Friday, December 23, 2011

2011-12 NBA Off-season Review/Season Preview

This post will also be appearing at The Hardwood Courtroom (where it is also much prettier).  The Eastern Conference is written by myself (Canaan Christ), while the head man over at the Courtroom, Phil Welsh, covers the Western Conference.  Each team is given an off-season recap, a grade for their off-season, a projected record, and then a haiku to encapsulate a key component or components of the team.  Also, I added my projected records for each Western Conference team in parentheses alongside Phil's.  Enjoy, and have a nice holiday weekend.



Off-season Recap: The Hawks haven't made a significant off-season addition since trading for Jamal Crawford. The firm belief in Atlanta has been that the core of Al Horford, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith will eventually develop into a championship contender, with no major additions needed. Marvin Williams is paid like he's part of that core, and his bloated salary forced the Hawks to wave goodbye to Crawford after two very successful seasons in Atlanta. Jeff Teague is being counted on to build on his promising series vs. the Bulls last spring and become the man at point, which he'll have to do considering Tracy McGrady is his lone backup with Kirk Hinrich sidelined following shoulder surgery. Vladimir Radmonivic was also brought in to provide three-point shooting.

Grade: C-

Projected Record: 41-25 (5th in the East)

Crawford cost too much
Hinrich hurt his shoulder
Teague must be the man


Off-season Recap: The moves the Celtics didn't make (trading for Chris Paul and/or David West) are more interesting than the moves they did make, but Danny Ainge still found a way to improve his team. Brandon Bass is a huge upgrade of Big Baby Davis, especially considering the money Davis will be making. The loss of Jeff Green hurts the depth behind Paul Pierce, and I don't think bringing back C Sasha Pavlovic is going to help there. I do like the drafting of the Purdue duo JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but Jermaine O'Neal is still the starting center (ahead of Chris Wilcox), which isn't ideal. Delonte West was allowed to part, which may be for the best for both parties.

Grade: C

Projected Record: 44-22 (3rd in the East)

Dooling and Bradley
Are the Celtics' backcourt depth
Rondo plays all game?


Off-season Recap: A 305-pound Boris Diaw is the Bobcats' starting center, so things are pretty dire regardless of whatever else is going on in Charlotte. Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, and Corey Maggette were draft-day acquisitions, with Walker (hopefully) bringing leadership and scoring, Biyombo (hopefully) bringing the shot-blocking and rebounding the Bobcats gave away when they dumped Tyson Chandler last year, and Maggette (definitely) filling the offensive black hole void left by the departed Stephen Jackson. OKC bust Byron Mullens was brought in to compete with incumbent stiff Desgana Diop to see who truly is the worst center in the NBA, which both have proven worthy of already by failing to beat out Diaw for the starting role. Reggie Williams is an okay signing (although he's already hurt).

Grade: D

Projected Record: 12-54 (15th in the East)

Kemba and Bismack
Are the same as the Cats' two
Best players last year


Off-season Review: The only move the Bulls made this off-season was replacing Keith Bogans with Rip Hamilton, which is at worst a wash, and at best gives the Bulls a major upgrade at their lone problem spot last season. Jimmy Butler was also drafted, and although draftniks are high on him (or at least as high as someone can be on the 30th pick), he most likely won't contribute much this season. If he does, it most likely means something has gone very wrong in the upper reaches of what may be the most complete depth chart in the NBA. While many teams sat on their hands this off-season, the Bulls are one of the few that were correct in doing so.

Grade: B

Projected Record: 52-14 (2nd in the East)

Rip, Brewer, or Kyle
It does not matter who's 2
Rose makes all better


Off-season Review: The arrival of Kyrie Irving and (to a lesser extent) Tristan Thompson signals the true beginning of the post-LeBron era, as last season's squad made the mistake of believing it could contend for the playoffs before a record-setting losing streak forced management to accept that the only way up is down. No such delusional mistakes were made this winter, with the fat cut (Baron Davis), and the steady placeholder (Anthony Parker) brought back to share the backcourt with Irving. One more season at the bottom of the league should provide the draft pick necessary to begin the climb back out of the gutter, and start the countdown until Irving's (or next year's rookie sensation's) free agency, and Cleveland can do this all over again.

