NBA offseason grades – Where the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and every East team check in

NBA offseason grades – Where the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and every East team check in post thumbnail image

Which NBA Eastern Conference teams have done the best and worst this offseason?

Although the futures of Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell remain unresolved, the bulk of the NBA’s summer activity has been completed, giving executives a much-needed chance to take a break after conducting three drafts and free agency periods in the past 21 months.

As a result, it’s time to look back on how well teams took advantage of their opportunities to upgrade their rosters for either the 2022-23 season or the more distant future. Immediate improvement won’t necessarily get credit if it came at the expense of long-term results.

These offseason grades are on a curve, with B as the most common outcome, and reflect the opportunities teams had to improve their rosters via the draft and cap space to use in free agency. Teams, therefore, don’t necessarily get credit for having a high draft pick or cap space as the product of past moves. And the draft isn’t weighted as heavily as moves involving NBA veterans because of our uncertainty about prospects.

Keeping that framework in mind, let’s get to the grades.

I still don’t love the value of giving up three first-round picks for Dejounte Murray, and I think questions about whether playing him with Trae Young maximizes their value as pick-and-roll playmakers have been waived away prematurely. That said, the price looked a whole lot better in the wake of the Minnesota Timberwolves giving up four future first-round picks, the rights to a recent first-rounder and a swap for Rudy Gobert.

Only two of the three picks the Hawks traded are their own, and they were able to recoup one of them by sending Kevin Huerter to the Sacramento Kings in a deal that also replenished their wing depth by adding Maurice Harkless and Justin Holiday. In that context, the Murray trade looks like a much more acceptable gamble.

Armed only with their taxpayer midlevel exception and a 2023 first-round pick we can safely expect to fall late in the first round, the Celtics managed to add a pair of veteran contributors to last year’s East champions. Malcolm Brogdon is the big addition, giving Boston a sure-handed playmaker without sacrificing the elements (shooting and size at every position) that made the Celtics so good in the playoffs.

Additionally, Danilo Gallinari (signed with the midlevel) gives Boston another shooter and scorer in the frontcourt. Gallinari’s presence will make it easier to lighten the load on Al Horford during the regular season, keeping Horford fresh for the playoffs. Durant trade rumors won’t make it any easier for second-year coach Ime Udoka to keep everybody happy, but he can’t complain about the roster he’s been given.

Only time will tell whether the Nets overplayed their hand with Durant or can convince him to rescind his trade request ahead of free agency. Either way, Brooklyn’s handling of Kyrie Irving‘s player option has left the team with major questions about all three of their best players heading into training camp: Durant, Irving and Ben Simmons, the latter looking at a 16-month layoff between competitive games and coming off back surgery.

In terms of the moves the Nets did make, sending the Utah Jazz a first-round pick for Royce O’Neale feels like an overpay given how O’Neale’s defense has declined the past two seasons. He now leans much more toward the “3” half of the 3-and-D equation, same as incumbent Brooklyn perimeter players Seth Curry, Joe Harris and Patty Mills. I liked adding former Indiana Pacers starter T.J. Warren in the hopes he can get healthy, but his deal’s low price (the veteran’s minimum) seems to suggest other teams don’t expect that this season.

For a play-in loser, the Hornets have been awfully quiet this summer. Charlotte hasn’t added a single NBA veteran to date, leaving its midlevel exception untouched. First-round pick Mark Williams adds a presence as a rim runner and rim protector, but the Hornets could use more help.

Horrifying charges against restricted free agent Miles Bridges, who entered not guilty pleas to three counts of felony domestic violence last month, have hung over Charlotte’s offseason. The Hornets would be hard-pressed to replace Bridges’ production in the likely event he’s unavailable at least part of the season.

In a vacuum, Chicago’s modest additions this offseason have made sense, but it leaves us wanting more. The Bulls used just $3.2 million of their midlevel exception to sign Andre Drummond as a backup to Nikola Vucevic coming off a strong season split between the Philadelphia 76ers and Nets. Chicago’s other veteran newcomer is Goran Dragic, signed for the minimum to add depth at point guard, where Lonzo Ball‘s timeline to return from knee surgery remains uncertain.

Beyond that, the Bulls also re-signed forward Derrick Jones Jr. and drafted Dalen Terry. The moves should upgrade Chicago’s second unit, woefully short on quality size last season. Still, the Bulls haven’t fully addressed the weaknesses apparent in their second-half slide after a strong start.

A quiet summer made sense for the Cavaliers, who had been active over the past 18 months adding Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley to a young core that also includes newly extended guard Darius Garland. Cleveland’s big splash was bringing back Ricky Rubio, who was a strong veteran presence and quality complement to Garland last year before being traded after a season-ending ACL tear.

One key piece of business remains unfinished for the Cavaliers. Aside from Bridges, Collin Sexton is the most notable remaining free agent. With no offer sheet likely forthcoming from another team, Sexton will have to choose between a modest long-term offer from Cleveland or signing his one-year, $7.2 million qualifying offer and taking his chances in unrestricted free agency next summer.

