NBA

Re-evaluating the 2020 NBA offseason for lottery-destined teams

As the Play-In Tournament lies just around the corner, two-thirds of the NBA will soon appear in at least one postseason game. Four of those teams won't be able to say they made the playoffs but the Play-In games have created an even starker reality for the teams who fell short of that bar.

For the ten teams whose season ends on Sunday, this has been a blatantly unsuccessful regular season. Some of them were already planning for the future and losses were baked into their expectations, but that doesn't change the reality of how much improvement is still needed.

Going back to last offseason and re-evaluating the moves made by that bottom-third of the league is a fascinating exercise. It would be fair to expect mostly bad moves from those teams but, in reality, there are a surprising number of positives to take one season later.

Detroit Pistons

It was fair to be skeptical of Detroit's offseason as it was happening but, with seven months of hindsight, their moves have aged better than any team on this list.

Their draft haul looks fantastic. Killian Hayes is a work in progress but has shown flashes when healthy. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart both fell outside the lottery for a variety of reasons but have both outperformed their draft positions and will likely make All-Rookie teams.

Bey has scored the second-most points among all rookies and could be the best shooter in this class. Despite being undersized, Stewart was productive from the jump and has averaged 13.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.

The only move that looks even better was the sign-and-trade of Jerami Grant. Three years and $60 million looked steep at the time but Grant has more than lived up to that number. He led Detroit with 22.3 points per game and carried an under-talented Pistons offence for the vast majority of this season.

Further down the list, Detroit's other moves were more hit or miss. Losing Christian Wood was unfortunate but getting the rights to Stewart was a solid return. Similarly, acquiring Bey for Luke Kennard was good value. Giving away Bruce Brown for a pick in the 50s, though, looks like worse and worse value by the day.

Not every move was a home run, but Detroit's offseason looks far better a season later and stands as a capable foundation for their rebuild moving forward.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland was largely inactive last offseason, directly leading to a quiet regular season to match.

Isaac Okoro was the most notable addition and he, like most other Cavs, endured a tumultuous year. That said, his play over the past month - including a 32-point explosion against the Suns - seems to indicate a trend in the right direction entering Year 2.

Outside of that pick, there wasn't much progress made in the rebuild. Andre Drummond's trade value took an almost immediate nose dive once the season began, leading directly to Cleveland losing him for nothing a few months into the season.

The Cavs are firmly in rebuild mode and there's little reason to believe that, outside of Okoro, any moves they made last fall will impact the next successful iteration of this team, whenever that version arrives.

Orlando Magic

Like the Cavs, there isn't much to review with the Magic.

The standalone positive was drafting Cole Anthony at 15 who, when healthy, has been a top-10 rookie this season and arguably the Magic's best player since the start of April.

Other than Anthony, it's hard to find many positives. Orlando's free agency consisted of adding Dwayne Bacon, re-signing Michael Carter-Williams and James Ennis, and losing DJ Augustin and Wes Iwundu. None of those moves are clear negatives, though none move the needle either.

The Magic were a perennial eighth seed that entered this season with the apparent goal of once again being the eighth seed. There may not have been value for their stars before the season, but treading water last fall forced them to take the drastic measures they did at the trade deadline. It's hard to say this was a truly bad offseason, it just delayed the inevitable.

Chicago Bulls

Third, in a now apparent trend, Chicago also had a mostly unremarkable offseason.

The Bulls added Garrett Temple who played pretty well and Noah Vonleh who appeared in four scoreless games. Kris Dunn, Shaq Harrison and Max Strus all left in free agency but none projected to figure heavily into Chicago's rotation for this season.

The lone meaningful move was taking Patrick Williams fourth overall. Even more than most rookies, it's far too early to evaluate Williams' potential in the NBA. He has been as-advertised defensively and better than projected as a rebounder, but has mostly been a bystander on offense. 9.0 points on 47.8 percent from the field is respectable but his 14.7 percent usage is concerningly low for a player taken so high, even as a rookie playing next to Zach LaVine.

Toronto Raptors

No one can blame Toronto's nightmare year on the moves they made last offseason.

Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka's departures were out of the team's control and neither can be faulted for their decisions. As their fill-ins, Aron Baynes struggled to replicate his anomalous production from last season and Alex Len's time in Toronto Tampa was short-lived.

