Offseason Grades for Every NBA Team, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The NBA's doors are about to reopen, meaning the fruits of each team's offseason labors will finally be put to the test.
Every summer, the Association is consumed by capriciousness, and this one proved to be no different.
From the Miami Heat's defiance of salary-cap restrictions, to the Los Angeles Lakers' deftly executed coup, to the New York Knicks' quest to house the elderly—this offseason was shrouded in unpredictability.
But is that necessarily good news for every team? Were the Cleveland Cavaliers wise to remain almost idle? Have the Orlando Magic adequately begun life without Dwight Howard? Are the Minnesota Timberwolves stacked enough to clinch a playoff berth?
Before we can fully move on and embrace the rise of the 2012-13 campaign, we must first address, acknowledge and come to accept how teams have currently situated themselves.
Whether it be for better or worse.
Goodbye Joe Johnson, hello Lou Williams and a hearty welcome-back handshake to mediocrity.
There was nothing to hate about Atlanta's offseason; the team rid itself of Johnson's poisonous contract, added some instant offense Kyle Korver and Williams, and even brought in a sharp-shooting rookie in John Jenkins.
And yet, while the end game is clear—build around Josh Smith—the Hawks needed more than just future cap space to put such a blueprint into motion.
Atlanta's outlook heading into 2012-13 is good, but it's not great. With Al Horford and Smith in this place, this team is undoubtedly playoff-worthy, but the Hawks have been a postseason team for the last five years.
What Atlanta really needed to do was was become a contender. But it didn't.
So, while the Hawks will take the prospective cap space, let it be known an above-average assembly would have spoken volumes more to Smith than to what is, for now, a series of lateral moves.
We expected Boston to enter a full-fledge rebuild, yet much to the rest of the Atlantic Division's dismay, the Celtics were able to solidify their status as a championship contender.
Ray Allen may have taken his talent to South Beach, but Boston plugged the hole he left in with two capable guards in Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.
The Celtics also retained both Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett—two essential cogs in Boston's relatively underwhelming low post attack.
That said, bringing Jeff Green back, while sensible, was expensive—too expensive. An additional presence on the glass, one more formidable than Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox, would have also helped the league's worst rebounding team's cause a great deal.
Even so, this offseason had the potential to be one to forget, but the Celtics turned the table on reality.
Which in this case was a good thing.
For those that are repulsed by how much money the Nets committed to spending this summer—nearly $250 million over the next five years–I urge you to look at the facts.
This is a franchise that has won less than 60 games the past three seasons. And this is a team who hasn't made the playoffs in five years.
And now, this is a team that is position to contend for a championship.
Sure, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace were pricey, and yes, Joe Johnson will never live up to his current contract, but Deron Williams ties this all together.
Williams is one of the most resourceful players in the league. He has the potential to make each of the aforementioned teammates, along Mirza Teletovic, look like studs.
Which is exactly what he'll do—lead this team back to prominence, immediately.
And that's money well spent.
The more I look at what the Bobcats did this offseason, the more I wish I didn't have to.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the most underrated top-two pick in recent history; he's going to be a superstar—the evolution of a jump shot, permitting.
But aside from him, Charlotte did almost nothing to strengthen its present or future attack.
Ben Gordon can score, but not like he used to, and once he exercises his player option for 2013-14—and he will—the Bobcats won't be in a position to make a big free-agency splash next summer. Considering they shipped the expiring contract of Corey Maggette out in exchange for him, that's a crushing blow and logic at its worst.
Factor in the signing of Ramon Sessions, who—while a fundamentally sound floor general—could hinder the progression of Kemba Walker as a playmaker, and you have a team that will win more than seven, but less than 20, games.
Operating within the confines of a salary cap or not, the Bulls didn't do enough this offseason.
Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson will do wonders for a Chicago team who no longer has Derrick Rose's explosive offense, but the Bulls are hardly enough of a consolation prize.
The fact is, the Bulls could have done more, They didn't have a wealth of disposable income to burn through, but they spent what money they did have on the wrong players, specifically Kirk Hinrich.
Do you know who Chicago could have inked for the same type of money? Raymond Felton or O.J. Mayo, just to name two.
But Rose will be back, so it won't matter in the end, right?
Correct, Rose will be back...eventually. Until then, the product the Bulls are putting on the floor is plagued by uncertainty.
And that's far from reassuring.
Outside of Kyrie Irving, the most exciting to player to watch in Cleveland is Tyler Zeller. And that's a huge problem.
