Ranking 10 best offseason decisions as wild NBA summer starts to simmer
One team traded for Paul George, one team didn't, and they were both great decisions
With the Warriors threatening to turn the rest of the NBA into a consolation bracket, it was a good bet this offseason would be pretty wild. Now that the Cavaliers-Celtics swap -- which sends Kyrie Irving to Boston, and Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets' 2018 first-round pick and another second-rounder to Cleveland -- complete, this summer has exceeded even the wildest expectations.
And we may not be done. Carmelo Anthony likely remains a good bet to relocate, and . The arms race is in full force, and when you look back at all the moves, almost every decision feels like a smart one.
Almost. Good luck trying to figure out why the Pacers traded Paul George -- Indiana's lack of leverage notwithstanding -- for the $84 million left on Victor Oladipo's contract and Domantas Sabonis. If Kris Dunn doesn't shake the rust off his awful rookie year, if Lauri Markkanen is just OK, if Zach LaVine isn't the same kind of athlete after his ACL tear or winds up demanding a max deal in 2018, the package Chicago accepted for Jimmy Butler will look pretty light in hindsight. There were a few head-scratching free-agent deals, none more so than the four-year, $71 million deal the Knicks gave Tim Hardaway Jr.
But for the most part, there is strong logic to be found in the majority of this summer's decisions. Some have been flat-out genius. Factoring in trades, free agency and the draft, and considering the evolving circumstances under which teams had to operate, here are the 10 smartest decisions teams have made this summer.
10. Celtics, Sixers swap first-round picks
It's often controversial when a team trades the No. 1 overall pick, but this was win-win. Most scouts had Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, and the Sixers needed a point guard. The Celtics coveted Jayson Tatum , and knew their need at small forward stood to be greater with Crowder a good bet to be moved. So both teams got their guy with Boston moving back to the No. 3 pick, and as a bonus, both teams have a shot at keeping the Lakers' 2018 first-round pick that was also moved in this deal. If that pick falls between 2-5, Boston gets it. If it ends up No. 1 overall or 6-30, Philly keeps it. This was a smart move for both teams.
9. Wolves trade for Butler
Minnesota had a really good offseason, adding not only Butler but also Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson to the Karl-Anthony Towns/Andrew Wiggins core. They still lack true shooting firepower and the spacing that brings, but this is a team that was a trendy pick to make the playoffs last season, and acquiring Butler -- arguably among the league's 10 best players -- adds to that promise, even in the stacked Western Conference.
It's also nice that Butler has two years left on his deal. At the same time, the reason this move isn't ranked higher is because Minnesota likely will not compete for anything more than maybe a second-round playoff appearance the next two seasons. So if Butler doesn't re-sign, the impact of this move softens considerably. Don't get it twisted, this a big score for a small-market team (a richer version of Denver's move for Paul Millsap). But until we see if it's anything more than a short-term marriage -- and we can accurately gauge the package Minnesota gave up when Dunn, LaVine and Markennen take the court for Chicago -- we can't overreact.
8. Warriors re-sign Andre Iguodala
Unlike the re-signing of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, this was not a foregone conclusion. A bunch of teams came after Iguodala, and Igoudala may have looked disposable for the Warriors. He's not the defender he once was, though he still has his moments. He doesn't score big. He's not a particular shooting threat; even when he gets it going teams are more than happy to let him keep firing away.
But Iguodala is Golden State's decathlete, the guy who's not great at anything but is good at everything, and he just keeps the Warriors on schedule as a composed, experienced presence when the freewheeling kids go a little haywire. It's hard to put a price on that, but the Warriors see his value.
7. Celtics sign free agent Gordon Hayward
They were eyeing him for a long time, and Danny Ainge was hesitant to move any of his assets before he knew he had Hayward locked in. A subtle, borderline star, Hayward fits seamlessly into Boston's ensemble approach -- a perfect No. 2 option on a really good team, and a downright luxury as a third option on a great team, which is what Boston is aiming to be two or three years from now. At 27 years old on a four-year deal, Hayward fits that timeline. Boston will miss Avery Bradley, who was dealt to Detroit to clear enough cap room for Hayward, though Boston scored by getting Marcus Morris in that deal. Hayward plus Morris equals a heck of a lot more production than Bradley.
6. Warriors not trading Klay Thompson
Often, the best move is no move. In 2014, when the Wolves wanted to trade Kevin Love for Thompson, Golden State passed. This summer, the Warriors reportedly shunned the Pacers and Cavs when they offered George and Irving for Thompson. Not trading Thompson for Irving is a no-brainer. Irving would be redundant next to Curry and Thompson's defense makes him a more valuable asset to the offensive-rich Warriors.
