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NBA Free Agency Report Cards: Which Teams Earned High Marks? – Sports Illustrated

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So which teams made a leap and which teams regressed over the last week? The Crossover hands out NBA free agency grades for every team.

The dust has largely settled after a chaotic free-agency period, and plenty of organizations have reshaped their rosters despite a relatively cool market. The Lakers and Heat continued to tweak their rotations after Finals berths, while the Hawks, Hornets and Suns splurged as they look to end playoff droughts. We don’t know who will be in the Finals hunt next summer, but it’s likely the 2020 free-agent class has a marked impact on the playoff race in the coming months.

So which teams made a leap and which teams regressed over the last week? Check out The Crossover’s free-agency grades below.

Graphic by Cam Chatt/Sports Illustrated

Atlanta Hawks: A-

The Hawks are all-in on the chase for a 2021 playoff spot, and their roster projects to be a potential No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the East. Atlanta has added two impressive rim protectors dating back to last February, and free agency provided the chance to add playmaking around Trae Young. Bogan Bogdanovic should fit right in as a starting two guard (if the Kings do not match). Rajon Rondo should add stability as he mentors Young. Perhaps you can quibble with a three-year deal for Danilo Gallinari as he enters his age-32 season. But this is a team now ready to chase a playoff berth with Young leading the way.

Boston Celtics: C-

Danny Ainge has now lost Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward for nothing in back-to-back offseasons, a bitter pill for Boston to swallow as it looks to keep up in the East. But in terms of the 2021 roster, losing Hayward isn’t a tragic blow. The Celtics have plenty of wings and playmakers. They lack frontcourt size. Adding Tristan Thompson should help to a degree, and while he isn’t a player of Hayward’s caliber, perhaps he’s a better fit. Boston’s title hopes took a hit with the loss of Hayward. But the Celtics remain a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets: B-

Brooklyn’s offseason could certainly take a dramatic turn in the coming weeks, but for now, it’s been relatively quiet for the Nets as they prepare for Kevin Durant’s return. Sean Marks and Co. made a sensible decision bringing back Joe Harris despite a hefty contract, keeping a premium spacer on the roster. Jeff Green should also bring some value as a small-ball five. The Nets’ roster isn’t perfect, but there’s plenty of talent on hand for Durant and Irving to make a run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Charlotte Hornets: C

It’s easy to disparage the Hornets for their decision to pay Hayward. The Butler product isn’t a premier scorer by any margin, and Charlotte has spent much of the last half decade hamstrung by serious overpays. There’s a good chance the Hornets regret Hayward’s contract in the final year of his deal, and the peak of this team with Hayward is questionable. But it’s worth considering the conditions surrounding Hayward’s deal. Charlotte will never be a destination for top-end talent, and there’s legitimate incentive for this team to become respectable sooner than later with LaMelo Ball. Small markets often have to pay up to bring their team into the playoff conversation. With the addition of Hayward, Charlotte has a plausible path to the No. 8 seed.

Chicago Bulls: C-

We won’t spill too much ink on one of free agency’s least active teams. Garrett Temple is a nice player, but the Bulls will miss Kris Dunn’s defensive prowess, and they could also use another point guard. It remains unlikely we see Chicago in the 2021 playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers: C

It was likely a sensible move for the Cavaliers to let Tristan Thompason walk, and Damyean Dotson should add some solid shooting on the wing. This is similar to Chicago, where a lottery team didn’t boost their postseason chances by any considerable margin.

Dallas Mavericks: C

Dallas missed out on a number of center options, settling instead for Willie Cauley-Stein on a two-year deal. It seems as though the Mavericks are putting their chips into the 2021 free-agent market, which is likely a prudent move given the potential prize at play. But in terms of competing for the 2021 title, Dallas has yet to make up any ground on the Western Conference.

Denver Nuggets: B-

The Nuggets lost a valuable player in Jerami Grant, but they should be able to match much of his value with their offseason additions. JaMychal Green is an underrated asset at the four, and Paul Millsap still provides quality minutes on a one-year deal. Denver still feels a piece away from truly contending for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But losing Grant doesn’t necessarily knock this team from the top half of the West playoff picture.

