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Will Your Favorite NBA Team Be Better or Worse In 2023-24? | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors


Will Your Favorite NBA Team Be Better or Worse In 2023-24?

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    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Offseason activity has settled down enough for us to start comparing every NBA team to their toughest opponent: last year’s version of themselves.

    This process will look exclusively at performance on the court for the 2023-24 season. Though wins and losses will shape final verdicts, this is more about the overall product and threat level of each team in a broader sense.

    Moral victories and sensible shifts in direction have no bearing. Certain squads were smart to get worse for the bigger-picture good. They are still on track to be worse in the short term and will be treated as such.

    Predictive measures will be taken wherever necessary—and within reason. We must presume the Portland Trail Blazers move Damian Lillard. We cannot, on the other hand, just pencil him into the Miami Heat rotation. Ditto for the L.A. Clippers and their national-nightmare dalliance with James Harden, and for any other meaningful acquisitions that could be made by various teams.

    These current determinations will inevitably change if/when a blockbuster trade messes with the landscape. In the meantime, “better” or “worse” verdicts are inextricably tied to what we know about the state of each roster right now.

Atlanta Hawks: Better

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    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 21:  Head coach Quin Snyder of the Atlanta Hawks converses with Trae Young #11 and Dejounte Murray #5 against the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at State Farm Arena on April 21, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Trading John Collins was purely a salary dump by the Atlanta Hawks, not addition by subtraction. Their most-used five-man combination last season included him, and it was a demonstrative plus. Subbing in Saddiq Bey, Bogdan Bogdanović, A.J. Griffin or Jalen Johnson doesn’t yield an instructive sample. Onyeka Okongwu is not the answer in arrangements that feature Clint Capela.

    Fortunately, at least in this case, the Hawks aren’t working off a high baseline. They epitomized mediocrity last year, finishing 41-41 with an almost dead-even point differential.

    Going through a full training camp with head coach Quin Snyder will help. Trae Young and the recently extended Dejounte Murray are more familiar with one another, too.

    The S.S. De’Andre Hunter Mega Leap has probably sailed, but Griffin’s functional shooting and burgeoning off-the-dribble skills and Johnson’s yet-to-be-fully-plumbed defensive malleability add pleasant variability to a team that otherwise looks largely the same. Though I worry about Griffin’s spot in the rotation if Bogdanović is healthier, Wesley Matthews plays and Kobe Bufkin is game-ready, two of those are good “problems” to have.

    My confidence level in this verdict is, to put it scientifically, approximately zilch. It’ll skyrocket if Atlanta pries Pascal Siakam from Toronto, though.

Boston Celtics: Worse

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    Boston, MA - June 29: Boston Celtics C Kristaps Porzingis holds up his number eight Celtics jersey at his introductory press conference, flanked by head coach Joe Mazzulla and President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

    Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    Going from Marcus Smart to Kristaps Porziņģis is splashy on paper but iffy in practice. The Boston Celtics surrendered playmaking and defensive versatility for higher-end frontcourt play, mostly on the offensive end.

    That’s a reasonable gamble to make given how well Porziņģis played last season with the Washington Wizards. He averaged 23.2 points while downing 55.9 percent of his twos and 38.5 percent of his triples, effectively straddling the line between focal point and complementary piece.

    But Boston can’t just guarantee it gets that version of KP. Lower-body injuries have derailed entire seasons for him, and he is not someone who normally converts 60-plus percent of his turnaround jumpers.

    Even if Porziņģis puts every concern to bed, Smart’s absence places additional playmaking pressure on Malcolm Brogdon (OK!), Jaylen Brown (yikes!), Payton Pritchard (TBD!), Jayson Tatum (OK!) and Derrick White (OK!). That’s real strain for an offense already operating from a game-managing deficit. And this says nothing how much defensive responsibility shifts onto Brown, Tatum and White without Smart’s positional plasticity.

