Additions: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic, Isaiah Roby
Losses: Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Harris, Salah Mejri, Trey Burke
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $19 million over.
2018-19 Record: 33-49, 14th in the Western Conference
Analysis: For the first time in over two decades, the Dallas Mavericks will open a regular season without Dirk Nowitzki. While Nowitzki is irreplaceable in all sorts of ways, the Mavs will look to do so with a new player that isn’t really new at all.
Kristaps Porzingis re-signed with Dallas for a full five-year, maximum contract. This commitment shows the faith the team has in Porzingis despite the fact that he’s yet to put on a Mavericks uniform in a real game. After missing an entire year to rehab from a torn ACL, Dallas hopes Porzingis will pair Luka Doncic to give them two young building blocks with superstar upside.
Doncic won Rookie of the Year after a terrific all-around first season. He proved skeptics wrong that he wouldn’t have the athleticism to make an impact in the NBA. After a summer where Doncic clearly spent time working on his body and looks to be in terrific shape, Dallas is hoping for an even better sophomore season.
To help ease the ballhandling burden on Doncic, the Mavericks added Delon Wright in the offseason. Wright’s combination of size and playmaking ability should fit in nicely next to Doncic in the backcourt. To add more shooting, the Mavs are bringing Seth Curry back for another run with the franchise. His ability to play off the ball will be a welcomed addition to a backcourt that has been light on perimeter shooting in the past.
Up front, the Mavs reached a new deals with Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith and added Boban Marjanovic. That group should team with Porzingis to give Dallas a formidable frontcourt. If nothing else, it’s sure to be one of the biggest groups in the NBA, especially when Porzingis and Marjanovic play together.
The wing didn’t see any additions, putting a lot of the scoring burden on Doncic. Dallas is hoping that Tim Hardaway Jr. will look better than he did after coming over at the trade deadline in the Porzingis deal. If Hardaway can regain his shooting/scoring ability, it will be a boon to the Mavericks offense.
The roster changes in Dallas weren’t voluminous, but still feel big. Such is life when you spent the better part of the last two years on an extended farewell tour for a franchise icon in Nowitzki. Now, the Mavericks move forward behind two youngsters who are locked up for the foreseeable future. That might not manifest in a playoff spot this season, but it’s a good bet Dallas isn’t far off breaking a three-year postseason drought.
Additions: Russel Westbrook, Ryan Anderson, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Ben McLemore
Losses: Chris Paul, Kenneth Faried, Iman Shumpert
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $47 million over.
2018-19 Record: 53-29, lost in Western Conference Semifinals
Analysis: You can never accuse Daryl Morey of being afraid of taking major risks. Morey did it two years ago when he sent multiple rotation players and a first round pick to the Clippers for Chris Paul. He did it again this past summer when he sent Paul and multiple first round picks to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook.
Morey’s big trade reunites Westbrook with James Harden in what could be the NBA’s most dynamic backcourt. Harden and Westbrook have both been nightly triple-double threats and perennial MVP candidates. Many have skepticism that two ball-dominant players, both of whom are used to having their entire offense revolve around them, can fit together. But Morey is betting that after years of falling short in the playoffs, that his star guards will make it work.
Houston will need Harden and Westbrook to be at their best, because the Rockets don’t have a lot of depth to complement them. P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela are terrific in their roles, but the rest of the roster has some question marks after years of wheeling and dealing to add stars.
Ryan Anderson returns to Houston for another run and gives the team some shooting at the four, which they lack from their other bigs. Tyson Chandler could be a decent backup to Capela, but he’s clearly near the end of his career.
On the wing, the Rockets are hoping Danuel House continues to improve as he’ll likely start at the small forward spot. With Gerald Green scheduled to miss considerable time due to a broken foot, Houston doesn’t have much behind House. The options are veterans who have washed out elsewhere or unproven younger players. That means Gordon and Austin Rivers may be asked to play out of position as threes.
The Rockets have been right there as far as being legitimate contenders. They were a Paul injury and horrific shooting night away from making the 2018 NBA Finals. Morey is betting that Westbrook is the piece to push them over the top. Houston will need him and Harden at their best to get out of a competitive Western Conference.
Additions: Ja Morant, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, Solomon Hill, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Andre Iguodala
Losses: Mike Conley, Delon Wright, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons, Avery Bradley, C.J. Miles, Jevon Carter, Justin Holiday
2020 Projected Cap Space: $53 million
2018-19 Record: 33-49, 12th in the Western Conference
Analysis: After resisting a rebuild for years, the Memphis Grizzlies finally leaned hard into it. At the trade deadline they sent Marc Gasol to Toronto, which was followed by trading the last remnant of the “grit n grind” years away when they traded Mike Conley to Utah in the summer. After some lottery luck saw the Grizzlies jump up to the second overall pick, Memphis is rebuilding around some exciting young talent.