Grade: B

Projected Record: 14-52 (12th in the East)

Gilbert writes letters
The font and words scream DOUCHEBAG
At least Dan spends cash


Off-season Review: Joe Dumars continued his assault on logic, contradicting himself by the move. First, he drafted Brandon Knight, presumably to replace restricted free agent Rodney Stuckey, who of course was instead re-signed to a three-year deal. Rip Hamilton was bought out, signaling a long-overdue move towards a total rebuild, until Tayshaun Prince was brought back for four more years. With Prince, Austin Daye, and Charlie Villanueva locked up to man the three, Jonas Jerebko could be let go. Or he could be re-signed for four more years. Effectively, Dumars kept the same log-jammed, overpaid roster that finished 30-52 last year together for the foreseeable future, squandering his first chance to rectify the disastrous 2009 off-season and dooming the Pistons to an immediate future of boring mediocrity.

Grade: D-

Projected Record: 13-53 (tied for 13th in the East)

Three sort-of point guards
Three tweener forwards who suck
Help poor Greg Monroe


Off-season Review: Deciding (correctly) that they had enough young talent on the wings, the Pacers started off by trading the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs for Indianapolis native George Hill. While the Hill acquisition is nice, the real coup of Indiana's off-season was the signing of David West. West's addition moves Tyler Hansborough to the bench, a role more suited for Psycho T's style. Jeff Foster was brought back to back up Roy Hibbert, and (presumably) to mentor his replacement, Lou Amudson, who was acquired for disappointing wing Brandon Rush. West may not be the superstar needed to elevate Indiana to the heights of Chicago or Miami, but he should at least help the Pacers compete with the Hawks and Magic of the world.
Grade: B+

Projected Record: 37-29 (7th in the East)

George grew two inches
Granger received scoring help
Indy will be tough


Off-season Review: Unfortunately, a 4th quarter backbone for LeBron James wasn't available this off-season, or the Heat would have addressed their only weakness. Even without that, the Heat should be better. Shane Battier will take Mike Miller's mostly ineffective minutes, while rookie Norris Cole will provide the spark and energy Mike Bibby's corpse failed to provide. A flier was taken on Eddy Curry, but unfortunately it looks like the end of the line for the former Bull. Udonis Haslem should be healthy for the whole season, which will help, but, honestly, as long as LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and (to a much lesser extent) Chris Bosh are healthy, the Heat will always be the favorites to win the title, which they should do this summer.

Grade: B

Projected Record: 53-13 (1st in the East)

Oh for two in June
LeBron will finally win
Breaking Cleveland's heart


Off-season Review: The Bucks traded the pick that became The Jimmer for Stephen Jackson, which is already looking shaky, considering Fredette is looking at least entertaining (something the Bucks weren't at all last year) and Jackson is threatening a holdout despite having two seasons left on his current deal. Second round pick Jon Leur will provide a different look behind Andrew Bogut, spotting up for threes and becoming a fan favorite, while Bogut by all accounts is finally recovered from that gruesome arm injury, which would be by far the most impactful development of the off-season. With a healthy Bogut, the Bucks should be right in the mix with the Pacers and Sixers at the bottom of the East. Without him, Jon Leur is their starting center.

Grade: C

Projected Record: 29-37 (10th in the East)

Michael Redd is gone
Delfino is no answer
Dunleavy, Jr.


Off-season Review: No, Dwight Howard wasn't stolen for Brook Lopez and some late-round draft picks, but the off-season wasn't a bust for the Nets. Travis Outlaw's non-production will be replaced by anything else (most likely either Damion James or ex-Knick Shawne Williams), and Kirk Humphries was brought back without the Nets having to comprise future cap space (which could be used to continue the pursuit of Howard). Rookie Marshon Brooks should provide scoring, even if it is inefficient. This year will be another holding year for New Jersey, but the presence of Deron Williams for a full year should make them the most competitive they've been since the Jason Kidd days. With Brooklyn and (perhaps) a Dwight-D-Will combo ahead, better days should be coming.

