The last day of the NBA regular season is upon us. As always, the 82-game journey of the 2018-19 season was a wild ride with plenty of excitement and captivating storylines.
Compared to those previous, player movement was ramped up this season, as we saw a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys.
With almost a full NBA season’s worth of hindsight, the impact of the 2018 free agent class is no longer a mystery.
LeBron James, who headlined the group of available players last summer, had an underwhelming first season with the Los Angeles Lakers after heading out west. DeMarcus Cousins shocked the world by signing with Golden State, and his presence has helped them look even more unstoppable at times.
However, there were many player signings of a quieter profile that had a significant impact on their respective team- though not all in a good way.
Looking back at the last NBA offseason, here are a few transactions that ended up being a bigger deal, for better or worse, than many expected.
Good signing: Nemanja Bjelica
Bjelica’s path to the Sacramento Kings this past offseason was an interesting one. After initially agreeing to, but never signing, a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, he backed out in favor of a return to play ball in Europe. Instead, the Serbian forward ultimately decided to join the Kings on a multi-year deal.
As it turns out, Bjelica was the perfect kind of player to help this team’s scheme.
Sacramento made big adjustments in how they played this season- namely ratcheting up the pace of their play, which went from 30th last season to currently fourth in the league. Nemanja gave them an opportunity to spread out the floor a little bit and not have to rely on playing two traditional bigs at the same time.
With a deep rotation of guys that operate best near the basket, that proved to be a big help.
His numbers this season weren’t eye-popping, but with a career-high 9.6 points per game, while shooting 39.8 percent from deep, the Kings certainly made the most of the 69 starts Bjelica gave them this season.
Bad signing: Trevor Ariza
One of the most discussed names leading into the season was Trevor Ariza. Not for the team he would join, but for the team he would leave behind.
Many felt the Houston Rockets ability to defend would be left in shambles as Ariza chased a bag to the tune of $15 million for just one year of service for the Phoenix Suns. A rough start for the Rockets ensued, but that didn’t mean that the veteran wing would bring everything to his new team that Houston was missing.
Bringing the seasoned defender on board proved no help in both mentoring the young players on the roaster nor pushing the Suns a little further along in their development as a team.
The result would be a short 26-game stint for Ariza in Phoenix, as he was traded to the Wizards in one of the first trades the league would see this season.
Not only was his time with the team turbulent, the trade alone was a nightmare, as it took two tries until a deal could be done because apparently not all NBA GM’s know how to double check what players are included in the trade.
In his short time with the team, Ariza would have a net rating of -11 and have the worst defensive rating of his career.
Good signing: Julius Randle
After the Los Angles Lakers let Randle walk in the offseason as a restricted free agent, the New Orleans Pelicans took a chance on the young, athletic big man who had shown some serious promise just last season.
With expectations of a solid role player to provide bench scoring, the fifth-year power forward proved to be quite the steal.
Randle set the tone early, starting the season with a stat line of 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 3-pointers against the Rockets on opening night and following that up with a 13-point, 14-rebound performance just two days later.
In what would become more than just a hot start, Randle would rack up 31 double-doubles throughout the season for New Orleans and become a reliable source of production for a team that desperately needed it.
Averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds on the season, Julius would continue to put up his best season to date and enrage Lakers fans everywhere as they were left wondering what if.
Bad signing: Jabari Parker
All but cast aside by the Milwaukee Bucks as Giannis Antetokounmpo seized the spotlight that was previous felt to be destined for the former number two overall pick, Jabari Parker was looking for somewhere else to shine headed into the 2018 free agency.
It seemed like a match made in heaven when he penned a deal with his hometown Chicago Bulls. The deal would be a great low risk move for both parties, as Parker would get paid and Chicago would have him for just a year with a team option for 2019-20.
As it turns out, though, even 82 was too long to deal with Jabari.
The Bulls’ season was rocked by a rapidly unfolding culture upheaval, as the team fired head coach Fred Hoiberg early in the season and replaced him with tough love guru, Jim Boylen.
Fast forward through player’s only meetings, potential mutinies, post-game push-up sessions, and the formation of a leadership committee, and this was a different Bulls team that Parker signed up for just months ago. It wasn’t long before Jabari and his nonexistent defense were out of Boylen’s rotation and eventually dealt to the Wizards for Otto Porter Jr.
His time with the Bulls would see him shooting career low percentages and playing the second-fewest minutes of his career to date.
The brief pairing of Parker and Chicago may not have worked out, but the Bulls got a young- albeit expensive- building block for the future and Jabari got $20 million, so everyone wins, I guess?
Good signing: Brook Lopez
What Brook Lopez has done for the Milwaukee Bucks this season cannot be understated.
After finally making his way off the Brooklyn Nets roster in the 2017 offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers decided that one year of Lopez was enough and would not attempt to bring him back for the 2018-19 season (are you sensing the trend here?).
Lopez would then sign with the Bucks for the bi-annual exception of just $3.3 million dollars and become arguably the best value contract in the league this season.
The 7-foot Lopez became integral to Milwaukee taking a huge step forward. After years of claims that his 3-point shot was coming, Mike Budenholzer gave him the green light and then some, and it worked like a charm. Brook averaged a career-high 6.3 attempts, 2.3 makes, and 36.5 percentage from deep this season. He would shoot more efficiently from beyond the arc than players like Eric Gordon, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant.
Most importantly, though, it helped the Bucks win. Having a center that would willingly spread the floor like that and shoot with no regrets gave Giannis more than enough room to shine as he would effortlessly stroll his way to the bucket again and again throughout the NBA season.
For all the great play coming from Milwaukee players like the Greek Freak, Bledsoe, and Middleton, they wouldn’t be where they are to some extent without everything that Brook Lopez has brought to the table for them this season.
Bad signing: M.U.D. Lineup/Meme Team
When the fresh Lakers front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka sought to reinvent the wheel by pairing LeBron James with playmakers and ball dominant players rather than the proven support system of as many shooters as you can put on the floor, it was at least worth listening to.
As it turns out, there may have been no worse idea. The signing of Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley to be the auxiliary pieces to the next version of the Showtime Lakers didn’t just fail – it failed badly.
Granted, there were other issues that troubled the Lakers this season, such as the biggest injury of LeBron James career and some spirit-crushing trade rumors.
And, yes, Los Angeles was as high as a four seed prior to James going down on Christmas day.
That said, there was never a point where any of those players aside from JaVale McGee looked like a smart signing. Rondo had moments of decent basketball and McGee got off to a very hot start to the season, but the issues that were expected to come along with that lineup eventually came around.
The team would have trouble scoring late in games and the spacing was just horrible.
It’s almost like this was a bad idea from the start and everyone knew it, except the people calling the shots for the team.