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

Jake Weiner

Kevin-Durant-and-Russell-Westbrook

If you missed Part I of the professor’s off-season report cards, check it out here.

Minnesota Timberwolves

2012-13 record: 31-51 (12th)

Biggest departures: Andrei Kirilenko, David KAHHHHHHHHN

Biggest arrivals: Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammed

Analysis: Minnesota has made a lot of noise this summer. First, they finally got rid of former GM David Kahn. In Kahn’s tumultuous time in Minnesota, he somehow managed to alienate the superstar that he inherited (Kevin Love), draft two point guards in the same draft lottery (Ricky Rubio and Australian league superstar Johnny Flynn) and completely botch a #2 overall pick (Derrick Williams, I do not believe in you). Flip Saunders has replaced Kahn and got things started quickly by flipping the 8th pick (Trey Burke) in the draft to Utah for what turned into Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng, a sound move that added depth and potential. However, Kirilenko turned down his $10 million player option* and the Wolves chose to renounce him and agree to terms with an extension for Chase Budinger and a four year deal for sharpshooter Kevin Martin. While Minnesota desperately needed shooting, I don’t know if it was worth losing AK47. His defensive value was unmatched last season and Kevin Martin is a verifiable black hole. Even assuming Nikola Pekovic signs a deal to stay, I’m still worried about this team getting stops. If Pekovic walks, this grade suffers more.

Grade: C+

*-“what an iiiiiidiot!” -Wedding Crashers voice

New Orleans Pelicans

2012-13 record: 27-55 (14th)

Biggest departures: Robin Lopez, Greivis Vasquez

Biggest arrivals: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans

Analysis: It feels kinda good to write Pelicans; sue me. The Pels (definitely enjoying this) made a splash on draft night by flipping the sixth pick (Nerlens Noel) and a 2014 first rounder for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. They weren’t done yet, inking Tyreke Evans to a four year offer sheet before agreeing to a three team swap that moved Lopez and Vasquez out of town. I have mixed feelings about New Orleans’ off-season. I thought they overpaid for Holiday, but Noel was a franchise-killing risk that they swapped for an extremely young and talented point guard. However, if they can’t put it together this year, the 2014 pick they surrendered will be worth a lot. The Tyreke Evans move confuses more. The Pels already have Eric Gordon, who makes max money and is having trouble staying on the court. Why add another project wing for double digit millions? Now, the Pelicans have lost their big man depth and must rely on Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson to shore up the defense. Anderson is a strictly offensive player and Davis is still undersized at center. Moving Lopez was a risk that may only be mitigated if Anderson gets flipped, perhaps for defensive specialist Omer Asik. In total, I don’t hate this off-season for New Orleans because they added legitimate young talent as well as gave their fans reasons to be excited. Depending on what happens with Anderson, this grade could change.

Grade: B-

Oklahoma City Thunder

2012-13 record: 60-22 (1st)

Biggest departures: Kevin Martin

Biggest arrivals: Steven Adams

Analysis: The Thunder have done very little this off-season, which is mostly understandable. They have very little cap flexibility and can’t afford* to pay the luxury tax like big market franchises. Steven Adams is only a big arrival because any minutes he steals from Kendrick Perkins should help the team, if only because Kendrick Perkins isn’t playing basketball for them. The Thunder chose to let Martin walk, which was probably the right choice given the circumstances. He can’t play any defense and he commands more money than he’s worth in the sixth man role he filled last season. However, the departure of Martin and arrival of Adams serve to prove how badly GM Sam Presti screwed up by trading James Harden to H-Town for a couple picks and Martin. Martin’s gone, and the best pick turned into Steven Adams. Don’t fall over yourselves in joy, Thunder fans.

Grade: C

*- YEAH RIGHT! I don’t believe this shit. They could’ve paid Harden.

Phoenix Suns

2012-13 record: 25-57 (15th)

Biggest departures: Jared Dudley

Biggest arrivals: Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len

Analysis: The Suns have been relatively quiet, but their one major move really stood out to me. While Jared Dudley is a productive wing who can really help the Clippers contend, he had no value to a rock-bottom rebuilding team like Phoenix. By flipping him for energetic young point guard Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix has found a real potential future prize. Bledsoe wreaked havoc off the bench last year, tallying up stats in every category as he led the league’s best second unit. Now that he’s not behind Chris Paul, Bledsoe will have more room to grow and mature into a lethal point or combo guard, depending how Phoenix sees him and incumbent Goran Dragic. Len may have been a riskier pick than Noel or Ben McLemore, but the new Suns’ front office liked the potential they saw in him and rolled the dice. In one summer, Phoenix may have added the PG and C of their future.

