Updated NBA Power Rankings After 1st Wave of 2015 Free Agency
A year ago, NBA free agency ground to a halt while LeBron James took his time making up his mind. This July, James remains unsigned, but the rest of the market hasn't waited around for the game's pre-eminent player to pen another letter (with the help of a ghostwriter, of course).
Instead, while James presumably waits for the Cleveland Cavaliers to sort out other pressing matters, his peers have been busy snapping up new contracts like eight- and nine-figure hotcakes.
LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis and DeMarre Carroll have all found new homes. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green (among others) have decided that there's no place like home—if last season's stomping grounds qualify as such.
Any shift in the league's landscape as seismic as the one that's taken place since July 1 requires a reassessment of how all 30 teams relate to one another. Hence, here's a fresh set of power rankings, with squads ordered from worst to first based on personnel new and old.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
In case you were wondering, it doesn't appear as though the Philadelphia 76ers will be courting a serious turnaround this coming season. Rather than spend their chasm of cap space on any free agents of even marginal consequence, the Sixers opted to absorb the contracts of Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson, a native of nearby New Jersey, from the Sacramento Kings, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
In the long term, this deal could work out like gangbusters for the 76ers. Stauskas, the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft, turns 22 shortly after the start of training camp and, with more playing time than he found in Sacramento, could develop into a solid combo guard for Philly.
Throw in a pair of pick swaps, in 2016 and 2017, and a protected first-round pick that could convey as early as 2018, and general manager Sam Hinkie's treasure trove of rebuilding chips looks as stout as ever.
In the meantime, Sixers fans can look forward to another slog of a season, albeit one buoyed by the development of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor and (with any luck) the long-awaited debut of Joel Embiid.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
According to ESPN's Amin Elhassan, Flip Saunders has no plans or intentions to spend big in free agency this summer.
Which, in truth, makes sense. The Minnesota Timberwolves' roster is jam-packed with young players in need of serious seasoning at the NBA level.
That stockpile—which already included the last three No. 1 picks (Anthony Bennett, reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns) along with the likes of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne, Gorgui Dieng and rookie Tyus Jones—swelled even further with the long-awaited addition of Nemanja Bjelica, the 35th pick in the 2010 draft, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Granted, Bjelica is no professional newbie. The 27-year-old Serbian was named the MVP of the Euroleague this past season with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey.
But, as far as NBA experience is concerned, Bjelica is about as steeped in those ways as Towns and Jones are. To that end, he should fit right into a rebuild that, though still a couple of years shy of a return to competitive play for the T-Wolves, should bring an end to Minnesota's 11-year playoff drought in due course.
28. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have largely kept quiet through the start of free agency. Per ESPN.com, they've registered cursory interest in Monta Ellis (who signed with the Pacers)...and that's about it.
According to the Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, the Nuggets would like to retain Jameer Nelson, Will Barton and Darrell Arthur, all of whom played in Denver last season. Beyond that, the team doesn't have much in the way of cap space with which to attract a major addition.
And frankly, as far as the state of the franchise is concerned, the Nuggets are in no position to make a splash at this point anyway. If there's anything this year's free-agency period has made clear, it's that players in their prime aren't inclined to latch on with losing teams, especially ones as in flux.
That doesn't mean the Nuggets won't be active this summer. If anything, Denver should get more involved once the free-agent market dies down. At that point, the Nuggets will have a better idea of which teams are interested in the likes of Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari—not to mention a clearer picture of what the team can bring back in trade for its more attractive chips.
27. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic broke the bank to bring back Tobias Harris on a four-year, $64 million deal, but aside from that, they haven't made much noise.
That is, unless C.J. Watson's three-year, $15 million pact and the sign-and-trade that will send Kyle O'Quinn to New York qualify.
To be sure, keeping Harris could be huge for the Magic. The soon-to-be-23-year-old forward emerged as a capable volume scorer after arriving in Orlando in 2013 by way of the trade that sent J.J. Redick to Milwaukee.
And, if anyone is concerned about Harris' relationship with Scott Skiles—his first coach with the Bucks and now his next coach with the Magic—fear not.