    Perhaps the Celtics fail to match their 57 victories from last season but are more dangerous come playoff time. For now, they feel like they still need another move.

Brooklyn Nets: Worse

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    BROOKLYN, NY - APRIL 20: Mikal Bridges #1 of the Brooklyn Nets is introduced before Round One Game Three of the 2023 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 20, 2023 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Mikal Bridges’ breakout post-Kevin Durant trade coupled with a “good job, good effort” first-round sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers somewhat overshadowed just how far the Brooklyn Nets fell following their superstar fire sale. They went 12-15 after Bridges made his debut, with a bottom-eight offense and league-average-ish defense.

    Brooklyn’s roster isn’t materially different compared to that 27-game stretch. Darius Bazley, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV are intriguing fliers, but they aren’t fortune-turners.

    No. 21 overall pick Noah Clowney should play right away given the state of the frontcourt, but rookies generally aren’t massive game-changers. No. 22 pick Dariq Whitehead has plenty to prove after an uninspiring, injury-riddled season at Duke.

    A healthy Ben Simmons might be the Nets’ most substantial offseason addition. Emphasis on might be.

    Peak Ben Simmons makes a lot of sense on this team—and many others. We are now multiple years removed from anything resembling peak Ben Simmons.

    Without a swing-for-the-fences trade, Brooklyn profiles as a plucky middle-build squad that’ll need more than a little bit of luck to sniff 43-plus victories. And that’s assuming it isn’t coaxed into a more gradual approach by February’s trade deadline.

Charlotte Hornets: Better

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 25: LaMelo Ball #1 of the Charlotte Hornets brings the ball up court in the first quarter during their game against the Miami Heat at Spectrum Center on February 25, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

    Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

    Clearing last season’s 27-win bar shouldn’t be hard for the Charlotte Hornets. The addition of No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller and better availability from LaMelo Ball may get them there without much drama.

    Then again, there is some risk in taking the rosier view. The Hornets ranked eighth in points allowed per possession after the trade deadline, excelling in all the usual areas of a team coached by Steve Clifford. Can that identity sustain with both LaMelo and a rookie wing logging heavy minutes?

    Miles Bridges will return after serving the balance on a 30-game suspension for pleading no contest to felony domestic violence charges. He should theoretically help at both ends, but what does he look like after a year away and while playing for his next contract?

    Oh, and what’s the deal with P.J. Washington? Does he sign his qualifying offer? Get moved in a sign-and-trade? Does Kelly Oubre Jr. return?

    This still isn’t enough to predict steps backward. Mark Williams looked great to close last season, both Miller and No. 27 overall pick Nick Smith Jr. are tantalizing enough to move the needle (even if slightly) and a healthier Cody Martin goes a long way, too.

Chicago Bulls: Worse

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    TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 12:  DeMar DeRozan #11 and Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls smile after the game against the Toronto Raptors during the 2023 Play-In Tournament on April 12, 2023 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

    Nothing the Chicago Bulls did this offseason screams “Screwed!” Every player they retained is back on a reasonable deal, and the additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig promise functional depth.

    Still, Chicago didn’t meaningfully nudge up the three-point volume or playmaking of a painfully sub-mediocre offense. Another mini leap from Coby White would help the former, but probably not the latter.

    So much of the Bulls’ system has revolved around DeMar DeRozan going kaboom in high-stakes moments. He ranked first in clutch win probability added during 2021-22 and placed fourth last year, according to Inpredictable. However, he turns 34 on Aug. 7. Regression should be the expectation.

    Zach LaVine has become underrated for what he provides on offense. Nikola Vučević is unfairly scapegoated at this point and coming off a solid season. He will also be 33 on Oct. 24. What does his aging curve look like? Can Alex Caruso deliver All-Galaxy defense if he’s playing more than 25 minutes per game?

