The trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta sure was a salary dump.
On Friday, the Hawks, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia completed a three-team trade that will see ‘Melo waived and owed his entire $27.9 million salary for 2018-19. Rumor has it that when Anthony officially hits the open market, the Houston Rockets are favorites to sign him.
The deal will save the Thunder, who got the much less expensive Dennis Schroder in the swap, $100 million towards the luxury tax. Others involved in the trade were 76ers F Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot (to Thunder), 76ers F Justin Anderson (to Hawks along with OKC’s 2022 first round pick) and Hawks C Mike Muscala (to 76ers).
That complicated deal was the latest in a NBA off-season chock full of free agent signings, trades and of course the draft.
We’ve gone through the exhaustive list and have given each team a label, either “winner”, “loser” or “incomplete”, since there should be a few more transactions before the pre-season. Starting with winners, then losers and incompletes.
30. Los Angeles Lakers – Big Winner
We might as well start with the team that improved the most through free agency, the draft and/or trades. With the massive signing of LeBron James, the Lakers are pretty much instant winners. But, the team also added starting center JaVale McGee from the Golden State Warriors, back-up F Lance Stephenson from Indiana and veteran PG Rajon Rondo to augment Lonzo Ball. European prospects, PF Moritz Wagner (25th), SG Isaac Bonga (39th) and SF Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (47th) were all added via the draft. Now, the trades don’t make them instant contenders, but they have now put the Warriors on notice that their reign is in jeopardy, sooner than later. One thing is for sure, the Lakers will make the playoffs in 2019.
29. San Antonio Spurs – Winner
The DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard was a shocker. Despite the fallout, the Spurs did well to get a character guy into their line-up who is still in his prime and with a new lease on life will do just fine in Big D. DeRozan took some barbs for less-than-stellar play in the playoffs, but he was still an All-Star for the fourth time and second team All-NBA. Also lumped into the big transaction was better-than-average back-up C Jakob Poeltl, who played all 82 games last season and averaged 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. The trade did cost them Kawhi Leonard, who played all of nine games last year and Danny Green. San Antonio also re-signed Rudy Gay and drafted Miami freshman Lonnie Walker IV 18th overall. He signed a rookie contract, while 49th pick Chimezie Metu from USC has yet to ink a deal.
28. Toronto Raptors – Winner
We are giving the Raps a provisional win, in that talks with newly acquired Kawhi Leonard were positive, rumors about his lack of enthusiasm for Toronto to the contrary. Leonard is an offensive talent who will also play better defence than the departed DeMar DeRozan and right away changes the culture of a team that finished first overall in the East in 2017-18. With LBJ gone, the East is now a few team’s to win, Raptors included. Leonard had stated he wanted to go to L.A., but in a contract year, he would do well to shine in Toronto and let the chips fall where they may. Getting SG Danny Green in the big swap was a bonus for Toronto, as he is also a good defender who slots in as the no. 1 ahead of CJ Miles. The Raptors also took a big step forward re-signing PG Fred VanVleet, who was a revelation in the regular season and playoffs.
27. Oklahoma City Thunder – Winner
By virtue of getting out from under the albatross of a contract owned by Carmelo Anthony, who the Thunder dealt to Atlanta, OKC is a winner. They furthered their winning status by getting a starting PG in Dennis Schroder in the deal and he will most certainly back-up Russell Westbrook very well (or be trade bait later to bring in more depth for a big playoff run). The team also made what we think is an astute move, signing oft-injured and controversial center Nerlens Noel to play no. 2 to Steven Adams. And the Thunder got him for a one-plus-one veteran minimum contract after he spurned Dallas on a four-year, $70 million deal. Noel, to his credit, wanted to challenge himself by playing with a better club in OKC. Before the Anthony deal and Noel’s inclusion, Oklahoma City also locked up Paul George for four years and starting PF Jerami Grant for three.