It's not just that the Cavaliers wasted—yes, wasted—the fourth overall pick of the draft on Dion Waiters. And it's not just because they failed to land another star-caliber player in general.
No, Cleveland's failure here stems from its inability, or unwillingness, to properly spend the funds it had available.
The Cavaliers were quiet during free agency. Too quiet. They had over $10 million annually to dell out, and yet their most prominent acquisition was C.J. Miles.
Irving can only sustain Cleveland for so long; there's going to come a time when he needs help, a legitimate sidekick who isn't associated with the words "bust" or "maybe."
Is that time now? After the bare offseason the Cavaliers had, they better hope not.
For the Mavericks, it's not just about the players they obtained, but how they obtained them.
Elton Brand was an unexpected gift, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo came surprisingly cheap, and relinquishing Ian Mahinmi in exchange for Darren Collison is a price Dallas can live with.
That's what is important here. After losing Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to free agency, this offseason was poised to cripple the Mavericks.
But Dallas was crafty. It assembled a respectable core of fundamentally sound athletes—one of which, in Mayo, has star potential–to place alongside Dirk Nowitzki, thereby keeping its postseason hopes alive.
Is a championship on the horizon for the Mavericks?
No, not at all. But neither is a lottery appearance. And that's huge.
It's tough to have a better offseason than the Nuggets did.
Denver not only landed a franchise star in Andre Iguodala, but it shored up its backcourt by retaining Andre Miller and its frontcourt by re-signing JaVale McGee. Even draft picks Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller have the type of versatile skill set that the Nuggets swear on.
The result? One of the NBA's deepest teams becoming, well, deeper.
This is now a team who cannot be ignored any longer; the Nuggets may still be considered a dark horse to win a championship, but there's now no denying they have the talent necessary to contend for one.
Simply put, this is what a successful offseason looks like.
Detroit didn't do much, which was both good and bad.
Drafting Andre Drummond was a risk, a huge one. That said, it has the potential to pay significant dividends, in the form of a future All-Star presence.
Should Drummond go bust, though, the Pistons are in trouble. Right now, Greg Monroe is the team's only star-caliber player, and his supporting cast is underwhelming to say the least.
So, while the additions of Jonny Flynn in the backcourt and Corey Maggette's expiring contract deserve some merit, Detroit needed to have a better than mediocre offseason.
But it didn't—it was average, at best.
Golden State Warriors
The method to Golden State's offseason approach? Latch onto as many Hornets as possible.
And you know what? It worked.
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are going to prove invaluable to the Warriors' offensive attack. Landry is a workhorse in the low post who provides insurance should Andrew Bogut continue his injury-prone traditions, and Jack gives the team a true floor general, in every sense of the word.
And while some aren't so high on Harrison Barnes, his smooth-shooting ways will work wonders at a small forward position Golden State desperately needed to fill. Let's not forget Brandon Rush either, though. He's a two-way presence who works well both in the first- and second unit.
Yes, the Warriors' core—Bogut and Stephen Curry—are held together by gum and paper clips, but their newest additions and returning faces are not.
And for Golden State, durable depth is a luxury that hasn't been afforded for quite some time.
Enough cannot be said about how bad Houston's offseason was.
Not only did the Rockets willingly let two point guards walk out the door, but they threw a pile of money at another one who remains vastly unproven.
That apparently wasn't enough uncertainty, though, as Houston then felt it prudent to toss $25 million to Omer Asik, a clumsy center who hasn't proven anything more than Lin. Then there's always the fact that the team decimated its roster in anticipation of landing a game-changing presence, which it didn't.
Even a strong draft that brought the Rockets three quality players isn't enough to make up for that.
Because in the span of an offseason, Houston went from a fringe-playoff team to an organization destined to spend ample time in the NBA's doldrums.
Not exactly what you'd call a successful summer, is it?
The Pacers offseason wasn't anything spectacular.
Re-signing Roy Hibbert, regardless of the price, was a necessity. And there's plenty of great things to say about the signings of D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green as well.
As for George Hill, though? That's a different story.
By committing $40 million to Hill and shipping Darren Collison to Dallas, Indiana was essentially embracing the presence of a below-average playmaker as its primary floor general. And that's borderline laughable.
Factor in the return the Pacers got for Collison—an underwhelming big man in Ian Mahinmi—and their decision to draft Miles Plumlee, and you have yourself a head-scratcher of an offseason.
One that does anything but solidify Indiana's status as a contender.
Los Angeles Clippers
By most accounts, the Clippers had a terrific offseason. But this is not one of those accounts.
