After a whirlwind start to the 2019 NBA offseason, the dust finally appears to be settling.
Anthony Davis is now a Los Angeles Laker. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are Brooklyn Nets, while Kemba Walker is a Boston Celtic. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both Los Angeles Clippers, and Russell Westbrook is reunited with his old teammate James Harden on the Houston Rockets.
As Dwyane Wade aptly put it, his recent jersey collection has already turned into a throwback edition.
All i know is my jersey swap collection is looking kinda bootleg since FA started 😂😂😂. In 20 years ain’t no one believing those players played in those uniforms❤️
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) July 12, 2019
Which teams came out as clear winners of perhaps the wildest summer in NBA history? When taking into account the draft, free agency and trades, the following five stand out.
Los Angeles Clippers
It’s only right to start off with the franchise that pulled off free agency’s biggest coup.
While Kawhi Leonard had long been rumored as a potential free-agent target for the Clippers, their stunning acquisition of Paul George was a “material change” that not even Twitter’s rumor grifters could have foreseen. Although LAC gave up an unprecedented haul to acquire George—thus ensuring it would land Leonard, too—the chance to build the NBA’s next great superteam is priceless.
The Clippers would deserve an A-plus just for acquiring George and Leonard, two of the best two-way wings in the NBA, but they nailed a number of moves around the margins as well.
While Leonard weighed his decision, the Clippers worked their way into the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade, acquiring Moe Harkless along with the Miami Heat’s 2023 lottery-protected first-rounder (which they promptly flipped in the George trade). Renting out $11.5 million in cap space to acquire a productive player and a future first-round pick is always good business, although the New York Knicks seemingly haven’t gotten that memo.
The Clippers also took care of their own, too. They re-signed Patrick Beverley to a three-year, $40 million deal; ditto Ivica Zubac to a four-year, $28 million contract; re-upped Rodney McGruder on a three-year, $15 million deal; and snagged JaMychal Green on a two-year, $9.7 million contract with their room exception.
Throw in their acquisition of rookie big man Mfiondu Kabengele—they traded the Philadelphia 76ers’ lottery-protected 2020 first-rounder to the Brooklyn Nets for him on draft night—and perhaps no team had a better summer than the Clippers. They’re now loaded with both the requisite star power and supporting cast to make a deep playoff run.
Last year’s version was aggressive and cohesive, but they lacked top-line closing power outside of Lou Williams’ annual heroics. By adding Leonard and George while keeping much of the supporting core together, the Clippers now have star closers, plenty of All-NBA-level defense and a head start on chemistry since they didn’t actually turn over that much of their roster to get these deals done.
The Clippers might have stunned the NBA by landing both Leonard and George, but the Nets weren’t far behind when they snagged Durant and Irving shortly after free agency began.
Thanks to some creative work from their front office, the Nets were able to build out their supporting cast, too.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks, the Nets “included about $1 million in yearly performance-based incentives” in the contracts for Durant and Irving, which “allowed them to fit contracts for DeAndre Jordan and second-round pick Nicolas Claxton into cap space.” Had they not done so, they would have been limited to offering minimum-salary contracts for both players, which couldn’t have extended beyond two years.
Beyond the creative cap math to make room for Jordan and Claxton, the Nets brought in Garrett Temple on a two-year, $9.7 million contract with their room exception and inked Wilson Chandler and David Nwaba to minimum deals. They also picked up a lottery-protected 2020 first-rounder (via the Sixers) by trading the No. 27 pick to the Clippers, which helped them carve out a bit more cap space in the process.
General manager Sean Marks began the offseason by using two first-rounders to salary-dump Allen Crabbe onto the Atlanta Hawks, which would have looked questionable had the Nets struck out in free agency. (See: Knicks, New York.) But unlike the Knicks, the Nets had their offseason work pay off, giving them championship upside once Durant returns from his torn Achilles in 2020-21.
With Durant likely sidelined for this upcoming season, the Nets might not threaten the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers for Eastern Conference supremacy. But even sans Durant, they should be better than they were last season thanks to Irving, Jordan, Chandler, Temple and Nwaba, all of whom join a stellar supporting cast including Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris.
There will be chemistry questions surrounding a young, overachieving supporting cast now being “demoted” to play behind Irving’s lead—see Boston Celtics, circa 2018-19—but head coach Kenny Atkinson has done a great job finding roles for nearly everyone on his roster. He now has far more talent to work with, which should lead to greater results.
New Orleans Pelicans
When your franchise cornerstone demands a trade in January, you’re typically backed up against a wall and forced to make the best of the situation.
New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin proved to be the exception to that rule.
