By Scott Howard-Cooper
August 06, 2009
Happy August, the post-championship/post-draft/post-free agency/post-summer league hangover. It's far too soon for a final rating of the offseason considering the number of free-agent decisions pending and the lingering possibility of major trades before training camps open. But the slowdown in transactions offers a fair chance to take stock.

The best collective development is that most of the teams that figured to be contenders anyway have all had very aggressive and successful vacations. The Lakers, Magic, Spurs, Cavaliers and Celtics, as well as the Trail Blazers, Mavericks and Hornets a notch below, have made big scores.

And then there are the Bulls, Rockets and 76ers.
B Atlanta Hawks
Mike Bibby re-signed. Marvin Williams re-signed. Zaza Pachulia re-signed. The core of a 47-win team remains intact. Atlanta didn't make the kind of significant roster upgrade needed to move up in the East, keeping it on path for another good regular season followed by another playoff exit in the first or second round, but the Hawks accomplished the business of the moment by keeping those three free agents. The biggest of the changes came at point guard, with Acie Law out and first-round pick Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford in.
A Boston Celtics
Landing Rasheed Wallace with a two-year deal guarantees a very successful summer no matter what happens with forwards Glen Davis and Leon Powe. In Wallace, the Celtics got a talented third big man at the reasonable price tag of the mid-level exception. Plus, the acquisition of Marquis Daniels appears to be a certainty, whether via a sign-and-trade with Indiana or a straight signing, giving Boston more scoring punch on the wing. Keeping free agent Davis would be another good moment.
C+ Charlotte Bobcats
Now there are two teams on the hook for center Tyson Chandler's health issues. If Chandler regains his form as a double-digit rebounder and active defender, the Bobcats will benefit and the Thunder will look bad for voiding last season's deadline trade with New Orleans over injury concerns. If Chandler has additional setbacks, Charlotte will have dealt a double-double center, Emeka Okafor, in vain. It is one of the big gambles of the offseason, but Larry Brown has clearly been trying to improve the Bobcats' versatility. Chandler may play some power forward and lottery pick Gerald Henderson should play multiple positions. Their offseason grade is subject to change depending on whether starting point guard Raymond Felton re-signs.
D Chicago Bulls
Ben Gordon's move to Detroit as a free agent is a loss, but also easy to understand given the five-year, $55 million deal. With Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and swingman John Salmons in the backcourt, and small forward Luol Deng scheduled to return after just 49 appearances in 2008-09, the Bulls can justify passing on Gordon at that price. The actual failing of the summer is again not adding a low-post presence on offense to a team that raised expectations with an impressive first-round series against Boston. The obvious need heading into last season is the obvious need heading into this season. Chicago did sign guard Jannero Pargo and use a first-round pick on James Johnson, a versatile forward who could play a lot early.
A Cleveland Cavaliers
It would have been easy for the Cavs to stay the course: We had the best record in the regular season, crushed early playoff opponents and simply ran into the wrong team at the wrong time in the Eastern Conference finals. We still have the force that is LeBron James. All is well. Instead, owner Dan Gilbert reached deep into the wallet and GM Danny Ferry made move after move: Shaquille O'Neal for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, Anthony Parker as a free agent, Jamario Moon as a free agent, Anderson Varejao re-signed. The potential free-agent departures are Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak.
B Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks kept Jason Kidd and added Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross, but subtracted Brandon Bass and sort of Marcin Gortat, who was ticketed to play center until Orlando unexpectedly matched the offer sheet. No Gortat and no Bass is a double blow inside. And committing to the 36-year-old Kidd for three years is a gamble, though he becomes much easier to move after two seasons, if necessary, as an expiring contract. But bottom-line time: All the shuffling made Dallas more versatile and deeper than the team that won 50 games and had a nice final two months last season, and that doesn't include whatever good news comes from the offseason of healing for Josh Howard.
C+ Denver Nuggets
The grade will improve if they keep restricted free agent Linas Kleiza, a key bench player to begin with but especially important now because Dahntay Jones' move to Indiana forced top-scoring reserve J.R. Smith into the starting lineup. Smith can certainly handle the starting job -- he averaged about 10 minutes per game more than Jones anyway -- but losing Jones and Kleiza in the same offseason would be a major hit to the depth of the Western Conference finalists. The most important summer outcome was re-signing Chris Andersen. The most important addition was Ty Lawson, the speedy point guard whom Denver traded into the first round to acquire (No. 18). Lawson will provide a different pace than Chauncey Billups and also has the experience at a major program, North Carolina, that will have steeled him for a playoff run as a rookie.
