NBA Power Rankings: Stacking Up Every Team After 2013 Free-Agent Frenzy
You know that NBA free agency has just about run its course for the summer when Brandon Jennings and Gerald Henderson are the biggest names left on the market.
That is, unless you count Nikola Pekovic, who apparently has been sitting on a four-year, $50 million offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves since the end of the league's annual moratorium.
You get the point—we're just about done with major signings for the 2013 offseason. Dwight Howard and Chris Paul have long since signed their lives away, as has nearly every other free agent of note. Once the Las Vegas Summer League comes to a close, hoops heads will be left to suffer through two-and-a-half months without any action of note from the Association.
Unless, of course, a major trade breaks, in which case they'll have something to devour for a few days. For the time being, let's have a look at how this year's basketball hot stove has reshaped the running for the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2014.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
Jrue Holiday's gone. Rookie Nerlens Noel is on the shelf. Fellow rookie Michael Carter-Williams averaged nearly five turnovers per game and shot a woeful 27 percent from the field during the Orlando Summer League.
But hey, at least the Philadelphia 76ers have a head coach...or will eventually, anyway.
None of that really matters, though. The Sixers' plan is (or, at least, appears to be) to stink for a while and build through the draft while seeking out opportunistic trades. It's the model that Sam Hinkie learned from Daryl Morey during their days together with the Houston Rockets.
That model figures to draw the ire of fans in Philly for the time being, but that could yield a bona fide contender within the next three or four years.
Assuming the proverbial chips fall properly, that is.
29. Boston Celtics
Like the Sixers, the Boston Celtics plan to stink for a reason: They want Andrew Wiggins...or Julius Randle...or Jabari Parker...or Marcus Smart...or any of the other bajillion or so superstar prospects likely to be available in the 2014 NBA draft.
Of course, the C's wouldn't have been so amenable to starting from scratch if it hadn't been so apparent that the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett era in Beantown had run its course. With Rondo sidelined by a torn ACL and Doc Rivers jonesing for a new start, Danny Ainge saw the out he needed to spark a rebuild and seized it.
Now, KG, Pierce and Jason Terry will be suiting up for the Brooklyn Nets, Doc will be leading the Los Angeles Clippers' charge toward the top, and the C's...well, they'll be terrible for a bit.
But at least they'll be terrible for a good cause. If the next great star winds up in Boston as a result of this tank job, then the misery of losing (and breaking in a 36-year-old rookie coach) will have been well worth it.
Just don't remind anyone in New England of 1997 and 2007, when the C's took a dive but still missed out on Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant (and Greg Oden), respectively.
28. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic did well to sign Jason Maxiell to a two-year, $5 million deal (per Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News) as part of a slow-but-smart offseason. Maxiell aside, No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo stands as Orlando's biggest acquisition.
Which, frankly, is how things should be for the Magic at the moment. They're in no rush to rebuild as another run-of-the-mill playoff team in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, GM Rob Hennigan is perfectly content to let the 2013-14 season play out and, perhaps, move some of his veterans (i.e. Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo) for draft picks and other assets while allowing his team's young players to grow.
Again, all the while keeping in mind that the 2014 draft class is LOADED.
In the meantime, Magic fans can take some measure of pride in the fact that their team "won" the Dwight Howard trade by default, since just about all the other parts that were shuffled have since moved on.
27. Charlotte Bobcats
There's something brilliantly defeating (or defeatingly brilliant?) about Al Jefferson joining the Charlotte Bobcats.
No, not the fact that Big Al will be paid approximately $41 million over the next three years. That's still way, way, WAY too much money for a guy with bad knees who only plays on one end of the floor, especially when you consider the discount at which the Atlanta Hawks signed Jefferson's superior ex-teammate, Paul Millsap.
Rather, by adding Jefferson, the 'Cats can create the illusion of trying to win without actually getting that much better. Al will improve Charlotte's woeful offense, if only because he can actually put the ball in the hoop. But the rest of the roster around him is miserable enough to ensure that Charlotte doesn't improve too much beyond the 21 wins they tallied in 2012-13.
Because, after so much terrible basketball, it's about time the 'Cats landed themselves a truly elite talent in the draft.
