Here’s how I see the standings shaking out at the end of the 2019-20 NBA regular season, based on how free agency has played out thus far.
The era of “Big Three” is over in the NBA (for now). Check out our 1-30 rankings of each team’s dynamic duo, entering the 2019-20 season
I think Kemba Walker fits what Brad Stevens likes to do better than Kyrie Irving. The offense will have more flow and ball movement and more pick-and-rolls, which new center Enes Kanter excels in. In ranking Celtics first, I am banking on huge progress from Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum as well as improvement from Gordon Hayward.
Bucks are running it back, but without Malcolm Brogdon. Of course, Khris Middleton’s contract is an overpay, but they have an immediate championship window that they need to capitalize on. Keeping George Hill as a backup and adding Wesley Matthews are both big moves to sure up their depth and having the Lopez twins (Brook, Robin) down low is a big move.
76ers lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick but added Al Horford (an interesting fit) and Josh Richarson and kept Tobias Harris. Horford’s contract will age poorly, and I’m not sure about the fit next to Embiid, but he’s a valuable veteran addition for them. I like adding Richardson as a cheaper piece to replace Butler (averaged 16 ppg). Keeping Tobias Harris is important, after trading multiple picks and Landry Shamet to get him.
Losing Bojan Bogdanovic and Thadeus Young hurts, but they got their PG (Malcolm Brogdon), and added solid depth with Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren. Indiana is well coached and will add these guys to a team that already has Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and will have Victor Oladipo back by Christmas (hopefully).
Nets sent shock waves through the NBA, winning free agency day 1 and pulling off one of the most successful days any NBA franchise has ever had in the summer. That said, Kevin Durant will not debut until 2020-21 season and that means it’s Kyrie Irving’s team for this season. Based on what happened in Boston, are we sure that’s a good thing? Brooklyn’s supporting cast isn’t as strong as Boston’s which is why Nets make a slight improvement from 2019 and are one spot below where Celtics finished.
Kawhi Leonard played 60 regular season games and led the Raptors to their first ever championship – is he the best player in franchise history? Him and Danny Green both depart leaving the Raptors with a group led by Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, among others who will need to step up next to Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. The championship window is closed, but the East lacks depth and Toronto should remain in the playoff picture.
Jimmy Butler wanted to get paid and win – well he got paid, but the winning part remains TBD. Butler’s Chicago teams often underwhelmed, especially the ones where he was the #1 guy. Trading Hassan Whiteside hurts from a talent standpoint but he didn’t fit what the Heat wanted to do and they did manage to keep Goran Dragic (for now) which is a big win. They do have fun young guys like Justice Winslow and Tyler Herro but Butler is a weird fit on a questionable roster.
Orlando did well keeping their guys (Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross) and also signed Al Farouq-Aminu. Aminu is approximately the 13th PF on Orlando’s roster and some balance would make me feel better about their future. So would an update on Markelle Fultz’s health. Are they really sticking with DJ Augustin as the starting PG?
Derrick Rose could be the sneaky signing of the off-season and may be an upgrade over Reggie Jackson. Blake Griffin’s health will determine how good the Pistons can be.
Thaddeus Young is a nice signing. Bulls are counting on improvement from within with a healthy Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and the addition of Coby White. If everything falls into place, this team could sneak into the playoffs.
Free agency has been mostly quiet for the Hawks outside of a few salary dump trades (Evan Turner, Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe). But they have built a strong core through the draft (Trae Young, Deandre Hunter, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish). They are a year away from playoff contention.
If you look past the disappointment of Kevin Durant’s decision, the Knicks added six quality NBA players. That’s 6 more than they had last season. Julius Randle is a good player, who averaged 20 and 12 a year ago, Bobby Portis has his moments and is still 24 years old. Taj Gibson is a valuable vet mentor for Mitchell Robinson. Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington are solid three-and-d guys and Elfrid Payton provides good depth to Dennis Smith Jr.. The future of the Knicks rests on the development of RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox.
Wizards are held back financially by John Wall’s super max contract. There are questions about whether or not they will or should trade Bradley Beal.
What is Kevin Love’s future? Will the Darius Garland/Colin Sexton backcourt work out? Will John Beilein work out in the NBA? More questions than certainties in Cleveland right now.
After letting Kemba Walker, the best player they have had during this era of Hornets basketball, for nothing, Charlotte is loaded with overpaid role players and added Terry Rozier for $20 million/year, which is the opposite move they should have made.
