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This summer, many players found new homes. Free agency shook up the league. Most notably, Kevin Durant went from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors. Here is a look at how the league stacks up in August.
1. Golden State Warriors
The defending Western Conference champions just stole one of the best players in the league from one of their toughest competitors. With Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the Warriors are at the top of the league. They lost some of their depth, but that shouldn’t hurt them too much.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The champions of the 2016 Finals didn’t make any major moves in the offseason. They lost Matthew Dellavedova, a solid back-up to Kyrie Irving but not a huge piece to the squad, Timofey Mozgov, who had no real impact last season for them, and Sasha Kaun, who retired after one season and 95 minutes in the NBA, but drafted 5’9″ guard Kay Felder from Oakland, the fourth leading scorer in college basketball last season.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Even with the loss of Tim Duncan, who was not the same performer as he used to be but just as great a leader, the Spurs are still among the best teams in the Association. Pau Gasol, though aging, was a good addition the team. With MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year winner in Kawhi Leonard, plus LaMarcus Aldridge and a team full of players who know their job and do it well, the Spurs will be fighting to regain their crown as the best team in the West once again.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
With the big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers look to finally make it out of the second round this year. In the offseason, they added Marreese Speights, Brice Johnson, and Diamond Stone, but don’t expect the rookies Johnson and Stone to get very many minutes under Doc Rivers, who’s notorious for not playing rookies.
5. Toronto Raptors
Led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where they lost in six games to the eventual champions Cleveland Cavaliers. Their only move this offseason was resigning DeRozan, but they lost big man Bismack Biyombo, who played a huge role in the playoffs after the loss of starting center Jonas Valančiūnas.
6. Boston Celtics
Although they missed out on the big prize of free agency in Kevin Durant, the Celtics still got significantly better with the addition of Al Horford. Horford, a four time All-Star, is a big upgrade over Jared Sullinger, who is a good player, but more of the power forward type at 6’9″. Sullinger left for the Raptors, and the Celtics also lost Evan Turner, who was in the running for Sixth Man of the Year last season, to Portland.
7. Chicago Bulls
When the Bulls traded former MVP Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, many thought it was a steal for the Knicks. However, Chicago got some good pieces back, acquiring Jerian Grant, who won Finals MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, Jose Calderon, who was shipped to the Lakers for cap space in order to bring in Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez. The Bulls also signed Rajon Rondo to make a big three of sorts with Rondo, Wade, and Jimmy Butler. This team certainly looks better than last season, but the lack of shooting from their big three could hurt.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers, led by superstar Paul George, improved this offseason, getting both Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague in trades. Teague, many would argue, is an upgrade at the point guard position from George Hill, who was shipped to Utah, and Young is a forward that will help the team. They also signed center Al Jefferson. Last season was the first season in which George was back to normal, after a leg injury with USA Basketball that shattered his shin. The Pacers can only get better from last season.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Nobody expected them to do it last year. After losing four of their five starters, Portland was projected to be one of the worst teams of the league. But, carried by Damian Lillard and Most Improved Player CJ McCollum in the backcourt, Portland made the playoffs, where they beat the Clippers and fought hard against the 73-win Warriors. In the offseason, Portland added Evan Turner and resigned Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe.
10. Detroit Pistons
Detroit made the playoffs last season, a promising sign of things to come. With guard Reggie Jackson and big man Andre Drummond leading the way, this team could be scary for a while. Although they lost in the first round to the Cavaliers, the Pistons can only improve with their young talent. Andre Drummond is arguably the most dominating big man in the game, along with DeMarcus Cousins. He is a ferocious rebounder, a good scorer, and a presence on the defensive end.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee has loads of potential on their team, and it starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak. When the 6’11” Antetokounmpo ran point guard last season, he was great at directing the offense, getting his teammates involved, and also creating for himself. They drafted Thon Maker, despite age concerns, with the eleventh pick in the draft. Some may disagree with the Bucks being this high on the list, but with the squad that they have with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, and Greg Monroe (at least until they find a trade for him), the Bucks certainly are deserving of this spot.
12. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta, after being swept by the Cavs last postseason, made some major moves in the summer. Point guard Jeff Teague was involved in a 3-team trade that sent him to Indiana, and Atlanta received the twelfth overall pick from Utah, who became Taurean Prince. They also lost longtime center Al Horford, but picked up Dwight Howard, who came to play in his hometown. There have been questions about how Dwight will fit with coach Mike Budenholzer and Atlanta, but don’t expect him to completely turn around the Hawks.
13. Miami Heat
The Heat are nowhere near the same team that they were last season. Dwyane Wade, the best player in their history, left for his hometown Chicago Bulls. However, having players like Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside and young potential stars like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson gives the Heat a high spot on this list, especially considering the amount of teams who got worse this offseason.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
Don’t look to see the Thunder back in the Western Conference Finals this season. With Kevin Durant leaving his only team he’s played for in the NBA to join the team that beat him in the playoffs this year, it will take some getting used to the new Thunder. On draft day, Serge Ibaka was traded to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illyasova, and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis. This gives them a fresh look with an explosive backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Oladipo. They also get a good young player in Sabonis and a veteran in Illyasova. OKC this year won’t be at the top of the league like we’ve been used to seeing, but they have a good core that can be a playoff team in the West.
15. Utah Jazz
The Jazz have many young and valuable pieces and could be in playoff contention in the upcoming years or even this year. The young team signed skilled veteran Joe Johnson, who can be a good presence in the locker room and knows the league inside and out. Utah also acquired another veteran, George Hill, in a 3-team trade; they gave up the twelfth overall pick to the Atlanta Hawks. Players such as Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert show a promising future for this team. If they stick together, and get the right pieces, who knows how good this team can be.
16. New York Knicks
The Knicks definitely improved this offseason, trading for former MVP Derrick Rose and signing players like Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, and Courtney Lee. Although they may not be a super team (sorry Derrick), this team has playoff potential. The team would have been great a few years ago, but they are still solid. Rose was among the elite players in the NBA before he tore his ACL, Noah used to be one of the best centers in the league before age started taking its toll on him, Jennings is a good player coming off of a torn Achilles, and Lee is a quality shooting guard who can put the ball in the hole. With established star Carmelo Anthony and up-and-coming Kristaps Porzingis, look for New York to make big strides in the East.
17. Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker led the Charlotte Hornets to a playoff berth last season before getting their hearts broken by Dwyane Wade. In the offseason, the Hornets added one-time All-Star Roy Hibbert, but lost vital contributors Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson to Brooklyn and Indiana. That weakened the team a little bit, but the team can still fight for a playoff spot this coming season. They also signed Ramon Sessions to take the place of Lin and sharpshooter Marco Belinelli. The Hornets could be a lower seed in the Eastern Conference.
18. Memphis Grizzlies
After guard Mike Conley missed 26 games last season, he signed the richest deal in NBA history to stay with the only team he’s ever played for in his professional career. Along with paying him $153 million for 5 years, they offered Chandler Parsons a 4 year max contract, and have some good rookies coming in such as Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis. However, injuries to their main pieces has held them back recently, and power forward Zach Randolph is 35 years old. Center Marc Gasol is also on the wrong side of 30, but is still an All-Star level player when healthy.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota’s future is very bright, but they are not a bad team right now either. Whether or not Kevin Garnett retires remains to be seen. It would not make a very big difference on the court, but it would in the locker room and the practice facility. Andrew Wiggins is quickly becoming a superstar in the league, Karl-Anthony Towns is already one of the best centers in the league, and Zach LaVine, according to Julius Erving, is the best dunker since Vince Carter (that’s not really important, but he’s fun to watch). Kris Dunn will get good minutes and good experience behind Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic is a solid big man. Tyus Jones played great in the Summer League in Las Vegas, winning Most Valuable Player. This team could make a run at a lower seed in the playoffs.
20. Dallas Mavericks
Despite his struggles in the Finals, the Mavericks gave former Warriors forward Harrison Barnes a max contract to replace Chandler Parsons, who went to the Grizzlies. They also acquired Andrew Bogut for a draft pick in a salary dump for the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. Dirk Nowitzki, though still valuable, is aging by the minute. The Mavericks have lost in the first round of the playoffs the last three years, and it is a possibility that they will not even qualify to play in the postseason in 2017.
