The NBA offseason is basically behind us. Rosters are largely finished, despite the Utah Jazz still talking trades for Donovan Mitchell and most of the vets on their roster.

Teams are mostly adding camp players and angling for Affiliate Player rights to get them to their G League teams. A few notable free agents remain unsigned, but the vast majority of potential rotation players have been signed.

Now, it’s time to start looking towards the start of the 2022-23 season. With training camps opening in approximately one month, let’s start by looking back at what changes the 2022 offseason brought.

The Northwest Division is in transition. The Denver Nuggets are title contenders. The Minnesota Timberwolves made a big bet that going big will pay off big. The Portland Trail Blazers should be healthier and should compete for a playoff spot. The Oklahoma City Thunder are still working their back after kicking off a full-scale rebuild. And then there the Jazz. After years of being good, but never quite good enough, Utah appears poised to kick off a complete teardown and restart.

 

Denver Nuggets

Additions: Christian Braun (2022 NBA Draft), Bruce Brown Jr. (free agency), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (trade), DeAndre Jordan (free agency), Ish Smith (trade), Peyton Watson (2022 NBA Draft), Collin Gillespie (Two-Way), Jack White (Two-Way)

Subtractions: Will Barton (Wizards via trade), Facundo Campazzo (unrestricted free agent), DeMarcus Cousins (unrestricted free agent), Bryn Forbes (Timberwolves via free agency), JaMychal Green (Thunder via trade (since waived), Monte Morris (Wizards via trade), Austin Rivers (Timberwolves via free agency), Markus Howard (Spain via free agency)

Remaining Acquisition Tools: $9.1 million Traded Player Exception, $3.5 million Traded Player Exception

Analysis: The Nuggets are betting on the combination of better health and the development of young players to take the franchise to new heights. Denver is starting the year with perhaps the best team they’ve ever had, in addition to the most expectations they’ve had too.

The Nuggets big move was to swap mainstays Will Barton and Monte Morris to the Wizards for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith. Denver hopes that adding Caldwell-Pope, along with another free agent addition, will help clean up the team’s leaky perimeter defense. Caldwell-Pope is also excellent playing off the ball, so he should fit in nicely in an offense built around Nikola Jokic’s passing skills.

The free agent addition to help with the above was Bruce Brown. Brown is rugged defender who can hold his own 1-3. He’s also a terrific cutter and small-ball screen-and-roll man. If his 40% three-point shooting from last year, Brown will be a perfect addition for Denver.

While not truly “additions”, the Nuggets will be thrilled to have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the fold. Murray missed the entire season, while Porter missed the vast majority of it. Both will be an immediate boon to the team’s offense. Their returns will take a lot of the pressure off Jokic to create so many of the scoring opportunities.

As for the young players, Denver will be counting on Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji to take on bigger roles this season. Both seem capable and ready. To open the year, Hyland may play the bigger role as Murray’s backup. The Nuggets seem likely to be cautious with Murray, at least to open the season. Nnaji will team with veteran Jeff Green to handle the backup big minutes. If Nnaji can handle 15-20 minutes per game, it will allow Denver to keep Jokic fresh throughout the year.

The Nuggets have everything in place to make a deep playoff run. They have the two-time MVP in Jokic (who also inked an extension that should keep him with the Nuggets for years to come), plenty of scoring, lineup versatility and they seem to have shored up their defense. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Denver was in the Western Conference Finals or even the 2023 NBA Finals.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Additions: Kyle Anderson (free agency), Bryn Forbes (free agency), Rudy Gobert (trade), Josh Minott (2022 NBA Draft), Wendell Moore Jr. (2022 NBA Draft), Austin Rivers (free agency), A.J. Lawson (Two-Way), Eric Paschall (Two-Way)

Subtractions: Malik Beasley (Jazz via trade), Patrick Beverley (Jazz via trade (since traded to the Lakers)), Leandro Bolmaro (Jazz via trade), Jake Layman (unrestricted free agent), Greg Monroe (unrestricted free agent), Josh Okogie (Suns via free agency), Jarred Vanderbilt (Jazz via trade), McKinley Wright (Mavericks via free agency)

Remaining Acquisition Tools: $4.1 million Bi-Annual Exception

Analysis: Minnesota made the biggest move of the offseason, both literally and figuratively. The Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert by sending the Jazz a package that included multiple players and several years of draft picks. The hope is that Gobert will fix the interior defense issues that have plagued the Wolves for years and that his offensive limitations will be masked by a talented scoring group.

