The silence around the league is the calm before the storm of a new NBA year. The draft is long over, barrels of cash were lobbed at free agents, and for the most part, the trade market is slumbering. As teams gear up for training camp and the preseason, the gang at BBALLBREAKDOWN take a look at how the summer frenzy might bear fruit in the coming months.
Q: Free agency was dizzying, with almost 150 new deals struck around the league. We know Kevin Durant will probably be ok in Golden State, and Al Horford moving to Boston should give the Celtics a big bump. Outside of these two, which new face in a new place will make the most noise?
Vivek Jacob: I’m big on Dwight Howard in Atlanta. His career went into a tailspin out west, but I think heading back to his hometown is the perfect remedy. While the Hawks might not get as many wins during the regular season with their relative lack of depth, I do think they’re better geared for the playoffs. The Hawks biggest issues in the playoffs have been rim protection and rebounding. Dwight will bring that in spades.
I think it also helps that there is no alpha-dog mentality on the Hawks either. Dwight likes to have fun, and this is a group he’ll feel comfortable enough with to just be himself.
Adam Spinella: I’m also a big fan of Dwight Howard and his homecoming to Atlanta. He’s coming off a pretty efficient season, and I’m intrigued by his fit in Budenholzer’s system. He’ll have plenty of with shooters on offense, a competent pick-and-roll point guard in Dennis Schroder (who is in line for a huge step forward this season statistically), and a defensive unit that won’t rely on him to salvage every possession.
What the Hawks provide Dwight most is a group that values making the extra pass — the culture in that organization will prevent Dwight from getting frustrated about lack of touches, and that will let him re-establish himself as a top-notch center in the NBA.
Eric Yeboah: Brandon Jennings coming to New York, his desired destination in 2009 draft, will be a breath of fresh air for him. Just two years ago he was playing some of the best basketball of his career in Detroit: he averaged 15 points and 7 assists per game, before tearing his Achilles the following season.
New York seems like the perfect fit for Jennings, who has a flair and flash that fans of Rucker Park will gravitate towards. The Knicks’ bench is far from elite, so as currently assembled, Jennings will be asked to carry much of the scoring load—something that fits his style of play.
Torkil Bang: It’s been a pretty crazy off-season when neither Dwight Howard nor Dwyane Wade moving to other cities makes the top two.
As far as impact goes, I choose a third player, for better or for worse. Andrew Bogut has fallen out of the discussion of “best center in the league” due to his long story of injuries. But when healthy, he can turn the Mavericks into a dark horse by being the anchor of an elite defense. Since 2009-10 he hasn’t had a single season with a defensive rating worse than 100. You can ask the Warriors whether it hurts to lose him.
And that’s the flip side. He needs to stay healthy, or the Mavericks might have a hard time making the playoffs.
Shy Brown: Chandler Parsons with the Grizzlies is intriguing to me. The Grizzlies mostly have been lacking at the small forward and 3-point shooting. With Parsons, they cover both weaknesses.
In 61 games for the Mavericks, Parsons shot 49 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point line. The Grizzlies are in need of shooters and Parsons definitely fit the bill. He has lit the Grizzlies up several times from the 3-point line.
With him in the starting line-up, teams can’t afford to leave him open.
Q: In 2005, After five lackluster NBA seasons (4.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg in 268 games), 7-footer Jerome James erupted for 17.2 ppg and 9.7 rpg in the Seattle Supersonics’ series against the Kings. The Knicks sprinted in with a five-year, $30 million contract for the 30-year-old James, and James responded with a grand total of 223 points and 90 games played over the next 4 years.
For the NBA’s sake, let’s hope none of the new contracts turn out THAT bad, but which signing or trade will leave the player’s new team awash in “buyer’s remorse”?
JV: It’s got to be Timofey Mozgov, right? Did this guy really get offered $2 million less per season than Joakim Noah in the open market? I have no idea how Mozgov can keep up with what’s likely to be a run-and-gun offense with Luke Walton at the helm and players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle around him.
Maybe Walton sees Mozgov as his Bogut, but even I’m stretching now to find reasons to validate this. Mozgov is nowhere near the facilitator or rim protector, and his big postseason performances of the 2015 Finals were largely due to the benefits of feeding off LeBron’s Herculean effort.
