Grading the NBA Off-Season: Eastern Conference Edition

Photo Credit: John Wilcox/Celtics Hub

Overall, it was a positive off-season for the Eastern Conference. Over the past few seasons, the east has garnered a reputation of being the weaker conference where a 40-42 team could realistically fight for a 7th or 8th seed. That should not be the case anymore. This off-season, many east teams made some strong acquisitions through free agency, found bargain trade deals, and made superb draft choices. While it has been an easy ride to the NBA Finals for LeBron James since 2011, that should change this season. Teams such as the Celtics and the Raptors will look to give a good fight to the Cavaliers this season. Was it a good offseason for your favorite east team or was it a horrendous disaster?

How did your team perform in the off-season?


Atlantic Division


Boston Celtics

Maximum potential cap space: $53 million

Draft picks: Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizic, Deyonta Davis, Rade Zagorac, Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil, Abdel Nader

Re-signed players: Tyler Zeller

Players added through free agency/trades: Al Horford and Gerald Green

Players lost through free agency/trades: Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Steve Zavala: If the Celtics were able to add Kevin Durant, it would have been one of the best off-seasons in NBA history. Well, Durant decided to take his talents to Oakland instead. Regardless, this was another successful off-season by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Celtics were able to add the athletic freak Jaylen Brown. Many Celtics fans were disappointed that Ainge was not able to pull off another heist and trade the #3 pick for an All-Star type player but give Jaylen a chance. Brown does need to fix up his 2-motion shot to improve his shooting but the potential is there for him to succeed in the NBA. With similar attributes to that of rookie Paul Pierce and the similar motivated mentality to that of Russell Westbrook, Brown could be one his way to becoming an All-Star caliber player.

With $53 million in cap space, the Celtics signed Al Horford to a 4-year max contract. Horford’s ability to space the floor on offense and high IQ basketball play will be a near-perfect match for Brad Stevens. Arguably the best Celtics big since Kevin Garnett, Horford will look to give the Celtics another efficient scorer and create a dynamic pick-and-roll duo with Isaiah Thomas.

The losses of Evan Turner (mid-range scoring) and Jared Sullinger (rebounding) will hurt the team but the incredible depth of Stevens’ team will help make up for the two losses. With Sullinger gone, it could open the door of opportunity for Jordan Mickey.

Down the line when many Celtics fans look back at this off-season, their best move will be what they didn’t do. Instead of throwing away their future for an All-Star player like Jimmy Butler or Blake Griffin, Ainge decided to keep his future picks and just sign one player to a max contract. Ainge added an all-star player, a top 5 draft prospect, and improved the team’s depth … and the Celtics just came off of a 48 win season. Ainge made of all the right moves in the off-season and now the focus for this team is to make a deep playoff run in the East.

Grade: A


Brooklyn Nets

Maximum potential cap space: $38 million

Draft picks: Marcus Paige

Re-signed players: None

Players added through free agency/trades: Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, Anthony Bennett, Randy Foye, Joe Harris

Players lost through free agency/trades: Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Marcus Paige, Thaddeus Young, Thomas Robinson

Kramer Smith: The Brooklyn Nets continue to solidify themselves as the worst franchise in the association. Yes, they are a lot worse than Philadelphia. The Brooklyn Nets continue to have no top level draft picks every season, still coming from the trade they made for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce a couple years back. This year was just another bad showing for the Nets. First of all, they heavily pursued two mediocre players in Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson. Crabbe, Portland, and Johnson, Miami, were both restricted free agents meaning both Miami and Portland could match any offer given to their players. This would mean Brooklyn would have to greatly overpay both of them, and that’s what they did. But, because Brooklyn, both players offer sheets were matched, leaving the Nets with nothing.

The Nets decided to invest in yet another mediocre roster for the season. They went out and got Jeremy Lin, really the only reason they were given the plus instead of just a solid “D”. Lin is a solid scorer and will get the bulk of the points for the Nets this year. Randy Foye is a solid player on the wing. The rest of the list are really there to take up roster spots. The Nets will gamble on Anthony Bennett, the former first overall pick, but it’s doubtful that will pan out. It will be another painfully mediocre year in Brooklyn.

