NBA Summer Grades are here, and this year, we did things a little differently. Thirty teams ventured into the offseason with their sights set on improving immediately or incrementally through the draft, free agency, or trade. Not every team accomplished that goal.
So we broke these teams up into three groups according to how they saw themselves entering the offseason: as contenders, as teams that needed a bump, or as teams building toward the future. Then we judged each of their summers — with emojis.
So the emoji for, say, the Oklahoma City Thunder might be similar to the emoji for, say, the Phoenix Suns, even though they’re in two opposite NBA stratospheres.
Either way, consider this your comprehensive guide to this NBA off-season. Have fun with it and let us know what emoji you’d give for your favorite team’s offseason.
- Trae Young (No. 5)
- Kevin Huerter (No. 19)
- Omari Spellman (No. 30)
- Jeremy Lin (trade, Nets)
- Alex Len (2 yrs/$8.5M)
- Justin Anderson (trade, 76ers)
- Carmelo Anthony for like a day
- 2019 1st-round pick via Dallas (top-5 protected).
- Head coach Lloyd Pierce.
- A long rebuilding process.
- Head coach Mike Budenholzer (Bucks)
- Dennis Schroder (trade)
- Mike Muscala (trade)
- Carmelo Anthony’s Contract
- Luka Doncic Mania
Hawks fans are gonna have to be patient, because this team isn’t going to be competing for anything worthwhile until Bitcoin’s worth $100,000. Atlanta wants to be the next Golden State, and it’s banking on Trae Young as its Steph Curry. Ultimately, the Hawks’ summer rests on Young’s development. The Hawks traded Luka Doncic for him. They need to mold him into a star.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11)
- Jerome Robinson (No. 13)
- Marcin Gortat (trade, Wizards)
- Luc Mbah a Moute (1 yr/$4.2M)
- Mike Scott (1 yr/$4.2M)
- Healthy Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari.
- Avery Bradley (2 yrs/$25M)
- Montrezl Harrell (2 yrs/$12M).
- Austin Rivers (trade)
- DeAndre Jordan (Mavs)
- C.J. Williams
- Sam Dekker (trade)
- The last vestiges of Lob City
The last remaining player of the Lob City era Clippers is Wesley Johnson. The team blew it up without actually blowing it up.
But don’t forget the Clippers ran into their fair share of injuries last season (Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, and Milos Teodosic), traded Blake Griffin in the middle of the season, and still finished 42-40. This is still a team that should make some noise in the West, and while they do so, they’ll develop SGA into their point guard of the future.
That’s a perfect environment to nurture a young player. Just ask Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
- Coach Steve Clifford
- Mo Bamba (No. 6)
- Melvin Frazier (No. 35)
- Timofey Mozgov (trade, Hornets)
- Jerian Grant (trade, Bulls)
- Aaron Gordon (4 yrs/$80M)
- Coach Frank Vogel
- Bismack Biyombo (trade, Hornets)
- Mario Hezonja
- Shelvin Mack
- 2019 + 2020 2nd-round picks
Bamba, Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac make for one lanky, athletic frontcourt, and Steve Clifford should be able to maximize their length on the defensive end. But two of those three players are still projects, and it’s hard to see how they can all play together. Worse, the rest of Orlando’s roster leaves a whole lot to be desired.
Let’s check back in in three long years.
- Ed Davis (1 yr/$4.4M)
- Shabazz Napier (2 yrs/minimum)
- Kenneth Faried (trade, Nuggets)
- Jared Dudley (trade, Suns)
- Treveon Graham (minimum)
- Dzanan Musa (No. 29)
- Rodions Kurucs (No. 40)
- Dwight Howard for like 12 minutes
- 2019 cap space
- Jeremy Lin (trade, Hawks)
- Dwight Howard (buyout)
- Timofey Mozgov (trade, Hornets)
- Darrell Arthur (trade, Suns)
- Nik Stauskas
- Dante Cunningham
- Isaiah Whitehead
- The ripple effects of that horrible Celtics trade.
The Nets beautifully exchanged cap space for future draft assets, positioning Brooklyn for about $50 million in room next summer. Their draft picks are young, smart system fits, and their acquisitions in free agency fill the team’s biggest needs: rim protection and back court depth. And here’s the kicker: they’ll still have space to add a max free agent next summer if they cut into that space.
