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DA's Offseason Rankings: The Top 10

Keeping pace with reigning-champion Warriors remains top priority for many in NBA

David Aldridge

David Aldridge TNT Analyst

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Aug 31, 2017 7:15 AM ET

The stars -- and virtually all of the complimentary players -- are back for Golden State in 2017-18.

    DA'S OFFSEASON RANKINGS:

    The chase is on.

    The Golden State Warriors have put a marker way, way out there for the rest of the league with their second title in three years, with the possibility of several more now that they’ve re-signed their core group for a while. No one figured out a way to slow down, much less stop, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and teammates, even as coach Steve Kerr again missed time with the physical ailments that have plagued him for almost two years.

    > DA’s Offseason Rankings:  2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

    Compounding the rest of the league’s dilemma is that there was far less money in the system -- about a third -- than there was a year ago, when most everyone in the game lost its collective mind and threw money at any free agent with a pulse.

    Also, the league is about to tip over, it is so imbalanced at present, with a significant majority of the game’s elite talent in the Western Conference.

    Paul George, Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were among the better players who went from the Eastern Conference to the West, with only Gordon Hayward waving at them in the other direction. That leaves easier egress in the East, but the east also has the game’s most immovable object in LeBron James -- who’s made seven straight NBA Finals and counting, but whose Cavaliers are in the midst of a tumultuous summer.

    This is where we come in with our offseason grades.

    Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most.

    Here's what these rankings ARE NOT:

    • A predicted order of finish for next season.

    I do not expect the Kings, for example, to have a better record than the Spurs. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the 76ers are a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before?

    • 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 liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.)

    What plays into the rankings:

    • This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, 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. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses (I’m looking at you, Knicks), the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.
       
    • Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. It’s why, even though I may think Atlanta was right to push the reset button and start over, losing Millsap and the other players who’ve departed in the last two years is a bigger deal -- and, thus, the Hawks’ offseason can’t be viewed as a success when determining if they’re better now than they were in April. They’re not. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.
       
    • Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely.

    Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means.

    The Top 10

    No. 1: Warriors | No. 2: Celtics | No. 3: Thunder | No. 4: 76ers | No. 5: Rockets | No. 6: Timberwolves | No. 7: Nuggets | No. 8: Kings | No. 9: Lakers | No. 10: Raptors

    > MORE RANKINGS: The Middle 10 | The Bottom 10

    1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

    2016-17 RECORD: 67-15, won NBA Finals

    ADDED:  G Nick Young (one year, $5.192 million); F Omri Casspi (one year, $1.47 million); F/C Jordan Bell (Draft rights acquired from Chicago)

    LOST: G Ian Clark (signed with New Orleans)

    RETAINED: G Stephen Curry (five years, $201 million); F Kevin Durant (two years, $51.25 million); F Andre Iguodala (three years, $48 million); G Shaun Livingston (three years, $24 million); C Zaza Pachulia (one year, $3.47 million); C JaVale McGee (one year, $2.3 million); F Omri Casspi (one year, $2.06 million); F David West (one year, $2.3 million)

    THE KEY MAN: Brandon Schneider, senior vice president of business development. Schneider is one of the key point people selling the richest Warriors fans on the courtside lounges ($2.25 million per year), midlevel suites ($1 million per) and theatre boxes ($350,000 to $525,000 annually) that will finance the team’s new downtown San Francisco arena, Chase Center, set to open in 2019 -- and will offset some of the costs both of the building (the current construction cost is estimated at $1 billion) and the yuuuuge salary expenditures owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have already taken on and will take on in the next few years, starting with Curry’s one-fifth-of-a-billion deal.

     
    Take a look back at the Warriors' championship-clinching win in 2017.

    THE SKINNY: You know you’ve arrived when the General Manager of the New York Yankees refers to the Boston Red Sox as “the Warriors of baseball,” as Brian Cashman did last December -- and the Sox’s GM, Dave Dombrowski, returns to the compliment to the Yankees, as he did last week after New York’s acquisition of pitcher Sonny Gray. Everything is coming up roses in the Bay, where the Dubs didn’t hesitate bringing the mercurial Young into the fold, so great is their faith in their players’ and coaches’ chemistry with one another. Durant took a significant financial haircut from what he could have gotten to help the team’s tax bill, and Iguodala left money on the table elsewhere to keep the party going. (The relative lack of money in the system this summer compared with last also helped the Warriors keep their hands on some of their other vets, who didn’t have the lucrative offers of many 2016 free agents.) There may well be a reckoning in Golden State when the money to keep their key rotation guys together might be too much even for Lacob and Co. But that wasn’t this summer and it won’t be next season.

