NBA Power Rankings: Where Do LA Lakers Sit After Inking LeBron James?
Just a shade over two weeks ago, LeBron James shook up the basketball world and further shifted the NBA's balance of power to the Western Conference when he took his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Association's most glamorous team has its most dominant individual force. And while the King has yet to hold his introductory press conference, he's already sparked frenzies with a tweet, a pizza party that wasn't and a visit to the Las Vegas Summer League.
James' influence is massive, but how much will his on-court presence mean to a team trapped in a five-year playoff drought?
That's the biggest storyline to follow with most of the primary free-agent signings in the books, but it's far from the only reason for movement in the NBA's hierarchy. While we're paying closest attention to the teams at the top here, we've reassessed where all 30 clubs rank with the bulk of their offseason adjustments behind them.
30. Sacramento Kings
The Kings lost 50-plus games for the fifth time in six seasons and finished with the third-worst net efficiency rating. Raise your hand if you think Marvin Bagley III can fix this disaster on his own.
Bagley joins a congested group of offense-first bigs, each of whom will mute the others' impact. The roster doesn't have a legitimate first scoring option and might not have a second, either. Free agency has delivered nothing yet. This could be the only club already eliminated from the Western Conference playoff race.
29. Atlanta Hawks
On draft night, the Hawks put their future in the hands of Trae Young. The 19-year-old shot 39.3 percent from January to March at Oklahoma, 23.1 percent at the Salt Lake City portion of summer-league ball and then 38.3 percent in Sin City.
This rebuild is going to take a while.
The recent trade for Jeremy Lin furthers the need to move Dennis Schroder, the leading scorer and distributor on last season's 58-loss squad. They'd like to shed Kent Bazemore badly enough that they tried packaging him with the No. 3 pick on draft night, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. Hawks fans should savor John Collins' aerial theatrics; there isn't much else to get excited about.
28. Brooklyn Nets
Do the Nets have a centerpiece? D'Angelo Russell feels like the obvious answer, but he's a career 40.9 percent shooter who's yet to produce his first positive box plus/minus.
Brooklyn's most important player probably isn't on the roster yet. Credit the front office for using this summer to create several potential paths to one, though. The Nets can have two max-contract slots next summer—with the Big Apple to sell—and they'll finally keep their first-round pick for the first time since 2013.
But that also means they're spending this season in a holding pattern. They're almost exclusively employing players on expiring contracts or their rookie deals. Expect their on-court product to reflect that.
27. Orlando Magic
The Magic entered free agency with one of the Association's most glaring voids. After waiving Shelvin Mack, their point guard rotation started and finished with D.J. Augustin. They've since "addressed" it by trading for Jerian Grant (and his 13.0 career player efficiency rating) and signing Isaiah Briscoe (who spent last season in Estonia).
Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, went from flirting with Orlando, per HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy, to inking a veteran's minimum pact elsewhere. Woof.
Orlando doesn't have enough scoring or outside shooting. Its most important prospects—Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba—might not be able to play together. This organization has more decent players than some of its fellow cellar-dwellers, but its post-Dwight Howard star search continues.
26. New York Knicks
Miniature summer-league samples should never be trusted. Unless they're attached to a major-market team like the Knicks, in which case Kevin Knox is Hall of Fame-bound and Mitchell Robinson is already the steal of the draft.
Jokes aside, good on New York for seemingly maximizing the value of those selections. Let's hope the enthusiasm for the youngsters helps hold the faithful over for perhaps an agonizingly long year with little or no Kristaps Porzingis (ACL recovery).
Reinforcements could be forthcoming, but maybe not before next summer. The good news is the 'Bockers should have spending money then, plus another possibly early pick and perhaps Knox, Robinson and/or Frank Ntilikina added to the free-agency recruiting pitch.
25. Memphis Grizzlies
Is this the grit-and-grind reboot? Controlling pace is probably the best way to handle this aging (Marc Gasol) and oft-injured (Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons) core, and there isn't enough firepower to try to win on the strength of this attack.
A defense-first focus may have guided both the draft-night selections of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter, plus the addition of Kyle Anderson. Omri Casspi doesn't fit the mold, but his cutting and spacing will play well next to Gasol and Conley.
Memphis' offseason makes sense—it just doesn't guarantee things will be greatly improved from last season's 60-loss monstrosity. The Grizzlies need to catch breaks on the medical front with Conley and Parsons, and Gasol must reverse what appeared to be a fairly significant decline. It would help if the Grizzlies could travel back to the trade deadline and turn Tyreke Evans into an asset, too.
