Let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference and see which teams got closer to their goals. For some teams, that’s a playoff berth or a championship. For others, that might be gaining future assets toward their rebuild. We will keep these things in mind when looking at grades because if a team is actively trying to get worse, it doesn’t deserve a lower grade if it is doing so successfully.
The Hawks arguably had the best offseason in the league. This is a team that had previously struggled mightily to put a squad around its star, Trae Young, but this summer it used its cap space wisely to surround him with good players who can help the Hawks make a playoff push in the 2021 season. Atlanta added veteran sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari for $61.5 million over three seasons, which is a little on the high side but definitely not an overpay. It also signed restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic for $72 million over four years. Bogdanovic and Gallinari are both excellent scorers: They each averaged north of 15 points per game last season. The Hawks did not stop there though, as they added defensive ace Kris Dunn to help their 28th-ranked defense. Finally, the Hawks gave Young a mentor in Rajon Rondo, who will surely help teach Young a thing or two but also gives the Hawks someone who can run the offense while Young is on the bench. The Hawks want to make a playoff push and with this new roster, I believe they can.
The Boston Celtics were quickly on the path to becoming the biggest losers of the offseason when Gordon Hayward was spotted heading south, but they quickly recovered. At least to an extent. While they did lose one of their best players, the Celtics managed to upgrade both their backup point guard and backup center positions. Jeff Teague will replace Brad Wanamaker. After Wanamaker’s performance last season, surely anyone would be an upgrade, but Teague is coming off an excellent season during which he averaged almost 11 points and more than five assists per game off the bench. The Celtics then replaced Enes Kanter with NBA champion Tristan Thompson. Thompson did not come cheap though, as he got the full midlevel exception from Boston, which will equate to $19 million over the next two seasons. Thompson brings defensive versatility that Kanter could not. Now the Celtics do not have to rely so much on Daniel Theis and instead can insert a solid defender and excellent rebounder in Thompson, who averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in each of the last two seasons. But do these signings really make up for the loss of Hayward? Not quite, though it could have been a lot worse.
The Nets’ biggest “new” acquisition this season is 34-year-old Jeff Green, who only had four starts over 48 games last year. Not the most exciting free agent, to say the least. But the Nets did manage to trade their first-round pick this season for Landry Shamet, who should help their shooting. They also re-signed Joe Harris, another notable perimeter threat. However, they severely overpaid Harris, signing him to a four-year, $75 million deal. For a player who can’t do much besides shoot threes, this is too much to spend. But I do think it is better to overpay to keep an asset than to let him leave, as the Nets were not going to be able to use that money on anyone else anyway. Not a very eventful offseason in the Big Apple.
The Hornets started their offseason well, using their third overall pick on LaMelo Ball. Although I think he is a very flawed prospect who could bust, his ceiling is very high and the Hornets couldn’t afford to take a “safer” prospect. However, they canceled out this smart draft decision by signing former All-Star Hayward for a staggering $120 million over the next four years. That means the Hornets will be paying more than $30 million for Hayward at ages 33 and 34. For someone with his injury history, this move doesn’t make a lot of sense. What makes this worse is that the Hornets had to waive and stretch Nic Batum’s contract. Instead of his $27 million coming off the books after next season, he will now be paid about $9 million for the next three seasons. Congratulations on going from a terrible team to a slightly less terrible team, Charlotte.
The Bulls did not have that much cap space this offseason, so their moves were limited to letting their best defender, Dunn, walk, replacing him with Garrett Temple and re-signing Denzel Valentine. Oh, and they drafted Patrick Williams fourth overall, which was six spots too high. Need I say more?
Have the Cavaliers even had an offseason since LeBron James left? The team is mostly the same as last season’s disaster, except now it has a new rookie in defensive specialist Isaac Okoro, who should help the Cavs’ defense go from No. 30 in the league to No. 29. But even that prediction might be a little ambitious. The Cavs also brought back fan-favorite Matthew Dellavedova. The last time he was on the roster, the Cavaliers won the NBA championship. Cleveland also lost its backup center Thompson and replaced him with three-time NBA champion JaVale McGee. Not a single noteworthy move for a franchise that does not appear to have any real direction. I am sorry, Cavs fans.