    2. BOSTON CELTICS

    2016-17 RECORD: 53-29, lost in Eastern Conference finals

    ADDED: F Gordon Hayward (four years, $128 million); G Kyrie Irving (acquired from Cleveland); F Marcus Morris (acquired from Detroit); C Aron Baynes (one year, $4.32 million); F Daniel Theis (one year, $2.19 million); G Shane Larkin (one year, $1.5 million); G Guerschon Yabusele (first round, 16th pick overall, 2017 Draft); F Jayson Tatum (first round, third pick overall, 2017 Draft); F Semi Ojeleye (second round, 37th pick overall, 2017 Draft)

    LOST: G Isaiah Thomas (traded to Cleveland); F Jae Crowder (traded to Cleveland); F/C Ante Zizic (traded to Cleveland); G Avery Bradley (traded to Detroit); F Kelly Olynyk (signed with Miami); F/C Amir Johnson (signed with Philadelphia); F Jonas Jerebko (signed with Utah); C Tyler Zeller (waived); G James Young (waived); F Jordan Mickey (waived)

    RETAINED: None

    THE KEY MAN: G/F Jaylen Brown. The third overall pick in the 2016 Draft became a part of the rotation quickly and earned Brad Stevens’ trust enough to continue playing in the postseason. With Bradley and Crowder gone, someone has to assume the wing defender role in Boston (Hayward is not bad defensively; per NBA.com/Stats, among starting forwards who played in 40 or more games last season, Hayward was sixth in the league with a Defensive Rating of 102.4. But he’ll not be picking up LeBron on multiple isos next year). The springy, long Brown will get first crack, taking over at the two. He certainly has the physical skills to be a plus defender, but the learning curve is certain to be extensive for the 20-year-old.

     
    How will the new-look Celtics make it all work in 2017-18?

    THE SKINNY: Danny Ainge may be sentimental about his kids or his hometown, but he is clear-eyed as an actuary when it comes to his team. He took a blowtorch to the team with the best record in the East, with just four players remaining after trading Thomas and Crowder (along with 2016 first-rounder Zizic) to the Cavs for the 25-year-old Irving. Ainge’s mandate was clear: blown into oblivion by Cleveland in the 2017 conference finals, he needed to improve Boston’s firepower to have any chance to beat the Cavs or Warriors going forward. He had to include the 2018 first-rounder from the Nets that the Celtics had held onto through several trade discussions with the likes of the Pacers and Bulls. But, the overpay makes sense. Irving is one of the two or three best individual scorers in the league and he’s impossible to stop when he gets on a roll. And he’s got a pre-spike contract through '19 that’s team-friendly. 

    One re-sign and Boston will have Irving throughout his quite-substantial prime, one that could be lengthened by playing next to fellow All-Star Hayward.  The initial hope was to add Paul George and Hayward, but Boston got squeezed just enough by a smaller than expected cap for 2017-18 to have to settle, at first. Taking advantage of Irving’s sudden desire to be elsewhere, Ainge struck. Dealing Thomas for Irving will provide new opportunities and challenges for Stevens. Hayward with Al Horford will be a symphony of passing and movement, and Hayward’s near-elite offensive game gives Stevens one more piece on his 3-D chess board with which to destroy opponents’ defensive schemes. But can Irving mesh with them? He did fine playing alongside James the last two years and the Cavs didn’t make him into a spot-up shooter as much as a co-star.  But he is not a good defender and with three defense-first starters now gone from last year’s team, Boston will have to make up a lot (though Morris should make up for some of that). The Celtics, it says here, will miss Bradley more than they’re letting on. He was a big-time leader in that locker room as well as on the floor. But Boston’s offensive firepower will be significantly better. The rookie Tatum should thrive playing in units with Thomas, Horford and/or Hayward.

