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The promise of a new year is exhilarating, isn’t it?
You can lay out any number of New Year’s resolutions and identify ways in which you’ll finally start living your best life.
Left unsaid in this tradition, of course, is the admission that the last year wasn’t everything it could have been. There are reasons we’re all resolving to change for the better, right?
NBA teams are no different. They all have hopes and dreams for the upcoming calendar change and different pathways to reach those places. They also have a year’s worth of regrets, and before we can spring forward into the clean slate of 2020, we must remember where things went wrong in 2019.
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Buoyed by Trae Young’s second-half surge, John Collins’ steep ascension, Kevin Huerter’s smooth NBA transition and De’Andre Hunter’s polished skill set, the Atlanta Hawks had reason to expect—or at least hope—they would compete for a playoff berth.
Instead, they’re saddled with an anemic .182 winning percentage that’s the Association’s worst and their second-lowest in franchise history. Injuries haven’t helped, and Collins’ 25-game suspension was disastrous, but maybe this team is too young and inexperienced for even its healthy version to compete.
Young, the minutes leader, turned 21 in September. Hunter, the second player in the category, hasn’t yet played a half-season of NBA hoops. Alex Len is the senior member of the team’s top seven in total minutes; he’s all of 26, and he’s never been a full-time starter. Even head coach Lloyd Pierce is only in his second season as a top skipper in this league.
Sure, Atlanta has the sagest of sage veterans in Vince Carter, but his voice can only travel so far on its own.
A recent report from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes noted “frustration in the locker room” and complaints regarding “selfishness, not putting in the necessary work to turn things around and players not being held accountable.” Sources told Haynes the team was missing “a true vocal leader who commands the respect of his peers.”
Those sound like young-team problems. This is a (very) young team. We’re guessing those items are related.
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With 22 wins in 30 tries, the Boston Celtics are light on regrets. The only problem is they’re also light on two-way bigs, which could prove a fatal flaw once this club advances to the second season.
The addition of Kemba Walker, who’s been awesome in just about everything, tightened the budget and limited some of what this team could do in the offseason. But when both Al Horford and Aron Baynes departed, and their defense was never replaced, it was obvious then how teams would attack the Shamrocks.
Statistically, the Celtics are mostly fine in the middle for now, but potential playoff foes can change that.
“If they fail to add size, Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo could crush them in the playoffs,” The Athletic’s Jay King wrote.
Daniel Theis is solid, but even as a starter, he’s seeing fewer than 22 minutes per night. Enes Kanter can’t shake his defensive demons. Robert Williams III lacks seasoning. Grant Williams lacks size.
Despite what Marcus Smart probably thinks, Boston isn’t built for bully ball. That’s unfortunate since the East’s best bigs have the muscle to bully this bunch right out of the playoffs.
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In the not-so-distant future, the Brooklyn Nets could have a lethal small-ball look with Kevin Durant manning the middle and flashing his unfair combination of length, agility and athleticism. In a future beyond that, maybe the 6’11” Nicolas Claxton handles the frontcourt-modernizing duties with impressive handles and possibly a jump shot by that point.
For now, though, the Nets are trotting out more traditional centers in DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, and they’re getting killed by pick-and-roll ball-handlers as a result. No team allows more points per possession to them, and this enters double-whammy territory when only five defenses see a higher percentage of the possessions against them finished by this play type.
Credit the Nets for still fielding a top-half defense in spite of this. And credit those traditional bigs for lifting Brooklyn to sixth in rebounding percentage. But the key to postseason survival often comes down to identifying an opponent’s weaknesses, and the Nets’ defensive defect is so obvious film study will be a breeze for the opposition.
For the sake of being thorough, some might wonder whether the Nets regret giving Jordan $40 million when they already had Allen around. But given Jordan’s impact on Durant and Kyrie Irving, which was deftly detailed by B/R’s Leo Sepkowitz, Brooklyn has zero second thoughts about that decision.
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The writing was on the wall long before Kemba Walker approached the free-agent market. Try as they might, the Charlotte Hornets could not build a sustainable winner around him. And with the All-Star nearing his final prime years, everyone wondered what sense it would make for either side to keep the relationship going.
