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2012 Offseason: Top Winners and Losers

As the medal rounds underway for Team USA at the Summer Olympics, things are now at a standstill for most NBA teams after a lot of offseason movement.  Now that  teams are more solidified and cap-locked, and the dust has mostly settled, we should reflect on what was an incredibly active offseason.

WINNERS

New Jersey Brooklyn Nets

The way things were going early on in the offseason, New York’s newest team could have easily ended up on the “Losers” list.  If Deron Williams decided to return to his hometown of Dallas, it would have spelled certain cellar-dwelling status for years to come.  Not only did they keep D-Will, but they acquired Joe Johnson – the trade acquisition that Williams said helped convince him to stay put.  In Brooklyn, Johnson will no longer carry the burden of running a team – a daunting task that he has proven he is not comfortable with while with the Hawks.

With owner Mikhail Prokhorov having no regard whatsoever for the salary cap, the team is convinced that their owner will do whatever it takes to make this team a contender for years to come.  Also, it appears that for now, they decided to move on from their attempts to acquire Dwight Howard – something I think we will eventually look back on as a blessing in disguise (more on that later).  Moving forward, they have a solid core of Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez as their starting five.  For a team that was only slightly better than the Charlotte Bobcats last year, that’s not a bad upgrade.

Miami Heat

After winning the NBA championship in convincing fashion, the league’s most scrutinized team may be even harder to beat this year by adding former Supersonics Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.  This is exactly the kind of reloading that they needed, especially with their aging roster.  Allen and Lewis will be more than sufficient replacements for sharpshooter Mike Miller.  Miller, after an absolutely scintillating performance in the title-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals, does not look like he can play anytime soon. It will be interesting to see if Shane Battier holds up, as well.

Allen, who is fresh off a bit of a contentious divorce with the Boston Celtics (given the loss of his starting spot to Avery Bradley and rumored tension with Rajon Rondo), should be motivated to face his old team next season.  Overall, the Big Three should have a sufficient supporting cast and be in a great position to repeat next year.

Los Angeles Lakers

Once again, the Lakers were able to make a big splash that pissed off every GM in the league.  In their franchise history, they managed to steal Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, and Pau Gasol.  This time, they were able to pry Steve Nash from the Suns.

For those who thought Nash would feel awkward about going to the Lakers (myself included), LA fans sure have been doing their part to make him feel at home.  Offensively, this team will be an absolute beast to deal with.  Nash is exactly the kind of player who will engage Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum correctly and get them to be more engaged in Mike Brown’s offense.  That is, if Brown trusts Nash to do what he wants on offense.  They are absolutely a scary team to deal with, and only age (in the case of Kobe, Nash, and Gasol) can stop them.  If they have a strong regular season, it will help dispel future trade rumors involving Bynum or Gasol.

LOSERS

New York Knicks

If Knicks fans did not have Carmelo Anthony – who is scoring at will in this year’s Olympics – to watch this summer, they should be in utter disbelief about their franchise.  Letting Jeremy Lin go to the Houston Rockets was heartbreaking for all whose love for the Knicks was revitalized during Linsanity.  James Dolan picked a really weird time to be frugal; I do think Lin would have been overpaid had the Knicks matched the Rockets’ offer, but his marketing value would have at least brought the Knicks something back in return.  After a history of severely overpaying players like Howard Eisley, Othella Harrington, Allan Houston, Keith Van Horn, Shandon Anderson – all of whom provided very little in return compared to Lin – why not overpay a guy who will at least return some value to the franchise?

Still, their defense improved considerably last season – thanks to their reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler.  If Raymond Felton can do away with his miserable performance as a Trail Blazer, Iman Shumpert can return to health after tearing his ACL in the playoffs, and Amare Stoudemire somehow gets his bum knee and back healed, the Knicks can potentially be a top-four team in the East.  But that’s way too many ifs and buts, and I expect the Knicks to lose many games and fans, who will be very tempted to cheer for the other newer (and better) team in New York.

Orlando Magic

Poor Rob Hennigan.  The up-and-coming executive gets a GM gig after years of success on the staffs of San Antonio and Oklahoma City.  Now, he has to face the biggest offseason pain in the a** in NBA history – Dwight Howard.  I’ve already ranted about him twice (here and here), so I don’t think I need to repeat why the Magic are in such bad shape by keeping him – especially now that they will apparently be going through the same exact drama for whole ‘nother year.  Only this time, we have no idea what the condition of his surgically repaired back is, and whether he will be in uniform on opening night.  And when he does return, will he be the same player he was before completely quitting on his team last season?

In the end, Orlando still has time to trade Howard.  Since no player remotely close to Dwight’s caliber (i.e. Andrew Bynum, Brook Lopez) wanted to commit to an extension in Orlando this early, the Magic have no choice but to roll the dice until the trade deadline.  So far, Howard has done nothing but given every team in the league a lot of fear about acquiring him.

TBD

Atlanta Hawks

Newly appointed GM Danny Ferry has done an outstanding job getting this team to start fresh; by offloading the hefty contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams (remember when the Hawks picked him at 2nd overall over Deron Williams and Chris Paul in the 2004 draft?), the Hawks will now have a lot of cap space to work with in the coming offseasons.  Ferry fully realized that the team as constructed would never advance past the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs, and decided to shake things up.  Whether or not they will be able to land free agents is another story.  With a still-young core nucleus of Al Horford and Josh Smith, this team has a chance to add some pieces and reload for the long run.

Boston Celtics

Now that they are moving on without Ray Allen, the Boston Celtics still find themselves as an aging contender.  Luckily for them, the East is not very good, and only Miami stands out as a clear cut superior team (that is, with Derrick Rose anticipated to be injured for the first chunk of next season for the Bulls).

Despite losing Allen, the Celtics have quietly reloaded and will likely be a tough out in the playoffs – again.  Aside from re-signing KG and Brandon Bass, they made some subtle moves that will keep them afloat atop the Eastern Conference.  With their lack of offensive firepower being exposed by Miami in last year’s Conference Finals, they knew they couldn’t afford to NOT replace Ray Allen.  In that regard, Jason Terry is a more-than-adequate replacement for him.  Furthermore, they may have gotten the biggest steal in this year’s draft in Jared Sullinger, who slipped in the draft due to surfacing reports of concerns about his back.  Also, Jeff Green will be returning after sitting out last year following heart surgery.

Los Angeles Clippers

Getting Blake Griffin to commit to the franchise long term was huge.  Grant Hill will provide them a nice boost, too.  Even so, it will still take a lot of work for the Clippers to build on last season’s playoff run.  As long as Chris Paul continues his all-around brilliance, Griffin returns to health from his knee injury, and Chauncey Billups returns and stays healthy, they are a contender.  But given Billups’ age, and newly-acquired Lamar Odom’s flaky personality, this team’s success will be hard to predict.