NBA Northwest Division Offseason Grades – Did The Portland Trail Blazers Fail This Summer?

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Denver Nuggets

Grade: A-

Key Addition: Jerami Grant

Key Loss: Trey Lyles?

The Nuggets mostly stood pat this offseason in hopes of building on a breakthrough 54-win season which makes sense given it’s young and improving core. They picked up Paul Millsap’s $30 million team option ensuring the veteran’s services for another year being a great compliment to star Center Nikola Jokic. They made one of the best under the radar moves of the offseason trading a first-round pick for Jerami Grant who lines up as a perfect fit to succeed Paul Millsap as their Power Forward of the future as a player who should fit very well next to Jokic. The timing works out perfectly for the Nuggets because Millsap’s money comes off the books after this season which is the same time that Jamal Murray’s max extension will kick in. Murray’s extension marks the most questionable part of the Nuggets offseason. It’s unclear if Murray will be a max quality player. I think it’s more likely than not that he’ll at least get close to that level, but the Nuggets may have jumped the gun on that offer. They ended up letting Trey Lyles walk which probably doesn’t matter because they upgraded over him with Grant as their backup 4 and it sounds like they expect Michael Porter Jr. to have some kind of a role this season given that he stays healthy. They also took a nice flyer on Bol Bol with the 43rdpick in the draft. Bol certainly has a lot of questions with health and attitude but has a lot of talent for someone who dropped that low.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Grade: C

Key Addition: Jarrett Culver

Key Losses: Dario Saric, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson

There probably wasn’t a ton Gersson Rosas could do when he inherited the job as President of Basketball Operations of the Timberwolves earlier this summer, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He probably would’ve been successful too if not for the sins of the past administration (Hi, Andrew Wiggins’ contract), But because of the uncertainty of whether they could create the necessary cap space they ended up missing out on D’angelo Russell with the Warriors swooping in at the last minute to grab him. How successful their offseason was is ultimately going to depend on how good Jarrett Culver is going to be whom they traded Dario Saric and the 11thpick to move up to 6thto select him. I’m not the biggest Jarrett Culver fan. He shot 30% from 3 in college and doesn’t look like he has skills to be a primary ballhandler, but he does have tools such as his defense that should make him a useful NBA player even if he’s not a star. The other moves they made were solid but minor moves such as getting Jake Layman in a sign and trade and signing Noah Vonleh.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Grade: A

Key Additions: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 8 First Round Picks

Key Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook

Normally losing 2 star players in one offseason is a crippling blow to a franchise, normally. But normally you don’t get the kind of haul that Sam Presti managed to this summer as he shipped off Paul George and Russell Westbrook to greener pastures. In an unprecedented move the Thunder acquired 8 future 1stround picks in the span of a week along with Chris Paul, Danilo Galinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. An argument could’ve been made going into the offseason that this team should’ve been blown up even if Paul George hadn’t started the dominos of their tear down by requesting a trade to team up with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles. The Thunder had lost in the 1stround of the playoffs for 3 straight years and were becoming in danger of falling onto the NBA’s treadmill of mediocrity as a team who would never make any noise come playoff time. Now they have a gargantuan jumpstart on a rebuild while their team as presently constituted can be a frisky presence in the Western Conference. In the East a core of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams could probably challenge for a playoff spot, but the West is such a blood bath that they’ll probably fall short of that mark. Those players look like they’ll be on the roster to start the season, but given the unlikelihood of making the playoffs and the pivot towards having their eye on the future they could flip those players if they’re able to get any type of value in return, the easiest of which is probably Galinari given that he played well last year and is on an expiring contract. At the very least they will swap someone like Patrick Patterson for someone with a smaller salary so they can get under the luxury tax. 

Portland Trail Blazers

Grade: D+

Key Additions: Hassan Whiteside

Key Losses: Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless

The Trail Blazers got worse this off season in a season where the Western Conference is wider open than it’s been in a long time. They made one of the more inexplicable moves of the summer parting with Mo Harkless, in addition to Meyers Leonard, in order to get Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside can put up some numbers but he’s not a winning player, got buried on Erik Spoelstra’s bench at times, and Miami couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Even if hypothetically Mo Harkless and Hassan Whiteside are equally as good as players, Mo Harkless is a much more valuable player based on the position he plays compared to Whiteside. This becomes evidently clearer when factoring in that you just lost Al-Farouq Aminu who is a similar type of player to Harkless. The Blazers chose not to really replace them either and traded away the most obvious replacement candidate in Jake Layman. Who is guarding Kawhi Leonard on this team? Who is guarding Paul George on this team?  It’s not good if your answer to those questions is Rodney Hood and Zach Collins.The Blazers have no one on their roster anymore who can guard one of those guys let alone both and they’re on the same team now. Hassan Whiteside makes $27 million this year, Robin Lopez and Ed Davis, both former Blazers, got just over $4 million from the Bucks and Jazz respectively. There’s a plethora of other, cheaper options Portland could’ve gone with as a stop gap at Center until Jusuf Nurkic gets back, one of which is already on the roster in Zach Collins. I guess this pushes Collins to be their starter at Power Forward which should be fine in the regular season and if anyone can get some good play out of Whiteside it’s Terry Stotts whose defensive system is perfect for him. There could also be a trade for a star such as a Blake Griffin, or a borderline star like Kevin Love down the road, but as currently constructed their odds of a winning a championship got worse even though the window in the Western Conference is more open. On a more positive note though Neil Olshey looks to be on a roll in regard to the draft having drafted Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, and Nassir Little in consecutive years. Collins is already a contributing rotation player and Simons has a lot of buzz around him and had a successful summer league after that 37-point outburst on the last night of the regular season. Little was one of the top recruits in the nation a year ago and a projected lottery pick who slid to the Blazers at 25 after a somewhat disappointing year at North Carolina. He’s raw and is probably a year or two away from being a rotation piece on a winning team but has the potential be an Aminu or Harkless facsimile, potentially an even better version. Even if Portland may not have fully capitalized on their present opportunities, they look setup to remain competitive for the foreseeable future.

Utah Jazz

Grade: A-

Key Additions: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic

Key Losses: Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio

The Utah Jazz got something they sorely needed this offseason: More players who can create efficient offense alongside Donovan Mitchell. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors are good players, but Utah needed offense, they already have a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year to anchor their defense in Rudy Gobert. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic bring an element of shot creation Utah just didn’t have and Donovan Mitchell needed some of the offensive burden lifted off his shoulder because it forced him into taking a lot of bad and difficult shots for a 2nd year player. They also fit perfectly as off ball players when Mitchell is initiating the offense because they are both smart players who can shoot. Bogdanovic and Conley, while not as good defensively as Favors and Rubio, are no slouches there themselves either. 4 years, $73 million might be a slight overpay for the 30-year-old, but the Jazz needed to use their cap space this offseason or else it would have evaporated and Bogdanovic was the best fit who was realistically attainable after Nikola Mirotic decided to go back to Europe. It still might not be enough to contend for a title, but it gives them a puncher’s chance.

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Connor West

Connor West is a many times TV watcher, player of instrument, and person who dabbles in waking up when his alarm goes off. He was the instigator of several kerfuffles in his youth. Currently he spends his winters watching NBA League Pass, envious of Raymond Felton’s metabolism.

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