NBA Power Rankings: Warriors are No. 1 (duh!); where do free agency players land?
If there are threats to the champs, are the new-look Wolves and Sixers joining Cavs, Spurs among them?
Free agency is almost wrapped up, with only a stragglers and restricted free agents without teams. Big-name stars have moved and the West is somehow tougher than it has been in years.
In this exercise, we're sizing up what we saw last year, what we've seen this summer and relating it to next season. This figures to look different in three months, because free agency always takes time to unpack. For instance, last summer it looked like the Rockets would be worse on defense and set to be a middling team. After James Harden invested so much in Mike D'Antoni's system during training camp, we saw the payoff as Houston became a contender.
Right now, the NBA is more top heavy than it has been in years. The last "good" team is probably ranked 19th, which demonstrates how deep the league's talent runs. It's no secret the Warriors are overwhelmingly favored to win it all, putting them at No. 1. Usually there are a handful in that category, but Golden State is a cut above today. That next level probably ends after No. 6, where the Thunder reside. Nonetheless, all of this summer's moves will create excitement and leave a lot of questions unanswered.
||The Warriors got better. It seems a salary cap, a CBA and roster-structure rules would prevent a 67-win team with four All-NBA players and fresh off a second title in three years from getting better. Yet they added quality (Nick Young, Omri Casspi) and kept Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia and, most important, Andre Iguodala. It was already unfair. Their summer makes it double-dog-super-unfair.||--||67-15|
||They let the GM (David Griffin) who built their championship roster go, then swung and missed on his replacement (Chauncey Billups) by reportedly offering him less than he's paid for broadcasting. Their big upgrades are Jose Calderon and Jeff Green. Rumors continue to swirl like a tornado that LeBron James could be gone in 2018. The Cavs are perplexing, full of drama and the league's second-best team. So everything's normal.||11||51-31|
||Very small moves this summer, adding Rudy Gay and re-signing Patty Mills. They're undecided about whether Jonathon Simmons will return and Dewayne Dedmon is assumed to be gone. But they're here because they're the Spurs and still have Kawhi Leonard. Rumored offseason target Chris Paul went to division rival Houston and LaMarcus Aldridge's status and fit remain mysteries. Could this season be like 2015 when they slipped a bit?||1||61-21|
||Can Chris Paul and James Harden share the ball enough for this to work? Will Paul adapt and embrace Mike D'Antoni's style, central to Houston's success but does not mesh with CP3's instincts? Will the depth they traded (or may still trade if they land Carmelo Anthony) weaken them overall? We don't know the answers to those questions, but landing Chris Paul -- at the very least -- puts them ahead of the Celtics.||3||55-27|
||Gordon Hayward is the athletic wing they needed, and before the Avery Bradley trade they were No. 4 here. Nonetheless, this starting five and terrific young reserves -- Jayson Tatum is tearing up the summer league -- could challenge Cleveland. The question: How serious is that challenge when remembering how the Cavs clobbered the Celts in the Eastern Conference finals?||1||53-29|
||Paul George wasn't just a daring deal under cover of darkness by Sam Presti, it may produce the best fit next to Russell Westbrook outside of, say, a fella who just won Finals MVP out by the Bay. George is a terrific off-ball weapon. If he and Westbrook click, look out. And the Thunder didn't stop there. They added Patrick Patterson (on a steal of a contract) and Raymond Felton, who will make lineups more versatile and improve depth.||2||47-35|
||They're not as good as last season because they lost depth, including starting forward DeMarre Carroll (regardless of his injury issues). Adding C.J. Miles helps. And young players like Norman Powell and Bebe Nogueira can fill in gaps. The question remains: Can this team close on the Cavs or is being "regular-season good" good enough?||4||51-31|
||The Wizards were one crazy Kelly Olynyk game from reaching the conference finals. But they made no key additions, leaving their bench unimproved. They must bank on improved chemistry and factors like Ian Mahinmi's improved health and Kelly Oubre's development to make a leap. John Wall's 2019 free agency is on the distant horizon; he has not signed a max extension.||2||49-33|
||This seems high for a team so brutally young, but the Wolves upgraded at several key positions and added Jimmy Bulter, who becomes their best player. So expectations are sky high. However, with similar expectations last season, they fell on their faces. Are they primed to make a jump? Or will the cursed anchor of inexperience again weigh them down?||17||31-51|
||They found an identity last season. The Bucks may have to adjust defensively after Toronto solved their trap in the playoffs, but they still almost took out the Raptors in that first-round series. Giannis Antetokounmpo gets better every day, and their young core is only scratching its potential.||1||42-40|
||Grit-N-Grind is dead with Zach Randolph going to Sacramento (and Tony Allen's future in doubt), as Memphis adapts to today's perimeter game. They return a talented club led by Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and some of the young talent is intriguing. If RFA JaMychal Green does not return, they will drop considerably next time we rank teams.||3||43-39|
||Back in 2014, a club with Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and DeAndre Jordan would be among league's better teams. But Griffin's slip because of injuries, Chris Paul's departure and their iffy bench make these Clippers just another West playoff team. This is Griffin's opportunity to show everyone how good he is, because expectations are shrinking every minute.||8||51-31|
||This one may boggle the mind, considering their 2017 finish, lack of upgrades and teams behind them. But most close regular-season games are considered coin-flips by coaches, players and execs, and Charlotte was 0-9 in 3-point games last season. They are better than their record showed. A small bounce-back puts them in the weak East playoff picture.||6||36-46|
