View Full Version : Summer report card on all teams

Tony tha Mavs fan
09-15-2003, 05:05 PM
by Mike Kahn
The wheels are still turning in NBA front offices, even if plenty of general managers are still more concerned with pin than player placement.

But with training camp just a few weeks away, certainly enough time has passed to provide some insight into the good and bad stuff of this offseason.

There are plenty of winners and losers -- no different than the regular season -- so without further muddling the madness, let's get to it.

And keep in mind, Portland, New Jersey, Golden State and New York are all likely to make deals before or during the preseason. Toronto, too, is likely to step up.

That leaves us with SportsLine.com's subjective grades of the 29 teams, from the hiring of the 10 new coaches, through the draft and the second week of September.

Atlanta Hawks: The sale to David McDavid has been in flux for months. It stilted their coaching search, although interim coach Terry Stotts deservedly got another chance with a two-year deal. It also gives Billy Knight a full shot at general manager. They unloaded a lot of money by dealing Glenn Robinson for retiring Terrell Brandon's contract and rookie Randy Holcomb. But where's the talent? They will presumably match Utah's offer sheet for high-scoring free agent Jason Terry, but the addition of Jacque Vaughn and rookies Boris Diaw and Travis Hansen don't add much juice to this struggling franchise. Personnel-wise, they're nowhere and have lost Robinson's 20 points a game, and Stotts must push them to overachieve with defense and unselfish play. Grade: D.

Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge is running the team now as president of player personnel and immediately addressed needs when he swung a draft day deal to get point guard Marcus Banks and high school center Kendrick Perkins. They also might have gotten a steal in the second round with undersized but powerfully built forward Brandon Hunter. Ainge then traded marginal young point guard J.R. Bremer to Cleveland for talented but unpolished forward Jumaine Jones. No doubt Ainge is being pro-active, but unless Banks and Perkins make an immediate impact, they still have major questions. There has been plenty of talk about Antoine Walker being moved, but with two more seasons at huge money and his lack of conditioning, his trade value doesn't match his productivity. Grade: B-minus.

Chicago Bulls: John Paxson is another rookie general manager, and he's suffering the consequences of young guard Jay Williams' debilitating motorcycle accident. Paxson drafted Kirk Hinrich as a result and Mario Austin has a chance as an interior player. In a move for leadership, he brought back his old teammate, Scottie Pippen, to help with the ball-handling and the development of young talents Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. The loss of Williams crushed the potential deal for a young and talented small forward, but they still have a lot of young talent from having so many high draft picks, so unless they are able to move Rose or Marshall with a draft choice for something special, they are likely to stand pat. That is not a bad thing. Grade: B.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The luck of winning the lottery and the rights to draft special young local talent LeBron James made this a successful summer for older brother Jim Paxson, now the Cavs president. Add to that the hiring of coach Paul Silas as the perfect fit, and it was a great start. With second-round pick Jason Kapono and the acquisition of free agents Kevin Ollie and Ira Newble, this will be a far different team than it was a year ago. Of course, 17 victories isn't tough to exceed, but if they don't win 30-35, it will be a huge disappointment considering all the positive vibes they have going on. Regardless of how long it takes James to develop into an impact player, the draw made this is a special summer for the Cavs no matter what. Grade: A-minus

Dallas Mavericks: Although they still didn't get the tough interior player needed when Alonzo Mourning went to New Jersey instead, the Mavs did add Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills in a big trade, but it cost them Nick Van Exel, undoubtedly their toughest player. They brought in Travis Best to replace Van Exel as a backup point guard, but he's not nearly as tough and won't take over games in the same manner. Jamison will add more scoring, and rookie Josh Howard is a very good open floor player, but they really need Fortson to be healthy and consistent inside to be a serious threat to win the West. Nonetheless, they will score reams of points again and have more international birth certificates than any other team. Grade: B-minus.

