clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The NBA Offseason Exit Survey

Examining the strangest and savviest moves in free agency and the draft, plus a look ahead at the biggest questions with the regular season less than a month away

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Blink and you may have missed an entire offseason. To get back to business by Christmas, the NBA crammed weeks of transactions into just a few days. Now, five days after the free-agent market opened, virtually every player of note looking for a home has found one. Before we turn our attention to the games again—and as we not-so-patiently await Giannis’s decision on an extension and what the hell the Rockets will do with two disgruntled superstars—our staff assesses the landscape after a whirlwind of deals.

1. Who’s the biggest winner of the offseason so far?

Dan Devine: The Lakers. Rob Pelinka—officially Good Now—turned the 28th pick in the draft and Danny Green into Dennis Schröder and brought Montrezl Harrell in for Dwight Howard, adding an explosive scoring component to the second unit. He replaced Green with Wesley Matthews for about one-fourth the price; essentially traded JaVale McGee for Marc Gasol to augment L.A.’s shooting, spacing, and interior defense; and brought back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris to reprise their title-winning roles (minus Kieff’s late-game passing, natch). Barring an unexpected turn in Anthony Davis’s decision on which max contract to take or LeBron getting lost in a bottle of Lobos 1707, it’s hard to imagine this offseason going any better for the defending champions.

Kevin O‘Connor: Let’s not pretend it’s a team that added some third-tier star or a couple role players when those teams are still worse than the champions who just got even better. Yeah, the Lakers are the winners of the offseason. It’s usually tough to lose four rotation players, but not when you replace them with Dennis Schröder, Wes Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol. The Lakers are even bigger Finals favorites than they were in my eyes last season.

Jonathan Tjarks: The Mavs. They pulled off the rare double feat of significantly improving their team next season (by adding Josh Richardson and James Johnson) while also clearing out cap space for next offseason to chase Giannis Antetokounmpo. Don’t sleep on Richardson. He struggled in Philadelphia but could be the perfect piece next to Luka Doncic.

Zach Kram: Darius Miller. The 30-year-old missed all of last season after rupturing his Achilles, just over a month after signing with New Orleans. The second year of his contract was worth $7 million—but not guaranteed, and given Miller’s injury and rust, there was little chance it would be picked up. But then, as the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday trade mushroomed into a four-team Jenga game, New Orleans realized it needed an extra player making decent money to balance the salaries. Enter Miller, now with a fully guaranteed deal and an extra $7 million. For the teams involved, the transaction was just a bit of complicated math rigging; for Miller, it meant he’d increase his career earnings by 55 percent despite not playing an NBA game in 19 months.

Matt Dollinger: The Blazers. The moves out of Los Angeles ultimately may have a greater impact on the title race, but Portland may have snuck into the festivities with a series of shrewd moves. Robert Covington adds much-needed grit and defense, giving the team a sneaky-good Big 4 with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. And the team added considerable depth by signing Enes Kanter, Derrick Jones Jr., and Harry Giles while retaining Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood. Having mix-and-match options and a safety net in case injuries strike is huge, especially for a team snakebitten by them so many times in recent years.

Paolo Uggetti: LeBron James. Fourth ring in hand, our guy is promoting his tequila and showing us workouts on social media while Rob Pelinka wheels and deals the Lakers into consensus-title-favorite status heading into next season. Not a bad way to spend a shortened offseason.

Rob Mahoney: Rodney Hood, who ruptured his Achilles while rounding out the starting lineup for Portland almost a year ago, hasn’t played in an NBA game since, and just cashed in on a two-year, $21 million contract to stick with the Blazers. Even for those who recover reasonably well, a major Achilles injury can have a devastating effect on a player’s earning potential. Clearly that isn’t the case here. Hood declined a $6 million option to sign the largest overall deal of his career with his highest annual earnings yet—all before making his official return to the NBA court. It’s a heartening development for a player who had settled into an ideal role before an awful injury snatched it away. Portland’s familiarity with what Hood could offer—and the team’s persistent need for quality wings—created an arrangement where he could be well-compensated while trying to get back to that place.

