NBA Offseason Grades: Southeast Division

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I decided to take it upon myself to grade each NBA team’s offseason transactions. This includes the resigning period, free agency, the draft, trades, whom they hired to coach, and anything else that’s important. I give a letter grade for each team based on the quality of moves they’ve made, and whether I think said moves are good for the direction the team is headed in. Most importantly, I answer the pivotal question: Are they better?

Today, I take on the Southeast Division.

If you missed it:

Atlantic Division Grades

Key: 

  • (R): Rookie
  • (DnS): Draft-n-Stash – players drafted, but playing overseas next year
  • (D): Draft-n-Stash player joining the team
  • Bolded Names: Particularly notable players

 

And so we being with the reigning Southeast Division Champions:

Atlanta Hawks: B

Re-signed: Paul Milsap

Lost: Pero Antic, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, Austin Daye, John Jenkins

Acquired: Tim Hardaway, Jr., Justin Holiday, Tiago Splitter, Walter Taveras (D)

Drafted: Markus Erikkson (DnS), Dimitrios Agravanis (DnS)

Other notable moves: Head Coach Mike Budenholzer named President of Basketball Operations

Some would say the Hawks 60-win Cinderella season struck midnight earlier than they hoped because they did not have a superstar to carry them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Others would say the process of turning back into a pumpkin started as early April when Thabo Sefolosha was arrested/injured following a nightclub club incident in New York City, and continued to grow as more players sustained injuries prior and during the playoffs (Al Horford, Paul Milsap, DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Korver).

I thought how the Hawks approached this offseason would be a good indicator of where they thought the season went wrong:

  1. Problem 1: Unlucky injuries were the reason for the downfall in ECF.
    Solution 1: Bring back both free agents Paul Milsap and DeMarre Carroll, hope to have enough cap room to bring in another role player, and hope the injury bug stays clear of Atlanta next spring.
  2. Problem 2: The Hawks lost because they did not have a superstar to carry them.
    Solution 2: Let one or both free agents walk, and go after a superstar free agent.
  3. Problem 3: Injuries and lack of quality depth lowered Atlanta’s ceiling in the playoffs.
    Solution 3: Re-sign one free agent, and use remaining cap space to add depth.

Atlanta chose to bet on the system and went with problem/solution number 3; and it was a rather easy decision when Toronto threw 4-years/$60 million at Carroll. Carroll was easily one of their best players last year, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that he’s worth $15 million per year.

Atlanta were the beneficiaries of the Tiago Splitter salary dump. As much as Coach Mike Budenholzer is a fan of Pero Antic, he has to feel delighted that he’s reunited with Splitter. As someone who grew up in the San Antonio system, Splitter should make an easy transition into Coach Bud’s “Spurs of the East” culture. He doesn’t space the floor, but he’s a very good defender down low, as well as a capable rebounder.

The risk in taking on Splitter is his health. He played 81 regular-season games in 2013, but other than that he has not played more than 60 games once in his career.

(Image from Atlanta Hawks) Atlanta Hawks’ new uniforms drawing mixed reactions

The Hawks drafted Kelly Oubre with the 15th overall pick in the draft, but sent him to Washington and acquired Tim Hardaway, Jr. from New York. Oubre is an intriguing propsect, but a project nonetheless. Instead they parlayed his draft rights for someone they know can play right away. Many are down on THJ, but he’s shown he has the capability to put up big scoring numbers. I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water just because he had a sophomore slump on a 17-win team. If he can learn (or at least try) to defend, then THJ will be a quality asset on the perimeter. His worst-case scenario is “heat-check” guy off the bench.

Are they better?: No.

Washington Wizards: A

Re-signed: Drew Gooden

Lost: Rasual Butler, Will Bynum, Paul Pierce, Kevin Seraphin

Acquired: Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre (R)

Drafted: Aaron White

Other notable moves: N/A

There wasn’t a whole lot the Wizards could do coming in to this offseason due to their limited cap space. It may not be the worst thing in the world, considering they may have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals had John Wall not broken his hand and missed 3 games of their round two series with the Hawks. But there were areas they needed to improve on if they were going to make that next leap.

