bryant challenged him to get MVP this season, and that certainly isn’t out of the question after winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award last season.
The rest of the roster won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but they’re young and athletic. Thon Maker and 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcom Brogdan will look to build on their strong first year campaigns, while Kris Middleton and Tony Snell hold down the two wing positions. A healthy Jabari Parker would make this roster even more dangerous on offense, though Milwaukee will have to wait until around February for his return from another knee injury.
It baffles me that the Timberwolves still haven’t been arrested for robbing the Bulls. Head coach Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler were reunited for the small shipping fee of Dunn, an injured LaVine and the pick that became Markkanen.
While finally trading Ricky Rubio and signing Jeff Teague feels like a lateral move, the rest of the starting lineup should make strides this season. Andrew Wiggins just got paid, signing a $146 million max extension; Karl Anthony-Towns is still only 21 years old and improving; and the addition of Butler gives the starting lineup some tough veteran leadership.
In an attempt to bolster their bench, Minnesota signed Jamal Crawford and another former Thibodeau player Taj Gibson. Crawford will bring some pizzazz and a scoring punch off the bench, while Gibson brings toughness and reliability to the reserves.
New Orleans Pelicans
In today’s world of small ball NBA, the Pelicans are either fitting out or stuck in the past. Either way, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are a weird fit. They are both 7-footers who can shoot out to the three-point line and dominate inside, but they’re both better served with a faster forward at the four. Cousins did well next to Rudy Gay in Sacramento; as for Davis, that poor guy hasn’t had much help through his five-year career.
The twin towers lineup could work if they were surrounded by shooters, though. Instead, New Orleans went out and signed Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen. Jrue Holiday is a decent shooter, but E’Twaun Moore is really the only shooter in their starting lineup. And in their reserves, Ian Clark is their only other shooter (unless Omer Asik suddenly learned how to shoot).
While they will likely be respectable and win around 40 games, the playoffs seem a little out of reach for this team.
New York Knicks
Good news, everyone: Melo is gone! The Kristaps Porzingis era is upon us. Now that the Latvian will get a chance to be the primary scorer on this team, he should put up huge numbers and look like a star. At the very least, he will have every opportunity to flourish as the top dog.
As for everyone else, it gets a little less cut and dry. This hodgepodge of a roster is such a James Dolan team. Michael Beasley thinks he’s Kevin Durant; Frank Ntilikina should have an inefficient, yet fun rookie season; and the defense is going to look like saloon doors to opposing teams.
On the bright side, whoever doesn’t start between Enes Kanter and Willie Hernangomez will likely provide a spark of the bench alongside Beasley, McDermott, Ramon Sessions and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks are weirdly deep when you realize that nearly every player mentioned so far is in the running to be a starter.
And then there’s the really bad part. The Knicks are paying over $33 million this season for Joakim Noah and Tim Hardaway Jr. Over the next three seasons, that number only increases.
That’s a lot of cap space dedicated to the shell that is Noah and for a guy in Hardaway Jr. that hasn’t shown an ounce of consistency during his four-year stint in the NBA.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Melo as a first option in 2017: bad. Melo as a third option in 2017: good.
By trading peanuts for George, and McDermott and Kanter for Anthony, the Thunder have themselves a nice little big three. Whether or not this team will be able to push Golden State is still up in the air, but Westbrook now has the teammates to succeed after his two best teammates last season were Steven Adams and Oladipo.
Fresh off his MVP season, Westbrook would love to add more of these awards to his trophy case. Accomplishing that, however, just got a little bit tricker. Now that he has two premier forwards playing alongside him, he no longer has to produce at an MVP level for OKC to be dominant. While another MVP trophy may be out of the question with the current lineup, a Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy suddenly could be within reach (Golden State may have something to say about that).
The biggest issue for this team will be who takes the last shot. In clutch time, having three threats can be a great problem to have, but it’s still a problem. While George is the best shooter of the trio, Westbrook is the best at getting to the rim and Melo is no chump in the clutch. Head coach Billy Donovan will certainly have some ego management to do, but what’s the worst that could happen? His star forward leaves for Golden State…again?
It has been many moons since Dwight Howard donned a Magic uniform. It has been the same number of moons since the Magic looked like a coherent basketball team.
Now, with a new captain in GM John Hammond, Orlando will look to return to respectability. It doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon, but Hammond seems okay with that. The former Bucks GM wants to rebuild the Magic the right way. His first step toward that was drafting Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac has the potential to be as good as Antetokounmpo. Physically, they’re almost a perfect match, and they both handle the ball like a guard while being able to guard all five positions.
The rest of the roster is slowly starting to look like a respectable one. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are entering contract years, so their production will likely take off. The addition of another Jonathon, former-Spur Jonathon Simmons, should also help the Magic build a tough, defensive-minded culture in Orlando.
Ben Simmons is healthy. Markelle Fultz is here to run the show. JJ Redick is making $23 million. And most importantly, Joel Embiid is healthy and ready to trust the process once again.
Last season was a disappointing one for the Sixers. Embiid only appeared in 31 games, and they had one of the worst records in the NBA. This season, the team is revamped and ready to show the world that the injury bug is finally going to move out of Philly.
