Though California has always been the land of seismic shifts, and still in fact felt the greatest in this NBA’s off-season, it would seem that the tetanic plates of free agency and television money have collided in a manner that has shaken the entire landscape of the NBA in a way we have never before seen.
In a time where free agency has rendered almost any franchise icon to still have some middling level of mercenary within him, this year has turned the entire league on its head. In the post- “decision” NBA, we all know that a player’s fidelity is only as fixed as his outlook for a better pairing, but add to that the fact that pretty much every team has money to blow, and the entire league has become both suitor and left at the altar. So in a time of more upheaval than ever before, it’s interesting to see just how many teams have watched their entire narrative for next season change in just the course of 11 days. Here’s a look at what all 30 teams were thinking going into the free agent royal rumble, and what each team now looks at after being unceremoniously tossed over the turnbuckle by the Warriors.
Team narrative: Then / Now
Atlanta Hawks What’s our next move? / So here we go again
While Atlanta did do some shaking-up of their roster with the expected move of Jeff Teague in an effort to fully commit to Dennis Schroeder and the re-signing of Kent Bazemore, the loss of Al Horford and the signing of Dwight Howard puts Atlanta in a position they seem to have been in near perpetuity of their nine-year playoff run, a surefire playoff team with little chance of advancing past the second round. While this team is completely different from the Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Mike Bibby squads, the forthcoming 2016-17 team somehow has the same feeling of being a barking dog with no teeth.
Boston Celtics Who wants to be part of the next big thing? / Ready to take the next step
By all measures Boston is a team on the precipice of something big, and the addition of stalwart big man Al Horford not only helps a team that was bereft of physical bigs able to finish around the rim, but also provides a veteran locker room presence to a roster of feisty young players. The loss of Evan Turner to Portland shouldn’t be felt too strongly as the Celtics were a bit impacted in the backcourt, and though Turner’s versatility off the bench provided a spark, his inability to stretch defenses was a bit of a redundancy in the Boston backcourt.
Brooklyn Please Check back in 2019 …
Charlotte Hornets Batten down the hatches / We weathered that just fine
Going into free agency Charlotte was aware that they would suffer some roster attrition as they had five rotational players (Al Jefferson, Nicholas Batum, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, and Marvin Williams) facing free agency, and while Charlotte did lose Jefferson, Lin, and Lee (who must surely now be challenging Drew Gooden for most NBA jerseys worn) Williams and Batum were the most vital parts of the Hornets roster to be kept during the team’s free agent triage. The additions of Marco Bellinelli, Ramon Sessions, Brian Roberts, and Roy Hibbert don’t exactly inspire enthusiasm, but they do provide depth for Coach Clifford’s ten-man rotation, thus allowing Charlotte to feel comfortable that they continue building upon last year’s improvements.
Chicago Bulls So are we doing this or not? / We’re not ready to say it’s over
Like a couple faced with the auspice of divorce or staying together for the kids, the Bulls off-season seemed to be mired in the question as to whether or not it was time to begin a full rebuild or construct a unit that can continue to stay competitive. With the jettisoning of Derrick Rose and the unencumbered departure of Joakim Noah, the Bulls said good bye to two of their most important, if not flummoxing, players of the last decade, seemingly giving way to a new era of “Baby Bulls.” With a team stacked with young players and a star in Jimmy Butler it appeared that the Bulls were finally headed towards another youth movement with a team of impressionable young players for coach Fred Hoiberg to integrate into his system. And then Rondo and D-Wade happened.
While the Bulls are now stacked with star power and have a starting line-up of incredibly cerebral players, the team seems to have decided to mortgage future growth for current relevance. It will be interesting to see how Chicago can make a starting five devoid of shooting and perimeter length work in a league shifting in the opposite direction. But if nothing else, the Bulls will be one of the most talkative, if not talked about, teams in the league, with all-star quotable players in Butler, Rondo, and Wade. Forget the popcorn, get your pen ready.
Cleveland Cavaliers We’re no.1, we’re no. 1! / Seriously?!?!?
Let’s be honest the Cavaliers could have cut everyone but Lebron and Cavs fans would have been just fine with the outlook for the next coming season. And while the team made the right decision by essentially staying pat (though the loss of Mathew Dellavedova has a chance to be a significant one and they still have to re-sign J.R. Smith) after their improbable title run, there has to be some concern that a Golden State team that had a stranglehold on the title before the Draymond Green suspension has added one of the few players in the league that can challenge LeBron for the title of league alpha, while Cleveland themselves managed only to land Mike Dunleavy Jr. Either way, LeBron brought a title home, now the team is just playing to legacy rather than legitimacy.
