Fans and analysts knew this NBA offseason could be crazy, with a number of big-name players potentially changing uniforms — and the league hasn’t disappointed. So far, we’ve seen the unsurprising (LeBron signed with the Lakers), moderately surprising (Paul George is sticking with OKC), and downright stunning (DeMarcus Cousins is headed to the Bay Area).
But the above moves are just scratching the surface of all that’s happened. Other teams improved through the draft and through signing players who aren’t household names but should still make a big impact.
Which squads have made the biggest leap over their 2017-18 iterations? Here’s our take on the 10 teams that have improved the most so far this summer.
10. San Antonio Spurs
The biggest move of San Antonio’s offseason, of course, has not yet happened: the trade of Kawhi Leonard, which seems all but certain to occur. And even though they’ve lost Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson, the Spurs have still had a good summer to date. Marco Belinelli won a title with the Spurs in 2014, and they’re happy to have him back. He was a key piece on the Philadelphia team that at times looked unbeatable late in the season, and he’s one of the league’s best shooters. Snagging him at $6 million a year is a real value. R.C. Buford lucked out landing Lonnie Walker, a cold-blooded creator from Miami, at No. 18 in the draft – one of my favorite picks. He’s shown shades of Dwyane Wade.
While they surprised many people when they managed to convince Paul George to sign a long-term extension this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still going to have a significantly different look next season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young reported on Friday that the Thunder will part ways with Carmelo Anthony this summer, either by way of a trade or using the stretch provision. Anthony chose to opt into the $27.9 million he is owed for the 2018-2019 season, and the Thunder could save $90 million in luxury tax by dropping their tax bill from $150 million to $60 million if they use the stretch provision on Carmelo.
The Thunder could also look into a combination of a buyout and using the stretch, or they could find a trade partner for Anthony. Any trade Oklahoma City agreed to would likely be with a team that is looking for a sizable expiring contract, and Anthony would probably be waived and become a free agent. For that reason, Wojnarowski and Young note that he is unlikely to block a deal by invoking his no-trade clause.
Anthony has expressed concerns about his role with the Thunder, and his decision to opt into the final year of his deal seemed like it was strictly a financial one.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to get Paul George and Russell Westbrook some pieces.
According to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, the Thunder have agreed to terms with free agent center Nerlens Noel on a two-year deal.
Sources: Nerlens Noel will sign a two-year deal with Oklahoma City, including a player option in Year 2. https://t.co/b4UQeBEDUU
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2018
Once the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Noel’s career has not gone according to plan. Injuries and off-court issues have derailed him, and he only averaged 15.7 minutes per game with the Dallas Mavericks last season. The Thunder will be hoping he can recover some of that untapped potential and help the Thunder make an impression in an increasingly crowded Western Conference.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are paying dearly to put the best product on the court that they can.
The Thunder have 11 players under contract for 2018-19 now that they’ve agreed to deals with Paul George and Jerami Grant. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, their payroll is projected to be $156 million. Their luxury tax bill would be at least $130 million due to their status as a multiple repeat violator.
With Paul George and Jerami Grant on board, Oklahoma City now has a payroll of $156M with 11 players under contract. Because of the repeater tax penalty, the Thunder currently have a tax bill of $130M. The tax bill would be the largest in NBA history.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 1, 2018
What really kills the Thunder is the Carmelo Anthony contract. Melo was a bust for them last season and opted into his contract for just under $28 million this year. The team could significantly reduce their tax bill if they waive him via the stretch provision.
— Chris Bennett (@chrisgb00) July 1, 2018
You have to wonder whether the Thunder will consider this option.
Between George and Russell Westbrook, they will be paying around $70 million. Add in Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant, and you’re at around $110 million, which pushes them well over the salary cap. They’ll have to seriously weigh keeping Melo.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
With Friday’s deadline looming, Paul George is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That does not, however, mean he has ruled out returning to the team next season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that George has informed Thunder officials he will opt out, but the star swingman is “seriously interested” in re-signing with the team. George is also planning to strongly consider the Los Angeles Lakers.
While it seems like a two-horse race for George, Wojnarowski notes that the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets also have interest in him. George is eligible to sign a five-year, $176 million contract with the Thunder, but he may prefer a short-term deal that would allow him to opt out after next season. In 2020, George will have 10 years of service in the NBA and be eligible for a four-year, $169 million deal.
The Thunder knew they were taking a risk by trading for George last offseason, as the 28-year-old grew up in L.A. and told the Indiana Pacers he planned to sign with the Lakers during the 2018 offseason. However, some recent comments George made indicate he could be leaning toward remaining in OKC for at least another year.
Many have assumed for years that Paul George is destined to end up with the Los Angeles Lakers, and that could very well come to fruition this summer. But based on everything George has said to this point, Oklahoma City Thunder fans should not give up hope.
ESPN aired Part 1 of a three-part documentary series entitled “Paul George: My Journey” on Tuesday, and in it George made it clear that he intends to opt out of the final year of his contract. He also spoke very highly of the Thunder and their front office group, and at one point he indicated he feels inclined to reward them for taking a chance by trading for him.
“Here they have made a huge risk in trading for me, knowing I have one year on my deal,” George said, as transcribed by Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. “But I felt I didn’t finish as strong as I could have. Just knowing you left something on the table, even to this point now, it weighs on me.”
George did not make as big of an impact as expected in his first season with the Thunder, and his last game of the year was arguably his worst. George scored just five points on 2-of-16 shooting in a Game 6 playoff loss to the Utah Jazz, and OKC failed to advance past the first round for the second straight season.
George’s sister, Teiosha George, said the Thunder “really wowed us” when Paul arrived in Oklahoma City. George said he is considering a lot of factors in making his free agency decision, describing the process as “overwhelming.”
“It’s a lot of things that go into it — trying to find the right fit, what’s the best place for me to raise my kids,” he said. “A lot is playing into this, so it’s a bit overwhelming.”
It seems fairly obvious that George’s decision has come down to staying in OKC or signing with the Lakers. Perhaps he is waiting for the biggest story of the NBA offseason to unfold, as it could be the deciding factor in which team he chooses.
Paul George said after he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder that he would be dumb to not consider re-signing with the team if they were a contender, which is why it makes sense that he is leaning toward leaving after a first-round playoff exit. However, you wouldn’t know that by listening to general manager Sam Presti.
In his end-of-season news conference on Wednesday, Presti said he has had an open dialogue with George and has been “really encouraged” by their conversations.
Presti says dialogue with Paul George “has really encouraged us.”
— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) May 2, 2018
Presti: From the day PG arrived, Thunder made an effort to build a relationship with him and his team built on collaboration, transparency and trust, and he feels good about that relationship.
— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) May 2, 2018
Presti talks about the “extremely, extremely exciting” possibility of having Westbrook, George and Adams together in their primes with postseason experience.
— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) May 2, 2018
According to a report from earlier in the week, George is expected to leave OKC for another team this summer. Perhaps he will change his mind and want to continue playing with Russell Westbrook, but the way the season ended does not help the Thunder’s chances.
George, 28, averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game in his first season with Oklahoma City. The Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs in six games by the Utah Jazz, and Carmelo Anthony is already questioning his role with the team going forward. Of the three big stars, it’s a definite possibility that Westbrook will be the only one returning next year.