Although the 2019-20 NBA season just concluded, the league is already returning on Dec. 22 with a shortened 72-game season. But even in the short time off, there’s been no shortage of trades and free agency moves for basketball fans to talk about in the meantime. As is the case with every offseason, plenty of stars were looking to sign big contracts and plenty of teams were happy to take them. With far less superstars available than in 2019, there were numerous smaller moves that organizations made to give them a shot at stopping the Los Angeles Lakers from repeating as champions. Here are the best and worst moves of the 2020 free agency period.
Chris Paul traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Phoenix Suns
The Suns became the beloved underdog of the NBA bubble this summer after going 8-0 to finish their regular season. Even though their glorious run wasn’t enough to earn a spot in the playoffs, it certainly caught the eye of 10-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who recently came off his best season in years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the Suns gave up a lot of depth for Paul, including starting guard Ricky Rubio and forward Kelly Oubre Jr., I appreciated the move for several reasons. One, given the top-heavy Western Conference, Phoenix isn’t a true contender this year anyway, so sacrificing a lot of players for a veteran star won’t really hurt the team in the long run. Two, Paul is a respected leader and should provide a massive boost to the development of the Suns’ best player, guard Devin Booker, helping ease him into a leadership role himself. Three, it reestablishes Phoenix as an appealing destination for players on the move. While they’ll never be the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat in this regard, seeing All-Star level talent wanting to call Phoenix their home is a sign that the franchise is moving in the right direction.
Rajon Rondo, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanović sign with the Atlanta Hawks
Much like the Paul trade was for the Suns, this free agency period served as an opportunity for the Hawks to reestablish themselves as a winning franchise. By combining these signings with center Onyeka Okongwu, the sixth-overall pick in the 2020 draft, the Hawks created more depth and a better starting lineup, which were both much needed in Atlanta. Rajon Rondo has historically elevated to an elite level in the postseason, Bogdan Bogdanović will draw attention away from All-Star guard Trae Young in the backcourt and Danilo Gallinari gives them an experienced stretch four who will help revamp a team that was dead last in three-point percentage last season. While it’s unclear exactly how Atlanta will construct their frontcourt with the plethora of forwards on their roster, the new additions will hopefully steer Atlanta away from a repeat of last year when the team was a few games shy of the worst record in the NBA.
The entire Philadelphia 76ers’ offseason
Getting rid of forward Al Horford’s awful contract? Adding strong outside shooters like Seth Curry and Danny Green so center Joel Embiid can actually play in the post? New Sixers general manager Daryl Morey remedied most of the team’s hamartias in just a few weeks and gave them a real shot at winning the Eastern Conference this year. Having designated three-point shooters in Curry and Green will lessen the need for Embiid to play outside the paint, allowing him and fellow All-Star guard Ben Simmons to dominate in the frontcourt. This is a group with a lot of chips on their shoulders, as new head coach Doc Rivers will also look to break his streak of early playoff exits. Embiid and Simmons have struggled both individually and as a duo in important games, so they’ll have to show they can deliver in big moments. This is a make-or-break season for the Sixers, but if everything goes well, they should be real contenders.
Gordon Hayward signs with the Charlotte Hornets
What Gordon Hayward has done to earn $30 million a year is beyond me. While the Hornets have plenty of cap space to spare thanks to their less-than-stellar reputation as an organization, bringing in a wider pool of talent to add depth would have been a smarter move than signing the former Boston Celtics forward to an expensive contract. Hayward is not the kind of talent that will lift the team into immediate playoff success: he averaged 17.5 points and four assists per game last season, and his stats have been middle of the pack throughout his career. Even if Hayward plays his best ball yet, the fact that his salary is anywhere near the likes of forwards Kawhi Leonard’s and Jimmy Butler’s is ridiculous. The winners here are Hayward, obviously, and the Celtics for ditching Hayward’s contract. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s front office woes continue.
Houston Rockets trade Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall
I have serious doubts about guard Russell Westbrook’s ability to win a title because his playstyle is, quite frankly, extremely selfish. Yet Washington still won this trade. Point guard John Wall hasn’t played in an NBA game since Dec. 26, 2018, and the injuries he has sustained have called into question whether he’ll ever again be the All-NBA-caliber player he was when we last saw him.
Westbrook was a poor fit in Houston, and his chemistry with fellow superstar guard James Harden was terrible. Houston likely won’t have Harden for much longer as a result, as he wants to be traded to a title contender. Although Wall is a good player, this offseason has left the Rockets looking sheepish as both of their star players head for greener pastures. Whether Westbrook works out in Washington remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the Rockets are in for a rough season.
Los Angeles Clippers extend Paul George for 4 years, $190 million
Let’s face it: forward Paul George can’t deliver in the postseason. After infamously quipping that “Y’all ain’t met Playoff P yet” in 2018, George has had notoriously inconsistent performances over the last few postseasons, and his woes peaked when he hit the side of the backboard on a three-point attempt in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets earlier this year. This earned him the derisive monikers “Wayoff P” and “Pandemic P” from fans and led to questions about whether Leonard was right to ask the Clippers to trade for George last summer.
Still, the organization seems to want to keep him there. There’s no doubt that the Clippers want to win a championship with Leonard and George, but George will need to resolve his postseason struggles if the team wants even a chance of coming out of the West in the next five years. It’s entirely possible that he will, but the Clippers may have been better off going with one of the many superb players that will be available in the 2021 offseason.