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David Aldridge

The Dish

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O.J. Mayo (left) and Rudy Gay are two key building blocks for the Grizzlies.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Economy troubles folders, but young talent provides hope

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Aug 9 2009 8:48PM

So, what was this offseason about in the NBA?

The rich getting richer, that's what. The defending champions lost nothing and gained Ron Artest, getting younger, deeper and more talented. The runners-up lost Hedo Turkoglu, but more than made up for it.

All over the league, the elites fortified themselves while their lessers fought for scraps. The Eastern Conference gained more traction in its tug-of-war with the West. The sour economy and the lack of much salary cap room this summer conspired to make movement slow for most, with players like Allen Iverson and David Lee waiting for the dam to burst and someone to come up with some cash. Money has now, unfortunately, created a class system in the NBA. It's clear that those with means can stay strong, while those without have to wait their turn. That cleaves the league nicely into five categories:

The Haves (Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Trail Blazers)

The Middle Class(Raptors, Wizards, Pistons, Hawks, Nuggets, Jazz, Rockets, 76ers)

The Holders (Bulls, Knicks, Heat)

The Folders (Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Bucks, Kings, Bobcats, Nets)

The Dreamers (Clippers, Hornets, Pacers, Warriors, Thunder, Suns)

In grading each team's offseason, the financial divide has to be taken into account. The Lakers simply have more money than a lot of teams, which makes their offseason that much easier. If Miami had offered Lamar Odom the same amount of money that Los Angeles did, he might be on South Beach right now. But Miami couldn't, and Los Angeles knew it, so L.A. could afford to wait for L.O. to come to its number. That's an advantage. But it doesn't mean the teams with less can't be productive, as you'll see below with teams like Indiana.

I grade teams on their entire offseason -- the Draft, free agency, trades, coaching changes, new ownership, new arenas, anything that has impacted or will impact rosters. But it's kind of graded on a curve because of the money disparities. Once again: This is not a predicted order of finish for next season, only one guy's evaluation of what's transpired between the end of each team's season and now.

Here are The Folders. For the others, click on the links above.

The Folders

They have either lost a bundle in the recession and have had to scale way back or have always been among the poorest teams, relatively speaking. Any move they make almost always involves shedding payroll or keeping already low payrolls that way. Their fans have little hope, though the presence of some talented rookies makes a future, now hazy, at least possible.

MINNESOTA

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 18

Last season: 24-58, fourth place, Northwest; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: G Jonny Flynn (first-round pick), G Ricky Rubio (first-round pick), G Wayne Ellington (first-round pick), G Quentin Richardson (trade with Clippers), F Darius Songalia (trade with Washington), F/C Oleskiy Pecherov (trade with Washington), G Chucky Atkins (trade with Oklahoma City), F Damien Wilkens (trade with Oklahoma City)

Lost: G Randy Foye (traded to Washington), G/F Mike Miller (traded to Washington), F Mark Madsen (traded to Clippers), G Sebastian Telfair (traded to Clippers), F Craig Smith (traded to Clippers), fired former head coach Kevin McHale

Retained: None

The key man: F Corey Brewer. Coming off a season-killing knee injury, Brewer has to catch up fast before the Wolves' train leaves the station. But he's the only guy on the roster with shutdown ability on the wing, so he'll get a fair look.

The skinny: You can say this for David Kahn, the new president of basketball operations: He is unconventional. He drafted one point guard after another on Draft night and he's taken his sweet time hiring a coach. Unless Kahn is the world's best poker player, he seems to really believe that, if not this year, then someday, Rubio and Flynn will play together. His future as the team's executive may well hinge on whether he's right on that call.

MEMPHIS

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 20

Last season: 24-58, fifth place, Southeast; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: C Hasheem Thabeet (first-round pick), F DeMarre Carroll (first-round pick), F/G Sam Young (second-round pick), F Zach Randolph (trade with Clippers)

Lost: C Darko Milicic (traded to New York), F Hakim Warrick (signed with Milwaukee)

Retained: None

The key man: Randolph. A team full of young and impressionable players needs a veteran presence on the practice court and in the locker room to show them the right way to prepare and to play. That hasn't described Randolph in the past, but he'll get a chance to be a leader here.

The skinny: The Grizzlies had the best Draft in the league, taking three talented and defensive-minded players. Randolph has been a 20-10 guy the last couple of seasons and that shouldn't change in Memphis. Rudy Gay was one of the better players at the USA Basketball mini-camp and the returning backcourt of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo should improve with a full season under coach Lionel Hollins. Memphis is still way in the back of the pack, but it's starting to look like an NBA team again.

