David Aldridge doles out his annual NBA offseason rankings, with this portion looking at the last group of teams on his list
POSTED: Oct 13, 2015 2:17 PM ET
The Dallas Mavericks were jilted by DeAndre Jordan in free agency and had to scramble to find offseason pieces.
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 rehearsal 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 Bottom 10 teams. You can find the rest of the rankings below ...
Spurs, Cavaliers, Clippers, Timberwolves, Bulls, Bucks, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Warriors, Magic
Celtics, Nets, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Thunder, Hawks
The Bottom 10
21. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
2014-15 RECORD: 18-64, did not make playoffs
ADDED: G Nik Stauskas (via trade from Sacramento); F Carl Landry (via trade from Sacramento); F Gerald Wallace (via trade from Golden State); C Jahlil Okafor (first round, 3rd pick); G Pierre Jackson (four years, $3.7 million)
LOST: F Thomas Robinson (signed with Brooklyn)
THE KEY MAN: CEO Scott O'Neil. O'Neil has to take a lot of the bullets from the public and from advertisers and corporate sponsors while GM Sam Hinkie lays deep, deep, deep, deep undercover. Don't get me wrong. No one has to hold any telethons for O'Neil; he's well-paid for his work and he's a grown man. But it is a tough job having to explain what the Sixers are doing to those who are paying for the season tickets and buying the advertising.
The Starters: Jahlil Okafor
The Sixers' Jahlil Okafor plays a game of 'Fact Checking With Jahlil' with the Starters crew.
THE SKINNY: The Sixers were hoping to take D'Angelo Russell with the third pick, but when the Lakers scotched those plans, Philly had to "settle" for Okafor, the consenus first-team All-American as a freshman for Duke who many had pegged as the first overall pick. By far the best big man Philly's had since this, uh, rebuild began, Okafor will improve the looks of a team that was sixth in three-point attempts last season, but just 11th in 3-pointers made. Stauskas, who shot a decent 37 percent on threes in his rookie season playing off of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, should do better with copious minutes at the two. Philly can only hope that Tony Wroten (torn ACL) returns to form at the point after playing just 15 games last season. There isn't much proven talent behind him. It's a long, long way back to respectability in Philly -- made harder by another season lost to injury for Joel Embiid -- but at least the skeleton of a decent starting five (with Nerlens Noel at center) is starting to come together.
22. PHOENIX SUNS
2014-15 RECORD: 39-43, did not make playoffs
ADDED: C Tyson Chandler (four years, $52 million); G Ronnie Price (two years); F Mirza Teletovic (one year, $5.5 million); F Jon Leuer (via trade from Memphis); G Devin Booker (first round, 13th pick)
RETAINED: G Brandon Knight (five years, $70 million)
THE KEY MAN: Coach Jeff Hornacek. There's been so much roster churn the last two years, since Hornacek took the job, and all that uncertainty makes it extremely hard for a coach to find a rotation he can count on every night. It's exceptionally hard with a core as young as Phoenix's. But that's Hornacek's job.
THE SKINNY: Phoenix has a lot of money committed -- more than $40 million -- to Knight, Eric Bledsoe and Chandler in each of the next four seasons. I get that the Suns gambled that bringing in Chandler would help their pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge, and it almost worked. Nor will the financial outlay be as much of a handicap as it would have been in previous years, with the cap likely rising to more than $100 million by 2017. But it's hard to see that trio being the core of a championship contender. The Suns will have to get rapid improvement from the likes of Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin and Booker, who'll fit right in with his 3-point stroke. Phoenix will probably have to move Markieff Morris, angered by his twin brother's trade, sooner rather than later. The Suns can compete for a playoff spot, but they'll need to do a whole lot more next summer to go much further.
23. DALLAS MAVERICKS
2014-15 RECORD: 50-32, lost in first round
ADDED: C Samuel Dalembert (one year, $1.4 million); F Jeremy Evans (two years, $3.3 million); G/F John Jenkins (three years, $3.2 million); G Wesley Matthews (four years, $70 million); G Deron Williams (two years, $11 million); C Zaza Pachulia (one year, $5.2 million); G Justin Anderson (first round, 21st pick)
LOST: F Al-Farouq Aminu (signed with Portland); C Tyson Chandler (signed with Phoenix); G Monta Ellis (signed with Indiana); F Richard Jefferson (signed with Cleveland); G Rajon Rondo (signed with Sacramento); C/F Amar'e Stoudemire (signed with Miami);
GameTime: Aftermath Of DeAndre Decision
Matt Winer and Brevin Knight discuss how the Mavericks will pick up the pieces after losing out on DeAndre Jordan.
