Pre-Training Camp Trend Watch for Every NBA Team
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
With the NBA offseason coming to an end and the 2013-14 campaign drawing ever closer, it's time to start taking stock of all 30 teams to see where they fall heading into training camp.
It has been an interesting summer to say the least, with countless ballclubs undergoing vast transformations. Whether it's proud franchises falling from grace or young, upstart teams gearing up for a playoff run, a lot of changes have been occurring.
That's what makes this league so great, though. Even though the Miami Heat have won back-to-back championships, it feels like parity is starting to take shape and that now, there are more teams than usual that have a shot at a title.
So, which squads are trending up? Which ones are trending down? Which ones are merely staying the course and holding steady?
Atlanta Hawks: Trending Up
The Atlanta Hawks quietly put together an impressive offseason.
While they lost Josh Smith, they found a cheaper—and better—alternative in Paul Millsap. They were also able to retain Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, and they made some nice, small moves by adding players such as Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll and Gustavo Ayon.
The Hawks weren't going anywhere with Smith, so it was time for a change. They did not opt to rebuild, though. Instead, they retooled, and bringing in Millsap to pair with Al Horford will give Atlanta one of the strongest frontcourts in basketball, as both big men possess solid low-post skills.
Not only that, but you have to love the fact that they picked up Dennis Schroeder in the draft. Yes, he will be blocked by Teague for the time being, but sometimes, it's about assets, and the Hawks have the option of trading one of the two for more pieces in the future.
Coming into this summer, many felt that the 2013-14 season would be the year that Atlanta finally ceased being a playoff team, but that should no longer be the train of thought. GM Danny Ferry did a fine job over these past couple of months, and the Hawks will again be a postseason ballclub because of it. They might actually be able to make some noise this time around, too.
Boston Celtics: Trending Down
Anytime an organization trades away two future Hall of Famers for the sake of rebuilding, it's pretty easy to see that it is trending down, and that is the case with the Boston Celtics.
A remarkable six-year run that featured a championship, two finals appearances and three trips to the conference finals has finally come to an end, as GM Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers decided it was time to blow it up. Ainge accommodated Rivers by sending him to the Los Angeles Clippers, and shortly thereafter, he dealt Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.
Although the mood is certainly solemn in Boston at the moment, the C's did net four first-round draft picks between those two trades, so Ainge has set himself up well for the long run. He also landed himself a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens, a 36-year-old who led Butler to back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011.
Despite the potential for a successful future, however, this is about the present, and right now, the Celtics are no more than a contender for the No. 8 seed. Even that might be a stretch, as according to Jared Sullinger, who recently did an interview with WSYX Columbus, it appears that Rajon Rondo may miss the first month of the season.
What Boston has to hope for this year is that Rondo bounces back from that torn ACL, Sullinger shows no ill effects from back surgery, Jeff Green continues to take steps forward and Kelly Olynyk displays that he can be an integral part of the future.
Brooklyn Nets: Trending Up
Sometimes, one man's scraps are another man's treasure, and while that statement is not 100 percent foolproof in describing the Celtics and Nets, it's pretty darn close.
While Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry are certainly not scraps, Boston did not want them anymore, and Brooklyn jumped at the opportunity to add the three savvy veterans to its already talented squad.
The Nets didn't just stop there, though. They also brought aboard the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson. As a bonus, they were able to re-sign Andray Blatche.
Brooklyn now boasts what is arguably the deepest roster in the entire league, and probably the best starting lineup 1 through 5 to boot. Brook Lopez, Garnett, Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams is an extraordinary starting five, the ages of KG and Pierce notwithstanding.
The Nets are also more than prepared to provide ample rest for their veterans, particularly for Garnett. Lopez, Blatche and Reggie Evans are all more than capable of doing enough to permit KG a night off, and new head coach Jason Kidd has already said that he plans on resting Garnett whenever back-to-backs arise.
It's difficult to find a team that has increased its stock more than Brooklyn for 2013-14.
Charlotte Bobcats: Trending Up
When you're the Charlotte Bobcats, there really is nowhere to go but up. That being said, the Bobcats were finally able to land a star, inking Al Jefferson to a three-year deal this summer.
With Jefferson on board and the potential improvement of young players such as Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, things are really not all that bad in Charlotte. The Cats were also able to retain the productive Josh McRoberts on a cheap deal, and they re-signed Gerald Henderson, as well.
