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Young talent, depth issues may muck up these teams' hopes


POSTED: Aug 5, 2013 3:20 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Let me get this straight -- this was the quiet summer?

Sandwiched between the Summer of 2012 (Dwightmare Part I, the Olympics) and the Summer of 2014 (basically, a rerun of the Summer of 2010, with LeBron James and a cast of thousands in free agency, the World Cup in Spain, plus the best potential Draft since 2003), 2013's offseason was supposed to be relatively drama-free. Dwight Howard would certainly stay with the Lakers, Chris Paul would stay with the Clippers, and the Draft was supposed to be Meh.

We fall for it every time, don't we?

Howard, of course, defied the conventional wisdom that no one important ever a) takes less money in free agency in order to find happiness, and b) leaves the Lakers in his prime. Those seeds have been in place for the past few years, of course; James and Chris Bosh took less than the max to play in Miami. But they were going to Miami, which had already won a title with Dwyane Wade and was, well, Miami. (Before you send hate Tweets, I think Houston is a great town. Honest.)

Howard's end in Los Angeles came after the Cavs shocked just about everyone by taking Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in the Draft. The Cavs' move came after the Celtics traded their coach and the remaining 2/3 of their '08 championship core in separate deals -- but only because the Commish told them they couldn't do them in one big deal.

And so, with the offseason slowing down, and enough of the impact free agents and Draft picks now on their respective teams, there's enough intel on the ground to assess who had the most productive offseason, who did okay with what they had, and who came up a little short.

And after this week's Tip, I'm gonna go disappear for a while. Been a really long season. But I've got some great guest Tippers lined up for you and I hope you enjoy reading their takes.

As ever, the ground rules:

• Rule No. 1: These 30-team rankings are only for offseason moves, the things teams have done since they last played a game, taking into account the Draft, free agency and trades. It is not a predicted order of finish for next season; I do not expect Sacramento, for example, to have a better record than the Bulls, nor do I think Charlotte now has a better team than Miami. It's relative.

• Rule No. 2: This 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 significant 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 -- if not this season, then in future seasons. Also, teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in.

• Rule No. 3: Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams identify a core group of players and keep them together several seasons; teams that re-sign their own players (at reasonable amounts) get good marks from me. The bottom line, though, is how much better is a team after its offseason moves than it was before? That is what is being ranked here: improvement.

• Rule No. 4: With more and more teams terrified of paying luxury tax, a team that stands pat much be viewed in the context of preserving cap space and/or flexibility in order to be able to make unbalanced trades down the road. Was Atlanta wrong not to blow all its cap space this summer, once it was clear that neither Dwight Howard nor Chris Paul would go there? I had to make a judgment on that. Same with Dallas, which obviously had other, bigger plans than what the Mavericks wound up doing.

The Top 10

Rockets, Nets, Pacers, Cavs, Clippers, Warriors, Hawks, Bobcats, Wolves, Kings

The Middle 10

Pistons, Grizzlies, Mavs, Spurs, Pelicans, Bucks, Wizards, Blazers, Lakers, Nuggets

The Bottom 10

Suns, Bulls, Knicks, Celtics, Raptors, Heat, Thunder, Magic, Jazz, Sixers

The Bottom 10

No. 21 -- PHOENIX SUNS

2012-13 RECORD: 25-57, fifth place, Pacific Division; did not make playoffs

ADDED: Coach Jeff Hornacek; G Eric Bledsoe, F Caron Butler (acquired from L.A. Clippers); F Gerald Green, F Miles Plumlee (acquired from Indiana); C Alex Len (first-round pick, 5th overall); G Archie Goodwin (first-round pick, 29th overall)

LOST: F Jared Dudley (traded to L.A. Clippers); G/F Wesley Johnson (signed with L.A. Lakers); C Jermaine O'Neal (signed with Golden State); F/C Luis Scola (traded to Indiana)

RETAINED: None

THE KEY MAN: Guard Eric Bledsoe. He will get to run a team next season, though it won't be Lob City. There's every chance next season that while the Suns will struggle to win games, Bledsoe will put up huge numbers. And that creates a problem for a rebuilding team -- how do you value such things when you're not winning? Bledsoe will be expecting a payday along the lines of the league's other young point guards (e.g., the Tony Parker/Stephen Curry/Holiday wing, if not the Chris Pauls or Derrick Roses), which will clog much-needed cap space, while the Suns won't be near good enough to contend any time soon. So what to do?

