Thanks to a large bump and an unchecked flow of cash the NBA just experienced a historically insane opening to the free agent season, all of this following one of the craziest drafts in recent memory. At BigPlay.com we have assessed the changes to each team’s roster and ranked current NBA teams from top to bottom.
We will edit this list as teams continue to make moves this offseason (we’re looking at you Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook) and our power rankings will be updated regularly throughout the season.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Key acquisitions: Chris Andersen C; Mike Dunleavy SF
Team outlook: The Cavaliers are #1 with an asterisk. They have kept the bulk of their NBA championship roster intact, but have yet to resign J.R Smith. Having James, a historically great player, means that this team is greater than the sum of its parts and until proven otherwise is the best team in the NBA.
2. Golden State Warriors
Key acquisitions: Zaza Pachulia C; David West PF; Kevin Durant SF
Team outlook: The only questions that many pundits asked after the Durant signing were all about whether the Warriors would break last season’s regular season record for wins. Now they have to deal with the implications of a 2017-2018 cap that is not going to see another spike. While their immediate rotation is the envy of every team in the league, the players that they had to let go in order to get Kevin Durant has worn their depth thin.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Key acquisitions: Pau Gasol C
Team outlook: Tim Duncan has retired but has left behind a legacy of institutional greatness that will long outlast him. They have two young players (LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard) who have the chance to be the stars that teams need in order to be NBA champions. Pau Gasol is a good short term solution that will buy the Spurs a year or two to figure out what to do about replacing Tim Duncan. And they happen to be coached by one of the great minds in all of basketball. The Spurs got this.
Note: The above teams have all made solid decisions by virtue of their status for the Warriors and Spurs and lack of cap space for the Cavs. The rest of the league has lost its mind. In our analysis of some of the following teams, we will identify their craziest contract decision. This will allow us to say “We told you so” next summer…
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Key acquisitions: Chandler Parsons SF
Craziest contract: Parsons- 4 years 94 million dollars. The highest award Parsons has ever earned was being named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
Team outlook: The Grizzlies are getting pretty close to their last chance to make a run in the NBA playoffs. But their resigning of Mike Conley to the biggest contract in NBA history and their addition of Parsons has set them up to give perennial star Zach Randolph a chance to finally lead his team to a really special outcome.
5. Chicago Bulls
Key acquisitions: Robin Lopez C; Rajon Rondo PG; Dwyane Wade SG
Team outlook: Hear me out. I honestly thought that the Bulls were moving toward a rebuild after trading Derrick Rose. Then they jumped on the opportunity to bring in a couple of accomplished veterans on lucrative but short term contracts. Does anyone really believe that Dwyane Wade is not going to do everything he can to make this a success and to take Jimmy Butler under his wing and teach him how to win? Are their personnel and scheme issues? Surely. But this is a team with two hungry veteran acquisitions who are hungry to show that they are not done yet, competing in a watered-down East. I have a feeling they are going to make some noise and do something special this season. (As shown by my use of overused cliches in the previous sentence)
6. Toronto Raptors
Key acquisitions: Jared Sullinger PF
Team outlook: The Raptors were the second best team in the East this past year and are bringing back their core from the previous season. It is a shame that they finally got over their inability to win playoff series in the midst of LeBron’s Cleveland tenure and as other Eastern teams have been able to upgrade through the free agent market. The Raptors did exactly what they needed to do in the draft and free agency by bolstering their frontcourt.
7. LA Clippers
Key acquisitions: Marreese Speights C; Raymond Felton PG
Team outlook: Years from now sports historians will look back at this Clippers team and wonder how a team with 3 Hall of Famers in their starting lineup was never able to win a championship. Will their additions enable to put together the same kind of challenge to the Warriors that the Cavs did? Probably not.
8. Portland Trailblazers
Key acquisitions: Festus Ezeli C; Evan Turner SG
Craziest contract: Allen Crabbe- 4 years 75 million dollars. The Trailblazers matched an outlandish offer from the New Jersey Nets for a player that they would have been better off letting go. Last season Crabbe average 10.3 points a game, the first time that he averaged more than 10 points a game in his career. Guess it paid off…
Team outlook: The Trailblazers are providing one template for how the Thunder might want to react to Kevin Durant’s departure. After they lost LaMarcus Aldridge, they did a quick pivot and started building around Damien Lillard. So far (with the exception of giving Allen Crabbe crazy amounts of money) things are right on track.
9. Atlanta Hawks
Key acquisitions: Dwight Howard C; Jarrett Jack PG
Team outlook: The Hawks are well on their way to being one of the most consistent and steadiest franchises in the NBA due to the savvy of their front office. The problem is that this is a team of steady professionals who have not elevated their game to a level that will bring a championship to Cleveland. There is a possibility (incredibly remote though it is) that going back to his home state will motivate Howard to live up to the massive potential of his earlier career.
10. Utah Jazz
Key acquisitions: Boris Diaw C; George Hill PG; Joe Johnson SF.