    3. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

    2016-17 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round

    ADDED: F Paul George (acquired from Indiana); F Patrick Patterson (three years, $16.4 million); G Raymond Felton (one year, $2.3 million); G Terrance Ferguson (No. 21 pick in 2017 Draft); F Dakari Johnson (second round, 48th pick overall, 2015 Draft)

    LOST: G Victor Oladipo (traded to Indiana); F Domantas Sabonis (traded to Indiana); F Taj Gibson (signed with Minnesota)

    RETAINED: G Andre Roberson (three years, $30 million); F Nick Collison (one year, $2.3 million)

    THE KEY MAN: Coach Billy Donovan. He’s proved more than capable of handling NBA egos and motivating people. Entering his third NBA season, Donovan has a new challenge: creating a narrative and a structure that will be compelling to his two best players, both of whom can bolt after this season. It will be an extremely difficult tightrope -- cater too much to George and Westbrook, and you risk losing the rest of the locker room. But if they both bounce, what the rest of the locker room wants won’t matter. The Thunder managed to blot out some of the pain of Kevin Durant’s departure by riding the wave of Westbrook’s incredible Kia MVP season last year -- a wave that Donovan didn’t try to fight. Another blow a year from now, though, will be difficult to absorb.

     
    The Starters grade the Thunder's offseason moves.

    THE SKINNY: Nobody -- nobody -- had OKC as a potential trade partner for Indiana, which is just the way GM Sam Presti likes it. Taking a shot that the Thunder can convince George to make the 405 his permanent home was well worth the price of Oladipo and Sabonis, talents but not yet guys a playoff team can count on. And PG-13 is certainly the best case the Thunder can make to Westbrook to stay after this season, too (as of this writing, Westbrook had not yet accept the contract extension the Thunder offered). OKC can’t do any more. If they both walk, they walk, and the Thunder will either have massive cap room or become a chief repository for bad contracts next summer. If one or both stays, you build around him/them going forward with guys like Ferguson, who many thought would go higher in the first round and has star on-ball potential. This year? I’m not sure how good the Thunder will be in the stacked West, but with George and Westbrook doing work together, you’ll have to pay attention.

    4. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

    2016-17 RECORD: 28-54; did not make playoffs 

    ADDED: G J.J. Redick (one year, $23 million); C Amir Johnson (one year, $11 million); G Markelle Fultz (first round, first pick overall); F Furkan Korkmaz (first round, 26th pick overall, 2016 Draft); F Anzejs Pasecniks (Draft rights acquired from Orlando)

    LOST: F Shawn Long (traded to Houston); G Sergio Rodriguez (renounced UFA rights), F/C Tiago Splitter (renounced UFA rights), G Charles Jenkins (renounced UFA rights), F Byron Mullens (renounced UFA rights); G Gerald Henderson

    RETAINED: F Robert Covington (picked up team option)

    THE KEY MAN: C Joel Embiid. Again. The 76ers will only go as far as Embiid’s body can hold out. He was wondrous in his rookie season, showing frequent on-court dominance that showed why he was worth the (substantial) wait. He has an affable personality off the floor, with frequent social media winks and nods, that further endeared him to the Philly fan base. But he only lasted 31 games before a torn meniscus in his left knee ended his season (and, no, for the trillionth time: 31 games was not enough for Embiid to be considered for Rookie of the Year, IMHO. Name me any other occupation where you would be lauded for being able to work less than half the time in your first year on the job.) With Fultz and Simmons and the other players who flashed last season, the 76ers should still be able to win games next year without Embiid. But their playoff dreams still depend on the big fella being on the floor, dunking on people’s heads and inhaling opponents’ shots at the other end.

     
    Ben Simmons talks about Markelle Fultz, the Sixers' roster moves and more.

    THE SKINNY: In a desiccated East, Philly’s poised to make a move. Fultz will be a big-time scorer from minute one, whether or not he becomes a great point guard. At the very least he’ll help fellow rookie Simmons with ballhandling duties. Simmons should help open the floor with his court vision and passing. At 6-foot-8, his sight lines will be varied from most point guards. Redick and Johnson will be mature voices that haven’t been in large supply of late at Wells Fargo Center. Dario Saric and Covington should have all manner of room to operate and shoot, whether as starters or if coach Brett Brown decides to bring them off the bench. The potential combinations Brown could put on the floor together are scary good, but even a conventional Fultz-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embid starting five, with Simmons, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas and Johnson in reserve would be quite promising.

