Eastern Conference Free Agency Grades
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The transactional part of the offseason is almost effectively complete, with NBA free agency all but wrapped up. After taking a tour of the eastern conference, let’s have a look at what went on out West, and dole out grades for each team.

As per our examination of the eastern conference, these grades are based on what has actually happened, not what might happen or what is rumoured to happen. So there is a chance that these grades may change (some drastically) once the season actually starts.

Let’s get to it.

Dallas Mavericks: B-

Dallas are understandably keeping their powder dry for a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021. What they did do this season was upgrade on the wing defensively both in the draft and by bringing in Josh Richardson from Philadelphia. If he can rediscover his jump shot, Richardson’s superior play making as well as his excellent defense will more than account for Seth Curry’s elite deep shooting.

Re-signing Willie Cauley-Stein is an interesting move. The former King is clearly talented, but he still has that Sacto stench to him. Arguably the fastest 7-footer in the NBA, his rim running, his swiftness to fill the lane and his ability to stay in front of guards on switches should see him carve out a role. That said, if it doesn’t happen this season it may never happen for WCS.

Denver Nuggets: B

Losing Jerami Grant wasn’t ideal, but paying him $20 million per annum isn’t ideal either. Grant could thrive in a larger role in Detroit; he could also wind up as a classic overpay based on being the 4th best player on a surprise conference finalist. Either way, Denver pivoted well in replacing him with former Clipper JaMychal Green, who isn’t quite the athlete Grant is, but is a superior shooter and play maker. They’ve also kept veteran Paul Millsap around for another year.

Denver still looks to be one player away from true contention. Maybe Michael Porter Jr becomes that player, perhaps there is still a deal left to make. If the Nuggets turn Gary Harris and/or Will Barton into another key piece, then this grade will certainly improve.

Golden State Warriors: A-

For all of the poor fortune around Klay Thompson’s injury, the Warriors have actually had a really good free agency period. Kelly Oubre highlights their acquisitions; he’ll provide the team with a genuine big wing who can overwhelm other wings inside, but has just enough shooting and play making pop to not be predictable. He should thrive next to Steph Curry and will surely learn some tricks from Draymond Green.

Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker are underrated signings. Bazemore was a beloved teammate in the early days of the Curry/Thompson/Green era who has improved immensely whilst he’s been gone. He’ll provide nice cover for those days when Andrew Wiggins can’t be bothered. Wanamaker is a safe-as-houses point guard who will play solid defense and allow Curry to play away from the ball, where he has so much gravity.

Houston Rockets: A-

As states at the outset, this grade is based upon what the Rockets have right now, regardless of what might happen. So, assuming that James Harden doesn’t get shipped off to Brooklyn and Russell Westbrook doesn’t get traded to…..anywhere that will have him, I suppose, then new general manager Raphael Stone has made an encouraging start to his reign.

Theoretically, Christian Wood is the player you would make in a lab to partner Harden and Russ. A shot blocker who can rebound, hang with guards on the perimeter and is a three point marksman, Wood is an even cleaner fit than Clint Capela. There is, of course, the lack of a track record with Wood – he has only been a full time starter for around a month, and wasn’t a regular contributor at any level until last season. Was his form in Detroit a mirage?

Houston should be able to replace the likes of Austin Rivers and Jeff Green, though losing Robert Covington will hurt. He would have been a tailor made front court partner for Wood.

Los Angeles Clippers: B+

Nobody expected the Clippers to lose influential 6th man, Montrezl Harrell, though in signing former Raptor Serge Ibaka the team has managed to upgrade their reserve centre position. Unlike Harrell, Ibaka can close playoff games for the team, as well. As he’s aged, Ibaka’s leap has faded but he’s still a quality shot blocker, and his shooting will space the floor in a way no other genuine centre on this squad can. He’s not nearly the roll man that Harell is, but with Lou Williams’ influence on the wane, that might not matter.

Losing JaMychal Green shouldn’t be felt, as Marcus Morris can be the alternative shooting centre, if new coach Ty Lue decides to play small.

Los Angeles Lakers: B+

From a position of strength, the Lakers have been able to make improvements with the additions of Dennis Schroder, Wes Matthews and Harrell.

Harrell will step in as the minutes eating big, likely starting full time for the first time in his career. Though as much as he will help in the regular season, the Lakers will run into the same issue that their cross town rivals have experienced: Harrell’s appalling defense means he cannot close an important playoff game.

Schroder is an upgrade on Rajon rondo – especially in the regular sason – and though Matthews is nowhere near the defender that Green is, he’s a far more consistent shooter.