That made the scoring guard a logical trade candidate and probably the best player realistically available at last season’s deadline. Move him in the right deal and Charlotte could’ve netted a rebuilding starter kit.
Instead, the Hornets hung on to him, missed the playoffs and watched him bolt for Boston, only half-salvaging his exit by sign-and-trading him for Terry Rozier, whose $56.7 million, three-year deal made plenty of eyeballs pop.
This isn’t a hindsight-is-20/20 take. The Hornets knew (or, at the very least, should have known) they weren’t going to meet Walker’s price. Their highest offer was five years for less than $160 million, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania; the Celtics gave him $140.8 million for four.
Charlotte, which recognizes the necessity of a post-Walker rebuild, felt lottery-protected picks weren’t enough to trade Walker. Does anyone think this franchise already has enough potential-packed prospects to fuel a high-level reconstruction? Exactly.
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The Chicago Bulls are a bad team.
That’s not a burn, just an objective observation. They have a 13-20 record, and they’re even less competitive than that sounds. They are one of only four teams—along with the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors—to have just a single victory over a .500-plus opponent.
They were worse last season when Fred Hoiberg was ousted and Jim Boylen took over on an interim basis. They had a .208 winning percentage with the former and a .293 mark with the latter. The Bulls were on the brink of a full-blown mutiny in Boylen’s first week. A deadline deal for Otto Porter Jr. later perked up the group, but this was mostly an abysmal outfit save for a 5-5 February.
Naturally, the Bulls dropped Boylen’s interim tag and gave him the job outright after the season without holding a coaching search.
“This move to lock up Boylen is vintage Bulls shortsightedness,” B/R’s Will Gottlieb wrote in May. “Beyond his job to ‘prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child,’ Boylen’s dated offensive tactics are not helping prepare the young core of Bulls players to succeed in the modern NBA, which should be his sole purpose with this group.”
Even if the Bulls loved Boylen—and they clearly did—why not at least gauge who else was out there? That remains an uncomfortably pressing question as Chicago’s young core fails to show signs of development. Given how Dave Joerger juiced the Sacramento Kings last season with the kind of fast-paced attack these Bulls should be running, he would’ve been a fascinating addition.
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In each of the past two drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers have invested a top-eight selection in a point guard. And still, they might be the Association’s worst passing team.
Collin Sexton, the eighth pick in 2018, is an aggressive attacker. He does his best work as a downhill driver. Darius Garland, this summer’s fifth selection, is—in theory—a shooter and shot-creator. Maybe his pull-up jumper becomes a potent weapon in time, but for now, his 39.9 field-goal percentage highlights his limitations as a scoring threat.
What’s absent from those abbreviated scouting reports? Any reference to distributing, as Kevin Love knows all too well.
The Cavs are bottom-five performers in assists (28th), assist percentage (28th), assist-to-turnover ratio (30th) and potential assists (26th). This might reflect growing pains to some degree, but evaluators questioned both young guards’ table-setting chops when they entered the league. This plagues player development, hurts club chemistry and limits the ways in which Cleveland can showcase its trade chips.
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The Dallas Mavericks are flamethrowers on offense, and Luka Doncic is already on a shortlist of the league’s toughest covers. They’re on course to set a historic mark in efficiency, and he’s doing things few players—certainly no 20-year-olds—have ever done.
This collectively rapid rise has arguably positioned this team to make an ahead-of-schedule run at the title. But with the stakes suddenly raised, the Mavs might wish they had done more to strengthen their 15th-ranked defense.
History holds top-10 marks on both ends of the floor as musts for championship contention. Without changes to the roster, Dallas will have trouble entering that territory.
The Mavs have length and some deterrents around the rim (none bigger—literally and figuratively—than 7’3″ Kristaps Porzingis), but Dorian Finney-Smith and Delon Wright can only do so much to plug their perimeter leaks.
