Posted Jul 26 2010 9:52AM
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 for offseason moves only, 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'.
2009-10 RECORD: 54-28, second place, Pacific; lost in Western Conference finals to Lakers
ADDED: F Hedo Turkoglu (trade with Toronto); F Josh Childress (sign-and-trade with Atlanta); F Hakim Warrick (four years, $18 million); F Gani Lawal (second-round pick); basketball operations president Lon Babby.
LOST: F Amar'e Stoudemire (sign-and-trade with New York); G Leandro Barbosa (trade with Toronto); general manager Steve Kerr, assistant GM David Griffin.
RETAINED: F Grant Hill (player option); F Channing Frye (five years, $30 million).
THE KEY MAN: Lon Babby.
The longtime player agent moved back to his old roots -- he worked for the Orioles and Redskins before hanging out his agent shingle two decades ago -- in taking the senior management job with the Suns. But he will walk a fine line, trying to keep the Suns competitive with a demanding owner in Robert Sarver questioning every move, and former fellow agents -- some of whom will no doubt wonder why they aren't in his seat -- testing his willingness to spend Sarver's money. Taking the job was outside-the-box thinking to be sure, and Babby will be hiring a general manager to handle a lot of the day-to-day stuff, but can one of the true gentlemen in the business keep his sanity on the other side of the desk?
THE SKINNY: Smart moves, or desperation? Taking on Turkoglu's big contract smells a little desperate; spending much less than others did this summer to get a good role player like Warrick and to keep Frye looks prescient. If Turkoglu is motivated and committed, which he most certainly was not in Toronto, he's still capable of being a very productive player, one that can help lessen Steve Nash's ballhandling load. Not sure Phoenix is going to get back to the West finals, but the Suns shouldn't completely set just yet.
2009-10 RECORD: 26-56, fifth place, Southeast; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: G John Wall (first round, first pick overall); F Trevor Booker (Draft day trade with Minnesota); G Kirk Hinrich (trade with Chicago); F Kevin Seraphin (trade with Chicago); F Yi Jianlian (trade with New Jersey); F/C Hilton Armstrong (one year, $992,680); C Hamady Ndiaye (Draft day trade with Minnesota); new primary owner Ted Leonsis.
LOST: F Mike Miller (signed with Miami); G Randy Foye (signed with Clippers); G Shaun Livingston (signed with Charlotte); G Quinton Ross (traded to New Jersey).
THE KEY MAN: F Andray Blatche.
For all the caterwauling about whether Gilbert Arenas can coexist with Wall next season, any hopes Washington has of a quick resurgence lies with Blatche, the Wizards' power forward who teased them with major numbers (22 points, eight rebounds per game) after the team shipped Antawn Jamison to Cleveland and Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to Dallas last February. The 6-foot-11, 23-year-old Blatche waited behind Jamison for five seasons, but now the four spot is all his. Is he going to be a force for years to come or a March Wonder who never manages to lead his team anywhere?
THE SKINNY: Talk about rebuilding on the fly. The Wizards may start next season with as many as eight new players on their roster. But airing Verizon Center of the stench from last season's horror show was a necessity. Wall has superstar potential, and the Wizards wasted no time making him the face of the franchise. It will take a couple of years to see if this all comes together, and for Leonsis -- who turned the NHL's Capitals into a Stanley Cup contender -- to put his stamp on the team, but this summer was a good beginning.
2009-10 RECORD: 26-56, fourth place, Pacific; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: F David Lee (sign-and-trade with New York); C Ekpe Udoh (first-round, sixth pick overall); F Dorell Wright (three years, $11 million); C Dan Gadzuric (trade with Milwaukee); G Charlie Bell (trade with Milwaukee); new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
LOST: F Corey Maggette (traded to Milwaukee); G Anthony Morrow (sign-and-trade with New Jersey); G C.J. Watson (sign-and-trade with Chicago); F Anthony Randolph (traded to New York); F/C Ronny Turiaf (traded to New York); G Kelenna Azubuike (traded to New York).
THE KEY MAN: C Andris Biedrins.
