Most NBA teams will look back on their 2023 offseason with some fondness — or at least without any real regret.
Press on most.
Certain organizations have (so far) failed the offseason sniff test. Granted, not all of these flops are ugly.
A few teams have defiantly gone belly up. Others, however, have more subtly – but still meaningfully – missed the mark by virtue of wasted opportunities and journeys along unspectacular paths.
Everything that follows is presented with the caveat that there is still plenty of offseason to unfold. Fortunes and circumstances may change.
For now, though, those NBA teams will be left to regret what they did or didn’t do.
Members of the billionaire class might applaud the Atlanta Hawks’ offseason. Everyone else should ditch them for what is, at best, a masterclass in sideways miserliness.
The Hawks successfully avoided the luxury tax. Woohoo! It only cost them a player who used to have real value.
To be clear, Atlanta’s cardinal sin is not moving on from John Collins. It lasts him so long while repeatedly deoptimizing his usage that he was relieved as a pure salary dump.
Beyond grand gestures of cheapness — like using exactly $0 of the mid-level exception — signing Dejounte Murray to a four-year, $114.1 million extension was the Hawks’ most notable transaction. It’s a legit good move. Ending up with Kobe Bufkin at No. 15 (holy end on the edge), Patty Mills (for now) and Wesley Matthews is also perfectly fine.
Still, it’s hard to see the addition of three guards to a roster that already has Murray, Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanović as some kind of saving grace.
Atlanta could potentially flip the script by acting for Pascal Siakam. For the time being, though, it appears the organization’s C-suite took one look at an insanely mediocre core and decided to largely do nothing about it.
Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas essentially began the offseason highlights the benefits of the Nikola Vučević trade. It’s clearly a strange thing to do in service of a deal that cost the Bulls Wendell Carter Jr., Franz Wagner and Jett Howard (this year’s No. 11 pick) and culminated in zero playoff series wins.
We shouldn’t expect Karnišovas to publicly dump all of his own work or a player that Chicago tried to bring back. To be even more fair, the Bulls have done nothing during the offseason to significantly worsen their pitching.
Deals for Vooch (three years, $60 million), Jevon Carter (three years, $19.5 million), Torrey Craig (two years, $5.4 million), Ayo Dosunmu (three years, $21 million) and Coby White (three years, $36 million) are all fine. Chicago also picked up No. 35 (Julian Phillips).
However, these read like a series of transactions from a team that maintains its current one. In the Bulls’ case, that means scrapping and scratching to protect the near 40-win mark.
This should have been an offseason where they explored a proper reset. They didn’t. Nor did they improve themselves. They remain uninspiring and stranded, spinning their wheels without discernible aim.
But hey, at least they skated (predictably). from the juice under the luxury tax!
To what end the Philadelphia 76ers could have prevented James Harden’s trade request is debatable. He wants to land exclusively with the LA Clippers and is apparently “extremely upset” with the organization and team president Daryl Morey for how “they handled his potential free agency,” according to Sam Amick by The Athletic.
For Morey’s part, which Bryan Toporek laid out for Forbes Sports, he’s doing what’s in the franchise’s best interest given their relatively poor hand. He won’t jettison Harden without bringing back a star or a return that can help bring in another star.
That is the right attitude to maintain. It is also different from a ringing endorsement.
Harden’s displeasure is somewhat puzzling. The Sixers technically couldn’t deal with his free agency until it actually began — not legally, anyway. But they should have done a better job of predicting his displeasure. He took a pay cut north of $10 million last summer to facilitate the arrival of PJ Tucker and Danuel House Jr. Did Philly really think he wouldn’t expect preferential treatment, both financially and functionally, downwards?
Meanwhile, while all of this is going on, the Sixers have seen the peak of free agency pass them by. Three rotation players — Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton, Georges Niang — are all gone. Philly responded to their departures by signing the likes of 67 bigs and Patrick Beverley. (The team was smart to match Paul Reeds unique offer sheet from Utah, but should have done more to keep him without competing overtures.)
The expired cherry on top of the hot, soupy, sour-smelling sundae that is the Sixers’ offseason: Joel Embiid’s latest comments about the importance he places on winning a title — in Philly or “all other places.”
Dismiss this as over-analysis if you are so inclined. Embiid is smart enough to know exactly what he’s doing. And that puts the Sixers in an even tighter tie.
Either they figure out how to get out of Harden’s trade demand better for wear, despite having little leverage or an outside market, or they see their should-be title contender fall apart.
Landing Scoot Henderson with the No. 3 overall pick and being pushed toward a rebuild is far from a nightmare scenario for the Portland Trail Blazers. Some would argue that is the best outcome for an organization that has perpetuated sub-conflicts for most of the past decade.
At the same time, the Blazers are not embracing a restart by choice. They waited until Damian Lillard requested a tradespecifically to the Miami Heat, rather than initiating this process himself.
Letting him dictate when and how the rebuild begins gave Portland at least some leverage and influence. The Blazers will still get real value from his departure. But will they get as much as they possibly can from the Heat when Miami knows it’s the Dames’ only? Or if they send him elsewhere, are they forced to accept even a little less and pay the price of one of 28 teams rolling the dice on a star who doesn’t have them on his wish list?
There is real, immeasurable value in organizations taking the plunge and tearing themselves down. The Utah Jazz wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much for Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell last summer if they moved them in response to a trade request.
Waiting for Lillard to begin this divorce also limited Portland’s ability to game plan around it. Will the Blazers keep Jerami Grant past the trade deadline if they know their franchise icon won’t stick around? If they understood what was coming, they could have at least explored sign-and-trade scenarios instead of signing him to a five-year, $160 million deal that has the chance to age extremely poorly and doesn’t align with the direction of a rebuilding franchise.
Portland is much less confused than Philadelphia. The sequence of operations leading up to this moment feels more like an obstacle than a metaphor for hell. But we won’t know the full extent of how that affects the team’s future until Lillard is moved — a process that’s already inconveniently lengthy and could take months more.
Are the Toronto Raptors ready for a rebuild? Trying to straddle two timelines? Are you showing enough faith in who they already have to propel them up the Eastern Conference standings?
Who the hell knows. The time of existential crisis in Toronto continues.
Letting Fred VanVleet leave for absolutely nothing is franchise failure. Especially when you just traded away a top-six protected first-round pick to acquire Jakob Poeltl, who you then signed to a four-year, $78 million deal, even though his atrocious free-throw shooting may prevent him from playing in the highest-stakes moments.
Dennis Schröder and Jalen McDaniels are healthy additions. However, neither will begin to replace VanVleet’s perimeter gravity. Toronto’s already tight gap has narrowed even further and the direction is no clearer, Pascal Siakam trade rumours and everything.
This stark ambiguity makes you wonder what team president Masai Ujiri will do as a follow-up. Will he let Siakam leave for nothing next summer? What about OG Anunoby? Or Gary Trent Jr.?
Will the Raptors find a way to shrink the floor even more? Will they choose a direction, resolutely rebuild assets in a Siakam deal, or consolidate their own into a singular talent that accelerates their trajectory? Could they continue to do a whole lot of nothing?
Everything is apparently – and disturbingly – on the table.