This past NBA off-season exceeded all the hype it was given; an eventful and entertaining summer saw players from all over the World move as a loaded draft, expensive free agency and myriad of trades took place. More than a billion dollars in salary were agreed upon the first day of free agency with signings and extensions complete. With the billions of dollars underway, the majority of free agent signings, draft deals and trades already over, let’s take a look at the big winners and losers of the 2015 off-season.
Winners: Top 5
5) Sacramento Kings
With zero playoff appearances in almost a decade and the second most loses in the NBA since 2010, the Sacramento King’s main priority this off-season was to quickly create a playoff contending team. At the expense of trading away some young players and future draft picks the Kings were able to assemble a good team by acquiring solid free agents. Before free agency, Willie Cauley-Stein, an athletic, young center was drafted. The Kings signed Rajon Rondo, a dynamic and once top 5 point guard, to a 1 year/10 million dollar deal, a contract critics saw as bad but could be a steal if Rondo plays like the player he was with Boston Celtics; which he is motivated about and ready to prove. The Kings also added two championship combo players in Marco Belleni and Caron Butler; Veterans who have moved away from their prime but can still heavily contribute on and off the court and take some burden away from Rudy Gay. To further enhance their bench, the Kings brought along Kosta Koufus, Quincy Acy and summer league standout Seth Curry. A contentious relationship between DeMarcus Cousins and Head Coach George Karl has been the center of low expectations for the upcoming season. However, as Cousins has matured and gotten significantly better on the court every year and with the best team he’s had since coming into the league, the all-star, soon to be superstar Center is hungrier than ever. While everyone is counting them as a colossal failure, they’ll be playing to prove everyone wrong with a chip on their shoulder and compete hard for a spot into the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs.
4) Miami Heat
The Miami Heat had a tough year in their first post LeBron season. Season ending injuries to Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts prevented the Heat from reaching the playoffs. Dwyane Wade did his part and showed the league he can still be elite but also dealt with a hand full of injuries himself. The only two bright spots were mid-season accusations, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, two players who have bolstered the starting lineup and look to wreak havoc next season. Starting their Summer off with a bang, the Heat drafted the “steal of the draft”, small forward Justice Winslow with the 10th pick and shooting guard Josh Richardson with the 40th pick. Heading into free agency, Miami made it their first priority to re-sign Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic (who both opted out) and they accomplished it. The Heat re-signed Dragic long-term to a 5 year/86 million dollar deal and Wade to a 1 year/20 million dollar deal. In addition to the stellar draft and key re-signings, the Heat augmented their bench by signing skilled veterans Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudamire. The duo gives the Heat another load of offense off the bench while giving Wade and Bosh much-needed help. Dragic and Bosh who played 0 games together last season look to start the season off healthy alongside the rest of the Heat. In an off-season that could have gone a totally different direction, Pat Riley, the Heat’s general managing maestro, made all the precise moves necessary and more to create an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
3) Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers suffered one of the most disappointing meltdowns in NBA history after giving up a 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets and losing 3-4 in the second round. A historic, painful loss after years of being unable to reach the Conference Finals proved that it may be time to break down the team and retool for the future. The thought was confirmed when DeAndre Jordan verbally committed to join the Dallas Mavericks, a move that would forever change Lob City. But on July 8th, the NBA would see one of its craziest days, as the Los Angeles Clippers (players, coaches and owner) went to Jordan’s house in Houston and convinced the astray Center to spurn the Mavericks and re-sign with the Clippers. Despite losing Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes, the Clippers added potent offensive and defensive players in Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich and Josh Smith to form a deep and formidable bench. Pierce and Smith were some of the best players on their teams last playoffs and helped extend their team’s season in big ways; that experience and dependence is a major need for the Clippers. Stephenson and Johnson also give the Clippers a great upgrade at the wing and different angle of offense. Unaffected and untouched from a brutal playoff exit and notorious free agent pitch, the Los Angeles Clippers have furnished their team roster and look ready to take on the NBA in a fierce, “us against the World” way.
