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2014-15 NBA Season Tiers Preview

As has been the case in previous seasons, I open with my tiered power rankings. Please remember that these are based solely on projected regular season success. The concept is that teams could finish in any order within a tier bur I would be surprised if they finished outside of that tier, excluding major personnel changes. The order represents my estimation of the most likely finish within a tier though that can be splitting hairs in some cases.

Western Conference 

Tier One – Higher Ground

Los Angeles Clippers: Despite carrying some notable flaws that could doom them in the playoffs, the Clippers have a clear window to take the No. 1 seed. They fixed their largest weakness by adding quality big man depth in Spencer Hawes and Ekpe Udoh and hopefully should have better luck in terms of guard health.

San Antonio Spurs: If Gregg Popovich wanted to run away with the No. 1 seed in the West it likely will be there for the taking. However, history has shown the Spurs care more about wins in the playoffs than the regular season so they take a place firmly in the top tier but not all the way at the top using this methodology. They are still the toughest out in the playoffs as long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker play as well as they did last season.

That paragraph lifted straight from last season’s preview- another illustration of why the Spurs are the best-run sports franchise on the planet.

Tier Two – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant’s injury moves the Thunder from Tier One to Tier Two because even keeping their heads above water will not be enough to catch the Spurs and Clippers. This feels like the year that continually cheapening out on depth by regularly avoiding the luxury tax burns OKC. I actually think this Thunder team as presently constructed and coached stands a better chance of getting knocked out in the first round than making the conference finals despite being a huge fan of Steven Adams.

Golden State Warriors: At full strength, Golden State is the most dangerous Western Conference team for the Spurs in a seven game series with quality defenders to spare and a legitimate superstar in Stephen Curry. The Warriors just have to be healthy for the playoffs and a lack of depth behind Curry and Andrew Bogut means an injury to either jeopardizes their chances of even making the postseason.

Houston Rockets: Their starting five might actually be better this season since Trevor Ariza makes more sense with the  Harden / Howard core than Chandler Parsons. That said, sacrificing their depth by moving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin dramatically increases the variance on their season as does the retention of Kevin McHale as head coach. The Rockets always seem to have someone new step up and my call for 2014-15 is rookie Clint Capela who produced well against high-level talent in Europe and could thrive in a small role this season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis was one of the best teams in the entire league when healthy last season and added some compelling depth through the draft in the form of Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes. If either works out or Vince Carter can carry the Mike Miller torch for shocking durability the Grizzlies could be yet another squad no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns: Last year’s biggest surprise has plenty of backslide risk but also improved their depth by stealing Isaiah Thomas and drafting possible contributor TJ Warren in the lottery. Losing Channing Frye hurts the driving lanes for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe but the young team should improve enough to do even better than last season.

Dallas Mavericks: If we could turn injuries off for a season, Dallas would be both one of my favorite teams to watch and a shocking favorite to make some real noise in a stacked conference. Unfortunately, the Mavericks have no real recourse if any one of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler misses any real time. I always give Rick Carlisle teams a boost after ranking them on pure talent which puts them more firmly in the playoff picture.

Portland Trail Blazers: Portland’s starters only missed 13 games last season. COMBINED. While some teams could handle a regression to the mean in terms of injuries, the Blazers are so top-heavy that losing any member of their core would be devastating. They are another great team that has to pray they stay healthier than their competitors because they are in the post-season if that happens.

New Orleans Pelicans: Stop me if you have heard this before: a top-heavy team that needs their best players to stay healthy to make the playoffs. Anthony Davis sits on the cusp of superstardom and finally has a logical running mate in Omer Asik. The Pelicans will need a strong, full season from the underrated Jrue Holiday and likely one or two breakouts from their shaky bench to fight their way into the top eight.

Denver Nuggets: This Denver team works so well in this format because I could honestly buy them finishing anywhere from third to 11th in the West. They are the only team other than the Spurs in the entire NBA to have two good players at every position and their home-court advantage could give the Nuggets enough of a buffer to make the playoffs a reality. Kenneth Faried got the attention and money this summer but Ty Lawson will play the most important role on this year’s team.

Tier Three – Pastime Paradise (or I Wish)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Fittingly, the dual coach/president Flip Saunders has created two different teams in one franchise: a surprisingly competitive batch of veterans including Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin alongside a full batch of pups including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and the enigmatic Zach LaVine. That dichotomy could push Minnesota to the top of the bottom by logging enough wins before the kids take the reins once their playoff dreams turn back into a pumpkin.

