Wednesday, July 24, 2024

2023 NBA offseason grades: Damian Lillard trade gives Bucks top mark; Celtics keep pace by adding Jrue Holiday

The wait, my NBA friends, is over.

The Damian Lillard finally came to a close, when he was sent to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal that will pair him with Giannis Antetokounmpo to form one of the league’s most fearsome duos. The Phoenix Suns also jumped into the deal, snagging Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and a couple more young pieces while parting ways with former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton after a tumultuous tenure.

Not to be outdone, the Celtics pounced on the jettisoned Jrue Holiday, keeping up with Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference arms race by acquiring their former player. Savage.

The deals obviously change the landscape of the NBA, and bring to an end the most pressing story of the summer. There is another one, however, that has yet to be resolved.

James Harden has said plenty about his own trade request — calling Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey “a liar” and saying that he’ll never play for an organization that employs him. So that leaves a giant question mark hanging over the offseason of Philadelphia and any team(s) that might be involved in a potential deal.

With that in mind, we went through all 30 NBA teams to assess who’s in and who’s out, and then we slapped a grade on their entire offseason, including the draft, trades, free agency and contract extensions. It’s not easy to collect all that info, so a massive shout out to both NBA.com and HoopsHype, who keep meticulously detailed lists for us to mine.

Here are offseason grades for every NBA team entering the 2023-24 season.

Atlanta Hawks

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Hey, the Hawks finally traded John Collins! Unfortunately for Atlanta fans, they were unable to net a significant return after years of more lucrative reported possibilities. C’est la vie. Murray’s extension is large (four years, $120 million), but well worth the investment after what he showed last season. Bufkin is an intriguing combo guard who could compete for bench minutes, and Mills is the type of vet the Hawks need to bring some stability (if they decide to keep him). Overall, nothing overwhelming for the Hawks this offseason, but they finally made a decision about Collins and locked up Murray. Solid. Grade: B

Boston Celtics

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Boston significantly improved its offseason with the late acquisition of Holiday, a nominal replacement (upgrade?) for Smart. He and Derrick White form one of the most fearsome defensive backcourts in the NBA, and Holiday brings the championship experience the Celtics otherwise lack. Porzingis is an interesting experiment, and he’ll be tasked with much more defensive responsibility with the departure of both Williamses. On the other end, his 3-point shooting will bring an intriguing element to Joe Mazzulla’s offense. Grade: A-

Brooklyn Nets

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

We’re not quite sure which direction the Nets are headed, but bringing the sharpshooting Johnson along for the ride was essential. Other than that, the Nets signed a lot of young players and rookies (Clowney and Whitehead) that could work themselves into more prominent roles, but right now most appear to be on the fringes. It will be interesting to watch how Brooklyn operates over the next couple of seasons. Grade: B

Charlotte Hornets

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Kelly Oubre Jr. (signed with 76ers)
  • Dennis Smith Jr. (signed with Nets)
  • Svi Mykhailiuk (signed with Celtics)
  • Xavier Sneed (waived)
  • Kobi Simmons (waived)

Mitch Kupchak made a gutsy call by taking Miller over Scoot Henderson — one of those moves that we could be talking about in 10 years for all the wrong reasons. But they were convinced that Miller’s shooting ability and premium position on the wing would be their best bet moving forward alongside the newly extended Ball. We’ll see what happens with Bridges, but bringing back Washington was essential for floor spacing. Grade: B

Chicago Bulls

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

*Stuck in the middle with you …* While Carter is a solid signing who will bring defensive toughness and some 3-point shooting, ultimately the Bulls decided to basically run it back with a 40-win roster. There was talk about potentially trading Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan, but that hasn’t happened. They’re fine, but it’s just hard to get excited about this team right now. Grade: C

Cleveland Cavaliers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

The Cavs desperately needed a consistent shooter to fill the wing around their young core, and Strus certainly fits the bill. They also added even more shooting, and some attitude, with Niang coming over from Philly. Cleveland hopes that the reinforcements will help put that ugly playoff loss behind them. Grade: A

Dallas Mavericks

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Hitching your wagon to Irving is a dangerous practice, but the Mavs didn’t have many other options. You can argue about the three-year, $120 million figure (with a player option) and say that the Mavs were bidding against themselves — which they might have been — but this is just the way it works with players of Irving’s caliber, regardless of his past. Outside of Irving, the Mavs had an impressive offseason, adding shooting with Curry, defensive versatility with Williams and considerable upside with rookies Lively and Prosper. It seems that Luka Doncic has some solid pieces around him for Dallas to make a leap this season. Grade: A-