21. Orlando Magic
In the offseason, the Magic dealt away Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illysova, and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis for big man Serge Ibaka, and then went on to sign Bismack Biyombo in free agency. Both are good shot-blockers, but questions have come up as to how they will play together. They traded away a very good and young player in Oladipo, but they have another shooting guard (and small forward) named Evan Fournier, who played pretty well last season. The Magic probably will not be much better as they were last season, if at all.
22. Houston Rockets
Last season, Houston barely made the playoffs, and they lost center Dwight Howard in free agency, who went home to Atlanta. They hired Mike D’Antoni as their new coach. D’Antoni is a good coach, and he had plenty of success with the Phoenix Suns with Steve Nash, but he is not the right fit for this team. The Rockets lack defense, and D’Antoni coaches absolutely no defense. They do have James Harden, who could carry this team to a playoff berth, but as of right now, it does not look likely.
23. Denver Nuggets
Denver has some good young talent in players like Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, and newly drafted Jamal Murray, but their team isn’t complete. Will Barton was one of the most improved players last year, and Jusuf Nurkic made the All-Rookie first team. Their only point guard besides Mudiay is 34 year old Jameer Nelson. They have six shooting guards on the roster, but none are starter-quality, although Jamal Murray could be. They’re pretty good at the other three positions, and Barton is a very good sixth man at small forward. However, this team is a few years away from a playoff spot.
24. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have an elite point guard in John Wall, but they need to start making some big moves. They were the 10th seed in the East last season, finishing at 41-41, but they made no moves in the offseason to improve their team. With many other teams getting better, Washington got worse by simply not getting better. Coach Scott Brooks is a good and experienced coach who could help out the team.
25. New Orleans Pelicans
Young stud and possible MVP candidate Anthony Davis was drafted by this team, and since then they’ve done nothing to give him a better team. In this offseason, they lost two scorers in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, and their biggest signing in free agency was probably E’Twaun Moore. They did draft Buddy Hield, but most people agree he will either be a very good player or a very big bust. If everything works out, and Davis doesn’t get injured like last season, Hield and Davis could be a solid duo, but this team has a lot of work to do.
26. Phoenix Suns
The Suns have a lot of talent, but they can never seem to turn that talent into wins. Guard Eric Bledsoe, when healthy, can play at an All-Star level, Devin Booker was one of the best rookies in this past season, and they have two lottery picks from this year’s draft, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. This team should be in playoff contention, but they are not because the front office can never seem to put it together. They brought back Leandro Barbosa again, who could have a positive impact on this young team. We will have to wait and see what coach Earl Watson can do with this squad.
27. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers improved this offseason, drafting Brandon Ingram, bringing back Jordan Clarkson, and signing veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. The Deng and Mozgov signings were good ones for talented players, but a four year contract for both of them does not fit with what the Lakers are trying to do. They want to get better fast, but paying Mozgov 64 million over the next four years and paying Deng 72 million over the same time frame can hurt their ability to sign big name free agents in the coming years. They have a young core in Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle, but they will need more to be a good team.
28. Sacramento Kings
The Kings were probably the league’s most dysfunctional team last season. DeMarcus Cousins could be the best center in the league, but his immaturity and temper often result in embarrassing situations for the team or for himself. There was a rift between Cousins and coach George Karl last season, as Karl was attempting to trade him repeatedly because of his personality. Sacramento drafted Malachi Richardson, a young player who can help the team. In free agency, the Kings signed Arron Afflalo and Matt Barnes, two veterans that can help Cousins mature. However, their superstar’s lack of self-control probably will limit this team from reaching its full potential.
29. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn improved a little this offseason, but they are still a bad team who gave up all their picks a couple years ago for some aging former superstars. There is not a bright future for this team, but Jeremy Lin should help to a degree. They also drafted Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert. After trading Thaddeus Young, the Nets, led by Brook Lopez and Lin, simply lack the talent needed to be a competitive team.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
They were one of the worst teams of all time last year, but they made no moves in the summer. They have 4 rookies coming in, Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, who could help the team; then again, anything can help the team that lost 72 of 82 games last season. Embiid might actually play an NBA game sometime soon. The team thinks they have 3 Rookie of the Year candidates in Simmons, Saric, and Embiid, but this team will still be the bottom feeders of the league.
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