The Mavs are closer to the mountaintop than maybe anyone thought they would be at this stage. But that jump from really good to great is the sport’s most challenging. If they can’t swing a trade for a stopper, then perhaps they’ll regret throwing $32 million at Seth Curry since he’s just one of many capable spot-up snipers.
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When you spend a top-10 pick on a player, as the Denver Nuggets did with Jamal Murray in 2016 (No. 7), you hope they one day play their way into max-contract territory.
The Nuggets think Murray already made that leap. Considering his ability to shred nets on the move and engineer fiery scoring outbursts (12 games with 25-plus points last season, two with 30-plus in the playoffs), maybe time will prove them right.
Denver gave him the full five-year max as soon as it could this past summer even though he was under contract another year and would’ve been a restricted free agent next offseason. That felt aggressive as soon as it surfaced.
“I’m not sure Murray is quite at the level where he should get a full max without any negotiation,” ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote at the time. “He’s not yet been an All-Star and scored with below-average efficiency last season, posting a 53.8 true shooting percentage as compared to the league average of 56.0.”
Murray’s counting categories and shooting rates have taken a step back this season. The Nuggets still look like a club that doesn’t have a contending-caliber, true No. 2 option. Maybe Murray eventually gets there, but why the rush to lock him up so early?
They might have gotten a discount by waiting. Few clubs will have cap space next summer, and some of them have already addressed the point guard position. It’s also possible that delaying a new deal might’ve incentivized him to go for broke in a contract year. Given their proximity to contention, the potential reward of a full-throttle Murray might outweigh the risk of angering him without the early extension.
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Most run from the idea of a permanent existence in purgatory. The Detroit Pistons effectively run their organization as if that’s always their aim.
Pairing Blake Griffin with Andre Drummond was interesting, but it was never going to be the backbone of a contender. Pushing through last season’s stretch run while Blake Griffin battled knee soreness helped them snag the eighth seed, but they were swiftly dispatched by the Milwaukee Bucks (swept in four games, all double-digit losses) and didn’t have quite the draft position a stealthy late-season tank might’ve delivered.
Sekou Doumbouya, who they selected 15th overall, has intriguing physical tools but a severe lack of polish. He might help future Pistons teams but maybe not those featuring Griffin or Drummond. Given the need for shooting and perimeter scoring around them, imagine how much better they’d look with Cameron Johnson, Tyler Herro or PJ Washington on the roster.
The Pistons don’t look like a playoff team. Griffin looks like damaged goods.
Having Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris around this season—and maybe next—would make a lot more sense if the Motor City were rising up the ranks. But it’s treading water as per usual, and there’s no obvious way to change that now.
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You’d think that as dramatically as the Golden State Warriors’ identity changed over the last 12 months, they’d have bigger regrets than letting an undrafted player slip out of their grip. But so much of this snowball down the mountain originated from areas beyond their control.
Think the Dubs botched Kevin Durant’s recovery and that’s why he ruptured his Achilles? While that would clearly qualify as an all-time regret, there’s just one issue: Durant says the Dubs aren’t to blame.
“Hell, no,” he told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes in August. “… It just happened. It’s basketball. S–t happens.”
Tack on Klay Thompson’s ACL tear and Stephen Curry‘s broken hand, and the Warriors were simply the victims of a savage attack by the injury bug. Durant’s decision to bolt for Brooklyn is no different. He teamed up with two of his closest friends in the league. That’s a move about him and them, not Golden State.
So instead, the Dubs’ biggest regret—just edging out the potentially wasted first-round pick on Jordan Poole—is not creating a roster spot for Kendrick Nunn, who spent all but the final day of last season with their G League affiliate.
For the cost of clearing out an end-of-the-rotation player and a small luxury-tax bill, this team that’s scrambling to find serviceable prospects would have a 24-year-old rookie who’s averaging 16.1 points and 3.6 assists while starting for a No. 2 seed.
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Eric Gordon had been a consistent contributor over his first three campaigns in Space City. As a high-volume shooter and clever secondary creator, he helped the Houston Rockets become one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history.
So, it didn’t raise too many eyebrows when he inked a three-year, $54.5 million extension in August with a non-guaranteed fourth year that could raise it to $75.6 million.
