The NBA offseason can be a time of great hope.
Fans and organizations are often brimming with optimism over draft picks, free agents and trades. Reality checks can’t really arrive till the regular season.
But every year, at least a handful of teams get worse. That may be the product of an intentional aim to lose more games and build up draft lottery odds. It may be the result of standing pat while other teams loaded up. Age can be a factor. Losing free agents can hurt.
Plenty of factors play a part. In considering all of them, these five teams appear to be headed toward a worse record in 2022-23.
But even if Mitchell, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and the veterans who came over in the Rudy Gobert trade are all on the roster when the season starts, the Jazz will almost certainly take a step back.
Over the last six years (regular season and postseason), Gobert’s raw plus-minus of plus-2,498 trails only Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chris Paul.
Over the last three, Utah was plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions when Gobert played without Mitchell, compared with -0.5 when Mitchell played without Gobert.
Lack of perimeter defense had this team hanging by a thread on that end in 2021-22. Now that the best anchor of this generation is on the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Jazz’s defensive marks could fall off a cliff.
The offense may suffer without Gobert too. His rim running, offensive rebounding, above-the-rim finishing and screen setting had real impacts.
During Mitchell’s career, Gobert trails
Without his presence around the rim, defenses can key in even more on the perimeter threats.
The Miami Heat will still be good next season and should compete for home-court advantage in the playoffs. That said, while losing P.J. Tucker in free agency doesn’t doom them, it decreases their chances of finishing first in the East again.
That’s especially true when you consider their competition in that conference. The Philadelphia 76ers added Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr. Plus, they’ll get a full offseason and training camp with James Harden and Joel Embiid together.
The Milwaukee Bucks added an interesting playmaker in Joe Ingles. And as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are healthy, they’ll be in the hunt for the top seed.
The Boston Celtics get a year of maturation for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to go along with the acquisitions of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari.
It would require massive leaps from some of Miami’s younger players, like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Max Strus, to overcome the loss of Tucker and catch up to those other Eastern Conference contenders.
Last season, the team’s net rating was 2.0
If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving come back and everything is hunky-dory next season, the Brooklyn Nets should smash their 44-win total from last season. On talent alone, this is a title-contending roster.
Of course, talent alone doesn’t win games in the NBA. Availability is big too, and Durant and Irving have appeared in 90 and 83 games, respectively, over the last two seasons.
But the bigger concern remains whether either star will be on the team when training camp starts.
After the KD drama quieted down, he reiterated his trade request and reportedly went a step further by issuing an ultimatum to team governor Joe Tsai:
Sources: Kevin Durant informed Joe Tsai that he does not have faith in the Nets‘ direction. The meeting was described as transparent and professional, with a clear message: Keep me — or the GM and coach. <a href="https://t.co/W1voNf9MDC">https://t.co/W1voNf9MDC</a> <a href="https://t.co/0lbBay2OxF">https://t.co/0lbBay2OxF</a>
Not long after that, Tsai tweeted: “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Going from this latest dust-up to committed, team-first basketball by October seems like a stretch. And if Brooklyn trades Durant, it’s almost impossible to imagine it hangs on to Irving.
Barring win-now trades for both of those players (which probably isn’t a smarter route than collecting draft picks and young talent), that path leaves Ben Simmons in the alpha role. Though Simmons has become underrated in the last few years, a Nets team without Durant and Irving likely isn’t headed to the 2023 postseason.
This analysis will read similarly to the Miami slide. The Memphis Grizzlies will be good in 2022-23. Significant development from Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams might even make them better. But they have some high hurdles to get over.
First, and perhaps most importantly, the 56 games Memphis won in 2021-22 were far more than anyone expected, and it’d be a high bar for anyone to clear. On the law of averages alone, getting “worse” is a natural outcome.
But losing Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton is no small thing either. Both were staples of a Memphis bench that often outperformed the starters, and they ranked seventh and fifth, respectively, among Grizzlies in 2021-22 value over replacement player.
Memphis is rightfully confident in its ability to draft and develop talent. First-round picks Jake LaRavia and David Roddy could replace most of what was lost, but there’s no guarantee.
While those two points would be enough of a basis for the Grizzlies’ inclusion, we also have Jaren Jackson Jr.’s injury to think about.
On June 30, the team announced that he’d undergone surgery on his foot and would miss four to six months. If he comes back toward the latter end of that timeline, we’re talking about 30 to 40 missed games for a 2021-22 All-Defensive selection.
All of the above makes a step back feel much more likely than seeing Memphis threaten 60 wins.
Again, a Mitchell trade for Utah could change the perception, but the San Antonio Spurs seem like the safest bet to be worse in 2022-23.
Of course, they missed the playoffs and only won 34 games last season. They didn’t have a ton of room for downward mobility, but the front office made some anyway.
Trading 25-year-old All-Star Dejounte Murray for a player they bought out (Danilo Gallinari) and multiple draft picks was this summer’s most obvious pivot toward a teardown and rebuild.
Without Murray, the Spurs are almost certain to lose 50-plus games.
Last season, they were plus-1.9 points per 100 possessions when Murray was on the floor and minus-3.7 when he was off.
The roster still has some intriguing talents (like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and incoming rookie Jeremy Sochan), but Murray was the player who made the Spurs competitive last season.
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