THE KEY MAN: Floyd Jahner, Chief Operating Officer. The Mavericks' chief financial officer since 2001, Jahner was promoted to the top spot on the business side after the team's longtime president and COO, Terdema Usssery, resigned last month to take an executive position with Upper Armour. We wish Mr. Jahner well in his new position, as it takes someone with a certain thickness to his skin to work with and for Cubes.
THE SKINNY: Dallas' offseason, of course, was derailed by DeAndre Jordan's 11th-hour cold feet, leaving the Mavericks centerless at the altar with few alternatives. Pachulia put up very good defensive numbers last season for the Bucks and he could be helpful at both ends of the floor. But he's not Jordan, and the Mavs will almost certainly be without Matthews for at least the first half of next season as he continues to rehab his torn Achilles'. Dallas also needs a return to form from Williams, who is being paid $27.5 million by Brooklyn to go away. The Mavericks lost a lot of talent, but recovered well enough, as they almost always do, to at least be in the argument as a playoff team next season. Yet this feels like a franchise spinning its wheels, unable to make the jump back to the league's elite yet unwilling to go all the way bad into the Lottery.
24. HOUSTON ROCKETS
2014-15 RECORD: 56-26, lost in Western Conference finals
The Starters: Lawson To Rockets
Did the Rockets get a steal with this pickup or is Lawson "damaged goods?"
THE KEY MAN: Terrence Jones. He's been in trade rumors seemingly since he came to Houston, but the rising fourth-year forward is still just 23, and the Rockets need him to stay healthy. He played just 33 regular season games last season after suffering nerve damage to his leg that cost him 41 games, followed by a partially collapsed lung. His stretch four abilities are crucial to giving James Harden the room he needs to drive -- and dish -- as well as anyone in the game.
THE SKINNY: Reduced to playing the 38-year-old Prigioni during the conference finals, the Rockets not only got Lawson from Denver, but re-signed Beverley to a more than decent deal, given his recent history with debilitating injuries. One hopes the Rockets will tread lightly and slowly with Lawson, whose issues with alcohol were the reason he was available in the first place. When he's engaged he's a terrific lead guard. But what he does with a basketball should be secondary right now. Getting Lawson to de-guarantee his 2016-17 salary makes the acquisition even better from Houston's perspective. Smith's departure will hurt, especially considering he'll sign for short money with the Pistons' buyout still coming in. But his absence should at least open up minutes off the bench for first-round pick Dekker, whose skill sets align nicely with the responsibilities Houston requires from its fours. Houston may need another graybeard for the stretch drive, though.
25. DETROIT PISTONS
2014-15 RECORD: 32-50, did not make playoffs
ADDED: C Aron Baynes (three years, $19.5 million); G Steve Blake (via trade from Brooklyn); F/C Ersan Ilyasova (via trade from Milwaukee); F Marcus Morris (via trade from Phoenix); F Danny Granger (via trade from Phoenix); G Reggie Bullock (via trade from Phoenix); F Stanley Johnson (1st round, 8th pick).
THE KEY MAN: Arn Tellem. The former super agent will be spearheading the team's outreach into the community, its discussions on a new TV deal and potential involvement with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch on a new downtown arena deal as the Pistons' vice chair of Palace Sports and Entertainment. Tellem may have a few numbers of free agents in his phone, too, if Stan Van Gundy wants them.
THE SKINNY: Coach Stan Van Gundy continues to be incredibly active, though time will tell how effective the Pistons' flurry of offseason moves really is. Baynes, who came on with the Spurs the last two years, is a solid choice to play behind Andre Drummond, falling well within the going market for backup bigs. But there sure seem to be logjams throughout the roster. SVG believes Jackson and Brandon Jennings can play together; we'll see. Even if they can, didn't Detroit just give Jodie Meeks $20 million last season to play guard? And where would that leave Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's minutes? Morris and Johnson will battle for the starting three spot, though it's possible in our small-ball age that one could wind up playing some four.
