December 1, 2020

NBA Offseason: Winners and Losers

The NBA offseason might be short, but it's been rather eventful. 

There are still some role players who haven't signed, sure, but NBA franchises — for the most part — have their rosters set for the upcoming campaign.

Like every offseason, there are winners and losers. Let’s see who’s come out better or worse from the carnage that is this NBA offseason. 

Winner: Klutch Sports

Rich Paul once again owns the offseason. Clients of the talent agency got paid this offseason. From Jordan Clarkson signing for four years and $52 million in Utah to Montrezl Harrell joining the Lakers on a full mid-level exception to Tristan Thompson landing in a perfect situation in Boston to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cashing in on a three-year, $40 million deal in LA, the agency has already had quite the offseason.

The defending champion Lakers are ready for another title run, and Paul represents a big chunk of the team in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, KCP and Harrell.

It sure does pay to be a member of the Klutch Sports family. 

Winner: Trevor Ariza’s Frequent Flyer Miles

After getting traded like he's the modern-day Luke Ridnour, Trevor Ariza has now been traded more than any other player in NBA history. His lead could increase too since he’s technically on the Thunder right now, a team that is highly likely to trade the veteran forward for more future goodies.

The 35-year-old forward isn't as quick as he used to be, but he's still a strong defender who can help check some star wings in the league.

Guys who can hold their own against the best players in the NBA are few and far between, and they are rarely as available as Ariza presumably is. 

With all that traveling, Ariza has surely racked up the frequent flyer miles. Perhaps he'll be able to use his accrued miles when he's traded for the 11th time in his career. 

Winner: Neil Olshey

The longtime Portland Trail Blazers’ general manager had himself a fantastic offseason. Four years after grossly overpaying Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe in the NBA’s silly season, Neil Olshey added Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles, traded for Enes Kanter and re-signed Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony to very reasonable deals.

The Blazers are deep, battle-tested and perhaps Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s best shot to make the finals.

This was some expert-level work from a veteran GM.

Loser: Denver Nuggets

The ascending Nuggets are fresh off a Western Conference Finals berth, thanks largely to their exciting young core of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic. But part of the reason those guys were able to flourish on offense was that there were role players willing to do the grunt work and play airtight defense. Guys like Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig.

Grant, a lengthy starter whose defensive skills mesh perfectly with the Joker, departed for the Detroit Pistons. Craig, a tough wing defender, was renounced and immediately signed by the Milwaukee Bucks. Players of Grant’s ilk are rare, and when they become available they usually don’t flock to Denver in free agency.

The team attempted to patch up the loss by re-signing Paul Millsap and adding JaMychal Green, a serviceable power forward who can play defense and knock down 3-pointers at an efficient rate. But neither player can reach Grant’s level, and it’s probably going to hurt the Nuggets when they have to guard star wings.

Winner: Devin Booker

For five seasons now, Booker has languished on an awful Suns squad that was bad when he was on the court and sank to embarrassing levels when he was off it. Now, for the first time since the Steve Nash era, this team is ready to not only make the playoffs again but also potentially make some noise.

They traded a future first-round pick, Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. for Chris Paul, who is the perfect point guard for this team. Despite his advanced age in basketball years, Paul showed last season he has more than enough left in the tank to aid Booker in the same way he helped Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s there to assist Booker in taking his game to the next level, while also assuming more playmaking duties.

Also, center DeAndre Ayton is about to see lobs for days. Add in the Jae Crowder signing, and this is a fully formed team ready to compete.

Loser: Milwaukee Bucks

Let’s start with some positives. The Bucks successfully traded for Jrue Holiday, who is just what the team needs as a stout defender and reliable playmaker. Even though they traded a treasure trove of assets and Holiday is 30-years old with a player option for the 2021-22 season, he immediately raises their ceiling for this upcoming season, which is vital for a very obvious reason.

Overall, though, the Bucks have lost. They saw a sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fall apart, meaning they now have players who know they were about to be traded. Also, they committed a pretty egregious salary cap folly, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. To paraphrase Hollinger’s explanation, GM Jon Horst agreed to sign Pat Connaughton to a two-year, $8 million deal, except, as an early bird player, Connaughton was not eligible to receive a second-year player option on the deal. To make up for the error, the Bucks decided to sign Pat to a much larger deal for three-years, $16 million, which is double the original value of the deal. Except they didn’t even need to do that. They could have just signed Connaughton with their initial mid-level exception and included D.J. Augustine, another player they signed this offseason, as part of the larger Jrue Holiday deal.

If that sounds complicated, it is. But it’s the type of complicated detail a general manager should be aware of. 

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

Don’t laugh. While the optics of losing reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to the rival Lakers aren't great, they still made some quality moves.

Exchanging Landry Shamet, whose jump shot abandoned him in the playoffs, for a sniper in Luke Kennard who can also handle the ball a bit more, is a clear upgrade. Also, the Clippers inked Serge Ibaka, who can drain jumpers and act as a tower in the paint to swat away drivers. Compared to Harrell, who was a beast on offense but a liability on defense, Ibaka offers much more stability, which is a commodity the Clippers could use heading into a season where both their best players can opt for free agency after the season.

They still need to acquire a veteran point guard who can set everyone else up, but, so far, it’s been a much better offseason than people think.

Winner: Trae Young’s Back

Let’s face it: Young had to carry the Hawks last season on offense. They were a disaster whenever he sat, and relied on him entirely too much when he was on the court. But after a flurry of strong signings in elite shooters and scorers Danilo Gallinari and Bogdanovic, plus scrappy, defensively gifted Kris Dunn and the savvy veteran Rajon Rondo, the Hawks are ready to field a playoff team.

Add in the addition of Onyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the draft, who should be an immediate defensive presence in Atlanta.

The Eastern Conference might not be as deep as the Western Conference, but after fortifying their roster, the Hawks should at least be the final playoff team after the Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, 76ers, Pacers and Nets.

Young will probably flourish even more knowing he can play within himself. Teams will have a harder time doubling him with so many other threats to account for.

Photo: Getty Images