But maybe it should have. He was a then-30-year-old with a lengthy injury history. He had never graded out as a positive defender. His stats mostly underwhelmed outside the scoring and three-point columns. His 14.4 career player efficiency rating lagged behind the metric’s 15.0 league-average mark.
How does that all lead to an average annual salary north of $18 million? That’d be a hefty sum for one season, let alone three more as he moves into his mid-30s.
Oh, he’s already lost a month-and-a-half to knee surgery, and he looked awful before the injury, too. Adding insult to the equation, most hypothetical trades to net Houston a third star or difference-making defender need his salary to make the money work, but the extension means he can’t be traded before the summer.
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For the last two seasons, it has seemed the key to unlocking the Indiana Pacers’ full potential would inevitably involve trading either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis.
As talented as the two bigs are, they aren’t natural complements to one another. Each is a center in today’s game. Neither is especially equipped to defend smaller 4s. Pairing them together moves at least one away from what he does best: rim-protecting for Turner, glass-cleaning for Sabonis.
Teams were calling about Turner during the draft. Indiana not only rebuffed those inquiries, but it also wound up further clogging the frontcourt by adding 6’11”, 245-pound rookie center Goga Bitadze to the fold. Then, it leaned even further into the get-big approach by handing Sabonis a four-year, $74.9 million extension.
Sabonis has been awesome to start the season. Turner is trending in the wrong direction. Bitadze can’t even see the floor. Oh, and after blossoming as a stretch 4 for the Phoenix Suns last season, T.J. Warren has gone back to the wing and lost efficiency as a result.
It’s one thing to want to protect your assets. It’s another to ignore their redundancies and watch them devalue each other.
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That’s a dream year by any standard.
So, this exercise forces us to nitpick, and in hindsight, there might have been better ways to use their remaining space than on a three-year, $15 million deal for Rodney McGruder. Granted, his hamstring strain hasn’t helped, but he’s had trouble finding his rhythm or role on this team.
He’s a hustler, but the Clippers have plenty of those. He’s a scrappy stopper, but his lack of size (6’4″, 200 lbs) limits his versatility at that end. And again, it’s not like L.A. is hurting for perimeter roadblocks. He can be a spacer, but that definition doesn’t fit while he’s holding a 38.1/31.4/50.0 shooting slash.
He’s better than he has shown, and he’s easily worth the price at his best. But even then, he might not be worth it to this team, which could discover during the postseason it should have placed a higher priority on size.
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Los Angeles Lakers exceptionalism is an incredible force. Some had written its obituary years ago, but what else could have lured both LeBron James and Anthony Davis to Hollywood?
The Lakers expect to be great, and history says they’re right to be greedy. So one on hand, it’s tough to blame them for practicing as much patience as they did during Kawhi Leonard’s free agency. Look at how they’ve fared without him, and it would’ve been game over had he joined the fold.
But what if L.A. was never really in the race?
In mid-July, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the Lakers felt like “they got played” in the Leonard pursuit, and maybe they were right. Given what The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, asked the Lakers for in free agency—part ownership, a private plane and a house, among other things—perhaps they were simply being used as leverage.
Some might see the team’s subsequent success and think “no harm, no foul.”
But imagine if instead of Danny Green as the third-best player (sorry, Kyle Kuzma), the third wheel was actually Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving or Jimmy Butler. Remember, Leonard wasn’t the only third-star target; they just stayed in that race so long they were forced to abandon the others.
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Marc Gasol was and is a legend for the Memphis Grizzlies. Breaking up a partnership of that ilk is never easy, but ideally, it reaches a point at which a split is mutually beneficial.
Gasol’s deadline move to the Toronto Raptors planted him firmly in the championship race. Four months later, his defense, distributing, spacing and intelligence all played pivotal roles in the Raptors’ run to their (and his) first NBA title.
For the Grizzlies, the swap delivered Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and a 2024 second-rounder. As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote after the deal, “I’m not sure that’s enough to justify moving on from a franchise icon.”