Memphis Grizzlies: C

The Pellies chose to sit this free agency out, having no additions or losses of any note. Instead, they’re looking to develop from within on their surprising playoff push. They’ve drafted very well this year and still have to see how Justice Winslow looks alongside their other young talent, so that approach seems prudent.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C

Much like the Grizzlies, Minnesota have chosen to largely sit out free agency with their only acquisition on note being reserve big man Ed Davis.

After a busy draft headlined by first overall pick Anthony Edwards, and a solid trade mid last season, the Wolves brass have clearly decided to see what they have before making any more big calls.

New Orleans Pelicans: C-

Lots of action from general manager David Griffin as he looks to shore up his roster tp make a playoff push, but his moves have been a little….puzzling.

The Eric Bledsoe trade makes the team worse in the short term although it can be argues that the war chest of draft picks he received from the Bucks make it a long term play.

For all of his injury concerns, Derrick Favors posted positive value for the Pellies last season, in particular at the defensive end of the floor. Replacing him with Steven Adams isn’t a bad move per se, but replacing Favors cap number (he signed with Utah for $9 million per season) with the $25 million that Adams will rake in doesn’t seem to be the most prudent use of cap space.

Oklahoma City Thunder: C+

The Thunder’s tear down continued to move at full speed, with Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and Nerlens Noel all leaving OKC, leaving only franchise centrepiece Shai-Gilgeous Alexander as the remaining core piece.

George Hill is a nice pickup who will continue to shepherd SGA along his learning curve.

Finally, can everyone please stop trading Trevor Ariza for a little while?

https://twitter.com/SBNation/status/1330038619734728706

Phoenix Suns: A-

Phoenix’s off-season will be rightly defined by the impact Chris Paul has on both the development of the Suns young stars in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, as well as his ability to affect the win column.

That said, the Suns made some nice moves in free agency. Jae Crowder fills a role as a bigger wing who can shoot, providing guidance and insurance for Cam Johnson and rookie Jalen Smith. Cameron Paine looks to have finally hit his stride and should be a solid backup to Paul, as well as an occasional starter.

Losing Aron Baynes hurts, although Dario Saric’ ability to play as a pinch hitting centre and the continued development of Ayton ultimately made him expendable.

Portland Trailblazers: A

After experiencing practically every hardship they could endure last season, the Blazers have loaded up wonderfully this off season. With a backcourt as explosive as theirs (not just Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but Gary Trent Jr too), rebuilding a wafer thin front court was always the priority.

The healthy return of Jusuf Nurkic made Hassan Whiteside expendable, though they’ve signed capable backups in Harry Giles and the returning Enes Kanter. Rodney Hood’s return gives the Blazers a legitimate deep threat at small forward, and also the ability to not lean too heavily into the 36 year old Carmelo Anthony. But it’s the power forward rotation that could make the most difference from one season to the next for the Blazers. After having to rely on the injury prone Zach Collins (also a converted centre) they now boast a pair of feared and versatile defenders in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr.

Suddenly, this roster is extremely deep and malleable. Are Portland the best team in the west, non-LA division?

Sacramento Kings: D+

The mitigating and perhaps only factor that saves this from being an F is that the Kings may realise that in a loaded 2021 draft, their best option may be to soft tank their way into a top four pick.

In allowing a slew of veterans – highlighted by Bogdan Bogdanovic – to leave town, the Kings much be hoping that they can luck their way into a second star to pair with De’Aaron Fox. But then you see them sign Hassan Whiteside, who is either going to block Marvin Bagley’s development, or prove an ineffective partner. So, are the Kings tanking or are they hoping to push for the playoffs?

What they do with Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes will provide an answer. As things stand, however, the Kings have not had a successful free agency period.

San Antonio Spurs: C

When losing Bryn Forbes to Milwaukee qualifies your most noteworthy coming OR going, then you’ve had a quiet free agency period.

Despite keeping their veteran core, the Spurs have quietly rebuilt their roster to a large extent. What becomes of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will be very interesting.

Utah Jazz: B+

Utah’s fatal flaw last season was it’s chronic lack of depth. Once Bojan Bogdanovic went down the Jazz just didn’t have enough solid players to throw at a deep Denver team, especially in the front court. That problem has been addressed by the returning Derrick Favors who will finally give the team a backup to Gobert, whilst being able to play with him in situations where the Jazz need to lock down defensively.

Utah’s regular starting line up (Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic and Gobert) destroyed opponents to the tune of 10.6 points per 100 possessions last season, but they were outscored by 7.1 points without Gobert and Mitchell on the floor together.

With Favors providing a defensive anchor and the re-signed Jordan Clarkson the offensive fulcrum of the second unit, the Jazz look to have a much more evenly balanced roster for season 2020-21.

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