NBA Power Rankings: Official Free-Agency Period Edition
Can you hear that? It's the sound of the NBA's moratorium period lifting, free agents signing contracts and teams pulling the trigger on rumored trades.
We are months away from opening day, yet the fate of next season continues to be played out away from the court and in the boardroom—this time not in the form of lockout negotiations.
Though the offseason has been kind to a heap of organizations, it has been absolutely brutal to a handful of others.
Which franchises have the upper hand as we look ahead toward the 2012-13 campaign, though?
Let's leave it to a freshly baked batch of NBA power rankings to sort that out.
*Note that offseason transactions will refer to player movement and signings, not NBA draft selections.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Offseason Transactions: Extended qualifying offers to D.J. Augustin and Derrick Brown; traded Corey Maggette to the Pistons for Ben Gordon and a future first-round draft pick; signed Ramon Sessions; claimed Brendan Haywood off amnesty wire.
Well, not really.
The Bobcats have hardly been active since free agency began. In fact, their biggest splash was extending qualifying offers and inking Sessions.
Something tells me you can't build around Michael Kidd-Gilchrist by attempting to play a potentially minor role in facilitating a Dwight Howard blockbuster trade and targeting marginally unproven role players.
So, for the foreseeable future, in the basement of the NBA will Charlotte stay.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Oh how the not so mighty have fallen.
Kyrie Irving's Cavaliers have potential, but the organization hasn't done much, if anything, to push the roster to the next level.
The Cavaliers' offseason, in fact, has been marked by inactivity and hypothetical trade facilitations, rather than positioning themselves to get better.
Can Irving get a sidekick not named Dion Waiters, please?
28. Detroit Pistons
I'm intrigued to see how formidable a duo Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe can actually be.
I'd be even more intrigued, though, if Detroit had surrounded them with any additional talent, because Maggette doesn't count.
And not because he was acquired before July 1.
27. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are surely going to be better than last season, yet there's something unsettlingly stagnant about they're acquisition of Ariza and Okafor.
John Wall has a potentially prolific sidekick in Bradley Beal, but that's all Washington has at this point—potential.
The potential to contend for mediocrity, that is.
26. Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins for America!
That and Thomas Robinson are about the only noteworthy dealings happening for the Kings at this point.
Just as it was last season, Sacramento's roster is laden with talented underachievers, even more so with Brooks entering the fold.
The bright side? Better days are ahead.
Just not around the corner.
25. Toronto Raptors
Welcome to the middle, Kyle Lowry.
After failing to land Steve Nash—but succeeding to overpay Fields—the Raptors find themselves visiting an all-too-familiar happy medium.
Toronto has a slew of talent on its roster, but the pieces it has simply don't complement one another as seamlessly as they should.
It seems fitting that we toast to the concept of mediocrity at this point.
24. Houston Rockets
Offseason Transactions: Signed Jeremy Lin; signed Omer Asik to an offer sheet (Bulls can match); traded Marcus Camby to Knicks for Tone Douglas, Josh Harrelson, Jerome Jordan and two future second round picks; traded Samuel Dalembert to Bucks; traded Chase Budinger to Timberwolves; traded Kyle Lowry to Raptors; amnestied Luis Scola.
And we thought the Rockets couldn't get any busier.
Houston cleaning house, reportedly angling toward acquiring Dwight Howard from the Magic. Subsequently, it is depleted from inside to out, hardly looking like the playoff contender it was last season.
Should the Rockets' slew of fire sales pay off and they do the improbable—land Howard and convince him to stay—Daryl Morey will look like a hero.
For now, though, Houston appears borderline uninhabited.
23. New Orleans Hornets
Offseason Transactions: Traded Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor to Wizards for Rashard Lewis; waived Rashard Lewis; traded Gustavo Ayon to Magic for Ryan Anderson; traded Jarrett Jack to Warriors to receive rights to Edin Bavcic; matched Blazers offer sheet to Eric Gordon; traded a conditional second round pick to Timberwolves for Brad Miller's cap hold and two second rounders.
The Hornets are well on their way to becoming a playoff contender once again.
