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NBA Power Rankings: Post-2014 NBA Free-Agent-Frenzy Edition

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterDecember 19, 2016

NBA Power Rankings: Post-2014 NBA Free-Agent-Frenzy Edition

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    That screeching noise that's invaded your ear holes the last few days? Don't worry, that's just the sound of the NBA offseason grinding to a halt.

    The NBA Summer League has packed up and left Las Vegas, and has long since vacated Orlando. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and most of their big-name free-agent friends have already signed new deals, leaving Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe as the only real players of consequence who've yet to score contracts of their own.

    Fortunately for hoops heads, USA Basketball will soon be opening training camp in Sin City, with an exhibition slate to follow ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain. The transaction-obsessed might find refuge in a blockbuster Kevin Love trade, should the Minnesota Timberwolves find a package that suits them anytime soon.

    For the most part, though, the basketball world has gone silent. And since silence can be awkward, let's fill it with power rankings, guesses on where all 30 teams stand now based on what they've done so far in free agency, with a pinch of speculation sprinkled in where it's appropriate.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

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    For the second time in as many summers, general manager Sam Hinkie's Philadelphia 76ers have done between "diddly" and "squat" on the free-agent market.

    Not that anyone should be surprised by this. Hinkie has his Sixers locked into extreme rebuilding mode.

    Nerlens Noel, the chief bounty from last year's Jrue Holiday trade, will be a rookie, after missing all of 2013-14 while recovering from a knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in 2014, may well follow a similar path back to basketball on account of a broken bone in his foot. Dario Saric, the team's other take from the 2014 lottery, will be in Europe for two more years.

    That doesn't mean, though, that Philly has been completely inactive. According to Fox Sports' Sam Amico, the Sixers could be in the mix to snag Dion Waiters as part of a Kevin Love-centric transaction between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Thaddeus Young likely thrown in on Philly's behalf.

    Waiters alone would hardly guarantee the Sixers a more successful season than the 19-win version they just completed, though the 22-year-old would at least give reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams a young backcourt partner (and former college teammate) with whom he could grow—as opposed to another slew of NBA D-Leaguers traipsing through the revolving door at Wells Fargo Center.

29. Orlando Magic

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    Good news for the Orlando Magic: They'll be well-represented at USA Basketball's training camp in Las Vegas next week—just not on Team USA itself.

    Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris were both chosen to play for the Select squad that will compete against the group bound for the FIBA World Cup in Spain later this summer.

    This isn't exactly earth-shattering news, though the Magic should be pleased to see some of their own back in the USA Basketball pipeline, with incoming rookie Aaron Gordon having already competed for his country at the youth levels. At the very least, developments like these point to a creeping expansion of the talent base in Orlando since Dwight Howard's departure.

    Now comes the important part for head coach Jacque Vaughn and general manager Rob Hennigan: translating that tantalizing potential into actual success on the court.

28. Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz's step back into mediocrity may be more than a single-season interlude from their winning ways, if the team's offseason is any indication.

    The Jazz appear to be going all-in on their young talent now that Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson and John Lucas III have vacated the premises. Instead, new head coach Quin Snyder figures to carve out bigger roles for Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Rudy Gobert alongside the existing core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke.

    Dante Exum, the rookie out of Australia, should get plenty of developmental minutes as well. He could certainly use them.

    Exum showed flashes of his incredible quickness and off-the-bounce creativity at the Las Vegas Summer League, albeit between long stretches of poor shooting (30.8 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from three), shaky ball-handling (3.0 turnovers per game) and generally looking like a raw teenager whose game and body could both use steady, sturdy doses of refinement.

    This team has the talent to take a big leap forward in due time, but it seems destined for another step back in the interim.

27. Boston Celtics

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    The "fireworks" about which team owner Wyc Grousbeck once prognosticated to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (subscription required) have yet to explode, but that hasn't stopped the Boston Celtics from quietly cobbling together a solid offseason.

    So far, general manager Danny Ainge has retained ace perimeter defender Avery Bradley at a reasonable rate (four years, $32 million), traded for Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller, signed the versatile Evan Turner for a share of the C's midlevel exception, and added Marcus Smart and James Young in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.

    These moves all still leave the C's well short of contention, even in the wide-open Eastern Conference. But there's certainly more talent in place in Boston than there was a year ago, when Ainge ripped the squad down to its studs in one fell, Brooklyn-assisted swoop.

