Similar to years past (and my draft reviews), I grade offseasons on a curve based on the opportunities available to that management team. A team hampered by a years-old trade or botched draft pick do not get further penalized for it while teams with squandered resources absolutely do.
Los Angeles Lakers: The out and out heist of Steve Nash put the Lakers in this group in and of itself. In one move, Mitch Kupchak turned his squad from a team that looked to be fading out of the forefront into a supernova ready to burn hot until it dies. By moving Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, they took care of some of their deepest flaws while also being exactly the right situation for Howard for the next few years. Having Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill on the interior helps the Lakers handle potential injuries while Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon could actually help as well. A shockingly great post-Draft summer for the Lakers.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets took a dramatic step in moving Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington for Andre Iguodala in one of the best moves of the entire summer. Iguodala, Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee may be the most interesting top-three in the entire league, particularly with a wealth of other talent that makes them a cohesive whole and insanely dangerous with their home altitude advantage. This Denver team could be the best overall squad in the organization’s history, which is saying something.
Miami Heat: The Heat were the unquestioned kings of doing more with less this offseason, adding two rotation players while only losing Ronny Turiaf. When you are the champs and the rest of the conference is in flux, that should be more than enough.
Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers finally have a team that makes sense! Amazingly, the team lost Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala in moves that did not yield much perimeter talent yet still have Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nick Young, Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, Arnett Moultrie and Lavoy Allen playing the 1-4. Oh yeah, and the Sixers have the best center in the East coupled with the only three-deep center spot in the entire NBA (Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown). This team should round into shape early enough to host a playoff series and have a fighting chance to retain the enigma that is Bynum.
Brooklyn Nets: Once Dwight Howard signed away his ETO on trade deadline day last season, the Nets were hamstrung by the fact that they could not put together a great offer for him. Considering he was effectively off the board, the Nets had to go all-in this summer anyway and yielded a pretty fantastic haul. Joe Johnson’s contract is onerous and could cause problems but it helped retain Deron Williams and gives them a backcourt that provides challenges for the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. Their remaining challenge is having enough frontcourt defense and rebounding next to Brook Lopez to offset his deficiencies, unless they want to go full Phoenix and embrace those flaws while making sure that they can outscore their opponents despite of that. Hopefully the bloated deal Lopez signed will not come back to haunt them once their older core members start falling off.
Golden State Warriors: After having a very successful draft, Bob Myers did the second-best job of maximizing what he had to work with the rest of the summer by adding Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack while retaining the immensely necessary Brandon Rush. For once, the Warriors actually have a logical rotation at full health and can handle some injuries to key positions as well with less dramatic changes in team quality.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers overpaid Nicolas Batum (thanks Kahn!) but got some quality and cheap pieces in Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland to fit in with their existing core without losing any valued contributors.
Atlanta Hawks: Unlike most of the successful summers in this group, Atlanta fits in by what they lost rather than what they brought in. By unloading the contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, they gave themselves the ability to make a much wider swath of moves going forward without losing their frontcourt strength. On top of that, adding quality players like Lou Williams and John Jenkins (who gets to learn from spot-up master and Georgia Tech alum Anthony Morrow) without breaking the bank gives Atlanta the flexibility to aim higher with future trades or signings. It would have been nice if local product Dwight Howard were available, but there was not much they could do unless he committed this summer to an extension.
Dallas Mavericks: Despite missing out on Howard long-term, Dallas somehow managed to get younger and more cost-effective while still staying relevant in a very difficult conference. Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand form the core of a frontcourt that will give almost every West team fits all season long and I prefer the youth and spontaneity of Darren Collison and OJ Mayo to the old man ball of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. I did not love their draft, though they will not need major contributions of those guys for a while and did not have a ton to work with anyway.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves appear here as another shockingly great post-Draft summer. The big question for the Wolves this year is whether Andrei Kirilenko can add enough perimeter quality on both ends to cure the small things that ailed Minnesota last season. Getting Alexey Shved and Brandon Roy at the guard spots without losing anyone of note (neither Beasley nor Wes Johnson fits that bill) makes this a largely successful off-season for David Kahn, especially since the deals signed were not backbreaking in the least long-term.