THE SKINNY: In full rebuild, the Suns don't have a lot to look forward to next season, but at least they have the one and the five spots covered. Len can score and will give new GM Ryan McDonough the ability to deal veteran Marcin Gortat and his expiring contract to a contender when the time is right for more assets. Indeed, McDonough's sitting on more than $21 million in expiring deals and/or players that don't seem to be in the team's future plans (like last season's top pick, Kendall Marshall, for example). In the meantime, Hornacek will try and coach up what he's got, which should lead to better offensive production and better defensive effort via former Celtics defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi.

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No. 22 -- CHICAGO BULLS

2012-13 RECORD: 45-37, second place, Central Division; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals

ADDED: F Mike Dunleavy, Jr., (two years, $6.5 million); F Tony Snell (first-round pick, 20th overall)

LOST: G Marco Belinelli (signed with San Antonio); G Richard Hamilton (waived); G Nate Robinson (signed with Denver); F Malcom Thomas (waived)

Derrick Rose Opens Up

RETAINED: C Nazr Mohammed (one year, $884,000)

THE KEY MAN: Take a wild guess. He's about 6-foot-3, nice smile, thinks he's the best player in the league.

THE SKINNY: With Derrick Rose expected back opening night, the Bulls can now resume their championship chase. The problem for Chicago is that Indiana has caught and passed them while Rose rehabbed his ACL. His presence levels that imbalance, but the Bulls still have some questions. They went to Robinson out of necessity against the Nets, but the Heat's superior defense took NateRob all the way to Denver in free agency. Dunleavy should add some pop backing up Luol Deng and Chicago's development of Jimmy Butler at the two meant Rip Hamilton's days were officially numbered. Chicago's frontcourt of Deng, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah is certainly formidable and Tom Thibodeau's defense will never flounder. But it's all about Pooh's comeback in the Windy City.

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No. 23 -- NEW YORK KNICKS

2012-13 RECORD: 54-28, first place, Atlantic Division; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals.

ADDED: F Andrea Bargnani (acquired from Toronto); F Metta World Peace (claimed off waivers after amnesty by Lakers); G Tim Hardaway, Jr. (first-round pick, 24th overall)

LOST: G Jason Kidd (retired); F Chris Copeland (signed with Indiana); F Steve Novak, F/C Marcus Camby, G Quentin Richardson (traded to Toronto); G/F James White (waived)

News From New York

RETAINED: G J.R. Smith (three years, $17.9 million); G Pablo Prigioni (three years, $4.9 million); F/C Kenyon Martin (one year, $884,000)

THE KEY MAN/WOMAN: Security Dude/Lady at Players' Entrance to Madison Square Garden that will be responsible for getting MWP's people in the building on a nightly basis. Dude/Lady is gonna earn the paycheck next season.

THE SKINNY: So quickly, the Knicks are again at a crossroads, with the tabloids going nuts over Carmelo Anthony possibly opting out of the last year of his deal after next season and joining the Lakers. Tyson Chandler's defensive production slipped last season and Amar'e Stoudemire is on the back nine of his career. The braintrust at MSG rolled the dice on Bargnani, who has a lot to offer offensively and could certainly give coach Mike Woodson some interesting lineup rotations. Hardaway, Jr. was a pleasant surprise that deep into a so-so Draft and could also bolster New York's bench after Smith. Keeping Smith at a reasonable number was a good job of team and cap management. Who knows what World Peace will do night to night in his hometown? It will never be dull, though. Did all those moves close the gap with the Pacers (who took Copeland), or the Heat or Bulls (though it must be said the Knicks handled both teams during the regular season)? Don't think so with Indiana or Miami; don't know with Chicago.

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No. 24 -- BOSTON CELTICS

2012-13 RECORD: 41-40, third place, Atlantic Division; lost in first round of playoffs.

ADDED: Coach Brad Stevens; G Keith Bogans (acquired from Brooklyn via sign and trade); F Gerald Wallace, F/C Kris Humphries, G MarShon Brooks (acquired from Brooklyn); F/C Kelly Olynyk (first-round pick, 13th overall; C Vitor Faverani (three years, $6.2 million).

NBA Rooks: Kelly Olynyk

LOST: Coach Doc Rivers; F Kevin Garnett, F Paul Pierce, G Jason Terry (traded to Brooklyn); F Kris Joseph (waived)

RETAINED: None.