    Patrick Williams’ growth is Chicago’s swing development. There is a higher-volume offensive player within him. Will he ever have the agency inside this pecking order to unleash it? That’s debatable.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Better

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    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Darius Garland #10 and Evan Mobley #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk on the court during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 10, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

    David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

    After finishing with the East’s fourth-best record last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers proceeded to capably address their two biggest needs: shooting that doesn’t nuke their defense, and frontcourt depth behind Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.

    Max Strus and Georges Niang bring legitimate outside touch on high volume. The floor will open up significantly for Cleveland’s Core Four, both in the playoffs and regular season, with Strus sponging up reps at the 3.

    Enduring defensive concerns about the Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell backcourt are overblown. They held up last year. The Allen-Mobley dynamic is more of a thinker.

    Can the Cavs generate ample half-court room on offense with both in the game? That’ll be up to Mobley. So, too, will the strength of the best one-big lineups. Does Niang provide enough rebounding to beef up Mobley-at-center units? Can Cleveland squeeze enough defense out of Strus to restrict the need for dual-big combos?

    These are 1-percenter problems. Mobley, 22, entered the Defensive Player of the Year conversation as a sophomore. He is ready for more grab-and-go responsibility on offense. Garland, 23, found his groove alongside Mitchell long before the end of the regular season. This core hasn’t sniffed its peak.

Dallas Mavericks: Better

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    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 02:  Kyrie Irving #2 and Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks react against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter at State Farm Arena on April 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Jokes were made at the Dallas Mavericks’ expense after they punted the play-in-tournament chase. Deservedly so.

    Punches won’t be pulled now. The Mavericks’ place in the West remains fuzzy even after an almost universally praised offseason.

    Re-signing Kyrie Irving was the first step toward progress. His partnership with Luka Dončić didn’t always look clean, but Dallas outscored opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions when they shared the floor, and the duo now gets extended practice time together.

    Landing Grant Williams via sign-and-trade came at an uncomfortable opportunity cost: Reggie Bullock and an unprotected 2030 first-round pick swap. But his arrival arms the Mavs with one of the league’s most versatile defenders. Frontcourt pairings featuring him and Maxi Kleber or Dwight Powell give Dallas a fighting chance at the less glamorous end.

    Questions remain. Chief among them: Can Williams and Josh Green shoulder the most important defensive assignments? Dallas’ offense will be thermonuclear AFthe team added more shooting with Seth Curry—but it’s vulnerable on the wings and at the point of attack.

    Another move feels necessary. Or No. 24 overall pick Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Dante Exum need to matter now. Regardless, the Mavs are better overall.

Denver Nuggets: Worse

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    DENVER, CO - JUNE 12: Nikola Jokic #15 and Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates after winning Game Five of the 2023 NBA Finals on June 12, 2023 at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Improving championship cores is tough. The Denver Nuggets failed to do so this offseason.

    They should still enter the 2023-24 season as title favorites. Most of their key contributors are back—Zeke Nnaji has been ready to supplant Jeff Green—and Nikola Jokić remains the best player in the world. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. could get better.

    Losing Bruce Brown still stings. Giving Reggie Jackson a player option on top of the full mini mid-level stings almost as much.

    To be fair, the Nuggets didn’t have the cap space or a large enough exception to keep Brown. And they likely won’t feel his absence too much during the regular season. The playoffs could be a different story.

    Christian Braun can replace Brown’s defense, and Peyton Watson has the size, length and shooting mechanics to crack the wing rotation. No non-star on this roster, though, brings the proven combination of ball-handling, playmaking, rim pressure and defense that Denver had in Brown.

    Watson probably comes closest. He profiles as a sneaky ball-handler and passer. Is the soon-to-be 21-year-old ready to deliver, as part of a contender’s rotation, with only 186 NBA minutes on his resume? Maybe. We can’t count on it.

