While the beginning of the NBA season is still three months away, team management has just completed the most grueling part of the year, free agency. This summer’s elite free agents stood in front of potential employers like they were at an auction, and while generally they go to the highest bidder, there were some discounts given for players who wanted to be in a certain situation.
Here in this article I have graded every team on their pre-season moves. This list does not suggest how the teams will finish at the end of the season, rather, it is a review on how they have improved their team from their last game of the season until today.
Head of the Class
San Antonio Spurs – A+
There is positively no doubt on the winner of free agency this summer. The San Antonio Spurs have won again, and this off-season is likely to lead to a NBA Championship. It’s almost unfair to the league when you look at what they did. They resigned Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green and brought in LaMarcus Aldridge (the prize of the off season), David West and Jimmer Fredette. Wow. Not much else to say other than Tim Duncan showed how much winning another ring meant to him by singing a 2-year, $10 million contract so they team could spend big on Aldridge. Compare the size of checks he cashes this year to those of players half his talent, and age, and you will realize what this season means to him. No other team came even close to the Spurs on this summer test.
Cleveland Cavaliers – A-
Anytime you can re-sign a player like LeBron James, it’s a successful off-season. When you also resign the likes of Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson, it’s a great off-season. Oh, and they also brought in the King’s old friend Mo Williams to join him. They won 53 games last season and they should win more this year. The only reason they didn’t get an A+ is because that just wouldn’t be fair to suggest anyone did as well as the Spurs this summer. Plus, they lost in the championship last season and their only addition was Mo Williams. Would they have won if he were there last year when Kyrie Irving went down with an injury? Probably not,
Miami Heat – B+
Pat Riley sat back on draft night and had an ear-to-ear smile like the Joker in Batman, as Justise Winslow fell to the fourth pick, probably the most pro-ready player in the draft. Days later he resigned Dwayne Wade and Goran Dragic, and then convinced Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green to take below-market contracts to move to South Beach. Miami only won 37 games last season, and that was with Chris Bosh only playing 44 games and Josh McRoberts 17. They improved for next year and they will be up with the conference’s elite battling for home court in the first round.
Signs of Improvement
Chicago Bulls – B+
A great off season in Chicago and they did it by really doing nothing other than retaining players Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks and Mike Dunleavy. Oh, and they also got the steal of the draft when somehow Bobby Portis went undrafted as long as he did. Portis is ready to contribute this season and teamed with Butler, Rose and Gasol, they should be a very offensive bunch. Critics wondered how they would be able to bring back Butler while still paying Rose as much as he gets, but Riley somehow figured out the puzzle.
Milwaukee Bucks – B+
They were able to keep Khris Middleton in Milwaukee, and brought in Andre Drummond to close up the middle of the court. I’d say that is a successful off-season just in those two moves. To compliment that, Jabari Parker should be healthy to start the season and with Middleton, Monrow, Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Anteokounmpo, this should a team to fear in the East.
Memphis Grizzlies – B
There was one goal this off-season: Get in front of Marc Gasol, write him a blank check and ask him to fill in his wishes. He is back in Memphis and Matt Barnes, Brandon Wright and Luke Ridnour will join him. They did lose Kosta Koufous, but they can live with that. Barnes is the perfect fit for this gritty defense and will play a bigger role with this team that he was able to on others. They lost in the second round to the Warriors last year, this is a better team moving forward.
Los Angeles Clippers – B-
They are using Steve Ballmer’s money and pushing the chips all in this season. Clippers guard J.J. Redick publicly dismissed the team’s off season efforts, and then ‘poof,’ DeAndre Jordan opens up his front door and invites Doc Rivers and his teammates back in for a slumber party as the Mavericks fans sit in shock. In one of the most bizarre free agent stories in awhile, DJ agrees to move to Dallas, has a change of heart, and then teammates sit with him until midnight where he officially re-signs to stay a Clipper. Bringing in Lance Stephenson to add scoring and Paul Pierce to add leadership and that could be the difference maker. It might not be enough to get to a NBA Finals, but with CP3 and Griffin healthy, this is a team who can challenge to get there. Keeping Jordan and bringing in two seasoned veterans make the Clippers a better team that last year, and they were pretty good then too.
Golden State Warriors – B-
Their biggest challenge this offseason was keeping Draymond Green away from the cameras and microphones after celebrating with too much with champagne. It was easy work resigning Green, Mareese Speights and Leandro Barbosa. The only questionable move was trading David Lee to the Celtics for Gerald Wallace, but Lee wasn’t going to come off the bench and be happy for another season, so they did what they had to do. Just re-signing those three alone made it a good off-season for the NBA Champions who won 67 regular season games. Will they win that many games again next year? Probably not. They were hungry all season and had a chip on their shoulder from the way the previous season ended, so it’s tough to tell whether they can play with that same intensity next year. They are young, so it’s possible. Regardless, they are still one of the best teams in basketball and keeping Green in Oakland solidifies that. The only reason they received a B- is because they didn’t add anything to make them better. They just didn’t loose anyone other than Lee to bring their grade either.
