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Five vs. five: Dissecting the 2017 offseason

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Answering questions about another interesting summer in the NBA.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In which five Fear the Sword staffers dig into the 2017 offseason.

Fill in the blank: The _ had the best offseason the Eastern Conference.

Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): I’d like to say the 76ers, but it’s Boston. They nabbed the summer’s top prize and he’s someone who can help now and down the road. They’re the one team, in my opinion, that can really talk themselves into believing they can take down LeBron in the East.

Dylan Haines (@DHaines1): I loved what the Nets and Sixers did this offseason, but it’s tough to go against what the Celtics did with the acquisition of Gordon Hayward. While I didn’t like that they traded Avery Bradley to facilitate the move to open the necessary cap space to sign Hayward, bringing him and third overall pick Jayson Tatum into the fold makes Boston much more dangerous in both the present and the future.

Alex Raulli (@EVR1022): The Celtics probably had the best offseason, but I think the Charlotte Hornets had the most interesting. They began their offseason by trading for Dwight Howard. Last year Howard set career highs in both FG% and rebounds per 100 possessions. He’s a one-man wrecking crew on the offensive boards. Clifford rarely has more than one player crash the offensive boards on a possession. Last year their top guy in ORB% was Cody Zeller at 8.6 percent, while Howard nearly doubled that with a 15 percent mark. I think he’ll play a big part in getting Charlotte back to the playoffs. Also, Malik Monk was a steal with the No. 11 pick.

Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada): It’s definitely not the Cavs. I think the 1-2 punch of the Cavs having a meltdown and landing Gordon Hayward makes this an easy win for the Boston Celtics. If they decided to give up some of their assets for Paul George they may have even been able to capitalize on the Cavs dysfunction. But they still had the best summer out of any Eastern Conference team.

Scott Recker (@scottmrecker): While it’s hard not to be impressed with what the Celtics have built — and will continue to build — I’m going with the Philadelphia 76ers, because of two things: 1) Barring injuries, they’ve locked in a young core, whose timeline is not only cohesive, but far enough down the line where they can avoid the current juggarants, and 2) They made low-risk, high-reward moves that were both aggressive and wise. Not only is Markelle Fultz a better fit in Philly than Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson, he also has a much higher ceiling. And throwing a truckload of money at J.J. Reddick for a one year does three things that I like: 1) It adds some needed shooting, spacing the floor for the young players; 2) I’m a big fan of overpaying veterans on short term contracts when you’re rebuilding because it hides your own cap space from you, keeping you from making bad decisions in a wild market. It’s kind of like taking money out of your pocket before you go to the bar, and hiding it in the dresser, saving it for when you have a little more clarity; 3) Cliche time: He’ll be good for their locker room and player development.

Fill in the blank: The _ had the best offseason the Western Conference.

CM: The Rockets. Chris Paul and James Harden could be a dicey fit, but you can’t pass up an opportunity to nab stars. And all of the role players they added — P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Tarik Black, etc. — can fill in around Paul and Harden. This team should deep, versatile and fascinating. And they could still get Carmelo Anthony before the season starts.

DH: There are a lot of teams that made incremental improvements in the West this offseason, and some made relatively big moves (Rockets, Timberwolves, Thunder), but the reigning champion Golden State Warriors re-signed all of their core players that were free agents this summer, including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Andre Iguodala, plus they signed Omri Casspi and Nick Young to one-year deals and brought in Jordan Bell via the draft. There’s no close second here.

AR: The Houston Rockets. Landing Chris Paul was a HUGE move that gives this team real championship potential. They now have two of the top eight players in the NBA on their team. Additionally, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker were excellent additions, defensive specialists that showed improved three-point shooting last year. No team in the league matches up better with the Golden State Warriors, and they may improve further if a Carmelo Anthony trade can be worked out.

JR: I wanted to go hipster and pick the Nuggets. They got the perfect veteran on an incredible deal to help their core learn how to win. But the answer is the Warriors. They managed to retain all of their important pieces, something the Cavs are learning isn’t always easy.

SR: The Oklahoma City Thunder. They waved a magic wand and turned a bad contract and a questionable young player into an all-star. And without giving up a pick. One player is going to make their offense, defense and chemistry a lot better. You know, as long as he gets along with Westbrook and everything.

Fill in the blank: The _ had the worst offseason the Eastern Conference.

CM: The Cavs are an obvious, and fair, pick. But they didn’t sign Tim Hardaway Jr. to a $71 million contract — the Knicks did that. For that reason, even though they’ve fired Phil Jackson, and because they haven’t been able to find a good return on Carmelo Anthony, they get a F from me. The Cavs do too, for what it’s worth.

DH: It’d be really easy for me to say the Cavs, but as of right now, LeBron James is still a Cleveland Cavalier and they’re still the favorite to make a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. The easy answer here is the Chicago Bulls. You knew things couldn’t be going well in Chicago when they traded Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder for Cameron Payne (who was maybe their fifth string point guard in the playoffs), and it somehow got worse from there. Dwyane Wade picked up his player option for $20 million next season, the team traded Jimmy Butler for Zach Lavine (coming off a torn ACL), Kris Dunn (looking like a bust), and swapped picks to move up from 16 to seven in the draft to take Lauri Markkanen, a sweet shooting big who can’t rebound or defend. At least they didn’t re-sign Rajon Rondo.