Grade: D+


New York Knicks

Maximum potential cap space: $30 million

Draft picks: None

Re-signed players: Sasha Vujacic and Lance Thomas

Players added through free agency/trades: Derrick Rose (Bulls), Joakim Noah (Bulls), Courtney Lee (Hornets), Brandon Jennings (Magic), Justin Holiday (Bulls), Mindaugas Kuzminskaus (N/A), Guillermo Hernangomez (N/A), Maurice Ndour (N/A), Justin Holiday (Bulls) and Marshall Plumlee (N/A)

Players lost through free agency/trades: Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Langston Galloway

Piero Fiorino: The New York Knicks came into free agency swinging, and although they struck out on KD and others, they certainly landed some players that will help bring them back to the playoffs. Big signings for the starting lineup included former MVP Derrick Rose, former defensive player of the year Joakim Noah, and “three and D” master Courtney Lee. Those three guys paired up with star Carmelo Anthony and rising star Kristaps Porzingis should give the Knicks the opportunity to redeem themselves from years past.

The starting lineup wasn’t all that they improved, however. Big changes were made to the Knicks bench in hopes that they will be able to ease the workload of the starters. Bench signings include names such as Brandon Jennings, Lance Thomas, Guillermo Hernangomez, and a host of others that will hopefully be able to keep teams at bay while the starters get their much needed rest. The Knicks, under new coach Jeff Hornacek, will look to make a big impact coming into next season. And with these recent signings, there is no reason to think they won’t be able to do just that.

Grade: A-


Philadelphia 76ers

Maximum potential cap space: $61 million

Draft picks: Ben Simmons (1st Round, 1st overall), Timothe Luwawu (1st Round, 24th overall), Furkan Korkmaz (1st Round, 26th overall).

Re-signed players: None.

Players added through free agency/trades: Jerryd Bayless from MIL, Gerald Henderson from CHA, Sergio Rodriguez, James Webb III, Dario Saric.

Players lost through free agency/trades: Isaiah Canaan to CHI, Ish Smith to ATL, Elton Brand (retirement).

Larry Henry: Overall, I believe that the Sixers made the correct move in selecting Ben Simmons with the #1 selection. Simmons is another big man, but brings a whole new dimension to the offense with his ability to dribble up-court and assist like a PG. If he works on his midrange shot, then he will definitely be a force in the NBA. Luwawu was an interesting selection but brings valuable athleticism to the team. Dario Saric will be joining the team from Turkey this season and is definitely a talent ready for the big time. The 2014 NBA Draft acquisition has featured for the Croatian National Team, and is compared to some former big Croatian NBA players. The Sixers may not have signed any marquee free-agents but they did bring in some valuable experience in Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez.

Bayless should provide some competition with T.J. McConnell at PG, and Henderson will be a good rotational guy off the bench. Rodriguez hasn’t played in the NBA since 2010.. The Sixers lost the likes of Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith to free agency, but they could have afforded to let them walk. The future is bright in Philadelphia and if Joel Embiid can stay healthy once he begins playing full-time, then the roster could look really scary. I definitely can see the Sixers bringing in a big name free agent in the next few years pending how they look with Simmons, Noel, Okafor, and Embiid. However, with Simmons coming in I could definitely see Okafor, Noel, or Embiid being traded.

Grade: B+.


Toronto Raptors

Maximum potential cap space: $32 million

Draft picks: C Jakob Poltl, 1st round 9th overall. PF Pascal Siakam, 1st round, 27th overall.

Re-signed players: Demar Derozan (5yr/139 mil)

Players added through free agency/trades: Jared Sullinger from BOS, Fred VanVleet from FA, Jarrod Uthoff from FA.

Players lost through free agency/trades: Bismack Biyombo, James Johnson, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett.

