Ranking best NBA offseasons: Busy Kings, Rudy Gay-fueled Spurs crack our top 10
Warriors improve, too, but still don't crack the top four -- composed of teams making big jumps
The dust has yet to fully settle on this wild NBA offseason. Carmelo Anthony could still be moved. A handful of decent free agents -- Nerlens Noel, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope -- are still out there, but for the most part, rosters are shaping up across the league.
Before we get to our latest offseason rankings, a disclaimer: This was a really tough top 10. So many teams have made so many strong moves, in the short term and for the future. Two teams were notably left off the list even after the success of bringing back big-name players.
First, the Toronto Raptors -- who brought back Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, and also got a steal in C.J. Miles via a sign-and-trade with Indiana -- didn't make the cut because so many teams actually got better, while it feels like the Raptors kind of stayed the same. Losing Patrick Patterson (which hurts more than a lot of people realize) and DeMarre Carroll (even if dumping the $30 million they owe him over the next two seasons looks good on the books) is probably a net loss when put next to the Miles signing. Toronto roughly stayed the same, which still won't be good enough to compete with the Cavs, and Boston got better. So Toronto misses the list.
Also, the Clippers fall short of the top 10 by losing Chris Paul, and J.J. Redick is another loss that hurts worse than people might realize. Yes, the Clips re-signed Blake Griffin, but that five-year, $175 million deal could be a big overpay in a few years if Griffin doesn't take his game, and the Clippers, to another level.
That is going to be tough to do for a couple reasons: First, he doesn't have Paul. Griffin has never proven to be a true No. 1 option on a good-to-great team. Also, the Clips are in the West. The Danilo Gallinari signing helps, and Patrick Beverley will be a JV replacement for Paul, but all of that notwithstanding, the Clippers, who were a No. 4 seed last season, could easily miss the playoffs in 2018. It's hard to count that as a successful offseason.
And now, on to the real list. Here are the top 10 NBA offseasons so far:
10. Los Angeles Lakers
- Key additions/signings: Lonzo Ball,
- Key loss: D'Angelo Russell
They got their guy in Ball with the No. 2 pick, but the real winning started when they shipped Russell and Timofey Mozgov's anchor of a contract to the Brooklyn Nets before the draft. Getting Mozgov off the books was huge. The Los Angeles Lakers have made some nice moves this summer and positioned themselves for a monster summer in 2018, which means their future -- at least theoretically -- looks brighter than their crosstown rival sans Paul.
We all the know the deal: The Lakers are going to shoot for the moon next year when LeBron James , Russell Westbrook and George will be on the market. With presumed room for two max deals and George already proclaiming he wants to play for the Lakers, there is obvious reason for optimism. The Lakers withstood the temptation to trade for George this summer and are banking on getting him next summer without having to give up assets Indiana may have sought.
On his own, Ball is a win. If he's what the Lakers think he is (, though the shooting has been pretty rocky so far), they got their franchise point guard while clearing room to potentially add two superstars next to him without too much hassle.
9. Sacramento Kings
- Key additions/signings: De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, Frank Mason III, Zach Randolph, George Hill, Vince Carter
- Key losses: Rudy Gay
This is relative to where the Kings started this offseason, because it's doubtful they will be as good as the Clippers or Raptors next season. But for the first time in a long time, there is real optimism around this franchise. It stared with a terrific draft, netting De'Aaron Fox (who has played as advertised in Summer League), Justin Jackson and Harry Giles in the first round.
Giles is the really interesting one. Less than two years ago he was thought of as perhaps the best player in this draft. He has had three knee surgeries and did not make much impact in one season at Duke as a result, but he's still really young, raw and remains full of potential. Getting Giles at No. 20 overall eliminates almost all risk given the potential reward he carries.
So the Kings are suddenly full of promising young talent (don't forget about Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere), and to help bring that talent along, they went out and got three absolute professional veterans in George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter. Working out the minutes so those guys (particularly Carter and Randolph, who aren't nearly the players they once were) don't stunt the youngsters' growth will be a challenge, but that's a good problem to have for a team that isn't trying to win anything in the short term.
