Okay, with all the big names off the board, it’s time to look at how each team fared during the off-season. Here are the rules:
1. Rather than a standard A through F grade or going for a scale of 1-10, we shall use a system that my friend Noriko loves: -5 through +5. It helps differentiate things a bit more, ‘cuz like if a team gets a C-, it’s better than an F, but is it good? With this scale, you can instead give the team a +1, which shows that they improved the team, but only marginally. Or maybe they get a zero ‘cuz they didn’t hurt the team or help it.
2. These grades are not, I repeat, NOT, about how good teams will be. It’s purely about how good their summer moves were. For instance, the Sacramento Kings may get a higher grade than say the Orlando Magic, but that doesn’t mean I’m insane and think the Kings will be better than the Magic. It simply means I like the Kings’ draft of DeMarcus Cousins more than the Magic’s signings of Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon (although I haven’t fully examined those teams yet, so I dunno what grades they’ll get).
3. The grades are not just based on how good the players are, but also their contracts. Joe Johnson is definitely a top 30 player, but with Atlanta giving him $120 million/6 yrs, the largest contract of anyone this summer, his signing turns into a negative.
4. Grades will be scaled based on what each team could have done. Meaning the Lakers, a team over the salary cap, get major kudos for snagging Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and bringing back Shannon Brown with their limited financial flexibility, but if say the Knicks, with all their cap space, had only made those moves, I’d pan ‘em.
5. Fit matters. I like Kirk Hinrich a ton, and had he gone to the Pacers (a team that desperately need a point guard before yesterday’s Collison trade), I would’ve raved about the move. However, Washington acquiring him is a bit odd considering they already have PGs in John Wall and Gilbert Arenas.
The upcoming parts will look at the Central Division, Southeast Division, Pacific Division, Southwest Division and Northwest Division. Okay, so without further ado, here’s Part I, where we start out in our own backyard, examining…
The Atlantic Division
Boston Celtics – They get points for getting Paul Pierce to sign a contract paying him less per year. Points for getting Doc Rivers to return. Points for not only getting Ray Allen to return, but for getting him to agree to just a two-year contract so that he & KG & Shaq all come off the books at the same time. Points for getting Shaq at the minimum (if it had been for the full mid-level exception this could’ve been a negative. Or if he’d been signed by a team that didn’t have the veteran leadership that this one does, he would’ve been a threat to chemistry). Points for a decent replacement of the retiring Rasheed Wallace with Jermaine O’Neal. Points for bringing back Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels on reasonable contracts, as well as the pickup of Von Wafer. However, negative points for letting ace defender Tony Allen go. Plus, they don’t have a true small forward to backup Pierce. Particularly with Doc trying to limit his vets’ minutes, that could lead to some pretty undersized line-ups. And if Pierce should get injured, Paul will feel twice as much pain ‘cuz he’ll have to watch Wafer try to guard SFs like LeBron, Carmelo & Kevin Durant.
Grade: +3 (If they use their last roster spot to snag say an Ime Udoka to fill that backup SF hole, they jump up to +4).
New Jersey Nets – Big, big minus for being the only team that actively tried to pursue the top free agents and completely struck out (yes, the Clippers came up empty-handed too, but the key word is “actively.” The Clips really only went for LeBron, and even that they did half-heartedly, finishing their presentation in about three minutes while most other teams took half a day for their pitches). I like Travis Outlaw, who they signed, but considering he didn’t even average double digits in points last season, a $35 million contract is faaaaaar too generous, turning him into a negative. I’m not sure how I feel about the recent trade of Courtney Lee for Troy Murphy. With only one year left on Murphy’s contract, and rookie Derrick Favors playing the same position, does Troy just walk off for nothing next summer? Or do they re-sign him, limiting the minutes of their young gun? However, it’s possible they can trade him during the season for a long-term asset, which would make the move solid. That said, I do unhesitatingly like their minor moves of adding Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow on the cheap. Plus getting Avery Johnson as coach is a major score. They’ll definitely be a bunch better this year than they were last year, but to go from possibly snagging LeBron James to having your big free agent splash be an overpaid Travis Outlaw…
Grade: -2 (depending on what happens with Murphy, this could jump up to even +1)
New York Knicks – Yes, they struck out on the big two of LeBron and Wade, but one could argue that they got the next best player available in Amar’e Stoudemire. Some feel they overpaid to get him and that he’s injury-prone, but in three out of the last four season he played 82, 82 & 79 games. That fourth year he did miss a bunch of games, but it was due to a freak eye injury that’s incredibly unlikely to recur, particularly since he now wears goggles in games. In addition, it was big to get Ray Felton, the top available point guard, a position that had been the team’s biggest weakness. They rolled the dice that Anthony Randolph will become a better player than David Lee, the man they traded to get him. However, with Randolph still on an extremely reasonable rookie contract, plus also getting solid pieces Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike in the trade, it seems like a nice gamble. Add in that they maintained enough financial flexibility to possibly make a run at Carmelo Anthony or Tony Parker next year, and it was a solid off-season.
Philadelphia 76ers – Evan Turner didn’t consistently look great in summer league; will the Sixers regret not picking DeMarcus Cousins? They fired coach Eddie Jordan and hired Doug Collins. Is Collins still capable of doing a good job? Last time he was hired was by the Washington Wizards and he failed in his attempt to coach Michael Jordan (returning from his 39th retirement), Kwame Brown, and Rip Hamilton into the playoffs. Philly also traded Samuel Dalembert, a guy with no offensive game but who could rebound and play defense, for Spencer Hawes, a guy with an offensive game but who can’t rebound or play defense. At least Hawes is younger and cheaper. If Turner eventually lives up to those Grant Hill comparisons then this summer will have been a big plus, but for now it seems to me like a…
Toronto Raptors – Losing Chris Bosh was a crushing blow this summer (although you could argue that really they lost him because of the bad moves they made in previous summers). Overpaying for Amir Johnson was just ridiculous. Even if he ends up being more than worth that huge contract, they could’ve gotten him for much less if they hadn’t outbid themselves. Picking Ed Davis at #13 is only okay, but it’s not like there were other much better options available. Getting rid of Hedo Turkoglu’s large contract and unhappy persona was nice, but the player they got in return, Leandro Barbosa, isn’t nearly as good. Well, I like Linas Kleiza, so they had one definitively positive move. But good money says they end up being the worst team in the entire east.
If you want to see how we think these teams will stack up against each other during the season, look at our Eastern Conference Playoff Preview.