    5. HOUSTON ROCKETS

    2016-17 RECORD: 55-27, lost in Western Conference semifinals 

    ADDED: G Chris Paul (acquired from Clippers); G P.J. Tucker (four years, $32 million); F Luc Mbah a Moute (one year, $2.1 million); C Tarik Black (one year, $3.29 million); G Cameron Oliver (two years, $2.19 million); F Shawn Long (acquired from Philadelphia); F Zhou Qi (second round, 43rd pick overall, 2016 Draft); C Isaiah Hartenstein (second round, 43rd pick, 2017 Draft); G Tim Quarterman (acquired from Portland); F Ryan Kelly (acquired from Atlanta);

    LOST: G Patrick Beverley (traded to Clippers); G Lou Williams (traded to Clippers); F Sam Dekker (traded to Clippers); C Montrezl Harrell (traded to Clippers); F Kyle Wiltjer (traded to Clippers); F Darrun Hilliard (traded to Clippers); F DeAndre Liggins (traded to Clippers); F Dillon Brooks (Draft rights traded to Memphis)

    RETAINED: C Nene (three years, $11 million); G Troy Williams (three years, $4.69 million)

    THE KEY MAN: Team president Tad Brown, the point man for the sale of the team, announced late last month. It was a complete surprise around the league that Leslie Alexander wanted to get out, but there’s no shortage of potential buyers. The Rockets are in a good building, in a major market, with any number of Fortune 400 companies and awl bidness types with long wallets and other corporate entities.

     
    David Aldridge discusses the Rockets' busy offseason.

    THE SKINNY: Let’s be clear: no matter who handles the ball on a given play, Paul and James Harden are going to be terrific together. Great players almost always figure out how to play together, and especially ones that want to be together as CP3 and the Beard did. And if the Rockets figure out a way to get Carmelo Anthony, they’ll certainly be even more of a contender. Tucker and Mbah a Moute may be as irritating defensively combined as Beverley. They’ll have to be, because the starting backcourt is not going to be a shutdown backcourt, if you get my meaning. Harden, who got another $170 million on an extension that will take him through the 2023 season, is not paid to lock opponents up.

    6. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

    2016-17 RECORD: 31-51; did not make playoffs

    ADDED: G/F Jimmy Butler (acquired from Chicago); G Jeff Teague (three years, $57 million); F Taj Gibson (two years, $28 million); G Jamal Crawford (two years, $8.8 million); C Justin Patton (No. 16 pick in 2017 Draft; Draft rights acquired from Chicago)

    LOST: G Zach LaVine (traded to Chicago); G Kris Dunn (traded to Chicago); F Lauri Markkanen (Draft rights traded to Chicago); G Ricky Rubio (traded to Utah); F Omri Casspi (signed with Golden State); G/F Shabazz Muhammad (renounced RFA rights); F Adreian Payne (renounced RFA rights); G Brandon Rush (renounced UFA rights); C Nikola Pekovic (waived); C/F Jordan Hill (waived)

    RETAINED: None

    THE KEY MAN: Butler. Of all the sports, basketball is the one where a single dynamic player can change the fortunes of a franchise. Think Chris Webber going to Sacramento in 1998, or Steve Nash to Phoenix in 2004. Minnesota obviously has two real talents in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but they haven’t yet been dominant enough to turn things around. Butler can and should tip the balance, and once a team starts winning, unless there are significant injuries to core guys, it tends to keep winning for a while. It will be crucial for Minnesota to start getting used to winning in the next year or two.

     
    The addition of Jeff Teague was one of several summer key moves in Minnesota.

    THE SKINNY:  The Wolves have the longest postseason drought in the league, at 13 years and counting, so they gave up some of their future in LaVine and Dunn for a crack at being more relevant in the present. Butler was long coveted by coach Tom Thibodeau, who also loves Teague in the pick and roll. Another ex-Bull, Gibson, should provide some toughness whether coming off the bench to spell Gorgui Dieng or taking over himself at the four. Getting the Bulls to give them the 16th pick as well as Butler was a coup; Patton could help down the road. Minnesota has got multiple offensive options now, which will only help Towns and Wiggins – both of whom need to get more personally involved at the defensive end.

