Some teams are in rebuilding mode, some teams are playoff bound, and some players are in strong contention for the Championship.
1. LA Lakers
The Lakers have lost Trevor Ariza (overrated) and added Ron Artest (under-appreciated). They also managed to re-sign Lamar Odom. Therefore, with their core still intact and significantly improved, how can you not rate the defending champions No. 1 at this point in time?
If there's one team that has a chip on its shoulder, it's the veteran Boston Celtics, lead by their vocal captain, Paul Pierce. He openly stated how focused this team is heading into the 2009-10 season, and how mentally prepared they are.
Danny Ainge gave the Big Three exactly what they needed—reliable support off the bench. With the signings of Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, and the re-signing of Glen Davis, the Celtics look stronger than ever.
What seperates this team from the Magic and Cavs is its team chemistry; there are absolutely no question marks regarding team chemistry after their offseason acquisitions, while the Cavs and Magic have a lot to prove in terms of how they plan on implementing their new arrivals into their lineup and team strategy.
The Celtics are built on defense, but more importantly, they are built on a tradition that has lasted over 60 years—winning, which they look to do this season.
The silver winners of this past season arguably improved more than the Lakers so far this offseason. Is it enough to overcome the Lakers right now? No. But I like the moves they've made overall.
They gave away a couple of nice pieces in Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston, but made out big by acquiring Vince Carter and Ryan Andersen. The latter of the two guys coming in from that trade is especially intriguing, since he still has the potential to be a nice role player.
Overall, despite taking on a tremendous amount of salary in the deal, they still came out on top. And the signing of Brandon Bass was a big pickup for them, as well. He'll add some much-needed interior defense to take the pressure off of Dwight Howard and to limit any Howard and Gortat pairings.
Speaking of Gortat, I'm not sure what Orlando was thinking when the re-signed him to an outrageous contract. Sure, the guy comes in and plays some nice spot minutes. But despite his great rebounding ability and potentially nice offensive capability, he's extremely foul prone.
I don't blame Dallas for taking a risk by signing him to an offer sheet, because they really need better interior defense. But why would Orlando bring a now-disgruntled player back at that price just to have him come off the bench? That boggles my mind.
And I don't buy the idea that they'll trade him later on to get value for him. If he barely plays, who's going to offer Orlando a pretty penny to trade for the guy? Bad move, in my opinion.
What Orlando should have done was send in Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis to Rasheed Wallace's doorstep right after the Celtics' Big Three came knocking to tell him that he can win a championship just as easily as he could in Boston.
In any case, the one last point I'd like to make about Orlando is that moving Rashard Lewis back to the 3 is going to pay off big for them. They have arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA right now with Nelson/Carter/Lewis/Bass/Howard.
But their bench is just decent and they lack any really good perimeter shooters beyond Carter and Lewis. You could make the argument that Pietrus is a decent shooter off the bench, but he doesn't exactly shoot lights out that often. Still, Orlando is a dangerous team to watch out for next season.
They turned Ben Wallace and change into Shaq. Now that's a fantastic move. Even if Shaq doesn't pan out for them—which I think he probably will—they now have 20 million dollars coming off their cap that could potentially allow them not only to keep Lebron in 2010, but to add another big name player (not named Shaq) to their roster.
Adding Shaq to a half-court system should give Cleveland enough inside/outside game to make them significantly better than last year. However, their backcourt still leaves a great deal to be desired.
While I love the Anthony Parker pickup, he's not exactly the perimeter shooter they need to take the pressure off of Mo Williams from producing. Still, they should be significantly better defensively—which is frightening because they already were a top notch defensive team—and they are quite a bit more balanced now.
Unfortunately, Ilguaskas is definitely on the decline. But if he splits his time somewhat close to 50/50 with Shaq, both guys should be a strong one-two punch at the 5. Having both players play less minutes will keep their legs fresh and give opposing teams a bunch of headaches.
5. San Antonio
I love the acquisition of Richard Jefferson for them. He should be a big upgrade over Bruce Bowen. And adding Antonio McDyess was also huge for a team that needed another defensive presence and solid rebounder next to Duncan. They essentially upgraded their weakest starting positions and now have a complete starting lineup.
Also, drafting DeJuan Blair is intriguing. When he dropped to No. 26, I was salivating at the idea of the Bulls lucking into drafting both James Johnson and DeJuan Blair. But when the Bulls passed on him and selected Taj Gibson instead, and Blair just continued to free fall, that (to me, anyway) is a red flag.
Sure, teams make mistakes in their selections and let a guy get drafted way later than he should be. But for that many teams to pass on someone who I thought was a quality player makes me think that something's up. Either most teams are worried about his knees or they are worried about his lack in height for a player that will play the 4.
Whatever the case is, you can't blame San Antonio for not passing up on him with a second-round pick. We'll just have to see if he pans out this coming season or not.
They didn't really improve over the offseason. Adding Ty Lawson is nice for the future. But will he play much next season? I doubt it. While other teams in the WC have improved their roster, Denver has not done a great deal besides tweaking their bench.