26. DENVER NUGGETS
2014-15 RECORD: 30-52, did not make playoffs
ADDED: Coach Mike Malone; F/C Joey Dorsey (via trade from Houston); G Emmanuel Mudiay (first round, 7th pick); G Nick Johnson (via trade from Houston); F Kostas Papanikolau (via trade from Houston)
LOST: G Ty Lawson (traded to Houston)
RETAINED: F Darrell Arthur; G Will Barton (three years, $10.5 million); F Danilo Gallinari (three years, $45 million); F Wilson Chandler (four years, $46 million); G Jameer Nelson (three years, $13.5 million);
THE KEY MAN: Gary Harris. With all the bigger contracts floating around, the Nuggets need someone to outperform their deal. Harris struggled in limited minutes last season but with Arron Afflalo traded and Randy Foye not the team's long-term solution at the two, Harris will have a chance to break into the rotation permanently.
THE SKINNY: The Nuggets must have some appeal if they were able to keep Chandler and Gallinari away from free agency by giving them long-term extensions. Still, one wonders why Denver was so determined to lock both players in when doing so basically takes the Nuggets out of the 2016 free agency chase -- with a roster that isn't anywhere near good enough at present to contend for a title. Moving Lawson and his off-court problems was a no-brainer once Mudiay fell to Denver at seven; the teenage point guard has a lot to learn, but has a lot of tools in his bag. Malone will get the Nuggets closer to their running and gunning roots by improving Denver's horrible defense (28th in points allowed last season; 26th in defensive rating).
27. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
2014-15 RECORD: 33-49, did not make playoffs
ADDED: F Nicolas Batum (via trade from Portland); C Spencer Hawes (via trade from Clippers); F Tyler Hansbrough (one year, $947,000); G Jeremy Lamb (via trade from Oklahoma City); G Jeremy Lin (two years, $4.3 million); F/C Frank Kaminsky (first round, 9th pick overall)
LOST: C Bismack Biyombo (signed with Toronto); G Gerald Henderson (traded to Portland); G Lance Stephenson (traded to Clippers); G Jeff Taylor (signed with Real Madrid); F Noah Vonleh (traded to Portland); G Mo Williams (signed with Cleveland)
Frank Kaminsky Highlights
Watch the Summer League highlights from Charlotte Hornets big man Frank Kaminsky.
RETAINED: C Al Jefferson (opted in)
THE KEY MAN: Fred Whitfield, the Hornets' president and Chief Operating Officer. The Hornets didn't make the playoffs last season, but they had a very successful season off the court, taking advantage of the buzz (sorry) created by the re-naming of the franchise to its old name to set season ticket sales records (more than 10,000 full and partial packages for the first time, according to the Charlotte Business Journal). The franchise also had a huge year in merchandise and sponsorship sales.
THE SKINNY: Charlotte gambled and lost on "Born Ready", dispatching Stephenson after one season as part of a partial housecleaning. None of the pieces Charlotte picked up outside of the Draft, though, comes without questions. Batum dropped off noticeably in Portland last season; Hawes was not good for most of his one year with the Clippers; Lin has been unable to revive Linsanity since leaving New York; Lamb never was able to hold onto a meaningful spot with the Thunder; Hansbrough has been more irritant than effective player in the pros. But Michael Jordan insisted the Hornets take Kaminsky, who led Wisconsin to two straight Final Fours and last season's national championship game. He can shoot and he'll probably rebound and defend better than you think in the pros. This is still a team that will go as far as Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker will take them -- and, if they stay healthy, that's probably one round in the playoffs.
28. SACRAMENTO KINGS
2014-15 RECORD: 29-53, did not make playoffs
ADDED: F Quincy Acy (two years, $2 million); G James Anderson (two years, $2.3 million); G Marco Belinelli (three years, $19 million); F Caron Butler (two years, $3 million); G Seth Curry (two years, $1.9 million); C Kosta Koufos (four years, $33 million); G Rajon Rondo (one year, $9.5 million); F/C Willie Cauley-Stein (first round, 6th pick)
LOST: F Carl Landry (traded to Philadelphia); G Andre Miller (signed with Minnesota); G Ray McCallum (traded to San Antonio); G Nik Stauskas (traded to Philadelphia); F Jason Thompson (traded to Philadelphia); F Derrick Williams (signed with New York);
RETAINED: F Omri Casspi (two years, $6 million)
Vivek Ranadive Talks Kings
Vivek Ranadive joins NBA TV to talk about the current state of the Sacramento Kings.
