2017 NBA offseason moves: Northwest Division
Adrian Dy on Sep 30, 2017 07:12 AM
Ricky Rubio poses for pictures at the NBA's Utah Jazz Media Day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/George Frey)
Ahead of the start of the 2017-18 NBA regular season, we’re taking a look back at the major moves each team made, be it re-signing their own guys, free agent acquisitions, or trades.
With the Eastern Conference in the books, we shift our focus West-ward, starting with the Northwest Division
2016-17 season: 51-31, #5 in the West, lost to the Warriors in the West semifinals
Biggest move - trading for Ricky Rubio
The Jazz were proactive with regards to their point guard position. After George Hill rebuffed their extension talks, the team opted not to wade into free agency, and risk coming away with a lower-tier option. Instead, they traded their 2018 first round pick for Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Given how Rubio is only 26, has two more years on his contract, and is making just $14.1 this season, and you have a good deal for Utah.
Yes, we all know that Rubio can’t shoot the long-ball, but he’s underrated defensively, and will get the ball to shooters like the re-signed Joe Ingles, and big man Rudy Gobert. Plus, when the Gobert sits, there could be a fun up-and-down unit with athletes like Rodney Hood and rookie Donovan Mitchell on the receiving end of some insane RR dishes.
Underrated move - signing Ekpe Udoh
It’s one thing to have the “Stifle Tower” guarding the paint, but when he sits, it’s like a big neon “HIT ME” sign pops up, signaling it’s okay for opposing teams to start attacking the basket. Last season, Gobert’s backup was Jeff Withey, who was serviceable, but not great. This time around, they brought back Ekpe Udoh from Turkey, where he averaged 12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks with Fenerbahce. His numbers back in the Association might not approach those heights, but he’s a big upgrade at the spot, and will keep Utah’s defense air-tight.
Other additions: Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Nate Wolters
Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 season: 47-35, #6 in the West, lost to the Rockets in the West first round
Biggest move - Sam Hinkie doing his magic and acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony
We have to stop and just go over what Thunder GM Sam Hinkie did this offseason, because he made a pair of genius trades that all future basketball executives need to study. First, shortly before free agency, Hinkie shipped Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Indiana Pacers, and got Paul George.
In many cases, you could stop right there, pat yourself on the back, and tell Russell Westbrook, “LOOK WHAT I DID.” But no, Hinkie was not satisfied. Just before training camp, he parted ways with Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a future second-round pick, and finally got Carmelo Anthony out of New York.
Let’s review: Hinkie turned two good-to-just-slightly-below-great players in Oladipo and Kanter with big contracts, two young guys on rookie deals, plus one solitary second-rounder, into a brand-new “Big Three” in Oklahoma City.
And while it’s true that there’s always the possibility that both could leave after this season, #1 you have to love the franchise’s headstrong approach, when they could have just ran last season’s team back, and #2 if they do leave, that opens up a ton of cap space that, while they might not be able to sign someone outright, Hinkie could use that to pick up some bad deals with draft pick sweeteners, or add good players on above-market deals.
Underrated move - re-signing Russell Westbrook
And to top it all off, the team just today announced that they were able to come to terms on a contract extension with Russell Westbrook. Is there any doubt the Executive of the Year award is going OKC's way?
Other additions: Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, Dakari Johnson
Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 season: 41-41, #8 in the West, lost to the Warriors in the West first round
Look guys, the Blazers didn’t really do much in the way of additions. In fact, their biggest move was a subtraction, shipping out Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn in a cash-saving move. They added veteran gunner Anthony Morrow, and end-of-the-bench journeyman Archie Goodwin, but they struck out on adding a big-impact player like Carmelo Anthony.
Hopefully, a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, with a full training camp under his belt, makes a world of difference, otherwise they could very well slip out of the Playoffs chase.
2016-17 season: 40-42, #9 in the West
Biggest move - signing Paul Millsap
It’s been quite some time since Denver signed a big-name free agent. You might have to go all the way back to 2003 and Kenyon Martin for that (and it was a sign-and-trade too!). But lo and behold, the Nuggets struck a deal for Millsap, a very team-friendly one at that, and so he’ll be the piece the franchise hopes can catapult them back into the postseason.
Sure, Millsap averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists last season for the Hawks, but his biggest asset might be the one that is not-so easily quantified - his defense. The Nuggets have had this reputation as a high-octane offense, in fact, after the All-Star break, they tied the LA Clippers for the #1 offensive rating. The problem though was on the other end, defense, where they were #23 post-ASB, #29 for the full season. Can Millsap turn that around all by himself? Probably not, but if he can act like an on-court defensive coordinator, and if his energy on that end becomes infectious, then what's stopping the Nuggets from sneaking into the eighth seed?
Underrated move - trading for Trey Lyles
Consider this more of a looking-ahead. The 6’10” Lyles has had flashes of brilliance with the Jazz, but he now joins a crowded Nuggets frontcourt with the aforementioned Millsap, plus holdovers Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. While he might start the season riding the pine, Faried and Arthur are constantly in trade rumors. And so if a team finally bites, Lyles should slide effortlessly into a role off the bench, getting open looks from Nikola Jokic passes.
Other additions: Josh Childress
2016-17 season: 31-51, #13 in the West
Biggest move - trading for Jimmy Butler
It’s rare for a discussed trade from a year ago to resurface and get executed, but that’s essentially what happened here. Back in the 2016 Draft, there were rumors flying around that Kris Dunn would be the centerpiece in a trade for Jimmy Butler, who would be reunited with Coach Tom Thibodeau. It didn’t happen then, but fast-forward to 2017, and Minnesota and Chicago finally shook hands, and now Butler is a Timberwolf.
It’s not quite the best fit. There are spacing issues in the hypothetical first five with Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins, but Thibs has always preached defense-first, and now he has a guy he knows will be able to follow his schemes to a T, and serve as a role-model for the young pups. That Butler was pretty darn good last season in clutch scenarios (4.3 points, tied for #4 in the NBA), an area where the inexperience of Minnesota really showed in 2016-17, is an awesome sweetener.
Underrated move - signing Jamal Crawford
Crawford’s getting up there in age (37-years-old), but the guy still knows how to put the ball into the basket repeatedly. Again, that will likely be important given the inexperience of this team. With the clock ticking down, they can always just toss the ball to J-Craw, who should provide good odds on hitting a shot. If they don’t lean too heavily on him, and with Thibodeau’s D covering up for his deficiencies in that regard, it won’t be too farfetched to imagine him in the running for yet another Sixth Man of the Year prize.
Other additions: Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague
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