It's hard to believe that only seventeen days have come and gone through the free agency period. July feels like a busy time of year because, well, it is. Free agency signings come furiously through the news wires, Summer League is a cluster of multiple young players and games that come and go, and trades as well as the ramification from the draft are still fluid situations. There's a lot going on...
We're here to help... Today we're looking at the winners and losers of the summer thus far, starting after the draft and leading into today. Now that we've seen how draft picks have performed (albeit in a small sample size), free agency's muddle is starting to clear up and we finally have some clarity on the Kawhi Leonard situation, here's how we'd grade the last month for each team:
A Grades: 2
Golden State Warriors - This should be pretty self-explanatory here. The Warriors stole the spotlight away from LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers when they swooped in and signed DeMarcus Cousins for the Taxpayer MLE. Now the Warriors will trot out five All-Stars in their postseason starting lineup, with none of them currently above the age of 30. Drafting Jacob Evans in the first round gives them more shooting and defensive versatility, versatile guys like Kevon Looney and Jonas Jerebko for the minimum help the Warriors stay fluid with their lineups, and they still have a few roster spots to negotiate. Thus far, nobody has swooped in and taken away RFA Patrick McCaw, either. The Warriors are sitting pretty.
Brooklyn Nets - Seriously, Sean Marks has done an incredible job reshaping this Nets roster and clearing the deck for them to start over in 2019. As of now, he's turned Timofey Mozgov and Jeremy Lin into an additional 2019 first-round pick and the expiring deals of Kenneth Faried and Jeremy Lin. Brooklyn drafted two intriguing European prospects in Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs and stole away two pretty impressive young fliers in Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis. Retaining Joe Harris, who was a huge part of the offense last year, should help as well. 2017 first-rounder Jarrett Allen looks like a legitimate starter, too. With two first-rounders and the cap space for two max deals in 2019, the Nets run of futility may be coming to an end, all due to Marks and his staff's incredible maneuvering.
A- Grades: 3
Toronto Raptors - Good on them for keeping Fred VanVleet at the start of free agency. While I was at first skeptical of the decision to fire Dwane Casey, that ends up being lost within the blockbuster Kawhi deal. I love it for the Raptors, who now have the best defensive group 2 thru 4 in the league (Danny Green, Kawhi and OG Anunoby). They made this deal without giving up Delon Wright, Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, a huge coup for the team, and they don't give up more than one lower-end first-round pick. Now a heavy-hitter for the Eastern Conference title, the Raps will gamble that winning might be enough to keep Kawhi in town. If he still wants out next summer, they're essentially paying for another team to take two years of DeRozan off their books. Masai Ujiri would enter next summer $21 million under the luxury tax. It's a high-risk, high-reward move that I oddly like, as the Raptors were getting a bit stagnant. Get a long-term commitment and a little more joy from Kawhi and this turns into an easy A.
Indiana Pacers - Indiana came into the summer with a ton of room for 2019, and left it with more talent and without sacrificing their cap flexibility in 2019. Tyreke Evans is the perfect signing to flank Victor Oladipo, and they got one of my favorite backups in Kyle O'Quinn for the Room Exception. Aaron Holiday, the Pacers first-round pick, should be ready to play meaningful minutes if he's ever called upon, and to me he's already an upgrade over Lance Stephenson. The Pacers still have some roster flexibility, plenty of room under the luxury tax and north of $65 million in space for next summer. While I'm not crazy about the Doug McDermott three-year contract, the dollar amount for the next two seasons will be minuscule and easily moveable if they need to.
Dallas Mavericks - Trading up two spots to get Luka Doncic set the tone for the Mavericks this summer. They're making aggressive win-now moves to give Dirk something of a last run, and getting Doncic allows them to do that without sacrificing the long-term view. DeAndre Jordan on a one-year deal is interesting, finally giving them a frontcourt centerpiece. Their other signings have been low-end roster filler, and they lost out on retaining Seth Curry, but these Mavericks are in decent shape to keep costs low while being much more competitive than last year.
B+ Grades: 5
Philadelphia 76ers - I've said it all along, the Sixers didn't need to go big-game hunting this summer for guys like LeBron, Paul George or Kawhi. In fact, they're probably best-served without them. Retaining J.J. Redick was massive to their shooting and spacing, and Brett Brown's ability to pull the trigger on the Zhaire Smith-Mikal Bridges trade that netted the Sixers a future first-round pick should be lauded far more than Philly's loyal local fanbase has. I also love adding Wilson Chandler with their cap space, as he's going to be the perfect swing forward for them. Losing out on Ilyasova will hurt more than many think, and Nemanja Bjelicia's signing falling through will compound that pain. The best news thus far for the Sixers though comes from Drew Hanlen's YouTube channel, and if Markelle Fultz can fix his shot and confidence, that's the biggest addition made in the Eastern Conference this summer.
Denver Nuggets - The costs of competing went way up this summer when Denver had to keep Nikola Jokic on his near-max deal, which for the record was the right way to proceed with negotiations since he was a restricted free agent. The cost of retaining Will Barton on top of that led Denver into high luxury tax, where they had to pay teams to take players off their hands. Shedding the nearly $35 million of Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur ended up costing Denver one first-rounder, two second-rounders and a second-round pick swap. All in all, that's not terrible given the little leverage the Nuggets held on the market. Signing Isaiah Thomas on the minimum is the perfect offensive partnership with Jokic, and I absolutely love the Michael Porter Jr. draft pick at 14th. Denver has to find a way to defend, and their team is very expensive given their lack of playoff experience or certainty. That said, GM Tim Connelly has navigated some rough waters pretty well, all while preserving their young talent and taking the right low-cost risks along the way.
New York Knicks - A fairly quiet summer for the Knicks, but there's value in not shaking things up at times. No team may have added more talent in the draft based on their draft positions than the Knicks, who took Kevin Knox at 9th (and he looks like a legitimate scorer from day one) and Mitchell Robinson, the perfect low-risk, high-reward second-round pick. Mario Hezonja was a fantastic signing as well. Not paying a team handsomely to take on Joakim Noah's deal was also pretty important. I was surprised they waived Troy Williams, and still think they're pretty thin on the wing. The Knicks won't benefit from this summer right away, but it's a great foundational time period for their front office.
Los Angeles Lakers - This might seem low for a team that gave up very little in order to sign the greatest player of this generation and vault them into playoff contention. It's the surrounding moves that still cause some head-scratching. Letting stretch-shooting bigs Brook Lopez and Channing Frye, whom the Lakers controlled Bird rights for, walk away could prove to be a vital mistake. Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and an over-pay for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope won't exactly set the world on fire for flanking LeBron with a ton of win-now teammates. But the Lakers need to be applauded for how effectively they've drafted and for keeping the young core in-house. Ingram and Ball have superstar potential down the line, Kyle Kuzma is a great young piece, Josh Hart had a phenomenal Summer League, and rookies Svi Mykhailiuk and Mortiz Wagner provide major spacing to a team that needs it. I'm curious to see how the Lakers structure things, but they're kept out of the "A" grading range due to letting all their effective big men on Bird rights go.
Chicago Bulls - Look, I get the skepticism over the Jabari Parker signing. He and LaVine, two overpaid youngsters that play no defense and are coming off ACL tears, make the Bulls a high-risk proposition. That's especially true thanks to the guaranteed long-term money they've given LaVine. Still, Parker's one-year deal is the perfect flier for the Bulls to take, even if he plays a bit at the 3. Why? They provide frontcourt spacing with Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen as shooters, so Parker can eat down low against smaller guys, in theory. Defensively they have their work cut out for them, but this is a young team with plenty of intriguing talent. They've drafted really well (Chandler Hutchison is a good grab) and could garner even more respect if they find a way to get back David Nwaba.