B Detroit Pistons
Adding Ben Gordon (five years, $55 million) and Charlie Villanueva (five years, $35 million) were the latest bold moves of Joe Dumars. They were the aggressive moves of a fading team intent on expediting the transition to the future under new coach John Kuester. They were also gambles, with Detroit using its cap space to sign two players who struggle defensively and have zero All-Star appearances between them. On the flip side, Gordon has been a 20-point scorer in two of the last three years and is just 26, while Villaneuva is coming off a career year (16.2 points, 6.7 rebounds) and is just 24. The Pistons' rebuilding also included getting Austin Daye in the first round and Chris Wilcox in free agency while losing two starters, Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson, and one part-time starter, Antonio McDyess. Considering Iverson a loss is the transaction, not the actual feeling in Detroit over his departure.
B- Golden State Warriors
No. 7 pick Stephen Curry is the perfect fit for a Don Nelson offense and could immediately put up big numbers. But there's just as much chance he'll be a bad fit alongside Monta Ellis in a backcourt of two undersized shooting guards, an outcome that would get Ellis traded. The Warriors also accomplished one of their priorities by unloading Jamal Crawford -- for two more point guards, Acie Law and Speedy Claxton. Nellie does love the smalls so. The curious move was giving up on 2007 first-round pick Marco Belinelli and trading him to Toronto for the 31-year-old Devean George when they had similar contracts and Belinelli has a much better upside.
C- Houston Rockets
It has actually been an "F" summer with the news that Yao Ming will probably miss all of 2009-10 and could be staring at the end of his career, but that's the work of higher forces and not the work of the front office. For actual transactions, the virtual swap of Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza -- small forward Artest left Houston to sign with the Lakers and small forward Ariza left L.A. to sign with the Rockets -- will bring greater stability but at the cost of lesser talent. There was nowhere to go except backward to replace Yao, but the result was big-time backward: David Andersen, a veteran of Europe but a rookie in the NBA.
B- Indiana Pacers
Some people (hello!) were critical of their decision to spend a lottery pick on Tyler Hansbrough, who should have a long career but is projected by many to be little more than a role player. As for the offseason in its entirety, on the other hand, the Pacers improved with understated moves, even if they didn't come with blaring headlines. The additions of Hansbrough at forward and Dahntay Jones and Earl Watson in the backcourt will work. It's just not any one hard shove to the future at a time when Mike Dunleavy's health is in question and a good backup point guard, Jarrett Jack, has left for the Raptors as a free agent. Extra credit for getting a resolution to the Jamaal Tinsley standoff.
A Los Angeles Clippers
One of the moves was easy. The lottery balls combined to give the Clippers the No. 1 pick and Blake Griffin. Great acquisition, but all luck. The other major transaction required plotting and bargaining but will likewise turn out to be beneficial. Zach Randolph to Memphis for Quentin Richardson was a positive. Of course, Zach Randolph to anywhere for almost anybody would be a positive. But Griffin's arrival and Randolph's departure gets the Clips to the future a lot quicker and a lot quieter. If another newcomer, Sebastian Telfair, becomes the answer as the backup point guard, the summer will have been that much more of a success.
A Los Angeles Lakers
Phil Jackson stayed. Lamar Odom stayed. Kobe Bryant said he will be staying forever. Ron Artest arrived. Yeah, that'll do for a follow-up to the championship. Replacing Trevor Ariza with Artest is obviously a risk -- it's Artest, so of course it's a risk, and plus it's breaking from the proven fit of Ariza as an integral piece of a title team. There's no avoiding the potential for second-guessing if it goes badly. But Artest is a better player, period, and will have strong personalities (Bryant, Jackson, Derek Fisher) to keep him in line. The Lakers even accomplished the offseason goal of dealing the No. 29 pick (Toney Douglas, to New York) to avoid the guaranteed contract.
D Memphis Grizzlies
They need a power forward, they have cap space in a summer when David Lee and Paul Millsap are free agents, and they pick ... Zach Randolph? Just when it seemed as though the Grizzlies had something going with Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, plus the potential that still remains for Mike Conley at point guard, plus the No. 2 choice in the draft, they fall and hit their heads. If Memphis didn't believe Lee or Millsap was worth the money, fine. Teams make those tough calls every day. But don't then find the logic in adding Randolph to a young locker room. It makes drafting Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2 seem like a home run by comparison. Thabeet is less developed than some others taken in the lottery, but addressed a need for size.
