Blow ups on Twitter are nothing new. Neither are jersey burnings (right LeBron?).
But, with free agent prize Gordon Hayward’s move to the Boston Celtics, the Twitter Storm and jersey burnings were taken to a whole new surreal level.
Utah Jazz fans are justifiably PO’ed and the sight of them burning Hayward’s shirt to Linkin Park music just adds to the bizarre feel about this deal.
The Celtics’ faithful, on the other hand, have to be jazzed (pardon the bad, bad pun) about having seven-year veteran forward in Boston green. The balance of power in the East has been solidified, with Cleveland and Boston being heavy, heavy favorites to meet again in the Conference finals just under a year from now.
Other than Hayward, there have been a flurry of other signings, none bigger than those at Golden State, who locked up Kevin Durant (at a discount) and Steph Curry, while signing depth men like Shaun Livingston and Nick “Swaggy P” Young.
There have been some winners and some losers and also some teams whose signings didn’t necessarily make them any better (Meh). We start with winners, then “meh’s” and finally losers, to this point.
15. Golden State Warriors – Winner
Dubs GM Bob Myers has been spending like a sailor on shore leave in Thailand. And that’s a good thing for Warriors fans. All Golden State really needed to do was lock up Kevin Durant and Steph Curry for them to be odds-on favorites to repeat in 2018. They didn’t stop with KD and Steph, though. Thanks to Durant leaving some money on the table to sign other free agents, Myers was able to keep Andre Iguodala around (three years, $48 million) and Shaun Livingston (three years, $24 million). Myers added some decent depth by luring Nick Young up the coast, signing Swaggy P to a one-year pact for just over $5 million. His last addition was signing back-up forward Omri Casspi from Minnesota at one year and $2.1 million.
14. Boston Celtics – Winner
Word around Boston Thursday suggests that in the aftermath of the Gordon Hayward signing, that GM Danny Ainge has had to shop the likes of Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley to clear enough cap space to pay Hayward the max (four years for just shy of $128 million). However potential moves pan out, the Celts are now well positioned to take another run at the big dogs in Cleveland in 2017-18. Being able to draft Jayson Tatum was a coup for Ainge, who will have decisions to make on point guard Isaiah Thomas and shooting guard Bradley (should he not be shipped out) as both players will be UFA in 2018. He certainly has lots of options and will have another high draft pick in 2018 (courtesy of the Nets, naturally) if he has to fill a hole.
13. Philadelphia 76ers – Winner
We’ll call this a provisional win. We do that because the Sixers were awful last year, but of the bottom feeders in the Eastern Conference they at least have done something to pull themselves up — unlike Brooklyn and New York. Before GM Bryan Colangelo even began spending his bosses money, he made a great move at the draft to get the no. 1 pick in the draft and PG Markelle Fultz. Once the FA window opened, Colangelo jumped in and grabbed shooting guard J.J. Redick from the Clippers. Redick, a veteran of 11 seasons and one of the best three-point shooter in the NBA (he was tops in 2015-16 at 47.5 percent efficiency), inked a one-year deal worth $23 million. Colangelo also got forward Amir Johnson for a year at $11 million to augment Ben Simmons. All in all, the Sixers may be a winner.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves – Winner
With the Utah Jazz not getting any better with the loss of Gordon Hayward and Memphis not doing a whole lot to buttress their fortunes, there is a tiny sliver of opportunity for an also-ran like Minnesota to jump into playoff contention. The west is a dog fight, with a big dog (Golden State) not likely to be supplanted for a few years. However, there will be day of reckoning and the T-Wolves have made solid moves to possibly be the chief canines. The acquisition of Jimmy Butler was huge prior to free agency opening and GM Scott Layden gave Butler big support in the back court by signing Indiana Pacers PG Jeff Teague to a three-year pact worth $57 million. The Teague/Butler tandem will be together three years and will have a front court that includes recently signed PF Taj Gibson, SF Andrew Wiggins (UFA in 2018, so a bit of an unknown), and C Karl-Anthony Towns. Suddenly a good team in Minny.