Team outlook: The Jazz have long been an up and coming young team. Their moves this offseason show that they are serious about becoming a playoff team. They did not add any stars, but they added some nice complementary players that will allow their young stars to flourish. Look for the Jazz to make the leap into the playoffs.
11. Washington Wizards
Key acquisitions: Ian Mahinmi C; Jason Smith C; Andrew Nicholson PF
Team outlook: The Wizards kept their core together by resigning Bradley Beal to a massive contract. (They better hope that one works) As shown above, they have added lots of depth to their frontcourt. They should contend for a playoff berth, but nothing more than that.
12. Denver Nuggets
Team outlook: The Nuggets have always had a nice roster, the problem has been avoiding injuries. That will be especially critical now as they missed on signing Dwyane Wade. The interesting story of the season will be keeping an eye on their four rookies and their development.
13. Charlotte Hornets
Key acquisitions: Roy Hibbert C; Ramon Sessions PG; Marco Belinelli SG
Team outlook: Last season, the Hornets came so close to finally winning a playoff series. Fortunately, the Hornets are young and they have brought back their key players and took a flyer on Roy Hibbert to provide some rim protection. He is probably well past his prime, but if it pays off perhaps the team can continue to make progress.
14. New York Knicks
Key acquisitions: Joakim Noah C; Derrick Rose PG; Courtney Lee SG;
Team outlook: Say what you want about Sam Hinkie of the Philadelphia 76ers, but at least his plan was pretty obvious and had a logic to it. I don’t know what Phil Jackson’s plan is for the Knicks and what his overall strategy is for rebuilding the team. And perhaps he cannot craft one as long as such high expectations exist for such an historic franchise. Right now this team is caught in a cycle of being bad, using assets/cap room to stock up on the medicore, producing so-so results and then returning to being bad again. This present Knicks team will probably produce so-so results that may even result in winning at least one playoff series. But they are not going anywhere beyond that…
15. Indiana Pacers
Key acquisitions: Al Jefferson C; Thaddeus Young PF; Jeff Teague PG
Team outlook: This is a much improved team as Larry Bird upgraded Paul George’s supporting cast through free agent signings and trades. Unfortunately all of the players that they added have never won anything significant and have never shown the predisposition to lift their teams to another level. So as is the story with all of the teams that added second-tier free agents the Pacers got better, but not good enough.
16. Miami Heat
Key acquisitions: James Johnson PF; Willie Reed PF; Derrick Williams PF; Wayne Ellington SG
Craziest contract: Tyler Johnson- 4 years 50 million dollars. The first three years of the contract are quite reasonable. That is until the 2018-2018 season when he will make more than 18 million dollars. That will be fun to pay…
Team outlook: This ranking comes with an asterisk. If Chris Bosh returns, the Heat might just be able to put together a team that contends for a playoff berth. Perhaps the best mark of their desperation is that they resigned SG Tyler Johnson despite the poison pill in the contract that the New Jersey Nets gave him. If Chris Bosh is not able to come back, this team will be ranked much lower.
17. Detroit Pistons
Key acquisitions: Boban Marjanovic C; Jon Leuer PF; Ish Smith PG
Team outlook: In an Eastern Conference where you have 2 well-established teams and other teams that got better, the Pistons face the daunting prospect of being left behind. In today’s NBA it is very important to have at least one excellent wing player. The Pistons don’t have that yet and won’t progress until they do.
18. Boston Celtics
Key acquisitions: Al Horford C
Team outlook: Many will undoubtedly be predicting great things for the Celtics with their first big free agent acquisition in a long time. The problem is that not much else has changed about Boston. They still have a glut at the guard spot and still lack reliable outside shooting to stretch the floor. Their draft strategy was questionable and the results don’t look too promising. Look, when one of your star players is a 5’9″ point guard, your upside will be very limited.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Key acquisitions: Cole Aldrich C; Jordan Hill C
Team outlook: Don’t forget that Minnesota was one of the few teams to beat the Golden State Warriors during their record regular season run. This is going to be a fun young team to watch. They are not quite there yet, but they will be one day.
20. New Orleans Pelicans
Key acquisitions: Terrence Jones PF; Solomon Hill SF; Langston Galloway SG; E’Twaun Moore SG
Team outlook: Remember when the Hornets were an up and coming team that was looking to build around its next generation star Anthony Davis? Yeah, that moment is over. The Pelicans simply don’t have the talent to compete in the stacked Western Conference.