    To be sure, Grousbeck's fireworks could still be in store for this summer. According to Sheridan Hoops' Chris Sheridan, the Celtics remain in the mix for Kevin Love. Their recent stockpiling of assets has only strengthened their bargaining position therein, with plenty of juicy draft picks over the next few years to offer as additional sweeteners.

26. Los Angeles Lakers

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    August is just around the corner, and the Los Angeles Lakers still haven't hired a replacement for departed head coach Mike D'Antoni.

    This, after conducting a third interview with Byron Scott, who looks to be no less a front-runner for the job now than he did when the search first began.

    So why the delay? Because, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding put it, the Lakers can afford to take their sweet time:

    Well, they know how much he wants them, and only them. They know him so well that they can joke with him about how he likes to play golf so much that they're just giving him more time to get that out of his system. Meanwhile, once all the other NBA head coaching vacancies got filled, there was no urgency for the Lakers to make a move out of a fear of losing out on anyone else.

    It's only a matter of time, then, until Scott is officially put in charge of L.A.'s hodgepodge of a roster, when he'll help the team straddle that dangerous line between rebuilding and competing.

25. Sacramento Kings

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    There's no doubt that the Sacramento Kings have a plan of some sort in place. Whether it makes any sense is another story.

    By all accounts, the Kings want to get back to the business of winning as soon as possible. They haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2006 and are due to open their new building in 2016, with a relatively new ownership group itching to endear itself to the team's fans in between.

    The push to "win now" could prove costly in the long run for the Kings.

    They may not be willing to part with team-building assets to quite the extent that the Brooklyn Nets have in recent years, but locking themselves into pricey contracts with Rudy Gay and other unwanted, overpaid veterans (e.g. Josh Smith) might just as easily leave the Kings without the requisite flexibility to build an actual winner in California's capital.

    And, well, the choice of Darren Collison (26 years old, 6'0") over the younger and slightly smaller Isaiah Thomas (25, 5'9") doesn't make much sense from an overall value standpoint. As Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote:

    Collison has never been Thomas’s equal as a scorer or a passer. He’s hesitant about penetrating the defense in the half court, and his inability to read the floor has frustrated coaches at just about every stop. Ask the Mavericks about him sometime.

    Not that Sacramento's hopes will hinge on Collison—Gay and DeMarcus Cousins are still the focal points here—but a downgrade is a downgrade, and a 28-win team like the Kings would be hard-pressed to improve while losing out on talent overall. 

24. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Decisions, decisions.

    Every organization has to make scores of them during the summer, but the Minnesota Timberwolves have the biggest one of all to consider right now.

    To keep Kevin Love or not to keep him? And, if the latter, to whom should he be sent?

    According to Sheridan Hoops' Chris Sheridan, the Chicago Bulls have offered Taj Gibson and incoming rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic in return for the superstar forward out of UCLA.

    However, the two sides would have to wait nearly another month before officially consummating such a transaction since McDermott and Mirotic just inked their rookie deals, and such signees can't be moved for at least 30 days thereafter, per league rules.

    The T-Wolves could still agree to a deal in principle before then, but head coach/GM/team president/dedicated Minnesotan Flip Saunders might just as well use this interregnum to allow the market for his All-Star to develop further.

    As well he should. After all, players of Love's caliber don't grow on trees, and T-Wolves fans haven't seen playoff basketball in their building since 2004. Keeping Love would give Minnesota its best chance to snap that streak now.

    But the right deal with the right team might also return enough talent to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to allow the Wolves to make that leap without Love in tow.

23. Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks figure to win more than 15 games in 2014-15, but the path back to respectability won't be a clean or easy one.

    Larry Sanders could be a difference-maker on defense if he takes care of his mind and his body both on and off the court. Jabari Parker could be an offensive fulcrum if he adapts as quickly to the NBA as his refined scoring game suggests he should. Giannis Antetokounmpo could be the glue that holds the team together if he takes well to playing the point.

    That last experiment sputtered a bit during the Bucks' summer league stint in Las Vegas.

    Antetokounmpo took advantage of having the ball in his hands more often (17 points, 46.2 percent shooting), but not necessarily to his team's benefit. The 19-year-old kid from Greece averaged more than twice as many turnovers (4.5) as assists (1.8) while watching Milwaukee suffer defeats in each of the four games he played therein.