THE KEY MAN: GM Vlade Divac. In yet another of owner Vivek Ranadive's sudden moves, Divac came almost out of nowhere last spring to join the Kings, then be given carte blanche over the direction of the franchise. He's gotten some heat for some early stumbles, but Divac has the kind of worldview that might be helpful in diffusing the staredown between George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody likes Vlade, and he's got a way with words. But he'll have to use his significant charm to pull this one off.
THE SKINNY: Well, they won't be boring. But has all of Divac's maneuvering made them any better? If Karl and Cousins could figure out how to coexist for a few hours every day, you might have something interesting. But there are still so many questions -- about Ranadive's next weird idea, about Rondo's head and game after a terrible go-round with the Mavericks -- that it's hard to see success in the short term. For the long haul, Cauley-Stein has some serious defensive chops, and has the potential to be an outstanding weakside shot blocker. (Still think the Kings should have taken Emmanuel Mudiay, though.) By the time the team moves into its new downtown arena, WCS should be a starter and major contributor. Lord knows who his teammates, coach or front office will be by then.
29. UTAH JAZZ
2014-15 RECORD: 38-44, did not make playoffs
LOST: F Jeremy Evans (signed with Dallas)
RETAINED: F Joe Ingles (two years, $4.5 million)
Matt Winer and Steve Smith discuss if NBA players should be allowed to play in international competition during the off season.
THE KEY MAN: Trey Burke. With second-year point Dante Exum likely out for the season after tearing his ACL playing for the Australian National Team last week, the Jazz will need a huge year from Burke, coming off a subpar second season in Utah in which Exum replaced him in the starting lineup. Burke has to shoot the ball better (36.8 percent overall, 31.8 percent on threes) to warrant big minutes. Neto, the 23-year-old who played in the ACB League in Spain last year for UCAM Murcia, will now get a shot at some minutes as well.
THE SKINNY: Jazz fans may think this ranking is a criticism of what the team, and it really isn't. The Jazz just didn't do very much this summer. Utah's more interested in developing its core group for now than going out and trying to bring in outside talent. That's understandable, given how the Jazz came on the second half of last season, playing outstanding defense with Rudy Gobert in the middle. But Utah did add another piece in Lyles, who was impressive during Summer League and will be another long, athletic body Quin Snyder can throw out on the wings. He could certainly play some center in today's NBA if Snyder wanted to downsize and play Gordon Hayward at the four against certain lineups. But Utah's best chance to improve further this season will center on one of its two off guards, Alec Burks or Rodney Hood, to take a big step forward, as Hayward has the last couple of seasons.
30. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
2014-15 RECORD: 51-31, lost in first round
ADDED: F Al-Farouq Aminu (four years, $40 million); F Ed Davis (three years, $20 million); G Gerald Henderson (via trade from Charlotte); F Noah Vonleh (via trade from Charlotte); C Mason Plumlee (via trade from Brooklyn); F Mike Miller (via trade from Cleveland); F Maurice Harkless (via trade from Orlando); F Pat Connaughton (Draft rights via trade from Brooklyn)
LOST: G Arron Afflalo (signed with New York); F LaMarcus Aldridge (signed with San Antonio); G Steve Blake (signed with Brooklyn); F Nicolas Batum (traded to Charlotte); F/C Joel Freeland (signed with CSKA Moscow); G Alonzo Gee (signed with New Orleans); C Robin Lopez (signed with New York); G Wesley Matthews (signed with Dallas)
Terry Stotts On Blazers
Portland head coach Terry Stotts joins GameTime to talk Blazers basketball.
THE KEY MAN: Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll. As long as Carroll keeps the Hawks a legit Super Bowl contender, Blazers owner Paul Allen's attention is at least divided, lest he concentrate full-time on his beloved basketball team in Portland.
THE SKINNY: An avalanche of bad. No matter how anyone tries to spin it, watching five players who started either all season or part of the season for your team last season -- including your franchise player -- walk away is a disaster. The team that lost in the first round to Memphis last season won 51 games, had reached the second round of the playoffs just a year earlier and had captured the hearts of Portland's fans. GM Neil Olshey applied band-aids where he could, and Aminu and Vonleh could become a solid forward duo in time, filling the lanes for Damian Lillard. But the rest, to paraphrase Gabriel Byrne in "The Usual Suspects", is window dressing. Terry Stotts will coach his butt off, and Lillard got the max and will be the man, but one man does not a good team make.
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