Grading The Elite In The NBA Offseason

Mark HicksContributor IAugust 9, 2009

NEW YORK - JANUARY 23:  A detailed view of the NBA logo on the headband of a Memphis Grizzlies player during their game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden January 23, 2009 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Knicks defeated the Grizzlies 108-88. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

With the 2009-2010 season on the verge of beginning, it's time to reflect on the offseason and determine the 5 organizations that have improved their title chances the most:


1. Los Angeles Lakers

The current NBA champs did one thing that very few championships teams do... they got better! By picking up Ron Artest in free agency and letting Trevor Ariza go, they completely upgraded the small forward position.

Also, the Lakers versatility stayed intacked after re-signing F Lamar Odom, and G Shannon Brown. With a roster that is relatively young and a healthy, and rested Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are definitely the odds-on favorite to repeat as champs!


2. San Antonio Spurs 

General Manager R.C. Buford's team is clearly the 2nd best team in the West and they are the only team that has an opportunity to beat the Lakers for the confertence crown (sorry Blazers and Nuggets).

After a very good offseason that produced swingman Richard Jefferson (via trade), F/C Antonio McDyess, C Theo Ratliff, rookie F DeJuan Blair, and a healthy Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have the pieces necessary to make a serious title run!


3. Cleveland Cavaliers

After the Cavs jump-started the free agency period by trading for C Shaquille O'Neal, most NBA analysts talked about what they were not able to do when in actuality, they should have focused on what they were able to do.

After missing out on players such as Artest, Ariza, Shawn Marion, and Rasheed Wallace, the Cavaliers managed to assume some good role players around LeBron and Shaq such as: G/F Anthony Parker, G/F Jamario Moon, and re-sigining F/C Anderson Varejao.

While the names aren't big, their versatility and style of play fit what the Cavs need, particularly on the defensive end. Keep in mind, even after they eventually sign rookie G/F Danny Green to a contract, they will still have two roster spots open to sign players.

Also, Cavs GM Danny Ferry will always continue to make moves before the trading deadline if it helps his team win their 1st NBA title.   


4. Boston Celtics 

While the health of Kevin Garnett was huge in keeping the 2008 NBA champs from repeating, their lack of bench depth was also key in their demise. Their lack of depth was key in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo logging major minutes in both the regular season and the playoffs.

In hopes to address their depth issue, Celtics GM Danny Ainge addressed the frontcourt first by signing former Detroit Piston Rasheed Wallace. Signing free agents Wallace and former Atlanta Hawk/Sacramento King/Minnesota T-Wolf Shelden Williams along with the re-signing of restricted free agent Glen "Big Baby" Davis was huge because it will significantly reduce the minutes of Garnett and center Kendrick Perkins.

In the backcourt, the C's re-sign G Eddie House and are currently completing a deal for former Indiana Pacer G Marquis Daniels. The combination of roster additions and health will be key in propelling the Celtics to another title run.


5. Orlando Magic 

The defending Eastern Conference Champions had a very interesting offseason. Magic GM Otis Smith determined that their loss to the Lakers was due to not having a true "go-to-guy" who can consistently make plays at the end of games. That's why the Magic made the move to acquire former New Jersey Net Vince Carter via trade.

They also added a couple new faces to thier roster such as former NJ Net Ryan Anderson (also acquired in the Carter trade), former Dallas Maverick Brandon Bass, and former Phoenix Sun sharpshooter Matt Barnes.

On paper, while it appears that the Magic have upgraded their personnel, two important questions that will be answered this season will be: 1) Will All-Star PG Jameer Nelson return to form while recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder? and 2) Did the Magic's changes to their roster make them more predictable to defend?

The biggest advantage Orlando had was their ability to create mismatches with Hedo Turkoglu at small forward and Rashard Lewis at the power forward spot. With the loss of Turkoglu and the addition of Carter, will this ultimately change the Magic's style of play?...only time will tell.


Judging by the number of major moves that were made this offseason, it appears that the 2009-2010 rendition of the Larry O'Brian Trophy will rest in one of these 5 cities.

Ultimately, this season's NBA champ will be the team that has a combination of great chemistry, great health, and most importantly, great basketball play in months of May and June.

So good luck to the other 25 teams in the NBA, they're going to need it to keep up with the big boys!