Sacramento Kings: Pick protection is the biggest scourge on competitiveness in today’s NBA. The Kings owe a pick to the Bulls that carries top-10 protection or each of the next three seasons so they have a clear incentive to pump the brakes if they fall out of the playoff hunt. I fully expect pragmatism to win out for at least one more year so the team can add another Shooting Guard in the lottery. After all, what other reason could there be for replacing Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison?

Utah Jazz: The Jazz will get substantially more minutes this season from compelling talent than the last few seasons. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert make Utah a rare team that should expect 48 minutes of reliable rim protection while Gordon Hayward can shoulder less of the offensive load thanks to an improved perimeter rotation. Hopefully Quin Snyder can figure out if Enes Kanter works with their main pieces before he hits restricted free agency next summer.

Los Angeles Lakers: Even before the depressing news about Steve Nash’s injury it was hard to figure out how the Lakers would beat teams even with their full complement of players. The Lake Show has no discernible defensive ability outside of Ed Davis and a coach that apparently wants to take out the high-variance strategy (lots and lots of threes) that could lead to the Lakers snaking a few games. A lost season yields a top-five pick in an interesting 2015 Draft.

Eastern Conference

Tier One – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (or Overjoyed or Love’s in Need of Love Today)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Cleveland’s offseason has to be considered one of the best in league history. They added two of the ten best players in the league (arguably two of the top five) and gave up very little in terms of contributors to last season’s team. Kyrie Irving went from being the savior to his team’s third-best player and both he and Kevin Love should thrive offensively like LeBron’s teammates in Miami. I expect the Cavs to finish in the top five of offensive efficiency in league history at least one of the next two seasons with or without Ray Allen. 

Tier Two – On the Sunny Side of the Street

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls got better by adding Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott but failed to improve their biggest weakness by failing to bring in anyone of substance at guard. Chicago has staked their entire season to Derrick Rose staying healthy and will be vulnerable even in the minutes he sits when healthy because neither Kirk Hinrich nor Aaron Brooks can competently fill the role. This Bulls team should be very fun to watch though and will go a long way towards showing Tom Thibodeau’s capability as an offensive coach.

Toronto Raptors: After a storybook regular season, Masai Ujiri brought the band back together by keeping Kyle Lowry in T-Dot. The Raptors are young enough to ride age-centric improvement to stay above the hard-charging young teams in the East and absolutely could make Chicago have to sweat to earn the second seed. Yet again, the development of Jonas Valanciunas will determine the ceiling for the Raptors even as the rest of the team improves. 

Tier Three – Positivity

Washington Wizards: A short-term loss of Bradley Beal comes at exactly the wrong position because Washington has done a nice job augmenting their depth behind Wall, Gortat and Nene. Having a full season with Paul Pierce and Andre Miller could give the youngsters (especially Wall) the knowledge to overcome some of Randy Wittman’s subpar coaching.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were a very good team last season when they had both Al Horford and Paul Millsap active. Improved depth from Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne and Mike Muscala should make them more dangerous at full strength and better equipped to handle the injuries that come almost every season.

Detroit Pistons: Other than the Cavs, I would argue that Detroit made the biggest upgrade of any team by adding one of the best coaches in the league. Stan Van Gundy will be able to iron out the flaws on this roster while possessing the power to shed any pieces that do not make sense with Andre Drummond and whoever else SVG sees as a core player. I hope we get to see the first flashes from Spencer Dinwiddie, a special talent who fell in the draft due to injury.

Charlotte Hornets: After a shockingly successful season, the Hornets and Steve Clifford corrected their biggest weakness by bringing in Lance Stephenson. Born Ready fits in well because he can function as a secondary ballhandler and defensive force at a position where Charlotte got very little last year. Losing Josh McRoberts hurts but the combination of Cody Zeller,  Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh will do enough to make the Hornets a better team overall with Lance.

Miami Heat: Swapping LeBron James for Luol Deng may not seem like a gigantic drop-off but the problems stem from how integral King James was to Miami’s scheme on both ends. He drew the best defender on every opponent and ran the offense so the Heat could use a different kind of point guard. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade deserve all of their career accolades but losing their buffer makes  Miami an easier cover and far more damaged by any injuries they suffer.

