Now that the 2013-14 NBA season is a third of the way through, we should have a clearer picture of which teams were the top winners and losers of the offseason. Here we will look at teams that have seen their dramatic rise or slide occur mostly due to their summer transactions.
Jared Newman, Founder of ForresterReport.com (@JaredNewman89)
1. Charlotte Bobcats
Two years ago, the Bobcats had the worst record in the history of the NBA. Last season, they improved but still had the worst record in the league. Now they are the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a huge reason why is Al Jefferson.
Of course, Kemba Walker is the face of the team and the leading scorer, but Jefferson has provided the Bobcats with a low-post threat, which is a valuable commodity in the league these days. In addition to providing 16 points per contest, he swallows up rebounds, at a rate of 9.6 boards per game, and commands double teams.
No team has improved more than the Charlotte Bobcats. It is doubtful they will hold onto the fifth seed, but they are no longer a laughingstock. Although Jefferson is seen as a poor defender and nothing more than a post-scorer, the hope Michael Jordan had in bringing the big man to Charlotte was that he would instill a sense of legitimacy to the Bobcats. Jefferson has done just, and ironically he has been anchoring the second-best defense in the league at the same time.
2. Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard’s decision to leave the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Houston Rockets was the most high-profile free agency move of the summer. As a result, Houston has made a strong jump from the eighth-best team in the West to the fifth-best.
To no one’s surprise, Howard has not reestablished himself as the same superstar he was in Orlando, but he is second in the league in rebounding and continues to be a defensive stopper. As soon as Houston unloads Omer Asik, which will have to happen eventually, for another asset, the value of bringing Howard to Houston will be worth even more.
Not to mention, James Harden and Jeremy Lin have struggled with injuries thus far this season so the Rockets have yet to gel. Coach Kevin McHale will continue to put the pieces together as the season progresses and Houston will challenge the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Blazers for supremacy in the West.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have made a major regression this season. They are currently 8-19, while they were 13-14 at this time last year. But the short term is not important in Philadelphia. It is all about the long term and for that reason, Philly deserves to be on the list because general manager Sam Hinkie made a series of moves in the offseason that have all proven to be genius.
First, Hinkie traded his star point guard, Jrue Holiday, to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first-round pick in what should be a star-studded 2014 draft and New Orleans’ pick, which he used to take Nerlens Noel. Noel might not be able to contribute this season, but he was originally thought to be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. For some reason, he slipped all the way to the sixth pick where Hinkie snatched him, and likely stole him. Noel is as raw as they come, but he is a rebounding and blocking machine and has all the potential in the world.
Further, the reason why the Holiday trade seems to have been such a brilliant move in hindsight is that Hinkie used Philly’s 11th pick to take point guard Michael Carter-Williams who has a brighter future than Holiday. So far this season, Carter-Williams is merely leading the league in steals on his way to becoming the ultimate stat sheet stuffer and being named Rookie of the Year.
So while the 76ers are tanking this season, they have a potential superstar at the center position, a rookie point guard who looks like an All-Star, and two likely lottery picks in a draft that is overstocked with talent. The unknown is always attractive, so it is exciting for Philly to have so many young assets. But with Hinkie at the helm making the decisions, it seems more likely than not that the 76ers will be in title contention before we know it.
Jason Gold, Co-Founder SportsMoneyLife.com (@TheSportsGuy33)
1. Boston Celtics
Though the Boston Celtics are a pedestrian 12-17 in 2013, they are currently in the 8th playoff spot in horrendous Eastern Conference and are only a game back from finding themselves atop the “Shatlantic” Division without the services of one Rajon Rondo. The reason that they are at the top of the offseason rankings is because it looks as if they have found a gem of a coach in Brad Stevens, who has drawn nothing but rave reviews from players, executives, writers and fans alike, and made one of the more remarkable trades of the offseason.
When the Celtics begrudgingly traded away franchise cornerstones Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce it looked as if it was a fair trade between Boston and Brooklyn. The Nets were getting two stars who would complete their All-Star lineup while the Celtics would begin their franchise restructuring with a bunch of draft picks and a trip to Tank City. Who knew the Nets would be stuck in the Tank City quick sand as well?
The Celtics are now in a great position heading into the future. They still have one of the best players in the NBA, when healthy, in Rondo. They hold multiple first round picks in the next couple of drafts and some of those will end up being higher than anticipated based on what direction the Nets are heading. Plus, after this season the Celtics will have some decent cap room to go out and sign players that Brad Stevens WANTS. Boston didn’t plan it to go quite like this but they are sitting pretty right now.