George is a tougher call. Yes, he is a flight risk with one year left on his deal and all indications being that he wants to end up with the Lakers, but the Warriors could have dangled the carrot of fielding a championship-level team in front of him. George would seem to fit pretty seamlessly into the Warriors' plan at both ends and is probably a better player than Thompson.
This likely won't be the last time teams call about Thompson, who may be among the top 15 players in the league, but the fourth-best player on his own team. So far, the Warriors understand their whole is greater than the sum of their considerable parts.
5. Rockets trade for Chris Paul
Any time a club puts together a Hall-of-Fame backcourt, it's a smart move. Houston won 55 games last season yet knew it wasn't a true threat to Golden State, or even the Spurs, who took them out in the second round. There are questions about how James Harden and Paul will fit, and how Paul will adapt to Houston's death-to-the-mid-range philosophy, but as one Eastern Conference exec told me, "It'll work," because one of the best ways to create 3-pointers is to get into the paint, and "Paul gets into the paint with the best of them."
Why is this move not higher on the list? For one, Paul has one year left on his deal. If he leaves next summer, it's nothing more than a one-year run at a title with little chance of actually winning it. Two, it does take the ball out of Harden's hands to some degree, and Harden was historically brilliant with total offensive autonomy last season. There's no way to get around the risk is moving him out of that role.
Also, the Rockets need defense more than scoring, and while Paul is still an elite defender, he doesn't have the kind of versatility that would really challenge a perimeter attack like Golden State's. From that perspective, one could argue Houston would have been better off leaving the ball in Harden's hands and instead pursuing Butler as a trade target -- had that been an option.
4. Lakers draft Lonzo Ball
Did you see the Las Vegas Summer League? Ball set Vegas on fire -- his abysmal shooting notwithstanding. The guy just has that "it" factor. He's magnetic. He hasn't even played a game in the NBA and you can already tell he's a guy who players, even great ones, would want to play alongside. LeBron James went to watch him play in Vegas. James is a free agent next summer. Do the math. Taking Lonzo -- when it was rumored that the Lakers were not thrilled with his first workout -- already feels like a really smart move.
3. Celtics trade for Irving
As Ainge said on a media call shortly after the trade was announced, Kyrie "fits [Boston's] timeline." He's 25 years old and assuming he re-signs, will be smack dab in his prime when Boston hopes to slide into Eastern Conference supremacy 2-3 years from now. This is a power move. Irving is a one-on-one superstar, and there is plenty of reason to believe he can grow as a playmaker for others given his jaw-dropping ball skills and the increased freedom -- and motivation -- he should feel outside of James' shadow.
It's true, Boston gave up a ton for him, more than Minnesota gave up for Butler and way more than OKC gave up for George, and the question of whether he can be a franchise player on a title-contending team is a fair one. But if Irving re-signs, and this Boston rebuild continues trending the way it is, coming to fruition as the Warriors potentially come out of their collective prime, this move is going to look even better than it already does.
2. Thunder trade for George
Yes, he could be a one-year rental, which is why it was smart for a team like Boston to save its assets. But OKC? It has nothing to lose. Getting rid of Oladipo's contract is a blessing, even though he's a good player, and the Thunder certainly are not worried about letting go of Sabonis for a player like George. Even if he leaves after this season, the Thunder got one year to make a legit run at a top-2 seed with an outside shot of pushing the Warriors as much as any team, and they showed Westbrook they will make moves to surround him with talent as they continue to try to sign him to an extension. Considering what they gave up, this was a no-brainer.
Oh, and don't rule out a deadline deal for George if OKC isn't going anywhere and wants to set up Westbrook with a more long-term running mate. The way this offseason has gone, would anyone be surprised if a team on the brink of contention was willing to move on George for a half-season sprint?
1. Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving
Think about where the Cavs were before they made this deal. With James one season from potentially leaving and wanting to see progress in the chase for Golden State, they had no cap room to sign a free agent and no draft picks to trade until 2021. They whiffed on Butler. Whiffed on George. Nobody wanted Love. Irving wanted out. General manager David Griffin was fired. It was a mess, and there seemed to be no hope for making anything happen.
Then boom, they score this monster deal. Yes, Thomas' hip is a concern, but Crowder immediately makes them a better defensive team, particularly vs. Golden State, and that 2018 Nets pick is pure gold. If James stays, they can use it to put a star next to him; maybe they even do that this season to keep him from leaving. If he ultimately does leave, they have a potential top-five pick to kick-start their rebuild.
Trading a player like Irving is not an easy decision, but once he said he wanted out, they were losing leverage by the day, and taking this deal was clearly a smart play. It was even smarter to not rescind the trade out of stubbornness after Thomas' hip raised red flags during his physical. Well played by Cleveland when its back was completely against the wall.
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