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NBA Power Rankings: Grading All 30 Teams Heading into Training Camp

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Grading All 30 Teams Heading into Training Camp

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    October 1 is officially the final day of the NBA offseason with all training camps opening up by the 2nd.

    In all it's a pretty meaningless date. There are going to be a few stories here and there about a position battle that make some sort of a difference, but all it really means is it's another day closer to the basketball season starting back up at the end of October.

    Even still, a mentality comes along with the start of training camp that says basketball is back, kind of like when pitchers and catchers report to spring training for baseball teams. It's the first big landmark before the start of preseason games and ultimately, the season.

    With that, it's our last chance to take inventory of the offseason and figure out how each team sizes up for the coming season.

    To do that in the most efficient way possible, I'm combining two thoughts in one snazzy little article here people. I'll give out a grade to each team that evaluates how well they're set up for the season compared to how the season went for them in 2012, plus you get a classic power ranking, just sizing up each team in comparison to the rest to figure out the best.

30. Charlotte Bobcats: B+

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    Charlotte made the best possible move of their offseason when they drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but even that couldn't keep them from the bottom of the barrel at the onset of the NBA preseason.

    The Bobcats are riding a 23-game losing streak from the end of last season, just three shy of the all-time record set by the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2011, so they're going to need to get a win early to avoid that woeful record.

    The Bobcats won't be good this year, but after this season they'll end up with another high lottery pick. All they need is a little bit of player development and a little bit of luck with the pick that they ended up trading for from Detroit, and they've got a chance of some big leaps in the next few seasons.

    It's hard for fans to struggle through long periods of terrible basketball, but it's to hit rock bottom and regroup than to stay in NBA mediocrity.

29. Orlando Magic: D-

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    I can't really tell you exactly how bad the Orlando Magic are going to be this season without first seeing them play together, but the way they look on paper is not pretty.

    They didn't just lose Dwight Howard. Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson are also gone, two guys who made a huge impact on the team last season. It doesn't seem like Arron Afflalo and a bunch of young players can come in and fill those holes with any kind of effectiveness.

    The Magic will be a bad team this season, that's for sure, and for now they look to be one of the worst, but that could change moving forward depending on how this new collection of random players and cap fodder ends up fitting together.

    I'd still bet the under on whatever win total is set for them.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers: B-

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers are set up to have an interesting season, and while they're going to be a better team than they were last season, I don't see a trip to the playoffs anywhere near a possibility.

    The Cavaliers have been thrown around as a possible sleeper team this season, but they have too many important parts to integrate and their rookies will have to play effectively right away.

    They made some good moves this offseason, not trying to grab any kind of big-name free agent, instead opting to fill their holes by rewarding players they've seen outperform expectations (Alonzo Gee), and undervalued free agents (C.J. Miles).

    The offseason moves weren't big splashes, but they were smart moves in the end.

27. Detroit Pistons: C+

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    It's hard to really grade the Detroit Pistons as they stand in terms of their offseason moves and how they look compared to last season, but I'll give it a shot.

    Detroit has the biggest question mark of the entire NBA draft with Andre Drummond looking to be either a huge home run or a complete waste of a pick with very little in-between possibility. However, they did add a bit of cap flexibility moving forward with their swap of Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette and grabbed a few decent looking rookies later in the draft.

    Their season is going to be a struggle to follow if you're a die-hard, but they've got some exciting players to watch at the very least.

26. Sacramento Kings: B

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    With Thomas Robinson coming in to join DeMarcus Cousins in the Sacramento Kings frontcourt, it's hard to imagine anyone else on the court getting a rebound. Based on that alone, the Kings could end up skyrocketing up the power rankings once the season is underway.

    Until then, however, they'll have to settle for their spot as they still have a confusing lineup. For example, what position is best suited for Tyreke Evans, and will he be in Sacramento by the end of the year?

    As far as bad teams go, Sacramento is probably the team that seems the most fun to watch as it has the potential to go in either direction. If you're a fan of dynamic outcomes, outstanding personalities and strange basketball, Sacramento should be one of many destinations to check out this season.