Thus far, New Orleans has endorsed a series of seamless moves, with the exception of Gordon's public relations meltdown.
However, even though the Hornets have another unhappy star in tow, they're officially a bottom-feeder on the rise.
22. Orlando Magic
You're welcome, Orlando.
Not only is Dwight Howard ruining an otherwise perfectly entertaining offseason, but the Magic have no clear blueprint for rebuilding.
With Howard seemingly on the way out, Nelson's presence was a must.
But so was Anderson's...
21. Golden State Warriors
Offseason Transactions: Traded Dorell Wright to the 76ers to receive Jarrett Jack from Hornets.
With Harrison Barnes aboard the Warriors' runaway train, there was no need to hang on to Wright.
But would some additionally significant activity kill this enigmatic Golden State squad?
Perhaps Joe Lacob thinks so, because the Warriors have been next to silent thus far. Though the team was plenty busy near the end of this past season's trade deadline, there's still plenty of work to be done.
Oh wait, that's right. There's no money available to do it.
20. Milwaukee Bucks
After bringing Samuel Dalembert and John Henson into the fold, Milwaukee needed to shore up its front line further by retaining the versatile Ilyasova, and they did just that.
As is, the Bucks are built to score from the outside and defend in the paint, but it's tough to see them contending for more than a lower-level playoff seed unless a dominant two-way player presents himself.
Luckily for Milwaukee, though, Ilyasova has yet to reach his ceiling, leaving the door wide open for him to emerge as a leading man.
19. Phoenix Suns
Offseason Transaction: Traded Steve Nash to the Lakers for four draft picks; signed Goran Dragic; signed Michael Beasley; extended max contract offer to Eric Gordon; extended qualifying offer to Robin Lopez; withdrew qualifying offer to Aaron Brooks; claimed Luis Scola off amnesty wire; amnestied Josh Childress.
The Suns have been incredibly active thus far, but has it been for the better of the organization?
Needless to say, the Nash trade was painful, yet necessary. Dragic presents an intriguing replacement, but he's simply not the playmaker Nash is. However, first-round pick Kendall Marshall may very well be.
While Phoenix did an adequate job replacing Nash, Beasley's contract is unsettlingly puzzling. The Suns are laden with small forwards and stretch 4s, so it's difficult to imagine how much of a difference he'll make.
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing remains constant: It's going to be an interesting season in Phoenix.
18. Utah Jazz
On a rather conservative Jazz team, the trigger-happy Mo Williams will work wonders. He adds some much-needed scoring to a lackluster perimeter rotation and gives Utah the combo guard it so desperately needed.
Marvin Williams was also a good pickup, as he adds depth to an already-deep front line, yet he presents a refreshingly different dynamic with his unlimited range.
Are the Jazz title contenders?
Not at all, but thus far, it's become abundantly clear they'll be more exciting to watch next season.
17. Portland Trail Blazers
Offseason Transactions: Signed Roy Hibbert to max offer sheet (Pacers matched); signed Joel Freeland; and Victor Claver; re-signed J.J. Hickson; planning to match Nicolas Batum's offer sheet from Timberwolves; waived Shawne Williams.
The Blazers would be coming out of free agency looking like studs had they managed to sign Hibbert and retain Batum.
Since Indiana matched Hibbert's offer sheet, though, Portland will have to settle for matching the budding Batum, who should thrive alongside the crafty Damian Lillard.
There's plenty of work still to be done for the Blazers, and they're in a perfect position to do it.
16. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have gotten both younger and more athletic thus far, paving the way for Doug Collins to work even more miracles next year.
Young is hardly the type of catch that will make fans swoon, but his instant offense fills the void left by Lou Williams. Wright also presents them with an additional weapon on the perimeter.
And with the center market dry as a desert, re-signing Hawes was an easy decision, as Philly needs someone to bang down low with opposing bigs.
As per usual, the Sixers' moves have been understated, yet they are not to be underestimated.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Offseason Transactions: Acquired Chase Budinger from Rockets; tendered Nicolas Batum an offer sheet (Blazers will match); signed Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved; amnestied Darko Milicic; traded two second round picks and retiring center Brad Miller to Hornets for second round pick; waived Martell Webster; traded Wayne Ellington to Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham.