The exchange only looks worse in hindsight. Wright and Miles are gone. Valanciunas is still around, but he’s pricey (three years, $45 million) and not exactly the most modern of bigs. The 2024 second-rounder is…well, a 2024 second-rounder.
Gasol’s star had obviously faded by the time Memphis cut ties, but even then: This was the best Memphis could do?
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Dion Waiters is still a member of the Miami Heat. Normally, we’d say someone plays for their team, but that’s technically not true in this case.
Waiters, a $12.1 million player by salary, hasn’t hit the hardwood once this season. He has, however, been suspended three times, the latest of which led ESPN’s Bobby Marks to report from the G League Showcase the consensus there was that “Waiters’ career is likely over, barring an incredibly unlikely turnaround.”
Whatever trade value he held at one time is shot. Maybe it’s been like that for a while. One general manager told Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney the Heat have “been trying to trade him since last Christmas.”
Were teams already out on Waiters by then? Did Miami misread the trade market? Maybe the Heat weren’t willing to attach the right sweetener. Maybe they thought they could actually get something back in return (not the wildest guess given some pressing wing needs around the league and the fact Waiters has flashed some shot-making and shot-creating skills).
Either way, his continued presence casts an unnecessary cloud over what’s otherwise been a magical season in Miami. The Heat have the second-best record in the East. There should only be glowing reports around this team. But here we are.
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But their success couldn’t carry over to the playoffs last time around. Their 2-0 lead fizzled in the conference finals, and they were bounced in four more games by the Toronto Raptors. It’s impossible to say whether they’re in for a repeat, but their offseason activity could have made them vulnerable to another disaster.
Malcolm Brogdon entered the summer as the Bucks’ restricted free agent. He exited it as a member of the Indiana Pacers. Milwaukee controlled that situation. It could have kept him. But it decided he wasn’t worth paying the luxury tax—Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry called re-signing Brogdon a “luxury”—and sign-and-traded him to a division rival for draft considerations.
Milwaukee seems fine without Brogdon for now, but what happens if Eric Bledsoe has another turbulent postseason?
Can Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton carry the two-way burden Brogdon used to balance? If not, will the Bucks regret not only letting Brogdon leave but also investing their mid-level exception in a backup center (Robin Lopez)? Considering nearly half of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2019 playoff minutes came at the 5, how much will Robin even see the floor in the postseason?
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As unpredictable as NBA free agency can be, didn’t D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves seem like one of the summer’s most logical connections?
They badly needed a long-term answer at point guard. Their franchise player, Karl-Anthony Towns, built a brotherhood with his 2015 draft classmate and openly lobbied for Russell. The Wolves scored a meeting with him and spent a portion of it on a helicopter. But the Warriors reportedly secured a verbal agreement from Russell before that meeting, and word of that pact broke before the helicopter ride was even finished.
“An awkward goodbye on the tarmac,” a source told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater.
If Minnesota was ever going to lure an in-prime All-Star to the Gopher State, this was the one. But the Wolves were powerless once the Warriors came calling. They didn’t have the same supporting cast, championship experience or even weather.
Despite some encouraging play early, the Timberpups are again failing to launch. Their massive hole at the lead guard spot isn’t helping. Jeff Teague has moved to the second unit. They’ve plugged Andrew Wiggins and rookie Jarrett Culver into the floor general role. Nothing has worked.
The Wolves have a D’Angelo Russell-sized hole in their blueprint.
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Spurned by Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans were eager to prove they could compete without the Brow.
Overeager, in fact.
After nabbing the No. 1 pick and the privilege to pick Zion Williamson, the Pels pushed their roster-reconstruction efforts into overdrive. They retained the coveted Jrue Holiday. They dropped a two-year, $26.5 million deal on veteran sharpshooter JJ Redick. They gave up two second-rounders and $17.6 million to have Derrick Favors man the middle.
These were the moves of a franchise on the rise. On July 1, The Athletic said the moves “prove Pelicans should be taken seriously in the West.”
Fast forward to Jan. 1 and they’ll be one of the worst teams in basketball. Holiday might be one of this season’s best trade chips, but only if the Pels would give him up. For now, their preference is to keep him, Deveney reports.
