With the NBA season over and the draft completed, it is time for team rankings, pre-free agency edition for the 2010-11 season. So, with the caveat of judging teams by their rosters without the free agents who have talked about exploring free agency, let's go.
1. The Los Angeles Lakers are the champs and deserved their title. They have scoring, defense, size, and the most determined player in the NBA in Kobe Bryant. No other team really challenges them right now for this spot going into the 2010-11 season.
2. The Boston Celtics took the Lakers to seven games and might have won if Kendrick Perkins did not get hurt. Rasheed Wallace is contemplating retirement, and Doc Rivers might resign to spend more time with his son who is a senior in high school and a top recruit. However, as long as Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are together and healthy, they have more talent than anyone in the East—for now. The addition of Avery Bradley could be the ideal combo guard coming off the bench to add some scoring punch.
3. Orlando Magic are returning all of their key players and adding two athletic front court players in the draft for depth. It will be interesting to see if the Magic start playing bigger lineups by using Rashard Lewis as a small forward and Brandon Bass as the PF to mimic what the Lakers can do with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom.
4. Utah Jazz are a very good team with not enough size. Gordon Hayward will bring more size to the SF position, but it is not likely going to be enough to beat the Lakers. However, they do have the best point guard in the NBA right now, and because of Paul Millsap they can let Carlos Boozer go in free agency without losing much.
5. The Dallas Mavericks are a balanced team with size and scoring. They lack a lock down defender who can guard the opposing team's best perimeter player. So, they are vulnerable in the playoffs to a team with a great wing scorer. Unfortunately, they chose another scorer in the draft in Dominique Jones instead of a defender. So, they are still on the outside looking in.
6. The Denver Nuggets missed Dahntay Jones more than expected. Jones was the glue guy who defended and was just good enough that teams could not leave him unguarded. Arron Afflalo just did not provide the same presence. However, if they are healthy at playoff time, this is a team that could make the Finals and beat the Lakers because they have size and a true superstar in Carmelo Anthony.
7. The Oklahoma City Thunder will become the best in the West within three years if they keep this nucleus of players together. Even better, they filled in their biggest weakness in the draft. By trading up for Cole Aldrich, they obtained a shot blocking center who can score with his back to the basket. Now they have enough length, scoring, and defense to become true contenders. All this team needs now is experience.
8. The San Antonio Spurs are a team on the decline due to age. What they really needed was a shot blocking big man to take some of the defensive pressure off of Tim Duncan. Instead, they drafted a very good college player who lacks the athleticism to be a starter in the NBA. Hassan Whiteside would have been the better choice. Now they have to hope that everyone is healthy when the playoffs arrive in order to contend.
9. The Portland Trail Blazers unbelievably fired their general manager, Kevin Pritchard. He was easily one of the top five GMs in the NBA over the last five years. With a little health, the Trail Blazers will contend for a title as early as next year. Greg Oden looks like he will still be a big time center if he can ever stay healthy, but with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge as the team's scoring base and adding Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, and Armon Johnson to this team, the Trail Blazers are the deepest team in the NBA. Only health issues are keeping them from being ranked higher.
10. The Atlanta Hawks were exposed in the playoffs for a lack of offensive creativity. If their new coach, Larry Drew, can bring a more fluid offense, this team is ready to become a contender in the East. They have the most athletic front court in the East in Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams, and with Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby they have a strong back court on offense. The addition of Jordan Crawford, a pure scorer, should help offset the anticipated loss of Joe Johnson. They need a defensive stopper on the perimeter but they can contend in the East.
11. The Phoenix Suns are poised to lose Amare Stoudemire, and with him gone they will lose their inside scoring. Gani Lawal is a nice bruiser type who can run the floor, but he is very raw offensively. Steve Nash will keep them competitive, but without Amare they are not contenders.
12. The Milwaukee Bucks are a team on the rise. They have a young scoring point guard in Brandon Jennings and a young low post center in Andrew Bogut. They obtained a great complement in Larry Sanders who will provide shot blocking and size. If they keep John Salmons, they will have a quality outside threat. That means that they are a good small forward away from contention.
