All Hail the NBA Offseason

It’s mid-July, the offseason is two weeks old, the second (or third?) Dwightmare is officially over, and we have at least three teams who vaulted themselves into the title contender conversation. This summer’s especially fun because teams who were good last year (Nets, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers) have gotten much better, and then you have a separate group of teams who are going into scorched-earth tanking mode already. In a normal year, you’re not technically tanking until you bench your best players for the final three months of the season, but what the Sixers just did has gotta qualify. Ditto for the Suns, Magic, and especially the Jazz, who let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk and then replaced them with Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. INSPIRED.

The offseason is always great, but this one’s been especially fun as two sides of the league do everything they can to either contend for a title or gut their roster and lose 50 games. In the middle we have the Lakers, reloading with Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar and Nick Young as Kobe’s wingmen for next year. Again, the offseason is GREAT.

Anyway, to celebrate the season, let’s check out a handful of teams and hand out grades for what’s happened thus far. We begin with the trade that kicked everything off back on draft night …

Nets

The Andrei Kirilenko deal is not 100 percent official yet, but if it happens … Kirilenko will be a phenomenal weapon for Brooklyn, plus he’ll ease the pressure on Paul Pierce. That’s been the problem with Brooklyn’s plan all along. Pierce would be great as a weapon off the bench for like 25 minutes a game. As a starter on a team with no bench playing 35 minutes a night? It won’t end well. But maybe AK47 fixes that. What’s more, AK47 paired with Joe Johnson and KG gives Brooklyn a pretty outrageous combination to throw at people on defense.

The $10 million deal seems too good to be true and/or legal, obviously, and I can’t wait to spend the next nine months speculating about what exotic contraband Mikhail Prokhorov supplied to make it happen. It’s gonna be great. At the same time, though: Kirilenko taking a completely legitimate discount makes perfect sense. Not out of any patriotic loyalty or wanting to end up on a contender, but just think about it. If you were Russian and in a position to do Prokhorov a favor, wouldn’t you do it?

Prokhorov probably didn’t promise anything extra because he didn’t have to. If you’re helping out The Prokhorov, eventually good things will happen.

Speaking of good things happening, there was also Andray Blatche, who re-signed for the bare minimum in Brooklyn so he could force the Wizards to pay him as much as possible of his amnestied salary this year. I love this game.

Big picture? The lineup it has looks good on paper, but this team already makes me hate basketball. The 2013-14 Nets might be the most joyless, unwatchable good team in NBA history.

That’s before you get to Jason Kidd looming over everything, one of the worst benches in the entire league, Deron Williams’s up-and-down history over the past two years, and the decaying bones of the Ubuntu exiles. Put it all together, and the KG/Pierce trade feels like a really expensive ticket to a fourth or fifth seed. The Kirilenko signing makes them more dangerous, but still. This feels like a wonderfully insane billionaire trying to buy an answer to Miami’s superteam and ending up with an offbrand version that’s somehow twice as expensive.

Grade: B-

Trail Blazers

Hey, speaking of insane billionaires! From CBS Sports: “He’s currently being sued by his own ex-military bodyguards amidst allegations of illegal activity, his helicopter recently crashed during an excursion to Antarctica and, oh yeah, he’s gone through two general managers and a vice president of basketball operations since the 2010 NBA Draft. He passes his time, including on Thursday morning, exchanging tweets about what rock song the Seattle Seahawks, his NFL franchise, should play at practice. [Seahawks coach Pete] Carroll plays along, of course, because he, like every Allen employee, knows his job depends on it.”

That’s from 2011 and it has nothing to do with NBA free agency. It’s just important to remember that for all our celebrations of Prokhorov, Paul Allen’s right up there in the psychotic rich guy power rankings.

But next to Brooklyn, the Blazers’ offseason is the polar opposite. The Blazers added a collection of solid, undervalued young players to fill out their starting lineup and bench. They drafted C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe as weapons to throw into the backcourt off the bench, added Dorell Wright for $6 million over two years to back up Nicolas Batum, stole Robin Lopez to play center next to LaMarcus Aldridge, AND wound up landing Thomas Robinson for basically nothing as Houston tried to clear space for Dwight Howard. Instead of tearing things down and selling off half its roster to get ready for 2014 draft, Portland became one of the most interesting young teams in the league. Everything it did made sense the past few weeks. This is the opposite of crashing your helicopter during a recent excursion to Antarctica.