Then again, Michael Jordan hasn't fared so well when it comes to making proper picks on draft day, now has he? (Hi, Cody Zeller! Hi, Adam Morrison! Howdy, Kwame Brown!)
26. Phoenix Suns
Last season was the worst in Phoenix Suns history since their 16-66 inception in 1968-69. But while the Suns have yet to hit rock bottom, per se, there's still reason enough for folks in Phoenix to take at least a fleeting interest in what their team does this coming season (beyond how Michael Beasley wears his hair).
Most notable will be how Jeff Hornacek decides to play around with his roster. The new Suns coach recently divulged to Grantland's Zach Lowe that he plans to see what Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic can do as a backcourt duo, with Marcin Gortat anchoring the interior until Alex Len is ready to take over.
If it works, Phoenix will have a better sense of its foundation for the future. If it doesn't, then the Suns will likely look to move some of their pieces around as they gear up for important drafts in 2014 and beyond.
25. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz clearly aren't trying to win this year, unless taking on the contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush strikes anyone as a major move toward immediate success.
But the cupboard won't exactly be bare in Salt Lake City. The Jazz will enter the season with an intriguing base of young talent. Rookie Trey Burke, who struggled mightily during the Orlando Summer League, will join a core group of Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks that should have every opportunity to show what it can do as a unit in Utah.
None of those youngsters project as bona fide stars, which is fine, considering the expected influx of talent into the NBA over the next two years. If the Jazz manage to land themselves a true franchise cornerstone in one of the upcoming drafts, they'd already have a cast of talented role players with whom to either surround a precocious prospect or flip to other teams for pieces that better fit GM Dennis Lindsey's blueprint.
24. Sacramento Kings
Some wins would be nice, but for the Sacramento Kings, the thought of a future free of Maloofs should suffice for 2013-14.
The upcoming season figures to be a transitional one in nearly every sense. New ownership, new front-office management and new coaching all point to a year replete with player evaluation and wiping the slate clean.
In what capacity that includes DeMarcus Cousins remains to be seen. The new arrivals have all praised him as the future of the franchise, but the pressure will be on "Boogie" to prove that he's not just another gifted nincompoop. The Kings can only hope that the changes within the organization will make it easier for Cousins to turn the corner while still in Sacramento.
At the very least, it's incumbent upon the Kings to make sure that Cousins doesn't sully the situation for Ben McLemore. The kid out of Kansas comes equipped with oodles of potential, but will have to be fostered carefully if he's to actualize his considerable talents in California's capital.
23. Milwaukee Bucks
Dear (former) Senator Herb Kohl, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks,
Is the No. 8 seed in the East really all you care to aspire to? Isn't there a point at which competing for peanuts becomes a turnoff to your fans? Why tread water when you're going to drown at some point anyway?
It's one thing for folks like Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, Charlotte Bobcats check-signer Michael Jordan and Cleveland Cavaliers boss Dan Gilbert to direct their front offices to win now; those teams have all stunk for a while now, to the point where ownership feels the need to rope fans back in with some modicum of success.
But your Bucks have been mildly competitive for the decade or so. Their winning percentage hasn't dipped below .400 since 2007-08, yet they haven't won more than 46 games in a season 2000-01. What's the point of owning an NBA team if you're not trying to win big? Heck, even DONALD FRICKIN' STERLING got that memo.
Sure, you can't completely undo the contracts GM John Hammond just handed out to O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino. Nor can you simply wipe away the money owed to Ersan Ilyasova. But next time you're tempted to splash significant cash at a mid-level player over the course of a long-term deal, think on it a bit and remember that stinking—really stinking—for a few years can be a good thing.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
Speaking of teams that really should tank, the Los Angeles Lakers are staring straight ahead at a lost season now that Dwight Howard is with the Houston Rockets. Kobe Bryant will need time to work his way back from a torn Achilles, Pau Gasol is old, and Steve Nash is even older.
L.A. will miss Metta World Peace and his antics, but at least the front office has done its part to appease the locals with the signings of two former Clippers (Chris Kaman and Nick Young) and a two-time Lakers champion (Jordan Farmar).
Not that those additions will make the Lakers any more competitive.
In a perfect world, the Lakers would encourage Kobe to take his sweet time coming back and essentially pass on the 2013-14 season in anticipation of a loaded 2014 draft and free-agent class. But Jim Buss' world has proven to be anything but perfect.
