Summertime in the NBA is a season of hope, where even Sixers fans now have 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.
2016 marked the first free agency of the Rising Cap Era, as middling role players got filthy rich and the best team in the NBA pulled off a major coup before the CBA could catch up to the new figures. To help me sort this out, I enlisted the help of noted BSOTS sage Jim Coughenour as we try and get a handle on which teams nailed their summer transactions and which teams did not.
We'll try to judge each team on their own merit since the question of "is it enough to get past the Warriors/Cavs?" is going to be a negatory across the board.
In this edition, we tackle the Southwest Division -- where the Texas Triangle is in a transitional period and the Pelicans are still a mess.
2015/16: 42-40, lost 1-4 in first round to OKC
Arrivals: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Quincy Acy, Seth Curry
Departures: Chandler Parsons, Zaza Pachulia, David Lee, Charlie Villanueva
Rollin: Since bringing a championship to Dallas in 2011, the Mavs have been desperately trying and failing to reload around Dirk Nowitzki in free agency. Every summer they're in the discussion for the top A-list players, and every summer they have to settle for something in the B or C tier.
It was more of the same in 2016 as Mark Cuban set his sights on Hassan Whiteside, who would've been an ideal big man to pair with Dirk (much like DeAndre Jordan would've been), and instead settled for two of the weakest links on the historic 73-win Warriors, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut.
Barnes caught a lot of heat for his tendency to turn in absentee performances at crucial times in Oakland, and when his numbers are compared to those of Marcus Morris, it is quite difficult to tell one player from the other.
Barnes was an interesting case-study in the dynamics of the NBA market, as virtually every fan and analyst knew he wasn't worth anything close to 4 years/$95 million, but it was also a foregone conclusion that he would get it from somewhere.
Of course Dallas was that somewhere.
For the sake of looking at the bright side, Bogut is probably a better frontcourt-mate for Dirk than Zaza was last season. He's still a top-level defender (until the other team goes small) and his heady offensive style should fit Rick Carlisle's schemes like a glove.
Seth Curry is destined to be a steal at only $5.9 million guaranteed, and will likely thrive in the vacuum that Dirk creates on offense.
Aside from that, the cupboard is still bare in Dallas when it comes to young talent, as a combination of poor drafting and short-sighted roster management has left no semblance of a plan in the rapidly approaching post-Dirk era.
The Mavs haven't drafted anything close to an All-Star player since Josh Howard in 2003, and personally I'm not putting money on Justin Hamilton bucking that trend.
As for Dirk, he squeezed $50 million over two years from Cuban this summer, which was a departure from his usual practice of taking discounts so that a contender might be built around him.
Apparently, like the rest of us, he's not falling for that one anymore.
Grade: Even the 8th seeds are bigger in Texas.
Who puts forth this much effort just to be average?
Jim: Dallas was actually really busy rearranging deckchairs this summer.
According to my new favorite source for team payroll information, http://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/DAL.html, the Mavs actually signed 13 contracts this summer.
Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Deron Williams, Dwight Powell, Seth Curry, Quincy Acy, A.J. Hammons, Jameel Warney, Kyle Collinsworth, Keith Hornsby, Oliver Klozoff, Jonathan Gibson, Nicolas Brussino and Dorian Finney-Smith.
You probably didn't even realize that's actually 14 names... and that one of them isn't even a real person, let alone an actual NBA player.
Which is kind of my point.
Dallas has fallen prey to the whole "refuse to bottom out" strategy that haunted the Suns for years. The difference is they've been slightly more successful at it. Since their championship in 2011 the Mavs have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in four of five seasons. The one year they missed the playoffs, out of the last 16 total, they still went .500 (41-41).
Part of me almost wants to pull for Dallas... because it just seems like they try so darn hard. I mean, who puts forth this much effort just to be average?
The problem is that every summer when the Mavericks settle for free agency sloppy seconds they get further away from any reasonable expectation to transition upwards from mediocrity.
The best player on the Mavericks last season was Dirk Nowitzki and the best player on the Mavericks next season very well may be the 38 year old Dirk Nowitzki.
It will be interesting to see what the new and improved Harrison Barnes looks like. Hopefully not like the dude that went 5-32 from the field in the last three games of the NBA Finals. I'm pretty sure he didn't open up contract negotiations with that little tidbit. It's worth noting that Barnes and Parsons received almost identical deals this summer. Maybe Barnes could have just went to Memphis and Parsons wouldn't have had to pay movers?
Dallas probably still has enough veteran talent on the roster to scrape their way to a playoff appearance (kind of like a bunch of scrappy old guys down at the Y)... then again this whole thing appears destined to crumble eventually.