Harris said, per the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins:
First off, me and Scott have a great relationship. What people don’t understand is that when he first coached me, I was 18 years old. And from 18 to being about to turn 23 now, I’m a completely different player. Even in Milwaukee, where I didn’t play as much, we still had a great dialogue. He just wanted me to work harder. He just said, 'Your time is coming.' So he was always encouraging for me.
Indeed, Harris' time is coming, though, like Orlando's young roster as a whole, it may take another season or two, at least. But the Magic appear to be on the right track, assuming the rest of their youngsters (i.e., Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja) continue to grow alongside Harris and Nikola Vucevic.
26. New York Knicks
All things considered, the New York Knicks have acquitted themselves surprisingly well in free agency. Sure, they struck out on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe, but Robin Lopez (four years, $54 million) and Arron Afflalo (two years, $16 million) are no slouches, and the additions of Kyle O'Quinn and Derrick Williams could help on the fringes.
Lopez, in particular, is precisely the sort of no-nonsense big man the Knicks need next to a ball-dominant (and defensively deficient) player like Carmelo Anthony. Even Willis Reed, one of the most revered players in Knicks history, seems pleased with the move.
"I like him. He has a lot of potential," Reed told the New York Post's Fred Kerber. "Robin defends, that’s good. I just know inside, you have got to have someone who can do good stuff there, and I’m happy Phil got one. If you’re going to have a basketball team in the NBA, you’ve got to stop people scoring close to the basket and in the paint."
The Knicks will need all the help they can get in that regard. Between rookies Jerian Grant and Kristaps Porzingis, and Anthony, who's coming off knee surgery, New York will sport more than its fair share of defensive matadors once the 2015-16 season rolls around.
25. Los Angeles Lakers
Since the start of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers have seen their title odds improve from 66-1 to 50-1, per ESPN.com's Arash Markazi. That's pretty good, considering that the Lakers swung and missed on some of the summer's biggest free agents (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe).
To its credit, the Purple and Gold did well to rebound from those embarrassing snubs. According to Yahoo Sports' Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers will use their abundant cap space to absorb the $15.5 million left on Roy Hibbert's deal. L.A. will reportedly have only to send a future second-round pick back to the Indiana Pacers to acquire the former All-Star center.
Beyond that, general manager Mitch Kupchak announced that the team will sign Lou Williams, the newest Sixth Man of the Year, and Brandon Bass, a solid backup big, once the league's moratorium is lifted July 9.
None of these moves figures to transform the Lakers back into title contenders, as the updated odds suggest. But this team could be respectable on the court if Kobe Bryant can stay even relatively healthy and the youngsters on hand (i.e., Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, rookie D'Angelo Russell) prove to be productive members of Byron Scott's rotation.
What's more important in Lakerland is that Clarkson, Randle and Russell form a solid foundation for the future—solid enough to lure in a big-name free agent next summer, when the cap is set to skyrocket and the salaries of Bryant and Hibbert come off the books.
24. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings make the Brooklyn Nets look like the San Antonio Spurs, if that makes any sense.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Kings gave up a former lottery pick (Nik Stauskas), a protected future first-round selection and a pair of pick swaps to the Sixers so that they could dump the salaries of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry into Philly's cap space, thereby cleaning up their own books a bit.
And on whom, pray tell, did Sacramento spend its hard-earned flexibility? Rajon Rondo (one year, $9.5 million), Marco Belinelli (three years, $18.8 million), Kosta Koufos (four years, $33 million) and Omri Casspi (two years, $5.8 million)...but only after failing to land Monta Ellis, Wesley Matthews, Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer, among others.
To the Kings' credit, there is some logic to the signings they were able to pull off. As Sactown Royalty's Blake Ellington tweeted, "Kings needed to add shooting, playmaking and defense this offseason. The package of Cauley-Stein, Belinelli, Rondo and Koufos nails that. Some Kings players have told me roster needed vets with playoff experience. Rondo & Belinelli have championships. Koufos with playoff exp."
Sacramento, though, paid a huge price to fill those holes. The Kings already owe a protected pick to the Chicago Bulls and won't control their own first-round draft destiny for quite some time after that in the wake of the deal with Philly.
