The National Basketball Association (NBA) might be the most boring league to watch in recent years given the lack of parity and dominance of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, but there's no denying it's the most fun league to follow in the offseason. Whereas big name players are almost never traded in the NFL and NHL (sometimes in the MLB), there has been at least a handful of massive trades and free-agent signings in the 2017 NBA off-season. And even on days when there's no major trade or signing, there's enough rumors circling the league to make for a full day's worth of radio fodder - see the Kyrie Irving and LeBron James drama.
The NHL's biggest free-agent signing this off-season was Kevin Shattenkirk, who might not even be known to casual sports fans. That's because the NHL's CBA isn't at all conducive to player movement; it's a completely different story in the NBA, which has made for an incredibly fun and busy summer, so much so that it's hard to remember all the deals that transpired up to this point. Fortunately, we've got you covered with the eight teams that improved most this summer and the seven teams who seemingly have no hopes of making the playoffs in 2017-18.
15 Improved: Sacramento Kings
A historically-inept franchise which hasn't made the playoffs in 11 seasons, the Kings have long been the laughing stock of the NBA and its fans, although, strangely, the team has received plenty of positive reviews for its off-season moves. One blog headline reads "Sacramento Kings have a functioning rebuild plan in place," which, given the context of this franchise, might be considered the most fake news headline of all-time, but it's actually accurate.
In addition to landing point guard of the future De'Aaron Fox and three prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Kings supplemented its young core with the signing of four veterans, including point guard George Hill, who averaged 16.9 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.4 rebounds last season with the Utah Jazz. They also added Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, and European talent Bogdan Bogdanovic. We're surprisingly looking forward to watching the Kings next season.
14 Got Worse: Atlanta Hawks
Before breaking down Atlanta's moves or lack thereof this offseason, let us first begin with the disclaimer that we actually believe the Hawks made the right decision in cutting ties with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Paul Millsap. That said, while it might help the team in the long run with an abundance of cap space, it isn't going to improve their playoff odds heading into the 2017-18 season.
The Hawks seemingly weren't in on Millsap, a veteran power forward who spent the past four seasons in Atlanta. Instead, he was signed by the Denver Nuggets, where he should continue to be an effective player for the next couple of years before regressing significantly - he's 32-years-old. They also made the correct choice in declining to match the $71-million offer sheet the desperate Knicks offered to Hardaway Jr., but his absence will be noted next season. They also got rid of Dwight Howard in a Pre-Dtrade, which, again, was a smart cap-clearing move, but their net return for all three of those players leaving is Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and Dewayne Dedmon. Yeah, they'll be worse.
13 Improved: Golden State Warriors
The rich get richer, which, in this instance means the Warriors were able to keep the band together - that alone is a bigger win than anything any other team did during the offseason. Not only did Golden State lock up Steph Curry long-term to the largest deal in NBA history, it managed to sign Kevin Durant to arguably the biggest bargain of a contract in NBA history at just two-years and $53 million.
Beyond that, the team also brought back key bench players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, while signing Omri Casspi, a 6-foo-9 big man who can also play small forward and shoot the three. The Warriors didn't have a pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but paid the Chicago Bulls a couple million for the right to draft Oregon's Jordan Bell, who looks like the second coming of Draymond Green.
12 Got Worse: New York Knicks
If you've followed the Knicks over the course of the past year, you might believe that the team enjoys being the laughing stock of the NBA. We mentioned earlier that title belongs to Sacramento, but the truth in everything is bigger in New York, including the ineptitude of the famed franchise's management. In fact, it's almost impressive in a way, but the Knicks were able to alienate its two best players - Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis - with comments from its sleeping giant executive Phil Jackson, who was eventually fired. Yet, reports continue to suggest that both players want out of town.
On the court, New York added guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who is a good player, but nowhere near worth the four years and $71 million he earned as a restricted free agent. The only good thing about the offseason for Knicks fans is that the team didn't re-sign Derrick Rose.
11 Improved: Philadelphia 76ers
Trust the process. That has been the motto in Philadelphia since former General Manager Sam Hinkie laid his plans for the future of the franchise. And, judging by the trajectory of the 76ers, Hinkie was right. The team missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but improved its win totals in both years and appear poised for a playoff run in 2017-18.
Let's assume that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are healthy next season, which is a big assumption, but that alone would make the team a playoff threat. Add in the fact they signed 2016 first-round pick Furkan Korkmaz as well as 2017 first-overall pick Markelle Fultz and the 76ers could be one of the most interesting teams to follow next season. It's not just young players either. Philadelphia added veterans Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick to its core.
10 Got Worse: Chicago Bulls
Forgive us for stating the obvious, but the Chicago Bulls got significantly worse this offseason. However, sometimes teams need to get worse to prepare for a rebuild - see the Philadelphia 76ers - so let's give some credit to Bulls management for recognizing its core group of players was nowhere near contending for an NBA championship in the near future.
The Bulls waived Rajon Rondo and traded star player Jimmy Butler in a surprising deal to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, which it used to select Lauri Markkanen. Many criticized the Bulls for making the deal, but it's actually not an awful return, especially if Dunn can thrive in a new system. Still, it doesn't mean the team improved. They'll struggle mightily to reach the playoffs in 2017-18.
9 Improved: Denver Nuggets
We mentioned it was the right move for the Atlanta Hawks to walk away from Paul Millsap, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong move for the Denver Nuggets to sign the power forward to a three-year, $90 million contract. Sure, it's a lot of money, but the best part of the contract is its term at just three years. Millsap, who turns 33 next season, averaged over 18 points a season ago and his addition to Denver alongside Nikola Jokic will give the Western Conference team one of the best front courts in the league.