11. Houston Rockets – Winner
At first, we thought Rockets GM Daryl Morey had gone off the deep end, trading for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, when he already had a MVP worthy PG in James Harden. But, going forward, that swap with the Clippers might look like a coup, with the shorter Paul assuming floor general status and Harden focusing on the shooting guard spot. Morey gave Paul a one-year, $24.6 million deal — a wise move to ensure chemistry between Paul/Harden. Morey’s other solid moves were re-upping PF Nene Hilario to a friendly three-year, $10.95 million contract and inking outstanding defender and swingman P.J. Tucker to a four-year, $32 million deal. The Rockets, who finished third in the West last year, should bump San Antonio down from second banana.
10. Denver Nuggets – Winner
The Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs last year, getting nipped by one game by Portland for the eighth spot. In one swell foop, however, the Nuggets made headway to eliminating that gap and getting back to the post-season for the first time since 2013. The signing of Atlanta’s Paul “Anchorman” Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract gives the Nuggets great defence up front and solid offensive contribution. Millsap’s presence on the floor for the Nuggets will also help in the development of youngsters Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley and Nikola Jokic. Speaking of Jokic, he now has way better support in the paint than he’s had his first two years in the Mile High City.
9. Toronto Raptors – Meh
The Raptors, having re-signed point guard Kyle Lowry (three years, $100 million) and power forward Serge Ibaka (three years, $65 million), are no closer to being the power in the Eastern Conference, unfortunately. That is why we’ve given their free agent foray a “meh” instead of a win (which was close). Sure, their back court and front court are set for at least the next two years, but they did lose PF Patrick Patterson (who signed with OKC) and defensive-minded leader P.J. Tucker to Houston. While still a formidable force in the East, Toronto isn’t positioned, as of Thursday, to send chills down the spines of the Celtics and Cavaliers. A third-place team they are and a third-place team they will likely remain.
8. Los Angeles Clippers – Meh
The acquisition of SF Danilo Gallinari from Denver won’t offset the loss of PG Chris Paul for the foreseeable future. The deal that sent Paul to Houston for bench depth players like Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, among four others and a future first round pick only looks good if those players play above their station. Re-signing Blake Griffin to a monster five-year, $172.26 million contract may appease long-suffering Clips fans — for a little while — but he has to mesh now with a whole mess of new players, including Gallinari. DeAndre Jordan, Griffin and Gallinari do present a formidable front court, but a front court with Patrick Beverley starting a point guard and Austin Rivers at shooting guard is less than imposing.
7. Sacramento Kings – Meh
After unloading DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans for Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and draft picks, the Kings had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do to their fan base. And some off-season work to get a whole lot better. While the work was put in, the fruits of that labor aren’t all that inspiring. In need of a starting point guard, GM Vlade Divac signed Utah floor general George Hill to a three-year, $57 million pact. Not a bad signing, as Hill is a decent three-point shooter (over 40 percent efficient the last two seasons). However, he’s not the most dynamic passer around and has missed a lot of games recently due to injury. The acquisition of Zach Randolph to play at power forward ahead of Willie Cauley-Stein was marginally better. Yet, Randolph, who averaged a double-double in nine of his first 14 seasons, has seen his production drop quite a bit in the last two (no double-double figures). And he will be 36 in just over a week. The Kings will still miss the playoffs next year.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Meh
We won’t be the first to say it but the New Orleans Pelicans way overpaid to keep point guard Jrue Holiday in Louisiana. General manager Dell Demps had to open the vault to the tune of $126 million over five seasons to re-sign the eight-year veteran. We think Demps should have taken a run at Jeff Teague, who is as good as Holiday, but commanded less money and term to sign with Minnesota. Demps then might have had enough money to get a better small forward than Solomon Hill or shooting guard than E’Twaun Moore. He could have even spent some smaller dollars on reliable back-ups for the Twin Towers in the front court, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans finished seven games behind Portland for the final post-season spot last year and we believe that probably won’t change much.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers – Loser
The Celtics got better and the Raptors stayed about the same. That is not good news for the Cavaliers, who were proven to be mere mortals by Golden State in the finals. The balance of power in the West resides with Golden State, who will more than likely be finalists (at minimum) for three years. In the East, where Boston actually finished first last year, it’s less cut and dry as we speak. Yes, the Cavs still have a powerful core with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, however, their bench depth is old and getting slower every year. And their one act in free agency was signing geezer (but still elite three-point shooter) Kyle “Machine Gun” Korver to a three-year, $21 million deal. At 36 though, Korver is less machine gun and more Nerf gun than ever before. Cleveland may well win the East again, but they won’t be tops for long — especially if they can’t stay healthy.
