Though the start of the 2009-10 NBA season is still over two months away, the majority of league-shaping moves are finished; and what teams are now, is what teams will be in late October when the season begins.
So now is as good a time as any, to examine which teams improved and which teams will be hardpressed to find success this season.
Here are the six biggest winners and losers of the offseason.
Los Angeles Lakers
How often is it that a defending champion actually gets better?
By essentially swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest, the Lakers are better equipped to deal with the power wings that have occasionally troubled them in the past.
If Artest won’t pick up the fast break-inducing deflections and steals Ariza would, Artest is better equipped to play half court defense.
Offensively, he gives the Lakers another exceptional stand-still shooter, who is a bear in the post, and a powerful finisher at the hoop. The Lakers now have some power to go along with their finesse.
The reports of Artest being a chuck-happy ball stopper in Houston are overblown.
While Artest wasn’t the most efficient player, his mistakes were a product of faulty decision-making and an inability to shoot on the move; not because he was jacking up jumpers left and right.
Artest is an upgrade over Ariza, and gives the Lakers a dynamic that will keep them from getting complacent.
GM Mitch Kupchak also improved the team in other areas by default.
Andrew Bynum should be healthy and ready to regain the explosiveness that disappeared for last season’s playoff run. Adam Morrison should be able to contribute, and perhaps jettison Sasha Vujacic down to the depths of the Lakers’ bench. Plus, Lamar Odom and his bag of tricks will be staying put.
All this assures that the Lakers, with an even better roster than their championship one, wil be the team to beat next year.
Portland Trail Blazers
Most of Portland’s growth will come from within as their young roster adds a year of experience.
The biggest reason for the jump they’ll make in 2009-10 comes from Andre Miller.
Miller’s wonderful court vision will allow the Blazers to steal several points they wouldn’t be able to generate normally. Plus, he gives the Blazers another creator.
For a team, that at times, had to rely too much on Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge for its points, Miller gives them more options. He can open up the Blazers anemic fast break game, and provide them with veteran experience.
For a young team, who's been searching for an experienced PG, the Blazers made the right move bringing in Andre Miller; and it should make an impact on the rapidly improving Blazers.
While they’re still a strictly first round team, the Wizards should be able to bounce back from their nightmare, 19 win, 2008-09 campaign.
Not only will they get the return of Gilbert Arenas' considerable ego and flaws, but his talented game as well.
Perhaps just as important, they’ll return Brendan Haywood. Without him, the Wizards were gashed defensively in the paint and on the boards, and had no scoring threat whatsoever near the basket.
The Wizards have also added some more scoring punch with the trades for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
Just last night, they also picked up veteran center, Fabricio Oberto, formerly of the Spurs, to add to their frontcourt depth.
But in the end, despite all the major changes, the Wizards still rely on a philosophy of outscoring the opponent. While that may translate into more regular season wins, it will not do the same for them in the playoff series victory column.
The team from the "Great White North," known for being notoriously soft, have gone on a toughness spending spree this offseason.
GM Bryan Colangelo brought back center Rasho Nesterovic’ large body to eat up space, and rebounding machine Reggie Evans. He also got some help on the wing with the tough, young combo of Antoine Wright and Jarret Jack.
With that influx of toughness, Toronto won’t be gashed on the boards and on the defensive end so easily; and they won’t be physically overmatched in so many areas.
But the biggest coup of their offseason, was the signing of Hedo Turkoglu from the Magic.
Hedo gives the Raptors the playmaker they've been missing, and he should compliment the game of newcomer Marco Belinelli, and recently re-signed Andrea Bargnani.
Expect the Raptors to rebound from last season's campaign and make a return to the playoffs.
With one season left on their LeBron James lease, the Cavaliers will try to win a title with easily their most talented team in the LeBron era.
The addition of Shaquille O’Neal, provides Lebron with his first legitimate post presence in his six year career. While Shaq will clog the lane and command double teams, the Cavs coaching staff should be able to find ways to open the floor up.
While Shaq was the landmark signing, the Cavs also brought in two solid pieces in Anthony Parker and Leon Powe.
The former is a versatile, creative wing player who can shot the three. Lebron hasn't had a mate like that in the backcourt since Larry Hughes left.
As for the latter, if Leon Powe, were to stay healthy, his youth and versatility at the 4 and 5 slots, could really help the Cavaliers come playoff time.
With these signings, and another solid season from Mo Williams, the Cavs could be well on their way to capturing the title that has been oh so elusive.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs feel as if they have a two-year window to try and capture the fifth title of the Tim Duncan era; and they’re going to try to jump through it headfirst.
The acquisition of Richard Jefferson not only gives them youth, but insurance for the oft-injured Manu Ginobili. He will also be the team's 4th scoring option. A considerable upgrade from the older Michael Finley.
With Jefferson on board, the Spurs have as talented a foursome as any team in the league.
But the signings didn't stop there.
The Spurs also brought in veteran Antonio McDyess to stretch the floor. A more athletic, fluid version of Kurt Thomas, and a perfect fit in the San Antonio locker room.
