Western Conference Early Off-Season Report Cards, by Professor Weiner

Jake Weiner

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While teams and players can’t officially ink agreements until Wednesday, July 10th, the majority of the off-season’s flurry of moves have already occurred. It looks like we know where most of the major free agents are going and with the draft behind us, the insanity is sure to begin subsiding soon. Consequentially, now is as good as time as any to check in on how teams are improving or strategically stripping down (aka tanking) their rosters. Today I’ll cover half of the Western Conference.

Dallas Mavericks

2012-13 record: 41-41 (10th in conference)

Biggest departures: OJ Mayo, Darren Collison

Biggest arrivals: Devin Harris, Jose Calderon

Analysis: Dallas wanted to take a home run swing at Chris Paul and/or Dwight Howard, and came up short on both. Dwight considered Dallas, but ultimately found his home in a different Texas city. After dismantling his 2011 title team for a shot at big free agents now, Mark Cuban must face the reality that he’s been left with nothing but cap space. Cuban acted quickly after Howard’s rejection, locking up veteran Spainard Jose Calderon for four years and $28 million. After letting Mayo and Collison walk, Cuban shored up his other guard hole with Devin Harris at the fair price of three years and $9 million. Harris will be productive on a small deal, but you have to wonder why Cuban would guarantee more money to the 31 year old Calderon than 26 year old OJ Mayo* received in Milwaukee. While Mayo wasn’t a perfect fit last year, he’s unlikely to regress during this contract. Calderon is riskier.

Grade: B- (Dallas still has cap space and moves on its mind. This is more of an incomplete.)

*-honestly though, fuck OJ Mayo.

Denver Nuggets

2012-13 record: 57-25 (3rd)

Biggest departures: Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, George Karl

Biggest arrivals: J.J. Hickson, Brian Shaw

Analysis: After yet another disappointing first round exit, Denver has faced a tumultuous summer. Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri was wooed to Toronto for greener pa$tures and George Karl, freshly minted Coach of the Year, was promptly fired. While firing the COY is ludicrous on the surface, the award is really meant to honor the coach who exceeded expectations the most*. While Karl did a great job in the regular season, the playoffs were all too familiar. Furthermore, the shake-up in Denver’s front office was bound to have ripples. As a replacement, Shaw is an excellent choice who has been extremely well-respected league-wide and interviewed for several head-coaching vacancies. This reminds me of when no one would hire Tom Thibodeau. Aren’t you glad Gar took a chance on him? Anyway, Denver lost Iggy, which really isn’t their fault. He took $48 million to play in Golden State even though reports had Denver offering $50 million+ and/or a fifth year. Iguodala wanted a fresh start and Denver must adjust without him. The Nuggets replaced Kosta Koufos with J.J. Hickson for three years, $15 million. That contract is fair enough, but why sign another defensively challenged big man behind Kenneth Faried (young) and JaVale McGee (stupid)? Yes, JaVale has super long arms, but his on/off court numbers point to his sub-par defense. The Nuggets are apparently interested in a couple more key free agents, and are in the process of acquiring a trade exception in a sign and trade for Iguodala.

Grade: C+, with room for improvement

*-which is stupid as fuck.

Golden State Warriors

2012-13 record: 47-35 (6th)

Biggest departures: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, horrible contracts

Biggest arrivals: Andre Iguodala

Analysis: Jack and Landry were vital parts of Golden State’s rebirth into a legitimate team. After upsetting Andre Iguodala and Denver in the first round, the Dubs took San Antonio to six in a great series. With a bang, the Warriors showed that their offensive attack was legit. Klay Barnes and Steph Curry, especially, were unstoppable at times, draining three after three. Ultimately, Andrew Bogut couldn’t get stops alone and Golden State’s defense wasn’t good enough to advance. In addressing that need this summer, the Warriors dumped millions in salary (Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson) to Utah in exchange for picks. They then were able to use this money to sign elite perimeter defender Andre Iguodala. The addition of Iggy’s defense and passing are unmistakably huge and mitigate the loss of Jack’s play-making and, to a lesser extent, Landry’s scoring. This team could be a title contender after one more move.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets

2012-13 record: 45-37 (8th)

