The NBA offseason survey is a weekly feature by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan that asks executives, scouts and other experts about the biggest deals of the past week, best players, title favorites and more.
The nba championship odds is a survey that was released by the NBA. Execs, scouts, and other basketball experts were asked to give their opinions on the best players, deals, title favorites, and more.
7:20 a.m. Eastern Time
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps
The NBA, like the rest of the globe, has had to cope with extraordinary conditions during the last two seasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the NBA, as it has on every other sport in North America and beyond, with the 2019-20 season ending in a bubble inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, and the majority of the previous season being played in front of empty arenas across the league.
By the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, however, Milwaukee and Phoenix’s arenas were filled to the rafters during the NBA Finals — and, in Milwaukee’s case, a sea of people gathered outside of them — to witness the Bucks beat the Suns and earn the franchise’s first title in half a century.
Even while the epidemic continues, the hope and expectation is that next season will see as much normality as possible throughout the NBA. Based on recent NBA predictions regarding where the salary-cap and luxury tax lines are anticipated to fall, the league’s bottom line should improve going into the 2022-23 season next summer.
The NBA resumed its traditional summer league schedule this month after a year off, with annual showcases for the league’s incoming class of players held in California, Utah, and, ultimately, Nevada, where the Sacramento Kings defeated the Boston Celtics to win the Las Vegas Summer League title on Tuesday night.
That marked the unofficial conclusion of the NBA offseason in 2021. What will the following season bring now that it’s over? Here’s what a panel of ten NBA scouts and executives had to say about the events of the previous few weeks and what they imply for the next season in 2021-22.
Who is the top player in the NBA for the next season of 2021-22?
After Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to an NBA championship and Durant led Team USA to a fourth straight gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics after an amazing performance against Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the two shared the vote for the league’s best player heading into next season.
The reason for Antetokounmpo’s support was obvious: the way he led Milwaukee through the playoffs and to its first championship in 50 years.
“People want to point out his flaws, but he’s a heck of a player,” one Eastern Conference official said of Antetokounmpo.
Another East executive cited previous players who improved after breaking through and winning a championship, and he believes Antetokounmpo will do the same.
“At both ends, he’s obtained a separate cheat code that provides him that position,” he said. “You can make a case for Durant and LeBron [James], but can they do it consistently due to injuries and age?”
Those who supported Durant, on the other hand, had a strong case to make: his continued position as the league’s most complete and dominating offensive force — perhaps the best the sport has ever seen.
“I don’t believe it’s close,” a Western Conference scout said. “I think he’s the greatest scorer in the league, and he’s very strong defensively as well.” “The offensive things he’s capable of are generational, and I’m not sure you can stop him.”
“He’s a ruthless killer.”
Aside from Durant’s overall offensive domination, many of those who eventually chose the Brooklyn Nets superstar claimed the distinction came down to his not having the same sort of glaring weakness in his game as Antetokounmpo’s continuing free throw line struggle.
An East scout stated, “A healthy Durant offers more on both ends than anybody else.” “His mix of scoring and defense is difficult to stomach, but his health is a huge if moving ahead.”
James was the only other name suggested by those surveyed, but he didn’t get any votes. At this time, it was obvious that the three stars were on a different level.
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What was/were the greatest offseason move(s)?
The Heat’s signing of Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal was the clear winner in this category, since he was the biggest star to switch clubs this month.
“”I don’t care about the money,” a West executive said, “but I do care about the fit.” He matches the Heat’s ethos, and I believe he’s the missing piece — plus, he was kept away from everyone else who wanted him.”
Lowry, 35, was traded to the Heat from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa, as well as a three-year, $85 million contract.
While many scouts and executives felt that the duration of Lowry’s new contract might be an issue, the present fit obscured any future issues, especially when coupled with the re-signing of sharpshooter Duncan Robinson and the acquisition of defensive stopper P.J. Tucker from the Bucks.