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets promised to be the most active team on the free-agent market this summer, and they were plenty active but didn't quite accomplish what they needed to. Signing Andre Miller and Earl Boykins cleaned up their point guard situation, and top draft choice Carmelo Anthony figures to be a superb small forward. But they needed to get a power player of some kind, and they were pre-empted for Brad Miller when he was signed and traded to Sacramento. If they had even had re-signed Juwan Howard, they would have been in good shape. Instead, they need Nene Hilario to become a star in just his second season, Marcus Camby to be healthy and Nikoloz Tskitishvili to become an NBA player this season. They are on the right track, though. Grade: B.

Detroit Pistons: President Joe Dumars is never idle, even after a pair of Central Division titles and 50-victory seasons. They startlingly fired coach Rick Carlisle and hired Larry Brown. That was just the start; aging forwards Cliff Robinson and Michael Curry were then sent packing, along with Jon Barry, and he replaced them with Elden Campbell, Bobby Sura and Lindsey Hunter. That's not to say that makes them markedly better, but the contracts certainly are in this day and age of the all-important bottom line. Friday, they worked out the final details necessary to bring talented rookie 7-footer Darko Milicic into the fold, and he makes them better. Grade: B.

Golden State Warriors: It's never easy to figure out what the Warriors are up to, especially after their best season in a decade. They didn't do what was necessary to work out a contract with Gilbert Arenas, so they signed Speedy Claxton and traded for Van Exel. Coach Eric Musselman, who is nothing if not amazingly resourceful and energetic, will have to handle it like he's still in the CBA. Bringing in Cliff Robinson for Sura adds to the salary cap, and he'll have to replace Antawn Jamison if young Mike Dunleavy isn't ready. Rookie Mickeal Pietrus was referred to as the European Michael Jordan, which is another way of saying, they wish. It's a sad state of affairs considering how far they came last season, and the odds are not good for a repeat. Grade: D.

Houston Rockets: After a decade of Rudy Tomjanovich as coach, the Rockets finally moved him upstairs and hired Jeff Van Gundy and moved into a new arena. They lost James Posey to free agency, but presumably Eric Piatkowski and second-year player Bostjan Nachbar will help there. The bigger question is how Van Gundy will help develop the young trio of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Eddie Griffin considering Rudy T.'s main problem was that he allowed the inmates to run the asylum. The maturity and talent of Yao Ming should be the difference as they work toward getting back into the playoffs for the first time after a four-year absence -- the first time that has happened in 30 years. Unfortunately, they have done virtually nothing to upgrade the roster for V.G. Grade: C-minus.

Indiana Pacers: Larry Bird was hired as president of basketball operations and he stunningly fired Isiah Thomas as coach and replaced him with Rick Carlisle. That will change the team. So will signing-and-trading Brad Miller for Scot Pollard, who has battled injuries and limited minutes his entire career. Ron Mercer also was part of that deal, and Erick Strickland left via free agency. Bird's stamp on the team so far is the coaching change, but the personnel situation is clearly in question, and Jermaine O'Neal was incensed by the way he was re-signed based on Thomas returning. Most people don't believe this is the roster the Pacers will have once the season starts, but as of now, Bird has plenty of work to do for them to be serious contenders. Grade D-plus.

Los Angeles Clippers: Years ago when Pat Riley was coach of the cross-town Lakers, he talked of winning and misery. Winning is the Lakers. Misery is the Clippers. New coach Mike Dunleavy, who coached the Lakers to the Finals after Riley, will find out the difference first hand. Gone through free agency are Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, Michael Olowokandi, Sean Rooks and Piatkowski. In return, well, existing players will get minutes. They did draft center Chris Kamen and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, one a classic 7-footer, the other a miniature Shaquille O'Neal. And you would think last year's rookies Melvin Ely and Chris Wilcox, who did essentially nothing a year ago, will see some minutes. Somebody has to when so many key players leave for nothing. Grade: D.