The Nuggets will enter the 2017-18 season with an improving young core featuring Emmanuel Mudiay, Juan Hernangomez, and 2017 NBA Rising Stars Challenge MVP Jamal Murray, who can shoot the lights out when he gets hot. The addition of Tyler Lydon through the draft should also help elevate the team's bench.
8 Got Worse: Indiana Pacers
You're never going to improve your team by trading away your star player unless it's in a rare star-for-star deal, which doesn't happen often in any professional sport, let alone the NBA. The Pacers didn't really have much of a choice in trading Paul George as the small forward essentially said the upcoming season was his last in Indiana. Rather than letting his contract expire, the Pacers opted to deal him in return for some assets.
The problem is George only had one year left on his deal and, because he had already voiced his desire to play elsewhere, the team that dealt for him was taking on the risk they would only get him for one season. Hence, George only got the Pacers a return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, both decent players, but neither of which will give the team much hope for 2017-18.
7 Improved: Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics emerged as a legitimate contender in the NBA's Eastern Conference last season, at least behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who cruised to their third consecutive NBA Final appearance. Next season, however, the tide may have shifted to the point where the Celtics enter the season as the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Not only is the team well-positioned to improve in the future with an abundance of draft picks and young players, it's ready for contention in 2017-18 with the addition of All-Star Gordon Hayward.
The former Utah Jazz signed a five-year, max deal with the Celtics, where he'll be reunited with his coach at Baylor University, Brad Stevens. The Celtics had to trade Avery Bradley and let Kelly Olynyk walk to make room for Hayward, but they'll certainly be a much-improved team next season.
6 Got Worse: Utah Jazz
A lot of teams were forced to trade away star players this offseason. The Pacers dealt Paul George, the Clippers dealt Chris Paul, and the Cavaliers may have to find a new home for Kyrie Irving. The difference between those teams and the Utah Jazz is that they at least received something in return for losing their top player. The Jazz, meanwhile, couldn't come to terms with Gordon Hayward and had to watch him sign with the Boston Celtics.
Oh, and let's not forget Utah also lost its starting point guard George Hill, who signed one of the best value deals with the Sacramento Kings. Who did the Jazz add to make up for the lost production of two of its best players? Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, and Ekpe Udoh.
5 Improved: Oklahoma City Thunder
You might be noticing a trend in that a lot of teams improved at the hands of teams on this list that got worse. That's the nature of today's NBA, where massive blockbuster trades are becoming more and more common. One year after losing Kevin Durant to free agency, the Oklahoma City Thunder jumped at the opportunity to add another star player capable of playing alongside Russell Westbrook in Paul George.
The Thunder didn't even have to give up much to get George either and, even if he stays for only one season, it was worth adding him to sell the idea of a competitive team to a passionate fan base which had its heart ripped out when Durant bailed for greener pastures in Golden State.
4 Got Worse: Cleveland Cavaliers
As of writing this, the Cleveland Cavaliers might actually be a better team than they were last season. The team's core is in tact, Kyrie Irving has yet to be dealt, and they added Derrick Rose to a low-risk, one-year, $2.1 million contract. If Rose could become half of what he was during his MVP season with the Bulls, the Cavaliers could once again reach the NBA Final with relative ease. However, it appears likely that Irving is on his way out (after all, he did unfollow LeBron on Instagram, which is the newest form of turning on a teammate) and there's almost zero chance that Rose works out in Cleveland.
Add in the fact the team's management is in complete disarray with no General Manager to date and it's an absolute disaster in Cleveland. Give LeBron credit for wanting to stick around one more season, but it's unlikely he stays past that. Now, if the Cavaliers could somehow find a way to add Carmelo Anthony in a deal for Kyrie Irving, they might still be the favorites in the East. It would be hard to argue they improved, however.
3 Improved: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets might present the toughest challenge in the Western Conference for the Golden State Warriors next season. Sure, it might take some time for James Harden and Chris Paul to gel on the court together, but the Superstars have the potential to dominate games with their passing, ball-handling and three-point shooting ability. In fact, you could easily make the argument that no team has had a two-headed point guard combination better than that of Harden and Paul.
The only challenge for the Rockets next season is filling out its bench. Houston literally traded half of its team for Chris Paul and have really only added Shawn Long in a trade with Philadelphia as well as veteran defensive-minded forward P.J Tucker through free agency.
2 Got Worse: Los Angeles Clippers
Quality is better than quantity and that certainly applies to the Chris Paul trade from Los Angeles to Houston. It's hard to blame Paul for wanting to leave the Clippers given the team had many opportunities but seemingly couldn't get over the hump in the Western Conference, and it was nice of him to give the team an opportunity to stay competitive by allowing them to sign and trade him rather than walking for nothing. Yet, he's much better than the sum of all parts the Clippers received from Houston.
You could, however, make the argument that the Clippers will have a much-improved bench next season with the addition of players such as Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and Kyle Wiltjer. That said, they will miss Paul's ability to run the offense and combine for highlight-reel alley-oops with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It's hard to imagine them not posting a worse record in 2017-18.
1 Improved: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves were a popular pick to be one of the most improved teams at the start of last season. There was a lot to like about an improving core which consisted of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine. However, the team blew far too many fourth quarter leads to make the playoffs. The chances of that happening as frequently in 2017-18 are slim as the team added Jimmy Butler, who fills a drastic need as a scoring wing player who should allow Andrew Wiggins to get to the line with more frequency and focus more on defense.
The upstart team also signed veterans Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, while dealing Ricky Rubio for a protected future first round pick. Rubio and Teague are essentially a wash skill-wise, but the hope is that Teague fits in better with the team's offense.