Every NBA offseason is tumultuous, and this one is going into extra innings. Until there is clarity on Damian Lillard’s immediate future, anything, especially trying to rank each team’s offseason, is fraught with peril.
Lillard finally requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers just after the draft. He has maintained and continues to do so, that his sole preferred destination is Miami. This makes the Blazers’ ability to do a one-to-one deal with the Heat somewhat problematic. Portland’s holding out for a king’s ransom, which the Heat, alone, don’t have. But a three- or four-team deal for the 33-year-old superstar with Lillard winding up in Miami is still the likeliest play here. We just don’t have it yet, and I desperately need to go on vacation while the getting’s good. Thus, for the first time since I started doing this many years ago, we have an incomplete ranking for Portland. It’s the only fair thing to do.
A late-summer seismic event is not unprecedented in the Association. The Boston Celtics got Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers in late August 2017. When and if the Blazers move Lillard, a few teams’ offseason grades will change.
As noted in this space every year, what follows is a ranking of each team’s offseason, not what will happen next season. It is not a prediction of finish in 2023-24 or a summary of what happened last season. We’re examining the specific time frame between when each team’s season ended and when its next training camp will begin. The Nuggets’ season ended in late June, with confetti and rings. The Pistons’ season ended in April. Thus, each team had quite different offseason goals and priorities.
I’m evaluating how much a team improved, using whatever means available to it, either through the draft, trades or free agency. For example, a new coach could be just as valuable as a first-round pick. Is a key component returning from injury? Is there a new front office/GM in place to make needed changes? And is it better now after those moves than it was at the end of last season? That’s the only question I’m addressing here. Last summer, I noted that the Oklahoma City Thunder’s expectations took a big hit after losing Chet Holmgren for the season with a Lisfranc injury. Now, Holmgren is back. That’s more important than any addition the Thunder made this summer.
But, because some of y’all just refuse to understand the assignment, caveats follow.
What to know about these rankings
As this just covers the offseason, here’s what these rankings are not:
• A predicted order of finish for next season.
These are not “power rankings” as you have come to understand them. For example, I am not saying the Charlotte Hornets are now better than the Nuggets, just because I thought Charlotte had a more impactful offseason. The Hornets aren’t as good as the Nuggets, so they have further to come to improve their roster. (This graph is for the “Bob L.s” of the world — who, invariably, leave a version of the following in the comments every year, after reading the rankings and completely ignoring the context of the exercise: “Hornets better than the Nuggets, lol. Did you watch the finals?”)
Accordingly, as I say every year:
• If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn’t mean I love your team.
• If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn’t mean I hate your team.
There’s just one question: Is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the draft more than others, for example, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. That doesn’t mean I’m right.)
• This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess. Kevin Durant and Luka Dončić would fit in anywhere, but most additions have to make sense for their new teams.
• Rebuilding teams have different priorities from teams making a championship run; teams that fixed obvious roster weaknesses get credit, while teams that ignored or didn’t address clear deficiencies probably get dinged a little.
• A rebuilding team with a lot of cap space can make a lot of moves, but do they make sense? And a contending team that continues to go deep into the luxury/repeater/second apron — which most teams try to avoid — should be commended, and is so here.
• Injuries matter. The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t as good without Zion Williamson, so getting a key guy back after he missed time last season is a boost: As predicted in this exercise last year, the Nuggets were a little better this past season after getting Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back on the floor.
• Continuity matters here as well. The more successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players but also keep them together. It may also make more sense for other teams to keep their powder dry for another day.
So, here we go.
Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Spotrac, which stays on top of this stuff as well as anyone east of Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. Draft pick details are from both Spotrac and RealGM.
INC: Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 regular-season record: 33-49; did not make playoffs
Added: G Scoot Henderson (first round, third pick overall); F Kris Murray (first round, 23rd pick overall); G/F Rayan Rupert (second round, 43rd pick overall); C Ibou Badji (two-way)
Lost: F Trendon Watford (waived); F Kevin Knox (Blazers declined team option for 2023-24); G Jeenathan Williams (waived)
Retained: F Jerami Grant (five years, $160M); F Matisse Thybulle (matched three-year, $33M offer sheet from Dallas)
Returning from injury: F Nassir Little (core abdomen surgery); F Jabari Walker (left knee strain)
The skinny: If any team warrants an emoji shrug, it’s Portland. There’s simply no way to fairly judge the offseason until Lillard’s future is resolved. He’s still in Portland, though he still wants out, preferably to Miami. General manager Joe Cronin is holding out for a huge haul. If he got a Rudy Gobert-like ransom, I’d probably give the Blazers a top-half grade. Future picks and young players are likely how you’d want to build around Henderson, but you still wouldn’t have your franchise’s all-time best player going forward. And that hasn’t happened yet. Henderson certainly looks the part of a future superstar at the one, but that’s a lot of loot to pay to keep Grant.
29. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 53-29; won NBA championship
Added: F Julian Strawther (draft rights acquired from Indiana); F Jalen Pickett (draft rights acquired from Indiana); F Hunter Tyson (draft rights acquired from Oklahoma City); C Jay Huff (two-way); F Braxton Key (two-way); G Collin Gillespie (two-way); G Andrew Funk (Exhibit 10); G Armaan Franklin (Exhibit 10); 2024 second-round pick (acquired from Oklahoma City)
Lost: F Bruce Brown (signed with Indiana); F Jeff Green (signed with Houston); F Maxwell Lewis (draft rights traded to Lakers); 2029 first-round pick (traded to Oklahoma City)
Retained: G Reggie Jackson (two years, $10.2M); C DeAndre Jordan (one year, $3.2M)
Returning from injury: F Vlatko Čančar (torn ACL)
The skinny: Tough summer for the defending champs, who lost one of their most indispensable pieces in Brown and one of their best locker room guys in Uncle Jeff. Part of the cost of winning big is you can’t pay everyone who deserves it. Bringing back Jackson will help ameliorate the minutes load on Murray. But coach Michael Malone utilized Brown as his primary backup point guard over Jackson this past season for a reason. Losing him is a big blow. Second-year wing Peyton Watson will sop up more minutes after a season in the G League. And don’t be surprised if Huff, who was the defensive player of the year last season for Washington’s G League affiliate, doesn’t work his way onto the court at times next season. But Denver’s not as good now as it was in the final seconds of Game 5.
2022-23 record:: 41-41; lost in Play-In Tournament
Added: G Dennis Schröder (two years, $25.4M); F Jalen McDaniels (two years, $9.2M); G Garrett Temple (one year, $3.2M); Gradey Dick (first round, 13th pick overall); G Markquis Nowell (two-way); G Javon Freeman-Liberty (two-way); F Kevin Obanor (Exhibit 10); hired coach Darko Rajaković
Lost: G Fred VanVleet (signed with Houston); G Dalano Banton (signed with Boston); fired coach Nick Nurse
Retained: C Jakob Poeltl (four years, $80M); F Gary Trent Jr. (picked up $18.5M player option for 2023-24); G Ron Harper Jr. (two-way); G Jeff Dowtin (two-way)
Returning from injury: F Otto Porter Jr. (left foot surgery); Dowtin Jr. (right ankle surgery)
The Skinny: You can’t lose your floor general and a key contributor to the 2019 title run and say you had a good offseason. Maybe it was inevitable that the Raptors lost VanVleet, but if so, they should have traded him at the deadline in February rather than lose him for nothing. Scottie Barnes is well worth building around as a potential next superstar for the Raptors, and maybe Toronto makes the long-rumored trade of Pascal Siakam a reality by camp for more assets and players. But the difference-making talent pool is diminishing in Toronto. Rajaković has legit coaching bona fides, but his work is cut out for him.
The pros and cons of the Raptors offering Pascal Siakam a max contract
2022-23 record: 54-28; lost in second round
Added: C/F Mo Bamba (one year, $2.3M); G Patrick Beverley (one year, $3.2M); C Filip Petrušev (two years, $3M); G Terquavion Smith (two-way); G Ricky Council IV (two-way); F/C Ąžuolas Tubelis (two-way); hired coach Nick Nurse
Lost: G Shake Milton (signed with Minnesota); fired coach Doc Rivers
Retained: C Paul Reed (76ers matched three-year, $23.56M offer sheet from Utah); F Danuel House Jr. (picked up $4.3M player option for 2023-24); F Montrezl Harrell (one year, $2.9M; out with torn ACL and meniscus)
Returning from injury: None
The skinny: Another “maybe should be INC” team here, as the Sixers are stuck until James Harden’s situation is resolved. Regretfully, it doesn’t appear “taking him off the trading block,” whatever that means, is going to end this. And Joel Embiid’s summer of breadcrumbs — telling Maverick Carter during an “Uninterrupted” interview in July that he wants a championship, “whether in Philly or anywhere else;” having his former agents Arn Tellem and Leon Rose, who now have major front-office roles these days in Detroit and New York, respectively, at his wedding — makes everyone in the 215 queasy. But we can only go for now by what Philly has done. Beverley will join P.J. Tucker when it comes to supplying brine and porcupine needles to the opposition. Nurse has legit coaching chops, but there are too many uncertain vibes emanating from both of the team’s superstars to feel like this was a productive offseason.