26. Golden State Warriors – Winner
Like they weren’t giant winners already, the Dubs haven’t sat on their hands in the off-season, making a couple of critical moves to remain the top dog in the league. To the shock of many, Golden State inked DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million contract, after the injury-prone star received no other offers in free agency. This type of low cost move, especially if Boogie stays reasonably healthy, signals to big spenders like the Lakers that the Dubs are still king of the heap. Cousins slots in as a starter and joins freshly re-signed Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in a dream front court. In smaller moves, the Warriors re-signed back-up PF Kevon Looney, as well as picking up nominal no. 3 PF Jonas Jerebko from the Utah Jazz.
25. Phoenix Suns – Winner
The horrible, awful season just endured had a silver lining — and that was first pick in the entry draft. With that, they surprised no one by taking Arizona C Deandre Ayton, who will most certainly get a trial by fire his first season and make the Suns a better team down the road. Besides Ayton, Phoenix also had another first rounder in Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith at no. 16, who the Suns flipped to Philadelphia for the 10th overall selection, Villanova forward Mikal Bridges. Second rounder Elie Okobo, a point guard from France, slots in behind starting PG Brandon Knight. Not quite finished there, the Suns locked up premier SG Devin Booker with a huge five-year, $158 million contract, as well as nabbing veteran F Trevor Ariza from Houston and inking him to a one-year deal. All signs point to a turnaround in the desert.
24. Dallas Mavericks – Winner
We will say that Deandre Jordan opting out of the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers to sign a one-year pact with Dallas is like going from the frying pan to the fire. However, the defensive stalwart makes the moribund Mavericks better, for one year at least. At 29, Jordan augments a front court still adorned with PF Dirk Nowitzki, who re-signed for a year. The Mavs also made a pretty good move at the draft, trading up with Atlanta to secure Slovenian shooting guard Luka Doncic at no. 3. He will apprentice under starter Dennis Smith Jr. and no doubt get plenty of floor time to prove himself. The rest of their draft picks look solid enough in Villanova’s Jalen Brunson (33rd overall) and Louisville’s Ray Spalding (56th overall from Philadelphia). And, if name sake means anything, the Mavs snagged Kostas Antetokounmpo at no. 60. Greek Freak lite?
23. Milwaukee Bucks – Winner
The Bucks, who were already a decent team, didn’t tinker too much this off-season and had but one draft pick to play with. But what they did do makes them a winner. First, they drafted national champion Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo and then signed him to a rookie scale contract. He’ll get to learn the ropes from Eric Bledsoe at point guard. Then, in two swift moves, the Bucks gave Giannis Antetokounmpo some much needed help up front. Primarily, they signed 10-year veteran C Brook Lopez to a free agent contract, terms not readily available. The big man gives Milwaukee a legitimate scoring threat down low and takes some pressure off the Greek Freak. The Bucks also put a legitimate no. 2 man behind Antetokounmpo, signing another 10-year vet in PF Ersan Ilyasova, who makes a return after playing his first seven years with Milwaukee.
22. Philadelphia 76ers – Winner
Even though the Sixers lost out in free agency on LeBron James, and to a lesser extent even Kawhi Leonard, this is still a very good team which won’t have to contend with LBJ in the playoffs for years to come. They still have Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric, which is a pretty formidable starting five. In addition, they re-signed veteran C Amir Johnson to back up Embiid and also traded for Denver Nuggets veteran swing man Wilson Chandler to play no. 2 behind Saric. All it took was “cash considerations” for Chandler and as a bonus they got a future second round pick. The 76ers also benefited from the Carmelo Anthony three-team trade, acquiring bench depth in the form of five-year vet and PF Mike Muscala from Atlanta. The Sixers also wheeled and dealed at the draft, with Texas Tech SG Zhaire Smith coming to them at no. 16.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers – Loser
The King is gone, again. And for the Cavaliers, LeBron James second departure portends a death knell for a franchise that has gotten used to winning. Now, there is some talent left, but without LBJ, this team will be tooth-and-nail to finish eighth. There is a definite lack of depth on this team, what with the exodus of LeBron, Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and the up-in-the-air status of Rodney Hood, who remains unsigned. The team did use their first round pick acquired from Brooklyn to take Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton, who has done well in the NBA summer league. Otherwise, the only move the team has made in free agency was to re-sign veteran PF/C Channing Frye. It’s going to be a long season in The Land.
