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David Aldridge

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh landing in Miami was the NBA equivalent of a straight flush.
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Heat's summer win lifts them into elite, but what's next?


Posted Jul 26 2010 7:09AM

A year ago, in this space, in evaluating each of the 30 NBA teams' 2009 offseason moves, these words were written about the Miami Heat's decision to do nothing, biding its time for the Summer of 2010: "It's a big, big gamble. But if Riles can pull it off, he'll be the one laughing 12 months from now."

Ha. Ha. Ha. Ho. Ho. Ho. Hee. Hee. Hee.

Riles laughs; the rest of the league weeps. And seethes. And curses. Like he cares.

The Closer got it done, luring LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Miller, all while keeping Dwyane Wade, and if you're looking for some statistical analysis that "proves" the Hornets had a better summer, keep walking. Miami won the summer, but it's only the summer. The Lakers and Celtics and Magic aren't afraid.

But this offseason had the scent of change, and not just on South Beach. The Eastern Conference, pushed around for most of the last decade, got almost all of the quality talent in the Draft, while All-Star forwards Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire went from West to East. Doug Collins, Avery Johnson and Byron Scott joined up as coaches. It should make for much more competitive and entertaining basketball east of the Mississippi, with the exception of northeast Ohio.

In a zero-sum game, someone loses, and that someone, this summer, was Cleveland. The Cavaliers bet the ranch they could keep James happy, and lost. Now comes the reckoning.

As ever, the ground rules: my 30-team rankings are only for offseason moves, the things teams have done since they last played a game. It is not a predicted order of finish for next season; I do not expect Golden State to have a better record than Orlando.

It is as much art as science, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. New coaches, new GMs, new owners and new arenas are also signficant factors in judging a team's summer success, for a good coach can coax some more wins out of a roster, and a new building can generate the kind of revenue necessary to let a team be aggressive in pursuing free agents and trades.

So let's get to gradin'.

The Top 10 (Heat, Bulls, Lakers, Jazz, Celtics, Spurs, Bucks, Mavs, Knicks, Hawks)

The Middle 10
(Suns, Wizards, Warriors, Nets, Thunder, Sixers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Kings, Wolves)

The Bottom 10
(Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets, Raptors, Magic, Bobcats, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers, Cavs)

The Top 10

No. 1 -- MIAMI HEAT

2009-10 RECORD: 47-35, third place, Southeast Division; lost in first round of playoffs to Celtics.

ADDED: F LeBron James (six years, $107 million); F Chris Bosh (six years, $107 million); F Mike Miller (five years, $25 million); C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (two years, $2.8 million); F Juwan Howard (one year, $1.35 million).

LOST: F Dorell Wright (signed with Golden State).

RETAINED: G Dwyane Wade (six years, $110 million); C Udonis Haslem (five years, $20 million); G/F James Jones (one year, $1.1 million); C Joel Anthony (five years, $18 million); G Carlos Arroyo (one year)

THE KEY MAN: Coach Erik Spoelstra.
Maybe Phil Bengston had more pressure on him in 1968 when he replaced Vince Lombardi as coach of the Packers. Then again, Green Bay was at the end of its championship run and the expectations on Bengston were less than those that Spo will face next season. Forget just winning the title; if the Heat doesn't win every game by 20, then throw the rockingest party at Nikki Beach every weekend, the season will be considered a failure by many. Conventional wisdom is that Pat Riley already has Spoelstra in his crosshairs. I think not. Spoelstra, it says here, will get plenty of time to show he can coach the Super Friends. Like one season.

THE SKINNY: The Heat left everyone choking in its dust this summer, executing a plan that, benefitted by insider info or no, was still the NBA equivalent of the straight flush. There were a million ways that Riles' plan could have fallen apart, not only leaving him without a second superstar to pair with Wade, but without Wade. And getting quality role players like Miller with what was left of Miami's cap room, and convincing Haslem to leave millions on the table from other suitors, was just as impressive. Look, none of the real contenders -- Orlando, Boston and L.A. come to mind -- are scared of Miami. But the Heat is relevant again, a threat to win it all.

No. 2 -- CHICAGO BULLS

2009-10 RECORD: 41-41, third place, Central Division; lost in first round to Cavs.

ADDED: F Carlos Boozer (five years, $80 million); G Kyle Korver (three years, $15 million); G Ronnie Brewer (three years, $12 million); G C.J. Watson (two years, $6.5 million); F Kurt Thomas (one year, $1.1 million); new head coach Tom Thibodeau.

LOST: C Brad Miller (signed with Houston); F Hakim Warrick (signed with Phoenix); fired former coach Vinny Del Negro.