Was it a successful offseason? Well, let's just say, it fulfilled its purpose, because Los Angeles is still a team worth watching.
That said, there is too much hype surrounding the acquisition of Jamal Crawford, an aging combo guard who defines what it is to be erratic.
From there you have a wealth of uncertainty in Lamar Odom and a perpetual injury risk in Chauncey Billups. And while the additions of Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and Ronny Turiaf preach depth, even they are far from guaranteed production.
Case and point: Aside from extending Blake Griffin, the Clippers didn't help their championship case as much as people believe. Their dynamic is still significantly uncertain and they took a series of risks that have the potential to cripple their any title aspirations.
And with Chris Paul heading into a contract year, that's not a situation a team wants to find itself in.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had the quintessential example of a perfect offseason.
Not only did Los Angeles land the likes of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Steve Nash without breaking the bank, but it brought in Dwight Howard at minimal cost as well.
Now, the Lakers have a quartet of stars to go with an actual bench, the latter of which is a luxury they were not afforded last year.
So, while the potential chemistry issues facing this team cannot be ignored, they can be downplayed. Yes, Los Angeles has plenty of star egos it must now satisfy, but it also has plenty of athletes willing to do whatever it takes to win.
And that's the thing: the Lakers aren't built to fail, they're built to win.
No O.J. Mayo? No problem.
Memphis may have shown the door to one of the most potent scorers in the game, yet it still managed to maintain a strong dynamic.
Jerryd Bayless was easily one of the most understated acquisitions of the offseason. He provides the Grizzlies with an additional scorer and, most importantly, a point man to run the offense in Mike Conley's stead.
Considering how unstructured Memphis' second unit proved to be at times last season, that's huge. It also puts less pressure on volatile rookie Tony Wroten.
As for the returns of Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights, their presence helped maintain some oft-utilized depth.
So, while it wasn't an overly active offseason, it was just enough to ensure the Grizzlies remained one of the most formidable teams in the league.
It's not often you see a defending champion improve as much as the Heat did this summer.
If anything, championship entities are prone to disintegration (see: 2011 Mavericks), but Miami has proved to be an exception.
The Heat managed to add the most prolific three-point shooter the game has ever seen in Ray Allen, while also bringing in one of the most versatile, albeit underachieving, players in the NBA in Rashard Lewis. Even Josh Harrellson's ability to stretch defenses is something to get excited about in South Beach.
What's more is they made such additions on a beggar's dime, appealing to the championship senses of guys like Allen and Lewis, not their wallets.
And the results of such a strategy was offseason execution at its best.
If you're the Bucks, you would have been hoping for much more, but some mild upkeeping will have to do.
Bringing back Ersan Ilyasova was expensive, yet necessary all the same. For a team that was anything but strong in the post, his presence—though he spent much of his time on the perimeter—is essential.
And that's exactly where Samuel Dalembert comes in. While he's been overrated for his entire career, he's a workhorse on defense and a fixture on the glass.
The problem there, though, is on offense, where Dalembert is extremely limited. Which brings us to the athletic but raw John Henson out of North Carolina. He has two-way potential that Dalembert never has, and never will. But he's a project.
That's why the Bucks are perplexing. Their offseason was OK and it made sense, yet was it enough? Did they strengthen their team enough to clinch a playoff berth?
Despite the numerous pieces now in place down low, the answer here is still no.
Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy are back, but they're hardly better than ever.
And yet, there are high hopes in Minnesota. After all, while both Kirilenko and Roy are more than a year removed from the NBA, they're former All-Stars who have the type of experience Kevin Love embraces and skill sets Ricky Rubio can utilize.
Factor in the additions of Lou Amundson and Alexey Shved, and you have a significantly deeper team than last season.
One that could make a legitimate postseason push, provided they remain healthy and live up to their potential.
Which, courtesy of both Kirilenko and Roy, is anything but guaranteed.
New Orleans Hornets
The Cavaliers should be watching closely, because they could learn something here.
After being forced into the NBA's basement at the hands of Chris Paul, the Hornets rebounded swiftly and spectacularly.
Between drafting Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, re-signing Eric Gordon and landing Ryan Anderson, New Orleans now has a team talented enough to contend for the playoffs. Shipping out Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor also gives the organization some additional cap space to play with next summer as well.
So, while the Hornets are unlikely to fetch a playoff berth in 2013, they've set themselves up perfectly for the future, to the point where Paul's departure seems like a distant memory.
Now how's that for an offseason?