SB: I have to go with Mozgov, too. He’s not the rim protector and rebounder he once was. I don’t know if it’s due to his knee surgery prior to the 2015-2016 season. I don’t know how well he and Julius Randle will play well together. But one consolation, he will be better than Roy Hibbert.
AS: I really didn’t like the Bulls signing of Rajon Rondo, even though I think he is still a high-caliber player. The fit is incredibly poor next to Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, giving coach Fred Hoiberg three ball-dominant guards to stroke the egos of. Rondo and Wade are both poor at playing off the ball since they are below-average outside shooters, and Rondo thrives when surrounded by exemplary shooters.
The point guard market was not very strong this summer, so the Bulls could have done worse than a two-year deal with Rondo where the second year is not guaranteed. Still, it’s hard to envision this move helping Chicago move the needle from the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
EY: Mark Cuban is known to never be shy of spending whatever it takes in hopes of helping Dirk Nowitzki return to the finals. The signing of Harrison Barnes to a four-year, $94 million deal will not in any way help make those aspirations a reality.
Barnes was able to ride along the historic season last year without much criticism until the playoffs began and more was asked of him. He averaged just 9 points on 34 percent 3-point shooting during the playoffs, while getting easier looks from the field than any other Warrior on the floor. He disappeared right before our eyes, only to reappear in Maverick’s uniform with more responsibility than ever. Go figure.
TB: I really hate the Harrison Barnes signing. It’s like giving Jeff Green a max contract, except Barnes hasn’t had the opportunity to let everyone down yet. According to percentages, Barnes is a better 3-point shooter than Green, but being third banana to the Splash Brothers might be the best gig for a shooter you’ll ever see.
Barnes is still only 24 years old, and he should be headed for his best years of basketball. But will he ever be great? The Mavericks might spend the next couple of seasons waiting for that to happen.
Q: Player movement has slowed to a standstill, but we know from years past, front offices are just taking a breath. Between now and the 2017 All-Star break, general managers will be burning up the phone lines trying to find that franchise changing trade.
Now YOU are the GM: Which star player should be on the move by midseason? Where is his new home?
JV: If I’m the GM of the Kings, I’m moving DeMarcus Cousins. Both the franchise and the player need to hit the reset button.
The Kings now have a glut of big men on their roster and I can’t imagine Dave Joerger standing for Cousins’ incessant whining and complaining for too long. I don’t see the Kings being any better than last season, and it may just be the perfect blessing in disguise for the franchise going forward.
Finding a team to take on the mercurial center shouldn’t be too difficult. He’s too talented. Playoff teams will believe that winning cures all and that he could be the one to take them up a rung. The Celtics? The Lakers? Even the Thunder might have the pieces to make it work with Westbrook now committed.
AS: For the sake of not beating a dead horse, I won’t continue to talk about the Kings’ struggles. Instead, look for Denver to try and move Kenneth Faried by the deadline. Their frontcourt is young and loaded, and they benefit from moving Gallinari to the 4 for longer stretches of time. The signing of first-round pick Juan Hernangomez, and his subsequently strong play this summer, means the Nuggets can look to add either another young face to fit their core, or a dynamic wing who can play both ways.
This wouldn’t be the first time Faried’s name has arisen in trade rumors, though his contract seems much more palatable with the rising salary cap. I can see several types of teams targeting Faried too, such as Brooklyn, New Orleans and the Lakers. Instead, I think he ends up in Memphis (a hometown acquisition) for Zach Randolph’s expiring contract and a draft pick if the Grizzlies are knocking on home-court advantage in the West this February.
EY: The Clippers are entering their most important season in franchise history. Chris Paul (player option), J.J. Redick, and Blake Griffin can all be free agents in the summer of 2017. If they don’t reach the Finals, an ESPN “30 for 30” on what could have been will definitely be in the works if they all depart.
In order for them to have a legit chance to dethrone the Warriors, they will need to eliminate their weakest offensive player, Deandre Jordan. Jordan shrinks the spacing and restricts a consistent flow to the game because of his poor free throw shooting, a deficiency that has yet to be addressed.
Deandre’s contract is massive (three years left on his 4 year, $87 million deal), and it’s obvious that a big man with the ability to defend and knock down a jumper is exactly what they need if they can’t address the lack of production from small forward position. Teams like the Celtics, Magic, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, and Suns could are suitable destinations.
