Spurs GM R.C. Buford (right) made one of the steals of the summer in landing Richard Jefferson.
Spurs reign supreme among the haves of the league
By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Aug 8 2009 1:43PM
So, what was this offseason about in the NBA?
The rich getting richer, that's what. The defending champions lost nothing and gained Ron Artest, getting younger, deeper and more talented. The runners-up lost Hedo Turkoglu, but more than made up for it.
All over the league, the elites fortified themselves while their lessers fought for scraps. The Eastern Conference gained more traction in its tug-of-war with the West. The sour economy and the lack of much salary cap room this summer conspired to make movement slow for most, with players like Allen Iverson and David Lee waiting for the dam to burst and someone to come up with some cash. Money has now, unfortunately, created a class system in the NBA. It's clear that those with means can stay strong, while those without have to wait their turn. That cleaves the league nicely into five categories:
The Haves (Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Trail Blazers)
The Middle Class (Raptors, Wizards, Pistons, Hawks, Nuggets, Jazz, Rockets, 76ers)
The Holders (Bulls, Knicks, Heat)
The Folders (Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Bucks, Kings, Bobcats, Nets)
The Dreamers (Clippers, Hornets, Pacers, Warriors, Thunder, Suns)
In grading each team's offseason, the financial divide has to be taken into account. The Lakers simply have more money than a lot of teams, which makes their offseason that much easier. If Miami had offered Lamar Odom the same amount of money that Los Angeles did, he might be on South Beach right now. But Miami couldn't, and Los Angeles knew it, so L.A. could afford to wait for L.O. to come to its number. That's an advantage. But it doesn't mean the teams with less can't be productive, as you'll see below with teams like Indiana.
I grade teams on their entire offseason -- the Draft, free agency, trades, coaching changes, new ownership, new arenas, anything that has impacted or will impact rosters. But it's kind of graded on a curve because of the money disparities. Once again: This is not a predicted order of finish for next season, only one guy's evaluation of what's transpired between the end of each team's season and now.
Here are The Haves. For the others, click on the links above.
These are the teams that feel they have a legitimate shot at a championship, and acted accordingly, throwing money around like they were Mr. Monopoly (or, more accurately, given the business arrangements of the pro sports leagues, Mr. Cartel). They have high payrolls and don't care about paying the salary tax next season if the payoff is the Commish handing them the Larry O'Brien Trophy next June.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 1
Last season: 54-28, first place, Southwest; Lost in first round of playoffs.
Added: F Richard Jefferson (trade with Milwaukee), F/C Antonio McDyess (free agent, Detroit; three years, $15 million), C Theo Ratliff (free agent, Philadelphia; one year, $1.3 million), F DeJuan Blair (second-round draft pick)
Lost: F Bruce Bowen (traded to Milwaukee), F/C Kurt Thomas (traded to Milwaukee), F/C Fabricio Oberto (traded to Milwaukee), F Drew Gooden (signed with Dallas)
The key man: C Ian Mahinmi. Any chance that a post-Tim Duncan era will amount to squat depends on whether the 22-year-old Mahinmi is ready for prime time.
The skinny: Incredible work by GM R.C. Buford to retool a still-good team and make it a contender again. The Jefferson deal is this offseason's version of the Gasol Heist of '08; with RJ on the floor the Spurs aren't held hostage by Manu Ginobili's deteriorating body parts -- though a healthy Manu is the key to a potential title run. Bad knees or not, Blair was a great second-round pickup, and McDyess classes up any locker room.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 2
Last season: 65-17, first place, Pacific; Won NBA championship.
Added: F Ron Artest (free agent, Houston; five years, $33 million)
Lost: F Trevor Ariza (signed with Houston)
Retained: G Shannon Brown (two years, $4.2 million), F Lamar Odom (four years, $33 million)
The key man: C Andrew Bynum. If he can stay on the court for a full season, the Lakers are close to unbeatable.
The skinny: Essentially trading Artest for Ariza makes sense; L.A.'s championship window is wide open. When Artest isn't the Alpha Male in the locker room, things go much better, and Kobe is still the top dog. With Odom back in the fold, a summer off from international play, increased confidence in his teammates and with Artest around to guard the West's best twos and threes, Bryant should be even more lethal next season.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 3
Last season: 62-20, first place, Atlantic; Lost in second round of playoffs.
Added: F/C Rasheed Wallace (free agent, Detroit; two years, $11.6 million), Marquis Daniels (free agent, Indiana)
Lost: F Leon Powe
The key man: C Kendrick Perkins. He's the glue to Boston's halfcourt defense, and showed he could handle a little more of the offensive load after Garnett went down. But chronic shoulder problems are a concern.
