Summer school's in session, which means report cards are on the way for all 30 NBA teams.
Up front: This is just about free agency. Not the draft. Not trades. Not hirings. Just free agency. So if you feel like a team is getting short shrift after a strong summer, don't worry, we'll pump out some overall offseason grades soon.
The rubric here is somewhat fluid. We're grading teams on who they added and subtracted in free agency, but we have to do that while considering each club's resources, long-term goals and overall roster-building visions. Spending cash on the right guy can be just as smart as keeping the wallet closed until 2019 (or later), depending on where a team is in its trajectory.
For that reason, adding small names on the margins helped some teams earn higher marks than you might expect. In some cases, less active organizations graded out higher than the ones that took big swings at flashy names.
Failures and Near-Failures
Cleveland Cavaliers: F
When you lose LeBron James, it doesn't matter what else you do in free agency. You're bound for a failing grade.
The only slack we can cut the Cavs stems from the idea that James and his year-to-year approach held Cleveland hostage to some extent. When you're constantly trying to find guys who can contribute on a contender immediately, you're compromising your future and inviting a scenario exactly like the one that precipitated James' departure.
Short on talent, the Cavaliers couldn't give James a serious shot at a title. Maybe the allure of L.A. and its potential to fast-track James' media empire wouldn't have seemed so enticing if the Cavs were set up to compete in 2018-19.
Kevin Love's four-year, $120 million extension already feels like an overpay, although the Cavs timed the agreement in such a way that Love can be traded before the February deadline...if anyone's interested in an offense-only big in his age-30 season.
The only major outstanding piece of business left is Rodney Hood's restricted free agency. But unless Hood agrees to pay $20 million per year to be on the Cavs, it'll be hard to nudge this grade up from an F.
Charlotte Hornets: D-
Tony Parker is a mildly splashy name, but he's been washed for several seasons. Adding him on a two-year deal with the second season nonguaranteed limits risk, but what's the upside with a 36-year-old point guard just playing out the string?
Parker likely won't be worse than Michael Carter-Williams, who posted a 36.2 effective field-goal percentage last year. Charlotte wisely let him walk.
It would have been nice to see Charlotte extend a qualifying offer to Treveon Graham, who shot 41.2 percent from deep last year. But you don't stay in the dreaded middle by recognizing and retaining young talent...
Chicago Bulls: D
Rebuilding teams should be in the business of asset accumulation. When you stink, worrying about fit is often a mistake; just find the talent and worry about the rest later. The Bulls pushed that approach to the extreme by matching Zach LaVine's four-year, $78 million offer sheet and signing Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal (team option on the second season).
With those two logging major minutes, the Bulls are all but assured of a bottom-five defensive rating.
Parker's deal is fine. If things don't work out for the hometown kid, the Bulls can move on next summer. LaVine's is the crippler, both because he's one of the league's worst defenders and a middling offensive contributor, and because he's yet another guy on this roster (along with Parker and Kris Dunn) who needs the ball. The fit doesn't make sense.
It's fair to note that the Bulls may have felt pressure to match the Kings' ridiculous offer sheet for LaVine because he was the key return in the Jimmy Butler deal. But that's classic sunk-cost fallacy reasoning.
Also, why just let David Nwaba walk for nothing? That dude can play.
Minnesota Timberwolves: D
Derrick Rose is back for the minimum, and Anthony Tolliver's contract triggered the hard cap. Tolliver posted career-best accuracy rates from deep in 2017-18, and he's a respected veteran leader. Curiously, though, Minnesota opted to sign him for a bit more than the taxpayer mid-level exception, ignoring a glaring need on the wing in favor of a veteran whose best spot is the 4...which is where Taj Gibson is assured roughly 47 minutes a night under head coach/taskmaster Tom Thibodeau.
Not ideal, T-Wolves. Not ideal.