Los Angeles Lakers: From the start of the summer, it looked like the Lakers became a new version of the Dream Team. They coaxed future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to sign as free agents for unprecedented pay cuts. Rookies Brian Cook and Luke Walton were both steals considering where they were selected in the draft. Horace Grant is back. How much he has left is dubious, but he'll defend and rebound some. Gone are Robert Horry, Mark Madsen and Samaki Walker. There are questions regarding the physical condition of Shaquille O'Neal after two seasons of weight gain, along with foot and knee problems. But the biggest unknown is how Kobe Bryant will respond to his pending sexual assault case in Colorado. That's for coach Phil Jackson to deal with. Grade: A.

Memphis Grizzlies: Jerry West is finding out fast that it isn't as easy building a team in Memphis as it was the Lakers. Yes, he made a nice draft day deal that brought Troy Bell and Dahntay Jones, but they are rookies who will take awhile to help. James Posey was a nice addition to fit into Hubie Brown's defensive-oriented system, too. The key to their success will be if Michael Dickerson ever comes back from his hernia problem and Mike Miller proves that the past two years of constant ankle problems are just a fluke and he will be the kind of big-time perimeter scorer West expected when he traded Drew Gooden and Gordon Giricek for Miller and Ryan Humphrey. Regardless, none of these moves are the kind that will allow the Grizzlies to make a move toward the playoffs. Grade: C-plus.

Miami Heat: This could be the time that Pat Riley actually does make the kind of personnel moves that will have an impact on the rest of the East. The six-year, $65 million deal he signed Lamar Odom to is a huge gamble, but coupled with the drafting of Dwyane Wade, they are the kind of moves that could change them from a bottom rung team into a serious playoff contender in the 45-victory-or-so category. Yes, they still lack a center to help Brian Grant from being out of position in the middle, but with the athleticism they've added to play alongside Caron Butler and Eddie Jones, they'll be far more dangerous. They still need another point guard besides more-style-than-substance Rafer Alston, but they finally appear to be on the right track after drowning for two years. Grade: B-plus.

Milwaukee Bucks: By midseason, it would be natural to believe owner Herb Kohl will regret not having sold the team to Michael Jordan's group. Terry Porter has returned to his hometown for his rookie season as a head coach, replacing George Karl. Larry Harris is a rookie general manager replacing Ernie Grunfeld, who bolted for Washington. Gary Payton, Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson are gone. In their place are Joe Smith, Brian Skinner and Damon Jones. Rookie point guard T.J. Ford is an exciting and wonderfully talented player, but he's small and lacks a consistent outside shot -- in other words, he's not ready to take over a team that's rebuilding. They are going nowhere, and it's hard to imagine it was in 2001 that they were a quarter away from the NBA Finals. Grade: F.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Finally, Kevin McHale was proactive in changing the face of the team for Kevin Garnett. They've brought in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell as their starting backcourt, and active center Michael Olowokandi makes them much more athletic. Ervin Johnson is a solid backup center, too, and Fred Hoiberg is a terrific outside shooter off the bench. Maybe this team still isn't good enough to win the West, but they are much better than they were last season when they finally should have gotten out of the first round. Troy Hudson really blossomed last season in a shooting role, and by bringing in Cassell and Sprewell, it will relieve pressure and put him in a natural role off the bench. It should help Wally Szczerbiak get better shots too. Grade: A.

New Jersey Nets: Just re-signing Jason Kidd after his protracted flirtation with the San Antonio Spurs made this a successful offseason, but that Alonzo Mourning came with him adds dramatically to the two-time Eastern Conference champs' lofty perch atop the Atlantic Division. They also brought back Lucious Harris when there was some doubt, and they are hardly finished at this point. Rookie Zoran Planinic is very likely to make a bigger impact than a lot of people would think, with his size, ball-handling skills and shooting ability. The talk continues that they will unload Dikembe Mutombo and perhaps deal Kenyon Martin for Rasheed Wallace in some kind of package. Regardless, president Rod Thorn continues to be an adroit manipulator of talent. Grade: A.

