Stampler's Take: Grading the NBA Off-Season, Part 4

From LA to NY for MWP - Doug Pensinger

Here's part 4 of Stampler's NBA Free Agency grades featuring every team's gains and losses. This week: Pelicans, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers and Suns.

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 (first-rounders only), FA = Free agent, T = Trade

New Orleans Pelicans: B

Gained: PG Jrue Holiday (T, Sixers), SG Tyreke Evans (T, Kings), PF Greg Stiemsma (FA, Timberwolves)

Lost: C Robin Lopez (T, Trail Blazers), PG Greivis Vasquez (T, Kings), PF Lou Amundsun (FA, renounced), SG Roger Mason Jr. (FA, renounced), SG Xavier Henry (FA, renounced)

Kept: SF Al-Farouq Aminu

A lot of people are poo-pooing the Pelicans moves, particularly their decision on draft night to send a 2014 first-round pick to the Sixers, along with No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel for Holiday. I'm in the minority, but I think it was a pretty good deal for them. I don't really see how Noel and Anthony Davis would've played alongside one another since their skill sets are so similar, and if the Pelicans can leapfrog the Lakers and a couple of other Western clubs on the fringes, the pick they gave up won't be worth that much.

To that end, I think the yacht-crappers are "going for it" as much as a small-market team lacking in true star power and constrained by the limits of the cap can possibly be. They upgraded at point guard with Holiday, who's more of a threat to get to the rim and finish than Vasquez was and a superior defender as well. They fortified their bench with the addition of Evans, who's over-extended as a guy you want to be a key cog on a contender but should thrive in the instant-offense-off-the-bench role as a third guard. His acquisition will also enable them to survive if/when Eric Gordon misses games with a hangnail.

Keeping Aminu around was probably a good idea because I can't imagine you'd want to play Gordon and Evans together for long stretches unless you think giving up 35 point quarters is a good idea, but either way these guys are going to be stretched defensively and almost forced to play Davis exclusively at center because of the limitations of their roster, where the only other "bigs" are Super Bonner Ryan Anderson, Stiemsma and Jason Smith. Losing Lopez really hurts them and it's doubtful that second round selection Jeff Withey from Kansas will be able to make up for that loss.

Ultimately whether these guys sneak into the playoffs or not will come down to how much improvement Davis shows in year two after (and it has to be said) what was a somewhat underwhelming rookie campaign. I always thought the comparisons between him and Tim Duncan were a bit absurd and even though Duncan had four years of college before making his transition into the league (and a David Robinson to play alongside), I just can't ever imagine this kid reaching those ear-clogging heights.

The playoffs might still be an unrealistic goal for them unless everything breaks perfectly, but even if they wind up in the latter fringes of the lottery the trade with Philly won't hurt them too much barring a ping-pong ball catastrophe. What would be a godsend for them would be if Greg Oden somehow wound up choosing them over glitzier suitors in free agency because these guys really need a defensive hub who can give them a solid 20 minutes a night, but that's never going to happen.

One thing that does seem clear though is that their front office already looks to have accepted that they goofed badly in drafting Austin Davis last season. You don't just trade for a Holiday-Evans backcourt in an off-season if you see that guy as a big part of your future. If they could deal him for a big it'd be a miracle, but it's hard to imagine how he has any value at all right now.

New York Knicks: F

Gained: C Andrea Bargnani (T, Raptors), SF Metta World Peace (FA, Lakers), SG Tim Hardaway Jr. (D)

Lost: SF Chris Copeland (FA, Pacers), PG Jason Kidd (retired), SF Steve Novak (T, Raptors), C Marcus Camby (T, Raptors), SG Quentin Richardson (T, Raptors), SF James White (waived)

Kept: SG J.R. Smith, PG Pablo Prigioni

Up In Air: PF Kenyon Martin

If you know any Knicks fans, now would be a good time to give them a hug. Well, first hold your breath so you don't have to smell them, but then the hug. A quick one. Or maybe just a pat on the back and a "There, there." Either way, you're gonna have to probably shower afterward.

Their big off-season acquisition thus far (besides Metta World Peace, whom I'll rant about during a season preview or something) has been to sign Bargnani, who was quite possibly one of the worst five rotation players in the league last season. I mean you really have to step back to take in his wretchedness as a whole. Going in you know he's a TERRIBLE defender, the kind that makes a fellow like Al Jefferson look almost serviceable by comparison. And you know he's a poor rebounder, but did you have any idea he was 3.7 rebounds in 28.7 minutes-per-game poor? (Consider that Manu averaged 3.4 boards in 23.2 minutes a night.) Again, we're talking about a seven-footer here. One would think he'd get five boards a night almost by accident.

The real fun though begins on offense, Bargnani's supposed area of expertise. Dude shot 39.9 percent from the floor last season and an even more incredi-bad 30.9 percent from three, on a not-insignificant 3.5 attempts-per-game. As much crap as I give Matt Bonner, the Red Mamba is like Dirk Nowitzki on offense and Tyson Chandler on defense compared to Bargnani. Also, just for yuks, the Italian Stallion also had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Literally the only positive contribution Bargnani gave the Raptors last season is that he was only healthy enough to suit up for 35 games.

