How has the NBA’s landscape changed after the draft and free agency?
The biggest shocker came on draft night, when the Los Angeles Lakers sprung a deal with the Washington Wizards to land former MVP Russell Westbrook. The move created the league’s newest superstar Big Three of Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the Lakers would later add Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard to the mix.
Two of the biggest stars to change teams during free agency were Kyle Lowry, who joined the Miami Heat via sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors, and DeMar DeRozan, who went to the Chicago Bulls in a sign-and-trade deal with the San Antonio Spurs. (The Bulls also landed Lonzo Ball in a separate trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.)
The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks kept their roster mostly intact, albeit losing 3-and-D forward P.J. Tucker to Miami, while the New York Knicks signed Bronx-native Kemba Walker to a team-friendly deal after the former All-Star was bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Where does that leave all 30 teams, and how much of a shakeup will we see following our post-NBA Finals power rankings?
Note: These rankings are based on where the members of our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Dave McMenamin, Kevin Pelton and Royce Young) think teams belong heading into next season. Title odds for 2022 by Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.
If the Nets’ offseason priority was to simply get healthy, it might’ve been enough to be next season’s Eastern favorite. But with impact additions Patty Mills and James Johnson, Blake Griffin‘s re-signing, plus Kevin Durant‘s recommitment to their future, the Nets might have had the best offseason in the conference. — Young
Fresh of winning their first championship in a half-century, the Bucks made some moves around the edges in free agency, watching P.J. Tucker go but bringing back George Hill and trading for Grayson Allen. The Nets might be the favorites to both win the East, and the title, but the Bucks are a comfortable second in both categories. Meanwhile, now that the pressure of breaking through and winning a title has been lifted, does Giannis Antetokounmpo have new levels to reach? — Bontemps
After trading for Russell Westbrook and acquiring Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, there have been two extreme schools of thought in evaluating next season’s Lakers: Some view them as an elite collection of talent with six potential Hall of Famers, while others point to their average age — 31.8 years old — as a team nearing its expiration date. — McMenamin
The biggest move that the Phoenix Suns made this offseason was locking up Chris Paul to a four-year, $120 million deal that will expire when Paul is 40 years old. Paul was instrumental in helping Phoenix to the NBA Finals last season and now has a chance to get there again. Phoenix also re-signed Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader from last year’s Finals squad. They swapped guard Jevon Carter for Landry Shamet, and brought in center JaVale McGee and point guard Elfrid Payton, as well. — Lopez
In the wake of their disappointing second-round exit with the league’s best record in the regular season, the Jazz largely stayed the course. Utah re-signed All-Star point guard Mike Conley, a necessary move, while tinkering with the second unit. Out are frontcourt backups Derrick Favors and Georges Niang, replaced by combo forward Rudy Gay and center Hassan Whiteside. The Jazz hope a little more scoring punch in reserve and better health in the playoffs for Conley and Donovan Mitchell will produce better results than we saw this spring. — Pelton
There is only one thing anyone is talking about when it comes to the 76ers: What’s going to happen with Ben Simmons? Philly president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has shown throughout his career that he isn’t going to trade a player for less than what he thinks he is worth, and he isn’t going to make a trade for the sake of making one. So as long as a certain All-NBA point guard in Portland remains off the market, the expectation here is that Simmons will remain in Philadelphia — which could make for plenty of awkwardness when training camp opens next month. — Bontemps
As soon as Austin Rivers officially re-signs, the Nuggets will bring back nine of the 10 players who saw at least 50 minutes of action in the 2021 playoffs, swapping out one veteran forward (Jeff Green) for another (Paul Millsap). Of course, Denver’s biggest possible addition will be the return of point guard Jamal Murray from the ACL tear he suffered last April just as the Nuggets were serving notice as contenders to win the Western Conference. If Murray is near 100% for the playoffs, a core led by him and MVP Nikola Jokic will be tough to beat. — Pelton
Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris joined a roster that has always prided itself on being mentally tougher and physically stronger than everybody else. The trio should fit in nicely behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Heat have the kind of roster that would be tough to deal with in a playoff series. The question is whether the veteran-laden team can get to that point with the health needed to make a deep run. — Friedell
The Hawks are mostly in run-it-back mode following their conference finals run last season, locking up John Collins with a five-year, $125 million extension. They brought in Delon Wright in a three-way trade with the Kings and Celtics, but their other main acquisitions — Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper — came in the draft. Johnson led the Hawks in scoring and rebounding in summer league, averaging 19 points and 9.5 boards per game. Cooper, who slid to 48th in the draft, averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 7.3 assists. — Lopez