Plus, while their first-round selection of Cody Zeller was questionable, the Indiana product is just another youthful piece that Michael Jordan and company hope will blossom into an effective player down the line.
The Bobcats won't make the playoffs this season, but smart money is on them improving their 21-61 record from a year ago.
Chicago Bulls: Trending Up
You probably could have figured this one out on your own, but the Chicago Bulls are trending up thanks to the mere fact that Derrick Rose is coming back.
The Bulls didn't exactly do much this offseason, drafting Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, signing Mike Dunleavy and retaining Nazr Mohammed, but Rose absolutely adds another dimension to this team that very few other players in the league can bring.
Does Chicago ultimately have enough firepower to finally get over the hump? That remains to be seen, but barring another injury to Rose, the Bulls will certainly be better than they were during the 2012-13 campaign, and that will make the Eastern Conference that much more intriguing.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Trending Up
Another ballclub that has undergone a complete makeover this summer is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After selecting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Cavaliers went out and landed Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and, the prize of their offseason haul (assuming he can stay healthy), Andrew Bynum.
The Bynum signing is a rather low-risk, high-reward move for Cleveland, as of the $24 million they gave him over two years, only $6 million is guaranteed (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports). So, let's say Bynum goes out and injures himself bowling again. It won't put that much of a dent in the Cavs' financial situation.
In an Eastern Conference that is extremely top-heavy, the Cavaliers have a great shot at making the postseason. If Bynum is able to stay on the floor and Kyrie Irving continues to augment his level of play, you already have an outstanding one-two punch. Of course, Irving will need to remain healthy, as well. The point guard has already missed 38 games over the course of his two professional seasons.
Bynum and Irving is not the extent of Cleveland's young talent, either. The Cavs also have guys like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, both of whom enjoyed very solid 2012-13 campaigns.
You have to be happy for the Cavaliers, as they have recovered very nicely since "The Decision."
Dallas Mavericks: Trending Up
The term "trending up" takes on a different meaning for different teams. In the case of the Dallas Mavericks, it denotes going from being a non-playoff team to an almost certain postseason contender.
With Dirk Nowitzki in the twilight of his career, the Mavericks want to be more than just a No. 6 seed. They are not one of those ballclubs that just hopes to improve year-by-year. Dallas needs to win now, but that just does not seem possible with the way its roster is currently constructed.
Still, the Mavs did get better this summer, signing explosive guard Monta Ellis and adding seasoned veterans like Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. That's not exactly Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, but hey; it's something.
If everyone stays healthy, the Mavericks should be a playoff team in 2013-14.
Denver Nuggets: Holding Steady
While many are not enamored with the way the Denver Nuggets have spent their offseason, they really haven't done anything detrimental to their team.
The Nuggets were able to get J.J. Hickson on a three-year, $15 million deal (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports), a steal of a contract for a double-double guy when you take a look at some of the other deals that have been thrown around over the past couple of months.
Plus, Denver moved on Nate Robinson, inking the sparkplug to a very affordable two-year deal for the bi-annual exception (Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they did not overpay to retain Andre Iguodala.
The only thing you have to question with the Nuggets is, at what point do they stop adding depth and instead try to land a star? They certainly have the pieces to make a trade.
Despite a couple of solid moves this offseason, the Nuggets are still probably a first-round out in the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons: Trending Up
Although some have pondered what in the world the Detroit Pistons are doing, they have definitely gotten better, and they have a good shot of making the playoffs this coming season.
The Pistons have been very busy this summer, snatching up Josh Smith and signing-and-trading for Brandon Jennings (Brandon Knight went to the Milwaukee Bucks in the deal [per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports]).
Say what you want about what Smith will do to the Pistons' floor spacing, but a trio of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and J-Smoove will be difficult for opponents to deal with, and Jennings provides them with a talented, young point guard with a higher ceiling than Knight.
It will surely be interesting to see how this new Detroit roster works together, but it should almost certainly improve upon the 29 wins the team was able to manage in 2012-13.
Golden State Warriors: Trending Up
If you aren't on the Golden State Warriors train, then you'd better get moving, because this team is quickly developing into a title contender.
Golden State was able to scoop up Andre Iguodala, and while that meant that it would have to part ways with the likes of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, it rectified the losses of those two players by signing Marreese Speights, Jermaine O'Neal and Toney Douglas.
The Dubs will now have an insane amount of depth at the wing spots, as Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes will all be battling for time there. You may also see Barnes at the 4 on occasion, as well.