And so, too, will the Lakers be for the foreseeable future, unless fortune should smile upon the Purple and Gold in the coming year.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers
I applaud the Cleveland Cavaliers for their desire to avoid a fourth straight trip to the lottery, but it's tough to envision them making the playoffs unless Andrew Bynum is actually healthy enough to play a significant portion of the season. A notion about which I currently remain unconvinced.
Last December, Bynum sounded less than optimistic about his prospects for playing with relatively little pain in his troublesome knees without the aid of an as-yet-undeveloped medical breakthrough (per the Associated Press):
There's nothing I can do about it. It's arthritis in the knees. Cartilage is missing. That's not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, next three to five years, there may be something out there that really does help. Right now, it's kind of a waiting game.
Not that the Cavs' success is entirely contingent on 'Drew. Kyrie Irving's an All-Star, rookie Anthony Bennett brings plenty of exciting potential to the table as a versatile forward, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson should continue to develop, and Jarrett Jack adds to the veteran know-how of which Anderson Varejao had been the sole proprietor in Cleveland. The return of Mike Brown to the bench should also be a boon to a Cavs defense that struggled mightily under Byron Scott's directives.
But this team still has much growing to do as a collective before it can officially leave behind the dregs of the post-LeBron James nightmare.
20. Toronto Raptors
New Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has a knack for disposing of players with onerous contracts, dating back to his days with the Denver Nuggets.
Which means that DeMar DeRozan, who's owed $9.5 million per year over the next four, had better not get too comfortable in Canada. Nor should any of the other leftovers from the Bryan Colangelo era, including Rudy Gay and Landry Fields.
Expect the Raptors' edifice to come down, brick by brick, but not before Ujiri gets to see what this team can do with its current crop of players under Dwane Casey's direction.
And without Andrea Bargnani hanging over their heads.
19. Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons' signing of Josh Smith doesn't make much sense at first glance, when you consider the team's glut of big men and lack of floor spacing. But as far as asset collection is concerned, bringing Smith aboard for $54 million over four years is a smart move.
In essence, Smith's presence gives Pistons GM Joe Dumars another option to consider in fleshing out his frontcourt, which also includes Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Both are gifted, young players who could probably fetch a pretty penny in a trade.
Monroe, in particular, will be a restricted free agent soon, but he has yet to prove that he's worth a massive investment. Sure, he's a productive offensive player, but his shooting percentages have dipped since his rookie year while his defensive aptitude remains rather untenable. At this point, it's entirely possible that Monroe is turning into Al Jefferson 2.0.
As for Drummond, he has all the physical tools to be a destructive defender and a rim-rocker in the pick-and-roll, and he proved capable of putting it all together at times as a rookie. With more seasoning, he could become a fantastic protector of the paint to complement the pestering perimeter defense of Smith and Brandon Knight on a defensive juggernaut that's becoming of the Motor City.
Thereby leaving Monroe to be dangled as trade bait for, say, a legitimate point guard.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
The reviews of the New Orleans Pelicans' offseason have thus far been mixed. On the one hand, they've been praised for adding one All-Star (Jrue Holiday) and another potential All-Star (Tyreke Evans) to a talented, young team that already featured Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson at its core.
On the other hand, the 'Cans have been panned for saddling themselves with significant salary obligations and sacrificing future draft considerations to try to win now, when success out West for them might constitute no better than a No. 8 seed in 2014.
Though it seems strange to accelerate the rebuilding process when the centerpiece of the team is all of 20 years old, the way New Orleans went about doing so has made sense. Holiday and Evans are both 23, with plenty of potential yet to be properly tapped. Throw in Davis and the 24-year-old Gordon, and you've got yourself a nucleus that's good enough to compete on the fringes of the playoffs now and young enough to develop into something much more substantial.
And if it doesn't work out and the Pelicans wind up with another top-five pick in the draft, they'll be perfectly positioned to add another blue-chipper to the mix next summer.
17. Dallas Mavericks
Evidently, the Dallas Mavericks had rolled over their cap space too many times, to the point where Mark Cuban will be rolling over in his grave over the string of title contention that could've been if he'd retained Tyson Chandler back in 2011.
