The M365 2016-17 NBA Season Recap and Offseason Preview
The Golden State Warriors won the title, and they might not have been able to do it without Kevin Durant’s 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in the Finals. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Warriors, LeBron James kept his head up while admitting he would “never” join a “Super Team.” Miami’s ‘Big 3’ aside, bet the house the Cleveland Cavaliers trade Kevin Love for a more small-ball oriented star (i.e. Carmelo Anthony, Paul George).
While the Warriors and Cavs remain the top teams in the NBA, a second tier of teams on the cusp of contention emerged this season. The Boston Celtics earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they have the available salary cap space to sign a big free agent (i.e. Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap) and the player/draft assets to trade for an additional star (i.e. Paul George, Jimmy Butler). Theoretically signing Hayward and trading for George would launch Boston into legitimate championship contention.
The Washington Wizards leaped to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference behind what should be consider the conference’s best backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Both players shined during the 2017 playoffs, and although forward Otto Porter is a restricted free agent, the Wizards should match any offer he will accept. Washington is desperate for more help off the bench, but the future looks bright in D.C.
There’s a group of contenders that could be devastated by free agency this offseason. The Los Angeles Clippers inability to ever make a Western Conference Finals could break up a contending core. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick are all unrestricted free agents and each has his own share of rumored destinations. The good news for the Clips? They just swiped Warriors’ general manager Jerry West for the same role, which should help keep around Paul, who can sign a $200 million contract with LA. The Utah Jazz took a giant step forward and landed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and a first round victory over the Clippers. The Jazz ran into Golden State in the second round and were swept off their feet, but they proved to be a well coached team that isn’t afraid of a dog fight. As previously mentioned, Utah may lose its best player, Gordon Hayward, in free agency. Moving east to avoid the Warriors may appeal to these Western Conference free agents.
Back East, the Atlanta Hawks fear losing free agent star forward Paul Millsap, and they would be forced to build around an aging Dwight Howard and inconsistent Dennis Schröder . It seemed that the Toronto Raptors could compete with the Cavs this postseason, but mid season trades for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker didn’t take. Each player hits the open market this offseason, in addition to three-time All Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who just wants a ring.
The three MVP candidates are in fluid situations with plenty of potential. Despite the inevitable losses of aging veterans Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, the San Antonio Spurs found a bonafide star to build around in Kawhi Leonard, who solidified himself as the third best player in the NBA. The rumored potential addition of free agent Chris Paul would certainly keep them entrenched as the third best team in the NBA. Similarly, the Houston Rockets have the likely MVP runner-up in James Harden and the perfect fast-paced, three-point machine of a system to build a contender around ‘The Beard.’ Houston would have to dump salary to make any significant moves this offseason, but it would certainly be worth adding one of the many superstars in free agency. The Oklahoma City Thunder have expected MVP Russell Westbrook, but considering OKC finished dead last in the NBA in three-point percentage, it could use more shooters surrounding the triple double maestro.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have stars but no clear franchise direction. Trade rumors surrounded Jimmy Butler and Paul George at the deadline, and whispers continue into the offseason. Both players would love to sign with the Lakers when each becomes a free agent, so Chicago and Indiana must come to a decision: cut ties now and get as many assets in return as possible in a trade, or hope to build a team around its stars and risk losing everything in a year or two. For the Bulls, Dwyane Wade’s $23 million player option could be the ultimate determining factor.
Young stars on up-and-coming franchises stood out in the second half of the year. The Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers all found hope in a future superstar this season. Nikola Jokic proved he’s an all around premiere big man that Denver can build around. 20 year-old shooting guard Devin Booker established himself as an elite scorer with a 70-point game against Boston in March, and although Phoenix still has plenty of work to be done in its rebuild, a light finally shines end of the tunnel. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo represented the nickname “Greek Freak” on his way to leading Milwaukee to the playoffs in his fourth NBA season. Still only 22, the 7-footer is a magician leading the fast break and oozes the potential of an unstoppable force. Jabari Parker’s return from injury in addition to continued development of 20 year-old Thon Maker makes the Bucks the young team to watch in 2018.
A glimpse into the end result of “The Process” in Philadelphia peaked its tiny little head out thanks to a healthy stretch from Joel Embiid, who has all the makings of a Hakeem Olajuwon/Dirk Nowitzki hybrid (terrifying!). We haven’t even seen last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, play, and Philly holds the predicted 2017 Rookie of the Year, Dario Saric. Plus, the Sixers have all the cap space in the world to sign Philly native Kyle Lowry, or maybe former Sixer, and 2015 Finals MVP with Golden State, Andre Iguodala. Not to mention, they just traded for the No. 1 overall pick to draft point guard Markelle Fultz.
The New Orleans Pelicans made a splash at the deadline when trading for DeMarcus Cousins. Whether he and fellow big man Anthony Davis can co-exist remains to be seen, but NOLA doesn’t have much cap flexibility to build much around the pair this offseason. On the other side of the blockbuster deal, the Sacramento Kings saw improvement and found direction after moving Cousins. Buddy Hield looked improved from his struggles in New Orleans, while center Willie Cauley-Stein made strides to close out the season. They own two Top 10 picks in the upcoming draft and could use them to trade up for one of the top point guards, namely De’Aaron Fox.
It feels like the Minnesota Timberwolves rebuild started ages ago, and the squad fell short of overinflated expectations after hiring Tom Thibodeau as head coach and general manager. Thibodeau is a spectacular coach and player developer, and a young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine should excite Wolves fans and scare the rest of the West. The Los Angeles Lakers are still a bit behind in rebuilding, and it’s unclear if D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram are future stars. However, Magic Johnson is the new decision maker, and his first task is to decide if Lonzo Ball is the answer with the second pick in the draft.
The rest of the league remains in limbo without much direction. Although the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers reached the playoffs, each team seems stuck in the middle. Each has plenty of talent, but not enough to compete, while lacking depth, capital and the ability to stay healthy. The Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks trail a bit behind as fringe playoff teams, but each franchise is missing a young, budding star. Both teams have a solid starting lineup but lack bench help and cap space.
Finally, we have the where-the-hell-are-they-going crew. God only knows the future of the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or Detroit Pistons, and it probably involves starting over… yet again.
So, that’s a wrap on the 2016-17 NBA season. Now onto the offseason, where 29 teams will try (and likely fail) to build an army that can knock Golden State off the throne.