MILWAUKEE

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 22

Last season: 34-48, fifth place, Central; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: G Brandon Jennings (first-round pick); G Jodie Meeks (second-round pick), F Hakim Warrick (free agent, Memphis; one year, $3 million) F Kurt Thomas (trade with San Antonio), C Amir Johnson (trade with Detroit), G Walter Sharpe (trade with Denver), G Sonny Weems (trade with Denver)

Lost: F Richard Jefferson (traded to San Antonio), F Charlie Villanueva (signed with Detroit), F Malik Allen (traded to Denver)

Retained: None.

The key man: F Joe Alexander. Moving Jefferson has cleared the starting small forward spot for the second-year man, who struggled through his rookie season.

The skinny: We would pay cold, hard cash to see the first few practices Jennings has with Scott Skiles. If those two got on point, and Andrew Bogut again averaged a double-double, and Michael Redd came back from ACL surgery, Milwaukee might still have a puncher's chance at one of the last Playoff spots in the east. But the guess is it's going to be a season of adjustment for the 19-year-old Jennings as he learns the NBA game, and more cost-saving moves, and another trip to the Lottery next year.

SACRAMENTO

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 24

Last season: 17-65, fifth place, Pacific; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: G Tyreke Evans (first-round pick), F Omri Casspi (first-round pick), F Jon Brockman (second-round pick), F Sean May (free agent, Charlotte), G Sergio Rodriguez (trade with Sacramento), hired coach Paul Westphal

Lost: Fired former head coach Kenny Natt

Retained: None

The key (wo)man: Stephanie Henderson, Director, Season Ticket Services. Ms. Henderson will be on the front lines handling complaints from unhappy Kings fans at ARCO Arena next season. The Maloofs cut season ticket prices across the board after last season's horrible showing, so hopefully the fans will show Steph some mercy.

The skinny: Evans is a potential superstar, able to get to the basket whenever he wants. But the Kings are still light-years away talent-wise from getting back into the Western Conference picture. Don't think GM Geoff Petrie has assembled enough pieces yet to make a trade run like he did a decade ago for Chris Webber; in the interim, Westphal will have to goose things along (cover things up?) with his offensive schemes.

CHARLOTTE

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 26

Last season: 35-47, fourth place, Southeast; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: F Tyson Chandler (trade with New Orleans), G Gerald Henderson (first-round pick), F Derrick Brown (second-round pick)

Lost: F/C Emeka Okafor (traded to New Orleans)

Retained: None

The key man: The franchise's new owner. Current majority owner Bob Johnson is in the process of selling his controlling interest in the franchise, and the new guy is going to have a big selling job to a still-skeptical community in front of him/her.

The skinny: Larry Brown did his usual last season; he demanded half the roster be turned over, then coached what was left to within a couple of games of the Playoffs. This now-veteran group still needs someone to put the ball in the basket, though, and bringing in Chandler doesn't help there. Duke's Henderson is more of a Raja Bell-type defender than lights-out defender; Brown was a very good second-round selection. Did we mention Allen Iverson was available?

NEW JERSEY

DA's Offseason Rank: No. 30

Last season: 34-48, third place, Atlantic; Did not make Playoffs.

Added: G Terrence Williams (first-round pick), G Courtney Lee (trade with Orlando), G Rafer Alston (trade with Orlando), F/C Tony Battie (trade with Orlando)

Lost: G Vince Carter (traded to Orlando), F Ryan Anderson (traded to Orlando)

Retained: F Jarvis Hayes (club picked up one-year, $2.06 million option)

The key man: F Yi Jianlian. He has not shown much in two NBA seasons to warrant all the hype and his high draft status in '07. A team desperate for a talent influx needs the sixth overall pick in the draft to become a star. Now.

The skinny: After moving Carter to the Magic, it's clearance sale time in the Swamp, and nowhere is there less to look forward to than here. Devin Harris and Lee could be a nice backcourt, rookie Williams is talented, and Brook Lopez looks like he'll be a solid center. But the Nets have no hope of competing with this group, and with the franchise hemorraging millions, no realistic hope of getting any impact free agents in the future. What time does the game start? What time can you get there?

Send your 2010 draft boards, crazy trade proposals, questions, comments and criticisms to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is picked you'll be the next judge on American Idol, replacing wacky Paula. Well, actually, that's not true; you won't be sitting next to Simon any time soon. But we will publish your e-mail.

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