RETAINED: None

THE KEY MAN: Carlos Boozer.
He struggled three straight seasons with the Lakers' great interior length. For all this summer spending to pay off, Boozer will have to dominate the likes of Kevin Garnett, Bosh or Rashard Lewis in the second or third round of the playoffs, and take some pressure off of Derrick Rose.

THE SKINNY: James, Wade and Bosh all flirted with Chicago at one time or another. But in the long run, it may be better for Thibodeau, the first-year coach, not to have that kind of burden on him right out of the gate. There's a lot of Mike Brown in Thibodeau (and I mean that in a good way), and while Brown and 'Bron were respectful of one another, there's been too much murmuring since the end of the Boston series about how James strongly disagreed with Brown's rotations -- specifically, using Shaq too much and J.J. Hickson not enough -- to not wonder how comfortable he'd be with Thibs. Now, Rose can have the rock in his hands all he wants, with legit scoring options in the paint and behind the 3-point line (Brewer could really shine in this offense), and Joakim Noah will be even harder to keep off the glass. Great value in getting Watson to replace Kirk Hinrich; that sealed Chicago's excellent summer.

No. 3 -- LOS ANGELES LAKERS

2009-10 RECORD: 57-25, first place, Pacific Division; won NBA championship.

ADDED: F Matt Barnes (two years, $3.6 million); G Steve Blake (four years, $16 million); F/C Theo Ratliff (one year, $1.35 million); F Derrick Caracter (second-round pick), G Devin Ebanks (second-round pick)

LOST: G Jordan Farmar (signed with New Jersey); F Josh Powell (signed with Atlanta).

RETAINED: Coach Phil Jackson (returned for final year of contract); G Derek Fisher (three years, $10.5 million).

THE KEY MAN: C Andrew Bynum.
Once again, the Lakers appear to have resisted the temptation to package the still-young (24) center for even more talent to surround Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. If Bynum returns from knee surgery and can possibly put 65-70 games together next season, there should be next to no dropoff in the Lakers' regular season, which is important only in regards to playoff seeding. We saw how important it was for L.A. to have Game 7 against Boston at Staples Center instead of the TD Bank Garden; it must be remembered that the Lakers had home-court advantage in the Finals only because the East's top two seeds, Cleveland and Orlando, weren't there.

THE SKINNY: Yes, everyone wants to play for the Heat. But there's stlll lots of folks who'd like to wind up in Forum Blue and Gold, as evidenced by the two-time champs' ability to make its bench stronger without a lot of money to work with. It says here that Blake will be just as effective as Farmar was running the second unit, that Ratliff is great insurance in case Bynum gets hurt again and that Barnes will help out his former nemesis Bryant quite a bit at the ends of games with his perimeter defense. All of that aside, the Lakers had a great offseason the nanosecond that Jackson decided to come back for one more year, and a chance at a fourth ThreePeat. (A fourth ThreePeat. Incredible.)

No. 4 -- UTAH JAZZ

2009-10 RECORD: 52-29, second place, Northwest Division; lost in West semifinals to Lakers.

ADDED: F Al Jefferson (sign-and-trade deal wih Minnesota); G Raja Bell (three years, $10 million); F Gordon Hayward (first-round pick, ninth overall).

LOST: F Carlos Boozer (sign-and-trade deal with Chicago); G Kyle Korver (signed with Chicago); G Wesley Matthews (signed offer sheet with Portland); C Kosta Koufos (traded to Minnesota).

RETAINED: None.

THE KEY MAN: Owner Greg Miller.
The son of the late owner Larry Miller, who took control of the team upon his father's death in 2009, has been much more willing to spend big bucks to keep the Jazz in the hunt. How long can he keep keeping up with the Cubans and the Busses?

THE SKINNY: The Jazz will tell you that they started planning to lose Boozer last summer when they matched Portland's offer sheet to Paul Millsap, and that rookie Hayward will step right in and take Korver's minutes off the bench, and that Bell is a solid replacement for the departed Matthews. All true. But you still are rocked when you lose three of your top eight players from a team that nearly won its division and had been together for four seasons. Nonetheless, Utah gets its high ranking from an incredible salvage, ponying up for Jefferson's huge (three years, $42 million) contract and assuring itself it will be a luxury tax payer again next season. There isn't a better offensive fit for Jerry Sloan's attack than Jefferson, and I will buy my own ticket to see Bell go up against Kobe Bryant in the playoffs again.

No. 5 -- BOSTON CELTICS

2009-10 RECORD: 50-32, first place, Atlantic Division; lost in NBA Finals to Lakers.

ADDED: C Jermaine O'Neal (two years, $11.6 million); G Avery Bradley (first round, 19th pick overall)

LOST: F/C Rasheed Wallace (retired); G Tony Allen (signed with Memphis); F/C Shelden Williams (signed with Denver).