24. Phoenix Suns
The Suns had the NBA's worst offense and defense last season. They probably had the worst point guard collection, too, and that hasn't been addressed beyond the drafting of raw 20-year-old Elie Okobo. Oh, and top pick Deandre Ayton hasn't exactly dominated the summer circuit.
So, why isn't Phoenix sitting any lower?
Because there's still potential for a (relatively) substantial leap. Adding Trevor Ariza and Mikal Bridges to the wings gives the Suns a ton of long-limbed athletes to switch most everything on defense. New head coach Igor Kokoskov's emphasis on ball movement might mitigate the point guard void (maybe a healthy Brandon Knight can help, too?). And Devin Booker could have the support to make his All-Star ascent.
23. Chicago Bulls
Giving major money to both Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker means shouldering a lot of health risks and not expecting a great defensive payoff. Chicago's defense ranking among basketball's worst feels like one of the strongest bets for next season. Even if Wendell Carter Jr. transitions as quickly as summer league suggests he might, the Bulls might only have two competent stoppers in their starting unit.
But this offense should be electric, provided LaVine and Parker both hold up physically. The last healthy season for LaVine featured 18.9 points per game and a 45.9/38.7/83.6 slash. For Parker, it was 20.1 points on 49.0 percent shooting. And let's not forget the record-setting debut of sharpshooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen.
The Bulls have the bodies to run and gun, the preferred style of head coach Fred Hoiberg. They'll give up 110-plus points more often than not, but the scoreboard will move quickly at both ends.
22. Charlotte Hornets
Swapping out Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams for Bismack Biyombo and Tony Parker should be a net positive. Between Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and Devonte' Graham, the Hornets will get some type lift from their youngsters.
But Charlotte is mostly trapped by the overspending of the previous regime.
Walker's supporting cast still underwhelms in essentially every area other than cost. There's a best-case scenario featuring a playoff berth, but even then, the Hornets would not last beyond the opening round. They need a reboot, and it might take a Kemba trade to get one done.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers
From the Finals to the lottery? That's how it went in Cleveland the last time LeBron James left, and this roster looks ripe for a repeat. The Cavs say they aren't tanking or trading Kevin Love, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon, but their best hope for competing is the sorry state of the Eastern Conference.
Love hasn't been a team's leading man in four seasons, and he's never held that position on a winner. The financial books are weighed down by bloated contracts meant to extend the championship window with James. Without him, they almost seem comically priced—$32.1 million for Tristan Thompson and JR Smith? Sheesh.
Cleveland is suddenly caught between eras, still employing a chunk of battle-tested vets but probably envisioning a future built around Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr. and maybe Rodney Hood. The sooner the Cavs shift their focus forward, the better.
20. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are hesitant to dive head-first into a rebuild, even though they've lost Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford in the last 13 months. But that stubborn approach has them in danger of treading water near the NBA's midsection—the least desirable place for a franchise to find itself.
L.A. isn't moving the needle in either direction. Teams don't launch themselves up the ladder by keeping Avery Bradley or adding the likes of Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Luc Mbah a Moute. But those also aren't the transactions of a team looking to bottom out.
The Clippers, it seems, are fine with being fine. They'll be competitive, but they're at least one blockbuster deal from being interesting.
19. Dallas Mavericks
Only under the perfect circumstances would it have made sense for the Mavericks to forgive DeAndre Jordan for previously leaving them at the altar. But, as Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News explained, Jordan's one-year agreement is almost the ideal setup:
"If the Mavericks and Jordan find that this is a great fit and the young core of Dennis Smith Jr., [Luka] Doncic and [Harrison] Barnes can grow with Jordan, great. He could return next season and the Mavericks still would have loads of money to throw at other free agents.
"And if this doesn't work? This will go down as a one-year experiment that didn't go as planned but also didn't compromise the Mavericks' long-term goals."
Dallas doesn't have an in-prime star, which caps its ceiling. But the floor for a Jordan-Smith-Doncic-Barnes-Dirk Nowitzki-Wesley Matthews sextet should be comfortably above last season's 58-loss dumpster fire.
18. Detroit Pistons
Free agency was never going to simplify the challenge awaiting the Pistons and their new head coach Dwane Casey. The success of at least the next two seasons will be defined by the health and production of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, plus whatever Casey can squeeze out of Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard.
That said, Detroit's revamped front office seemingly made the best of a tricky situation. Draft night might have yielded two rotation pieces (Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown), even though the Pistons didn't own a first-round pick. Glenn Robinson III could be a bargain if he realizes his potential, while Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon are both veterans who know how to win.
But it takes stars to win in the Association, and the Pistons' best players aren't always healthy and don't necessarily fit.
