After the shortest offseason in league history, the NBA's 2020-21 season will begin on December 22nd. Despite its brevity, there was a ton of transactional action. Coaches, front office personnel and players moved about like crazy. If you weren't completely plugged-in to the NBA the past few months (and with the amount of domestic and global events going on during that time, who could blame you?), here's a summary of the familiar faces you'll see in new places this season:
It's going to be surreal seeing coach Steve Nash on the sidelines in Brooklyn this season. It's going to be even more surreal seeing Coach Nash flanked by his assistant coaches, Mike D'Antoni (Rockets) and Amar'e Stoudemire - Nash's former head coach and pick-and-roll partner from the Seven Seconds or Less Suns team that took the NBA by storm in the mid-2000s. This season will also be the first year we see Kevin Durant suit up for the Nets as he missed all of 2019-20 recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
In the NBA's most recent blockbuster trade, the Wizards traded John Wall and a future protected first-round pick to Houston for Russell Westbrook (Rockets). Adding Westbrook to a backcourt with Bradley Beal should immediately make the Wizards a playoff contender, and a team that contenders won't want to face in the first round. It'll be interesting to see if Westbrook takes a backseat to Beal or not. If he wants to win, he'll view this pairing like when he played next to Paul George in OKC where he was the alpha dog, but PG13 was the actual go-to guy on offense.
After nine mostly successful seasons in DC, John Wall (Wizards) will be taking his talents to Houston to join James Harden (for now, at least), and his good friend DeMarcus Cousins (Lakers). While the fit between Wall and Harden doesn't make a ton of sense on paper (Wall is a high usage, playmaking point guard who can't shoot very well; Harden is an even higher usage, isolation-heavy guard who just stands around if he doesn't have the ball), there's a good chance that Houston deals Harden this season and starts a rebuild. While Wall's All-NBA days are likely behind him, there's no reason to think he can't do for Houston what Derrick Rose does for Detroit.
In the first move of this offseason, the Lakers traded Danny Green and a first-round pick for the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Dennis Schröder (Thunder). Schroder, who averaged 18.9 ppg. and 4 APG. on 47-39-84 shooting, should step in as the Lakers secondary ball-handler alongside LeBron James and primary pick-and-roll playmaker. His primary roll man will be another new face - Montrezl Harrell (Clippers) - the winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Joining them as Lakers' newcomers will also be the cerebral veteran big man, Marc Gasol (Raptors), and the tough-minded wing defender, Wes Matthews (Bucks). Through these trades and signings, the Lakers did something that reigning champions hardly ever do: they got even better in the offseason.
Faced with the colossal task of convincing Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a long-term deal, the Bucks seemingly made two huge moves to begin free agency by acquiring Jrue Holiday (Pelicans) and Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade from the Kings. Unfortunately, the Bogdanovic sign-and-trade fell through (either because free agency hadn't begun when the deal was agreed to or because Bogdanovic hadn't actually agreed to the deal - you know, minor details). After the sign-and-trade debacle, Milwaukee went out and signed a couple of solid rotation players - Bryn Forbes (Spurs), DJ Augustin (Magic), Bobby Portis (Knicks), and Torrey Craig (Nuggets). Those are all decent signings, but Giannis' future will likely turn on whether Holiday can show up big in the playoffs as he did back in 2018 when he averaged 23.7 ppg., 6.3 APG., 5.7 RPG. and locked up Damian Lillard in a shocking sweep of the higher-seeded Blazers.
In two of the bigger non-player offseason moves, Philadelphia upgraded its coaching staff and front office by hiring Doc Rivers (Clippers) as its Head Coach and Daryl Morey (Rockets) as its Team President. Rivers is known as a great communicator and ego manager having famously led the 07-08 Celtics - featuring prominent personalities like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo - to a title. He's got his work cut out for him in Philly with a roster built around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Morey, for his part, has already helped get the Sixers out of the salary cap hell Elton Brand put them in with some of his 2019 offseason signings (most notably, Al Horford).
In one of the first big moves of the offseason, the Suns made a major push for the playoffs by dealing for the Point God, Chris Paul (Thunder). Paul had a "Forgot About 'Dre" season in OKC last year and made 2nd Team All-NBA after averaging 17.6 ppg., 6.7 APG. and 5 RPG. with 49-37-91 shooting splits. Adding him, along with Jae Crowder (Heat), a consummate professional and solid three-and-D presence, to Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson should make the Suns a playoff team for the first time since 2010.
The Hawks front office and coaching staff were apparently given an ultimatum this season: Make the playoffs, or else . So, the Hawks proceeded to go all-in on this free agency period. They signed one of the best stretch-fours in the NBA, Danilo Gallinari (Thunder), along with two good third guards in Rajon Rondo (Lakers) and Kris Dunn (Bulls). We all saw what Playoff Rondo has in the tank during the bubble where he was the Lakers' third-best player. And Dunn is arguably the best guard defender in the NBA. Finally, they snagged Bogdan Bogdanovic (Kings) to a four-year deal to play alongside Trae Young as a shooter and secondary playmaker. The front office did their part, now it's up to the coaching staff and players to bring the franchise's playoff dreams to fruition.
The Clippers had a mixed-bag kind of offseason. They replaced long-time head coach Doc Rivers with his lead assistant and former championship-winning coach, Ty Lue. Lue will be better at making playoff adjustments than Rivers, but in terms of all-around coaching and communicating, this seems like a wash. The Clippers also replaced Montrezl Harrell with Serge Ibaka (Raptors) - an upgrade if we are to presume that Harrell will play as poorly as he did in the Orlando Bubble and Ibaka (31) will continue to age gracefully as a small-ball five. They also traded Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard (Pistons) - seemingly a wash as both are nice floor spacers, but Kennard should have a slightly higher upside in the playoffs with his size (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) compared to Shamet (6-foot-4, 190 pounds).