Larry Henry: Overall, since Dwane Casey has taken over as Head Coach of the Raptors in 2011, they have statistically gotten better every year. Last season, they won the Atlantic Division and were two wins away from being in the NBA Finals. They have won the Atlantic Division three years running and can definitely add to that streak this season. A big reason for their success was the play of Kyle Lowry (PG) and DeMar Derozan (SG). Derozan averaged 23.5 PPG and was able to sign a lengthy deal in Toronto during this off-season. Lowry averaged 21.2 PPG and 6.4 APG, while also chipping in 2.1 SPG. These two can definitely be one of the top guard tandems in the league if they continue to play as well as they did last season. G/F Terrence Ross, C Jonas Valanciunas, G Cory Joseph and F DeMarre Carroll are also some key players to watch next season.

Jared Sullinger was a good addition from the Boston Celtics in the off-season and will definitely help down low as a forward. The Ohio State talent was off the charts in college but has yet to really translate all those abilities in the NBA yet. Jakob Poltl was a great choice in the NBA Draft and was an consensus Second team All-American from the University of Utah last season. He averaged 17.1 PPG and 9.1 RPG last season in the PAC-12 Conference. He will definitely help out off the bench from the beginning and could push for playing time early. On paper, I believe this is one of the scariest teams in the NBA but I do not think they are the best team in the Eastern Conference just yet. Still, GM Masai Ujiri made some smart decisions with this team for the long run and that could keep them at the top of the East for the next 3-5 years if all goes as planned.

Grade: B+


Central Division


Chicago Bulls

Maximum potential cap space: $23 million

Draft picks: Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser

Re-signed players: None

Players added through free agency/trades: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Albert Miralles (draft rights), Ater Majok (draft rights), Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Spencer Dinwiddle, Jose Calderon (traded to LA)

Players lost through free agency/trades: Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, E’Twaun Moore, Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy Jr, Cameron Bairstow, Justin Holiday, Vladimir Veremeenko (draft rights), Jose Calderon (never suited up)

Kramer Smith: The Bulls approach to free agency this season was an odd one. Starting off the summer, they traded their former MVP Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks for a group of role players. The Rose move seemed both overdue and surprising. Since his stunning MVP year way back in 2011, his progression has been greatly hindered by a barrage of leg injuries. Removing Rose from the team ended an era, and it seemed the team would start a painful rebuild process. They team ended up losing both of their interior guys in Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Gasol, 36, is still one of the association’s top big men, and losing Noah puts a big hole in Chicago defensively. The team also parted ways with multiple, essential, role players.

During the craziness of the 2014 offseason, where we saw LeBron head home and saw the media drag out Carmelo Anthony’s free agency tour, the sleeper was where Dwyane Wade would go. The Bulls reportedly had a lot of interest in bringing in a hometown kid in Wade, but he ultimately ended up back in Miami. Now in 2016, Wade is going home to the Windy City. Wade is still a very dominant player, but this is a strange gamble to take when it seemed the team needed to get younger, not older. They also brought in a veteran in Rajon Rondo, another interesting signing. Bringing in Wade also adds to the confusion of who’s starting: Jimmy Butler or Dwyane Wade. Either Wade is being pushed to forward, or he’s going to the bench, because I can’t see arguably the franchise player Jimmy Butler being made a backup. Or maybe Chicago has a trade up their sleeve, only time will tell. This offseason ended with Chicago having a depleted big man group, with Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez set to get the bulk of the minutes. Rajon Rondo is a downgrade from Derrick Rose. Rondo is older than Rose, has little to no scoring ability outside of the five feet, and has been a locker room problem the past couple years. It will be interesting to see how second year head coach Fred Hoiberg can juggle the playing time for both Butler and Wade in 2016.

Overall, it seems the Bulls didn’t get better, rather they lost multiple assets to other teams. Wade is obviously still a very good player, but it’s a questionable signing at this point in his career. The Bulls path for the future is cloudy at this point in time.

