After a long, drawn-out summer, the NBA offseason finally appears to be over. Donovan Mitchell was traded. Kevin Durant was not. Free agents signed or re-signed. Barring something truly shocking, rosters should be mostly set by the start of training camp, which is rapidly approaching (gulp) by the end of September. So with only a few microscopic flecks of dust needing to settle, let’s hand out some offseason awards.
Best Move: Cavaliers acquire Donovan Mitchell
Cleveland acquired a borderline All-NBA talent with three years left on his contract without giving up any of its tantalizing young core, and parting ways with only one player from last season’s playoff rotation. That’s a home run, no matter what the draft pick cultists will tell you. (And if I have Evan Mobley and Darius Garland on my team, I’m willing to bet I won’t be in the lottery most years.) Mitchell is by the far the highest-impact player to switch rosters this summer. Does he have flaws? Of course. Can he improve them, particularly his defense? Absolutely. More important, the Cavs now have the best player from 2022’s best offense. That’s not a bad way to beef up a core that includes two All-Stars and an emerging generational defender.
Best Summer: Boston Celtics
Even with the torn ACL for Danilo Gallinari, I think this award goes to the Celtics. At the risk of sounding like a Democratic People’s Republic of Boston propagandist, the Malcolm Brogdon trade was an absolute steal for Supreme Leader Brad Stevens. Boston added a high-impact player who fits in perfectly on both sides of the ball basically without giving up anyone who played important minutes in the Finals. At his best, Brogdon is a better version of Derrick White, who was already really impactful for the Cs. The Gallo injury hurts, as he brought a new dimension to Boston’s already stacked frontcourt. Still, he was more a luxury than a necessity. And it’s possible—though unlikely—his injury happened early enough that maybe he has an outside chance to play in the playoffs. Ultimately, Boston has a young team that just made the Finals and improved on it without losing anyone. Hard to have a better summer than that.
Low-Key Worst Summer: Miami Heat
The Heat, on the other hand, missed the Finals and lost one of their most important players (P.J. Tucker) and haven’t really found a replacement. Meanwhile, all of their chief rivals (Boston, Philly, Brooklyn, now Cleveland) have better playoff rosters than last season. Not ideal!
Best We-Stole-Your-Player Signing: P.J. Tucker
Speaking of Tucker, the Sixers desperately needed some 3-and-D toughness last season, and they signed it in spades by picking up Tuck. Maybe he doesn’t look great in the third year of this deal, but he helps maximize the current championship window with James Harden. Everything Tucker brings on and off the floor—the defense, the leadership, the hustle—Philly lacked during its playoff exit. And as an added benefit, it weakens the team that knocked the Sixers out of the postseason.
Best Mid-Level Exception Signing: Bruce Brown
I will keep banging the drum for this signing for as long as possible. Bruce Brown is exactly what Denver needed. He’s a versatile defender who can pick up guards and bigger wings, the kind of player the Nuggets have lacked for years. While Aaron Gordon did a commendable job in the stopper role, he needed help, and Brown provides that. With Gordon, Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Denver has some teeth defensively it hasn’t had for essentially the entire Nikola Jokić era. Also, because of Jokić’s offensive prowess at center, Brown’s offensive game as a screener, shooter and connector should fit even more naturally than in Brooklyn because the Nuggets can still play some sizeable lineups. This is the kind of move that should bring out the best in both player and team.
Creakiest Signing: Joe Ingles
The Bucks, who already employ 35-year-old Wes Matthews and 34-year-old Brook Lopez, picked up the soon-to-be 35-year-old Ingles this summer. The Bucks are always going to be in great shape as long as they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. And yet you would maybe still like to see a little bit more youth around that core. I’m nervous for Milwaukee!
Most Likely to Win the Finals: Clippers
The irony of all the moves made this summer? The team I think has the best title odds is one that did very little the last couple of months. If healthy—a massive, giant if—the Clippers are built for modern playoff basketball. Their mix of defense, length and shooting is what you need to thrive—that is, in combination with superstar talent, which Los Angeles also has when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healthy. Add John Wall to the mix, and the Clips also have the lead ballhandler and playmaker they’ve lacked the last few seasons. This is a very dangerous team on paper. But we’ve been saying that for a few years now …
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