Justin Verrier: The Trail Blazers. They brought back key figures from the 2019 Western Conference finals team (Rodney Hood, Enes Kanter) to go along with all of the principals of the team that barnstormed into the playoffs, and finally found a solution on the wing (Robert Covington). This is probably the most talented team Damian Lillard’s ever had behind him—which is scary, considering the meals he’s been able to make out of Allen Crabbe in years past.

J. Kyle Mann: I think the idea of “winning” varies for the haves and have-nots. For a team like the Knicks, the simple absence of glaringly terrible moves is seen as a step toward recovery. In terms of playing the chess board and acquiring upside talent and swings at the piñata, Sam Presti has obviously galaxy-brained the shit out of every beat of every measure this offseason. I think Phoenix just put together its most complete, competent basketball team in a decade. Still, winning titles is the point, and because they just won and put themselves in great position to do it again, it’s hard to win bigger than the Lakers did.

2. Who’s the biggest loser of the offseason so far?

Mahoney: When Milwaukee’s plans to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic collapsed in strange and spectacular fashion, the Bucks missed out on what could have been the most complete starting lineup in basketball. Ersan Ilyasova, meanwhile, missed out on $7 million in salary that would have been guaranteed if he was traded to the Kings, lost his job when the Bucks subsequently waived him after the deal fell through, and has yet to pick up with any other team. It’s just a brutal turn of events for a journeyman role player, all set into motion because there was either a miscommunication regarding Bogdanovic’s interest in that particular arrangement or an underestimation of the league office where some clear tampering is concerned.

2019 NBA Finals - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tjarks: The Warriors. Klay Thompson tearing his Achilles not only ended their chances of contending this season but could also be the beginning of the end of the Steph Curry era. Enjoy life when things are going well. Because you never know when things are going to end.

Verrier: The Pistons. Prioritizing development is cool and all, especially in a barren market like Detroit, but that still doesn’t explain signing what was the Nuggets’ second-unit frontcourt to start last season for $28 million a year—over $30 million if you count the contracts they had to stretch to clear enough cap space—all while adding two other big men.

Kram: The Warriors. Klay will miss another full season and, given the severity of his back-to-back leg injuries, might never be the same player again. This Achilles tear hurts Thompson and his career, the Warriors and their plans for another title run, and all the league’s fans who enjoyed watching the bigger Splash Brother catch fire. Just a tremendous bummer all around.

Devine: The Bucks’ front office. By all means, feel free to argue that having Jrue Holiday, D.J. Augustin, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, and Torrey Craig is ultimately better than having Holiday, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and a bench stuffed with minimum-salaried second-round rookies. That may prove to be right! But the “how” of that happening—what looked to be a decisive double move that suddenly fell apart once everyone realized it was blatant tampering—doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in the brain trust behind it. Nor does the fact that the front office tried to give Pat Connaughton a two-year, $8 million deal (which, given that he was unplayable in the playoffs, is probably already too much), found out that it couldn’t construct his contract that way under league rules, and then tacked on another year and $8 million more. And considering the galactic importance of ensuring that Giannis Antetokounmpo feels confident in putting the rest of his prime in the hands of the Bucks’ decision-makers … well, the sum total of it all just doesn’t seem like a great look, I don’t think.

Dollinger: The Hornets. I’m not sure which will prove to be the bigger headache: the $120 million contract for Gordon Hayward or the LaMelo/LaVar Ball sideshow? Charlotte had to stretch Nicolas Batum to clear room for Hayward, which is like covering up a $120 million stain on your carpet that had been soaking in for five years with a fresh $120 million stain that’ll last another four. The logic in that analogy might be flawed, but that just makes it even more fitting for a blurb about this front office.

