By Chris Mannix
April 12, 2010
NBA Regular-Season Grades
Another season of Power Rankings is in the books, and to close it out, we decided to change it up a bit. In lieu of the traditional rankings, we're handing out season-ending grades, acknowledging those who scored near-perfect marks (Cleveland, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City), those who failed (Minnesota and Washington) and every team in between. And so, without further ado ...

(All stats and records are through April 11.)

B+ Atlanta Hawks (51-29)
Jamal Crawford's instant offense made him the offseason's best pickup. Josh Smith, more selective with his shooting, has helped the Hawks improve their win total for a fifth straight year and crack 50 victories for the first time since '97-98. An 18-22 road record is worse than you'd expect, but a deep and talented roster makes Atlanta a tough out in the playoffs.
C+ Boston Celtics (50-30)
Touted offseason pickups Rasheed Wallace (28.5 percent on three-pointers) and Marquis Daniels (5.5 points) have been busts, and 28 teams have rebounded better than Boston. The Big Three has helped keep the Celtics in the hunt for the No. 3 seed in the East, but how much more does the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Ray Allen troika have left in the tank?
B Charlotte Bobcats (43-37)
The trickle-down effect from the early-season Stephen Jackson deal was an All-Star nod for Gerald Wallace and a more efficient season for Raymond Felton (career-high 45.8 percent shooting). The Tyson Chandler-Emeka Okafor swap didn't work out, but midseason deals for Theo Ratliff and Tyrus Thomas made up for it and helped Charlotte make the playoffs for the first time ever.
B- Chicago Bulls (39-41)
The Bulls were never able to replace Ben Gordon's scoring and took a couple of big hits with the salary dump of John Salmons and trade of Tyrus Thomas. Still, they're in position to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six years while preserving cap space for a run at Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson this summer.
A Cleveland Cavaliers (61-20)
Sixty-plus wins, home-court advantage throughout the playoffs again and the best supporting cast with whom LeBron James has ever played? James may indeed choose to defect to New York this summer, but the midseason addition of Antawn Jamison (and the subsequent return of Zydrunas Ilgauskas) makes the Cavs about as strong as they possibly can be.
B+ Dallas Mavericks (53-27)
Risky long-term deals for aging stars Jason Kidd, 37, and Shawn Marion, 31, have paid off, at least for this season. Kidd picked up his 10th All-Star nod and Marion played All-Star D as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all struggled offensively against the Mavs. The midseason deal for Brendan Haywood gave Dallas the size to match up with the big boys in the West.
B Denver Nuggets (52-28)
The Nuggets have battled through injury (Kenyon Martin) and adversity (George Karl's absence because of cancer treatment) to cobble together a third straight 50-win season. Swingman Arron Afflalo (8.7 points, 43.8 percent from three-point range) ably replaced Dahntay Jones, and rookie point guard Ty Lawson lifted the bench.
C- Detroit Pistons (26-54)
The Charlie Villanueva signing was a mistake, one that becomes more costly when rookies Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye eat into his minutes next season. It's hard to win, though, when mainstays Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton combine to play fewer than 100 games, leaving a young first-year coach (John Kuester) without his most consistent performers.
C Golden State Warriors (25-55)
Whopping injury woes -- the Warriors have lost an NBA-high 483 games because of injury (about six players per game), suited up nine or fewer players in nearly 60 percent of their games and used 47 different starting lineups -- doomed them from the start. On the bright side, Don Nelson eked out the all-time wins record and the Stephen Curry/Monta Ellis tandem leads NBA backcourts in combined total of points, rebounds, assists and steals (66.6).
B+ Houston Rockets (41-39)
The Rockets stayed surprisingly competitive through the Yao Ming injury and Tracy McGrady drama. They're in good shape for the future, too, with Kevin Martin on board and with Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza and Luis Scola more confident after being forced to take on bigger roles.
C- Indiana Pacers (32-48)
Injuries have forced the Pacers to put out 25 different starting lineups and only three have played at least four games and posted a record of .500 or better. A healthy season would have helped, but Indy has made no secret that it's playing for 2011, when five big contracts come off the books. That doesn't bode well for a competitive '10-11 season.
D+ Los Angeles Clippers (28-52)
The loss of No. 1 pick Blake Griffin was crippling and a lack of mental toughness doomed a team with decent talent to another miserable season. Former coach/GM Mike Dunleavy's parting gift -- clearing enough cap space for a top free agent -- was a good one, and with a couple of smart moves (I know, right?), the Clips are positioned to rebound next season.
B+ Los Angeles Lakers (56-24)
The Lakers are the top seed in the West again, the vaunted starting lineup (which hopes to get Andrew Bynum back for the start of the playoffs) has lived up to expectations and Kobe Bryant likely will pick up another top-three MVP finish. But Los Angeles failed to acquire help to boost a weak bench, which could cost it later in the playoffs.
B Memphis Grizzlies (40-40)
Memphis balanced two abysmal moves (drafting Hasheem Thabeet, signing Allen Iverson) with one superb one (acquiring Zach Randolph) to have its best season since '05-06. But the Grizzlies were inconsistent down the stretch, and one can't help but wonder how good they could have been with Tyreke Evans in the backcourt.
B Miami Heat (45-35)
The Heat formula: play stifling defense (43.9 field-goal-percentage defense, No. 2 in the league) and then get out of Dwyane Wade's way. Wade has led Miami in scoring 61 times and will likely crack 2,000 points/500 assists for the third time in his career. Will Miami regret not getting him some help at the deadline? We'll know the answer this summer.