“[Lowry is] a proven postseason player,” a scout for the Eastern Conference stated. “He has a winning attitude, is tough, and will fit in well.”
The Magic drafting guard Jalen Suggs with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2021 draft was the other option that received many votes. Suggs, who led Gonzaga to the NCAA championship game in the spring, has been identified as the guy who can finally bring the Magic back into contention after spending the previous few seasons buried in the Eastern Conference’s abyss.
“I believe he’s the kind of guy that has the ability to alter the course of that organization,” one East executive said.
Just days after the NBA draft, the free-agent signing process for 2021 has started.
• Pelton: Analyzing every offseason move • Lowe: How the Heat keep doing this • Latest free agency and trade news and buzz NBA analysts discuss the biggest shocks and what’s next for the league Every trade has its own set of grades and details.
Both the Russell Westbrook deal and the Bulls’ all-in approach to winning now by adding Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan each received votes.
The executive who applauded the Westbrook trade did so on behalf of the Wizards, who were relieved of the last two years and nearly to $90 million left on his contract. Washington was able to sign free agency point guard Spencer Dinwiddie as well as bring many players back from Los Angeles as a result of the trade.
The Wizards were “stuck,” according to one East executive. “They now have flexibility, which compensates for the fact that they don’t have this massive anchor hanging over their heads.”
After the Bulls’ actions, a West scout complimented them for attempting to move ahead after the club had been stuck in a rebuild for the previous several seasons and with All-Star Zach LaVine nearing free agency.
The scout remarked, “I really appreciate what Chicago did.” “I realize it’s not enough, but something has to be done.” DeMar is one of my favorite players. I’m not a huge Lonzo fan, but I believe he belongs there.
“What else is there to do in Chicago? What other options do you have? So, what exactly are you waiting for? Something must be done. They couldn’t have made any more progress on the court, in my opinion. They overpaid, but I enjoy the basketball style.”
What is Miami’s position in the East now that Lowry has been acquired?
Russell Westbrook, according to Stephen A. Smith, still needs an NBA title to cement his basketball legacy.
What was/were the worst offseason move(s)?
The clubs who executed one of the earliest free agency transactions, the sign-and-trade deal that moved Lonzo Ball from New Orleans to Chicago, tied for first place among the league’s most reviled moves.
For Chicago, the emphasis was on another sign-and-trade deal, this time with the Spurs, which brought DeRozan to the Bulls.
While those surveyed lauded DeRozan’s potential fit with Ball and Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine, the price Chicago paid in terms of money ($84 million over three years) and trade assets (forward Thaddeus Young, a first-round selection, and two second-round picks) was thought to be much too high.
A Western Conference official remarked, “Giving up another first-rounder to overpay [DeRozan] was the worst over-the-top move to get behind.”
The combination of the DeRozan deal with the one that saw Chicago acquire Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline back in March — a transaction that cost another two future firsts — was part of the reasoning behind that thinking.
“I like the fit on the court,” a scout for the East remarked, “but they’d better win, because if they don’t, they’re a costly, terrible club that can’t rebuild.”
New Orleans, on the other hand, was chastised for their whole offseason. With the possibility of Zion Williamson signing a contract deal with the Pelicans next summer looming, the Pelicans shifted back in the draft to save money before free agency started, then traded Ball and a first-round selection for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and Devonte’ Graham in free agency.
“Obviously, they were going to move on from Lonzo,” an East scout said, “but then Graham is your answer?”
“Nothing changes until Zion’s attitude about the future there changes, which none of this seems to have done.”
Others were even franker.
“They’re on a sinking ship, grasping for a life preserver that won’t save them,” a West executive said. “I’m not sure where [center Jonas Valanciunas] will fit in. I’m not sure Devonte’ is worth what they paid for him. It’s simply strange.”
The Lakers’ acquisition of Westbrook shortly before the draft was the only other move that received multiple votes. While both of those voters admitted that it may not matter in the end in terms of stopping the star-studded Lakers from winning the championship, they also hated Westbrook and James’ on-court chemistry.