    7. DENVER NUGGETS

    2016-17 RECORD: 40-42, did not make playoffs 

    ADDED: F Paul Millsap (three years, $90 million); F Trey Lyles (acquired from Utah); F Tyler Lydon (No. 24 pick in 2017 Draft, Draft rights acquired from Utah); F Vlatko Cancar (second round, 2017 Draft); G Monte’ Morris (second round, 2017 Draft)

    LOST: F Danilo Gallinari (traded to Clippers); G Donovan Mitchell (Draft rights traded to Utah); F Mike Miller (waived); C Roy Hibbert

    RETAINED: None

    THE KEY MAN: G Emmanuel Mudiay. Denver simply needs more out of its rising third-year point guard, the seventh pick overall in 2015. A back injury put him on the shelf in February and limited him to 55 games, but assuming good health going forward, he has to become a better shooter, especially from deep (.315 on 3-pointers in 2016-17, a slight regression from an equally bad .319 his rookie season). The Nuggets can’t keep counting on yeoman work from 34-year-old Jameer Nelson as an emergency starter, which is why you keep hearing Denver linked to Cleveland in a potential Kyrie Irving trade. The Nuggets certainly have a mix of still-quality vets and promising youngsters that could form a potential package to the Cavs for Irving. Right now, though, Mudiay is not one of those players.

     
    Much will be expected of Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay this season.

    THE SKINNY: Hand, meet glove. Millsap is such a good signing for Denver, the Nuggets would still be in the top 10 even if they hadn’t done anything else this offseason. He’s exactly what they need -- a no-nonsense, show-up-every-night-and-play-hard kind of guy who produces results at both ends of the floor. He’s a multi-time All-Star who should mesh perfectly at both ends with emerging star center Nikola Jokic.  You have the sense that they’re not done yet, either, with some tradeable contracts (Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Darrell Arthur, to name three) still on the roster. The Nuggets could regret not taking Mitchell in time, though.

    8. SACRAMENTO KINGS

    2016-17 RECORD: 32-50; did not make playoffs

    ADDED: G George Hill (three years, $57 million); F Zach Randolph (two years, $24 million); G Vince Carter (one year, $8 million); F Bogdan Bogdanovic (three years, $26.8 million); G De’Aaron Fox (No. 5 pick in 2017 Draft); F Justin Jackson (No. 15 pick in 2017 Draft); F Harry Giles (No. 20 pick in 2017 Draft); G Frank Mason (second round, 34th pick overall, 2017 Draft); hired assistant general manager Brandon Williams

    LOST: F Rudy Gay (signed with San Antonio); G Langston Galloway (signed with Detroit); G Darren Collison (signed win Indiana); G Arron Afflalo (waived, then signed with Orlando); G Tyreke Evans (signed with Memphis); G/F Ben McLemore (signed with Memphis); F Anthony Tolliver (waived, then signed with Detroit); assistant general manager Scott Perry (became Knicks’ general manager; Kings received future second-round pick and cash to let him out of his contract)

    RETAINED: None

    THE KEY MAN: John Rinehart, President of Business Operations. Rinehart succeeded Chris Granger, who resigned in June after almost four years as the Kings’ president. During that time, Granger -- a former NBA marketing and business exec who helped rebuild the Kings’ ticket sales operations -- was the driving force behind the construction of Sacramento’s Golden 1 Arena. Golden 1 is the key to the team’s ability going forward to produce the kinds of revenues modern NBA teams need to compete with the behemoths in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Rinehart, who’d been with the Kings for 17 years, the last as the team’s Chief Financial Officer, is spearheading the team’s attempts to become even more involved in producing additional revenues for ownership.

     
    Vince Carter will serve as a mentor for the young Kings in 2017-18.

    THE SKINNY: A lot of new faces in Sac going forward, but most of them are pretty good. The Kings finally look like they’ve solved their point guard dilemma with Fox, who looks like he wants to be there, and with Hill, who had a bigger offer earlier in the year from Utah, gambled, and lost. But he’s still a solid point and will be a great mentor for Fox. Z-Bo and Carter have a lifetime’s worth of experiences and cautionary tales for their young teammates, and Bogdanovic, the Turkish League MVP last season for Fenerbahce, has been one of the best players in Europe the last couple of years. Everywhere you look, Sac suddenly has multi-player depth. They’re still too young to compete every night or probably make the playoffs, but they’re most decidedly, after a long, long time, going in the right direction.

