David Aldridge doles out his annual NBA offseason rankings, with this portion looking at the mid-range teams on his list
POSTED: Oct 13, 2015 2:17 PM ET
The Celtics have a clear advantage when it comes to guard depth. Will it pay off for them in 2015-16?
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 Middle 10 teams. You can find the rest of the rankings below ...
Spurs, Cavaliers, Clippers, Timberwolves, Bulls, Bucks, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Warriors, Magic
The Middle 10
76ers, Suns, Mavericks, Rockets, Pistons, Nuggets, Hornets, Kings, Jazz, Trail Blazers
11. BOSTON CELTICS
2014-15 RECORD: 40-42, lost in first round
ADDED: F/C David Lee (via trade from Golden State); F/C Amir Johnson (two years, $24 million); F Perry Jones III (via trade from Oklahoma City); G Terry Rozier (first round, 16th pick); G R.J. Hunter (first round, 28th pick); F Jordan Mickey (second round, 33rd pick overall)
LOST: F/C Brandon Bass (signed with Los Angeles Lakers); F Gigi Datome (agreed to deal with Fenerbache Turkey); G Phil Pressey (signed with Portland); F Gerald Wallace (traded to Golden State); G/F Zoran Dragic (waived)
THE KEY MAN: Assistant General Manager Mike Zarren. A repeat winner, Zarren not only has to keep track of the myriad future Draft picks that GM Danny Ainge has amassed in the last three years (the current unofficial count is 716 first rounders and 3,237 second rounders in the next four years), Zarren has also been proactive trying to come up with solutions to the inherent problems with the Draft Lottery (his was the "wheel" idea that would have assured every team in the league a top pick in the Draft once in a 30-year period).
THE SKINNY: Ainge stuck to the script for a couple of years of trying to build through the Draft, but after not getting high enough in the first round to get impact players, he sped up the process, turning over half of the roster -- starting with signing Johnson from Toronto and getting Lee from the NBA champs. Lee insists he's more than cool with the move, which will at least get him out of dry dock. Both he and Johnson should help the Celtics' frontcourt, which will help coach Brad Stevens, who got Boston to play outstanding team defense the second half of last season. But Boston is extremely guard heavy, currently needing to split time between Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, James Young and the team's two first-rounders. Still need to see if taking Rozier higher than just about any other team had him rated will work out, but Mickey shows signs of being a second-round steal.
12. BROOKLYN NETS
2014-15 RECORD: 38-44, lost in first round
ADDED: F Andrea Bargnani (two years, $2.9 million); G Wayne Ellington (one year, $1.5 million); G Shane Larkin (two years, $3 million); F Thomas Robinson (two years, $2.2 million); F Chris McCullough (first round, 29th pick); F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (first round, 23rd pick; rights via trade from Portland)
Lionel Hollins Talks Nets
Brooklyn head Lionel Hollins joins NBA TV to talk Nets basketball.
THE KEY MAN: Jarrett Jack. Our John Schuhmann will blow a gasket, but Deron Williams' departure means Jack will start and get big minutes next season. He was terrific for Golden State a couple of years ago as a third guard, but has struggled for consistency the last two seasons in Cleveland and Brooklyn. But it's Jack's team to run now.
THE SKINNY: Under pressure from The Prokhorov to get salaries under control and avoid the repeater luxury tax, GM Billy King sliced his payroll by almost $20 million despite spending market rate to re-sign Lopez and Young. The key was getting rid of Williams, whose lack of productivity, injuries and grouchiness produced a perfect storm of unpopularity. His departure will mean an offense that goes almost exclusively through Lopez and Joe Johnson. Hollis-Jefferson could become a defensive terror in time, and on the occasions when Brooklyn can run, he and Young could be exceptional lane fillers. But that would require a significant improvement at the defensive end -- the Nets were 24th in the league last season in defensive rating, 25th in opponent effective field goal percentage, 18th in points allowed and 24th in steals. Brooklyn got a lot younger and cheaper, though, and has enough moveable pieces and cap space in 2016 to be able to at least dream about adding an impact free agent.
13. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
2014-15 RECORD: 46-36, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
RETAINED: F Drew Gooden (two years, $6.8 million)
Wall Talks Wizards
John Wall joins NBA TV to talk Wizards basketball.