Detroit Pistons: Better

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 31: Cade Cunningham #2  and Jaden Ivey #23 of the Detroit Pistons talks during a break in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on October 31, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

    John Fisher/Getty Images

    This is more than just a “The 2022-23 Detroit Pistons won only 17 games!” default. That’s part of it. So is the assumption that Cade Cunningham plays more than 12 games. But it’s also about the rest of the roster.

    Jaden Ivey made strides as an offensive organizer and drilled 42.9 percent of his spot-up threes after the All-Star break. No shot at the rim, no entry pass and no loose ball is safe with Jalen Duren on the floor.

    Some wanted the Pistons to do more with their cap space than nab Joe Harris and Monte Morris and roll over flexibility. Pffft. Name the groundbreaking acquisition whom they passed on by traveling this route.

    Picking up a rock-solid game manager and two players who stretch the floor is a boon for the kids. Cunningham, Ivey and Ausar Thompson (believe in his shooting development) should have enough spacing around them to maneuver alongside and independent of one another—provided head coach Monty Williams isn’t married to dual-big setups.

    Logjams up and down the rotation could distort some of Detroit’s cohesion. The Pistons could also sell talent at the deadline. Whatever. Development alone is enough to ensure they get better.

Golden State Warriors: Better

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 9: Stephen Curry #30 and Chris Paul #3 of the Golden State Warriors pose for a photo during the 2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League on July 9, 2023 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

    Unless you’re inestimably high on Dario Šarić and Cory Joseph, the Golden State Warriors’ outlook rests entirely on whether 38-year-old Chris Paul is an upgrade over 24-year-old Jordan Poole.

    He is.

    Look at how the Warriors offense has fared without Stephen Curry on the floor since their first title campaign:

  • 2014-15: 103.5 ORTG (38th percentile)
  • 2015-16: 104.8 ORTG (36th percentile)
  • 2016-17: 103.8 ORTG (19th percentile)
  • 2017-18: 107.2 ORTG (44th percentile)
  • 2018-19: 109.7 ORTG (47th percentile)
  • 2019-20: 104.7 ORTG (11th percentile)
  • 2020-21: 101.4 ORTG (4th percentile)
  • 2021-22: 109.4 ORTG (28th percentile)
  • 2022-23: 113.0 ORTG (35th percentile)

Golden State couldn’t even field a league-average attacks in its aggregate minutes without Steph during the Kevin Durant era. That’s a special, hilarious, hopeless brand of dependence.

Never mind the CP3-and-Steph stints. Or the stylistic deviations. So what if the Warriors need to run pick-and-roll when Steph sits? Who cares that Paul is on his way out? Or that he’s almost universally despised by the fanbase? He can still quarterback lineups to competence.

Next year’s iteration of Golden State just might survive on offense when Steph catches a breather. You couldn’t guarantee that opportunity as constructed last season—or, apparently, in any previous year.

Houston Rockets: Better

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 9:  Head Coach Ime Udoka and Fred Vanvleet #23 of the Houston Rockets look on during the 2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League on July 9, 2023 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

    Detractors will eventually run out of excuses and caveats and stubborn denials. The Houston Rockets are waaaay better now than they were last season.

    Landing Fred Van VanVleet streamlines existence for almost everyone. He gives them another offensive organizer, but he’s at his best as part of a committee that allows him to work away from the ball. His partnership with Jalen Green should be an instant hit, and he will alleviate pressure and help stretch the floor for Amen Thompson.

    Monitoring Dillon Brooks’ offensive usage will be pivotal to tying everything together. Head coach Ime Udoka has a roster teeming with overlap and logjams.

    And yet, crowded depth charts also provide optionality. Houston can stretch at least 11 or 12 guys deep with VanVleet, Thompson, Brooks, Jeff Green, Jalen Green, Tari Eason, Jock Landale, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Şengün, Jabari Smith Jr., Jae’Sean Tate and Cam Whitmore.

    Between developmental progress and veteran arrivals, the Rockets are set up to escape the league’s basement for the first time in four years.