Grade: A-

Knicks

Grade: KNICKS!

Thunder

Hey, remember last July when we thought the Thunder were going to be the best team in the West for like the next 10 years?

I’m sorry.

The Thunder deserve an F forever because of the James Harden trade. I’m sorry.

They’ve also refused to amnesty Kendrick Perkins so far this summer, which at this point should probably just happen on principle. Then they lost Kevin Martin, missed on all the best replacements for him, and might head into next season pinning their hopes to Jeremy Lamb as a capable third scoring option. Pretty cool summer for Sam Presti. It’s a good thing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are aliens who will make this work regardless, because the Thunder have been flunking things for a while here.

Grade: F

Pelicans

People were killing New Orleans on draft night for the Jrue Holiday trade, and plenty of those critics are baffled by the Tyreke Evans move just the same. Let’s start with Holiday. If he’s one of your two best players, you’re going to spend a lot of time wanting just a little bit more. But as a third star on a fair deal who’s still the same age as Damian Lillard, Holiday becomes a lot more fun. Likewise for Evans as a second scorer (depending on what happens with Eric Gordon). Evans plateaued or maybe even regressed in Sacramento the past two years, but that situation was a mess for like five different reasons. Granted, Evans didn’t help turn things around, but that’s why he’s making $40 million instead of $80 million.

Look at it this way. If Anthony Davis turns into a monster in the next two years, these flawed superstars — Holiday, Gordon, Evans — become pretty killer complementary pieces. And … Aren’t we all assuming Davis is going to turn into a monster in the next two years?

Don’t the Pelicans sorta have to bet on that?

Considering Tom Benson apparently gave a directive to Dell Demps to churn out a playoff team ASAP, this offseason couldn’t have gone much better.

Grade: A-

Mavericks

Jesus Christ.

Grade: If you see Dirk Nowitzki in the streets, give him a hug.

Clippers

They turned a bad coach into a good coach, brought back the third-best player in the NBA, landed two players — Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick — who become twice as valuable on a good team, and drafted Reggie Bullock, who could be huge if he’s able to defend the perimeter. They still need DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to hit another level if we’re going to take them seriously as title contenders, but they needed that all along. In the meantime, at least they are doing everything else right.

Grade: A

Cavs

There’s been a lot of praise for the calculated risk the Cavs are taking with Andrew Bynum. I live with a Sixers fan, who sent me this Bynum quote from December when I asked about his health: “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees. Cartilage is missing. That’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, next three to five years, there may be something out there that really does help. “

Uhh … Good luck with that, Cleveland.

The Bynum move fits with every other move the Cavs have made recently, including their Jarrett Jack/Anthony Bennett decisions this summer, Dion Waiters last June, Tristan Thompson in 2011, etc. The notion that this was “smart” for the Cavs fits with every other “smart” move the Cavs have made over the past few years. It’s defensible, but probably not actually smart.

Grade: D

Suns, Bobcats, Jazz, Sixers, and Magic

All of these teams have done a wonderful job setting the stage for an epic tanking contest next year. Not even kidding about the epic part. With half the sports Internet dedicated to following the NBA, the GIFs and YouTube videos and advanced stats will end up making this every bit as entertaining as the playoff race next season.

Grade: TANK!

Gotta hand out chains to all the tanking coaches and GMs next year.

Warriors

Considering the luxury-tax hell the Warriors were staring down as recently as three weeks ago (detailed by Zach Lowe here), it’s a massive victory to (a) somehow find willing takers for the Biedrins and Jefferson corpses (go Jazz!), and (b) land Andre Iguodala instead of overpaying Jack and Carl Landry.

Now they can potentially roll out a lineup of Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, Iggy, Harrison Barnes, and Steph Curry, the Messiah. I love the Warriors so much. Everything still hinges on the health of Bogut — who could barely walk by the end of last year’s playoffs — and (gulp) Curry, and Iguodala’s going to fall off as that contract plays out. But as far as the offseason’s concerned, they exceeded everyone’s expectations by a lot, and for the next year or two they come back with a team that could possibly challenge for the West. Not bad.