AR: The New York Knicks. In what’s become an annual tradition, they signed the worst contract of the summer (this time Tim Hardaway Jr. for four years, $71 million with both a trade kicker and a player option on the final year). They have no starting PG, with the only nominal point guard on the roster being Frank Ntilikina. Additionally, a major rift has developed between the front office and their highest-paid player, Carmelo Anthony. As usual, it’s a mess in New York.

JR: The Hawks are going from ten straight playoff appearances to possibly the worst team in the NBA. So I’ll go with them. They made the right decision not matching Tim Hardaway Jr.’s offer from the Knicks. But losing him, Millsap, and Sefolosha leaves them with very few positive players.

SR: It’s the Cavs. Front office turmoil. A star asking for a trade. Drama and uncertainty on both fronts. To be fair, as of now, on paper, they’re probably slightly better than last year. But, “as of now, on paper, probably slightly better” most likely doesn’t beat the Golden State Warriors. The stupid chaos didn’t allow the Cavs to have a chance at becoming substantially better. Dan Gilbert should probably just start a shitty blues band with James Dolan and spend offseasons touring parts of the world without cell phone service or internet.

Fill in the blank: The _ had the worst offseason the Western Conference Conference.

CM: The Pelicans. Objectively, they didn’t add the worst possible players or sign anyone to an obnoxious contract. But, heading into a season where the DeMarcus Cousins-Anthony Davis partnership has to work, they didn’t do anything to maximize that duo. Yes, their budget was tight. But is Rajon Rondo really a good fit? Did they add new who helps? This could go wrong fast.

DH: I really don’t see any definitive loser in the Western Conference. The Jazz losing Gordon Hayward isn’t exactly good, but they still look like a playoff team to me. Teams like the Lakers, Kings, Timberwolves, Nuggets, and Pelicans that didn’t make the playoffs last season made moves that get them just a little bit closer. The Western Conference is probably the biggest winner of the 2017 NBA offseason.

AR: Surprisingly, the San Antonio Spurs. They lost a pair of productive 28-year-olds in Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons. Those two signed in Atlanta and Orlando respectively, each for about $6 million per year. Meanwhile, the Spurs re-signed 37-year-old Pau Gasol for three years and $16 million per year (the final year is only partially guaranteed, but still). They also signed Rudy Gay to a two-year contract for roughly $8.5 million per year, but with the second year being a player option that contract looks a bit suspect. Players are rarely effective in their first season after an Achilles tear, and he may not be around for year two. Betting on the old, expensive and hurt rather than the young, cheap and healthy seems like a bad idea to me. At least they re-signed Patty Mills to a reasonable contract.

JR: It’s hard to name a loser in the Western Conference as almost every team got better. There’s no team that got rocked like the Bulls, Pacers, or Hawks. But I’ll go with the Portland Trail Blazers as they didn’t make any moves that drastically change their ceiling and were forced to salary dump Allen Crabbe.

SR: Probably the Jazz. They lost their star, and will now probably be stuck in a dreaded limbo zone, where they have to decide whether they slowly build, risking being stuck in the middle for years to come, or to detonate the thing a bit, have a few rough years, and gamble on acquiring some future hope. Not an enviable position. [Side Note: I live in Louisville, but I’m not from here, so I don’t have that insane bias, not dissimilar to Ohio State Football fans. Donovan Mitchell is good. Either path they choose, my guess is he will have an impact.]

Name your favorite transaction of the summer, regardless of team, price or any other factor.

CM: Shouts to Dion Waiters getting paid. But I really do love J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson with the 76ers as the veteran leaders on that team. It’s going to be fascinating to watch that group move ahead for the first time.

DH: Lots of names I could’ve gone with here, but the one I really liked personally was the Denver Nuggets signing Paul Millsap. While the Nuggets aren’t all that close to becoming contenders just yet, they are a really fun team to watch on the offensive end, led by burgeoning talents such as Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray. Enter Paul Millsap, a player known for his defensive ability and his well-rounded game. He’s a perfect fit next to Jokic and should make the Nuggets a consistent playoff contender with room for growth and upside depending on the development of their young studs.

AR: Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s a great fit, bringing a veteran mentality and superstar ability to that promising young team. More importantly, he doesn’t have to waste the remainder of his prime on a directionless Chicago team. I’m very excited to see what the Wolves can do this year - I think they have a real shot at homecourt advantage in round one of the playoffs.

JR: The Wolves trading for Kyrie Irving. That hasn’t happened yet? Well I guess I’ll go with the Denver Nuggets adding Paul Millsap. It’s a really good short-term deal that’s also team friendly. Millsap will help their struggling defense and also adds to a fun system where every player is capable of initiating the offense. Too much losing causes bad habits, so this move may help the Nuggets get over the hump after just missing the playoffs last season.

SR: Paul George. Can we have a preseason seven game series for the Thunder-Rockets?