Kurt Helin

NBA free agency winners and losers (plus some teams on the bubble)

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We’ve reached the point in the summer where the big move are made, and now teams are mostly just rounding out their rosters. There could still be a Carmelo Anthony trade, or maybe an unexpected shoe drops, but rosters are basically set now.

Who won the summer? Who lost? Let’s take a look at the list.

Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder. One year ago Kevin Durant walked, and despite the contract extension last summer and the MVP this summer, the risk of Russell Westbrook following him out the door in 2018 was real enough that OKC needed to do something bold. Such as trade for Paul George. It was a master stroke by Sam Presti that should vault Oklahoma City into the top half of the West. The Thunder made good moves in the rest of the rotation, too, bringing back Andre Roberson and getting Patrick Patterson on a steal of a deal. The risk here is that George is a free agent next summer with eyes on the Lakers, and Westbrook has not signed an extension past this season (there’s no reason for him to, he doesn’t make more money sooner doing it) — both could walk next summer. Still, it’s a gamble the Thunder had to take, because if those two bond and thrive, if this team wins enough, they both might stay. It’s all a roll of the dice by the Thunder, but a good one.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves. Tom Thibodeau is in a distinctly good mood walking around Las Vegas Summer League — and he should be. With the addition Jimmy Butler at the two, plus adding Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford, the Timberwolves have gone from “we’re going to be good in a few years” to “we’re going to be a playoff team next season and potentially a contender in a couple of years.” Minnesota still has the borderline All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who is still improving, and Andrew Wiggins. They need to start thinking about affording this all when Towns and Wiggins come off their rookie deals, but the Timberwolves are poised to be a force.

Loser: New York Knicks. There was a positive: They dumped Phil Jackson before he could ruin the team’s free agent summer. That should make the relationship with face-of-the-franchise Kristaps Porzingis better. However, turns out the Knicks didn’t need Jackson to have a bad summer. If an owner is going to let go of the guy at the top of basketball operations days before free agency starts, he had better have a quality “Plan B” in place and ready to go. New York eventually talked to David Griffin about coming on board, but he wisely wanted his own people in place and full autonomy over the roster, and the Knicks balked at that so he walked away. Steve Mills has stepped into the top job, and his one big move was to overpay to get Tim Hardaway Jr. — four years, $71 million for a guy who can shoot, but is not a good shot creator for others and is a minus defensively. In a tight market, they overpaid. The Knicks are adrift and trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, but finding that a challenge (Houston still is there, but the Rockets don’t want to give back much as they want to contend). I feel bad for Knicks fans, it’s hard to see how they get out of this cycle.

On the bubble: The Los Angeles Clippers. Normally if the team’s best player leaves, that team falls instantly into the loser’s bracket — and the Clippers lost Chris Paul to the Rockets. But Los Angeles salvaged their summer somewhat by keeping their talisman player in Blake Griffin, trading for Danilo Gallinari, and doing better than anyone should have hoped in a shotgun trade with Houston (Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell are good young rotation players, plus Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams can help right now). If Griffin and Gallinari can stay healthy for 70+ games each (no given), Los Angeles should be in the mix for one of the final playoff slots in the West. From there, they can start to formulate how to rebuild on the fly, but they will not bottom out.

Winner: Gordon Hayward and the Celtics. It’s almost always smart business to zig when everyone else zags — while much of the talent in the NBA went west to line up against the Warriors, Hayward went East, joined up with the Celtics and will go at LeBron James and the Cavaliers (a team showing cracks in the walls). For Hayward, he made the bold and smart basketball move. For the Celtics, they got their man and with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford on the roster, plus the emerging Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum (both who have looked good in Summer League), the Celtics are poised to be a threat to Cleveland this year and be the team to beat in the East in a couple of years. It’s not hard to picture a Boston/Minnesota Finals in our future in a few years.

Winner: The Trail Blazers’ Twitter Account. These remain still the best Tweets of the Summer, after the Blazers’ were involved in a trade where they got cash back.

