This week marks the beginning of the new NBA league year, and with that, our new weekly roundup. Every week we’ll come to you with the winners and losers of that week in the offseason. This week, we take a look at teams and players that have taken advantage of the beginning of free agency.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti must be thrilled with how the last week has gone. He made only one major move, but it was as big as it gets. Presti’s trade for Paul George was an absolute fleecing and helps the Thunder in the present, as well as the future. The present benefits are obvious: The Thunder now have two top 10 players in the league, and they are able to lessen the load for Russell Westbrook.
The real win is what it could mean for the team’s future. By adding George, they are showing their willingness to explore every avenue to improve the team around Westbrook. George’s addition should make Westbrook more willing to commit long-term to the Thunder, and his commitment could open the door to attracting George to sign long-term when he becomes a free agent next summer. There’s always the risk that both Westbrook and George leave if this seasons goes awry, but that is the kind of risk that Presti and the Thunder must be willing to take if they want to keep the 2016-2017 NBA MVP around for the foreseeable future.
The Nuggets have spent the offseason looking for a four to play next to Nikola Jokic. They first tried to orchestrate a three-team trade that would have landed Kevin Love in Denver, but that fell apart. Then they had a meeting with Blake Griffin scheduled, but that fell apart after he committed to re-signing with the Clippers. Things finally fell into place when they were able to come to terms with Paul Millsap on Sunday. Millsap is a good team defender and has the ability to stretch the floor, which makes him a nice fit next to Jokic. He is one of the most consistent players in the league, and his signing should vault the Nuggets into the playoffs.
Even if Millsap starts to trend downward in his next two seasons, the final season is a team option, which limits most of the danger for Denver. If the Nuggets decide that Millsap doesn’t fit well after one season, he becomes a valuable trade piece, as a quality starter on an expiring contract. Millsap’s signing is a big win for Denver and sets them up well to compete now, as well as keeping their options open down the line if things don’t work out.
Chris Paul is a winner for several reasons so far this offseason. His decision to opt-in to the last year of his contract allowed for him to be traded to the Houston Rockets. While Paul will make less money than he would have if he’d have become a free agent, his financial future looks brighter than it would have. Paul is now eligible to become a free agent next offseason, when he can sign a five year max with the Rockets, or hit the open market if he doesn’t mesh with James Harden. If Paul were to leave, he’d be able to sign a four-year max with his new team, paying him $150 million through his age-37 season.
Those are just the off-the-court benefits. On the court, Paul will carry less of the offensive workload and be able to work off the ball with James Harden controlling the offense. Harden, like Paul, has the ability to find the open man, which should open up Paul to approach his career high in scoring, 22.8 PPG. His decision to opt-in and join the Rockets could help his legacy more than anything. Paul is in a great position to make the conference finals with the Rockets, something that has evaded him throughout his 12-year career.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are a winner this week almost entirely because of Chris Paul. Paul’s aforementioned decision to opt-in allowed the Clippers to recoup some assets instead of losing him for nothing. The acquisition of Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams should immediately help the Clippers in the backcourt. Losing Paul and J.J. Redick left the Clippers with a barren backcourt, but both Beverley and Williams should slide right in as starters. They were also able to add Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker, both of whom could develop into starters. For the time being, Harrell adds energy and rebounding off the bench, while Dekker should provide shooting and athleticism on the wing.
The Paul trade wasn’t the Clippers’ only move this week. They also acquired Danilo Gallinari, in what will most likely be a sign-and-trade. Gallinari will slide into the lineup as the starting three and replace some of the shooting lost when Redick left. Giving up Crawford will hurt, but being able to add Lou Williams should offset most of the value lost. Next season’s iteration of the Clippers may not be as good as last season’s, but they are sure to be just as fun. Especially if Blake Griffin is given the freedom to control the ball and show off his incredibly underrated passing ability.
There weren’t many losers this week with so few signings happening, so a team’s inaction is what landed them here. For instance, I still can’t figure out what Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers were thinking when they made the Paul George trade. I understand that George killed his trade value, and made moving him difficult, but that doesn’t change that they took less than what was available. After the trade was reported, a few previous offers came to light. First, the Celtics reportedly offered multiple firsts at the deadline, including the pick that eventually became No. 1 overall. There is an excuse here, as the Pacers had not totally given up on re-signing George next year. Even so, this is the kind of trade you don’t pass up unless you are certain that you can re-sign George.
The next offer was made at the draft, when the Celtics reportedly offered three firsts as well as two starters. That offer is miles better than the one Indiana accepted. Jae Crowder and another starter (presumably Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart) would have beaten the Thunder’s offer. Throw in the three first-round picks, and that offer is easily better.
The Pacers would be losers this week if it were reported that they turned those offers down and kept George. What solidifies them is the horrendous return they did get. Victor Oladipo is a sixth man in the NBA with a chance to start if he can improve his shooting, and Domantas Sabonis is likely to top out as a rotation piece. That’s bad on the surface but becomes much worse when you take into account Oladipo’s contract, which is atrocious. He’s owed $21 million per season for the next four years. He’s so overpaid (and George is so underpaid) that the Thunder actually saved cap space by acquiring George. So not only did this trade make the Pacers worse in the present, it also tied their cap space up for the future. Seems to me that we’re looking at the NBA’s newest treadmill team.
The only other entity that I can deem a loser this week is the Atlanta Hawks. It will go under the radar because of the Pacers’ ineptitude, but the Hawks completely botched the Paul Millsap situation. This stems from a decision at the deadline to make Paul Millsap unavailable in trade talks. That’s a fine decision because if they brought him back, they had a team that could consistently contend for the fourth or fifth seed. For some teams, that is all that they ask for.
The issues arose this week when Millsap signed with Denver. At first, it appeared that the Nuggets were able to convince him to sign because they were in a better position to win. There wasn’t much that Atlanta could do about that because they had no direct way to improve this offseason. Then, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, Millsap said that the Hawks never made an offer. That’s right. After refusing to trade a valuable player at the deadline because they wanted to keep him long-term, the Hawks didn’t even make an offer to retain Millsap. There is no excuse for that, and it shows a complete lack of foresight from the Hawks front office. Because of that, the Hawks will have to make some serious changes if they hope to come out ahead this offseason.