Stampler's Take: Grading the NBA Off-Season, Part 2

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

BREAKING NEWS: Dwight Howard took his farts, terrible impressions, air-balled free throws, village of illegitimate children talents to Houston. You won't believe this, but I don't think it's going to work out. Also, a look at the Nugs, Mavs, Dubs, Pistons and Pacers. Bad GM's ahoy!

I'm going to rehash and grade (note: subjective, arbitrary and meaningless) every team's off-season, covering six teams at a time. If any major moves happen to teams I've already covered, I'll add postscripts both to whatever group of clubs I'm writing at the time and to the original columns that covers those teams in question.

Abbreviations: D = Draft pick (only concerning myself with first-rounders), FA = Free agent, T = Trade

Dallas Mavericks: D

Gained: SG Monta Ellis (FA, Bucks), SG Wayne Ellington (FA, Cavs), PG Jose Calderon (FA, Pistons), PG Shane Larkin (D)

Lost: C Chris Kaman (FA, Lakers), SG O.J. Mayo (FA, Bucks), PF Elton Brand (FA, Hawks), PG Darren Collison (FA, Clippers), SG Anthony Morrow (FA, Pelicans), SF Jared Cunningham (T, Hawks)

Up In Air: PG Devin Harris (FA, Hawks)

I think this sums up the Mavs off-season far better than anything I could write...

Man, Dirk is awesome. In fact, lets just start today's column with another list...

Stampler's List of 10 Current NBA Players He Wishes Were Spurs

1. Dirk Nowitzki, SF Mavericks

2. Andrei Kirilenko, SF Timberwolves (LOL)

3. Luis Scola, PF Suns

4. Rajon Rondo, PG Celtics

5. Ersan Ilyasova, PF Bucks

6. Omer Asik, C Rockets

7. Goran Dragic, PG Suns

8. Andre Iguodala, SF Warriors

9. Nate Robinson, PG Bulls

10. Chandler Parsons, SF Rockets

Seriously though, remember when the Mavs were a thing? Those were the days. Now they're just this directionless, middling also-ran, collecting random useless point guards like Monopoly real estate cards during those McDonald's promotions.

They signed Calderon, who cannot play defense, even remotely. They signed Harris, who never came close to reaching his promise. [Postscript: Actually, that deal may have fallen through, so Dirk's tweet may be moot. Nobody seems to know for sure.] They drafted Barry Larkin's kid from Miami. They signed some Israeli point named Gel Mekel. It's like Mark Cuban looked at the Spurs roster and thought to himself, "Well, they have a whole slew of crappy backup point guards and they contend year after year, so I should copy that," without realizing that the starter is very, very good.

UPDATE: The Mavs also signed Monta Ellis, meaning that they're going to have one of those midget backcourts where neither guy plays a lick of defense. If you listen closely you can hear Tony Parker's giggling. Ellis was so geeked about joint this up-and-coming franchise that he fired his agent.

Point guards and crappy one-dimensional chuckers who fired their agents aside (totally smooth save, right?) it seems that nobody wants to play for these guys. My baseless theory? I think players find Cuban a bit creepy. Again, I have nothing to substantiate this on, it's just a hunch. Anyway, the Mavs chased bigs like Andrew Bynum [postscript: Nope] and Samuel Dalembert and are probably lottery bound once more, and it's enough to almost make you feel sorry for Nowitzki before you remember 2006 and hey he already has a ring anyway so who cares, right?

(Watch, somehow Nowitzki will find a way to get traded for Chris Bosh and you're just going to barf for a week straight.)

Denver Nuggets: D-

Gained: PF J.J. Hickson (FA, Trail Blazers), PF Darrell Arthur (T, Grizzlies), G Randy Foye (T, Jazz)

Lost: SF Andre Iguodala (T, Warriors), C Kosta Koufos (T, Grizzlies), SF Corey Brewer (T, Timberwolves)

Speaking of depressing, I give you the Nugs, who lost their GM Masai Ujiri to the Raptors because ownership didn't want to pony up the cash for him, who lost their coach George Karl and then lost their best player in Iguodala and their starting center in Koufos.