Indiana Pacers: Better

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 6: Bruce Brown poses for a photo after being signed by the Pacers in free agency on July 6, 2023 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

    Reliance on young players with unpolished skill sets and undefined roles could cap the Indiana Pacers’ progress next season.

    Bennedict Mathurin and No. 8 overall pick Jarace Walker need the freedom to experiment and, most importantly, fail. The same goes for Obi Toppin, No. 26 pick Ben Sheppard, Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson, albeit on smaller scales.

    Ticketing the Pacers for aggregate regression is still impossibly hard even with the larger vision in mind. Tyrese Haliburton is already #ThatDude, and the defense will receive a jolt from both Bruce Brown’s on- and off-ball versatility as well as the pressure from and ground covered by Walker.

    Non-believers will invariably come out in droves. Indiana remains light on properly sized wings. And how much can Walker elevate the defense as a rookie? But the offense will be potent enough to outstrip shortcomings at the other end, a dazzling brew of speed and spacing and unpredictability.

    The Pacers last season ranked third in average possession time, per Inpredictable, and scored like gangbusters with Haliburton running point. Next year will be a shinier extension of those returns, developmental warts and all, even if only because Haliburton should play in more than 56 games.

Los Angeles Clippers: Worse

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5: Russell Westbrook #0, Ivica Zubac #40, Kawhi Leonard #2, Nicolas Batum #33 and Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers huddle up during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 5, 2023 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    This “The L.A. Clippers are worse than last season” verdict will self-destruct if (when?) they trade for James Harden while keeping both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. In the interim, this decision is non-negotiable.

    Adding K.J. Martin and re-signing Russell Westbrook tacks on depth and, in the former’s case, an alternative to Marcus Morris Sr. minutes. But the Clippers did nothing else beyond retaining Mason Plumlee, which doesn’t move me and shouldn’t move you, either.

    Parting with Eric Gordon might be the most substantial decision L.A. has so far made. That’s not great. We could interpret his exit as both a tax-cutting maneuver and portention of a larger role for Terance Mann. And maybe we should. But I have my doubts.

    Declaring the current Clippers better than last season rests on the belief that George and Leonard will appear in more than 38 games together, and that both will hold up for an entire postseason. That’s no longer a throwaway assumption. We have years of evidence to the contrary, and Leonard is coming back from yet another knee procedure.

    L.A. is potentially deeper. It’s also older and just as fragile.

Los Angeles Lakers: Better

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 23: Gabe Vincent #2 of the Miami Heat plays defense on LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game on January 23, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

    Fans and pundits have emphatically exalted the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason. When you dig into the nuts and bolts of their operations, the praise feels at once warranted and outsized:

  • In: Jaxson Hayes, Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 17), Maxwell Lewis (No. 40), Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish, Gabe Vincent
  • Out: Mo Bamba, Malik Beasley, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel, Dennis Schröder, Tristan Thompson, Lonnie Walker IV

Nabbing an actual three-and-D-ish wing in Prince and going from Schröder to Vincent represents L.A.s’ two most meaningful upgrades. That’s fine, but it isn’t earth-shattering.

That’s not to say praise of the Lakers’ summer is a mistake. The focus is just misplaced.

This team won’t necessarily be better because of who it added, but because of who it already had in place. Austin Reaves, 25, will get better and is now on one of the NBA’s best long-term contracts. Rui Hachimura, also 25, hinted at more scalable offense after coming over from the Washington Wizards.

More than anything, the Lakers now have time to forge chemistry. They just made the Western Conference Finals while revamping the middle of their rotation on the fly. Imagine what they can do with an entire training camp to build familiarity. That alone offsets the risk of marginal regression from age-39-season LeBron James.