Memphis Grizzlies: D
The Grizzlies made a smart trade, grabbing Garrett Temple from the Kings, and they appear to have made a nice call on Jaren Jackson Jr., whom they selected fourth overall in the draft. Unfortunately, those don't help the Grizz here, where the only offseason additions we're grading are the Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi signings.
Casspi quit shooting threes last year, despite the Warriors desperately needing chuckers in the second unit. He's still a smart cutter and a willing passer, but if Casspi's lack of aggression persists, it's possible he's a negative signing—even at the minimum.
Anderson's deal isn't grossly out of step with his value, but it's difficult to understand why an immobile power forward who can't shoot warrants $37 million over four years. Defensively, the four-year vet is an asset. He ranked 16th leaguewide in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus last year, and San Antonio's defensive rating was 2.1 points better with Anderson on the floor. If he improves his shooting, the Grizzlies could have a solid contract on their hands. If he doesn't, this feels like an overpay.
Memphis' biggest blunder actually happened in February, when it failed to trade Tyreke Evans. Without his Bird rights, the Grizzlies couldn't offer Evans more than the MLE in free agency, which made his departure easy to foresee. Instead of getting anything for their best player from last season—Evans led Memphis regulars in both value over replacement and box plus-minus—the Grizzlies lost him to the Pacers for nothing.
Barely Getting By
Sacramento Kings: D+
The Kings didn't get Zach LaVine because the Bulls matched their ridiculous $78 million offer sheet, but we can't let Sacramento off the hook just because another team was equally misguided. Acts of self-sabotage prevented by another team's acts of self-sabotage do not warrant high marks. Process over results, right?
In an otherwise quiet summer, the Kings added Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica.
Ferrell projects as one of the better backup point guards in the league, so snagging him at just two years and $6.2 million stands out as a strong move. That the final season of Bjelica's three-year, $20.5 million contract is nonguaranteed means Sacramento completed another solid deal.
In addition to the LaVine near-blunder, though, the Kings also failed to use their cap space as a dumping ground for bad contracts with draft assets attached. Sacramento won't make the playoffs this year, but it also doesn't own the rights to its 2019 first-rounder. Adding a pick in next year's draft, even a late one, would have been the right move for a franchise that still doesn't have a cornerstone in place.
That's a glaring missed opportunity, which, when combined with the LaVine offer sheet, earns the Kings a below-average mark.
Phoenix Suns: D+
Giving Trevor Ariza a one-year, $15 million deal was bizarre. Not just because the Suns seemingly signed the veteran small forward with short-term competitiveness in mind, but also because they have so many players they need to see develop at his position.
Is Josh Jackson going to be a quality starter? What about Mikal Bridges? Can TJ Warren extend his range and become a complete scorer? Where will those guys find minutes with Ariza occupying the 3? If your answer involves undersized lineups, fine, but then you're marginalizing Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, a pair of lottery picks entering make-or-break years.
In addition, the decision to give Devin Booker a five-year, $158 million max extension this summer seems hasty. Pushing that off until restricted free agency next summer may have rankled Booker, but the Suns still would have retained all the negotiating leverage with their matching rights. Instead, they've sacrificed cap space next summer by replacing Booker's manageable hold with his projected $27.3 million salary. And it's not clear yet that Booker is a good enough two-way weapon to be a franchise cornerstone.
Patience would have been a better play.
Detroit Pistons: C-
Are your sensibilities aroused by Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia at the minimum? How about Glenn Robinson III for a portion of the MLE?
No? Good. That's a sign your basketball-excitement caibrators are functioning properly. Those are some boring-ass moves.
Pachulia still has value as a ceremonial starter who'll play physical ball, box out and celebrate in ridiculous (and endearing) fashion. But he isn't a big-minute contributor, and it's hard to understand what he provides a team that already has Andre Drummond and should give Blake Griffin plenty of time at the 5.