Grade: C+


Cleveland Cavaliers

Maximum potential cap space: $10 million

Draft picks: Kay Felder

Re-signed players: Richard Jefferson

Players added through free agency/trades: Chris Andersen and Mike Dunleavy

Players lost through free agency/trades: Matthew Dellavedova, Sasha Kaun, and Timofey Mozgov

Justin Szabo: Free agency started out slow for the Cavaliers and has yet to pick up. I didn’t expect much to happen early in the free agency period due to the championship hangover. August is creeping up on us and both Lebron James and JR Smith are free agents. Now I fully expect Lebron James to return, the delay is a bit alarming nonetheless. JR finds himself in a tough position. He is a vital piece on this team but his price might be too high, rumored at about $15 million per year. Ownership seems a bit hesitant. At this point, they will be hard pressed to find a better option or one even in the same universe as Smith. If he had intentions of leaving he would have done so already. Personally, I think the Cavaliers should give him a blank check. Without this man they stand no chance at a repeat against the ultra mega super team the Warriors have created.

This grade would have been an F for me if they didn’t pull off a smart sign and trade with Milwaukee for Dellavedova. That trade netted Cleveland a trade exception that allowed them to gain another great three point threat in the second unit, Mike Dunleavy. The loss of Delly hurts. His energy off the bench was spectacular but he’s just not worth $9 mil a year for a small boost. Adding Dunleavy to the mix allows Shumpert to run the second unit with Dunleavy, Richard Jefferson, Birdman and TBD. That’s an old bench but experience pays.

Grade: D+


Detroit Pistons

Maximum potential cap space: $21 million

Draft picks: Henry Ellenson (Marquette) and Michael Gbinije (Syracuse)

Re-signed players: Andre Drummond (5 year-130M)

Players added through free agency/trades: Jon Leuer (Suns), Ish Smith (76ers), Boban Marjanovic (Spurs), Ray McCallum (Grizzlies), Cameron Bairstow (Bulls)

Players lost through free agency/trades: Anthony Tolliver (Kings), Jodie Meeks, Spencer Dinwiddie

Piero Fiorino: Pistons made the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, and to keep that ball rolling, they had to make moves in the off season. The Pistons drafted Henry Ellenson in the first round of this years draft. Ellenson, a power-forward from Marquette, averaged a near double-double in his only year at the school putting up 17 points and 7 rebounds per game. Pistons also drafted Michael Gbinije, an athletic guard with the ability to shoot and defend; Gbinije was a key player in Syracuse’s improbable run to the final four last season.

Pistons made moves outside of the draft as well. Although they lost veteran Anthony Tolliver, they added a lot of young talent in Ish Smith, who averaged about 14 points per game last year with the 6ers, fan favorite big man Boban Marjanovic from the Spurs, and Jon Leuer from the Suns.

Grade: B


Indiana Pacers

Maximum potential cap space: $30 million

Draft picks: Caris Lavert (20, rights traded to Brooklyn Nets), Georges Niang (50)

Players added through free agency/trades: Aaron Brooks, Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Jeff Teague, Jeremy Evans

Players lost through free agency/trades: George Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Solomon Hill, Ty Lawson

Jordan Lundy: What an offseason it has been for the Indiana Pacers. GM Kevin Pritchard looks like a genius right now with the moves that he has made starting with the trade for Jeff Teague and versatile forward Thaddeus Young to signing Al Jefferson away from Charlotte. To summarize the Pacers offseason you need to only use one word, bargains. While not subtracting much from an already decent playoff team in 2015-2016, the Pacers added more weapons to surround and compliment All-Star forward Paul George. This team looks to be quite possibly the 2nd best team in the East and in my opinion, a very decent threat to the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Pritchard and Larry Bird have made this team into a versatile team all over. People need not sleep on this team in the season to come. The Pacers seem to be locked in on winning.

