It’s kind of hard to believe that I’m writing a piece like this on literally the first day of free agency. But it’s truly a testament to how the NBA offseason has shaken out so far. It appears that teams are in an apparent arms race to contend with the Warriors and Cavaliers of the world, and if teams aren’t willing to spend today they’re selling off their assets for a chance at greatness tomorrow.
On this list we will be combing through the 3 biggest winners and 3 biggest losers of the past month or so (give or take a few days). Urgency has been the name of the game in NBA front offices this summer, and we here at No Bull. Just Ball. will be trying to talk our shit about it just as urgently as it happens. Enjoy!
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
It became pretty apparent after the Trade Deadline had come and gone, that the true prize this summer wouldn’t be a top tier Free Agent or a Draft Pick. Rather the biggest addition to be made would come via trade.
The Thunder came relatively out of the blue to win the services of PG13. Regardless of how the remainder of the offseason shakes out, just as the case was with Kevin Durant a year ago or Lebron James back in 2010, the winner of the Paul George sweepstakes would be declared the ultimate winner this summer.
There are certainly some questions to be answered in the coming months about how the incumbent Forward will mesh on the floor with the recently crowned MVP, Russell Westbrook. That being said, OKC has guaranteed themselves Western Conference contention by holding two of the games’ stars in their possession.
Next for the Thunder is figuring out how to build around their twin-towers of talent. The idea of 2 superstars on the floor isn’t exactly foreign to a team that paired KD and Russ on the floor for nearly a decade. That duo only reached the NBA Finals once (back in 2012), and their lack of success led to Durant’s departure to the Bay.
Will they find the winning formula with Paul George? Will Brodie average another Triple-Double? Will odds of a KD return improve drastically? Find out next time on Dragon Ball Z. (Theme Song plays in background)
Loser: Indiana Pacers
Several GMs went on the record to say that the Pacers’ asking price for PG13 was ridiculously high, (begin Bobby Shmurda voice –>) about a week ago (<– end Bobby Shmurda voice). What the hell happened?
There’s no way around it, this was hands down the worst possible trade that the Indiana Pacers could’ve made. In a year that has seen Magic Johnson look like a front office genius in the making, Larry Bird hasn’t been able to even remotely compete with his lifelong rival.
The return on the best available player this summer was…Damontas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. Fans of Indiana basketball are probably thrilled to have Oladipo back in the Hoosier state, but they should be outraged that their front office couldn’t deliver a little more bang for their buck.
Let’s fast forward 5-years, and say we live in a world where Oladipo has blossomed into one of the game’s elite wings and Sabonis is a perennial front court All-Star. The Pacers would still be deemed the losers of this trade because they should’ve gotten so much more. Even if (for some odd reason) these two players were the ultimate return in the organization’s eyes, they shouldn’t have been the only pieces they acquired. What about some future picks, or Jerami Grant, or hell even Steven Adams’ mustache would’ve made this pill a little easier to swallow for me.
Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves
Okay can we all just stop for a minute and take notes on what Tom Thibodeau was able to do in Minnesota in just a couple of weeks this summer?
Step 1 – Rebranding the franchise slightly so things feel fresh, new, and exciting.
Step 2 – Acquiring Jimmy Butler for a can of RC Cola, some jelly beans, and a liverwurst sandwich.
Step 3 – Trading Ricky Rubio for a 1st Round Pick that might become a lottery selection if Gordon Hayward leaves Utah.
Step 4 – Replace Rubio with Jeff Teague, who can defend like Rubio but hit a jump shot too.
That’s it. He kept it simple, and managed to do incredible things in almost no time at all.
If Paul George was the Gold Medal prize in the 2017 Front Office Olympics, then Jimmy Butler is like winning a Silver Medal but when you take it home part of the paint chips and you realize it’s gold underneath.
Tom Thibodeau was able to trade for Butler and not part ways with either of his pillars of potential (Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins). Suddenly this team gets taken from the “wow they’ll be really good one day” category to the “holy shit they might be one of the top teams in the West” category very fast.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
You can see a pattern forming with the Pacers and Bulls this offseason. Despite the fact that the asking prices for their superstars has been insanely high, they’ve settled for packages that have been underwhelming. Notice to the rest of the league: it’s a buyers market.
The Chicago Bulls are a year removed from giving the Windy City insane amounts of false hope. They spoiled the Dwayne Wade homecoming by barely making it in to the playoffs as the 8th seed, and the entire season was riddled with drama stemming from the backcourt of Wade and Rajon Rondo.
This summer they set out to make changes by moving Jimmy Butler. Their asking price was ridiculously high early on and it seemed they were going to bide their time and wait for the right move to materialize before shipping off the All-Star.
Sadly though, the Bulls bit early on a deal from the Minnesota Timberwolves that was a shell of what could’ve been. The package they received was Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and the 7th overall pick in the NBA draft.