25. Houston Rockets: C

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    Were we just talking about strange basketball, because the Houston Rockets will be the king of it regardless of which of their 847 players under contract make it through training camp.

    In a world where a position revolution is turning the NBA on its head, the reigning champions are without a true point guard and play either Chris Bosh or an army of big, slow dudes at center, Houston is taking a similarly interesting approach. Instead of signing a bunch of guys who can play multiple positions, the Rockets have a bunch of guys who play power forward

    Just in terms of team dynamic, progression of rookies, the number of different lineups used and Kevin McHale meltdowns, this Houston team looks to be one of the most intriguing basketball teams in years.

24. Phoenix Suns: C-

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    Rounding out the triumvirate of weird basketball teams is the Phoenix Suns. They're not boasting a bunch of guys that play the same position or a team with the dynamic to be either extremely efficient or depressingly terrible, they're just a strangely cobbled team.

    Phoenix put together a team based around the hope that has already failed two teams, that more shots and more responsibility will be good for Michael Beasely. Along with that they added Baby Steve Nash, Goran Dragic, in hopes that he can keep a flicker going on the candle of the Nash Era.

    Elsewhere, the inclusion of Luis Scola, the least athletic but most effective player not named Zach Randolph, and Kendall Marshall, an intriguing young point guard, along with another season of Marcin Gortat makes for an interesting season in Phoenix.

23. Washington Wizards: B

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    It seems like Wizards fans have been incredibly cynical ever since the Gilbert Arenas gun-toting incident a few years back, but the team they have now gives me a flicker of a notion that they could have an outside shot at a playoff spot.

    Given an improved season from John Wall in terms of efficiency, a strong rookie season from Bradley Beal and a healthy Nene, and the Wizards could be a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Of course, that all depends on how Beal adjusts to the NBA and how Wall recovers from his knee injury, but the future is definitely brighter in Washington.

    Plus there's always the chance that Andray Blatche was so bad last season that getting rid of him alone will mean a few wins in itself.

22. Toronto Raptors: A

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    If I could buy stock in basketball teams, I'd take a whole mess of Toronto Raptors stock right now, and probably end up getting burned on every single penny spent. Still, I'm all-in on the new-look Raptors.

    I'm a huge believer that there are some guys just not built to play center. I've embraced the position revolution, but some guys just can't do it, and Andrea Bargnani is one of those dudes. If Jonas Valanciunas can be good enough to start at center, that means Bargs can bump down to the power forward spot, something that fits better for him.

    Elsewhere, the addition of Kyle Lowry is going to be huge for the Raptors. They'll have a point guard who actually plays defense and does just as well on offense as Jose Calderon.

21. Portland Trail Blazers: B-

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    As much as I've become a fan of LaMarcus Aldridge over the years, I can't see this team bouncing back well enough to make the playoffs. In a loaded Western Conference (what's new?), Portland is hoping it can keep the chemistry it had two years ago (if that makes sense) and that Damian Lillard will be as good as he seems to be.

    Throwing a rookie point guard to start for a team usually isn't a recipe for early success, although he could end up being good enough down the road to be the Blazers' permanent point guard.

    Meanwhile, they've got to hope they didn't overpay for Nicolas Batum, which they did, and that Meyers Leonard can play well enough to let Aldridge drop back down to power forward.

20. Milwaukee Bucks: C-

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    Anytime you trade one of the five best (although injury-riddled) centers in the NBA for a guy who shoots the ball 18 times a game while shooting 43 percent, you've got to pat yourself on the back as an NBA GM for living in 2004.

    The Bucks made a huge mistake adding a chucker to a lineup that already has one of the chuckingest chuckers in the league, while pinning the future of their team on a skinny center from North Carolina.

    If John Henson makes a good professional center then the Bucks could surprise a few people, but he just seems too skinny to battle in the trenches like Milwaukee will need him to.

19. New Orleans Hornets: A+

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    It's been a long time since any team had an offseason quite like the one the New Orleans Hornets had. Sure, Miami added LeBron James and Chris Bosh via free agency a few years back, but the Hornets added players in so many different ways that you've got to give a little bit of credit to general manager Dell Demps.

