Winners and Losers of the NBA Offseason

With the season right around the corner, NBA teams will soon see if they made the right moves in the offseason.

(via Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

(via Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Dillon Monroe, Editor

With the 2021 NBA season set to start on December 22, the offseason has come to an end. The NBA Draft took place on November 18, while free agency started at 6pm on November 20. As of December 15, draftees have signed to their teams, most free agents have found a home, and the preseason has begun, making it possible for NBA fans to decide which teams had good off seasons and which teams did not.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

Center Montrezl Harrell agrees to deal with Lakers (via Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

In the 2020 season, after a string of disappointing years, the Lakers clinched their first playoff berth since 2013. Los Angeles’ star duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was enough to win the storied franchise their seventeenth championship, their first since 2010. Though it was enough to earn the Larry O’Brien trophy, the roster primarily consisted of players that were signed to one-year deals, making the offseason rather important if the Lakers hoped to possibly repeat as champions. Key rotational pieces such as Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee were not under contract for the following season and were aging, so whether or not the Lakers would bring them back for the 2021 season was unknown. On the day that free agency started, Los Angeles surprisingly traded starting shooting guard Danny Green to Oklahoma City for Dennis Schroder, nullifying the need to re-sign Rajon Rondo. Schroder will be a key part of the Lakers’ 2021 rotation, as he averaged over 18 points off the bench for the Thunder in 2020. Rondo later signed with the Atlanta Hawks on a two-year deal. Dwight Howard threw the entire NBA community for a loop when he tweeted that he would be returning to the Lakers because just an hour after tweeting that, he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. This would prove not to be a big loss at the big man position for the Lakers as former All-Star center Marc Gasol and star center Montrezl Harrell agreed to deals with Los Angeles. JaVale McGee exercised his player option for the 2021 season, bringing him back to the Lakers; however given that was no longer needed, he was traded to Cleveland. The Lakers signed shooting guard Wesley Matthews to compensate for the loss of Avery Bradley, in hopes that Matthews can provide the shooting and defense at the wing position that Bradley offered. Anthony Davis signed a new deal and LeBron James signed a contract extension, which means Los Angeles will be keeping this duo together for years to come. This offseason can be labeled as a win for the Lakers, as they hope to repeat as champions after improving their roster with trades while signing notable free agents to replace the players that left the team in free agency.

Loser: Boston Celtics

Former Celtic Gordon Hayward signs deal with the Charlotte Hornets
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Prior to the 2018 season the Celtics signed star forward Gordon Hayward to a four-year, maximum contract. After a gruesome leg injury Hayward suffered with his new team left him a shell of his former self, he was commonly referred to as overpaid, as most believed he was no longer worth the $30 million per season he was making from 2018 through 2020. Hayward was expected to exercise his $34.1 million player option since it was unlikely that any other team would offer him a max contract, but as the 2020 season progressed it was rumored that he would leave through free agency or through a sign-and-trade. On November 19, Hayward decided not to exercise his player option and then made it clear that he wished to join the Indiana Pacers. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge tried to put together a sign-and-trade package that would send Hayward to Indiana in return for Myles Turner and other players, but Ainge’s asking price was too much so the trade talks fell through. Ultimately Hayward signed with the Charlotte Hornets on a four-year contract, as Charlotte shocked the NBA community by signing 31-year-old Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract. In free agency, Boston signed center Tristan Thompson and veteran point guard Jeff Teague, both of which will play important minutes for the Celtics this season. In the draft, the Celtics drafted Aaron Nesmith with the 13th pick in hopes that he carries over his impressive jumpshot from college to the NBA. Though they made some good moves and can still be considered contenders, the Celtics roster has gotten worse as they let Gordon Hayward walk while getting nothing in return, making this offseason more of a loss than a win for Boston.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Forward Kelly Oubre traded to the Golden State Warriors
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Golden State’s 2020 season was nothing like the previous five seasons for the franchise. The departure of Kevin Durant and injuries suffered by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were enough to derail this dynasty, as the Warriors finished the season with the worst record in the NBA. Basically the only perk that comes with having the worst record in the NBA is the increased likelihood of obtaining a top three pick in the NBA Draft. This year’s draft class consisted of a few potential franchise players, one of which is a big man; the position in which Golden State was lacking. The Warriors scored the second pick in the draft lottery, and with that pick they selected James Wiseman. Wiseman is expected to play significant minutes at the center position, and the team hopes that he can provide that big man presence that they have lacked for the past few seasons. Golden State acquired forward Kelly Oubre in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 16. Coming off of a season in which he averaged over 18 points, Oubre is expected to play key rotational minutes as perennial All-Star Klay Thompson unfortunately tore his achilles tendon on November 18, meaning he would be missing the entire season for the second season in a row. Free agency was rather timid for Golden State, as they only signed small-name players such as Brad Wanamaker and Kent Bazemore, but seeing as they only lost Ky Bowman in free agency, this offseason can be chalked up as a win. With two-time MVP Stephen Curry set to return for the season, the Warriors are expected to make some noise in the Western Conference.

