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Ranking the offseason moves

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Oct 20 2008 12:13PM

Now, that was an offseason.

Big trades, big free agent signings, a steady stream of former NBA players opting to sign with European teams. A team picking up stakes and moving a thousand miles east. The return of hope to Miami, the report of treachery in Los Angeles.

Now it's time to take stock of who did well, and who fell on their face trying to improve since the close of NBA business last June (and, in the non-playoff teams' cases, last April). In doing so, we take account of everything-new coaches, new GMs, new owners, new buildings, new players-all of which impact a team's bottom line.

Here's our scorecard, from 1 to 30. Please keep in mind; a) the elite teams don't have to do all that much in the offseason, and thus often get ranked low, and b) this is not a projected order of finish for next season.

1) NEW JERSEY NETS

2007-08 RECORD: 34-48, fourth place, Atlantic Division, did not make playoffs

KEY ACQUISITIONS : Fs Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons (trade with Milwaukee), C Brook Lopez (10th pick, first round), F Ryan Anderson (21st pick, first round), G Chris Douglas-Roberts (44th pick, second round), F Jarvis Hayes (UFA, Detroit), F Eduardo Najera (UFA, Denver), G Keyon Dooling (trade with Orlando)

KEY RE-SIGNINGS: None

KEY LOSSES: F Richard Jefferson (trade with Milwaukee), C Nenad Krstic (RFA, signed with Triumph Lyubertsy Moscow), F Bostian Nachbar (UFA, signed with Dynamo Moscow, C DeSagana Diop (UFA, signed with Dallas), G Marcus Williams (trade with Golden State)

PROJECTION: You say, the Nets weren't a very good team last season, and are only marginally better now after trading their leading scorer for a prospect in Yi and signing low-impact veterans like Hayes and Najera. You say, Lopez may have been the best center in this year's draft, but he'll need time. You say, how is Vince Carter going to handle being wet nurse to a bunch of kids?

I say, 2010.

I say, by getting rid of Jefferson's remaining $42 million, and not bothering to throw money at Krstic and Nachbar, New Jersey has only $23.9 million committed to its roster in the summer of 2010 (though the more realistic number is $35 million or so, which takes into account option pickups for Yi, Lopez, center Sean Williams and Anderson).

Either way, the Nets will have the ability to throw a maximum contract offer at LeBron James. They'll be able to say to James, you're the last piece. We have quicksilver Devin Harris at the point; we have Vince (maybe) at the two; we have the multi-skilled Yi at the four and we have a legit five in Lopez. We have Najera and Dooling entering their walk years, so if there's someone you'd like us to get, we can dump them. And, we're moving into our new digs within 18 months.

Plus, Jay-Z is a gazillionaire.

It's New Jersey's only card. Now, the Nets will get to play it for real.

2) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

2007-08 RECORD: 40-42, third place, Atlantic, lost in first round

KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Elton Brand (UFA, Clippers), F Maureece Speights (16th pick, first round), F Kareem Rush (UFA, Indiana)

KEY RE-SIGNINGS: F Andre Iguodala, G Lou Williams

KEY LOSSES: G/F Rodney Carney, C Calvin Booth (trade with Minnesota)

PROJECTION: Did Brand's agent, David Falk, lie to the Clippers? For that matter, did Brand lie to his then-teammates about his intentions to remain in Los Angeles? Sixers fans couldn't care less. They got Brand, and his career averages of 20.3 points and 10.2 rebounds, filling the team's gaping power forward hole. And Speights, green but with massive potential at 6-10, 245, will caulk up the position as Brand's backup.

Philly's $80 million hope is that Brand is fully recovered from the Achilles' injury that kept him out most of last season, and will be able to run with the team's young core of Thaddeus Young, Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert and Williams. Another question, though: is Brand, a low-post specialist, a good signing for a team so lacking in three-point shooting (the Sixers' abysmal .317 mark from beyond the arc last season was last in the league)? Why would any team defend the Sixers any other way but by surrounding Brand and daring anyone else to shoot from the perimeter?

The Sixers are counting on no one being able to catch them in order to test that theory.

3) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

2007-08 RECORD: 41-41, third place, Northwest Division, did not make playoffs

KEY ACQUISITIONS: G Rudy Fernandez (DVK Joventut Badalona), G Jerryd Bayless (draft rights acquired from Indiana), F Ike Diogu (trade with Indiana)

KEY RE-SIGNINGS: None

KEY LOSSES: G Brandon Rush (draft rights traded to Indiana), G Jarrett Jack (traded to Indiana), F James Jones (UFA, signed with Miami), assistant coach Bill Bayno (took head coaching job, Loyola Marymount)

PROJECTION: No one-not the Bulls, not the Heat, not the Sixers, not the Warriors-have two players coming onto their roster this season as good at the 6-6 Fernandez, a Manu Ginobili clone that the Blazers have spent two years trying to pry from Spain, and Greg Oden, ahead of schedule from his microfracture surgery last summer.

Assuming the massive Oden is able to contribute this season, Portland's lineup is scary good, with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge both entering the prime of their careers, Fernandez delivering at both guard spots, rookie Bayless hoisting up rocks from all over like he did in the Vegas Summer League and the likes of Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Joel Pryzbilla providing solid bench support. But how does Coach Nate McMillan keep everyone happy with minutes?

The answer: he doesn't. Someone's going to sit. Whether Portland's young players are mature enough to handle that is the team's biggest issue.

4) WASHINGTON WIZARDS

2007-08 RECORD: 43-39, second place, Southeast Division, lost in first round

KEY ACQUISITIONS: C JaVale McGee (18th pick, first round), G Dee Brown (RFA, Utah)

KEY RE-SIGNINGS: G Gilbert Arenas, F Antwan Jamison

KEY LOSSES: G Roger Mason (UFA, signed with San Antonio)

PROJECTION: Talent retention is just as important as talent acquisition, and the Wizards could have gone south in a hurry if they had let either Arenas or Jamison walk. But Washington got a new four-year deal with Jamison done before the start of the free agent negotiating period, and $111 million of owner Abe Pollin's loot convinced the mercurial Arenas to stay instead of entertaining offers by the Warriors and Clippers.

Arenas -- another microfracture patient -- has vowed to be smarter coming back this season than last, when he rushed back on the court and was never his old self. His return will make the Wizards awfully hard to guard; who do defenses load up on-Arenas, Caron Butler (20.3 ppg last season) or Jamison (team-high 21.4)? The size-deprived Wizards will also get a boost with the return of center Etan Thomas from open-heart surgery and the arrival of McGee, who's raw, but long,

But will Arenas be less of a leading man and more of an ensemble player? Can the Wizards play defense consistently well? And can they avoid Cleveland-which has knocked them out of the playoffs three years in a row-in the postseason?

5) MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

2007-08 RECORD: 22-60, fourth place, Northwest, did not make playoffs

KEY ACQUISITIONS: F/C Kevin Love (draft rights acquired from Memphis), Fs Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, C Jason Collins (trade with Memphis), G/F Rodney Carney, C Calvin Booth (trade with Philadelphia), assistant coach Dean Cooper (Houston)

KEY RE-SIGNINGS: F Craig Smith, F Ryan Gomes, G Sebastian Telfair

KEY LOSSES: G O.J. Mayo (draft rights traded to Memphis), F Antoine Walker, Gs Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner (traded to Memphis), G Mario Chalmers (draft rights traded to Miami)

PROJECTION: Minnesota was a franchise going nowhere, with no hope of getting better in a brutal west. But Kevin McHale finally got one right, sending a bunch of dead weight (and the rights to the buoyant Mayo) to Memphis on draft night for the rights to Love and the sharpshooting Miller. Rarely does a team get potential, proven veteran talent and offload onerous contracts in one deal, but that's exactly what Minnesota did. A Love-Al Jefferson-Miller frontcourt is going to be a load for opponents to handle, with Love's rebounding and passing ability the perfect complement to Jefferson's post skills and Miller's stroke.

Now, none of this will mean much if guard Randy Foye can't stay healthy. And Mayo may well become a superstar. And dealing Chalmers may hurt. And a halfcourt-based team doesn't bode well for the future of 2007 first-rounder Corey Brewer. But even if the Wolves move Brewer, they should get decent talent in return, adding to the core group that the team hopes will be helped by a big-name free agent in 2010.

Hey, it's a plan, which is more than Minnesota had two months ago.

:: CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO TEAMS 6-10 ::

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