Loser: Dan Gilbert, Cavaliers owner. The Cavaliers themselves are not losers — they will bring back the best team in the East from last season, and while Boston got better much fo the rest of the conference got weaker, setting up a chance to get LeBron James and an older roster to get rest and peak during the playoffs. But Gilbert’s unwillingness to pay the going rate — and give reasonable autonomy — to one of the better GMs in the game in David Griffin hurt his team this summer and opened the door further to the best player in the game leaving in a year. Griffin talked to Chauncey Billups, a guy who will be a team president somewhere in the future, but again he lowballed him on pay and Billups wasn’t sold on the working environment. Sense a pattern here? There are cracks in the walls in Cleveland, and it all falls right at the feet of Dan Gilbert.

On the bubble: Sacramento Kings. The Kings summer was not a disaster — they brought in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to mentor an interesting group of youth such as De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Heild, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Justin Jackson. With that, the Kings are not going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA and they have good role models in house. It’s also not what I would have done because, first, they are not going to make the playoffs with this team in a deep West. For me, one veteran or so makes sense, but I would have played the kids heavy minutes this season and taken the losses because they have their 2018 first-round pick (but not 2019), preserve the cap space, then go into what will be a much tighter free agent market next summer and get veterans. That would have required patience that the Kings rarely show. And all that said, what the Kings did this summer was not a disaster, they will be okay.

Winner: James Harden and the Rockets. I can give you 228 million reasons James Harden is a winner. The man got paid — and he deserves it. Also, you have to love what the Rockets did getting Chris Paul and starting the Game of Thrones rush in the West. It’s fair to question how CP3 and Harden will mesh, or how much better Carmelo Anthony would make them, but the bottom line is this was one of the four best teams in the NBA last season and they added Chris Paul. The Rockets may be next in line for the throne in the West (should the Warriors stumble for whatever reason), and that’s a good place to be.

Winner: Golden State Warriors. I don’t love putting the defending NBA champs and head-and-shoulders best team in the league on this list, it’s just the rich getting richer, but I have no choice. They killed the off-season. They locked up Stephen Curry. They retained Kevin Durant — and he took $9.5 million less than his potential max, the Warriors also were able to retain Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, and Zaza Pachulia. To that they added a good draft pick in Jordan Bell, a shooter in Nick Young (who could blossom there ala JaVale McGee), and they stole underrated Omri Casspi, who fits perfectly into their style. The Warriors just keep doing things right.

On the bubble: New Orleans Pelicans. Their one big move was expected: they overpaid Jrue Holiday to keep him in house. They had no choice, they didn’t have the cap space to replace him. This team is going to make the playoffs in a deep West — and keep DeMarcus Cousins next summer as a free agent — or there is going to be a top-to-bottom house cleaning in basketball operations. The entire organization seems to be acting like it’s on pins and needles. It all comes down to how the gambit of pairing Anthony Davis and Cousins works out (and plenty of people around the league are not sold it will).

Loser: Utah Jazz. It pains me to put them here because they did everything right, it just wasn’t enough. They lost Gordon Hayward and will take a step back. Utah is not terrible and has pieces to retool around — Rudy Gobert remains one of the best centers in the game, guys like Alec Burks and Rodney Hood are good, and Ricky Rubio can run the show — but it’s all not the same without Hayward.

Winner: Denver Nuggets. This team just missed out on the playoffs a year ago, mostly because their defense wasn’t good enough, then they went out and traded out Danilo Gallinari for Paul Millsap — an upgrade, far more durable, and a guy who will give them something on defense. They have a quality young core with Nikola Jokic (why have they not locked him up with an extension yet?), Jamal Murray and others, and the Nuggets look like a playoff team if healthy. After the disastrous Brian Shaw years, the Nuggets have rebuilt their team culture and roster into something quite good.

Top five plays from Tuesday at Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — Tuesday signaled the end of pool play, Wednesday brings the start of the tournament portion of Summer League.

Despite that things have a feeling of winding down, but there were still guys making plays. Such as Utah’s Donovan Mitchell (Denver traded out of that spot and may regret it), there was sudden-death overtime, and more.

There were also highlights. Enjoy the top five plays from Tuesday, courtesy the fine folks at NBA.com.

Tatum, Celtics 3-0, Summer League set for tournament stage

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Jayson Tatum might not need long to win his first championship with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics improved to 3-0 in the NBA Summer League on Tuesday with an 88-83 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Tatum, the No. 3 pick in the draft, had 15 points and six rebounds.