THE KEY MAN: Otto Porter. In his second season, Porter started to show the promise that pushed Washington to take him third overall in the 2013 Draft. Down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs, Porter was a bear in transition, a defensive dynamo and an improved 3-point shooter. With Pierce gone, the Wizards need Porter to be a consistent scorer who can go 30-plus minutes without wearing down defensively.
THE SKINNY: The Wizards basically reshuffled their cards waiting for the 2016 Kevin Durant Unlimited Hold 'Em Tournament to begin. All of their 2015 acquisitions have 2016 expiration dates, but will allow them to play in 2015-16 the way they ended last season -- downsized. Washington passed on the likes Jerian Grant and Bobby Portis to take a chance on Oubre's promise in a Draft night deal with the Hawks. That hasn't worked out for the Wizards in recent years (the words "Jan Vesely" still cause upset stomachs for Wizards fans), but if Oubre could ultimately be an answer at the four spot, Washington would be able to keep playing small for a long time. For now, Dudley will play a whole lot of stretch four just as he did for the Bucks last season. The Wizards will still use Nene, just less at power forward and more at backup center -- a move that will allow them to play small more and keep him fresher for the playoffs.
14. INDIANA PACERS
2014-15 RECORD: 38-44, did not make playoffs
ADDED: F Chase Budinger (via trade from Minnesota); G Monta Ellis (three years, $32 million); F/C Jordan Hill (one year, $4 million); F/C Myles Turner (first round, 11th pick); G Joseph Young (second round, 43rd pick overall); C/F Rakeem Christmas (Draft rights via trade from Cleveland)
LOST: F Chris Copeland (signed with Milwaukee); C Roy Hibbert (traded to Los Angeles Lakers); F Luis Scola (signed with Toronto); G C.J. Watson (signed with Toronto); F David West (signed with San Antonio); F Damjan Rudez (traded to Minnesota)
All Access Interview: Myles Turner
Jared Greenberg talks with Myles Turner after he was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2015 NBA Draft.
THE KEY MAN: Myles Turner. The first-round pick may well start at center in the Pacers' revamped lineup next season. He's big and strong, and can score inside and outside. Per Synergy Sports, he led all Lottery picks in the Vegas Summer League in scoring efficiency, averaging 1.24 points per possession. There will be peaks and valleys; Turner struggled with consistency in his one season in college at Texas. But he's going to help the Pacers very quickly.
THE SKINNY: Larry Bird followed up on his vow to play smaller, moving Hibbert to L.A. for next to nothing (a future second-rounder) and giving the talented Ellis a three-year deal to step in at the two. Ellis and George Hill could be one of the league's more underrated backcourts next season. The plan is to gradually move Paul George, who returned from his broken leg late last season, into the power forward minutes created by West's departure, with a host of candidates vying for George's old minutes at the three. Not sure it's all enough to get Indiana back to the playoffs, but the locker room should at least calm down after the last couple of seasons of turmoil.
15. TORONTO RAPTORS
2014-15 RECORD: 49-33, lost in first round
ADDED: C Bismack Biyombo (two years, $5.8 million); F DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million); G Cory Joseph (four years, $29.9 million); F Luis Scola (one year, $2.9 million); G Delon Wright (first round, 20th pick); F Norman Powell (Draft rights via trade from Milwaukee)
The Starters: DeMarre To Toronto
Being the highest paid player on the Raps, is DeMarre Carroll overpaid?
THE KEY MAN: Jesse Murmuys, Head Coach, Raptors 905. Toronto's plan is for 905, its new NBA D-League direct affiliate in nearby Mississauga, to do for the parent club what the Austin Toros have done for the Spurs, the Texas Legends for the Mavericks and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers have done for the Rockets -- not only develop players across similar systems, but coaches as well. A guy like 2014 first-rounder Bruno Cabolco could definitely use the reps playing every night.
