The NBA offseason has yielded some distinct acquisitions thus far, and it’s time to start thinking about how it will impact the individual teams, and the league at large. With a combination of blockbuster deals in free agency, along with hopeful franchise-defining draft picks, there’s been a bevy of activity this Summer that will impact the league for years to come. The question is, what teams struck gold, and which ones overshot their expectations?
Needless to say, with so much transition happening all at once, there remains sizeable opportunity for a handful of teams to break into the league’s elite. Several well-established rosters are getting older and out of their prime, while there are some which still have their best years ahead of them. Not surprisingly, many of these focal point teams and their acquisitions are present on this list. The collective of their make-or-break seasons in 2016-17 could determine a shakeup in the power structure of the league. Likewise, the players changing teams are hoping that their contributions can be a catalyst for the upcoming success of their new franchise, while avoiding all possible failure at the same time.
Ranked below are 8 NBA offseason acquisitions that will pay off and 7 that will fail miserably.
15. PAY OFF: Rajon Rondo – Chicago Bulls
Despite being thrown into a mess of a coaching and ownership situation for his lone season Sacramento, Rondo still has several years left of top-flight play, and will prove worthwhile for a Bulls team looking for a new identity. Averaging nearly nine assists per season, he’s proven himself as a dependable PG, and can help spread the ball around in Chicago to a roster in the midst of a shakeup. He’s only 30 years-old, with plenty of time left to make a mark, and help Chicago make a quick turnaround in a still relatively weak Eastern Conference. In tandem with the incumbent Jimmy Butler, Rondo figures to be a key figure on the Bulls’ starting lineup next year, and with any luck, will find themselves competing for a conference finals appearance. He’s not going to be a top-notch scorer, but is a quality piece for a rebuild, and will keep the team in the hunt.
14. FAIL: Dwight Howard – Atlanta Hawks
Howard is a essentially a product of a past era in the NBA, and isn’t nearly as valuable in today’s version of the game. He’s essentially a one-trick pony, and though he was elite in the post during his prime, a decreased scoring average each of the last two seasons doesn’t bode well for him in Atlanta. He looks to replace a lot of the muscle that left with Al Horford this offseason, but a reliance to count on Howard as a dominant presence on the roster could make Atlanta somewhat one-dimensional. He just doesn’t have many, if any at all, prime years left in the tank, and this is a signing that probably came three years too late. Instead, he predicts to be relegated as a good-not-great straight up post player, and that is simply not enough to be elite anymore in today’s NBA. Expectations should be tempered.
13. PAY OFF: Buddy Hield – New Orleans Pelicans
Though there was plenty of talk about Hield being an impending draft bust, his addition to the Pelicans’ roster makes a lot of sense. The team already has Anthony Davis, who predicts to continue his dominance, no matter how under the radar it may be. Hield may just be a pure scorer and little else, but if he can elevate his game into a perennial 20 PPG clip, New Orleans will be have two certified playmakers on the roster. Another benefit of this draft pick is that Hield played four years at Oklahoma, and is likely much more NBA-ready than many of his peers, and can likely contribute right away. On certain rosters this selection would have been a borderline detriment, but factor in the presence of Davis, and Hield will have the space he needs to develop at a satisfactory rate. Look for him to content for the Rookie Of The Year honors this season.
12. FAIL: Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls
While Wade could certainly contribute on some level to Chicago’s roster, he figures to be more of a role player, in a back court that already includes Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler. While D-Wade still averaged a respectable 19 PPG last season, his time for effectiveness is running short, and overall this money could have allocated in a better way. Namely, trying to replace the presence of Joakim Noah in the front court, instead of grabbing another high-profile PG. Yes, Wade is a Chicago native, so it makes sense why he personally would make the move, but for the franchise it offers little other benefit other than to fill seats. While he’ll enjoy being in his hometown for the twilight of his career, the damage was already done in Miami, and Wade isn’t at the age where a career resurgence seems likely.