- Coach Igor Kokoskov
- DeAndre Ayton (No. 1)
- Mikal Bridges (No. 10)
- Elie Okobo (No. 39)
- George King (No. 57)
- Richaun Holmes (trade, 76ers)
- Trevor Ariza (1yr/$15M)
- Darrell Arthur (trade, Nets)
- Devin Booker (5 yrs/$158M)
- Jared Dudley (trade, Nets)
- Alex Len
- Elfrid Payton
- Tyler Ulis
- Interim Coach Jay Triano
The Suns did a few smart things this summer, mainly their long-term extension for Booker and bringing in a veteran contributor in Ariza. Phoenix isn’t a playoff team in this tough Western Conference, but it looks as if it’s on the right path.
- Luka Doncic (No. 3)
- Jalen Brunson (No. 33)
- DeAndre Jordan (1 yr/$24M).
- A super fun backcourt
- Dirk Nowitzki (lifetime contract)
- Salah Mejri (minimum).
- Nerlens Noel
- Seth Curry
- Yogi Ferrell
- 2019 No. 1 pick (top-5 protected)
- Doug McDermott
- DeAndre Jordan emoji jokes.
The Mavericks somehow traded up for what could be the best player in the draft, got a second-round steal in Brunson, then signed Jordan after he went back on his word and re-signed with the Clippers years ago. Depending on how quickly Doncic hits the ground running, Dallas just got really interesting, especially if Dennis Smith Jr. builds on a solid rookie season.
- Coach David Fizdale
- Kevin Knox (No. 9)
- Mitchell Robinson (No. 36)
- Mario Hezonja (1 yr/$8.6M)
- Noah Vonleh (minimum)
- Kadeem Allen
- Dreams of a big 2019 free agency splash.
- Luke Kornet
- A Christmas game, somehow
- James Dolan (for eternity)
- Coach Jeff Hornacek
- Kyle O’Quinn
- Michael Beasley
- Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL
Knox and Robinson were studs in summer league, and Hezonja makes this Knicks roster more interesting. This team might not be competitive this year, especially if Kristaps Porzingis sits the entire season after an ACL injury. But New York is finally trending in the right direction again, and Fizdale is a perfect choice to lead this team.
- Nemanja Bjelica (3 yrs/$20.4M)
- Marvin Bagley III (No. 2)
- Ben McLemore (again, we know)
- Deyonta Davis (trade)
- Memphis’ 2021 2nd-round pick
- Yogi Ferrell (2 yrs/$5.6M).
- Garrett Temple
- Vince Carter.
Bagley at No. 2 was the most puzzling pick of the draft, rivaled only by the Hawks trading down for Trae Young. Now, much like the Hawks, that move defines the Kings’ offseason, because trading for a player they already let walk (Ben McLemore) didn’t help Sacramento much at all. But hey, at least Bjelica stretches the floor, right?
- Jabari Parker (2 yrs/$40M)
- Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 7)
- Chandler Hutchinson (No. 22),
- Zach LaVine (4 yrs/$80M)
- Some 2019 cap space
- Jerian Grant (trade, Magic)
- Noah Vonleh
- Paul Zipser
- Sean Kilpatrick
- Wing defense.
The Bulls took what they were given, and they were given the Summer League standout, Wendell Carter Jr. Defense might not be in their vocabulary — it damn sure isn’t in Jabari Parker’s — but this summer made the Bulls fun again. For a big market team that’s been hot trash for a while, that’s more than you can ask for.
Teams that entered the summer in need of help
- Tyreke Evans (1 yr/$12M)
- Doug McDermott (3 yrs/$22M)
- Kyle O’Quinn (1 yr/$4.4M)
- Aaron Holiday (No. 23)
- Thaddeus Young (opted in)
- Bojan Bogdanovic (guaranteed)
- Al Jefferson
- Glenn Robinson III
- Lance Stephenson
- The surprise factor.
What would you get a young team that likes to run and shoot 3s for Christmas? How about more playmakers and more three-point shooters? Indiana calmly leveled up this summer, deepening a roster that took LeBron James to Game 7 last season.
The best part? They kept cap flexibility to add a near-max player next summer. Watch out for these guys.
- Isaiah Thomas (1 year/minimum)
- Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14).
- Luxury tax freedom.
- A healthy Paul Millsap (fingers crossed).
- Nikola Jokic (5 yrs/$147M)
- Will Barton (4 yrs/$50M).