B Grades: 5
Phoenix Suns - It's hard to screw up the number one overall pick in the first month. The Suns got a solid one in Ayton and, after signing Devin Booker to a max extension this summer, believe they've found their pairing of the future. I also really like the Trevor Ariza signing on a one-year balloon deal, as he does great things on and off the court to help that franchise. That said, I have to remain skeptical of their point guard situation, of the long-term outlook for a team that's locked up as much money as they have in a poor defender and don't love that they aggressively paid into competing in a loaded Western Conference by trading an additional first-rounder to move up and grab Mikal Bridges. But at the end of the day, they added Ariza and drafted Ayton, Bridges and Elie Okobo, three above-average picks by almost any metric. That's a good summer.
Memphis Grizzlies - After a disappointing campaign and a high payroll with unmoveable salaries, many expected the Grizz to blow things up this summer. They've fought that perception, instead adding some veterans to help them win-now and achieve roster balance while drafting the best player to lace up in Summer League. Jaren Jackson looks legit, and should play a role right away. The Garrett Temple trade was an easy win for the organization, and while Kyle Anderson and Chandler Parsons are both slower swing forwards, they make for an intriguing grouping. So why aren't the Grizzlies higher? They're heading into luxury tax territory with a team that isn't a clear playoff team, let alone a contender. The Western Conference is crowded, and sometimes even when the right value-added moves are made it might not be worth paying the luxury tax and avoiding an opportunity to add more assets instead of spend them.
Atlanta Hawks - On the other end of the spectrum are the Hawks, embracing a rebuild and grabbing young talent and draft picks all over the place. I'm quite high on Trae Young and think he's in the ideal situation with Atlanta. Omari Spellman has serious sleeper potential, and John Collins looked like an absolute stud this summer in Vegas. Still, there were some quizzical points to the summer. Why did they absorb Jeremy Lin as their third point guard when they could've taken back big men, salary and a pick from Denver by cutting the Nets out of the deal? Will Tyler Dorsey ever pass the ball? Will they do anything with their nearly $9 million in cap space remaining?
Utah Jazz - Just another solid, keep-your-head-down, low-risk summer from one of the league's best-run organizations. Utah is already full, with a 15-man roster and two 2-Way Contracts already handed out, so don't expect anything to change on this front. They drafted a player that helps them now in Grayson Allen, retained Dante Exum and Derrick Favors on respectable deals for the team and didn't take any unnecessary risks that can't be undone. What keeps Utah in the "B" range is having only $20 million in cap space next summer while one starter hits the market and not using their Mid-Level Exceptions or maximizing the value of their cap space with the multiple non-guaranteed contracts they entered the summer with. There was room for the front office to be a bit more creative and add players or assets that could've helped them, and they opted to take the safe route. Not a bad decision, just one that won't get them an incredibly high rating.
Boston Celtics - A large part of this grade is still undecided, thanks to the status of Marcus Smart as a restricted free agent. If they can retain him and stay under the luxury tax, this could end up being a win of a summer for the Celtics. But the Celtics took a swing late in the twenties during the draft by selecting Robert Williams, the high upside player out of Texas A&M that has plenty of personality issues. I tend not to favor adding challenging personalities on teams with championship aspirations, but one thing is clear: the Celtics haven't gotten worse talent-wise or made any trades that jeopardize their short-term or long-term success. If Williams pans out, I'll happily eat my words, too. Also, the Wanamaker signing is low key awesome. Really surprised they chose to keep Abdel Nader over already reaching a deal with Jabari Bird, though.
B- Grades: 3
Detroit Pistons - Not having a draft pick hurt them a lot, though that isn't reflected within their grade here on the summer. Detroit was able to nab some solid veterans (Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia) as well as a low-risk flier on Glenn Robinson III and a good draft pick in Bruce Brown, who I really like. What holds the Pistons down is that they're still a bit thin on the wing and it isn't clear that their uniquely-structured front office is fully assembled. Losing Anthony Tolliver will hurt more than many people forecast, too.
