NBA Offseason Report Cards: Part III

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NBA OFFSEASON REPORT CARDS. Click here for Part I and here for Part II.

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Donnie Walsh is back at the helm for the Indiana Pacers

INDIANA PACERS – Donnie Walsh is back, Larry Bird is gone, Roy Hibbert is staying, and – lest anyone forget – they had the Heat down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals (reminder: Dwyane Wade vs. Erik Spoesltra). Darren Collison, who wasn’t happy after losing his job to George Hill, has been swapped out for D.J. Augustin. They snapped up Gerald Green, who had the best season that no one noticed last year after joining the Newark Nets at midseason. Brooklyn wanted to keep him but couldn’t offer the money the Pacers could. Ian Mahinmi has been brought in to spell Hibbert. Every single one of those moves fortifies a sneaky good team that starts Hibbert, David West, Hill, Paul George and Danny Granger. They are 38-1 to win the title, a factoid lotto players and other take-a-flyer gamblers should be aware of. They will win their division easily over Chicago and be the No. 2 seed in the East. More analysis here.

Grade: A

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Grant Hill, part of a very deep 2012-13 LA Clippers team

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – I received some well-deserved grief for not believing in them last season, although I said that before they claimed Chauncey Billups and signed Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. Regardless, I acknowledge the bad call. They had one malcontent last season, and Mo Williams is outta there. Nick Young didn’t last long either. Jamal Crawford is twice the player as either of those guys, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom are the other big newcomers, we’ve just learned that Billups is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an Achilles injury, and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are expected to be ready for Opening Night after both underwent offseason surgery. They are in the debate for best 1 through 10 lineup, and they’ll win at least 60 if they stay healthy. More importantly, they have vets who will be playoff performers. DeAndre Jordan, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins give them 18 fouls to use against Dwight. More analysis here.

Grade: A+

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Steve Nash shows off his new Lakers uniform

LOS ANGELES LAKERS – They are going to win the Western Conference and they are going to play the Miami Heat (or Indiana Pacers) for the NBA championship. And I think they can win 70, although only about 20 percent of voters in our Lakers’ Wins poll agree. In order to get to 70 they are going to have to play .800 ball against the likes of the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers in what will be a brutally tough conference, but they have the goods to do it – a Hall-of-Fame superstar in Kobe Bryant, a Hall-of-Fame center in Dwight Howard and a Hall-of-Fame point guard in Steve Nash, an all-world power forward in Pau Gasol and an all-Psychopath First-Teamer in Metta World Peace, who will get more help defensively now that Bryant will not be expending as much energy on offense. Heck, Steve Blake could lead the league in assists if he started for this team, which is a roundabout way of predicting that Nash will win his sixth assist title. This is the perfectly constructed team. Yes, others are deeper. Yes, others have more shooters. But these guys will have Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison coming off their bench this year, along with Jodie Meeks, who will learn for the first time what a consistently open 3-point look will do to his game. More analysis here.

Grade: A+

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Can Wayne Ellington replace O.J. Mayo and/or make a 3-point shot?

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – They needed a shooter and added Wayne Ellington, but had to give up Dante Cunningham to get him. Ellington has done nothing since coming out of UNC, and if he can’t hit shots here, then maybe Tony Allen will, or maybe it’ll be rookie Tony Wroten, or Josh Selby. We shall see. They needed a backup point guard and they got one in Jerryd Bayless. They were pretty good already (going to a Game 7 in the playoffs the past 2 years is nothing to be dismissive of), and they won’t have O.J. Mayo coming off the bench to take more than his share of shots in an effort to boost his market value. All the parts are there, including depth in the frontcourt and a defensive stopper extraordinaire in Allen. But they have to compete in a very tough Western Conference in which it’ll be tough to crack the top 4 – even if Zach Randolph stays healthy for the whole season, which wasn’t the case last year. If they were in the East, they’d be top 2-3. More analysis here.

Grade: B

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Ray Allen has taken his talents to Miami, too

heat small logoMIAMI HEAT – The impulse is to give them an A for picking up Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, who should be draining 3-pointers all the way through the NBA Finals. But Allen hasn’t ever been a consistent playoff performer (ask anyone in Boston), and Lewis will someday retire from the NBA being known for two things: Crying in the green room on draft night when he went unpicked in the first round, and signing the least cost-effective contract of the first decade of the new century until Gilbert Arenas signed his. OK, that’s being a little tough on Pat Riley and Co., who have significantly improved their team on paper. But they still don’t have a center, they still don’t match up all that well against Boston, Indiana or Philadelphia, and they need to rediscover the hunger that existed prior to last season after they had fallen short the year before. If Mike Miller is forced to retire, the Heat will have a $2.9 million medical exception to go out and find some size. More analysis here.

Grade: A-

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Brandon Roy, who will attempt an NBA comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – They were the most entertaining, surprisingly good team last season until Ricky Rubio went down, and then they were toast. They now have an Olympic gold medalist in Kevin Love, who spent his summer being surrounded by superstars and champions. He can’t help but have learned a little something about the proper mental approach to the game. They jettisoned locker room headache and head case Michael Beasley, and they amnestied Darko Milicic, which will help team chemistry. They brought in Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy, who 5 years ago were two of the top 25 players in the NBA, and both are still relatively young. They have Nikola Pekovic, who is a brute. They added Dante Cunningham when Memphis needed to slash some payroll, and all they gave up was bust Wayne Ellington. He has been replaced by Alexey Shved, star of the Olympic bronze medal game. No question they have improved, on paper, as much as almost anybody in the West not located in El Lay. But again, we’re talking about a tough conference here. You can win 55 and open the playoffs on the road. More analysis here.

Grade: A

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Samuel Dalembert, the new starting center for the Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE BUCKS – Over/under on the date Scott Skiles and John Hammond lose their jobs is Feb. 2. They only thing that could save them is the relative weakness of the conference, which could keep them in the top 8 simply because they will play so many games against weak opponents. Put them in the West (where they once were), and they are on par with the Sacramento Kings. A big decision looms on whether to extend Brandon Jennings by the Oct. 31 deadline, and if he does not sign anything it will impact his play and the number of shots he takes when he should be passing to Monta Ellis or Ersan Ilyasova – the two guys who are the new building blocks of the franchise. NBA rule of thumb: Teams that start Samuel Dalembert at center historically do not fare very well (although he is no David Lee). Among backup point guards, only Jose Calderon makes more money than Beno Udrih ($7.8M). At least his contract is expiring. Also, Ellis has a player option for 2013-14. If the Bucks believe he will bolt, they have to move him. More analysis here.

Grade: C

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CONTINUE READING …

 

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