Williamson’s next NBA appearance will be his first as he recovers from knee surgery, which obviously complicates everything. But how good must the rookie be to fix an 11-23 team? Brandon Ingram is shattering expectations, while Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball are mostly meeting theirs. This often looks like a young team finding its way because that’s what it is.
The Pelicans wanted Williamson’s potentially transcendent talent to kick in on their timeline. They’d be better off making plans around his own.
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It’s funny that for all the missteps the New York Knicks took in 2019, the one they weren’t slaughtered for was trading away a possible once-in-a-generation talent.
They might have felt their hands were tied once Kristaps Porzingis requested a trade. Lacking some degree of leverage, the ‘Bockers were cautiously celebrated for adding future assets and, most importantly, flexibility for what was supposed to be a fortune-changing summer.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote that “New York wouldn’t make a deal like this without confidence in the organization’s chances of landing at least one, and possibly two, marquee free agents.”
B/R’s Eric Pincus said simply, “Ultimately, New York’s gambit will be judged by its free-agent bounty and how well Porzingis bounces back in Dallas post-injury.”
Well, free agency veered so far off the wheels New York felt compelled to draw up a what-had-happened-was explanation on July 1. Shortly thereafter, they bought free agency’s entire stock of traditional power forwards—one of the least valuable skill sets in the modern game—and built a roster so underwhelming that head coach David Fizdale would only survive the first 22 games.
The free-agency decisions in a vacuum would’ve been the biggest regret of any non-Knicks team. But they only exaggerated what’s turning into an all-time blunder of a blockbuster. Wesley Matthews was waived immediately, DeAndre Jordan left in free agency, Dennis Smith Jr. fell out of the rotation and into the trade-rumor mill, the cap space meant nothing, and the future picks look less attractive with each Mavs win.
New York quite possibly has nothing left from the swap beyond faint hopes of eventually turning the cap room and picks into something. Porzingis, meanwhile, doesn’t have his legs or his rhythm, and he’s already doing unicorn things, like possibly becoming just the second player to average two blocks and two triples per night.
Someone cue the sad trombone, please.
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The post-Paul George, post-Russell Westbrook era of the Oklahoma City Thunder is mostly off on the right foot.
The future picks are piled up like presents under the tree. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might factor into the All-Star voting this year and the next dozen to come. Danilo Gallinari looms as a difference-making rental for any offensively challenged contenders. And if clubs could ever stomach their salaries, Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder all appear like worthwhile trade targets—assuming, of course, OKC takes the seller’s route, which is by no means a given with the club hovering over .500.
The Thunder have almost done no wrong.
But we’re guessing they’d welcome a draft-night do-over. Back then, they added a 2024 second-round pick for sliding two spots down the board (21st to 23rd). That doesn’t seem so bad until you add names to the equation. Instead of getting Brandon Clarke, they wound up with Darius Bazley.
Those who still support the decision will note Bazley is four years younger than Clarke. Those who don’t will point out OKC can only hope Bagley eventually becomes a player like Clarke. The latter is having one of the most efficient rookie seasons in NBA history; the former remains most notable for a unique partnership with New Balance.
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It’s possible for a player to change his career trajectory more than five years after it starts. Just look at the breakout Paul George authored as a nine-year veteran last season for proof.
That said, the mid-to-late-career emergence always demands extra skepticism, especially when it occurs during a contract year. The Orlando Magic didn’t bother following that critical rule, and they’ll be literally paying for it for years to come.
Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross were instrumental in Orlando’s playoff return last season. But they also had at least six NBA campaigns under their belt before that one began. The Magic still decided to gloss over their previous stumbles and buy stock in their 2018-19 seasons. Vooch netted a four-year, $100 million deal. Ross got $54 million for the same time period.
Both already look grossly overpaid and, frankly, pretty similar to their pre-contract-year selves. Orlando, meanwhile, looks like it was blinded by the excitement of a 42-win season punctuated by a five-game appearance in the playoffs.
Even for a team that had been starving for some post-Dwight Howard success, that’s a brutal look.