THE SKINNY: After a season in which their team's defense inexplicably cratered, the Raptors invested heavily in re-fortification, bringing Carroll's 3-and-D from Atlanta to replace the ineffective Terrence Ross. They spent a little less to get Biyombo from Charlotte, but he should make it a little harder to score against Toronto in the paint. Wright was a defensive pest at the University of Utah and has NBA pedigree; his older brother, Dorell is still out there as a free agent. (Hmmm...) Still, the Raps need a bounce back season from Kyle Lowry after injuries slowed him noticeably last season, and they have to decide once and for all on center Jonas Valanciunas. They've waited four years for him, with no real sign that he's going to become a consistent dominant force at either end. It's getting close to now or never, and it's okay if the answer is never -- but Toronto would have to move on after this season if that's the case.
16. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
2014-15 RECORD: 21-61, did not make playoffs
ADDED: F Brandon Bass (two years, $6.1 million); C Roy Hibbert (via trade from Indiana); G Lou Williams (three years, $21 million); G D'Angelo Russell (first round, 2nd pick); F Larry Nance, Jr. (first round, 27th pick)
LOST: F Ed Davis (signed with Portland); G Wayne Ellington (signed with Brooklyn); F/C Jordan Hill (signed with Indiana); F Wesley Johnson (signed with Clippers); G Jeremy Lin (signed with Charlotte); G Ronnie Price (signed with Phoenix)
THE KEY WOMAN: Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss. She is well-respected around the league -- with oversight over the business side of the franchise, Buss is the Lakers' representative at Board of Governors meetings. But she is also the sister of the team's general manager, Jimmy Buss, whose track record in improving the team has been sketchy at best. Jeanie Buss reiterated last month that the team has to make a deep playoff run in the next three years or Jimmy Buss will step down from his position.
THE SKINNY: They didn't get to the finish line with any of this summer's biggest-name free agents, but the Lakers took a few tentative steps forward on their long, winding road back toward respectability by getting Hibbert from Indy and Williams from Toronto. Whatever caused Hibbert's relationship with the Pacers to sour, he's still just 28, a two-time All-Star and just a couple of seasons removed from being considered one of the league's elite defenders. And there are few places where his game will be embraced more than L.A. and old-school Byron Scott. Russell is raw, but he and Clarkson showed some explosive potential together during the Las Vegas Summer League. Scott said he anticipates playing Kobe Bryant more at the three and even the four at times next season, which may not be the best way to maximize what physical gifts Bryant still has. But that may be the only way for Scott to get the most talent on the court, which is the only way the Lakers will be able to compete against the West's elite.
17. MIAMI HEAT
2014-15 RECORD: 37-45, did not make playoffs
LOST: G Shabazz Napier (traded to Orlando); G Zoran Dragic (traded to Boston)
Free Agent Fever: Dwyane Wade
The GameTime crew discuss Dwyane Wade's new contract with the Heat.
THE KEY MAN: Chris Bosh. Miami maxed Bosh out last summer, but he only got through 44 games in the first year of his $118 million deal before being shelved with blood clots. Bosh is slowly working his way back toward being cleared for basketball activities, and hopes to be ready when training camp opens.
THE SKINNY: After some woofing, the Heat got down to business and compromised with Wade. He didn't get the max deal he wanted, but he got something close to the Lifetime Achievement Contract he deserved. Having Winslow fall out of the sky to the Heat at the No. 10 pick gives Miami a bridge to its future. The present is less clear. Miami gave up on '13 first-rounder Napier pretty quickly, though its bench will be bolstered with vets Stoudemire and Green. The Heat will have to be very nimble next summer if they want to add an elite player to its core, because keeping center Hassan Whiteside -- an unrestricted free agent next summer -- wlll be quite expensive, and take up a lot of the cap room Miami will have. But the Heat will do it if Whiteside can continue the explosive development he showed for much of what became a breakout season. If healthy, Miami's starting five -- Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Whiteside -- could be as good as anyone's. If.