Mann: Houston is way down there, now that the Harden-Morey era has all but totally crumbled. These remaining months are going to be like breaking up with someone on a vacation and then coming back to live with that person in a 500-square-foot apartment until you find a new place. I’d also toss Golden State into the ring, if only due to sheer bad luck.

Uggetti: The Bucks’ front office. I need some kind of oral history or documentary short on what exactly happened with Bogdan Bogdanovic, but I fear that whatever the full explanation is, it will not make the Bucks look better. They recovered decently enough, but that return for Jrue Holiday (who will undoubtedly make them better) still looms over everything. If Giannis signs the supermax extension, then it’s all moot. If he doesn’t, well, it will be nearly impossible to recover from these last few weeks.

O‘Connor: The Rockets made a tremendous move flipping Robert Covington to Portland to create the cap flexibility to acquire Christian Wood, who could be a star hiding in plain sight. But I can’t help but think they’re truly the biggest losers this offseason. James Harden isn’t happy. Is there anything worse than having a disgruntled superstar who wants to leave? Well, maybe an injury. The Warriors just lost Klay Thompson to a torn Achilles when they were just gearing up for a comeback season. There’s no saying how effective he’ll be defensively when he returns. Both the Warriors and Rockets dominated the West for much of the past decade, but 2020 has given birth to a new era of championship contenders.

3. What was the best move?

Mann: I love Dallas sending Seth Curry to Philly for Josh Richardson. Richardson gives Luka some defensive support with size on the perimeter (and shooting), while Curry is a fantastic fit on paper with what the Sixers appear to be aiming at. (I also think both teams dominated the draft.) Memphis snagged multiple usable pieces for its future by drafting Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and Robert Woodard. And if you look at what Atlanta offloaded and who they’re bringing in, its net gain could be among the highest in the league next season.

O‘Connor: Sacramento drafting Tyrese Haliburton might be a super hipster choice for this question, but yes: Sacramento just added a dude who not only can play right away, but can contribute to winning with his gorgeous passing, unselfish tendencies, and active defense. Guys like him sign for $18 million annually on the open market. The Kings will have him for about $18 million over the next four years. Of course, Haliburton needs to prove he can live up to his potential, so this response might end up looking goofy. The Kings desperately need help around De’Aaron Fox, and Haliburton is well suited to play next to him.

Uggetti: Both from an entertainment and on-court perspective, I loved the Lakers doing everything they could do to nab Marc Gasol to put next to LeBron. There will be nightly passing highlights between the two of them. LeBron has played with good passers before, but Gasol is a cut above. Gasol also stretches the floor for Anthony Davis to be a rim-runner when he wants to, and vice versa. His defense will be invaluable and any offense he provides is a bonus.

Tjarks: The Rockets signing Christian Wood on a stunningly reasonable three-year, $41 million deal. I don’t understand how Mason Plumlee can be worth $8 million a year and this guy can be worth only $13 million. He’s outrageously talented. You should not be able to sign a 7-footer with his kind of ability for that kind of price.

Dollinger: The Knicks signing Austin Rivers. A historically unlikable pairing. There’s just something about Rivers that seems to rub most of the NBA the wrong way, which makes him perfect for New York. His chip-on-the-shoulder, always-pissed mentality is perfect for the Garden and their fans. They are going to love him. And we’re going to hate him. I don’t know if Mitchell Robinson is turning into Patrick Ewing anytime soon, but the Knicks just found their next John Starks.

Kram: Does hiring Daryl Morey count? In the span of a week, the 76ers’ new president of basketball operations unloaded Al Horford with just one far-off first-round pick, added two players with career 3-point percentages in the 40s—including Seth Curry, the active career leader in long-range accuracy—and reworked his team’s rotation to make more sense around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The 76ers still need to prove they can win more than a single playoff round with those two stars as the foundation. But they look a heck of a lot closer now than they did a month ago.

