Though there was no single Kevin-Durant-to-Golden-State-sized splash in the NBA this offseason, teams made move after move to jockey with the Warriors in an attempt to interrupt their reign of terror.
The Rockets took a leap of faith and traded the farm for an aging Chris Paul. The Celtics used their cap space to reunite Gordon Hayward with Brad Stevens, then got rid of an asset in Avery Bradley to balance their checkbook. The Timberwolves suddenly became a legitimate Western Conference contender by ripping off the Bulls.
There were so many moves, in fact — so many trades and so many signings — that, now that the league’s transaction churn and burn has finally calmed, it’s hard to believe all that actually happened. To sum it up:
We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys come this fall (the preseason begins Sept. 30). But which of those players will make the biggest impact, and which teams will look the most improved? Which 2017-18 NBA squad will make the biggest leap?
It’s too early to know, of course, but below is my take on the 10 NBA teams that improved the most this offseason.
10. Denver Nuggets
The Indiana Pacers have reportedly turned down at least one trade proposal from the Cleveland Cavaliers involving Paul George, but the two sides could revisit a deal down the road.
A report from ESPN over the weekend indicated that the Cavs and Pacers had discussions about a three-team trade with the Denver Nuggets that also involved Kevin Love. According to Sam Amico of FOX Sports, Indiana said no.
Now that the draft has come and gone, the Pacers don’t need to be in any rush to deal George. They have openly stated that they will still look to trade him, as the 27-year-old informed the team he is not going to sign an extension next summer. However, there’s no reason Indiana can’t take its time and shop around for the best deal.
At least one other team that — unlike the Cavs — has plenty of draft capital is interested in acquiring George, and that team reportedly believes George would agree to an extension. While it’s obvious George has no future in Indiana, the Pacers can still try their best to start a bidding war.
The Cleveland Cavaliers do not currently have the draft capital that the Indiana Pacers would be seeking in a trade for Paul George, but the two sides have reportedly discussed the possibility of getting a third team involved.
According to Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN, the Cavs, Pacers and Denver Nuggets have discussed a potential three-team trade that would send George to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver.
Three-team deals are typically complicated, so there are likely several hurdles the teams would have to clear to come to an agreement that suited everyone’s needs. However, the Pacers have openly said that they are motivated to trade George now that he has informed them he will not sign an extension.
The Los Angeles Lakers remain the favorite to land George when he opts out of his contract next summer, but the Cavs would probably be willing to risk only “renting” the 27-year-old swingman for a season. If George goes to Cleveland and the Cavaliers end up winning a championship or coming close, there’s a chance he could be convinced to sign an extension.
One other team that is interested in George has plenty of draft capital and reportedly believes George would sign an extension. The Pacers will take as much time as they need to identify the best possible deal.
The Denver Nuggets reportedly had serious interest in Paul George before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and they are said to have made a substantial offer for the star swingman.
According to Marc Stein and Chris B. Haynes of ESPN, Denver made a “monster offer” for George, but the deal may have been contingent upon George’s willingness to sign an extension with the Nuggets.
George is under contract through next season, and one of the biggest reasons teams have been hesitant to give up major assets for him is because he may end up being a rental. Reports have indicated that George either wants to win with the Indiana Pacers or sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018.
There has certainly been no shortage of interest in George, but Denver’s reason for not swinging a deal for him may be the same one that prevents this NBA executive from being correct with his George prediction.
The Denver Nuggets have won back-to-back games since firing head coach Brian Shaw. Kevin Garnett did not see that coming.
After the Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, Garnett spoke about how his team did not match Denver’s energy level. KG gave the Nuggets a pat on the back before telling reporters how he really feels.
“They quit on Brian Shaw,” Garnett said, via the Star Tribune. “I thought they’d quit again. Quitters are quitters. That was my take on it.”
In other words, Garnett’s feelings on the Shaw firing must be very similar to those expressed by David West.
The game before Shaw was fired, the Nuggets broke a team huddle with what appeared to be a countdown to the end of the season. That was a solid indication that they had quit on Shaw.
If the Nuggets start playing inspired basketball now without Shaw, Denver’s front office made the right move. If we keep hearing their general manager talk about players like this, we’ll know they have issues that run deeper than coaching.
H/T Beto Duran
The Nuggets came into this season with optimism. Kenneth Faried had a good summer with Team USA and signed a big contract extension. Arron Afflalo returned, and the bad luck of injuries a year ago couldn’t happen again, could they?
Unfortunately, this season hasn’t gone the way the organization or Nuggets fans wanted. Losses have piled up. Timofey Mozgov and Afflalo were traded away. Head coach Brian Shaw has wondered if players are trying to lose games on purpose. Even general manager Tim Connelly went as far as to say Ty Lawson needs to “grow up.”
At this point, the Nuggets are clearly looking toward next season as this one is a lost cause. It’s so obvious the team even counted down to the last game when they broke a team huddle during a recent game, according to The Denver Post.
A fourth-quarter huddle late in the Nuggets’ 104-82 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday broke with this phrase: “1-2-3 … six weeks!”