Then again, if such desperate maneuvers are necessary to escape the franchise's nearly decadelong doldrums—and, in turn, keep DeMarcus Cousins on board—they may prove to be well worth the Kings' ransom that's been forked over, in terms of both dollars and assets.
23. Charlotte Hornets
The only consequential free-agent news to which the Charlotte Hornets have thus far been attached pertains to the departures of their own players. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Bismack Biyombo is on his way to Toronto, while Mo Williams is heading back to Cleveland.
Don't expect the Hornets to do anything splashy, either. Charlotte is already well over the salary cap, with little breathing room beneath the luxury tax of which to speak.
22. Portland Trail Blazers
The LaMarcus Aldridge era now belongs to the past tense for the Portland Trail Blazers. The All-Star forward, who will sign a four-year max contract with the San Antonio Spurs, announced his decision to Rip City with a departure letter in the Oregonian.
"As I'm sure you can respect, my decision was a very personal one but not one I took lightly," Aldridge explained to his "friends," according to the Oregonian's John Canzano. "Although I will be wearing a different uniform the next time I come back to Portland, please know that I will always hold my time in a Blazers uniform near and dear to my heart."
It's a tough blow for the Blazers, albeit an expected one. Heck, Portland assistant Kim Hughes got canned for predicting publicly in late June that Aldridge would skip town, per ESPN.
Now that Aldridge is off to compete for titles in his home state, the onus for Portland's future fortunes falls firmly on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. As USA Today's Sam Amick wrote, Lillard's rise played a part in Aldridge's departure:
For years, rumblings existed that Aldridge wasn't happy with his place in the Portland spotlight. First it was Brandon Roy stealing his thunder, then Greg Oden before his ill-fated fall, and then this young and dynamic talent named Damian Lillard whose star rose far too quickly for Aldridge's liking. Along the way, the complaints that would rarely, if ever, come directly from Aldridge himself were consistent: one way or another, intentional or not, he felt underappreciated -- if not disrespected.
In all likelihood, Lillard's new extension—which could net him well over $125 million starting in 2016-17, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears—wouldn't have helped matters any. Either way, Aldridge is gone, leaving Lillard and the Blazers to lurch forward into a murky future.
21. Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe's decision to leave the Detroit Pistons was no surprise. Neither was Reggie Jackson's to re-sign—for $80 million over five years no less, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
The closest thing to a shocker for the Pistons since the start of free agency was the trade that will move Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock from Phoenix to Motown as part of a salary dump, per Woj.
Not that the Pistons don't have plenty about which to be giddy. They need only watch Stanley Johnson, the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft, beat up the competition at the Orlando Summer League like a man among boys to be reminded of their bright future.
20. Phoenix Suns
Like the Kings, the Phoenix Suns dumped salary but failed to fill the cap space they created with the player they wanted. Instead, LaMarcus Aldridge is off to San Antonio, which seemingly renders irrelevant the deal that'll send Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to Detroit.
On the whole, though, the Suns have done well for themselves. Tyson Chandler should bring some much-needed leadership (and two-way play at center) to this Phoenix team, even if paying $52 million to a 32-year-old, injury-prone center isn't the most prudent maneuver. Brandon Knight's new five-year, $70 million pact should pay dividends for Phoenix, as well, assuming Knight meshes well with Eric Bledsoe over the long haul.
All in all, the Suns are still in a nebulous spot with regard to the rest of the West. But for a young team in transition, landing a respected veteran like Chandler and garnering serious consideration from Aldridge look like steps in the right direction.
19. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers team that takes the floor next season will barely resemble the one that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals.
Roy Hibbert and David West are off to L.A. and San Antonio, respectively. Lance Stephenson left for Charlotte last summer and now finds himself with the Clippers.
Paul George and George Hill will still be around, but the former figures to log heavy minutes at power forward, while the latter will be sharing a backcourt with Monta Ellis. They'll both be joined by Rodney Stuckey, who spent the 2014-15 season in Indy and is slated to stick around for another three years, per RealGM's Shams Charania.
This shake-up, while somewhat disappointing on its face, aligns closely with the organization's vision to match its style of play with its nickname. In time, Myles Turner, the No. 11 pick in this year's draft, could fit comfortably into that mix as the more fleet-footed center that the Pacers would prefer in place of the plodding Hibbert.
18. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have never been a destination for big-name free agents and, apparently, still aren't.
Their most substantial moves of the summer so far? Signing Amir Johnson to a two-year, $24 million deal and retaining Jae Crowder for $35 million over five years.
If Danny Ainge has any tricks up his sleeve to turn the C's into something more than first-round playoff fodder, he'll have to whip them out on the trade market later on this summer.
Which is just as well, considering his reputation as "Trader Danny."
17. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets might have unencumbered themselves of the onerous salaries due to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, if not for the existence of more cost-effective options for their potential suitors.
According to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, the Kings might have been players for Williams had they not inked Rajon Rondo. Likewise, the Cleveland Cavaliers have kicked the tires on Johnson, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, but might wind up with Jamal Crawford on the wing instead, per ESPN's Marc Stein.
It wouldn't be the end of the world for the Nets if Williams and Johnson stay in Brooklyn. With Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young back in the fold, the Nets should once again find themselves in the mix for a spot among the Eastern Conference's top eight.
That's not likely to inspire much excitement, though it beats the alternative of tumbling into mediocrity amidst the franchise's crippling lack of control over its first-round picks until 2019.
16. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors were among the first teams to make headlines on July 1. They acted quickly to sign DeMarre Carroll to a four-year, $60 million deal.
"I had eight teams call me, and actually the Raptors were the very first team, and they gave me a great impression," Carroll said during a recent appearance on TSN 1050, via Raptors HQ's Joshua Santos. Carroll continued:
They came to my house at 10 o'clock and I had four other teams: Detroit, Phoenix and New York. The Raptors were the first team to come in, and they blew me away with their presentation. They blew me away, told me about the fan base, they told me about the city, they told me about how my family was going to live there and then last but not least, they told me about the team and I feel I can help this team in a lot of areas.
Indeed, Carroll should fit snugly into Toronto's rotation. The Raptors have lacked a sturdy option at small forward, with Terrence Ross failing to seize the job for himself.
Toronto's subsequent additions of Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph won't move many needles, though CoJo's return to his hometown could stir up some excitement among the team's contingent of rabid Canadian fans.
15. Utah Jazz
Mum's the word in free agency for the Utah Jazz this summer, as well it should be. The team won 19 of its final 29 games last season, with Rudy Gobert joining Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and rookie Dante Exum in the starting lineup.
Another year of seasoning should suit this group just fine. So, too, should the return of Alec Burks from a shoulder injury and the arrival of Trey Lyles out of Kentucky.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for general manager Dennis Lindsey to make a move that might jump-start the Jazz's rebuild. But even if Lindsey sits on his hands for the rest of the offseason, Utah will head into 2015-16 with ample reason for optimism now and plenty of promise to look forward to down the line.
14. Los Angeles Clippers
There's no getting around what a crushing blow it was, is and will be for the Los Angeles Clippers to lose DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks. His departure to his home state leaves behind a gaping hole at center in L.A. and little flexibility with which to fill it.
As it happens, Jordan was tired of not only failing to escape the second round of the playoffs but of playing a limited role while suffering through Chris Paul's scolding, per ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz:
He was tired of [Chris] Paul's constant barking and petty gestures, like distributing high-fives to the three other guys on the floor following a timeout but somehow freezing out Jordan. Optics aside, the biggest issue for Jordan was that, despite the leaps and bounds he made to be named first team all-defense, the Clippers always treated him like the player he was when he arrived in the NBA, and never like the player he'd become.
At this point, the Clippers' best bet for finding a decent replacement for Jordan may be to move another key member of their core: former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. According to Northeast Ohio Media Group's Chris Haynes, L.A. isn't actively shopping Crawford, though the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat have inquired about his availability.
To be sure, it's not all doom and gloom for the Clippers. They still have two of the league's top-10 players (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin), their wing rotation is much sturdier with Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson in the mix, and they'll have oodles of cap space to spend during next summer's free-agent bonanza.
For now, though, the Clippers seem likely to slip dangerously close to the fringes of an ever more competitive playoff picture out West.
13. Miami Heat
With any luck, the Miami Heat will get a good, long look at what Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can do when sharing the floor with Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside this coming season. Wade and Dragic both re-upped with the Heat early in free agency, shortly after Deng picked up his player option for 2015-16.
