NBA Power Rankings, Post-Steve Nash Acquisition

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2012

NBA Power Rankings, Post-Steve Nash Acquisition

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    There's no question the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Steve Nash immediately makes them a better team.

    But how much better, and is it good enough to seriously contend for a title?

    Is it a band-aid solution destined to be too little and too late to return this franchise to glory? Or is it just what Kobe Bryant and company needed to extend the dynasty for another couple of seasons?

    Forget for a moment just how much youth this team forfeited in order to land Nash. There's been no secret that Los Angeles is interested in winning now come hell or high water when the rebuilding begins.

    So, let's take a look at how the league shapes up in the short term and just how much difference Nash's relocation will mean.

30. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Second overall draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will make an immediate impact for the Charlotte Bobcats, but it will still take some time to turn this club around. The rookie won't be an elite scorer from day one, and this team's problems run deep.

    The Bobcats should win more than 10 percent of their games this year, but that's not saying much.

    The biggest difference-maker may be new head coach Mike Dunlap, who will be insistent upon a more aggressive defensive approach and looking to change the locker-room culture of a squad that's become all too accustomed to losing.

    There are some nice, young pieces to work with. Besides MKG, Charlotte will feature two second-year guys who still have lots of room for growth: guard Kemba Walker and defensive big man Bismack Biyombo.

    Exchanging Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon should help round out the backcourt, and the Bobcats will be on their way to an improved season. They'll still be the worst team in the league, but not by quite so large a margin.

29. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken a step forward this summer—just not as big a step as the league's other bad teams.

    Drafting Dion Waiters could prove to be a genius move, but it's unlikely to look that way in year one of the experiment. He may be NBA-ready in some respects, but he'll quickly learn that perimeter defenders in the NBA aren't so accommodating. He'll also have to adjust from playing a zone defense at Syracuse so that he can return the favor.

    Kyrie Irving will be a year wiser, and Anderson Varejao will (presumably) be healthy.

    Otherwise, though, the organization doesn't look poised to make any massive moves on the trade or free-agent markets. A quiet summer for Cleveland may be just fine in the long term, but it's likely to mean a rough season for now.

28. Detroit Pistons

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    The Detroit Pistons have a solid young core in Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. And, the addition of Andre Drummond could pay huge dividends in time.

    Detroit's problem is everything else, along with the fact that guys like Knight and Drummond won't be stars overnight.

    The combination of Corey Maggette and Tayshaun Prince isn't especially inspiring on the wing, and the backcourt desperately needs some consistent perimeter shooting. The bench is nothing special, either.

    This is a formula for a team that may take a step or two backward before noticeable improvement.

27. Sacramento Kings

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    Drafting Thomas Robinson was a no-brainer for the Sacramento Kings. The guy could have gone to the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 2, and there he was at the fifth overall selection. 

    You can't pass that up.

    Nevertheless, this is a roster in disarray. Its most talented players are either misused (Tyreke Evans) or perpetually on the verge of losing it (DeMarcus Cousins). And worst of all, these guys don't know how to play defense.

    It'll be a long year in Sacramento, and it wouldn't be surprising to see some significant reshuffling of this roster. If it doesn't happen this summer, it will happen when the team continues to spot opponents however many points it wants. 

26. New Orleans Hornets

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    It's still far too soon to know how the New Orleans Hornets will fare next season. With a boatload of cap space and the uncertainty surrounding prized shooting guard Eric Gordon's free-agent status, a lot could happen between now and training camp.

    New Orleans has an excellent young core; that much is certain.

    Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Duke's Austin Rivers will give the club an inside-outside combination with serious All-Star potential in the next few years. As for the coming season, though, much will depend on whether Gordon sticks around and if general manager Dell Demps is prepared to surround his prospects with some veteran talent.

    If those things don't happen, it could be a slow start to New Orleans' rebuilding project.

25. Washington Wizards

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    As much as any perennial loser, the Washington Wizards have already taken major steps to separate themselves from the bottom of the standings.

    It may not be entirely obvious right away, but this team could hit a stride toward the end of the season and begin to show some of its potential.

    John Wall finally has some help.

    Emeka Okafor will provide a defensive complement to Nene, and Trevor Ariza will help lock down the perimeter against opposing scorers. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal should emerge as one of the most prized possessions from the 2012 draft and a huge asset in a backcourt that desperately needed some perimeter shooting.

