An exciting NBA off-season leaves much to discuss regarding the future the league and its many outstanding athletes.
The landscape of the NBA has changed tremendously over this year’s off-season. Similar to a reality TV show, drama brewing throughout the league, caused many teams to make rash, possibly damaging decisions. Many big name free agents moved around the league, instantly changing the potential of the numerous young cores longing for a leader. Teams who have not even been considered as playoff contenders are now in the talks of being NBA finals participants or even champions. All of the transactions had an impact and will have lasting effects on every organization.
The Atlanta Hawks had an underwhelming off-season to say the least. With the signing of small name player Alex Len and 41-year-old legend Vince Carter, the team did not get noticeably better compared to their disappointing 24 win season last year. The daring trade of Luka Dončić for Trae Young during the 2018 NBA Draft sparked controversy. Dončić, the 2017 EuroLeague MVP and champion, who averaged 16.0 points per game (PPG), 4.8 rebounds per game (RPG), and 4.3 assists per game (APG) on 45% shooting, was the clear choice for the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night. Trae Young was the player the Hawks wanted, a freshman out of Oklahoma, known for his stellar scoring abilities. Young averaged 27.8 PPG last season at Oklahoma on 42% shooting and 8.7 APG. If Young turns out to be the next Steph Curry, Atlanta may have made one of the greatest draft night trades of all time, but if Dončić excels the Hawks may be left in the dust.
The Celtics are coming off of an impressive Western Conference Finals appearance with the absence of both All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in the playoffs. Then, rookie Jayson Tatum performed phenomenally, averaging 18.5 PPG and leading his team in the absence of the Celtics’ two stars. With a starting line-up of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford, coach Brad Stevens can be confident whenever the ball is on the court. With LeBron James out of the east, there is not much that can stop the Celtics. Although the C’s didn’t make any moves this off-season, they are still seen as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and are looking to make another championship run.
The Brooklyn Nets are very slowly recovering from the disaster that is their front office. Over the last couple of seasons, the Nets’ front office managed to dig the franchise into a giant hole in which they could fit the entire stadium. Throughout the last couple of drafts, the Boston Celtics built their franchise off of the Nets’ first round picks including players such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. While the Nets’ front office has ruined the near future of the team, there is still some hope. D’Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, is looking to lead the team out of their grave. Last season, Russell averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists while only playing half of the season. Although these are not extremely impressive numbers, Russell is still very young at 21 years old. With no big moves this off-season, the Nets are still in complete rebuild mode, so do not expect much out of them this coming season.
The Charlotte Hornets might turn out to be a decent team this season. With the 12th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Hornets selected the talented sophomore,Miles Bridges, out of Michigan State. Bridges, a five-star recruit in high school, has an extremely impressive skill set at the small forward position. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, Bridges averaged 17.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.1 BPG throughout his time in college. Pairing Bridges with Kemba Walker has the potential to become a great one-two punch. On top of that, the Hornets added legendary point guard, Tony Parker, to the roster. This gives Bridges an amazing veteran presence in the locker room and allows him to grow off of the skills Parker possesses. Hopefully, the Hornets will surprise us all and make the playoffs this coming season.
The Chicago Bulls are emerging as one of the most promising young teams in the NBA. With an average age of 24 years old, the franchise is looking towards the future with their potential filled roster. During the 2018 NBA Draft, the Bulls selected Wendell Carter Jr., a center out of Duke, with the 7th pick in the first round. While Carter lacks in height for his position (6’10”), his large defensive IQ creates turmoil for most offenses. Paring Carter with power forward Lauri Markkanen and point guard Kris Dunn creates a threatening, dynamic squad. On top of that, the Bulls front office signed free agent Jabari Parker to 2-yr/$40 million dollar contract with a team option on the second year. Parker is coming off of a decent season, averaging 12.9 PPG in Milwaukee. Although he only played 31 games, his impact on the team’s performance was extremely apparent. Due to Parker’s history with injuries, the second-year team option gives the Bulls tons of breathing room if something were to go wrong. Finally, the signing of Zach LaVine to a 4-yr/$78 million dollar contract was the most risky move for this franchise. LaVine has the potential to become a star in the NBA, but after a season-ending ACL tear during the 2017 season, questions arise whether he will be as athletic as he once was.