17. Miami Heat
Running back a 44-win roster is as mundane as it sounds, particularly when several key contributors are on the wrong side of 30. But the Heat had no other choice. All possible spending money was invested in previous summers, and attempts to move big contracts have proved futile.
Keeping Wayne Ellington helps from a basketball sense, since his shooting threat and constant movement breathe life into this sometimes stale attack. But he also pushes this group into the luxury tax (for now, at least) and further crowds the wing rotation.
Most Miami eyes will be locked onto the decisions made by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem regarding their futures. But the real key will be the development of the Heat's scant youth. It's hard to see this season being dramatically improved in South Beach without significant steps forward from Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo.
16. Portland Trail Blazers
Are the Blazers trying to corner the scoring-guard market? Hadn't the rest of us already wondered whether their one-way backcourt was too flawed to function?
Maybe Portland felt it exploited a market efficiency, but this summer was a strange interpretation of the roster's needs. The group needed defense everywhere and upgrades at the wing. The front office instead delivered multiple scoring guards on draft night (Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr.) and again in free agency (Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas).
While last season's Blazers grabbed the West's No. 3 seed, they only had three more wins than No. 9 and ranked 12th overall in net rating. Their margin for error was already razor-thin, and it's hard to see how this summer widened it.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks had financial reasons to let Jabari Parker walk.
They desperately needed shooting, so they spent money on a couple of oversized snipers (Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez). They also stashed some cash for next summer, when Eric Bledsoe (unrestricted), Malcolm Brogdon (restricted) and Khris Middleton (player option) could all hit free agency.
Inside the lines, though, Milwaukee will miss Parker's scoring punch. Maybe not enough for the Bucks to backtrack—they filled other voids instead, including adding the best coach on the market in Mike Budenholzer—but perhaps enough to prevent them from progressing.
14. Washington Wizards
Last season's Wizards looked at times like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. Next season's Wizards will have Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers added to the mix, so...good luck with that.
To be clear, the talent level improved this summer. Howard and Thomas Bryant fill athletic needs along the frontcourt. Rivers bulks up a reserve wing unit that has been running painfully thin for years. For better or worse, Jeff Green feels like the perfect Mike Scott replacement.
But talent wasn't an issue in 2017-18. John Wall's health was, and so too was a teamwide inability to become greater than the sum of its parts. The Wizards have enough pieces in place to make a second-round run, but they're not good enough to overcome infighting.
13. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are almost impossible to evaluate as long as the Kawhi Leonard dilemma goes unsolved. Even if his future is elsewhere, maybe his present remains in the Alamo City. He's a top-five talent when healthy, so San Antonio needs a return package reflecting that. If one isn't on the table, the Spurs may slow-play this until it arrives.
There might not be a front office less likely to do a panic deal.
With Leonard, the Spurs are more talented than the 13th-best team. They have a lot of intriguing complementary pieces in place, and they'll benefit from bringing Marco Belinelli's career 37.7 percent three-point stroke back into the fold. But as soon as Leonard leaves, this roster might require a thorough redesign.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves finally broke out last season, earning their first playoff trip since 2004. The challenge is to keep trending up and not plateau closer to good than great.
Free agency didn't necessarily help with that. Anthony Tolliver might be a better shooter than Nemanja Bjelica, but the latter has a deeper bag of offensive tricks. Assuming Jamal Crawford is gone, the second-team offense could run through Derrick Rose. Josh Okogie's summer run hints he could have trouble holding down a rotation spot as a rookie.
Outside looking in, Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns form a strong foundation to build around. But if they aren't on the same page or lack the necessary backing, the Wolves won't be any closer to the championship picture.
11. Indiana Pacers
The offseason Pacers are a lot like last season's group—better than expected. Rather than rest on the laurels of a post-Paul George 48-34 performance, president Kevin Pritchard and his staff attacked the summer with a clear and effective strategy.
"Pritchard is treating the offseason like a Kroger run," Matthew Glenesk of the Indianapolis Star wrote. "He has checked off needs of bench scoring (Tyreke Evans), three-point shooting (Doug McDermott; Evans is also capable), a bruising backup big willing to rebound/defend (Kyle O'Quinn) and a future point guard (Aaron Holiday)."
This is where it's worth pointing out that last season's group was the first to ever force LeBron James into an opening-round elimination game. And that all of the pleasant surprises for that team didn't include the expected leap for Myles Turner, meaning there was already sufficient room for internal improvement.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Even though the New Orleans Pelicans lost 40 percent of their starting lineup—DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo—this was far from being a worst-case scenario summer. By quickly pivoting to Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton, New Orleans might further embrace an identity that worked wonders for this club down the stretch.
