David Aldridge doles out his annual NBA offseason rankings, with this portion looking at the top teams on his list
POSTED: Oct 13, 2015 2:17 PM ET
San Antonio's roster refurbishing, with LaMarcus Aldridge as the centerpiece, nets them the No. 1 spot on our list.
DA's Offseason Rankings
The flood began at 12:01 a.m. July 1, and didn't stop for weeks.
A billion dollars in the first 24 hours, spread across the NBA, from coast to coast. It was a spending spree the likes of which no one had ever seen or in which no one had ever participated. And it was a mere dress rehersal for what will happen in the summers of 2016 and 2017.
It's the new NBA.
The league's new television deals don't kick in until 2016, but they're already having an impact. Everyone wants to lock in as many players as possible, because what looks like a crazy deal today could be a bargain in no time. That, and the need to spend at least 90 percent of the salary cap, is fueling the gold rush. And it meant league-wide activity during the offseason.
Which is where we come in.
The annual rankings of all 30 teams is, again, just taking into account everything that teams have done since they last played a game, factoring in the Draft, free agency and trades.
It is not a predicted order of finish for next season; I do not expect the Milwaukee Bucks, for example, to have a better record than the Oklahoma City Thunder, nor do I think the Minnesota Timberwolves now have a better team than the Golden State Warriors. It's relative.
If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team. If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I like certain guys in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably gave it more weight. Doesn't mean I'm right.)
These rankings are as much art as they are 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. 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. But a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, which had a lot of free agents, and thus a lot to lose, gets credit for keeping that core together (because it's costing owner Dan Gilbert a lot of money).
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.
And, with more and more teams terrified of paying the luxury tax, a team that stands pat must be viewed in the context of preserving cap space and/or flexibility in order to be able to do things down the road. Should the Philadelphia 76ers just throw money at someone who could help them win a few more games this season, rather than continually rolling their cap space over for another day? I had to make a judgment on that. Same with the Boston Celtics, who wanted to do something big before the Draft but couldn't pull it off.
Salary figures, save one or two, are from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus is inexhaustible in detailing most every transaction that has any impact on a team's salary cap.
Without further ado, here are my annual rankings for the Top 10 teams. You can find the rest of the rankings below ...
The Top 10
Celtics, Nets, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Thunder, Hawks
76ers, Suns, Mavericks, Rockets, Pistons, Nuggets, Hornets, Kings, Jazz, Trail Blazers
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
2014-15 RECORD: 55-27, lost in first round
ADDED: F LaMarcus Aldridge (four years, $84 million); F David West (two years, $3.1 million); G Ray McCallum (via trade from Kings); C Boban Marjanovic (one year, $1.2 million); G Jimmer Fredette (one year, $947,000); F Jonathan Simmons (two years, $1.4 million)
The Starters: Warriors Or Spurs?
After picking up LaMarcus Aldridge, are the Spurs the favorite or is that disrespectful to the Warriors?
RETAINED: F/C Tim Duncan (two years, $10.9 million); F Kawhi Leonard (five years, $94 million); G Danny Green (four years, $40 million); G Manu Ginobili (two years, $5.8 million); F Matt Bonner (one year, $947,000)
THE KEY MAN: Tony Parker. For all of the Spurs' maneuvers this summer, the 33-year-old Parker is still the ignition to San Antonio's attack. He committed to starting his offseason training program earlier in the offseason so he wouldn't get off to the rocky start he did last season, one in which he was never really himself after pulling a hamstring. The Spurs can't win without him attacking the rim, hitting those floaters and putting defenses on their heels.