Grade: C

Projected Record: 32-34 (9th in the East)

Last time in Jersey
The Nets will wait once again
For a star to come


Off-season Review: The Knicks went all-in with the Melo-Amare combo, jettisoning Chauncey Billups and the coming salary relief he represented to bring in Tyson Chandler. An Anthony-Stoudamire-Chandler frontcourt is boffo, but how long will they get to play together, 60 games, or 30? Elsewhere, with Billups gone and rookie Iman Shumpert looking promising but not like a point guard, discarded vets Mike Bibby and, more interestingly, Baron Davis were brought in to help Toney Douglas try to run Mike D'Antoni's attack. If Davis is healthy and motivated, the Knicks will push the Celtics in the Atlantic division. If he isn't, at least that frontcourt will be a blast to watch go .500.

Grade: B

Projected Record: 42-24 (4th in the East)


Off-season Review: Instead of actively pursuing the best deal out there for Dwight Howard, Otis Smith instead has spent (even more) big money to make another run at a title in what could be Dwight's Orlando swan song. Jason Richardson was inexplicably brought back for a 4-year deal, despite the fact that JJ Reddick was outplaying him by the end of last year. Big Baby Davis was given a huge contract, and cost the Magic a better player in Brandon Bass. Cleveland similarly loaded up for one last run in LeBron's last year in town, only to become one of the worst teams ever following his exit. A similar fate likely awaits the Magic, except they won't be nearly as good as that Cleveland team this year.

Grade: D

Projected Record: 40-26 (6th in the East)

Lopez will not do
Hurt Bynum and who? Won't do
So Otis gave up


Off-season Review: With a young roster tied up to fairly substantial contracts, and with seemingly no desire to trade Andre Igulodala, the Sixers had little choice but to stand pat and wait for youngsters like Evan Turner and a re-signed Thaddeus Young to blossom. First-round choice Nikola Vucevic appears to be a guy drafted because he's tall who never does anything. Spencer Hawes is tall and has talent, so he's back for one more year to see if he can finally harness it. PER favorite Mareese Speights was rumored to be shopped, but it looks like he'll be back to finally prove John Hollinger right. Barring a stunning development by Turner or Young, the Sixers should again find themselves at the bottom of the East playoff field.

Grade: B-

Projected Record: 34-32 (8th in the East)

Middle of the road
With some talent that can grow
A spring sweep ahead


Off-season review: The Raptors finally seem ready to hit bottom, which hasn't happened since they set themselves up to draft Chris Bosh. No significant additions were made this off-season (talent-wise or salary-wise), and even their first round pick Jonas Valanciunas won't be in Toronto this year. Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray, and Jamal Magloire aren't going to win any games, which is good, since the Raptors should do nothing to jeopardize their lofty draft position in one of the strongest drafts in years. DeMarr DeRozan and Ed Davis—Toronto's past two first rounders—are nice pieces, but neither is going to be a superstar, nor is Valanciunas (despite his dominating European Under 19 performance). A superstar is needed to make the Raptors matter again, and this draft should provide one.

Grade: C

Projected Record: 13-53 (tied for 13th in the East)

DeRozan might shine
And Bargnani will score lots
But the Raps will suck


Off-season Review: With a roster brimming with talented knuckleheads, Rashard Lewis's contract, and John Wall, the Wizards faced several possibilities. They could have amnestied Lewis, clearing his contract from their books, and traded a knucklehead. Or, they could have brought everyone back, and hoped that a year-older Wall could become a leader, whipping the knuckleheads into shape and coaxing production out of Lewis. The Wiz chose the latter, bringing back Nick Young, keeping Lewis, and adding Ronny Turiaf to mentor JaVale McGee, which should set up yet another exciting year filled with bone-headed moments. Wall should start to move into the elite point guard discussion, while the whole team will rock the best uniforms in the league, but actual playoff contention is at least one year away.