Dallas Mavericks So how do we stay relevant? / This all feels familiar
Dallas appears to be stuck in this odd purgatory, sandwiched somewhere between rightfully honoring an all-timer in Dirk by trying to remain competitive, but needing a vital infusion of youthful talent that usually requires finishing out of the 7-8-9 spot that Dallas keeps positioning themselves in. After the failings of the two-year, injury-plagued, Chandler Parsons experiment, Dallas decided to offer Harrison Barnes a max-deal, in what feels like a move that will probably yield similarly disappointing results. Along with the additions of Andrew Bogut and Seth Curry, Dallas seems to be in-line for another 45-win season and another early postseason exit.
Denver Nuggets Somebody has to want to come here / Youth it is
Denver seems to be a team that’s been stuck in a youth movement for so long that they are now on their third stanza, and the second group of young players have now become veterans looking to win, but stuck with a team somehow still too young to ascend. While the Nuggets are loaded with effective ancillary and tertiary players, they lack a star to navigate the ship, and three first round picks only further the dilemma of who takes over this team on the court. Their brief courtship of D-Wade felt hollow from the onset and now Denver looks like a team young and feisty, but ultimately rudderless. So, basically the same team they’ve been for the last five years.
Detroit Pistons Hey big man come eat / Our time is nigh
Detroit is one of the few teams in the league that has decided on a course of action, and seems un-swayed by the free agent bonanza that struck this summer. The Pistons know that they have a cornerstone in Andre Drummond and have surrounded him with a wealth of young and exciting players and hope to watch this team grow and flourish together. With Jon Leuer and Ish Smith being the team’s “big” free-agent signings, it’s clear the Pistons are comfortable letting this young nucleus grow together.
Golden State Warriors There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal / Apparently there is
If you’re a Warriors fan, congratulations. If you’re the rest of the league, good luck. This is America people, land of the 1%, and in no time in NBA history have the rich gotten richer. While there may be some underplay into the fact that that the Warriors had to purge a great part of their team depth (Leandro Barbosa, Mo Speights, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezeli are all gone from last year’s 10-man rotation) and they have serious questions about whether or not David West and Zaza Pachulia (how is this man only 32?) are good enough to play the minutes necessary to rest the Royal Flush of Olympians now donning Warriors jerseys, let’s be real, it doesn’t (insert expletive for effect here) matter.
Steve Kerr is a genius at putting guys in the right position to utilize their individual strengths and to optimize those strengths within a dynamic team attack, and oh hell he just got the most versatile scoring threat the league perhaps has ever seen. It’s like taking a Swiss army knife and loading it with a nuclear warhead just in case. The Warriors are the proverbial knife and everyone else in the league is the spoon. Good luck.
Houston Rockets So who do we become now? / Is there enough gas left?
The Rockets entered the offseason hoping to wipe clean the stench of last season’s underachieving, over-dramatic year, and while departure of Dwight Howard is assured to lesson some of the locker room rumblings, it’ll be interesting to see what results are like in terms of underachieving, as that has been a word often used to describe the career arcs of Houston’s three big free-agent acquisitions (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Nene Hilario). While all three have shown flourishes, they remain injury-plagued what-ifs at this point in their career, and though Anderson and Gordon seem to be ideal fits for a Mike D’Antoni offense, can they stay on the floor is a constant concern, and even greater is whether or not James Harden has any interest in relinquishing the ball to accentuate D’Antoni’s system and subsequently these new player’s strengths?
Indiana Pacers Time to reset the table / Are we any better?
Larry Bird surprised a lot of people with the firing of Coach Frank Vogel after want can only be described as two years of over-achieving based on roster composition. But after an active off-season with the trades for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young and addition of big man Al Jefferson (offsetting the underrated loss of Ian Mahinmi) in free agency, and new coach Nate McMillan should have a bit more talent to work with that Vogel did. The question still remains whether or not Bird did enough to turn this team back into a viable Eastern threat.
Los Angeles Clippers KD+Big 3? / Let’s run it back…
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Being a Clippers fan is starting to become a bit Groundhog Day-ish, start off-season with talks about who may be traded or vacating from the Big 3, begin courtship of superstar, watch drama unfold, and then rinse and repeat. At least this offseason Doc decided to sign a player from a rival that is contemporary (Mo Speights), rather than continue the trend of signing players that were productive foes ten years ago. Although Kirk Hinrich is still a free agent.