Miami never had the chance to see what its lineup could do in 2014-15. Shortly after Pat Riley snagged Dragic from Phoenix at the deadline, Bosh had to bow out on account of blood clots in his lungs.
That aforementioned fivesome should give the Heat a solid foundation from which to compete with the East's beasts, what few of those exist. The supporting cast could be good, too, with rookie Justise Winslow joining a healthy Josh McRoberts, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen.
This Heat group will still have plenty to prove, in terms of fitness and compatibility. On paper, though, Miami could be right back in the thick of things in the East after tumbling into the lottery last season.
12. Washington Wizards
Losing Paul Pierce was a big blow to the Washington Wizards. He was far and away their most clutch player this past postseason, during which he added to his impressive reel of late-game highlights.
To the Wizards' credit, though, they did well to recover from Pierce's departure. Since then, Washington has traded for Jared Dudley and signed Gary Neal. Both players are more than capable of knocking down an open jumper in a pinch—maybe not to the same effect as Pierce, though.
Then again, with John Wall and Bradley Beal maturing into cornerstones, the Wizards may not have to look beyond their backcourt for their most important crunch-time contributions.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Say what you will about the wisdom of DeAndre Jordan's decision to turn down more money with a title contender (the Clippers) for a starring role on an incomplete squad (the Dallas Mavericks). As much as Jordan may have butted heads with Chris Paul, L.A.'s All-Star point guard throws a mean lob—far meaner than anything Devin Harris and J.J. Barea could probably conjure up.
But there's a lot to like about Jordan in Dallas. He'll give the Mavs the sort of athletic, shot-blocking, rim-rocking center they had hoped to land when Dwight Howard hit free agency in 2013. Put Jordan in the middle of a spread pick-and-roll—with Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews lined up around the perimeter and Rick Carlisle orchestrating from the sidelines—and Dallas should have little trouble scoring at will.
In the long term, the Mavs are now in strong position to win well after Nowitzki calls it quits. In the short term, though, Dallas has tons of questions to answer, from "who's playing the point?" to "when will Matthews be back from his torn Achilles?"
10. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have spent close to a quarter of a billion dollars to retain a front line that anchored the NBA's 22nd-ranked defense last season.
They will spend most of that money on Anthony Davis' five-year, $145 million extension—the richest deal in league history to date. The 22-year-old led the league in player efficiency rating last season (30.8), per Basketball Reference, and is poised to extend his shooting range into three-point territory next season.
The returns of Alexis Ajinca (four years, $20.5 million) and Dante Cunningham (three years, $9 million) seem like smart, affordable hedges against The Brow's perennial injury problems, and they should provide quality depth up front otherwise.
Where the Pelicans' spending comes into question is with Omer Asik. The Turkish big man will earn more over the life of his new contract (five years, $60 million) than Robin Lopez will in his, despite being comparable defensively and clearly inferior offensively to the shaggiest Knickerbocker.
As BBallBreakdown.com's Joshua Riddell pointed out, even Asik's strength, protecting the paint, isn't what it used to be:
Asik’s defensive value as a player is clear and is the main reason that the Pelicans decided to lock him up long-term. However, his rim protection (for which he is best known) declined significantly last season; opponents shot 51.1% on 8.1 shots in the paint against Asik in 26.1 minutes this season, down from 46.8% on 5.8 shots in 20.3 minutes in his final season with the Houston Rockets.
Fortunately for New Orleans, Davis is already so good that it might not matter whom the team puts next to him up front. So long as he can stay healthy, the Pelicans could (and probably should) be a force to be reckoned with out West.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
Greg Monroe may not be the biggest name in basketball, but his decision to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks may well mark a sea change in the team's appeal to free agents. As NBA.com's David Aldridge put it:
Twenty years ago -- a decade ago -- Milwaukee would have had no chance in such a contest for Monroe. But times and relationships have changed. Monroe went to the Bucks knowing that they were an up-and-coming franchise. In an apples-to-apples comparison of everything -- management, style of play, coaching, future -- he thought Milwaukee was better for him than New York City.