2) Cleveland Cavilers
Just a couple wins away from winning the NBA championship with a depleted roster, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the right moves in the off-season to solidify themselves as contenders for years to come. The Cavs first brought back Timofey Mozgov, a player they traded for in the middle of the season and played a key role for them in the playoffs. Beginning free agency, the Cavs’ first order of business was to re-sign Kevin Love and that’s just what they did; the Cavs signed their best big man for a massive 5 year/113 million dollar contract. After doing so, they re-signed one of their best defenders, 25-year-old Iman Shumpert, to a 4 year/40 million dollar deal and JR Smith to a contract less than what he could have got for if he opted in. The Cavs also had one of the most underrated signings in free agency by bringing in veteran Mo Williams, a combo guard, who might still be in his prime. The 32-year-old broke the Timberwolves franchise record for points, putting up 52, earlier this year before getting traded to Charlotte and averaging 17.2 PPG and 6 APG in a 27 game stint with the Hornets. With LeBron James, of-course, re-signing with the Cavaliers and expected to stay for the rest of his career; with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two players who are top 5 at their position, signed til 2020, the Cavaliers look like they will stay at the top of the conference and be championship contenders until the end of the decade and potentially beyond.
Check out a piece on LeBron and the Cavs path to the finals: https://thehardwoodnation.net/2015/07/08/lebron james-unparalleled-battle-against-adversity-falls-short/
1) San Antonio Spurs
With much uncertainty about their upcoming future, primarily around the ending of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili’s career, the Spurs went into the offseason with the intentions to reload for their future and ultimately came out the winners of free agency. The Spurs began by re-signing their best young players, Khawi Leonard (5 years/95 million) and Danny Green (4 years/45 million), to instill an insurance and foundation for the post Duncan years. Then the small market Spurs would shock the NBA by making the largest splash and acquiring the most impressive steal days later. By the making the largest splash, the Spurs signed the Summer’s most prized free agent, superstar LaMarcus Aldridge (4 years/80 million), and the most impressive steal All-Star David West, who turned down 12 million dollars to play for the Spurs for just a 1 year/1.2 million dollar deal. With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both announcing they will return next season and an array of stars entering into their prime the San Antonio Spurs look like one of the heavy favorites to win the championship in 2016 and imaginable for years to come.
Losers: Bottom 3
3) New York Knicks
After the painful Amar’e Stoudamire era and a season filled with miserable tanking in order to get a high draft pick (4), Phil Jackson had one off-season to prove to the people of New York that they could win a championship. The result would show otherwise. With giant cap space, the Knicks were able to sign Robin Lopez, Arron Affalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn, all B to C leveled free agents. The Knicks missed out on the big players, failing to draw interest from LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe. With the 4th pick, the Knicks drafted a giant question mark, a skilled, skinny big man, Latvian Kristaps Porzingis, a selection many Knicks fans did not see who could help transform the franchise over night quickly. They also drafted Jerian Grant, a PG with potential, at the expense of losing young guards, Tim Hardaway and Shane Larkin. The Knicks might be able to squeeze into the playoffs into the East but after much wait and heartbreak Knick fans had to endure, Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks organization failed to create a team that resemble anything close to a contender.
2) Los Angeles Lakers
Like the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers were another big market team expected to sign big-time free agents and create a contending team in what may be Kobe Bryant’s final year in the league. The Lakers had meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and were linked to other top-tier free agents such as Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Tobias Harris. There was even much chatter between a potential trade for All-Star DeMarcus Cousins but the Lakers struck out on all of them and settled for far below what fans anticipated; they signed Lou Williams and Brandon Bass in addition to trading for Roy Hibbert. In the process, the Lakers lost Center Jordan Hill and Ed Davis. Despite drafting D’Angelo Russell and having Julius Randle back for the start of the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Lakers flew far below expectations and aren’t anticipated to even be playoff contenders in the West with the very poor roster they built.
1) Portland Trailblazers
The Portland Trailblazers have suffered a lot throughout the years. From passing up on Kevin Durant for big-time bust Greg Oden to having to witness Brandon Roy be forced to end his career early as a result of continuous knee problems, Blazer Nation has seen it all. Despite the bad luck, the Blazers were able to build a young core the past few years behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Damain Lillard, who they just signed to a 5 year/125 million dollar max extension and make the playoffs for the past couple of seasons. However, the bad luck that’s hovered over the Blazers’ history went straight to their off-season and it couldn’t have panned out any worse. The final result: 5 of their 6 best/starting players all on different teams; LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs, Wesley Matthews to the Mavericks, Nicholas Batum to the Hornets, and Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez to the Knicks. The Blazers were able to gather young players, Ed Davis, Noah Vonelh and Al-Farouq Aminu, among the storm, but the forecast in Portland doesn’t seem like it will get any sunnier soon. The Blazers lost their core, the mighty team they built, through years of letdown and failure. They took vast hits all over the place this off-season, so bad, that they are in complete rebuild mode; to see them compete anytime soon in a talented Western Conference would be a miracle.