Exploring three offseason moves that could be seen as mistakes at the midway point of the 2019-20 NBA season
The calendar has flipped over to a new decade and just over half of the 2019-20 NBA season is complete. The All-Star game is right around the corner, so is the trade deadline. We have a good grasp of who to expect deep into the playoffs, and we have a good enough sample size of games to point out the offseason moves a few teams might regret having made.
Utah Jazz: Trading for Mike Conley
This is a tough one to focus on, mainly because I was on the side that loved this trade for the Utah Jazz. My thought was..this is exactly what the Jazz needs to be contenders. Not only has the addition of Mike Conley not transformed the Jazz into legitimate contenders, but it’s had the opposite effect.
Conley has struggled mightily to fit into coach Quinn Synder’s offensive system. The 6-foot-1 point guard – who spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies – is averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 assists, with shooting splits of 36/36/80. Those numbers are a far cry from his stats over the previous six seasons: 17.8 points and 5.7 assists. It’s not just the raw stats with Conley, his fit within Utah’s offense has been clunky, to say the least.
Conley spent years running pick and pop plays with Marc Gasol. His new partner in pick and roll action, Rudy Gobert, is exclusively a rim roller. The timing between both Conley and Gobert has been off all season. Gobert has even expressed frustration with not being found down low.
With Conley, my thought was that it would be good for Donovan Mitchell – the third-year guard – especially in regards to his efficiency. But the reality is that Mitchell needs the ball in his hands to reach his true potential as a player. And that potential needs to be realized as a point guard. Mitchell has shown this season – notably with Conley sidelined with a hamstring injury–that he’s at his best with the ball in his hands. He can create offense for himself and others, and sharing the floor with Conley to start the season was taking those opportunities away from him.
Utah was 12-9 before Conley’s initial bout with his injured hamstring, but since he was officially labeled as inactive on Dec. 17 the Jazz has gone 13-2 – including a 10-game winning streak. The Jazz have finally looked like themselves thanks to several factors: First, more on-ball duties for Mitchell, second, moving Joe Ingles (who was struggling) into the starting lineup, and finally trading for Jordan Clarkson – who has been a godsend in his 11 games with the Jazz, averaging 15.0 points on 46 percent shooting.
I’m confident the Jazz will solve the Conley situation. He’s too good of a player to just be…bad all of a sudden. But Quinn Snyder is going to have to get more creative with how he uses him. I advocate for bringing him off the bench to run the second unit. At this point, the future of the team is Mitchell and it’s clear this team operates at its’ most efficient with Mitchell running the point guard. It might be hard on Conley’s ego, but if he’s serious about winning a title he has to be watching what Utah is doing without him and be ready to fit in by any means necessary.
New York Knicks: The entire offseason
Well, that didn’t go great. The New York Knicks – front office and fans included – spent the entirety of the 2018-19 campaign painting pictures of a world in which marquee free agents would sign with the team and propel the tortured franchise into competitive relevance once again.
Some of the fantasized scenarios included the following: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together, Durant, Irving, and rookie sensation Zion Williamson together, and there was even some Anthony Davis talk – probably to pair with Irving. Not close, not even a little.
Let me list out the standard contracts the Knicks handed out during the offseason: Julius Randle ( three years, $56.7 million), Bobby Portis (two years, $30.7 million), Taj Gibson (two years, $18.5 million), Wayne Ellington (two years, $16 million), Elfrid Payton (two years, $16 million), Marcus Morris (one year, $15 million), and Reggie Bullock (two years, 8.2 million).
That’s a far cry from the promises made by Knick’s team owner, James Dolan. The promises of a successful offseason in regards to free agents.
And to pour a whole vat of salt on the proverbial wound, the Knicks – who had a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick (Zion) dropped to the third pick. Knicks fans watched as the Pelicans – who had a six percent chance at the No. 1 pick snagged the coveted chance to draft Zion.
Now, my aim isn’t to poke fun at the Knicks and their fans (I genuinely feel bad for them) but the offseason was a disaster, and it’s been another trying regular season for their fans. The silver lining? None of the free agents signed over the summer cripple the Knicks’ future financial “plans.” You could also do a lot worse than RJ Barrett as a young prospect.
Regretful offseasons will probably remain a tradition for the Knicks until Dolan sells the team and the entire culture switches, but at least the team has looked a bit more competitive since David Fizdale’s firing. It’s fine, right?
Philadelphia 76ers: Signing Al Horford
The Philadelphia 76ers have an imperfect team and it all starts with their two best players: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Philly has not been able to figure out how to best utilize both at the same time, and at moments the team has looked a lot better without Embiid. Not because they are necessarily a better team without Embiid – their ceiling is still higher with a player like Joel – but because they play at a faster tempo.
The pains that come from trying to navigate the intricacies of a Simmons/Embiid pairing can be remedied. And that’s because both guys are so special. What might prove to be harder to work through: Al Horford’s awkward fit.
Horford has expressed his concerns with his role within the Sixers’ offense and how “limited” he feels. When Horford signed his four years, $109 million deal over the summer I thought it was unusual to bring in another center at such a huge price tag. But it made some sense. Embiid is the epitome of injury-prone – so having Horford on the team is seen as a type of “big man insurance”.
Horford is also able to play the power forward position alongside Embiid (even though that has been where the struggles come in). Horford’s raw stats have not been terrible; he’s averaging 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. In his role – a complimentary one – those numbers are fine. The problem is the Sixers should have used the money they invested in Horford on a designated stretch-4 and another shot creator.
Philly’s offense can become a jumbled mess because Simmons can’t shoot and the only other player on the roster who’s a solid playmaker (Josh Richardson) is a marginal one, at best. Their backup point guard is Trey Burke. So, not a great situation.
The Sixers have a team that is built for a slower pace – so things will be OK come playoff time – but with a shortage of shot creators on the roster, I’m starting to doubt this team with each passing day. Maybe a near-max contract for an aging Horford wasn’t the best way to spend – I guess only time will tell for sure.