Losers: Denver Nuggets

Former Nugget Jerami Grant agrees to deal with Detroit
(Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

For the last two seasons, head coach Mike Malone and the Denver Nuggets have solidified themselves as contenders in the Western Conference. The team entered the offseason coming off of a conference finals appearance in which they lost to the eventual champs, the Lakers, in five games. Forward Jerami Grant proved to be a valuable piece to Denver’s rotation during his time with the Nuggets, but he was set to enter free agency as a restricted free agent and the question rose whether or not the team would match any lucrative deals that he was offered. When a player is a restricted free agent, the player’s current team can choose to match any contract that the player is offered in free agency, thus keeping him on the team. Grant was ultimately offered a three-year, $60 million contract by the Pistons, a deal which was too much for the Nuggets to match. Detroit also took backup center Mason Plumlee away from the Nuggets by offering him a three-year, $25 million contract. Although Detroit overpaid for these players, they still took two important pieces of Denver’s roster, which means a 35-year-old Paul Millsap will have to play more minutes for the Nuggets. Denver remains a contender in the Western Conference, but their roster is weaker than it was as it entered the off season entering the offseason, so this offseason was a slight loss for the young team.

Winners: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland acquires Robert Covington in trade with Houston
(Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle)

For the past few seasons, the Trail Blazers have been an interesting team in the Western Conference. They’ve made the playoffs each season since 2014, finishing as high as the third seed and reaching as far as the conference finals, however they aren’t normally considered contenders. The duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum has been one of the best offensive duos in the league and Jusuf Nurkic has become one of the better centers in the league, but the lack of talent at the wing position and the non-existent defense has held them back. The team finished the 2020 season as the third ranked offense but the 28th ranked defense. With Trevor Ariza leaving, Carmelo Anthony aging, and Rodney Hood coming off of a torn achilles, it was clear that the Trail Blazers needed to build up depth at the forward positions in free agency. Prior to free agency, Portland traded for two-way stud Robert Covington from the Rockets. Barring any injuries, this trade should prove to be very beneficial for the Trail Blazers, as Covington has proven to be one of the best role players in the league. Covington’s defensive presence along with his three point shooting ability will be essential to Portland’s potential success this season. Portland also added young forward Derrick Jones to the roster, further adding to their depth at the forward positions. The high-flying small forward became a solid rotation piece in Miami, and Portland hopes he can bring his talents over to their team and be a valuable asset. One thing that remains non-existent on the Trail Blazers is big man defense, as the team brought in Enes Kanter in a trade with the Celtics. Kanter is notorious for being bad at defense, but brings similar things to the table as Jusuf Nurkic. The loss of Hassan Whiteside should not be too major for Portland, as he did not fit their system very well and is known for not being a team player. Portland managed to get better over the offseason through trades and free agency, making this offseason a win for them.

Winners: Philadelphia 76ers

Daryl Morey replaces Elton Brand as general manager of the 76ers
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Philadelphia 76ers had a disappointing season in 2020. The team acquired Al Horford in the prior offseason, making the team even more dangerous than they were in 2019; however Horford was quite underwhelming and the team lost in the first round to Horford’s former team, the Celtics. Throughout the season it became clear that the team lacked shooting, as Ben Simmons still refuses to take jump shots. There were talks of the 76ers blowing it up and moving on from the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid pair, but those talks ceased and the front office saw a complete change in personnel. Daryl Morey was brought in as general manager and Doc Rivers was brought in as head coach, each being a step up from their previous staff members at those positions. Morey was instantly effective, as he brought in Danny Green in a trade with Oklahoma City. Not only did this trade add to the team’s three-point shooting, the trade also included Al Horford, which means Philadelphia was no longer holding on to his large contract. Morey also traded Josh Richardson for three-point sniper Seth Curry from the Mavericks, making three-point shooting even less of a potential problem for the 76ers this season. Dwight Howard agreed to sign with the 76ers, which improved the bench’s depth as he will play vital minutes as the backup center. With the moves that Philadelphia made to the roster and the front office in the offseason, the 76ers have potential to make it pretty far this season.