Brooklyn Nets: Basketball people have been talking about the importance of Brook Lopez’s health but Andrei Kirilenko will need to stay on the court too for the Nets to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Even though I like Bojan Bogdanovic, he cannot fill Paul Pierce’s shoes so those responsibilities will need to fall to the established players on the squad. Lionel Hollins will make his imprint on this team but I am not sure how much of an intensity upgrade a team with Kevin Garnett really needs. On the plus side, Hollins’ experience with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol means we should have a much better idea of where Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are in their careers in April. 

Tier Four – Ordinary Pain

New York Knicks: A team has a problem when their five best players all play the three smallest positions on the floor. Jose Calderon has been an underrated player in the league for years but the Knicks losing Tyson Chandler without replacing him means their rim protection will be functionally nil for a substantial portion of games. We saw with last year’s Pelicans that even Anthony Davis could not carry a defense with shaky perimeter defenders and no anchor.  Carmelo should have another strong season but the Knicks’ roster does not make sense and they do not possess the resources to make their improvement in-season.

Indiana Pacers: Like the Spurs years ago, Indiana would be best served by punting this season to add a key piece through the draft. Losing Lance without replacing him kneecapped this season to begin with so even if Paul George returns before the end of the 2014-15 campaign there would not be much to gain in terms of playoff wins. I honestly do not know if Frank Vogel and Larry Bird are comfortable taking the full steps that would yield the best result from this season but even trying should produce plenty of losses with a horrendous offense in a stronger Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks: As crazy as it sounds, Milwaukee could make the playoffs as soon as this season. Larry Sanders needs to prove that last season was the aberration and the Jabari / Giannis forward combination should work on both ends eventually though this season should have some growing pains. The Bucks will not reach that ceiling because their guard rotation still needs a ton of work- Brandon Knight will have all kinds of problems running an offense but at least Jason Kidd should know what to do in terms of Knight’s extension after this season.

Orlando Magic: The Magic made a series of strange decisions this summer from dumping Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier too early in the off-season to adding Channing Frye and Ben Gordon to an extremely young core. If Elfrid Payton can elevate the Magic offense early in his career, the team stands a much better chance of knowing what they have in a horde of physically gifted players on rookie contracts, many of whom hit free agency shockingly soon.

Boston Celtics: Another team that likely spends this season working towards future success. After paying Avery Bradley this summer, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens must figure out the optimal roles for Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, James Young, Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk before they make big decisions with Rajon Rondo and next summer’s draft picks. If two or more of those guys break out it makes the rebuilding process substantially easier by narrowing the needs. 

Tier Five – Ain’t That Asking For Trouble (or All Day Sucker)

Philadelphia 76ers: Even with the addition of Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel, the Sixers start this season with less available talent than last season because it took them months to trade away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner. It should only take one more year for Philly to have their war chest and they should have a bright near future but the present looks awfully grim. 

Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (with Chris Paul in second)

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers

Rookie of the Year:  Jabari Parker

Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

Most Improved Player: Jonas Valanciunas

Executive of the Year: David Griffin  

Playoff Predictions

Western Conference

First Round:
Clippers over Mavericks in six
Spurs over Suns in five
Thunder over Grizzlies in seven
Warriors over Rockets in seven

Second Round:
Clippers over Warriors in seven
Spurs over Thunder in six

Western Conference Finals:
Spurs over Clippers in five

Eastern Conference

First Round:
Cavs over Heat in five
Bulls over Hornets in five
Raptors over Pistons in six
Wizards over Hawks in seven

Second Round:
Cavs over Wizards in five
Bulls over Raptors in six

Eastern Conference Finals:
Cavs over Bulls in five

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavs in seven
Finals MVP: Tim Duncan

Leroux's 2014 NBA Offseason Review

Similar to years past (and my draft reviews, for those of you who read them), I grade offseasons on a curve based on the opportunities available to that management team over the summer. A team hampered by a years-old trade or messed up draft pick do not get further penalized for it while teams that squandered resources absolutely do.

That said, here is how the 2014 NBA offseason shook out.