    It'll take some time for Antetokounmpo to get up to speed in his new role for incoming head coach Jason Kidd. At this point, though, he's confident that he'll adapt in due course.

    "As time goes on, I feel more comfortable," Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner at summer league.

    "If I can do it here, I can do it anywhere."

22. Detroit Pistons

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    The Detroit Pistons appear to be in a holding pattern with restricted free agent Greg Monroe. New head guru Stan Van Gundy has said nothing to suggest that he doesn't want Monroe back.

    That includes his (thus far) failed attempt to dump Josh Smith on the Sacramento Kings. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Van Gundy has told Smith that he should expect to be in training camp with Detroit.

    Smith, though, is better suited to playing power forward than on the wing. The Pistons are also stocked at center, where Andre Drummond looks like a soon-to-be star and has Aaron Gray as his backup.

    That doesn't leave much room for Monroe up front in Motown. The Pistons, per Woj's report, are willing to talk sign-and-trade for Monroe, but unless a market for his services actually develops, the Georgetown product might have to settle for a one-year qualifying offer and hope he becomes a hotter commodity next summer.

21. New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks have Carmelo Anthony back in the fold for the next five years, with their sights set on returning to championship contention. Now, like the underpants gnomes before them, Phil Jackson and company will have to figure out how to get from Phase 1 to Phase 3.

    Waiting until next summer, when Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani come off the books, to make a big splash seems to be New York's most logical path back to respectability. But there's plenty of work to be done before then to ensure that the foundation of that prospective contender is a solid one.

    Derek Fisher did well to implement bits and pieces of the triangle offense during the Knicks' 4-1 run at summer league in Las Vegas. Shane Larkin, Jeremy Tyler and incoming rookie Cleanthony Early all performed solidly therein, with sporadic moments of brilliance, albeit against subpar competition.

    Tim Hardaway Jr., though, could be the real gem in New York's treasure chest. The All-Rookie performer averaged a team-high 22.8 points, thanks to his smooth jumper and the supreme confidence he had in it.

    Hardaway Jr. may not be a star in the making, but he's shown flashes of potentially being the Knicks' best option at shooting guard, ahead of the inconsistent Iman Shumpert.

    If Hardaway has his way and Jose Calderon settles in as the sort of sweet-shooting point the triangle demands, the Knicks will need only to settle their big-man situation—with Marc Gasol looming in free agency next summer—before they can fancy themselves something approaching a complete team in the East.

20. New Orleans Pelicans

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    The New Orleans Pelicans are just about capped out for the summer now that Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons have all joined the party in the Crescent City. Asik gives the Pelicans another sorely needed rim protector and big-man defender, while Fredette and Salmons should provide some spark off the bench.

    But this team's success or failure is still contingent on the health and chemistry of its core. New Orleans can't afford to lose the likes of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans for long stretches, as it did last season, if this team is going to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

    A lot would have to go right for the Pelicans even if their key constituents were able to avoid injury. So long as Davis continues to climb the league's superstar ladder, though, New Orleans will be in the mix among those teams looking to take the next step in 2014-15.

19. Brooklyn Nets

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    Health will also be of paramount importance to the Brooklyn Nets in 2014-15. This team has the talent to stay afloat in the East, which is more one big muddled middle than a split between haves and have-nots.

    It doesn't help the Nets' case, though, that their talent is so fragile. Brook Lopez played just 17 games last season before suffering yet another season-ending foot injury. Deron Williams is coming off surgery on both of his ankles. Joe Johnson, now 33, isn't getting any younger. Neither is Kevin Garnett, who turned 38 in May.

    And that's to say nothing of the departures of Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston and Marcus Thornton.

    But all is far from lost in Brooklyn. Jarrett Jack, while overpaid, should be no less than a competent backup for Williams, if not a capable fill-in when the starter inevitably rolls his ankle again. Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev will add upside to a supporting cast that already features Andrei Kirilenko and Miles Plumlee.

    We're not talking about a juggernaut in the making here, but if things break right in Brooklyn, it wouldn't be all that far-fetched to imagine the Nets sneaking their way into the Eastern Conference Finals under Lionel Hollins next spring.