Detroit Pistons: D+

It makes sense for Atlanta to splurge in the offseason given its roster construction. Detroit’s spending spree doesn’t follow the same logic. The Pistons shelled out over $25 million per year for Grant and Mason Plumlee, and they let Christian Wood walk in the process. Perhaps both additions will have a nice year, but punting on a player with Woods’s upside is certainly a questionable decision. The Pistons remain outside the top eight in the East despite their best efforts. Prolonging a true rebuild is an increasingly questionable decision.

Golden State Warriors: B

Acquiring Kelly Oubre will help mitigate the loss of Klay Thompson to a degree, and signing Kent Bazemore adds another quality body on the wing. The Warriors have faced an avalanche of bad luck in recent years, though they’ve managed their misfortune well from a roster construction standpoint. There’s little telling where this team will land in the West, but Golden State helped its postseason chances with its offseason moves.

Houston Rockets: B+

The future of this franchise remains in serious flux, though the tweaks made to the current roster should help matters in 2020-21. Wood will likely thrive as a roll-man and pick-and-pop threat alongside James Harden, while young wing Sterling Brown and international import Jae’Sean Tate can add secondary playmaking. Parsing Harden’s future is a difficult task. But the former MVP does have quality pieces around him entering 2020-21.

Indiana Pacers: C

Losing out on Hayward is a difficult pill to swallow for Indiana as it seeks relevance in the hunt for the East crown, and it remains surprising that the Pacers couldn’t execute a sign-and-trade with Boston. Indiana was able to salvage its offseason by re-signing Justin Holliday, but this remains a franchise stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference

Los Angeles Clippers: B

Losing Montrezl Harrell was a bit of a surprise, but Serge Ibaka could ultimately be a better fit alongside Kawhi Leonard and Co. in 2020-21. The former Raptors big man provides considerable stretch on the perimeter, and while he’s not the leaper he once was, Ibaka remains a quality rim protector. Los Angeles now has plenty of versatility on its front line with Ibaka, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac. The Clippers haven’t made a big splash since their bubble collapse, but a couple tweaks may have put them in better position to win the 2021 championship.

marc-gasol-raptors-lakers

Ashley Landis/USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers: A-

Los Angeles has seen plenty of departures from last year’s roster, but the continued re-tooling around LeBron James should pay dividends next spring and summer. Harrell and Marc Gasol will both be valuable frontcourt pieces, and it’s easy to see the Spanish center thriving as a pick-and-pop option alongside James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers could still stand to add another point guard in place of Rondo, but that’s a minor concern at the moment. LeBron and Co. remain the 2020-21 title favorite after a quality offseason.

Memphis Grizzlies: C+

Memphis didn’t make any major additions in free agency, but signing De’Anthony Melton to a long-term deal should add some stability to the backcourt behind Ja Morant. Even as the Grizzlies face an uphill climb in the Western Conference, the franchise continues to head in the right direction with a budding star at point guard.

Miami Heat: B+

Losing Jae Crowder will hurt to a degree, but the Heat remain serious Finals contenders after retaining Goran Dragic and adding Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless. Miami was able to have the best of both worlds as it kept Dragic without eating into its 2021 cap space. We’ll see if Pat Riley’s prudence pays off in a major way next summer.

Milwaukee Bucks: B

Losing out on Bogdan Bogdanovic is a difficult blow for Milwaukee, but this is still a likely better roster in the aggregate than what the Bucks trotted out in 2019-20. Torrey Craig could be featured in Milwaukee’s closing five, and Jrue Holiday is a marked upgrade over Eric Bledsoe despite the exorbitant trade price. It remains in question whether the moves will be enough to get a long-term commitment from Giannis. Yet considering the stakes, it’s sensible for Milwaukee to sacrifice draft capital as it looks to improve the 2020-21 roster.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C+

Malik Beasley should be a valuable asset for Minnesota in the coming years, and his stretch from beyond the arc should prove helpful on the wing as Anthony Edwards adjusts to the professional game. Ed Davis and Juancho Hernangomez are additionally capable bodies in the frontcourt, making 2020 a muted, yet effective offseason in the Twin Cities.

New Orleans Pelicans: C

It’s hard to determine whether the Pelicans can take a step forward in the West in 2020-21, even if Zion Williamson can log a healthy season. Both Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors provided positive value at their respective positions, and we’ll see if Steven Adams or Eric Bledsoe are long-term fits. There was no shortage of movement from New Orleans this offseason, though it remains to be seen whether any addition will have a marked impact in 2020-21.