Great Offseasons

Cleveland Cavaliers: Surprise, surprise. Clearing the space to add the best player in the world was just the start since the Pied Piper of Akron brought in another top-10 player in Kevin Love and cheap depth in Mike Miller and Shawn Marion. Losing the #1 overall pick hurts, but LeBron James turns 30 this season and his window may be narrower than some think. A pre-prime Love is the best big man LeBron has ever played with and if Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson can embrace smaller roles this could be the best squad top to bottom of King James’ career. Really. An absolute triumph from the big moves on down to picking up the compelling resource that is Brendan Haywood’s supremely weird contract.

Philadelphia 76ers: Let’s recap: the Sixers chose the player with the highest ceiling in this draft at #3 overall, got back their own future first by moving down two spots while still getting their man (even though I was lower on Dario Saric than they were) and grabbed a mid-first for an expiring contract that had no chance of re-signing with them. Work in picking up a mentor for Joel Embiid in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and some fun second round picks and you have a phenomenal summer for a team that knew exactly what they wanted. I am surprised they did not get in the Jeremy Lin sweepstakes since Sam Hinkie’s old boss was willing to send a first round pick, but the Sixers are in the catbird seat as a team with huge in-season cap space that can ransom out picks and young players from teams looking to get under the luxury tax. Amare, anyone?

San Antonio Spurs: The Champs improved while also retaining Boris Diaw and Patty Mills at fair prices, along with an extension for Tony Parker. Kyle Anderson was a bona fide steal and will be a perfect fit for San Antonio’s system as he becomes a more well-rounded player. The best team in the league lost no one of substance and did not have to overpay their own guys. Absolutely remarkable.

Denver Nuggets: No team in the Western Conference improved their roster more than Denver despite a lack of cap flexibility. The Nuggets traded down in the draft and selected a player in Jusuf Nurkic that was among the top guys on my board remaining at their original spot. Bringing back Arron Afflalo at the low cost of Evan Fournier while also drafting Gary Harris gives them a quality starter at every position and a credible backup at every spot too.

Charlotte Hornets: Adding Lance Stephenson without having to give up any talent makes the summer a huge win for Charlotte. He gives them talent at a position that was a black hole last season and should strengthen their surprising defensive performance last season. Losing Josh McRoberts hurts but they have two Indiana Hoosier PF’s who have a shot at success in lottery picks Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller.

Utah Jazz: Dante Exum was the top player on my draft board for a reason. It will take him a few years to figure everything out but basketball players with his physical gifts do not come around very often. Utah grabbing him fifth overall was excellent and Rodney Hood should fit nicely with their unusual swingman group. The Jazz also took fliers on Carrick Felix and Steve Novak without giving up much and brought back Gordon Hayward on the Hibbert Max which will be fine as the cap explodes in the near future. I just wish Utah had used their remaining cap space as a bludgeon to get an asset like what Milwaukee did with the Clippers.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Flip Saunders ended up getting quite the haul for Kevin Love, even as someone who does not think Andrew Wiggins will be the best prospect in this draft. Wiggins and Anthony Bennett alongside Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine give the Wolves a fun group for the future. Unfortunately, Coach Flip forced GM Flip to make a silly short-term play by giving up Miami’s first rounder to rent Thaddeus Young for the season. Now we just have to see if Harvey Dent can decide whether Minnesota should try to contend or just steer into the skid for at least one season.

Phoenix Suns: Phoenix added a young starting-caliber point guard to their stable at a great price in Isaiah Thomas without giving up any assets. That alone would put them in the great category but locking up Eric Bledsoe on a fair contract and bringing in even more guard depth in Zoran Dragic and Tyler Ennis made it even better. Losing Channing Frye hurts but a non-elite power forward should not make that kind of money and the Suns should have workable replacements in-house. I also liked the selection of Bogdan Bogdanovic late in the first and TJ Warren with the last pick in the lottery- both could work out nicely on a team looking for quality depth now and down the line.

Detroit Pistons: While the NBA continues to be a player’s league, quality coaching is one of the biggest market inefficiencies around. Stan Van Gundy’s credentials are strong and he has a wonderful piece of clay in Andre Drummond to mold into his next interior star. Basketball Operations SVG made some interesting choices, particularly paying Jodie Meeks for three seasons but adding depth at a non-prohibitive cost provides Coach SVG with some leverage on the carryover players, many of whom could be on the move at or before the trade deadline.

Los Angeles Clippers: Hard capping themselves by signing Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar to their contracts limited LA’s best team a little this season but they would not have been able to build quality depth any other way. Doc Rivers made a strange call by taking back contracts from the Bucks while including a first rounder to absorb Jared Dudley’s contract- they likely could have given the Sixers or Jazz the same assets and not carried cap hits of $950,000 for the next five (five!) seasons. Despite that curiosity, a great team improving their biggest weakness with limited means makes it a highly successful summer.

Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker ended up in a great situation because bookends of Giannis Antetokounmpo and a hopefully rejuvenated Larry Sanders protect his weaknesses while providing the opportunity to unleash his offensive gifts. Furthermore, Milwaukee upgraded meaningfully at coach- Jason Kidd makes sense as the man to find and develop whatever guards the team ends up acquiring. I’m sure Bucks fans saw the nice pieces the Celtics and Lakers picked up for cap space and wished some of their unfortunate contracts from last summer were not on the books but the team did well to fleece the Clippers out of a future first for a very minor sacrifice. A few more fliers on young talent would have been nice but Milwaukee has enough lottery tickets in their rotation to make Jason Kidd’s job plenty challenging.

Good Offseasons

Chicago Bulls: They brought in a metric ton of talent in Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott while only losing Carlos Boozer and DJ Augustin so the offseason has to be considered a success. Unfortunately, the Bulls failed to bring in a primary ballhandler to spell Derrick Rose and handle that burden if he gets injured so the team ‘s future sits precariously on the health of a player who has missed a ton of time. Chicago got better but chose a terrifying road for the near term.

Dallas Mavericks: Dallas made a huge bet by trading Jose Calderon and some nice little assets (Shane Larkin and a high second round pick among them) for Tyson Chandler. The defensive anchor on their title team has an expiring contract and we have no idea how much he has left in the tank. Mark Cuban and company did brilliant work stealing Chandler Parsons away from Houston without giving up any assets though spending that money did yield the result of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter ending up elsewhere. Rick Carlisle has an amazing challenge building a scheme around a roster where his three best offensive players all play positions other than point guard. I also loved the pickups of Al-Farouq Aminu and Jameer Nelson, two players that could be meaningful parts of a playoff run.

Memphis Grizzlies: Replacing Mike Miller, James Johnson and Ed Davis with Jordan Adams, Vince Carter and Jarnell Stokes could work out well for Memphis and they did a nice job locking up Zach Randolph on a fair extension. The next challenge is convincing Marc Gasol to stick around for another contract since he plays such an important part in their continued success.

Toronto Raptors: First things first: retaining Kyle Lowry was huge for the franchise and getting him at $12 million per season turned out to be an absolute steal with the market and the gigantic TV deal. The Raptors ended up in Good rather than Great because they chose not to be particularly ambitious by committing about $13 million on next season’s books to Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, two players who should not start on a team this good. Having only $30 million combined next season for Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross would have made them a fascinating destination in a weird free agent class but those new commitments put a significant dent in the possibilities available. We will have to see if Masai reached to take Bruno Caboclo in the late first but I loved adding Louis Williams and Lucas Noguiera at the cost of John Salmons’ partially guaranteed contract.

Washington Wizards: This turned into a pretty nice salvage operation. After Trevor Ariza left for the Rockets, I was worried that Washington’s 2013-14 season could be more aberration than the new normal. Fortunately, they got Paul Pierce on a great contract and added DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries for frontcourt depth. Ernie Grunfeld still unsurprisingly overpaid Marcin Gortat in years and dollars and the Wizards still have issues with their swingman rotation but they kept the team afloat which is an accomplishment.

Boston Celtics: Even without making the big decision on Rajon Rondo, Danny Ainge did a nice job accumulating assets without sacrificing talent. Both Marcus Smart and James Young could end up starting for the C’s eventually and picking up Tyler Zeller and Dwight Powell in a salary dump was an inspired move. Ainge overpaid a strange piece in Avery Bradley after drafting Smart and will need to figure out something with Rondo because failing to capitalize on such a nice trade piece would be a tough pill to swallow for a team that will do plenty of losing.

Miami Heat: Miami did a nice job rebounding for the short-term after the best player in the world decided to head elsewhere. Adding Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng and Danny Granger on reasonable contracts while drafting Shabazz Napier adds functional depth that will make a difference in an 82 game season. Unfortunately, replacing LeBron with Deng will have cascading effects on both ends of the floor that make playing into May a more distant dream. I did not like the huge contract for Chris Bosh but the new national TV deal and corresponding cap increase will take some of the sting out of it.