Memphis Grizzlies: Worse

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7: The Memphis Grizzlies introduce Marcus Smart during a press conference on July 7, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    Ja Morant will serve a 25-game suspension at the beginning of the season for conduct detrimental to the league. That extended absence shapes the Memphis Grizzlies’ better-or-worse outlook more than anything else.

    This team has navigated non-star time before, including last season. Memphis was a plus-2.3 points per 100 possessions without Morant on the floor. But this idea that the Grizzlies are #builtforthis has mushroomed to mythic proportions.

    They went 11-10 last year in games Morant didn’t play. That’s solar systems from elite. Hovering around .500 for more than one-quarter of the schedule would threaten to submarine their place in the West. The path to a top-four spot will be brutal if a handful of teams enjoy better availability (Minnesota, New Orleans, L.A. Clippers), up-and-comers stay the course (Oklahoma City, Sacramento) and the Phoenix Suns are who they’re built to be.

    Memphis’ precarious spot also goes beyond Morant. Marcus Smart is an upgrade over the combination of Dillon Brooks and Tyus Jones, but even with a full season of Luke Kennard, the wing rotation needs another leap from Desmond Bane or jumps from one or more of its young combo forwards (Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama, David Roddy, Jake LaRavia).

Miami Heat: Worse

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    DENVER, CO - JUNE 12: Jimmy Butler #22 and Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets during Game Five of the 2023 NBA Finals on June 12, 2023 at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    We can relitigate where the Miami Heat stand if (when?) the Portland Trail Blazers grant Damian Lillard’s one-team-only trade request. Until then, this isn’t up for debate.

    Two of Miami’s six most-used players from last season—Max Strus and Gabe Vincent—are now suiting up for different teams. Bringing back Kevin Love and adding No. 18 overall pick Jaime Jaquez Jr., Josh Richardson and Thomas Bryant is not enough to negate the offensive gaps created by top-of-the-rotation exits.

    Strus and Vincent ranked first and third on the team, respectively, in three-point attempts. Their percentages weren’t scintillating, but the level of difficulty on Strus’ looks and Vincent’s comfort off the dribble are not readily replicable.

    Duncan Robinson’s postseason renaissance might help cover up Strus’ exit on offense. Tyler Herro, 23, can get better. The Heat are still lighter on two-way players than they were before without having upgraded their half-court creation.

    Left alone, their offense could deteriorate. Jimmy Butler is wired differently, forever and ever, but he turns 34 in September. Kyle Lowry is 37 and already on the decline. Miami needs more than just Herro and Bam Adebayo to reinforce and elevate its offensive pecking order.

Milwaukee Bucks: Better

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    MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 26: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks talks to Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 during the game against the Miami Heat during Round 1 Game 5 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2023 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images).

    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    Keeping Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton doesn’t make the Milwaukee Bucks better, but it preserves their championship standard.

    Also: It might make them better.

    Middleton missed 49 games last year and didn’t look like himself through most of his 33 appearances. But he turned a corner (offensively) by the playoffs, and going on 32, he’s neither old nor injury-prone. Don’t underestimate the value of a healthy offseason.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a back injury during Milwaukee’s brief playoff stint and underwent a left knee procedure afterward. That’s cause for some concern. Counterpoint: He’s only 28. He’ll be fine.

    Jevon Carter’s exit hurts, but it’d hurt more if he provided secondary playmaking. Joe Ingles’ departure is more afterthought than crushing blow. Retaining Jae Crowder and stealing Malik Beasley on minimum deals are gigantic victories. Crowder has a clearer roadmap to minutes next season. Beasley can really sling it when he gets going.

    Don’t discount the lack of progress at the top of the East, either. Boston took on combustibility going from Marcus Smart to Kristaps Porziņģis. Miami is worse off (for now). Who the hell knows what’s going on in Philadelphia? Relative steadiness ends up being a boon for Milwaukee’s stock.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Better

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN -  APRIL 14: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talks with Anthony Edwards #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2023 Play-In Tournament on April 14, 2023 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

    David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Wholesale concerns persist for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their big man dynamic is at best untested, at worst a sham.