24. Toronto Raptors

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    Taking Terrence Ross was a smart move for the Toronto Raptors, but even the best of rookies won't change this team's fortunes for 2012-13.

    The Raptors have improved with the acquisition of Kyle Lowry and could stand to further improve around the margins by adding guys like Landry Fields, but there's a stark reality that this organization has to face: Its best players just aren't that good.

    The best hope is waiting another two or three years for talent to further develop or for other opportunities to present themselves.

    Until then, expect to see an awkwardly-fitting rotation and a collective performance that continues to define mediocrity.

23. Milwaukee Bucks

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    As much as there is to like about Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis individually, we still don't really know how they'll pan out together in the long term. Ellis is one of those guys who can be as dangerous as anyone on any given night but never stands out as someone you want to build a team around.

    The Milwaukee Bucks' frontcourt will also remain an open question for the time being. There are some nice young pieces to work with, but the only interior scoring threat (Drew Gooden) is a liability in almost every other respect.

    The Bucks should find themselves once again just beyond the reach of the postseason. That may even become something of a trend for the next few years.

22. Golden State Warriors

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    Harrison Barnes won't be a star immediately (or maybe ever), but he'll certainly bring something of value to Golden State's rotation.

    The Warriors may have rubbed you the wrong way by moving Monta Ellis for the oft-injured Andrew Bogut, but they could change a lot of minds this season. If Bogut can remain healthy, he'll give the lineup a completely new look and make Golden State one of the more well-rounded units in the league.

    A healthy Stephen Curry would also go a long way in improving this club's fortunes. If he can stay on the floor and Klay Thompson can take another step forward, the Warriors have an outside shot at the postseason.

21. Orlando Magic

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    Even this may be a charitable ranking for the Orlando Magic. 

    Sure, Dwight Howard isn't gone quite yet, but he will be one way or another. At that point, anything can happen. If the Magic strike it rich with a deal that has some guys who are ready to play (e.g. Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks), then the Magic could have an outside shot at another postseason berth.

    If they instead wind up with a bunch of raw prospects and/or draft picks, there may be an immediate and drastic rebuilding process.

    That would clearly suggest a further slide in the rankings. Stay tuned here for the latest proceedings.

20. Dallas Mavericks

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    There's just no telling what will happen to the Dallas Mavericks this season, but chances are, it won't be pretty. Mark Cuban struck out on landing Deron Williams, and so far, it doesn't look like there was much of a Plan B.

    Perhaps that's the best move for Dallas.

    There will be some premium talent in next summer's crop of free agents as well. But, until we know what's going to happen with Dwight Howard, it's hard to know how the Mavericks will react; they could still sign some solid talent and remain competitive next season.

    Or, they could take a very painful year off from the playoffs.

19. Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz have done a nice job of stockpiling young talent—it's just nowhere close to fitting together into a cohesive plan.

    Between Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, it's hard to find a team with a more talented and promising bunch of interior players. Unfortunately, that alone won't make Utah a serious contender.

    In fact, this is the kind of club that could take a step back in the Western Conference given how much the teams around them seem to be improving. While the Jazz still look helpless to find a point guard, teams like the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns are making big changes.

18. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers added some promising young talent in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard in the draft. They may also be set to add free-agent center Roy Hibbert if the Indiana Pacers deem his four-year, $58 million offer sheet too pricey.

    While it may look like this team is making a number of improvements, keep in mind that some of those additions won't make an immediate difference. And, as always, it will take some time for these guys to build chemistry and learn to play as a team.

17. Phoenix Suns

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    With Steve Nash heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns will have a different face for the first time in a long time.

    Like the Portland Trail Blazers, these Suns have wasted no time reloading and attempting to skip a protracted and grueling rebuilding process.

    If Eric Gordon and Goran Dragic come to town, that could very well happen. And Phoenix already has one of the league's most underrated centers in Marcin Gortat.

    If they can give their backcourt a facelift, the Suns may become the favorites to snag that eighth seed in the West this time around.

16. Houston Rockets

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    All we know about the Houston Rockets at this point is that the organization has added some young pieces to the mix (Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones), made a somewhat questionable deal in sending Kyle Lowry to Toronto, lost Goran Dragic to Phoenix and has a roster in a state of major flux.