After dealing forward Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Pistons made the understandable decision to use their cap space largely to take on salary from the New York Knicks, adding the No. 13 pick of this year’s draft (Jalen Duren) and a pair of second-rounders. Detroit might still yield more by flipping Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to other teams before the deadline.

On the downside, the Pistons appeared to be bidding against themselves when they re-signed former No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III to a three-year, $37.5 million contract. Under GM Troy Weaver, Detroit has collected former high lottery picks, but none of them have cost as much as Bagley — or stuck long term. The Pistons have done better in the draft, where they’ve added Duren and No. 5 pick Jaden Ivey to a young core including recent first-rounders Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart.

So far, this offseason has yielded more rumors than actual Indiana transactions. After talk of getting a lottery pick for Brogdon, the Pacers settled for a low-value first-rounder from the Celtics in a deal that still made sense given Tyrese Haliburton is Indiana’s point guard of the future and injuries could affect Brogdon’s trade value going forward.

After days of speculation, the Pacers signed Deandre Ayton to a max offer sheet only to see the Phoenix Suns immediately match it. That leaves Indiana hoping to use $30 million in cap space in the trade market, perhaps as a landing spot for Russell Westbrook in a deal that would yield additional future picks.

Once the Philadelphia 76ers came in with a three-year offer for P.J. Tucker at the non-taxpayer midlevel exception, the Heat had few options to replace him. Miami was understandably reluctant to use the full midlevel and trigger a hard cap, which would have limited the team’s trade options. Instead, the Heat used the smaller taxpayer midlevel exception to re-sign restricted free agent Caleb Martin.

Miami also brought back guard Victor Oladipo at a reasonable price, keeping the team just under the luxury tax line for now. Whether that changes might depend on whether the Heat can swing a trade for an All-Star, with Durant seemingly a more realistic option than Mitchell.

Despite being in a small market, the Bucks continue to show a willingness to pay large tax bills to contend during Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s prime. Milwaukee paid up to re-sign center Bobby Portis on the largest four-year deal the team could offer, as well as extending wing Pat Connaughton.

The big question for the Bucks is whether signing Joe Ingles was the right move with the team’s taxpayer midlevel exception. Coming off an ACL tear, Ingles should be back somewhere around the All-Star break. Milwaukee will have to hope he can get up to speed on defense quickly enough to take advantage of his playmaking and shooting in the postseason.

As I discussed on the Lowe Post back at the start of free agency, you can quibble with the Knicks’ long-term direction but not the execution of their strategy. New York skillfully shed contracts signed last summer to create enough cap space to sign both guard Jalen Brunson — the best free agent to change teams this offseason — and promising center Isaiah Hartenstein.

In the process, the Knicks managed to turn the No. 11 pick of this year’s draft into three future first-rounders, enhancing their possible offer to the Jazz for Mitchell. It’s unclear how good New York will be with Brunson, or with a hypothetical Brunson-Mitchell backcourt, but the Knicks are certainly aiming higher than they have in the recent past.

After surprising everybody by taking Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 overall pick, Orlando played it status quo the rest of the offseason. The Magic extended guard Gary Harris and re-signed big man Mo Bamba to similar deals with nonguaranteed second seasons, making them potentially attractive to other teams at the deadline.

Given Banchero’s ability to serve as an offensive focal point and that Markelle Fultz (who returned for 18 games last season) and Jonathan Isaac are coming back from injuries, a wait-and-see approach makes sense for Orlando. By the deadline, the Magic should have a better idea which of the team’s other young players are keepers alongside Banchero and Franz Wagner.

Having added James Harden at the trade deadline, the Sixers had an opportunity to reset their roster around Harden and incumbent starters Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey this offseason. Harden’s decision to decline a $47.2 million player option and sign for a lower starting salary — something ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week the NBA will investigate for tampering — gave Philadelphia the ability to use the non-taxpayer midlevel exception to add Tucker.

In addition to Tucker, the 76ers also signed fellow former Houston Rocket Danuel House Jr. and acquired De’Anthony Melton in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. The result is a deeper Philadelphia option with more two-way contributors to put around the stars.

With most of the core of last season’s playoff team returning, the Raptors were able to work around the margins in free agency. Toronto’s big addition is Otto Porter Jr., fresh off helping the Golden State Warriors win a title. Porter’s size fits well in the Raptors’ interchangeable frontcourt, while his shooting is a welcome addition.

Aside from Porter, continuity was the order of the day for Toronto, which re-signed reserves Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young (the latter technically an extension). Both contracts have favorable structures, with Boucher’s salary descending season to season and Young’s 2023-24 salary nonguaranteed.

After Wizards star Bradley Beal declined to sign an extension, the Wizards gave him everything available on a five-year, max deal worth more than $250 million. Beal got a player option, a maximum 15% trade bonus and became the first player since Carmelo Anthony with the New York Knicks to receive a no-trade clause. It’s not clear that Beal, an All-Star just once in the three seasons, merited the most lucrative contract possible.

I was a much bigger fan of Washington’s moves to rebuild the depth chart at point guard after trading Spencer Dinwiddie at the deadline. The Wizards picked up Monte Morris along with Will Barton from the Denver Nuggets for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, then signed proven backup Delon Wright to a two-year, $16 million deal. Those additions should make Washington competitive for a play-in spot.

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