- Wilson Chandler (trade, 76ers)
- Kenneth Faried (trade, Nets)
- Darrell Arthur (trade, Nets)
- 2019 1st-round pick (top-12 protected, trade: Nets).
Denver saved about $93 million in salary and luxury tax by shedding Chandler, Faried, and Arthur this summer. They re-signed both Barton and Jokic, then got a motivated Isaiah Thomas at the vet’s minimum. This was a beautiful summer for the Nuggets, even if Porter Jr. doesn’t play.
Now, it’s time for Mile High to make the playoffs. It’s unacceptable for them to fall short again.
The Bucks landed the darling of the NCAA Tournament, then addressed one of their bigger needs by adding a legitimate, veteran two-way center — at a massive discount, too. Considering the questions surrounding their coach in the past, Mike Budenholzer could be a massive upgrade as well. It’s time the deer starts giving the league a reason to fear.
That better happen this year, too, with Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton up for new deals after next summer.
- Anthony Tolliver (1yr/$5M)
- Josh Okogie (No. 20)
- Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48)
- Jimmy Butler trade rumors.
- Derrick Rose (minimum)
- Andrew Wiggins angst
- ICE ICE ICE!
- Jamal Crawford
- Nemanja Bjelica.
Like Miami, Minnesota didn’t have any cap space to sign free agents, and Crawford leaving — though after a poor season — didn’t help. Okogie is a 3-and-D player who should contribute in spots, but the Timberwolves didn’t move the needle this summer. Their improvements have to come from within. (I’m looking at you two, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns).
Otherwise, Jimmy Butler’s time here might end soon.
- Julius Randle (2yrs/$18M)
- Elfrid Payton (1 yr/$2.7M)
- Jahlil Okafor (minimum)
- Tony Carr (No. 51).
Losing Boogie stung. Losing Rondo to the Lakers was even worse. Adding Randle should be an interesting frontcourt fit alongside Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic.
But if this Pelicans team doesn’t make the playoffs this year — and there’s a good chance they don’t — Davis’ 2021 free agency becomes a whole lot scarier. Was passing on Cousins worth that risk?
- Tony Parker (2 yrs/$10M)
- Miles Bridges (No. 12)
- Bismack Biyombo (trade, Magic)
- Coach James Borrego
- Kemba Walker trade rumors.
- Dwight Howard (trade, Nets)
- Timofey Mozgov (trade, Magic)
- Michael Carter-Williams
- Coach Steve Clifford
The Hornets traded one year and $23.9 million of Dwight Howard for two years and $34 million of Bismack Biyombo. That should work, right? The highlight of Charlotte’s summer was landing a Gregg Popovich disciple as their new head coach, but this team is in limbo until they clear house. What’s next for Kemba Walker, who is in the final year of his contract?
- 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey
- Glenn Robinson III (2 yrs/$8.3M)
- Zaza Pachulia (minimum)
- Jose Calderon (minimum)
- Bruce Brown (No. 42)
- Full Season Blake Griffin
The Pistons have been real sad since they made the playoffs three years ago, and Dwane Casey is their biggest offseason acquisition. Can he motivate these guys better than Stan Van Gundy did, or will we see more iso-ball in Casey’s next act?
- Kyle Anderson (4 yrs/$37M)
- Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4)
- Jevon Carter (No. 32)
- Omri Casspi (minimum)
- Garrett Temple (trade, Kings)
- Healthy Mike Conley
- Healthy Marc Gasol
- J.B. Bickerstaff to coach the team
- Ben McLemore (trade, Kings)
- Deyonta Davis (trade, Kings)
- Tyreke Evans
- 2021 2nd-round pick
The Grizzlies were a straight-up dumpster fire last year due to injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but don’t forget this was a perennial Western Conference contender for almost a decade. The Grit-n-Grind era is over, but don’t think Memphis is here to tank. They’re here to win, and their moves this summer should help them do that.
If Conley and Gasol stayed healthy, Memphis should be right back in the mix, even in the deep West.
- Dwight Howard (2 yrs/$11M)
- Austin Rivers (trade, Clippers)
- Jeff Green (minimum)
- Troy Brown (No. 15)
- Thomas Bryant.
