The team that "wins" the offseason with a big move, is rarely sitting at the top of the NBA mountain as champion when the season is over. However recently the offseason has given an actual indication of who the eventual NBA champion will be. Two seasons ago the Warriors were a relative lock to win the title when they signed Kevin Durant, and they eventually did. Last season the Rockets were in the title conversation when they traded for Chris Paul, and they ended up one win away from going to the finals. Trading for, signing, or letting go of a star player can rapidly move teams closer to a title. On the other hand, franchises could be headed towards the bottom of the league if they make the wrong offseason trade or sign a player that will not live up to expectations.
This year's offseason is no different, because there were astronomical moves made by some of the marquee franchises around the league. The positive moves that make the list will have contending teams much closer to a title next season. Conversely the negative moves that make the list includes some rebuilding teams moving in the wrong direction towards the lottery. Take a look at who got the better end of the Kawhi Leonard deal and what other major offseason moves that could determine what team brings home the Larry O'Brien trophy. This NBA offseason was as exciting as any in the history of the league and, as a result, will have major implications on how the real NBA season plays out.
20 Title: The Pacers sign Tyreke Evans
No one expected the Pacers to do much last season, but the break out season by Victor Oladipo helped them have a surprising season. They pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round and they eventually made the finals. That makes them a contender in the Eastern Conference going into next season because it is wide open since the departure of LeBron James. They made a great move to get them even closer to the top of the conference by adding versatile scorer Tyreke Evans. He is coming off of his best season since his rookie year and could add veteran leadership to go along with franchise centerpieces Oladipo, and Myles Turner.
19 Lottery: The Hawks trade Dennis Schroder
It is obviously clear that the Atlanta Hawks are in the midst of a massive rebuild, so it is no wonder why they traded arguably the best scorer on their team this off season. After they drafted Trae Young with the third pick in the draft, there was no need to keep Dennis Schroder on the roster, so they traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Carmelo Anthony and Mike Muscala. They immediately waived Anthony, so they basically just traded Schroder to get his contract off their books. This move will get Trae Young on the floor early in his career and that means the Hawks will surely be a lottery team again.
18 Title: The Nuggets sign Isaiah Thomas
The Nuggets were one win away from making the playoffs last season. They also employ Nikola Jokic one of the best young big men in the game who they just signed to a contract extension. They also got a bargain this off season by signing Isaiah Thomas to a veteran minimum contract. Thomas is two seasons removed from having a 50 point game in the playoffs and he flashed moments of his old self last season with the Lakers, providing a spark off the bench. He has legitimate sixth man of the year potential playing for the Nuggets if he can get back out on the court and stay healthy.
17 Lottery: The Rockets do not re-sign Trevor Ariza or Luc Richard Mbah Moute
The Houston Rockets are definitely in the Championship mix for next season, but they will take a step back after losing some veteran contributors from last seasons squad. They lost two key defenders in free agency when Trevor Ariza decided to go the Phoenix Suns and Luc Richard Mbah Moute signed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. This will hurt the Rockets depth and their defense will not be as strong because they were their best wing defenders. After a team has success other teams around the league often poach their better role players and this is a perfect example of that. They will still be a top tier team, but they might not challenge the Warriors as much as last year's team.
16 Title: The Mavericks sign DeAndre Jordan
The Mavericks were not anywhere close to being a title contender last season, but in one off season they might have put their team in a position to possibly make the playoffs. They drafted arguably the best player in the draft by trading for Luka Doncic and they signed a top tier big man in free agency. They were finally able to ink DeAndre Jordan to a deal two years after he decided to reject their offer in one of the weirdest free agency sagas in recent memory. By signing Jordan, the Mavericks have a big man to protect the paint and finish at the rim that they have been missing since their championship run with Tyson Chandler.
15 Lottery: The Hornets Trade Dwight Howard for Timofey Mozgov and picks
Dwight Howard played surprisingly well for the Hornets last season, he even had a 20 point and 20 rebound game. However his locker room presence became too distracting to handle and they traded him this off season to the Brooklyn Nets, where he was eventually bought out. It is clear with this move that the Hornets are looking towards the future rather than try to make a playoff push next season. Dwight is certainly not the player that he once was, and now he is getting traded for guys like Timofey Mozgov and second round picks... how the mighty have fallen.