THE KEY MAN: Guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is like the late Peter Jennings was at ABC when Roone Arledge, up until then known as the majordomo who made ABC Sports tops in the field in the 1960s and 1970s, became head of ABC News in 1977. Jennings was immediately skeptical of the new boss, and wondered what changes Arledge would install. Yet Arledge did nothing but revolutionize news coverage just as he did in sports, and Jennings became a loyal follower. Which way Rondo goes with Stevens, the Celtics' new 36-year-old coach, isn't clear. But Rondo's ability (or inability) to mesh with the former Butler coach will be must-see TV in New England this winter. This is now Rondo's team, and the Celts will go up or down based on how (and when) Rondo returns from his torn ACL. Will he bridge Boston to a new era of winning, or be sent on his way the same way Danny Ainge dealt Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett?

THE SKINNY: Ainge finally pushed the button, and the Big Three Era imploded like the Kingdome in 2000. Now Ainge can get to remaking the roster, as he's wanted to do for the last couple of years. It's unlikely that, save Brooks, any of the players Boston got from Brooklyn in the Pierce/KG deal will be long-term pieces. It's more likely things begin with Olynyk, whom Ainge traded up to get. He'll team with Jeff Green, second-year forward Jared Sullinger and defensive menace Avery Bradley until Rondo returns. But this season is really going to be about Stevens adapting to the pro game and finding his voice coaching men instead of kids. It would be foolhardy and premature to predict if Stevens will succeed or fail, but it will also take more than one season to find that out, as it will take Ainge more than a year to shuffle the deck.

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No. 25 -- TORONTO RAPTORS

2012-13 RECORD: 34-48, fourth place, Atlantic Division; did not make playoffs

ADDED: G D.J. Augustin (one year, $1.2 million); F Austin Daye (two years, $2 million); F Tyler Hansbrough (two years, $6.5 million); F Steve Novak (acquired from New York); G Quentin Richardson (three years, $4.3 million via sign and trade with New York); G Dwight Buycks (two years, $1.5 million)

2013 Las Vegas Summer League MVP

LOST: F Alan Anderson (signed with Brooklyn); C Marcus Camby (contract bought out, signed with Rockets); F Linas Kleiza (waived via amnesty provision); G John Lucas III (signed with Utah)

RETAINED: None

THE KEY MAN: Team president Tim Leiweke. The former Staples Center exec got carte blanche to run Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the NHL's hockey team and the NBA's basketball team. Leiweke blew out former GM Bryan Colangelo and brought Masai Ujiri back from Denver to run the Raptors, and cleaned out the basketball side of many of its veteran scouts. All to be expected when the new guy comes in, but Leiweke has to now own Toronto's immediate future as an NBA franchise. The Raps have fallen by the wayside since Chris Bosh left town, and the goal shouldn't be to be Canada's team, but merely just a better team in Toronto, a great city that has supported the Raptors more than they deserve.

THE SKINNY: Ujiri tinkered around the margins after he accomplished the summer's major task -- unloading Bargnani's remaining $23 million salary, to New York. The Raptors hope that either Augustin or Summer League standout Buycks can take the backup point position behind Kyle Lowry. Hansbrough will do what he did in Indiana -- grab some boards, score on a couple of putbacks, tick someone in the other uniform off. Toronto's major improvement, though, must come from within. Center Jonas Valanciunas, the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, is the leading candidate. If Valanciunas can break through to elite status, and Rudy Gay is productive over a full season -- and coach Dwane Casey can stop the alarming defensive slide the Raps took last season -- Toronto could sniff around the playoff chase.

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No. 26 -- MIAMI HEAT

2012-13 RECORD: 66-16, first place, Southeast Division; won NBA championship.

ADDED: C Greg Oden (two years, $2.1 million).

LOST: F Mike Miller (waived via amnesty provision).

Three in a Row for Heat?

RETAINED: G Ray Allen (picked up player option); C Chris Andersen (two years, $2.8 million); G Mario Chalmers (team picked up option); F/G James Jones (picked up player option); F Rashard Lewis (picked up player option)

THE KEY MAN: Andy Elisburg, Senior VP of Basketball Operations. The conventional wisdom around the league is that next season has to be the last one for the SuperFriends. Even if they all somehow decided not to opt out of their respective deals next summer, the Heat's outlay for them becomes prohibitively expensive in the final year of their respective deals in 2014-15. It would trigger the "repeater" luxury tax that will pile even more prohibitive financial penalties on owner Micky Arison than he's already paying. But I've learned never to bet against Pat Riley, in large part because Elisburg knows the cap inside out and upside down, and no doubt has a '15 battle plan already laid out -- whether it involves dealing a Chris Bosh or something else the rest of us haven't thought of.

