Anytime you have winners you’re bound to have some people that lose. This year’s summer is no exception: there were plenty of teams and players who “lost” this past offseason. After counting down this summer’s “winners,” it’s only right that we give an equal share of the limelight to those whose situation was less fortunate than their NBA counterparts. Let’s take a look at some of the “Biggest Losers” of the offseason (sorry…there’s no association to the weight loss show on this one, unless we’re counting LeBron’s newer, skinnier body as a loss).
10. Philly Fans
We all know the deal here: the 76ers front office (or just overlord Sam Hinkie who rules his kingdom with an iron fist, either way) is in the midst of rebuilding the team through a slow, slow process, apparently following the mantra, “tank until you make it,” or something along those lines. They have only three players over the age of 26: Jason Richardson (who didn’t play last season and hasn’t been relevant since 2010-2011), Jarvis Varnado, and poor Thaddeus Young (actual talent, though he’s on the move this weekend as part of the Love-Wiggins trade). Sticking with tank-mode, neither one of their 2014 first-round picks (Joel Embiid and European Dario Saric) is expected to play this season. There’s no doubting that Hinkie is acquiring talented players: he’s now got the 2013 ROY Michael Carter-Williams, two prospects who were at some point a sure shot to go number one in their respective drafts (Nerlens Noel and Embiid), and a bundle of talented second-rounders at his disposal. Noel is now in the mix for this year’s ROY (because he didn’t play in his original rookie season, a la Blake Griffin), and the 76ers have built a team seemingly on young and cheap prospects. But what about the fans? Is Philly ready to suffer through another 19-63 season? This is a proud fan base, and you know it has to be hard to drum up optimism when the front office looks like they’re embracing tanking, and it can’t be fun to watch your team trot out a team built on fringe-NBA players and watch learning from the nose-bleeds. With the NBA looking to overhaul the lottery process, will the 76ers even be “rewarded” for their efforts? Only time will tell, but in the meantime Philly fans look to suffer through more of the same this season.
9. Detroit and Sacramento Rebuilding
Both teams feature talented, young big men on their rosters (Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins) to build around. But what exactly are they building? Detroit hired Stan Van Gundy to run things (win!), but is holding onto Josh Smith and might lose Greg Monroe (more on him later). They signed Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks to contracts that are clear overpays and signed D.J. Augustin when both Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum are under contract. Instead of holding onto that cap space for trades or next summer’s free agency, they used it to sign middling veterans that can’t take the team to the next level.
Sacramento let go of stud point guard Isaiah Thomas for essentially nothing (they received 2013 second-round pick Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception in the deal), allowing Phoenix to sign him to a 4-year/$28 million deal, a major steal), and signed an older, also small, point guard to take his place (signing Darren Collison to a 3-year/$16 million deal). Sacramento is now a team full of score-first players at each position with no distributors to even things out (Nik Stauskas, a rookie guard and three-point marksman out of Michigan may already be the best passer on the team).
Both these teams were building for the playoffs, and neither of them got any better this offseason. In fact, you could make a case they both are worse-off now and I’d probably agree.
8. The Los Angeles Lakers
I have a friend who’s also a Laker fan try and convince me their offseason moves were all total wins…and I almost believed him. They lost Pau Gasol, but at least they didn’t overpay to keep him. Getting Ed Davis for the veteran’s minimum might be the steal of the summer, and getting a motivated Julius Randle after a draft night slide was the best outcome for LA. Heck, even the Jeremy Lin trade was pretty good (it netted a 2015 first-rounder for the Lakers). Wait, did the Lakers actually win the summer? No.
While most of these moves keep long-term cap flexibility open (only Jordan Hill and Nick Young signed long-term), they keep the Lakers in NBA purgatory – not bad enough to finish in the bottom five, but not good enough to make noise in or even make the playoffs. To make matter worse, the Lakers 2015 first-round pick is headed off to Phoenix if it falls outside of the top 5 (as a part of the deal that landed Steve Nash in LA). By signing Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle will either see less action on the court, or we’ll have to witness some sort of Randle, Boozer, and Hill starting lineup. Actually, maybe this is all a ploy to tank? With Kobe returning to the lineup this season, it’s safe to say the Lakers will be competitive (unless you’re betting against the Mamba, that is), which is exactly what the Lakers shouldn’t be this year. On another note, who’s excited to see Kobe’s face when Lin misses a layup or after Boozer calls his own number down-low? Trying times lie ahead for the Lakers and their fan base.
7. Andrew Wiggins
I’ve long been a proud supporter of the #KeepWiggins movement, but right now I can’t lie, I’m depressed. Wiggins, who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the number one overall pick this past June, has dealt with the summer of uncertainty ever since then. First, he was a definite inclusion in any Love transaction, then the Cavs came out and said Wiggins would not be a part of any deal. The rumors persisted for the next month until Wiggins signed his rookie contract, making him ineligible to be traded for the next 30-days (he’s fair game August 23rd), which should have quieted the noise. Instead, the Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor admitted to the Pioneer Press that Love will be traded, probably around “August 23rd or 24th”. Oh, what a coincidence. Things could be worse than being selected number one in the NBA Draft, but the 19-year old has endured a summer full of rumors before he’s even played a game. Worse, he’s going to end up in Minnesota (only half kidding). Would you want to play for Flip Saunders, coach/President of Operations/and partial owner? And why is Saunders the most powerful man in basketball? Who fires Saunders? Does he sit down in front of a mirror with himself and axe himself? This certainly isn’t the way you want to start off your career. Here’s hoping Wiggins lives up to the hype in Minnesota.
6. Brooklyn as a Title Contender
Last July the Nets, led by their Billionaire Russian owner, took the NBA summer by storm when they traded five players and three first-round picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a move that made them instant championship front-runners. This was after they had already shocked fans by naming former player Jason Kidd as their head coach. The Nets were showing fans that all you need to do is spend tons of money and you’ll have titles. Or so they thought. Instead, Kidd went through SpillGate and “I’m the coach of this 13-letter word team!!”-gate to start the season and the team sputtered to a 10-21 start before an injury to big man Brook Lopez helped transform the Nets into a quirky small-ball team on their way to an eventual playoff spot. In the end the Nets lost $144 million in basketball activities for a second round exit in the playoffs. Instead of re-grouping this summer, the Nets watched as Kidd forced his way out after a botched front office takeover, Pierce turned into a one-year rental, and feel-good player Shaun Livingston went off to sunnier days in Golden State. The Nets countered these moves by adding Jarrett Jack (and the three remaining years of his contract) and second-rounders Xavier Thames, Markel Brown, and Cory Jefferson. The good news is they hired taskmaster Lionel Hollins to lead the team, and assuming Lopez and Deron Williams are relatively healthy, this is still a lower-tier playoff team (probably, I mean they do play in the East). But after shooting (or better yet, paying) for the stars last offseason, this summer is a far cry from “winning.”
5. Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe
In the winners piece I wrote that restricted free agents not named Eric or Greg were “winners” of the summer. Well, Eric and Greg are “losers.” They came into the offseason as some of the best, young talent and came up with zilch so far. Both expected (or asked for) a max contract, but because of the way restricted free agency works neither looks like they’re going to receive one. There seems a legitimate chance that both players accept a qualifying offer the 2014-2015 and re-enter free agency next summer, but that’s a very risky proposition. Taking a little less money in exchange for long-term security seems the most beneficial (especially for Bledsoe). Neither player is very happy with how things worked out, and that’s why they’re both losers this summer.
4. The Miami Heat
When it’s all said and done, Pat Riley did a pretty outstanding job re-tooling given the circumstances. Adding Luol Deng, Danny Granger, and Josh McRoberts to the team is a pretty good haul. Keeping Bosh (albeit for big, big money), Wade, and Birdman helps too. Drafting Shabazz Napier and bringing over James Ennis both look like solid moves as well. But losing the game’s premier player for nothing is an automatic entry into the loser column. After four seasons, four finals appearances, and two rings the Heat fell hard this summer. There’s no denying that. LeBron’s departure was unexpected if you believe Riley, and the team faces an uphill battle finding a new image, identity, and style of play. James accounted for 2,089 points last season – Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade accounted for 2,309 points…combined. I do not doubt that the Heat will rebound and make the playoffs this season, though; they’ll probably even play the Cavaliers in some cruel twist of fate. Still, the departure of LeBron leaves a massive hole that no one offseason can fix.
3. The Houston Rockets
To keep things short here: the Rockets went for it this offseason. They went after Carmelo Anthony to no avail. They had Bosh at their fingertips and he slipped away. The end result of the free agency free for all? The loss of Jeremy Lin (and a first-rounder in exchange for cap space), Omer Asik, and Chandler Parsons (off to party in Dallas) are all setbacks. Whether or not you personally agree with Daryl Morey’s decision, you have to understand his reasoning. The NBA is a star driven league, and three stars looks to be the standard quota. Should they have let Parsons become a RFA instead of paying him? Probably not, but maybe they thought the market would shape up like it did for Bledsoe and Monroe. Letting Lin go was a terrible move in hindsight, but the Asik deal netted a first-rounder and he wasn’t in their long-term plans since Howard arrived anyway. But there’s thing that’s becoming more noticeable with the Rockets’ strategy now: it’s not as highly thought of as once thought. They’ve now lost out on Melo and Bosh straight up, with Harden’s defense and Howard’s immaturity being possible culprits. Morey has a knack for treating players as assets, and that has a negative effect on agents and players looking for a home each offseason. No matter how badly the media blew out of proportion Harden’s comments on Parsons, the reality is, it was something everyone thought but nobody said. Morey telling reporters he doesn’t think a team with Parsons as its third-best player can win a championship and Harden saying everyone on the Rockets besides Howard is a role player (and replaceable) is 100 percent true. But do others want to hear that? Trevor Ariza is a nice consolation prize on a decent deal, but this wasn’t the offseason the Rockets expected.
2. The Indiana Pacers
The Pacers, coming off another Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Heat, would have been a prohibitive favorite to take over the East’s top spot when LeBron departed Miami. Instead, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for Indiana has, and the playoffs might be out of the picture as a result. Losing Lance Stephenson was a major blow. Stephenson is a major head-case, but you can’t deny his value to the team. Besides Paul George, he was the only player capable of creating his own look offensively and was one of their better passers, too. He had his fair share of head-scratching plays (i.e. the famous ear blow), but he was a key cog in the Pacers roster. With his departure – to another Eastern Conference playoff team no less – things will be very tough for Indiana. Sure, they signed C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, and Rodney Stuckey as a Stephenson-lite version off the bench, but they didn’t improve heading into next season, and that was before George went down (more on him later). The Pacers are now left without one legitimate scoring threat offensively (David West is now their go-to scorer), and may be better off taking a bow this season and collecting a high draft pick. This summer was big-time loss for the Pacers, who had real Finals aspirations for next season.
1. Paul George
I won’t even call George a “loser”, because he’s far from it. But the reality of the situation is that George suffered the worst blow of anyone this offseason, and it isn’t even close. The injury (which was unfortunate and as unexpected as could be) is one of the more gruesome images in my recent memory. George, who was making major strides at the USA Camp playing against the likes of Kevin Durant and Harden, was going to be a feature player come FIBA tourney time, and you could see he was in for another great season. The recovery time after breaking both his tibia and fibula is anywhere from 9-12 months according to Dr. James Gladstone, with other reports saying it could take as long as 12-18 months to be fully recovered. Regardless, the 2014-2015 season seems to be out of the picture, and George now faces a major recovery. In the meantime the NBA loses one of its best up-and-coming stars for at least a season, the Pacers face a major struggle, and the USA National Team faces challenges regarding playing its stars in games. This was a devastating injury that left the entire NBA community sending their support to one of it’s best players, and here’s to hoping George can come back better than ever.
What do you think?
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