New Orleans Pelicans - Any time you swap out DeMarcus Cousins for Julius Randle that's not going to be a win. But the fit of Randle and superstar Anthony Davis is a solid one, and Randle makes for a great consolation prize. He, Davis and Nikola Mirotic are a really intriguing frontcourt in any two-man combination. I also really like the Elfrid Payton signing. Still, the Pelicans refuse to get young players on their rookie contracts, and they've failed to address their one big need: shooting and depth on the wings. They're probably right on the Playoff bubble heading into next season projection-wise, so while they've played the hand they're dealt fairly well, it's hard to consider it a positive offseason.
Oklahoma City Thunder - We must celebrate the team's one big win: re-signing Paul George. Letting him go, after all they traded to get him, would be a loss for the organization. Now they're dealing with the realities of signing a superstar to a deal: cutting costs while not being a massively competitive team. Jerami Grant is the signing that truly pushed them over the edge. What's the difference between their situation and the Nuggets then? Denver had expiring contracts they were able to push off on others. Oklahoma City's only expiring contract that would get them below having the highest payroll of all-time is Carmelo Anthony. Good luck trading that or swallowing his cost if they release him. I do like the risk they took on Nerlens Noel, though.
C+ Grades: 5
Milwaukee Bucks - This has as little to do with letting Jabari Parker walk away as much as it does with why they found themselves in the situation where they had to let him walk. Milwaukee hard-capped themselves by agreeing to a three-year deal with Ersan Ilyasova. From a win-now standpoint, Ilyasova for $7.5 million a year is probably better than overpaying Parker. But everyone important in Milwaukee will be free agents next year except for Giannis, and Parker is both young enough and with enough upside that forcing him out to get Ilyasova long-term doesn't make a ton of sense. I don't love their draft pick of Donte DiVincenzo, either. The Bucks are always a tad frantic and underwhelming, and this summer is no different.
San Antonio Spurs - Call me hopeful, but I think the Spurs are going to be alright when all is said and done. The leverage they lost in the Kawhi Leonard trade was notable, but the deal they completed with Toronto was probably the best one they could get given the circumstances. Losing their three best defenders in Kawhi, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson will hurt, especially when they're replacing them with DeMar DeRozan and Marco Belinelli. But I think the Spurs will be competitive next year. They're really deep, have some incredibly fascinating young pieces (I love the Lonnie Walker draft pick; he's an absolute steal) and are long and versatile everywhere on the wings. It's hard to consider taking on the guaranteed money of DeRozan as a huge win, but this was as good as they were going to get for Kawhi. Solid C+ for the Spurs.
Los Angeles Clippers - There's little they could do to get DeAndre Jordan to opt into his deal, and even less to make the Spurs bite on their trade overtures for Kawhi Leonard early in the summer. They hit on one of their two draft picks, although predictably so, and made two fascinatingly strong signings in Mike Scott and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, indicating an inclination towards competing for a playoff spot. The Gortat trade gives them a starter without adding money, which was a solid move, but the Clippers certainly got worse this summer and are treading water between a playoff team and starting a youth movement.
Charlotte Hornets - Solid hire with James Borrego. Predictable cap mechanics by ducking the luxury tax, offloading Dwight Howard and ultimately taking back Bismack Biyombo. It's hard to get excited about adding an extra year of $17 million, and their Summer League wasn't very pretty. Still, Miles Bridges showed flashes of major upside, and the Tony Parker signing was an intriguing one. What happens long-term will be most important, but I'm pretty surprised that Mitch Kupchak wasn't able to orchestrate any larger deals to cut salary and start a rebuild.
Portland Trail Blazers - The summer started off with Portland drafting a long-term project that plays the exact same position as their best two players. Then they renounced their restricted rights to two fairly important free agents in Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. Those players were replaced with Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, likely upgrades on the whole, but cost them the ability to add pieces elsewhere. The Jusuf Nurkic contract isn't as hefty as I thought it would be, and they got a second-round steal in Gary Trent Jr. Portland is already more than $7 million above the luxury tax, so the pressure is on to have more playoff success. I'm not sure the moves they've made have set them up for that success, though they likely haven't set them back too far. An acceptable C+.