Boston, winner of a record 17 NBA championships, is one of six undefeated teams after the preliminary stage on the campus of UNLV. Seedings and matchups for the tournament portion were to be released later Tuesday.

The Memphis Grizzlies also are 3-0 after overcoming 37 points from Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell in an 84-81 overtime victory. Mitchell, the No. 13 pick from Louisville, added eight steals.

A look at the six games played Tuesday, including one that went to sudden death:

CELTICS 88, 76ERS 83

Jabari Bird also had 15 points for the Celtics, going 7 of 10 from the field. Demetrius Jackson scored all of his 14 in the fourth quarter, while Ante Zizic had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown played just 13 minutes, scoring seven points before leaving with a bruised thigh.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had 16 points for the 76ers (1-2).

 

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell drops Summer League high 37 points, shows promise

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LAS VEGAS — Donovan Mitchell found his stroke on Tuesday.

Throughout the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, the combo guard the Jazz traded for on draft night was showing off his athleticism, but his shot was not falling. Through his first four games, he shot 26-of-66 (39.4 percent).

Tuesday against Memphis he dropped a Summer League high 37 points on Memphis in 24 shots. It wasn’t enough for the win — his attempt at a game-winner hit the back of the rim — but it was enough to turn heads.

Mitchell was taken near the end of the lottery (13th), but the Jazz thought his game was better suited for the next level than he showed in college.

“He’s able to show more here than he was at Louisville, maybe because of the NBA-style spacing and pick-and-roll game rather than the tighter confines, the hand-checking in college,” said Jazz Summer League coach Zach Guthrie. “So we felt if the floor opened up for him, his skill and athleticism would really shine.”

It has. Like with all guards stepping up a level, it’s been an adjustment for Mitchell — his shooting shows that — but it’s the mental aspects he has to master going into the fall. His decision-making has to get better.

“To me, the thing he’s grown the most in is sort of the processing of the game, the mental attributes,” Guthrie said. “When to slow it down, ‘hey, I got a two-for-one I gotta get here,’ what are we doing on defense… the offensive skills are there, but what’s going to get him on the floor is defense.”

Utah is a team built around its defense, and that is not changing no matter where Gordon Hayward wants to play. This team starts with Rudy Gobert protecting the rim and builds out.

“Defense is the name of the game, and he’s got to defend at an elite level, which he is capable of doing he has the skills to do it on the ball, can he put all those things together and process it within the schemes that we run, and defend at a high level without making mistakes and fouling?” Guthrie asked.

What gives Mitchell defensive potential is his 6’10” wingspan on a 6’3″ guard — he blows up passing lanes with his length. That is something the Jazz could use.

“This past year we were a good defensive team, but we were a containment defensive team,” said Guthrie, who is an assistant on the Jazz bench during the season. “We weren’t a team that generated a lot of turnovers. So for us to infuse Donovan Mitchell into that with his length and his skills is really something interesting…

“He gets (steals) in a variety of ways. One of the big things he does that a lot of the guys don’t do in this league is as you cut through on defense to the weak side, he maintains vision of the ball. So may guys are man dependent and they go like a lost puppy following their man. But he turns, has vision and is able to make plays off it. So that is a big deal.”

Utah has real depth at guard with Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. Mitchell is going to have to impress on both ends to get much run with the Jazz this season.

But in Las Vegas, he’s showing the potential to do just that.

Reports: Dewayne Dedmon signs with Hawks for two years, $14 million

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Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap are out in Atlanta, and that left a huge defensive gap along the front line.

Enter Dewayne Dedmon.

The man who played some quality defense off the bench for the Spurs last season is taking his talents to Atlanta, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and confirmed by Sam Amick of the USA Today.

With a front line that includes Miles Plumlee, Mike Muscala, and John Collins, Dedmon could get serious run. If he does well and that and wants to test the market next summer and get paid, he can do that (although it’s going to be a tight market).

Statistically, Dedmon was one of the best defensive centers in the NBA last season — for example, he was second in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus among centers behind Rudy Gobert last season (yes that is a flawed statistic, we’re using it here just as a snapshot). He is athletic and bouncy, he can block shots and is in the right position.

The challenge for Dedmon is to provide something on offense and make teams guard him and not just help off him. He’ll get his chance next season with a rebuilding Hawks team.