First, the good news: I've always thought Karl was tremendously overrated. This might be a politically incorrect thing to say, but I've always thought that 90 percent of the good press he's gotten these past few years is because of his health issues with cancer. I have nothing against the man, I just don't think he's all that good of a coach, especially in playoff situations where the opponent has time to focus on just his team and their particular gimmicky style of play.

In fact, here's Baseless Theory No. 2: I think there are certain coaches that Pop genuinely respects as adversaries and others, like Mike Brown, who he talks up because he thinks deep inside, "As long as THAT GUY stays in the league, the easier my job is gonna be." I'm not saying that Pop was sending limos to make sure that Karl got to the arena on time or anything, but my guess is he thought of Karl as being closer to the Brown side of the spectrum than, say, Phil Jackson.

Okay, now the bad news. I think Iguodala is actually underrated as a player. He was so overrated for a while as a Sixer that there was too much of a backlash and now he's underrated. His shooting percentages from both the charity stripe and downtown sagged last season, but I think that's just a blip and he'll be better than that going forward. His passing is a lot better than people give him credit for and whatever his wonky shooting takes away from his teams, he makes up for on the other end with his defense.

The Nuggets still have enough pieces that they're probably going to sneak into the postseason as a seventh or eighth seed, but even to accomplish that much they'll need Danilo Gallinari to recover fast from his ACL tear and to regain his form and for Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee and Ty Lawson to stay healthy as well. If Gallinari isn't ready, then Evan Fournier will have to step up. Really though, giving up their spot to the T-Pups or the Pelicans wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for this floundering bunch.

Detroit Pistons: B

Gained: PF Josh Smith (FA, Hawks), PG Chauncey Billups (FA, Clippers), SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (D), F Gigi Datome (Italy)

Lost: PG Jose Calderon (FA, Mavericks)

Kept: PG Will Bynum

What a mishmashed roster GM Joe Dumars has built up there in the D. It's like he was a fantasy owner in a 12-team league who forgot to draft a point guard until the 10th round. [Postscript: They thought signing Billups was a good idea.] Don't these guys have any cap money to chase a Jeff Teague or Brandon Jennings? There are like, eight power forwards there now I think, so it's a good thing they signed a guy like Smith who's renowned for his shooting stroke. For these guys to ever have any prayer of building something both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are going to have to develop something fierce, but I fail to see how Smith will help that process along at all since the paint will be clogged even more. I suppose the Pistons will try to push the pace and be a transition team a la the Nugs, but can you really do that with all these bigs?

I sincerely hope I never have to type the words "Kentavious Caldwell-Pope" ever again because that's simply a ridiculous name, but I guess I could always make lame, tired "Are you down with KCP? Yeah you know me" jokes to show the world that I'm an old white guy.

Also, they signed a fellow named Luigi "Diti" Datome from Italy, which just reeks of desperation. I mean, bringing over a 25-year-old Italian League MVP, who goes by a shortened, nickname version of his original first name? Pffft. As if that will ever work. Good luck, Pistons.

Golden State Warriors: A-

Gained: SF Andre Iguodala (T, Nuggets), PF Marreese Speights (FA, Cavs), PG Toney Douglas (FA, Kings), C Jermaine O'Neal (FA, Suns), SG Nemanja Nedovic (D)

Lost: G Jarrett Jack (FA, Cavaliers), PF Carl Landry (FA, Kings), SF Richard Jefferson (T, Jazz), C Andris Biedrins (T, Jazz), SG Brandon Rush (T, Jazz)

The most intriguing team of the off-season so far, the Warriors completely remade the back half of their roster, turning the heinous contracts of Jefferson and Biedrins into a terrific two-way player in Iguodala who will complement their go-go-go open, fastbreak style and allow them to be Miami's smallball answer in the Western Conference, albeit without trivial "best player on the planet" component.

