The NBA Offseason Rundown: Part 3

The first 48 hours of Free Agency are in the books, but by the time you read this it will likely be closer to the 60 or 72 hour mark. There will also inevitably be a number of signings that have been announced that I don’t address because they happened after this was posted. In a time like this, where news is breaking minute-by-minute, it’s very hard to be ahead of the game, let alone even with it. So that’s why today I’ll be looking at the biggest stories and signings of the weekend, without speculating what other moves might be made this upcoming week and in the days that follow.

NOTE: Some people, myself included, consider Friday evenings to be part of the weekend. When I was in college, Thursday nights were considered part of the weekend too. Now that I work at an elementary school and it’s summer vacation, every day is the weekend until mid-August when school starts again. Anyway, I figure why not adjust the timetable we’re examining to include the final six hours of Friday June 30th, since some shit did go down in that six hour block.

Where the F did the Oklahoma City Thunder come from to end up making the deal for Paul George

Just like the most effective Randy Orton RKO you could ever imagine, this deal came out of nowhere. We all knew it was only a matter of time until Paul George was going to be traded; there was no way Indiana would have a player who let it be known he had no intention of re-signing the following summer on the roster when training camp started. It’s just that nobody ever pegged Oklahoma City as the landing spot. We heard legitimate rumors that Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles (Clippers and Lakers), Houston, Denver, Phoenix, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Utah, Minnesota and Portland had all, at the very least, held internal discussions and sniffed around to see what Indiana might want in return for George, but we never heard Oklahoma City mentioned. And then it happened … out of nowhere.

As would be expected, after the shock wore off, nearly everybody turned into a critic, wondering how well Westbrook and George would gel, and if this was just a stepping stone towards a partnership in Los Angeles. Even if George jets to LA after the season, and even if Westbrook isn’t far behind, this trade is a massive victory for Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though the Golden State Warriors have closed the championship windows of the other 29 teams in the NBA, it doesn’t mean certain teams should just concede that the Warriors are going to own at least the next four years.

A team like the Thunder shouldn’t be content with making a 1st Round Playoff exit, and they definitely aren’t one of the teams that should concede to the Warriors (particularly because of the Westbrook/Durant “beef”). The trade for George indisputably raises their ceiling. Even if they trade a Round 1 exit for a Round 2 exit, it’s worth making the deal.

Why did Indiana pass up other offers for Paul George

Here’s my best guess: the Pacers probably didn’t want to deal George to any Eastern Conference team, just in case he did stay. The Cavaliers and the Celtics were probably the only two Eastern Conference teams who made a serious push to acquire George, and if they did, the chances of their window opening wider or for a longer period of time increases. That’s not really in the best interest of the Pacers to assist either of those two teams, especially since George drove his own value down when we made it clear he wouldn’t be a Pacer beyond the 2017-18 season.

Now here’s where Lakers fans chime in, “Well what about us?” Honestly, I think the Pacers likely preferred the offer the Thunder made over any that the Lakers actually made. We know that the Pacers wanted the 2nd overall pick or Brandon Ingram. The Lakers resisted giving up either one of those two assets. They reportedly countered with Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle (the Pacers choice of the two) plus the 27th and 28th picks in the 2017 Draft. Now I’ll forever reside on the Julius Randle bandwagon, but if the Lakers preferred to part ways with Clarkson plus the two late 1st Round picks, the Thunder deal was without question a better package.

Domantas Sabonis never really found a comfortable niche in Oklahoma City last year, but he feels like the kind of big that could thrive playing next to Pacers budding star Myles Turner. Victor Oladipo is one of the most polarizing role players in the league; fans seem to claim either he’s been badly misused or that he’s flat-out overrated. I’d imagine Kevin Pritchard probably saw him as a young, athletic wing who played at Indiana University just a few years ago and may be someone who can help to sell some tickets as the Pacers begin their rebuild.

Did you check out the shirts Clippers employees were wearing after Blake Griffin‘s Free Agency meeting? 

I did, and I’d be willing to bet that these were originally t-shirts that Donald Sterling had produced with his own face included alongside Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Muhammad Ali among others. But, ya know, a light was shone on him and he was revealed as a not-so-subtle racist and those plans blew up in his face. At least the Clippers found a way to make use of the shirts.

How optimistic should Minnesota Timberwolves fans be right now? 

Over the last week and a half the Wolves managed to turn Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen into Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Justin Patton and a 2018 1st Round pick coming from Oklahoma City. Now while I must admit that I prefer Rubio over Teague, this goes back to the point I made when I was talking about the Thunder’s willingness to trade for Paul George … the Wolves wanted to open their window at least a crack, and improve their standing in the league even if they aren’t anywhere near where the level of the Golden State Warriors (tier one), or yet on the level of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics or Oklahoma City Thunder (tier two).

