This summer, 60 NBA players changed teams in free agency. Another 40 or so changed teams via trade. That’s damn near 40 percent of the league leaving one team for another. Obviously, teams acquiring players have high hopes that they’ll make a positive impact in their new situation. But the teams that let those same players walk in free agency, or traded them away, often have their own reasons for doing so. Though it's not always the explicit reason a player is let go, sometimes a team will improve when he leaves.
Here are a few players whose former teams might improve on the court without them.
Carmelo never fit all that well in Oklahoma City, and the divorce he and the Thunder went through this offseason was a necessary one for both sides. OKC will benefit from his absence not just from no longer having to paper over his weaknesses, but also because it will allow Billy Donovan to lean more heavily on lineup configurations that he arguably did not use often enough last season. Recently re-signed Jerami Grant, for example, fits the mold of long, explosive athlete that Sam Presti has often prioritized, and giving him more time should improve the Thunder’s defense. Getting Patrick Patterson on the floor more often allows Donovan to tread a middle ground between Grant’s skill set and Anthony’s by combining shooting and the ability to defend in space. And because Dennis Schröder was acquired in the Anthony deal, the Thunder now have an additional backcourt player they can lean on for small-ball lineups featuring Paul George at the four, which we rarely saw last season.
I unabashedly love Ryan Anderson. I profiled him for this very website early last season, extolling his virtues and printing gushing quotes from Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni about how much his defense had improved from the year before. A few months later, D’Antoni sent Anderson to the bench in a pre-emptive move to ensure that the team would not need to depend on him during the playoffs, when he knew the Warriors would be able to play him off the floor due to his inability to keep up defensively. The Rockets will have to make no such pre-emptive moves this year, and because of that, they can spend the regular season working through combinations of players including the same guys they’ll use throughout the postseason. They still have more than enough shooting and off-the-bounce creativity to make Mike D’Antoni’s offense hum at peak efficiency, and they can divide the minutes that used to be ticketed for Anderson between Anthony, who has a more diverse offensive skill set, and P.J. Tucker, who is still a good shooter but also a considerably better defender than Anderson.
Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams
Two of the Hornets’ major acquisitions of the 2017 offseason were quickly dispatched of in 2018. It was clear by halfway through the season that neither player was working out in Charlotte, so it’s not all that surprising. Howard’s departure clears the way for Cody Zeller to spend more time working at center, which is a major benefit considering he has been one of their most effective players for years. Zeller has a strong impact on the team’s performance whenever he’s on the floor, and clearing Howard out of the way means new coach James Borrego almost has to depend on him. MCW, meanwhile, was arguably the league’s worst backup point guard last season, torpedoing the Buzz offense anytime he stepped on the court. (Their offensive rating dropped by five points per 100 possessions when he entered the game.) Tony Parker is not what he once was, but he can’t be worse than what the Hornets got out of that position a year ago. If Parker provides competent backup point guard play behind Kemba Walker, perhaps the Hornets fix the bench performance issues that have been plaguing them for years.
Giving Stephenson’s minutes to Tyreke Evans seems much more likely to yield the kind of production the Pacers want from that backup lead guard position. Unlike Stephenson, who tends to over-dribble far too often, Evans shows no hesitation in getting downhill off the drive. Evans averaged 12.2 drives per game last season, per Second Spectrum data on NBA.com, a figure that ranked 16th in the NBA. He also ranked 13th in field goal percentage on drives among the 34 players who drove at least 10 times per game, making Indiana one of just two teams with two players in the top-15. (The second is Victor Oladipo.) Add in Evans’s superior outside shooting (39 percent from three on more than four attempts per game over the past three seasons) and greater ability to defend small forwards due to his size advantages, and he just makes much more sense in the role for the Pacers.
Parker is a former No. 2 overall pick so in that sense it hurts for the Bucks to lose him for nothing, but he’s a bit of an awkward fit alongside their franchise player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he doesn’t bring enough role player skills to really thrive in a secondary role. No longer tied to Parker’s draft status, the Bucks can try new kinds of lineup configurations they’ve turned to only sparingly during the Jason Kidd era but couldn’t get away with when Parker was involved. (Giannis at center!) Additionally, they can use Brook Lopez to soak up some of the frontcourt minutes that used to go to Parker and gain both shooting and defense while sparing Antetokounmpo from having to play center at all.