Mahoney: After the stunning reveal that Montrezl Harrell had defected to the Lakers—stunning not so much that he left, but where to and for how little—the Clippers made the best possible counter by bringing in Serge Ibaka for the mid-level exception. That’s a definitive upgrade. Ibaka was a rock not only for the title-winning Raptors alongside Kawhi Leonard in 2019, but the oft-injured follow-up that rode its patchwork rotation to within a game of the Eastern Conference finals. Ibaka has a more elastic game than he’s given credit. Even as a lesser option spotting up on the perimeter and working off the ball, he scored 20-plus points in almost a third of Toronto’s games last season. Those bursts will help the Clippers just as much, particularly when the offense begins to drift. There’s still some spiritual work to be done to get the Clippers competing at a higher level, but last season’s on-paper champions made another conceptual improvement to their rotation.

Verrier: Chris Paul to the Suns. This feels like it happened six months ago, but it’s probably the only move that will appreciably change a team’s immediate future. Paul breathed life into a patchwork Thunder team last season; imagine what he can do surrounded by five lottery picks from the past six drafts. This might be the most young talent Paul has ever played alongside, which, as we’ve learned over the past 15 years, is the best fit for his effective yet demanding ways.

Devine: Best signing? The Raptors bringing back Fred VanVleet, paying up to retain a franchise folk hero who’s also one of their best young players, and securing the supporting core of the next contending Toronto team while maintaining a clear pathway to adding a max-level free agent in 2021.

Favorite move? Portland trading Trevor Ariza, 2020’s no. 16 pick, and a lottery-protected 2021 first-rounder for Robert Covington—precisely the sort of defense-first wing, small-ball 4/5, and low-usage 3-point bomber to serve as the connective tissue between the Damian Lillard–CJ McCollum backcourt and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic. After Portland got bounced from the bubble, I wrote that the Blazers might be “one move away from something serious” without needing to break up Dame and CJ; I don’t know if this is that move, but I like it a lot.

4. What was the worst move?

Verrier: Shelling out approximately $40 million a year to sign Gordon Hayward and stretch Nicolas Batum belongs in its own category, so how about the Pelicans’ trade, and then extension, for Steven Adams? I like the idea of surrounding the young core with veterans who’ve been in winning cultures, and strapping a bodyguard to Zion Williamson as he explores the wonder of his high-maintenance physique. But Adams, though only 27, has started to show signs of breaking down; $21 million on average over the next three years for any center is a lot, let alone one who may not be available as much as the Pels would like, and will block the development of Jaxson Hayes and Zion-at-center lineups when he is.

Devine: Four years and $120 million for 30-year-old post-devastating-leg-injury Gordon Hayward, huh? Okey-doke, Charlotte. Best of luck with that.

Dollinger: Eighty million dollars is a lot of money to commit to a guy who started four games last season for a team that didn’t make the playoffs and had never averaged double-digit points before. I understand the Wizards don’t have a lot of options to improve their cap-strapped team, but breaking the bank for Davis Bertans seems like an unnecessary and exorbitant way to make us forget about the Ian Mahinmi deal.

Tjarks: Whatever happened with the Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade with the Bucks. Who even cares if a rule was broken? How can it be tampering if the player’s original team wants the deal to go through so they can get an asset out of it? If the league stepped in, the whole thing is a terrible look. The people who are bothered about tampering should be shunned from polite society.

Mann: The entire handling of the Bogdanovic-to-Milwaukee deal. Not only was it a bad look for everyone involved (the NBA included), but it also robbed us of the chance to see truly two-way lineups like Jrue-Bogdanovic-Middleton-Giannis-Lopez. If you love this game at all, you should be mad about this. That’s right, I’m questioning your love of basketball.

Uggetti: The Pistons’ obsession with centers. I can’t be expected to pick just one here. These moves feel incoherent on their own and in their totality. Giving Jahlil Okafor, who played only 30 games last season, a two-year deal after giving a three-year, $25 million deal to Mason Plumlee, and drafting center Isaiah Stewart? I guess they had to replace Christian Wood (who they should have kept), but the way they’re going about it doesn’t have a clear rhyme or reason. Getting Jerami Grant to pick them over Denver is a good look, but paying him $20 million a year to go from an elite role player to go-to guy might backfire too.

