NBA Offseason’s Not-So-Obvious Winners and Losers

We have heard it a thousand different ways.

LeBron James is going to the Lakers. The Spurs punted Kawhi to another country. Boogie Cousins was looking for a max contract and yadda yadda yadda, now he is in Golden State. Seinfeld references aside, the media has beaten the NBA offseason to death as it winds down before the start of the season.

However, there have been other storylines lost in the never-ending NBA rumor mill that need to be addressed. Here are the not-so-obvious winners and losers of the 2018 NBA offseason.

Winner: Igor Kokoškov

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Despite garnering a team with the worst record in the league last year, Kokoškov might have received one of the best head coaching gigs in basketball.

The Suns finally established the young core they have been seeking since the Steve Nash era ended. The front office kept Devin Booker happy with a new deal that will pay him $158 million before he turns 27. Unlike what Dwayne Casey is getting in Detroit with vets like Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, Kokoškov has the opportunity to mold Booker into his new system. The 21-year-old guard has elite offensive talent. Now, he just needs a system that will give him the opportunity to take advantage of his superpowers. Kokoškov can (hopefully) provide that.

Outside of Booker, Kokoškov has a lot of raw talent to surround his star. Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft, showed flashes of two-way talent towards the end of the season. He scored 22.6 points per game in the last ten games and had six 20 or more point performances during that stretch. Kokoškov also has this year’s No. 1 pick in Deandre Ayton to establish the frontcourt. Mikal Bridges could also provide valuable minutes off the bench his first year in the league. Dragan Bender also has something to prove to the Suns after they drafted him with the fourth overall pick in 2016.

Even with all of this talent, Kokoškov has virtually no pressure to succeed right away in Phoenix. The Western Conference is stacked with elite teams, and it would be naïve to think that this team in its first year under Kokoškov is ready to compete. He enters Phoenix with a clean slate and a lot of room to succeed.

Winner: 2014 Draft Class / Loser: Julius Randle

Andrew Wiggins: five years $147.7 million
Jabari Parker: two years $40 million
Joel Embiid: five years $148 million
Aaron Gordon: four years $84 million
Dante Exum: three years $33 million
Marcus Smart: four years $52 million (more on him soon)

After New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins to Golden State, the Pelicans gave Randle a two-year $18 million deal. For a player that some thought would get the max, Randle has fallen through the cracks and into the abyss of New Orleans.

To make matters worse for Randle, here is a list of the 2014 group drafted after Randle and the contracts they received this offseason.

Doug McDermott: three years $21 million
Joesph Nurkic: four years $48 million
Zach LaVine: four years $78 million
Clint Capella: five years $90 million
Kyle Anderson: four years $33 million
Jerami Grant: three years $27 million
Nikola Jokic: five years $148 million

Those numbers are going to haunt Randle as he tries to reestablish his value for the 2020 free agent market. Meanwhile, the other members of the 2014 draft are laughing their way to the bank.

Winner: Marcus Smart

This could have been a catastrophic offseason for Smart. The market for him stagnated at the beginning of the offseason since there wasn’t cap space floating around for lower tier players. Danny Ainge could have played a game of chicken with Smart and see if Smart would accept his $6 million qualifying offer. That would have been a gamble for the 24-year-old as next year he would enter a loaded 2019 free agent pool. With all the money that will be thrown around to superstars, Smart probably wouldn’t have gotten the four-year $52 million deal he received from the Celtics.

Smart’s horrendous 29 percent from the three-point line also hurts his value and makes Ainge’s proposal seem generous. This is not to say the Celtics aren’t getting anything out of him. They now have someone to stick on the Steph Curry’s and James Harden’s of the league. He has also managed to develop an underrated post-game (similar to Shawn Livingston’s) that most guards in the league can’t defend. Not many coaches outside of Brad Stevens would allow Smart to operate in the post, so the on-court fit works in his favor.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers

Once the Eagles won the Super Bowl, the Philly hype train was never going to yield. Intoxicated by the 16-game win streak at the end of the season, Sixers fans were salivating by the prospect of their team finishing off “The Process” with a championship.

Well, that didn’t happen.

The Sixers couldn’t get by the injury-riddled Celtics but exited the playoffs with high hopes for next season and beyond. However, Philly fans now seem to be in win-now mode. Head coach Brett Brown even said that the Sixers need a star to win a championship with the current roster. With a wide-open Eastern Conference, winning a title seems to be the expectation in Philadelphia.

The offseason didn’t start off well when general manager Bryan Colangelo left the team after it came out that he criticized players through various Twitter accounts. Brown is taking over Colangelo’s duties until the GM position was no longer vacant. The Sixers still haven’t filled that role, and it might have cost them going into offseason meetings.

After all the rumors that LeBron considered joining Simmons and Embiid, he took his talents to Los Angeles on the first (official) day the free agency period started. The Sixers moved their attention towards obtaining Kawhi Leonard who is the better fit for Brown’s system. That also didn’t work out as the Spurs shipped Kawhi to the tundra of Toronto. At this point in the offseason, there aren’t any stars available, and the Sixers are now stuck with their high expectations.

Despite the pressure Philly has garnered over the last couple of months, the team has many positive components that people are forgetting. Markelle Fultz has reportedly recovered from the yips and has revamped his jump shot; J.J. Reddick is back on a team-friendly deal; Embiid is no longer on a firm minutes restriction; Zaire Smith showed flashes in summer league that he can be a decent contributor his first year in the league.

Most of the pressure on this team is coming from the fan base. The Sixers, since day one of “the process,” has been about building towards the future and NOT mortgaging it.

Winner: Indiana Pacers

Looking at the Eastern Conference’s rosters, the Pacers, on paper, have the third-best team in the conference. With LeBron gone, the Pacers didn’t need to throw money at a defensive stopper as they should have at last year’s trade deadline.

Instead, they got a capable scorer in McDermott and signed Tyreke Evans to play alongside Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. Last season, Evans quietly put up 19 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. The Pacers didn’t need a pure distributor going into the offseason as Oladipo handles most of that load. He serves as the perfect theoretical complement to Indiana’s new cornerstone and is worth the $12 million they are paying him.

Nothing the Pacers did this offseason was flashy, but they didn’t necessarily need to make big moves. Myles Turner will serve as a building block or trade bait if he stays healthy. If he does reestablish his value, the Pacers could make a move closer to January’s trade deadline. They are one of the under-the-radar teams in the league that could rise as the rest of the East plummets.

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  1. Pingback: NBA Offseason’s Not-So-Obvious Winners and Losers – James M. Kay

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