It’s been a weird NBA offseason. Now in the second week of August, there are still big names and restricted free agents that could change the scope of the league. At the same time, it’s unclear if or when any of these dominoes will fall. So we’re going to hand out some offseason notes even though there are still some moves on the table. Previously, we rated the Eastern Conference. Today we drive west.
Dallas Mavericks: C-
Losing Jalen Brunson really hurts. And while Christian Wood brings another interesting element to the team on frontcourt, he’s a complete unknown in a playoff series, and his fit with some of the other bigs on this team (JaVale McGee, Maxi Kleber) is a bit unclear. Is it really planned for McGee and Wood to start together? Luka Dončić is so good he might actually be able to fit the square pieces into circle holes here. Still, it was a somewhat disappointing offseason after the Mavs’ thrilling run to the conference finals.
Denver Nuggets: 2+
The acquisitions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown were two of the smartest summer moves of any team. Denver desperately needed wings that could defend and both will offer some resistance on the touchline and fit in well on offense alongside Nikola Jokić. The Monte Morris trade is not insignificant, although this is tempered by the return of Jamal Murray. Signing DeAndre Jordan keeps the Nuggets from getting an even higher grade. He hasn’t been an effective backup in recent years and opens up Denver for another season of bad banking adventures.
Golden State Warriors: C
The Dubs lost two key figures (Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr.) from their championship team and replaced them with two capable, if not quite as good, vets (Donte DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green). Those signings are pretty good rebounds for Golden State, who are also counting on more stable play from their trio of young prospects: Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman. Overall, the Warriors remain in a great position to contend for a title thanks to their star core. However, you will miss the boys who left.
Houston Rockets: B+
It feels like a coup to include Jabari Smith Jr. as third in the draft after picking consensus as the first choice minutes before the actual start. Houston also moved some vets (Wood, John Wall) to create more time for their young players, which is important for a team that just added three first-round players to its roster.
Los Angeles Clippers: B
All the clips really needed to do was get the band back together, and they did! LA has built an incredibly diverse roster tailored for modern playoff basketball, assuming their top two stars are actually healthy. Adding John Wall to the mix also gives them the ball handler the team was looking for in the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era. Ultimately, if Kawhi and PG are healthy in the playoffs, this team is set to go far.
Los Angeles Lakers: D+
If the goal was just to get younger, then the Lakers did it by retiring many of last season’s vets and lifting the likes of Thomas Bryant, Lonnie Walker IV and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Still, Russell Westbrook remains in the roster and as long as he does, it’s hard to take this team seriously as a contender. The team still appears to lack the two-way wings needed for a deep post-season run. And Walker’s signing is particularly curious after other, more versatile players (Brown, Porter Jr.) signed for the mid-level exception. At the end of the day, the Lakers can’t waste LeBron James’ time. Did their signings make the team a challenger?
Memphis Grizzlies: C
On the one hand, Memphis signed Ja Morant on a long-term extension, which is exciting. On the downside, this team has ditched a few permanent rotation members (Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton) and expects to make up for their absences with a string of 2022 draftees. I don’t know this strategy for a contender. Losing Anderson is a triple blow because a) he’s not on the team, b) he’s playing for a rival in the Timberwolves, and c) Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss some time after foot surgery. It’s no disaster in the off-season, but the Grizzlies’ difficulty level feels higher in the fall.
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Minnesota Timberwolves: C+
How you feel about the wolves really depends on whether you’re Rudy Gobert-Pilled or not. I really respect Minnesota for trying, which is why I gave them a plus. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand how the Gobert-Karl-Anthony Towns pairing will work. It’s a massive move to take on a squad that seemed to be converging. I like the Anderson signature, and picking up Austin Rivers to soak up some of the Pat Beverley minutes was smart. For now I want to take a deep breath and wait until we see this team in some high impact moments before I beat them hard either way.
New Orleans Pelicans: A+
The Pelicans held together one of the most exciting teams in the league – especially in the second half of the season – and signed Zion Williamson, who was long considered a flight risk, under a long-term contract. It doesn’t get any better than that. Sure, Zion might still ask at some point, but getting even an easy acceptance from him feels like a huge win. And he could charge a team that already looked incredibly feisty.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Anyway, sure
I like that they designed two guys with the same name but different spelling. I think it’s good that they signed Lu Dort. It will be fascinating to watch No. 2 overall Chet Holmgren develop in the NBA. However, The Thunder have been eagerly searching for irrelevance for the past few seasons. Until they try more than that, I won’t get too excited about Sam Presti’s Home for Wayward Veterans as long as they come up with some first-round picks.
Phoenix Suns 😀
Was it worth letting Deandre Ayton twirl in the wind when the plan was to bring him back anyway? I understand the Suns saved money and cut Ayton’s deal by a year by playing the waiting game. It’s also possible that the mood was so poisoned by his contract situation that it contributed to the team’s collapse in Game 7 of the second round. While Ayton is back, his future hardly feels secure. Meanwhile, the team did little else to improve the roster. It makes sense to skip the gun and not want to tinker too much with a 64-win roster. Still, this team needs better insurance for Chris Paul and probably some more defensive perimeter help on the bench. It’s good that the Suns have made the effort to keep their core together, doing it in such a dramatic way and not doing much else feels tricky.
Portland Trailblazer: B
While the Blazers may not have become title contenders, I appreciate the steps taken this summer. Jerami Grant gives the team some two-way juice at the forward who has seemingly been lacking throughout Damian Lillard’s tenure. GPII will also add its lockdown bona fides to the mix. First-round pick Shaedon Sharpe is intriguing, while Lillard and backcourt mate Anfernee Simons have both signed extensions. Although Dame may eventually be back where he was during his partnership with CJ McCollum, Portland should be in the deep west for a playoff spot.
Sacramento Kings: B+
The trade with Kevin Huerter was really smart, and stealing Malik Monk from the Lakers was a nice pick as well. Sacramento drew the heat for picking Keegan Murray over Jaden Ivey in the draft, although no one really knows how that will play out. While history shows them betting against the kings’ decision-making, it’s hard to argue that Sacramento hasn’t added useful players around De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Which is no small matter for the kings.
San Antonio Spurs: Watch highlights by David Robinson
Sure, the Spurs got a move for Dejounte Murray. They included the very funny Jeremy Sochan in the draft. And San Antonio has cap flexibility for future shenanigans. Is that really what you want to celebrate in the twilight of Gregg Popovich’s career? Should we be thrilled that their rebuild is going well with one of the greatest coaches in American esports history on the sidelines? I’m confident San Antonio made sensible long-term decisions this summer. That doesn’t mean they’re worth celebrating.
Utah Jazz: B+
Even as a draft pick agnostic, it’s hard to scoff at the loot the Jazz received in exchange for Gobert, potentially inflating the Superstar trade market at the same time. Utah is now in a better position to tank aggressively, and if you’re betting on a glitch to bring you back some extra lottery picks, betting on a faltering Minnesota isn’t the worst game. A Donovan-Mitchell trade still looms, giving Jazz another chance to add either draft capital or intriguing perspective. If rebuilding was the only way forward, Utah has made some good first steps.
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