The Knicks gave up a first-rounder in 2016 (which almost certainly figures to be a lottery selection once Carmelo Anthony enters his decline phase) and two second-rounders (2014, 2017) for Bargnani and will pay him a combined $23 million the next two seasons. Oddly enough they also gave Steve Novak to Toronto in the deal, a guy who shoots it a lot better than Bargnani, isn't really any worse a defender or rebounder, and makes a fraction of his salary.

I triple-checked to make sure, but I swear Isiah Thomas isn't still the GM of the Knicks.

The real fun will be when coach Mike Woodson pairs Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire (on the books for over $45 mil the next two seasons) in the same front-court, hopefully with Melo. I agree with Grantland's Zach Lowe in that NBATV needs to cut in for live feeds of that nightly.

Just to show you how messed up and counter-intuitive the NBA's arcane salary cap rules are, the Knicks were almost forced to re-sign J.R. Smith and at a price very favorable to the ink-covered guard, because they had no cap room to sign a player of similar skills from elsewhere but were allowed to circumvent those rules for re-signing an incumbent player. Basically it was either keep Smith or have no shooting guard, and while the latter seems like a tempting option, the Knicks ultimately swallowed hard and committed to a four three-year deal with Smith.

And because you can't make stuff up, Metta World Peace and the Knicks are reportedly making googly eyes at one another now, because lord knows they need another guy on the wrong side of 30 who regularly takes awful shots that he can't make.

[Postscript:

Good lord.

New York's ceiling is probably the sixth seed, and that's only if Anthony is healthy enough to play almost all the games, but I'd bet anything right now they're going to get obliterated in the first round.

Oklahoma City Thunder: C+

Gained: C Steven Adams (D), SF Andre Roberson (D)

Lost: SG Kevin Martin (T, Timberwolves)

It'd be hypocritical for me (or anyone) to pile on the Thunder for losing Martin as if it's some death knell to their postseason chances when we all mocked them for having him on the roster in the first place. It's true that they'll miss his shooting somewhat, but now that he's gone it means they'll have someone who's not him --and therefore, better-- on the other end of the floor guarding people. When you consider the full 94 feet of the court, I just don't think he's going to be that hard to replace, and there are plenty of guys on the planet who can knock down the open shots that having superduperstars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook guarantee the other guys on the floor.

Mainly they'll be looking to second-year man Jeremy Lamb, an athletic, long, streaky shooter who didn't leave any kind of impression during his rookie season. He was a big part of the James Harden trade though, so GM Sam Presti is going to look pretty silly if he can't play at all.

The roster is positively littered with young guys with potential and promise though, all freakish athletes who may or may not amount to anything. The bigs are Perry Jones, last season's supposed draft heist; Daniel Orton and this year's top pick, Adams, a Kiwi who went to Pitt. The wings are Roberson, Lamb, DeAndre Liggins and, oh hey, Alex Abrines, the Spaniard I wanted to fall to the Spurs in the second round (he'll probably stay abroad for a year or two). If all these guys stink, then there's still Ronnie Brewer and Nick Collison.

Bottom line is they're headed for 55-65 wins just because of Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but it's tough to label them as true contenders unless a they hit on at least a couple of the youngsters. I don't mean that any of them has to turn into Kawhi Leonard or anything, but at least on the Danny Green/Tiago Splitter level, people you can put on the floor and not be punished for it.

The dangerous aspect with OKC is that they finagled a trade exception out of the Timberwolves, meaning that they'll be players at the trade deadline to pick up another vital cog. Their roster now won't be the one we see in May.

Orlando Magic: B+

Gained: SG Victor Oladipo (D)

Up In Air: PG Beno Udrih

It's no secret what the Magic are doing, they're in long-term rebuilding mode and it's very clear they have no reservations whatsoever about being lottery hopefuls for a top-three pick again next season. However, unlike other crummy organizations like Charlotte, Milwaukee, the Sixers, the Suns and assorted others, the Magic don't seem to be nearly as directionless. Rather, they seem to have a clear plan, a vision going forward and a nice collection of building pieces already at hand, and that was before they even selected Oladipo, who might very well be the best guy in his draft class. He was stuffing the stat sheet during his four-game stint at the Orlando Summer League, though his shooting was mostly horrendous.

Center Nikola Vucevic, 22, might be the most underrated player in the league. All he did was average 13 and 12 last season. Power forward Andrew Nicholson, 23, got better as the season went along last year and finished with a league-average PER. They stole Tobias Harris from the Bucks and he's a legit scorer and now they have Oladipo. That's four starters right there. They'll find their point guard the next draft and away they go. If they can deal the carcasses of guys like Jameer Nelson, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Arron Afflalo for future assets, even better.

Really the only way the Madge can screw this up is by being too good during the season and messing up their draft position, but I suspect that they'll bottom out and go into full tank mode the last 30 games or so once reality sets in. Still, if I had to root for a team besides the Spurs, I think the Magic have better prospects going into the next decade than like 20 teams in the league.

