Sure, the NBA offseason isn’t over yet, but with the passing of Summer League and most of the key free agents signed, let’s grade each of the NBA teams’ progress this summer. Next up is the Pacific Division.
Los Angeles Lakers (57-25, Won NBA Finals): B
The Lakers are one of the most complete teams in the NBA, notwithstanding a somewhat weak bench. Their roster was designed to compete last year, and they won again, so they’ve embraced the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy this summer — not that they have any cap room to make any significant additions. Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Josh Powell are gone, but we all know they were fairly extraneous anyway. More importantly, GM Mitch Kupchak convinced Derek Fisher to stay on as the starting point guard instead of letting him slide to the Heat, and he brought on Steve Blake to back him up. They succeeded in the draft, too. Both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter looked impressive in Summer League play, and they should get second-unit minutes next year.
Phoenix Suns (54-28, Lost Western Conference Finals): D+
Steve Nash is still around, but he’s another year older. Who knows how long he’ll continue his graceful aging? Obviously the big blow this summer was losing Amar’e Stoudemire, an offensive force who was the team’s only true threat in the post. His scoring will be sorely missed, and acquisition Hakim Warrick won’t be able to reproduce it. They did fetch Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress, who should fit well in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo system, but this will truly be a team that lives and dies by the trey — and Leandro Barbosa, one of their finest shooters, was shipped off in the Turk deal.
Los Angeles Clippers (29-53, Missed Playoffs): A-
The most important item on the agenda for the Clippers this summer was to get 2009 No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin in game shape for his first NBA regular-season game, and they’ve done that: Griffin has been at 100 percent for awhile, and he’ll be ready to go by late October. With Griffin, the lineup is virtually set at four positions, with small forward the notable void. While the Clippers didn’t get a top-tier 3 like Rudy Gay or, dare I say, LeBron James in free agency, they drafted Al-Farouq Aminu, who has the potential to be an impact player a few years down the road. His performance in Summer League showed he’s still very raw, but the team also acquired Ryan Gomes from Minnesota, a hard-nosed 3-4 swinger who can play meaningful starting minutes in the meantime. They also drafted Eric Bledsoe, who will back up Baron Davis at the point, and Willie Warren, who can play both backcourt positions. Moreover, they signed Randy Foye, who can further anchor the backcourt and make spot starts. Signees Brian Cook and Craig Smith fill out the frontcourt and give the team a greater veteran presence among so many youngsters. And there’s still the possibility that Tracy McGrady might hop on board. The bottom line is that the Clippers could end up surprising a lot of people this year.
Golden State Warriors (26-56, Missed Playoffs): B
The biggest error for the Warriors this season was keeping Don Nelson, who is apparently incapable of properly handling and developing young players. That said, Corey Maggette is gone, creating more time for those young players to crack the rotation. They also brought on board David Lee, who, alongside Andris Biedrins, forms one of the finest rebounding tandems in the league. They lost Anthony Morrow to the Nets, but they have so many shooters that that shouldn’t matter too much anyway. Ekpe Udoh would have been a factor in their rotation, so it’s unfortunate that he’ll miss the first six months after injuring himself.
Sacramento Kings (25-57, Missed Playoffs): B-
The Kings snagged DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick in the draft, and he looks like he could be a dominant center in the NBA if he checks his ego at the door of the Arco Arena. His floortime in Summer League demonstrated the polarity that everyone suspected prior to the draft. But if he stays level-headed, he’ll make a great frontcourt with Carl Landry. Veteran Samuel Dalembert can start until Cousins is ready and give them plenty of defense and rebounding. Don’t forget Jason Thompson, who also figures to take his share of minutes.