Obviously, it's been a wild month for NBA roster shakeups. July always is. Unlike the past few years, I have been more active on Twitter, and have summarized my general feelings for many of the larger free agency deals via that wonderfully strange 140 character medium.
I don't care to needlessly repeat myself, and most of my thoughts on these deals can be summed up in a few lines. So, instead of my normal transaction by transaction breakdown of new large NBA contracts, I thought I would give big picture summaries for every team heading into the 2014-15 NBA season.
For those of you unfamiliar with my work, let me say that it can be fun to break down the minutiae of a team's roster moves - but we don't do that here, because it usually misses the larger point. We focus on what is most important for a team's roster building. We don't get lost in the sea of b.s. involving 80%+ of roster moves in the league, because these moves end up being largely insignificant in terms of the big picture.
Most NBA players, essentially, are replaceable. Stars are not. This is the sober, unglamorous truth in terms of roster building. Far too many executives and pundits get lost in the sea of b.s. and lose a clear view of the big picture. They will deny it, but it's true nonetheless. The result is bad contracts and bad trades.
What has been interesting with transactions so far this Summer is that only one team has acquired a player from another team who is clearly going to make a huge impact. We all know who that player is. The free agency and trade market, thus far, has been somewhat subdued. Without further ado, here's the most important stuff going on with all 30 teams over the last 30 days or so:
Atlanta: The Hawks have done basically nothing substantial this off-season, and they probably won't moving forward, despite having some cap space. In the Eastern Conference, with a healthy Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to go along with sound coaching, they are an underrated squad. They fall in line with the majority of teams in the East - seeming equally capable of winning 30 or 50 games, depending largely on chemistry, injuries and luck.
Boston: The Celtics needlessly signed Avery Bradley to a 4 year, $32 million deal, even though Bradley is injury prone, and never has had a PER above 13. Some people are saying contracts like Bradley's will look better once the new CBA goes into effect a few years from now. Those folks are probably delusional. Boston continues acquiring young assets and being a well coached, mediocre team in the East.
Brooklyn: The Nets, as per usual, had an embarrassing early Summer. Lionel Hollins is now at the helm, and the success of his team will hinge on the health status of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. If fully healthy, the Nets are easily one of the Conference's better teams, but there is no reason to expect that.
Charlotte: The Hornets' signing of Lance Stephenson was met with loud applause, but unless Stephenson improves his offensive efficiency, his acquisition is probably much ado about nothing. Charlotte is likely to have similar successes and failures as last year.
Chicago: Finally, a team that did something significant to move the barometer...maybe. The Bulls tried to makes serious moves, and ended up getting Pau Gasol from the Lakers and Nikola Mirotic from Europe. If it turns out Gasol is almost the same player he was a few years ago - and that his recent struggles were a direct byproduct of Mike D'Antoni's system - then Chicago made a hell of an acquisition (I feel Mirotic is slightly overrated and unlikely to make an immediate impact.) Still, the ultimate success of the Bulls comes down to Derrick Rose. After almost no NBA action in over two years, it seems unlikely Rose will be able to capture all of his former glory. I can't recall a player missing basically two straight seasons because of injury and then proceeding to come back to dominate. If Rose and Gasol can somehow be nearly as good as they were in 2011 - teamed with Joakim Noah and crew - this is one exciting team. The Bulls could finally have an offense solid enough to make them the best team in the East. But, just as likely, they could not.
Cleveland: The Cavs have had the best off-season of any team, based solely on their acquiring of LeBron James, and they now have a great chance of winning it all in 2015. As we often say in terms of roster management: it's much better to be lucky than to be good. Cleveland has done most things wrong since James left in 2010, but if doesn't matter, because he wanted to come home. Kyrie Irving's $90 million extension is huge money, but Irving ultimately has shown enough talent to warrant it. At 22, he should be a great offensive on-court partner for James, and his defense seems likely to dramatically improve. If the Cavs can get Kevin Love, this team could be sublime. Without him, they are still the favorites in the East.
Dallas: Many superstars have voluntary taken big pay cuts as of late, and probably none more so than Dirk Nowitzki. Of course, the great bargain on Nowitzki is less impressive when you then go out and overpay Chandler Parsons - a solid starting small forward, and nothing more - to the tune of $15 million a year. The Tyson Chandler trade, meanwhile, was subtle and nice; Dallas seems to be hoping to have a puncher's chance once the 2015 playoffs roll around. But in the loaded Western Conference, they are lucky if they even have that.
Denver: The Nuggets have basically been in a holding pattern, and while in the East you could get away doing this with no repercussions, in the West you can end up with a 28-54 record pretty easily. Not sure exactly what Denver is focusing on right now; they do have a few nice young assets, and the talent to sneak into the playoffs next year if everything goes right, but the Nuggets are probably in for a long season.
Detroit: The Pistons, with Stan Van Gundy now calling the shots, are in a better place than most people realize. Greg Monroe is still likely to remain with the team, and Van Gundy has done a decent job bolstering the depth of the roster. With his coaching, and a burgeoning superstar in Andre Drummond, the Pistons could become one of the finer teams in the East.
