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Sunday, November 19, 2017

10 winners and losers from the NBA offseason so far

Paul George

Between the NBA Draft and free agency, the first month of the offseason is one of the most exciting times of year for basketball fans. Trades take place pre and post-draft, teams add new players via the draft, and then the wild free agency period begins on July 1.

Many teams have re-shaped their rosters. Some have lost talent, while others have made gains. Some moves have impacted organizations much more than others.

Here’s a look at 10 winners and losers from the NBA offseason so far.

WINNERS

1) Oklahoma City Thunder

Sam Presti strikes again. The Thunder have a rare situation where trading for Paul George, even purely as a rental, makes sense.

In 2017-18, Russell Westbrook will have some actual assistance from a second bonafide star in George, who can at least help Oklahoma City recover some of what they lost when Kevin Durant skipped town. Westbrook being the entire offense was fun, and led to some remarkable stat lines, but it’s not a long-term solution for winning.

What about the future? George will probably leave after the season, but the deal brings two other benefits aside from the obvious. First, Oklahoma City will have some cap flexibility even if he walks. Second, by making a deal like this, Presti and the Thunder have once again demonstrated to Westbrook that they are committed to building a talented group around him — which could help convince him to re-sign for the long haul when his number comes up next summer.

And after trading for George, Presti wasn’t done. He signed Patrick Patterson to a 3-year, $16.4 million deal to help make up for the loss of Taj Gibson. The Thunder are also bringing back defensive stalwart Andre Roberson on a completely reasonable three-year, $30 million contract.

2) Minnesota Timberwolves

Last year was supposed to be the year the Timberwolves took a step forward and, under Tom Thibodeau, reach the playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett nearly led them to the 2004 NBA Finals. They had a talented young core and a coach who could help them grow up.

That didn’t happen. Minnesota won only two more games than they had the year before and were one of the league’s bigger disappointments. Thibodeau must have agreed, because his moves this summer have been made to ensure nothing of the sort happens again.

The acquisition of Jimmy Butler gives the Timberwolves a superstar to build around, and going on to sign Jeff Teague ensures he’ll have a backcourt mate who can compliment him. Thibodeau also reunited with Taj Gibson, who will provide a valuable interior presence to go with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

This team still has its issues — their outside shooting still leaves something to be desired, for instance — but the team is adding enough talent that it’s reasonable to believe that maybe this year will see them take that long-awaited step forward.

3) Houston Rockets

The Rockets may well have positioned themselves as the greatest threat to topple the Golden State Warriors, which is roughly the best one can hope for in times like this. The addition of Chris Paul is a game-changer, at least in the upper class of the West, as the Rockets subtract from the rival Clippers to boost themselves.

Can Paul and Harden work together? That remains to be seen, but Houston has done all they can to ensure Harden has options around him.

It’s not just the backcourt that has seen improvement. Retaining Nene is big for their depth, and signing P.J. Tucker is a quality under-the-radar move that will help the team’s frontcourt and defense immensely, especially after they included Montrezl Harrell in the CP3 trade.

Are they better than Golden State? No. But Houston definitely has the talent to make Kevin Durant and co. sweat just a little bit. They also may not be done as there is talk they’re trying for Carmelo Anthony.

4) Golden State Warriors

The Warriors didn’t have to do a lot to end up on this list. It was no secret that Stephen Curry would return on the super-max; the real pleasant surprise was how much money Kevin Durant willingly gave up to keep the core together. What did it all mean? First, Golden State was able to retain backup point guard Shaun Livingston. Even more importantly, they managed to find enough spare change in their pockets to give Andre Iguodala $48 million to keep him in the fold.

Quite simply, Golden State was able to keep their core together untarnished. There was a very real fear that Iguodala would leave, a player who has been so vital to the on-court success and strong culture that has been built in the Bay Area. That didn’t happen. Can they add much more? No, they can’t. But that’s the thing when you’re so far and away the best team in the NBA: you don’t have to. Keeping the band together under difficult circumstances is sufficient.

5) Boston Celtics

Boston was in real danger of making the losers list after missing out on Paul George and Jimmy Butler trades and competing with the Jazz and Miami Heat for Gordon Hayward. But winning the Hayward sweepstakes was a difference-maker.

The Celtics and Hayward agreed to a four-year, $128 million max contract, giving them another player who should make them a tougher out for the Cavaliers. Of course, the signing does not come without other sacrifices. Not only will Hayward cost big bucks, but the team had to clear salary cap space to sign him. That resulted in the loss of Kelly Olynyk and possibly more players.

Between their multitude of experienced wings and youngsters like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics have a logjam of players. But they have so many options and so many draft picks, along with competent leadership, that we expect them to turn what they do have into plenty of success.

6) Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings threw quite a bit of money around this offseason, and that should turn them into a much more competitive team.

The Kings signed George Hill, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Bogdan Bogdanovic, in addition to making several strong draft picks.

They had to make a big offer to land Hill, signing him to a three-year, $57 million deal. It’s a lot of money, but at least short-term enough where it shouldn’t plague them for the long-haul. They got Randolph on a two-year, $24 million deal. He isn’t what he used to be, but he can still score in the half-court and should provide leadership. The same goes for Carter, who got an $8 million deal.

Sacramento also cleaned up in the draft. They took De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 pick, then turned the No. 10 pick into Nos. 15 and 20, using them on Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. They also nabbed Frank Mason in the second round, giving them a draft full of All-Americans.

The bottom line is the Kings were determined to improve and they have done that.

See the losers on Page 2

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