Also, the Warriors are now equipped to deal with any potential injuries in the frontcourt (and with Bogut as their starting center, that is always a possibility), as Speights and O'Neal represent reliable insurance policies.
Right now, Golden State may very well be the second-best team in the Western Conference behind the San Antonio Spurs.
Houston Rockets: Trending Up
Anytime you acquire a player of Dwight Howard's caliber, you are trending up.
It's amazing how much can change in a year. Last August, the Houston Rockets appeared to be a franchise without a sense of direction. Then, two months later, they landed James Harden and transformed themselves into a playoff team.
Now, after adding Howard, the Rockets are that much closer to being a title contender.
Is Houston good enough to make it out of a tough Western Conference? It remains to be seen, but there is absolutely no doubt that the Rockets are in a better position now than they were back in May when the Oklahoma City Thunder eliminated them from the postseason.
The scary thing about Houston is that it has the pieces to make another major move elsewhere if it feels the need to do so.
Indiana Pacers: Trending Up
After taking the eventual champion Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers knew they weren't that far off.
Not surprisingly, the Pacers have been one of the more aggressive ballclubs this summer.
While re-signing David West, Indiana also inked C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and swung a deal with the Phoenix Suns for Luis Scola. Scola makes the Pacers' frontcourt that much better, as he will join a group that already included Roy Hibbert, West and Ian Mahinmi.
As far as Watson and Copeland go, Indy hopes they will fill what was a rather big hole for it this past postseason: bench scoring. Let's also not forget that Danny Granger is coming back.
Given the fact that the Pacers are also predominantly young, they are going to be around for quite a while.
Los Angeles Clippers: Trending Up
The Los Angeles Clippers entered the 2013 offseason worried about their chances of keeping Chris Paul. Well, not only have they have come out of it with Paul still on board, but they have a new head coach in Doc Rivers and they made several nice adjustments their roster.
One of the things the Clippers really lacked this past year was outside shooting. They quickly moved to rectify that issue, acquiring J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in a three-way deal (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) with the Suns and Bucks. They were forced to surrender Eric Bledsoe in the trade, but with Paul in tow, Bledsoe was a redundant piece on Los Angeles' roster. Fortunately, the Clips were able to parlay him (and Caron Butler) into two players that should significantly help the team.
That was not the last move L.A. would make. The Clippers also signed Darren Collison, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, all while managing to keep Matt Barnes.
Once again, Los Angeles has an incredibly deep roster. However, its title chances will greatly depend on how much of a leap Blake Griffin takes. Can he finally develop into a consistently reliable threat on the offensive end?
Los Angeles Lakers: Trending Down
It's unfortunate that the two most storied franchises in basketball (the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers) are trending down, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.
The Lakers came into the summer with one goal: keep Dwight Howard. Obviously, they failed, and now they are left with an old, injury-prone ballclub that is very far removed from the championship that it won four seasons ago.
Fortunately for Los Angeles, it will have a ton of cap space in a potentially great free-agent class next summer, so its dark days will likely be short-lived.
Right now, though, the Lakers may be lucky to finish with a winning record, especially in the West.
L.A. just has to hope Kobe Bryant comes back alright from that torn Achilles. Then, it can focus on building its next dynasty in 2014.
Memphis Grizzlies: Holding Steady
It really stinks being in a small market.
The Memphis Grizzlies are one piece away from being a title contender. They just don't have the financial means to go out and get that piece.
As long as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are together up front, the Grizzlies are going to be a matchup nightmare that no one wants to see in the playoffs. However, as the Spurs proved during these past Western Conference Finals, Memphis does not have a wing scorer to take any pressure off of its two big men.
It's understandable that the Grizzlies were trying to clear some salary when they traded Rudy Gay, but they may have cost themselves a chance at a championship.
Outside of re-signing Tony Allen and bringing Mike Miller back for another go-around, Memphis did absolutely nothing this offseason.
The Grizzlies will be very good again in 2013-14, but unless they make a midseason deal, they just won't have enough to get over that hump.
Miami Heat: Holding Steady
It was a rather quiet offseason for the back-to-back champs, as the only move the Heat made was signing Greg Oden.
It's definitely a low-risk move for the Heat, as it's not like they are throwing a whole lot of money his way. If he pans out, then awesome; Miami will finally have a legitimate big man down low. If not, then that's also alright. The Heat have won two titles in a row, after all.