O‘Connor: I love what the Pistons did on draft night in adding guard Killian Hayes, center Isaiah Stewart, and forward Saddiq Bey. But after that, well, it’s as if there were two different people running this front office: one who handles the draft, and the other who handles free agency. I’m puzzled by the decision to select Stewart on draft night and then sign Mason Plumlee to $8.3 million annually ... and Jahlil Okafor? It just seems like overkill on the bigs. But I am curious to see how it works: Will Okafor just be a deep bench piece who plays sparingly? Could Blake Griffin play more minutes at the 5, now that they also added Jerami Grant to play the 4? On the surface, Detroit sure feels like a team that will lack spacing, which could hurt the development of their core young players like Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya.

Mahoney: Most of the signings and trades this offseason are at least explicable; even if a player isn’t to your particular tastes or seems a bit overvalued, you can at least understand why a team would pursue them. And then there’s Mason Plumlee, a ho-hum backup center whom Detroit just signed to a three-year, $25 million deal for some reason that escapes me. There’s nothing wrong with Plumlee, per se, but that isn’t quite the place you’d like to start where a multi-year investment costing tens of millions of dollars is concerned. Most of the other bigs to sign in Plumlee’s per-year price range (Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Montrezl Harrell, etc.) are considerably better players on team-friendly deals. Many who signed for less (Nerlens Noel, Aron Baynes, Robin Lopez, etc.) could do Plumlee’s job just as well, or near enough. Even if we take the finances out of it, Plumlee seems like a curious fit for a team that will still rely on Blake Griffin, had Dewayne Dedmon on its roster and chose to waive him, paid top dollar for combo forward Jerami Grant to conceivably play the 3, let Christian Wood walk in free agency, and drafted Isaiah Stewart at No. 16 just last week. Some of what the Pistons are doing feels shrewd for a team in their position, but Plumlee is where I lose the thread.

Kram: Even amid the inanity of all the Pistons’ other moves, one in particular stands out. Detroit went out and paid a bunch of big men—but apparently didn’t try to retain their own talented big, Christian Wood, who might be better than any of Detroit’s new players. Sure, maybe the Pistons know Wood best and thus harbored some secret reason he wasn’t worth a new deal after excelling in a smaller role last season, but it’s also difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. What was the best under-the-radar move?

Tjarks: The Clippers trading for Luke Kennard. He’s got a ton of offensive game that people didn’t get to see because he was often injured on a bad Pistons team. He’s a nice long-term piece to add around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for a team without a lot of ways to acquire them.

Mann: Denver scooping up Facundo Campazzo, because—and this is purely a selfish thing—that move will bring me joy. Chris Marlowe is Denver’s radio play-by-play guy, and I have to imagine he is counting down the seconds until he can scream “FACUNDO CAMPAAAAAZZOOOOOOO” after he and Nikola Jokic link up for a highlight that scorches our brains.

Uggetti: I said it when I wrote about the offseason’s winners and losers, but Robert Covington is exactly the kind of player the Blazers have been missing these last few years. He might not make them contenders full stop, but he solidifies their place in the tier just below the Lakers and Clippers. You can already tell Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will love playing with a two-way wing like him and he’s bound to improve their porous defense.

Devine: I loved the Grizzlies hanging on to De’Anthony Melton on a four-year, $35 million deal. Here’s a wild stat: Memphis on the whole got outscored by 78 points last season, but in the 1,167 minutes Melton played, the Grizz were plus-118. My colleagues and I sang Melton’s praises throughout a breakout season that saw him prove right every Draft Twitter obsessive who raved about his chaos-agent ways; even without a reliable jumper, the dude just makes shit happen. I was psyched to see him get paid, and I’m eager to see him keep wreaking havoc alongside running buddies Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones in the second unit for what promises to be an awfully fun young Grizzlies team.