14 Title: The Thunder get Paul George to re-sign
When Oklahoma City traded for Paul George last off season, few people expected him to resign with the Thunder. Those expectations for him to leave increased when the Thunder were booted by the Utah Jazz out of first round of the playoffs. However Russell Westbrook is what kept him with the franchise because George felt like they have some unfinished business to take care of. They did have to overpay to get him, but now the Thunder have two All-Stars to build around for the foreseeable future and that keeps them at least in the playoff conversation. If they can somehow tweak the roster to get more support around George and Westbrook then they should be considered a title contender.
13 Lottery: The Knicks sign Mario Hezonja
It has been hard for the New York Knicks to attract any marquee free agents to come play in the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. It has gotten so bad that the team’s biggest signing this offseason was the former Orlando Magic lottery pick Mario Hezonja who has been a bust for his first few seasons in the league. It is unlikely that Hezonja will do much to turn around the misfortune of the Knicks franchise and they will probably end up drafting in the lottery again next season. He could turn his career around and be a solid scorer to go along with Kristaps Porzingis, but that is really wishful thinking.
12 Title: The Lakers sign LeBron James
The biggest move of the NBA off season was arguably the Los Angeles Lakers signing LeBron James. They would have been in the Championship mix if they could have made anoter move to bring in another All-Star to play with him, but instead they signed a questionable group of veterans on one year deals. If James cam help the Lakers young core rapidly improve, then the team could surprise the league next season and have a long post season run. The King has carried his teams to the last 8 NBA finals, but all of that was in the Eastern Conference. In the West it could be asking too much of LeBron to will the Lakers to the finals, but they are definitely way closer to being a title contender than they have been since the early 2010s.
11 Lottery: The Nuggets trade Wilson Chandler for cash
The last reminder on the Nuggets roster of the Carmelo Anthony trade that happened in 2011 was small forward Wilson Chandler. Now he has been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for practically nothing in terms of on the court value. The Nuggets had to get under the luxury tax and simply could no longer afford to keep Chandler around so they got rid of him for cash considerations. Chandler can still help a team as a wing defender and he started over 70 games for the Nuggets last season. The move could end up being the reason why the Nuggets miss the playoffs again next season.
10 Title: The Pelicans signed Julius Randle
The New Orleans Pelicans are coming off of one of their best seasons in franchises short history and they have arguably the best player in the game Anthony Davis in the prime of his career. They may have lost their other All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, but they were able to grab another up and coming player from the University of Kentucky, Julius Randle. He had by far the best season of his career last season and went from battling for minutes in the beginning of the season to turning into arguably the Lakers' best player last season. He is a great power forward to put alongside Davis and his persuasive recruiting pitch to him is reportedly what made Randle sign with the Pelicans.
9 Lottery: The Trail Blazers Don't re-sign Ed Davis
The Trail Blazers were one of the most surprising teams in the league last season and their terrific regular season landed them the four seed in the Western Conference playoffs. A big part of their success last season, was the consistent defense at Center from Ed Davis. That is why it was surprising when they let Davis go to the Brooklyn Nets this off season. Without Davis protecting the rim and providing rebounding, the Blazers could struggle to be the same team they were last season. In the crowded West, they could miss the playoffs if they do not get young players like Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan to step up, and this mistake could cause the Blazers to fall back into the lottery.
8 Title: The Rockets re-sign Clint Capela and Chris Paul
It was obvious last season that with Chris Paul the Rockets were one of the best if not the best team in the league. There were grumblings reported by Fox Sport's Chris Broussard early on in the off season that Chris Paul was unhappy with the situation in Houston, and could leave to team up with fellow member banana boat crew LeBron James. But the Rockets were able to sign Paul to a four year deal worth $160 million. They were also able to lock up franchise Center Clint Capela, so they locked up their big three for another run at the Championship. They might have overpaid to do so, but they might be the only threat to dethrone the Warriors in the West next year.