SB: I agree, I think the Clippers will implode again and one of their key players will be gone by the trade deadline. They have been together long and haven’t been close to a championship. This team plays great in the regular season and falters in the postseason.
I believe it will be either Blake Griffin or Redick that will be gone, but that’s just a hunch.
TB: Considering what Chicago did to their roster, Jimmy Butler could very well be the most unhappy star in the NBA by mid-season. At first glance, adding players like Rondo and Wade looks OK, if not brilliant, but the fit between the three of them is questionable, which could lead to a lot of frustration.
While Butler isn’t on the trading block, it wasn’t too long ago that he was the subject of discussions between the Bulls and Celtics.
If Butler leaves, the Celtics still look like the most obvious destination, as they have all the assets the Bulls would need for a rebuild.
Q: Now that front offices have spent truckloads of cash on getting fresh talent in town, the onus is on coaches to put these players in positions to succeed. If things go off the rails, it’s much easier to replace a coach than shake up a crew of multi-million dollar athletes.
Which coach’s seat is the hottest heading into next season?
JV: We all know it’s Gregg Popovich. If the Spurs struggle this season, it’ll confirm that this franchise’s greatest accomplishments were courtesy of Tim Duncan. Still with me? Didn’t think so.
(Relax, I made a joke.)
In all seriousness, Fred Hoiberg sticks out like a sore thumb. Hoiberg failed to put his stamp on the team last season to the point where Butler even questioned his authoritativeness. Demoting the heart of the team, Joakim Noah, to the bench was highly questionable, although that became a moot point once Noah was out for the season. If Hoiberg can’t establish an identity for the Bulls this season with a veteran leader like Wade on board, the writing will be on the wall.
A wildcard here might Quin Snyder if the Jazz struggle. This team made all the right offseason moves and should realistically compete for home court advantage. Struggling to make the postseason would be squarely on his shoulders.
AS: Yeah, Hoiberg without question. The guy came in with high expectations last season and disappointed in epic fashion. Locker room issues were bountiful in the Windy City, with players seemingly pushing back against their supposed sideline savior. Now with two legitimate superstars, the Bulls are going to (unreasonable so) expect to make a postseason push.
Shortcomings should fall on the front office, but they rarely do — crap rolls downhill, and a big pile of it could be falling directly onto Hoiberg unless he can turn this roster into a playoff contender quickly.
SB: It’s hard to tell which coach is in the hot seat at this point. It will be interesting to see how Dave Joerger will do in Sacramento. The Kings are a mess and I believe they will continue to be a mess. It will be interesting to see how well Joerger and Demarcus Cousins get along. I would love to be a fly on the wall in that locker room.
Joerger benefited from great veteran leadership in Memphis, but I don’t see that from the Kings.
EY: After a down year, the Milwaukee Bucks have a couple players entering a vital year in their development process. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo have the highest ceiling on the team and if they can take that next step, the Bucks will surely make the playoffs, possibly the conference finals.
In order for these two to succeed together, coach Jason Kidd will have to do a better job motivating and designing schemes to put them in positions to be productive.
Reaching the playoffs with such a young team in Kidd’s first season was certainly viewed as a resounding success, but after last year’s disappointment, the honeymoon is now officially over.
Bucks’ owner Wesley Edens won’t allow another season to spin down the drain with a roster that, on paper, has all the right pieces to shake up the East.
TB: Out of a handful major disappointments last season, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers are the only teams that held on to both their core players and their coach through it all.
The curious thing is that both Doc Rivers and Jason Kidd look very secure in their position due to their ties to the owners. There were even talks of extending Kidd’s contract, which runs until next summer. If the team doesn’t improve, it might end in a power struggle in Milwaukee, because that seems to happen around Kidd, but it’s hard to tell who would win it.
This leaves Fred Hoiberg in the hottest seat, although he too (through GM Gar Forman) has ties within a Bulls organization that can be very hard to read. Have they committed fully to Hoiberg and/or Butler yet? Adding Rondo and Wade seems to go against the direction they were headed with “Hoiball” and a younger core. I seriously have no idea what is happening there.
How will the gang’s predictions play out? Make sure to bookmark this and then yell at (or congratulate) them all on Twitter.