Losing Paul Pierce legitimately sucks. He was a veteran presence that the Wiz-kids needed, he was the leader of the locker room, and his move to the smallball-4 in the NBA Playoffs turned Washington into a very dangerous team. They are a better team today for having Pierce on their roster last season. No question.

(Image from Associated Press) [Left to Right] (Otto Porter. John Wall, Bradley Beal) Washington has drafted well in recent years. Hats off to their player development, as well.
The Wizards partook in Milwaukee’s salary dump, and used their trade exception to take on the final year of Jared Dudley’s contract. I was a big fan of the Jared Dudley trade. Then again, I’m a big fan of Jared Dudley in general. He’s a well-liked player throughout the league who can shoot the 3 and defend multiple positions. He’s great for the locker room, and he can assume the smallball-4 void that Pierce left behind. And at $4.25 million next year, he’s a great value for his skill set.

The Wizards also quietly picked up Gary Neal and Alan Anderson for a grand total of $6.1 million next year to help their outside shooting deficiencies. And the draft night trade for prospect Kelly Oubre deserves a golf clap, as well. Oubre will need time to develop, but he has the tools to be an elite two-way player on the professional level.

None of these moves were off the charts per se, but the Wizards made the most of the resources and cap space that they had and filled a few holes along the way, while at the same time keeping their projected flexibility for next summer.

Are they better?: Yes.

Miami Heat: A+

Re-signed: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade

Lost: Michael Beasley, Andre Dawkins, Zoran Dragic, Danny Granger, Henry Walker, Shabazz Napier, Shawn Williams

Acquired: Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire

Drafted: Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson

Other notable moves: N/A

The Heat may have had one of the best offseason’s in the NBA.

The standoff between Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley may have had Miami fans sweating more than usual. Especially when “reports” surfaced that Wade could find himself playing in Chicago, Los Angeles, or even Cleveland next season. Wade has never been the highest paid player on the Heat. In 2010, he took less money so that the Heat could bring in Chris Bosh and LeBron James. 5 years and 2 championships later, D-Wade was looking to collect on back payments.

On the second day of free agency, the Heat agreed to pay the best player in franchise history a 1-year/$20 million deal; finally showing D-Wade the money, and postponing multi-year contract talks for at least one more year.

At age 33 and not having played more than 70 games in a regular-season since 2011, one has to wonder if D-Wade is even worth the $20 million price tag. The answer is yes. In fact, it’s hell yes.

From a statistical standpoint, even if you’re only getting him for 60 games next season, he’s still going to give you 20 points and 5 assists per night. From an intangibles standpoint, he’s the leader of the team and has played in 5 NBA Finals, winning 3 rings. You want Dwyane Wade in your foxhole come playoff time.

It was also a no-brainer for Pat Riley. Paying D-Wade his money at this stage of his career is showing respect for his superstar; which is something other players pay attention to. Future stars may be more apt to come to Miami because they know it’s an organization that takes care of it’s aging superstars. It’s also a means of keeping fans happy. D-Wade is a mega star for fans in South Beach, and keeping him in a Heat uniform will keep fans walking through those turnstiles through thick and thin.

(Image from USA Today) The thought of Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh running pick-and-rolls has Miami fans foaming at the mouth

The Goran Dragic resigning was a walk in the park for Pat Riley. Dragic didn’t meet with any other team, even though he knew very well that teams like the Lakers and Knicks were interested in his services. He took $20 million less than the max so that the Heat could have more flexibility over the length of his contract. And just like that, Dragic was coming back.

The addition of Gerald Green gives the Heat extra firepower coming off the bench, as well as a competent replacement for D-Wade on his days off. This move also reunites both Green and Dragic from their Phoenix days, where they were key cogs on a surprising 48-win team back in 2014.