21. Milwaukee Bucks
Key acquisitions: Miles Plumlee C; Mirza Teletovic PF; Matthew Dellavedova PG
Team outlook: It appears that despite the confusion about his age, Thon Maker might be a pretty solid basketball player. He had a very strong showing in Summer League. If Maker can develop ahead of schedule he will add depth to their frontcourt and the Bucks could be a very dangerous team. The team still has a couple of questions to figure out, namely what to do with Greg Monroe and finding a long term solution at point guard which Michael Carter-Williams and Matthew Dellavedova are not.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder
Key acquisitions: Ersan Ilyasova PF; Victor Oladipo SG
Team outlook: This is really sad. On the BIGPLAY podcast after the NBA Draft, I identified the Thunder as the winners of draft night and cited their trade as a smart move. Since then Kevin Durant’s defection to Golden State (described in more colorful terms by other writers on this website) has completely ruined the Thunder’s status as a contender. They are now in full damage control mode. It’s going to be a long season for Thunder fans.
23. Houston Rockets
Key acquisitions: Nene Hilario C; Ryan Anderson PF; Pablo Prigioni PG; Eric Gordon SG
Craziest contract: Eric Gordon- 4 years 53 million dollars. In 2010-2011 Eric Gordon was one of the best young guards in professional basketeball. Now, he’s a second rate shooting guard. So what did the team with the best shooting guard in the NBA do? Sign to Eric Gordon to a contract worth more than 50 million dollars. Sheesh….
Team outlook: The Rockets gave out a lot of money without signing anyone who will truly elevate their team to another level. They signed solid free agents who will contribute to some extent, but won’t lift the burden off of James Harden’s shoulders. Daryl Morey has a big job ahead of him.
24. Philadelphia 76ers
Key acquisitions: Jerryd Bayless PG; Gerald Henderson SG
Team outlook: I’m going to put a marker down in this column. The 76ers won’t be terrible next year. With the addition of #1 draft pick Ben Simmons, a talented young frontcourt and the signing of several solid veterans the 76ers will actually win some games. They still haven’t attracted any high priced stars and they are not in any danger of you know… making the playoffs…. but they won’t be terrible.
25. Orlando Magic
Key acquisitions: Bismack Biyombo C; Serge Ibaka PF; D.J Augustin PG; Jeff Green SF; C.J. Wilcox SG; Evan Fournier SG; Jodie Meeks SG
Craziest contract: Jeff Green- 1 year 15 million. In what world is Jeff Green worth 15 million dollars? Inflated cap or not inflated cap, he does not merit that much money. If Orlando wants to spend that much money they can pay for me to come live at Disneyland.
Team outlook: The trade with Oklahoma City was the beginning of a busy but unproductive summer for the Magic. They traded for Serge Ibaka which didn’t really help them because you’re not going to build a team around Ibaka. They signed a bunch of veterans who quite honestly just seem to be filling roster spots. In the end, it seemed like they had to fall back on Plan B for the offseason and Plan B was just bad.
26. Sacramento Kings
Key acquisitions: Anthony Tolliver PF; Matt Barnes SF; Arron Afflalo SG; Garrett Temple SG
Team outlook: This is how bad the Kings’ offseason was. Their draft strategy made DeMarcus Cousins look like a sympathetic figure. In order for the Kings to be good, they really need a change in the front office and ownership.
27. Dallas Mavericks
Key acquisitions: Harrison Barnes SF; Quincy Acy SF; Seth Curry SG
Team outlook: Mark Cuban and the Mavericks are caught in a perpetual search for NBA relevance, perhaps best illustrated by their bizarre courtship, winning of and then being spurned by DeAndre Jordan last season. Now their latest plan for long term greatness is to build around Harrison Barnes which is essentially another version of their plan to throw money at Chandler Parsons and make him one of the pillars of their team. Here’s what the Mavericks need to do. Hire Sam Hinkie to tear down their team and reduce them to comic futility. Build up assets and draft picks and THEN try to start winning again. For that matter, the Mavericks could hire me to do that….
28. Phoenix Suns
Key acquisitions: Jared Dudley SF; Leandro Barbosa SG
Team outlook: Young and bad. I could say more, but I don’t want to.
29. Brooklyn Nets
Key acquisitions: Trevor Booker PF; Luis Scola PF; Jeremy Lin PG; Greivis Vasquez PG; Randy Foye SG
Team outlook: Look at the above list. This is how bad their offseason was; the Nets had loads of cap space (they still have 20 million dollars left over) but those are the only free agents that they were able to find. Next year is going to be so dismal for the Nets and their fans. The good news is that they were saved from saving mediocre players (ahem, Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson) from ridiculous contracts. So it’s not all bad…
30. LA Lakers
Key acquisitions: Timofey Mozgov C; Jose Calderon PG; Luol Deng SF
Craziest contract: Timofey Mozgov- 4 years 64 million dollars. Everyone in the city of Cleveland scratched their head when the news of Mozgov’s contract emerged. It is rare that a player is as inept as Mozgov was during his contract year and still gets paid lots of money. Usually the player would make less money. But more power to the man.
Team outlook: The Lakers were reduced to paying third-rate free agents lots of money once they figured out that no one good was going to play for them this year. But in other news, Jim Buss promised his sibling that the team would return to their former greatness by this point in his control of the franchise. When they don’t they might fire him and the team might actually be able to start winning again.