BOSTON – At this point in the summer, all of the heavy lifting that NBA teams do when it comes to reshaping their roster is done now.
The stars you see now are the stars you’ll likely see when training camp begins in a few weeks (I know, crazy right?).
While every team will vow that they had a great summer and made lots of moves that will benefit them, we all know better.
The list of summer winners is not a particularly long list.
Here’s a look at the six offseason moves that should go far in helping their respective teams achieve noticeable growth from a year ago.
6. Dwyane Wade, Chicago
Few anticipated Wade would actually call the Miami Heat’s bluff, which as it turned out wasn’t a bluff at all, and take his talents elsewhere. He signed with his hometown Chicago Bulls after the Heat refused to give him parachute-like contract akin to what the Los Angeles Lakers did for Kobe Bryant. Wade’s arrival doesn’t catapult the Bulls to elite status and truth be told doesn’t assure they’ll be a playoff club, either. But it does provide them with a big-time scorer, an under-rated defender and just as significant, more talent after trading away Derrick Rose to New York. But the concerns with Wade – his health – are no different than they were with Rose. He played in 74 games last season, the most the 34-year-old guard has appeared in since 2011. Having set just about every franchise record of significance for the Heat, it’ll be different seeing him in a Bulls uniform. But considering he never was the highest paid player on the Heat during his 13 seasons, one can understand why he walked away to sign a two-year, $47.5 million contract with the Bulls. The Bulls were on the playoff bubble before Wade's arrival. With him, their chances improve but not by much.
5. Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
Turner was among the NBA’s top sixth men a year ago in Boston, the kind of play that he was able to parlay into a four-year, $70 million contract. The Celtics held out slim hope of re-signing him, and Turner acknowledged he would be willing to leave some money on the table in order to return to the Celtics. But the Blazers made him a top priority with the kind of contract offer that was too good to pass up. He provides another ball-handler and solid defender who will be a great fit inside the locker room. But with him being most effective with the ball in his hands and not a very good 3-point shooter, it’ll be interesting to see just how much Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum play off the ball this season. Don’t be surprised if Turner winds up being a key reserve, similar to the role he played so well in Boston. The Blazers have enough talent to get back to the postseason, but the addition of Turner enhances their chances of getting past the first round.
4. Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
The addition of Kevin Durant to Golden State sealed Barnes’ departure from the Bay Area. But no tears need to be shed for this 24-year-old who wound up signing a four-year, $94 million deal with the Mavericks. Barnes has played his entire NBA career up to this point in the shadow of older, more established, all-star caliber players. That’s not an issue anymore. He’s going to Dallas as the first option not named Dirk Nowitizki, a role the Mavs envisioned would be manned by Chandler Parsons, who despite being injury-riddled most of his time in Dallas, opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent. Parsons then signed a max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies worth $98 million over four years. Barnes had his struggles in the playoffs in June for sure, but he has shown lots of signs of being a player on the verge of breaking out if given a higher profile role with added responsibility. He has four years under his belt, and his scoring average has increased each season and is a career 37.6 percent 3-point shooter. And the 6-foot-7 forward has shown increased versatility, evident by him playing small forward 87 percent of the time when he was a rookie, to more even split this past season when he played more at power forward (55 percent) than small forward (44 percent). The Warriors played him on a few occasions (1 percent) at center. Being able to hold his own at multiple positions makes him a great fit for head coach Rick Carlisle. This was a likely lottery team if they didn't fill the void left by Parson's departure. Now, they're likely to be where they were last season - one of a handful of teams fighting for one of the last remaining playoff slots.
3. Serge Ibaka, Orlando
There were higher profile trades this summer, but this one may wind up being one of the most impactful. The Magic have been acquiring young talent for years but not showing much cohesiveness or improvement. They needed to add a talented veteran with legit leadership qualities. Ibaka is that guy. He made a name for himself as an athletic, shot-blocking center in Oklahoma City, quickly climbing the rungs of elite NBA defenders. He has ranked among the league’s top-4 in total blocked shots each of the last six seasons, and led the league in total block shots four times (2010-2014) in that span. And as the game changed, Ibaka expanded his game to beyond the 3-point line. After not taking a single 3-pointer in his first season, Ibaka has ranked among the better 3-point shooting big men in the NBA with career .427 shooting percentage beyond 3-point range. His ability and leadership should give the Magic their best shot in years of getting back to the playoffs.
2. Al Horford, Boston
Horford has been a player on the Celtics’ radar for quite some time. And Horford apparently was starting to at least inquire about possibly playing for Boston during All-Star Weekend. Horford has been one of the game’s better two-way big men who can defend both big positions in addition to being a decent defender when switched out on guards. And while he has a nice back-to-the-basket game, Horford expanding his game beyond the 3-point line has allowed him to be an even more impactful player. Adding him does more than just solidify Boston’s spot as a playoff team. He gives them legitimate hope that a trip to the Eastern Conference finals isn’t just a pipe dream; but with a break here and there, it could easily become a reality.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State
On Tuesday night, Kevin Durant, playing his first game at Golden State’s Oracle Arena since he signed with the Warriors, drained his first three shots, which set the tone for a 50-point Team USA win over China. Durant was far and away the best free agent on the market, ultimately spurning the Thunder (and a handful of other teams including Boston) to join an already star-studded Golden State lineup that includes Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. Without Durant, the Warriors were still going to be among the teams expected to contend for an NBA title. But in adding him, they are the overwhelming favorites even if Cleveland returns its core group that includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. There are other moves that might have a greater impact on a team’s overall win total. But Durant moves the needle in a way no other offseason move has. Him joining Golden State puts the Warriors exactly where the other 29 NBA teams want to be: the team everyone is chasing.