After a 2017 season that saw the Golden State Warriors dominate on their way to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, teams have been frantically making moves since the free agency period began, all in an attempt to catch the dominant champions, who re-signed Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in very impressive fashion. While I don’t believe that anyone will be able to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, not even the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, there are other ways to define success in the NBA, and with many players changing team, whether it be via free agency or trade, there will be many different levels of success that come along with it.
Individual success is often predicated on the team around you, so this list will look at mostly just statistical success on an individual level, rather than team success.
15 WILL: Dwight Howard – Charlotte Hornets
After becoming seen as one of the best centers in the NBA during his time in Orlando, Dwight Howard has definitely had a rocky run through LA and Houston, and after a solid season last year in Atlanta, he was traded away to the Charlotte Hornets. While he may not be an elite big man anymore, he will have a great year there. Combining with such young, fantastic guard play will definitely help Howard relax into his role in Charlotte, and if the team can defend much better (Howard will certainly help in that area), they should no doubt be a playoff team in the East. As for Howard, we know he isn’t the threat he once was in Orlando, but he will still thrive in a young team, and will be the big man this team needed to go over the edge. So expect to see a rejuvenated Howard in 2017.
14 WILL: Jamal Crawford – Minnesota Timberwolves
The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the NBA’s worst franchises for quite some time, but then they managed to assemble a squad consisting of Jordan, Griffin, Paul and Reddick, while they had one of the best 6th men in the game in Jamal Crawford. Even then, they couldn’t manage to make any noise in the West, so when several star players' contracts were done coming into this offseason, it was assumed several of them would move on, and that’s what Crawford did, joining the now potentially elite Minnesota Timberwolves. After trading for Jimmy Butler and adding Jeff Teague, to team with the elite young Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, it seemed the team was destined for the playoffs, but they decided to add a veteran playmaker off the bench, and as the leader of the second team, expect to see Jamal Crawford thrive.
13 WON'T: Marcus Morris – Boston Celtics
Ever since the trade involving Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Brooklyn Nets, the Boston Celtics have been one of the most promising future teams in the NBA. And after getting Isaiah Thomas and turning him into a star, the team has been split between continuing their rebuild with all their 1st-round picks, and trading away their assets to contend right now. While this pick shows neither intention, it certainly was an odd one, as the team sent Avery Bradley to the Pistons for Marcus Morris. Now, Morris may be a very talented player, but he so often fails to live up to that promise, and with Jayson Tatum no doubt sitting behind him to start the season, the pressure will be on Morris to perform, even more so than usual. While he may end up being a good contributor on a deep playoff run, Morris will just end up being a disappointment, something that will be magnified due to the fact that Boston gave up a crowd favorite to get him.
12 WILL: J.J. Redick – Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have been rebuilding for several years now, and with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and now Markelle Fultz, it looks like their future is bright. But we didn’t expect they’d be bringing in veterans to help them compete. When free agency this year started, they managed to pick up a wing superstar like J.J. Redick, who will help them with their playoff push. In the past few seasons with the Clippers, Redick has been shooting beyond the arc like few others in the league, and with the team trading away Chris Paul, he wanted to move on too, and chose the very promising 76ers squad. He may not take them further than the Clippers have been in the West, as they still have the Cavs, Celtics, Raptors, Bucks and Wizards in the East, so it will be a struggle for the team in the playoffs, but Redick will thrive as a veteran presence, and will show why he is one of the elite shooting guards in the NBA.
11 WILL: Rudy Gay – San Antonio Spurs
Rudy Gay is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and has been for quite some time, but playing with the Kings, and with a poor attitude has definitely hurt his performance on the court, but now that he has signed with Gregg Poppovic and the San Antonio Spurs, all of those problems will be fixed, and he may be able to reach his full potential. As we’ve seen before, Coach Pop can turn even the most undisciplined players into part of his very successful system, and he will provide some amazing punch of the bench, that may help the Spurs get back to the Western Conference Finals. Like others on this list, he took less money and less playing time to go to a team that will help him succeed, so his stats may not be as impressive as others on this list, but he will be a very effective player in the system.
10 WON'T: Chris Paul – Houston Rockets
With all the re-signings and free agency deals, it was going to be hard for the LA Clippers to keep their team together, but thankfully for them, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets agreed to a sign-and-trade which stopped them from completely losing out on free agency. But with the expectations placed on him in Houston, there is no way that CP3 can succeed alongside the now-highest-paid player in NBA history, James Harden. He may be a talented all-around player, and one of the best defenders in the NBA, but with such lofty expectations (challenging the GS Warriors for supremacy in the West) placed on him, there’s no way he can succeed, and with the Rockets giving up so much to get him, they may just get worse in the upcoming season. His individual play might not drop off too much, but this was a move for team success, not individual success, so when the Rockets fall against the might of the West, most people will see it as a disappointment for CP3.
9 WILL: Jose Calderon – Cleveland Cavaliers
At the beginning of this offseason, who would have imagined that a Jose Calderon signing would have been noteworthy? The former Knicks and Heat standout decided to give LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a playmaker off the bench, and with his style coming off the bench for this squad, he could turn out to be one of the most valuable players in the entire Eastern Conference this season. Sure, no one expects Calderon to win MVP, or even make the All-Star team, but James complained several times last season about not having a playmaker off the bench. This may not put them over the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, but it sure will help a lot. Expect Calderon’s play and numbers to rise slightly from his career numbers, and while that won’t make him one of the best in the game, it certainly will help his team.