Golden State: The Warriors should be willing to trade David Lee and Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in a heartbeat, but apparently are unwilling to do so. So, minor changes aside, Golden State has not improved by any serious standard this Summer. Their chance of reaching the Finals rest on Steph Curry exploding in May and June. Curry is great, but not that great. Love would help a lot.
Houston: The Rockets' off-season has not been as bad as we are led to believe. They succeeded in not overpaying Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons (although Houston should not have initially declined Parsons' option.) They also succeeded in not overpaying Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin (due a combined whopping $30 million in salaries this year.) Sure, they are unlikely to make the Finals in such a brutal Conference, but the Rockets now have other opportunities - opportunities that overpaying the aforementioned players would not have allowed them to explore in the future. Daryl Morey might not be as smart as we think, but he's still smart.
Indiana: It was probably just as well for the Pacers that Lance Stephenson walked away from their long-term contract offer. Indiana will now move onward with their core of Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert - all of whom are better than Stephenson anyway. But the Pacers' offense needs to improve; a significant transaction probably needs to occur in order to make that a reality.
The Clippers: The Clips still clearly are making more waves away from the court than on their roster. They have decided to stand pat so far this off-season, which is pretty sound logic given the talent they already possess. If the Donald Sterling fiasco can be put to bed, this team is a real title contender. Chris Paul, for all his greatness, has never reached a Conference Finals. The clock is ticking for him, and he knows it.
The Lakers: After striking out on Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers made many strange - and inconsequential - moves. Even if Kobe Bryant comes back in full form, it will be difficult for this team to compete nightly in the loaded West. The Lakers, though, really made some enjoyably bizarre transactions this July: they will be paying Jordan Hill about nine times the salary of Ed Davis, even though there is no clear indication that Hill is a better player; L.A. also ended up waiving Kendall Marshall (making less than a million dollars, and decent for them last year) while gladly taking on Jeremy Lin's $15 million salary.
Memphis: The Grizzlies got Zach Randolph to extend his contract at a reasonable rate, and quietly made some nice draft and minor free agent moves. The wild managerial turmoil of May seems to have passed. A healthy Memphis squad continues to be a team no one out West will want to face in the playoffs. If all things come together, and they rarely do, the Grizzlies could be playing in June next year.
Miami: What a crazy off-season for the Heat. Losing LeBron James is nothing you can really bounce back from, but Pat Riley is trying his damnedest to make it happen. It will be pretty fascinating to see how the Heat season unfolds. Chris Bosh signed a monstrous five year, $118 million deal, and that is far too much to be paying Bosh unless he reverts back to his Raptors' heyday. This is a tantalizing possibility, although a long shot. Bosh has probably been accustomed to his supporting role for too long to realistically see him average 23 and 10 again. No matter what Bosh claims, he was a much better player in those Toronto days. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade ended up sacrificing some salary for the greater cause. We all think Wade is on the downswing, but like with Bosh, there is a remote possibility that he has more left in the tank than we are crediting him for. The same could also be said for Luol Deng. In all likelihood, the Heat are going to be a mediocre offensive team, and will be disheartening to watch. But what makes them fascinating is that if they reconfigure themselves successfully around Bosh and Wade, it is not outlandish to think Miami could make the Finals for a fifth straight year.
Milwaukee: Jason Kidd has alluringly unique frontcourt possibilities with Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Jabari Parker and the apparently still-growing Giannis Anteokounmpo. That does not mean the Bucks should be any good, but they surely should be entertaining to watch. In the East, this squad might have the talent to make the playoffs, but that seems less important than finding out exactly what this roster is capable of doing on the court together. It should be fun, and sometimes excruciating, to see.
Minnesota: The Timberwolves seem likely to trade Kevin Love sooner as opposed to later - although there's still the small outside chance they keep him, make some noise in the playoffs, and resign him. But he's likely gone, and Minnesota will probably not get enough value in return. It is worth mentioning that the Timberwolves could actually be decent this year, even without Love. In the East, a Love-less team would have a fair shot of reaching the playoffs. Nikola Pekovic is a load in the best sense, Ricky Rubio will be playing for a big contract, the supporting pieces are not shabby, and Flip Saunders is an above average regular season coach. But, in realty, Saunders' managerial decisions will be much more important than any coaching he does this season.
New Orleans: The Pelicans continue to be all over the place with their roster decisions, but they have a saving grace: Anthony Davis. Like with Cleveland, it's better to be lucky than good. New Orleans made the peculiar decision to give away a future first round pick to Houston in order pay Omer Asik $15 million this year, even though they promptly had discarded cheaper rim-protecting options in Nerlens Noel and Robin Lopez last year. "Win now" apparently means "manage your long-term assets badly" if you are Dell Demps. Again, Davis helps erase many of these wrongs, but the future would probably look brighter if the Pelicans had kept Noel.