Robinson can dunk when healthy, which he wasn't last year, and he's been an accurate long-range shooter. The problem has been volume. He's never attempted more than two treys per game in a season, so it's hard to expect a major contribution from him.
Detroit, predictably, didn't make much noise. It's almost like having three awful long-term contracts on the books (Drummond, Griffin and Reggie Jackson) limits a team's options...
Miami Heat: C-
Miami upgraded former two-way player Derrick Jones to a standard NBA deal and held onto Wayne Ellington for one year and $6.3 million. Otherwise, the capped-out Heat made no significant moves because, well...they didn't have the means to do much.
If anything, Miami's inactivity forces a re-evaluation of its 2017 free-agent moves. You could have defended above-market deals for Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Dion Waiters as solid, tradable values a year ago. The Heat haven't moved any of them—not to mention the older, even worse contracts for Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside—which is a key factor in their current roster gridlock.
Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, symbols of a bygone era, are still in the wind. Miami could bring both back, but it's hard to imagine either making much of an impact. This team feels locked into a mostly meaningless struggle for one of the last few playoff seeds in the East.
Washington Wizards: C-
Are we really still doing this with Dwight Howard?
How many times do we need to see him join a team, produce respectable stats and quickly wear out his welcome anyway? Clearly, it isn't about the on-court product with him, which is a potential problem for an already bristly Wizards roster.
John Wall clashed with Marcin Gortat last year. How's he going to react when Howard is exhorting everyone in the locker room and then half-assing it on the court? What if Howard's unquenchable desire for post-up touches crops up again?
Also: Jeff Green? Are the Wizards playing a joke on both the analytics community and the old-school "chemistry matters" thinkers? Because it's hard to explain pairing Green and Howard any other way.
Washington added talent, but the risk of combustion is profound.
Philadelphia 76ers: C
One of the few contending teams with the ability to free up significant cap space, the Sixers failed to land a difference-making starter. That goes down as a disappointment following head coach Brett Brown's stated intent to do some "star hunting."
Getting JJ Redick back at roughly half of last year's salary is a win, and retaining Amir Johnson on the veteran's minimum makes sense from a leadership and chemistry standpoint. But...that's pretty much it.
The Sixers lost Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli to the Bucks and Spurs, respectively, but Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala should slot into those rotation spots just fine.
It's impossible to know how real the Sixers' chances at signing James or George were. It's possible neither was a realistic possibility from the jump. But it's difficult to get past the feeling that Philadelphia didn't do as much as it could have, especially considering its uncommon combination of talent and roster flexibility.
Los Angeles Lakers: C
The Lakers are relevant, intriguing and potentially much improved after an active free agency.
It's a sin to waste a single second of LeBron James' prime, and that's what this break-even grade comes down to. By populating the roster with an almost comically complete list of the league's premier meme subjects—Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley—the Lakers will almost certainly not compete for a championship in 2018-19.
L.A. signed all four of those role players to one-year contracts, which would normally be fine. It's difficult to sign a bad deal when it's for such a short duration, and perhaps the Lakers will hit big in the 2019 free-agent market. But James is going to turn 34 in December, and decline is imminent—even for him. Effectively punting on contention at this stage of James' career feels like a colossal mistake.
James' supremacy has an expiration date, even if we don't want to believe it. This season might be the last great one in his great career. By prioritizing the future after adding James, the Lakers may be squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Portland Trail Blazers: C
Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas can both hit threes, which should help the Blazers generate offense from players not named Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. That's a plus.
A minus: letting Ed Davis walk, much to the displeasure of Lillard and McCollum. When your franchise's success depends entirely on two players, maybe you should think twice about letting a quality veteran go just to save $4.4 million.
Even if Jusuf Nurkic is a classic big man who can't switch and doesn't offer much stretch, he was key to Portland's improved defense a year ago. At four years and $48 million, his deal feels fair.
Dallas Mavericks: C+
DeAndre Jordan in. Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell and Doug McDermott out. There were other smaller moves in Dallas' offseason (Kyle Collinsworth is also gone), but those were the big changes.