New Orleans Pelicans – B-
Breathe easy, Big Easy. Anthony Davis is back not just for next season, but for the future. His fat paycheck makes sure he stays with the Pelicans for a while now. To keep him happy they also resigned Omer Aski and Eric Gordan, as well as bringing in Luke Babbitt and Alonza Gee. Aski isn’t much on offense, but he forms a solid tag-team down low with Davis on defense. I’d like to see another scorer on the team, somewhere on the perimeter, but keeping Davis was the top priority, and for that, they pass the test.
Brooklyn Nets – C+
There really wasn’t any winning in Brooklyn this offseason, much like their regular season. They weren’t going to land a big-name free agent, so they were forced to spend big money to retain Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, two very good players, but not the center of a championship contender. They also brought in Wayne Ellington, Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson and Steve Blake to replace Mason Plumlee and Deron Williams who left the concrete jungle for greener scenery. It was a mediocre off-season for the Nets, but in their eyes the priority was to keep Lopez and Young in black and white, which they did.
Oklahoma City Thunder – C+
They just barely missed the playoffs last season and to improve this upcoming season, what they needed most was a healthy Kevin Durant. He alone brings the team a giant handful of wins and makes them a contender once again. They locked up Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler this offseason and once added with a healthy Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, they are going to be a tough to beat out West. The only rookie they have added so far is Cameron Payne, a 6’3” rookie from Murray State who can handle second-string duties to give Westbrook rest. I’d like to put them higher on the grade curve, but if their biggest addition was a healthy player on their roster, I can’t do that. I would have liked to see them bring in a scorer for the bench, but this team will still score plenty.
Sacramento Kings - C
On paper, what an off-season! In reality, what a nightmare for George Karl. As if the feud with Boogie Cousins wasn’t enough, they now bring in rookie Willie Cauley-Stein to challenge for minutes and super-ego point guard Rajon Rondo to distribute the ball. Rondo will make $10 million for this upcoming season, leading me to believe this was just a quick hole to fill until they can figure it out next season. Even more confusing was the signing of Marco Belinelli for three years, $19 million. They are a better team with Rondo and Belinelli, but by how much?
Houston Rockets - C
The Rockets are missing that “it” to get to the next level, whoever that “it” is. James Harden and Dwight Howard did all they could to give the GS Warriors a run in the Western Conference Finals, but it just wasn’t enough. This off-season they brought in Ty Lawson and re-signed Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer. I’m not sure that Lawson gets them to the finals, but he does upgrade the point. They are close to being an elite team, but they just aren’t there yet. They were never really in the series with the Warriors, and I doubt Lawson would have made a difference. I can’t see them getting any higher than a C, even if they are a top 3 team in the conference, they just didn’t get much better these summer months,
Indiana Pacers - C
If I told you two years ago after the Indiana Pacers almost defeated King James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, that today they would be playing without David West and Roy Hibbert, you’d say I was crazy. The league is changing however and so are the Pacers, shifting to small ball, focused more on scoring than defending. They hit big on Monta Ellis and added nice pieces in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, which will certainly increase their scoring next season and potentially make them a 40-win team.
Boston Celtics - C
With a Boston Harbor size salary cap to spend this off season, Danny Ainge went right to work, getting outbid on every big name free agent. Instead of landing an Aldridge or Jordan, he instead settled for David Lee, Amir Johnson and Perry Jones. While ‘settled’ may be a bit harsh, they missed out on the A level free agents and had to bring in level B. The best move of the off-season was unloading the anvil-sized contract of Gerald Wallace who would have been paid $10 million to sit on the bench. Lee should provide much needed veteran leadership and Jones is a player with unlimited upside. Amir Johnson is the interesting addition, as he isn’t going to score 20 points a game, so in that stat he isn’t a massive upgrade, but with rebounding he is.
Charlotte Hornets- C
If not successful, it was a fun off-season for the Charlotte Hornets who drafted Frank Kaminsky, re-signed Al Jefferson and brought in Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Hawes, Tyler Hansbrough and Luke Ridnour. For a roster that was worse at shooting three-pointers last season than most rec-league teams, they surely improved with these additions. They only won 33 games last season so it’s not crazy to think they could win 10 more this upcoming season. They did loose Lance Stephenson, Mo Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Noah Vonleh, but they can live with those departures. They are a better team, but far from elite.
Phoenix Suns – C-
They took advantage of the DeAndre Jordan fiasco by swiping up Tyson Chandler when the Mavericks were too distracted to realize, and while they lost Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Gerald Green, I do think the Suns will be all right next season. They re-signed Brandon Knight, which solidifies their future piece to build around. I would have liked to see them bring in another scorer, but that player just wasn’t available.
Toronto Raptors – D+
Drake seems to be the only one from Toronto winning this off-season. After a horrendous playoff series where they were swept by the Washington Wizards, Canada’s lone NBA franchise lost Amir Johnson and Lou Williams in free agency and replaced them with DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo. Carroll was a perfect fit, for Atlanta. I’m not sure how he will fit in with Toronto and if asked to player a bigger role offensively, the Raptors won’t get the value they are expecting in him. They did not improve their team this off-season like they should have.