Lucikly, Billups had a resurgence next year and looks to start off the season strong again. But can he keep it up?
Pritchard made two big misses with the Hinrich trade and with missing out on Turkoglu. Fortunately for Portland, they still have Nicolas Batum—a player that I am very high on—to play at the 3.
But there are other problems that they have to address.
The first of which is what to do with the Aldridge/Oden pairing. I understand that Pritchard wanted Millsap because of his defensive skills and abilities to bang inside. He's probably a better option for Portland to have than Aldridge, despite LMA being a better offensive player; great defensive is a very underrated quality in the NBA.
But it is a bit unclear if Pritchard signed Millsap to an offer sheet because he really wanted Millsap or if he wanted to force Utah's hand in trading Boozer so that Hinrich could become available to his team. In all likelihood, he was looking for either one of them to happen.
If Utah didn't match their offer, Portland would have gotten a player it coveted and wouldn't have had to extend Aldridge to a huge deal. On the other hand, if Utah matched and felt they needed to trade Boozer, the Hinrich deal would have gone through. Either way, it should have been a win/win situation. Instead, Pritchard lost out on both possibilites.
So with his main targets seemingly off the market, who did he turn to? Andre Miller. He was perhaps the most talented, yet least fitting point guard for Portland left on the market. Miller is meant for an up-tempo system that doesn't require him to play good defense or take many jumpshots.
Unfortunately, Portland plays the slowest ball in the league and they need a perimeter shooter next to Roy. While Miller is certainly an upgrade over Blake in terms of talent, he may not be as good of a fit for Portland as Blake is. So did Portland solve its need for an upgrade at the 1? Most likely not.
So where does Portland go from here? It's hard to say. It seems as though Pritchard does not want to part with his young talent to acquire something better. He's got an abundance of "potentially good" players on his roster. And yet there aren't enough minutes to go around for everyone to be all-stars.
He needs to pull the trigger on a major trade or two that will bring in veterans. Because although he has nice players on his team's roster, they do not have the playoff experience to go far.
The regular season is very different from the playoffs. Although it's very possible that Portland could reach as high as a No. 2 seed this season if they stay healthy, without another major change to their roster, they could be setting themselves up for another first-round exit.
Trading for Marion was a big move for the Mavericks. He not only adds much-needed defense to their frontcourt, but also some solid rebounding that's always a valuable commodity in the league. Losing Brandon Bass will sting a bit, but Marion is a much better talent than Bass.
With a main unit of Jason Kidd/Jason Terry/Josh Howard/Shawn Marion/Dirk Nowitzki, this is a team to watch out for. Do not underestimate the Marion pickup. He will allow the Mavs to play an up-tempo game better than they ever have before with a greater offensive threat in the front court.
Who do you focus on when guarding against them? If you double-team Kirk, now you have to be wary of perimeter shooting from not only Terry and Howard now, but Marion, as well. And Marion adds another slasher to the team.
Adding Marion is similar to having a Luol Deng/Andres Nocioni combo from a couple of seasons ago, in the way that you have two guys who can slash and punish you from the perimeter. You end up spacing the floor while opening up other guys on the offensive end of the court. However, a Howard/Marion pairing should be a lot more effective than a Deng/Nocioni pairing because the former pair is just simply more talented.
Be watchful of Dallas this season. They could be very dangerous.
9. New Orleans
I actually liked the Tyson Chander/Emeka Okafor swap for New Orleans from a talent perspective. Make no mistake, Okafor is a lot better than Chandler. Tyson is way overrated. He really can only play the defensive side of the court effectively.
And while defense is very important in this league, the only reason why he looks decent on the offensive side of the court is because he has Chris Paul's superb court vision helping him out. Chandler has very bad hands for an NBA player. And his frame is still fairly wiry.
Okafor, on the other hand, is ripped. He's nearly as good as Chandler is on the defensive end, he's a great rebounder, and he's got a better offensive skillset than Chandler. And with Chris Paul dishin him the ball, he should prove to be a much better player with the Hornets than with the Bobcats.
However, there is still one issue that concerns me.
Can he be effective playing next to David West? I'm not sure those two guys are a good fit next to each other; their games may be too similar to make things work. And so I would tread with caution in ranking them above any of the teams ranked higher on this list at this point.
In addition, we have to see if New Orleans will, in fact, keep David West. The reason why the Hornets tried to dump Chandler to OKC last season was to shed salary. And the Okafor trade didn't exactly shed that much of it.
Another team that has basically stayed constant going into next season. Obviously, the Boozer situation will affect where they ultimately end up. But assuming that Boozer is still on the roster come opening day, this is where they should be ranked.
After acquiring Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a trade for a few bench players and a first-round pick who ended up being a player who won't play in the league for the next two years, the Wizards have provided their injury-prone big three enough insurance to last them a full season. Will it be enough?
