In this penultimate chapter of our off-season grades we’ll examine the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets and San Antonio Spurs. For the first four parts, check out our reviews for the Atlantic, Central, Southeast and Pacific Divisions. Tomorrow will be the Northwest Division. Once again, for the newcomers, here are the rules:
1. Rather than a standard A through F grade or going for a scale of 1-10, we shall use a system that my friend Noriko loves: -5 through +5. It helps differentiate things a bit more, ‘cuz like if a team gets a C-, it’s better than an F, but is it good? With this scale, you can instead give the team a +1, which shows that they improved the team, but only marginally. Or maybe they get a zero ‘cuz they didn’t hurt the team or help it.
2. These grades are not, I repeat, NOT, about how good teams will be. It’s purely about how good their summer moves were. For instance, the Sacramento Kings may get a higher grade than say the Orlando Magic, but that doesn’t mean I’m insane and think the Kings will be better than the Magic. It simply means I like the Kings’ draft of DeMarcus Cousins more than the Magic’s signings of Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon (although I haven’t fully examined those teams yet, so I dunno what grades they’ll get).
3. The grades are not just based on how good the players are, but also their contracts. Joe Johnson is definitely a top 30 player, but with Atlanta giving him $120 million/6 yrs, the largest contract of anyone this summer, his signing turns into a negative.
4. Grades will be scaled based on what each team could have done. Meaning the Lakers, a team over the salary cap, get major kudos for snagging Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and bringing back Shannon Brown with their limited financial flexibility, but if say the Knicks, with all their cap space, had only made those moves, I’d pan ‘em.
5. Fit matters. I like Kirk Hinrich a ton, and had he gone to the Pacers (a team that desperately needed a point guard before the Collison trade), I would’ve raved about the move. However, Washington acquiring him is a bit odd considering they already have PGs in John Wall and Gilbert Arenas.
Dallas Mavericks – They get no points for keeping Dirk Nowitzki since he wasn’t going anywhere, but they do get credit for getting him to sign for less than the max in order to make it less of a financial strain to get more help. The Mavs then smartly signed Brendan Haywood to a relatively reasonable long-term contract, shoring up the middle. However, they then used their big trading chip, Eric Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract, to get Tyson Chandler. Not only does Chandler replicate the exact same things that Haywood does, but Haywood has a history of not being as effective when he’s in a platoon. He never fully shone during those years in Washington when he and Etan Thomas split time at center. Only once Thomas missed a season did Haywood fully emerge. Likewise, he was at his best for the Mavs last year when Damp got injured and was out. Once Dampier returned, Haywood never seemed quite as effective. Some players play better if there’s competition for minutes, but for whatever reason, Haywood clearly seems the opposite. Even if he proves he’s changed and has a top season, the trade for Chandler still appears unlikely to really push them to the next level. Personally, although their defense would’ve suffered, I think they should’ve traded Damp for Al Jefferson. They didn’t really make any other significant moves, and with so many teams improving, if ya ain’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards. While young Roddy Beaubois may improve (after he heals), that could be cancelled out by Jason Kidd’s continual slow decline. The team will once again be very good, but even they themselves probably don’t think they’ve got a shot at winning it all. They need another typical Mavs big mid-season trade to give them hope.
Houston Rockets – They managed to keep Luis Scola, which was big. However, they way-overpaid to keep backup point guard Kyle Lowry. As a result they had to scuttle Trevor Ariza and got the underrated Courtney Lee in return. They also paid solid money for Brad Miller, but considering Yao Ming’s injury history, if Miller ends up having to start, it was a bargain. Plus with Miller having played for Coach Adelman before in Sacramento, he should seamlessly fit in. Without knowing if Yao will make it through this season, let alone be able to remain the corner stone of their franchise, they were wise to not make any more moves. They’ve gotta see if Yao can remain injury-free and how he works with last year’s big mid-season acquisition Kevin Martin before they can fully assess what their strengths and weaknesses are. Oh, and with Miller in the fold, it was nice that they were able to pawn last year’s uninspiring backup center, David Andersen, on the Raptors.
Memphis Grizzlies – Many people felt the Grizz overpaid to keep Rudy Gay, but considering how cheap the franchise has been, it was a pleasant surprise. Rather than wait to see what other teams would offer him on the open market and then just matching it, they were proactive and told him how much they wanted to keep him from day one. And compared to Joe Johnson’s deal, they got Gay for a steal. Also, unlike Johnson, Gay is still pretty young and thus highly likely to improve at least a little bit (if not a bunch). Unfortunately after showing positive financial vibes of appreciation for their players, they then undid all that good work by their bizarre current haggling with rookie draft pick Xavier Henry. They’re insisting that Henry make the All-Rookie team in order to get his bonus, which is something that’s never been done by any team in the past. They lost Ronnie Brewer to the Bulls, but they made up for it by acquiring defensive stud Tony Allen from Boston at a reasonable price (which makes it all the more baffling that the Celts didn’t match the offer). Considering this team looked like it would lose Gay and take a big step backwards, the fact that they were able to maintain status quo is a plus. And just the natural maturation of Gay, OJ Mayo and Mike Conley should allow this team to improve a bit too.
New Orleans Hornets – They seem to have assuaged Chris Paul’s desire to leave, which is a huge move. Yes, if the team starts off poorly or if management makes any more moves that are purely to cut salary, then Paul will want out again, but for now, the storm has calmed. In fact, if Marcus Thornton continues to improve on his impressive rookie season last year, this could actually be the best Hornets team Paul has had. On the other hand, the trade that netted them Trevor Ariza (and thus a happy Paul) also required them to give up perhaps the most talented individual in the 5-player deal in Darren Collison. Should Paul remain unhappy and leave, they’ll regret having shipped out his perfect replacement. Still, they had to make a move, and if it ends up keeping Paul as a Hornet for life, it’ll be the best trade the ever made.
Grade: +2 (if Paul ends up going, then this probably will turn into a -1)
San Antonio Spurs – They might have had trouble assimilating Richard Jefferson on the court last year, but clearly they got him to commit to the Spurs’ team-first mentality off the court. He agreed to take a lower salary in order to help the team avoid the luxury tax, and in return he got a long-term deal. With Tim Duncan fading and Tony Parker on the final year of his contract, the Spurs don’t have many options but to just go for it one last time. If Jefferson can find his groove, and Parker can avoid the injuries he had last year, they could be a better stronger team, particularly with backup George Hill proving he belongs in the league. Their one improvement is finally bringing over their 2007 draft pick, 6’11”, 25 year old, NBA-ready Tiago Splitter. One could argue that he’ll provide a bigger boost than anyone they could’ve gotten with their mid-level exception. Then again, one could argue that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have used at least some of it to get another backup at the swing position. And since Splitter was drafted in 2007, can they really get credit for him this summer? Without him, they stayed the same. Sounds like a big ol’…
If you want to see how we think these teams will stack up against each other during the season, look at our Western Conference Playoff Preview.