Minnesota Timberwolves - D
The Timberwolves have the youngest and oldest players on the same roster now that Kevin Garnett has resigned for two more years to join Karl-Anthony Towns, Zack LeVine and the other youngsters. Aside from bringing back KG and showing up to the draft to hand in their first overall pick card, they really didn’t do much else this off-season. Their only signing so far is Nemanja Bjeilca from the Euroleague. They might be fun to watch next season, but they didn’t do anything this summer to make them better.
Los Angeles Lakers - D
Kobe Bryant has one more season left and the Lakers needed to go all-in make sure his career in gold and purple doesn’t end on game-82. They brought in reigning sixth-man of the year Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert, but they also lost Ed Davis and Wayne Ellington. They won 21 games last season and unfortunately for the Black Mambo, nothing here suggests they are much better this upcoming season.
Orlando Magic – D-
Another team who fell asleep during free agency once they re-signed their favorite player, Tobias Harris. He is good and has potential to be great, but his team is far from. They lost Kyle O’Quinn and Luke Ridnour and brought in C.J. Watson. To be honest, I really forgot Watson was still in the league. I’m not sure how this team improves from a 25-win team.
Washington Wizards – D-
They departed from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion as Paul Pierce’s game-tying three pointer left his finger tips a split second too late, and just as close as that, Pierce up and left for Los Angeles. That is a bummer in D.C., but they can move on. They brought in Gary Neal, Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson to compliment Bradley Beal and John Wall. This team will only go far anyways if those two are healthy and play well together, otherwise the team is a .500 squad at best. It would have been nice for them to add a forward that could replace Pierce. They just didn’t do it, and they didn’t get any better.
Atlanta Hawks - D
DeMarre Carroll was a nice complimentary piece to the Hawks’ starting rotation, but loosing him isn’t the end of the franchise, but replacing him on the roster with Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway Jr. could signify the end of their Conference reign. Fortunately they were able to bring Paul Millsap back, but they will play throughout this season with the Al Horfford sized shadow over Atlanta with his pending free agency next summer. They are a good team next season, there is no doubt on that, they just didn’t have a good off-season.
Dallas Mavericks - D
It’s not even fair to give the Mavericks a bad grade here, I just feel sad for them. Imagine you somehow get the captain of the cheerleading team to say she will go to prom with you, and as you go to knock on the door to pick her up, she runs by you holding her ex-boyfriend’s hand as they leap into their limo, leaving you on the doorstop alone, flowers in hand, wondering why you didn’t ask anyone else.
Where do the Mavericks go from here? DeAndre Jordan agreed to a contract with them, and then bailed at the last moment to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. To make it worse, they were so focused on bringing back Jordan that Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler walked out the door without even being noticed. They were able to bring in Wesley Matthews, who averaged just under 16 points per game last season and that should ease the pain just a little bit, but that still isn’t enough for a 37-year old Dirk Nowitzki to lead the team to the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. Angeles playing average minutes and getting games off to rest, while Dirk will have to play hard nightly just to keep his team in contention. That just isn’t fair to Nowitzki. While re-dos can happen in summer school when a teacher realizes you just weren’t ready for that test, it doesn’t happen in the NBA. Mark Cuban knows better than to take a business deal for granted until it is signed, so while I do think what Jordan did was not right, it was just fine by free agency rules. The Mavericks failed on that along.
Sleeping Through Class
Denver Nuggets - F
Did they forget to set their alarm for free agency, and instead slept right through it? Their big move was to bring back Jameer Nelson on a three-year deal as they shipped Ty Lawson out of town. They drafted a player with a very high ceiling, but raw skills, in Emmanuel Mudiay and brought in Will Barton on a three-year deal. That is their off-season in two sentences. Yikes. They won 30 games last year and they probably won’t hit that mark this year.
Detroit Pistons - F
Well, they only won 32 games last year, so it can’t get worse right? Wrong. They lost Greg Monroe without a fight and instead brought in Ersan Ilyasova, Danny Granger and Marcus Morris and re-signed Reggie Jackson and Joel Anthony. Can Ilyasova replace Monroe? That will be the big question this season. I’m also sitting here, scratching my head, wondering how Reggie Jackson got paid $80 million contract after playing less than 30 games on a losing team last year. Losing Monroe hurts and having Jackson eat up the budget makes the stung that much worse,
Portland Trailblazers - F
Four of their five starters left in free agency and in their place the Trailblazers brought in Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. What? Oh, they resigned Damian Lillard though. That’s nice, though now he may not think so. He is going to have to develop into a leader and a one-man scoring machine to create anything with this team. The players they brought in are solid bench players or number 4 or 5 options. There isn’t a second scoring option on this team.
Utah Jazz - F
They resigned Joe Ingles, signed Raul Neto and lost Jeremy Evans. Those all seem like lateral moves, so sure, I guess it’s fair to expect them to repeat the 38-44 regular season from a year ago.
Philadelphia 76ers - F
They get a big, solid F for a grade. They made no moves worth noting, aside from bringing in average players Carl Landry and Jason Thompson, neither of which improves this 18-win team.
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