THE SKINNY: If you've ever bought a house, you know the complications of every clause, paragraph and subsection. You know how meticulous you have to be in making sure everything is checked, signed and notarized, and that you have to do everything in the right order. The Spurs bought a franchise this summer with the same dogged attention to detail, and it's left them with a post-Tim Duncan future they will enter almost seamlessly. They'll be pretty formidable until then as well. There isn't a better starting five in the game than what the Spurs will roll out, with Aldridge and Leonard the best forward duo in the league. And with West leaving $12 million on the table in Indiana to take a shot at a ring, San Antonio will have a sixth starter in essence coming off the bench. McCallum replaces Joseph. Fredette could be another successful Spurs reclamation project. Ginobili can be used sparingly during the regular season to save him for the playoffs. With new nanoprobes from Planet Portland, the Spurs Borg is once again ready to assimilate its technologically inferior opponents into its collective. Resistance is futile.
2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
2014-15 RECORD: 53-29, lost NBA Finals
LOST: C Brendan Haywood (traded to Portland); F Mike Miller (traded to Portland); F Shawn Marion (retired)
RETAINED: F LeBron James (two years, $47 million); F Kevin Love (five years, $110 million); G Iman Shumpert (four years, $40 million); G Matthew Dellavadova (one year, $1.2 million); F James Jones (one year, $1.4 million); C Timofey Mozgov (opted in)
GameTime: Cleveland's Moves And Signings
Rick Kamla and Steve Smith review all of the recent signings and moves by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
THE KEY MAN: Scott Lokke, acting Vice President and General Manager, Horseshoe Casino, Cleveland. With Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who also founded Horseshoe's parent company, Rock Gaming, sinking unprecedented money into the team for the foreseeable future, it's up to executives like Lokke who help run Gilbert's other businesses to find new and substantial revenue streams to help the overall bottom line.
THE SKINNY: Gilbert dipped deep into the wallet this summer, committing more than $200 million in future salaries to keep his Eastern Conference champs together -- and that doesn't count restricted free agent forward Tristan Thompson and unrestricted free agent guard J.R. Smith, both of whom have yet to reach agreement on a new deal with the Cavs. Once Thompson is done (presumably, on a near-max deal), and Smith is re-inked, Cleveland's luxury tax bill will be well north of $75 million. But that's the price of keeping James happy and keeping what is now the prohibitive favorite to again get out of the East together another season. Assuming Kyrie Irving and Love recover from their respective injuries, the Cavaliers will have the conference's deepest team, adding a still-capable Jefferson from Dallas (42.6 percent on 3-pointers last season, the second-best mark of his career) to give Coach David Blatt even more options.
3. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
2014-15 RECORD: 56-26, lost Western Conference semifinals
ADDED: F Paul Pierce (three years, $10.5 million); F Josh Smith (one year, $1.5 million); G Lance Stephenson (via trade from Charlotte); F Wesley Johnson (two years, $2.3 million); C Cole Aldrich (two years, $2.3 million); G Pablo Prigioni (one year, $947,000)
GameTime: Clippers Projected Depth Chart
The guys talk about the way DeAndre Jordan handled the Dallas situation and discuss the Clippers projected depth chart.
THE KEY MAN: Chris Paul. Whether the stories of Clipper dysfunction were exaggerated or on point, there were issues that need to be straightened out. Like most great players, Paul can be a taskmaster to teammates, and he has to be cognizant of how his drive rubs people. More immediately, Paul has to own his team's last two playoff implosions and find out how to stop them from happening again. It's the responsibility of the team's leader to do that.
THE SKINNY: Granted the ultimate mulligan by Jordan, who backed out of a verbal deal with the Mavericks, the Clippers pounced and saved their offseason -- correctly graded as an "F" by guard J.J. Redick when it looked like Jordan was leaving. With Jordan back in the fold, everything else looked like icing on the cake -- Pierce opting to finish his career in his hometown, Smith opting to come (further) West rather than stay with his close friend Dwight Howard in Houston, Stephenson coming via trade to take over, one supposes, the Barnes 3-and-D role. It was all smiles and kind words when Jordan returned, but there was a clear fissure between him and Paul last season, and the mending of that relationship is something that will likely take a while. But coach Doc Rivers is nonetheless thrilled he again will have a chance to try.
4. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
2014-15 RECORD: 16-66, did not make playoffs
ADDED: F Nemanja Bjelica (three years, $11.7 million); G Andre Miller (one year, $947,000); F Damjan Rudez (via trade from Indiana); F/C Karl-Anthony Towns (first round, 1st pick); G Tyus Jones (Draft rights via trade from Cleveland)
RETAINED: F Kevin Garnett (two years, $16.5 million)
2015 NBA Draft: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves select Karl-Anthony Towns with the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
THE KEY MAN: Physicial therapist Arnie Kander. I'm hearing that Kander, who resigned in Detroit in June after 23 years there as one of the best body mechanics in the league, will be joining the Timberwolves in a new capacity in September. Kander and Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders know each other from Saunders' time as coach in Detroit, and had a great working relationship. Kander will be no doubt be tasked with figuring out how to keep Ricky Rubio in one piece going forward. Garnett will love him, too.
THE SKINNY: The Wolves still need to get some gray hairs and scars on their collective roster before one can feel confident in their abilities to navigate the West, but the injection of quality talent in the last 12 months should be very encouraging for the 612. In a year, Minnesota has added Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Garnett, this year's first overall pick in Towns, Bjelica -- the Euroleague Most Valuable Player last season -- Jones (considered by more than a few scouts to be the best pure point guard in the 2015 Draft) and The Professor (!), 39-year-old Miller. That's a pretty good haul, and it gives Saunders depth at every position. Garnett will start, but he'll held under 25 minutes per game, giving Towns plenty of opportunity to get his feet wet. There will be a lot of bad nights in Minny next season, but there will surely be eight to 12 games when the pups are snapping and frisky, and blow someone's doors off.
5. CHICAGO BULLS
2014-15 RECORD: 50-32, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
ADDED: Coach Fred Hoiberg; F Bobby Portis (first round, 22nd pick)
LOST: Coach Tom Thibodeau (fired)
McDermott Talks Bulls
Dennis Scott catches up with Chicago's Doug McDermott about his play at Summer League and the state of the Bulls.
THE KEY MAN: Derrick Rose. Duh. It's a year-to-year deal with Rose now. He was injured, again, missing 31 games with a torn meniscus in his right knee. But he did return in time for the playoffs and averaged 20.3 ppg in the postseason. Time, as ever, will tell on what Rose will be able to do going forward -- and Chicago will have some soul-searching to do as well as Rose is a free agent in just two years.
THE SKINNY: The Bulls kept the band together but changed conductors, with Thibodeau's ouster the worst-kept secret in the league the second half of the season. Hoiberg's task is to further diversify an offense that actually was much better under Thibs last season than it had been in previous years. The Bulls were 10th in offensive rating last season after being 27th in 2013-14 -- though it's fair to note that Rose's return may have more than a little to do with that improvement. Part of the improvement, though, also came from a more diversified attack featuring the Kia Most Improved Player Award winner Butler. He gambled on himself and won, earning a max contract after putting a career year together. But Hoiberg wants Chicago to play faster last season, and to go small ball like everyone else, getting second-year forward Doug McDermott on the floor more next season at the stretch four. Can Hoiberg get more 3-pointers out of the Bulls while getting the ball inside to Pau Gasol? He says Chicago can do both with its personnel, and still be a strong defensive squad. One other question: can nice guy Hoiberg be enough of a disciplinarian for a team that has had the strictest teacher in homeroom for the last five years, and can't wait to test the substitute?
6. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
2014-15 RECORD: 41-41, lost in first round
RETAINED: F Khris Middleton (five years, $70 million)
Free Agent Fever: Greg Monroe
The guys discuss Greg Monroe teaming up with the Milwaukee Bucks.
THE KEY MAN: Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). A lot of Democratic state senators had to be convinced to support the proposed arena deal that was key to keeping the Bucks in town, but Fitzgerald was able to get the bill through its key state senate vote after the two sides were able to compromise on a key provision that will impose a ticket surcharge on ticket buyers that will help both local and state facilities that are helping fund the $500 million arena pay off their respective debts faster.