The Warriors resisted trading Biedrins -- maybe there wasn't much interest -- this summer, hoping that the 24-year-old center can return to form after a horrible 2009-10 season. Back and groin injuries limited him to 33 games, and when he was on the court, he was a shadow of the player who averaged a double-double the season before. He shot only 25 free throws all season, making just four, an abysmal 16 percent from the line. Offseason surgery on his stomach should alleviate the groin problem; a healthy Biedrins next to newly acquired David Lee should at least give the Warriors a fighting chance on the glass next season.
THE SKINNY: Golden State isn't one of the summer's successes because it gave Lee $80 million to leave New York, or because of the potential of the 6-foot-9 Udoh. The reason things are looking up for the Warriors is because Lacob and Guber freed the team from the dysfunction of former owner Chris Cohan and his group, outbidding Oracle oracle Larry Ellison to buy the team for $450 million. With its Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose nexus, its still-loyal fanbase and a decade's worth of high Draft picks (the latest being rising star Stephen Curry), this franchise should be printing money and should be a force in the Western Conference. Instead, it's been the most disappointing franchise in the league year after year. Lacob and Guber can't be worse than Cohan, and if they're anything approaching competent, the Warriors could turn things around in a hurry.
2009-10 RECORD: 12-70, fifth place, Atlantic; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: F Derrick Favors (first round, third pick overall); F Travis Outlaw (five years, $35 million); G Jordan Farmar (three years, $12 million); G Anthony Morrow (sign-and-trade with Golden State); C Johan Petro (three years, $10 million); G Quinton Ross (trade with Washington); F Damion James (Draft day trade with Atlanta); new owner Mikhail Prokhorov; new general manager Billy King; new head coach Avery Johnson; new arena (Prudential Center) in Newark.
LOST: G Chris Douglas-Roberts (traded to Milwaukee); F Yi Jianlian (traded to Washington); F/C Tony Battie (signed with Philadelphia); G Keyon Dooling (signed with Milwaukee); fired general manager/interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe; former team president Rod Thorn resigned.
THE KEY MAN: Mikhail Prokhorov.
It's his show, his promise that the Nets would be in the Finals in five years, his group that is now running the day-to-day operations in Jersey, his energy and his money that have created buzz. Moving to Newark for two years before the big move to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center will no doubt help the team's psyche, but it's Prokhorov who has to ultimately make the move meaningful by creating a winning organization.
THE SKINNY: They can spin it any way they like, but the Nets swung and missed big time this summer. The targets were LeBron James, Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh. They would have settled for Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay and Luis Scola. They got Outlaw, Farmar and Morrow. Prokhorov wanted Mike Krzyzewski, not Johnson, to be his coach. But the recalibration is not without merit. Johnson had a .735 winning percentage in Dallas and will put a solid system in place. Morrow is a talent. Favors has loads of promise, though the Nets are desperate to add a veteran four before the start of the season. King drafted better than his critics gave him credit for in Philadelphia. The Nets are far better off than they were six months ago, but they're not where they'd hoped to be.
2009-10 RECORD: 50-32, fourth place, Northwest; lost in first round to Lakers.
ADDED: C Cole Aldrich (Draft-day trade with New Orleans); G Daequan Cook (trade with Miami); F Mo Peterson (Draft-day trade with New Orleans); G Royal Ivey (one year).
THE KEY MAN: General manager Sam Presti.
He has skillfully built a young, athletic team around superstar Kevin Durant. Presti's plan to keep his economic powder dry until he could start extending his own players allowed OKC to give Durant an $85-million extension this month, keeping him under club control until 2016, without blowing out the budget. There will come a reckoning in the next couple of seasons, as the Thunder have to decide who else gets big money besides Durant, but Presti is now the standard by which all owners expect their GMs to execute.