In addition, Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris are both back, with Harris returning after last year's trade to the Denver Nuggets.
The Mavs did well to add Jordan on only a one-year deal that'll leave them free to spend next summer, and he gives them a rim-rolling big who should benefit from good spacing and Luka Doncic's vision. But Jordan is an old-school big whose defensive contributions have long been overblown. At 30, physical decline is imminent, which is especially significant for a center whose value is so tied to run-and-jump athleticism.
Dallas essentially swapped in one big name for several smaller ones. The Mavs got significantly better overall, but the free-agency portion of their offseason feels pretty close to a wash.
San Antonio Spurs: C+
The Spurs got two tough decisions right when they let Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker depart in free agency.
Anderson, who signed a four-year, $37 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, was an analytics darling last year, defending at a high level and contributing as a ball-mover on offense despite some of the most severe athletic limitations in the league. However, the guy doesn't have a step to lose, and it's not like his three-point shooting (33.8 percent for his career) will allow him to retain value as a frontcourt floor-spacer as he ages.
Parker, meanwhile, was no better than San Antonio's third point guard. Sentiment wouldn't have been a good reason to keep him around.
The Spurs also retained Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay while adding Marco Belinelli and Dante Cunningham.
No standout moves. Just solid ones designed to keep the machine humming. San Antonio didn't have much financial flexibility anyway. It would have been a mistake to expect a significant free-agent signing.
Houston Rockets: B-
This grade was going to be much lower until Houston nailed the Clint Capela signing, retaining a top-10 center (who's still getting better) for five years and $80 million guaranteed.
Capela's finishing at the rim, shot-blocking and ability to switch make him an ideal fit in Houston's schemes. In almost any other year, several teams would have forked over max offer sheets for him. The lack of cap space around the league gave Houston leverage, which it wielded expertly, waiting out the market and keeping Capela on a contract that already feels like a steal.
That move helped offset the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, two key wings in the Rockets' switch-everything defense. James Ennis is a terrific bargain, but Carmelo Anthony figures to be unplayable against the best postseason foes. Smart offenses will target him relentlessly, short-circuiting a Houston defense that ranked sixth in the league last year.
While Chris Paul's four-year, $160 million contract won't age well, it's defensible in the short term. He's still an elite point guard who's vital to Houston's championship pursuit, and now isn't the time for the Rockets to worry about the roster in 2022.
Orlando Magic: B
This is all about Aaron Gordon, Orlando's only significant signing.
Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins got their max extensions a year ago, but Gordon got more money (four years, $80 million) than anyone else in his draft class. He may be worth it, but the Magic need to sort out a crowded frontcourt so he can develop at the 4.
There's a case to be made that long-term deals inked this summer, when so many players balked at the lack of cap space and positioned themselves to cash in on next year's richer market, will age well. Put another way, Gordon's new deal might have cost Orlando well over $100 million if other suitors could have cobbled together offer sheets, or if his restricted free agency had come in a normal summer.
There's some risk in committing to a player in Gordon who hasn't quite flashed star potential, but the price was right.
New York Knicks: B
There isn't a lot to see here, as the Knicks' "big" moves included adding Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh, a pair of former lottery picks (Hezonja went fifth in 2015, Vonleh ninth in 2014) looking to revive their careers.
Neither project to be needle-movers, but taking fliers on distressed assets who still have a ton of theoretical upside is a solid play for a Knicks team that shouldn't be concerned with winning games this season. If one of the two reveal rotation upside, maybe it'll convince the Knicks to set aside some of their prized 2019 cap space on a bigger, better deal next summer.
New York lost Michael Beasley, Kyle O'Quinn, Jarrett Jack and Troy Williams. Only O'Quinn's absence projects to make a difference, but again, the Knicks aren't going anywhere with Kristaps Porzingis likely to miss a chunk of the 2018-19 season anyway.