Re-signing Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher were the biggest moves Toronto made and, while it's easy to say they were obvious moves, they are still worth praising. Boucher's contract was a bargain at the time and, following a dynamic breakout season, having him under team control for just $7 million next year looks like one of the best values in the league.

Finding Malachi Flynn at 29 was yet another fantastic piece of scouting by this front office. April's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had to learn on the fly for much of the year, but Flynn looks like yet another out-of-nowhere rotation fixture for the Raptors moving forward.

Houston Rockets

The criticism of Houston's offseason is pretty simple: they dipped their toes into a rebuild without finishing the job.

Swapping Russell Westbrook for John Wall and a protected future first was a perfectly defensible move. As was getting two firsts for Robert Covington. The problem was, the tear down stopped there.

This was a half-complete team entering this season. Rebuilding was probably the right move, but only starting the process in the offseason directly led to the 50-cents-on-the-dollar they got for James Harden just 22 days into the season.

In their defence, the Rockets did make some quality moves. They found and developed Jae'Sean Tate, who was one of the best rookies in the league and also took a low-cost flyer on Kevin Porter Jr. (technically an in-season trade but feels worth praising here).

Even so, those peripheral moves feel unimportant. The Harden situation devolved so quickly that their offseason has to be characterized as the first step of the long rebuild to come.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Anthony Edwards is the headline of Minnesota's offseason and it's one that looks better and better by the game.

It will be a while before he can completely shed the "not LaMelo Ball" stigma but, if you just look at his performance, 22.9 points on 47.0 percent shooting over the past month has to thrill Wolves fans.

Beyond Edwards, Jaden McDaniels was a great pick at 28 and has shown flashes of incredible potential. Malik Beasley's contract was eye-popping when it was announced, but he has been extremely productive when on the court. Ricky Rubio has been serviceable in his return but hasn't impacted winning much this season.

Overall, the moves Minnesota made last summer felt disjointed at the time and understandably fueled an up-and-down regular season.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Unlike a lot of the teams on this list, you can't fault the Thunder for indecision. OKC decided to rebuild and they swung as hard as they could in that direction.

The Thunder made over 20 moves last offseason and trying to piece together which veterans were on the roster at a given time is a futile exercise. If a veteran was on the Thunder at some point, though, it'd be safe to bet they were eventually moved for a pick or two.

The list of players OKC did add has to start with Aleksej Pokusevski who became one of the most entertaining players in the league the moment he stepped on the court. There's no telling how high Pokuseviski's ceiling is - or what chance he has of actually reaching it - but watching him find out will be incredibly fun.

Though neither are quite as exciting as Pokusevski, it is worth mentioning Theo Maledon has had a very good rookie season and Moses Brown has had enough explosive bursts to be worth moving forward.

Sacramento Kings

Tyrese Haliburton has almost single-handedly saved Sacramento's offseason.

He has been fantastic from the moment he got to the NBA and is top-three among rookies in points, threes, assists and steals. He is also the first rookie taken outside of the top-ten to average at least 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists since 2013. He may have fallen into the Kings' lap at 12, but Sacramento still has to be recognized for making the right decision.

The Kings also signed De'Aaron Fox to a max extension; another obvious move but one that should be mentioned as an unambiguous positive.

Every other move the Kings made was far less successful. No free agent signing had a major impact and, while it's hard to know where to place blame for the Bogdan Bogdanovic almost-trade debacle, the end result of losing him for nothing was an unmitigated disaster.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans' future remains incredibly bright thanks to Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but the moves they made last offseason did little to aid that progression.

13th overall pick Kira Lewis Jr. has been up and down but that can be at least partially traced back to the guard logjam on this roster. Naji Marshall was an outstanding find - as his recent extension would suggest - but he's only become a rotation player over the last couple of months.

Trading Jrue Holiday was inevitable and the draft capital looks great, but the players they got in return have had mixed results. Both Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams have struggled as Pelicans, with their lack of floor-spacing creating a predictably clunky fit around Williamson. Considering New Orleans owes them a combined $35 million next season, the aforementioned logjam isn't clearing any time soon.

Every move the Pelicans make has to be viewed through the lens of how it affects Williamson and, given the benefit of hindsight, it's clear last offseason largely fails that test.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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