    If only because the East is that unpredictable at the moment.

18. Atlanta Hawks

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    It would seem as though the Atlanta Hawks are counting almost exclusively on internal growth to jump up from the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference next season.

    That is, unless anyone thinks trading away Lou Williams and signing Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore count as landscape-shifting moves.

    To be sure, the Hawks should feel good about their prospects of success, even without any major changes to their roster. They looked like the third-best team in the East last season until Al Horford tore his pectoral muscle again. Having him back in the lineup might be enough to put Atlanta back in that conversation, especially when considering the shooting-centric supporting cast around him.

    Still, wouldn't it have been more interesting to see the Hawks spend their cap space on someone like, say, Luol Deng? The Hawks had lengthy talks with Deng about joining their club, though those talks (obviously) fell flat, leading the two-time All-Star to take his talents to South Beach. Per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore:

    The Hawks had talked to Deng and his representatives but it became clear over the past few days that the two sides were too far apart financially. The Hawks did not wish to pay $10 million or more annually for a player not deemed a franchise-changer.

    The thing is, Deng could've been just that alongside Horford and Paul Millsap. Instead, the Hawks will continue to tread water in a conference that looks more winnable than ever.

17. Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets' failed pursuit of Mike Miller must've been disappointing, though the result couldn't have been all that surprising. He and LeBron James have long been buddy-buddy, apparently to the point of Miller taking a pay cut to play with his former Miami Heat teammate.

    On the whole, though, the Nuggets have had themselves a solid summer. They turned a young combo guard (Evan Fournier) into a veteran shooter (Arron Afflalo) with whom they are intimately familiar, and split their one lottery pick (Doug McDermott) into two solid first-rounders (Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic).

    And GM Tim Connelly might not be done wheeling and dealing just yet. According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, Denver is keen to leach off whatever Kevin Love trade comes about, much as it did on Dwight Howard's move from Orlando to L.A.

    That worked out pretty well for the Nuggets, at least in the short term. They won 57 games, with Andre Iguodala as their main takeaway from the deal.

    Iggy left last summer, but Afflalo, who went to the Magic in that four-team blockbuster, is back now. Perhaps Connelly can parlay his team's glut of giants into another piece by way of Love.

    And if it means getting a superstar out of the Nuggets' division, even better.

16. Phoenix Suns

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    More than three weeks of free agency have come and gone, and Eric Bledsoe remains unsigned. What gives?

    For one, Bledsoe was (and remains) reportedly unimpressed by the four-year, $48 million contract extended his way by the Phoenix Suns. According to AZCentral.com's Bob Young, Bledsoe's camp is seeking something much closer to a five-year, $80 million max deal.

    Unfortunately for Bledsoe, nobody else has yet stepped up to the plate to tender him a more substantial offer. And since the Philadelphia 76ers are the only team left with the cap room to do so, the odds of Bledsoe finding better money elsewhere seem slim—even more so when considering the Suns' apparent disinterest in facilitating a sign-and-trade.

    By the looks of things, the Suns and Bledsoe will get a deal done. Such protracted negotiations between a team and a restricted free agent are nothing new, as Grantland's Zach Lowe noted:

    It was only a year ago when Nikola Pekovic, also a restricted free agent, sat untouched until mid-August. The market dried up as potential suitors used their cap space, and the Wolves eventually re-signed Pekovic to a five-year, $60 million deal that was basically fair.

    Sooner or later, the Suns' patience and persistence should pay off in the retention of a good, young player on a fair, four-year deal.

15. Indiana Pacers

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    Kudos to the Indiana Pacers for snapping up Rodney Stuckey on a bargain-basement deal, but let's not kid ourselves here, folks: This team could be in big trouble without Lance Stephenson. 

    Hot-headed and occasionally frustrating though he may be, Stephenson was still Indy's best on-ball creator and a key perimeter piece to the team's league-leading defense. Stuckey can keep a more even keel, and C.J. Miles is a more reliable shooter, but they'd be hard-pressed to replicate Stephenson's contributions in tandem, much less individually.

    Perhaps the Pacers see something in their other incumbent perimeter options that the rest of the basketball world doesn't. George Hill has never been a conventional floor general—and, at times, didn't look like an NBA player last season—and Paul George, for all that he's done to become a perennial All-Star, still struggles with his handle, particularly under pressure.

