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Brew Hoop Neighborhood Watch: Making Sense of the 2021 Offseason (Part 1)

Everybody else wants to come seize the throne...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Brew Hoop Neighborhood Watch. The NBA is a vibrant community, and while the Milwaukee Bucks are our preferred resident, we still want to be in touch with our neighbors around the league. After all, that’s what good neighbors are for. Today, we sift through the rubble from the NBA’s offseason and see how things look for the new league year.

In our last Neighborhood Watch meeting, we were hoping the Bucks would simply find a way to make the NBA Finals. They did exactly that (and then some!), and now the effort to defend that title is underway. Today, we’ll take a quick look at the league at large and in Part 2, we’ll review the other contenders (both actual and purported) across the NBA.

Missing The Cut

Everybody in the NBA matters...but some teams matter more than others. Here are, in alphabetical order as to not be confused with a ranking, the teams that aren’t at the level of being considered members of the league’s top tiers.

  • Speaking of pretenders, here come the Boston Celtics! Disrespect aside, the C’s had big expectations last year and fell all the way flat, and this season is one for retooling. They moved Kemba Walker to bring back Al Horford to pair with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, brought in Kris Dunn for Tristan Thompson, and took Josh Richardson in with a trade exception, later extending his contract. In free agency, they let Semi Ojeleye and Evan Fournier walk (the latter of whom they had just traded picks for), reunited with Enes Kanter, and got Dennis Schroder for super-cheap. The real change was parting ways with Danny Ainge, moving Brad Stevens from the sidelines to the front office, and handing the reins to Ime Udoka. Boston will assuredly be different this season, but it’s difficult to see them breaking into the top-3 of the Eastern Conference.
  • The Charlotte Hornets rearranged some things on their roster but are largely betting on internal improvement to drive them to their next step towards NBA relevance. They capitalized on Devonte’ Graham’s restricted free agency and got a first round pick out of it, and opted to let Malik Monk and Cody Zeller walk in favor of Ish Smith and Kelly Oubre Jr, the latter of whom languished on the market for longer than expected. They extended head coach James Borrego, and otherwise will continue to build themselves into something that, at least for this season, won’t threaten the top tier of the league.
  • Don’t look now, but the Chicago Bulls did some things! They’ve turned over their backcourt and managed to sign Alex Caruso away from LA, DeMar DeRozan away from the Spurs, and pulled off a sign-and-trade for Lonzo Ball (sending back Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a second-round pick to New Orleans). Sure, there’s an investigation about the timing of their deal for Ball, but it likely won’t undo the transaction. This influx of guard talent should be a boost for the flailing Bulls, but the existing defensive structure surrounding Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Patrick Williams isn’t exactly stout, and these moves don’t reinforce it. Chicago will push for a playoff spot and might win a few first-round games, but it’s difficult to project them to go further than that.
  • Some offseasons have teams run nearly silently, and this year the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of those teams. Despite extending Jarrett Allen for five years, the Cavs’ only other move of note was drafting Evan Mobley. Cleveland fans will still put together pipe dream trades to ship Kevin Love out, but beyond that there isn’t much to focus on in The Land.
  • It may be cynical to place them here, but the Dallas Mavericks aren’t for real (yet). They re-signed Tim Hardaway Jr. and Boban Marjanovic, brought in Reggie Bullock and former Buck Sterling Brown, but the two biggest stories were replacing Rick Carlisle with Jason Kidd (ever heard of him?!) and securing Luka Doncic with a max rookie extension. Perhaps this year is the year that Luka takes the leap from the fringes all the way into the thick of the MVP conversation, but that feels like a prerequisite for the Mavs to move to the next level.
  • The Detroit Pistons made their biggest move by drafting Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick, and quietly reinforced the roster by moving off of Mason Plumlee and signing Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph, and Trey Lyles. In general, it’s not expected for Detroit to climb out of the league’s cellar in the near future, as their path to become a challenger is long-term now that the franchise depends on the development of their top-drafted rookie.
  • Sharing space in the cellar, the Houston Rockets also used the draft as their biggest avenue to continue the rebuild, selecting Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun in the first round. Besides that, they replaced the outgoing Kelly Olynyk with Daniel Theis, kept David Nwaba and let go of Sterling Brown...and that’s about it.
  • Always somewhere in the middle, the Indiana Pacers brought in some new names that they hope will change their fortunes for the better. They acquired Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson in the draft (costing them Aaron Holiday to move up for another pick), swapped Doug McDermott out for Torrey Craig, and re-signed TJ McConnell. They’ll be in the playoff mix, but not much further.
  • By default, the Los Angeles Clippers are out of immediate contention because Kawhi Leonard (who is reportedly sticking around on an extension) is out for the year following ACL surgery. Paul George is still around, so the Clippers will be good...but not good enough, in all likelihood. They gained Justise Winslow and will return Nic Batum and Reggie Jackson, but this year will be mostly treading water until Kawhi can return.