The skinny: The 6-foot-10 Wallace makes the Celtics the Lakers East -- potentially huge in the frontcourt alongside the 6-foot-11 Garnett and Perkins (6-foot-10). They can send defenders from all angles, and their length will make passing out of the double team difficult. Daniels will be a solid backup for Rajon Rondo. Garnett has been a maniac this summer, recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs. When he's back, Boston's back.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 4
Last season: 59-23, first place, Southeast; Lost in NBA Finals.
Added: G Vince Carter (trade with New Jersey), F Ryan Anderson (trade with New Jersey). F Brandon Bass (free agent, Dallas; four years, $18 million), F Matt Barnes (free agent, Phoenix; two years, $3.8 million)
Lost: F Hedo Turkoglu (sign-and-trade with Toronto), G Courtney Lee (traded to New Jersey), F/C Tony Battie (traded to New Jersey), G Rafer Alston (traded to New Jersey)
Retained C Marcin Gortat (matched five year, $33 million offer sheet from Mavericks)
The key man: G Jameer Nelson. He has to return to All-Star form quickly if the Magic are going to contend for the East's best record.
The skinny: Can't believe so many people are down on Carter. He can still play, he can run a lot of the screen-roll action that Turkoglu ran and he's a career 79 percent free throw shooter. Who would you rather have with the ball in his hands at the end of a game -- Carter or Dwight (.601 career FT) Howard? Anderson, Bass and Barnes give the Magic one of the league's deepest benches. Considering they lost a key starter and team leader in Turkoglu, it wasn't a bad summer at all.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 7
Last season: 66-16, first place, Central; Lost in Eastern Conference finals.
Added: C Shaquille O'Neal (trade with Phoenix), G Anthony Parker (free agent, Toronto; two years, $6 million), F Jamario Moon (free agent, Miami; two years, $6 million)
Lost: F/C Ben Wallace (traded to Phoenix), G Sasha Pavlovic (traded to Phoenix)
Retained: F Anderson Varejao (six years, $50 million)
The key man: Owner Dan Gilbert. GM Danny Ferry has built a championship-caliber team around James, but James's relationship with Gilbert -- the only person that LeBron has to call the boss -- will be a key factor in James' stay-or-go decision after this season.
The skinny: For the first time in his career; LeBron will have to learn to play off of someone else; he's never had a low-post option before, and even at 37, Shaq still commands respect. How long will it take James to adjust? Can the 6-foot-8 Moon guard the Paul Pierces and Rashard Lewises in the East? He'll have to, after the Cavs failed to get Trevor Ariza, Ron Artest, Charlie Villanueva or Shawn Marion.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 9
Last season: 50-32, third place, Southwest; Lost in second round of playoffs.
Added: F Shawn Marion (sign-and-trade with Toronto), F Kris Humprhies (trade with Toronto), F Quinton Ross (free agent, Memphis), G Rod Beaubois (first-round pick), F Drew Gooden (free agent, San Antonio; one year, $4.5 million), F Tim Thomas (free agent, Chicago; one year, $1.3 million)
Lost: G Jerry Stackhouse (traded to Memphis)
Retained: G Jason Kidd (three years, $25 million)
The key man: F Josh Howard. The Mavs go from good to great when he goes from good to great.
The skinny: Missed out on a higher grade when Orlando decided to match the offer sheet on Marcin Gortat, but otherwise, Dallas did pretty well. The Mavs will be smaller, but much more athletic, now able to put the likes of Marion, Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry on the court together. Not sure that will get them much further in the Playoffs, but the fun-'n-gun days should be back at American Airlines Center.
DA's Offseason Rank: No. 11
Last season: 54-28, second place, Northwest; Lost in first round of playoffs.
Added: G Andre Miller (free agent, Philadelphia; three years, $21 million)
Lost: G Sergio Rodriguez (traded to Sacramento), F Channing Frye (signed with Phoenix)
The key man: C Greg Oden. He is telling people he's happy again after a morose rookie season. Let's hope so. Oden is too young to put so much pressure on himself, and he's far too much fun and interesting to sulk through the world.
The skinny: Swung and missed on Turkoglu and Utah's Paul Milsap, but salvaged the summer by picking up the 33-year-old Miller for less than half of what they would have spent on Hedo and $10 million less than they offered Milsap. Miller's still got some game and he'll be an upgrade at the point. Portland's kids just need to get a little more postseason experience.