After losing Gordon Hayward this offseason, and with Kemba Walker out for at least the start of the season, the Celtics hope that their newest signees, Tristan Thompson (Cavaliers) and Jeff Teague (Hawks), can pull their weight and do some of the little things to allow Boston's stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, to continue their ascension. Thompson will help solidify the Celtics' frontline alongside Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, and bring some defensive tenacity and rebounding to the table. Teague should be able to fill-in for Walker as a stop-gap starter, and then run the second unit as one of the best backup point guards in the league.
After receiving the brutal news that their superstar Klay Thompson had ruptured his Achilles, the Warriors were able to make a couple of shrewd moves to round out their depth at wing. First, they traded for Kelly Oubre Jr. (Suns), a talented, do-it-all forward who should complement Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green nicely. Next, they brought back Kent Bazemore (Kings), who began his career with Golden State, and is a professional three-and-D wing. Finally, they signed Brad Wanamaker, a defensive-minded guard who can protect Curry on defense. None of them will replace Klay, but together, they might be enough to keep the Dubs in contention if Curry has an MVP season.
Tasked with replacing one of the best front office decision-makers of the past decade, Rafael Stone has shown some resolve in his first few months as Houston's top decision-maker. So far, he's hired an up-and-coming come in Stephen Silas (Mavericks), made a couple of moves to pen up the cap room to sign Christian Wood (Pistons) to the mid-level exception, and traded Russell Westbrook for John Wall and a future first-round draft pick. Oh, and he's also resisted the pressure to trade James Harden for a couple of quarters on the dollar. The Wood signing could be a huge bargain if he plays anything as he did over the last 13 games of the season last year when he averaged 22.8 ppg., 9.9 RPG. and had 56-40-76 shooting splits.
Danny Green (Lakers) was originally shipped to the Thunder in the Dennis Schröder deal and then rerouted to the 76ers in a separate deal. Seth Curry (Mavericks) was acquired in a deal for Josh Richardson. Both will bring some tough perimeter defense to the Sixers as well as some excellent shooting - especially, Curry, who shot 45.2 percent from three last season. If the Sixers jump back to that contender status they were at in 2019, they'll be able to look back at these two savvy moves this summer as a launching point.
It's pretty clear from the Pelicans' offseason that they plan on putting an emphasis on defense this season. First, they fired a defensive-minded coach in Stan Van Gundy (" We just form a &*$^ing wall! "). Next, they acquired a two-time All-NBA defender in Eric Bledsoe (Bucks). And, later, they acquired one of the biggest, strongest players in the NBA in Steven Adams (Thunder). It would appear that New Orleans wants to be the most physical team in the league, and with Bledsoe and Adams joining the likes of Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart, they definitely should be.
The Blazers' past five seasons have ended in playoff defeats against the Warriors (2016), Warriors (2017), Pelicans (2018), Warriors (2019), and, most recently, the Lakers (2020). What do all of those teams have in common? An elite forward with whom the Blazers had no answer for. Year after year, Portland has trotted out unremarkable wings to try to guard the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James. This year might be a little different, however, as the Blazers traded for the prototypical three-and-D wing in Robert Covington (Rockets), and then went out and signed the energetic Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat) from Miami. The two might not be enough to get the Blazers over the hump in the end, but they'll at least give Damian Lillard & Co. a fighting chance.
Four years, 120 million dollars. That's what it cost the Hornets to sign Gordon Hayward from the Celtics this summer. Hayward, whose prime has been destroyed by injuries, averaged 17.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG., 4.1 APG., and had 50-38-86 shooting splits last season in Boston. At times, he looked like the star player he was in Utah. At other times, he looked like a role player. Charlotte hopes that that inconsistency was more a product of the ascension of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown rather than the erosion of Hayward's skills and athleticism. MJ paid a helluva lot of money to find out.
Despite being led by a 21-year-old, Dallas finished with the best offensive rating in NBA history last season. Thus, it's pretty safe to assume that they'll have an elite offense for as long as Luka Doncic is around. Luka's ascension allowed the Mavericks to focus on improving their below-average defense this offseason by trading Seth Curry to the Sixers for Josh Richardson (Sixers). Richardson's ability to guard point guards and wings will help lessen Doncic's load and hopefully improve Dallas' 18-ranked defense. The Mavericks also went out and got an "enforcer" in James Johnson (T'Wolves) to protect Doncic from some of the nonsense he dealt with last postseason.
It's Creative Artists Agency's turn to try to fix the Knicks - specifically Leon Rose (the former super-agent at CAA), William Wesley (aka "World Wide Wes", one of the NBA's biggest behind-the-scenes movers and shakers) and Tom Thibodeau (one of CAA's prominent coaching clients). Rose and Wesley didn't overpay for any overrated free agents this summer, so that's a plus. Thibodeau will hopefully bring out the best in the potential defensive star, Mitchell Robinson, and it's two young scorers, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin.
After acquiring Delon Wright (Mavericks) and then wheeling and dealing on draft night to acquire three first-round picks, Pistons GM Troy Weaver made a number of puzzling and downright awful free agency decisions. First, he paid Jerami Grant (Nuggets), a good role player, like a star with a three-year, $60M contract. Then, he overpaid Grant's Nuggets' teammate, Mason Plumlee, with a three-year, $25M deal. Detroit went on to sign Jahlil Okafor (Pelicans), Josh Jackson (Grizzlies), Wayne Ellington (Knicks), Deividas Sirvydis (Lithuania), and, perhaps the funniest of all, LiAngelo Ball (Big Ball Brand). Such a bizarre offseason in Detroit.
Some other familiar faces in new places this season will include: