In an off-season that saw many changes in regards to the rules and regulations implemented to continue the evolution of the game on it’s highest level, we saw just as many transactions that will indeed do the same. Unparalleled by any that preceded this past off-season, fans have been supplied with plenty of legitimate debate material, and even more to look forward to on the court as anticipation seems to be at an all-time high.

This upcoming NBA season will see 15 (YES… 15!) former All-Stars with a new franchise. Not only did 15 of the NBA’s top 30 players switch teams, but the power rankings of the NBA also saw a lot of changes as a direct result. Some fringe playoff teams from last season (Atlanta, Indiana, Chicago…) either let their top free agents walk or traded them in search of a new direction. Others (Houston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City…) decided to join or better their chances in this arms race of compiling top level talent to compete with the defending champion Warriors. The NBA is a copycat league. So when a 73-9 team acquires an undoubtedly top three-level talent to add to a roster that already sported three all-stars, two sixth man of the year candidates, a coach of the year winner, and a defensive player of the year, it is needless to say that the teams will make changes in response.

In this case, the response reverberated throughout the league. From players, to cash considerations, to draft picks, transactions occurred from every which way this off-season. Let’s take a look at my top three winners for this past off season.

Criteria

I ranked the winners of this past off-season according to each teams record from last season, the talent acquired, the players given up to acquire said talent, and, stylistically, how the acquired talents will mesh with their new roster.

The Eligible Teams

The Cavaliers, Rockets, Thunder, Celtics, Wolves, Nuggets, and Hornets made the most newsworthy and intriguing moves leading up to the much anticipated 2017-2018 season that tips off October 17th at 7 p.m. on TNT (Celtics @ Cavs and Rockets @ Warriors). Each team acquired a cluster of talent that will improve their chances of winning more games than last season, and better equipping them with an opportunity to dethrone the golden standard that is the Golden State Warriors.

Just Missed the Cut

Boston Celtics

Key Additions: Kyrie Irving (via trade), Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum (draft pick)

The Celtics were one of the 3 teams that acquired two all-stars which bodes well for the future. However, it was a case of addition by subtraction for Boston. To attain underrated wing Gordon Hayward, the team had to clear cap space. This presented them with a tough decision as they had do away with a the players that made up their identity of a scrappy, defensive minded team. The team let Kelly Olynk and Amir Johnson go as free agents. Even more, they had to trade away two of their three best defenders in Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart. They would choose to hang on to the ladder, making the first two available via trade with no intent to retain much in return. The Celtics finished 53-29 last season. However, the injury to Hayward will be a significant blow to them as their young wings will be thrown right into the fire from now until at least April. The Celtics will be in search of an identity with all the changes they made this summer, look for inconsistent play for a majority of the season as they search for a leader to emerge and the new roster gets acclimated.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Additions: Jimmy Butler (via trade draft night), Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson

A team that was extremely young last season in Tom Thibodeau’s first season on the sidelines, the T-Wolves saw their fair share of “moral victories” last season. They showed great signs of growth even though they did not make the playoffs as many predicted they would. Along with those moral victories came many growing pains as they found themselves extremely competitive with the NBA’s elite teams, but unable to finish the job in most scenarios. In response to that, head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau made major changes. Infusing his roster with veteran experience was clearly a point of emphasis, and he did just that. The aforementioned additions bring a wealth of mentorship will surely expedite the growth of Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, while thrusting the T-Wolves franchise from an up and coming team to flipping the switch as a win now team. No question they will be better than last season, the question is will this team embrace the defense first philosophy coach Thibodeau is sure to implement? If they all do buy in, they can match up with any team and can be as scary as anyone in transition with the athleticism and speed they possess. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them.

Denver Nuggets

Key Additions: Paul Millsap, Wilson Chandler (finally healthy with this new roster)

No, the Denver Nuggets did not make many additions to their roster over the summer. However, after just missing the playoffs last season by one game as the No. 9 seed with a 40-42 record, they are my sleeper team that I expect to make plenty of noise that will reverberate throughout the league. Having Jokic as the focal point of their offense again, Denver should find themselves in that No. 5-7 seed range. Plenty of versatile players that can play multiple positions and bring shooting to the floor while bringing average defense to the court as well makes for a strong roster. Along with that, the Nuggets are deep. I expect them to address their point guard dilemma early on (insert Eric Bledsoe?) and become this season’s version of last seasons Utah Jazz which would be a savvy and deep team with a good mix of young guys and veterans. They were one of the few teams that handed the Warriors a loss in the ’16-’17 season . Adding Millsap, an extremely underrated defender, leader, and offensive asset, to their already 4-man deep frontcourt (Jokic – Faried – Plumlee – Arthur) and having a healthy Wilson Chandler should bode well for the Nuggets. I would expect them to try and add more wing depth as that could be a problem spot.

Almost Benefitted the Most

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions: Isaiah Thomas (via trade), Jae Crowder (via trade), Dwyane Wade (off waivers), Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, 2018 1st round draft pick

The Cavs had a rather intriguing off-season. After losing to the Golden State Warriors in the trilogy of their rivalry in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were expected to make changes this summer. One reason to do so was because it was evident that even with the best efforts of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they were simply overmatched by the Golden State Warriors that added Kevin Durant. The other reason was to construct a roster that would entice LeBron to re-sign as this season is the final of his contract. The common perception was also that Kevin Love would be traded and that the Cavs would land Carmelo Anthony, somehow. Turns out, Kyrie Irving would shock the world and demand a trade. This came later in the summer (almost a straight up trade for Chris Paul would’ve been the most logical but his demand came after Paul was traded to Houston) and Kyrie was eventually traded for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the highly coveted Brooklyn Nets 2018 1st round pick. While Thomas is the best players acquired, Crowder will prove to be the most valuable player attained as the Cavs can finally pair LeBron with another elite defender. The Cavs would also go on to add LeBron’s best sidekick, Dwyane Wade, after he was bought out by the Bulls. While this is post-prime Wade and his production scoring-wise will be down, his value as a reliable playmaker, elite level leadership, and veteran experience cannot be overlooked. The Cavaliers did a great job restructuring their roster this off-season. One thing to keep an eye on is what the Cavaliers will do with that draft pick acquired from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade. All indications seem to be that they will be using this pick on a trade scenario, as it may be on the trading block already (according to CBS Sports Kyle Boone). Picks are desperately coveted as a hot commodity for almost three-fourths of the NBA at this point. That pick in combination with one of their higher salaried players could potentially net a good return should the timing be right, keep an eye out on that.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions: Paul George (via trade), Carmelo Anthony (via trade), Patrick Patterson, Ray Felton

An off-season a year after the Durant debacle that left Oklahoma City seemingly at a crossroads as to the future of the franchise, GM Sam Presti would once again make head turning transactions to thrust his Thunder back into prominence. Although their roster still has its flaws (perimeter shooting being the most obvious), the top third of it can compete with any other team’s top third in the world. The line up consisting of Westbrook-George-Roberson-Anthony-Adams can give any other starting line up multiple problems. Whether it be the size, length, athleticism, floor spacing with Carmelo at the four, constant switching (between George, Roberson, and Anthony), or the consistent rebounding each of those five brings, 48 minutes on the court with this team is going to present multiple challenges. One thing to look for with this roster is who will emerge as the leader, how well will the ball move, can their defense live up to expectations, and if their three point shooting can be average at least average this season. Two of the Thunders fatal flaws of last season were turnovers (ranking 26th in the league led by the MVP Westbrook with 5.4 topg) and 3-point shooting where they ranked dead last in 3pt shooting % as a team. They have added four players, three of which that should help get the ball out of Westbrooks (who averages 3.9 topg for his career) more which should address his turnover issue specifically, and the three point shooting flaw. If both of these areas can be addressed and at least league average, the Thunder should have no problem reaching their ceiling as a team.

And the Winner Is…

Houston Rockets

Key Additions: Chris Paul (via contract opt-in and trade), PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah A Moute,

Continuity, continuity, continuity. That is the biggest determining factor that gave the Rockets the edge over the Thunder and Cavs. If you look at the ascension of the Warriors, one of the biggest factors has been their chemistry, a direct result of continuity. Their core pieces have remained in-tack for four seasons now (Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodala, and Livingston). That luxury allows for them to almost seamlessly add an all-world talent like Kevin Durant. Another example of success being a direct result of continuity over talent would be with the San Antonio Spurs 2014 championship campaign (really, the franchise’s roster season by season for the better part of the last decade in all honesty). Switching focus back to the Houston, aside from Beverly (replaced by CP3) and Lou Williams, the Rockets are returning four of their starting five players (which made for one of the best offensive teams in league history). Along with that, they are also bringing back six of 2017 Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni’s top eight rotation. So yes, the Rockets gave up a lot for Chris Paul (Pat Beverly, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected 1st round pick, and cash considerations) but the continuity that the team will move forward with will prove fruitful. Anytime you can add a nine time all-nba defender, nine time all-star, consistent top-10 MVP finalist for a decade, almost unparalleled leader, ultra-efficient, and future Hall of Fame point guard to your roster, you almost never say no. Aside from Paul though, the additions of Mbah a Moute and Tucker balanced out an already elite roster. Acquiring these three instantly adds a new dynamic to this offensive juggernaut. Last season, the Rockets finished with the 26th ranked defense, which was addressed almost head on by Morey and company. All in all, the Rockets addressed their flaws the best in my opinion, without tearing apart their teams continuity all that much. This gives Daryl Morey and the Rockets the crown as the winner of the NBA’s 2017 NBA off-season.

Looking forward to seeing how each of these teams evolves as the season progresses, and who truly has the most successful season of the teams I mentioned earlier.

The NBA is BACK!!! Let’s watch the season unfold.

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