11. PAY OFF: Joakim Noah – New York Knicks
The Knicks have had a busy offseason, and Noah remains a fitting, if understated addition to the roster. While his scoring averaged has dropped the last several years, he can still be a force in the rebounding game, giving New York a reliable option, and allowing a veteran presence play next to Kristaps Porzingis, to assist with his development. Noah still averaged nearly nine RPG last year, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t do the same, continuing to play in the Eastern Conference. At 31-years-old, he nearing the end of his prime, but there’s no reason to think that he can’t actively contribute. Look for him to compete for a spot on the starting five, and at worst be a quality sixth man off the bench. His role may be slightly different than it was in Chicago several years ago, but all in all this is a quality pickup for the Knicks.
10. FAIL: Bismack Biyombo – Orlando Magic
In an utterly awful signing, Orlando gave Biyombo, a marginal rebounding presence, a 4-year $72 million deal, in a desperate attempt to beef up their front court. A career average of 4.6 PPG signifies that the 23-year-old Biyombo will likely be counted upon on the glass. While he was on a Raptors team that reached the Conference Finals last season, he wasn’t a starter on that time except sparingly, and still averaged under 10 RPG, which doesn’t put him as an elite threat in that category. This signing just feels like a reach, with Orlando desperately trying to regain some kind of relevance in the modern era. Biyombo is likely to contribute, but not at the level that his contract warrants, and won’t stand out as an elite presence in the paint when compared to the best in the league. An example of overcompensation in free agency here.
9. PAY OFF: Al Horford – Boston Celtics
An excellent signing by the Celtics to address the need for a dominating front court player, Horford figures to contribute mightily. He’s still young enough to make an impact, and averaged a sound 15 PPG and nearly 8 RPG last season. He’s a dependable piece to Boston’s playoff puzzle that can contribute right away. With this addition, it frees up a talented Celtics front court to play a bit looser, now that there’s another presence for defenses to pay attention to. There’s been talk of the Celtics being the next in line for an Eastern Conference Title, and perhaps this is the piece that can put them over the edge. If not, Horford still addresses a pertinent need for the team, and will be reliable from day one. Not the flashiest signing of the offseason, but it’s hard to find an upgrade that was needed as much as this one.
8. FAIL: Pau Gasol – San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs should be looking to get younger, with their corps of veteran players quickly aging, but the Gasol signing does little in the way of actually implementing that philosophy. While his scoring averages haven’t yet suffered a significant drop-off, at the age of 36, one would have to figure that his productivity will be relatively halted sometime in the near future. While there is playing to be had in San Antonio with the retirement of Tim Duncan, it’s hard to determine what Gasol’s role will ultimately be, before his own departure for the league. This one currently sits on the fence, I’m going to err on the side of Gasol being unable to find a fit with the Spurs, and at most only provide a suitable stopgap for an incoming front court talent. He still could have marginal success, but at his age his best days have to be behind him.
7. PAY OFF: Kris Dunn – Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves are shaping up to be an elite team in several years, and the selection of Dunn in the draft shores up their PG situation to full effect. He was one of the most anticipated players in this draft class, and in tandem with emerging stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota is going to have some elite talents leading the charge once they’re all up to speed and developed. Of course, the ever-constant presence of a respected veteran in Kevin Garnett will help Dunn get acclimated to the NBA ethos, and he should get his share of licks in the starting lineup this season. It wasn’t a guarantee that the Minnesota would get a chance to draft him, but luckily enough, they now have a PG that addresses a need, and can grow with their other young talent. If his projection is correct, Dunn should be a Chris Paul-esque PG for years to come in the league.
6. FAIL: Harrison Barnes – Dallas Mavericks
The 4-year deal offered up to Barnes from the Mavericks seems a bit premature, considering the talent level he played with in Golden State, on a historically great roster. There’s no question that he is reliable, and is unlikely to flat out bust, but the question remains whether playing alongside the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson elevated his game more than his own efforts on the court did. On a Mavericks team trying to find an identity after Dirk Nowitzki leaves, this isn’t a bad move, but the return on the investment isn’t likely to yield Earth-shattering results. Instead, Barnes figures to be a decent-enough rotational player, but then again if that’s all that the Mavericks were expecting, it’s unlikely they would have given him the money that they did. Overall, this signing will prove to be underwhelming, since Barnes won’t have as much elite talent around him.
