Raptors, division rivals headline NBA’s off-season winners, losers

Michael Grange and Eric Smith talk about the signings of Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry, and how the Raptors look going forward.

The NBA’s off-season never sleeps. With intriguing free agents still available, Summer League in full swing, and a trade-rumour mill that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon, there are likely to be more fireworks before training camp rolls around in the fall.

But we’ve seen plenty of major moves across the NBA already. Enough that, as you can see, it’s time to take a step back and look at which teams and players are winning and losing the summer of 2017. Let’s take a look:

WINNERS:

Toronto Raptors:

The Raptors’ moves — which likely aren’t over yet — may not have been as flashy as most of the personnel changes from teams listed below, but there’s certainly a lot to like thus far.

Say what you will about making Kyle Lowry a $100-million man, but the Raps wouldn’t have been able to replace his talent this summer had they let the all-star point guard walk. And, frankly, hitting reset on the roster — going young and rebuilding through the draft and asset accumulation — never made sense given the Raptors are only one year into DeMar DeRozan’s contract as the franchise’s leading scorer is just entering his prime.

So instead they brought Lowry back, and Serge Ibaka, too, and did so with a pair of three-year deals that keeps the Raptors core intact in the short term, where a shot at another conference finals appearance or two is well within grasp, while also being able to have a clear-out in a few years (or sooner via trade) if things don’t work out.

Those were the building-block moves, securing the DeRozan-Lowry-Ibaka core. But it’s the peripheral moves made this past weekend that cement the Raptors’ inclusion on the winners list.

DeMarre Carroll’s $30-million cap hit was a major impediment. He’s a good character guy who was heavily involved in charity work in the community, but was simply a non-factor — or worse — for most of his time on the court. Sending him to Brooklyn was a great move on the part of Masai Ujiri, especially given that the 2018 first-round pick he had to include as incentive for the Nets is expected to be in the mid-20s, and, more importantly, the Raptors are already deep in young talent.

The feather in Ujiri’s cap, of course, is the C.J. Miles trade. Three-point shooting was the No. 1 need for the Raptors heading into the summer, and in Miles they acquired one of the best long-bomb specialists in the NBA, one who can soak up minutes at small forward and whose productivity won’t wane whether he starts or comes off the bench. Cory Joseph was a fan favourite and a great competitor, but the development of Delon Wright — a very capable backup point guard — and the surprisingly effective play of third-string point guard Fred VanVleet made Joseph and his $7.6-million contract expendable.

That’s sound team-building.

Oklahoma City Thunder:

One month ago the Thunder were a one-dimensional club with MVP Russell Westbrook surrounded by an ill-fitting supporting cast that made his one-on-five game appear somewhat defensible. Today? Westbrook is surrounded by a near-juggernaut of a starting lineup that should be able to challenge for home court in the West.

The Thunder’s biggest need was shooting, and they got a killer shooter in Paul George. He also happens to be a four-time all-star and all-NBA talent, and should, on paper, fit nicely as OKC’s second option. George likes the ball in his hands when it matters most, and so it will be interesting to see him have to defer to Westbrook in those situations, but otherwise George is the impact wing player the Thunder needed — and then some.

George was the big addition, but subtler deals to bring back Andre Roberson (three years, $30 million) and sign free agent Patrick Patterson (three years, $16 million) offer good value for a pair of players who will have clear roles and both the skill and mindset to fulfill them. Don’t sleep on Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson, too, whose ability to stretch the floor should allow him to get plenty of playing time at shooting guard.

James Harden:

The NBA’s richest man may have lost out on an MVP award, but he got an MVP-type talent in Chris Paul on his roster, with more moves likely on the way. Surrounded by complimentary players, Harden was a one-man show last season but will now have more support and a chance to at least challenge the Warriors out west.

Of course, there are also another 228 million reasons why Harden won big this summer…

Miami Heat:

The Heat inked three free agent contracts last week, and they were all steals given how important each player projects to be for Miami this season and beyond. James Johnson (four years, $60 million) and Kelly Olynyk (four years, $50 million) may be best served as role players on elite teams, but on Miami they’ll each play an integral part in the Heat’s expected success next season. Olynyk won’t often replicate his breakout performance from the 2017 playoffs — “The Kelly Game” — but he’s an ideal stretch five and offers a nice complement to Hassan Whiteside down low.

To get both him and Johnson – who had a career year last season, so much so that he was the guy with the ball in his hands in crunch time down the stretch – is a nice coup for a team that struck out in the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes.

The biggest move, of course, was re-signing Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million), who made good on his make-good, one-year, $2-million deal he signed last season. Waiters averaged nearly 16 points per game and could improve on that this year as Miami’s go-to scorer. Throw in Goran Dragic, Whiteside, and a deep bench that includes Justise Winslow (coming back from injury), Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and a glut of young talent, and the Heat spent shrewdly and should be a playoff team as a result.

