There was a certain air of predictability to the 2016-17 NBA season, with the Golden State Warriors taking the title against the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games. But, in the ensuing offseason, that sense of certainty flew out the window, as contenders scrambled to put together rosters capable of challenging the powerhouse Warriors. As a new season approaches on Oct. 17, here’s a refresher on the summer’s crazy events.
After landing the third overall pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers decided to go all-in on point guard Markelle Fultz. General Manager (GM) Bryan Colangelo traded up for the first overall pick to land the University of Washington star, who will join Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as centrepieces of one of the most promising rosters in the NBA.
Philadelphia’s first overall selection came courtesy of the Boston Celtics, who selected Jayson Tatum with the Sixers’ original number three pick in the first major move in a busy Celtics offseason. Boston GM Danny Ainge is notorious for being picky with deals, so the Celtics’ transaction-filled offseason could be described as momentous for him. The franchise landed small forward Gordon Hayward—formerly of the Utah Jazz—in free agency, thanks in part to Head Coach Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward at Butler University. In order to make cap space for Hayward, the Celtics moved perennially-underrated Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris.
Despite an already busy offseason, Ainge still wasn’t done. In the usually dead month of August, Boston shockingly dealt the Celtics’ heart and soul Isaiah Thomas (along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and two draft picks) to their 2016 Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a blockbuster trade for Kyrie Irving. After Irving forced their hand weeks before by requesting a trade, the Cavaliers managed to add assets for the present and future: They will use Thomas and Crowder to compete now, and the picks to succeed later. The Cavaliers continued a win-now focus in free agency, adding veteran point guards Jose Calderon and Derrick Rose. Rose’s original team, the Chicago Bulls, followed up on past feats of mismanagement by trading away Jimmy Butler for mere pennies.
The Western Conference can somehow boast even more super-teams after its own flurry of offseason activity. Point guard Chris Paul opted into his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers so they could trade him to the Houston Rockets. Paul will play alongside the similarly ball-dominant James Harden, possibly making for one of the most dynamic duos in recent NBA history. GM—and salary-cap maestro—Daryl Morey quickly turned his attention elsewhere, adding defensive whiz PJ Tucker to the mix. The Rockets’ moves position them firmly in the hunt for the conference’s second seed, alongside the perpetually-stable Spurs.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, made a pair of splashy deals to recover from the loss of Kevin Durant in 2016. The Thunder’s acquisition of Indiana Pacers forward Paul George came out of nowhere after trade rumours suggested he was heading to the Los Angeles Lakers. Oklahoma GM Sam Presti took advantage and struck a deal for the low price of guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis. George will presumably slide into a Durant-like role in the Thunder system, given their similar skillsets. Presti struck again on Sept. 23, ending a summer of trade rumours swirling around now-former New York Knick Carmelo Anthony. Anthony waived his no-trade clause to join the Thunder and will play the power forward role in the team’s new-and-improved starting lineup. A new big three—George, Anthony, and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook—will look to bring the Thunder back to the Western Conference Finals.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping to make a similar leap after trading for a superstar of their own, Jimmy Butler, and adding point guard Jeff Teague to the starting lineup. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, finally reunited with Butler, looks to take the Wolves to the postseason, ending the team’s league-high 13-season playoff drought.