Five big questions from the craziest offseason in NBA history

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Chris Paul, James Harden and Carmelo Anthony attend Black Ops Basketball Session at Life Time Athletic At Sky on September 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Chris Paul, James Harden and Carmelo Anthony attend Black Ops Basketball Session at Life Time Athletic At Sky on September 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images) /

Now that training camp has begun for the 2017-18 season, it’s time to look back on the wildest offseason in NBA history. Which move was the most surprising and who will struggle the most to fit in with their new team? We have questions and answers.

Which move surprised you the most this offseason?

Andrew Johnson (@countingbaskets): Definitely the Chris Paul to Houston move. I had figured Paul was leaving the Clippers but I didn’t have Houston anywhere on my radar as a destination. The way the Rockets front office created space for that move was nothing short of a masterstroke. Collecting unguaranteed contracts like some sort of medieval demon gathering souls.

Rich Kraetsch (@OverandBackNBA): Paul George to the Thunder. Not because I didn’t think George would be on the move but that it was the Thunder who acquired him. That they only had to give up bit pieces — including the awful contract of Victor Oladipo — made it all the more surprising. Sure, George is probably a rental, but it was just the beginning of a wild offseason for OKC, who decided that regardless of what happens with their incumbent star Russell Westbrook they were going to go for broke. You have to admire it.

Matt Rutkowski (@MontaWorldPeace): Chris Paul to Houston. There were no rumblings I was privy to, and the combination at first glance didn’t make a ton of sense to me. I suppose they’re going to make it make sense, but that remains to be seen. Until I actually watch Chris Paul play a game it won’t feel real.

Paul Centopani (@PCentopani): The Thunder coming out of nowhere and hijacking Paul George for the combo meal of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Very surprising that was the deal the Pacers ended up taking for their star — and even if/when he bolts as a free agent, that’s a savvy move by OKC to simultaneously be a contender this season and get out from the Oladipo contract. A close second was the Knicks signing of Tim Hardaway Jr. because it was mind-numbingly stupid.

Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): OKC scooping Paul George while the Cavs, Lakers and everyone else stood by with their hands in their pockets either unable or unwilling to pull the trigger on a deal. All the big name teams landed in headlines, but there was Sam Presti swooping in with the overwhelming offer of Oladipo and Sabonis. I was at an outdoor shopping center (maybe a mall?) when the alerts and texts blew up my phone. Maybe I fell down, maybe I stumbled into a wall. I was shocked, and the prospect of George alongside Russell Westbrook against the backdrop of free agency and future player movements makes it all the more titillating.

Bryan Toporek (@btoporek): Kyrie Irving to Boston. Once Irving’s out-of-the-blue trade request became public in July, I figured the Cavs had to trade him before training camp, but I didn’t expect them to ship him to their top rival in the East. Given the concerns with Isaiah Thomas’ hip, I don’t blame Boston for selling the farm to acquire Kyrie, and that unprotected 2018 Nets first-round pick now gives Cleveland a contingency plan if LeBron James leaves as a free agent next summer. Most conference finalists are happy to roll back their main cores, but Warriors paranoia caused both Boston and Cleveland to undergo an unexpectedly major shakeup.

Rory Masterson (@rorymasterson): So many things have happened this summer that it’s easy to fall back on the most recent transactions … but that’s exactly what I’m going to do because these are my pixels, and when you got to my name, you kept reading. As insane as the Jimmy Butler trade was in both timing and return — and it was — that Carmelo Anthony unexpectedly landed in Oklahoma City after Paul George had already unexpectedly landed with the Thunder earlier in the summer was so far removed from anything resembling a reality I expected to see by the time training camp began. We all knew Melo was a goner, and the limited resources at both Houston’s and Cleveland’s respective disposals forced him to loosen the bolts on his preferred destinations, but Oklahoma City? Kudos to Sam Presti for rebuilding a dismantled empire, and for knowing exactly which franchise was most ripe to hoodwink on the path to doing so.

Which acquisition is being overlooked the most?

Johnson: If we are scaling it for player impact, at this point I think Gordon Hayward signing with Boston. It was a big thing on July 4, then everyone forgot about it. Even Celtics fans seem to keep forgetting that he’s on the team after the Kyrie Irving trade.

Kraetsch: Ricky Rubio to the Jazz is not being talked about enough as being a solid trade to keep Utah above water. Losing Gordon Hayward is going to be a huge blow but it’s not hopeless in Salt Lake City. Quite the contrary, actually. The emergence of Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and now a veteran point guard like Rubio (to fill the void left by George Hill) will keep Utah competitive in a loaded Western Conference.

Rutkowski: Patrick Patterson to the Thunder. You can include the Thunder themselves overlooking it since they just got Carmelo to run the four, presumably. Patterson had already experienced being a perfect fit for a team with two main stars who like to have the ball, and I figured he’d slide in very nicely into the starting lineup. But he’s good coming off the bench as well, so maybe Westbrook Plus Bench becomes the new Lowry Plus Bench. That’d be fun. Or it wouldn’t. I don’t know how things work.