    Or, maybe Indiana expects Roy Hibbert to take his game up another notch now that he's working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as reported by USA Today's Nate Scott.

    Whatever the case may be, the Pacers can only hope that their shake-up doesn't lead to a precipitous slip down into the morass of the Eastern Conference.

14. Charlotte Hornets

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    Speaking of Lance, the Charlotte Hornets have to be happy with their latest addition. They managed to lure Stephenson to the Queen City for less than half the price they were willing to pay to pry Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz.

    This doesn't mean that all is necessarily hunky-dory with the Hornets. They lost Josh McRoberts, a key cog in last season's playoff push, to the Miami Heat. In his stead, Charlotte will trot out the perennially underwhelming Marvin Williams, with more minutes to split between rookie Noah Vonleh and disappointing lottery pick Cody Zeller.

    On the whole, though, team owner Michael Jordan must be smiling right now. "I always thought it was a great destination," Jordan told The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell back in June. "I think Big Al (Jefferson) proved you can come here and make a big difference. Hopefully we can look at that and attract some other superstar."

    Stephenson isn't a superstar by any means, but he's just the sort of free agent who can lend more credibility to the Hornets with both his name and his play.

13. Toronto Raptors

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    It's a good thing the Toronto Raptors aren't counting on Bruno Caboclo to contribute right away. The No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA draft shot under 40 percent from the field and turned the ball over 3.6 times per game during his summer league stint.

    That sort of performance is to be expected from an 18-year-old kid who'd never faced competition anywhere near as stiff as what he saw in Las Vegas. Caboclo will get to sit and learn behind the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Landry Fields on a Raptors squad that could once again find itself among the best in the Eastern Conference next season.

    "He’s a very serious kid," Raptors GM Masai Ujiri told Bleacher Report. "He seems concentrated a lot. I watched him practice—very, very serious and worked really, really hard."

    If he does that much, Caboclo could prove to be a secret weapon of sorts in Toronto's march toward title contention.

12. Dallas Mavericks

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    Don't let the splashiness of the Chandler Parsons signing distract you. The Dallas Mavericks have had a solid summer, but still seem far short of returning to contention in the Western Conference.

    So far, they've swapped one 30-something center (Samuel Dalembert) for another (Tyson Chandler), acquired an over-the-hill and out-of-shape point guard (Raymond Felton) by giving away a slightly older but better-shooting one (Jose Calderon), and inked the 34-year-old Richard Jefferson, who was last seen blocking Alec Burks' path in Salt Lake City, to a one-year deal.

    Now, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Mavs are on the verge of adding Jameer Nelson, who's been slipping and sliding since he turned 30.

    Which is to say, about two-and-a-half years ago.

    Dallas' veteran-laden strategy was enough to put the team within a game of upending the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. But unless Parsons proves to be worth the $46 million he's owed, the Mavs will have a mighty tough time of maximizing Dirk Nowitzki's remaining years.

11. Washington Wizards

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    Could it be? Might much-maligned Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld have made the best non-LeBron signing of the summer?

    It's possible, assuming Paul Pierce can still play basketball. The 36-year-old swingman, who signed with the Wizards on a two-year deal for the midlevel exception, brings instant championship credibility and crunch-time moxie to our nation's capital.

    No longer will youngsters like John Wall and Bradley Beal have to go it alone under pressure, particularly in the playoffs. Instead, they can appeal to Pierce's veteran wisdom and pitch the ball to him for those crucial buckets in big moments out of which he's fashioned a Hall of Fame career.

    Better yet, the Wizards won't have to worry about Trevor Ariza clogging up their cap sheet or keeping summer league starlets Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. from strutting their stuff with the big club. Instead, Pierce can serve as a mentor for all of the team's up-and-comers until it's time for him to cede his spot to them in a year or two.

10. Miami Heat

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    Losing LeBron James dealt a devastating blow to the Miami Heat's hopes of competing for a championship. But the squad that Pat Riley has since assembled in South Beach might be good enough to challenge in the wide-open East anyway.

    Chris Bosh should relish the opportunity to be the focal point of an offense for the first time since leaving Toronto. Over his last five years with the Raptors, Bosh averaged nearly 23 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

    And that was before the three-point shot was a legitimate weapon in his arsenal. Nowadays, Bosh is an all-court threat, one whose supporting cast will be far superior to any he had to carry in Canada.

    Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng are both All-Star playmakers on the wings. Josh McRoberts established himself as one of the NBA's premier "glue guys" during his stint in Charlotte. Shabazz Napier could prove to be a solid upgrade at point guard over Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.

    None of this is to suggest that the Heat are or will be in any way better off without LeBron. There's no easy way to recover from losing the best player on the planet.

    But if there's any team that's equipped to bounce back from such a setback, it's the Heat. 

9. Golden State Warriors

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    At this point, the Golden State Warriors would probably rather not be brought up every time talk of Kevin Love's future comes into conversation. They've made clear their unwillingness to part ways with Klay Thompson, even more so if it means taking back a bad contract or two like those attached to Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea.

    Still, it's tough not to wonder just how good the Warriors could be with Love slotting in as Stephen Curry's next Splash Brother. Thompson has All-Star potential and may soon challenge James Harden for the title of "Best Shooting Guard in the NBA," but Love is already one of the best 10 to 12 basketball players on the planet and doesn't turn 26 until September.

    And while detractors of giving up Thompson for Love might decry the latter's lack of playoff experience, what, exactly, has the former accomplished? One playoff series victory? A couple seasons as a fun, plucky underdog?

    Put Love in the mix, and the Warriors might soon be looking at much more than that.

8. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The addition of two aging former Lakers may not move the needle for most teams, but for the Portland Trail Blazers, Steve Blake, 34, and Chris Kaman, 32, are just what the doctor ordered.

    In Blake, the Blazers have themselves another veteran guard who can back up Damian Lillard and stretch the floor with his shooting off the ball. Kaman, meanwhile, gives Portland a big man who can get buckets down low when LaMarcus Aldridge is resting.

    In the bigger picture, Blake and Kaman should both bolster what was one of the NBA's most moribund benches. Whatever reprieve those two can provide Portland's All-Star inside-out duo could pay huge dividends come playoff time, when Lillard and Aldridge might otherwise be worn down by their insane workloads.

7. Houston Rockets

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    Well, at least GM Daryl Morey won something this summer.

    His annual ping-pong tournament during summer league in Las Vegas, that is.

    In truth, the Houston Rockets' offseason has been far from a complete failure. Sure, they struck out on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, but the rules of the collective bargaining agreement prevented the Rockets from so much as approaching the money for which those two signed with their respective incumbent squads. What hurt more were the departures of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in cap-clearing moves that weren't necessary once Anthony and Bosh declined to come to Space City.

    Losing Chandler Parsons for nothing, after they could've brought him back for one more year on a super-cheap deal, doesn't look so good, either. On the other hand, they may have dodged a bullet by declining to match the three-year, $46 million offer that Parsons garnered from the Mavs.

    In Parsons' stead, Houston has now added Trevor Ariza, a guy with championship experience who's a better defender and might actually be a better shooter than the player he's replacing.

    And, in typical Morey fashion, the Rockets have preserved plenty of flexibility with which to pursue other options that could make a very good team even better.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies have thus far enjoyed a rather quick and painless summer. They signed Zach Randolph to a two-year extension in late June, found one nifty scorer (Jordan Adams) in the draft and added another (Vince Carter) via free agency.

    Frankly, the Grizzlies didn't need to do much this summer to stay in the hunt out West. They managed to win 50 games last season despite lengthy absences from Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, and the loss of Quincy Pondexter to a season-ending foot injury.

    Had Randolph not caught a suspension for clocking Steven Adams, Memphis might've prevailed over the Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games this past spring.

    And had the Grizzlies been healthier during the regular season, they probably would've avoided such a stellar opponent so early in the playoffs to begin with.

    The West will be as stacked as it's ever been come 2014-15, but if there's a dark horse to be found amid the melee, it's Memphis.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    To trade or not to trade? That is the question.

    Word around the Las Vegas Summer League was that Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin wants to keep Andrew Wiggins. His love for athletic wing players, of which Wiggins is certainly one, dates back to his days with the Phoenix Suns.

    Griffin's opposition to parting ways with Wiggins so early in the Canadian's career would seem to put him in opposition to LeBron James, whose desire to play with Kevin Love is no secret. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, James has already spoken to Love about joining forces in Cleveland.