20. Charlotte Hornets – Loser
The Hornets finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 and for the most part the roster is intact, which may not necessarily be a good thing. There are many teams to climb over, few of who have gotten any worse — other than Cleveland — since the end of the season. The team’s second highest scorer, Dwight Howard, is gone to Washington, meaning that high scoring guard Kemba Walker will have less protection down low, unless you consider Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo (reacquired in a three-team deal) to be an upgrade. The team did surprisingly sign PG Tony Parker to a two-year contract to play no. 2 behind Walker, so there is that. In the draft, they did pick up Michigan State star forward Miles Bridges (in a swap with the Clippers) at no. 12, as well as Kansas PG Devonte’ Graham, but they are a couple of years from being any kind of impact player.
19. New York Knicks – Loser
Will there ever be a light at the end of the tunnel for perennial also-rans, the New York Knicks? They missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season, with their second worst record (29-53) in that span. For that, they owned the ninth pick in the draft, which they used on Kentucky SF Kevin Knox, who was good enough at the NBA Summer League to make the All-Star team and who will apprentice under Tim Hardaway Jr. The light at the end of that long, dark, post-season-less tunnel may also come in the form of high schooler Mitchell Robinson (taken 34th overall), who also lit up the summer league. However, two decent draft picks does not a winning team make right away, and again, the Knicks have to climb over many teams just to be eighth next season. The signing of PF Mario Hezonja doesn’t hurt, but he’s far from an impact player.
18. Atlanta Hawks – Loser
The Hawks took on the dead contract of Carmelo Anthony in a three-team trade with OKC and Philadelphia, losing Dennis Schroder along the way and gaining third string SG Justin Anderson. Where exactly then, does that leave a last place team looking to rebound from a horrid season? Well, Anthony and his massive contract were waived and will most likely sign with Houston, leaving gaps at both power forward and point guard (where Schroder started). At the draft, the Hawks traded down with Dallas, giving up the right to draft highly regarded SG Luka Doncic, settling on the fifth pick to take PG Trae Young from Oklahoma and then using the 19th pick they acquired from Minnesota to select Maryland SG Kevin Huerter. They also got Villanova PF Omari Spellman at no. 30, so they may have some future greatness in three draft picks. For now, though, the Hawks aren’t any better than they were in April, unless you count the acquisition of former flavor of the month Jeremy Lin as an improvement.
17. Houston Rockets – Loser
The mere fact that Western Conference finalists Houston are entertaining the idea of signing expensive declining asset Carmelo Anthony reeks of desperation. He was not great in a Thunder jersey last season and even more of a liability in the playoffs, which should make Rockets fans uneasy. Sure, ‘Melo still has some game and will easily slot in as a starter up front, but will he be a good fit with MVP James Harden and the recently re-signed Chris Paul? He didn’t fit with Paul George and Russell Westbrook to make a dynamic triumvirate in Oklahoma City, so there isn’t a lot of hope. As of July 23, free agent center Clint Capela was unsigned and if he goes, center is a weakness if Nene Hilario has to start. The loss of veteran swing man Trevor Ariza to Phoenix doesn’t help, either. The Warriors are still great and a few other teams will be nipping at the heels of the Rockets, who to our estimation haven’t gotten better, yet.