A Milwaukee Bucks (45-35)
While planning for 2011 (when they'll have plenty of salary-cap space), the Bucks won big in '09-10. Coach Scott Skiles developed candidates for Rookie of the Year (Brandon Jennings) and Most Improved Player (Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut) while installing schemes that turned Bogut into a premier shot-blocker (2.5 per game). And after Michael Redd went down, GM John Hammond solidified Redd's spot (dealing for John Salmons and signing Jerry Stackhouse) without giving up future cap flexibility.
F Minnesota Timberwolves (15-65)
The buzzer-beating win over the Nets in their opener was the highlight of the season. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love don't mesh well together and Jonny Flynn is better off in a pick-and-roll-based system than Kurt Rambis' hybrid triangle. Rambis has the support of the front office, but with another season like this -- and there's reason to believe '10-11 will feature more of the same -- how much longer will that last?
D- New Jersey Nets (12-68)
Lawrence Frank took the first bullet and Kiki Vandeweghe took the next five in a season the Nets just wanted to get behind them. Losing at near-record levels will get them a high draft pick to go with their oodles of cap space, but you have to wonder what effect this season had on '09 All-Star Devin Harris (career-low 40.5 percent shooting) and if he can reclaim his form next season.
C- New Orleans Hornets (36-45)
This team is too talented to finish below .500, even with Chris Paul's injuries. Emeka Okafor and David West never developed chemistry and the midseason salary dump of Devin Brown didn't help the bench. Rookie Darren Collison wowed in Paul's absence, creating a dilemma: Which one do you deal in the offseason?
D New York Knicks (28-52)
Year two of the "Wait until 2010" campaign will close with the defensively porous Knicks failing to match last year's 32-50 record. By dumping Jared Jeffries, the Knicks cleared enough salary-cap space to pursue two marquee free agents, but they couldn't get Eddy Curry into shape and watched David Lee probably price himself off the team with an All-Star season. They better have a great summer.
A Oklahoma City Thunder (49-31)
Rather than just relying on their offensive firepower, the Thunder have locked down on defense (holding opponents to 44.7 percent shooting) and developed Serge Ibaka (6.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks since the All-Star break) in the middle while winning at least 26 more games than last season. They also watched Russell Westbrook become an improved mid-range shooter and Kevin Durant play out the first of many seasons as an MVP candidate.
A- Orlando Magic (57-23)
The front office scored -- at least in the regular season -- with its decision to essentially swap Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, and something tells me the decision to pay Marcin Gortat $34 million will pay off in the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy has developed J.J. Redick (9.6 points) into a valued role player. Dwight Howard, who is poised to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, leads the NBA's best D (opponents are shooting a league-low 43.8 percent).
D Philadelphia 76ers (27-53)
Whether it was Eddie Jordan's offense or the players' inability to understand it, the first-year coach's marriage with Philadelphia just never worked out. Ripping the offense is easy, but the Sixers also rank near the bottom in defensive efficiency and opponents' field-goal percentage.
A- Phoenix Suns (52-28)
Coach Alvin Gentry has revived the Suns' Seven Seconds or Less attack and Steve Nash (16.6 points/11.0 assists) defied expectations with another MVP-caliber season. Phoenix may live to regret not dealing Amar'e Stoudemire at the deadline, but its offensive firepower (a league-high 115.3 points per 100 possessions) has made the Suns both entertaining and dangerous.
B+ Portland Trail Blazers (49-31)
Thirteen players combining to miss more than 300 games with injuries is a recipe for disaster. Unless you're Portland, which dusted off a surprisingly game Juwan Howard, made a big midseason trade for Marcus Camby and rode Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller to one of the most unexpectedly successful seasons in team history.
C Sacramento Kings (25-55)
A promising start (14-17 through December) vanished quickly as the Kings' young legs began to tire. Still, Sacramento has a big-time building block in Tyreke Evans and a solid frontcourt scorer in Carl Landry. The Kings cleared cap space in the Kevin Martin deal and are positioned to be players in this summer's free agency.
B- San Antonio Spurs (49-31)
The Spurs -- who have performed better down the stretch behind Manu Ginobili -- struggled to harness Richard Jefferson's skills in the open court. And another newcomer, Antonio McDyess, didn't have the same impact as former Spurs big men Rasho Nesterovic, Nazr Mohammed, Fabricio Oberto or Kurt Thomas playing next to Tim Duncan.
D Toronto Raptors (38-42)
The Cavs, Hawks and Heat made compelling cases for their star free agents to stay. The Raptors, however, may have pushed Chris Bosh out the door. The heralded Turkoglu signing fizzled and Toronto used the rest of its cap space on Andrea Bargnani and Jarrett Jack. Even if Toronto, the NBA's worst in defensive efficiency, squeezes by the Bulls for the No. 8 spot, it's likely four and out.
A- Utah Jazz (52-28)
Jerry Sloan has managed a delicate Carlos Boozer/Paul Millsap rotation well and restored most of Andrei Kirilenko's fragile confidence (his shooting percentage jumped from 44.9 to 50.6 this season). The coach also has guided Utah to 52 wins (and counting) with a starting shooting guard few have heard of (undrafted rookie Wesley Matthews). Perhaps his finest coaching effort to date.
F Washington Wizards (25-55)
Preseason forecasts had the Wizards contending for a top-four seed in the East, but the constant enabling of Gilbert Arenas finally bit them and coach Flip Saunders failed to integrate the talent before eventually losing control of the team. The '09-10 Wizards stand as one of the biggest disappointments in years.

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