2022-23 record: 40-42; lost in Play-In Tournament
Added: G Jevon Carter (three years, $20M); F Torrey Craig (two years, $5.3M); F Julian Phillips (draft rights acquired from Boston); F/C Adama Sanogo (two-way); G Onuralp Bitim (two-way); $10.23M disabled player exception (Lonzo Ball injury)
Lost: F Derrick Jones Jr. (declined player option); two future second-round picks (traded to Washington)
Retained: C Nikola Vučević (three years, $60M); G Ayo Dosunmu (three years, $21M); C Andre Drummond ($3.36M player option)
Returning from injury: None
The skinny: The Bulls seem stuck, and bringing back Vooch and Dosunmu — each a fine player — won’t be enough for Chicago fans. This team isn’t good enough to seriously contend, and unless it ends the summer with a mega-deal for Zach LaVine, running it back with him and DeMar DeRozan isn’t a wow. It’s not management’s fault that Ball’s knee looks unfixable, so adding Carter on a low-risk deal was a good move. The Bulls will need a breakthrough season from Patrick Williams, who at least got through a full season after an injury-shortened 2021-22, if they’re going to make a major move in the East.
Bulls GM opens up on Lonzo, DeMar, Chicago’s ‘ceiling’ and much more
2022-23 record: 44-38; lost in first round
Added: F Kenyon Martin Jr. (acquired from Houston); C Balsa Koprivica (acquired from Detroit); F Kobe Brown (first round, 30th pick overall); F Jordan Miller (second round, 48th pick overall); F Moussa Diabaté (two-way)
Lost: G Vanja Marinković (traded to Memphis); G Eric Gordon (waived)
Retained: C Mason Plumlee (one year, $5M); G Russell Westbrook (two years, $7.86M)
Returning from injury: F Kawhi Leonard (torn meniscus, right knee); F Paul George (right knee sprain)
The skinny: Not a lot to write about here, as the Clips weren’t able to complete the original three-team deal with Boston and Washington that would have sent Malcolm Brogdon to L.A. for Marcus Morris. The Clips thought they needed on-ball help to complement Westbrook and Nicolas Batum … and they’re right. So unless and until they can find another suitor this offseason with an available guard, I can’t give them a good ranking. Martin is athletic, but were the Clippers short on athletic wings? Maybe there’s a way to resurrect the Brogdon deal or similar for a veteran point guard before the start of the season. If that happens, this becomes a more palatable offseason.
2022-23 record: 34-48; did not make playoffs
Added: F Joe Ingles (two years, $22M); G Anthony Black (first round, sixth pick overall); G Jett Howard (first round, 11th pick overall); F Admiral Schofield (two-way); 2026 first-round pick swap (acquired from Phoenix); promoted Anthony Parker to general manager
Lost: F Bol Bol (waived); G Michael Carter-Williams (Magic declined 2023-24 option); F Admiral Schofield (Magic declined 2023-24 option); G Jay Scrubb (waived); G Andre Jackson Jr. (draft rights traded to Milwaukee)
Retained: C Mo Wagner (two years, $16M); C Goga Bitadze (Magic picked up $2.07M 2023-24 option)
Returning from injury: F/C Jonathan Isaac (torn left adductor muscle surgery)
The skinny: This isn’t as much about Black’s substantial skills, but about fit and roster construction. By my last count, the Magic have 738 point guards on their roster with differing skill sets. Adding Black to that mix means someone’s minutes are getting shredded. Whose? Markelle Fultz’s? Cole Anthony’s? Jalen Suggs’? And while Black is an elite passer and more than capable defender, he has to improve his shot at the next level to stay on the floor. Orlando showed definite signs of improvement last season with NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero doing work. A backcourt trade that would streamline coach Jamahl Mosley’s rotation would make a lot of sense and sooner rather than later would be optimal.
23. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 42-40; lost in Play-In Tournament
Added: C Cody Zeller (one year, $3.19M); G Jordan Hawkins (first round, 14th pick overall)
Lost: G Nickeil Alexander-Walker (signed with Minnesota); G Garrett Temple (waived); C Willy Hernangómez (team declined 2023-24 option)
Retained: F Naji Marshall (team picked up one year, $1.93M option)
Extended: F Herb Jones (four years, $53.57M)
Returning from injury: F Zion Williamson (hamstring); F E.J. Liddell (torn right ACL)
The skinny: Maybe this is a little low for the Pels, given how much I like Hawkins, who’s been taught the game at two of the best hoops programs on earth: DeMatha Catholic High School (One DeMatha!) and UConn, where Hawkins helped lead the Huskies to their fifth national championship. But New Orleans’ future is still tied directly to Williamson, so who knows at this point? The Pelicans have everyone else in place; they need their star to tie it all together. At some point in the future, New Orleans is going to have to decide what the long-term play is with Williamson. Liddell will lengthen the rotation after missing all of what would have been his rookie season.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 42-40; lost in first round
Added: G Shake Milton (two years, $10M); F Troy Brown Jr. (two years, $8M); F Leonard Miller (draft rights acquired from San Antonio); G Jaylen Clark (second round, 53rd pick overall); C Luka Garza (two-way)
Lost: F Taurean Prince (signed with Lakers); F Nathan Knight (2023-24 option declined)
Retained: C Naz Reid (three years, $42M); G Nickeil Alexander-Walker (two years, $9M)
Extended: G Anthony Edwards (five years, $205.9M)
Returning from injury: Clark (torn right Achilles); Reid (left wrist fracture); F Jaden McDaniels (broken right hand); F Kyle Anderson (left eye surgery)
The skinny: Getting Miller on draft night from the Spurs helped. The G League Ignite grad should step in and provide immediate productivity behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Milton should keep the floor spaced if his 37.8 percent from 3-point land in Philly last season wasn’t an aberration. Otherwise, the Wolves are banking on internal improvement from their core group after a season together, particularly Gobert and Towns, who has to provide a full campaign after missing 50-plus games last season due to a calf strain. Giving Edwards the bag was a must, so other than the emerging McDaniels, who is a rising restricted free agent next summer, the Wolves shouldn’t have any major money decisions to make for a while.
A boat ride with Naz Reid and the bigger picture behind the Wolves’ new uniforms
21. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 44-38; lost in NBA Finals
Added: C Thomas Bryant (two years, $5.3M); G Josh Richardson (two years $5.9M); C Orlando Robinson (one year, $1.8M); G Jaime Jaquez Jr. (first round, 18th pick overall); G Dru Smith (two-way); G Jamaree Bouyea (two-way); 2026 second-round pick (acquired from Cleveland)
Lost: F Max Strus (traded to Cleveland); G Gabe Vincent (signed with Lakers); G Victor Oladipo (traded to Oklahoma City); F/C Udonis Haslem (retired)
Retained: F Kevin Love (two years, $7.6M); F Haywood Highsmith ($1.9M guarantee for 2023-24 season)
Returning from injury: G Tyler Herro (broken right hand); F Jamal Cain (sprained ankle)
The skinny: One thing we know about the Heat is that they will roll with whoever takes the court when training camp starts. Losing Strus and Vincent, though, will be tough to overcome, even if Herro is back and healthy. While their roles would likely change somewhat upon Herro’s return, the production they provided in the most stressful of playoff situations will be hard to replace. Jaquez, though, should slide right into coach Erik Spoelstra’s playing DMs to provide length and smarts, and Bryant has the capability of giving good minutes behind Bam Adebayo. Of course, everything changes if Miami pulls off a Lillard deal before the start of the season — and given that the Heat have the smartest front-office guy in the league in executive VP of basketball operations and GM Andy Elisburg, you should never count them out.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Sarah Stier, Vaughn Ridley, Sam Forencich / Getty Images)