    Of course they added Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers in the draft, but they also traded for Ryan Anderson, who averaged 16 points and eight rebounds last season, and picked up an increasingly effective Robin Lopez and an entertaining Hakeem Warrick. But most importantly, they re-signed Eric Gordon.

    With any kind of luck and some natural progression from Davis, Rivers and Gordon, we could be looking at a team with an outside shot of making the playoffs in the Western Conference.

18. Utah Jazz: C+

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    It seems like the Utah Jazz made moves for the sake of seeing new, less frustrating faces in Utah rather than actually advancing their team past the level they were at last season.

    Trading Devin Harris for Marvin Williams was basically a trade of a frustrating point guard for a frustrating small forward. Rather than retaining C.J. Miles and hoping for a bounce-back year on the bench, they went out and got Williams, who has been driving Hawks fans mad for years now.

    Then, to fill the new hole at point guard, they decided to add Mo Williams, a move I'm not against, but don't see as a major positive. The only way this team looks any better than last year is if its young guys improve markedly. 

17. Golden State Warriors: A-

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    The bandwagon that the Warriors have been dragging around for the past four or five years is going to need a huge overhaul. I'm sitting up here right now helping people climb up as it rumbles along with creaky wheels from all the new weight added.

    While a lot of Golden State's future depends heavily on how healthy the team can stay, it seems likely that it will show a huge level of improvement compared to last season.

    The Warriors will add Andrew Bogut, once he comes back from his ankle injury; Harrison Barnes, who was extremely effective in college, only to see his stock fall because of a bad NCAA Tournament; Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two of the best backups at their respective positions; and two lesser rookies in Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green, who should be able to play some defense for them.

    At the very least, the Warriors will be playing much better defense than they have in recent seasons.

16. Atlanta Hawks: C-

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    What the Atlanta Hawks did in the offseason needed to be done, but it probably didn't make them a better team.

    They added guys who can legitimately shoot the ball, but they've got the ultimate opposition to that in Josh Smith. Even with Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and John Jenkins coming in, Smith is going to continue to jack up bad shots while his teammates stand waving their arms over their heads.

    The biggest problem with the Hawks is that they're a team without a defined direction. It's hard to tell how they are revamping their crew for the future as they seem okay with what they've got, even though Smith is most likely leaving in the offseason.

    Atlanta has a lot of questions to address, and until it has an answer, I can't see it as much of a threat in the East.

15. Brooklyn Nets: A-

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    On the flip-side, the team the Hawks traded with, that made all the fiscally irresponsible decisions to fill its roster up before it cracked the seal on its new arena in Brooklyn, looks to be a lot more well-off than it was a season ago.

    The Nets flipped the core of a roster that won a third of its games a year ago without trading their four best players for a guy who can legitimately shoot the ball when he's wide open (just ask Steve Nash back in 2005) and take the ball to the hole.

    Aside from Joe Johnson and the big names on their roster, the Nets have a lot of unknowns filling out the rest of their roster, the most intriguing of which being Mirza Teletovic, a guy who's touted as a great offensive power forward.

    New York is definitely going to be the center of interesting basketball in the coming season.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves: B+

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    In a stunning turn of events, it would definitely be shocking if the Minnesota Timberwolves were to miss the playoffs this season.

    With Kevin Love coming off his best season ever and playing like a top-10 player, and Ricky Rubio potentially coming back in December, this team is not only playoff-bound, but looking to make a wave or two.

    Of course, a lot hinges on how well Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko fill in the wing spots, but they can't be much worse than the wings they've started in the past few years. At least we know Roy can knock down a shot and Kirilenko can play defense.

13. New York Knicks: C+

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    Fundamentally the New York Knicks are not the team that their fans are hoping they can be. At the worst, they're a low-seeded playoff team that can string some wins together during the regular season, but at best they're a mid-level playoff team that might be able to scare a better team in the second round of the playoffs.

    One thing they are not, and it's for sure, are title contenders.

    They acquired help on the defensive end with the addition of Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas this offseason. However, the rest of the moves they made aren't the collection of award-winning exchanges that Knicks fans always seem to make them out to be.