New Orleans Hornets: The first move was a tough one, with coach Paul Silas being ousted and Tim Floyd, with the worst record in coaching history, brought in to replace him. P.J. Brown was re-signed, a mandatory move, and Darrell Armstrong was signed as a free agent to back up injury-laden Baron Davis. With the 18th pick of the draft, they added David West, a forward with exceptional floor skills and deadly shooting touch 17 feet and in. But they've also lost a big portion of that great depth of long players up front (Elden Campbell and Jerome Moiso) with nothing in return. And they still lack a legitimate shooting guard and long-range shooting in general. Much to their good fortune, they get to stay in the East for another season, so they had better take advantage of it. Grade: C.

New York Knicks: If Antonio McDyess comes back healthy from knee surgery, that will make it a successful summer. The big question is what they have done to the chemistry with Keith Van Horn coming in the big trade that sent Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota. Yes, they did well in the draft with Michael Sweetney and Maciej Lampe, but they still need to make another big deal for the way the team will be run. If they really do manage to get Nick Van Exel to run their offense, it will be a grand slam summer. If not, considering the unlikelihood of Van Horn actually succeeding in New York, the pressure on general manager Scott Layden and coach Don Chaney will multiply quickly if they fail to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. Grade: C-plus.

Orlando Magic: The Magic still don't have a legit center and Grant Hill isn't likely to play this season again, but they did hit a home run signing Juwan Howard and are better off with Tyronn Lue than Darrell Armstrong. Those additions, plus adding guard Reece Gaines and Keith Bogans from the draft, considerably upgrade the roster. Giving coach Doc Rivers a full training camp with midseason rookie acquisitions Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek will also make a big difference. This won't catapult this team to win the East, but it helps Tracy McGrady tremendously in his attempt to escape the first round after three years of early knockouts. Somehow, they have to figure out how to get some consistent play in the middle to complete the package. Grade: B-plus.

Philadelphia 76ers: It began suddenly when Larry Brown was allowed to walk and Randy Ayers was named coach. The crying wolf finally left for Detroit, and now we'll see what Allen Iverson will do without him. Billy King became president of the organization and dealt Keith Van Horn to New York and Randy Holcomb to Atlanta, and it brought back high scoring Glenn Robinson to aid Iverson and Marc Jackson home to add bulk inside. Derrick Coleman's return will help some, but as always how much will depend on his never-ending injuries. They added more shooting with rookies Willie Green and Kyle Korver but still are lacking inside like so many other teams. Nevertheless, it will come down to the health of Aaron McKie and Eric Snow and Iverson's ability to dominate. Grade: B.

Phoenix Suns: Bryan Colangelo has elected to sit tight this summer, and rightfully so. The Suns were one of the surprise teams in the NBA last season and are also very young. Besides, they had a terrific draft with Zarko Cabarkapa -- a fine shooting small forward -- and trading a future pick to San Antonio for the rights Brazilian point guard Leandrinho Barbosa, also a defensive wiz compared favorably to a young Gary Payton. But that's it. No big offseason trades, big free-agent signings or even little free-agent signings. It's an interesting perspective for this team that had made the playoffs 13 years in a row until 2002, and now they're back with youth. Obviously, they are a couple years away from serious conference title contention anyway. Grade: C-plus.

Portland Trail Blazers: We'll see what happens now that the locals got their wish and Bob Whitsitt is no longer president. In his stead are president Steve Patterson and general manager John Nash, neither of whom has been plugged into the NBA for a while. They have lost Scottie Pippen, Antonio Daniels and Arvydas Sabonis, three really good guys and players, while pledging the off-court troubles will be over. Whitsitt's last move was drafting talented high schooler Travis Outlaw, certainly an appropriate name. To his credit, Nash is desperately trying to move Rasheed Wallace and Ruben Patterson, with Wallace likely to go to New Jersey before camp. Other than that, speculation continues that coach Mo Cheeks will go back to Philly should Ayers fail. This will be interesting. Grade: D.