Ja Morant comes in to replace Conley at point guard and should make for a fun tandem with last year’s first round pick Jaren Jackson Jr. Both players are athletic and hyper-competitive. Their style of play suits a franchise that prides itself on outcompeting opponents. The transition for Morant will likely be a little bumpy, as it is for all rookie point guards, but like Jackson Jr., the talent is readily apparent.
After moving on from Conley, the Grizzlies swung a series of other trades to add assets while selling off their newly created cap space. Memphis acquired Andre Iguodala when Golden State was forced to shed salary to get under the hard cap. Memphis and Iguodala have agreed that he won’t even report to the team, as the Grizzlies look to spin him off in a subsequent trade which could add another pick to the first they got from the Warriors to eat Iguodala’s contract.
Adding picks is important for Memphis, because they will have an outstanding future first rounder they owe to Boston. That pick is top-six protected in 2020. Keep this in mind if the Grizzlies suddenly suffer a series of injuries late in the season that are just serious enough to cause rotation players to miss some games, but not serious to be a long-term concern.
Memphis added a couple of hopeful rotation players from Utah in the Conley trade with Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen. Crowder will give the Grizzlies some forward depth, while Allen brings some shooting to a backcourt light in that area. Crowder has the additional benefit of being on a very tradable, expiring contract. If he can fetch Memphis another solid draft pick, don’t be surprised to see Crowder dealt by the trade deadline.
Part of why Memphis could move Crowder is their depth at the forward position. Jackson is the starting four, while the Grizzlies also have Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke to help man the forward spots. Anderson is a versatile player who Memphis really missed when he was injured last season. Clarke was the apple of many draft analysts’ eyes and someone many have tabbed as the steal of the draft. His defensive and versatility to play either forward position will fit in well, and he can spend part of the year learning from Crowder and Anderson.
Playing next to Jackson will be Jonas Valanciunas, who the Grizzlies brought back on a three-year deal. Memphis likes Valanciunas’ ability to defend the bigger centers, while Jackson plays the four. Should the team decide Jackson needs to be a long-term five, Valanciunas’ deal is in an range where he’s fine as a high-end backup, or he should be easy tradable.
To help ease Morant’s transition to the NBA, the Grizzlies picked up Tyus Jones, who was one of the better backup point guards on the market. Jones is used to being a backup and accepts that as his role, which makes him a solid mentor for Morant, albeit a youngish one.
This season is a reset for the Grizzlies. Despite retaining and adding some solid veterans, the future is Morant, Jackson and Clarke. If it means taking some lumps while those three find their footing, so be it. It’s been a long time coming, but the rebuild is finally here for Memphis. Because of the young talent they’ve already added, it might not be a long one.
New Orleans Pelicans
Additions: Zion Williamson, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart, Nicolo Melli, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaxson Hayes
Losses: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Christian Wood
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $30 million over.
2018-19 Record: 33-49, 13th in the Western Conference
Analysis: It’s really hard to have your franchise player ask for a trade, and even harder to follow through on that request by trading him within the conference. Making it easier is winning the draft lottery in a year where a transcendent talent is the consensus number one overall pick. Adding to the ease of making that trade is bringing back three young rotation players, a 2019 first rounder and two additional future first round picks.
David Griffin didn’t have an easy task when Anthony Davis re-stated his trade request after Griffin took over the front office. But once the Pelicans won the lottery and the chance to draft Zion Williamson, Griffin brought back a mega-haul for Davis. The Pelicans then used their cap space to add in high-character veterans around their new young core.
Williamson is considered as can’t miss a prospect since, oddly enough, Davis. His combination of strength, speed and skill at 6’6’’, 285 pounds is unlike anything the NBA has seen. Williamson has the ability to go by, over or through any defender. He saw great growth as a shooter and passer in his one year in college, making scouts confident his game will eventually round out nicely. One concern remains Williamson’s weight, but the Pelicans have brushed that off repeatedly. He will miss the first 6-8 weeks of his rookie season due to a torn meniscus, but the hope is that is a one-time injury. Barring further injury, it already looks like New Orleans has their new franchise player.
