Summertime in the NBA is a season full of hope, where every team except the Sixers can give their fans something to look forward to as they count down the days to opening night.
Every team made changes and most changes look great on paper this time of year, before the actual product is revealed on the floor and the unexpected inevitably happens. Some can't-miss signings will indeed miss, and some players that are being completely overlooked at the moment will suddenly make a name for themselves.
While we can't predict who will be this year's Hassan Whiteside or Khris Middleton, we can still have a little fun with the whole thing and act like we know what we're talking about. For this, I enlisted the Walter Matthau to my Jack Lemmon, Bright Side of the Sun's noble scribe Jim Coughenour, as we pick apart the summer moves that every NBA team has made since their season ended.
We started with the Atlantic Division, where we can work on our comedic timing and any formatting issues before we tackle real NBA teams.
And just like the Suns, the Celtics are fighting for 8-seeds with a roster full of complementary players but no star to build around...yet.
[...] just random veterans that wore a weird number for about 6 weeks because they came with a pick attached.
Jim: If I'm tabulating everything on RealGM.com correctly the Celtics are set to have three first round picks and five second round picks in the 2016 draft. At this point there's actually a realistic, though not highly probable, chance that all three first rounders are lottery picks.
They're going to need those, because I just don't see the existing talent on their roster being that close to what Phoenix has already assembled. I don't really think the Celtics as a doppelganger of the Suns, maybe more like a 76ers-esque turnstile for draft picks, except with enough young talent and competent organizational structure to compete for a playoff spot in a weak conference. That should be at least somewhat entertaining for their fans, and I think the track record of the front office should give them reason to believe this will team will compete again sooner rather than later. I think that other teams, like the Miami Heat, are going to take a step forward next season, so the Celtics might take a step back by not taking a step forward.
Their offseason was basically posturing for future moves, so I guess that can be classified as a success... even though it just seems like the team is crossing days off the calendar until the right opportunity presents itself.
Jim's grade: Eight 2016 picks is too many.
2014/15 record: 38-44 (8th seed, lost 2-4 to ATL in the first round)
Incoming: Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Andrea Bargnani, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Outgoing: Deron Williams, Alan Anderson, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic
Jim: The Nets have to be one of the biggest winners in free agency this summer simply because they managed not to do anything bizarrely inane that further mortgages their future... which is good since they're already going to be exhuming themselves from the hole they've dug for the next five years.
Brooklyn made modest free agent signings, re-signed Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, and agreed to a buy out with Deron Williams. It's hard to argue that the influx of new "talent" matches the attrition, which means the Nets will likely convey a top 10 pick to the Boston Celtics in next year's draft. At least the Nets salary dumps have gotten them under the tax line, despite the luxury of paying Joe Johnson about $25 million to play marginally effective basketball.
Jim's grade: You know that feeling you get at the instant you realize you're %$cked?
I'm surprised that anything the Nets do is still capable of leaving you confused.
Rollin: Did the Nets finally come to their senses, or did they just run out of shit to trade away? How is it that they are employing Billy King to clean up the mess made by Billy King?
And before we go any further, can you explain the Hollis-Jefferson/Plumlee trade? It was probably the most confusing move of the summer to me and I need help.
Jim: I'm surprised that anything the Nets do is still capable of leaving you confused. Maybe I undervalue Plumlee, but this move didn't really register on my radar. My guess is that the Nets see the 20 year old Jefferson as having a chance to be a better role player than the 25 year old Plumlee. That's basically the gist of this, right? A couple of role players... Not exactly a move we'll probably look back at in a few years and gasp, "What were they thinking?"
Spoiler Alert: Nabbing Mason isn't going to tip the Blazers grade towards the positive end of the spectrum.
Rollin: Seems strange to trade a draft pick that actually panned out, plus Pat Connaghton, just to start over with a rookie wing that can't shoot. But hey, this is Brooklyn, baby.
Perhaps they just developed a draft night inferiority complex since their future is owned by a division rival.