Grade: This summer was nowhere near as fun as the Emoji Wars
2015/16: 41-41, lost 1-4 in first round to GSW
Arrivals: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene Hilario, Pablo Prigioni, Chinanu Onuaku
Departures: Dwight Howard, Jason Terry, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Josh Smith, Andrew Goudelock
Jim: Houston's crash from 56 wins and Western Conference Finalist to 41 wins and 8th seed was quite spectacular after returning most of the same cast of players in their mid to late twenties.
There was only one prudent course of action for Daryl Morey to take in order to erase the memories of last year... go get more three point shooting.
Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are both around 38% career three point shooters and both chuck at the very respectable rate of about six attempts per game. The problem with both of these guys is that in 14 seasons combined they have only managed to play more than 66 games once each. I didn't count the lockout.
Of course it's not like a healthy cast of players left town. Dwight Howard's effectiveness has been strangled by injuries, that and a general disinterest in playing basketball. Jones and D-Mo were also MIA.
I guess the Rockets are intent on taking small ball to another level. Nene is the only center on the roster, and he isn't even really a true center.
They will play fast, score a lot of points, set a new NBA record for three point attempts in a season (beating their own mark of 32.68 from 2014/15), not defend much at all and be quite entertaining to watch... but I don't expect them to get back to winning 56 games again. Especially after Anderson and/or Gordon are on the IR before the midpoint of the season.
The difference now is that there aren't as many assets in reserve as they were in years past for Morey to retool with. The Dwight Howard experiment failed, as it has at every stop in his career, and now the Rockets need to put more than this around superstar James Harden.
It could be worse, though. At least this has a chance to be interesting while the team is passing time.
Grade: Because analytics
Capela is Houston's best chance at not being a complete nuclear meltdown on defense.
Rollin: There's some interesting youth in Houston if D'Antoni sets the younguns free. Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker basically redshirted their rookie seasons, Gary Payton II and Zhou Qi are both intriguing prospects in vastly different ways, and Clint Capela looked like DeAndre Jordan Lite last season -- and hopefully he's ready to be an every day starter at center because he's Houston's best chance at not being a complete nuclear meltdown on defense.
Oddly, I'm actually a fan of the D'Antoni hire. Judging by the reaction threads over at The Dream Shake I'd scale his popularity at just slightly north of Ryan Lochte right about now, but I think people tend to forget that since the Shaq trade in 2008, D'Antoni has dealt with one set of dreadful circumstances after another.
To recap, he was tasked with trying to wedge the declining Shaquille O'Neal into the fastest offense in the NBA. Then he toiled with the rebuilding Knicks for a couple years after Isiah Thomas had already nuked their assets and cap space. He found a brief resurgence with his old friend Amar'e Stoudemire and some exciting youngsters in supporting roles, before -- because Knicks -- the assets again were jettisoned for Carmelo Anthony, who, like Shaq before him, also had little business playing in a system like that of D'Antoni's.
He was last seen trying to keep the ill-fated Lakers superteam from capsizing due to the gargantuan ego of Kobe Bryant and the physical and emotional fragility of Dwight Howard. If there was a team of mismatched superstars that is destined to fail and designed to isolate on offense, for some reason, Mike D'Antoni was the man for that job.
This Rockets team is actually built for his system, with Harden likely assuming the Nash role and a boatload of shooters to set up shop from the corners. While Capela is certainly no Stoudemire, there's enough talent on this roster to make things fun in Houston again as long as defense is not a requisite to having fun (and of course it isn't).
On the other hand, defensive submissiveness isn't the only caveat to the D'Antoni experience, as I fully expect the young players to rot on the bench while the seven best players divvy up the 240 available minutes. But I'm willing to wager that the chemistry issues that plagued last year's Rockets will be all but eradicated.
Grade: What's the shelf life on that 'Clutch City' nickname?
New Orleans Pelicans
2015/16: 30-52, 5th in SW Division (that means last)
Arrivals: Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore, Langston Gallaway, Quincy Pondexter, Terrence Jones, Cheik Diallo
Departures: Ryan Andersen, Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt, Toney Douglas, Norris Cole, Ish Smith, Kendrick Perkins, James Ennis
Jim: This was not a good summer for the Pelicans.
They kind of remind me of a young kid with a porno mag (Davis) who just doesn't know what to do with it.
On this wretched atrocity, Davis is really cool... but basically pointless.
After a disappointing season that saw the Pelicans slip from 45 wins to 30 and miss the playoffs after their first appearance in four seasons they were looking to reload around their young superstar. Instead they went out and signed Hill and Moore.
In Hill they added a small forward that can't shoot the three and averaged 4.2 points a game last season. All for the bargain price of 4 years/$48 million. But hey, at least he averaged almost 9 points and 4 rebounds a game when he started 78 games the year before that.