Drafting Williamson alone would have been enough to get Pelicans fans excited for the future. Adding three rotation players in the Davis trade in the form of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart has fans over the moon for their new roster. Ball is coming off an injury-plagued sophomore season, but took the time off to revamp his shot and to get healthy. He has looked good throughout the preseason and will pair with the perennially underrated Jrue Holiday to form a potent backcourt.
Ingram is fully recovered from a scary shoulder issue caused by a blood clot. The return to health is great news in and of itself, but Ingram’s return to the court isn’t far behind. He brings scoring and playmaking ability to a small forward spot that has been an issue for years in New Orleans. The fit isn’t exactly perfect for the Pelicans with Ingram, as he’s not great playing off the ball, but Ingram is better than the other recent threes. He’s also got some ability to play up as a small ball four or down as a big two. That helps add some versatility to the lineup.
Hart will also be a nice addition to a remade wing group. The Pels return both Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, but added the two youngsters from the Lakers and signed veteran sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Redick will help stretch the floor to open up driving lanes for the younger players and to balance the spacing along with Holiday.
Up front, New Orleans added Derrick Favors in a trade with the Utah Jazz to help ease Williamson’s transition to the NBA. Favors will play the five and handle the bigger centers, while allowing Williamson to roam and showcase his shot blocking ability from the weakside. The Pelicans also brought Nicolo Melli over from Europe to add a stretch four element to the frontcourt.
And if adding Williamson at the draft wasn’t enough, Griffin flipped the first he got from the Lakers for two additional picks and used those selections to add Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. This will be a development year for Hayes, as he’ll be behind Favors and Jahlil Okafor in the center rotation. But the hope he’s the long-term frontcourt partner for Williamson.
Alexander-Walker was expected to have a similar path to Hayes, but his play throughout Summer League and the preseason have him pushing for a rotation spot to start the year. He’s been one of the more impressive rookie guards in the league throughout that time and it shouldn’t be long, if at all, before he surpasses the Pelicans veterans guards for a backup spot behind Ball.
Griffin’s terrific summer has the Pelicans in position to make this a lightning quick rebuild after trading away Davis. Williamson’s injury puts a damper on the start of the season, but more importantly it could cost New Orleans a handful of wins over the first couple of months of the season. That will probably be enough to make the difference between making the playoffs and being at home in late-April. But if all goes according to plan, it’ll be a long time before the Pelicans miss the postseason again after this season.
San Antonio Spurs
Additions: DeMarre Carroll, Trey Lyles, Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic
Losses: Davis Bertans, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Donatas Motiejunas
2020 Projected Cap Space: None. $53 million over.
2018-19 Record: 48-34, lost in Western Conference First Round
Analysis: No team changed less from 2018-19 to 2019-20 than the San Antonio Spurs. After a year of transition following the Kawhi Leonard trade, the Spurs did what the Spurs generally do. They made small moves that went under the radar, but will probably look terrific a few months into the season.
San Antonio only lost one rotation player, as a scuttled signing of Marcus Morris cost them Davis Bertans. The Spurs had a pre-arranged deal to send Bertans to Washington and acquire DeMarre Carroll via sign-and-trade with Brooklyn, while using the Mid-Level Exception to sign Morris. But when Morris got a bigger offer from New York, he backed out of his agreement.
The Spurs went through with the Bertans trade and subsequent acquisition of Carroll. They then used a portion of the MLE to sign Trey Lyles. Those two players, along with rookie first rounders Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic, represent the sum of the San Antonio offseason additions.
In a way, the most important addition for the Spurs comes via Dejounte Murray’s return from a torn ACL. Murray as on the verge of a breakout season when he got hurt, and San Antonio is betting that comes now, as they recently signed Murray to a four-year, $64 million extension. He’ll team with burgeoning young guards Derrick White and Lonnie Walker, and veterans Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli, to give the Spurs a ton of depth in the backcourt.
It’s almost like Carroll was made to be a Spur. His no-nonsense, 3&D ability will fit in perfectly with the rest of the San Antonio frontcourt. Carroll’s versatility to play either spot gives Gregg Popovich lots of options next to stars LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. If the Spurs want to go small, Carroll or Rudy Gay, can play the four. If San Antonio goes big with Jakob Poeltl up front, Carroll and Gay become the forward tandem off the bench.
While it’s popular to pick the Spurs to miss the playoffs in a deep Western Conference, it’s not a smart bet. San Antonio has missed the playoffs just four times in 43 NBA seasons. The last time it happened was 22 years ago in 1997. No matter who suits up in black and silver, all the Spurs do is win. Bet against that track record at your own peril.