All things considered, the decision by Pat Riley to essentially bring the same band back without any significant additions may come back to bite him, as the rest of the East is catching up.
Milwaukee Bucks: Trending Down
It's hard to tell exactly what route the Bucks are trying to take. They parted ways with both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings this offseason, and they signed Zaza Pachulia to a ridiculous three-year, $16 million deal (per Marc Stein of ESPN.com) despite already having plenty of frontcourt talent.
Milwaukee kind of made up for losing Ellis and Jennings, signing O.J. Mayo and acquiring Brandon Knight in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Jennings to Detroit, but as a package, those were horizontal moves, and Knight does not have nearly as high of a ceiling as Jennings.
For all we know, the Bucks might finish with the exact same record as they did in 2012-13, but given the unquestionably strange offseason they have had, it's hard to say that they have been "holding steady."
Hey; at least they locked up Larry Sanders (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).
Minnesota Timberwolves: Trending Up
Although the Minnesota Timberwolves haven't exactly been the most fortunate franchise over the years, you have to like what they have been able to do this summer.
They finally got the shooting guard they have been longing for in Kevin Martin, and signing old friend Corey Brewer back was also a good move. The three-year, $15 million deal (per Sam Amick of USA Today) they gave to Chase Budinger is a bit questionable, but now the Timberwolves can say that they have more than enough depth at the wing spots.
Minnesota was also able to re-sign Nikola Pekovic (per Marc Stein of ESPN.com), something many weren't sure it would be able to do coming into the offseason.
Let's hope the Timberwolves have better luck staying healthy this time around.
New Orleans Pelicans: Trending Up
The New Orleans Pelicans immediately made a splash on draft night by trading for Jrue Holiday. Then, they went out and acquired Tyreke Evans, giving them a wealth of young talent.
It should be interesting to see how--or if--the combination of Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon will work, but you have to appreciate the Pelicans' effort regardless.
With Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson up front and that explosive trio of of guards/wings, New Orleans certainly looks solid on paper. Whether or not the team will actually mesh is a different story.
No matter what, though, the Pelicans should absolutely be improved from 2012-13.
New York Knicks: Trending Up
The New York Knicks did not steal the type of headlines that their instate rival Nets did, but they still managed to put together a solid offseason that should have them in contention in the East.
While trading for Andrea Bargnani and his contract raised some eyebrows (particularly because they surrendered three draft picks in the deal [per Sam Amick of USA Today]), he is a step up from Steve Novak, and the free-agent signings of Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and even Jeremy Tyler were solid.
With the addition of World Peace, the Knicks will definitely become tougher, and let's remember that they re-signed Kenyon Martin.
With Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana, Chicago and New York, the Eastern Conference is going to be exceedingly fun to watch in 2013-14.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Trending Down
The Thunder are a very frustrating franchise.
Two years ago, it looked like they were building a dynasty, as their Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden looked poised for greatness. Then, Oklahoma City dealt Harden to the Rockets for a package that was well below his value.
The main piece OKC received in that deal? Kevin Martin, who is now playing in Minnesota.
To make matters worse, the Thunder's idea of beefing up their roster this summer has been re-signing Derek Fisher and adding Ryan Gomes.
With teams like Houston, Golden State and the Clippers improving and the Spurs and Grizzlies not going anywhere for the time being, it's going to awfully difficult for OKC to get back to the finals. Unless Jeremy Lamb blossoms quickly, the Thunder are going to struggle night in and night out to find a consistent No. 3 scorer.
Orlando Magic: Trending Up
Isn't if funny how the Orlando Magic actually won the Dwight Howard deal?
Think about it. The Lakers traded for Howard, and now he is in Houston. The Philadelphia 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum in the megadeal, and he did not play a single game for them. The Nuggets received Andre Iguodala, who is now playing in Golden State.
The Magic, on the other hand, made out like bandits. Nikola Vucevic has turned into one of the league's premier double-double threats, Moe Harkless has flashed loads of potential, Arron Afflalo is a solid veteran and they got back three draft picks while also opening up cap space.
Great job, Orlando.
The Magic have also accumulated young talent in the way of Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and 2013 first-round pick Victor Oladipo.
Don't look now, but Orlando is going to be a playoff team very soon.
Philadelphia 76ers: Trending Down
So, after trading Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless for a center who did not play the entire 2012-13 season due to knee problems (Andrew Bynum), the 76ers have decided to facilitate the rebuilding process by...trading their 23-year-old All-Star point guard (Jrue Holiday) for another center with knee problems (Nerlens Noel)?