    Paying Naz Reid only complicates their defining curiosity. He has a viable floor game and did a better job stretching the floor by the end of last season, but Minnesota was a decided negative whenever he shared the floor with Rudy Gobert or Karl-Anthony Towns.

    Those samples aren’t nearly large enough to be deemed telltale. Really, that describes this entire roster.

    Gobert and Towns played in only 27 regular-season games together. The Timberwolves’ projected best five-man unit—Gobert, Towns, Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels—has a whopping seven appearances under its belt.

    Additional time together will improve Minnesota’s outlook. And it continues to have “boom” potential.

    Edwards is tracking toward All-NBA consideration. His growth on offense both as a scoring and playmaking engine is terrifying. Not enough was made of how much McDaniels expanded his offense. Ditto for Reid. Nickeil Alexander-Walker looked good after coming over from Utah. Taurean Prince mattered, and Troy Brown Jr. is worse. But NAW played tons of 3 in Minnesota. Shake Milton upgrades the bench’s backcourt.

    This team is more than its speculative headlines.

New Orleans Pelicans: Better

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    METAIRIE, LA - OCTOBER 17: CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during an all access practice on October 17, 2022 at the New Orleans Pelicans Practice Facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

    Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

    Stasis was the prevailing theme of the New Orleans Pelicans’ offseason.

    Their additions included No. 14 overall pick Jordan Hawkins, a healthy E.J. Liddell and Cody Zeller. Their departures included Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez and Josh Richardson. Hawkins’ arrival comes closest to immediately moving the needle (holy functional shooting, baby), but it’s not entirely clear whether he’ll have a role right away—or at all.

    New Orleans is slated to be significantly better anyway. It had cause and assets to chase splashy trades, but myriad questions about the core are also part of its tantalizing-as-hell peak.

    What if Zion Williamson plays in more than 29 games? Or Brandon Ingram appears in more than 45? What if Zion, Ingram and CJ McCollum play in more than—*checks notes*—10 games together?

    What if Dyson Daniels improves his scoring oomph? What if Herb Jones maintains last year’s midseason three-point bump on more volume? What if Trey Murphy III keeps getting better at both ends, just like he did last season?

    The Pelicans closed out 2022 with the second-best point differential in the West. Their ceiling, without any major changes, is even higher than that.

New York Knicks: Worse

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)  Jalen Brunson #11 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks in action against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on November 25, 2022 in New York City. The Trail Blazers defeated the Knicks 132-129 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Signing Donte DiVincenzo improves the New York Knicks’ shooting, IQ and defensive versatility. It won’t do nearly enough to glitz up their playoff ceiling, though. They’ve reached a point in which they need a monumental addition to their projected closing five or a leap from someone already in it to distinctly outperform last season’s benchmark.

    Star trades remain on the table. They cannot be assumed. Internal leaps are hard to pinpoint.

    New York can’t expect Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle to be first-team All-NBA candidates. At this point, a Mitchell Robinson leap probably consists of shooting better than 50 percent on free throws. Can Josh Hart’s post-trade-deadline three-point efficiency hold up amid more volume?

    RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley are the Knicks’ best shots at having someone colossally take off and crack their closing lineup. Barrett needs to make set threes, aggressively attack and consistently defend for more than pockets at a time. Grimes needs the freedom to explore on offense that this roster may never afford him. Quickley, frankly, may need to grow a few inches.

    These Knicks are still good. To say they’re definitively better off goes a touch too far, though.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Better

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JULY 3: Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder congratulates teammate Chet Holmgren #7 after he scored against  the Utah Jazz during the first half of their NBA Summer League game July 3, 2023 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

    Chris Gardner/Getty Images

    Though the Oklahoma City Thunder are already coming off a huge jump, the scope and scale of their talent lends itself to another meteoric rise.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-NBAer who’s still getting better. Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams are still young enough to be considered prospects. Chet Holmgren is healthy and should be, at minimum, a devastating rim protector from Day 1.