2. Phoenix Suns
Who knew that pairing Eric Bledsoe along with Goran Dragic would be such an excellent decision? The Suns currently sit at 16-10, which is good for 6th in the Western Conference. Phoenix made one of the least splashy moves of the summer when they hired Jeff Hornacek, the former Utah Jazz guard, as their Head Coach. While Hornacek might not have been a buzz worthy hire, he has proved himself to be well equipped for the job and has installed a high tempo offense that suits this team well.
The Suns have a legitimate identity now and the youth movement is for real. The Suns have acquired multiple first round picks in the process of getting younger by dealing away Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers and Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards. While those picks are limitedly protected, they should serve as quality building blocks as this team grows.
An under the radar move that has been paying dividends was acquiring Miles Plumlee in the Scola trade from the Pacers. A lot of people, including myself, questioned why Plumlee was selected in the first round in 2012 by the Pacers; however, he has proved himself to be a legitimate NBA player so far this season for the Suns. You have to love the base that the Suns have built for the future.
3. Houston Rockets
The Rockets acquired Dwight Howard without having to give up anything for him. It is rare in the NBA that you are able to get a top-10 or top-15 player without having to give up a single asset to acquire him. For that they get the third spot, regardless of how well Dwight plays over the course of his contract in Houston.
Do I believe the Rockets are championship contenders as currently constructed? Hell no. They are still, at the very least, 1 or 2 players away from being able to compete in a seven game series with the Thunder or Spurs. However, in acquiring Howard they are one step closer and still have one major move to make: trading Omer Asik. The Rockets future squarely depends on how they negotiate the Asik situation. Your move, Morey.
JN: 1. Brooklyn Nets
In the offseason, the Brooklyn Nets sold their future to the Boston Celtics to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. While the Nets have more issues than just the regression of those three players, there is no denying that their struggles have contributed to Brooklyn’s abysmal 9-17 record.
Of course, other negative factors are at play here as well. Brooklyn’s decision to hire Jason Kidd has not panned out, Deron Williams has struggled and only played in 15 games, and Brook Lopez is out the rest of the season due to a broken foot.
It seems everything has gone wrong for the Russian billionaire and his team. Of course, the season is young and the majority of the Eastern Conference is terrible, so there is time for Brooklyn to make a run for the playoffs. However, the eighth seed appears to be the best this team can achieve this year.
It sure is ironic the Celtics have the fourth seed in the East right now—the same seed the Nets had in the 2013 playoffs.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks captured everyone’s attention this summer with the blockbuster Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight swap, but it is a combination of poor decisions, including that trade, that has led to their demise.
More specifically, there are several other reasons why Milwaukee has struggled this season. Monta Ellis left to join the Dallas Mavericks, the Bucks traded away J.J. Redick for basically nothing, and then Milwaukee did make that trade, sending Brandon Jennings to Detroit for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Viacheslav Kravtsov.
While Middleton has proven to be a nice surprise, he does not make up the quality difference between Jennings and Knight. Jennings is averaging nearly 18 points a game compared to Knight’s 13 and the assist ratio is just as skewed.
As a whole though, the Bucks have failed in crafting a strategy to build a successful team. The clearest example to illustrate this point is the $15 million signing of Zaza Pachulia for three years. Zaza is a backup center and Milwaukee already had a deep frontcourt with Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson when it added the former Atlanta Hawk.
These types of moves are not going to lead to wins for the franchise in the short term or the long term. Thus, it should be no surprise the Bucks sit where they are.
3. Chicago Bulls
Considering how weak the Eastern Conference has been thus far, perhaps it is not a surprise that all three teams on the Losers list are in the East. But, the fact that Chicago has a 9-16 record so far this season comes unexpected to say the least.
With Derrick Rose returning this season, it seemed practical to think the Bulls would challenge the Pacers and Heat for the top seed in the East. But with Rose on the sideline again, often joined by Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng, Chicago is nowhere near the ranks of the elite.
The issue for Chicago may start with Derrick Rose, but this is not the only problem for the team. Last season, the Bulls reached the postseason and won a series without their leader.
The difference is this year Chicago is scoring nearly two points less per game. The Bulls desperately miss Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. Robinson was able to create his own shot as well as find open teammates, and Belinelli stretched the floor with a deadly three-point shot.
The Bulls picked up Mike Dunleavy to replace Belinelli, but they miss having a point guard who can penetrate like Robinson. It also wouldn’t hurt if they still had the Italian, so Dunleavy wouldn’t the only real threat from downtown.
While the Bulls still remain a stout defensive team, Chicago needs to find offense from an alternative source to qualify for the postseason and provide a challenge to a top seed. Bulls fans must hope Butler returns from his ankle sprain and fulfils the promise he showed in last season’s playoffs.