Kevin Love may be unhappy now, but his animosity toward the Timberwolves will be short lived, as Minnesota is headed for the playoffs next season.
The subtle trade for Budinger coupled with the signing of Roy and aggressive pursuit of Batum shows this team means business.
Most importantly, Darko and the Timberwolves are finally free from one another.
It's all cause for optimism in Minnesota.
14. Chicago Bulls
Offseason Transactions: Signed Kirk Hinrich; traded Kyle Korver to Hawks for trade exception.
Consider this my gift to you, Bulls fans.
Derrick Rose will undoubtedly return sometime next season, but until that time, Chicago is trouble.
After persevering through all of last season, the Bulls collapsed against the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs, which was undoubtedly a sign of things to come.
Though Kirk Hinrich provides a capable stopgap, the potential absences of Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik all but seal Chicago's fate as a fringe playoff team next season. The absence of Korver isn't going to help things either.
And now, for the suddenly cost-conscious and humanized Bulls, it's clear Rose cannot recover soon enough.
13. Atlanta Hawks
Offseason Transactions: Signed Lou Williams; traded Joe Johnson to Nets for Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams and future first-round pick; traded Marvin Williams to Jazz for Devin Harris; dealt trade exception to Bulls for Kyle Korver.
Leave it to the Hawks to trade away their leading scorer and remain equipped enough to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Shedding Johnson's contract was huge, but bringing Lou Williams and Kyle Korver into the fold to replace his scoring was bigger.
Devin Harris adds some further depth in the backcourt, and Atlanta's frontcourt attack remains strong with Al Horford and Josh Smith leading the charge.
The Hawks aren't likely to keep pace with teams like the Heat, but there's still plenty to look forward to in Atlanta this season.
12. Denver Nuggets
Offseason Transactions: Re-signed Andre Miller
The Nuggets need patience, not a roster overhaul, which has been the prevalent theme thus far.
Retaining Andre Miller was key, as he and Ty Lawson proved to be a formidable backcourt duo all of last season. Re-signing JaVale McGee is at the top of Denver's list now, and it's likely he returns next season.
But while the Nuggets won't look much different next year, they stand to vastly improve upon their most recent campaign.
And they'll have a selfless dynamic coupled with the perfect dose of experience and youth to thank for it.
11. Indiana Pacers
Offseason Transactions: Re-signed George Hill; matched offer sheet Blazers extended to Roy Hibbert; traded Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones to Mavericks for Ian Mahinmi; signed Gerald Green; signed D.J. Augustin.
Hibbert is not a max-contract athlete, but hey, Hill isn't worth $40 million either.
The Pacers have a lot of cap space and are looking to burn through it, even if it means overpaying for one of their own. Because while Indiana boasts a talented roster, it's bursting with players who have yet to rise to the occasion come crunch time.
And while dealing Collison was puzzling, Augustin is a great pickup. He's statistically inferior, but within an encouraging atmosphere—you know, not Charlotte—he should finally reach his full potential.
The Pacers aren't to be taken lightly. They have a strong frontcourt and are liable to catch fire from the perimeter.
Enough so to catch the Heat?
10. Dallas Mavericks
Offseason Transactions: Traded Lamar Odom to Clippers for a trade exception; traded Ian Mahinmi to Pacers for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones; signed Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo; amnestied Brendan Haywood; claimed Elton Brand.
For a second straight year, the Mavericks roster was decimated at the hands of free agency.
Dallas not only missed out on Deron Williams, but they stood idly by as Jason Kidd and Jason Terry took their talents elsewhere.
Kaman's one-year deal, Mayo's signing, Collison's presence and Brand's addition are the silver lining of it all, but there's serious doubt as to whether the Mavericks are legitimate title contenders.
That said, Dallas has come back strong after being dealt a less than unfortunate free agency hand.
9. Brooklyn Nets
Offseason Transactions: Re-signed Deron Williams, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace; acquired Joe Johnson from Hawks; signed Brook Lopez to max deal; signed Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Jerry Stackhouse and C.J. Watson.
