It’s time to grade the teams that compete out West! For Western Conference NBA teams, free agency can mean building toward a championship run by retooling and adding to their arsenal, but it can also represent a time to gain pieces that will develop in the future. Either way, it is a period of constant change and excitement, as well as one that will always bring critique — that’s where we come in.
The Mavericks quickly learned from last season that they need to improve the defense around their budding superstar, Luka Doncic. They traded Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson, an offensive downgrade but a defensive upgrade for sure. The Mavs also drafted 6’6” forward Josh Green, who should bring them some more athleticism and defensive edge, which they lacked last season. Wes Iwundu rounds out the Mavericks’ trio of defensive signings. All of these moves should result in an improvement on the defensive side of the ball while the offense stays elite. Dallas also brought back center Willie Cauley-Stein and backup guard Trey Burke, both of whom are solid rotation players. The Dallas Mavericks have improved in each of the past two seasons with Doncic at the helm. Now they look to extend that streak to three.
Losing your best wing defender to the Detroit Pistons hurts. A lot. Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green are nice saves who should help provide some relief from the loss of Jerami Grant, but ultimately this offseason is a loss. The Nuggets already struggled to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, and now they have no answer. The Nuggets became worse when they already weren’t at the top of the conference. That’s a big blow for a team that was looking to potentially make its first finals run this upcoming season. Now, that dream looks bleak.
Golden State Warriors
Losing Klay Thompson for a second straight season hurts, to say the least. But given the unexpectedness of the injury, the Warriors’ offseason grade won’t be penalized for it. The Warriors were not very active in free agency, but they definitely improved. They traded for Kelly Oubre, who should replace some of Thompson’s production, and only had to give up a protected first-round pick. They also drafted James Wiseman second overall. The big man out of Memphis should be the best center the Warriors have had in years, especially if he lives up to his potential. They also got Brad Wanamaker as a backup point guard, which is not great but better than nothing. Kent Bazemore is back in the Bay, and he is good value at the very least. Overall, this was a good offseason for the Warriors, who should be back among the middle-tier playoff teams in the West even without their second All-Star.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook reportedly both want out of Houston, but for this exercise, let us assume they will remain on the team at least for this season. Houston went away from small ball but still wanted to space the floor, so it signed Christian Wood, a center who can shoot threes and create his own shots, for just $13 million a year. That is an absolute steal. The Rockets also added DeMarcus Cousins for a low-risk, high-reward signing, which I am always a fan of. The Rockets did trade away Robert Covington, which I don’t understand if they are keeping Harden, but overall, it was still a decent offseason in H-Town.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers got extremely close to an F grade this offseason. They lost their Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell, to the rival Lakers and lost JaMychal Green to another conference rival in the Denver Nuggets. Then came Serge Ibaka, the Clippers’ new lord and savior. He is a perfect fit for the Clippers, as he is a capable defender and can space the floor well, considering he shot more than 38% from 3-point range last season. The Clippers also re-signed Marcus Morris, which was a must, considering how much they traded away to get him back at the deadline. They couldn’t afford to lose Morris, so instead they overpaid him. Spending $64 million over four years for someone to be the team’s fifth- or sixth-best player? Not the best move — it’s not like anybody else was lining up to offer Morris that kind of contract. The Clippers were bidding against themselves. They also traded Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard, a slight offensive upgrade and a defensive downgrade. Kennard is also quite prone to injury, only playing 28 games last season. It’s a good trade, but it is contingent on Kennard’s health. This offseason has been a lateral move for the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis has yet to sign his extension, so this is under the assumption that he stays with the Lakers as he is rumored to. The defending NBA champions could have run it back with the same team and probably felt pretty good about it. Instead, the Lakers decided they could get even better and did just that. They began the offseason by addressing their biggest weakness: not having a third scoring option and a secondary ballhandler behind James. General manager Rob Pelinka traded Danny Green and the Lakers’ first-round pick this season for Dennis Schroder, who was the Sixth Man award runner-up and averaged more than 18 points per game last season. The Lakers then managed to add Wesley Matthews in free agency to replace Green’s production. As an added benefit, the move also takes Matthews away from another contender, the Bucks. In the most surprising move of the offseason, the Lakers managed to steal Harrell away from the Clippers, pairing together the top two players in last season’s Sixth Man of the Year voting. If all that wasn’t enough, the Lakers also replaced JaVale McGee with Marc Gasol, an elite defensive center who can pass and space the floor. The Lakers did lose some athleticism with the departures of McGee and Dwight Howard, but the new additions more than make up for it.
