Off-season grades: Atlantic Division
With most of the summer already in the books, SI.com is grading each team's off-season performance as well as examining their best and worst moves. Today, Chris Mannix breaks down the Atlantic Division.
Worst move: N/A
Analysis: Boston continues baby-stepping its way back to respectability. On draft night, the Celtics once again aggressively shopped its glut of draft picks, even making a godfather offer to Charlotte to move up to No. 9. Nobody bit, so the Celtics used the No. 16 pick on Louisville point guard Terry Rozier and the No. 28 pick on Georgia State shooting guard R.J. Hunter. While Boston is high on both, neither are expected to contribute significant minutes this season. Second-round pick Jordan Mickey is unlikely to provide much, either. All three are young (21 years old) and could be shuffled back and forth between Boston and its D-League affiliate in Portland.
Lee will help. Wallace was an afterthought for most of last season while Lee, despite losing his spot in the Warriors rotation to Draymond Green, is still a reliable scorer and rebounder who should be able to play some center in the Eastern Conference. Amir Johnson is a long, defensive-minded player who can shift between two positions and is on a favorable, short term contract. Perry Jones, a salary dump by Oklahoma City, could claw his way into the frontcourt mix, too. Like last summer, Boston will hope its young core (Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, James Young, Kelly Olynyk) plays well enough to keep the Celtics in the playoff mix—or attract the eyes of potential trade partners.
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Worst move: Withdrawing the qualifying offer to Mirza Teletovic.
Analysis: After years spent trying to buy a championship, the Nets have pivoted to a more traditional approach. The decision to cut Deron Williams was the right one; Williams still has talent but the situation in Brooklyn had become too toxic for it to continue. Mason Plumlee had developed nicely the last two seasons, and GM Billy King is taking a big risk that Rondae-Hollis Jefferson—whose rights were acquired in a draft day deal for Plumlee—can be a consistent two-way player. As skilled as Hollis-Jefferson is defensively, he won’t play consistent minutes until he improves on offense.
Lopez returns, and if he is healthy he will once again be a centerpiece of the offense. So, too, will Young, whose versatility is highly valued. Brooklyn also did a nice job bargain shopping, signing Shane Larkin (who, if allowed to push the ball, can be effective), Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson, and Wayne Ellington. None are impact players but one or two could be in Lionel Hollins rotation. First round pick Chris McCullough likely won’t play this season, but Brooklyn is OK with that; if he debuts in 2016–17, he will effectively be the first rounder in ’16 that they don’t have.
The decision to let Teletovic walk was financially motivated—when was the last time we said that about Brooklyn?—and the Nets will miss Alan Anderson’s toughness. But the Nets, finally, are more patiently rebuilding; this offseason was a solid start.
Best move: Signing forward DeMarre Carroll.
Worst move: N/A
Analysis: The Raptors, a top-ten defensive team in ’13–’14, plummeted to 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season. Enter Carroll, a high level wing defender whose skills will be counted on to complement DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross’s offensive firepower. They paid a steep price—Carroll signed a four-year, $60 million deal in the offseason—but Carroll fills a significant hole. Toronto fortified a few other positions with the signing of Bismack Biyombo (a shot blocker) and Cory Joseph (a pesky backcourt defender) as well as drafting Delon Wright, a big, NBA-ready guard who projects as a very good defender.
Ultimately, the Raptors success will come down to the continued development of its young core (DeRozan, Ross, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunis) but G.M. Masai Ujiri did a nice job providing coach (and defensive guru) Dwane Casey with the weapons needed to restore Toronto’s credibility defensively.
New York Knicks
Best move: Signing guard Arron Afflalo.
Worst move: Failing to sign center Greg Monroe.
Analysis: For the second time in five years the Knicks failed to land one of the top free agents. Yet unlike in 2010, when New York threw $100 million at Amar’e Stoudemire after striking out with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, this time the Knicks spread the wealth. Afflalo will provide an instant impact; he’s a terrific midrange shooter, a solid three point shooter and a very good defender. He will slide alongside Carmelo Anthony at two guard and immediately solidify what has been a shaky position.
After whiffing on Monroe—who appeared to be an ideal fit for the triangle offense—the Knicks recovered nicely to sign Lopez, who, while lacking the offensive prowess of his twin brother, Brook, is a physical defender and rebounder who will take a lot of pressure off of Carmelo Anthony when Anthony shifts to power forward. Kevin Seraphin is another physical frontcourt player while the Knicks are the latest team to take a flyer on Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The Knicks have high hopes for rookie Kristaps Porzingis, but it’s unlikely he will contribute much this season. Porzingis, 20, had some nice moments in summer league and reportedly bulked up the last few months but there will be a steep learning curve for a young player coming from a Spanish league. The Knicks are more likely to get immediate contributions from Jerian Grant, a confident, athletic point guard who played well in the pick and roll at Notre Dame and could complement Jose Calderon well.
Best move: Drafting Jahlil Okafor.
Worst move: Doing virtually nothing else.
Analysis: The Sixers caught a break when Okafor slipped to No. 3 on draft night. Though the team needs help everywhere—point guard is another pressing need—Okafor is arguably the most NBA-ready player in the draft. With Okafor and Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia has an enviable offense-defense combination in the frontcourt that will make it easier to swallow another season without injured center Joel Embiid. G.M. Sam Hinkie stole 2014 lottery pick Nik Stauskas and serviceable forward Carl Landry from Sacramento in a salary dump. Both should get plenty of minutes in a thin rotation. So too will Kendall Marshall, a recent signee who will compete for the starting point guard spot.
Other than that, the Sixers didn’t do much. They continued to stock the roster with second round picks and refused to engage any significant free agents in contract talks. Hinkie continues to embrace a build through the draft philosophy and is unwilling to spend money on veterans until he believes the young players are ready to compete. There is a danger there though: Losing leads to bad habits, and a lack of strong veteran leadership could hurt the development of Philadelphia’s young talent.