No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers replenished their front court by acquiring last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and NBA champion Marc Gasol. They also added guard Dennis Schröder to replace Rajon Rondo, and useful wing Wesley Matthews to fill Danny Green’s role. While the Lakers improved slightly, they also shifted from a dominant interior defensive style to a focused scoring game that will benefit the team when LeBron James has to sit. Schröder and Harrell were first and second, respectively, in bench scoring a year ago, and they also provide youthful grit that the organization hopes will add urgency. The Lakers also retained Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who enjoyed somewhat of an unlikely hero story in the playoffs and is important to the team’s chemistry, especially due to his 3-point shooting. As long as age has not withered James, the Lakers are still favorites to repeat.
No. 2: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets finally have the opportunity to make their run for glory with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the best and most controversial NBA players. After suffering an Achilles tendon tear in the 2019 NBA Finals, Durant’s rehab has been long and arduous, but he’s on a team that has enough talent to make up for any rust. Brooklyn brought back sharpshooter Joe Harris, who should have his best season yet with the new-look Nets, and signed Detroit Pistons guard Bruce Brown, an underrated combo guard with decent playmaking ability. Caris LeVert should continue to develop after surging throughout the last couple of seasons, while Irving has hopefully had enough rest to stay healthy. In addition, they shipped some of their draft picks for another dependable shooter in Landry Shamet, who could come off the bench and give them immediate scoring. In a league where star power is king, the Nets should pursue this opportunity, which if successful would make them clear title favorites, great chemistry or not.
No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers
After dropping a 3–1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, the Clippers’ season was dramatically cut short. Heading into the offseason, the team needed to find a ball distributor and playmaker at point guard to complement the duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They found no such player, but they retained Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson. The trade for Luke Kennard, who averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds and shot 40% from deep with the Pistons last year, adds some playmaking. Meanwhile, they signed Serge Ibaka who provides size, scoring, rim protection and the ability to stretch the floor. The Clippers also drafted center Daniel Oturu, another player well equipped to bolster their interior defense. The Clippers have a deadly crunch time offense and a potent defense, but if George doesn’t show up in the playoffs, which seems to be a trend, then the Clippers will fall short again. The Clippers have the third best duo in the league, which places them third on the list.
No. 4: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks had the best regular season record for the last two seasons, but their playoff shortcomings continue to haunt them. With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee up in the air, the Bucks had to make a choice this offseason. Small market teams never seem to keep the superstars in the long term, but the Bucks plunged in anyway by trading an enormous amount of capital for one of the most effective two-way guards in the league in Jrue Holiday. This move will bolster a team that already ranked first in defense, while burnishing the offense in a way that Eric Bledsoe could not. The Bucks also added D.J. Augustin, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, Torrey Craig and Nik Stauskas. But the really valuable move here is Torrey Craig, another body that they can throw at wing players to allow Antetokounmpo to focus on offense. Unfortunately, Milwaukee failed to complete the Bogdan Bogdanović trade, which is a debacle in its own right. Milwaukee’s fragility is palpable, and it seems this is their last-ditch effort to keep Antetokounmpo. It might work in the regular season, but reaching the finals will be another matter altogether.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets continued to exhibit their draft excellence by picking guard R.J. Hampton and forward Zeke Nnaji, two players who dropped lower than expected. However, this was the apex of their offseason as their free agency moves proved unimpressive. Signing JaMychal Green in order to replace Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig is not sufficient — especially on the defensive end. On the bright side, more minutes have been freed up for younger players to blossom like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. The likely path for the Nuggets is to maintain their core and develop their prospects into a team that can actually compete for a title in two-to-three years. Jamal Murray may have emerged as a superstar in the bubble, but we have yet to see him prolong that success over the course of a regular season. Denver has considerable potential, but they still rank a tier behind the Los Angeles teams.
No. 6: Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks will have a tremendous ceiling this season once Kristaps Porziņģis returns from injury. They drafted two swingmen in Josh Green and Tyler Bey and traded for Josh Richardson, which will fortify their two-way consistency. The Mavs ranked first in offensive rating, and needed to address their defense and toughness, which they mostly accomplished. Yet Dončić still needs to work on his defensive shortcomings and up his poor 31.6 3-point percentage in order for this team to reach its potential. Luckily, the Slovenian now has a protector in tenacious forward James Johnson, and they resigned Trey Burke to provide offense off the bench. Overall, Dallas has become a dangerous playoff team with its eyes on the future.
No .7: Miami Heat
With additions such as defensive guard Avery Bradley and forward Maurice Harkless, the Heat dialed up their defensive intensity without adding much to their offense. Nonetheless, many expected Miami to stall the contract extension for Bam Adebayo in order to save room for a possible Antetokounmpo signing when he enters free agency. Instead, they prioritized the versatile big man and gave Adebayo the maximum extension, committing him for the next five years. With this move, the Heat seem to distance themselves from the acrimony of the Antetokounmpo pursuit, which makes sense considering Miami just made the finals. Resigning Goran Dragić to a two-year deal and keeping Kelly Olynyk, who opted into the final year of his contract, strengthens a rotation that has proven it can defeat most teams in the East. They also got a steal in the draft in Precious Achiuwa, a rangy forward who should help fill the void left by Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr.
No. 8: Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers caught fire in the bubble, seeding games where they went 6–2. The bane for Portland was their defense, which ranked 27th and allowed superior teams to crush them (for example, the Lakers in the first round). On a positive note, their front court has remained top-notch as CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard remain in their primes. The Blazers fell drastically short of expectations last season and general manager Neil Olshey focused on bolstering the defense. The trade for Robert Covington, a 3 & D wing, establishes a balanced starting five. Moreover, signing Enes Kanter, Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles, while retaining Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood adds depth in scoring and athleticism. The Blazers have a talented nucleus, but their success comes down to whether Covington produces and Jusuf Nurkić stays healthy.
No. 9: Boston Celtics
General manager Danny Ainge has been criticized for his stasis in this free agency. Besides his unremarkable draft, the Celtics actually made some solid moves that exhibit Ainge’s refusal to plunge in on a mediocre player. The Celtics signed Tristan Thompson, who came off a good year with the lowly Cavaliers, averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds. With the addition of veteran point guard Jeff Teague, the Celtics’ new duo will bring experience and leadership that should help the young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue their development and make deeper playoff runs. Ainge also managed to dispense with Gordon Hayward and his cumbersome contract in a complicated sign and trade with the Charlotte Hornets that resulted in a $28.5 million trade exception for Boston. With this space, they could make a plethora of meaningful moves, possibly adding someone like Victor Oladipo while still reserving space for another impactful player.
No. 10: Golden State Warriors
The loss of All-Star guard Klay Thompson hampers the Warriors’ championship hopes, but they remain a highly competitive team in the West after an injury-plagued season. The Dubs drafted the 7-foot-1-inch James Wiseman second overall. Moreover, general manager Bob Myers traded for Kelly Oubre Jr. to replace Thompson. Oubre had a breakout season for Phoenix last year averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 35% from the 3. Golden State also strengthened their backcourt depth by adding Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker, who will provide meaningful minutes when Stephen Curry sits. The championship run for the Dubs has come to an end, but they still pose a threat as an offensive juggernaut.