In all, New York kept its powder dry for next summer, when it figures to make a run at Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or another star in free agency.
Utah Jazz: B
Getting a nonguarantee on the second year of Derrick Favors' contract was a win for the Jazz, who retained an important frontcourt piece without necessarily compromising their 2019 cap space. Free agents haven't exactly flocked to Utah in the past, but flexibility is always a positive.
Dante Exum will have to improve (and stay healthy, which has always been the harder part for him) to justify a three-year, $33 million contract. But as uncertain bets go, you could do worse than taking a risk on a lottery talent who hasn't had enough opportunities to work on his game during rehab-focused summers.
If there's another level or two in Exum's development, this speculative overpay could wind up being a steal.
Basically, the Jazz didn't do anything in free agency to change their outlook as a top-four team in the West. And if Exum pops, they could be even better than that.
Atlanta Hawks: B
The Hawks' only notable move in free agency was signing 20-year veteran Vince Carter to a one-year, minimum deal. Carter is strictly a mentor in Atlanta, and we shouldn't expect him to play much—if at all.
General manager Travis Schlenk was certainly busy. He swapped out Mike Budenholzer for Lloyd Pierce, dealt away the rights to Luka Doncic for Trae Young and a lightly protected 2019 first-rounder, traded for and summarily dumped Carmelo Anthony and dealt Dennis Schroder. None of those moves technically involved free agency, though.
The Hawks' lack of activity, clearly designed to preserve flexibility in the future and promote losing in the present, means we could effectively punt on their grade. Nobody'd be mad if "incomplete" showed up on this team's report card. Instead, Atlanta gets a strong mark because it acted in accordance with a clear overall plan and didn't deviate by signing a slew of random vets to create the illusion of competitiveness.
Sitting free agency out is fine if it's all part of the plan.
Toronto Raptors: B+
When you win a franchise-record 59 games and the dude who bounced you from the playoffs three years in a row leaves the conference, you don't have to do much in free agency. No surprise, then, that the Raptors' only significant signing was Fred VanVleet on a two-year, $18 million deal.
If anything, it might have been wise to lock in VanVleet for a longer period. Kyle Lowry is 32 and showed signs of decline last season. His deal expires in two years as well, which means Toronto didn't exactly install VanVleet as the heir apparent.
The 24-year-old killed it as a reserve last season, even closing games for Toronto. If the Raptors could have secured him for three or four years at the same annual rate, it would have been a coup.
Milwaukee Bucks: B+
Ersan Ilyasova is a bit overpaid at three years and $21 million, even with the final year nonguaranteed. A reliable shooter who can survive at center on defense, Ilyasova has played for five different teams (Milwaukee will be his sixth) since 2015-16.
If the 31-year-old contributes to Milwaukee like he did in Philadelphia after a buyout last year, the Bucks will be happy with him. Based on his journeyman status, it seems appropriate to lower our expectations, though.
Whatever mild criticisms apply to Ilyasova's deal, the Brook Lopez signing feels like a clear bargain. One of the stretchier centers in the NBA, Lopez can still punish a mismatch inside as well. At just one year and $3.4 million, Milwaukee made one of the better below-market moves of the summer.
Finally, letting Jabari Parker walk was the right move. He hadn't shown durability or consistent defense in his injury-riddled stint with the Bucks, and there isn't much room for an overpay-and-hope approach when you're trying to maximize Giannis Antetokounmpo's prime.
Denver Nuggets: B+
The Nuggets did the right thing in declining Nikola Jokic's option and locking him up on a five-year, $148 million maximum contract. Though they could have postponed the payday for a year by picking up Jokic's 2018-19 option, playing it that way would have allowed the best offensive center in the game to become an unrestricted free agent—and possibly a ticked-off one, too.