THE SKINNY: The Bucks' metamorphosis from league afterthought to a hot franchise was evidenced by Monroe's decision to turn down similar money in New York and Los Angeles to sign with Milwaukee. It's been a long time since a young free agent with real choices went for Brew Town, but it was indicative of how far Jason Kidd brought the franchise forward in his first season as coach. The Bucks didn't hesitate in giving Middleton a huge deal to keep him off the free-agent market, and with Monroe up front they should improve what was anemic paint production last season. Vaughn was a surprise to go that high, though he's talented, to be sure, but the Bucks just put big bills into Middleton at the two. The Bucks will also be bolstered by the return of forward Jabari Parker this season after he tore his ACL last December. They will have an incredibly potent frontcourt with Monroe and Giannis Antetokounmpo to throw at opponents next season. There is now the certainty that that and future seasons will be in Milwaukee.
7. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
2014-15 RECORD: 55-27, lost Western Conference semifinals
ADDED: F Matt Barnes (via trade from Charlotte); F Brandan Wright (three years, $18 million); F Jarell Martin (first round, 25th pick); G Andrew Harrison (Draft rights via trade from Phoenix); F Jeff Green (opted in)
Dave Joerger Talks Grizzlies
Dave Joerger, head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, joins NBA TV to discuss the Grizzlies.
RETAINED: C Marc Gasol (five years, $110 million)
THE KEY MAN: Courtney Lee. The Grizzlies hoped to address their perimeter deficiencies in the offseason, but they didn't make a move, leaving Lee in place as the starting two going into training camp. Lee's got to make a George Hill-like improvement as a player next season if Memphis is going to break through the logjam in the West. When he shot the ball well the first half of the season, the Grizzlies were elite. But he leveled off afterward, and Memphis did, too.
THE SKINNY: More Grit, More Grind with the acquisition of Barnes, who should fit right in. The Grizzlies' games with the Clippers next season could be must-see TV. Wright is a sneaky-good sign who figures to play in small-ball lineups if coach Dave Joerger opts to go that way. The summer was made by making sure Gasol -- still the game's best two-way center -- was returning, something almost everyone in the league believed would happen. But you never know until pen meets paper. Keeping Gasol in the fold ensures Memphis will remain a team to be reckoned with, and the Grizzlies will have some flexibility next summer. Mike Conley will be unrestricted then, but there's not many people who think he's leaving. Depending on the sequencing of events next summer, the Grizzlies could be free agent players with a team still good enough to be an attractive destination. Conley will surely be motivated to increase his market price with another outstanding season, a win-win for him and the team.
8. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
2014-15 RECORD: 45-37, lost in first round
LOST: Coach Monty Williams (fired); G Jimmer Fredette (signed with San Antonio)
The Starters: Alvin Gentry On Anthony Davis
Gentry discusses what his plans are for Anthony Davis next season. Will AD step out to the three-point line?
THE KEY MAN: VP of Basketball Operations Mickey Loomis. Loomis, also the GM of the NFL's New Orleans Saints (owner Tom Benson owns both the basketball and football teams), has the final say on Pelicans business. There have been persistent rumors that the team has eyes for former Pistons GM Joe Dumars, but Loomis didn't make a move on GM Dell Demps after the team fired Williams as coach, and Demps was the guy who picked Gentry as Williams' replacement. But there is still a question of where the basketball team's place in the Benson Family hierarchy will be after the death of Tom Benson, who had to fight a rear guard action by family members trying to get him declared mentally incompetent (their motion was denied by a Civil Court District Judge in June).