Iggy will fit because he's the kind of personality that will work to fit. I'm not worried about him at all. What does concern me is what this means for a couple of incumbents in second-year small forward Harrison Barnes and power forward David Lee. My Baseless Theory No. 3 is that the Warriors would love to move Lee if they could, to really embrace their small-ball destiny with Iguodala and Barnes both starting, but he's got a contract that's a bit exorbitant.

Still, that's a heckuva roster they're putting together in Oakland, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut rounding out the starters and all these serviceable guys on the bench and a fascinating development since going into the off-season most pundits had the Dubs regressing due to the fact that they were a cap-strapped club that figured to be losing their two main bench cogs in Landry and Jack in free agency. However, owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers were undaunted and found a way to clear up a bunch of cap room, and ironically acquired Iguodala mostly because they hoped it would lure Dwight Howard to the bay. It didn't work, but hey not a bad consolation prize.

Will they regret sending first-rounder picks in 2014 and 2017 (and a pair of second-rounders) to the Jazz? Well, the old, perennially lottery-bound Warriors would've. The current incarnation though looks to have a few years of drafting in the 20-30 range though, so those picks won't be missed as much. Then again, we're talking about a franchise whose hopes rest on Curry's tissue paper ankle tendons. It's gonna be hilarious when the Jazz land Andrew Wiggins and I wind up looking like a dope.

Houston Rockets: B-

Gained: C Dwight Howard (FA, Lakers), SF Omri Casspi (FA, Cavaliers)

Lost: SG Carlos Delfino (waived), PG Aaron Brooks (waived), PF Thomas Robinson (traded, Trail Blazers), PF Royce White (T, Sixers), SF James Anderson (waived, claimed by Sixers)

Kept: SG Francisco Garcia

I like to think I'm objective, I really do, and it's well-documented that I have a bias against Howard, but I'm really struggling to understand why so many people think this was such a slam-dunk move for the Rockets and how they're like these automatic contenders now. It just doesn't make sense to me for so many reasons.

1. He fancies himself as this guy who can play in this four-down offense a la the '94 Rockets and the '94 Knicks where he'll just be posting up with four three-point shooters around him, and the Magic were actually kind of like that for a couple of seasons after their one trip to the Finals with him (but not during -- and this is important-- I'll get to this in a sec).

However, that's not really his strength. All the Synergy stats say he's actually much better in the pick-and-roll than as a post guy, and it doesn't suit James Harden's game or Jeremy Lin's (or Patrick Beverley's) game at all to be these catch-and-shoot guys when they like to play fast, use the pick-and-roll, and attack the rim. If Howard wants to post up a bunch in a slowed down half-court game with the Rockets, he's in for a rude awakening and he's going to quickly run into the same issues complaining about his role, his touches and his coach in Houston that he's had in his previous two stops.

2. He wants to be the man, the unquestioned alpha dog on his team. Well guess what? Harden's the man. He got a taste of finally being able to run his own team last season, quickly developed into a top-10 player (at least offensively) and is unquestionably the top two-guard in the West now, if not the entire league. He's going to give up that status for a whiny doofus who loves to fart and who was mentally psyched out by noted playoff stalwart Matt Bonner? Please. There's going to be friction there.

3. His offensive game is not going to develop anymore. Look, he's 27 and he's been in the league for nine years, okay? At this point, he is what he is. All this stuff about having Kevin McHale as a coach who can teach him post moves and being close to Hakeem Olajuwon is just so much bunk. Howard worked under Patrick Ewing for years and years in Orlando and guess what? He doesn't have a 15-foot jumper in his arsenal does he? Howard is too musclebound to ever have a fluid and coordinated post game. He can't shoot. Like, at all. He's got a few clunky post moves, more than his critics give him credit for anyway, but he's never going to be anymore polished in that regard than Shaq was, and O'Neal was considerably bigger and stronger than the 6'10" Howard. Also, as long as Duh-white keeps shooting at a 50-percent clip at the line and people know he's got a balky back and chronic shoulder woes, he's going to keep getting hammered -- hard -- by people. And by now the whole league knows you can get under his skin and in his head easily. We're dealing with basically a child here.