A Western Conference scout remarked, “Look, I’m trying to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt on this.” “However, considering what they might have done, I don’t see that fit working out over the season. I’m a big Russell Westbrook supporter. It’s simply that the fit isn’t right for me.”
Why did one party win the DeRozan trade by such a large margin?
What was the most unexpected move of the offseason?
The Celtics signing Schroder for a one-year deal at the taxpayer’s midlevel exception ($5.9 million) after he turned down a large contract offer from the Lakers during the season got the most votes.
“After what he turned down two months ago, you wouldn’t have thought that would be the offer he’d end up with,” one East executive said.
Walker agreeing to a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder and then agreeing to a two-year, $18 million contract with the Knicks was the only other transaction that received more than one vote.
Some were surprised that Oklahoma City was ready to buy out Walker after turning players they acquired into more assets in previous seasons — including the player the Thunder sold to Boston for him back in June, center Al Horford.
The Thunder, according to a West executive, “haven’t done that.” “They’ve always attempted to inflate the player’s worth and receive something in return.”
Meanwhile, Walker’s decision to sign with his hometown Knicks was viewed as a potentially profitable move for the team, depending on how Walker’s ailing left knee performs next season.
“Everything was surprised to see it work out so fast,” one East scout said, “and getting Kemba on a sub-midlevel contract is really fantastic.”
The NBA season 2021-22 begins in October with two star-studded doubleheaders on ESPN.
Wednesday, October 20th, 7:30 p.m. ET, Celtics at. Knicks 10 p.m. ET, Nuggets vs. Suns
Friday, October 22nd, 7:30 p.m. ET, Nets at. 76ers 10 p.m. ET, Suns vs. Lakers
Meanwhile, two other clubs, Dallas and Portland, have been dubbed “surprises” for failing to find a way to improve their rosters around their heliocentric players, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.
“Will they be able to get a healthy [Kristaps] Porzingis?” The Mavs were brought up by an East executive. “That is the secret to success. But I was taken aback when they remained still. They didn’t do enough to go ahead, and now they’re on the clock with Luka [after he signed a supermax contract this summer].”
Meanwhile, Lillard has made it clear that he wants Portland to improve this summer, and the Blazers have essentially remained the same, keeping Norman Powell while adding big Cody Zeller and guard Ben McLemore to one-year contracts. The appointment of Chauncey Billups as head coach was their greatest offseason splash.
Another East executive remarked, “I understand the entire ‘Don’t do anything just to do something’ mentality.” “However, I believe they should have worked more to improve instead of simply bringing Norm back.”
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Why are there so few teams tanking these days?
T1. Draft lottery odds flattened: 3 votes
T1. Small-market clubs’ recent postseason success: 3
T3. The play-in tournament’s inception: 2
T3. A lack of front-office turnover: 2
The environment has totally shifted this summer, after years of concern about clubs starting the regular season more interested in losing than winning. Only three clubs are thought to be aggressively attempting to position themselves as high in the lottery as possible next season: the Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, and Houston Rockets.
While there were many responses, they all pointed to two changes taken by the NBA to attempt to alter clubs’ minds in this area: leveling lottery chances and establishing the play-in tournament. Both have made what was already a difficult task — enduring several seasons of crushing defeats on the floor — much more challenging.
An East executive remarked, “It’s very f—-ing hard to tank.” “That is something that most people are unaware of. It’s simple to speak about it academically. Then you have to put it into practice. That is very difficult.”
Another reason teams are less interested in trying to sink to the bottom is that the Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies jumped up to the top two spots in the draft from the middle of the lottery in 2019 — the first year the new odds were implemented — as well as the Lakers jumping up to fourth from 11th.
“I believe it had a huge effect seeing New Orleans and Memphis go up that first year for Ja [Morant] and Zion,” one East scout said. “I believe that will linger with people for a long time.”