The Cleveland Cavaliers went from title contenders to playoff contenders in one off-season. With the loss of “The King,” LeBron James, the Cavs are playoff hopeful. Cleveland legend LeBron James single-handley led a lost and dismantled team to the NBA Finals despite the competition, averaging 27.2 PPG on 54% shooting from the field. Now, All-Star Kevin Love is tasked with leading this team. In the 2017 season, Love’s stats were impressive, averaging 17.6 PPG and 9.3 RPG alongside of James. In addition, with the 8th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Collin Sexton out of Alabama. Sexton was one of the top prospects coming into last year’s draft, averaging 19.2 PPG and leading the Crimson Tide to a 20-16 record. With Sexton’s ability to create space without a screen, Love can be productive in other aspects of the game.
Dallas is finally pulling themselves back to playoff contention. The Mavericks made some exciting moves this off-season that might change the fate of the organization. With the 5th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected Trae Young out of Oklahoma, but traded him on draft night to the Hawks for Luka Dončić, the 2017 Euro League MVP. In the eyes of many NBA fans, this trade was a dream come true for the Mavericks due to the fact that Dončić has way more experience as a player than Young. While Young is still a fantastic player, Dončić averaged 16.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 4.3 APG on 45% shooting on top of winning MVP and the EuroLeague Championship at only 19 years old. Pairing Dončić up with sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. establishes a young and talented back court for the Mavs. On top of that, the Mavericks also signed DeAndre Jordan to a 1-yr/$22 million dollar contract, eliminating them from their long search for a solid center.
The Denver Nuggets are on the rise, emerging as one of the top up and coming teams in the NBA. After finishing the 2017-18 season one game away from the playoffs, they are looking for retribution. While the team lost a couple of long time players, they replaced them with much better options. On July 16th, 2018, the Denver Nuggets signed free agent and former All-Star Isaiah Thomas to a one year, $2 million dollar deal. By signing Thomas to the minimum contract, the Nuggets received a strong veteran presence in their locker room and mentor for young rookie Jamal Murray. Thomas, who is looked down upon due to his size, is an on court leader who will be a key factor coming off the bench for the Nuggets this coming season. They also drafted Michael Porter Jr. at the 14th pick in the draft. Porter was projected to go 5th, so drafting him with the 14th pick was an absolute steal. Although he will probably not play this year, Denver secured a top young prospect for the future of the club.
The Detroit Pistons are in the same place as they were at the end of the last season. During the 2017-18 NBA season, the Pistons traded for former All-Star Blake Griffin, pairing him up with elite rebounder Andre Drummond to form one of the most deadly front courts in the league, or so they thought. While they may seem very intimidating on paper, the chemistry between them has yet to be built. Last season, Andre Drummond averaged a crazy statline of 15.0 PPG, 16.0 RPG, 1.6 BPG, and 1.5 SPG on 52% shooting from the field. The Pistons failed to make the playoffs despite their hope with the addition of Blake Griffin to the squad and do not seem to be making any more improvements toward becoming a playoff team currently.
Golden State Warriors
The reigning back to back NBA champions shocked the NBA this off-season. The Golden State Warriors already have a phenomenal roster with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, but added yet another all-star to their arsenal. To much surprise, four time All-Star and two time All-NBA team member DeMarcus Cousins signed a one year, $5.3 million dollar contract. Through Cousins’ 48 games played during the 2018 season, he averaged 25.2 PPG and 12.9 RPG with the New Orleans Pelicans. Coming off of a season-ending ACL injury, Cousins is not likely to make his Oakland debut until January, but the star center will only make this team better. As well as this absurd signing, the back to back Finals MVP Kevin Durant, agreed to a 2-yr/$61.5 million dollar contract on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Although the 2019-20 season is a player option, the Warriors front office secured him for at least one more season.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets are coming off their best season since the 90’s after winning a staggering 65 games last season. The Rockets showed out in the playoffs but sadly lost in seven games to the reigning NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors. Lead by reigning MVP James Harden and all-star point guard Chris Paul, the Rockets are in great hands for success. Harden thrives in D’Antoni’s “Seven Second Offense,” averaging an impressive 30.4 PPG, 8.8 APG and 1.8 SPG on top of leading his team to the first seed in the Western Conference. During the off-season, the Rockets went out and signed former superstar Carmelo Anthony to a 1-yr/$2.3 million dollar contract. Anthony will be a great fit in the Rockets’ system due to his great scoring ability and his point oriented mentality.