16. Denver Nuggets – Loser
The Denver Nuggets were better in 2017-18, but not quite good enough to make the playoffs, failing by one game to do so. There is much to like about a roster that changed marginally this off-season, but we think they will still be hard-pressed to make the playoffs, which they haven’t done since 2012-13. They do have stars in center Nikola Jokic, forward Paul Millsap and emerging talents in SG Gary Harris, PG Jamal Murray and SF Will Barton. What they shouldn’t have done, though, was introduce an oft-injured presence in free agent PG Isaiah Thomas. His degenerative hip problems kept him to just 32 games last season, a good enough reason for the rebuilding Lakers to let him go in free agency. The point is, the Western Conference is a middling team’s graveyard and the Nuggets still aren’t much better off than they were when the 17-18 season came to a merciful close.
15. L.A. Clippers – Loser
We have to wonder how long the improving Lakers will want to share the Staples Center with their down-market cousins, the Clippers. Not that the Clips are a total embarrassment or anything, but “the show” is the Lakers, who now count King James as one of their own. In short order, the Clippers lost Blake Griffin to Detroit in a deadline deal and DeAndre Jordan bolted for Dallas in free agency, both long after Chris Paul went to Houston. Thus, the faces of the franchise disappeared, replaced by PF Tobias Harris (from Detroit in Griffin trade), C Marcin Gortat (acquired from Washington) and PG Patrick Beverley. There is a wee bit of hope in La-La Land for the Clips, but they will have to wait a bit for 11th overall pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky) and no. 13 selection SG Jerome Robinson (Boston College) to percolate. Otherwise, the team did make a couple of OK depth moves to get PF Mike Scott (Washington) and SF Luc Mbah a Moute from Houston. But, OK won’t cut it for long.
14. Boston Celtics – Incomplete
We are only giving the Celtics an incomplete because they really didn’t need to do much in free agency and only had one draft pick (Texas A&M forward Robert Williams at no. 27). Yet, with Toronto making a splash by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia subtle improvements, are the Celtics a huge favorite to come out of a LeBron-less Eastern Conference? Time will tell. The ‘X’ factor is the return of big-time 2017 acquisition Gordon Hayward. Having him full-time in the line-up would be like adding a monster free agent anyway, since he played just one game in 2017-18. His broken ankle is healing properly, so Celts fans have their fingers crossed. Ditto for superstar guard Kyrie Irving, who missed 22 regular season contests and the playoffs, where Boston nearly went the distance without him and Hayward. A return to complete health by those two makes Boston a huge contender. Stay tuned.
13. Indiana Pacers – Incomplete
The Pacers were the surprise of the Eastern Conference last season, coming oh-so-close to upending Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. Victor Oladipo, the NBA’s Most Improved Player, made it easier for Pacers’ fans to forget Paul George, almost one-handedly taking down LeBron and Co. in that seven-game classic. Yet, we get the feeling that by not making a big play in free agency for top end help, the Pacers may be also-rans again. They did sign back-up SG Tyreke Evans from Memphis and second string forward Doug McDermott from the Knicks, which helps their bench depth. Intriguing among the team’s two draft picks is former UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday, brother of NBAers Jrue and Justin. Veteran Darren Collison is a good option at no. 1 floor general, for now, as is reserve PG Cory Joseph. But should Aaron have near the chops of Jrue, the team is in good hands. For now, however, the Pacers are neither better, nor worse.
12. Miami Heat – Incomplete
The near silence from South Beach is deafening. At one time a noisy team that won two straight championships not that long ago with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat have been too quiet this off-season. They had no picks in the draft and to date have re-signed back-up shooting guard Wayne Ellington and third string power forward Derrick Jones Jr. For a team that finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and could just as easily have missed out all together from post-season play, Miami has done squat to make themselves any more a contender. And that doesn’t bode well, since the conference will be up for grabs after the departure of former Heat superstar LBJ. They also have to hope they get complete seasons from stars Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters, who both missed significant chunks of the ’17-18 campaign.