    There's a reason why Portland fans rejoiced when Raymond Felton got traded. Felton just isn't the player he was two years ago. Plus, they now boast a lineup with four of the league's six oldest players (Thomas, Camby, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace), and the best of those six players (Steve Nash and Grant Hill) aren't on their team.

12. Dallas Mavericks: C+

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    Last season seemed like a lost year for the Dallas Mavericks. They lost their defensive face when Tyson Chandler left for New York, and Dirk Nowitzki seemed to be playing himself into shape all season long.

    With that in mind, you've got to believe that we'll be seeing a Dirk closer to the 2011 Dirk that won the title, not the 2012 Dirk that was less effective. 

    Besides Nowitzki getting back to his old self, I've actually come around on the moves the Mavericks made. While they've picked up a series of cast-offs and afterthoughts, they did so to maintain cap flexibility while remaining one of the six best teams in the West, or so it seems.

    I'm not crazy about seeing O.J. Mayo with less of a leash, but he's a guy that can score. Same goes for Chris Kaman. This Mavs team isn't a title contender by any means, but they're not a terrible team.

11. Chicago Bulls: C+

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    As far as building a team to survive until Derrick Rose comes back, Chicago did a wonderful job in the offseason. Of course, it would probably look a lot better if Jerry Reinsdorf didn't refuse to pass the luxury tax line.

    Kirk Hinrich ought to be a terrific fill-in starter for the Bulls as they await Rose's return, and Marquis Teague could end up being an interesting pick from the draft. Otherwise, I'm totally behind the addition of Vladimir Radmanovic and Marco Belinelli. The jury's still out on Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson.

    The rest of the team should be able to hold itself together without much worry, but two big questions remain: Who steps up as the team's leader in Rose's absence, and once Rose does return, how close to his former self will he be?

10. Philadelphia 76ers: B+

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    While I love the mindset of the Philadelphia 76ers going out and doing something to get a franchise player at the most sought-after position in the NBA, I'm not so sure they're going to be the formidable team that it seemed like at one point.

    I was totally on board with a Bynum-led Philly team until I realized how different this team was from last season.

    In the playoffs last year, the three players who made Philly a formidable team were Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams. Brand and Iggy were shutdown defenders, creating the air of defensive dominance that the team had, while Williams was the guy who wasn't afraid to take any shot, making him a big reason why the 76ers took down the Bulls (despite his heinous shooting percentage).

    This Philadelphia team is going to be a good one, but it has lost its defensive luster that was really its identity at the most important times last season.

9. Denver Nuggets: A-

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    It's been a long time since I can recall a team this deep at every position, but the best I can do to compare the Nuggets to would be the 2002 Sacramento Kings. They've got at least seven guys who can average 10 points and a few more who can come in and knock down big shots or play defense at the rim when they need it.

    I'm not ready to compare them to one of the greatest teams who never won a championship, but they've got the depth to compete with any team in this league and the players with the right mentality to be okay sharing playing time.

    Should the Nuggets see improvement from some of their young players like, say, JaVale McGee, then they could be one of the three best teams in the Western Conference.

8. Memphis Grizzlies: C+

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    On the opposite end of the spectrum from Denver in terms of pace and playing style are the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis continues to be one of those teams that is okay with scoring 90 points in a game because it's going to hold you to 84.

    That is a mentality that can lead to winning playoff games, and even though the Grizzlies failed to put away the Los Angeles Clippers last season in one of the most entertaining first round series in recent memory, they still seem like one of the most powerful teams in the West.

    The Grizzlies may have a bit of an identity crisis on offense, but they have great defense to back them up on shaky offensive nights, and they should be completely healthy at the start of the season.

7. Indiana Pacers: B

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    The Indiana Pacers are going to be the most interesting top-tier team to keep an eye on as the season progresses. We'll be able to learn a lot from the games they play early in the season in terms of who tries to take over the reins of the team.

    Danny Granger has been the de facto leader of the Pacers, but it doesn't seem like his duty anymore now that he's not the best player on the team. The most obvious choice to take his place would be the dude that just signed a maximum deal, Roy Hibbert.

    However, they also just gave a huge vote of confidence to George Hill after they traded away Darren Collison. Then there's always the possibility that Paul George goes on a tear this season after huge improvements from his rookie to sophomore year.