The possibility of an additional two teams qualifying for the playoffs in the play-in tournament is another motivation for clubs to win, which coincided with another item mentioned as a possible driving factor: front offices having to demonstrate indications of improvement going ahead.
“”There hasn’t been much change in front offices,” a West executive noted, “so for some clubs, it’s put up or shut up time.” They must begin to go in the correct path.”
Several people also pointed to the success of teams that have avoided tanking in recent years, such as the Toronto Raptors winning the title two years ago and the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks breaking into the playoffs with immediate deep runs, as evidence that a lengthy and painful rebuilding process is no longer required.
However, as one West executive put it, that reasoning may be faulty for clubs attempting to copy the Suns or Hawks:
“I believe a lot of it has to do with these playoffs, when teams have squeaked through and people are disregarding where players have been injured. It’s taken on a more NFL-style, win-now mentality.”
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Who will win each conference and the NBA championship?
Champions of the finals:
The two star-studded teams in the East and West, the Nets and Lakers, earned a commanding advantage in voting to advance out of their respective conferences and repeat their Christmas Day battle in Los Angeles in the NBA Finals.
In terms of the amount of votes the Nets earned (7 to 5) and the conviction with which Brooklyn garnered its support, there was greater confidence in Brooklyn making it out of the East. The greatest barrier between the Nets and a championship is… the Nets, according to almost every remark about the team.
“The Nets should obviously win if they are healthy,” one East executive remarked. “However, as this season has shown, anything can happen.”
The reigning champion Bucks, however, got two votes to make it out of the East, with one voter believing that their championship history, along with concerns about Brooklyn’s struggle to remain healthy and integrate on the court, pushed them over the top.
Another East CEO remarked, “I believe Brooklyn is talented.” “Those guys are incredible. But I’m not sure whether they’ll be good enough in a series if they don’t compliment one other. Will it surprise me if they win? No. However, I have yet to see it.
“I believe that Milwaukee players now know how to win and are confident in their ability to do it. The Bucks have a distinct personality. There are no age restrictions. The capacity to play from the inside out There’s no way they won’t be able to play. I believe you should give them the upper hand.”
Meanwhile, the West was a jumbled mess. At least one vote was cast for each of the four teams: the Lakers, Warriors, Jazz, and Nuggets. While many individuals chose the Lakers in the end, others did so after considering a variety of teams that all have faults and deciding that supporting LeBron James was the best choice.
“I’ll take the Lakers,” one East executive remarked, “but I’m not sure how I feel about the West.” “There are a lot of questions all over the place.”
However, one West executive who ultimately chose the Lakers believes the mixed reactions to Westbrook’s arrival are exaggerated.
He remarked, “I don’t believe Westbrook is a bad addition.” “He’s a fierce competitor, and I’m guessing he’ll be in a position with LeBron where he won’t be taking the most shots on the team until teams force him to. He’s now the third-best player.”
Golden State, meanwhile, received a couple of votes, with the belief that a combination of Stephen Curry’s continued MVP-caliber play, Klay Thompson’s return from a two-year absence, and the franchise’s ability to be active in the trade market gives the Warriors a ceiling that could be good enough to get them out of the West.
“I believe Golden State has the skill and assets to compete,” a West executive said.
Utah earned two votes, with injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley mentioned as underappreciated reasons for the Jazz’s failure to make the playoffs last season, and as evidence why the NBA’s best record shouldn’t be ignored.
“They have a lot of depth and were the top club in the league for the most of last year,” one East official said. “They had a terrible series against the Clippers, but many people believe you can’t win unless you win.”
“They knocked on the door last year, and I believe they will this year.”
The Nets, on the other hand, are the clear favorites to win the championship, having earned six of the ten votes. The Lakers were the only other club to get more than one vote to win the championship, with two votes.
Even if the Nets have to deal with the same injury and chemistry issues as last season, the talent they’ve accumulated should be enough.
“The only thing that can stop them is themselves,” one East scout stated.
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