If healthy, Embiid can be the best center in the NBA. He is so talented, but injuries have plagued him through the majority of his young career. It is a good sign, though, that the Sixers were confident enough in him to sign him to a $148 million deal.
Somehow, the Suns’ roster always ends up looking the same—a bunch of young guys who were drafted in the lottery and Tyson Chandler. This season is no different. Josh Jackson is the newest rookie, and it doesn’t appear he will make enough of a difference to shift the paradigm in Phoenix.
Devin Booker could finally break out into a star this year, but he hasn’t shown much consistency in his first two seasons, so it is hard to tell. For what it’s worth, he has a better career high for points in a game than Michael Jordan. Booker had a 70 point game last season, while MJ’s highest scoring game saw him put up 69.
The Suns will likely play really fast and have moments when they’re really exciting. However, for every one of those moments, there will be growing pains tenfold. Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler just aren’t going to cut it in terms of veteran leadership. It appears the Suns are doomed for at least one more season of fighting to not be the worst in the NBA.
Portland Trail Blazers
Oladipo isn’t the only player to drop an album in October. Damian “Dame D.O.L.L.A.” Lillard released his second album, “Confirmed,” on Oct. 6. That isn’t where Lillard will be making the sweetest music, though.
Portland’s starting lineup, while lacking the star power of Golden State or OKC, is one of the most solid in the NBA. Moreover, every player has a very defined role. The guards—Lillard and CJ McCollum—are the perimeter scorers who do most of the attacking. The forwards—Maurice Harkless and Al Farouq-Aminu—are the defensive stoppers who also provide a little offensive boost. And center Jusuf Nurkic is the low post threat with a little too much swagger.
Once again, this will be one of the most watchable teams in the NBA, and once again, they’ll get thwarted in the playoffs by a top-tier team like San Antonio or Golden State. And that’s perfectly okay.
The first full season without Cousins begins here. A complete overhaul of the roster in the offseason leaves Sacramento with an intriguing blend of seasoned vets and promising young studs.
Most experts agree that the Kings had a phenomenal draft after taking De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. Then, in free agency, they signed Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill. Throw in returning players Willie Caulie-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere and you have yourself a promising young team.
The Kings are almost like the Magic in the West except when the Kings lost their star center, it didn’t take them five years to get to this point.
San Antonio Spurs
Rumor has it the Spurs almost traded for Chris Paul. That move would’ve totally shaken up this team. Instead, they just signed Rudy Gay. Other than that, this team is very much like last year’s team except Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are one year closer to retiring and Kawhi Leonard is one year closer to becoming regular season MVP.
This year might even be the year that Leonard brings home that trophy. He has already been Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, so this feels like the next step. With Harden’s and Westbrook’s squads each adding superstars, the San Diego State product seems primed to be in the forefront of the running for MVP.\
My only gripe with this team is that they re-signed Pau Gasol to a 3-year/$48 million offer when they could have retained Dedmon for a fraction of that. Atlanta ended up signing the former-USC Trojan for two years at $7 million per year. His entire contract is less than a single year of Gasol’s.
For those who remember when ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said forward Bruno Caboclo was “two years away from being two years away,” I have good news. That was three years ago, so now he is only one year away!
Jokes aside, this Raptors team is poised to be a top four team in the East for another year. GM Masai Ujiri was able to retain both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to bring the band back together for another go.
The Raptors are a lot like the Trailblazers of the East. They’ll have a good regular season, but they don’t stand much of a chance against the top dogs. However, now that Hayward is out, the Raptors’ chances of making the Eastern Conference Finals are higher than ever. If Lowry can’t show up in the Playoffs though, this team is out in the second round for the third straight year.
The Jazz lost star wing Hayward to Boston, but they appear to be in good shape to make the playoffs once again. Rodney Hood will get a chance to make a jump in production, and Rudy Gobert can take the reigns as the team’s premier player. Utah also added Ricky Rubio, who is one of the best passers in the NBA.
With how stacked the West is, a really good team is going to miss the Playoffs. This might be that team. The Warriors, Thunder, Spurs and Rockets are all locks to make the postseason. That leaves the Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Timberwolves, and Pelicans all competing with the Jazz for one of the final four spots.
In order for Utah to take one of those spots, the wings are going to have to step up and fill the void left by Hayward. Hood seems like an obvious choice to breakout, but there is no shortage of options with Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Thabo Sefolosha and Donovan Mitchell in tow to attack by committee.
Everything that was said about the Raptors is essentially true here. John Wall might be the best point guard in the East, and the rest of the roster is just good enough to be a top-four team alongside the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors.
Otto Porter, despite getting the cold shoulder from Wall when Paul George’s future was up in the air, has been the perfect glue guy for this team. As the small forward, he serves as the player between Washington’s high-octane scoring guards—Wall and Bradley Beal—and their duo of brutes in the front line—Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. Last season, Porter took a big step in the right direction. If he can take one more of those steps, this team could find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Porter, Beal or Morris needs to step up in a big way. If they can’t do that, then this team is once again going to be stuck within the bubble of really good but not a title contender.
Header photo courtesy of WOSlinker