The Clippers were among free agency’s winners, managing to re-sign key playoff contributors Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson, despite being limited in what they could offer both players. The big change will be at point guard, where they parted with Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo to bring back Eric Bledsoe to where he started his career. Still, the Clippers’ season will be defined by whether Kawhi Leonard can return from surgery on his partially torn ACL in time for the playoffs. Although the Clippers beat the Jazz without Leonard, his absence in the conference finals showed that group’s hard ceiling. — Pelton
Rewind to the end of last season, when the Mavs were seemingly spiraling toward turmoil, with the infrastructure of the franchise changing as head coach Rick Carlisle and GM Donnie Nelson left their jobs and the reported discontent from Luka Doncic about staffing. All of those things are generally unchanged, but the Mavs did lock up Doncic to a max extension, hired Jason Kidd as coach and Nico Harrison as GM, and made one roster move of note, signing sharpshooter Reggie Bullock. The Mavs are a team with a spotlight on them because of Doncic’s star power, and as they enter the season with a minimally upgraded roster and still a basket of questions, things could turn quickly if it starts poorly. — Young
New lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, second-year center James Wiseman and third-year guard Jordan Poole make up the young core the Warriors have to hope continues to improve as they decide whether it can help Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green sooner than later. The Warriors added veterans Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica to try to stabilize a bench that lacked an older presence last season, but all eyes will be on Thompson’s attempt to return to form after missing two straight seasons because of ACL and Achilles injuries. — Friedell
The Celtics essentially swapped Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier for Al Horford, Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson, opting for financial flexibility and better roster balance over keeping their two top free agents. It presents an interesting puzzle for new coach Ime Udoka to solve, as the Celtics still believe they haven’t done enough to move up the standings much beyond the seventh-place finish they recorded last year. — Bontemps
After struggling offensively in their first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks signed both Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier in free agency in an effort to shore up that part of their team. New York also brought back Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Derrick Rose, and made a couple of intriguing draft picks in Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes. It has taken only a couple of decades, but the Knicks have managed to put together solid back-to-back offseasons, and they should be poised to be in the middle of the East playoff picture once again. — Bontemps
If the Blazers were feeling pressure to improve following the Damian Lillard situation, their offseason might not have relieved it all that much. Their additions were minimum-level signings (Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore, Tony Snell) with the major move being re-signing Norman Powell. The Blazers are banking on a coaching change, internal roster development and some better health to pay off for a leap back into the West’s top tier. — Young
As the Grizzlies organically grow around a core of Ja Morant, a now-healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks, they made savvy offseason adjustments. It seems like Steven Adams has been a Grizzly all along, and taking a flyer on 22-year-old Jarrett Culver in exchange for Patrick Beverley is smart business to possibly find a hidden gem that breaks out with the right fit. They moved up in the draft to select Ziaire Williams at No. 10 overall, adding more explosiveness to their backcourt. The Grizzlies are trending in a positive direction and have something to build on after their run through the play-in to the 8-seed last season. — Young
Charlotte continued adding to its young core with the signing of free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. and the addition of draft picks James Bouknight and Kai Jones. The Hornets have plenty of young players in place to get over the hump and back into the postseason — a fact reinforced by the decision to extend Terry Rozier on a four year, $97 million extension. This roster sets up as one of the more intriguing groups in the league behind Rookie of the Year point guard LaMelo Ball. — Friedell
As Rick Carlisle returns to Indiana, he’ll do so with a Pacers roster that didn’t experience much change from a season ago. Indiana signed Torrey Craig to a two-year deal in free agency but didn’t bring in any other veterans. They lost Doug McDermott (Spurs) and Aaron Holiday (Wizards) but brought back T.J. McConnell. They also added Chris Duarte with the 13th pick in the draft and brought in Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson via trade. In four summer league games, Duarte averaged 18.3 points while shooting 48.3% from deep. In five summer league games, Jackson blocked 15 shots. — Lopez
Chicago had one of the most interesting offseasons in the league — adding DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — and picked up Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu in the second round. With Zach LaVine‘s pending free agency next summer, it will be fascinating to see how all the new players fit together alongside LaVine and All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls made headlines over the summer, but it remains to be seen if the organization’s all-in bet will pay playoff dividends. — Friedell