C Grades: 4
Miami Heat - Retaining Wayne Ellington on a one-year, $6.2 million deal is a peculiar move for Miami because it propels them so close to luxury tax territory. With only 12 players under contract, the Heat will be over that luxury tax line soon, and failed on their big objective this summer: unload Hassan Whiteside. Locking up Dwyane Wade on a veteran's minimum will be important. This has been a very vanilla summer from the Heat. No real players added or subtracted, little movement and heavy costs. Give them a C and move on.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Nobody seems happy in Minnesota, and that's raising a red flag as much as any moves they make. Look, waiving Cole Aldrich was an obvious move, and yeah they drafted two solid impact guys in the draft in Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop. But the Wolves don't get to their bench based on how heavily they rely on their starters. Because of that, the solid draft picks and losing Nemanja Bjelicia almost wash each other out. The strange negotiations and relationships with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns this summer should be stressing for Wolves fans. In a vacuum the Anthony Tolliver signing is nice, but the Wolves have a ton of big men and soon will have a really expensive payroll. They better win and keep their stars all happy or things will get ugly pretty soon.
Cleveland Cavaliers - They lost LeBron. And with it left their chances at the NBA Finals. That's an L as big as the one Smash Mouth sang about on her forehead. But much of that was out of Cleveland's control. The Collin Sexton draft pick was a solid one, and they've seemed to be bullish with Rodney Hood (which they should) as well as be in no rush to blow things up. Channing Frye's signing was a low-risk veteran add that, at the very least, they can flip this winter if they must. I don't mind the Cavs punting on a rebuild just yet, and with many partial guarantees on contracts for next year, they shouldn't be in a rush to deconstruct. They're firmly out of the title picture, though.
Washington Wizards - Five years ago, the prospect of adding Dwight Howard and Jeff Green for a combined $7 million would be tantalizing. But the Wizards got them in 2018, and made an intriguing swap of Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers. None of those moves alone would get them into "C" territory, but the Wizards are more than $6 million above the luxury tax. They better sign Devin Robinson to a full contract to redeem themselves, and hopefully their young players start to pan out. But the repeater tax is scary if they don't stretch Ian Mahinmi, and their roster is still a bit thin and questionable in terms of chemistry to be confident in.
C- Grades: 1
Orlando Magic - The front office is engaging in a really peculiar experiment that I almost want to like: playing as much length at every position as possible. The theory is sound, and has been done before. Use length and athleticism to overwhelm almost any opponent you'd see. With Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac, they have the two perfect future candidates for this type of mold. But the Magic don't have any perimeter shooting, which stunts the realism of those two developing legitimate offensive skill during the regular season. There's still no point guard on the roster, and the team overpaid a little for Aaron Gordon. I'd like to see them put together a deal to unload their expiring contract of Nikola Vucevic and take back a point guard, but if that doesn't happen (and it likely won't), this summer will leave me scratching my head.
D+ Grades: 2
Houston Rockets - Outgoing players: Trevor Ariza, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Incoming: De'Anthony Melton, Michael Carter-Williams, James Ennis. In the words of the great philosopher Jason Bateman in Dodgeball, "Bold strategy, Cotton, we'll see if it pays off for them." The Rockets were once mentioned as a LeBron destination, and that feels like so long ago. It's also worrying that the Rockets have been so far apart on contract negotiations with Clint Capela, who still isn't signed and risks leaving with every day that goes by. The amount of guaranteed money they gave to Chris Paul is a bit worrisome long-term, and short-term they took a large step back from competing in the West. After being a game away from the NBA Finals, this was a disappointing summer for Houston.
Sacramento Kings - The Kings turned down shots at Luka Doncic because they "didn't need another guard", and then traded their starting shooting guard in Garrett Temple to Memphis for salary filler. They took Marvin Bagley III, who severely underwhelmed this summer despite his high-volume scoring. The Kings haven't (yet) poached a restricted free agent away from a team that has an inability to match certain prices. They're bloated with big men, might play Bagley at the 3 (huge mistake) and made a pretty odd trade in giving away Garrett Temple to Memphis. If it weren't for Harry Giles looking so strong in Summer League, this grade would be lower. Kings gon' King.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).