Enh Offseasons

Houston Rockets: Even if you take declining Chandler Parsons’ team option as a precondition of Dwight Howard coming to Houston last July, Daryl Morey made some strange decisions this summer. Picking up the pieces of Parsons’ uncompensated departure by acquiring Trevor Ariza makes the team better but paying to shed Jeremy Lin’s expiring contract to add cap space continues to puzzle. Even if the hope was that Chris Bosh would head west, the Lakers did not have the leverage to demand immediate action on a trade that helped them substantially. Losing Lin and Asik (a much better move since they picked up a first rounder rather than trading one away) means the Rockets have to depend on new players to step up and that can be a risky proposition even with a nice selection of depth players. Taking Clint Capela 25th overall pushes Houston up a little too since he was a top ten prospect in this stacked draft class.

Brooklyn Nets: Brooklyn put themselves in a bind by having so many players who had control over their own future. Shaun Livingston took more money from the Warriors while Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche just chose to get out of dodge. Bojan Bogdanovic will contribute and Jarrett Jack helps the team avoid calamity if Deron Williams has to miss time. Relying on improved health and internal improvement is a hard sell for an older team but I have trouble blaming management for events that would have been hard to prevent.

Golden State Warriors: Bob Myers and the rest of the Golden State front office made the decision to largely stay put despite a rumored possibility that they could have acquired Kevin Love early in the summer. While the Warriors did a great job adding backcourt depth in Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush to correct a major problem last season, they actually got shallower at Center and now only have two players who can man the position with any notable experience: one who missed the playoffs and another who did not play at all last season. Like Chicago, Golden State chose to make their season more perilous and stressful.

Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne was an inspired pick for a team that could use another piece of frontcourt depth but they made a strange call adding cap flexibility by using Lucas Nogueira to dump Louis Williams’ pretty manageable contract and then not doing a whole lot with the cap space generated by the trade. Bringing in Thabo Sefolosha helps but it felt like a summer of wasted opportunities.

New Orleans Pelicans: Omer Asik makes New Orleans substantially better this season but giving up another quality pick forces the Pelicans to re-sign the Turkish anchor after this season and he will be unrestricted.  Even though they had limited flexibility in terms of salary, Dell Demps made very few moves to produce a deeper team now or later unless John Salmons somehow answers their prayers. Playing with Anthony Davis in a great city should yield more lottery tickets than just Russ Smith, though I do like him quite a bit as a disruptive guard.

Portland Trail Blazers: Limited somewhat by being close to the cap with contracts they were not interested in moving, Portland kept the band together by bringing in Chris Kaman and swapping Mo Williams for Steve Blake. The Blazers did a nice job improving their depth last summer so it was less of a glaring issue but they are relying a ton on internal improvement for a team right in the middle of a stacked Western Conference where many of their competitors took much more active steps to improve.

Bad Offseasons

New York Knicks: Beyond the sheer shock of the Knicks picking up draft picks in a trade, evaluating their offseason comes down to whether you think having Carmelo Anthony on the roster makes bringing in a second star in 2015 or 2016 more likely. I think it hurts their chances with most targets and makes them too good this season to grab a much-needed key piece in a draft where they actually have their pick. Plus, adding a no-trade clause to Carmelo’s deal means that even if the national TV contract makes his contract palatable the team still cannot move Melo for assets without his approval. Jose Calderon and Derek Fisher will make their offense more tolerable but the rim protection will be less than non-existent most of the time.

Indiana Pacers: When you lose a talent like Lance Stephenson for nothing and his new team got a great value, something went horribly wrong. Indiana turned around and spent about half that salary on CJ Miles who cannot do any of what made Born Ready so integral to last year’s top seed in the East. Paul George’s injury changes the short-term and long-term trajectories of the Pacers but they did themselves no favors this summer.

Los Angeles Lakers: Yet again, the Lakers lacked the courage to embrace their flaws and bottom out to build future assets. Picking up a late first for Jeremy Lin was a step in the right direction but giving Swaggy P a four year contract and blocking Julius Randle by picking up Carlos Boozer went the other direction. While the Sixers and Rockets locked young talent into multi-year non-guaranteed contracts, Ed Davis, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry can all hit unrestricted free agency next summer. The Lakers may end up being bad anyway but they played the off-season incorrectly.