    A superteam built around James, Love and Kyrie Irving would make eminent sense for the Cavs, even if it cost them Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the league's last two No. 1 picks. Having Love hit James with his amazing outlet passes and knock down threes to space the floor would not only vault Cleveland to the top of the East, but also make the team that much more fun to watch.

    Then again, there's something appealing about the idea of LeBron leading a young supporting cast, molding his talented teammates in his image and teaching them how to win.

    And with Wiggins and James on the wings, the Cavs could be nigh on impossible to stop on the break and even tougher to score on from the perimeter.

4. Chicago Bulls

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    Unless/until the Cavs come together as a club and/or make another big move, the Chicago Bulls will be the early favorites to win the East.

    As it happens, the Bulls might get a boost of their own. According to Sheridan Hoops' Chris Sheridan, Chicago has offered Taj Gibson and incoming rookies Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love.

    None of those three looks like the sort of star the T-Wolves would prefer to get back for their own. But Gibson is a sturdy two-way player who can slip in at power forward, Mirotic was the best non-NBA pro in the world last season, and McDermott toyed with his summer league competition like a skilled, seasoned collegian should.

    Those three could end Minnesota's decadelong playoff drought much sooner than Andrew Wiggins or Klay Thompson might. More importantly, Chicago's trio is actually on offer, while those other young stars remain under wraps for the time being.

    In the Bulls' case, Love would give Chicago the second scoring star it's longed for since Ben Gordon skipped town in 2009. Love now is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of where Gordon was then, just as the Bulls might soon be in comparison to everyone else in the Eastern Conference if they can trot out a starting lineup that features Love, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Basketball-wise, the Los Angeles Clippers are a slam dunk to be one of the top five teams in the NBA next season. Their squad was excellent last year, and it should only be better in 2014-15 with Jordan Farmar backing up Chris Paul, and Spencer Hawes stepping in as the floor-spacing big for whom L.A. had been searching.

    But when it comes to the Clippers, Donald Sterling always seems to find a way to complicate matters. With testimony in his probate court trial against his wife, Shelly, in the books, Sterling has already filed yet another law suit against the same defendants he'd previously pursued, per The Associated Press (via USA Today).

    Sterling may only be delaying the inevitable here, but that delay could deal a crippling blow to the franchise's championship hopes. According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Dick Parsons, the current CEO of the Clippers, testified in court that Doc Rivers wouldn't want to remain the team's head coach and president if Sterling hangs on to the franchise.

    Without Rivers, the Clippers would be little more than a talent-laden but rudderless ship adrift in a violent ocean of tough competition. With him, they have the leadership to withstand just about any storm—including the one that's beset them since May, when Sterling's racially insensitive marks first hit the airwaves.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Say this much for the Oklahoma City Thunder: There's no shortage of creativity floating around their front office.

    Their latest magic maneuver? Turning Josh Huestis, one of the team's first-round picks, into a D-Leaguer. Per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry:

    As the 29th overall pick, Huestis would become the first player selected in the first round to forgo his rookie season to sign in the D-League. In other words, he’d be the first-ever domestic "draft-and-stash" player.

    According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, this arrangement was agreed upon by Huestis' agent, Mitchell Butler, and the Thunder as a condition of Josh's selection at No. 29.

    It's an interesting bit of CBA loophole exploitation, but in the end, it won't do anything to move the needle for a superstar-laden team with championship expectations.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The San Antonio Spurs got the band back together and can now spend the rest of the summer hammering out a long-term extension with reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

    That stability alone has marked the Spurs as one of the biggest winners of the offseason in the mind of ESPN's J.A. Adande:

    If the immediate goal is to win the 2015 championship, there's no better place to start than preserving the 2014 champions. No, the Spurs didn't make the eye-grabbing move of the summer -- the return of LeBron James to Cleveland snagged that honor -- but they made a series of low-key announcements that four main components of their championship squad are coming back: Diaw, Tim DuncanPatty Mills and coach Gregg Popovich.

    The Spurs have since re-signed Matt Bonner, as well.

    And, really, why wouldn't San Antonio run it back? The team won 62 games during the regular season, stormed through the last three rounds of the playoffs and have in place a system in which all the pieces presently fit perfectly.

    All of which is to ask: If it ain't broke, why fix it?

     

    Josh Martin is an NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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