Denver also snagged Isaiah Thomas at the minimum, a slick low-cost move that could pay off if Thomas' hip is finally healthy. Four years and $53 million was a lot for Will Barton, though, and the scoring guard will have to prove he's capable of handling a starting gig for that kind of money.
The real criticism for Denver's offseason is tied to its salary-dumping trades, results of an ownership group unwilling to pay the luxury tax. Those moves don't fall under the umbrella of free agency, which is why this grade is significantly higher than the one we'll eventually assign for the offseason overall.
Los Angeles Clippers: B+
Judicious moves and an unsentimental approach to free agency—adios, Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan!—has the Clippers in position to sign two max-salary players next summer. Remarkably, L.A. got to this position without letting everyone walk.
Avery Bradley is back on a two-year, $25 million deal that's only guaranteed for the first season, and Montrezl Harrell, quietly one of the most productive backup bigs in the league last year, is also in the fold for only $12 million over two years.
Los Angeles also added Luc Mbah a Moute and Mike Scott, both of whom are capable role players who'll give the Clips good options when they need lockdown D or microwave scoring off the bench.
The Clippers' approach is a perfect example of how bottoming out may not be necessary for a rebuild. Currently equipped with nearly a dozen useful NBA players, L.A. should compete for one of the last playoff spots in the West. The key: Relevance this year won't come at the cost of roster flexibility in 2019.
New Orleans Pelicans: B+
We don't praise inactivity enough in these offseason evaluations. The Pelicans assured themselves a successful free agency by showing restraint.
Rather than locking themselves into a multiyear deal for DeMarcus Cousins, the Pels let the injured star walk (limp?) away. Rajon Rondo got a sendoff without a publicized contract offer as well. It's possible New Orleans will have to deal with a miffed Anthony Davis, who might have preferred the team kept its second- and third-biggest names. But the Pels did the right thing with both Cousins and Rondo, two players with imperfect track records and dubious locker room value.
Julius Randle is a terrific fit alongside either Anthony Davis or Nikola Mirotic up front, and the Pels are only committed for two years and $18 million. Randle will likely opt out of the second season and hit the market again in 2019, but the Pelicans will have a much better idea of his place in the organization a year from now. If they want to make him a long-term piece, they can do so next July.
Elfrid Payton is close to washing out, but he's a solid Rondo facsimile who'll only collect the minimum.
If the Pelicans had addressed their lack of wing depth, they would have moved into the A range. Granted, every team wanted wings this summer, and there was a limited supply. So we can't judge New Orleans too harshly on that one.
As it is, the Pelicans have built a team that should play with one of the two or three fastest paces in the league. Meanwhile, Davis is now poised to spend most of his time as the lone big in a spaced-out offense—a setup that ignited his post-break run last year. Get your MVP bets in now.
Boston Celtics: A-
Boston waited until the restricted market determined it wasn't interested in bowling over Marcus Smart with a big offer, ultimately signing one of the league's best defensive guards to a four-year, $52 million deal. That's Will Barton money, just by way of comparison, and we all know which of those two has the chops to play clutch playoff minutes for a contender...because Smart has already done it.
No, Smart isn't a complete player. He's a career 29.3 percent three-point shooter who also can't finish at the rim efficiently. But as perhaps the best individual defender of either backcourt position and a confirmed world-class irritant, Smart is worth his new salary. The guy won a game by drawing back-to-back offensive fouls, for crying out loud.
Aron Baynes' two-year, $10.6 million deal means Boston will return every rotation player from last year's conference finals team with the exception of Shane Larkin, who would have struggled to find minutes behind Kyrie Irving, Smart and Terry Rozier.
Boston kept the band together and will now add a healthy Gordon Hayward to the mix. Going out on a limb here, but this team might be decent in 2018-19.
Brooklyn Nets: A
Joe Harris (two years, $16 million), Ed Davis (one year, $4.4 million), Treveon Graham (two years, $3.2 million) and Shabazz Napier (two years, $3.8 million) aren't household names, but all four are rotation-caliber players who'll help the Nets shoot, rebound and run a functional offense.