Kram: The Lakers won the title because of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and defense. They still have James, they still have Davis, and now they also have Marc Gasol, who has somehow not made an All-Defense team since 2012-13 but remains an elite defender. Despite working through injuries last season, he still ranked in the top 10 in the whole league on that end by advanced stats like ESPN’s real plus-minus and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR. I’ve spent days wondering how teams will score consistently against a James-Davis-Gasol front line, and I haven’t come any closer to an answer.

Dollinger: I’m not sure Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo are going to speed up Atlanta’s rebuild the way GM Travis Schlenk would like, but at a minimum, he’s given the Hawks some interesting trade assets if things don’t go as planned. Locking in the two veterans is a win-win proposition for Atlanta: Either the additions provide a boost and a return to the playoffs or they provide trade targets for a capped-out contender to pursue. As my colleague Dan Devine recently noted, the Hawks’ roster doesn’t make a ton of sense as currently constructed, but it’s likely because they’re not done making moves.

Verrier: The Suns stealing Jae Crowder away from the 2021-cap-conscious Heat for three years, $30 million could pay major dividends. Crowder is the player no team wants but every team needs; don’t be surprised when he shows up in closing lineups for Monty Williams in the playoffs. Also deserving of a special mention are all of the moves the old Knicks would have made that the new, ostensibly prudent Knicks didn’t.

O‘Connor: The Mavericks acquiring Josh Richardson went overlooked because it happened the same day Klay Thompson got hurt and it happened in the middle of the second round of the draft. But Richardson adds a ton to the Mavericks with his ability to defend both guards and wings while also providing secondary shot creation. Richardson had a lost season with the Sixers, but that was a dysfunctional offense in which no one really fit. The last time we saw him on a coherent team was in 2018-19 with the Heat, when he looked like a promising young two-way player.

Mahoney: After losing both Ibaka and Marc Gasol to the dueling residents of Staples Center, the Raptors landed the only remaining free agent center who didn’t feel like a serious concession. Aron Baynes is going to fit in perfectly, not just as the rough-and-tumble (but also pick-and-pop) center for a team that needed one, but phenotypically for an organization that will soon set up shop down in Tampa. Whenever the Raps get in a bind, Masai Ujiri and his staff have a way of finding the only remaining escape hatch.

6. What’s the biggest question you have going forward?

Devine: Outside of “How the hell is any of this supposed to work outside of a bubble?” let’s go with “What the hell’s going to happen with James Harden and Russell Westbrook?” I’m skeptical that the Rockets signing Christian Wood (while a nice move!) and taking a flyer on a post-Achilles-and-ACL-tear DeMarcus Cousins (ditto!) is going to lead the two star guards to change their tune on their respective trade requests. Can Harden really force his way to Brooklyn if the Rockets don’t love the Nets’ best offer? Is anyone willing to get into the Russell Westbrook business at this point without serious incentivization? And if Houston’s brass are indeed “willing to get uncomfortable” by carrying this uncertainty into the season, how the hell will all of this affect the on-court performance of a team whose presence among the second tier of Western title hopefuls seems to grow more tenuous by the day?

Tjarks: What happens with James Harden? Does he go to Brooklyn or Philadelphia? Or stick it out in Houston? Christian Wood makes Houston a lot more interesting if Harden and Russell Westbrook decide to give it a chance.

Mann: I’m really curious about the next iteration of Giannis, because he’s entering the age span when legacy-shifting evolution tends to happen for a superstar. His nimble, relentless rim pressure is unprecedented for a player of his build, but it has a clear limit in its playoff effectiveness. What will he add to work in concert with their personnel upgrades?

Dollinger: What do the Nets have in store? Re-signing Joe Harris was imperative, and adding Landry Shamet and Jeff Green are both nice enough moves, but something big is brewing in Brooklyn. Maybe James Harden will prove to be too big a fish, but it still feels like the Nets could reel in another big name before the start of the season. If the Rockets are skittish about dealing the Beard, maybe Kevin Durant will implore his team to call the Spurs about fellow Longhorn LaMarcus Aldridge? Brooklyn has the pieces to get it done.

