The countdown to the opening of NBA training camps is getting closer as teams will be starting to report early next week. I finish my six-week look at each of the league’s divisions this week with an examination of the Northwest division.
Some of the five Northwest divisional took very different approaches during the offseason. The Jazz decided to blow up the main components of a team that has made the postseason in five of the last six seasons while the Thunder are continuing to build through the draft.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves seem to be “all in” after making the playoffs for the first time in four years,, and the Nuggets added depth.
Denver Nuggets Northwest Division Offseason Grades: A-
Additions: Nikola Jokic (contract extension), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (trade), Ish Smith (trade), Bruce Bowen (free agent), Jeff Green (player option), Christian Braun (draft pick), Vlatko Cancar (re-signed), Peyton Watson (trade), Davon Reed (re-signed), DeAndre Jordan (free agent), Collin Gillespie (2-way), and Jack White (2-way).
Exhibit 10: Kellan Grady, Adonis Arms, and Justin Tillman
Extending Jokic’s contract through 2027-28 and getting Jamal Murray – who missed last year with an ACL injury – back were the biggest offseason happenings for a team that has expectations to not only compete for the division title. But also the Western Conference crown.
I also like the signing of Bowen, a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything, while Green is still a productive player, at 36-years-old.
I didn’t care for the Nuggets trade with the Wizards for KCP and Smith. However, Bruan, Jordan, and Watson should help the team on the defensive end and with rebounding.
Denver’s roster is pretty well set with 15 players under guaranteed deal. Gillespie suffered a major leg injury this summer, although the Nuggets are expected to keep him on a two-way deal.
Minnesota Timberwolves Offseason Grade: A
Additions: Rudy Gobert (trade), Karl-Anthony Towns (extension), Kyle Anderson (free agent), Taurean Prince (re-sign), Jaylen Nowell (team option), Naz Reid (team option), Bryn Forbes (free agent), Austin Rivers (free agent), Wendell Moore (draft pick), Nathan A.J. Lawson (2-way), Eric Paschall (2-way), P.J. Dozier (free agent) and Josh Minott (trade).
Exhibit 10: CJ Elleby, Luka Garza, Phillip Wheeler
While the Timberwolves gave up a lot for Gobert, I like the move. Gobert is a game-changer and will really help Towns, who now won’t have to play the 5, on both ends of the floor. The T-Wolves also solidified their wing depth by re-signing Prince, drafting Moore as well as bringing in Anderson and Forbes.
Additionally, I liked the Wolves picking up Reid’s option as he will backup both Gobert and Towns. However, they still have critical weaknesses in ball-handling and perimeter shooting heading into training camp.
Minnesota has just 12 players on fully guaranteed contracts, so there will be battles in camp. Rivers, Nowell, and Knight are expected to make the team as all three have partially guaranteed contract. Although Dozier, who tore his ACL in December, is also a viable candidate as long as he is fully recovered from the injury.
Oklahoma City Thunder Offseason Grade: B
Additions: Lugoentz Dort (re-signed), Chet Holmgren (draft pick), Ousmane Dieng (trade), Jalen Williams (draft pick), Lugontz Dort (re-signed), Jaylin Williams (draft pick), Mike Muscala (re-signed), Kenrich Williams (extension), and Eugene Omoruyi (2-way).
Exhibition 10: Sacha Killya-Jones and Jaden Shackleford.
OKC continues to hit home runs in the draft. Holmgren was a great pick a No. 2 despite concerns about his slender frame, which he somewhat quelled during the summer league. Jalen Williams could become a star while Jaylin Williams is a hardnosed player who will furiously hit the glass. The Thunder also only gave up future picks in order obtain Dieng, who is a long-term prospect.
Re-signing Dort, coming off a career year, was must. Even though Williams’ extension isn’t costing the Thunder much money, I didn’t think it was necessary.
The Thunder will have some decisions to make during training camp with 17 players under fully guaranteed contracts. They won’t have the services of Holmgren (foot) this season and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Grade 2 MCL sprain) will miss at least the first two weeks of training camp.
Portland Trail Blazers Offseason Grades: A-
Additions: Damian Lilliard (extension), Anfernee Simons (re-signed), Jerami Grant (trade), Jusuf Nurkic (re-signed), Ishmael Kamagate (trade) Gary Payton II (free agent), Shaedon Sharpe (draft pick), Drew Eubanks (re-signed), and Jabari Walker (draft pick).
Exhibit 10: Isaiah Miller, Jared Rhoden, Olivier Sarr, and Devontae Cook
The Trail Blazers missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years last season as injuries decimated the team, which won just 27 games under second year coach Chauncey Billups. Obviously, extending Lillard’s contract was important as it means he will likely finish his career with the franchise. But health will be the most important thing for Portland this upcoming season.
I did like most of their off season moves, particularly the trade for Grant as he gives the Blazers another go-to-scorer along with Simons and Lillard. Bringing in Eubanks and Payton helps solidify the Blazers’ bench along with Nassir Little and Las Vegas Summer League MVP Trendon Watford.
However, I thought taking Sharpe with the No. 7 overall pick was a major overreach. Both Sharpe and Walker could see sparse action this season.
Utah Jazz Offseason Grade: C
Additions: Will Hardy (coach), Collin Sexton (trade), Walker Kessler (trade), Jared Vanderbilt (trade), Simone Fontecchio (free agent), Johnny Juzang (2-way), Ochai Agbaji (trade), Stanley Johnson (trade), Leandro Bolmaro (trade), Lauri Markkanen (trade), Talen Horton-Tucker (trade), Malik Beasley (trade), Cody Zeller, and Micah Potter (2-way).
Utah was the most active team on the trade market this offseason, dealing away its two biggest stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz also hired a first-year coach in Hardy,whose main job will be to develop players.
The Jazz received a huge hall for Mitchell and Gobert which included two first-round selections from this year’s draft – – Agbaji and Kessler – and seven future first rounders. Agbaji will likely get a lot of time, but unless the Jazz make some other deals prior to the season-opener there is a long jam at guard.
Meanwhile, Kessler has an easier path to playing time, particularly if Udoka Azuibuike (ankle/foot) is not fully recovered from surgery.
Sexton, Beasley, Markkanen, Vanderbilt, Horton-Tucker and Agbaji all should make an impact this season. Sexton is the most likely player to thrive in Salt Lake City given his offensive prowess, but Agbaji and Horton-Tucker have potential on the offensive end. However, I do expect there will be more trades by the Jazz at some point.
Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson are expected to be dealt while Beasley could also be shipped out. The Lakers and Suns are both reportedly extremely interest in Bogdanovic.
As it stands now the Jazz have 20 players on its training camp roster with 17 players with fully guaranteed deals. So, the team will have to make some transactions before the start of the campaign.
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