New Orleans Hornets: Very little of this comes from ending up with the No. 1 pick in the Draft and taking the best player. Rather, the Hornets took advantage of the four-year max for other teams signing RFA’s to keep Eric Gordon on a manageable deal for them while also adding valuable four-man Ryan Anderson on a reasonable contract. They have the offensive firepower to make teams think twice while having the raw materials in Anthony Davis to get better on defense down the line. If Monty Williams can get this team playing cohesively, they can have a beautiful core together before they add another lottery pick (likely a center or point guard) next summer. I am legitimately excited to see where they are one year from now.
Boston Celtics: Much of the challenge in terms of grading the Celtics centers on how to handle the loss of Ray Allen. As far as I’m concerned, any potential reasons Boston gave him for leaving came outside the summer, so they did what they could there. Reacting to that, they mostly did well by retaining core pieces like Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass on reasonable deals and bringing in logical fits like Jason Terry, Jared Sullinger, and Courtney Lee. The biggest things that hold them from the category above are the horrendous deal for Jeff Green and the continuing lack of a lead guard behind Rajon Rondo and no clear-cut offensive option once Paul Pierce retires. Boston’s challenge lies in the fact that they must retool without rebuilding and actually had some draft picks to start that process. They went in a justifiable yet less fruitful direction this summer, even though most of the moves were good.
Oklahoma City Thunder: I'm happy the Thudner extended Serge Ibaka on a reasonable deal and got a huge boom/bust pick in Perry Jones III at a place where there was little risk. My problem with Oklahoma City's summer is that the guys they took fliers on (Daniel Orton and Hasheem Thabeet) play the same position and have limited upside despite being young. Considering the team still needs a reliable perimeter player to spell Kevin Durant and a power forward to eventually take Nick Collison’s minutes, two centers seems a little redundant. Of course, a productive Perry Jones could solve one of those niches in time.
Toronto Raptors: While Toronto did not lose anything of value this summer, their biggest addition was a player already drafted, so they get little credit in this for Jonas Valanciunas. The second biggest move was the unusual deal with Houston that brought in Kyle Lowry for a reverse lottery protected first round pick. Lowry is a good player on a good contract, though my problem with the deal from Toronto's end is that he only has two years left on that cap-friendly contract and since he should not be close to a max player they have little means of controlling him after that. Considering the Raptors will be better in 2014 than they are today because of player development, the pressure becomes retaining Lowry in 2014 to make the deal worth it while a lottery pick would be cost-controlled for four years before the all-powerful RFA summer. Beyond those two moves, this offseason centered on the overpayment of Landry Fields (still a useful component regardless of contract) and an overdrafted Terrance Ross. Toronto has many of the pieces necessary to take off in a flawed Eastern Conference yet still needs a catalyst to make sure the talent on the roster gets put in the best place to succeed.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs kept what they needed to keep and brought over Nando De Colo. When you finished with the No. 1 record in the entire league last regular season, that’s just fine. A trade of DeJuan Blair also may materialize before training camp begins.
Washington Wizards: Astonishingly enough, the Wizards may have procured three 12-13 starters this summer while not giving away any terrible contracts. While that alone should be reason for celebration, the combination of Bradley Beal and John Wall should give Washington a wealth of different paths for developing the rest of their core while adding good citizens and drastically lessening the knucklehead quotient. All necessary changes.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats made two solid draft picks (both good selections for where they were chosen), made a sound trade acquiring a future lottery pick from Detroit, and did not give out any bad contracts.
Indiana Pacers: While some may criticize the Pacers for overpaying George Hill and trading Darren Collison, I think it gives the team more definition moving forward and avoids possible controversy in the future. On top of that, Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi and Miles Plumlee make a quality center rotation, while Gerald Green could thrive with shooters at point guard and small forward spacing the floor. A reasonable summer from a reasonable team.
Los Angeles Clippers: Even though a ton happened for the Clippers, it felt like they lacked a little oomph that could have put them in another level. One challenge for them in 12-13 is the fact that both Lamar Odom and Blake Griffin have played power forward exclusively in recent years and fit strangely together with one playing small forward or center. Fortunately, adding quality players like Grant Hill could help their chemistry even as the Wild Card Nick Young heads to Philadelphia. A little underwhelming yet solid enough to keep them where they were.