I also really like the Heat getting a veteran big man in Amar’e Stoudemire on a veteran’s minimum contract. Stat can still give a team a productive 15-20 minutes off the bench per game. Look for a lot pick-and-pops with Amar’e and Dragic.

Don’t forget, Pat “The Godfather” Riley also had Justise Winslow slide into his lap with the 10th overall pick on Draft Night. A quality two-way player that’s drawn comparisons to Andre Iguodala. Winslow will have plenty of time to develop under the radar on a championship contender, and could possibly be a contributor day one. He has a high motor and can defend multiple positions.

The Miami Heat should bounce back from an injury-plagued 37-win season. Expect them to compete for a top-2 spot in the East.

Are they better?: Yes.

 

Charlotte Hornets: B-

Re-signed: N/A

Lost: Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, Jason Maxiell, Lance Stephenson, Jeffrey Taylor, Noah Vonleh, Mo Williams

Acquired: Nicolas Batum, Tyler Hansbrough, Aaron Harrison (R), Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, Elliot Williams

Drafted: Frank Kaminsky

Other notable moves: N/A

There’s a lot to digest with Charlotte’s offseason, so I’ll start here: I love the Lance Stephenson trade!

Outside of landing a superstar free agent, there is no better move Charlotte could have made this offseason. It’s addition-by-subtraction in the purest sense of the definition. Lance dropped-off in every major category (PPG, FG%, 3P%, FT%, rebounds, and assists). Not to mention his bad attitude was toxic to the locker room. Not a big fan of Spencer Hawes or the $17 million Charlotte will owe him over the next 3 years; but he’s a 7-footer who can stretch the floor, and will be a good soldier if/when he’s benched for long stretches. He’s a decent hedge bet if Frank Kaminsky is too raw to play right away.

9 days later the Hornets sent Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh to the Trail Blazers for Nicolas Batum. Henderson’s production fell in 2015, and Vonleh only played in 25 games of his rookie season due to an early injury and a log-jam of players at the 4. Batum also struggled last season after a two-year stretch of high-impact production for the Blazers. He comes into this season on the final year of his contract. I expect some bounce-back year motivation and a whole lot contract year motivation out of Batum. He should bring perimeter shooting to a team that’s desperate for marksmen.

The Hornets gladly nabbed Jeremy Lamb in OKC’s salary dump.  A career 34.8% 3-point shooter, Lamb is not exactly the marksman Charlotte needs on the perimeter; but he has shown us an ability to hit the 3, and could possibly be an asset coming off the bench. Lamb has been somewhat of a disappointment in the first 3 years of his career. However, he spent those 3 years stuck in the this-is-what-we-got-for -James-Harden narrative. A narrative in which he was highly-scrutinized and not allowed to make mistakes without the media and fans tar-and-feathering him on social media. Lamb will get a fresh start and a chance to vitalize his career.

Jeremy Lin will provide a spark from the back-up point guard position, and was signed to a very team-friendly deal. The Tyler Hansbrough signing, on the other hand, feels more like a publicity stunt to get more Tar Heels fans to go to Hornets games; or maybe that’s just the Duke fan in me talking. I still hate you, Tyler Hansbrough.

(Image from Space Jam) At last, Frank Kaminsky is reunited with Michael Jordan!

On draft night the Hornets had the cojones to turn down Boston’s godfather offer for the 9th pick in the draft. Instead they used that pick on Wisconsin standout, and arguably the most intriguing domestic prospect in the draft, Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky may very well be entering the NBA at the best possible time considering his skill-set; but he is a project and essentially has the same skill-set as Cody Zeller (2013 – Rd 1, Pick 4).

It’s hard grading Charlotte’s offseason. Al Jefferson is in the final year of his contract and they traded their lottery pick from last year for what could be a one-year rental of Nicolas Batum. There’s no telling what GM Rich Cho and owner Michael Jordan are thinking with this roster. On the outside it would appear that the Hornets are in win-now mode, going all in on the 2015-16 season.