Sacramento Kings: Never underestimate Geoff Petrie. As the Kings struggled last season with injuries, capping it with Chris Webber's knee surgery during the playoffs, their window of opportunity appeared to be closing. And all of sudden, Petrie got himself in the mix for Indiana's free-agent center, Brad Miller. It cost him Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard but was worth the gamble -- particularly since Webber is likely to miss the start of the season. And Petrie wasn't done, bringing in nomadic wide body Tony Massenburg and streak-shooting Anthony Peeler. They also dealt their second-round draft pick to Boston for Darius Songaila, who a big forward from Wake Forest who played in Europe last season. With the Spurs and Lakers thriving, it's easy to forget the Kings. Don't. Grade: B.

San Antonio Spurs: As if winning the NBA title for the second time in five years wasn't enough, the Spurs had oodles of salary cap space with the retirement of David Robinson. They didn't get Jason Kidd or Jermaine O'Neal, but they did get center Rasho Nesterovic via free agency. They also added Anthony Carter for depth at point guard when Speedy Claxton left, and Robert Horry brings five rings with him as depth up front. Even more important was getting in the middle of the Brad Miller deal, bringing them Turkoglu from Sacramento and Mercer from Indiana. With young guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili logically expected to improve, the Spurs conceivably could be better than they were last year. Then again, so are the Lakers and Kings. Grade: A-minus.

Seattle SuperSonics: It's difficult to figure out the Sonics, considering coach Nate McMillan likes to play pressure defense and run but the team they've got is better suited to play slowly. They have too many big people who don't contribute, and one of their two top draft choices, point guard Luke Ridnour, hurt his hip before the draft and was misdiagnosed. He had surgery in July and should be OK, but that's not a good sign. Their first pick, Nick Collison, was an exceptional collegiate player, but his lack of quickness and strength leaves you wondering if he's tough enough to bang with the big boys. Free agent Antonio Daniels gives them a nice guard off the bench, and that leaves them trying to unload Calvin Booth, Vitaly Potapenko or Jerome James. Grade: C-minus.

Toronto Raptors: Just getting back Vince Carter healthy makes them much better, and new coach Kevin O'Neill is bound to energize them more than Lenny Wilkens did. They had the good fortune of the third pick in the draft, and Chris Bosh is a young, talented and growing almost-7-footer. Meanwhile, they've added free agents Mengke Bateer, Matt Bonner, Rick Brunson, Michael Curry, Jerome Moiso and Milt Palacio -- prompting one succinct question: Can any of these guys play a lick? And for nearly two weeks now, the rumbling has Dikembe Mutombo coming here with Antonio Davis and possibly Morris Peterson leaving. Hopefully that won't happen, because it will only make matters worse. Good thing Carter is healthy, otherwise the next fun thing would be the lottery again. Grade: D.

Utah Jazz: Finally, it happened. John Stockton retired and Karl Malone left as a free agent for the Lakers. Now what? Never one to back down from anything, coach Jerry Sloan opted to play it out rather than retire as many thought he would. Now the team is building around young forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring, with hopes that DeShawn Stevenson matures and becomes a dependable starter. They've tried to sign not only Jason Terry and Corey Maggette but Brad Miller and Elton Brand. Atlanta has to match Terry's deal. This is obviously no easy task for general manager Kevin O'Connor to attract free agents to Salt Lake City. They did acquire Keon Clark from Sacramento, but he's a very erratic player on and off the court. They need young players Raul Lopez (a point guard) and Curtis Borchardt (center) to overcome injuries and develop into contributors fast. The 20 consecutive seasons in the playoffs is about to come to an end. Grade: D.

Washington Wizards: It's all new in Washington for a change. Ernie Grunfeld replaces Wes Unseld as general manager. Eddie Jordan replaces Doug Collins as coach, and Michael Jordan is gone with the wind. Grunfeld's first order of business was signings free-agent point guard Gilbert Arenas. He doesn't replace M.J., but he helps, and Chris Whitney will take the opening left by Tyronn Lue's departure. They also added rookies Jarvis Hayes and Steve Blake from the draft. Eddie Jordan was a great pick for this very young team that re-signed Jerry Stackhouse; now we'll see how quickly they'll develop. Arenas is already proclaiming them a playoff team. Oh, they will be, just not this season. But on a given night, they will be very dangerous offensively. Grade: B.