- Locker room angst, probably
- Marcin Gortat (trade, Clippers)
- Mike Scott
This summer will be remembered in one of two ways. Either landing Dwight Howard was the move that gave the Wizards some legitimacy, or it’s the move that spelled their doom. Either way, Washington needed to shake things up. This effectively did just that without moving a core piece.
- Grayson Allen (No. 21).
- A Christmas appearance.
- Derrick Favors (2yrs/$36M)
- Dante Exum (3yrs/$33M)
- Raul Neto (2yrs/$4.4M)
- Jonas Jerebko.
- Low expectations
Donovan Mitchell was excited about drafting Allen, and the rookie out of Duke should help the Jazz claw deeper into the playoffs. This team, though, probably did not improve enough to make it out of the second round. In fact, with the Lakers and Nuggets more in the mix for the playoffs this season, Utah may find itself clinging to a lower seed. The Jazz are hoping continuity is the biggest form of improvement.
- Seth Curry (2 yrs/$5.6M)
- Nik Stauskas (minimum)
- Anfernee Simons (No. 24)
- Gary Trent Jr. (No. 38)
- Damian Lillard trade rumors (OK OK, not just yet)
The Trail Blazers will go as far as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can carry them, and Dame and C.J. carried them to a first-round sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans. That was a reality check, and realistically, Portland didn’t do too much this summer. Anfernee Simons gives hope to the future and Seth Curry was a decent buy-low get, but the Trail Blazers seem stuck in basketball limbo and it would take a huge shake-up to get them out.
- Uhhh, a healthy Dion Waiters?
- Derrick Jones Jr.
- Wayne Ellington (1 yr/$6.2M).
The Heat were handicapped by the contracts they handed out in the past (hi, Tyler Johnson), so they really couldn’t do much this summer. They will get Dion Waiters back from injury, though.
What’s up with D-Wade?
- Robert Williams (draft)
- Brad Wanamaker (minimum)
- Healthy Kyrie Irving
- Healthy Gordon Hayward.
- Marcus Smart (4 yrs/$52M)
- Aron Baynes (2 yrs/$11M).
- The ghost of LeBron James.
The Celtics didn’t need to do anything except keep the gang together and get healthy this summer. They did just that, and along the way, they stumbled into a center that fell way down the draft board. The rich keep getting richer.
- LEBRON JAMES, Lakers exceptionalism.
- Lance Stephenson (1 yr/$4.5M)
- Rajon Rondo (1yr/$9M)
- JaVale McGee (minimum)
- Michael Beasley (minimum)
- Travis Wear (two-way)
- Mo Wagner (No. 25)
- Svi Mykhailiuk (No. 47).
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1yr/$12M)
- LaVar and Lonzo Ball (for now)
- 2019 cap space
- Isaiah Thomas
- Julius Randle
- Brook Lopez
- Channing Frye
- 20-win seasons
This isn’t the ideal team you want around LeBron James — history shows surrounding him with shooters is lethal. But it’s much, much more athletic than last year’s Cavs team that checked in as the oldest in the NBA. The Lakers have fun, charismatic players and young stars on the rise. They also landed the best player in the world.
No, this Lakers team isn’t trash. This summer will make them fun to watch again. We’re in on them.
- DeMarcus Cousins (1 yrs/$5.3M)
- Jonas Jerebko (1 yr/minimum)
- Jacob Evans (No. 28)
- Kevin Durant arguing on his own social media accounts.
- Even more jealousy around the league.
- Kevin Durant (2 yrs/$61.5)
- Kevon Looney (1 yr/minimum)
- JaVale McGee
- Zaza Pachulia
- Kevin Durant burner accounts
The Warriors were probably going to win another championship this season anyway. And THEN, they signed Boogie.
Let’s fast forward to the year 2021 already.
- Kawhi Leonard (trade, Spurs)
- Danny Green (trade, Spurs)
- Greg Monroe (minimum)
- Nick Nurse as head coach
- Fred VanVleet (2 yrs/$18M)
- Lorenzo Brown
- (Almost the entire) bench mob
- DeMar DeRozan (trade, Spurs)
- The beautiful Lowry/DeRozan friendship
- Jakob Poeltl (trade, Spurs)
- 2019 1st-round pick (top-20 protected)
- 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey
- LeBron’s shadow.
One thing’s clear: Between Casey and DeRozan, the Raptors don’t handle separation well. Another thing’s clear: Toronto just got a whole lot harder to score on with Leonard and Green in the lineup. If the Raptors can convince Leonard to stay long-term, they will be scary for years to come.