Sacramento Kings: Sacramento started the off-season with an interesting roster and a lottery pick but without a ton of financial flexibility. They end it with a substantial downgrade at Point Guard (at a similar price), a fun prospect who plays the same role as last year’s pick and not a whole lot else. The Kings also were a part of the strangest trade in the off-season where they gave up Quincy Acy for the ability to pay someone about the same amount they owed Travis Outlaw over two years rather than one. That can be a problem when the team in question was not going to be good this season and will have more opportunities to improve next summer.

Orlando Magic: This is legitimately rare but I believe I would have done every single move differently from what Rob Hennigan did this summer. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are fine players but neither fits particularly well with Orlando’s current players and there were excellent talents on the board at both selections. To compound matters, they offered up a first round pick to move up two spots for Payton, gave away Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier too early in the summer and signed Ben Gordon in the worst contract of the off-season. On top of everything, they decided to give a huge contract to Channing Frye, a 31 year old who missed a recent season due to a heart condition and happens to play the same position as the player they took fourth in the draft weeks before. Absolutely incredible.

Oklahoma City Thunder: I hope people remember that part of David Stern’s legacy is moving a team from Seattle to Oklahoma City and saddling them with an owner apparently unwilling to pay what was necessary while his team was in title contention. This summer the Thunder let a valuable trade exception expire, decided to retain Kendrick Perkins and used their first-round picks on a player who will not play for them this year and another on someone recovering from a serious injury (though I loved Mitch McGary his last healthy season). OKC compounded those mistakes with minimal improvements in July, functionally swapping Thabo Sefolosha for Anthony Morrow being their most notable change. Teams in OKC’s situation need to behave like the Clippers and maximize their limited resources which makes the Thunder off-season so much more egregious.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Central Division

Our series on candidates for internal improvement on every team in the NBA continues with the Central Division, where most of the action in the Eastern Conference is. After four seasons of wandering in the desert, Cleveland is celebrating the return of their prodigal son, a move which instantly changed the trajectory of the Cavs franchise and the balance of power in the league. So what teams are positioned to be their rivals over the next few seasons?

The last time LeBron James was in Cleveland, the Chicago Bulls were one of the up and coming young teams in the NBA, losing to the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. A lot has happened in the meantime, but the Bulls have managed to bring along a number of young players and they have a few promising rookies coming down the pipeline. If Derrick Rose can stay healthy and return to form, that could quickly become one of the best rivalries in the NBA.

The Indiana Pacers emerged as LeBron’s chief rival when he was in Miami, but they have been decimated by injuries and free agent defections in the off-season. Like Chicago the last few years, they are trying to overcome a devastating injury to their franchise player while using that time to develop a few young players and position themselves to get back into the fray. It could turn out for the best, as the Pacers might benefit from adding a lottery pick to their core.

Down the road, both the Detroit Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks have the young talent to conceivable challenge Cleveland. While both are still in the beginning of a rebuilding process, they already have the most important parts behind them - acquiring potential franchise players. The Central Division is interesting now, but it could conceivably become much more interesting in the next few years ... or the Cavs could just steamroll everyone. That’s possible too.

- Cleveland Cavaliers: Dion Waiters:

After receiving a max contract in the offseason, Kyrie Irving is the young player who has gotten most of the pub on the Cavs new super-team. Waiters, meanwhile, is best known for some of the more reckless things he has said to the media. However, if he can continue to improve and live up to being a No. 4 overall pick, Cleveland can be really scary. For all the legitimately goofy stuff he does on and off the court, he is a very good young player.

At 6’4 220 with a 6’7 wingspan, Waiters is a dynamic scorer who can shoot, handle, pass and swing between either guard position. While he will have to play more without the ball in his hands this season, he is going to get a lot of open looks and he is more than capable of capitalizing on them. If he makes the easy play, moves the ball and competes on the defensive end, he could be one of the best fourth options in the NBA and start living up to his boasts.

- Chicago Bulls: Tony Snell:

After being thrust into the Chicago rotation by necessity as a rookie, Snell will have to compete for minutes on a much deeper team. He has all the tools to be a successful wing player in Tom Thibodeau’s system - at 6’7 200, he has the length and athleticism to swing between multiple positions on the perimeter and he has shown the ability to knock down 3’s. While he was only at 32% last season, he was a career 38% three-point shooter at New Mexico.