Los Angeles Lakers We’re the Lakers, we’ll get someone / Probably not exactly what we meant
You know that spouse who forgot Valentine’s Day or an anniversary and runs out last-minute and overpays for some run of the mill box of chocolates or a teddy bear purchased on a street corner? Yeah, that would be the Lakers off-season. What’s most head-scratching is they did this as some odd preemptive strike, outbidding absolutely no one for Timofey Mozgov. Now a team that has surpassed the Knicks for head-scratching moves of disharmonious incongruity, just doubled-down by signing an aging veteran in Luol Deng, and a hobbled never-has-been in Mozgov. So a roster full of young players, that either way was not headed for the playoffs, has signed two players that are more complimentary pieces meant to get a team over the top; and yet in L.A. the additions serve as dead weight holding down a youthful wagon that was staring up from the bottom of the hill in the first place.
Memphis Grizzlies We’re what’s best for you / From the Grindhouse to the penthouse
Memphis has always been known as a blue collar, hard hat, grind them out, (insert hardworking cliché here), kind of team, and while they’re style of play may not differentiate much on the court, off the court Memphis has decided to Hollywood-it-up a bit. The fact that Mike Conley was the first to usher in this era of new contracts is only somewhat surprising, due to his perennial undervalued stature and the fact that this wasn’t a great year for free-agent point guards, but fact the that Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley will now combine to make and average of $54 million a year is surprising in any economic climate. Now it’ll remain to be seen whether or not Parsons can provide the perimeter shooting that Grizzlies seem to be ever-desperate for.
Miami HEAT Who wants to come be a part of something special? / What the hell just happened?
Just another nice quiet off-season for the Heat organization. First the courting of Kevin Durant, then the signing of Hassan Whiteside to a deal that somehow could either be a bargain or a bust (pretty much contractually outlining Whiteside as a player), and then the unceremonious departure of the face of the franchise. Sounds like another summer in Riley’s world. Jilted lover or inattentive mate, whichever side you place the players in the D-Wade vs. Miami Heat break-up, only the Durant move better exemplified the capacity for our current free-agent climate to completely, and unexpectedly, shift the narrative of not only a franchise, but a division. Miami has now gone from a team on the rise with an interesting mix of veteran stars and youthful potential, to a group of mismatched pieces, lacking a real identity. It’ll be interesting to see if Goran Dragic becomes the last chip to be played as Miami is now stuck in a rebuilding.
Milwaukee Bucks We need to figure out who we are / We need to figure out who we are
The Bucks off-season has been about as dynamic as driving through Nebraska. On the bright-side they signed Mathew Dellavedova, because they really needed another guard who can’t shoot (he got more open looks than perhaps any other player in the league, so please don’t quote me his percentages last year) and who has to split time with the other 14 guards on the roster. We get it J-Kidd, you enjoy guard play.
Minnesota Timberwolves We’ve got next / We’ve still got next
Like their fellow youthful upstarts in the north, Detroit, Minnesota has a clearly delineated direction for their franchise. Thusly, the Timberwolves feel like a team lying in wait for the full development of perhaps the most talented roster of sub 25 year-old players we’ve seen in some time. The Wolves made no moves of interest, besides signing a general to lead this group of upstarts, and that’s just fine with them.
New Orleans Pelicans Let the triage begin / Can we keep this group on the floor?
No team in NBA history had a greater collection of injury-plagued, salary-burdening players, than the Pelicans did last year, so going into the free agent period it was time to cut the limbs before another season of roster sepsis ensued. So while the additions of Solomon hill and E’Twaun Moore do little to excite in terms of star power, both players are hard-nose reliable players, essentially the antithesis of the exiting Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. The biggest issue for the Pelicans, is the same as last season, can they keep their talented young players, most notably Anthony Davis, on the floor long enough to exploit their skills.
New York Knicks What do we do from here? / Well they can’t say we’re boring
While the Knicks roster to start this free agent period was essentially Carmelo, Kristaps, and a whole bunch of veterans or un-signed/unproven rookie and second-year guys, now the team has some serious name cache. Unfortunately, the product on the floor is probably better set-up for success in 2011, rather than 2016. Listing the acquisitions is a veritable who’s who of early decade stardom, but the Knicks are banking on a lot of redemptive play from injury-plagued former stars. But no one can say that Phil sat back and watched this offseason.
Oklahoma City Thunder Can we try again one more time? / So that was the swan song, huh?