Josh Jackson:

When it comes to finding opportunity on an NBA roster, landing spot and situation are everything for a rookie. On draft night, it was considered a bad stroke of luck for Jackson that he fell to the Phoenix Suns. An incredible two-way talent, he could have gone to better teams with more existing talent, like Boston or Philly. But in Phoenix, he’ll get a chance to play significant minutes in a major role from Day 1 and form a really exciting young core alongside Devin Booker.

Given free reign, Jackson should be a Rookie of the Year candidate — for the same reasons that Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. will be a favourite to win the award, too. And hey, look, the two squared off at the NBA’s Summer League on Sunday!

Boston Celtics:

I’m torn on the Celtics, who, I guess, have to be winners after acquiring one of the best players out there. Hayward should fit in nicely and help propel Boston to the next level. Third-overall pick Jayson Tatum has looked good in his Summer League appearances thus far, too, clearly far beyond most of the players he’s sharing the court with.

But the Avery Bradley trade stings. It was an understandable move done for salary cap reasons, but the Celts will miss Bradley and his defensive presence dearly. It’s also somewhat deflating to see that GM Danny Ainge has this bounty of picks and young assets, and couldn’t turn them into a fourth star veteran to go alongside Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, and Al Horford. Again, Boston got better, but it feels like we’ll be playing the “What if?” game when we talk about the Celtics’ summer of 2017 for years to come.

The Lakers and the Ball brand:

Speaking of Summer League, the annual Las Vegas showcase was buzzing all weekend thanks to a pair of games starring second-overall pick Lonzo Ball. Here’s what we learned from his two games: Ball will be fun to watch, and should be pretty good.

His first game was a dud, shooting 1-for-11 from beyond the arc, but even watching on television, you can tell the energy in the building was next-level and a fun environment for basketball fans. In his second game, Ball posted a triple-double and showed a little bit of everything in the Lakers loss.

Alongside Brandon Ingram, the Lakers will be flat-out fun to watch, and Ball’s jersey one of the most popular in the league. With the exception of the typical ludicrous statements (like saying Lonzo will be better than Magic Johnson), Pop Lavar is mostly saying the right things and will seemingly get out of the Lakers’ way when it comes to his son’s career and development. That’s a very good thing that puts most of the questions surrounding Ball ahead of the draft to rest.

Good team. Good fit. Good future. I can’t believe this turned into a good story.

LOSERS

New York Knicks:

Ditching Phil Jackson was a good and necessary move for the Knicks. But they’re still the Knicks. Enter: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Two years ago the Knicks traded Hardaway Jr. to Atlanta for the 19th-overall pick (they drafted guard Jerian Grant). Hardaway Jr. was pretty good with the Hawks — nothing to write home about — but apparently the Knicks felt differently. Last week they signed him to a monster four-year, $71-million deal.

Now they likely have to trade Carmelo Anthony, which is a good move anyway given that this is a young team building for the future. But New York has as little leverage as ever on that front (and that’s saying something) as Melo’s no-trade clause may see him forcing his way to Houston, and forcing the Knicks to take on Ryan Anderson’s terrible contract.

And that wasn’t even the Knicks’ biggest whiff. That came on draft night, when the Knicks passed on Malik Monk – who has the potential to be a high-volume impact scorer, and a better Hardaway Jr. for 1/20th of the price – for Frank Ntilikina because of the latter’s ability to run the triangle, a Phil Jackson pick to be sure. Oops.

Los Angeles Clippers:

The rationale here is simple: the Clippers had an organic opportunity to hit the reset button after years of early playoff exits and a core that, exciting as it was, had worn out its welcome. The Clips turned Chris Paul into a first-rounder, two young talents, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and a starting point guard with a movable contract. Good start.

The logical move next is to let Blake Griffin walk (the alternative: offering a max contract to a player who can’t seem to stay healthy), followed by trading DeAndre Jordan and accumulating as many assets as possible.

Instead the Clips signed Danilo Gallinari. Gallo is good, but this pretty much ensures the Clippers are a playoff-calibre team stuck in a real-life playing of Groundhog Day. I guess they really are the Raptors West.

That said, the signing of EuroLeague veteran point guard Milos Teodosic was nice. He’ll be a lot of fun to watch, and will keep “Lob City” alive, for whatever that’s worth.

Sacramento Kings:

I don’t understand those who have been applauding the Kings summer. I guess the bar really is that low. Sacramento punted an opportunity to draft Monk at the draft when he inexplicably fell to them at No. 10. Instead, they traded down for two first-rounders, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, who likely won’t have anywhere near the same impact.

After drafting a stud point guard, De’Aaron Fox, fifth overall, the Kings then signed George Hill, a very good veteran point guard who demands major minutes. They then filled out their roster with veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, who will help tutor the Kings’ young players, but will also soak up some of their playing time.

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