Photo Credit: LeBron James gambles on the Lakers: GQ
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10. Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon
I am happy to see the Magic invest in Aaron Gordon. There was speculation that Gordon could be on the move, but GM John Hammond locked up the young star to a solid contract. The 4-year/$84M deal is front loaded and makes this contract moveable if things don’t work out. Now that Orlando has a coach in place for the future, identifying Gordon’s role will be the first thing they need to do. Every article recently is declaring Gordon as a center. I don’t buy it. Gordon is a hybrid four, who can put the ball on the floor and shoot threes. He isn’t a small forward either. I know that Magic fans are aware of what Gordon is, but so many people are still puzzled by his game. I think Gordon is a guy you can build a winning culture around, but the Magic still have a few more moves to make. The lack of a point guard is going to hold this team back, but I am confident that they will resolve that situation in the next season or two. Gordon can’t be asked to do everything and keeping him as the focal point of the offense as the power forward is best for the future of the Orlando Magic.
9. Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors and Dante Exum
I am impressed by the Jazz resigning Exum and Favors. I wasn’t sure what the Jazz would do with their cap space but adding back a young talented point guard in Exum is a smart move. Exum has the talent to be a starter in this league and pairing him with Mitchell could cause problems for years to come. The Favor signing was a solid one as well. The Jazz have a big man that can play the four or the five. He isn’t locked into a long-term deal and this gives Utah flexibility next season with his contract. He loves Utah and is a perfect fit for their culture. Sometimes the best thing a team can do is not make any significant changes. Continuity is underrated by people in this league, but it is essential to success. Adding pieces to the puzzle will always be something that happens in this league, but the amount of turnover we see in today’s game is remarkable. I like Utah and their persona. They have one of the best young stars in the game, the Defensive Player of the Year and one of the feistiest groups in all the league. Utah will be a problem for years to come.
8. Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans
Indiana had a quiet off-season, but an effective one. Tyreke Evans posted 19.5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists last year with the Memphis Grizzlies. Indiana made a tough decision and let fan favorite Lance Stephenson test the market. In doing that, they also cleared up cap space to sign three players. Kyle O’Quinn, Doug McDermott and Tyreke Evans. The Pacers upgraded their bench significantly and Tyreke Evans is a much more talented player than Lance Stephenson. If Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, he is the perfect complementary piece to Victor Oladipo. While the media will mock the Eastern Conference all season long, the Pacers will take advantage of this opportunity to compete for a deep run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Evans is the leader of the Pacers 2nd unit, and if he plays like he did last season, he will be a top candidate for 6th Man of the Year.
7. Philadelphia 76ers: JJ Redick
The 76ers tried their best to acquire LeBron James in Free Agency but to no avail. While JJ Redick is nowhere close to LeBron James level, his fit last year was perfect for the 76ers. With Illyasova and Belinelli departing from Philadelphia in Free Agency, the 76ers were desperate for 3-point shooters. Redick is one of the best shooters in today’s game and will fit perfectly once again with Embiid and Simmons. Redick can’t be too upset about his pay cut this season, because after two years, he will have banked $35M. This resigning will pay dividends as the 76ers look to conquer the Eastern Conference next season.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Julius Randle
Julius Randle joining the Pelicans is one of my favorite moves of Free Agency. While the Pelicans didn’t retain Rajon Rondo or Demarcus Cousins, they acquired a forward in Randle that has a close relationship with star Anthony Davis and is coming off the best season of his career. Randle joined the Pelicans on a 2yr/$18M contract. While Randle didn’t get as big of a paycheck as he would have liked, he has another chance to prove his worth. The Pelicans will look to be competitive in the Western Conference because Anthony Davis will be a free agent in 2020. Davis recruited Randle to come join him in New Orleans so catering to the Pelicans star is a smart tactic in trying to retain Davis for the long haul. There is speculation that Mirotic will still start over Randle at the power forward spot, but Randle can easily play the stretch center, or play at the four next to Davis to provide a more defensive minded lineup. All in all, this was a good move by both sides.