THE SKINNY: The Thunder is at the point where they have specific holes in their roster. Oklahoma City needed some size in the middle after watching Pau Gasol get the series-winning tip-in in that highly competitive first-round series with the Lakers. Enter Aldrich, all 245 pounds of him, the player Presti had targeted for OKC before the Draft. The Thunder needed a backup point guard for Russell Westbrook who could shoot the ball. Enter Cook, made available by the Heat as it desperately sought to clear cap room for the Super Friends. Peterson provides experience and shooting behind Durant. Now OKC boasts two-man depth at every position, and has the experience of playing L.A. nose-to-nose to rely on. But the Thunder now have to deal with expectations. Sometimes that can stifle a young team. The guess here, though, is that Durant will be able to handle it.
2009-10 RECORD: 27-55, fourth place, Atlantic; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: G Evan Turner (first round, second pick overall); C Spencer Hawes (trade with Sacramento); F Andres Nocioni (trade with Sacramento); F Tony Battie (one year); new head coach Doug Collins.
LOST: C Samuel Dalembert (trade with Sacramento); fired former head coach Eddie Jordan.
THE KEY MAN: G Jrue Holiday.
The second-year point guard is fully in charge and will be expected to be an extension of Collins on the court. The Sixers think the 20-year-old has star potential, but he has to improve on his assists (3.8 last season). Philly doesn't really have another point on the roster -- the Sixers should certainly now know that Lou Williams isn't a long-term answer there and should keep him at shooting guard -- so it's Holiday or bust for Philly.
THE SKINNY: With a couple of huge, untradeable contracts on the roster, the Sixers knew they had to coach up what they had to see improvement next season. They reached into our TNT booth for Collins, one of the great teachers in the business, who will have the team ready to play and well-versed on what the opposition is going to try to do. Collins' track record is pretty clear -- he's a turnaround artist who dramatically improves his teams within a year. Hawes and Nocioni will give the Sixers some interior toughness, but Philly's best bet is still to get in the passing lanes, turn its opponents over and use the speed of Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Turner and others to score in transition.
2009-10 RECORD: 42-40, third place, Southwest; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: C Brad Miller (three years, $15 million); F Patrick Patterson (first round, 14th pick overall).
RETAINED: C Yao Ming (player option); F Luis Scola (six years, $47 million); G Kyle Lowry (matched four-year, $23.5 million offer sheet from Cleveland); F Chuck Hayes (team option).
THE KEY MAN: Yao Ming.
None of what Houston did this summer makes any difference if Yao is not back to his normal All-Star form. He is back on the practice court after missing all of last season following foot surgery in early 2009; while he is not cleared yet for full contact, the Rockets are increasingly confident he will make a full recovery, despite the fact that he has not been able to finish three of his last four seasons.
THE SKINNY: Houston should be ranked higher, you say. The Rockets didn't lose anybody; they added a veteran in Miller who provides better-than-adequate Yao insurance; they got another great value pick in Patterson, the Kentucky forward. All true. But Houston wanted Chris Bosh, wanted him bad, and couldn't make it happen. Yet you're already paying Kevin Martin a bunch ($34 million over the next three years), and owe Trevor Ariza another $20 million, and will have to pay Yao a bunch after next season, when he's a free agent. You also will have to pony up for emerging star guard Aaron Brooks in the next year or two, after ponying up $9.5 million per season for Scola -- as good as he is -- and almost $6 million per season for your third guard (Lowry) makes you a very, very expensive team. And it makes trades down the road more difficult. There's no doubt that GM Daryl Morey can get the Rockets under the luxury tax; he has a couple of expiring contracts that can make that happen. Getting them out of the middle of the pack in the West is going to be a much taller order.
2009-10 RECORD: 40-42, fourth place, Southwest; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: F Tony Allen (three years, $9 million); F Xavier Henry (first round, 12th pick overall); G Greivis Vasquez (first round, 28th pick overall).
LOST: G Ronnie Brewer (signed with Chicago).
RETAINED: F Rudy Gay (five years, $82 million).
THE KEY MAN: C Hasheem Thabeet.
Marc Gasol is the incumbent in the middle, but Memphis has to start getting some real production out of the second pick overall in the '09 Draft. It's just a matter of value; you can't have a pick that high and whiff completely. And Thabeet is still a ways away from providing much help, though he's better than he was in his rookie season. It's true that big men take longer, but fans' patience and the news cycle is much shorter. Thabeet is on the clock.