New York Knicks: C+

The Knicks continue to be patient in their quest for a rebuild, and they deserve credit for holding their fire despite considerable cap space in free agency. The additions of Nerlens Noel and Elfrid Payton won’t make a big impact on the 2020-21 Knicks, but perhaps they’ll be flipped for draft capital at the trade deadline. Adding Austin Rivers should also help stabilize the point guard position as New York looks for growth from R.J. Barrett and Obi Toppin.

Oklahoma City Thunder: C

It was an uneventful free agency period for Oklahoma City as the Thunder continued to build an astounding amount of draft capital. Let’s check back in next year as Sam Presti and Co. likely look to accelerate the rebuild at hand.

Orlando Magic: C

Keeping Michael Carter-Williams likely offsets the loss of D.J. Augustin, and forward Gary Clark is a worthwhile developmental project on a cheap contract. We’ve yet to see Orlando make a marquee move, even with a considerable log-jam in the frontcourt. Perhaps the Magic will swap a forward for a playmaking guard before opening night.

Philadelphia 76ers: B+

Adding Dwight Howard and Tony Bradley will provide a pair of quality bodies behind Joel Embiid, and Daryl Morey added a flurry of perimeter pieces via the trade market. Philadelphia now has the appropriate pieces around its dynamic duo, a far cry from last year’s misshapen roster. Perhaps the flood moves from Morey will pay a major dividend in 2020-21.

Chris Paul dribbles past defenders

David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated

Phoenix Suns: B+

The Suns should be able to withstand the loss of Aron Baynes as Deandre Ayton continues his development, and Phoenix’s other additions should help push this team toward a playoff berth in 2020-21. Crowder will provide stretch and defensive versatility on the wing. Dario Saric should thrive as a backup center behind Ayton. The Chris Paul trade will define Phoenix’s season, though we shouldn’t overlook the moves on the free-agent market.

Portland Trail Blazers: A

The Blazers continue to build splendidly around their dynamic backcourt, and the 2020 offseason has been defined by Portland’s maneuvers in the frontcourt. Robert Covington brings impressive defensive versatility–as does Derrick Jones Jr.–and Enes Kanter adds a legitimate center alongside Jusuf Nurkic. This Portland roster is deep and malleable, able to upsize and downsize seamlessly depending on the opponent. Neil Olshey may have built the third-best team in the West as we approach 2020-21.

Sacramento Kings: D+

Sacramento has seen a flurry of departures from its 2019-20 squad, the most notable being Bogdanovic if the Kings don’t match his offer sheet from Atlanta. Perhaps it’s wise not to overpay for middling veterans, but it’s hard to see Sacramento making any legitimate progress in 2020-21 given the roster at hand. A 14-year playoff drought is unlikely to be broken next season.

San Antonio Spurs: C

San Antonio had one of the NBA’s quietest offseasons, with the departure of Bryn Forbes marking the most notable move. We’ll see if the Spurs ship one of their marquee veterans in the coming months as Gregg Popovich and Co. transition into a new era.

Toronto Raptors: C-

The Raptors accomplished their main objective as they retained Fred VanVleet, but Toronto is likely to take a step back in 2020-21 considering their free-agent losses. Nick Nurse will have to manage the losses of both Ibaka and Gasol, though the addition of Baynes should mitigate the pain to a degree. Toronto is smart to keep their cap space open ahead of next year’s free agency, even if its 2021 Finals chances took a step back this offseason.

Utah Jazz: A-

Utah remains a fringe Finals contender considering its deep roster, and signing Derrick Favors will do wonders for Quin Snyder’s frontcourt rotation. Bringing back Jordan Clarkson should help add scoring punch, and securing Donovan Mitchell long-term likely provides a sigh of relief. The Jazz still sit outside the very top of the West, though this should remain a competitive playoff team for much of the next decade.

Washington Wizards: B

Perhaps $80 million is a bit of a premium price for Davis Bertans, but the sharpshooting forward has emerged as a critical piece of Washington’s attack. Let’s hope a healthy John Wall can make the Bertans signing worthwhile as the Wizards eye a return to the playoffs in 2021. 

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