Kyle Lowry heading to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade at the start of free agency officially brought the golden age of Raptors basketball to an end. But behind a young core of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, Toronto will expect to remain a factor in the Eastern Conference. The decision that will loom over Toronto for years to come, however, was the choice of Scottie Barnes over Jalen Suggs with the fourth overall pick. The futures of those two players will be tied moving forward as a result. — Bontemps
Sending Russell Westbrook to the Lakers for three useful contributors (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma) and expanding the trade to bring back Spencer Dinwiddie and Aaron Holiday as replacements at point guard transformed Washington’s depth. The Wizards still look likely to be fighting for a play-in spot in a deep Eastern Conference third tier, but adding Dinwiddie to Bradley Beal (both 28 years old) in the backcourt gives Washington a path forward — provided that Beal, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, signs an extension or returns in free agency. — Pelton
The roster that new coach Willie Green will lead looks a little different than the one that Stan Van Gundy had last season. The Pelicans let Lonzo Ball go and brought back Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple in a sign-and-trade. They replaced Ball with Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham in a separate sign-and-trade deal. The Pelicans will also have a new center in Jonas Valanciunas, while rookie forward Trey Murphy will press for time, as well. New Orleans has flexibility to make another move or two before the season begins if something presents itself in the fall. — Lopez
It was an offseason of change for San Antonio, which watched several veterans move on. DeMar DeRozan went to the Bulls in a deal that brought back Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu. Rudy Gay (Utah), Patty Mills (Brooklyn), Trey Lyles (Detroit) and Gorgui Dieng (Atlanta) all signed elsewhere. The Spurs did add shooting with Doug McDermott in a sign-and-trade with the Pacers, and took a chance on big man Zach Collins in the hopes that he can get healthy at this point in his career. San Antonio’s youth movement looks to be underway. — Lopez
Davion Mitchell went from winning the NCAA championship at Baylor to being named co-MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League. And in between, the Kings nabbed the defensive dynamo with the No. 9 pick. He’ll join an already talented group of guards in De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Sacramento’s main question mark comes down to its production in the frontcourt, where new big man Tristan Thompson will join the rotation with Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes. — McMenamin
The Wolves are hoping their late-season momentum will carry into the 2021-22 season. When the roster has been complete, the Wolves have been competitive, and they progressed on both ends of the floor under coach Chris Finch. Their only offseason move was to deal for Patrick Beverley, bailing on 22-year-old Jarrett Culver — a head-scratching deal on multiple fronts. But Beverley gives the Wolves more toughness and leadership, and if Anthony Edwards can elevate toward stardom, they might be the kind of team that surprises the league next season. — Young
Detroit got its man in Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick, adding the 6-foot-7 point guard out of Oklahoma State to a group that already features an emerging wing in Jerami Grant. But after going 20-52 a season ago, the Pistons still have a long way to reach respectability. The speed in which the Pistons can move from the cellar to the ceiling will largely be determined by how fast their young core of Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo, Sekou Doumbouya, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart can find their footing in the league. — McMenamin
Cleveland landed a talented 7-footer in Evan Mobley with the No. 3 pick, with Cavs brass insisting he can coexist with center Jarrett Allen. Cleveland’s chances of making it back to the postseason for the first time since LeBron James left town will hinge upon Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro‘s continued development and the team developing a defensive identity after ranking 25th in defensive efficiency a season ago. — McMenamin
Jalen Suggs falling to Orlando on draft night gave hope to an organization that is in desperate need of a new star around which to build. The Magic are hopeful that fellow rookie Franz Wagner can have a strong impact as Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac return from serious knee injuries. Suggs’ arrival has the chance to create some much-needed buzz around a team that has been dormant for almost a decade. Veteran center Robin Lopez should be a solid role model for the young group. — Friedell
Although it’s a long shot to be reflected in the standings this season, a strong NBA draft has given Rockets fans reason for hope. Houston needed some lottery luck to retain its own pick, which landed No. 2 and yielded Jalen Green — perhaps the most impressive rookie during the NBA summer league in Las Vegas. The Rockets also traded to take statistical standout Alperen Sengun at No. 16 and added two more first-round picks in Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba. A youthful core will take its lumps in 2021-22 while hopefully developing into the next great Houston group. — Pelton
The Thunder’s offseason didn’t go according to plan in many ways, with their draft slot coming in lower than they had hoped, and the opportunity to land two top-five picks disappearing when the Rockets’ pick stayed in Houston. Then Josh Giddey, whom they drafted with the No. 6 pick, tweaked an ankle five minutes into summer league. They locked in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — who had a better season than most people noticed — to a max extension and bought out Kemba Walker’s contract to clear a roster logjam. The Thunder are patient and process-driven, and committed to developing their young roster, acquiring assets and being ready to pounce when luck tilts their way. — Young