Monday, December 19, 2011
Report cards: Grading the offseason
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
A lot has happened since Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks knocked off the Heat to give the city of Dallas its first NBA title last June. Chad Ford gave out his offseason grades for all 30 NBA teams. Now, our 5-on-5 crew takes a look at some of the free-agent signings, trades, hirings, firings and more.
1. Which team deserves the best grade this offseason?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Clippers. It's not that they've never had good offseasons before (the summers that brought Elton Brand, Sam Cassell and Corey Maggette/Quentin Richardson/Darius Miles come to mind) but they've never had the best offseason before. In landing Chris Paul the Clippers made the most significant move since the lockout ended. Maybe they should hang a commemorative banner in Staples Center, since they don't have anything else on the walls there.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Clippers, who will be 20 games better (proportionally) this year than they were last season. But honorable mention goes to (gulp!) the Hornets. New Orleans got solid value for Paul and spent the offseason selling tons of season tickets (likely built on the promise of more Chris Pau -- oops!). In that market, profitability is an impressive achievement.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Miami, just ahead of the Clippers, Celtics and Knicks. As chaos reigned throughout the league, the Heat projected an image of calm (which was quite the contrast to their previous offseason) and didn't overreact to last year's Finals loss. They answered any questions about Erik Spoelstra's job security by extending his contract and the Heat solidified their D by signing Shane Battier. Not bad for the defending Eastern Conference champs.
Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: The Los Angeles Clippers. With one trade, the Clippers transformed themselves from perennial laughingstock into an outside-shot title contender. The acquisition of Chris Paul also begins to tip the scales of power in Los Angeles, a change that is almost as valuable as the team's on-court improvement.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Quietly, the Indiana Pacers. They turned a mid-first-rounder in a weak draft into a solid contributor in George Hill and then plugged their biggest weakness by signing David West to a very reasonable two-year deal. West and Hill bump the Pacers up a notch in the East.
2. Which team deserves the worst grade this offseason?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Rockets. It's not their fault that the worst-case scenario materialized and Yao Ming's foot problems caused him to retire, it's not their fault that their plans to revamp the team were blown up when David Stern nixed the three-team trade with the Lakers and Hornets and it's not their fault they lost a coach who got more out of his players than anyone else the past couple of seasons (OK, maybe they were responsible for that last one). But they're left with a void at center and uncertainty in the minds of their two best players, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, who thought they had been traded. How many nights will Kevin McHale wish he was back on the set trading jokes with CWebb, Kenny and the Chuckster?
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Lakers. What's the plan here? The Lakers seem to be the team most confounded by the strictures of the new CBA and the allure of Blake Griffin. Josh McRoberts was a nice pickup, but replacing Lamar Odom with McBobs is like trading in a Bentley for a Chrysler 300 because they sort of look the same.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Atlanta. Did the Hawks move to Winnipeg with the Thrashers? Five years ago, I never thought I'd write this, but Tracy McGrady is a downgrade from Jamal Crawford. And Vlad Rad? Because you absolutely, positively need 15 minutes from a guy who shoots only 3s. With a chance to build upon their first-round upset of the Magic and with much of the league in flux, the Hawks did nothing to improve.
Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: The Boston Celtics. They got a year older, they didn't add anybody or make any deals of note, and they had a stroke of bad luck with Jeff Green's season-ending heart condition. As a result, the gap widened significantly between the Celtics and the Eastern Conference's true elite: the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: The Pistons. I just don't understand Detroit's direction, tossing a combined $71 million at Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko on three- and four-year deals. The Pistons have been awful the past two years with this core, so they should be looking to shed contracts to rebuild rather than ensuring their own mediocrity the next few years.
3. Which team gets an incomplete for this offseason?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Lakers. We need to see what they do with the trade exception from the Lamar Odom salary dump before we render a final decision on that move. We also wonder whether Kobe's extra rest and German knee treatment will restore him or is it too late? Were the organizational staffing dismissals a cruel lack of loyalty or a necessary purge? How affected will Pau Gasol be by hearing his name in trade rumors?