8. San Antonio Spurs
- Key additions/signings: Rudy Gay, Patty Mills
- Key losses: None
Quietly a nice offseason for San Antonio. First the Spurs retained Mills for probably a little less than his market value (four years, $50 million), then they went out and got Gay, who could end up being something of a steal at two years, $17.2 million. Gay gets a bad rap as one of those guys who gets his numbers on bad teams. However, the opposite could be argued -- those bad teams marginalized his talent, exposing his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
The Spurs get the most out of everyone. They find the one or two things you can do and put them to use, and Gay can do some things, people. Get this: Only four players have averaged at least 15 points and five rebounds in each of the past 10 years, and Gay is one of them. Also: Only six players have averaged at least 17 points in each of the past 10 seasons, and again, Gay is one of them. The other five? LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Not exactly bad company.
So, yeah, Gay can flat out score, and the Spurs will absolutely find ways to highlight that. And they need it. The West is starting to feel like the old ABA with all these high-flying teams. You better be ready to put up 110-plus if you want to compete. San Antonio needed more scoring prowess to help Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge, and they definitely did the best they could given their options.
7. Denver Nuggets
- Key additions/signings:
- Key losses: Danilo Gallinari
The only reason Denver is ahead of San Antonio, and frankly even Sacramento, is the credibility Millsap brings to a team that has never been a marquee free-agent destination. That might be a stretch to call Millsap a marquee player, but he's really, really good, and getting him is akin to Boston getting Al Horford last summer.
Sure, you could argue each is getting a bit too much money for a player who who won't single-handedly change your franchise, but a couple things on that: First, getting Millsap, who's already 32 years old, for three years ($90 million) instead of four is easier to swallow. Second, again, this is about more than Millsap for Denver. It's about the next free agent they're able to attract (the way Horford perhaps led to the Celtics getting Gordon Hayward) because getting Millsap announces the Nuggets as a franchise on the rise, which they are.
While losing Gallinari sours some of the Millsap excitement, Denver is putting together a pretty nice team with Millsap next to budding star Nikola Jokic . Plus, Gary Harris , Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray still have a lot of upside on the perimeter.
The unfortunate thing: Denver still plays in the West. The Nuggets added a borderline top-flight free agent to a promising team and could still very well miss the playoffs. Brutal.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
- Key additions: Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson
- Key losses: None
Trading up with Boston to get Fultz at No. 1 in the draft brings even more excitement to a franchise on a real upswing. A roster with Fultz, Ben Simmons , Joel Embiid , Dario Saric , Redick and Johnson looks like a legit playoff team in the East. In fact, our SportsLine projections have them as the No. 6 seed after inking Redick.
By signing Redick and Johnson to one-year deals, the Sixers seriously, adding two veterans to mentor this young roster while continuing to keep their already flexible salary cap situation wide open. Philly is quickly becoming a place where legit free agents might well want to play. Someone owes Sam Hinkie an apology.
5. Golden State Warriors
- Key additions/signings: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant,
, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Nick Young, Omri Casspi
- Key losses: None
The rich, somehow, get richer by bringing back just about everyone of significance from an all-time great team, which happened because Kevin Durant. This is what happens when you win -- guys will sacrifice on and off the court.
Stephen Curry, whowith the biggest contract in NBA history (though James Harden since has signed his $228M extension), and Durant were not going to leave, but Iguodala and Livingston were far from guarantees. Keeping them is a big deal. They keep the chemistry right and the bench strong. One school of thought in closing the gap on Golden State was to chip away at its roster, taking some of the peripheral parts. That hasn't happened.
Ian Clark and JaVale McGee are still out there, but if the decisions of Livingston and Iguodala, who might have fetched more than Golden State gave them on the open market, are an indication, they could return as well.
And now you add Nick Young and Omri Casspi, who can both shoot the 3? Come on. As if the Warriors needed two more shooters, just for kicks. Young and Casspi are flawed players, but like Gay in San Antonio, flaws don't matter so much on great teams. The Warriors will make the most of them the same way they made the most of McGee, who couldn't find a job in the NBA before the Warriors turned him into a legit presence.
Normally, keeping all your players and adding two bench guys isn't a huge offseason, but keeping everyone of note and actually improving the roster is magnified in this case.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
- Key additions/signings: Paul George, Patrick Patterson
- Key losses:
The Oklahoma City Thunder came out of left field to land George. As a bonus, they got rid of Oladipo's contract, which still has four years and $84 million left. People are still trying to figure out why the Indiana Pacers took this deal over other seemingly from the Cetlics and Cavs, but they did, and OKC scored.