C Miami Heat
The Heat have mostly kept a low profile, the only real roster change being the free-agent departure of Jamario Moon. But they have not been all about setting money aside for next summer -- Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade & Co. made a hard push to lure Lamar Odom from the Lakers, only to fall short. No meaningful additions and no first-round pick mean no path for change in the new season. Meanwhile, free-agent-to-be Wade will be getting a lot of questions about who is around him on the court, or who isn't.
C+ Milwaukee Bucks
Next season's standings will likely reflect a setback summer, with Richard Jefferson traded to the Spurs for financial reasons, Charlie Villanueva becoming an unrestricted free agent and leaving without compensation, and Brandon Jennings moving to the front of the line of succession at point guard. In reality, those decisions amounted to a transition moment. Not giving Villanueva a qualifying offer is the loudest statement possible on how little Milwaukee officials wanted him there, and taking the 19-year-old Jennings in the lottery is definitely a decision for the future, given that he skipped college and played limited minutes in one pro season in Italy. A third starter, Ramon Sessions, could also leave as a free agent, though it will take a big offer sheet to scare off the Bucks. One possibility is re-signing Sessions, on a match or with the qualifying offer, and trading him later. Either way, they got more athletic with the addition of Jennings, Amir Johnson and Hakim Warrick.
C Minnesota Timberwolves
There are crazy summers, and then there are crazy summers. The first for David Kahn as personnel boss may turn out to be the longest on record. (If only the warmth would follow him into December, January and February in the Twin Cities.) (And March.) (Not to mention November.) Minnesota's offseason may not be resolved for months or even a year, depending on the outcome of negotiations to free Ricky Rubio from his Spanish contract. The Timberwolves still have to decide on a coach (Kurt Rambis?) and could have seven new players in the rotation, led by Jonny Flynn, while replacing Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith.
B New Jersey Nets
They set their backcourt of the future by acquiring Courtney Lee from the Magic, along with Rafer Alston and Tony Battie, for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. They also added the versatile Terrence Williams as the future at small forward and arguably the best perimeter defender in the draft. One free-agent score next summer, to go with point guard Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez, and New Jersey is a player in the East again. For all the talk about the Nets supposedly biding time until next summer's planned spending spree, they have actually made important steps forward.
B New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets tried to deal Tyson Chandler mostly for expiring contracts last season, only to have it fall through when the Thunder voided the trade. And now look: Dealing for Emeka Okafor instead is a greater long-term financial commitment than if New Orleans had kept Chandler and also a statement that it may stay in the Western Conference picture after all. That's also a necessary offensive upgrade at center for a team that finished 26th in scoring. In addition, the Hornets drafted Darren Collison to back up Chris Paul, and didn't lose anyone from the rotation to free agency.
Inc. New York Knicks
Even though other teams have unfinished business, no one has it to the extent of the Knicks with David Lee and Nate Robinson still restricted free agents. That's their leading rebounder and league leader in double-doubles (Lee) and their second-leading scorer (Robinson), so any summer evaluation is impossible until at least one of the situations is resolved. In the meantime, power forward Jordan Hill makes sense as the No. 8 pick in the draft. Quentin Richardson is the lone departure from the rotation so far.
B- Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder were one of the few teams with serious cap space, but they stayed away from the kind of splashy move that nearly landed Tyson Chandler during the regular season. Instead, general manager Sam Presti took the sound route with his biggest transaction, drafting James Harden third to fill a need at shooting guard. Many talent evaluators believe Blake Griffin is the only player entering his rookie season as more of a lock to have a long, successful career than Harden. Kevin Ollie replaces Earl Watson as the veteran backup to point guard Russell Westbrook.
A Orlando Magic
The Magic didn't pay to keep Hedo Turkoglu. But they still went all-in. Even before Turkoglu officially became a free agent, the Magic moved aggressively by giving up young shooting guard Courtney Lee as part of the package for veteran Vince Carter. Needing a banger to help Rashard Lewis at power forward, they signed Brandon Bass away from the Mavericks. Needing depth at small forward in the wake of Turkoglu's departure, they signed Matt Barnes. Needing to retain a backup center, they matched Dallas' $34 million offer sheet for Marcin Gortat. They did more than just salvage the situation of losing Turkoglu.