Starting with the players they received:
- Zach Lavine takes the cake as the most exciting part of this deal. His sheer scoring ability and athleticism, makes him the type of talent you want to build a franchise around. That being said he was the third wheel in the young Timberwolves core. While Towns was certainly off limits, I’m not convinced that the Bulls couldn’t have walked away with the services of Andrew Wiggins.
- Kris Dunn was among the most exciting talents in last year’s underwhelming draft class. Sadly though, he failed to show up in the way that the Wolves needed him to in his Rookie year. He could turn things around with a change of scenery, but there’s no guarantee of that so he’s very much a risk at this juncture in his career.
And then there was the pick…
With the exciting and franchise corner-stone capable Dennis Smith Jr. available at the 7th selection, the Bulls instead opted for one Lauri Markkanen. Don’t get me wrong, Markkanen might actually be the better player of the two right now and for a lot of other teams he would’ve made way more sense. But the Chicago Bulls literally hit the refresh button about 30 minutes before this pick was made. They needed a young-stud to rally and galvanize the fan base, but they played it far too safe.
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
At this moment, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only NBA team who can just sit around and do nothing and have their top Conference spot guaranteed. Sure they’re likely to remain players in trade talks for guys like Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade, and they’re definitely going to be a top destination for those same guys in free agency when they’re eventually bought out by their respective teams.
That being said, they really don’t have to do anything.
The Eastern Conference literally just blew itself up.
After Lebron James, it could be argued that the best players in the Eastern Conference were Paul George and Jimmy Butler. And poof, just like that they’re the Western Conference’s problem now.
Sure you could say that the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are still threats to finish the season standing atop the East’s standings, but regular season records don’t matter; just ask the 73-9 Warriors. What matters is championships, and no team in the East have proven themselves capable of eclipsing the Cavs enroute to the NBA Finals. Had the Wizards or Celtics been able to pull in one of the top tier prizes, they might’ve been able to give Lebron & Co. a run for their money.
Loser: Boston Celtics
Following a season where they finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record and used past front office genius to win the Draft Lottery, the Boston Celtics still managed to become losers early on in the summer. How you might ask? Here’s how:
The Celtics won the damn lottery. How the hell do you screw things up from there? Just ask Danny Ainge. The Celtics weren’t in the market for a long-term point guard after riding the Isaiah Thomas wave this season; so it became apparent that they had no intention of drafting and keeping the clear cut top pick, Markelle Fultz. So Ainge opted to move the pick to the Fultz hungry 76ers, in exchange for the 3rd overall selection and a future pick. That was mistake number 1.
- There were a lot of teams who wanted to secure the services of Markelle Fultz, truthfully you could’ve taken your pick of destinations and received a lot more for that coveted top slot (again we return to PG13 and Butler).
- If Philly was your ideal partner, a pair of picks shouldn’t have sufficed. I’m okay with helping yourself with that 3rd overall, but with the weakened Eastern Conference and promising Sixer core, the odds of that other pick being in the lottery next draft just became a lot worse. Why not demand a young, attainable talent like Jahlil Okafor or Dario Saric in place of the future pick.
Now sitting 3rd in the draft came mistake number 2 for Ainge: Jayson Tatum.
- Did you even entertain the idea of moving this pick? I mean seriously even with Fultz and Lonzo Ball off of the board at 3, there were enough high potential assets available to lure other teams in.
- Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Jayson Tatum and what he brings to the court from the offensive side. But Josh Jackson definitely fit what you needed in Boston more than anything. If you plan on trading your draftee down the road…he’s definitely more in demand than Tatum. If you keep him, he’s a more attractive player to big name free agents down the road because he doesn’t need a ton of shots.
- Note: After this pick was made, the Butler to the Wolves deal materialized. Now you could say that was a coincidence, but quite frankly I think those events are definitely codependent. Talks for Butler fell through, so Ainge made the pick thinking he could revisit this negotiation at a later date. The Bulls already had another suitor however, and pulled the trigger.
Mistake number 3: letting Paul George slip through their fingers.
- No team had more assets to give up in a trade for PG13 than the Celtics did. I mean seriously, the Pacers could’ve chosen names and draft picks out of a hat and gotten a winner. So how didn’t Boston capitalize on this?
- Danny Ainge went on the record and said that the asking price for the reigning 2K cover athlete was too high; but then the Thunder were able to steal him away for next to nothing. Questions have to be raised about Ainge’s trade negotiation skills, or whether it was him who overvalued his own assets.
- Houston Rockets – They found a way to add a star despite having no cap space (CP3).
- New York Knicks – They finally shed their worst contract…Phil Jackson.
- WWE – I mean seriously, everything Lavar Ball touches turns to gold.
- Utah Jazz – Trading away 2018 pick kind of screws them if doesn’t Hayward sign.
- New York Knicks – You let Phil Jackson screw you over before you let him go…
- Los Angeles Clippers – Somehow winning the Blake sweepstakes made them losers…