Section: Sports

NBA offseason recap: Lakers favored to repeat as champions

NBA offseason recap: Lakers favored to repeat as champions

After only 10 weeks since the NBA Finals concluded, the league is set to begin the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22. Due to the delay of the past season as a result of the pandemic, this offseason is the shortest in the history of the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Despite the limited offseason, there has been no shortage of free agency excitement. Some teams have reached the end of their window as title contenders, while others have improved their rosters in hopes of making a bid for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

After winning the title last season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been far from complacent during this offseason. By many estimations, General Manager (GM) Rob Pelinka has upgraded their roster, adding versatility to all positions. The defending champions first added point guard Dennis Schroder Nov. 18 in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, sending guard Danny Green in return. Schroder will be a dynamic replacement for Rajon Rondo, who departed for the Atlanta Hawks. He had an outstanding 2019-20 season coming off the bench, averaging 18.9 points, 4.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game and finishing second in Sixth Man of the Year voting to big man Montrezl Harrell.

The Lakers added Harrell Nov. 22 from their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. Harrell had a dominant season, averaging 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds on 58% shooting in just 27 minutes a game. These two players will add to the formidable core of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who both signed contract extensions during the offseason. With these additions, the Lakers remain the favorites to win back-to-back championships this season. 

The Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks have been extremely productive this offseason as they look to catapult themselves back into playoff contention. On Nov. 16, Phoenix acquired All-Star guard Chris Paul in a trade with the Thunder. The 15-year NBA veteran is an excellent fit alongside shooting guard Devin Booker; his presence will allow Booker to play more off the ball and conserve energy throughout the game. Paul, one of the greatest floor generals of all time, will also help promising center DeAndre Ayton develop, providing him with easy scoring opportunities.

In addition to signing Rondo to lead their bench unit, the Hawks looked to surround franchise guard Trae Young with other talent. They signed Danilo Gallinari Bogdan Bogdanovic on Nov. 24., two wings who can stretch the floor on offense, taking some of the scoring pressure off Young. Gallinari averaged 18.7 points for the Thunder last season, shooting an outstanding 40% from beyond the arc. An athletic six feet, 10 inches, Gallinari can also guard multiple positions, an extremely valuable asset in today’s NBA. Bogdanovic, signed as a restricted free agent from the Sacramento Kings, averaged 15.1 points and 37% from 3-point range last season in a bench role. He is expected to transition into a starter with his new team. With a massive influx of talent, expectations for Atlanta this season are high.  

The Houston Rockets had a much more difficult offseason, as they grappled with major personnel transitions. There are growing tensions between the Rockets organization and their franchise centerpiece, James Harden, who has privately asked for a trade. Following the departure of longtime GM Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni, Houston made a series of offseason changes in attempts to please Harden, including moving on from superstar guard Russell Westbrook. His reunion with former Oklahoma City teammate Harden lasted only one season. Sources said that Westbrook was disgruntled, articulating his wishes to “play my game.” Houston dealt the former MVP to the Washington Wizards in a blockbuster trade Dec. 2. 

In return for Westbrook, the Rockets received John Wall and a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick. Wall has not played since December 2018 due to injuries to his knee and Achilles tendon, but says he is fully healthy going into the upcoming season. Washington drafted Wall first overall in the 2010 draft, and the Wizards organization and its fanbase will remember him fondly. 

“The decision to part ways with John [Wall], one of the greatest players in franchise history, was extremely difficult,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard. “What he has meant to our organization and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten.”

In addition to the trade for Wall, the Rockets also acquired a promising forward in Christian Wood as well as former All-Star center Demarcus Cousins, reuniting the latter with his former University of Kentucky teammate. Houston remains intent on starting the season with Harden on the roster and hopes these acquisitions will help re-establish a good relationship with their franchise cornerstone. 

Harden intentionally skipped the first two days of training camp, actively displaying his frustration with the franchise, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Although Brooklyn is rumored to be Harden’s preferred trade destination, the Philadelphia 76ers are pegged as favorites to land him. This is due, in large part, to Harden’s relationship with Morey, who now serves as the 76ers president of basketball operations. Morey joins head coach Doc Rivers as they attempt to revitalize a 76ers team that has underperformed.  

Morey, in dire need of players who can space the floor for stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, has transformed the 76ers roster this offseason. Just weeks after joining Philadelphia, Morey agreed to trade veteran big man Al Horford and draft compensation to the Thunder in exchange for Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson. Both players will serve as solid perimeter defenders and wing shooters. This move also crucially unloaded Al Horford’s contract, which is considered one of the worst in the league. 

Morey wasn’t finished there. Prior to the NBA draft, the 76ers sent Josh Richardson and the 36th pick in the draft to the Dallas Mavericks for Seth Curry. True to the Curry name, Seth is a knock-down shooter and holds the second highest 3-point shooting percentage in NBA history (44.3%). Curry lacks the defensive skill set of Richardson; however, Morey made up for this in drafting Tyrese Maxey — an explosive athletic guard — out of Kentucky. 

Unsurprisingly, no one was busier this offseason than GM Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the team continues to offload player salary and stockpile draft picks in an attempt to pursue a full rebuild. They have accumulated an astonishing 19 first-round draft picks through 2027, which will allow them to accrue top talent for years to come. After completing other various trades, the Thunder sent Kelly Oubre to the Golden State Warriors despite originally acquiring him in the Chris Paul deal.

Oubre joins a Warriors squad that has seen their championship aspirations take a significant hit. After missing all of last season due to a torn ACL, All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a mid-November workout. “To get that call was a gut punch for sure. A lot of tears,” All-Star point guard and fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry said. “You don’t really know what to say because a guy like that is having to go through two pretty serious rehabs now.” 

The Warriors will still enter the season with a strong roster; Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins will return, and the addition of Oubre will help minimize the loss of Thompson. Golden State also drafted center James Wiseman with the second pick in the 2020 draft, who will serve as an excellent rim-runner and defensive anchor.  

With the regular season less than two weeks away, the NBA has released the first half of its 2020-21 schedule. Fan attendance will be determined on a team-by-team basis, depending on state and city regulations.

 

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