The NBA’s pre-restart transaction window has officially closed, with several teams adding reinforcements ahead of the league’s resumption in Orlando later this month.
These signings aren’t earth-shattering by any means but could make a difference as squads look to improve their seeding and set their sights on title runs. With so much uncertainty surrounding how the season will play out, adding the right depth pieces could be a huge factor when all is said and done.
Here are the five most impactful signings from the transaction window.
J.R. Smith, Los Angeles Lakers
Cue the memes, Smith and LeBron James have reunited with the Lakers. All jokes aside, this signing makes total sense.
With Avery Bradley opting out of the season’s restart, Los Angeles had a hole to fill in its rotation. Enter Smith, who won a championship with James during their years with the Cavaliers. He’s as streaky a shooter as they come, capable of catching fire and putting up points in a hurry, shot selection be damned.
Even with his track record, it’s still unclear what type of player the Lakers are getting since Smith hasn’t suited up in 2019-20 and only appeared in 11 games last season. If he’s able to come close to his career three-point mark of 37 per cent he’ll fit in just fine, as long as he doesn’t forget the score in the dying seconds of a Finals game again.
Johnson was one of the beneficiaries of a wild 2016 off-season that saw a number of players sign bloated contracts due to the salary cap’s rise. The Miami Heat ended up forking over $50 million over four years for someone who averaged less than nine points per game the season prior.
The Fresno State product did make some strides after signing the deal, but never lived up to expectations. He was ultimately traded to Phoenix, where he was waived after averaging 5.7 points per contest on poor shooting percentages this season.
Now he finds himself with the Nets, who won’t have Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and likely Spencer Dinwiddie when the season resumes. With that type of firepower missing from the lineup, the scoring will have to come from somewhere and the Nets — who initially signed Johnson to an offer sheet in 2016 before the Heat matched it — will be hoping Johnson can shoulder some of the load.
The Spurs were already in serious jeopardy of seeing their impressive 22-year playoff streak snapped before LaMarcus Aldridge was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Making up four games on the Memphis Grizzlies and also having to jump the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers seems like an impossible task now.
But you can never truly rule out a Gregg Popovich-coached team, regardless of the odds. Zeller, who hasn’t played this season, won’t simply replace Aldridge in the rotation, but he’s a decent option for a Spurs team that’s thin in the frontcourt. San Antonio might be forced to go small more often without Aldridge available, but Zeller gives them a second traditional centre behind Jakob Poeltl should the situation and matchup call for it.
After mutual interest between the player and team dating back to September, Noah signed a 10-day contract with the Clippers on March 9 but never got the chance to debut with his new team before the league shut down. He should get that chance now, and brings valuable insurance up front behind Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac.
Noah enjoyed a solid bounce-back 42-game stint with the Grizzlies last season, averaging 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 16 minutes per game. He injured his Achilles in a freak accident in September, missing his chance to sign with a team to start the year. Now recovered from that injury, he provides depth, experience and leadership to one of the top title contenders in the league. He likely won’t play a big role if the rotation is fully healthy but he could be an important piece if injury strikes or the right matchup presents itself.
The only player on this list who isn’t joining a new team, Dort was rewarded for his strong play leading up to the season’s pause with a multi-year extension. His stats don’t jump off the page — 6.2 points, 41.4 FG%, 30.1 3P% — but the Montreal native is an impactful piece for the surprising Thunder.
Dort opened the season with the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue on a two-way contract before making his NBA debut in December. By the end of January he was a fixture in the Thunder’s starting lineup, impressing with his contributions, particularly on defence. Highlights of his season so far include a 23-point outburst against the Kings and his defensive efforts in his first career start, helping hold James Harden to 9-of-29 shooting in a key win over the Houston Rockets.
Oklahoma City went 16-5 in the 21 games Dort started, which fueled the team’s rise to fifth in the Western Conference.