By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Aug 9 2009 10:42AM
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 Middle Class. For the others, click on the links above.
They are the teams whose bottom lines are much more dependent on how far they go in the Playoffs. These teams may not turn a profit, so each round deeper can make the difference between losing a little and losing a lot, and not making the postseason at all can mean financial disaster. So they've been active this summer, making payroll-adding deals in hopes of a playoff run.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 5
Last season: 33-49, fourth place, Atlantic; Did not make Playoffs.
Added: F Hedo Turkoglu (sign-and-trade, Orlando; five years, $53 million), G Jarrett Jack (free agent, Indiana; four years, $20 million), G/F DeMar DeRozan (first-round pick), G Antoine Wright (trade with Dallas), G Marco Belinelli (trade with Golden State), C Rasho Nesterovic (free agent, Indiana; one year, $1.9 million), F Reggie Evans (trade with Philadelphia),
Lost: G Anthony Parker (signed with Cleveland), G Jason Kapono (traded to Philadelphia), F Devean George (traded to Golden State)
Retained: Removed interim tag from Coach Jay Triano
The key man: F Andrea Bargnani. The first overall pick in a draft, any draft, can't just be a solid player. He has to be a star. Bargnani hasn't done that yet in Toronto, though he's already gotten a big contract extension.
The skinny: With a frenetic offseason, Toronto has positioned itself nicely for what will likely be the post-Chris Bosh era. Jack, DeRozan and Jose Calderon could become a strong three-guard rotation. Turkoglu is a veteran baller with postseason credentials. Wright is an underrated pickup. Bosh will certainly play his heart out, and at worst, Toronto should get some nice goodies in a sign-and-trade deal for Bosh next summer. Could be worse.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 6
Last season: 19-63, fifth place, Southeast; Did not make Playoffs.
Added: G Randy Foye (trade with Minnesota), F/G Mike Miller (trade with Minnesota), F/C Fabricio Oberto (free agent, San Antonio; one year, $1.9 million), hired coach Flip Saunders
Lost: F/C Darius Songalia (traded to Minnesota), F/C Alexiy Pecherov (traded to Minnesota), C Etan Thomas (traded to Minnesota), reassigned interim head coach Ed Tapscott
The key man: G Gilbert Arenas. Well, duh. The Wizards are a lottery team without him; a second-round team with him. Simple as that.
The skinny: The first time GM Ernie Grunfeld had the fifth pick in D.C., he got Antawn Jamison from Dallas. The Wizards expect they'll do just as well this time after dealing 2009's No. 5 pick to Minnesota for Foye and Miller, who add even more firepower to an already-loaded group. Saunders should be worth a few wins by himself. If Arenas is back to his 2006-'07 form and one of their young bigs develops fast, Washington is a contender in the East.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 8
Last season: 39-43, third place, Central; Lost in first round of Playoffs.
Added: G Ben Gordon (free agent, Chicago; five years, $58 million), F Charlie Villanueva (free agent, Milwaukee; five years, $37 million), F/C Chris Wilcox (free agent, New York; two years, $6 million), F Austin Daye (first-round pick), F DaJuan Summers (second-round pick), F Jonas Jurebko (second-round pick), hired head coach John Kuester
Lost: F/C Rasheed Wallace (signed with Boston), F Antonio McDyess (signed with San Antonio), G Arron Afflalo (traded to Denver), G Walter Sharpe (traded to Denver), G Allen Iverson, fired coach Michael Curry
The key man: Gordon. If he really is cool coming off the bench and backing up Rip Hamilton, as the Pistons insist, this has a chance to work. If he starts griping about minutes and shots, Detroit is right back where it was last season with Iverson.
The skinny: Joe Dumars didn't wait until 2010; he pulled the trigger now, remaking his team into a younger, faster group that no longer has the defensive bona fides to be a real contender. They will run under Kuester, the longtime NBA assistant that impressed while in Detroit in the championship 2004 season under Larry Brown. But, right now, Detroit's starting center is Kwame Brown. Um, okay.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 10
Last season: 47-35, second place, Southeast; Lost in second round of Playoffs.