Still hampered by a lack of draft assets, Brooklyn again spent the offseason absorbing unwanted contracts with picks attached. That the Nets reeled in so many distressed assets—Dwight Howard, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur—while also mindfully adding talent through free agency speaks to the resourceful, well-orchestrated approach general manager Sean Marks has had no choice but to adopt.
Working at a disadvantage from the moment he took over, Marks added legitimate talent this offseason while preserving what looks to be the most 2019 cap space in the league. Finally armed with their own first-rounder and flush with cash, Brooklyn is poised for a rebirth.
Golden State Warriors: A
The Athletic's Anthony Slater reports Patrick McCaw is likely to return on his $1.74 million qualifying offer, but even with the third-year guard back in the fold, the Warriors are still short on wing depth. Jonas Jerebko should help Golden State's bench move out of last place in made threes, but he's more of a stretch big in today's NBA, which means rookie Jacob Evans is likely to see significant minutes on the wing—at least in the regular season.
James Ennis, who was probably wise to sign with the Houston Rockets, a team that might have a starting gig for him, would have been an ideal fit here.
Of course, the Dubs still finish with a high mark because they landed DeMarcus Cousins for the $5.3 million mid-level exception. Even if he doesn't play until the postseason, Cousins gives Golden State a devastating weapon against switching defenses while also freshening up a team dynamic that might have gotten a little stale last year.
If the rest of the Warriors embrace the challenge of reviving Cousins' career and getting the maligned big man a ring, it could help stave off the boredom and lapses in intensity that defined their 2017-18 season.
Indiana Pacers: A
Maybe three years and $22 million for Doug McDermott produced a bit of sticker shock, but in a league starved for shooting, it's hard to be critical of the Pacers for snatching up one of the absolute best gunners on the market. By also adding Tyreke Evans, Indiana took pressure off Victor Oladipo as a creator and a finisher.
McDermott and Evans are going to juice up a Pacers offense that ranked 12th in the league but came undone whenever Oladipo wasn't on the floor.
Throw in Kyle O'Quinn as frontcourt depth who conforms nicely to Indy's preference for long two-point jumpers, and you've got three useful additions to last year's fifth seed in the East.
The Pacers were one of few teams with significant cap space this summer, and they improved the roster at key spots without committing long-term cash. As a result, they'll head into 2019 with Oladipo, McDermott and rookie Aaron Holiday locked in for just over $30 million. There are qualifying offers and cap holds to worry about, but Indiana otherwise has ample flexibility to chase more on-the-margins additions or even swing big with a max offer.
You don't have to make splashy signings to earn high marks here; you just have to be smart about your asset management. That's exactly what Indiana did.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
The Thunder assured themselves an A grade the second they convinced Paul George to sign a four-year, $137 million max contract. Seemingly ticketed for the Lakers since 2016, George shocked the world by not even taking a meeting with Los Angeles. This was an enormous win for GM Sam Presti and OKC's culture. It rented George, sold him on staying and closed the deal with a fat contract.
Raymond Felton is back on the cheap, Jerami Grant returned on a three-year, $27 million deal, and Nerlens Noel will try to resuscitate his career for the minimum. Even if we don't count the dumping of Carmelo Anthony (and the addition of Dennis Schroder) as part of free agency, it's worth noting that Oklahoma City lowered its onerous tax bill despite committing a heap of money to George. That's not easy to do.
With some of the West's other top Warriors-chasers taking a step back, the Thunder's work in free agency might nudge them into position as Golden State's top in-conference challenger...if they can figure out how to space the floor on offense with a closing lineup of Russell Westbrook, Schroder/Andre Roberson, George, Grant and Steven Adams.
That's a concern for training camp, though. For now, OKC is sitting pretty after excellent work in free agency.
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