They got a little bit more experience with the Moore signing. He averaged 7.5 points per game last season and has record an impressive 5.8 points per game over his five year career. He was an even better deal at 4 years/$34 million.
Despite their deficiencies on the offensive end, though, both of these guys are known as tenacious defenders. Oh no, wait a second, no they're not.
I'm not that big of a Buddy Hield fan, either, so he helps complete the whole transmogrification of this roster from bad to worse.
New Orleans already had Davis locked up through 2021, so at least they have some time to turn this thing around, but the totality of this summer (plus other moves prior to this) are starting to make me worry that this might turn into a Kevin Garnett/Minnesota Timberwolves situation where a team is simply too incompetent to build around a bona fide star. Hopefully I'm jumping the gun on this, because it would be a shame if Davis's magnificence was kept in the shadows of this mess.
Unless the plan is just to tank hard for a few years and get some top five talent to surround Davis with that way.
In that case they absolutely nailed it.
Grade: This was even worse than the King Cake Baby
Seemingly every player who passes through New Orleans has a ceiling about as low as a beer can.
Rollin: It's quite impressive that the Pelicans have managed to exceed the 2016/17 cap with such an benign group of players. Around Anthony Davis, they have locked up a core supporting cast of Solomon Hill, Buddy Hield, Omer Asik, E'Twaun Moore and Alexis Ajinca through 2018/19. If you've ever wondered what it would be like if Lemmy Kilmister fronted the Partridge Family, look no further.
The good news is that next summer the Pelicans will get a bit of relief when Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans end their illustrious Pelicans careers and limp their way off the books. The bad news is that the front office will have another $21 million to spend on yet another batch of milquetoast free agents.
I remember someone recently opining on the free agency of Bismack Biyombo, stating that it would be wiser to find the next Biyombo than overpay for the current edition. The Pelicans couldn't even apply that logic to Solomon Hill, who basically profiles as a poor man's P.J. Tucker, and P.J. Tucker isn't exactly a penthouse fat cat himself.
The Pelicans made the decision years ago to short-circuit their rebuild and forgo the strategy of establishing a core of youngsters to accompany Davis, so it certainly isn't surprising that seemingly every player who passes through New Orleans has a ceiling about as low as a beer can. Even when they landed a high lottery pick, they used it on the only college senior to be picked in the top ten. It appears that when Davis fell into their lap, they resolved never to worry about youth again.
The Pels will likely be improved in 2016/17 if for no other reason than surely they have to stay a little healthy at some point (right?), but the bigger story is how they somehow managed to make the team with arguably the best youngster in the game insidiously boring and almost completely irrelevant.
At least we finally have an answer to the age old question...
Q: What do you get when you trade Robin Lopez, Nerlens Noel and a 1st-rounder (Elfrid Payton) for Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday?
A: Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore, and 36 wins.
Grade: Not enough bourbon on Bourbon Street.
Memphis Grizzly Bears
2015/16: 42-40, swept from first round by San Antonio because they ran out of basketball players
Arrivals: Chandler Parsons, Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Tony Wroten
Departures: Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson, Courtney Lee, Mario Chalmers
Rollin: The Grizz had one of the most interesting summers in the NBA, which is interesting in and of itself since they've done little over the years but shuffle the auxiliary pieces around their core of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tony Allen -- a quartet that is set to embark on their sixth straight season together thanks to Conley re-signing for the most lucrative contract in NBA history at 5 years/$153 million.
Of course it's absurd that Mike Conley, who is certainly a very good player, is now the Alex Rodriguez of the NBA despite never averaging more than 17.2 points per game or 6.5 assists per game in any season. It also would've been absurd to let the Grit N' Grind era dissolve after committing $110 million to Gasol in the prior summer.
They reloaded instead, somehow scraping together a 4 year/$94 million deal for Chandler Parsons, who has knocked down 38% of his threes for his career but also hasn't had a healthy season since leaving Houston in 2014. A healthy Parsons beats the hell out of Jeff Green or Lance Stephenson, so I'm chalking that up as a win.
There will also be an injunction of youth in Memphis as they were able to snag a pair of lottery picks in Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis despite not having a lottery pick. Baldwin in particular has the tools to be a terror on defense and was probably the most Grizzlies player in the draft.
I like how this team is being managed. I really don't have anything to complain about here. They bolstered the core whilst stocking up on youth, and all the knuckleheads that populated last year's team are gone.
While they have never bore the sheen of a true title contender, they're always a tough out in the playoffs (health depending) and that's something worth keeping together.
They get a stern nod of approval from me.
Grade: But seriously, that Conley deal is nuts.
Good... but not sure it was $247 million worth of good
Jim: The current landscape in the NBA is somewhat surreal. Mike Conley averaged 15 points and 6 assists a game last season and missed the last 20 games of the season plus all four games of the team's four game sweep out of the playoffs. He is 28 years old and has never been an all-star. Despite this he managed to educe a 5 year/$153 million contract from Memphis.