13. The Miami Heat are expected to re-sign Dwyane Wade and at least one major free agent big man. Miami is probably the front runner to sign either Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer. Add one of those players to Wade and the Heat remain in the playoff hunt. With rookies Dexter Pittman and Jarvis Varnado, the Heat would have young size to bang with other teams.
14. The Chicago Bulls are a playoff team even if they do not sign LeBron James or Wade as a free agent. They have a young point guard in Derrick Rose who looks to be a young version of Jason Kidd and a defensive center in Joakim Noah. They have a solid SF in Luol Deng and young power forwards in Taj Gibson and Hakim Warrick. With the trade of Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls do not have a starting caliber shooting guard. However, that same trade gives the Bulls close to $31 million in cap room which might be enough to get two max free agents. If they can sign James and Chris Bosh without a sign and trade, then the Bulls would shoot up to the No. 2 spot on this list.
15. The Charlotte Bobcats have a nice team. It is balanced, plays defense, and can score. They just do not have a true superstar to carry it beyond the first round of the playoffs. With no draft picks, this team is going to remain a bubble team at best.
16. The Houston Rockets are a very well run team. If Yao Ming returns healthy from his foot injury at his elite level, then this team is a contender with its trades over the last year. The Rockets now have balanced scoring on the perimeter with Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin, strong perimeter defenders in Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier, low post scorers in Yao and Luis Scola, and young power forwards who can rebound in Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson. Both Hill and Patterson have good jump shots so that they can provide good spacing for Yao in the post. It has defensive specialists in Jared Jeffries and Chuck Hayes and a good back up point guard in Kyle Lowry. Only Yao's health is a potential problem. If healthy, this is a top five team.
17. The Memphis Grizzlies have a nice starting five that have size and perimeter scoring. They had a good draft in a shooter in Xavier Henry and a back up combo guard in Greivis Vasquez. They need a better point guard and to tighten up their defense. Most importantly, they need to keep Rudy Gay, who has the ability to become an elite scoring SF. Since Gay is a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies can keep him if they want to. If Gay stays, they should make the playoffs.
18. The New Orleans Hornets are a troubled team. They are having major financial issues, and may need to trade Chris Paul in order to dump a long-term contract. The good news is that Darren Collison is a good young point guard, David West is a borderline All-Star power forward, and Emeka Okafor is a physical center who can rebound and block shots. They drafted another young power forward in Craig Brackins who should be able to provide solid minutes as a back up, and a very athletic SF in Quincy Pondexter who might even start as a rookie. With Marcus Thornton at shooting guard, the Hornets have a nice corps of perimeter players under the age of 25. The sole reason that they are low is that Paul is coming off an injury and their financial woes might force them to trade both Paul and Okafor. If healthy and together, they should win 45-50 games.
19. The Detroit Pistons are a team in transition. They still have some quality perimeter players in Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rodney Stuckey. Ben Gordon is an elite sixth man who scores in bunches. However, it is a doughnut team as it has no reliable center. Greg Monroe will be a huge improvement at the PF position as he provides size, length, and skill. However, he is not a true power player. The Pistons also lack a true point guard. Until they get a natural point and a better center than an old Ben Wallace, the Pistons will at best be an entertaining team that does not make the playoffs.
20. The Indiana Pacers have something that many lottery teams lack, a true scorer in Danny Granger. They even have a legitimate defensive center in Roy Hibbert. However, they do not have an above average guard on their roster. Their best PF, Troy Murphy, is coming off an injury plagued season, as is Tyler Hansborough, Murphy's backup. Their best play-maker is probably Mike Dunleavey and he is also coming off an injury. So, drafting a SF in Paul George makes no sense unless you trade Granger for Paul.
21. The Golden State Warriors have a lot of talent, but it does not appear to fit. With Curry and Ellis, they have two exciting young guards who need the ball. Anthony Randolph is coming off an injury, as is Brandan Wright. However, the selection of Ekpe Udoh gives them a shot blocker to help them on defense. They still need ball movers, but there is some hope here for the future.
22. The Toronto Raptors are going to lose Bosh and they know it. So they smartly drafted Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi. Alabi is a good shot blocker and Davis could be an Antonio Davis type PF. Jarrett Jack, DeMar Derozan, Hedo Turkoglu, and Andrea Bargnani can provide scoring, but there is no go to scorer in the bunch.