Denver Nuggets

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Such is life when you’re at the top. The champions lost two of their eight rotation players from last season, leaving them with hopes that youngsters like Christian Braun and Peyton Watson can step into consistent roles. Holiday is a sneaky addition, who should vie for a spot in Malone’s tight rotation right away, but the signing of Jackson — who played a total of 18 postseason minutes — to the full taxpayer mid-level was a true head-scratcher. Ultimately the loss of Brown hurts tremendously, but Denver simply couldn’t afford to keep him. Grade: C+

Detroit Pistons

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Ausar Thompson may not have been as ballyhooed as his brother, Amen, but his explosive athleticism should fit nicely on the wing next to Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. Detroit also added another shooter in Harris and a rock-solid point guard in Morris. That said, the biggest addition to the Pistons is the return of Cunningham, who will be eager to show his talent after missing essentially the entire 2022-23 season. Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

The Chris Paul trade caught everyone off guard, and it’s still unclear what role he will play. What was clear, however, is that new Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavey Jr. wanted out of the Jordan Poole business, and bringing in Paul — on paper — seems like an excellent swap. Losing DiVincenzo hurts, but they simply couldn’t afford to pay him what he commanded, and Joseph is the type of reliable veteran that Steve Kerr loves. Poole’s postseason was cringeworthy, to say the least, but during the regular season he averaged 20 points and played all 82 games. Even the most optimistic prognosticators can’t possibly see Paul matching that, so where does that production come from? That’s the question we’re waiting to see answered. Grade: B

Houston Rockets

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

New coach. New point guard. New attitude (we’re looking at you, Dillon).

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Hoping to be a doormat no more, the Rockets brought in a no-nonsense leader in Ime Udoka and gritty players like VanVleet and Brooks to lead a veritable cornucopia of young, electrifying talent. Houston reportedly went hard at Brook Lopez, who would have provided a much-needed defensive anchor in the middle, but the Rockets still made huge strides this offseason while bringing in potential future stars in Thompson and Whitmore. The Kevin Porter Jr. situation must be navigated seriously and carefully, but Houston has enough talent to make a leap even if the two sides end up parting ways. Grade: A-

Indiana Pacers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Chris Duarte (traded to Kings)
  • Oshae Brissett (signed with Celtics)

The Pacers opened the checkbook (Venmo account?) for Brown, adding a secondary playmaker and defensive Swiss Army knife to a team that desperately needed both. Locking up Haliburton was the easiest decision Kevin Pritchard ever made, and bringing in Toppin to run and fly alongside Haliburton is the stuff goosebumps are made of. Walker was excellent in Summer League, showcasing adept playmaking skills to go along with his tremendous defensive upside. Love it all. Grade: A

LA Clippers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Westbrook earned another shot with the Clippers during an excellent playoff run, but that was their only significant move this offseason. They’ve been linked to James Harden as the only team he wants to play for, though you’d have to think a deal already would have been made if they were truly keen on bringing him aboard. Waiving Gordon was curious, given that they surrendered Luke Kennard and the No. 20 pick in the draft (they swapped to No. 30 and took Brown) to bring him aboard. Martin showed some flashes in Houston and will add some much-needed athleticism, but the path to minutes isn’t obvious. It looks like the Clippers are going to run it back, once again crossing their fingers that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can make it through the postseason intact. Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

The Lakers hope that whatever was clicking so well for them toward the end of last season and into the playoffs will continue, as they’ve brought back pretty much the entire rotation. Getting Reaves for four years, $56 million is borderline criminal, especially considering a cap space team could have presented him with a $100 million offer sheet. Vincent is a strong addition and a Darvin Ham-style player, while Hood-Schifino could work his way into playing time if and when injuries hit. Overall, a strong offseason for the Lakers, who had limited maneuverability and still have the potential to make in-season deals to bolster their championship chances. Grade: A

Memphis Grizzlies

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Dillon Brooks (sign-and-trade to Rockets)
  • Tyus Jones (traded to Wizards)

It was clear that Brooks wasn’t coming back, and bringing in Smart to replace him is a huge win. Extending Bane was a given, but losing super-sub Jones is significant, particularly with Ja Morant being suspended for the first 25 games of the season. Grade: B

Miami Heat

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Well, it looks like the Heat are out of options … at least for now. They missed out on Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, and they lost two playoff starters in Strus and Vincent. Not ideal, especially considering Lillard and Holiday both went to conference rivals. A lot of people are excited about Jaquez, but rookies don’t have a great track record of impacting winning, particularly in Miami. It seems like the Heat got markedly worse this offseason, so we’ll just have to wait for Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler to prove us wrong once again. Grade: C-