Oklahoma City entered this free-agent scrum as tempered enthusiasts, believing that they were still the most likely landing spot for KD (even if for just a one-year rerun) and coming on the heels of a draft-day trade that bolstered their roster and provided even more youthful depth to a team primed to win now. Now no team in the league is faced with a more pronounced identity crisis than the Thunder. With the trade of Serge Ibaka, and the deflating exit of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook stands as the last vestige to a powerhouse. And while Russ will have no issues being the focal point, OKC may be stuck having to move him in an effort to get something before he exits next year. How far the mighty have fallen.
Orlando Magic So here we are, now what? / Everyone got their name tags?
Orlando has been a team on the rise for several years, drafting youthful talent and hoping to watch the team coalesce into an exciting group of uber-athletic defensive-minded players. And while the last two seasons saw flashes of that, last year felt as though the Magic had hit a bit of a stalling point in their progress. So the Magic front office decided to bring in a bevy of new players into the mix. The Magic managed to sign Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Green, and Jodie Meeks, in addition to the draft-day deal for Serge Ibaka. These additions give the Magic the potential to be an interesting mix of youthful excitement and veteran leadership, and keeping Evan Fournier helps a team that will still have some serious issues with perimeter scoring
Philadelphia Sixers Trust the process… / Trust the process…
Phoenix Suns The Suns will rise again / Just give us some time
Phoenix is another in the group of teams that have a direction and seemed dissuaded by the allure of over-paying to only nominally move the needle. While the signings of Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa provide nice veteran leadership and good bench production, Phoenix didn’t look to be too much of a player in this year’s free-agent market, and they weren’t. That’s just fine with them as the hope that their collection of young guards (Devin Booker in particular) can continue build on their improved play towards the end of last year.
Portland Blazers We showed them / Let’s keep this thing going
Going into the free-agent period Portland seemed to be one of the potential sneaky players, as they had available money and several needs in the starting line-up, but coming off a surprising year it feels like Portland didn’t want to rock the boat too much. The signing of Evan Turner provides some back-court depth and flexibility and Festus gives them some more size, while detracting from the team that knocked them out of the play-offs last year (as if the Warriors could give a damn).
Sacramento Kings Guys stop laughing SMH / Seriously guys, stop laughing
San Antonio Spurs We’re just fine / We’re just fine, right?
The Spurs went from being one the greatest regular season teams in NBA history, to mired in questions. The tread has finally worn thin on the Big 3, and while Lamarcus Aldrigde and Kwahi Leonard are bona-fide stars, the rest of the team looked sluggish and worn down by the Thunder in the playoffs last season. So enter Pau Gasol, a perfect fit schematically, but another aging veteran whose defensive skills have diminished to the point of liability. With the departure of David West, the trade of Boris Diaw, Stan Van Gundy’s poaching of another Spurs backup big in Boban, and the retirement of Tim Duncan, the Spurs actually get immediately younger and more athletic in the frontcourt, but lose a veritable wealth of veteran leadership and team intellect.
Toronto Raptors A little bit of history repeating? / Well that went well
Going into free agency the Raptors biggest concern was the ominous sense of foreboding that veiled the impending free agency of Demar Derozan. After the break-up of a potential power couple in Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, just as the team began to blossom, the Raptors were fearful that DeRozan would do the same as McGrady and leave the great North for a bigger market, fortunately for Toronto, DeRozan decided to re-up and now the Raptors have an opportunity to build upon last year’s Eastern Conference finals run. The departure of Bismack Biyombo after a break-out postseason hurts Toronto’s depth, but the Raptors are hoping that rookie Jacob Pöltl can come in and offer some relief as aback-up big.
Utah Jazz Just keep doing what we’re doing / Now it’s time to shine
Like Detroit and Minnesota, Utah is a young franchise looking to take the next step and become a viable force in the league. With a roster loaded with youthful depth, Utah didn’t look to do much in free agency after rounding out their roster in trading for veterans in George Hill and Boris Diaw. Now with a great blend of young, athletic players, and veteran leadership, Utah has one of the most exciting rosters going into next season.
Washington Wizards Remember Us? / So that should be enough, right? Right?
After being made aware pretty early-on that they weren’t a viable suitor in the Kevin Durant courtship, Washington turned their focus to ensuring they re-signed the talented, but injury plagued Bradley Beal. Once Beal inked one of the richest deals in league history (5 years for $128 million) Washington watched their roster see a hefty overhaul with the departures of Jared Dudley, Nene Hilario, Ramon Sessions, and Garrett Temple, and the additions of Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson. Ian Mahimni, and Jason Smith.Washington essentially traded-in one marginal hand for another, but the team is hoping to re-find their place as a team on the rise opposed to a group of underachievers.