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The Philadelphia 76ers knew they needed shooting.
Anyone who could read the roster knew as much. When Ben Simmons doesn’t shoot threes, and Joel Embiid misfires on nearly 70 percent of the ones he takes, optimal spacing becomes a must at virtually every other spot.
Philly ultimately added Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto and Trey Burke, which feels like a shrug emoji response to any analytical request for extra shooting. Save for part-time reserves Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott, the Sixers don’t play anyone who counts the long ball as their go-to weapon.
Despite an uptick in three-point percentage (from 35.9 to 36.6), the Sixers have stumbled from 19th to 26th in three-point attempts. That has contributed to a dip from eighth to 14th in offensive efficiency. They need a shooting threat in the worst kind of way, and it’s nearly impossible to tell where they can find one.
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Offseason personnel decisions aren’t as simple as picking the right player for the job. In a perfect summer, teams grab the best talent for the best possible value.
That’s where the Phoenix Suns’ summer went awry. There aren’t major complaints about adding to this core with Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson and Frank Kaminsky, but the costs seemed inflated for all.
Using an early second-round pick to salary-dump T.J. Warren was such a lopsided move that ESPN’s Amin Elhassan reported the Pacers initially thought it was a joke (via Bright Side of the Sun’s Brendon Kleen). Immediately using some of the space created in the Warren deal for Baynes (a career backup) and Saric (unsigned beyond this season) was a curious choice.
There was no indication the market valued Rubio as a three-year, $51 million kind of player. The Hornets opted against extending a $4.4 million qualifying offer to Kaminsky; the Suns gave him a $4.8 million salary and tacked on a $5 million team option for next season. Johnson sat outside the top 20 on some mock-draft boards; Phoenix took him 11th overall.
Again, the players brought in are mostly fine, but the values are questionable at best. Had the Suns saved some funds, maybe they wouldn’t have needed to sacrifice De’Anthony Melton and picks to get Josh Jackson off their hands or watch Richaun Holmes walk for nothing.
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This summer, the Portland Trail Blazers decided—maybe correctly—they weren’t going to win a title with such little shooting at the forward spots. That decision was surely made easier after watching Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless shoot a combined 22-of-79 (27.8 percent) from distance in the playoffs right before that.
At some point soon, the Blazers will likely conclude—almost certainly correctly—they can’t win a title with such little defensive resistance at the forward spots, either. As tough as it was to stomach those bricks, it will be worse watching Portland scramble to find answers it doesn’t have for elite offensive wings.
Portland was seventh in wins the two previous seasons. It’s eighth in the current conference standings and a fatally flawed 21st in defensive efficiency. The Blazers’ efforts to fortify themselves might have crumbled their foundation.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a need to break it up unless everybody is just losing too much money or something like that, then you kind of understand. … But I didn’t feel like that was the case,” Aminu told HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy. “It was more so [got] broken up just because.”
The Blazers may not regret their specific sacrifices. But if they thought putting a slew of shooters around Hassan Whiteside was a championship formula, they have an interesting interpretation of the game.
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With losing seasons piling up in spite of their up-and-comers showing signs of life, it was hard to blame the Sacramento Kings for thinking they might be a few veteran voices away from making the leap.
“It’s very hard to develop guys if you want to create a losing mentality,” general manager Vlade Divac explained. “I just want to compete. And those kids need support for that.”
Oh, by the way, that analysis and quote didn’t come from this offseason. That’s all from 2017 when the Kings thought George Hill (three years, $57 million), Zach Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) could help them get over the hump.
But the strategy was the same this summer, only with different—again overpriced—vets. Sacramento looked at its roster and thought Dewayne Dedmon (three years, $40 million), Cory Joseph (three years, $37.2 million) and Trevor Ariza (two years, $25 million) were the missing pieces.
The Kings are worse than last season. They’ve already had two losing streaks of at least five games, including their current seven-game skid. Dedmon wants out, but he’s not playing up to his contract, and neither are Joseph and Ariza. Sacramento should’ve seen this coming since it repeated its mistake from two years ago.