Either way, they've probably done just enough to keep the Celtics out of the lottery, which is the closest thing to victory that this franchise will experience until Mason Plumlee is considered a "cagy veteran".
Rollin's grade: Orange, for "orange you glad that there are no more draft picks to give away?"
2014/15 record: 17-65 (yeah, missed the playoffs)
Arrivals: Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O'Quinn, Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Derrick Williams
Departures: Andrea Bargnani, Quincy Acy, Tim Hardaway, Cole Aldrich, Shane Larkin, Jason Smith
Rollin: I'm gonna ignore the delicious low-hanging fruit of New York Knicks jokes for the moment and admit that I really like what they did this summer. I'm sure James Dolan would have done anything to bring in [insert high-profile free agent here] and I'm sure they tried, but for the Knicks this was a case of getting what you need instead of what you want.
This constitutes a bit of a problem for me because I wanted nothing more than to see Phil Jackson prove to be nothing more than an Isiah Thomas Redux in the front office, but for now my fantasy will have to wait. In Lopez and Afflalo they added two veteran uber role players who will play within the system, and while Porzingis is the highest-profile rookie they've had in quite a while, it's the Tim Hardaway/Jerian Grant trade that I really think will be looked at as a steal for the Knicks years from now.
This supporting cast seems to fit Carmelo Anthony very well, and if he can bounce back then perhaps the Knicks will actually have a crack at the playoffs in this dreadful division. Of course, we still don't know if Derek Fisher can coach and it will be interesting to see how long it is before they ditch their archaic system and crank up the pace like everyone else.
Rollin's grade: Circle, because triangles are stupid.
New York might have finally adjusted their strategy to building with young talent, which is good since I don't see this team ever competing during the Melo era.
Jim: The Knicks are coming off their worst season in franchise history. Maybe even more comically sad is that "superstar" Carmelo Anthony led the team with 2.9 win shares, the lowest total in the team's 69 seasons. Anthony might be less likely to shut things down again this season since at 31 his years old the prime window of his career is starting to close.
As a reward for their hapless hopelessness the Knicks drafted surefire superstar in the making Kristaps Porzingis. While I really like the lanky Latvian, I wouldn't bet on him becoming the savior of the franchise... not now, and maybe not ever.
Lopez and Afflalo are solid pickups, but the Knicks bench might (still) be the worst in the league. New York might have finally adjusted their strategy to building with young talent, which is good since I don't see this team ever competing during the Melo era. Then again they might just be grasping at whatever straws are still within their clumsy reach.
Jim's grade: A very little apple... not rotten or poisoned, but very little.
2014/15 record: 18-64 (still couldn't tank hard enough to beat the Knicks)
Incoming: Who cares?
Outgoing: Who knows?
Actually, the Sixers did pretty well in terms of players acquired this summer by drafting Jahlil Okafor with the third overall pick and trading for Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Nik Stauskas in a Sacramento salary dump. Those four players are actually far superior to the dearly departed (Jakaar Sampson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson and Thomas Robinson), meaning that #tankcity actually improved their roster this summer.
The Sixers also got another future first round pick (top 10 protected in 2018, unprotected in 2019) for their trouble, while giving away absolutely nothing except a little cap flexibility next summer... which they were never going to use anyway. I think this summer has to be considered a win for Philly, especially taking their philosophy into account. The Sixers are definitely married to their strategy.
While the Embiid injury front is definitely a setback, the team is compiling an impressive war chest of young talent and has four first round picks next summer (Lakers top 3 protected, Heat top 10 protected, OKC top 15 protected plus their own) to add to it.
The only problem I see is that Philadelphia might have improved just enough to creep out of the top five in the draft... of course there are always measures that can be taken to rectify that problem.
Jim's grade: Better than the Kings.
I have no idea if the Hinkie plan is a path to contention, but I have enjoyed every minute of his tenure so far. What brass ones on this guy. If even half the front offices in the NBA showed Hinkie's testicular fortitude and committed 100% to their own strategies and blocked out all the media noise, well, the league would be that much more interesting.