Instead, he'll spend the season watching, with arms crossed, as his Mavs make a run at the No. 7 or 8 seed with a defensively challenged backcourt of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis acting in support of Dirk Nowitzki.
And if Big D stinks again, who knows? Maybe Dirk will reconsider returning to the Metroplex at a steep discount and take his talents elsewhere. It'd be strange to see Nowitzki in another uniform, but at 35, the guy only has so much good basketball left in him.
Might as well make the most of it on a team that can actually win something.
16. Washington Wizards
The lightning-quick point guard demonstrated his value to the Wizards upon his return from injury last season. He led Washington to a respectable 24-25 finish while upping his scoring, cutting down on turnovers and improving his assist rates ever so slightly.
A healthy campaign amidst a starting five of Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Emeka Okafor should provide Wall with ample opportunity to strut his stuff on a team with legitimate playoff aspirations. And, in turn, to excite a fanbase that's been all but out of commission since Gilbert Arenas started toting firearms in the locker room.
15. Portland Trail Blazers
Hallelujah! The Portland Trail Blazers might have an honest-to-goodness bench this coming season!
Which is big news in Rip City, considering they had one of the worst second units ever in 2012-13. The additions of Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe give head coach Terry Stotts some worthwhile options to consider alongside his core four of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.
That is, assuming Aldridge doesn't force his way out of the Pacific Northwest first. According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Aldridge's camp has already convened with Blazers GM Neil Olshey about a possible move out of town.
There's no rush for the Blazers to dump L.A. just yet, not with two years left on the All-Star's contract. In the event that Aldridge stays put for at least another year before moving on, the Blazers would be a solid bet to break into the playoffs in 2014.
And if he doesn't, PDX's fortunes will ride heavily on what Olshey is able to procure as part of a blockbuster deal.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
Say what you will about the Minnesota Timberwolves defense—which could be woeful, with the likes of Kevin Love and Kevin Martin slotted into significant roles—but this team is going to score points.
And lots of 'em.
Between the preternatural passing of Ricky Rubio, the sharpshooting of Martin and Chase Budinger, the athletic attacking of Derrick Williams and Corey Brewer, the interior terror of Nikola Pekovic and the all-around awesomeness of Love, Rick Adelman should have at his disposal all of the necessary tools with which to fashion an elite NBA offense.
That, along with some better luck on the health front, should be enough to fit the T-Wolves into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Just don't expect them to last long once they're there, unless they stumble upon a solution to their projected defensive deficiencies.
13. Atlanta Hawks
It's almost as if the Atlanta Hawks can't help but be a mid-tier team. They seemed set to finally (and perhaps mercifully) slide back into lottery territory once it became clear that Josh Smith wasn't coming back.
But then GM Danny Ferry added Jared Cunningham and Dennis Schroeder on draft day, snagged Paul Millsap by way of an incredibly reasonable two-year, $19 million deal, brought back Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague and voila! The Hawks look like the sixth- or seventh-best team in the East.
Blame it on Al Horford, if you feel so inclined. His continued presence on the roster makes it nearly impossible for Atlanta to tank, and, as was made clear with the team's failed pursuit of Dwight Howard, the city just isn't destination enough for today's marquee free agents.
For now, hoops heads in Georgia will have to wait and see what Mike Budenholzer brings to the table as a head coach before casting judgment on the Hawks' perpetual place on Stealers Wheel.
12. Denver Nuggets
The summer has not been kind to the Denver Nuggets. Masai Ujiri left for Toronto, George Karl was shown the door, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer both bounced, Kosta Koufos was swapped out for Darrell Arthur, and J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye arrived as the lone reinforcements.
Oh, and Danilo Gallinari will be on the shelf for a while after having his ACL repaired (though he could return sooner than expected after surgery last month was less complicated than originally expected).
Other than that, everything should be peachy keen in the Mile High City. The Nuggets will have to battle their way through a tough Northwest Division, but they should still have enough talent on hand to sneak into the playoffs.
To be sure, that's a significant step back from last year's 57-win bonanza. But such is the result of any tumultuous offseason, albeit one that could yield better long-term results now that Brian Shaw is at the helm.
11. New York Knicks
The New York Knicks' summer has been nothing if not another exercise in, well, "Knicks-ness."