The entire Bucks organization deserves tremendous credit for the turnaround. With Khris Middleton rejoining the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams in Milwaukee, the Bucks can tout the sort of young, promising core to which free agents should gravitate, all else being equal.
And if the political powers-that-be in Wisconsin can't cobble together enough money for a new arena, the Bucks may not have to worry so much about the cold Milwaukee winters deterring free agents. If the team doesn't break ground on a new arena soon, the NBA will have the option of buying and reselling the Bucks, likely to owners in another market.
Without a new place to play, "Our owners no longer own the team and the team will move to Las Vegas or Seattle," Bucks president Peter Feigin said during a hearing before the state's Joint Finance Committee, via Fox 6 Now.
8. Chicago Bulls
Sticking to the status quo might not seem the smartest way to go for the Chicago Bulls, not after getting roasted in the second round of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. But even with Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy Jr. returning to the Windy City, the Bulls figure to look far different in 2015-16.
That shift will have everything to do with Fred Hoiberg taking over Tom Thibodeau's head coaching duties. For one, Hoiberg's Bulls should sport a more efficient offense, not unlike the one the Warriors employed under Steve Kerr after scrapping the stodgy attack that pervaded Mark Jackson's tenure in Golden State.
"I'm confident in my ability to put guys in positions where they play to their strengths and best utilize their skill sets," Hoiberg told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.
"We had six players average double figures last year at Iowa State, and a lot of that was due to the ball movement, the player movement that we had on the offensive side," he continued. "I try to have enough things on my plate where we can take advantage of a mismatch regardless of your position."
At present, Chicago's frontcourt rotation appears to be somewhat mismatched itself. Between Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and rookie Bobby Portis, the Bulls will be as crowded as ever at power forward and center.
Don't be surprised, then, if/when general manager Gar Forman draws from that depth to acquire another wing, perhaps prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Good news for the Oklahoma City Thunder (and bad news for the rest of the NBA): Kevin Durant is on the march back to basketball from his foot injuries.
"We're close to Phase 3 now. There's three phases in the rehab," Durant recently told reporters in Orlando, via ESPN.com's Royce Young. "It's going well. I'm shooting, jumping when I'm shooting, not quite running and cutting yet, but I'm almost there. It's going well. I'm excited."
The Thunder should be, too. It's all well and good that they nabbed Cameron Payne at the end of the lottery, re-signed Kyle Singler to an eminently reasonable deal (five years, $25 million) and are aiming to bring back Enes Kanter at about $15.5 million per year, per Comcast SportsNet Chicago's Vincent Goodwill.
None of that registers so much as a blip on the radar, though, in comparison to Durant's health. If his foot is fully healed by the start of the season, OKC figures to find itself among the favorites in the Western Conference.
6. Atlanta Hawks
Losing a two-way wing of DeMarre Carroll's caliber is a tough pill for the Atlanta Hawks to swallow. He was their third-leading scorer in the playoffs and arguably their best defender from start to finish.
On the whole, though, the Hawks may be better equipped to truly thrive in the postseason than they were this past campaign when the Cavaliers swept them out of the Eastern Conference Finals. If Tiago Splitter can stay healthy, Atlanta will have an honest-to-goodness rim protector who can also free up Al Horford to spend more time at power forward.
With Paul Millsap coming back, the Hawks could go from undersized up front to one of the biggest squads around, especially with the 6'7" Kyle Korver at shooting guard. According to the Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones, Millsap is amenable to playing small forward.
Whether Mike Budenholzer wants to use him there is another story. But Millsap has expanded the depth and breadth of his game on both ends to hold his own on the wing. And with Tim Hardaway Jr. arriving by way of a draft-day trade and Thabo Sefolosha bouncing back from his ankle injury, Budenholzer will be free to mess around with all manner of lineup combinations.
5. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have had a relatively calm summer so far. They participated in the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes but came up short to their rivals in San Antonio.
Other than that, Houston has spent the offseason re-signing its own guys. Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer won't be skipping town any time soon. According to ESPN's Calvin Watkins, the Rockets intend to bring back Josh Smith, as well.