Denver plays its last game of the season on April 15 and that day cannot get here soon enough for nearly everyone involved. The Nuggets have already jettisoned pieces ahead of what will likely be a roster rebuild this summer. They’ll probably never admit it, but there are probably one or two players in that huddle who wish they were shipped away prior to the trade deadline.
H/T Eye On Basketball
The Denver Nuggets will have no problem selling tickets for Friday night’s game. Why? Because LeBron James and company are coming to town — whether the team is willing to admit it or not.
The Nuggets official Twitter account has been trolling the Cleveland Cavaliers’ stars in advance of their matchup with the Cavs. Notice anything missing from these tweets?
As you can see, the Nuggets mentioned nothing about LeBron, Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. Fortunately for Denver’s ticket office, the fans know the aforementioned three players will be there. Otherwise, the Nuggets would probably stand to make a lot less money.
The Denver Nuggets have lost six of their last seven games, and head coach Brian Shaw appears to have reached his boiling point. After Friday night’s 117-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Shaw ripped his players for their lack of effort.
“As a coach and coaching staff, it’s our job to try to find five players that want to go out and play and want to have some pride and not decide night-to-night that ‘I’m going to play this game and I’m not going to play this game,'” he told reporters, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. “I felt like tonight we had some guys that just decided they weren’t going to play tonight, they weren’t going to put forth any effort to try to get the job done.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s a nationally televised game that we’re professionals and as a staff we have to beg guys to give effort when they play.
The Nuggets have had their ups and downs in Shaw’s first season as head coach, but they have not played well since the start of the season. The team was 14-9 on Dec. 15. They have gone 11-20 since and are fading from playoff contention.
“I told our team I wish paychecks were predicated on night-to-night performance,” Shaw continued. “So if you play like a star on a given night then you get paid like a star. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don’t get paid or you get paid like an uninspired player. And you can’t just pick and choose when you want.”
Shaw added that his team acted like the “big bad wolf” by beating the Milwaukee Bucks — the worst team in the NBA — on Thursday night and following it up by getting blown out in Chicago.
Back in December, Shaw said his team needed to warm up more before games to avoid slow starts. It appears he is now running out of answers.
The Denver Nuggets are off to a respectable 14-9 start this year, but you have to wonder if their record could be even better with improved play in the first quarter. The Nuggets have been slow starters. In 14 of 23 games this season, they have found themselves trailing after 12 minutes. That has been the case in each of Denver’s past eight games.
Last week, head coach Brian Shaw blamed his team’s slow starts on the junk food his players were eating in the locker room before games. He replaced pizza and tacos with fresh salads, cold cuts and chicken breast before last Monday’s game against the Washington Wizards. The Nuggets were outscored 22-18 in the first quarter of that game, 33-28 to start the following game and 27-24 the game after that. Shaw now has a new theory.
“We are done with our talk, and chalk talk and board work and film session, usually with about 23 or 24 minutes left on the game clock before the game starts,” Shaw said Monday, via Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. “They are supposed to be ready and out on the floor to get a good 20-minute workout. And what we’ve been finding as well as we’ve been researching what the problem is, is we come back in the locker room a lot of times and it’s 16 minutes on the clock and there’s a lot of guys still in the locker room.
“We’re trying to get them out there and make them understand that’s what it takes. You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to get loose, you’ve got to get warm. We’re hitting every angle that we can, and hopefully it will be remedied soon.”
Apparently Shaw believes four extra minutes of loosening up makes a huge difference, and he could be right. Or, it could just be a mental problem for many of the players.
Basketball is a game where you can easily erase a 10- or 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Nuggets are relying on that truth a bit too heavily. Ditching junk food and warming up sooner may help, but ultimately the players have to want to give a full 48-minute effort. Had Denver done that more often this season, they would likely have a few more wins.
H/T Pro Basketball Talk
The Denver Nuggets have a much different look heading into the 2013-2014 season. They have lost Andre Iguodala via free agency and the team chose not to give George Karl a contract extension. Simply put, the Nuggets have a lot to overcome.
Last season, Karl was able to lead Denver to a 57-win season despite have very little star power. That’s what made the team’s decision to let him go so surprising, and point guard Andre Miller is expecting Denver to take a step back in Karl’s absence.
During a recent interview with NBA TV that Ball Don’t Lie shared with us, Miller was asked if the possibility of winning 57 games again next season still exists. The 14-year veteran was brutally honest.
“You know that ain’t gonna happen again,” Miller said. “I’d like to say we’re gonna win 57 games and have a better home record than last year, but that was a great year for us. I wish we could do it again and we want to build from there, but it’s gonna be tough. We’ve got some new guys and some new veterans coming in, and the good thing is we’ve got guys who are willing to work.”
[Related: Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson baffled by George Karl firing]
He’s probably right. Karl was able to do a lot with very little over the past few seasons, and there is no guarantee new head coach Brian Shaw will be able to do the same with less. Having said that, the younger guys on the team might not benefit from hearing that they have no chance of winning 57 games.
At age 37, Miller is expected to be a leader. Part of leading is being realistic and tempering expectations, but he probably shouldn’t be counting the team out before the season even begins — whether it’s true or not.