The Grizzlies were just shy of making the playoffs last season, so they entered the offseason with the intention of adding to their existing roster. Instead, they failed to add significant new pieces, only re-signing players. De’Anthony Melton got an extension at a good deal, just shy of $9 million per year. Memphis also brought back John Konchar. While it is good the team retained most of last season’s core, I can’t really say it improved its roster. Ja Morant and his teammates will be relying on internal improvements if they hope to make the playoffs.
The Wolves were surprisingly quiet this offseason. Minnesota drafted Anthony Edwards first overall and then inked Malik Beasley to a four-year, $60 million contract. Their only other acquisition is Ricky Rubio, who should improve their offense to an extent. All of these signal good moves that should help move the Wolves forward.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans kept their All-Star restricted free agent, Brandon Ingram, getting him to agree to the five-year maximum, which is a win. What is not a win is trading picks for an overpriced center in Steven Adams. The Pelicans’ brain trust followed that up by extending Adams for $35 million over two seasons. Adams does not fit with the team’s young star, Zion Williamson. Why would New Orleans trade so much and then double down by expending so much of its salary space on Adams? The move doesn’t make much sense at all. The Pelicans could have gotten a center of similar caliber from free agency without trading picks or paying nearly as much. Overall, the Ingram contract and the Adams trade cancel out to result in a mediocre offseason.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are an interesting case because they are one of the few teams actively moving good players for picks. Schroder? Gone. Adams? Gone. Chris Paul? Gone. Danilo Gallinari? Gone. The Thunder do have a lot of future picks — 16, to be exact. Oklahoma City will be one of the worst teams in basketball, and that is exactly what general manager Sam Presti wants.
The Suns got better. Period. They added or brought back several good role players, such as Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, Jevon Carter and E’Twaun Moore. But the biggest move Phoenix made was trading for Paul. All the Suns had to give up was a protected first-round pick, Oubre, Rubio, Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque. The latter two will probably never become anything of substance in the league, so this is an excellent move by Phoenix, especially considering it didn’t have to break the bank to do it. Even if the Paul trade doesn’t work out, this was a risk worth taking. Well done, Phoenix, you’ve entered the realm of contenders.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers brought back fan-favorite Enes Kanter to replace Hassan Whiteside as their backup center and finally acquired a good defensive wing when they traded Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks to the Houston Rockets for Covington. Those are Portland’s major new acquisitions, but the team also re-signed Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood. The Blazers are in great shape to improve from their injury-riddled 2020 season.
The Kings keep on doing what they always do. The most ironically named team in the NBA, the Kings are anything but. While they did get De’Aaron Fox to sign the max extension, they also let restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic walk for nothing. Sacramento wanted cap flexibility, but why? It’s not as if the Kings ever seduce any big-name free agents. It would be wise to keep the free agents they already have instead of losing them for nothing. The Kings also drafted Tyrese Haliburton, who should help fill the hole Bogdan left. Sacramento is a team that is trying to make the playoffs, so letting talent leave is never a good idea.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs extended Jakob Poeltl at $27 million over three seasons. Yawn.
The Jazz managed to keep their sixth man, Jordan Clarkson, on a four-year deal worth about $13 million each year. Not too bad for a sixth man like Clarkson, who gave the Jazz some necessary scoring, especially in the playoffs. Utah also brought back longtime power forward Derrick Favors for just $9 million per year. To top it all off, Donovan Mitchell agreed to a max extension as well. In short, the Jazz retained their core pieces, added Favors and didn’t lose anyone of importance. So while they didn’t make any big upgrades, sometimes retaining assets is just as important.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].