Grade: A-

Portland Trail Blazers

2012-13 record: 33-49 (11th)

Biggest departures: J.J. Hickson

Biggest arrivals: Robin Lopez, CJ McCollum

Analysis: Portland had a promising starting five last year but literally no depth. I’m not kidding, Stavi could’ve snagged a few bench minutes on the wings. They drafted combo guard CJ McCollum from Lehigh who they want to pair with reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, something of a combo guard himself. Furthermore, Rip City took advantage of a three way trade and landed Robin Lopez for virtually nothing. This was a strong move. There’s value to a 12-6 guy who can block shots and defend the rim; he should fit nicely with LaMarcus Aldridge*. I expect Portland to improve, but they’ll have to do more than this if they want to contend in the Western Conference.

Grade: B+

*- Aldridge reportedly asked to be traded to Chicago, but the Bulls won’t budge on Joakim Noah. Good. Aldridge would be terrific in Chicago but Noah is the Bulls’ second most important player.

Sacramento Kings

2012-13 record: 28-54 (13th)

Biggest departures: Tyreke Evans, the Maloofs*

Biggest arrivals: Greivis Vasquez, Carl Landry, new owners/GM/coach

Analysis: The Kings have been the laughingstock of the NBA for a decade or so. With the Maloofs at last selling the team, it’s finally over. The new ownership group brought in a smart GM and hired highly regarded Warriors’ assistant Mike Malone as the head coach. The first big decisions the new group would have to make is whether to build around Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins or deal them and their baggage. Their hand might’ve been forced, but the Kings elected not to match New Orleans’ $44 million offer and agreed to a sign and trade that landed the Kings a solid PG in Vasquez and some draft picks. Word is, however, that the team wants to resign Cousins to an extension. He wants big money, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Only a few moves have been made, but the new ownership group in Sacramento is universes better than the pathetic Maloofs.

Grade: B+

*- the Maloofs were legitimately the worst owners in NBA history.

San Antonio Spurs

2012-13 record: 58-24 (2nd)

Biggest departures: none

Biggest arrivals: Marco Belinelli

Analysis: The Spurs have dished out some serious cash to keep the band together. And why not? Although they’re considered the old warriors of the NBA, outside of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are quite young. Tony Parker is still in his prime and Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and other key contributors are very young. The Spurs locked up Splitter to a four year, $36 million extension, which is a lot*. Big men get paid in the NBA though, and the Spurs have spent far too long developing Splitter into Duncan’s perfect sidekick to let him walk now. Splitter is young, talented and big; those guys get paid. The Spurs also brought back Manu on a two year, $14 million deal, which isn’t exactly a hometown discount. Regardless, he had to stay. Finally, they snatched Marco Belinelli, former Chicago Bull, on a relatively cheap two year deal. If the Spurs can’t retain Gary Neal (restricted free agent), Belinelli should do well to replace him. The Spurs have brought back the whole rotation from last year’s team that was seconds from capturing a championship. Can’t hate.

Grade: B+

*- too much for me. I wouldn’t have necessarily let Splitter walk, but the Spurs struck quickly to lock him up. They couldn’t have shaved off a few milli?

Utah Jazz

2012-13 record: 43-39 (9th)

Biggest departures: Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Randy Foye

Biggest arrivals: Brandon Rush, massive contracts

Analysis: The Jazz decided to plan for 2014. Given the situation, it’s hard to blame them. Millsap and Jefferson were both unrestricted free agents and the Jazz decided they’d rather develop Derrick Favors* and Enes Kanter than shell out big bucks to get slaughtered in the first round again. This was expected. What really surprised everyone was taking on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to give Golden State the cap space to ink Andre Iguodala. Utah snagged a couple first round picks by doing this, but it’s gotta be tough to swallow for Jazz fans. They have no chance of making the playoffs next year but are set up really nicely for the future. There’s probably not a better way they could’ve transitioned from a borderline playoff team to punching a lottery ticket.

Grade: B

*- big Favors fan. He’s a freak.

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