18. NEW YORK KNICKS
2014-15 RECORD: 17-65, did not make playoffs
ADDED: G Arron Afflalo (two years, $16 million); C Robin Lopez (four years, $54 million); F Kyle O'Quinn (four years, $16 million); C Kevin Seraphin (one year, $2.8 million); G Sasha Vucevic (one year, $947,000); F Derrick Williams (two years, $9 million); F Kristaps Porzingis (first round, 4th pick); G Jerian Grant (Draft rights via trade from Washington);
LOST: F Quincy Acy (signed with Sacramento); C Cole Aldrich (signed with Los Angeles Clippers); F/C Andrea Bargnani (signed with Brooklyn); G Tim Hardaway, Jr. (traded to Atlanta); G Shane Larkin (signed with Brooklyn); G Alexey Shved (signed with Khimki Moscow); C Jason Smith (signed with Orlando)
Knicks Under Construction
Jared Greenberg and Dennis Scott discuss the Knicks' off season moves and look towards the 2015-16 season.
RETAINED: F Lou Amundson (one year, $1.65 million)
THE KEY MAN: Owner James Dolan. Only he knows how long he'll be patient with Phil Jackson if the Knicks again have a horrible season next year.
THE SKINNY: They'll be a little better. The rush to condemn the selection of Porzingis seems comically premature and clichéd; he'll certainly have his ups and downs as a rookie, but you can be sure those who brayed the loudest on Draft night against him have never seen Porzingis play live. Anyway, Lopez will be decent at center, Afflalo and Grant will help shore up what was a woefully deficient backcourt, and Seraphin and O'Quinn are pretty good role players on very low-risk contracts. The Knicks won't be sexy, and they'll likely not make the playoffs again, but at least they'll put a credible product on the floor after last year's embarrassing version, and that's a step in the right direction.
19. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
2014-15 RECORD: 45-37, did not make playoffs
Kevin Durant Interview
Kevin Durant joins NBA TV in Orlando to talk about his foot progress and new coach Billy Donovan.
THE KEY MAN: Rich Kleiman, Roc Nation Sports. The VP of Jay Z's sports agency is You Know Who's agent, and will be directly involved in whether YKW opts to stay in OKC in 2016 or call other airport codes home for the next few years (LAX, DCA, MIA, etc.).
THE SKINNY: OKC made the tough decision to replace Brooks, who had the backing of both Kevin Durant -- a year from unrestricted free agency -- and Russell Westbrook, in the hopes that Donovan could come from Florida and tweak the Thunder's offense. Durant and Westbrook can score on anyone, but they need more consistent help from their teammates to make things a little tougher on opposing defenses. To that end, the Thunder maxed out Kanter, a low-post beast who has to do much more defensively to warrant OKC's investment in him. The Thunder's hope is that Serge Ibaka recovers from injuries and returns to his shot-blocking, active defensive ways to supplement (cover up?) Kanter's D. But OKC's only task for the next 12 months is to make Durant as happy as possible. Nothing else matters. His relationship with Donovan will be among the most analyzed in modern times.
20. ATLANTA HAWKS
2014-15 RECORD: 60-22, lost in Eastern Conference finals
LOST: F DeMarre Carroll (signed with Toronto); C Pero Antic (signed with Fenerbahce in Turkey)
RETAINED: F Paul Millsap (three years, $59 million)
Steve Koonin Interview
Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin talks about his transition to the Hawks, the success of the franchise and his plans for the future.
THE KEY MAN: Grant Hill. Our Turner colleague is part of the new ownership group headed by Tony Ressler, and while Ressler will set the tone, Hill will likely be the public face of the organization. The Hawks survived the racially insensitive comments of former majority owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry, but they have to continue their outreach to the city and continue developing meaningful engagements with the African-American and Latino communities in Atlanta.
THE SKINNY: The Hawks burst onto the scene last season as a legit title contender, turning Philips Arena into a raucous place inhospitable to the opposition. But Atlanta didn't look like the same team in the playoffs, and the question is how much better the Hawks can be in the postseason with basically the same cast going forward. Keeping Millsap away from Orlando was obviously an imperative. Splitter will give them size they didn't have against Cleveland, and Hardaway has the potential to be a better scoring option than Carroll. But Carroll was perfect for the offensive spacing that coach Mike Budenholzer craves. Most troubling, Kyle Korver's effectiveness dropped noticeably in the postseason -- and that was before the ligament damage he suffered when Matthew Dellavadova rolled up on his right ankle in the conference finals. Until Korver's back at full speed, the Hawks may not be the efficiency masters they were last season. Atlanta remains a really good team that needs one more star to get over the top.
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