RETAINED: Coach Doc Rivers (returns for final season of contract); F Paul Pierce (four years, $61 million); G Ray Allen (two years, $20 million); G Nate Robinson (two years, $9 million); G Marquis Daniels (one year, $2.5 million).

THE KEY MAN: Assistant coach Lawrence Frank, hired to replace Tom Thibodeau, who took the head job in Chicago.
This is as hard a bunch to coach as there is in the game today. A lot of egos and a lot of pride. For this to have a chance of working, the players have to respect and trust their coaches. Thibodeau made them roll their eyes on occasion, but they didn't doubt his defensive chops for one second. Big shoes for L-Frank to fill as Rivers' top assistant, but he's as passionate about that end of the floor as Thibs was. Will the players buy in? We'll all find out together.

THE SKINNY: The band's back for one final run. With Rivers, Pierce and Allen all committed for another go-round with Kevin Garnett, the Celtics return most of the team that knocked off the top two seeds in the East and led for most of Game 7 on the road against the Lakers. But Boston couldn't seal the deal, and one wonders if the veteran Cs have enough emotional energy for another assault. O'Neal will be counted on to replace Wallace's defensive presence, and the hope is that rookie Bradley, along with a full season of "Donkey" Robinson, Daniels and Glen "Shrek" Davis, can give Boston some oomph in reserve. If Garnett, who looked like he was finally coming back from his knee injury in '09, has enough left in the tank, the Celtics are still relevant.

No. 6 -- SAN ANTONIO SPURS

2009-10 RECORD: 50-32, second place, Southwest Division; lost in West semifinals to Suns.

ADDED: C Tiago Splitter (three years, $10 million); G James Anderson (first round, 20th overall).

LOST: C Ian Mahinmi (signed with Dallas).

RETAINED: F Richard Jefferson (four years, $38 milliion); F Matt Bonner (four years)

THE KEY MAN: G George Hill.
The third-year man from IUPUI has earned Gregg Popovich's trust, and Tony Parker has steadfastly declined a contract extension. Rumors run rampant -- though Parker denies it -- that he'd like to play in New York. But Parker is probably the guy who can bring San Antonio the most in return in a potential deal. That would only happen if the Spurs believe that Hill is capable of running the team at a championship level -- which Parker already has done.

THE SKINNY: If you don't understand that owner Peter Holt pledged last summer to pay luxury tax through the end of the Tim Duncan Era (which has two years remaining), then what San Antonio did this summer doesn't make sense. But with the owner all in to try and get Duncan a fifth title, the Spurs have plowed forward, extending Manu Ginobili for $38 million in the spring so that he never touched free agency, then giving Jefferson four more years. But for the Spurs' purposes, like everyone else's, Jefferson's deal is a two-year deal. Instead of paying him $15 million this season and having to pay more to keep him next summer, San Antonio gave him a couple of years on the back end, then used the savings from his first-year number to re-sign Bonner and to finally export Splitter from Europe. And that's why the Spurs are so high on this list; getting one of the best big men in Europe for relative peanuts should keep the Spurs in the hunt through Duncan's 2012 swan song.

No. 7 -- MILWAUKEE BUCKS

2009-10 RECORD: 46-36, second place, Central; lost in first round to Hawks.

ADDED: F Drew Gooden (five years, $32 million); F Corey Maggette (trade with Golden State); G Keyon Dooling (two years, $4.2 million); G Chris Douglas-Roberts (trade with New Jersey); F/C Larry Sanders (first round, 15th pick overall); F Jon Brockman (trade with Sacramento).

LOST: C Dan Gadzuric (traded to Golden State); G Charlie Bell (traded to Golden State); G Luke Ridnour (signed with Minnesota); F/C Kurt Thomas (signed with Chicago); F Darnell Jackson (trade with Sacramento).

RETAINED: G John Salmons (six years, $39 million).

THE KEY MAN: C Andrew Bogut.
A full return from his dislocated elbow last April, which kept him out of the playoffs, is a must for Milwaukee. The 25-year-old center became one of the league's best last season, averaging a double-double, consistently outplaying many of the league's best bigs and living up to the promise of being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. He can impact games at both ends of the floor, and there may not be a better passing big man in the game.

THE SKINNY: Every few years, owner Herb Kohl dips deep into his wallet, as he did when he gave George Karl $7 million a year to coach and paid big bucks to maintain the Glenn Robinson-Ray Allen-Sam Cassell trio. Kohl must feel it again, because he not only paid up to keep Salmons -- a trade deadline godsend from Chicago -- but he OK'd major money from Gooden, who's bounced through the league for most of his career, and the remaining three years and $30.7 million for Maggette, whom the Warriors couldn't wait to unload. But the Bucks finished next to last in the league in free throw attempts last season -- 833 fewer than league-leading Denver. And Maggette has been in the top10 in the league in FTAs five times in his career, including last season. Milwaukee's defense (seventh in points allowed last season) should only improve with the high-flying Sanders leaping all over Bradley Center.