LAC won 48 games last season and add 2x Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Those two paired with Mo Harkless, Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell puts the Clippers in a position to contend for the franchise’s first NBA Championship. Step one would be making the Conference Finals for the first time. Doc Rivers is a championship coach and should be able to mold this team.
I absolutely love what the Jazz have done this off-season. Mike Conley over Ricky Rubio is a major upgrade and Bojan Bogdanovic adds a new element to the offense as a stretch four, something they have lacked. Bogey replaces Derrick Favors, who will be missed but Ed Davis and Jeff Green are quality, winning big men that can both start and come off the bench.
Last year’s Western Conference Finalists will run it back plus add Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore plus rookie Nasir Little.
Rockets made their major move, adding Russell Westbrook to reunite with former Thunder teammate James Harden. Westbrook is a major upgrade over an aging Chris Paul and should form an explosive offensive duo with Harden. Defense will be a question but it always is for Mike D’antoni coached teams.
This is going to be controversially low, but for a franchise with a 6 year playoff drought, a chaotic and dysfunctional front office, you would think fans would be happy with getting back to their winning ways. Adding Anthony Davis was always the most logical move, even if it meant trading most of the young core. But they kept Kyle Kuzma and reunited the 2018 Pelicans (Rajon Rondo and Demarcus Cousins) and signed Danny Green, who has great potential on a team in need of shooting. Lakers will be major players in the buyout market (Kyle Korver, Andre Iguodala) so their offseason is still not completed.
Nuggets finished second in the West in 2019 and return all five starters and most of their bench but will likely regress from last year, by not fault of their own. By remaining idle, several teams that have added reinforcements are likely to jump them.
New GM Davis Griffin has killed it since taking over – Jrue Holiday returns to lead a team that adds Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors and JJ Redick, among others. I expect Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to both take steps forward outside the LA spotlight and pressure. JJ Redick will help the team’s spacing and has made the playoffs every year of his career. Trading for Derrick Favors, their likely starting center, is also an underrated move.
Demar Derozan and Lamarcus Aldridge can still perform at an All Star level and are surrounded by a glut of exciting young talents such as Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson and a mix of veterans like Rudy Gay, Demarre Carroll, and Marcus Morris. Spurs won’t win 50 games, but the playoff streak does not end in 2020.
Hard to believe Warriors could miss the playoffs but I don’t love the fit of D’angelo Russell next to Steph Curry. Russell is a ball dominant, shoot first point guard and isn’t the best defender. Warriors are going to badly miss Klay Thompson, who likely won’t debut until early 2020. Draymond Green has never been the second best player on the team, but needs to climb into that role and needs to behave well and perform at an All Star level for the Warriors to just compete for a low level seed. They will miss the leadership and locker room presence of Andre Iguodala
I’m a huge fan of what the Kings are doing. Harrison Barnes is an overpay but did average 14 ppg after coming over in a trade from Dallas. They add veteran Trevor Ariza, who could have an impact on a young team. Unfortunately for them, there simply on the outside the top 8, looking in for a 14th straight year, because of no fault of their own.
Dallas has a strong young core of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis but beyond that, I think this roster is generally underwhelming, and still needs a lot of work to get back to playoff contention.
Wolves had a rough start to free agency, missing out on their top target, D’angelo Russell That would have been a playoff contending move for them. Instead they are stuck with an aging Jeff Teague and the bloated contract of Andrew Wiggins. Karl Anthony Towns is wasting away on a team that is still ways away from playoff contention.
The rebuild is on in OKC. Thunder traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook and have 8 additional first round picks through 2026 plus their last two first rounders are both extremely talented, but raw, and young (Terrence Ferguson, Darius Bazely). Throw in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder have a bright future, but a questionable present. Steven Adams and Andre Roberson will likely be traded before the start of the season.
Suns have actually done a decent job surrounding Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton with guys who have experience winning in the NBA, college and Europe. Guys like Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, Cam Johnson, among others. Giving Ricky Rubio $51 million over 3 years is a bit much, but the Suns haven’t had a PG in two years, so it’s fine. Their moves will help them improve and be more competitive, but won’t drastically move the needle and won’t move them out of the league’s bottom five.
Memphis will be a fun type of bad. While the Hornets are going to be a boring type of bad while waiting out expiring contracts, Memphis is led by 2018 #4 pick Jaren Jackson and 2019 #2 pick Ja Morant. They also added 2017 #4 pick Josh Jackson and have some other exciting young players to work with (Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks). They need work, but at least fans can start to see progress in 2019-20.