Another score: Signing Patrick Patterson on a three-year, $16.4 million deal, which is an absolute bargain. He's not going to do much on the interior, but he really stretches the floor as a big shooter and plays good defense. Quietly, the Thunder are putting together a really good, versatile defensive team. If they bring back Andre Roberson, it gets even stronger.
Why aren't the Thunder higher on this list? George could be a one-year rental, and Westbrook has yet to sign an extension, meaning OKC still could lose both as free agents next summer. But let's not sour the mood by looking too far ahead. This is about this summer, and the Thunder just made themselves a potential top-3 or even top-2 seed if everything breaks right.
Should the Thunder convince George and Westbrook to stay long term, this will be one of the all-time great recoveries after Durant seemingly left the franchise high and dry last summer.
3. Boston Celtics
- Key additions/signings: Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris
- Key losses: Avery Bradley,
, Kelly Olynyk
Losing Avery Bradley stings. He is perhaps the best on-ball defender in the game, and he has become a consistent and confident shooter. But Boston had to clear money to be able to sign Hayward, and since Bradley is in line for something close to a max contract next summer (which Boston wouldn't pay, assuming Isaiah Thomas gets a max deal), better to get something for him now.
Morris is a nice player and could start at the four -- creating a lineup of Thomas, Hayward, Jae Crowder, Morris and Al Horford, with rookie Jayson Tatum joining Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier off the bench. That's pretty good; not only for this season, but for the future.
That's what the Hayward signing really does. It makes them better now, maybe a fringe contender to beat the Cavs. But more important, it continues paving the way for a few years from now when perhaps LeBron has tailed off, or gone West, and the Warriors might be slowing down.
Remember, next year Boston still has the Nets' first-round pick and a Lakers protected first-round pick, both of which could easily wind up in the top five. Ainge is still playing it safe, guarding his assets, and is probably still one player away from making Boston a real threat to the elite teams (they still need help down low with the loss of Johnson and Olynyk, and they weren't very good down there even with those guys). But Hayward really speeds up the process. Had the Celtics missed on him, they're not even on this list.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
- Key additions/signings: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford
- Key losses:
After signing Butler, Teague and Gibson, SportsLine projections shot the Wolves from No. 12 in the West to just outside the top four teams -- Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They went from a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs to better than 80. And now they've added Jamal Crawford.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a huge summer.
Making the situation even better is that Butler is under contract for two more years, so they have time to get this right. What a core that is developing in Minnesota, with Karl-Anthony Towns , Andrew Wiggins and Butler. Teague gives the Wolves more shooting and scoring than Rubio, and that's big because Butler and Wiggins aren't great 3-point shooters. Butler was almost certainly going to be moved from Chicago, and a lot of teams were interested -- notably Boston and Cleveland. Coming out with him is a big-time win for this franchise.
1. Houston Rockets
Key additions/signings: Chris Paul, Nene , P.J. Tucker
How James Harden ( ) and Paul, two very ball-dominant players, will fit together is , but from a pure talent standpoint, it's pretty hard to argue that the Houston Rockets don't have the best backcourt in the league.
Paul will be a free agent next year, but by opting in on his contract with the Clippers before being dealt, he made it so Houston can give him the same max L.A. could've given him next summer. And unlike George, he hasn't been dropping hints right and left that he ultimately wants to end up with the Lakers, or anywhere else for that matter. So this isn't necessarily the likely one-year rental situation OKC faces with George.
Putting Paul at the head of a Mike D'Antoni attack with this kind of shooting around him? Watch out. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are going to be shooting practice jumpers.
Beyond Paul, getting Nene to re-sign for $11 million over three years is a high-value deal, and Tucker is a hard-nosed player who you don't hear enough about. Both those guys can play, and Houston has a roster that could well be the second-best in the West.
Oh, and it has also been reported that talks between the Rockets and Knicks on a deal that could potentially bring Carmelo Anthony to Houston. If that were to happen, that would be some kind of Big 3 in Harden, Paul and Anthony, who is still one of the best scorers in the world for all the flak he takes.
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