The NBA free-agent season is in medias res, but because most of the top dogs have found new homes -- or returned to their old ones -- it's as good a time as any to take stock.
The NBA does a remarkable job of feeding its hoops-starved fans even after the championship parade is over. The draft follows soon after the Finals end. Then we reach July 1, the day the NBA calendar flips, and our attention turns to trades, offer sheets and cap space. Meanwhile, the summer leagues hit Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, giving us an early preview of incoming rookies and emergent fringe players. By August, things start to settle down, but, before you know it, training camp is here. Professional basketball has truly become a year-round proposition.
The hectic weeks after the league's transaction moratorium ends can make your head spin, so it's always good to take a snapshot of the league to get a sense of where things stand. That's what we're doing today by choosing some winners and losers from a free-agent season that isn't over. We're taking a snapshot.
Each free-agent signing adds wins to (or subtracts them from) a team's bottom line, and because there are only 1,230 wins to go around in a season, those wins are also subtracted from (or added to) the rest of the league. We chart those small changes in wins over the course of the summer, and these bottom-line changes in projected victories factor into the list of teams we're going to spotlight today.
Of course, there is a certain amount of art in declaring a team a winner or loser in this sense because some teams are positioning themselves more for long-term improvement than for the coming season. So the list is a mixture of subjective and objective criteria. Teams aren't being judged strictly on their possible jump in 2012-13 wins but instead more on how well they are executing their organizational plan by using -- or not using -- free agency. That assumes, of course, that the team has an organizational plan to begin with. Some teams make you wonder.
Retaining Deron Williams was huge and would make the Nets a winner in free agency even if they did nothing else. Remember, the Joe Johnson trade doesn't factor in because we're talking free agent-related activity here.
On that front, the Nets have retained Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries and lost Gerald Green. The possibility that the Nets eventually might use these assets to acquire Dwight Howard would make these moves look even better, but we've been dancing that dance for a long time.
In a summer in which the Pacers turned over their front office, incoming general manager Kevin Pritchard did a fine job of keeping together and tweaking a roster on the upswing. Keeping Roy Hibbert was imperative, and Indiana managed to work that out with having to deal with the limbo that goes with an offer sheet.
The Pacers picked a point guard by retaining George Hill on a reasonable, if long, contract. They added a high-quality backup center in Ian Mahinmi in a sign-and-trade deal that sent Darren Collison to Dallas. That move was debatable; it kind of depends on your opinion of Mahinmi, who was an unrestricted free agent. Indiana finished the puzzle by adding high-upside, low-cost bench players in Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin. Augustin immediately becomes the best playmaker on the roster.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are in win-now mode, and their acquisition of Steve Nash puts them back into title consideration. They have the downside that goes with any veteran roster, but Nash's ability to make everyone around him better is worth the risk. If L.A. ends up landing Antawn Jamison, its winner standing might be in jeopardy. OK, that's an exaggeration, but the Lakers are better off without him.
Rashard Lewis has to prove he's still a killer shot-maker from the frontcourt, and Ray Allen has to prove that his body isn't breaking down. But the Heat didn't lose anything from their title roster, so there is nothing but upside with those acquisitions. And there is a possibility that Miami could field one of the scariest teams we've seen in some time.
Other winners: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings
The Bulls have been cautious and cheap this offseason as they prepare for a season that mostly will be played without Derrick Rose. Kyle Korver was traded, so, technically, he doesn't fit into this article, but Chicago let C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer walk strictly for financial reasons. Kirk Hinrich is the only addition so far, and even that isn't official because Chicago has allowed its offseason to be placed on hold by the impending offer sheet Houston is going to give Omer Asik.
Right now, considering Rose's absence for at least half the coming season, the Bulls are headed for a low playoff seed in the East -- on paper. Tom Thibodeau probably will see to it that his team plays better than that, but that has nothing to do with free agency.
It's as simple as this: The Sixers let Louis Williams walk and replaced him with a markedly inferior player in Nick Young. Signing Kwame Brown and Royal Ivey doesn't exactly make up for that, especially because, with a creative offseason, Philly was poised to build off an exciting playoff run.
It was time to turn the page on Nash, but it's what has come since his departure that leaves you scratching your head. Goran Dragic is a worthy replacement for Nash, but that's the apex of Phoenix's offseason. The Suns signed underachiever Michael Beasley and claimed Luis Scola off amnesty waivers. You're looking at a roster where the best player is probably Marcin Gortat, who projects as about a six-win player.
They haven't added the kind of future assets you'd like to see a rebuilding team gather. When it comes to free agency, it's never wise to build with midpriced players, but that's what the Suns have done.
Other losers: Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors
The Mavericks were positioned to make a big splash in their pursuit of Deron Williams. It didn't work out. Instead of locking up a bunch of middling players in response, the Mavericks have loaded up on short-term contracts, retaining their flexibility for a future run at an elite player. The roster, as is, doesn't profile as a playoff-quality team. The overall plan remains sound, but there promise to be some short-term pains.
New York Knicks
The Knicks did well to retain J.R. Smith on a bargain contract. Steve Novak was a worthy retention, as well, although the dollars and length of his contract would be problematic on a thriftier team. Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd look good on paper, which is why New York stands second in the East in our summer projections, even after the loss of Jeremy Lin. This last bit of mismanagement is why the Knicks don't ascend to the winner's group.
Other treaders: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards
The Rockets' long-term plan is a good one: Find the franchise building block their roster has lacked since Yao Ming was injured. Adding Lin is a major boost to Houston's offseason outlook. However, there is still the impending offer sheet to Asik out there in limbo land, and a good bit of cap space Houston still has to play with. It's too soon to judge the Rockets' free-agent activity. The same holds true for the Timberwolves, our other incomplete mark, as the team is waiting on the outcome of Nicolas Batum's offer sheet.
Other incomplete: Minnesota Timberwolves