Grade: A

Phil Jackson

Grade: A+++++++++++++++

Rockets

The Dwight deal is kind of like the Bynum situation in Cleveland. It makes sense, it’s completely defensible, but that doesn’t mean it was a good decision. Dwight’s back issues are real, his game has regressed on both ends of the floor, and aside from whatever bizarre power struggle he had with Kobe, even Steve Nash was disgusted by him last year. STEVE NASH. Nash could develop chemistry playing with you or me on the block, but Dwight has become just that impossible these days.

On the other hand: Even 80 percent of what Dwight was in 2010 would make the Rockets title contenders, so Houston’s betting that last year was just a disaster all-around in L.A., Dwight was playing hurt, and he’ll bounce back this season. Houston’s betting four years and $88 million.

It’s a bad decision if Dwight is the player we saw last year: slow on defense, perpetually unhappy, and forever incapable of dominating consistently on offense. I’ve written this elsewhere, but Dwight reminds me of Vince Carter. The same way Vince was instantly compared to MJ, Dwight was the next Shaq, and for the first seven or eight years of their careers, seeing them in person was enough to sell you on the potential forever. Then … it just never really happened. They both had ugly exits from their first team, turned injury-prone and maybe a little soft, and it was never the same as those handful of seasons when they looked like potential Hall of Famers. Last year Dwight was in the Nets phase of the analogy. You would see flashes every few nights, he didn’t look any different, but he wasn’t the same guy who’d been carrying teams all by himself for years.

Maybe Dwight gets most of it back this year and the Rockets dominate, but — whether it’s his past teammates calling him out, coaches who’ve never gotten through to him, the injuries, the suspect work ethic — there are a lot of red flags. If Houston is getting anything close to the 2010 Dwight Howard, especially on defense, this is an A-plus. But they’re probably not getting that guy, right? What if they just committed $88 million to make Carter on the Nets the face of their franchise?

Grade: C+

Pistons

1. Drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to fill in at shooting guard.

2. Drafted Tony Mitchell in the second round to just come through and destroy rims whenever necessary.

3. Hired Rasheed Wallace as an assistant coach.

4. Signed Josh Smith to a disturbingly rational four-year, $56 million deal to slide in next to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

5. Signed Chauncey Billups to be the veteran ringleader that’ll help oversee this batshit insane science experiment.

And they still have Drummond, a freak of nature who wasn’t totally unleashed on the NBA last year, but will be this year.

Let’s all become Pistons fans.

It makes a lot of sense. If you’re a team like Detroit, your best chance at building a contender is taking castoffs in free agency, and gambling on prospects like Drummond, Caldwell-Pope, and Mitchell.

I have no idea whether it’ll work, but it’s going to be fun to watch them try. Caldwell-Pope and the still-only-21-year-old Brandon Knight are complete wild cards, but Billups and Rodney Stuckey should help steady the backcourt in the meantime. Granted, beyond those two, nobody on the roster can make a jump shot, but that’s beside the point. Think of how terrifying a Drummond-Monroe-Smith front line will be. THINK ABOUT IT. The rest will figure itself out over the next few years. For now, instead of treading water or going into full-on tank mode, the Pistons took risks in the draft and free agency, and now they have a team that will play killer defense, run the floor, and might literally dunk you to death.

Grade: A+, obviously

Now: Is it normal to be this excited about guys like Caldwell-Pope and Smith? Of course not. It’s ridiculous. Maybe a little sad.

But that’s what’s happened with the NBA the past few years. Following all this has become its own separate pastime, and as we go, everyone gets irrationally excited about one team or another. We predict big things for lineups we’ve never seen, worship GMs nobody could identify in person (HINKIE), follow way too many beat writers on Twitter, pray for teams to tank, etc. This year’s been as fun as any other. The league’s got more talent than ever, good teams are getting better, and bad teams are getting ready to be extra horrible, preparing for one more giant influx of talent next year, when we’ll do this all over again. I don’t know how we got here, but at this point, the NBA offseason is almost its own sport.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out and frame Drummond’s Orlando Summer League box score from yesterday.

Filed Under: Andrew Bynum, Andrew Sharp, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, Kevin Durant, NBA, Russell Westbrook

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Andrew Sharp is a staff editor at Grantland.

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