Kram: How closely does Kevin Durant mimic his old self after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles? This is a relatively rare injury in the NBA—notwithstanding the fact that Durant is the third player I’ve mentioned in this survey with this problem—and players typically perform worse thereafter. A healthy, MVP-level Durant could give the Nets the best offense in the league (seriously, look at all the creative and shooting talent on that roster) and, more importantly, add another championship contender to an already-crowded field.

Uggetti: When will James Harden get traded? We’re past the point of returning to normalcy in Houston. New GM Rafael Stone may want to show who’s boss by keeping Harden and Russell Westbrook to begin the season, but at some point he’ll likely have to give in and start thinking about how to build the franchise’s future. A Harden trade return would be massive, and ensuring the timing is right for the best value is crucial.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Mahoney: Did Houston actually manage to cobble together something interesting? And to follow: Does that even matter to James Harden and Russell Westbrook? It’s probably a long shot, but the Rockets’ restructured front office managed a more interesting renovation of its frontcourt than I thought would be possible given their constraints.

Verrier: What the hell are the Thunder going to do with all of these draft picks? Sam Presti has become a high-class Hinkie, stockpiling a historic amount of future first-round picks rather than mere second-rounders like the Process warlock. Will Presti use them to grossly overpay for the next disgruntled star to make up for OKC’s lack of market appeal? Will he keep them and turn the draft into his own personal batting cage? Will he turn his G League team into a true minor league club, green-lighting the Josh Huestis pilot into a full series? It’s always nice to have options, but the Celtics’ recent history shows the two sides of believing in the promise of future picks: For every Jaylen Brown (acquired via Brooklyn’s no. 3 pick in 2016), there’s a Romeo Langford (the once-precious unprotected Kings pick, acquired from Philly in the Markelle Fultz tradedown).

O‘Connor: Who’s the next big superstar on the move? The Rockets and Wizards appear to have a trembling finger hovering over the Blow It Up button. James Harden and Russell Westbrook already want out of Houston. John Wall wants out of Washington, and Bradley Beal could be next. Which of them will be dealt first? And how will it change the title picture?

7. Who’s the 2021 title favorite at this very moment?

Kram: The Lakers won the title, and they might’ve won the offseason, too. Barring injury, they should remain the popular favorite at least until the 2021 playoffs begin.

Verrier: It’s the Lakers, but my eye keeps drifting toward the Clippers. They still need a guard, but if they can get their shit together, they’re still immensely talented. That’s the catch-22 with chemistry issues: You can either solve them with something as simple as a company picnic, or you could be irrevocably broken.

Devine: The Lakers. I don’t care if LeBron takes the first six weeks of the season off. So long as he and AD are right come Game 1 of the playoffs, I’m not betting on anyone else.

Tjarks: The Lakers. They have earned their spot as title favorites. Someone will have to take it from them.

Mann: It’s the Lakers. They obviously got better. And can we not do that thing where we act like LeBron James and Anthony Davis aren’t the two best players in the world and underestimate the value of that? Good. Thank you.

Mahoney: Probably the team that just won the championship, employs LeBron James and Anthony Davis, upgraded its weakest positions, added shooting, and still has another deal or two to make down the line.

Dollinger: The Lakers, and it’s not even close. LeBron and AD will be operating with a staggering level of confidence after winning the title and the offseason in back-to-back months.

O‘Connor: The Lakers. And no one else is in the same tier.

Uggetti: The Lakers. See above.

The Ringer NBA Show

What the Kyrie Irving Trade Could Mean for Kevin Durant

New York, New York

Kyrie Traded to the Mavs, Knicks Bench Comes Alive Against Philly, and AMA

The Bill Simmons Podcast

Kyrie Trade Reactions, Deadline Predictions, and a Best Super Bowl LVII Props Extravaganza

View all stories in NBA