Grade: C+

Projected Record: 21-45 (11th in the East)

Blatche, McGee, and Young
The Capitol's Three Stooges
Will undermine Wall


Offseason Recap: Championship owners always have difficult decisions to make the following offseason, and Mark Cuban was no exception. He knew bringing Tyson Chandler back was going to be a steep price, so he let the 29-year old center sign with the Knicks and used the money to pay Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West. Wise move, Mr. Cuban. Chandler’s missed over 150 games in his career, and there was absolutely no way he was going to replicate last season’s numbers. Although the Mavs will be a little thinner down low, their perimeter defense should be among the NBA’s best between Kidd, West, Marion, Carter, and Odom (who I expect to play a lot of 3 this year). Expect little drop-off in the Mavs’ defensive efficiency.

Offseason Grade: B+

Projected 2011-12 Record: 45-21 (2nd in West) (45-21, 5th)

Tyson’s in New York
It was smart to let him go
One more title run


Offseason Recap: After hitting a home run with the Carmelo Anthony trade last year, Denver’s offseason probably felt a bit underwhelming. Their biggest acquisition was Andre Miller, making his second go-round in the Mile High City. I personally think Miller’s a nice fit for Denver’s up-and-down style, though unfortunately he won’t have anyone to throw alley oops to (sorry, Nene). Regardless, three of Denver’s key rotation players – Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith – will be playing overseas until March, and those losses will be felt early on during the team’s compressed schedule. But it’s hard to be too critical when the Nuggets were able to re-sign their two most important free agents – Nene and Aaron Afflalo – to long-term deals. They could be West contenders in 2013.

Offseason Grade: B

Projected 2011-12 Record: 37-29 (6th in West) (37-29, 8th)

Key guys in China
Will limit team’s depth early
Playoffs still in reach


Offseason Recap: Let’s start with the most noteworthy signing… Head Coach Mark Jackson! When hiring an ABC analyst who’s never coached at any level is your team’s high-point of the summer, that’s never a good thing. When it comes to clever catch phrases (“Momma there goes that man!” “3-ball corner pocket!”), Mark’s in a league of his own. Unfortunately, I think that’s the league he was best suited for. Even if I’m wrong, there’s still little to get excited about from the Warriors’ offseason. They signed Kwame Brown to an absurd $7-million contract, did nothing to address the awkward Steph Curry-Monta Ellis pairing, and look poised to continue their streak of awful lottery selections (minus Curry) with overrated guard Klay Thompson next in line.

Offseason Grade: C-

Projected 2011-12 Record: 29-37 (10th in West) (23-43, 12th)

When will this team learn?
Curry and Ellis don’t mesh
Return to lotto

Offseason Recap: GM Daryl Morey has never been one to rush into deals; he likes to collect assets and wait for the big score. Unfortunately, David Stern mucked up that plan. The Rockets had everything in place to not only acquire Pau Gasol from the Lakers but also sign Nuggets center Nene to a long-term deal. That would have given the Rockets the NBA’s #1 front line; instead they got neither player and watched another offseason go by with no prize. New Head Coach Kevin McHale will do what he can to keep an optimistic attitude in Houston, but the players know they’re not going anywhere significant without a superstar. Expect Morey’s approach to pay off big eventually… but until then Rockets fans must be patient.

Offseason Grade: C+

Projected 2011-12 Record: 32-34 (9th in West) (32-34, 9th)

David Stern’s blocked trade
Means the Rockets once again
Are stuck in limbo


Offseason Recap: No, hell has not frozen over (at least not to my knowledge), but the Clippers did just make the league’s biggest offseason trade in acquiring Chris Paul. Although they had to give up an awful lot to get him, there’s no doubt Paul makes them a significantly better team this upcoming season. As for their other moves, I’d say those were a bit more questionable. Caron Butler for $24 million? Deandre Jordan for $43 million? I hope L.A. realizes they paid nearly $10 million more for those two players than the Grizzlies did for Marc Gasol. Since the Clips are in “win-now” mode after acquiring Paul, those moves make a little more sense. But it comes with a huge risk to the team’s future.