Although the Lakers were largely bidding against themselves for Anthony Davis, Griffin still got them to give up Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, this year’s No. 4 overall pick, a top-eight-protected 2021 first-rounder that otherwise becomes unprotected in 2022, a 2023 pick swap and an unprotected 2024 first-rounder that the Pelicans can defer until 2025. Although the Clippers would give up more for George a few weeks later, it was still a massive haul to help jump-start the Pelicans’ rebuild.
The Pelicans then cashed in on draft night, spending the No. 1 overall pick on Zion Williamson and flipping the Lakers’ No. 4 pick for Nos. 8, 17 and 35. They grabbed Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker at 8 and 17, respectively, both of whom promptly showed out at Las Vegas Summer League.
In free agency, Griffin snagged JJ Redick on a two-year, $26.5 million deal and traded two second-round picks from the Golden State Warriors to the Utah Jazz for Derrick Favors. The Pels also re-signed Darius Miller and landed Euroleague sharpshooter Nicolo Melli on a two-year, $8 million deal. Those signings give the Pelicans a quality cast of veterans surrounding their new young core.
Over the past few months, the Pelicans have proved more adept at building around Williamson than they ever did during Davis’ seven-year tenure in New Orleans. If not for Sean Marks and Clippers GM Michael Winger, Griffin would be the runaway front-runner for Executive of the Year.
A team this young and athletic should be expected to play fast, but don’t overlook the Pelicans’ ability to operate in the half court when the youngsters show their age or hit the midseason energy wall. Redick, Favors, Ingram and Jrue Holiday have all been around long enough to provide some steadiness to what should otherwise be a high-octane, high-altitude bunch learning on the fly.
The Utah Jazz might not have dominated headlines this offseason like the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers or Houston Rockets, but they had a phenomenal summer nevertheless.
While the Jazz sorely lacked a secondary creator beyond Donovan Mitchell last season, they’ll have no such problem in 2019-20 after they traded Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, the No. 23 pick and a future first-rounder to the Memphis Grizzlies for Mike Conley. The 31-year-old is fresh off one of his best-ever seasons and should give the Jazz a much-needed offensive boost alongside Mitchell.
They pivoted well to a plan B after Nikola Mirotic turned down their three-year, $45 million free-agency offer in favor of Barcelona, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. Utah got Indiana Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic instead, and the two sides quickly came to terms on a four-year, $73 million deal.
The Jazz weren’t done there, though. They rounded out their bench by signing Ed Davis to a two-year, $9.7 million deal with the room exception to help replace Favors and brought in Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay on minimum deals. In Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz now have one of the West’s best starting fives on paper. Davis, Green, Mudiay, Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale give them a deep, versatile bench, too.
No longer do the Jazz have to rely on two-big lineups that cramp Mitchell’s spacing to get downhill. This is always a well-executed bunch, but they can now play faster, smaller and with more stretchiness than ever before. That’s especially important as defenses load up more often on the burgeoning Mitchell.
The Jazz don’t tout the star power of the Clippers, Lakers or Rockets, but don’t be surprised if they go on a deep playoff run nevertheless thanks to their offseason moves.
The Grizzlies put the final nail in the coffin of the Grit-and-Grind era this summer, but they’ve already taken a monumental step forward in their rebuild.
The Pelicans were the biggest winners of the draft lottery, but the Grizzlies weren’t far behind, as they jumped up to the No. 2 pick despite entering the night tied for the seventh-best odds. That enabled them to select Murray State point guard Ja Morant, the natural heir to Conley as Memphis’ next floor general.
As Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke continued to tumble down the draft board, the Grizzlies flipped the No. 23 pick and a 2024 second-rounder to the Oklahoma City Thunder, moving up to No. 21, where they stopped Clarke’s draft-day slide. The 22-year-old proceeded to immediately show out at Las Vegas Summer League, asserting himself as a potential difference-maker alongside 2018 No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies were also strategic about how best to use their salary-cap space. Rather than splurge on middle-of-the-road veterans, they re-signed Jonas Valanciunas to a reasonable three-year, $45 million contract and inked point guard Tyus Jones to an incentive-laden three-year, $28 million offer sheet that the Minnesota Timberwolves declined to match.
The Grizzlies leveraged a portion of their cap room to pick up additional assets, too. They acquired a lightly protected 2024 first-round pick from the Warriors to take on Andre Iguodala’s $17.2 million salary, and they landed 2017 No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, a 2020 second-rounder and a conditional 2021 second-rounder from the Suns in exchange for Korver and Jevon Carter.
Memphis may be one of the worst teams in the West next season, but Morant, Clarke, Jones, Jackson and Melton will join Jackson Jr. to form one of the NBA’s most intriguing young cores. Teams like this usually play fast and more than a little sloppy, but upping the tempo represents an evolution that the Grizzlies have long needed.
That it comes around a talented young group exploring its upside is even sweeter.