    Depending on how well Indiana comes together as a team and improves as a group of young guys, this team could end up being a title contender come playoff time.

6. Los Angeles Clippers: B

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    I'm not ready to let the Clippers crack the top five, although they're right there in stride with those teams.

    Los Angeles has gone out on a limb this offseason picking up two guys who had terrible 2012 seasons in Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, and if they bounce back, the Clips could be in line for a terrific season. However, if Odom and Crawford struggle, the Clips are still probably no worse than they were in 2012.

    Aside from Odom and Crawford, the addition of Matt Barnes and Grant Hill should give them a defensive edge that they didn't have outside of Reggie Evans and DeAndre Jordan. There are a lot of questions still surrounding the Clippers, but it shouldn't take long for us to get too many answers.

5. Boston Celtics: B-

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    If you think this is the last chance for this incarnation of the Celtics to win a title then you're probably wrong; we've been saying that about the San Antonio Spurs for three years and they keep coming back and slapping us in the face for counting them out.

    Boston is winding down now that Ray Allen is gone and the original Big Three is broken up, but that's probably for the better now that this is, unquestionably, Rajon Rondo's basketball team. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are going to continue to be productive, but the team only goes as far as Rondo takes it.

    The Celtics' offseason was terrific for a team with almost no cap space. They got Kevin Garnett at a cheaper price than they had him previously; re-signed Jeff Green (who will actually play for them this season); drafted Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo; and added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jason Collins to boot.

    This is a team that might be a bit frail and may have some questions surrounding its rookies, but it's also a team that can win a title.

4. San Antonio Spurs: C+

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    The only way I'm going to say the Spurs are too old to win a title is if Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have all retired, and even then I'm not going to rule out all three of them coming back and leading the Spurs to a 50-win season in 2020.

    San Antonio did nearly nothing this offseason, yet it still seems like it had a great offseason. The Spurs added Nando De Colo, a draft-and-stash guy they picked 53rd in 2009, so he'll probably come off the bench and average 11 points and four assists per game.

    Regardless of what they did in the offseason, the Spurs kept together a team that won 50 out of 66 games a year ago and made it to the Western Conference Finals. They've got a shot no matter how old their best guys are.

3. Los Angeles Lakers: A+

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    I'm not ready to call the Los Angeles Lakers the class of the West. There are just too many factors that need to work in their favor early on for them to really be the best in the West right now.

    On paper, they might be the most formidable team in the NBA, but we've yet to see them on the court.

    Los Angeles has to deal with the chemistry issues that always come along with a newly put together basketball team, and it still has questions surrounding Dwight Howard and his surgically repaired back.

    The Lakers will end up being one of the three best teams in the West (I have to leave open the possibility that San Antonio wins 60 games to spite us all), but you can't call them the best in the West until they actually prove that they are.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder: A

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    Until the time comes when the Lakers (or Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies or Nuggets) make a case to dethrone the reigning kings of the Western Conference, nobody but the Oklahoma City Thunder can be atop the left side of the country in a realistic argument.

    They didn't add two marquee players like the Lakers, but they did re-sign Serge Ibaka and they've got an incredible core of players that just felt the bite of defeat on the biggest stage in the game. If that doesn't make a team hungry then nothing will.

    On top of all that, they just drafted Perry Jones, an athletic forward who was once considered to be one of the most promising college players in the nation before setbacks in his sophomore year got to him. Don't rule out the possibility that he ends up adding something that this team was missing.

1. Miami Heat: A+

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    As Ric Flair once said, "To be the man (insert any length 'woooo' you deem necessary), you gotta beat the man (probably another 'wooo' for good measure)."

    The Miami Heat are coming into this season with a ring finger itching to put on that new jewelry and a whole hand full of fingers getting jealous of the one with the shiny new bling wrapped around it.

    While the Heat are far from a slam-dunk this year, and probably have more competition in both conferences compared to last season, they are the odds-on favorite to repeat as champions of your NBA.

    The addition of Ray Allen is going to be interesting, so could that of Rashard Lewis, but in the end it all comes down to the three guys doing most of the work with the ball. 

    Let's get ready for another amazing season of basketball.

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