Offseason Grade: A-

Projected 2011-12 Record: 39-27 (5th in West) (42-24, 6th)

Bout to take over L.A.
And win Pacific


Offseason Recap: Rule #1 about being an NBA GM: “Never do anything quickly unless the deal’s too good to pass up.” After the Lakers got rejected in the Odom/Gasol for Chris Paul trade, they immediately shipped Lamar off to Dallas in exchange for the Mavs’ $8.9 million trade exception and their 2012 first round pick. Hey, I’m all about cleaning house if a guy’s presence is toxic to the team (Odom wanted out), but you’re telling me the league’s top sixth man couldn’t have brought back more to you than that? Sounds like Kupchak cared more about resolving the issue quickly than finding the best deal for his team. Now the Lakers have only three good players and are all but out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

Offseason Grade: D

Projected 2011-12 Record: 33-33 (8th in West) (48-18, 3rd)

Struck out on Chris Paul
Foolishly traded Lamar
8th seed here we come


Offseason Recap: The Grizzlies had only one responsibility this offseason: re-sign Marc Gasol. Not only did they successfully do that, they got him for a more-than-reasonable price at four years, $58 million, indicating to me that Gasol really wants to be there (he could have gotten $10-12 million more somewhere else). The Grizz are now in position to compete for an NBA Championship, and this season in particular seems like their best chance. The entire core is in its prime, and their depth and continuity should give them a leg up on the competition in this compressed, shortened season. I expect them to fight for the Southwest Division crown with Dallas, and Zach Randolph (yes, Zach Randolph) finishing in the top five of MVP votes.

Offseason Grade: A

Projected 2011-12 Record: 43-23 (3rd in West) (46-20, 4th)

Re-signed Marc Gasol
That’s all the Grizzlies needed
To be contenders


Offseason Recap: The T’Wolves made a lot of offseason moves, almost all for the better. They wisely selected arguably the best player in the 2011 draft in Derrick Williams, who I expect to play significantly more minutes than Michael Beasley this season. They then hired future Hall-of-Famer Rick Adelman to replace creatively-dead Kurt Rambis as the team’s Head Coach. Lastly, Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio finally made his way over to the Gopher State to join the team’s fraternity of point guards, which now includes J.J. Barea from Dallas. Sure the team still has some serious needs at center – and there will likely be a lot of continued growing pains from this young group – but their days in the Western Conference basement are officially over.

Offseason Grade: B+

Projected 2011-12 Record: 25-41 (12th in West) (15-51, 14th [tied])

With Rick Adelman
Replacing Rambis as Coach
Night- and-day results


Offseason Recap: Despite what you may have heard from the Chris Paul trade (which I agree was a pretty good deal for New Orleans), don’t fool yourself for a second: the Hornets are going to be bad. Quite bad, actually. People don’t realize the tremendous effect Paul had on the Hornets’ offensive efficiency, and that simply cannot be replaced by Eric Gordon, Al Farouq-Aminu, and Chris Kaman. The team also lost David West to Indiana, taking away their second-best shot creator. I expect the Hornets to look very similar to last year’s Milwaukee Bucks – only in a tougher conference with slightly less effective defense. But I do applaud them for acquiring both Gordon and Minnesota’s first-round pick in the Paul trade, which should help the rebuilding process.

Offseason Grade: B

Projected 2011-12 Record: 19-47 (15th in West) (15-51, 14th [tied])

Chris Paul waved goodbye
New Orleans wishes him well
Dark days lie ahead


Offseason Recap: Sometimes less is more. Such is the case for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Looking back at their 2010-11 season, Owner Clay Bennett and GM Sam Presti had to feel pretty good about the results. OKC was a lot closer to beating Dallas than a 5-game series normally indicates, so there was little need to make serious personnel changes. They re-signed shooter Daequan Cook for virtually nothing and drafted Boston College guard Reggie Jackson with their first-round pick, but really these moves are inconsequential to the team’s big picture. The Thunder are my favorites to finish with the West’s best record due to their unique combination of depth, youth, and continuity that few teams can match during this lockout-shortened season.