New York: The Knicks gave Carmelo Anthony a huge 5 year, $124 million contract, a deal that has been discussed ad nauseam. Anthony is likely to be worth his large annual salary over the first year or two, and then be overpaid at the latter part of the contract. Or so the popular theory goes. New York very well might have been better off letting Anthony sign elsewhere, but at the same time it is reasonable to see why they resigned him. Anthony is a hell of a player. The Knicks, in the East, could surprise us this season if chemistry and health align. But that goes for almost every Eastern Conference team.
Oklahoma City: Like the Clippers, the Thunder assessed where they were at, and decided they were satisfied. This makes complete sense. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka continue to mature as players, and that's a comforting thought, health permitting. The Thunder probably have as good a chance as any West team to be the 2015 champs.
Orlando: The Magic are in Year 3 of the post-Dwight Howard rebuild, and this is the season where the results should begin to show up in their record. I'm not sure they will, though. In spite of acquiring many interesting young assets the last few years, the Magic seem kind of rudderless. The 4 year, $32 million Channing Frye contract was incomprehensible. Their activity around the draft - giving Arron Afflalo away for seemingly little, and giving too much up to get Elfrid Payton - was strange. If Payton and Victor Oladipo quickly develop into one one of the best young backcourt tandems in the NBA all is forgiven, but Orlando really has to start showing something this year. Another sub-30 win season is unacceptable.
Philadelphia: Sam Hinkie and the 76ers are one team that you don't need to question in terms of having a long-term plan. They have gotten, in my opinion, the best prospect in each of the last two drafts, and neither time with the first overall pick. But as impressive as Hinkie's moves have been, his blatant disregard for this upcoming season is slightly discomforting. Last year, the Sixers at least started the year with several veterans on their team. This year it looks like Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson will be the only legitimate veterans on the roster, and they might be gone by opening night. This kind of overwrought tanking is why the NBA should modify the lottery.
Phoenix: The Suns got one of the best deals of the off-season in Isaiah Thomas for 4 years, $27 million. Thomas is a very good player, and I'm rather stunned that no team was willing to offer him a contract in the range of $9 or $10 million annually. Phoenix is still likely to bring back Eric Bledsoe, but obviously has other excellent guard options if they do not. Bledsoe is a victim of restricted free agency - other teams just assumed the Suns would match their offer on Bledsoe no matter what, so no team even offered him a max deal. Because no one offered Bledsoe max money, it now seems quite likely the Suns won't give it to him. Hurt feelings aside, this is how more teams should try to handle their restricted free agents - clinically, not emotionally. It's a business, after all.
Portland: The Trail Blazers are another Western Conference team that essentially decided to stand pat; the problem is they don't have the inherent talent of teams like the Clippers or Thunder. The Blazers had a very nice run last season, but as we all know, the West is brutal. LaMarcus Aldridge is in his prime, Damian Lillard is improving, the starters have great chemistry, the bench has improved....and so what? I just can't see this team winning three or four rounds of playoff basketball. The superior talent is just not there, sorry.
Sacramento: The Kings are still finding their way under new ownership, but things have gone poorly so far. They foolishly let Isaiah Thomas walk based on poor logic, and seem overjoyed to be paying Rudy Gay a brutally excessive salary this season. Their star, DeMarcus Cousins, is temperamental, and seems likely to be upset with another squalid year. For all the talk of a "new" way to manage the team, the Kings are really just executing the old bad decision-making habits that have plagued the franchise for years. There's nothing new about it.
San Antonio: The Spurs are going to make another go of it with the same guys, and why not? Why mess with chemistry this good? Gregg Popovich is surely aware of the difficulties of repeating with such an old squad, but no coach seems better prepared to deal with these problems. They remain the most satisfying viewing experience in all of basketball.
Toronto: The Raptors got Kyle Lowry at a very reasonable 4 year, $48 million rate. Damn good point guards continue to be undervalued contractually, which is interesting. Toronto is kind of in the same boat as Portland, only in the East. They have some nice talent, but it is hard to see the talent ever taking them all the way to the promised land. I'm not sure if Masai Ujiri is fully aware of this; he constructed a similarly fated team in Denver.
Utah: The Jazz forked over a 4 year, $63 million contract to Gordon Hayward, and all you need to know is Hayward is no better than Chandler Parsons. While point guards like Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe struggle to get near the max, small forwards like Hayward and Parsons seemingly get it with ease. Despite what some people say, there is no reason for this. Hayward is good, and his contract may look better with the new CBA in a few years, but he simply does not deserve so big a salary. I'm genuinely interested to see how Quin Snyder will do as an NBA head coach, particularly with a roster like this.
Washington: The Wizards were more active than expected, and fortified their depth nicely. If it all goes according to plan, they could maybe find themselves in the Conference Finals next May. That said, there was no good reason to make a 5 year, $60 million commitment to Marcin Gortat. Large five year contracts are risky for any player, and basically they should only be given to stars. Gortat is a nice player, but he's no star. A three or four year deal would have seemed much more palatable.