If they can’t, well… about that.
- Carmelo Anthony (minimum)
- James Ennis (minimum)
- Michael Carter-Williams (minimum)
- Gerald Green (minimum)
- DeAnthony Melton (No. 46).
- Chris Paul (4 yrs/$160M)
- Clint Capela (5 yrs/$90M)
- Trevor Ariza
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
- 27 missed threes in a row
- Some luxury-tax payments.
If anyone can revive Michael Carter-Williams’ career, it’s gotta be Mike D’Antoni, right?
Houston opted against paying the luxury tax on Trevor Ariza’s next contract, then let Mbah a Moute walk, too. Then, they punted defense altogether by going after Carmelo Anthony. D’Antoni and Daryl Morey have made the impossible look gracefully easy before, but this is their biggest challenge yet.
At least DeAnthony Melton fell in their lap at pick No. 46.
- DeMar DeRozan (trade, Raptors)
- Jakob Poeltl (trade, Raptors)
- 2019 1st-round pick via Toronto (top-20 protected)
- Lonnie Walker IV (No. 18)
- Marco Belinelli (2yrs/$12M),
- Dante Cunningham (minimum)
- Being able to actually talk to their star player
- Rudy Gay (1yr/$10M)
- Davis Bertans (2 yrs/$14.5M)
- Bryn Forbes (2 yrs/$6M)
- Kawhi Leonard (trade, Raptors)
- Uncle Dennis (trade, Raptors)
- Danny Green (trade, Raptors)
- Tony Parker (free agency, Hornets)
- Spurs exceptionalism
Nothing makes up for the bizarre Kawhi Leonard saga, but it’s time to take a step back.
The Spurs made the playoffs last season, despite an injured Leonard playing in only nine games. They just replaced a 50-percent-healthy Kawhi Leonard with a 100-percent-healthy DeMar DeRozan, and Lonnie Walker IV is no scrub.
The West got really interesting this summer, but you can never count out the Spurs.
- Dennis Schroder (trade, Hawks)
- Jerami Grant (3 yrs/$27M)
- Nerlens Noel (2 yrs/$3.75M)
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarot (trade, 76ers)
- Hamidou Diallo (No. 45)
- Abdel Nader (trade, Celtics)
- Some luxury tax savings
- Paul George (4 yrs/$137M)
- Raymond Felton (1 yr/minimum)
- A massive luxury-tax bill
- Carmelo Anthony (trade) and his needs
- 2022 1st-round pick (top-14 protected; trade, Hawks)
- Nick Collison (retired)
- Dakari Johnson (trade, Magic)
- 2019 2nd-round pick
The Thunder had one of the best summers in the NBA. Not only did they defy the odds to retain Paul George, rid themselves of Carmelo Anthony, and get a backup center, but they saved themselves some luxury tax payments and got a proper reserve point guard in Dennis Schroder.
We don’t know if this’ll be enough to vault the Thunder into legitimate championship contention, but OKC fans should be pumped. Their team just had an incredible offseason.
- Wilson Chandler (trade, Nuggets)
- Zhaire Smith (No. 16)
- Landry Shamet (No. 26)
- Mike Muscala (trade, Hawks)
- Markelle Fultz’s confidence
- J.J. Redick (1yr/$12M)
- Amir Johnson (minimum)
- Max cap space (for 2019)
- Not having a general manager
- The rookie injury curse
- Ersan Ilyasova
- Marco Belinelli
- Justin Anderson (trade, Hawks)
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarot (trade, Thunder)
- Richaun Holmes (trade, Suns)
- The Process (or at least this stage of it)
The 76ers set the bar at landing a star and fell far below it. Still, the Chandler trade was smart, and their two draft picks are insurance in case Markelle Fultz still can’t shoot a jumper.
- Collin Sexton (No. 8)
- Channing Frye (minimum)
- Sam Dekker (trade, Cavs)
- David Nwaba
- Nobody important
- Oh wait, maybe one person, but he didn’t move the needle much
Everyone and their mom knew LeBron James was walking out the door after Cleveland was swept out of the Finals. That happened, and the Cavs have begun the painful process of putting the pieces back together. Collin Sexton at No. 8. was a good start, and Love’s $120 million extension ensures Cleveland will be at least competitive. But what’s the vision for Cleveland in a post-LeBron world?
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