5. Golden State Warriors: Demarcus Cousins
This was the shot heard round the world 24-hours after LeBron James announced his decision to join the Lakers. With Cousins going to the Warriors, we are staring at one of the most dominate teams ever assembled. The only downfall to this signing is Cousins Achilles injury will keep him out of play until January-February. Demarcus Cousins has one of the worst reputations in the league as being a locker room problem, but the Warriors have one of the strongest groups in the league. My only concern with this decision is Cousins ability to accept a diminished role. The death lineup of Curry-Thompson-Iguadola-Durant-Green has been unbelievable the last two seasons, and I have a hard-time seeing Cousins being content with finishing a majority of the Warriors games, on the bench. The saying the last few seasons is “the only team that can beat the Warriors is the Warriors”, so maybe this signing will end up hurting Golden State more than helping them, but I wouldn’t count on it.
4. Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic and Will Barton
Resigning Will Barton was a big time move by the Denver Nuggets. After the Nuggets traded Wilson Chandler to the Sixers, the signing of Barton made even more sense. The Nuggets will need a starting small forward and Barton proved last season that his 16-points per game was no fluke. In addition to Barton, the Nuggets locked up big man Nikola Jokic to a 5-year max contract. The talent that Jokic brings to the offensive end of the floor is irreplaceable. In a league where the center position is diminishing in value, the Jokic resigning shows you how valuable he is to the Nuggets success. While many have criticized his defensive abilities, you are willing to live with his deficiencies on defense for his efficiencies on offense. There isn’t a better passing, scoring or shooting big man in the league. Denver has themselves a star and they are building a team that will cause problems in the Western Conference Playoffs.
3. Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
This is a perfect move by both sides. The Rockets were the best team in the NBA last year because of the addition of Chris Paul. James Harden and Chris Paul fit together much better than anyone would have ever anticipated. While Chris Paul is still in the latter part of his prime, he still has a ton of value. The Rockets were hesitant to give CP3 a 5-year max deal, so they settled on a 4yr/$160M contract. Paul will make a plethora of money in this contract but keeping the contract to 4 years helps the flexibility of Houston’s future. If Chris Paul can stay healthy, this is a team that could make a push for the NBA Finals once again. They still need to resign Clint Capella in Restricted Free Agency, but the loss of Trevor Ariza is big. The Rockets have a few decisions to make before the season starts, but this was the most important one.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
Paul George made it clear to the Indiana Pacers that he did not want to play for them after his contract expired because he wanted to go to the Los Angeles Lakers and play for his idol Kobe Bryant’s team. Despite Paul George’s wishes to play for the Lakers, Oklahoma City’s general manager gambled that he could retain Paul George in Oklahoma after playing a season with Russell Westbrook. Give the Thunder credit for their ability to recruit Paul George for an entire season and enticing him to sign long term in Oklahoma. With the recent rumors that OKC will buyout Carmelo Anthony and with resigning Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder just became a much better team. Many people criticize Westbrook for being hard to play with, but even after his 40+ shot attempts in their Game 6 loss to Utah, Paul George still wanted to return. I think we can finally drop that narrative on Russell Westbrook and enjoy the REAL big three of OKC: Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James
The Los Angeles Lakers are back. With the NBA’s best player joining one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, the league is in a better place. While the Lakers haven’t been relevant since their last title against the Boston Celtics, the Lakers have consistently been placed on national television when they were more than undeserving of that spotlight. Now that 3-time NBA Champion LeBron James has taken his talents to the Pacific Coast, the Lakers will be must-see television. In addition to LeBron, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee join the madness to make the Lakers more entertaining than championship contenders. This season belongs to the Warriors once again, but jersey sales and entertainment value will be dominated by LeBron James after his departure from the Eastern Conference.