NOLA.com's William Guillory explains:
"The Pelicans were already had one of the fastest paces in the NBA with Cousins in the lineup, but it moved into warp speed after he went down and [Nikola] Mirotic's ability to defend multiple positions and shoot from the perimeter allowed him to fit in seamlessly with [Anthony] Davis.
But adding Randle to the mix will provide some of the paint presence New Orleans lost with Cousins' departure and a big man that's capable of grabbing defensive boards and running the floor to create opportunities in transition."
The Pelicans still won't scare anyone on the wings, and this might be a one-star squad again unless Jrue Holiday can orchestrate another career season. But New Orleans was tied for the sixth-most efficient team in basketball after the All-Star break, with no Cousins or Randle. If the newcomers make Davis even more dangerous, it could again be a matchup problem for playoff opponents.
9. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets look ferocious.
Amid growing pains for Jamal Murray and both a change of address and a major injury for Paul Millsap, this team remained part of the playoff hunt into an overtime session during the season finale. No one played better offense after the All-Star break, and the Murray-Millsap-Gary Harris-Nikola Jokic quartet bulldozed opponents by 12.3 points per 100 possessions.
They had to keep economics in mind this summer, which led to the cost-cutting subtractions of Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. It also forced them to buy from the bargain bin, but they might have found a couple of gems. They got Michael Porter Jr.—last summer's No. 1 prospect—with the No. 14 pick. They added Isaiah Thomas—fifth in 2016-17 MVP voting—for the veteran's minimum.
Sure, there are health risks with Thomas and Porter. But at these prices, they may not even qualify as low-risk gambles.
It would help if the Nuggets had at least one more multipositional defender along the wings or even just a couple more serviceable stoppers at any spot. But combining the offensive firepower with this group's growth potential should make it at least a shadow contender.
8. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors must be terrible at parties.
This should have been a summer to celebrate. They just capped their most successful campaign ever, setting a franchise record with 59 wins, posting the East's highest net rating (plus-7.6) and helping Dwane Casey capture Coach of the Year honors.
But they fired Casey before he received his award (sending an awkward congratulations his way, of course) and then plans leaked of their intent to "explore all options" with the roster, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
Theoretically, free agency treated Toronto well by moving its biggest road block out of the conference (LeBron James). But that only matters if the Raptors are still operating with a win-now focus. The season they just had says they should, but how many other win-now clubs are gauging the market of their entire roster?
7. Los Angeles Lakers
Maybe you're still chuckling at the Los Angeles Lakers' post-LeBron James signings. The trio of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee is an interesting one for any club to pick up, but especially for a group that needs to maximize shooting. It's not only that James needs spacing to thrive, but it's also that head coach Luke Walton wants to feature the long ball (15th in attempts, 29th in percentage).
So, yeah, we do understand the snickering—but we also know the Lakers hear none of it. They're too busy half-laughing, half-marveling at the fact that LABron really happened.
"I sat under the stars and said to myself, 'Damn, we got LeBron James on our team,'" Walton relayed to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. "The best player in the world is a Laker."
Unless the Lakers suddenly spring for a second star (cough, Kawhi Leonard), they might not have enough to contend for the crown. Then again, they have the King, so who knows how the ceiling should sit. He'll elevate everyone around him, and L.A.'s nucleus is stronger than last season's 35-47 record indicates.
6. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz bet big on continuity and with good reason—they went 18-6 after the All-Star break with an NBA-best plus-10.8 net efficiency rating. They followed that up by dispatching the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games with Donovan Mitchell supplying 28.5 points on 46.2/36.4/92.0 shooting.
The Jazz are really good. They should get even better as Mitchell gets more experience, Grayson Allen joins the equation, Jae Crowder becomes better acclimated and Rudy Gobert puts his injury problems behind him.
Utah's defense is basically a stone wall with legs. No one approached Salt Lake City's stoppers down the stretch. The Jazz's post-intermission defensive rating was a microscopic 96.0. That was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better than second place, or the same size gap as the one between Nos. 2 and 14.
The only thing holding Utah back from a higher ranking is an offense that's uncomfortably dependent on Mitchell. No one else who finished on the roster averaged even 14 points last season, a number 62 players cleared across the Association. Unless Allen shatters expectations or Dante Exum finally becomes Anfernee Hardaway 2.0, non-Mitchell scoring could again be a struggle.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Few offseason winners can approach the riches collected by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Their previous gamble on Paul George paid off in a massive way once the five-time All-Star put pen to paper on a new four-year, $137 million pact. They upped their defensive versatility and frontcourt athleticism by bringing back Jerami Grant and adding Nerlens Noel. They kept the sturdy Raymond Felton for the minimum.