The Indiana Pacers emerged as one of the biggest surprises of the league last season, shocking the league by ending the season with a 48-34 record. First time All-Star Victor Oladipo took the league by storm, becoming the MIP of the league. Over the course of 75 games in the 2017-18 season, Oladipo racked up an impressive 23.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.4 SPG. Compared to the 2016-17 NBA season, Oladipo rose by 7.2 PPG and managed to make All Defensive First Team with his impressive steal totals. The Indiana Pacers fed off of Oladipo’s intensity and passion for the game. On top of that, the front office signed Tyreke Evans to a 1-yr/$12 million dollar contract. Evans averaged 19.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, and 1.1 SPG. Expect to see the Pacers in the playoffs again this coming season.
Los Angeles Clippers
To no one’s surprise, the Los Angeles Clippers are still L.A.’s second best team. With no real star on the roster, the Clippers are looking for a superstar to lead them to the playoffs. Over the last couple of seasons, the age of “Lob City” in Los Angeles has come to a close and the Clippers have lost their identity. The best player on the team, Lou Williams, coming off of the bench does not bode well for the franchise. While players like Tobias Harris are averaging 19.3 PPG on 47% shooting, Lou Williams is carrying the team off of the bench, averaging 22.6 PPG, 5.3 APG, and 1.1 SPG. The absence of Paul, Jordan, and Griffin is obvious and the Clippers might need more than a couple seasons to get back on track.
Los Angeles Lakers
Showtime is back in Los Angeles. The new Head of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, is making great strides to turn this franchise into a title contender. In the middle of the summer, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged victorious in the biggest free agency signing this year, stealing LeBron James from the free agency pool. James, who is widely considered to be the greatest player of all-time and undoubtedly the best player in the league today, has made finals appearances for the last eight consecutive seasons. Last season, James, with the help of Kevin Love, led the lost Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, averaging 27.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 8.6 APG on 54% shooting. Pairing LeBron up with L.A.’s young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram will create an unstoppable force in the coming seasons. The Lakers also signed Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley to contracts. This gives head coach Luke Walton tons of flexibility off the bench and takes the pressure off of the starting five.
For the last couple of seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies have been an extremely underwhelming franchise. Coming off of a pathetic 22 win season, the Grizzlies can only go up from here. Hopefully this is possible after selecting Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Jaren Jackson, with the #4 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. At Michigan State, Jackson was a defensive monster, averaging 3.0 BPG and achieving an impressive 86.4 defensive rating on top of 10.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG. Jackson will also fit right into the Grizzlies’ defensive system and make a scary duo with Marc Gasol down low. While Jackson’s presence on the team will not be apparent right away, the Grizzlies are hoping that he will soon become a defensive animal for their squad. The Grizzlies are going in the right direction, but it might be a while until they start to perform at a championship level.
Although the the Miami Heat did not make any moves this off-season, the franchise is in good hands. Last season, the Heat showed out in the Eastern Conference and proved that they were a team that deserves respect. With a strong core of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Bam Adebayo, the future of the franchise is looking bright. Dragic, making his first all-star appearance last season, averaged an impressive 17.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 4.8 APG on top of leading his team to the second round of the playoffs. If promising center Whiteside can stay healthy, the Heat have good odds to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row and possibly even go further than the first round.
After a disappointing game seven loss in the first round to the Boston Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks are looking to redeem themselves this coming NBA season. Last year, head coach Jason Kidd was let go in the middle of the season despite their decent record at the time, causing the team to lose direction in the final stretch of the season. Now, head coach Mike Budenholzer hopes to lead the Bucks farther into the playoffs. Lead by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the brightest young star in the NBA, the Bucks are a wrecking ball coming straight at the Eastern Conference. At 6’11” and 242 pounds, Giannis’s skill set and ability to play any position on the court makes him an unstoppable force. Antetokounmpo, after winning Most Improved Player back in 2017, averaged 26.9 PPG, 10 RPG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.4 BPG on 52% shooting. Playing alongside players such as Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez, the Milwaukee Bucks are becoming a serious threat in the east.