The Nets sure do like to keep us on our toes, don't they?
Brooklyn has been incredibly active all summer and continues to be active as well, as they aggressively pursue the likes of Dwight Howard.
Even without Howard, though, the Nets are much improved. They have two superstars with whom to move forward and a front line with as much potential as any.
From where they're standing, clinching a playoff berth next season is far from out of the question.
8. New York Knicks
Offseason Transactions: Signed Jason Kidd, Christopher Copeland, Pablo Prigioni and James White; acquired Marcus Camby from Rockets for Toney Douglas, Josh Harrelson, Jerome Jordan and two second round picks; traded Dan Gadzuric and Jared Jeffries to Blazers for Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas; re-signed Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.
The Knicks have made it clear they have everything invested in contending for a championship for the next three years.
Camby and Kidd provide experience while filling legitimate needs. The returns of Novak and Smith, along with the acquisition of Felton, were also a great way to preserve what little continuity New York actually had.
Lin or no Lin, on paper, the Knicks match up well against most teams in the league.
That said, impressive names will only carry the severely depleted New York so far; the time to put up or shut up has officially come for the Knicks.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Offseason Transactions: Extended Blake Griffin; signed Jamal Crawford and Grant HIll; re-signed Chauncey Billups; traded Mo Williams to Jazz in exchange for trade exception, which was sent to Mavericks for Lamar Odom.
Bringing Odom back to Los Angeles was a stroke of genius for the Clippers. It injects additional versatility into their lineup, and he automatically becomes their most efficient low-post scorer.
Crawford is essentially the same player as Young, and re-signing Billups was a no-brainer.
But that's actually fitting, as this super team is built for a string of Jekyll and Hyde acts all season long.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies needed a backup point guard, so they went out and got one who has the skill set necessary to become a full-time starter.
Bayless is a fantastic scorer and deft passer—though his court vision does need to evolve—and ensures Memphis won't miss a beat with Mike Conley on the bench.
As for Arthur and Speights, their renewed presences solidify an already respectable front line.
All signs point to the Grizzlies becoming consistently major players throughout all of next season.
5. Boston Celtics
I will never underestimate the Celtics again, and you shouldn't either.
Boston hit a home run retaining both Bass and Garnett, and they found the perfect replacement for Ray Allen in Terry as well. Green may have come at a steep price, but the Celtics are emotionally invested enough in his development that the contract is justifiable.
With Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo—and Avery Bradley, once he's fully healthy—waiting with open arms, this is a Boston team deep enough to feign basketball immortality for at least one more season.
4. San Antonio Spurs
After a collapse of epic proportion against the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, it would have been easy for the Spurs to blow it up. But they refuse to.
Re-signing Diaw, Duncan and Green keeps an effective core in place and allows whatever additions San Antonio opts to make to enter a stable environment.
Even after an eye-opening playoff exit, the Spurs remain the pillar of consistency, as they continue to take care of business in the most understated of fashions.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
Steve Nash is a Laker. Let that sink in.
Nash and his new teammates—including Jamison—have a lot to learn from each other, but his presence has thrust the Lakers back into title contention and given the Heat and Thunder a reason to take them seriously next year.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite an embarrassing collapse against the Heat in the NBA Finals, the Thunder showed patience in not looking to shake up their incredibly effective roster.
By keeping it simple with the under-the-radar addition of Thabeet, it's clear Oklahoma City is preparing to do just that.
Do the Thunder have plenty to work on? Of course, but that's because they're still so young, not because they're incompetent.
As is, they remain one of the few locks to contend for an NBA title next season.
1. Miami Heat
And the rich get richer.
As if dismantling the Thunder en route to an NBA title wasn't enough, the Heat have staged a mini free-agency coup of their own once again.
There are plenty of health issues surrounding Allen, but he—and even the one-dimensional Lewis—are the type of shooters a team like Miami needs when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are constantly attacking the rim.
Sure, there's still no bona fide big man on the roster, but if the team's championship ring represents anything, it's that the Heat can win playing small ball.
Few thought it was possible—or rather, few wished it was—but the Heat have found a way to significantly improve a near-perfect team on a beggar's dime.