Philadelphia 76ers: C-

Gained: C Nerlens Noel (D), PG Michael Carter-Williams (D), PF Royce White (T, Rockets), SF James Anderson (waiver claim, Rockets)

Lost: C Andrew Bynum (FA, Cavaliers), PG Jrue Holiday (T, Pelicans), SF Dorell Wright (T, Trail Blazers), SG Nick Young (FA, Lakers)

To the layman, the Sixers may seem to be in a similar position to the Magic. After all, not only do they have two lottery picks on their roster, but they figure to have two more next year too; their own plus New Orleans' pick, whom they acquired in the Holiday-for-Noel trade on draft day.

Here's the thing though, they already had a great piece in Holiday and they dealt him away, so they're back to square one. They're betting that Noel will be at least as productive player eventually that Holiday was, and if two players are relatively equal you'd always rather have the bigger one, but to me it seems like a long shot that Noel will ever be polished enough offensively to be Holiday's equivalent as a big man.

From here it looks as though the Sixers' front office came to the conclusion that Holiday will never be good enough to be a part of a championship core and that they're better off tearing the whole thing up completely, bottoming out and trying their very best (or very worst, depending on your point of view) to draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.

Unlike the Magic, Philadelphia has practically NOTHING on their roster at the moment. Thaddeus Young? Yeah, okay I guess. Eric Turner? No thanks.

Also, as down as I am on Noel, I think even less of Carter-Williams, a guy who shot below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three in his one season at Syracuse, despite having a distinct size and athleticism advantage on virtually all of his competition. It's one thing if a 6'6" point guard has a bunch of turnovers --which MCW did-- but how can somebody with his tools shoot so poorly? He couldn't post or finish at the rim at all? Summer league, for what its worth, also didn't help his case as the kid shot a cool 27 percent from the floor and 16 percent from three. To his credit he does seem to know how to pass, both in college and as a pro, but I'm gonna be a grumpy old man and project that he's not the next Jason Kidd.

It's gonna be a serious battle between Philly and Utah for the worst record, a season-long limbo contest for the ages.

Phoenix Suns: B-

Gained: PG Eric Bledsoe (T, Suns), SF Caron Butler (T, Suns), C Alex Len (D), SG Archie Goodwin (D)

Lost: SF Jared Dudley (T, Suns), C Jermaine O'Neal (FA, Warriors), SG Wesley Johnson (FA, Lakers), C Hamed Haddadi (waived)

Initially I wasn't a big fan of the trade that netted Bledsoe for Phoenix because I don't think he's big enough to be a full-time shooting guard or has the ball-handling/passing chops to be a star point guard in the league, and besides they already have Goran Dragic. However, with some time to reflect on it, I can see the logic of it. Bledsoe is just 23 and was unquestionably the best player in the deal and what do the Suns care if they lose a middling, overrated, athletically-limited vet in Dudley? Having Bledsoe is like basically holding a lottery ticket. The odds are he'll never develop into much more than he already showed with the Clippers, but there is a small chance he can blossom into a poor man's Westbrook so why not roll the dice there? They have nothing to lose. If he turns into anything they can always flip Dragic later on anyway.

I'm less a fan of drafting Len, whose absolute ceiling will be Brook Lopez, another all offense/no defense big man who's going to lucky to grab seven boards a night if you're lucky. You can't win anything with guys like that. I can't think of a single NBA team who ever won a championship with a center who was a poor defender. This draft was so weak though I guess you just take what you can get and hope for the best.

Goodwin is the more intriguing pick just for the fact that the Suns really have nothing interesting at all at the two guard right now, so even though he's a teenager he can theoretically be thrown into the mix right away to see what he can do. There's more of a logjam at small forward with Butler, Michael Beasley and P.J. Tucker, and you get the feeling a couple of them will be shoehorned into playing some shooting guard and that Bledsoe will get most of his minutes there too.

The Suns also have Luis Scola, Channing Frye and both Morris brothers at the four and a UNC kid, Kendall Marshall, who'll be competing for point guard minutes and of course Marcin Gortat at center.

It's a mishmash roster filled with "C-" players where the coach will probably have a 11-man rotation, absolutely nobody will be happy with his minutes or shots or role, they'll all loaf on defense as a consequence and everyone will be tuning out by January. The Sacramento Kings with crazy hot weather, basically.

Yikes. There is nothing like scanning the barren NBA landscape team-by-team to make you feel better about being a Spurs fan and to quit wallowing in self-pity over how the season ended.

This alphabetical fifth of the league was kind of a snoozer to be honest. I can't imagine myself watching any of these teams play too many games, not even Oklahoma City, whose iso-ball style of play bores me to the extreme. With that, lets end the column with today's list...

Stampler's Top 10 League Pass Teams

1. Spurs

2. Warriors

3. Bulls

4. Nets

5. Rockets

6. Timberwolves

7. Pacers

8. Knicks (because I'm morbid)

9. Cavaliers

10. Magic

(could you tell I really struggled to get to ten?)

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