In order to get on the floor, he will need to internalize Thibodeau’s defensive principles while also becoming a more complete offensive player. He shot 38% from the floor last season, numbers only Kirk Hinrich is allowed to put up in Chicago. In a best-case scenario, Snell makes a leap similar to the one Jimmy Butler made in his second season. If not, with Doug McDermott breathing down his neck for minutes, he may not be long for the Bulls.

- Indiana Pacers: Solomon Hill

Hill didn’t really get a chance to show what he could as a rookie, when he was behind Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner in Indiana’s rotation. With all three gone this season, the Pacers will give Hill every chance to eat up minutes and establish himself as a legitimate NBA player. They made their bones as a franchise that drafts and develops, so they have to hope that Hill learned something going up against those guys in practice.

Coming out of college, Hill had a rep as a guy who was a jack of all trades but a master of none. At 6’7 225, he doesn’t have elite athleticism and he was never an explosive scorer at Arizona. He was a very smart four-year player who could do a little bit of everything - shoot, score, pass, rebound and defend. While he probably can’t handle a huge offensive burden, he could become an effective NBA player by just filling in the cracks and playing within himself.

- Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond

There was only one real reason for Stan Van Gundy to take the Pistons job - the 21-year-old freak of nature on their roster still young enough to be molded into anything. Despite all the dysfunction around him last season, Drummond put up some fairly eye-popping numbers - 13 points, 13 rebounds and 1.5 steals on 63% shooting. Not only is he one of the biggest human beings in the league, he is incredibly athletic for a guy with his monstrous size.

If you close your eyes and project a few years forward, you can see Van Gundy using Drummond in many of the same ways he used Dwight Howard in Orlando. To be sure, he still has a ton of work to do on both ends of the floor and his free-throw shooting is going to have to improve. Nevertheless, for as raw a player as Drummond still is, he still managed to put up a 22.6 PER last season. Spread the floor around him and anything is possible.

- Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis was one of the best stories in the league last season, but all the positive press has obscured what a raw player he still. For all the flashes of greatness he showed as a rookie, he wasn’t all that effective in his time on the floor, with per-36 minute averages of 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on 41% shooting. Translation to potential to production is not easy in the NBA, especially for a 20-year-old on a bad team without many veterans to lean on.


For Giannis, this season is all about filling out his body and becoming strong enough to deal with the physicality of the league. If he can handle that, his length, skill and athleticism should take him a long away. Jason Kidd has made noises about using him as a point forward, which might not be a bad experiment for a Bucks team going nowhere. He can conceivably improve every facet of his game, which is exciting but also tells you how far he has to go.

Team-By-Team Analysis Of The 2014 NBA Draft

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Leroux's 2014 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down which teams had Great, Good, Enh and Bad drafts with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid going in the top-3.

Lottery Lowdown (Late-May Edition)

With the lottery out of the way, we can begin to examine which teams represent good and bad fits for the teams in a position to draft them.

10-Year NBA Win Rank Snapshot

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2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

Antetokounmpo Represents Bucks' Uncertain Present, Unknown Future

Giannis Antetokounmpo has already become a mini-legend among hoopheads, but stories about the possibility of further growth, huge hands and potential as a future superstar only go so far. His minutes as a rookie are almost certainly dependent on whether the Bucks contend for a playoff spot.

Top-60 Players In NBA Today (Considering Everything)

The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.

2013-14 NBA Season Preview

While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.

The NBA's Mediocrity Treadmill Since 84-85

The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.

Face Of Bucks, Larry Sanders Embraces Challenge To Revitalize Culture

Just last year, Larry Sanders had been toiling as a lost player, but he has played himself into the USA Basketball program and now comes out of it wiser after being around some of the best coaching minds.

Bucks Trying To Rebuild From The Middle

Things are gloomy for Milwaukee, but there is reason for hope. For all their troubles evaluating veterans, the Bucks front office drafts as well as any team in the NBA. Their last three first-round picks were Larry Sanders (15), Tobias Harris (19) and John Henson (14).

Jeff Teague Commits To Hawks' Vision After Near Split

Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer called Jeff Teague late Saturday afternoon. Together they delivered a message Teague wanted all along out of the organization that drafted him in 2009 and thrust him into a 2011 playoff series against Derrick Rose that he still credits as outline for his potential.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

Choosing Destinations For The 2013 Free Agency Class

The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Draft Week Edition)

Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.

2013 NBA Draft Board

Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.

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