Grade: A


Milwaukee Bucks

Maximum potential cap space: $25 million

Draft picks: Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon

Re-signed players: Miles Plumlee

Players added through free agency/trades: Matthew Dellavedova, Miles Plumlee and  Mirza Teletovic

Players lost through free agency/trades: Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo (banned from NBA), Steve Novak, and Greivis Vasquez

Drew Clark: The jury is still somewhat out on how well this off-season truly was for the Bucks as two of their starters, Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe, have been rumored to be on the trade block, so if they could pull a nice haul for either of those players, Milwaukee may have an outside chance at making the playoffs next season. I did not love their draft, but after watching their two picks in the summer league, I believe that both Maker and Brogdon will fit nicely into this team. Maker was a monster on the boards and Brogdon is just a tough player that will adjust to the league’s style of play in no time. One of the Bucks main concerns last year was shooting and adding near 40% 3 point shooter in Teletovic will help the team’s depth. Losing Bayless was a killer after the season he had last year so Teletovic will look to replace his production. The addition of Delly is what this team needs after going from one of the best defenses in 2014-15 to one of the worst in 2015-16. He will provide hustle off the bench and is willing to do any dirty work needed (cough cough Al Horford).

Grade: C+


Southwest Division


Atlanta Hawks

Maximum potential cap space: $35 million

Draft picks: DeAndre’ Bembry, Isaia Cordonnier, Kay Felder

Re-signed players: Mike Muscala, Kent Bazemore, Kris Humphries

Players added through free agency/trades: Dwight Howard, Malcolm Delaney, Jarrett Jack, Matt Costello, Taurean Prince

Players lost through free agency/trades: Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Lamar Patterson, Kay Felder

Steve Zavala: After nine consecutive playoff defeats, the Hawks felt that it was time for a change. While many Hawks fans disagree with their moves, the Hawks traded away Jeff Teague and the foundation of the Hawks success in Al Horford signed with the Boston Celtics. With Teague gone, Dennis Schroder will now take over the starting point guard duties and new addition Dwight Howard will replace Al Horford. The new changes could become a disaster waiting to happen or… it can turn into a huge success and it all depends on Dwight Howard. If the Hawks get last season’s Dwight Howard, then this team might be struggling to fight for the #8 seed in the east. In contrast, if this team could get 2010 Orlando Magic Dwight Howard where he was one of the elite centers, efficient scorers, and top defenders in the league, then watch out for this Hawks team. Bringing back Kent Bazemore was crucial for this team as it gave a sure indication to the fans that Atlanta will not be going into a rebuild mode.

Grade: C


Charlotte Hornets

Maximum potential cap space: $39 million

Draft picks: Malachi Richardson

Re-signed players: Nic Batum and Marvin Williams

Players added through free agency/trades: Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli, Brian Roberts, Christian Wood, Mike Tobey,

Players lost through free agency/trades: Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee, Troy Daniels, Tyler Hansbrough, Jorge Gutierrez, Al Jefferson

Steve Zavala: All eyes were on Nic Batum and his free agency decision. If he left the Hornets for the Mavericks or any other team, it would be chaotic for the Hornets as they would attempt to find a replacement. Instead, Batum stayed and the team also added scorers off the bench with Ramon Session, Marco Belinelli, and Brian Roberts. With Al Jefferson leaving Charlotte, the team added center Roy Hibbert. The Hibbert addition is for one-year, $5 million so it is a low risk, high reward deal and who knows, they could possibly get a glimpse of the consistent defender that he was with the Pacers. Losing Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee were two tough losses but with their new additions, this should make another run at the playoffs and potentially win their division.