11. Washington Wizards – Incomplete
We weren’t quite sure whether the Wiz were a winner this off-season, a loser, or both. So, we gave them an incomplete, based on the fact that management brought in Dwight Howard to a team that fell passively to Toronto in the first round. Whether or not Howard complements a good starting four of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris is anyone’s guess. Now 32 and waived by the Brooklyn Nets, of all teams, Howard is not the player he once was. The last time the Wiz got a real good look at him, he was owned by recently departed center Marcin Gortat when the Wizards disposed of Howard and the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the 2016-17 playoffs. Howard had all of eight points per game in that series and looked way too mortal. Therefore, unless Howard can elevate his game past just OK, the Wiz could be first round fodder again.
10. Detroit Pistons – Incomplete
Even with five-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin in the line-up, the Pistons still missed the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. This wasn’t a great development for a team which gave up a fair bit to get him at the deadline and which hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. Griffin slumped somewhat when he was moved to the Pistons, who aren’t a bad squad. Andre Drummond is rebounding machine at center and PG Reggie Jackson, SG Reggie Bullock and SF Stanley Johnson all have something to contribute. The departures of veterans SF Tobias Harris and SG Avery Bradley hurt, though and the off-season acquisitions of back-up C Zaza Pachulia, and second stringers Glenn Robinson III at small forward and Jose Calderon at point guard won’t give anyone in the Eastern Conference chills. A solid “incomplete” for Motown.
9. Brooklyn Nets – Incomplete
By waiving Dwight Howard, maybe the Nets are on track to shed the loser label, if not now, in the near future. A team with a decent young back court fronted by PG D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe and fairly decent front court that features DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen might one day get back to playoff contention. They rid themselves of failed experiment Timofey Mozgov and one-game wonder Jeremy Lin, replacing them in the off-season with acquisitions like depth PF/C Kenneth Faried (Denver), SF Jared Dudley (Phoenix) and PF Ed Davis (Portland). They used a rare first round pick acquired from Toronto to take Bosnian SF Dzanan Musa and another second rounder, also from Toronto, to select Latvian SF Rodions Kurucs. There is hope in Brooklyn.
8. Chicago Bulls – Incomplete
Long gone are the days when the Bulls were an Eastern Conference powerhouse. But, those pining for the days when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen ruled the boards can take solace in the fact that Chicago may soon trend upwards. All-Rookie team forward Lauri Markkanen is a player the team can build around, with fifth-year man Zach LaVine a nice addition from Minnesota last year. This off-season, the Bulls signed forward Jabari Parker away from Milwaukee in hopes he can return well from two injury-riddled seasons. Chicago also made a move toward eventually replacing veteran Robin Lopez at center, drafting Duke’s Wendell Carter seventh overall, as well as using a pick secured from New Orleans to take Boise State swing man Chandler Hutchison at no. 22. They are just incomplete, but on the verge of being winners.
7. Orlando Magic – Incomplete
It’s difficult to rate a team that has sunk like a stone in the standings since making the NBA finals in 2009. Since then, the Magic have won two playoff rounds and haven’t been in the post-season since 2012. They have been busy, this off-season, then, re-making a roster that won just 25 games last year. They started by taking the second best center available in the draft, Texas’ Mohamed Bamba at no. 6. He will get a chance behind Nikola Vucevic to show his stuff. Others drafted were Tulane forward Melvin Frazier (no. 35) and Maryland forward Justin Jackson (no.43). Some small tweaks saw the Magic trade for Chicago point guard Jerian Grant and sign former Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe. Center Timofey Mozgov comes aboard as a project player, hence the “incomplete” ranking.
6. Portland Trail Blazers – Incomplete
The Blazers, who finished third in the Western Conference last season, went out with a whimper — again — losing four straight to New Orleans in the first round. This was on the heels of a sweep to Golden State in the 2017 playoffs. These were not results befitting a team with a dynamic back court that includes CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. Thus, with only a low first round pick and a second rounder in the draft, Portland had to be wise and they were, taking Florida high school prospect Anfernee Simons (a shooting guard at no. 24) and SG Gary Trent Jr. at no. 27 from Duke (in a trade with Sacramento). Following the draft, the Trail Blazers shored up their depth in the back court by inking Philadelphia SG Nik Stauskas and Dallas SG Seth Curry. Portland also astutely signed improving C Jusuf Nurkic to a new contract. However, this team is still in tough in the west dogfight.