||Couldn't land a marquee free agent but had oodles of cap space after the Chris Bosh buyout. Went all in on a team that got hot for two months then fell apart when Dion Waiters went down. Committed four-year deals to players considered replaceable on the East's No. 9 (one spot out of the playoffs) seed. A gamble, but this may become an East playoff team, whatever that means.||4||41-41|
||Denver added Paul Millsap, its best free agent signing since Kenyon Martin a decade ago (seriously) and can count on improvement from Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. The big question for this team? How will the improved offense look now that key assistant Chris Finch left for New Orleans?||2||40-42|
||Portland's chances depend on whether you believe in Jusuf Nurkic. If you think Nurkic fever is sustainable and he can stay healthy, go all in on a talented team with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. But you should remember that before the Nurkic surge, the Blazers weren't mediocre. They were bad. There's a lot to fix, even with Nurkic.||5||41-41|
||With Alvin Gentry at the helm, the Pels figured to struggle defensively, yet they finished ninth per 100 possessions last season. The offense never found a rhythm with DeMarcus Cousins because of suspensions (shocker) and injuries. Will a full camp, some new coaching and development lift them? Better hope so. Cousins is a free agent in less than a year.||6||34-48|
||This is no incompetent team that fumbled away its star (Gordon Hayward). They did everything right and showed Hayward love by matching a max deal (but not the full five-year max) in 2014, yet he walked. They have talent. They got Ricky Rubio, but need leaps from Rodney Hood and Dante Exum to remain a playoff team in the toughest division in the toughest conference in the NBA.||13||51-31|
||Yes, Joel Embiid is dominant. Markelle Fultz (despite an ankle sprain) and Ben Simmons should be good. But young teams must learn to win, and it takes time. Free agent vets J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson can't show them the ropes in only one season. They may make the playoffs, but winning must be learned on a squad where many key players aren't old enough to rent a car.||9||28-54|
||They are almost certain to re-sign Nerlens Noel since they have his restricted free agent rights. Beyond that, not many upgrades. Dennis Smith Jr. is generating Rookie of the Year buzz, but we'll have to see how he does with Rick Carlisle, who is notoriously tough on point guards. They could be better than last season, but have done little to make headway in the West.||1||33-49|
||Signed vets George Hill and Zach Randolph to big-money deals. They'll take minutes away from youngsters who need development (Dave Joerger does not like playing youngsters while sacrificing wins), but the team will improve. And they add De'Aaron Fox to a good mix of veterans and young talent. The Kings look like a competent franchise for the first time in a while.||9||32-50|
||Trading for Avery Bradley is a clear upgade over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but the broken mechanisms of Stan Van Gundy's timepiece remain in place. Unless Reggie Jackson bounces back and Andre Drummond finds consistency, it's hard to see Detroit back in the playoff picture, an arc seemed to be riding back in 2016.||2||37-45|
||They're "not as bad," or somewhere between "could be good" and "definitely bad." Lonzo Ball is exciting, but rookie point guards have a lot to learn, and there's no telling if Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle make necessary leaps. They wisely didn't waste cap space while waiting for Paul George, yet don't have a player among the 10 best under 22 in the league.||2||26-56|
||They didn't trade Kristaps Porzingis. That's good. But they gave Tim Hardaway Jr. -- perhaps an underrated RFA -- a four-year, $71M deal after trading him two seasons ago. That's bad. Looks like Carmelo Anthony will be traded before the season starts. Could be good and bad. But you can be sure the Knicks will not be good in 2018, barring something unforseen.||3||31-51|
||They have a lot of young talent, and this is the season to figure out their core, and possibly trade Eric Bledsoe. A young is no sure thing, but Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender is among the best kiddo combos in the league. It's just going to take time and working out systems at both ends of the court.||4||24-58|
||Yeah, that's right. The Nets won't be the worst team in the league. They were pesky last season, yet lost and lost. They also hung in a lot of games ... and won a few. Jeremy Lin also was out most of the season. They added D'Angelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll, but lost Brook Lopez. There's enough here to be bad but not awful.||4||20-62|
||May seem high for a team that lost its Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 6 players in Value Over Replacement player via Basketball Reference, but they threw enough money at decent replacements like Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic to think they won't be abysmal. At the same time, no one should be surprised if they become the worst team in the league.||12||42-40|
||They wisely sat out free agency instead trying to manufacture wins by overpaying veterans. Jonathan Isaac could be the steal of the draft. But this roster remains a mess and it's not easy to identify the best player. Aaron Gordon needs a bounce-back season, hopefully with more time at power forward, and better health.||4||29-53|
||The longer one looks at this roster, the worse it gets. If Dwyane Wade and the Bulls reacy a buyout agreement, does that make Robin Lopez their best player on opening night -- given Zach LaVine's injury? Think about that. We're in horror territory here.||13||41-41|
||Imagine if you (or me) really thought Dennis Schröder struggled to make the Hawks better last season but then realized he's their best player. Now consider that Miles Plumlee is their third highest-paid player. Given those factors, a case could be made for any of the six preceding teams as worst in the league, but Atlanta's the bet heret. The tank is on the way.||18||43-39|
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