Offseason Grade: A

Projected 2011-12 Record: 48-18 (1st in West) (51-15, 1st)

League’s compressed schedule
Perfect for Thunder’s roster
Durant MVP


Offseason Recap: I am convinced that owner Robert Sarver is perfectly at peace with his franchise having a long, painful rebuilding process once Steve Nash leaves after this season. If that’s not the case, then he really is the most idiotic owner in sports. The Suns clearly aren’t going anywhere, nor were they two years ago. Yet Sarver has held his stance that the team refuses to trade Steve Nash. On top of that, they are making lateral moves such as bringing back Grant Hill for another season. What exactly does that accomplish? Loyalty and fan appreciation are obviously more important to the Suns organization than making smart basketball choices. If that’s where their values lie, power to them. But it certainly doesn’t sit well with me.

Offseason Grade: F

Projected 2011-12 Record: 24-42 (13th in West) (31-35, 10th)

The Suns glory days
Are oh so far behind them
Nash fans, let him go


Offseason Recap: Who do you feel sorrier for: Brandon Roy or Greg Oden? Tough choice, right? I actually think the Blazers are relieved Roy called it quits; it saves them face with their fans about Amnestying him, even though it was clearly the right move. As for Oden, I think we’ve seen the last of him in a Blazers uniform, and it too may be for the best. Otherwise, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Portland’s offseason. They signed Jamal Crawford to a 2-year, $10 million deal to provide a backcourt scoring boost, acquired Raymond Felton from Denver to instill more youth and range at the 1, and added underrated forward Craig Smith to their frontcourt depth. Given the circumstances, it could have been much worse.

Offseason Grade: B

Projected 2011-12 Record: 34-32 (7th in West) (38-28, 7th)

Roy and Oden’s leave
Helps the Blazers down the road
So sad, yet so true


Offseason Recap: I’ve completely lost faith in this team. Basically, the Kings’ strategy is to acquire as many semi-talented players as possible, with no regard whatsoever to work ethic, position, injury proneness, team chemistry, or anything else the other 29 teams in the NBA account for when signing players. Here were the Kings trade/free agent acquisitions this offseason: John Salmons, Travis Outlaw, and J.J. Hickson. None of those players are awful, but none are that great either. They re-signed Marcus Thornton – a scoring guard I really like – but gave him a 5-year, $40 million deal. Who else was going to offer him that? Lottery pick Jimmer Freddette will certainly draw interest from college fans, which is good because they won’t be drawing much interest from me.

Offseason Grade: D+

Projected 2011-12 Record: 22-44 (14th in West) (16-50, 13th)

There’s no way this team
Will ever make the Playoffs
With this whiny bunch


Offseason Recap: The Spurs are in a tricky spot. They probably don’t have the talent to win the NBA Championship anymore, but at the same time they possessed the league’s best record for 95% of last season. The question then becomes what was the fluke – their amazing regular season run or first-round Playoff exit? GM R.C. Buford made the same decision I would have made: give this core one more chance. However, management chose to trade combo guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for rookie Kawhi Leonard on draft night – not sure I understand that one if your vision is to go all-in for this season. They also withheld from Amnestying Richard Jefferson; you can be sure that won’t be the case next summer.

Offseason Grade: C

Projected 2011-12 Record: 40-26 (4th in West) (49-17, 2nd)

Tony, Manu, Tim
Have one more run left in them
If no one gets hurt


Offseason Recap: The Jazz are one of the smartest organizations in sports. GM Kevin O’Connor had the foresight last year to trade Deron Williams away when the right deal presented itself, leading to acquiring both Derrick Favors and rookie Enes Kanter, two extremely promising young big men. When you factor in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, C.J. Miles, and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz probably have the NBA’s deepest frontcourt. I do wish they would have more aggressively pursued trading one of their bigs for some backcourt help, but perhaps the team feels its Championship window is still too far away. I was also not a big fan of the Josh Howard signing; again, I wish the team would have spent money to address its thin backcourt.

Offseason Grade: B-

Projected 2011-12 Record: 27-39 (11th in West) (25-41, 11th)

The future is bright
With a bounty of young bigs
Please, go get a guard


  1. It seems you think there's a larger gap between the top and the bottom than I do, Canaan. I think the West is much more compact in its range of talent than the East is. We will soon find out who's right!

  2. Also, you are a much tougher grader than I am - the highest grade you gave out was a B+!