C- Philadelphia 76ers
Andre Miller's departure is a huge blow for a team that last summer signed Elton Brand in a statement it planned to contend in the East, only to now say it will have to come with rookie Jrue Holiday or unproven Lou Williams at the point. The Sixers just backslid into long-shot territory. They did, however, acquire Jason Kapono from Toronto as a response to finishing last in the league in three-point percentage. And Holiday was good value at No. 17, after many teams predicted he would go in the lottery.
C Phoenix Suns
Said it before and will say it again: There is justification in re-signing Grant Hill and extending Steve Nash's contract, just as trading Shaquille O'Neal is understandable. But the team that keeps Hill and Nash should be leaning at the tape for a title -- now! -- and the team that deals O'Neal to streamline the payroll is in rebuilding mode. Meet the Suns, the team that's doing both. Or neither. Their contradictory summer comes with the positives of drafting Earl Clark and signing Channing Frye, but with no real direction.
B Portland Trail Blazers
Forget missing on Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap. The Blazers went into the offseason with a pressing need at one starting spot and addressed it by signing point guard Andre Miller. Turkoglu would have been the headliner move and Millsap would have been the solution for another need, backup power forward and designated rebounder at the position as LaMarcus Aldridge continues to struggle in that department. But Portland is better because of the Miller signing, and especially better because it committed only two years of guaranteed contract. The only departures were Sergio Rodriguez (15.3 minutes a game) and Channing Frye (11.8). Portland also reached agreement with two-time All-Star Brandon Roy on a five-year extension.
B Sacramento Kings
Staring at point guard as last season's ulcer-inducing problem -- as opposed to the other issues that merely brought on migraines, ticks and night sweats -- they did something about it. Tyreke Evans came with the fourth pick in the draft. Sergio Rodriguez came from the Trail Blazers in a low-risk trade. Taking Evans, a player with limited experience as a distributor, is a risk, especially taking him ahead of several other point-guard candidates who went soon after, but other teams would have done the same thing. A lot of people believe the Memphis product can be special.
A San Antonio Spurs
Class dismissed. No one in the West made as many direct hits in bringing in new players as the once-and-still contenders, who added Antonio McDyess as a free agent and Richard Jefferson in a trade for Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas. (As an added bonus, rebounder DeJuan Blair fell to them in the second round.) If Jefferson, coming off a 19.6-point season in Milwaukee, is your fourth-best player -- wow. That ranking holds only if Manu Ginobili returns healthy and strong, but nothing alters the perception that acquiring Jefferson for three guys who played sparingly is potentially a conference-changing move. McDyess and Jefferson are also perfect personality fits for the professional, low-key atmosphere the Spurs prefer.
B+ Toronto Raptors
The Raptors spent to get Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack and traded for Antoine Wright and Reggie Evans, moves that should put them back in the playoffs. That step forward, with Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon still in house, makes it a productive offseason. But the real payoff probably won't be known for a couple of years. If DeMar DeRozan makes it big, the way some executives think he might, the No. 9 pick in the draft will be the critical transaction, not Turkoglu. It's just the consensus is that DeRozan, an elite athlete lacking experience and a jump shot after one season at USC, will need time. The other summer moves, as well as speculation about Bosh's future, will shift the spotlight away from the rookie.
A Utah Jazz
That's an "A" for now. The Jazz did everything they were supposed to do to remain a West factor. They locked up Mehmet Okur, they matched Portland's brutal front-loaded offer sheet on Paul Millsap, and they drafted a point guard at No. 20, Eric Maynor, with the composure and decision-making skills to back up Deron Williams. What remains to be seen is how Utah resolves the Carlos Boozer situation, the decision that may ultimately determine the success or failure of the offseason. There's wiggle room because management could easily choose to do nothing now and reasses the landscape early in the season and heading toward the February trade deadline.
A Washington Wizards
The Wizards set themselves up to make the biggest jump in the league, from an injury-induced 19-63 last season to at least .500 and the playoffs in 2009-10. Not needing any more kids or guaranteed contracts, they traded the No. 5 pick and three other players to the Timberwolves for Mike Miller and Randy Foye to add depth and versatility in the backcourt. Hoping to improve inside, and needing to improve inside, the Wiz later signed Fabricio Oberto. Acting with the same focus on other issues, they struck quickly to hire Flip Saunders as coach.

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