THE SKINNY: Last season was the easy part. The Grizzlies showed they weren't a doormat any more, winning 11 straight games at home. Gay became an All-Star level player. Gasol lost weight and also shed the notion that Memphis got absolutely nothing for his big brother Pau in that league-shifting trade a couple of years ago. Zach Randolph was a revelation. But what does Memphis do to get better? Henry has upside, but he's just 19, with one year at Kansas. Vasquez was excellent value for so late in the first and makes you wonder about Mike Conley's shelf life. But keeping Gay was the key to the summer, crucial to convincing fans in Memphis that owner Michael Heisley is serious about building a real team.
2009-10 RECORD: 25-57, fifth place, Pacific; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: C DeMarcus Cousins (first round, fifth pick overall); C Samuel Dalembert (trade with Philadelphia); C Hassan Whiteside (second-round pick); F Darnell Jackson (trade with Milwaukee); F Antoine Wright (one year).
LOST: C Spencer Hawes (trade with Philadelphia); F Andres Nocioni (trade with Philadelphia); F Jon Brockman (trade with Milwaukee); F Dominic McGuire (signed with Charlotte).
THE KEY MAN: Samuel Dalembert.
The 76ers grew weary of his unhappiness and trade requests and finally granted him his wish, sending him across the country. But in a contract year, the eight-year veteran should put his best foot forward. And someone who worked as tirelessly as Dalembert in the days and weeks following the devastating earthquake in his native Haiti to bring resources and attention to his country has an awful lot of good in him. Maybe a change of scenery will do him good on the court.
THE SKINNY: The Kings knew they got pushed around in the paint way too much last season. Enter 21 feet of big man: rookies Cousins and Whiteside, and Dalembert. Cousins is a big-time talent whose supposed issues have been discussed ad nauseum; he's in the pros now. And he could be a force. The Kings will have to stay on top of him to make sure he stays in peak condition, but if he can get his body ready for the rigors of 82 games he might wind up being the steal of the Draft. Whiteside was a first-round talent. The Kings have no worries in the backcourt with Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih; as Sacto's three feet of big goes this season, so goes Sacto.
2009-10 RECORD: 15-67, fifth place, Northwest; did not make playoffs.
ADDED: F Michael Beasley (trade with Miami); G Martell Webster (trade with Portland); G Wesley Johnson (first round, fourth pick overall); C Nikola Pekovic (three years, $13 million); G Luke Ridnour (four years, $16 million); F Lazar Hayward (Draft-day trade with Washington); C Kosta Koufos (trade with Utah).
LOST: F Al Jefferson (traded to Utah); F Ryan Gomes (Draft-day trade with Portland; eventually signed with Clippers).
RETAINED: C Darko Milicic (four years, $20 million).
THE KEY MAN: Ricky Rubio.
He's always going to be the key man until he comes over and shows everyone what the fuss is about, or until the Wolves trade him and get whatever they get. We will never be able to fairly judge what president of basketball operations David Kahn did last year fairly until we see Rubio, who will play in Europe one more season and then should come to the NBA at the ripe old age of 21.
THE SKINNY: There is a cottage industry now in bashing Kahn, who loves to explain and explain and explain what he's doing. It is easy, because the Wolves are terrible, and the NBA jury is convinced Milicic is guilty of being a bust. But the Wolves do have a lot more talent on the roster than they did a month ago. They got Beasley -- the second pick in the Draft three years ago -- for next to nothing. They got a big-time 3-point shooter in Webster, and a huge talent in Johnson, the Syracuse junior. A lot of quality teams wanted Ridnour, who was excellent in Milwaukee last season. Pekovic is highly regarded by international scouts. My major problem with Minnesota's summer is what it got for Jefferson. Not that it traded Jefferson; everyone knew that was coming. But first-round picks from Utah aren't likely to be very valuable any time soon. Still, Kahn's job is to make the roster better. He's done that. It won't translate into many more wins next season, because young doesn't win in the NBA. But it is better.
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