7 Lottery: The Bucks let go of Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker was definitely a disappointment in his career as a Milwaukee Buck, but he still had plenty of time to turn his career around. That is why it was kind of surprising when the Bucks decided not to match the offer that the Chicago Bulls put in for Parker in free agency. He still has the potential to turn into one of the better scorers in the game and he proved that last year in the playoffs. Milwaukee has pretty much no chance to recruit big name free agents to come and play there, so they have to draft their star players. Parker was once the number two pick of the draft and he should have been a priority for them to resign and since they passed on him their future looks less bright.
6 Title: The Spurs sign Marco Belinelli
This was one of the more under the radar signings of free agency, but it could end up paying huge dividends for the Spurs next season. Belinelli had a solid season for the Philadelphia 76ers last season shooting the three pointer at an impressive rate. He averaged a career high with over 13 points per game last season and seemingly revived his career. Bellinelli made a name for himself as a three point specialist for the Spurs and winning a championship with them in 2014. Maybe he can be a key piece on another Spurs team that will compete to be a playoff team next season.
5 Lottery: The Lakers pass on Brook Lopez and sign Javale McGee
Last season the Brook Lopez started 72 games for the Lakers and Javale Mcgee only started 17 games for Warriors. Granted the Warriors were a much better team than the Lakers were, but the Lakers made a peculiar decision in free agency when they chose to sign McGee over Lopez who played decent for them last season. Lopez could also space the floor by shooting the three pointer which is something the Laker roster lacks at all positions. McGee is much more athletic than Lopez and he is a better rebounder, but he has never really played big minutes in past. The Lakers could have been better off giving starting Center job to Lopez rather than McGee.
4 Title: The Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard
Even though the Raptors had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, they still decided to overhaul their team in the off season. They fired the coach of the year Dwayne Casey and then they traded the face of their franchise Demar Derozan. In return they received Kawhi Leonard who is a top five player when he is healthy, but he was injured pretty much all of last season and it remains to be seen if he can be the same player he was before the injury. Leonard is also in the final year of his contract and he has already mentioned that he is unlikely to resign in Toronto. This may seem like a risky move, but at least for next season this makes the Raptors title contenders only second to Boston in the Eastern Conference. That makes the trade worth it because their previous roster consistently underachieved in the playoffs.
3 Lottery: The Pelicans miss out on Rondo and sign Elfrid Payton instead
One of the big reasons why the Pelicans made the playoffs and upset the Trail Blazers in the first round was the play of Rajon Rondo. He had a renaissance season as the starting point guard and looked like the Rondo of old playing solid defense and finishing the top ten in the league in assists. That is why it was peculiar to see Rondo walk away from the opportunity to start with the Pelicans to take a lesser role and less money with the Lakers. To top it off they brought in Elfrid Payton to be his replacement and he has pretty much underachieved his entire career. The Pelicans should take a major step back next season because they failed to get a deal done with Rondo.
2 Title: The Warriors sign DeMarcus Cousins
After winning back to back titles, no one expected the Warriors to improve their roster for this season. However they shocked the entire league and made a giant splash in free agency by signing by signing DeMarcus Cousins. It was even more surprising when they announced the terms of the contract for one year deal worth $5.3 million. That is an incredible bargain for a player that was expecting to get a max contract before he tore his achilles. If Cousins can come back and be close to the player he was before injury then the Warriors once again made the move of the off season, but that is a big if.
1 Lottery: The Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Two of the key members of the Spurs last Championship run were former finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green who once set the record for threes in a finals game and now they both will be playing with Toronto next season. This offseason the Spurs were put in a difficult position because Leonard requested a trade and the Spurs had to find the best deal for him to stay in the playoff hunt. They got back a solid All-Star player in Demar Derozan, and that means they will be a better team than they were last season. However they will not be as good as they were when Kawhi was fully healthy two seasons ago. By losing both of those guys the Spurs will have a much more difficult time winning a title.