Centopani: The perpetually-underrated Paul Millsap to the Nuggets. Forming a do-it-all frontcourt tandem with Nikola Jokic will put Denver atop my League Pass rankings and, less importantly, into the Western Conference playoffs.

Fenrich: Rudy Gay to the Spurs. He has the potential to add a completely new layer of depth and versatility to the Spurs whether as a combo forward off the bench or as a starter at either forward spot. Gay has long-been derided by the basketball blogging community, which makes him a fascinating fit in the Popovichian culture of San Antonio.

Toporek: P.J. Tucker to the Rockets. He isn’t a high-volume 3-point shooter, but he did knock down 40 percent of his triples during his limited stint in Toronto this past season. In Mike D’Antoni’s pace-and-space system, I expect him to serve as a 3-and-D guy alongside Chris Paul and James Harden. Paired with Trevor Ariza, he gives D’Antoni the flexibility to downsize, which will come in handy whenever the Rockets face off against the Warriors’ Death Lineup. CP3 was Houston’s marquee move this offseason, but don’t be surprised if Tucker is similarly impactful.

Masterson: Not to be fixated on Oklahoma City, but Patrick Patterson is exactly the kind of complementary piece the Thunder needed if they wanted even the coldest snowball’s chance in hell of beating the Warriors. Patterson’s role can approximate that of another alliterative, 6-foot-9 big man who has been key to defeating Golden State: Tristan Thompson. Though he struggled a bit on the boards the last two years with Toronto, Patterson’s size and athleticism is enough to bully some of Golden State’s bench units, and he will have to be a key to the Thunder’s best backup brigades.

Which player will fit in best with their new team?

Johnson: LeBron in LA.

Kraetsch: While I’m not positive anyone will notice, Allen Crabbe is going to fit perfectly with the rebuilding Nets. Crabbe, who shot 44.4 percent from the perimeter last season, is going to love Kenny Atkinson’s high-octane 3-point-happy offense. The Nets were fourth in the league in 3-point attempt rate and seem hell-bent on increasing that this season. Brooklyn had four players in the Top 100 in 3-point attempts per game (Brook Lopez, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris and Jeremy Lin) and now they add a fifth in Crabbe.

Rutkowski: Lonzo Ball will fit in with the Lakers because apparently the rest of the team, and the team’s identity and the city’s ability to feel pride has already fit itself around him. He’s in a wonderful Big Baller Brand cocoon of love, and nothing will ever change that. He is now the most important person in Los Angeles, which makes him the most important person in the world. I’m happy for him.

Centopani: Jimmy Butler’s fit in Minnesota is so good, I picture him running into Tom Thibodeau’s arms like Andy and Red on the beach at the end of Shawshank Redemption. Butler already knows the system, gives them much-needed leadership and should shore up the  defense to a non-atrocious level. Did you know the T’wolves finished 26th in defensive rating last season, sandwiched between the Knicks and the Kings? THE KNICKS AND THE KINGS.

Fenrich: Of course I’m overlooking someone, but Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn is like the JV version of KD-to-Golden State. Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell can be JV Lillards and McCollums. And Crabbe? Just a 44.4 percent 3-point shooter on a top-5 3-point shooting team.

Toporek: Thinking of Paul Millsap alongside Nikola Jokic in Denver warms the cockles of my heart. Whereas Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic fit together like Donald Trump and rational behavior, Millsap and Jokic should coexist beautifully on both ends of the floor. The high-low passing between them will be a delight, and both are respectable enough from 3-point range to prevent opponents from clogging the paint. Minnesota and Oklahoma City will steal much of the attention from Denver in the Northwest, but the Nuggets have top-four-seed upside with the Millsap-Jokic duo.

Masterson: Not a flashy pick at all, but Luc Mbah a Moute could very well end up being one of the most important Rockets. His defense is obviously going to be the biggest aspect, but having run with Chris Paul in Los Angeles will ease him into the style the Rockets are likely to employ. The Rockets are going to be able to keep up with any team offensively; it is on the other end where Mbah a Moute, Clint Capela and Paul are going to have to stop the presumptive hemorrhaging.

Which player will struggle the most with their new team?

Kraetsch: I’m struggling with how Patrick Beverley is going to fit in with the Clippers. Mr. 94 Feet (awesome nickname, by the way) was the perfect complementary piece to James Harden and the Rockets high-octane offense. Now in L.A., he’s going to be relied upon far more to be a traditional point guard rather than the perimeter defender specialist/point guard in name only role he assumed with Houston. Milos Teodosic is lurking behind him on the depth chart and could pass him pretty quickly as the Clippers look to get back some of the slick passing and offense set-ups they had during Chris Paul’s time with the team.