8 WILL: Nick Young – Golden State Warriors
The Los Angeles Lakers, by all reports are definitely on the upswing, as they have Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and the newly drafted Lonzo Ball, and one piece the team didn’t want to pay was Swaggy P. As such, Young decided to take his talents to the already-stacked Golden State Warriors, and there is no way that he and this team don’t succeed on every level in 2017/18. Joining the team on such a small contract no doubt would have hurt the ego of Young, but it looks like he is happy to join such a dominant force, and coming off the bench, he will now provide another 3-point sensation for a team that’s already full of them. Although his numbers will take a hit by dropping to the bench, he will succeed on all levels possible.
7 WON'T: D'Angelo Russell – Brooklyn Nets
Coming into the NBA several years ago, it looked like D'Angelo Russell may have been the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers, but several average seasons later, the team packaged him in a trade to get rid of Timofey Mozgov’s monster salary, and sent him packing to the Brooklyn Nets, and replaced him with polarizing UCLA star Lonzo Ball at #2 in the draft. Russell may not have lived up to expectations in LA, but he still has some star potential. However, playing in Brooklyn, where the Nets are bound to struggle and stay at the bottom of the Eastern Conference won’t help, and that will reflect in his performances. When he enters free agency, perhaps Russell will find a home (SAS perhaps?) where he can be developed properly and turned into the star he should be. Unfortunately for fans of his, it won’t be this year in Brooklyn.
6 WILL: Paul Millsap – Denver Nuggets
With all the big moves that have happened in the NBA offseason (including Stephen Curry and James Harden signing record deals), Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets has gone very much under the radar, but with Kenneth Faried, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and a host of other young talents around him, the veteran Paul Millsap will no doubt thrive. He will bring a veteran presence to a team that sorely needs it, and his addition will no doubt make this team a playoff contender this upcoming season, even if they truly have no chance of making it deep in the playoffs, due to how deep and dangerous the Western Conference is. He won’t ever be a top 10 player, but he is a great shooter and an even better defender, so expect to see him thrive in the mile high city.
5 WILL: Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
After the previous NBA offseason where Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Golden State Warriors, Russell Westbrook made it his mission to have the best year of his career, and he did just that en route to the 2016/17 NBA MVP award. In the offseason, the team traded away two pieces (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis) to bring in Indiana Pacers superstar, Paul George. The Thunder now have a fairly impressive starting five, as these two combine with Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson and Steven Adams. Despite the criticism of Westbrook, he will adapt to playing with George, and both men will thrive. It’s still expected that the Lakers will bring in Paul George after this year, so OKC will no doubt be hoping that these two combine perfectly to convince George to stay beyond 2018. Whatever happens after this season, George will no doubt thrive in a playoff push in the Western Conference in 2017.
4 WON'T: Amir Johnson - Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have done a hell of a lot right during their rebuilding process, and with the core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, they may just be a powerhouse in the East for years to come (assuming good health), but signing a veteran like Amir Johnson just doesn’t seem to fit their philosophy or the team they’re looking to build, and it will pan out just like a player that doesn’t fit. Sure, he is a very decent player, and would help a playoff team in their push towards the Finals, but on a young team that is still part of a rebuilding process, and may struggle to gel as a team, Johnson just wasn’t the right player to bring in. He may begin the year as the starting power forward, but by year's end, Johnson won’t be having much of an effect on the 76ers' playoff push.
3 WILL: Gordon Hayward – Boston Celtics
After the very impressive Utah Jazz were swept from the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors, the attention of most NBA fans turned their eyes to breakout star Gordon Hayward, who was up for free agency. With the Heat, Celtics and Jazz all vying for his contract, he ended up choosing the Boston Celtics to team with Isaiah Thomas. With this move, as well as drafting Jayson Tatum, the Celtics finally look like they are in a position to become true threats to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, and if they can fulfill that destiny, it will be on the back of Hayward’s all-around fantastic play. With Paul George and Jimmy Butler both going to the West, Hayward may just be the best player in the conference (outside of LeBron James, obviously), and as a star in the deepest team in the East, he may very well lead the Celtics to the Finals, and he will do it in brilliant fashion.
2 WILL: Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
For the last few years, Jimmy Butler has evolved as a leader, and despite playing on a chaotic Chicago Bulls team, he has excelled, but with the Bulls going back into rebuilding mode, they decided to trade him away to join Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. With his skillset on both ends of the floor, Butler should have his chance to prove he is one of the best players in the entire NBA. It’s unknown how he will play as the leader of a young team, but he has the character and the ability to be a great leader, so if he lives up to his potential as a leader on and off the court for this team, expect to see him become as elite as anyone in the game. With two such talented scorers with him, he may not put up the numbers he did in Chicago where he was the #1 threat, but beyond that, he will lead this team to success, and that’s much more important.
1 WON'T: Tim Hardaway Jr. – New York Knicks
As a fan of the New York Knicks, I feel nothing about this signing, but it just goes to show how horrible the Knicks front office is, as they had Hardaway several years ago, and ended up trading him for nothing, and signing him back for $72 million will no doubt end up proving a major waste of money. Hardaway being on this side of the list has more to do with the dysfunctional organization he is going too, but if he can somehow succeed, and if the Knicks can be drama-free after letting go of Phil Jackson, I will be pleasantly surprised, but I just don’t see it happening. With Carmelo Anthony still on the team, and the organization looking to build around Kristaps Porzingis, Hardaway might not be a priority, and if they look to continue the triangle or change, there will be a steep learning curve, and it will hurt Tim’s chances at success this season.
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