4. Washington Wizards – Loser
The Wiz teased their fanbase in 2016-17, fashioning their best record (49-33) since going 54-28 in 1978-79 and then taking the Boston Celtics to seven games before succumbing in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. A team fronted by elite PG John Wall and big shooter SG Bradley Beal was very good, just not great. Thus far in free agency, to be fair, they haven’t done much and need a tweak or two to keep up with the Celtics and Raptors of the world. They proved they could score, finishing fifth in the NBA with 109.2 points per game. Their overall defence, however, was bottom 10 material, as they gave up 107.4 PPG during the season. That gap narrowed in the playoffs, as they scored as many points (108.1) as they gave up (108.1). Stealing Serge Ibaka or even P.J. Tucker from Toronto could have gone a long way toward better team defence.
3. Utah Jazz – Loser
As long as the signing of Gordon Hayward doesn’t hit a snag in Boston (teams were discussing a sign-and-trade as of Thursday), the Jazz lose, lose and lose more in free agency. After a 51-win season and a trip to the Western Conference semi-finals for the first time since 2010, the Jazz should have bent over backward to keep Hayward. Add to that the fact they also let George Hill walk in free agency and the Jazz’ record in 2017-18 could flip backward to 31-51. As it is, their only signing of consequence so far is re-upping Jinglin’ Joe Ingles to a four-year, $52 million contract. After Ingles, who scored just 7.1 PPG last year, the Jazz now have just two scorers who hit double digits, Rudy Gobert (14.0) and Rodney Hood (12.7). It is going to be a long year in Salt Lake City.
2. New York Knicks – Loser
The Big Apple certainly hasn’t been the preferred destination of NBA free agents (so far), what with all the shenanigans in the front office and on-court tepid play. Team Hot Mess has acting GM Steve Mills having to clean up a considerable mess left by the fired Phil Jackson is insurmountable in the short term. First Jackson alienated Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, creating a needless distraction on a team going nowhere since they last made the playoffs in 2013. The Knicks weren’t horrible in the scoring department in 2016-17, finishing tied with New Orleans at 104.3 points per game. However, they were porous defensively, surrendering 108.0 PPG, the eighth-worst total in the NBA. Mills says his mandate is to make the team younger, which means rookie PG Frank Ntilikina will probably start. Uh oh.
1. Brooklyn Nets – Loser
We sound like a broken record, counting all the ways that the Brooklyn Nets are Team Dysfunctional. After selling the farm to Boston in 2013 for a short run in the playoffs with the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets have seen successive first rounders go to Beantown in the last three years. And they have been high first round picks as the Nets have floundered at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Nets, post-Garnett/Pierce, are Team No-Name and likely not getting any big name free agents now or in the coming days. GM Sean Marks needs to make a splash, but most of the big names are already spoken for. His most glaring need is for defensive minded players, as the Nets gave up an abysmal 112.5 points per game in 2016-17, with only Phoenix being more porous. The worst team in basketball will remain that way.