New York Knicks
Are the Knicks better or merely older?
A little of both, I'd say, although after bringing Rasheed Wallace into the fold, the latter has become even more prevalent.
Because you see, Wallace is just one of five 35-plus-year-olds New York has become home to.
Marcus Camby (38), Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39), along with Wallace (38), have all had their day, but their day is over. And as talented a playmaker as Pablo Priogini (35) is, the chances of him excelling at the NBA level are less than slim.
Then there's Raymond Felton to consider. By the numbers, he's a better fit in New York than Jeremy Lin, but in terms of potential, Lin's uncertain ceiling trumps Felton's peak; the Knicks essentially gave up a promising prospect for a lukewarm floor general who has never played alongside a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony.
So, while you can look at New York's roster and deem it plenty deep, the fact is, it's more fragile than deep.
Which is hardly indicative of a true championship contender.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Why are the Thunder receiving an "A" here? Because they deserve it.
Oklahoma City started the summer with a bang, landing a draft-day steal—and the perfect backup to Kevin Durant—in Perry Jones III. The team proceeded to follow that up with the additions of Hasheem Thabeet and Andy Rautins and, of course, Serge Ibaka's extension.
While none of the new faces scream star power, they strengthen an already impressive rotation. Thabeet may be a bust, but he's a former No. 2 pick who adds depth to the frontcourt, and Rautins, while anything but athletic, is an understated playmaker with unselfish tendencies.
As for Ibaka? Locking him down before he hit the open market was imperative. His mid-range jumper continues to improve and he's the best shot-blocker in the league.
Yes, on paper, the Thunder didn't do much. But they didn't have to; there was no reason to blow it up or make brash changes, even after falling in five games to the Heat.
Recognizing this and subsequently focusing on acquiring additional depth wasn't just the right move by Oklahoma City; it was the perfect one.
It's difficult to move on when the very reality that had rendered a team stagnant continues to haunt them.
That's right, even after dealing Dwight Howard, the Magic are still a team in flux.
Though Orlando was never destined to come out of this offseason on top, it could have at least attempted to salvage the situation.
Instead, though, the Magic received an extremely poor return for Howard, grossly overpaid to retain Jameer Nelson's services and have helped build up rookie Andrew Nicholson, who when all is said and done, isn't star material.
So, yes, the Magic were forced into making decisions they didn't want to make, but is that entirely on Howard.
Absolutely not, because it was Orlando who chose make a bad situation even worse.
For the Sixers, it was all about finding balance, which they did—to a certain extent.
There's no denying how game-changing Andrew Bynum's acquisition is. Sure, it cost Philadelphia an All-Star playmaker in Andre Iguodala, but he's a player the team was looking to deal for years.
With Bynum now in the fold, though, the Sixers instantly have the Eastern Conference's best center. The two-way improvements he made last season only heighten the excitement surrounding his arrival.
Now, suddenly, Philadelphia is thinking championship. After all, Bynum gives the team a championship pillar to build around, and athletes like Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright reason to continue jacking up jumpers.
But will that be enough? Is Bynum mature enough to lead a title charge? Will his knee and health hold up? And will he be able to co-exist alongside Spencer Hawes?
Yes, Bynum is a enough for now, and yes, he will be able to play alongside Hawes, but even after a strong offseason, this is not a championship team.
Not right now, anyway.
Moving on is difficult to do, unless you're the Suns.
Before Steve Nash was even dealt to the Lakers, Phoenix found itself a capable replacement in Kendall Marshall. However, once Nash left, the Suns wasted no time in inking Goran Dragic, another talented playmaker worthy of filling the gap at point guard.
Then there's Luis Scola to consider, who will greatly enhance Phoenix's frontcourt attack, especially while Channing Frye works his way back. This even seems like the team for Michael Beasley, who will find himself under less pressure and therefore more likely to succeed.
No, next season might not be pretty, but after reacting so quickly and efficiently to Nash's departure, the Suns have ensured it won't be ugly either.
And at this point, keeping hope alive is more than half the battle.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers once again failed to meet high expectations.
After their stock plummeted during the 2011-12 regular season, the team was supposed to reinvent itself. And while re-signing Nicolas Batum and taking on Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard was a start, it's still far from the finish.
Prior to retaining Batum, Portland had plenty of cap space to burn. At first glance, it appeared the team was willing to use it, going hard after Roy HIbbert. Yet once he re-signed with Indiana, there was no sense of urgency, no killer instinct displayed on the Blazers' behalf.