Detroit Pistons: Astonishingly, the Pistons added even more small forwards to their mix in the form of Corey Maggette’s Eventually Expiring Contract and Kyle Singler. Fortunately, they drafted a major building block in Andre Drummond and one of my favorite second rounders in Kim English. Detroit is finally on the right track even though they still have an awfully long way to go.
Houston Rockets: The early part of the summer felt more like sound and fury signifying nothing rather than progress. However, the eventual acquisition of both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik gives them quality at the two hardest positions to find it in today’s NBA without giving up any assets. On top of that, they added a bevy of potential in the draft and brought both Donatas Motiejunas and Carlos Delfino into the fold. It was interesting to see Houston move a reverse protected lottery pick, though I understand the logic since Lowry only has two years remaining on his deal. If Toronto is still one year away from the playoffs (I think they are right on the cusp in 12-13), it could end up being quite a useful selection. The Rockets are still a hot mismatched mess but it feels like they have more talent and vision than they did before, even if they should not have given up Courtney Lee for so little.
Utah Jazz: A strange summer for the Jazz considering how many big decisions still loom next off-season with little to read between the tea leaves. Adding Mo and Marvin Williams while only losing Devin Harris and CJ Miles should make them a better team even as their overstuffed big man rotation remains unclear.
Sacramento Kings: The grand experiment of whether a team with two interior post player can succeed will be a ton of fun to watch and decipher. Unfortunately, the Kings do not have much other than Thomas Robinson in terms of new talent so they need to get major improvement from the pieces already on hand in order to have a fighting chance at relevance and momentum moving towards 2013.
Memphis Grizzlies: As we saw with the Spurs above, teams that do not make major changes can fall in a series of different tiers based on where they were before. The problem with what Memphis did was that they added a compelling piece in Tony Wroten yet did not get an off-guard that makes sense with their roster to make up for OJ Mayo and did nothing to fix their long-term salary structure problems.
Milwaukee Bucks: Milwaukee entered the offseason with two major needs: a true center that can be a low-post presence on offense and a small forward that can spread the floor while playing adequate defense. Two swings, two misses. John Henson has potential yet wholly duplicates other talents they have on roster and plays the same position as the guy they gave the most money to this summer (Ersan Ilyasova). Unless Henson can play center and actually score on the interior, the Bucks’ summer does not make any sense.
Orlando Magic: There is a certain degree of boldness necessary to trade Dwight Howard for a package of non-starters and non-lottery picks. Orlando’s biggest problem is that they added pieces that could be decent as role players on a good team yet do not have any member of a top three core for those other players to work around. It feels like having a series of planets orbiting a black hole instead of a sun. Plus, they decided now was the time to give Jameer Nelson a three-year deal despite blowing the rest of the team up. Baffling.
Phoenix Suns: Being down here has remarkably little to do with losing Steve Nash even if they blatantly facilitated him going to a division rival that needed a boost in the worst way. Rather, the Suns failed because they replaced Nash with a back-up drafted in the lottery, a slightly overpaid and now overmatched Goran Dragic, and the Island of Misfit Toys that is Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal. They are not remotely good enough to be relevant in the West but lost just enough salary flexibility to make a major move should the opportunity arise.
New York Knicks: After doing an admirable job doing all the little things necessary to stay relevant (adding a backup point guard, veteran center, re-signing JR Smith, and replacing Baron Davis with another overweight point guard), they lost Jeremy Lin for no reason and kept the team out of the upper echelons of the conference until their next reboot. Such a shame.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Good for the Cavs that they got two potential rotation players this summer. Wait, they took one at No. 4 overall and the other at No. 17? Oh, never mind. Beyond a wholly disappointing draft, Cleveland added a grand total of zero relevant high-rotation players either by trade or free agency. Hopefully someone like Kelenna Azubuike or Jeremy Pargo can make an impact because otherwise it will be another year waiting for Kyrie Irving to get pieces around him good enough to allow the team to thrive.
Chicago Bulls: While other teams had more drastic summers in terms of likely won/loss totals, no team’s chances were hurt more and more brutally than Chicago’s. By effectively giving away much of their bench mob, the Bulls took away one of their biggest reasons for success without properly replacing them. They will be fine once Derrick Rose returns but stand less likely to take down Miami even at full strength than they were before, which is inexcusable considering Chicago’s place in the Eastern Conference landscape.