"The Thunder hit a winter groove after a rocky start and might have continued apace had Andre Roberson not ruptured his left patellar tendon," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "The Westbrook/George/Roberson/Steven Adams foursome was among the nastiest and best four-man groups in the league."
Once they cut ties with Carmelo Anthony, they should find a fifth Beatle who helps improve their defense and increase their tempo. There are enough gaps (support scoring and shooting) to keep them out of the top four, but few clubs have a higher ceiling.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
When Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown told reporters they "need help to win a championship," is there any chance he meant Nemanja Bjelica? Not at all. But once Paul George and LeBron James came off the board, Philly's shot at making a big splash had mostly evaporated.
There might be hope of eventually prying Kawhi Leonard loose, but if that doesn't happen, the Sixers will likely enter next season in much the same manner as they left the last one. And that's fine. Better than fine. This was 2018's best team, and that was without any meaningful contributions from Markelle Fultz.
The Sixers will benefit just from their prospects being more seasoned. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons only have 175 career appearances between them. Dario Saric has two NBA years under his belt. Fultz didn't even top 280 minutes over the regular season and playoffs combined.
Next season's rotation will have at least Bjelica and Zhaire Smith added to it but could potentially include Furkan Korkmaz, Landry Shamet and/or Jonah Bolden. The Sixers are getting better, even if they haven't found that springboard superstar yet.
3. Houston Rockets
Ever since building an 11-point halftime advantage in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets have been both frigid and unlucky. Their postseason lives were flatlined by a historic cold stretch of 27 consecutive missed threes, and their offseason has been defined more by subtractions than additions.
To be clear, we're not talking a disastrous summer. Chris Paul came back, and the Rockets retain control of restricted free agent Clint Capela. But they'll miss both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, who supplied 233 threes combined and played pivotal roles in the switch-heavy scheme that launched Houston's defense from 18th to sixth in efficiency.
Given how difficult life can be near the top, any significant losses can feel like crippling blows.
"As badly as the Houston Rockets want to take down Golden State, they seem to have put their vehicle in reverse," Bruce Jenkins wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Michael Carter-Williams was a curious pickup, given his career-long shooting struggles (40.2/25.0/70.7). James Ennis III has some three-and-D potential but also enough flaws that he's on his fifth different team in five seasons. Carmelo Anthony might be coming at some point, but he'd be hard to hide deep in the playoffs.
No one is writing off the Rockets. We've given them the No. 3 spot and wondered if that's high enough considering they went 42-3 when Paul, Capela and James Harden played together last season. But their support staff has taken a big enough hit to push them behind the top two.
2. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics aren't fair. At least, they're as unfair as any non-California club can be during the Golden State Warriors era.
The Shamrocks had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, even though they were playing without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Their best scorers were 20-year-old Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. Their best player might have been Al Horford, an All-Star glue guy but still an overqualified role player at heart.
This team positioned itself perfectly for tomorrow while sacrificing nothing for today. It is somehow both a present heavyweight and a future powerhouse.
"The Celtics are set up to contend for at least 10 years," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "The Irving/Hayward/Horford trio should carry them now. Brown and Tatum take over later."
Boston has all of the primary pieces back from last season's 55-win squad, save for dogged defender Marcus Smart, who remains under team control as a restricted free agent and a "priority" of the organization. In other words, the Celtics are going to get better—possibly a lot better—before they ever get worse.
1. Golden State Warriors
The Dubs are so dominant people are asking if the NBA should take action. That's basketball brilliance on a whole different level.
Their four-man All-Star core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green was already the Association's best. Tack on former All-Star and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, and you get basketball destruction. Once the playoff lights shined on that quintet, it responded with an absurd plus-24.8 net rating.
All of those pieces remain in place, along with sure-handed veteran Shaun Livingston, late-season spark Quinn Cook and a stable of young, athletic bigs. Added to the mix are three-and-D rookie Jacob Evans and frontcourt floor-spacer Jonas Jerebko.
Oh, and four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who's working his way back from a ruptured Achilles but also, when healthy, one of the league's most productive players. Prior to the setback, the 27-year-old had compiled an unprecedented stat line of 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.2 triples, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks. Even if he needs half the year to recover, he'll make the NBA's best team even better when he does.
In other words, the Warriors might crush all hopes of seeing competitive balance next season. Of course, that's probably just business as usual, considering this club has won three titles in four years and posted the best regular season ever in the other.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.