Added: G Jamal Crawford (trade with Golden State), G Jeff Teague (first-round pick)
Lost: G Acie Law (traded to Golden State), G Speedy Claxton (traded to Golden State), G Flip Murray
Retained: G Mike Bibby (three years, $18 million), C Zaza Pachulia (four years, $19 million), F Marvin Williams
The key man: F Josh Smith. Atlanta's Josh of All Trades is a game changer when he is finishing on the wing and providing athletic shot blocking as a help defender.
The skinny: No reason Atlanta can't continue last season's strong run after re-signing all three of its free agents and adding the talented Teague. With Crawford, Joe Johnson, Bibby and Teague (and, occasionally, Williams), the Hawks' backcourt is deep and versatile. The Hawks still need another big to take some of the load off the undersized Al Horford, but Atlanta's future is pretty bright going into Johnson's contract year.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 13
Last season: 54-28, first place, Northwest; Lost in Western Conference finals.
Added: G Arron Afflalo (trade with Detroit), G Ty Lawson (traded rights from Minnesota), F Malik Allen (trade with Milwaukee)
Lost: G Dahntay Jones (signed with Indiana). G Walter Sharpe (traded to Milwaukee), G Sonny Weems (traded to Milwaukee)
Retained: C Chris Andersen (five years, $26 million)
The key man: C Nene. He was healthy for the first time in five seasons, and gave the Nuggets an interior presence and rebounding. They made the Western finals for the first time in 24 years. It wasn't a coincidence.
The skinny: Denver was a feel-good story last season, but the hard part is getting over the hump. Who's capable of more? Carmelo Anthony is already among the game's elite, and Chauncey Billups, who will be 33 on opening night, isn't likely to get better. Lawson will provide much-needed speed in the lineup; Afflalo has to show he's capable of starter's minutes and responsibilities as Jones's replacement. A 50-55 win regular season is certainly likely. And then ... what?
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 15
Last season: 48-34, third place, Northwest; Lost in first round of Playoffs.
Added: G Eric Maynor (first-round pick)
Retained: F Paul Milsap (matched four-year, $32 million offer sheet from Portland), G Ronnie Price (two years, $3.2 million)
The key man: C Mehmet Okur. He's been missing in the Playoffs the last two years. The Jazz need Memo to play at his solid regular season levels to have any chance in the postseason.
The skinny: At this writing, Carlos Boozer is still on the roster. No one expects that to be the case by season's end. However that resolves itself will go a long ways toward determining Utah's future. But retaining Milsap was huge; with him, Deron Williams, rookie Maynor and Okur now under contract for several more seasons, and Jerry Sloan coaching, Utah won't fall off the map. But this group has gone about as far as it can go. Change is coming.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 29
Last season: 53-29, second place, Southwest; Lost in second round of Playoffs
Added: F Trevor Ariza (free agent, Lakers; five years, $33 million); C David Anderson (trade with Atlanta), G Jermaine Taylor (traded rights from Washington), G Chase Budinger (traded rights from Detroit)
Lost: F Ron Artest (signed with Lakers)
The key man: Athletic trainer Keith Jones. Somehow, he and the Rockets' strength and conditioning staff have to put Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady together again.
The skinny: With Yao likely out the whole season after foot surgery, and McGrady's future uncertain after microfracture surgery, what was a contending team in the west will now be lucky to make the Playoffs. There's still talent on the roster with Luis Scola, and Shane Battier, and Chuck Hayes, and Aaron Brooks. But you can't replace 7-foot 6, 330 pounds, 61 percent shooting from the floor (in Yao) and a career 22-point scorer (in McGrady) over an entire season. Just can't.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 21
Last season: 41-41, second place, Atlantic; Lost in first round of Playoffs.
Added: G Jason Kapono (trade with Toronto), G Jrue Holiday (first-round pick), hired coach Eddie Jordan
Lost: G Andre Miller (signed with Portland), F Reggie Evans (traded to Toronto); reassigned interim coach Tony DiLeo
The key man: F Elton Brand. A shoulder injury derailed his first season in Philly, but he can make the Sixers very difficult to guard if he returns to his old form -- and can play center.
The skinny: Hiring Jordan salvaged an offseason in which Philly didn't do much else to keep up with the second-tier teams in the East. Holiday will be a lead guard in time, but for now, the Sixers will have to replace Miller with the likes of Lou Williams and veteran castoffs. Kapono should stretch the floor after the Sixers struggled with 3-point shooting. Jordan will find the right system for his new team, but the Sixers still need more talent to become a factor in the East.
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