The Minnesota Timberwolves off-season is looking more like a reality TV show than an NBA franchise. After trading for former Bull Jimmy Butler during the 2017 NBA Draft, the Wolves were hopeful in their prospect. Butler made an instant impact, leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, but it is not all gumdrops and rainbows in Minnesota. Butler’s impact was so apparent that the team did not know what to do when he was not on the floor. Due to injury, Butler only played 59 games, averaging 22.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.0 SPG. Now, Butler wants out, but the Wolves are not listening. Butler’s contract is set to expire after the 2018-19 NBA season and it is obvious that he is not going to resign. So, instead of trading Butler for assets and players, the front office decided to sign Andrew Wiggins to a 4-yr/$148 million dollar contract. The Timberwolves are on a downward spiral.
New Orleans Pelicans
Unfortunately, Boogie left New Orleans, and, the Davis-Cousins era has come to a close, but progress towards building a solid playoff performer is not lost. Over the off-season, the Pelicans compensated for the loss of the four time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins by signing young rising star Julius Randle to a 2-yr/$18 million dollar contract. Randle had an impressive 2017-18 season averaging 16.7 PPG and 8 RPG on 55% shooting. The strong core of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Julius Randle creates a solid ‘big three.’ Unfortunately, the Pelicans lost veteran point guard Rajon Rondo in free agency. Rondo’s impact on the team during their 2018 playoff run was extremely apparent and the loss of his high basketball IQ will take a very big toll on the Pelicans bench. Despite the loss of Cousins, the Pelicans are set for another playoff appearance.
New York Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis is the Knicks’ only hope to become relevant again. After his season-ending injury in the beginning of the 2017-18 season, the Knicks were left stranded with no real leader to uplift the team. ACL injuries are no joke, so the Knicks front office decided to bring in the freshman from Kentucky, Kevin Knox, with the 9th pick in the NBA Draft. Knox had an decent year at Kentucky averaging 15.6 PPG and 5.4 RPG, but shot poorly from the field. The Knicks front office are hoping that Knox will be able to fill the gap left by the Porzingis injury, but also have to remember that they have players such as Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. to fall back on if necessary.
Oklahoma City Thunder
While there is not much to say about the Oklahoma City Thunder this off-season, they have engraved themselves as one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. Coming off of another historic season, averaging a triple double for the second year in a row, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is the biggest ball hog on the planet. While Westbrook is out padding his stats, All-Star Paul George resigned with the team on a 4-yr/$137 million contract and refused to go to L.A., thinking that he can win a championship on this ‘unstoppable’ team. The loss of Carmelo Anthony will have absolutely no impact on this organization seeming that he had the worst year on record averaging 16.2 PPG on 40% shooting from the field. Lastly, Steven Adams has finally recovered from his ‘gruesome’ injury back in the 2016 NBA playoffs, allowing him to be more aggressive than ever.
The Orlando Magic are making little progress towards becoming a relevant team again. The Magic’s roster remains extremely subpar despite the addition of the 6th selection in the NBA Draft. Mohammed Bamba, a freshman out of Texas, comes in at 7’1” with a ridiculous 7’10” wingspan. This abnormal wingspan gives Bamba the ability to be a defensive monster. His strong defensive IQ and abilities are extremely apparent, averaging a staggering 3.7 BPG and racking in an amazing 89.6 defensive rating. Bamba will pair fairly well with former dunk contest champion, Aaron Gordon. While the Magic are still going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this coming season, the future looks bright for this franchise.
The 76ers are emerging as the one of the best young teams in the NBA. With players such as Joel Embiid and 2017 ROTY Ben Simmons, the Sixers’ future is looking bright. Joel Embiid, despite his recurring and frequent injuries, is considered to be a top three center in the NBA. Embiid racked in an impressive statline of 22.9 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 1.8 BPG on top of playing a career high 63 games during the regular season. Embiid fits perfectly into head coach Bret Brown’s system and pairs nicely with reigning ROTY Ben Simmons. Simmons, after missing his whole first season due to injury, took the league by storm, averaging 15.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 8.2 APG and 1.7 SPG on 54% shooting from the field. While Simmons is listed as a power forward, he ran the point guard position for most of the 2017-18 NBA season due to the rookie Markelle Fultz’s absence. While no big names moved to Philadelphia this off-season, the 76ers are coming in hot for the 2018-19 season.