Yes, Lillard is a stud, and in all probability a future star, but obtaining a proven veteran for him to learn from would have been beneficial to his development. Though Leonard won't have that same problem playing next to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers desperately could have used more insurance besides Jared Jeffries in the low post as well.
There's no way around it: Portland had a good offseason, but after imploding only last year, it needed to have a great one, an aggressive one.
And that it simply didn't do.
Sacramento had a terrible offseason.
Not only did the Kings fail to make their roster progressively better, but they created a number of unnecessary headaches.
Signing Aaron Brooks didn't make much sense. He's a crafty ball-handler who can score pretty well, but so is Jimmer Fredette. Both are hardly known for their passing abilities, so boasting the likes of both within an offense that already has Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas is counterproductive.
Worse than that, though, was Sacramento's decision to re-sign Jason Thompson. Now, it's not so much that he was brought back, it's that the Kings invested $30 million in him over the next five years.
While insurance in the low post can go a long way, why would a team that just drafted Thomas Robinson throw $30 million at a backup center? Better yet, even without Robinson, what would motivate the Kings to do that?
Beats me, because Thompson is anything but consistent or prolific. If anything his presence slows the progression of Robinson, creating unnecessary chemistry problems for DeMarcus Cousins in the low post as well.
No, it was not a good summer for the Kings at all.
San Antonio Spurs
Compared to last year, the Spurs look, well, the same.
But is that a good thing? Yes and no.
While San Antonio didn't make larger-than-life additions, it did retain a number of key players in Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan and Danny Green. Each athlete played an integral role in carrying the Spurs to a Western Conference Finals appearance, so their return was a borderline necessity.
And yet, at the same time, some new faces may have been just what San Antonio needed to push itself over the hump. Patty Mills was a start, but nowhere near enough.
Because while this is essentially the exact same team that made a deep playoff push last season, it's also the same one that fell to the Thunder. And they did nothing to inject some youth or additional athleticism into an aging lineup.
But again, this has been the same story for the past few years. The Spurs are too old—there is no way they're going to contend for a title.
What happens every year, though? San Antonio makes its presence in the championship hunt known.
And after this summer, there's no reason for us to expect otherwise again.
Even after missing out on Steve Nash, the Raptors got better. A lot better.
Though we may cringe at the money Landry Fields received, Toronto made a series of acquisitions at point guard to enhance its backcourt attack even further.
Kyle Lowry was obtained for almost nothing, giving the Raptors a younger, star-caliber floor general to direct its lethal offense, and it also inked John Lucas III, a wily ball-handler fresh off a coming-out party in Chicago.
The Raptors also added the sharp-shooting Terrence Ross via the draft. Most have him pegged as a draft-day reach, but the fact is, alongside plenty of point guards who embrace the art of the drive and kick, Ross is a valuable asset who will stretch opposing defenses wafer thin.
Factor in Jonas Valanciunas' long-anticipated arrival, and you have a squad built to make some noise in the wide-open East in 2012-13.
Not bad for a team that finished 20 games under .500 last season. Not bad at all.
Utah continues to be underestimated.
After surprising the entire NBA by clinching a playoff berth last season, the Jazz went to work to improve their current dynamic.
They still boast the deepest low-post quartet in the league, but have now added some firepower on the perimeter, specifically in the backcourt.
Mo Williams, while erratic at times, is an explosive scorer capable of playing either guard position. He's an understated passer as well who will have no trouble directing a notoriously structured offense with Devin Harris out of the picture.
Randy Foye is in the same boat, as he injects even more offensive life in the Jazz's backcourt with his ability to score at will and even handle the point guard duties when called upon.
Throw Marvin Williams' inside-out prowess into the fold, and you now have a Utah team that is not only built to make the payoffs, but also to make some serious postseason noise.
A far cry from the team that got swept by San Antonio, if you ask me.
Washington, somewhat surprisingly, had a good offseason.
Though Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor cost an arm and a leg financially, both enhance and deepen the Wizards' frontcourt attack.
More important than that, though, was Washington's selection of Bradley Beal, an offensive chameleon who can exploit any defensive set within any offensive structure.
With John Wall set to miss some extensive time, his presence becomes all the more important to a Wizards team looking to prove it has playoff potential. And once Wall returns, the two should also make for one of the most exciting backcourt tandems in the league.
Will this be enough to propel Washington in the playoff picture?
The smart money says no, especially with Wall out to start the year.
That said, the Wizards are well on their way to reestablishing themselves as a postseason entity, which is much more than we could say for them a few months ago.