5. Utah Jazz – Incomplete
We find that the Jazz are neither here, nor there, when it comes to the powers in the Western Conference. They finished fifth last year, only to lose again in the second round after taking out Oklahoma City in the first round. However, this is still a fairly young team that boasts the reigning NBA defensive player of the year in Rudy Gobert and All-Rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell manning the shooting guard position. The Jazz stuck to housekeeping in the off-season, then, re-signing Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Raul Neto and Georges Niang. On the draft front, Utah rolled the dice on Duke’s tripping guru Grayson Allen at no. 21. If he can put some of his dirty play past behind him, the former Blue Devils sensation may become a sleeper. The jury, however, is out on whether this team is a “winner” or merely “incomplete.”
4. New Orleans Pelicans – Incomplete
Boogie is gone and may give the Pelicans fits down the road as a member of the Golden State Warriors. But, DeMarcus Cousins played just 48 games last year and who knows how he’ll be with the Dubs. The Pelicans didn’t sit on their hands this off-season, either, signing Lakers fourth-year man Julius Randle to replace him. He and Nikola Mirotic should be able to take some of the sting out of losing Cousins. The Pelicans also did well to provide some insurance behind 2017-18 All-Defensive team point guard Jrue Holiday, signing Elfrid Payton away from Phoenix. Those two moves may not boost the Pelicans over the Western Conference playoff hump, but they didn’t hurt, either. Much will hinge on Anthony Davis playing like a superstar, but will he have enough help? Wait and see.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves – Incomplete
So much so-called talent, so little delivery on that promise. A team that put, in no particular order, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague on the floor night in and night out managed to win one measly game against Houston in this spring’s playoffs. And that was after missing the playoffs for 13 years! Not near good enough, in our humble opinion. It came as a surprise, then, that the T-Wolves re-signed 2011 MVP Derrick Rose to back-up Teague. Rose played just 25 games last year and the Timberwolves surely hope he can regain his form after an injury-plagued campaign. The team did manage to get a first round draft pick, selecting Georgia Tech SG Josh Okogie at 20th overall, as well as Ohio State SF Keita Bates-Diop at no. 48. Veteran forward Anthony Tolliver rounds out the off-season’s free agent signings.
2. Sacramento Kings – Incomplete
The Kings better hope that Duke forward Marvin Bagley III is all he is cracked up to be. The Kings made the ACC Player of the Year the second overall pick in the draft after he piled up 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils. However, he injured himself in the Summer League, which may or may not cut into the regular season. The Kings, who have missed the playoffs for 12 straight years, have nowhere to go but up and last Tuesday swung a deal with Memphis, sending guard Garrett Temple to the Grizzlies for depth shooting guard Ben McLemore (who returns for his second go around) and back-up center Deyonta Davis. This isn’t a bad club, overall, but they it has its work cut out for it.
1. Memphis Grizzlies – Incomplete
If it weren’t for the horrible Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Grizzlies would have been the worst team in the NBA last season. And, the team lost in the draft lottery, too, falling to fourth from second. They took, then, the best player they figured available at that spot, Michigan State PF Jaren Jackson Jr. The Big 10 superstar was the loop’s Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman and played very well in the Summer League, which should earn him some significant minutes behind JaMychal Green if his pre-season goes well, too. The Grizz were also able to pick West Virginia defensive standout point guard Jevon Carter, who can simmer well for a while behind Mike Conley. Other newcomers include reserve SF Omri Casspi (free agent from Golden State) and SF Garrett Temple in a trade from Sacramento. They have a long way to go from being a contender, but have made some decent strides.