I guess it's fitting that his nickname is Money Mike.
While that kind of money for a legitimate star player is by no means excessive with the new cap ceiling it is a bit of a stretch for Conley, who capitalized on a free agency period geared towards overpays.
It seems like most of the dysfunction of last season has been purged, so hopefully the Grizzlies can bounce back after a disappointing 42-40 season. Last season saw the Grizzlies drop precipitously from 4th in the league in DRtg (102.2) all the way down to 19th (107.8), a stark contrast from the tenacity and grittiness the team has embodied over the previous few seasons.
While Chandler Parsons (4 years/$94 million) won't necessarily be the panacea for that, he can certainly help Memphis's three point shooting woes (27th in the league in makes last season).
The big three of Conley/Gasol/Parsons isn't quite as sexy as Curry/Durant/Thompson, but this team has the potential to be pretty good if they can stay healthy. There's no reason to think they won't win 50+ games and have a chance at hosting a first round playoff series next year.
There was really no reason for the Grizzlies to cut bait and run, considering the team has already frittered away their first round picks for 2017 and 2019, so this good but not great reload makes sense.
I just can't wait until next year is over so Zach Randolph can no longer be a part of this team, instantly upping their likability factor.
Grade: Good... but not sure it was $247 million worth of good
2015/16: 67-15, got Thundered in the WC Semifinals
Arrivals: Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Livio Jean-Charles, Dejounte Murray
Departures: Tim Duncan, David West, Boris Diaw, Boban Marjanovic, Kevin Martin, Andre Miller
Jim: In the last 27 seasons the Spurs have only won less than 50 games three times. Two of those seasons were 49 wins and 47. The other year they got Tim Duncan for their troubles. Now Tim Duncan is no more, as the hall of famer retired at the age of 40.
But the Evil Empire lives on.
The Spurs undoubtedly felt they had the best chance of unseating the the defending champion Warriors in the playoffs, not the eventual champion Heat, but the Thunder had a different plan in mind. San Antonio was overmatched in their playoff series despite winning a franchise record 67 games.
The Spurs responded with the signing of Pau Gasol, who averaged 16.5 points and 11 rebounds a game last season. Maybe it's just me, but Gasol seems like a perfect fit for a Gregg Popovich system. In part, because it seems like Gasol does a lot of the things Duncan did a few years ago, before age finally caught up with him.
That's probably my biggest question with this team. How much do Gasol (36), Parker (34) and Ginobili (39) acutally have left in the tank?
Dedmon and Lee give the Spurs effective role players in limited minutes. Jean-Charles, who was picked in the first round back in 2013, finally came over from Europe. I'm going to assume that he and their first round selection this year, Murray, will both be players given previous draft history.
Ginobili's $14 million will even drop off after this year, potentially allowing the Spurs to perform some cap gymnastics and bring on another big piece to keep things rolling along for 2017/18.
The Spurs had another pretty good summer that will keep them in the title conversation for another year.
Just like they have for 27 years in a row.
Grade: Because Spurs
Since when the Spurs lose anybody in free agency?
Rollin: When I look at this roster and imagine it being a team of any other name than "Spurs," it looks pretty bad.
How can a frontcourt tandem of Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge defend the paint?
Can Kawhi Leonard be an efficient 21 PPG scorer without the gravitational pull of Duncan in the middle?
Why were LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green so MEH last year?
How did Gregg Popovich get outcoached by Billy Donovan?
What are the chances that Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all shoot over 39% from 3 again?
How did they lose Boban Marjanovic? Since when the Spurs lose anybody in free agency?
All that aside, this is not a team of another name. This is the Spurs, and they always do just fine. However, I'm not putting them in the hallowed territory of my title conversations (which mostly occur between me and my dog) until some of my above questions get answered, and before anointing Murray and Jean-Charles as the next Spurs draft gems, I'd be remiss not to point out that they once traded Goran Dragic for Malik Hairston.
Even when I completely put aside the fact that I've been counting the days before the Death Star finally blows up for years of tortuous Suns fandom, I can't see those same Spurs teams that are always top ten in offense and defense when I peruse this roster. Aside from the frightening prowess of Leonard, who is at the apex of his powers (I hope), this looks like an old and unremarkable group of players without the sublime brilliance of Duncan.
I have them in the same realm as the Grizzlies. A system team that no one wants to face in the playoffs, but not equipped to storm the league or rack up 60 wins or trade blows with the true NBA heavyweights.
I hope I'm right...but I tend to be wrong about stuff like this.
Grade: This was what Batman looked like the last time the Spurs won less than 50 games ('99 lockout excluded):