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Miami mostly stayed pat, adding only an aging but effective wing player who adds depth at the team's strongest positions. The lack of movement was disappointing considering the gaping holes at center and point guard, but if Norris Cole is the vicious defender and assertive ball handler he appears to be, the Heat may have the steal of the draft.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Dallas. Getting Lamar Odom for nothing was a coup, but losing J.J. Barea, their little postseason engine that could, was a mistake, as was letting Tyson Chandler sign with the Knicks. The Chandler departure is a miscalculation the Mavs will rue this season. And Vince Carter? That's like getting a CD Walkman for Christmas. I'm curious to see how it's all going to work out.
Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: The New Orleans Hornets. The decision-makers in the Paul deal wanted young talent and picks in exchange for Paul, but it remains to be seen whether they'll be able to turn their new assets into a contending team without their franchise cornerstone.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: New Orleans. If this is the summer that propels the Hornets toward a Big Three of their own with Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes and Eric Gordon, the CP3 trade will look like a godsend. If Gordon bolts in two years and their 2012 picks don't turn into stars, losing Paul will be seen as a disaster.
4. Which team had the most surprising offseason?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Knicks. They came from nowhere to land Tyson Chandler and instantly upgrade their defense. Iman Shumpert has gone from an unpopular draft pick (remember the initial reaction of the fans at the draft and Carmelo Anthony on Twitter?) to showing he can be an immediate contributor. A New York team that delivered more performance than hype would be the biggest surprise of all.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: How often does a defending champ let three of its top seven players walk? That's just what the Mavericks did before making a couple of clever moves to add Lamar Odom and Vince Carter on the cheap while opening up their cap sheet to potentially make a move for a superstar like Deron Williams. They won't repeat, but the future is still bright in Dallas.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: New Orleans, hands down. And it was surprising not only to fans, but also to front offices around the league. After David Stern scuttled the first Chris Paul-involved trade, the question was: Who was really running things? It was unprecedented and, to a lot of people, unseemly. Then the trade to the Clippers happened, and maybe they got a better deal. No team has had an offseason like it and it provided examples Nos. 1-100 as to why the NBA shouldn't own a team.
Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: The New York Knicks. Few expected them to reel in Tyson Chandler, a long center who establishes much-needed defensive credibility for the team. Mike Bibby's certainly not the best player and the league, but he and Baron Davis help to bolster the point guard position. The Knicks' lineup looks significantly more complete than the roster that bowed out in the first round last season.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: The Clippers. With all their young assets they were perhaps best positioned to make a run at Paul, but this organization always figures out a way to bungle it. For once it did not, and with Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler in the fold as well, this long-downtrodden franchise can finally call itself a contender.
5. Based on the offseason, which team should be labeled Team Turmoil?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Magic. As tumultuous as the process of trading Chris Paul was for the Hornets, at least that's over. Dwight Howard will be an issue for Orlando every day until he leaves (it still feels more like when than if). It's already cost the Magic a CEO, who admitted making a wine-infused phone call to Howard at 1 a.m. When will the cap-clogged roster and ill-fitting parts cost them Howard himself? The only positive is this should make for some entertaining Stan Van Gundy news conferences.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Lakers get my vote here, too. Odom is gone. Pau is pouting. Kobe's attention will be divided at best. Bynum is on the trading block. Derek Fisher is still the starting point guard. They have a guy on the roster named Metta World Peace. This proud franchise may produce more compelling theater than basketball this year.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Lakers. They have a new coach, had a scuttled mega-trade and went through the motions in pursuit of Dwight Howard. Combine that with the Clippers getting Chris Paul, Kobe's aching knees and a free-agent "haul" of Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono and the Lakers' season sets up as one of the better soap operas the NBA has seen for some time.
Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: The Detroit Pistons. It's going to be a long year for Lawrence Frank, as the Pistons have no prized assets and a direction that isn't particularly evident. Giving Rodney Stuckey $25 million over the next three years wasn't a great move in that regard.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: The Lakers. First the league scuttled their attempt to acquire Paul for "basketball reasons." Then they gave away one of the key cogs of that deal (Lamar Odom) for nothing to the team that eliminated them last season. If Superman doesn't appear to save the day, this won't be a fun season for Kobe and Staples' other tenants.