Rutkowski: I’m going to go back to Chris Paul. Maybe he won’t struggle with ability or statistics, but this is a different fit than he’s had in his career. He might be playing off ball or Harden may be returning to that role after being a revelation at point last year. Something has to give way somewhere, whether it’s tendencies or usage or mindset, and figuring out which is to fall will be a fight.

Centopani: Carmelo Anthony. Going from Manhattan to Oklahoma City is quite the lifestyle adjustment.

Toporek: Kris Dunn was terrible as a rookie, and he’s now playing alongside a mostly G League-caliber roster in Chicago. Until Zach LaVine returns from his torn ACL, the Bulls will likely trot out Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez alongside Dunn in their starting lineup. To say they’re setting him up to fail would be an understatement.

Fenrich: The Cavs have assembled some sort of past-their-prime All-Stars, and I can’t help but think either the recently-signed Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose will struggle alongside the spread floor ethos of LeBron’s Cavs. Cleveland shot the second-most 3s in the league last season and displayed an incendiary offense. It’s hard to see Rose and Wade as pieces fitting into this puzzle. Rather, it’s much easier to imagine them filling bit-part playmaking duties during LeBron’s rest periods.

Masterson: Because this doesn’t ask which player will be the most disappointing, it strikes me that Rajon Rondo will continue the gradual deflation of the balloon that has become his career in New Orleans. Even if we ignore the thumb injury he sustained during the playoffs, Rondo hasn’t been a net-positive for any team in four years. He requires spacing; New Orleans offers little of that. He requires room to get to the rim, where he hasn’t even been an effective finisher in quite some time; New Orleans has a notably clogged frontcourt. He is a strong personality who has traditionally been surrounded by strong personalities, and maybe reuniting with Boogie Cousins to create Pro Kentucky in the Bayou State can benefit him. One thing Rondo isn’t is stupid. Then again, that he signed in New Orleans, with this roster, reflects a possible and glaring lack of foresight.

Is any team actually closer to defeating the Warriors?

Johnson: The Rockets and the Thunder are “closer.” They are not actually close, though. The Rockets have a nice mix of star talent and wing defenders. The Thunder have much more fire power around Westbrook. The Warriors could lose a game in the Western Conference playoffs this year, but no one is actually close to beating them in a seven game series.

Kraetsch: The Rockets are closer than anyone was last year, so that’ll be exciting to see. Paul gives them an entirely new dynamic look and could at the very least get them to the Western Conference Finals. I don’t know that Houston stands a chance in a playoff series against the Warriors, but, hey, at least we can have the conversation about it or trick ourselves into thinking it’s possible. We couldn’t do that last year. The Thunder “on paper” look like a rival, but their depth and the unknown cohesion of Westbrook/George/Anthony has me bearish on their prospects. You could make a case for Boston, particularly with the arrival of Kyrie Irving (one of the last guys to actually get the better of the Warriors) but they seem like a tough case, especially given the amount of defense they lost this offseason.

Rutkowski: Yes. Many are, and none will.

Centopani: Oh yeah. The four biggest challengers to their throne (Rockets, Thunder, Cavaliers and Celtics) all took the offseason to improve and become more versatile. The Spurs always lurk, but more or less tread water this summer. Will any of them beat a full-strength Golden State? Nah, dog.

Toporek: The Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers are all, health permitting. To beat the Warriors, you need a counter to their Death Lineup, so it’s no accident Houston (P.J. Tucker), OKC (Paul George) and Cleveland (Jae Crowder) each added a versatile wing defender this offseason. Then again, the Warriors only got better this summer as well, adding Omri Casspi, Nick Young and Jordan Bell without losing anyone of consequence. The Warriors enter the 2017-18 season as the unquestioned title favorites, but the Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers could all prove to be roadblocks on their quest to repeat.

Fenrich: Yes, yes, absolutely. It’s not necessarily that any team on their own is suddenly good enough to beat Golden State, but possibly that the road becomes more difficult, increasing the odds of either injury or Draymond Green-like dramatics. Injuries have influenced two of the last three NBA Finals, and more games or minutes played due to increased competition could open the door for injuries swaying a third.

Next: How can Anthony, George and Westbrook coexist on offense?

Masterson: Insofar as the sun is incrementally approaching the Earth, of course. Sooner or later it catches up to us all. Several teams — including the Cavs — are much closer now than they were the night of June 12, when the Warriors met their inevitable destiny. To echo the sentiments of my esteemed colleagues, what has really changed is the consistent strength of the Warriors’ opponents on a night-to-night basis. Yes, any team could’ve beaten the Warriors on any given night last year; that’s always the case. But a top-heavy Western Conference has grown even more potent, and the volume of truly quality opponents Golden State is going to have to charge through on its way to a third title in four years is perhaps the best it’s been since they began this run. Several tough series could inspire future opponents, and health is always tricky. Wearing down the Warriors figures to be the only way to beat them, but as it stands now, things look significantly less bleak for everybody else than they did when Kevin Durant logged onto the internet from one of his accounts and penned the letter announcing his intention to head to the Left Coast.