  • Aside from the major pre-draft trade that returned Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe for Jonas Valanciunas, the Memphis Grizzlies made very little noise this offseason. They let Justise Winslow walk off to Los Angeles, sent Grayson Allen to Milwaukee for a pair of future seconds (thanks, Grizz!), and are generally playing a dangerous game with their approach to transform from pretender into contender.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves did almost nothing in the offseason. They swapped Taurean Price for Ricky Rubio and signed a pair of two-way guys. That’s it. No draft picks, no standard free agents, no other trades. Uninspiring, to say the least.
  • The New Orleans Pelicans restocked their cupboards around Zion Williamson. Out goes Steven Adams, in comes Jonas Valanciunas. Out are Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe, in are Devonte’ Graham, Tomas Satoransky, and Garrett Temple. Mike D’Antoni joined the franchise as an assistant (curiously vacating his seat with Brooklyn), and Trey Murphy III is a mid-first rounder who might crack the rotation. Fundamentally, they need to figure out how to play passable defense before the playoffs are a realistic goal.
  • Raising some eyebrows, the New York Knicks followed up their 4-seed last year with a surprising reload of talent, including nabbing Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker (the latter a buyout from OKC), while returning Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Taj Gibson, and extending Julius Randle to a favorable deal. So why are they all the way down here, instead of in the next tier? In short, they’re running it back with a roster that, under Tom Thibodeau, performed well but relies on some older players who are yet growing older. They have a high floor and a low ceiling; who among their rotation players can boast the status of being the second-best player on the team (behind Randle) in a playoff series? And who can Randle claim superiority over amongst the East’s playoff teams? The Knicks faltered against a surprising Atlanta team last season, and until they prove that last year wasn’t a was a fluke.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t have a ton to do, considering so much of their plan to improve is based on future assets. Yes, they extended Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and brought in some highly-touted rookies, but their only other transactions of note were cutting ties with Kemba Walker and re-signing Mike Muscala.
  • A playoff team in the Bubble but a basement-dweller last season, the Orlando Magic made little headway in their rebuild. A(nother) new coach in Jamahl Mosley gives some hope, but restocking their front court with Mo Wagner and one-time Buck Robin Lopez (while losing Otto Porter Jr. for nothing) takes some away. Jalen Suggs is a piece they’ll develop into a player, but there’s no clear path for the Magic to climb the ladder any higher.
  • As it stands right now, the Portland Trail Blazers will be a competitive team in the West, for as long as Damian Lillard sticks around. Reportedly, Dame intends to “give the roster a shot,” and to make good on that the franchise re-upped Norm Powell and replaced Enes Kanter, Zach Collins, and Carmelo Anthony with Ben McLemore, Tony Snell, and Cody Zeller. Were those steps big enough, and were they in the right direction? Or are there more moves to make? Stay tuned, as always, because the national media has replaced Giannis with Lillard as their main focus for the evergreen “unhappy superstar in need of a trade” coverage.
  • My new hometown team is the Sacramento Kings, and they’re right where the Bucks were ten years ago: on the road to nowhere, fast. Familiar territory for me! They kept Richaun Holmes (which is good!) and re-signed Mo Harkless and Terence Davis (which is...fine), while replacing Hassan Whiteside with Alex Len (which is...meh...). They also got involved in a deal that netted them Tristan Thompson for Delon Wright, while adding another top-10 pick to their roster in Damion Mitchell. They weren’t the worst in the West last year but they were far from the best, and none of these moves seem to move that particular needle...
  • Busy as ever, the San Antonio Spurs made a number of moves that seem to...move the franchise in no clear direction. Off to other destinations are DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Trey Lyles, and Gorgui Dieng; replacing them are Zach Collins, Doug McDermott, recent Buck Bryn Forbes, and Jock Landale of Australia. The Spurs are rebuilding, in a way that makes it difficult to see what they’re rebuilding around.
  • Being forced to play in Tampa, FL last year, the Toronto Raptors (hopefully) may get to actually play (and live!) at home again next time around. Also returning is high-profile executive Masai Ujiri, but not coming back to Canada is longtime Raptor Kyle Lowry, sent to Miami in exchange for Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. The team also retained Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch and added Sam Dekker, while cutting ties with Rodney Hood (a new Buck) and DeAndre’ Bembry.
  • Lastly, the Washington Wizards moved Russell Westbrook, a feat thought impossible given his salary, and replaced him with Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and some draft capital. They kept Raul Neto, added Corey Kispert in the draft, and let the rest of their free agents loose. All of this seems to indicate that Washington wants to secure Bradley Beal’s future with the Wizards, and they’ll have room to make additional moves to serve that purpose.

This concludes Part 1, and we’ll get into the real nitty-gritty of the offseason in Part 2. If a team doesn’t appear on this list, it’s because they’re on the next one, so enterprising readers can probably figure it out. But what stands out to you? Which teams in Part 1 might deserve to be considered more seriously? Who seems like the biggest threat to the Milwaukee Bucks? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to come back for Part 2 soon.