Grade: B


Miami Heat

Maximum potential cap space: $36 million

Draft picks: None

Re-signed players: Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Udonis Haslem,

Players added through free agency/trades: Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Derrick Williams, Rodney McGruder, Okaro White, Stefan Jankovic (Undrafted rookie), Dion Waiters

Players lost through free agency/trades: Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Gerald Green, Amare Stoudemire, Dorell Wright

Drew Clark: This off-season was not a good one for Pat Riley. Losing the franchise cornerstone in Dwyane Wade along with veterans Luol Deng and Joe Johnson really hurts this team’s depth at the wing position. Now being forced to rely on youngsters Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson will be a rough transition from the veteran talent that they have relied on in years past. Goran Dragic (if he does not get traded) will have to carry a load similar to what he did in Phoenix as he is the only guard with starting experience. Bringing in Wayne Ellington and Luke Babbitt adds an element of shooting, but these two cannot carry a team night in and night out. The frontcourt outlook seems bleak too despite bringing back DPOY candidate Hassan Whiteside. Chris Bosh’s health remains a huge concern for everyone involved in the organization as it basically decides whether this team can make the playoffs. Additions of Derrick Williams and James Johnson add some depth that they lacked last season, but having to count on one of them as a starter would be tough for head coach Erik Spoelstra. Keep an eye on Rodney McGruder, who finally finds himself on an NBA team after being undrafted in 2013. He was a certified bucket getter in college so I’m intrigued to see what he could do. Overall though, it was a rough summer for Riley and the Heat.  

Grade: D+


Orlando Magic

Maximum potential cap space: $50 million

Draft picks: Domantas Sabonis, Stephen Zimmerman, Jake Layman

Re-signed players: Evan Fournier

Players added through free agency/trades: Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J Augustin, Jeff Green, C.J Wilcox

Players lost through free agency/trades: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, Brandon Jennings

Steve Zavala: With $50 million in cap space, the Orlando Magic came into the off-season looking to shake things up and well, they certainly did. The off-season began on a positive note as the team hired former Indiana Pacers head coach, Frank Vogel. Vogel is known for his high emphasis on team defense and that is much needed for a Magic team that allowed a 19th best 103 points per game last season. Next came a questionable move as the Magic traded their top scorer in Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka. With Oladipo gone, the Magic will now need to rely on scoring from their new additions with D.J Augustin and Jeff Green to go along with Mario Hezonja and center Nikola Vucevic. With the additions of Biyombo and Ibaka, look for the Magic to potentially trade either Aaron Gordon or Nikola Vucevic to free up some minutes for the other bigs. The Magic had one job this offseason, get this team into serious contention for a playoff run. The Magic did give up Oladipo but their new additions and Mario Hezonja getting more minutes should offset the scoring loss.

Grade: B-


Washington Wizards

Maximum potential cap space: $40 million

Draft picks: No 2016 NBA Draft Picks.

Re-signed players: Marcus Thornton and Bradley Beal

Players added through free agency/trades: Trey Burke, Daniel Ochefu, Jason Smith, Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Tomas Satoransky.

Players lost through free agency/trades: Drew Gooden. Ramon Sessions, Nene, J.J. Hickson, Jared Dudley.

Larry Henry: Last season was definitely a disappointment for the Washington Wizards and their fanbase. After finishing 41-41, Washington fired Head Coach Randy Wittman and hired former Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks to replace him. The Wizards were 10th in the East, but struggled to make the playoffs even with a good crop of young talent on the roster. The three main pieces for Washington going forward are Captain John Wall (PG), Bradley Beal (SG), and Otto Porter Jr (SF). Wall has been explosive since he came into the league from Kentucky, averaging 19.9 PPG and 10.2 APG last season. Beal averaged 17.4 PPG last season, while Porter averaged 11.6 PPG. Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat were nice surprises down low averaging 12.4 PPG and 13.5 PPG respectively last season. Marcus Thornton was resigned and should provide some depth off the bench, and Jason Smith was acquired via free agency as another rotational big man.

I feel that Scott Brooks will turn this team around however with having no draft selections in the 2016 NBA Draft, it will take some stepping up from some other players on the bench. J.J. Hickson, Andrew Nicholson, and Kelly Oubre are also players that can contribute when called upon. The Wizards can afford to get another scorer in free agency and they do have the money for it, so if they choose. John Wall is a top PG in this league and is easily a double-double machine every game, but if things don’t turn around in D.C. then he could be thinking of looking somewhere else if he wants to win a title.

Grade: C+