Between trading away some useful players and multiple draft picks for Andrea Bargnani, giving $18 million to J.R. Smith despite full knowledge of his need for major knee surgery and signing the always-wacky Metta World Peace off the waiver wire, the Knicks have all but ensured that 2012-13 will prove to have been this group's peak.
Because Tyson Chandler isn't getting any younger and Amar'e Stoudemire's knees aren't getting any better. This team's hopes will ride all too heavily on Carmelo Anthony scoring in bunches, Raymond Felton bouncing back from a poor second half of the season and Iman Shumpert continuing to develop as a two-way player.
If the Knicks can "D" up and knock down threes like they did at times last season, they should be in the mix for a spot among the top five in the Eastern Conference. But the competition will be stiff, what with the Nets and the Bulls joining the fray in a big way. That makes it that much more important that New York find a way to perform consistently on both ends for Mike Woodson.
10. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors could've taken a significant step back. They could've let Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry walk away and spent the 2013-14 campaign fighting for a fringe playoff spot while reminiscing about their exciting run this past spring.
Rather than rest on their laurels, the Dubs moved aggressively to not only hold steady in the ever-deepening Western Conference, but to also set themselves up for an even deeper push in 2014. The addition of Andre Iguodala gives Golden State a versatile two-way threat who will all but ensure that the Warriors bring a starting-caliber player off the bench (be it Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes or David Lee, depending on how Mark Jackson chooses to play his cards).
It's not as though the rest of the Warriors bench will be barren, either. Marreese Speights should replace much of the frontcourt scoring that Landry left behind, while Toney Douglas and rookie Nemanja Nedovic will have their opportunities to contribute in relief of Stephen Curry.
That's not to say that this team is at all bound for the Western Conference finals, what with the field being as stacked as it is. But at the very least, Golden State now has the requisite pieces to be more than just a single-season surprise.
9. Brooklyn Nets
The ingredients are there for the Brooklyn Nets to be special this coming season. They have five All-Stars in their starting lineup, now that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have officially joined forces with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.
And their bench mob should be a versatile bunch, thanks to the additions of Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston, along with the retention of Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche. But health will be a serious concern, with each of the Nets' five starters carrying some sort of age- and/or injury-related baggage. Moreover, the Jason Kidd hire, while inspired, leaves too much room for doubt, given his lack of sideline experience.
Brooklyn's ceiling could be as high as the second seed in the East, with a floor right around the fifth or sixth seed, depending on how this team plays defensively and what Kidd does to manage minutes between KG and Pierce. In any case, $180 million (including luxury taxes) is a lot to pay for a team that, at best, might lose to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
Not that money is any object to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
8. Houston Rockets
Like the Nets, the Houston Rockets have the potential to be an elite team in their conference, though there's no shortage of concerns that could impede this team's progress to that point.
Like the health of Dwight Howard's back. Like Dwight's willingness to play pick-and-roll/insistence on isolating in the post. Like the chemistry between Howard and James Harden. Like what to do about Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.
The list goes on, but the hardest part of the team-building process is pretty much done for Rockets GM Daryl Morey. He has his two superstars and need only figure out the best talent with which to surround them for Houston to have a legitimate shot at a title within a year or two.
For now, though, the Rockets will likely have to take their lumps from their more experienced competitors out West.
7. Chicago Bulls
No longer will the offense stagnate, nor will the Bulls struggle to find a competent option with the shot clock winding down. No longer will the fragile Kirk Hinrich be asked to shoulder such an immense burden at the point. No longer will Tom Thibodeau have to work Luol Deng and Joakim Noah down to their respective nubs just to keep Chicago competitive.
Instead, the Bulls can get back to business as usual on the offensive end while continuing to clamp down on defense. Chicago could still use another perimeter threat, though Thibs could consider starting Jimmy Butler at the off-guard spot to maximize his team's "3 and D" potential.
Either way, the Bulls are bound for an expensive season, with a payroll of nearly $80 million and the corresponding luxury-tax bill to take care of. But at least infamously fickle owner Jerry Reinsdorf will be shelling out for a squad that has the moxie to make Miami sweat it out—and then some.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies haven't made many (if any) waves this summer as far as the roster is concerned. But for a Western Conference finalist, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Grizz re-signed Tony Allen, convinced Jerryd Bayless to opt into the final year of his deal and swapped out Darrell Arthur for Kosta Koufos by way of a sneaky draft-day trade. That last move should provide Marc Gasol with quality reprieve up front while also opening up minutes at power forward to hasten Ed Davis' development.