The big question (no pun intended) is: Can Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns play together? Offensively, it doesn’t seem to be a challenge. Towns is perfectly comfortable and capable on the perimeter. On defense, Towns will have to step out and defend on the perimeter more than ever. Gobert will be at the rim to clean things up when drivers slip by Towns, but getting out to shooters on a regular basis will be a new experience.

Trading so many players for Gobert meant that new front office leader Tim Connelly had to rebuild some depth on the fly. All things considered, Connelly did a solid job filling out the rotation.

Kyle Anderson was poached from the Grizzlies and he’ll be a great fit coming off the bench. Anderson can back up both forward spots and he can start if necessary. His passing will be a boon to a frontcourt that features mostly finishers vs passers.

Bryn Forbes came over to be a designated shooter off the bench. On the nights where he’s rolling, Forbes will play. When he’s not, he won’t see many minutes. Austin Rivers was also brought in to add depth and a little defense to the backcourt.

If Gobert and Towns mesh, the Wolves have a chance to be very good. Anthony Edwards is ready to break out as a super star. D’Angelo Russell isn’t perfect, but he’s better than most give him credit for. Taurean Prince was extended for some additional frontcourt depth, and his contract looks like a nice potential trade chip. And keep an eye on Jaden McDaniels. He’s got a ton of potential and could be the team’s starting small forward in a lineup that would be absolutely enormous.

The Wolves have made the playoffs just twice since Kevin Garnett was traded 15 years ago. This group appears set to break that string with multiple appearances. The real question: Can Minnesota do more than just make the playoffs? That depends on the big guys and Edwards all hitting the top end of their potential.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Additions: Ousmane Dieng (2022 NBA Draft), Chet Holmgren (2022 NBA Draft), Jalen Williams (2022 NBA Draft), Jaylin Williams (2022 NBA Draft), Eugene Omoruyi (Two-Way)

Subtractions: Isaiah Roby (Spurs via waiver claim), Melvin Frazier Jr. (unrestricted free agent)

Remaining Acquisition Tools: $8.5 million of Non-Taxpayer MLE, $4.1 million Bi-Annual Exception

Analysis: It felt like this season the Thunder would start to take steps forward in their rebuild. Then one injury seems to have them back several steps.

Chet Holmgren, the second overall pick, will miss the entire season after a Lisfranc fracture suffered over the summer. That’s a blow to a team that was going to be mixing and matching in their frontcourt to figure out who fits together with Holmgren. Now, a year of on-court development is gone.

On the plus side, all of the Thunder’s other young pieces are ready to go. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort (freshly re-signed to a five-year deal) are all over their injuries and ready to start the season. First rounder Jalen Williams will add to that mix, along with holdover Tre Mann to give Mark Daigneault a lot of options to play with in his backcourt.

Up front, despite Holmgren being out, Daigneault will attempt to work draft picks Ousmane Dieng and Jaylin Williams into a group that features a bunch of question marks. Darius Bazley is the most accomplished of the bunch and he’s still very much a question mark heading into Year 4. Aleksej Pokusevski has potential, but it’s mostly unrealized. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins both flashed as rookies, but need a lot more work. And Kenrich Williams was extended as the veteran of the group at the ripe old age of…27. But that’s a good thing, as Williams is an underrated player.

Oklahoma City was going to be bad again, but it was going to the kind of bad with a purpose. Now, part of that purpose is hard to define with Holmgren out. But the Thunder and Sam Presti are pretty good at making lemonades out of lemons.

There are a ton of minutes available in OKC and a lot of interesting young players competing for them. The competition for roster spots in the preseason should be pretty fierce. Even with Holmgren out, that’s a positive. Another year of development and likely another high draft pick are coming, and then maybe the Thunder start stepping forward in 2023.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Additions: Drew Eubanks (free agency), Jerami Grant (trade), Gary Payton II (free agency), Shaedon Sharpe (2022 NBA Draft), Jabari Walker (2022 NBA Draft)

Subtractions: Eric Bledsoe (waived), C.J. Elleby (Timberwolves via free agency), Elijah Hughes (unrestricted free agent), Joe Ingles (Bucks via free agency), Didi Louzada (waived), Ben McLemore (unrestricted free agent), Keljin Blevins (unrestricted free agent)

Remaining Acquisition Tools: $6.5 million Traded Player Exception, $4.1 million Bi-Annual Exception

Analysis: The Trail Blazers season went off the rails last year. A rash of injuries sunk the team before they had a chance to really get started. That snapped a string of eight straight playoff appearances. If Portland has their way, that will be a one-year thing.