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There were a million takes to come out of Marcus Morris’ decision to back out of his agreement with the San Antonio Spurs and get the Big Apple bag instead. Most (understandably) involved some variation of finger-pointing at Morris, the New York Knicks or both, especially since that decision cost San Antonio not only Morris but also Davis Bertans, who was previously traded to create room for the signing.
“Let’s just say that was an unfortunate situation that was handled unprofessionally on a couple of different levels,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said at media day. “We made that move to make the signing that we did and got blindsided.”
The Spurs couldn’t have foreseen Morris failing to hold up his end of the bargain. But maybe they shouldn’t have been interested in the first place.
Morris brings more to the court, but Bertans is younger, has an elite skill (three-point shooting) and has provided more win shares per 48 minutes than Morris each of the past three seasons. Considering how little spacing San Antonio has with both a LaMarcus Aldridge-DeMar DeRozan core and a Dejounte Murray-Derrick White tandem, Bertans’ deep ball would have offered more value than anything Morris delivered.
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Does this qualify as a cop-out? Perhaps, but this isn’t as simple as a title relieving the Toronto Raptors from this exercise (even if it kind of is).
Capturing the first NBA crown in franchise history is special. But it becomes legendary when accounting for all the moving parts: the coaching change to Nick Nurse, the all-in move for Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green), the deadline deal for Marc Gasol and the postseason survivals against the Philadelphia 76ers (seven-game series), Milwaukee Bucks (down 0-2) and Golden State Warriors (injured but still three-time champs with Stephen Curry).
Speaking of survival, the Raptors were unscathed by the Washington Wizards’ furious pursuit of president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri this summer.
Carrying this no-regret theme into the 2019-20 season, Toronto has perhaps spawned the next superstar in Pascal Siakam.
It tacked an extra year onto Kyle Lowry’s deal, which either makes him more tradeable or grants him extra security. It expanded Fred VanVleet’s role and watched him play his way into the Most Improved Player discussion. It seamlessly welcomed OG Anunoby back into the fold and built out the rotation with bargain contributors like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher.
Oh, and none of this prevents Toronto from orchestrating a teardown if things go south between now and the deadline. Gasol and Serge Ibaka are on the final years of their deals, and Lowry would have no shortage of suitors.
Sounds like a regret-free year, no?
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Pulling the plug on a fading prospect is never easy, especially when you believe in that player like the Utah Jazz believed in Dante Exum.
It was as if they could never see him through anything other than his best-case-scenario prism. Considering how many evaluators once likened him to an Anfernee Hardaway clone, their patience and optimism are relatively understandable.
But year after year, injury after injury, it became evident the All-Star leap wasn’t coming.
Given how much he struggled to find an offensive niche, it wasn’t even clear he’d be a long-term rotation player. And yet, when Utah went Mike Conley shopping in February, it still made Exum off-limits. (Speaking of Conley, he could absolutely become the club’s biggest 2019 regret, but we need more than two months before abandoning hope.)
The Jazz finally ditched their Exum dream in late December, packaging him with two second-round picks for scoring guard Jordan Clarkson, a 27-year-old reserve with a career 15.5 PER. Clarkson is solid, but that’s where his ceiling stops. Given that an injury-riddled Exum was still mentioned in a possible Conley move, it’d be fascinating to know what kind of player he could have fetched at the height of his appeal.
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Basketball is an exhausting game. The NBA court is 94 feet long. Running back and forth across it for any extended period sounds miserable.
Maybe that’s why the Washington Wizards only play one end of the floor these days. Their up-tempo, three-happy offense is the sixth-best in basketball. Their defense is—this will sound hyperbolic, but it’s straight from the stat sheet—the second-worst the sport has ever seen. They allow 2.7 more points per 100 possessions than the 29th-ranked defense. That’s a bigger gap than the one separating Nos. 29 and 20.
Washington has surrendered 130-plus points eight different times. All eight games were decided in regulation.
Washington will surely swear up and down it didn’t want this to happen, but one glance at the preseason roster showed this could be a historically generous unit. At least it’s not the worst defense we’ve ever seen, right?
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.