JG: 1. Brooklyn Nets
This is kind of obvious, right? When Mikhail Prokohorov announced that Jason Kidd had been hired as Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets I literally laughed out loud. Well, actually I wrote about it and then I wrote about it again. Kidd has had an “interesting” start to his coaching career. His first big decision was to “demote” Lawrence Frank, his former coach, to writing daily reports for the Nets for the bargain basement price of $1 million per season for the next 6 years. This subsequently spawned one of the best blogs on the planet and you should definitely be following @LFrankDaily on twitter. Jason Kidd makes great decisions! By the way, this team will cost Prokohorov around $160 million this season, including taxes, so that’s fun!
It is easy to pin the Nets issues squarely on the shoulders of Jason Kidd because he doesn’t actually coach the team, cheats by asking his players to hit him because he used all of his timeouts (best .gif of the year so far) and looks like a deer in headlights 97.3% of the time on the court. But it’s simply not all his fault. You could blame Billy King for constructing an aging roster with injury prone players. You could blame this season on the injuries, which now includes the loss of stud Center Brook Lopez for the rest of the season. Those are both fair points. At the end of the day it’s probably a combination of coaching, injuries, and front office mistakes that have led the Nets to this point. The problem for Brooklyn is it isn’t going to get much better going forward.
The Nets will not have their first round pick until around 2050 and still have to pay Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez for the foreseeable future. Paul Pierce will probably walk in free agency next year and Kevin Garnett is likely to retire. Even with those departures it is not likely the Nets will have any cap space until around 2033 and have almost zero young assets to trade away. The Nets are a wreck. At least they have an owner that is willing to spend anything to win. That’s better than 90% of the NBA owners right now.
2. Chicago Bulls
I feel bad lumping the Bulls in this category because…..
- I picked them to win the NBA Championship before the season began
- I had them pegged for 60 wins and didn’t even think twice about it
- If Derrick Rose hadn’t gotten injured we wouldn’t be talking about their flaws
Unfortunately for the Bulls and their front office Derrick Rose injured his knee and is, most likely, out for the season. The Bulls are 9-16 on the season and have been one of the worst offensive teams in the league. Without their leader on the court they have absolutely zero offensive flow and have struggled to put up 90 points per game.
The reason that they are in this category is because they didn’t really do much in the offseason and lost two of their best “spark plug” players off the bench. The losses of Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have hit Chicago particularly hard without Rose in the lineup. Those guys spurred on the offense when it hit the skids last season and has sputtered this year without their production. The only player the Bulls replaced those parts with was Mike Dunleavy Jr. who isn’t exactly a spark plug type player and certainly doesn’t bring the energy and attitude that Belinelli and Robinson brought.
3. Sacramento Kings
Allow me to use some creative leeway here. I know that the goal of this article was to determine offseason winners and losers but I would like to conclude by including the Kings based on their in-season moves so far in 2013. First of all, they acquired Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on a former #2 overall pick who has shown promise in the league and may make a leap with your franchise. It’s a risk worth taking, especially if you’re only giving up a player like Mbah a Moute, who is essentially a worse version of Tony Allen. Those types of players are valuable when you have a top quality team that is gunning for a championship. They don’t help you much when you’re the Sacramento Kings. While acquiring Derrick Williams will be costly in the short term ($6.3 M in 2014-2015), it won’t be horrible considering that he will be a free agent after next season. The problem with acquiring Williams is that Sacramento is where careers go to die AND……………
Hold for dramatic pause………
THEY TRADED FOR RUDY GAY A WEEK AFTER ACQUIRING DERRICK WILLIAMS. Welcome to your EVERY SINGLE FREAKING YEAR Sacramento Kings. If there was ever a defining trade for the “New Owner Theory” this was it. Literally less than a week after acquiring a Small Forward/Power Forward for a combined $11 million dollars, the Kings decided it would be a good idea to trade away John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez for Rudy Gay (who will cost the Kings around $17 M in 13-14 and $20 M in 14-15), Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy. Nope, this trade makes sense. SAID NO ONE EVER!
The Kings are 8-18 and aren’t going anywhere. They are paying Gay a ridiculous amount of money to essentially take away from the development of their young players like Isaiah Thomas, Ben Maclemore, Boogie Cousins and now Derrick Williams. Shouldn’t you just think about rolling with your young players and attempting to build them up together as your core guys for the future? What is the point of having a terrible jump shooting ball hog on your team unless his name is Kobe Bryant?
Rudy Gay is one of least efficient NBA players in the Association right now. How do people still think Rudy Gay is a good basketball player? I’m serious. It is one of the most perplexing misconceptions of NBA fans, perhaps ever. He’s basically a terrible player. Sorry Vivek and Shaq, your team has no business being in the NBA anymore. If you think Rudy Gay is good you should be fired. Jason Kidd doesn’t even think Rudy Gay is good. That says it all.