THE SKINNY: The Pelicans did their best work before July 1, when they hammered out a five-year, $145 million deal for Anthony Davis, keeping him from even hitting restricted free agency a year from now. With their franchise player under contract, everyone in N'Awlins can relax and see how much fun it should be with the Pelicans going all Seven Seconds or Less on everybody under Gentry. They don't have anything near the personnel the Suns did in their best days (y'all forget how devastating Amar'e Stoudemire was before his knees gave out on him), but guys like Eric Gordon, if he stays healthy, should thrive in the system. Everything you saw Golden State do last season -- pace, ball movement, tons of 3-pointers -- will be replicated at the Smoothie King Center. Not sure the Pelicans did much to improve a pretty pedestrian defense (22nd in defensive rating last season), though; Gentry didn't bring Draymond Green or Klay Thompson with him. And giving Asik $12 million per year doesn't seem prudent (yes, I know, Nikola Pekovic and Marcin Gortat got similar deals the last two summers). But if having Asik alongside him (and playing center instead of him) had anything to do with keeping The Brow happy and in town, it's the best $60 million Benson will ever spend.
9. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2014-15 RECORD: 67-15, won NBA title
The Starters: Warriors Win It All
From October to June, the Warriors were the best team. This is how they got it done.
THE KEY MEN: D-Sharp, the Warriors' official DJ, and Director of Game Operations Brent Yamaguchi. The best home crowd in basketball does its own cheering, but the beat comes from D-Sharp, whose sets create an incredible atmosphere inside Oracle Arena before and during the game. Yamaguchi makes sure there's never a quiet moment inside Oracle Arena by keeping the music and dancers on script for two-plus hours every home game -- and doesn't need a mascot to pull it off.
THE SKINNY: The Warriors didn't have too much on their plate after winning the franchise's first championship in 40 years other than moving Lee's salary and reducing their luxury tax bill. GM Bob Myers accomplished that quickly and efficiently, sending Lee to Boston for Gerald Wallace, then flipping Wallace for Thompson, who'll give Golden State solid minutes off the bench at both power forward and center. No one really believed Green would really explore restricted free agency, and even if he did the Warriors would match any offer. Given his unique fit with Golden State, the near-max deal he received isn't out of line. And the Warriors could do that kind of deal because of the ridiculous return on investment they continue to receive from Steph Curry's 2012 contract extension (four years, $44 million). Entering next season, 53 players around the league will make more money than Curry, the league's MVP and two-time All-Star. At the time, the extension was viewed as a gamble by Golden State, given Curry's ankle problems. Considering everything that's transpired for the franchise since, it may be one of the biggest payoffs in league history.
10. ORLANDO MAGIC
2014-15 RECORD: 25-57, did not make playoffs
RETAINED: F Tobias Harris (four years, $64 million)
THE KEY MAN: Victor Oladipo. The rising third-year guard took in The Finals in June with assistant general manager Scott Perry, looking to get a taste of playoff basketball. Oladipo had a strong offensive second season with the Magic, averaging 17.9 ppg. He and Elfrid Payton have great potential as an emerging backcourt. But Oladipo has to become a better shooter (43 percent from the floor overall, and 34 percent on 3-pointers). And like everyone else on the team, he'll have to get better defensively (he was 15th among starting shooting guards in Defensive Win Shares last season, according to basketball-reference.com) under Scott Skiles.
THE SKINNY: The Magic has lots of young talent but the city is growing weary of the post-Dwight Howard rebuilding project, and ownership wants to start winning more regularly. Enter Skiles, a former Magic star player and a no-nonsense coach who has rapidly improved teams upon arrival (but hasn't been able to sustain at previous stops). He'll get every chance for long-term success in Orlando, which brought in point guard depth behind Payton with Watson and Napier. Hezonja will compete for significant time right away, and Orlando can roll out freakish athleticism at times with Payton, Oladipo, Hezonja, Harris and Aaron Gordon, along with rebounding machine Nicola Vucevic. But how fast can Skiles jerry-rig the learning curve and improve the Magic's struggles at both ends of the floor? Harris, given a big restricted free agent deal, will have a lot to say about that.
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