4. Forget about Howard and Omer Asik ever being on the same team in some Twin Towers setup. It's never going to happen. For one, Asik has made it clear he wants to be moved now. For another, they'd have no room in the paint to operate together because neither of them can make a shot outside of two feet. Finally, it'd be a mess defensively because neither guy is all that comfortable going out in the perimeter to check somebody. Asik is a goner.

5. This is gonna hamper Chandler Parsons' development. Parsons, a former second-round pick, is a guy who, similar to Kawhi Leonard, is growing more and more comfortable with the ball in his hands and is developing his game slowly-but-surely. The absolute worst thing you can do to him is to have a high-usage guy like Howard in the post taking his touches and turning Parsons into a strict catch-and-shoot wing like Ryan Anderson. Parsons needs to be the guy using those pick-and-rolls, giving Harden a breather every third possession and expanding his skills, not somebody being squeezed into being a one-dimensional role player.

6. People don't understand how much help Howard had on that 2009 Magic team that went to the Finals. Hedo Turkoglu basically played the best basketball of his career that postseason (check out the game log), turning if not quite into '05 Ginobili than at least the '07 version. Rashard Lewis also was a monster those same playoffs. That team wasn't a four-down offense. Turkoglu had the ball in his hands on just about every critical possession, playing the high screen roll. Once Turkoglu left in free agency, they became more of a 1-4 offense, and while that got them a bunch of three pointers and cleared the paint for Howard to operate somewhat, they never got back to the Finals.

7. I don't think he's the same guy defensively anymore. Howard still led the league in rebounding last season, but I think he's lost just enough of his trademark quickness/athleticism/leap that he can't quite cover for four terrible defensive teammates singlehandedly on every half-court possession night in and night out for 35-plus minutes a game like he did with Orlando. He doesn't want to get out there on the perimeter on those pick-and-rolls, and he's not nearly smart enough to make up for the lost athleticism as the Spurs series showed. The Rockets traded away Robinson and have no real power forwards to him either and by all indications are planning on playing small with four wretched defenders around him. I'm sure Harden, Parsons and Lee are all thinking "Sweet, we won't have to play any defense at all, we've got Dwight to be the defense/rebound guy and he can just outlet to us for all these fast breaks!" while Howard is thinking, "Sweet, I'm going to be the man here, get 30 post touches in the half-court a night and average 28 and 14 with all these three-point shooters around me and no ball-hogs like Kobe and none of that seven-seconds-or-less garbage."

It's gonna be hilarious. They should've just stuck with Asik, who at this point is the more dogged, versatile and intelligent defender than the foul-prone Howard, and who still has a while before he reaches his peak. Unlike Howard, Asik doesn't demand all these touches and shots and is content being the defense/rebounding guy. The Rockets should've used their cap space on somebody like Iguodala who would've been perfect for them, or even Kirilenko. Instead they've ruined their team.

Indiana Pacers: C+

Gained: PG C.J. Watson (FA, Nets), SF Chris Copeland (FA, Knicks), SF Solomon Hill (D)

Lost: PF Tyler Hansbrough (FA, Raptors), PF Jeff Pendergraph (FA, Spurs)

Kept: PF David West

Up In Air: PG D.J. Augustin

No big moves here for the Pacers, but they've upgraded themselves --their woeful bench in particular-- just from the simple fact that Danny Granger will be around again next season to give them a super sixth man. Solomon Hill might also help them as a eighth or ninth man, who knows, and if not Copeland will be. Watson is a lot better than Augustin, though he did not have a good playoff series last season vs. the Bulls. Losing Hansbrough is mostly addition by subtraction, but either they're going to have to totally go small-ball with their second unit and hope like hell that Granger and Ian Mahinmi could track down those boards, or they're going to need Miles Plumlee, last year's bust of a pick, to develop in a big way. They could always find some rugged rebounder out of the D-League though, if they get desperate. It's really the easiest, cheap need to fill. Anything's better than overpaying Hansbrough to keep being awful.

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