    9. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

    2016-17 RECORD: 26-56, did not make playoffs 

    ADDED: C Brook Lopez (acquired from Brooklyn); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (one year, $18 million); G Lonzo Ball (No. 2 pick in 2017 Draft); F Kyle Kuzma (No. 27 pick in 2017 Draft); G Josh Hart (No. 3o pick in 2017 Draft; Rights acquired from Utah); C Thomas Bryant (No. 42 pick in 2017 Draft; Rights acquired from Utah)

    LOST: G D’Angelo Russell (traded to Brooklyn); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Brooklyn); G Nick Young (signed with Golden State); C Tarik Black (signed with Houston); F David Nwaba (waived, then signed by Chicago); C Tony Bradley (Draft rights traded to Utah); F Metta World Peace (renounced UFA rights); F Thomas Robinson (renounced UFA rights)

    RETAINED: G Tyler Ennis (two years, $3.1 million)

    THE KEY MAN: LaVar Ball. (No, not really; just seeing if you were paying attention.)

    THE KEY MAN: F Brandon Ingram. The rookie and second pick in 2016 played like an 18-year-old on a bad team last season -- occasional flashes, with a whole lot of struggling (40 percent from the floor, 29 percent behind the arc). Playing alongside Ball and KCP, and with Lopez in the paint, Ingram’s looks should improve significantly next season. And given his pedigree coming into the league, he should be able to take advantage. If he starts to live up to the hype, the Lakers will have a great story to tell potential free agents in 2018.

     
    Brandon Ingram is looking forward to the Lakers' new-look roster.

    THE SKINNY: The only thing that mattered to new team president Magic Johnson and new GM Rob Pelinka was getting out from under Mozgov’s $64 million contract. Everything else this summer was gravy. Without the Mozgov albatross going forward, the Lakers will have room to go after two max level free agents in the summer of 2018, with many around the league believing they already have the inside track to Paul George and LeBron James. Until then, L.A. can delight in the nightly highlights that Ball will provide on the floor. He’s got once-in-a-decade passing ability, and he’s not afraid of the moment or the man in front of him. He shot the ball well in college; teams will make him do it again and again his rookie season. Eventually he’ll make enough to make defenses play him honest -- and when that happens, he makes the jump to point guard light speed. KCP will be auditioning for a major deal in ’18, so L.A. should get his best work. Kuzma looked like a major steal during Summer League in Vegas.  Still a year away, but the Lakers are going to be must-see TV again real soon.

    10. TORONTO RAPTORS

    2016-17 RECORD: 51-31, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals

    ADDED: F C.J. Miles (three years, $25 million); F/C Justin Hamilton (acquired from Brooklyn); F O.G. Anunoby (No. 23 pick, 2017 Draft)

    LOST: F DeMarre Carroll (traded to Brooklyn); G Cory Joseph (traded to Indiana); F Patrick Patterson (signed with Oklahoma City); G/F P.J. Tucker (signed with Houston); assistant general manager Jeff Weltman (hired by Orlando as president of basketball operations)

    RETAINED: G Kyle Lowry (three years, $100 million); F Serge Ibaka (three years, $65 million)

    THE KEY MAN: F Norman Powell. The Raptors wanted to get out from under Carroll’s contract, to be sure. But they also wanted to get more minutes going forward for Powell, who was very, very good in limited time (18 per) last season. A sick athlete, the third-year swing from UCLA will likely be on a lot of teams’ lists in 2019 as a restricted free agent, and he should put up strong numbers the next two years playing off of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan full time.

     
    Kyle Lowry has visions of a championship run in Toronto.

    THE SKINNY: A lot of people thought Lowry would be impossible to re-sign, but Toronto did it, in a way that’s beneficial both to him and the team. The Raps were reluctant to give the 31-year-old a five-year deal, so they paid him more per year on a shorter contract than he could have possibly gotten anywhere else, getting him present value dollars now while giving him another crack at the free agent apple at 34. Smart move by GM Masai Ujiri. (It helps that Lowry and Ibaka have the same agent.) Moving the injury-slowed Carroll and dealing Joseph for a solid veteran in Miles, who had his best year shooting the three (41.3 percent) last season, was equally good work. It’s so easy to say that Toronto should have blown up its core because it can’t beat LeBron. Nobody in the East can beat LeBron. What are the Raptors supposed to do, move to Manitoba? You put the best team together that you can and you take another crack at it. That, they have.

    Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive 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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