The Blazers acquired Jerami Grant to help shore up the team’s forward position. Grant can play both forward spots and should give Portland the best athlete they’ve had with Damian Lillard (who extended and added a couple more years to his deal through 2026-27) in a while. He wants a contract extension, but that seems to be in wait-and-see mode for the time being.

Portland also added Gary Payton II from the Warriors to improve the perimeter defense. Payton should fit in perfectly in a three-guard rotation with Lillard and Anfernee Simons. He can play with either guy and will defend the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

Speaking of Simons, he was one of two big re-signings by the Blazers. One of the primary beneficiaries of last season’s injuries, Simons took advantage of his extra minutes. He’s an incredibly talented offensive player who should fill the role C.J. McCollum held down for nearly a decade.

Jusuf Nurkic was the other key re-signing. Portland had no real way of replacing Nurkic if he had left, and they don’t have another player ready to step in for him. That meant the Blazers overpaid to re-sign him, but it’s hardly a cap-crippling deal. Plus, Nurkic has great chemistry with Lillard and that’s worth a good amount on its own.

Shaedon Sharpe was the “man of mystery” at the draft. The Blazers are betting he’ll pop in a similar way to Simons. It might take a year or two, but Sharpe has a ton of natural talent.

Overall, Portland looks to have a solid roster. If healthy, they’ll be in the playoff mix. But outside of a team or two unexpectedly slipping, it’s hard to see a path where the Trail Blazers aren’t having to make their way through the Play-In Tournament to start a new playoff streak.

 

Utah Jazz

Additions: Malik Beasley (trade), Patrick Beverley (trade (since traded to Lakers), Leandro Bolmaro (trade), Simone Fontecchio (free agency), Talen Horton-Tucker (trade), Stanley Johnson (trade), Walker Kessler (2022 NBA Draft rights trade), Jarred Vanderbilt (trade), Johnny Juzang (Two-Way)

Subtractions: Trent Forrest (Hawks via free agency), Rudy Gobert (Timberwolves via trade), Juancho Hernangomez (waived), Danuel House Jr. (76ers via free agency), Royce O’Neal (Nets via trade), Eric Paschall (Timberwolves via trade), Hassan Whiteside (unrestricted free agent)

Remaining Acquisition Tools: $9.7 million Traded Player Exception, $9.2 million Traded Player Exception, $7.3 million of Non-Taxpayer MLE, $4.1 million Bi-Annual Exception

Analysis: When he was running the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge was tabbed with the moniker “Trader Danny” and he’s living up to that nickname with the Jazz. Ainge has kicked off a reset or rebuild for Utah. What will determine that designation is what happens with Donovan Mitchell.

Ainge traded two starters away already by sending Rudy Gobert to Minnesota and Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn. Gobert netted Utah a massive return of players and future draft picks, while O’Neale brought over another first round pick.

Now, Ainge has his eyes on trading Mitchell for another huge haul. The New York Knicks have been keen on adding Mitchell, and have picks and young players to offer. So far, the Knicks have held firm on not giving Utah the additional draft pick or picks and all the young players they seem to want. Still, most expect a deal to eventually get done because it makes too much sense for both parties.

The Jazz also flipped Patrick Beverley to the Los Angeles Lakers to take a flyer on Talen Horton-Tucker. The versatile guard has shown a ton of potential, but was blocked from getting more minutes in LA. That problem shouldn’t exist in Utah…eventually.

Once Ainge is able to trade Mitchell, he can focus on finding homes for a slew of veterans who have no place on a rebuilding team. Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and maybe even recently-acquired Malik Beasley could all have new homes before training camp starts. That’ll open up minutes for the younger players the Jazz will be evaluating all season.

This is the playbook Ainge used to rebuild the Celtics after trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He amassed draft picks in the initial trade and then kept adding to the hoard by flipping useful veterans for more picks.

It’s hard to fully evaluate the Utah roster, because everything feels unfinished. If Mitchell and the vets are still with the Jazz to start the season, they’ll be a competitive team towards the bottom of the Play-In mix. But that’s not what anyone in Utah wants.

The goal here is to bottom out and start over around kids and an overflowing treasure chest of draft picks. And if one of those picks turns out to be Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, so much the better. The years of being a solid playoff team, but no better, are gone in Utah. The Jazz are taking a big step backwards in hopes of eventually taking the biggest step forward they’ve ever taken.

 

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