This offseason has been one of the most eventful transaction periods in NBA history with several high-profile players changing teams. Here’s a ranking of how these players will impact their new teams.
Note: Kevin Durant is not included in this ranking based on the likelihood that he misses the 2019-20 NBA season due to an Achilles injury.
11. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie Irving is a hallmark figure in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer, shooter, and player. At the same time, his arrival does little to catapult the Nets up the Eastern Conference standings in 2020. To make way for the signings of Irving, Durant (who may miss all of next season), and DeAndre Jordan, the Nets sign-and-traded D’Angelo Russell, who was an integral piece to their success last season, to the Golden State Warriors.
Irving is a slight upgrade over Russell, but little more. The Nets are enduring a drastic point guard change with a young roster. After a turbulent final season with a relatively young Boston Celtics team, there’s reason to be skeptical of Irving thriving with the Nets next season.
10. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are going to be the most productive backcourt in NBA history and captivating to watch. But put the nostalgia of the two players reuniting to the side. How in the world are these two going to coexist? A central topic surrounding the Rockets since the playoffs was a supposed power struggle between Harden and Chris Paul, who are each ball-dominant players.
How does swapping Paul for Westbrook change anything? Westbrook gives the Rockets a refined look, but he’s not going to be the player, or transaction, that gets them to the NBA Finals.
9. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
The Celtics are in a much better world with Kemba Walker than Kyrie Irving, as drama and talk about Irving’s game and future were a never-ending distraction. With that said, going from Irving to Walker is a major transition.
The Celtics are giving the keys to their offense to an elite point guard who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and it’s difficult to envision how he will fit alongside the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward. It’s an upgrade from all aspects for the Celtics, but everything has to go right for them to win the Eastern Conference.
8. Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have a potent starting five, and Horford’s arrival is a vital reason for that. He and Joel Embiid are arguably the most talented big man duo in the NBA, and if Embiid, who has been plagued by injuries, misses time, Horford slides to the five — where he has thrived.
Concurrently, while Horford can stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting, he and Embiid tend to operate inside, meaning they could potentially get in each other’s way. Plus, if the 76ers rise in the Eastern Conference, it will be more so because of their top competitors losing prominent figures, rather than them improving.
7. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the NBA’s new power couple. Granted they have very similar skill sets, Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley is a pass-first player, meaning the two forwards will each get their fair share of touches, as well as the ball in the right spots. However, George’s past serves as a model for how high hopes can come crashing down.
He has put forth great seasons, last season in particular where he averaged 28.0 points per game, yet his team has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs with him serving as both a number one and two scorer in each of the last three seasons. Nothing is a given.
6. D’Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors acquiring D’Angelo Russell is the most overlooked move of the offseason. He’s coming off the best season of his career, is a legitimate go-to scorer, and his presence will keep the Warriors in the mix out West, even with Kevin Durant elsewhere and Klay Thompson sidelined due to a torn ACL.
Russell and Stephen Curry have the skill sets and tools to be an elite pairing. Now, it’s not a given that this backcourt excels, as Curry and Russell are each players accustomed to running an offense. It will be compelling to see whether they can stay out of each other’s way.
5. Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers acquiring Whiteside was a transaction that fell under the radar, which is odd considering how he’s one of the elite big men in the sport. He’s a shot-blocking machine, hits the boards at a high level, and finishes relentlessly inside. With their star-studded backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Trail Blazers need players who complement their skill sets and bring a distinguished skill set to the table.
Whiteside gives them a defensive backbone and an easy bucket in the paint. His presence fills the void created by Jusuf Nurkic, who suffered a gruesome leg injury in March. The only question is how much of an upgrade, from all aspects of the game, is Whiteside?
4. Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
The Jazz needed a point guard who scores at a high clip, and Mike Conley didn’t fit the Grizzlies rebuilding efforts: The fit was clear. Conley’s stellar, slick, and physical two-way play bodes well for the Jazz, as they’re a defensive-savvy team who grinds out games. Conley’s scoring and playmaking ability adds a new dimension to head coach Quin Snyder’s offense and takes some pressure off Donovan Mitchell.
The million dollar question is whether Conley puts them over the top, or if he’s simply the perfect point guard for their halfcourt-friendly offense? He’s an upgrade over Ricky Rubio, but will the Jazz look any different from a schematic standpoint?
3. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
The Heat were in NBA purgatory and in desperate need of a facelift; they got it by sign-and-trading for Jimmy Butler. The wing is one of the best two-way players in the NBA. He’s an elite defender, scores in isolation, and accustomed to taking the big shot in crunch time. Butler gives the Heat a franchise player and a potential magnet for other stars.
The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks different every year, and there’s no reason why the Heat can’t reap the benefits. However, they don’t have a roster that’s a shoo-in to do as such, as players are returning from injuries and head coach Erik Spoelstra is going to be running his offense through Butler, which is an adjustment.
2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are going to have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two of the 10 best players in the NBA, on the floor in crunch time. Yeah, that’s going to be difficult to stop. While the NBA world obsesses over the Lakers not signing a third star in free agency, they’re overlooking how acquiring Davis gives them the best star duo in the sport, as well as how the organization signed players who complement James and Davis’ skill sets.
Some will say the West is too stacked, but the Lakers having James and Davis is an enormous reason for that being the case. Yes, there’s the possibility that James and Davis don’t thrive together, but for the first time in nearly a decade, the Lakers are a title contender.
1. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers reeled in the big fish of the offseason and made themselves a force to be reckoned with. Sure, they had to surrender a haul to acquire Paul George to entice Kawhi Leonard to sign with them, but it was worth it. Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA, coming off the best season of his career, an elite scorer and defender, and can have a profound impact on a game even when he doesn’t chip in 20 points.
It’s likely the biggest transaction in franchise history and one that alters the NBA landscape. The Clippers have a proven head coach in Doc Rivers, a deep bench, gritty players, and two stars. They have a case for being the team to beat in the West.