Another shooter next to Quincy Pondexter would help matters more, but so long as Memphis plays the same brand of stifling defense under Dave Joerger that it did for Lionel Hollins, it should be right back in the thick of things for the Western Conference crown.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, few teams (if any) have had summers quite like the one the Los Angeles Clippers put together. They secured Chris Paul's signature by prying Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics before flipping Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.
As a result, the Clippers finally have a legitimate coach and a true shooting guard of which to speak, along with the perimeter production that Dudley brings to the table. The return of Matt Barnes and the addition of once-and-future CP3 backup Darren Collison count as mini-coups for L.A.'s front office as well.
Still, the Clips would appear to be a smidgen short of honest-to-goodness title contention. Their frontcourt remains disconcertingly thin, with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Hollins standing as the only players on the roster over 6'9". L.A. was going to have to dump Bledsoe eventually, but doing so leaves the Clips without their most impactful defender and a guy who was the spark plug of their vaunted second unit.
Ultimately, though, the Clippers will only go as far as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin take them. The more Griffin can contribute on both ends of the floor, the easier Paul's job will be and the better the Clippers will be on the whole. But if injuries continue to drag on L.A.'s superstar duo, then the Clips could find themselves out at sea without a clear route to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
I'd be more concerned about the Oklahoma City Thunder's failure to find another viable scorer off the bench if it weren't for the fact that they already employ two of the top 10 to 12 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
I'd be more critical of Scott Brooks' unimaginative, roll-the-ball-out-there offense if not for the fact that, on the strength of Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder ranked second in the league in offensive efficiency last season.
Truth be told, OKC probably would've been back in the finals had Russ not been knocked out of action against the Houston Rockets.
But the loss of Kevin Martin, defensive flaws and all, will hurt if the Thunder don't find a competent replacement in-house. Perhaps Serge Ibaka will start earning his $12-million-plus keep, and/or Jeremy Lamb will look like a sixth man for whom James Harden was even remotely worth the sacrifice, and/or Reggie Jackson will build off his eye-opening play in the postseason.
Whatever the case may be, the Thunder won't be able to keep pace in the West unless the rest of their roster steps up to the plate. Otherwise, we may be talking about the 2012 playoffs as the peak of what once appeared to be a budding dynasty in the Sooner State.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers didn't sit back and admire the fact that they came oh so close to upending the Miami Heat and making the franchise's second NBA Finals as a result. Instead, they persuaded David West to stay and brought in Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and rookie Solomon Hill to lengthen their bench.
A bench that was woefully short of useful players last year, but one that would've been leaps and bounds better with Danny Granger's return to health alone.
Now, Indy will waltz into 2013-14 with a bona fide second unit, along with a healthy Roy Hibbert, a motivated Paul George and a more seasoned Lance Stephenson. This mix should embolden the already confident Frank Vogel to stake his team's claim to a seat at the table of title contenders in 2014.
As well he should. Anyone who watched the Pacers' run through the playoffs knows full well that this team is for real, thanks to its historically great defense and the burgeoning offensive firepower to match.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Stability is usually a good thing in the NBA, but only if that which is stable also happens to be successful.
That's certainly the case with the San Antonio Spurs. There's no shame in winning 50-plus games and qualifying for the playoffs year after year after year, just as there's no shame in losing to the defending champions in seven games.
So rather than rock the boat, the Spurs did the smart thing: They kept the band together. Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili will both be back by way of reasonable deals, and while Gary Neal might soon be a wisp in San Antonio's past, he won't be missed too much so long as Marco Belinelli does his job.
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker aren't too shabby, either. Same goes for Kawhi Leonard, who should be even better in 2014 with another year of seasoning and without nagging pain in his injured left knee.
1. Miami Heat
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
It doesn't matter that the Miami Heat haven't added anyone of note yet this summer, and it won't matter if Greg Oden and Marcus Camby end up as the only new guys in town. The Heat will still be favored every time they take the floor next season because they've managed to keep intact the roster of a two-time defending champion.
And, well, because they have LeBron James on their side and everybody else doesn't.