THE SKINNY: In the last 60 years of the NBA, only four men have led their respective teams to three straight championships -- Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and the field entry of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. (As my friend Tony Kornheiser would say, "that's it! That's the list!") That is the company LeBron James will try to keep next season, as he, Dwyane Wade and Bosh somehow try to find the energy for another 100-game season. Coach Erik Spoelstra has tried to rein in their minutes the last couple of seasons, but the torque and stress of all those extra games extracts a toll that almost always catches the team looking to three-peat in year three with injuries, locker room strife or something else. There's no cavalry coming over the hill, either. Oden, like Miller was, is a long-range project who'll likely use the regular season as an extended training camp as he tries to get back into playing shape. Even then, of course, there are no guarantees he'll hold up. But if he can be ready for the playoffs, Miami would have a tool it could use to address its one on-court area of weakness -- interior post defense.

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No. 27 -- OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

2012-13 RECORD: 60-22, first place, Northwest Division; lost in Western Conference semifinals

ADDED: F Ryan Gomes (one year, $884,000); C Steven Adams (first-round pick, 12th overall); G Andre Roberson (first-round pick, 26th overall)

LOST: G Kevin Martin (signed with Minnesota).

Inside the NBA: Thunder Fall to Grizzlies

RETAINED: G Derek Fisher (one year, $884,000)

THE KEY MAN: Guard Russell Westbrook. One hopes the "debate" about whether the Thunder needed Westbrook's offense is now, mercifully, over. It's unfortunate it took an ACL tear for everyone to see exactly how dependent OKC was, and is, on Westbrook's sorties to the basket. Whether he'll be back to his old self at any point next season is a question mark right now, and his absence will allow defenses -- the ones with the personnel and ability to pull it off, anyway -- to load up on Kevin Durant and make someone else score. Who that person would be now that Martin is in Minnesota is another big ol' question for the Thunder. OKC has talked up Jeremy Lamb, part of the package from Houston for James Harden, as a possible slack picker-upper. But that's a big ask for a 21-year-old, even one with Lamb's skills.

THE SKINNY: Is it too harsh to suggest the league's standard bearer for how to build a franchise through the Draft is at a crossroads? The luxury tax was the Rubicon through which the Thunder would not pass, but that decision has already cost OKC Harden, and with Martin's departure the Thunder's running out of pieces with which to surround Durant as he gets to the meat of his prime. Yet OKC has, at least thus far, not used its amnesty to help ease the cap/tax conundrum or looked seriously at moving one of its big pieces for smaller ones that could add quality depth. GM Sam Presti has always taken the long view, and that may be the right course here; the Thunder was in The Finals just two seasons ago and there's no need for a panic move. OKC will thus need a big jump from Lamb (see above) or one of its other young pieces -- including Adams, whom most think a long-term project. But teams don't usually take projects with the 12th pick overall. At the least, Adams should be a good rim runner immediately.

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No. 28 -- ORLANDO MAGIC

2012-13 RECORD: 20-62, fifth place, Southeast Division; did not make playoffs

Tobias Harris Interview

ADDED: F Jason Maxiell (two years, $5 million); G Ronnie Price (two years, $2.5 million); G Victor Oladipo (first-round pick, 2nd overall)

LOST: None

RETAINED: None

THE KEY MAN: Forward Tobias Harris. I've known Harris' father, a former agent, for more than 20 years. When he insisted before the 2011 Draft that his kid was going to be a big-time pro baller, I wasn't sure if he had his talent-evaluator hat on or his Dad-cap on. Turns out it was both, and he was right either way. The younger Harris broke out for the Magic when the Bucks sent him to Orlando in the J.J. Redick trade (one suspects Milwaukee would like a mulligan on that one!), averaging 17.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg in 27 games. If that burst is sustainable over a full season, Orlando would have a big piece of its rebuild under control for at least two more seasons, a key time period for a team looking to amass cheap talent that can be bunched down the road for superstars that come on the market -- or extended at reasonable numbers (see the Warriors' deal with Steph Curry).

THE SKINNY: A year removed from the original Dwightmare, Orlando appears in no particular hurry to be active in free agency other than as the occasional conduit for three-team deals. And that's the right approach; no use tying up cap room down the road on good but not great players who won't help the Magic break through. Orlando did raise a couple of eyebrows on Draft night by going hard for Oladipo, the Indiana junior whose work ethic is second to none, but who has some developing to do at the offensive end. Yet the Magic believe Oladipo is a great fit for the culture it's trying to create. This was the kind of talk we heard out of Oklahoma City when there was Kevin Durant and little else. Maybe the Magic gets its Durant in the talent-rich '14 Draft. For now, there's watching Oladipo, Harris (see above) and Nic Vucevic continuing to develop under second-year Coach Jacque Vaughn and his staff.