While the Phoenix Suns are the WORST team in the NBA, DeAndre Ayton is going to be one of the best rookies in this year’s draft class. The 7’1” freshman out of Arizona was named Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 20.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG, and 1.9 BPG on 61% shooting from the field in his only year at the collegiate level. As a result to this impressive collegiate year, the Phoenix Suns drafted him with the #1 overall pick in this years draft, surprising no one. Pairing him up with young superstar Devin Booker should create the best, young, one-two punches in the league. While the Suns did finish the 2017-18 season with only 21 wins, Booker is coming off of the best year of his career, averaging 24.9 points. Hopefully the Suns will begin to prove themselves this upcoming season and make strides to return to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers are a team to watch. While they failed to make any big transactions over this off-season, their strong core is still in tact. Superstar Damian Lillard has lit the league on fire the last couple of seasons, emerging as a top five point guard in the league today. At the end of the 2018 NBA season, Lillard finished fourth in MVP votes, yet still remains underestimated, despite averaging 26.9 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 1.1 SPG. Although overlooked, Lillard’s sidekick, CJ McCollum is an extremely strong wing when paired up with Lillard. With an amazing offensive IQ and good three point shot (39%), McCollum is a weapon that the Trail Blazers implement perfectly. Coming off of an extremely impressive 49 win season in the Western Conference, the Blazers are looking for revenge after their disappointing playoffs performance.
While the Sacramento Kings are building a talented young squad in De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III, they still remain one of the worst teams in the NBA. Selecting Marvin Bagley with the 2nd overall pick came to no surprise to fans of the franchise. Bagley, a 6’11” power forward out of Duke, is a very promising young player. His strong 234 pound build allows him to play more aggressive on the defensive side than most power forwards, but also amplifies his ability to finish near the rim and in the paint. Despite Bagley’s large potential, the Kings are still not playoff contenders, far from it. The franchise is still lacking the necessary assets in order to make that next big jump into contention.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have finally let Kawhi Leonard go. The departure was quick and painless, acquiring all-star DeMar DeRozan from the Toronto Raptors in the process. While DeRozan has big shoes to fill in the absence of the two time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP, he should fit into coach Greg Popovich’s system fairly well. DeRozan is an incredible player, averaging 20+ points for the last 5 seasons in a row, engraving him as the all-time scorer for the Raptors organization. Pairing him up with All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge will hopefully turn out to be one of the best one-two punches in the league. The organization drafted Lonnie Walker IV out of Miami with the 14th overall pick, but do not expect to see him have the biggest impact on the team this coming season.
The Toronto Raptors may have made the biggest trade of the NBA off-season. Former two time Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, was at the center of controversy following his disappointing 2017 season, playing only nine games and sitting out of the rest. Yes, voluntarily sitting out. However, the Raptors made a daring move, trading Raptors’ all-time leading scorer DeMar DeRozan for Leonard, despite the fact that Leonard has only one year remaining on his deal. Although we do not know how this trade will turn out, Raptors fans are hopeful that Leonard will stay in Toronto after this season. On the bright side, Raptors fans can feel safe with veteran guard Kyle Lowry, averaging a solid stat line of 16.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 1.1 SPG, leading the team. While these may not be the most insane stats, Kyle Lowry has proved himself to be an excellent leader in the NBA and continues to lead his team valiantly though the regular season.
The Utah Jazz had a fairly underwhelming off-season this year. With no big name signings or trades, the Jazz have not really made an impact on the Western Conference, however, they should not be counted out. Donovan Mitchell, 2017 Rookie of the Year runner-up, is coming off of an extremely impressive rookie year, averaging 20.5 PPG and 1.5 SPG on top of leading the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs. Along with that, players such as Rudy Gobert, 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, are playing at an extremely high level, contributing to the team’s success. Coming off of an unexpected 48 win season, the Utah Jazz are looking to improve and possibly have a shot at the championship.
The Washington Wizards should have a good season, but always seem to come up short. While they are coming off of a 5th seed finish in the eastern conference last season, their potential to improve seems slim. With the only ‘big name’ free agent acquired over this off-season being Dwight Howard, a mediocre center at best, their future is not looking too much different. While the Wizards still have John Wall signed to 4-yr/$170 million dollar contract, his injuries seem to be catching up to him. On the other hand, Bradley Beal is coming off of an extremely impressive season, playing every single game for the first time in his whole career and leading the Wizards to the playoffs, despite the absence of John Wall for half of the season.