They do look to finally be poised to win a few games this season, and with the 2016 draft being quite devoid of top-tier talent (according to people that say things), are they finally going to cash in some assets during the next 12 months? Is the world even ready for that?
The Noel/Okafor situation will be one of the more interesting subplots during the next couple years -- not just for the Sixers but for the other 29 teams that might want to pounce if the pairing/platoon proves impractical. Draft picks are always nice to have, but if one of these guys are put on the trading block, either would immediately be one of the single biggest assets on the market (unless Okafor busts, of course).
In the meantime, they'll still be the only reason to tune in for a Sixers game.
Rollin's grade: Two brass eggs.
Jim: I don't think the Sixers are quite to a point where they want to commit to winning just yet. The most likely scenario I can see now is preparing for the 2017-18 season, which is likely when Saric finally comes aboard.
Until then I think Hinkie is content to let his young players and draft picks bake in the oven... at that point the team might be rolling out a rotation of lottery picks 10 deep. Patience in suffering is still important to this plan and this summer stuck to the plan.
Rollin: So they're still two years away from trying to compete?
Harper Lee might write another book before then.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, the Sixers traded Jason Thompson for the carcass of Gerald Wallace plus "draft and cash considerations." The Hinkie plan is still in full effect.
2014/15 Record: 49-33 (swept in first round by WAS)
Arrivals: DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph, Luke Ridnour
Departures: Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Grievis Vasquez, Lou Williams
Rollin: The Raptors' first round sweep at the hands of the Wizards was such a resounding defeat that many expected GM Masai Ujiri to detonate the roster and start from scratch. Instead, he appears to have reloaded the supporting cast around Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas -- and even head coach Dwane Casey will be returning. Not quite the overhaul many were expecting, and it is quite stunning that Casey survived one of the most lop-sided playoff defeats in recent memory, given the nature of NBA head coaching carousels.
They snagged Carroll with a Godfather offer of $60 million, and he'll be a rock for them in the starting lineup, moving Terrence Ross to the bench where he probably belongs. Biyombo gives them a defensive yin to the offensive yang of Valanciunas, something they sorely lacked in 2014/15, and Luis Scola will do a bunch of Luis Scola things.
Give the Raptors' front office credit for not panicking after their playoff meltdown, but I'm not exactly blown away with the potential of the Lowry/DeRozan/Valanciunas triumvirate and I wonder if they're ultimately just wasting time by building on what isn't the most solid of foundations.
Rollin's grade: A deer in Archie Goodwin's headlights.
it is quite stunning that Casey survived one of the most lop-sided playoff defeats in recent memory, given the nature of NBA head coaching carousels.
Jim: It seems like just yesterday the Suns were making the puzzling move of claiming 32 year old Luis Scola off of amnesty waivers. Now the Raptors are making the perplexing move of bringing in 35 year old Scola to platoon at power forward with Patrick Patterson. That's a duo that makes Markieff Morris's behavioral issues fizzle into nothingness.
What do I think when I see Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas? How about Bledsoe, Knight and Len... Toronto has the exact same problem, and the signing of
Tyson ChandlerDeMarre Carroll just further cements them into their role as a good but not great team loaded with good but not great talent. I do like the sneaky good signing of Joseph, who I was kind of hoping the Suns might get... even though he can't hold a candle to Ronnie Price. Sometimes things just have a way of working out in the Suns favor.
Did Toronto upgrade their team's 32 flavors? Sure.
Do they stand an ice cream cone's chance in hell of winning the East with their ooey gooey core? Nope.
Jim's grade: The Ice Cream Man is still a cool nickname, but sprinkles are for winners.
Rollin: And 49 wins in the East is probably what the Suns' current roster amounts to.
Shame about that whole Western Conference thing.
Tune in next Sunday to see what Jim and I think of the Northwest division, which features a couple teams with actual basketball players that are interesting to talk about.