Milwaukee Bucks

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Jrue Holiday (traded to Trail Blazers)
  • Grayson Allen (traded to Suns)
  • Jevon Carter (signed with Bulls)
  • Joe Ingles (signed with Magic)
  • Wesley Matthews (signed with Hawks)

The Bucks already had a solid offseason grade for bringing back Middleton and Lopez, the latter of which was pursued relentlessly by the Rockets. But now, with the addition of Lillard, this an absolute grand slam for Milwaukee. If you could design a perfect offensive complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo, it would be Lillard — one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history with limitless range and playmaking skills to boot. There will be defensive questions with Holiday’s departure, but Lopez will do a lot to hide those flaws while new head coach Adrian Griffin figures things out. The Bucks became the clear Eastern Conference favorites this offseason. Grade: A+

Minnesota Timberwolves

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

The No. 1 priority this offseason was locking up Edwards, who was a no-brainer for the full rookie max extension that could be worth up to $260 million. Getting Reid back was a big win, as the backup center reportedly had many suitors, but Minnesota didn’t really bring in any significant talent to help push them up the Western Conference standings. Grade: B-

New Orleans Pelicans

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

Not much activity for the Pels this offseason, but Hawkins is a knock-down shooter who should play well off of their talented scorers. Also, getting Jones on a four-year, $54 million deal could look like an absolute steal if the All-Defense candidate continues to grow offensively. Grade: A-

New York Knicks

Who’s in:

  • Donte DiVincenzo (free agent)
  • Josh Hart (contract extension)
  • Duane Washington Jr. (re-signed)
  • Nathan Knight (free agent)
  • Dylan Windler (free agent)
  • Jacob Toppin (free agent)
  • Jaylen Martin (free agent)

Who’s out:

  • Obi Toppin (traded to Pacers)
  • Derrick Rose (signed with Grizzlies)

Wildcats, assemble! With Jalen Brunson already anchoring the Knicks, the Villanova reunion continued with the extension of Hart and the addition of DiVincenzo — both hard-nosed, smart, winning players. Outside of those two, the only other semi-major move was sending Toppin to the Pacers. You hate to see the talent go out the door, but he clearly wasn’t finding his way into significant playing time under Tom Thibodeau. Grade: B

Oklahoma City Thunder

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Jared Butler (signed with Wizards)
  • Dario Saric (signed with Warriors)

OKC traded up to get its man, Wallace, at No. 10, and he’ll join one of the league’s most exciting young rosters led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. Sam Presti didn’t add much more talent, but he continues to serve as a dumping ground for unwanted contracts, picking up asset after asset for his troubles. Grade: A-

Orlando Magic

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

You would have like to have seen the Magic pickup an elite shooter at No. 6 in the draft, but Black fits their mold of long, versatile playmakers. They then elected to go for shooting at No. 11, with Howard being considered a bit of a reach by most analysts. Either way, Orlando is poised to continued its upward ascent, and a veteran like Ingles is exactly what they need as they continue to learn and grow. Grade: B+

Philadelphia 76ers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Jalen McDaniels (signed with Raptors)
  • Shake Milton (signed with Timberwolves)
  • Georges Niang (signed with Cavaliers)
  • Mac McClung (signed with Magic)

Quiet, peaceful summer for the 76ers, as usual. The grade obviously can’t truly be fleshed out until we see what happens with James Harden, but so far Philly hasn’t made any moves that significantly improve the team, and the loss of Niang and Milton could hurt more than casual fans might think. They added no shooting outside of the aging Green, plus three backup centers (one of which — Harrell — has a torn ACL and meniscus), so let’s hope they have something cooking with Harden — or else they could be in big trouble. Grade: Incomplete

Phoenix Suns

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Chris Paul (traded to Wizards)
  • Deandre Ayton (traded to Trail Blazers)
  • Cameron Payne (traded to Spurs)  
  • Landry Shamet (traded to Wizards)
  • Torrey Craig (signed with Bulls)
  • Darius Bazley (signed with Nets)
  • Jock Landale (signed with Rockets)
  • Toumani Camara (traded to Trail Blazers)

There are big swings, and then there’s Mat Ishbia. The Suns saw that Kevin Durant and Devin Booker plus a bunch of minimum contracts couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, so how about Durant, Booker and Beal? In order to add some established starter-quality talent, the Suns ended their tumultuous relationship with Ayton, receiving Nurkic and Allen in return, plus a couple of intriguing young players in Little and Johnson. Something clearly wasn’t working last season, and the reload looks promising on paper. Grade: B+

Portland Trail Blazers

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Damian Lillard (traded to Bucks)
  • Nassir Little (traded to Suns)
  • Keon Johnson (traded to Suns)
  • Drew Eubanks (singed with Suns)
  • Cam Reddish (signed with Lakers)
  • Trendon Watford (waived)
  • Jeenathan Williams (waived)