The Detroit Pistons had an excellent draft. They got their potential point guard of the future in Killian Hayes at seventh overall and then managed to snag both Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey. The Pistons know they will struggle this season, so they decided to get younger and be bad with young players. This sounded like a reasonable idea until free agency began and the Pistons instead decided to sign as many veterans as possible, specifically power forwards and centers. The Pistons signed Jerami Grant away from Denver for $20 million annually. That is almost double what their free agent, Christian Wood, got from Houston. Why did the Pistons choose the worse, more expensive player over their own superior free agent? Nobody knows. The Pistons decided that adding one power forward to their crowded frontcourt wasn’t enough, though, as they also signed Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor. I guess Detroit was really enamored with the Denver Nuggets bench. Did I mention that the Pistons also still have Blake Griffin on the books? How do they plan to play all of these big men? So much for the youth movement.
Grade: D- (but they’d receive an F if not for their stellar draft)
The Pacers are basically the same team they were last season. They re-signed Justin Holiday and added JaKarr Sampson, and that is pretty much it. Nothing good, but nothing bad either. Enjoy mediocrity, Indiana.
The Heat were not going to be big spenders in free agency this offseason, as it is well known that they want to keep cap space clear for 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo is set to become a free agent. The Heat did retain flexibility by re-signing Goran Dragic to a one-year deal and Meyers Leonard to a two-year deal with a second-year team option. Originally, the Miami Heat were not going to extend their talented young center, Bam Adebayo, until next summer to keep the cap space clear, but they ended up signing Adebayo to a max contract extension for five years. While the contract is fine, I do wonder how they plan to go after Antetokounmpo next summer now. Regardless, the Miami Heat had a pretty run-of-the-mill offseason.
The Bucks completed arguably the biggest trade of the offseason when they acquired Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, three first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps. Wow. That is a lot to give up for someone who hasn’t sniffed an All-Star team since 2013. However, the Bucks are desperate to get Antetokounmpo to sign the maximum extension, so they are doing whatever they can to improve the team, potentially even sacrificing the future. Getting Holiday alone makes this offseason a pretty good one. The bold trade raises Milwaukee’s ceiling more than Bledsoe or Hill ever did. The Bucks didn’t stop there though. They also acquired Bobby Portis, a nice stretch big who can be a solid backup to Brook Lopez. Beyond that, they got solid bench pieces in D.J. Augustin and Bryn Forbes. Overall, it was an effective offseason, as I do believe the Bucks are better suited to contend this season than they were last season.
New York Knicks
I could leave this part blank, and you could probably guess what the Knicks roster looks like. Now add Obi Toppin to it, and that’s the 2021 New York Knicks.
The Magic for yet another consecutive year stood pat for free agency, making only minimal signings and none of any note. The Magic have been a middle-of-the-pack team for years and will remain as such, as they made virtually no moves at all.
The Daryl Morey era has begun! The Sixers managed to get out of the Al Horford contract! Amazing. It only took one first-round pick too. Philadelphia also acquired Danny Green, who should help its shooting woes. But Green isn’t even the best shooter the team picked up; the Sixers traded Josh Richardson to the Mavericks for Seth Curry. The younger brother of Steph Curry is also an excellent shooter, boasting a career average of 44% from 3-point range. Now the Sixers should have proper space to utilize their two stars. Morey also upgraded the backup center position by signing Dwight Howard, one of the better backups in the league. Perhaps it is once again time to trust the process.
The Raptors had one of the most up-and-down offseasons. The most important piece for Toronto to keep was Fred VanVleet, and it did that with a four-year contract worth $85 million. However, the Raptors did lose both their centers in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, who both fled for the sunny beaches of Los Angeles. The Raptors saved face by acquiring Aron Baynes and retaining Chris Boucher, both on fair deals. Toronto should feel very thankful it was able to keep VanVleet, as it otherwise would have seen important pieces walk in back-to-back offseasons.
The Wizards extended sharpshooter Davis Bertans on a pricey five-year, $80 million contract. For a team that has made some regrettable contract decisions in the past, this move was a strange one. While I don’t think the yearly salary is that expensive, I worry about the later years of the contract when Bertans is in his mid-30s. Washington also added Robin Lopez as a backup center and drafted Deni Avdija with the ninth pick. Avdija was projected to land somewhere in the top five, so landing him at nine is a steal. Mediocre offseason for a mediocre team.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].