Of course it would, when you have one of the most consistent power forwards in the game on offense, a hard-nosed player who can play on both sides of the court, and arguably one of the most explosive PGs in the league, I can guarantee you this team will be a tough team to beat in the regular season.
The center of attention in Washington has always been Gilbert Arenas, and it hasn't changed. After missing nearly two years with a knee injury, Wizards fans haven't heard one negative remark about him, which could mean he's back.
Now I bet you're asking, how does a team that was at the bottom of the league shoot up to the top 15? It's simple, when you know the talent this team contains has a chance to compete with the upper echelon teams of the East on any given night, you're in for a great season.
Jamal Crawford may be a chucker, but for a team that does not want to completely rely on Mike Bibby's shot as a second perimeter option to Joe Johnson, Crawford makes an excellent addition.
Atlanta is another team that didn't make a lot of changes during the offseason. But that three-guard rotation of Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford is probably the most balanced one, next to Derrick Rose, John Salmons, and Kirk Hinrich. Atlanta is certainly deep in the backcourt, but they really lack the muscle in the frontcourt to set themselves up for a long playoff run.
I like Horford; he's a solid option at the 4/5 very much in the mold of another Emeka Okafor. He's not a post presence, but his defense is decent and he does a whole lot more good than harm.
But Atlanta relies too heavily on young, athletic guys who don't have polished games. They really need to add another strong big man to their rotation with size. Although I like Marvin Williams, the guy should really be playing the 4. So I would expect to see Joe Johnson play a bit more at the 3 this season to give Crawford more playing time at the 2.
As things stand, however, Atlanta has a solid unit with a bunch of above average players. But they really have only one great player that does not get enough recognition for his talent. And without that reliable big man, they can't contend.
I like what they've done with their bench. But that trio of Turkoglu, Bosh, and Bargnani still has me scratching my head a bit. I don't think Turkoglu can replicate what he did in Orlando with Toronto. The reason why Turkoglu was such an effective point forward in Orlando was out necessity.
Jameer Nelson is extremely overrated in terms of his point guards skills and Turkoglu's court vision greatly exceeded Nelson's. But now Turkoglu has found himself on a team with a point guard with one of the best court visions in the NBA. I have a feeling this might, unfortunately, reduce Turkoglu into a spot-up perimeter shooter.
Also, Bargnani is overrated and does not do any one thing well, besides his perimeter shooting. He does have nice size, but he needs to add some muscle if he wants to hold down either the 4 or the 5 effectively.
I'm not saying that Bargnani is a bad player, but I don't think he's a great fit next to Bosh. In addition, that 3/4/5 combo has got to be one of the most talented yet one of the wost defensive frontcourts in the NBA. If they don't play an up-tempo game, they are sunk.
The wild card here, though, is DeMar DeRozan. If he can come in and provide some slashing with an occasional stroke from the perimeter, the Raptors could become very difficult to defend.
Lastly, I just want to reiterate that they've done a great job building up their bench. Evans, Nesterovic, Jack, and Belinelli are all nice pickups that should come in and play to their strengths and help balance out Toronto's deficiencies in their starting lineup.
At this point, I do believe Toronto will be making their way back to the playoffs, if they stay healthy. But we'll have a better idea on the Turkoglu experiment once the season gets into gear.
Does the Gordon departure hurt the Chicago Bulls this season? To some extent, it does, but don't be fooled by looking at what he did this postseason against the Boston Celtics. They still have Derrick Rose, whose potential is out of this world, as he has the ability to break out for a great season and could be considered the third-best PG in this league, in just his second year.
He will pick up the slack, and with John Salmons as his running mate in the backcourt, and Luol Deng returning, this Bulls team will be very dangerous.
The Suns are going to run again. Well, at least that should be fun to watch. But boy, they must be missing Boris Diaw and Raja Bell now. Jason Richardson is very much overrated and he is very much on the decline. He's not an ideal fit next to Steve Nash and I'm not sure he still has the legs to be effective in an up-tempo system.
Also, I don't quite understand what Steve Kerr is trying to do with them. They should be rebuilding. Instead, they're likely to give Robin Lopez starters' minutes in the hopes that he's the next Andersen Varejao or Joakim Noah. Does he have that potential? Sure. But I don't think this is the way to go about making him a better player.
If I were them, I'd pawn Richardson off to a team that needs him and take back a big man. They're better off giving Richardson's minutes to Barbosa than suffering issues in the frontcourt. The problem with this idea, though, is Richardson's massive contract that runs into 2011. Perhaps they could send him out to Philadelphia for Dalembert? Seems to work well for both sides, in my opinion.
In any case, there's a very decent possibility that Amare bolts in 2010. So I really have no idea what Kerr is doing here. He either has a good feeling that Amare will sign an extension, or he's banking that with Amare's contract coming off the books in 2010, he'll be able to sign someone of similar caliber or trade him for a pretty penny at the deadline.
Phoenix has a curious future, so we'll have to monitor their situation closely over the course of the season. They could be major players come the trade deadline.
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