The people of Portland can finally exhale, knowing that the rebuild has officially begun with Lillard now in Milwaukee and young building blocks Henderson, Ayton, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe in tow. Joe Cronin worked further magic by flipping Jrue Holiday for another potential cornerstone in Williams and a veteran guard in Brogdon who can either be kept or traded for more assets. For the overall haul Cronin was able to swing given the lack of leverage he had in the Lillard situation, Portland certainly earned its offseason mark. They might also be better than you think this season. Grade: A

Sacramento Kings

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • PJ Dozier (waived)
  • Chimeze Metu (signed with Suns)
  • Richaun Holmes (traded to Mavericks)
  • Matthew Delavedova (signed with Melbourne United)
  • Neemias Queta (signed with Celtics)

The Kings didn’t want to mess with a good thing, and you can’t really blame them. Sabonis’ number ($217 million over five seasons) may look a bit large, but that’s the price of doing business if you want to contend. Duarte is a sneaky pickup, another movement shooter in the mold of a Kevin Huerter Lite, and EuroLeague MVP Vezenkov — another sharpshooter — has been billed as a potential quality rotation player. But largely, Sacramento chose to get their young, up-and-coming band back together. Grade: B+

San Antonio Spurs

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Keita Bates-Diop (signed with Suns)

When the best NBA prospect since LeBron James walks through your doors, you’ve won the offseason. The Spurs front office also deserves credit for displaying noble restraint, electing to slow-play Wembanyama’s development rather than rushing to use cap space to try to contend right away. They’ll continue to be a dumping ground for unwanted contracts as they collect assets and wait for the right time to strike. Grade: A+

Toronto Raptors

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Fred VanVleet (signed with Rockets)
  • Dalano Banton (signed with Celtics)
  • Joe Wieskamp (signed with Mavericks)

The Raptors continued their infamous trend of losing star players for nothing, as they watched VanVleet jet off to Houston and dished out $26 million over two years to Schroder as a stopgap replacement. Dick will hopefully provide some necessary shooting, but outside of that Toronto has been left in limbo with a mediocre team and two players (Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby) whose clocks are ticking to potentially be the next stars who eventually walk without compensation. Grade: C

Utah Jazz

Who’s in:

Who’s out:

  • Rudy Gay (traded to Hawks)
  • Damian Jones (traded to Cavaliers)
  • Udoka Azubuike (signed with Suns)
  • Vernon Carey Jr. (waived)

After an unexpectedly successful 2022-23 campaign, the Jazz continued to load their coffers with valuable assets, acquiring Collins for practically nothing and making wise selections with their three first-round picks (Hendricks, George and Sensabaugh). While he hasn’t acquired a game-changing talent this offseason (yet?), Danny Ainge has still worked wonders in his short stint at Utah’s helm. Grade: A-

Washington Wizards

Who’s in:

  • Kyle Kuzma (re-signed)
  • Jordan Poole (traded from Warriors)
  • Bilal Coulibaly (drafted No. 7)
  • Tyus Jones (traded from Grizzlies)
  • Landry Shamet (traded from Suns)
  • Mike Muscala (traded from Celtics)
  • Danilo Gallinari (traded from Celtics)
  • Patrick Baldwin Jr. (traded from Warriors)
  • Ryan Rollins (traded from Warriors)
  • Taj Gibson (re-signed)
  • Tristan Vukcevic (drafted No. 42)
  • Jared Butler (free agent)
  • Eugene Omoruyi (free agent)
  • Dejan Vasiljevic (free agent)

Who’s out:

  • Bradley Beal (traded to Suns)
  • Kristaps Porzingis (traded to Celtics)
  • Monte Morris (traded to Pistons)
  • Jordan Goodwin (traded to Suns)
  • Jay Huff (signed with Nuggets)
  • Isaiah Todd (traded to Suns)

You can nitpick the meager return for Bradley Beal (no first-rounders outside of pick swaps), but that’s what happens when you give your star player an unprecedented no-trade clause and he decides he only wants to go to one team. That being said, you have to applaud the new Wizards front office, led by former Clippers exec Michael Winger, for choosing an unquestionable direction. Poole is a 20-point scorer whose shoulder-chip has now grown exponentially, and Kuzma showed he’s more than capable of carrying an offense when necessary. Coulibaly was a huge swing at No. 7, and will likely take at least a couple of years to develop. Washington also picked up an intriguing prospect in Baldwin Jr. and trade chips in Jones and Shamet. All in all, not bad building blocks for a rebuild given their lack of leverage, but don’t expect too many wins in the near future. Grade: B

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