23. The Washington Wizards got the No. 1 draft pick and have a Jason Kidd-type point guard in John Wall. They have an excellent PF in Andray Blatche and a shot blocking center in JaVale McGee. Trevor Booker is a good bruising Paul Millsap-type PF who should be able to be in the rotation immediately. However, Ernie Grunfeld has to be one of the dumbest GMs in the NBA. To trade for a below average player in Kirk Hinrich and give major cap space to the Bulls for Kevin Seraphin probably doomed Washington and most Eastern teams to also-ran status by enabling the Bulls to create an overnight super team. Instead of being big winners by getting Wall, Washington became big losers by taking on Hinrich's contract without any tangible benefit.
24. The Philadelphia 76ers have a chance to rebound quickly. With the drafting of Evan Turner, the maturation of Jrue Holliday, Spencer Hawes, and Maurice Speights, the 76ers have size and perimeter scoring, plus a young point guard to run the show. Unfortunately, none of their big men are any good on defense and they will miss the shot blocking of Sam Dalembert. Still, they have a lot of upside.
25. The Los Angeles Clippers should be higher with their talent, but they always find new ways to be bad. Baron Davis is overrated and Chris Kaman is weak defensively. Eric Gordon should be a sixth man, but the Clippers need him to start. Blake Griffin is coming off a major knee injury and Al-Farouq Aminu is not a good shooter, so he will need time to develop into a SF. Eric Bledsoe is a good pick, but he too will need time to develop. Still, if Griffin is healthy they will surprise people. For now, I think they are overrated.
26. The Sacramento Kings are building its team the right way. They have a dynamic playmaker in Tyreke Evans, an outside shooter in Omri Casspi, and made a smart trade for Sam Dalembert, who is a quality shot blocker in the last year of his contract. Now they get DeMarcus Cousins who is a talented low post scorer, and draft Hassan Whiteside, the best shot blocker in the draft to pair with him. If they can find a Ray Allen-type shooting guard in next year's draft, then this will be a team to watch.
27. The New Jersey Nets had a great draft. Unlike most bad teams, they had quality players at center and point guard. Derrick Favors is a future stud. He can rebound and block shots right now. His footwork is fluid, but he needs to work on his touch. At 6'10", 245 pounds, Favors will team with Brook Lopez to become the best 4-5 combo in the East within two years. With a young perimeter corps of Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee, and now Damion Jones, the Nets are just a dead eye shooter from making the playoffs right away. Fortunately for the Nets, they have a lot of cap room. Gay would be a great fit for this team.
28. The Knicks are the ultimate doughnut team right now. They have great shooters in Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker, and Toney Douglas. Wilson Chandler and Douglas are quality defenders on the perimeter. However, they have absolutely no big men on the roster other than Eddy Curry, who is most useful as an expiring contract. However, they still have the most cap space. Personally, I hated their draft. They should have drafted Jerome Jordan and Gani Lawal, as both are athletic and could have fit in the Mike D'Antoni offense. There were rumors that the Knicks have traded for Jordan, but as of now that has not been confirmed. The Knicks status depends completely on free agency. If they sign James and Bosh, they are instant title contenders. If not, the Knicks are going to be bad to mediocre for years.
29. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a puzzlement. They have shoot first point guards in Johnny Flynn and Ramon Sessions to go with power forwards in Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. Darko Milicic is a decent fit next to them. Wesley Johnson is also a nice fit at small forward, but they have no shooting guard who should be playing major minutes. Ideally, they would trade Love for a good shooting guard. Until they balance out the roster, they are going to be bad.
30. The Cleveland Cavaliers fans are going to be in for a rude awakening when they fully realize how bad LeBron's supporting cast really was. Antwan Jamison is now their best player. He is 34, and has never been the type of player who can carry a team. Mo Williams is a shooter who plays poor defense at the point. Delonte West can defend, but is average at best. Anderson Varejao is a great hustle player, but needs a play-maker to play off of. And without LeBron, the Cavaliers have no one who can create their own shot. They have no cap room and had no draft pick.
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