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No. 29 -- UTAH JAZZ

2012-13 RECORD: 43-39, third place, Northwest Division; did not make playoffs

Burke's Summer League

ADDED: F Richard Jefferson, C Andris Biedrins, G Brandon Rush (acquired from Golden State); G John Lucas III (two years, $3.2 million); G Trey Burke (first-round pick, 9th overall; Draft rights acquired from Minnesota); G Ian Clark; C Rudy Gobert (first-round pick, 27th overall)

LOST: F DeMarre Carrol (signed with Hawks); G Randy Foye (sign-and-trade with Denver); C Al Jefferson (signed with Charlotte); F/C Paul Millsap (signed with Atlanta); G Earl Watson (signed with Portland)

RETAINED: F Marvin Williams (picked up player option)

THE KEY MAN: Forward Derrick Favors. Executive VP Kevin O'Connor wanted him as the centerpiece of the Deron Williams trade two years ago, and the Jazz were willing to let both Jefferson and Millsap bolt, in part, because Utah thinks the 22-year-old Favors is ready for his closeup and a starring role. At the least, Favors will get more than the 23 minutes per game he played last season.

THE SKINNY: The Jazz's difficulty in attracting free agents, again, impacted the team's on-court decisions. The decision to pull the trigger on the three-team deal with Denver and Golden State that brought Jefferson, Bierdins and Rush from the Warriors was, in part, a nod to the reality that Utah wasn't going to convince anyone of consequence to come play there next season. Whereas an extra first-round pick in next year's highly anticipated Draft -- an unprotected '14 from Golden State -- to go with what almost certainly will be the Jazz's own Lottery pick gives Utah another chance to get a player under control for four or five seasons. And in a Draft that is supposed to be deep and plentiful, finding a gem in the 20s, where the Warriors' pick is almost certain to land, is a solid possibility. In addition, the insane flexibility Utah has with $31 million worth of expiring contracts makes the Jazz a potential player in any trade scenario that could come up league-wide at the deadline next February. Not especially sexy talk for fans who have to still pay top dollar this season, but it's reality in Salt Lake City at the moment. For now, Utah will give the ball to rookie Burke, take a long look at a core including Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward, and wait for the right moment and the right player for which to strike.

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No. 30 -- PHILADELPHIA 76ers

2012-13 RECORD: 34-48, fourth place, Atlantic Division; did not make playoffs.

ADDED: GM Sam Hinkie; F Royce White, C Furkan Aldemir (acquired from Houston); C Nerlens Noel (acquired Draft rights from New Orleans)

GameTime: Noel and Sixers

LOST: G Jrue Holiday (traded to New Orleans); G/F Dorell Wright (signed with Portland); G/F Nick Young (signed with L.A. Lakers)

RETAINED: None

THE KEY MAN: Guard Michael Carter-Williams. The rookie will get the ball from minute one after the Sixers dealt Holiday to New Orleans for the rights to Noel. MCW may have the biggest upside of any of the point guards in this year's Draft, but upside only matters if you reach it. The Sixers can afford to wait, though. Where are they going?

THE SKINNY: Wow, what a wreck. A year after I rated them as having had the second-best offseason of any team in the league (perhaps I missed on that), Philly has hit rock bottom, with Bynum a rumor and a franchise flirting with irrelevance in the Philly market. Part of the reason is that Hinkie is being more methodical than Hercule Poirot in picking a coach; as of this morning (Monday, when the Tip debuts), it's been 109 days since Doug Collins resigned. The following is a brief list of things that took less than 109 days to do: thwarting numerous terrorist plots and/or seditious acts against the U.S. Government (one day, accomplished several times by Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer), Lindbergh flying solo across the Atlantic for the first time (two days), Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, et.al, writing and adopting the Declaration of Independence (22 days), Jackie Robinson stealing home for the first time after breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball (60 days) and Phileas Fogg circumnavigating the globe by train and boat (80 days). But if you've taken this long, you might as well interview everyone that could possibly be qualified for the gig and get it right. The 76ers' immediate future is not worth hurrying toward, with Noel on the shelf several more months after tearing his ACL in February and the rest of the roster a mishmash of parts. Hinkie says the team will be active with the remaining seven weeks or so of offseason and try to get a couple of free agent bargains, but anyone signed now is, at best, a stopgap. The team's real work will start next summer, when even more cap room will open up.

>> OFFSEASON GRADES: THE MIDDLE 10 | OFFSEASON GRADES: THE TOP 10

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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