This isn't to say that general manager Daryl Morey won't be wheeling and dealing before it's all said and done. If there's a star to be found on the trade market, particularly at power forward, you can bet Morey will sniff around, at the very least.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Don't look now, but the Memphis Grizzlies have positioned themselves to be serious contenders in the Western Conference once again. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Marc Gasol will be back in the River City by way of a five-year, $110 million deal with a player option in Year 5.
But Gasol's return to his adopted hometown was entirely expected. Where the Grizzlies really have made headway this summer is on the fringes.
They're set on the wing, with Jeff Green opting into the final year of his deal and Matt Barnes landing in Memphis after a brief layover in Charlotte. They also did well to snag Brandan Wright, a true native Tennessean, on a three-year deal to back up Gasol and Zach Randolph.
On paper, the Grizzlies still sit a notch (or two) behind the world-champion Warriors and resurgent Spurs in the West's pecking order. But the team Chris Wallace has put together this summer could be the best the city of Memphis has ever seen, irrespective of the bigger picture.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Contrary to what their projected cap commitments would suggest, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far from done with their roster business this summer.
According to Northeast Ohio Media Group's Chris Haynes, the Cavs are shopping Brendan Haywood's non-guaranteed $10.5 million deal in exchange for another perimeter scorer, with Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford among the primary targets.
There's no telling yet if Mo Williams' return to Cleveland, as reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, will affect those pursuits, though Johnson seemed a long shot to begin with, given that his salary for 2015-16 will be the NBA's second-highest.
Meanwhile, restricted free agent Tristan Thompson remains unsigned, despite earlier reports of the Canadian forward nearing agreement on a five-year deal worth in excess of $80 million, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
As Haynes wrote, Cleveland's summer could be on hold until Thompson gets a new contract: "With talks stalled, it prevents the Cavaliers from executing the re-signing of LeBron James, whom [agent Rich] Paul also represents. Paul has made it clear that Thompson is his main focus. Getting Thompson finalized is essential in moving the Cavaliers' offseason strategy along."
That being said, it's practically a foregone conclusion that James and Thompson will be back in Cleveland. The Cavs have already done well to bring back Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert, and if all goes according to plan, they'll be well-equipped to back up David Blatt's bold prediction about a championship.
2. San Antonio Spurs
No team has "won" free agency since the Miami Heat in 2010 quite as clearly and decisively as the San Antonio Spurs have this summer.
They had plenty to celebrate over the Fourth of July weekend when LaMarcus Aldridge decided to move to the Alamo City. The Spurs' good times rolled right into Monday, when David West, who turned down a $12.6 million option for 2015-16 with the Pacers, signed with San Antonio for the veteran's minimum, per NBA.com's David Aldridge.
To recap, that's two All-Stars the Spurs have added at power forward—three, if you count Tim Duncan, who, along with Manu Ginobili, will give it another go in San Antonio next season.
Granted, the Spurs' summer hasn't been all peaches and cream thus far. They had to ship Tiago Splitter to Atlanta to make room for Aldridge and watched Marco Belinelli and Cory Joseph cash in with Sacramento and Toronto, respectively.
Still, San Antonio has dominated the proceedings since July 1, putting itself in position to contend for a title for the umpteenth year in a row.
And with Aldridge locked into a long-term deal alongside fresh pacts for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the Spurs are poised to win forever, even after Duncan and Ginobili call it quits.
1. Golden State Warriors
Complacency can be dangerous for a defending champion. Just ask the Spurs, who went from dominating the league and taking home the title in 2014 to getting knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in 2015, after bringing back 14 of their 15 players from that banner-raising effort.
Only time will tell if the Golden State Warriors suffer the same fate. In the meantime, keeping together a young team that won 67 games and took home its first trophy in 40 years seems like the smart thing to do.
The core of the club, led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, is under contract through at least the next two seasons. Draymond Green added to that long-term stability with a five-year, $85 million deal of his own, per ESPN.com.
All that's left for the Warriors to do is find a new home for David Lee. ESPN's Marc Stein reported after the Finals that Lee's representatives were working with the Warriors' front office to move his expiring contract elsewhere rather than allow the former All-Star forward to spend another season wilting on the end of Golden State's bench.
However that saga plays out, the Warriors are poised to go toe-to-toe with a replenished Spurs squad out West, preferably in an epic playoff series of which basketball fans were deprived this past spring.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.