However, what I think they’re doing is just trying to be a competitive team and make the playoffs. Drafting Kaminsky and not trading Cody Zeller tells me they’re preparing for life after Al Jefferson, and will use this season to be competitive so that the young guys can learn winning habits. By the way outside of Hawes’ $17 million over the next 3 years, they haven’t committed to any long-term deals this offseason; thus preserving cap-flexibility for next summer. Props.

Maybe that’s giving too much credit to a group of people who haven’t exactly done a great job developing young players. But if this is what they’re going for, then I’m somewhat on board. Expect the Hornets to be part of the log-jam of teams competing for 7 or 8- seed next season. After next year, who knows?

Are they better?: Yes.

Orlando Magic: B+

Re-signed: Tobias Harris

Lost: Ben Gordon, Willie Green, Kyle O’Quinn, Luke Ridnour

Acquired: Shabazz Napier, Jason Smith, CJ Watson

Drafted: Mario Hezonja, Tyler Harvey

Other notable moves: Hired Scott Skiles as Head Coach

Shout-out to the Orlando Magic for knowing exactly who they are and acting accordingly. If you’re looking at the transaction sheet and thinking that this team hardly did anything, then you’re missing the big picture.

The Magic are a very young team; their average age is 21.3 years old. Right now, they’re focused on collecting young assets via the draft and whomever stumbles onto their doorstep, and developing them into quality rotation players; hoping at least one of them develops into a star.

Team brass has backed this notion up by bringing in Scott Skiles to coach the Magic. Skiles, who once upon a time played for the Magic, has a 443-433 coaching record in 13 years as a head coach. While his win/loss record leaves a lot to be desired, Skiles is more known as a turnaround artist. He’s posted winning records by year 2 in each of his 3 coaching stops.

Skiles is good for a group of young players. He’ll provide guidance, structure, and promote accountability among his players. He’ll teach them about hard defense, hustle, and motivation. Skiles will turn this group of prospects into quality players. He’ll need strong veteran role models to buy into the system (*cough* CJ Watson *cough), but I expect this rebuild to be headed in the right direction.

Tobias Harris is a really good player; but whether you want to admit it or not, he got overpaid. $16 million over 4 years for someone in which we don’t fully know if he’s a perennial starter or just a good-stats-on-a-bad-team player seems a bit much. If he’s the former, then Scott Skiles should be able to turn Harris into an above-average two-way player; if he’s the latter, the Magic are stuck with a bad contract while trying to develop the rest of their players. The good news is that he’s a hard worker who has the admiration of his teammates. So there is hope that his talent will match the contract at some point. This contract does further prove that the Magic are dedicated to player development, though.

Taking part in the Shabazz Napier salary dump is not only another example of collecting young prospects, but it also provides the Magic with more depth at the point. He may struggle to find minutes some nights; but overall, he’s in a better situation than he was in Miami because the Magic will focus more on his development. Side note: The Magic gave up a heavily protected second round pick for Napier. He could just end up being a really good buy-low/sell-high prospect. Good investment.

Orlando drafted Mario Hezonja with the 5th overall pick on draft night. Yet another top five pick they’ll look to develop. The Magic desperately needed perimeter shooting, which just so happens to be Super Mario’s specialty! Not to mention his performance in Summer League already has Magic fans erecting a statue of the Croatian outside of the Amway Center.

The Magic upgraded to an actual NBA head coach who’s specialty just so happens to be player development and turning around losing organizations. That, combined with drafting Mario Hezonja, means that this Magic team is better today than they were April 15th. Don’t expect them to compete for the 8-seed this year, but they are headed in the right direction. They know exactly who they are, and they’ve made all the right moves considering their plan.

Are they better?: Yes.


That’s it for the Southeast Division. Stay tuned for my grades for the Central division coming in the next week.

Thank you very much to basketball-reference.com, espn.go.com/nba, and hoopshype.com for the stats and information used in this article.