Biggest departures: Carlos Delfino, Thomas Robinson, Royce White

Biggest arrivals: Dwight Howard

Analysis: This one is simple. Obviously, adding four-time Defensive Play of the Year and perennial All-Star Dwight Howard is an enormous addition to the Rockets. He shouldn’t hinder their elite offense and instantly improves Houston’s defense enormously. Another way to consider this: Houston and the Lakers had the same record last year. Only one of those teams had Howard. Without losing any key contributors (yet), Houston has vaulted itself into the title conversation. There’s still wiggle room, too. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik have long been rumored on the block and could be moved before the season begins. Asik, the former starting center, has put in a trade request that will likely be ignored. Coach Kevin McHale is excited to work with Howard, and as a Hall of Fame big man himself, why wouldn’t he be? The Rockets are already in the title conversation and could become downright scary if Asik and Lin are moved for the right pieces (Ryan Anderson was an elite fit with Howard back in Orlando).

Grade: A

Los Angeles Clippers

2012-13 record: 56-26 (4th)

Biggest departures: Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler, Vinny Del Negro

Biggest arrivals: J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Doc Rivers

Analysis: The Clippers finally fired the lifeless bag of skin that is affectionately known as Vinny Del Negro. VDN isn’t a terrible coach. He just barely coaches. Chris Paul was running the team for better or for worse, and the player-coach only took them so far. Furthermore, friction arose between star Blake Griffin and Paul, probably because Griffin didn’t like being coached by a player*. With top notch coach Doc Rivers in town, it’s safe to say the Clips are looking good this summer. As Eric Bledsoe plays behind Chris Paul and only has one year left before hitting free agency (restricted), LA decided to move him now and acquired Redick and Dudley in a three way trade. The Clippers greatly improved their wing depth with this move, adding a lights out shooter and plus defender in Redick and an all-around contributor in Dudley. Both players should start. I expect Doc to shore up the defense as much as he can, but they’re still deficient on the wings and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan don’t terrify too many teams down low. All in all, a great summer for the Clippers.

Grade: A

*-what a diva.

Los Angeles Lakers

2012-13 record: 45-37 (7th)

Biggest departures: Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant’s health

Biggest arrivals: none

Analysis: Not a great summer for LA’s other, more famous team. After a kind of pathetic effort to keep Dwight in town, he ultimately decided to leave for the tax-free, stripper heavy, almost-as-big-a-market Houston. For the record, I’m totally on board with Dwight’s decision. He met with a five suitors, listened to what they to had say and then took his time to privately make a choice. After landing on Houston, Dwight flew to LA and told GM Mitch Kupchak that he was leaving. Regardless of what the national media was reporting, it seems like Dwight made an educated career decision and informed his former employer first. Anyway, this really hurts the Lakers. Even with Dwight last year, age caught up in Lakerland and they barely made the playoffs. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are another year older, and Kobe Bryant is coming off a devastating Achilles injury that could realistically keep him out until 2014 or the whole season*. Without many options in front of them, the Lakers are either going to have to trade Pau for fifty cents on the dollar or sit tight through a likely lottery season anyway. I doubt they’ll amnesty Kobe, but it would save a SHIT TON OF MONEY.

Grade: C-

*-Of course, Kobe could slap up a 20-5-5 on opening night and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Memphis Grizzlies

2012-13 record: 56-26 (5th)

Biggest departures: Darrell Arthur, Lionel Hollins

Biggest arrivals: Kosta Koufos, Dave Joerger (promoted from assistant)

Analysis: The Grizz made their franchise-altering moves during the 2012-13 season. John Hollinger, analytic king and inventor of PER, was snatched away from ESPN.com and put to work in Memphis’ front office. It didn’t take long to make a big splash; Memphis traded “star” Rudy Gay for a bunch of spare parts, basically. For the record, I think Ed Davis is good and don’t understand why Lionel Hollins buried him on the bench; it’s probably part of the reason why he’s gone. This massive trade opened up the Grizzlies’ offense and allowed Mike Conley Jr. and DPOY Marc Gasol to shine more. Even though San Antonio smacked them down in a sweep, Memphis still made its first conference finals! This is a big deal! Joerger, often credited as the architect of Memphis’ defense, was promoted from within to replace the polarizing Hollins. A sneaky trade for Koufos was swung, and I like him as a back-up for Gasol. Bringing back Tony Allen was a bit expensive but probably necessary. He’s a franchise hero and a phenomenal character/locker room guy. I like what Memphis is doing.

Grade: B+

PART 2 OF THE WESTERN CONFERENCE WILL RUN TOMORROW.

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