No. 8 -- DALLAS MAVERICKS

2009-10 RECORD: 55-27, first place, Southwest; lost in first round to Spurs.

ADDED: G Dominique Jones (Draft-day trade with Memphis); C/F Tyson Chandler (trade with Charlotte); C Alexis Ajinca (trade with Charlotte).

LOST: C Erick Dampier (traded to Charlotte); F Eduardo Najera (traded to Charlotte); G Matt Carroll (traded to Charlotte).

RETAINED: F Dirk Nowitzki (four years, $80 million); C Brendan Haywood (six years, $55 million).

THE KEY MAN: G Rod Beaubois.
The second-year guard was unguardable against the Spurs in the playoffs, and it's up to coach Rick Carlisle to figure out how to keep him on the floor more next season, despite his defensive deficiencies.

THE SKINNY: No question owner Mark Cuban wanted to be more of a player in some of the big acquisitions this summer, and he and general manager Donnie Nelson might well end up getting the Mavs into a big deal before the start of training camp. For now, though, it's enough just to keep Nowitzki and Haywood, though Dallas may have overpaid more than a little bit for the latter. Dallas wanted more for Dampier's non-guaranteed contract than the oft-injured Chandler, but if he can stay healthy next season he would give the Mavericks a talented 7-footer to throw out against the likes of L.A. and San Antonio in the playoffs.

No. 9 -- NEW YORK KNICKS

2009-10 RECORD: 29-53, third place, Atlantic; did not make playoffs.

ADDED: F Amar'e Stoudemire (five years, $100 million); G Raymond Felton (two years, $15.8 million); F Anthony Randolph (trade with Golden State); F Ronny Turiaf (trade with Golden State); G Kelenna Azubuike (trade with Golden State); C Timofey Mozgov (three years, $9 million); C Jerome Jordan (trade with Milwaukee); G Andy Rautins (second-round pick); F Landry Fields (second-round pick).

LOST: F David Lee (traded to Golden State); F Al Harrington (signed with Denver); G Chris Duhon (signed with Orlando); G Sergio Rodriguez (signed in Europe).

RETAINED: None.

THE KEY MAN: Carmelo Anthony.
No, he doesn't play for the Knicks; he's still under contract with the Nuggets. But if he really wants to go to the NYC, and forces Denver's hand in the next year, the Knicks wouldn't resemble a half-painted painting as they do now. It wouldn't be easy, but getting the Super Friends to leave $30 million on the table wasn't easy, either.

THE SKINNY: Judging New York's offseason depends on your worldview. If you're an optimist, you say the Knicks got a star in Stoudemire who may still have four or five quality years left in him; they got an underrated point in Felton, late of the Bobcats; they got a potential steal in the raw but gifted Randolph and they have a knockdown shooter in Danilo Gallinari who should get a lot more open looks next season. If you're a pessimist, you say New York grossly overpaid for Stoudemire, a forward with bad knees and a bad eye who was spoonfed by Steve Nash; that Felton, while talented, isn't a top 10 point guard; that Randolph can't stay healthy long enough to make a difference for real, and who the hell is Timofey Mozgov? The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, which should mean some improvement next season and at least a reason to come out to the Garden other than to see the opponent.

No. 10 -- ATLANTA HAWKS

2009-10 RECORD: 53-29, second place, Southeast; lost in East semifinals to Magic.

ADDED: Head coach Larry Drew; F Josh Powell (one year, $1.1 million); G Jordan Crawford (Draft day trade with New Jersey).

LOST: G Josh Childress (sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix).

RETAINED: G Joe Johnson (six years, $124 million).

THE KEY M(E)N: The Hawks' Atlanta Spirit ownership group.
They proved they would spend loot by giving Johnson the biggest free-agent contract of anyone in the league -- "that's more than LeBron James got," my 6-year-old said, correctly -- but will they be as committed in three years, when Johnson really starts eating up the team's cap space? In the interim, they will have to pony up for All-Star center Al Horford and will likely have to make another decision on how much to pay forward Josh Smith.

THE SKINNY: My man Sekou Smith says Hawks fans are of two minds when it comes to keeping Johnson: on the one hand, they're happy that the four-time All-Star wasn't swooped up by the Knicks or Mavs or Bulls, all of whom were working feverishly to get him. On the other hand, 124 million? For Joe Johnson? They could have let Johnson go and signed two or three guys for that much. Which is pretty much the dichotomy everyone around the league has about Atlanta, which should now be a playoff mainstay for the foreseeable future but still looks a player or two short of being able to topple the east's elite. Not that there's anything wrong with a 50-win season. And even though finances played a major role in the hiring of longtime assistant Drew over Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, Drew will show he's more than ready for the gig.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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