Although veteran center Theo Ratliff may be running on fumes to many, he is big, strong, and rarely makes mistakes. His shot blocking ability could bring us back to the time of the Twin Towers on the defensive end.
And don't forget the continued development of George Hill, who is a year older, and presumably, a year wiser.
After being counted out as a team of the past, the Spurs have established themselves right behind the Lakers in the West’s pecking order. But by the end of the year, the situation may be reversed.
New Jersey Nets
While the Nets made major strides this offseason to build their future—trading Vince Carter so Devin Harris and Brook Lopez take on more responsibility, slashing cap space and roster flexibility for the 2010-11 free agent class, acquiring the young, talented Courtney Lee—there’s no way the Nets will be competitive this upcoming season.
After Harris and Lopez, there is a lack of scoring punch throughout the roster. Losing Vince Carter means a loss of production that won’t be replaced.
Also, how long will it take before Rafer Alston realizes he went from starting in the Finals, to being a backup on one of the worst teams in the league?
The saving grace is that New Jersey’s roster this time next year will be better than their roster this year.
With Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair out, the Timberwolves may be even less athletic than last year’s unimpressive yawn fest.
Needing a spry shot blocker to make up for the athletic short comings of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the T-Wolves answered with Ryan Hollins, a limited backup.
Needing a creative perimeter scorer to take the pressure off of Jefferson, the Wolves traded for Quentin Richardson; a reputed shooter who has never shot above 38% from behind the arc in a season.
Needing a capable point guard, the Wolves acquired two rookies and Chucky Atkins.
So, in the end, not only will the T-Wolves be bad, but they’ll be unwatchable.
The loss of Yao Ming took the Rockets out of title contention. The departure of Ron Artest might take them out of the playoffs altogether.
Sure, the Rockets will still play inspired defense so long as gamers like Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes are on the roster. And in Carl Landry, Luis Scola, and Aaron Brooks, there is a slight hint of talent on the roster.
But where’s the game-changing post presence? The creative wing scorer? The playmaker and the play finisher?
Perhaps Tracy McGrady’s habitually fragile game will save the Rockets? Perhaps the tooth fairy exists as well.
While Andre Iguodala was their scorer and main weapon, make no mistake about it, Andre Miller was their offense.
Whenever the Sixers point output stalled, it was Miller who’d race up the court in transition and create something out of nothing. It was Miller who’d venture into the post, or pull up at the elbow putting his teammates on his back. It was Miller who’d create points simply by knowing where his teammates and their defenders were at all times.
Barring the revival of oft-injured Elton Brand, there’s no chance of the Sixers replacing Miller’s smarts and his leadership with the young combo of Louis Williams and Jrue Holiday just yet.
A victim of the economy, the Bucks talent has been hemorrhaged at the sake of cutting costs.
Gone is their best all around player Richard Jefferson. Gone is their athletic scorer, Charlie Villanueva. And on his way out, may be assist machine, Ramon Sessions.
So what have we gotten as replacements so far?
A brash rookie, an over-the-hill veteran, and a stick figure, in Brandon Jennings, Kurt Thomas, and Hakim Warrick respectively.
Don't forget that the two main cogs of the ball club, Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, are both coming off major injuries.
It’s going to be a long cold winter not only in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as well.
After a charmed 2008-2009 season that saw the Nuggets two wins away from a Finals appearance, the Nuggets have taken hits to their roster.
Defensive specialist Dahntay Jones is now in Indiana, replaced by long, lean Arron Afflalo. While Afflalo has the makeup to be a good defensive player, Jones played with a belligerence that gave the Nuggets a swagger.
J.R. Smith may be allowed to start in Jones’ place, but with him in the starting lineup, Linas Kleiza in Greece, and Anthony Carter unsigned, three of the four players who gave the Nuggets an exceptionally potent bench (with Chris Andersen being the fourth) may either be elsewhere or in different roles.
The Lakers and Spurs have made major steps forward, while the Nuggets have taken small steps back.
I’d like to take this time to announce that I’ve been talking with Brandon Hoffman, the man who runs Ballerblogger.com and also writes for RealGM.com, about being given more of a role writing for his site. However, at the expense of the exposure the Ballerblogger and RealGM networks would give me, I would have to write exclusively for Ballerblogger.
This means, with a handful of exceptions (articles handpicked by Bleacher Report Content Delivery Manager Aron Glatzer, roundtable articles, and the stray BR-only article), I’ll no longer be able to publish my articles on BR in their entirety.
While I’m not leaving BR’s community, and I’ll still be able to post short snippets of my articles as teasers linking to Ballerblogger, I also understand it’s not the same posting teasers on a site as it is posting full-length articles.
On the other hand, I’ve been writing for Bleacherreport for over two-and-a-half years now, starting back when BR was just a concept site, where only three articles per sport could be shown on that sport’s page, pictures couldn’t be uploaded, and Ryan Alberti was THE editor. I’m looking for new networks and new channels of exposure, aside from what BR has given me.
So while this isn’t really a goodbye, it may be the prelude to one.
And while this isn’t an article thanking all the wonderful people and opportunities that have opened to me as a result of Bleacherreport, it, too, may be a prelude to one…