    That makes it hard to predict where the Rockets will end up.

    They could make the most of bringing in guys like Omer Asik and become the year's surprise team. Or, they could regress and enter a rebuilding process centered around giving all these rookies a chance to learn on the job.

    It's far too early to know what Houston will look like on opening day.

15. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Head coach Doug Collins did a fantastic job of taking an ensemble cast and making it a playoff team. The Philadelphia 76ers lack star power, but they have a strong foundation and should only continue to build upon their breakout season.

    Unless this club can move Andre Iguodala in the right deal, don't expect to see many changes.

    The best decision may be keeping this team together and seeing how young guys like Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young develop.

14. Atlanta Hawks

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    Sure, the Atlanta Hawks might end up having a down season with Joe Johnson heading to the Brooklyn Nets, but don't count on it being too rough.

    The Hawks don't need Johnson as much as the Nets do, and general manager Danny Ferry appears to be well on his way to infusing this club with talent. It might not happen until next summer, but this team should remain pretty competitive until then.

    Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague form a solid young core, and the rest of the pieces probably aren't as bad as you think. Look for Atlanta to play the underdog card throughout the year, and look for it to play it well.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    This should be the year the Minnesota Timberwolves return to the postseason. They probably won't make it very far after doing so, but they have to start somewhere.

    Kevin Love has become a legitimate superstar, and Ricky Rubio could be next in line.

    Meanwhile, general manager David Kahn has done a nice job of surrounding those guys with young up-and-comers like Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic. Losing Michael Beasley may hurt more than expected, but this club will still be better with another year of experience, and the reported signing of Brandon Roy could help mitigate the loss of Beasley.

12. Brooklyn Nets

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    If the Brooklyn Nets still figure out a way to land Dwight Howard, they'll shoot up these rankings another few spots. Otherwise, let's call them what they are: an OK playoff team.

    The projected starting five actually looks pretty good as it is: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humprhies and Brook Lopez. That's a unit that could even make some noise in the playoffs.

    There are bigger question marks on the bench, though. And, it's still not entirely clear that head coach Avery Johnson is the right man for this job. 

    Of course, it also won't help that half the team will be playing with the knowledge that they are merely one big Plan B.

11. Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets are better than advertised, and we all should have noticed as much when the club came within a game of besting the Los Angeles Lakers this past postseason.

    And let's be honest: Those Lakers may be adding a geriatric Steve Nash, but the Nuggets are a hungry young team that will be a year older and wiser. That chemistry factor alone could make Denver a huge surprise of the 2012-13 season.

    JaVale McGee was just getting his feet wet, and Ty Lawson is coming into his own. If Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler can fit into this picture, watch out.

10. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Whoever the Los Angeles Clippers wind up with as the starting 2-guard, there's one important fact that keeps this team from contending: It can't play defense.

    Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe are exceptions in that regard, but they play the same position. The paint area is ripe for the taking, and it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon. Defense may not be in Blake Griffin's DNA, and it certainly isn't in DeAndre Jordan's; don't let his blocked shots fool you.

    Still, the Clippers will find a way to win some games and look good doing it. Then, they'll find a way to lose again in that second round—if they can get that far.

9. New York Knicks

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    As long as Carmelo Anthony is around, the New York Knicks have a chance to be special. But just how good a chance that is depends on a lot of things.

    Will Amar'e Stoudemire figure out how to contribute without getting in the way? Can Tyson Chandler be a factor against the elite like the Miami Heat?

    And more importantly, who will be running the point next season in New York? It could still be Jeremy Lin, but if the Knicks decide not to match his offer from the Houston Rockets, there would be quite the vacancy in the backcourt.

    Sure, free agents like Raymond Felton could help to some degree. But without Lin, this club's ranking will take a hit.

8. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies' bench will suffer a loss if it doesn't hold onto O.J. Mayo, but this is still a team with a solid starting five and decent depth to boot.

    Rudy Gay has been a model of consistency, and Mike Conley has shown steady improvement. Together, they give this club a perimeter that can both shoot and defend.

    But Memphis' real advantage is in the paint.

    Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are a handful for any team, and not just because they have a couple of big bodies. Both can score inside and out, and both are menaces on the glass. Gasol also contributes a passing ability that sets him apart from most big men.

    The Grizz came up short against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round this year, but only by a hair. This team is still capable of taking it to the next level.

7. Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers had a breakout season by any estimate, and they even managed to hang in there against the Miami Heat for at least some of their second-round series.

    Chances are they take it to another level next season, with or without Roy Hibbert's services. George Hill is coming into his own and will be all the more comfortable in the Pacers' system with a season under his belt. And Paul George is improving by the year.

    But the real story here is Indiana's depth.

    With guys like Danny Granger, David West, Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough contributing, the Pacers can come at you in a lot of different ways. They may be a star away from being a real contender, but they're close either way.

6. Chicago Bulls

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    It's hard to rank the Chicago Bulls without knowing exactly when Derrick Rose will return.

    If he's out for the entire season, the Bulls would slide to a virtual tie with the Brooklyn Nets in these rankings. If he makes it back in time to play a meaningful role in the playoffs, then this is the right spot.

    Can a healthy Chicago team beat the Miami Heat? Absolutely. It wouldn't be easy, but the Bulls' depth and defensive ability make them potent opponents on any given night.

    Unfortunately, the Bulls are also vulnerable against similarly well-coached teams like the Boston Celtics. So, while they could certainly win a title, they're not exactly a dominant club just yet.

5. Boston Celtics

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    As long as Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are on this team and playing like themselves, the Boston Celtics will be a contender.

    Adding Jason Terry to the mix certainly won't hurt, especially when Boston's only real weakness has been a shortage of depth and guys who can create their own shots.

    The Celtics could very easily have been in the 2012 NBA Finals, and it would be foolish to count the C's out next time around. They're a brilliantly coached squad with veteran talent and one of the very best pure point guards in the game.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

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    If you thought the Los Angeles Lakers would rocket atop of these rankings with Steve Nash on board, think again.

    Sure, the legendary passer pushes them ahead of the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, but let's not get too greedy. There's no reason to believe Nash would have been enough to put this club over the top against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals, and nor are they a lock to best the still-formidable San Antonio Spurs.

    Getting through the Western Conference will remain a challenge, to say nothing of L.A.'s chances against a team like the Miami Heat.

    Kobe Bryant has become a prolific jump-shooter, and a very good one at that. But he's not the same guy who won five titles for Los Angeles. You can also bet that Steve Nash starts to lose some of his shimmer over the next couple of years, and that's assuming his back doesn't completely implode first.

    Getting Nash was a nice move, but it probably won't be enough to win a championship.

3. San Antonio Spurs

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    We should pardon the San Antonio Spurs their epic letdown against the OKC Thunder.

    They'd won 20 games in a row until that point, including their first two contests against the Thunder. Anyone who thinks this team will pack it up and call it a day makes the same mistake so many have made year after year: underestimating Gregg Popovich's teams.

    The Spurs' offense is a thing of beauty when it's clicking, and this team will only become more effective with time to further integrate Stephen Jackson into the mix and the opportunity for youngsters like Kawhi Leonard to bloom.

    San Antonio will remain just as dangerous as it's ever been.

2. Miami Heat

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    Let's not overestimate what the NBA Finals meant this time around.

    The Miami Heat got hot at the right time, and James Harden went cold at the worst possible time. If Harden plays like himself while Shane Battier and Mike Miller do the same, that series probably turns out quite a bit differently.

    Still, Miami is a dominant team. There's no doubt about that.

    If Dwyane Wade stays healthy and Chris Bosh continues to settle into a complementary scoring role, the Heat will be nearly unbeatable once again.

    On the other hand, more than a few things could go wrong for this team given its age, potential for chemistry issues, and spotty bench.

    Even if they snag Ray Allen, those will remain concerns—enough so that the Oklahoma City Thunder are the real team to beat in 2012-13.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Adding talent to the roster isn't the only way to make a team better. Getting cracked in the NBA Finals can do the trick as well.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder will return as the hungriest team in the league, and that's saying something when a club is already so young and talented. It's easy to forget how inexperienced this team is in the grand scheme of things.

    If they could make it to the finals without a single one of their stars even 24 years old, imagine what they'll do next time around.

    Kevin Durant has proven himself the league's deadliest scorer, and Russell Westbrook is still getting better. Don't expect Serge Ibaka and James Harden to disappear so quickly the next time the Miami Heat are in town.

    They may have lost the series that counts, but the OKC Thunder are this league's best team.