It was certainly a peculiar offseason for Philadelphia, a team that may very well end up being the worst ballclub in the NBA this year.
You obviously can't blame the Sixers for wanting to blow it up, as they were terrible last season. However, was trading Holiday the best way to go?
Hopefully for the 76ers, Noel's knees don't give him any more issues and they win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
Now if they would have just drafted DeMarcus Cousins instead of Evan Turner a few years ago...
Phoenix Suns: Holding Steady
The Suns are a bottom-dwelling team that has not gotten worse this offseason, but they have not immediately improved, either.
That being said, they made some decent moves, drafting Alex Len (although that is a high-risk pick) and acquiring Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers. They also traded Luis Scola for some young talent and a first-rounder (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).
The Suns will likely not be any better or any worse in 2013-14. Expect more of the same. Perhaps they will consider dealing Marcin Gortat for more pieces midseason.
As of right now, there's not too much going on in Phoenix.
Portland Trail Blazers: Trending Up
Although they flew under the radar this summer, the Blazers were actually fairly busy. After a great draft haul that included C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, Portland was able to nab Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez in separate deals. It then signed point guards Earl Watson and Maurice Williams for some much-needed help off the bench.
The Trail Blazers are truly loaded with young talent at every position. This is reminiscent of a few years ago when they had Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Hopefully, this group works out better than that one.
Portland was in contention for a playoff spot for much of last season, so expect that to continue with an improved roster in 2013-14.
It should also be very exciting to see what Damian Lillard and McCollum can do together.
Sacramento Kings: Trending Up
Could this finally be the year the Sacramento Kings' young talent comes together?
Well, they had a pretty fine offseason, acquiring Greivis Vasquez in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans (per Sam Amick of USA Today). They also traded for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and signed Carl Landry.
At the very least, the Kings have significantly bettered their depth, and let's not forget that they snagged Ben McLemore, a sharpshooting guard who some feel could be the best player of this draft class.
Despite all of the wheeling-and-dealing Sacramento has done, though, any significant improvement during the 2013-14 campaign rests on the shoulders of DeMarcus Cousins. He has the talent to be the best big man in the NBA. Will this be the year he takes that next step?
It remains to be seen, but the feeling here is that it will.
San Antonio Spurs: Holding Steady
Aren't the Spurs always holding steady?
While the four-year, $36 million deal they gave to Tiago Splitter (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) was a bit puzzling, the fact remains that San Antonio is still a title contender and is probably the best team in the West.
The signing of Marco Belinelli was pretty solid, as the Italian will give the Spurs a much-needed wing scorer off the pine. Plus, Kawhi Leonard is only going to get better, so his probable increase in production should compensate for the continuous decline of Manu Ginobili.
San Antonio may be old, but it will still be there when it counts.
Toronto Raptors: Trending Up
Not only were the Toronto Raptors able to unload Andrea Bargnani's contract on the Knicks, but they also received three draft picks in the trade. That alone is a major win for the Raptors this summer.
Overall, though, Toronto should continue to get better in 2013-14, as it has a surplus of young talent that has already showed promise. Raptors fans can look forward to be potentially impressive seasons from Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and Rudy Gay should remain a steady scorer for them.
Toronto will likely be one of the many teams fighting for those final couple of playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Assuming it stays healthy, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see it earn a postseason trip.
Utah Jazz: Trending Down
The Utah Jazz may be on a downward trend heading into this coming season, but they are set up rather nicely for the future.
The Jazz let both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk for a reason: because they have Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. The 2013-14 campaign will be a pivotal one for the two young big men, as they need to prove they can anchor Utah's frontline for the long run.
It would also be nice to see some growth out of Gordon Hayward, a versatile wing who is one of the most underrated players in the entire league.
The biggest sleeper on the Jazz, though? Alec Burks. Look for an eye-opening season from the young guard.
Washington Wizards: Trending Up
The Washington Wizards are another one of those Eastern Conference ballclubs who will be in the race for one of the lower seeds.
The Wizards are not just a squad teeming with young talent, however. They have some seasoned veterans, particularly in the way of Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Guys like that will be important in getting Washington through any potential rough patches along the way.
While the Wizards may have overpaid for Martell Webster, they made a couple of other solid moves, such as getting both Eric Maynor and Al Harrington on the cheap.
If John Wall can stay on the floor, Washington should be a playoff team this season.