5. PAY OFF: Brandon Ingram – Los Angeles Lakers
Now that Kobe has left the L.A. scene, the Lakers can finally focus on a true rebuild without distraction, and the addition of Ingram is a major piece to the puzzle. He’ll be joining D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle as the burgeoning young stars on the roster, and figure to contribute right away. At the second overall pick, a Duke-player of this caliber is unlikely to bust completely, but the question is the overall ceiling for Ingram in a few years, as he hits his prime. Developing him around other quality youthful players is the right way to go for the Lakers, as they try and maximize his potential, making him a focal point of a team that is looking for a new star. One of the key young talents to keep an eye on for the next few seasons.
4. FAIL: Jeremy Lin – Brooklyn Nets
For anyone that can the remember the patented nonsense that was the “Lin-sanity” craze during the 2011-12 season while Lin was with the Knicks, it should be off no surprise that a dysfunctional team like the Nets gave him a three-year contract. The move to Brooklyn marks Lin’s sixth NBA team in seven total seasons, which is remarkable on several levels. He had his 15 minutes of fame in New York, and then bounced around the league, never really being good enough to keep, but doing just enough in the garbage-time scoring realm to be attractive as a placeholder commodity to teams that were mostly going nowhere. He’s a career 11.7 PPG scorer, and that’s about as much as the Nets are going to get out of him in the absolute best case scenario, given the fact that he’ll be playing with marginal talent alongside him. If the goal is to sell tickets for half a season based on a trend from five years ago, this is a fine move. If the goal is to improve your team, look elsewhere.
3. PAY OFF: Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
Far and away the biggest blockbuster move of the offseason was Durant taking his talents to Golden State in free agency. While this drew much unwarranted criticism, after dealing with years of “close, but no cigar” title temptations in Oklahoma City, as well as Russell Westbrook’s first priority of being a highlight reel player, Durant deserves a chance to be on a true contender. Adding him to a roster that won 73 games last season makes them the odds on favorite to win a championship next season, even if LeBron and company in Cleveland have proved that they can beat the best the game has to offer. The Warriors’ roster is simply stacked from top to bottom with this addition, and Durant figures to work well with team-first stars like Curry and Thompson. This will be the biggest addition in the 2016-17 season.
2. FAIL: Derrick Rose – New York Knicks
Unfortunately, at this point Rose’s career seems to be on the downturn, and while New York’s roster is improving, there still isn’t enough to stability to make up for the injury risk that Rose poses. His scoring average hasn’t completely dropped off, but he’s not playing nearly at the level that he was when he was healthy and in his prime. As it stands, he’ll need to cooperate with Carmelo Anthony, making him the second would-be star player with question marks on the Knicks roster. In the best case scenario, Rose would stay healthy, elevating Anthony, with Porzingis reaching his peak potential, and a deep playoff run will be born. In reality, the likelihood is that this team’s limitations shine through in a rapidly developing Eastern Conference, leaving Rose as one of the biggest “what if’s? in NBA history. The intent with this signing makes sense, but it’s simply too much to ask if Rose can stay on the court for a full season.
1. PAY OFF: Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
After three seasons of utter incompetence, the Sixers hope that their tanking process paid off with the number one overall selection in this year’s draft. Along with a young (very young) cast of players that includes Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, Simmons hopes to be the superstar for years to come on Philly’s roster. Indeed, he has the highest ceiling, but many of his critics wonder if he will ever reach his full potential. In short, he represents the presumed shining light at the end of the tunnel for the Sixers, and in a few short years predicts to be one of the league’s best, most versatile players. This remains to be seen, but a player of Simmons’ caliber represents a distinct upgrade for the Sixers, and a necessary one after years of rebuilding. Projections may be all we have to go by at this juncture, but if they come to fruition, Philadelphia will be looking at a resurgence that they haven’t seen since the days of Iverson, and the plan to tank will ultimately be worth it.
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