Why should the Wolves settle for flirting with making the Playoffs when they could make a move (and not have to give up too much when making that move) and get to now we’re definitely in the Playoffs? It’s like anyone who has criticized the Denver Nuggets for giving Paul Millsap a deal worth $30 million per year? Yes, in the simplest sense, Paul Millsap is overpaid. But if paying Millsap $90 million over three years moves Denver up to the same tier the Wolves are on, why shouldn’t they? And what I find really humorous is that the same people who are disparaging teams for making splashy moves or spending money are the same people whose panties get all bunched up when teams tank. Make a choice, do you want small-market middle of the road teams to try to get better or tank, because surely both of those are better alternatives than just existing in the least meaningful way possible.

And as for the original question, Wolves fans should be very pumped right now. Back in January I wrote about how the Minnesota Timberwolves could be fixed. In that piece I advocated for trading both Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine (done) and signing Taj Gibson (done), only my eventual offseason trade target was John Wall (at this point, the Wizards didn’t yet resemble a team that could push towards the Eastern Conference Finals, so I suspected Wall might be available if the right offer was made). Swapping out Wall for Butler is fine, especially since the Wolves ended up signing a legitimate starting Point Guard in Jeff Teague. As for what Minnesota needs to do next, here’s what I wrote back in January … amazingly, it all holds true.

Step #8: We need to send Andrew Wiggins to the Tough Gym in Los Angeles and do whatever you have to do to make sure he comes into the next season with the Eye of the Tiger. Seriously, the dude is so fricking talented and because of that, it’s especially infuriating to see him drift in and out of games so frequently. There’s no other reason why a player with those physical tools could go from scoring 8 points one game to 41 points the next. 

Karl-Anthony Towns is Minnesota’s best player and that will most likely remain the case for the duration of the Towns/Wiggins partnership, and that’s fine. Ideally Towns will continue progressing and continue to look like some sort of creation of a lab geek who idolized Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan. If KAT does progress in that fashion it takes a hell of a lot of the pressure off of Wiggins, but why should Wiggins shy away from that pressure? Why shouldn’t he be saying to himself, “Man F Giannis, F Porzingis, F Anthony Davis, F the Warriors, F the Cavs … the NBA could belong to us!” 

Step #9: Drop the “Timber” … just Wolves. It’s cleaner. The Minnesota Wolves. And frankly, I think the Timberwolves name is a little discriminatory to other types of Wolves, like the Tundra Wolves, Red Wolves, Coyotes (which are a smaller wolf hybrid), Big Bad Wolves, etc. 

Step #10: Change the team colors to Purple, Black and White (a less blue shade of purple than the Kings) and embrace the fact that you are playing in a city that is home to one of the most talented musicians ever. Blast Prince music throughout the arena. The Kiss Cam would take on a whole new meaning, and Purple Rain could be the home announcers catch phrase whenever the Wolves heat up from downtown. Seriously, all it takes are these ten simple steps and a licensing agreement with Prince’s people and basketball will once again be relevant in Minnesota. Let’s go crazy and party like it’s 1999! 

So the Toronto Raptors re-signed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka … Didn’t we establish that their ceiling wasn’t very high last year? 

Yes, but keep in mind the theme of this piece thus far … should the Raptors have just allowed Lowry and Ibaka to walk, get nothing in return, then win 34 games next year, wasting a season of DeMar DeRozan‘s prime? I prefer running it back with Lowry and a full-season of Ibaka and seeing if maybe you could get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m fine with what the Raptors did.

Are the Houston Rockets the biggest winners of the offseason thus far? 

The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Denver Nuggets are the five biggest winners in terms of improving their rosters in a meaningful way from last season, but the Warriors have won the offseason to this point just because they exist and remain the same team they were last year. Even if it means that Joe Lacob and co. will have to pay an absurd luxury tax bill over the next four years, it’s worth it if you can own the league for the next half decade in a way that no team has been able to in very long time.

And that’s ultimately where we’re at in the NBA … in the most talent-stacked era of basketball ever (you heard me), there is one giant that reigns supreme over the entire league in a historic way. The Golden State Warriors are on a tier by themselves (the aforementioned “tier one”), and the 29 other teams exist in one of the following four tiers.

Tier Two: All In and Capable of Making a Conference Finals Appearance Right Away

Tier Three: Actively Improving for the Present, But Still Not Among the Elite Teams in the League

Tier Four: Actively Improving for Four Years From Now

Tier Five: Stuck in the Mud

Now you could make a case that a team like the Boston Celtics exists on Tier Two and Tier Four. The Philadelphia 76ers could probably land on either Tier Three or Tier Four. The Cleveland Cavaliers are potentially 12 months away from being downgraded from Tier Two to Tier Five. And then there’s the Golden State Warriors, loving all of the peace and quiet on Tier One.


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