    The meat and potatoes of this nucleus is dotted with impactful complements, both entrenched and developing. Lu Dort remains a defensive workaholic. Kenrich Williams is does-a-little-bit-of-everything divinity.

    Ousmane Dieng demonstrated real feel at both ends when he was healthy, and he’s a set-jumper away from entering the “Oh my God, OKC really has him too?!” ranks. Jaylin Williams is First-Team “Puts His Body On The Line To Win A Third-Quarter Possession During The Second End Of A January Back-to-Back.”

    Capable depth might be the Thunder’s biggest drawback. I’ve yet to mention Cason Wallace, Aleksej Pokuševski, Vasilije Micić, Aaron Wiggins or Dāvis Bertāns. Will head coach Mark Daigneault shorten his rotation to prioritize winning? Or will it shape-shift daily, giving ample run to everyone, at the planned expense of victories?

    Talk about an enviable position.

Orlando Magic: Better

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    ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 11: (Left to right) Franz Wagner #22, Wendell Carter Jr. #34, Paolo Banchero #5, and Markelle Fultz #20 of the Orlando Magic react during the first half of a game against the Miami Heat at Amway Center on March 11, 2023 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    At what point do we start calling the Orlando Magic “Oklahoma City East?”

    The Magic don’t have a current All-NBA talent like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Nor do they have the same cachet of draft picks. But their rotation is similarly brimming with still-developing-but-ready-now players, at least two of whom might have All-NBA nods in their future.

    Consider this 10-man setup: Cole Anthony, Paolo Banchero, No. 6 pick Anthony Black, Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, No. 11 pick Jett Howard, Joe Ingles, Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner. How many of them have played their best basketball? Two? Maybe three? This is all without considering Jonathan Isaac, Caleb Houstan (!) or Chuma Okeke.

    Orlando needed to juice up its offense after ranking 26th in half-court efficiency as well as bottom seven in both three-point accuracy and volume. Adding Ingles and Howard begins to address the voids, without entirely filling them.

    But new players needn’t be the sole source of advancement. Banchero, Wagner and Suggs all have other gears to hit. Black stands to be a difference-maker as well if the Magic surround him with enough shooting or he can knock down jumpers himself.

    Orlando is in a pretty comfortable spot.

Phoenix Suns: Better

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    PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 29:  Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait on June 29, 2023 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images)

    Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images

    Do not overthink the Phoenix Suns. They turned 38-year-old Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and picks and players that wouldn’t contribute next season into a 30-year-old with an All-NBA ceiling. That is an atypically enormous win.

    Worrying about the Suns beyond Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is fair. But they are also deeper than any team that had only minimum contracts to offer—and salary-dumped Cameron Payne—has any right to be. As yours truly wrote previously:

    “Eric Gordon and Yuta Watanabe would be in every single other NBA rotation. The same goes for Josh Okogie on most nights. Bol Bol (can he hold up on defense?) and Keita Bates-Diop (will his threes continue to fall?) have googly-eyed risk-reward profiles. Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu were available for a reason, but they bring versatility to the frontcourt. Damion Lee should have played more for the Suns last season.”

    Phoenix desperately needs a bounce-back defensive season from Deandre Ayton to actualize its peak. It also needn’t hit its peak to absolutely dominate. The offense is going to be that transcendent. And for anyone concerned about the absence of a conventional floor general, I beg you, don’t be:

    Dan Favale @danfavale

    11 nba players over the past *five* years have a usg% &gt;= 30 and ast% &gt;= 25 (via <a href=”https://twitter.com/Stathead?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@stathead</a>).<br><br>the phoenix suns now have three of them lmao <a href=”https://t.co/boTLeW1pvF”>pic.twitter.com/boTLeW1pvF</a>

Philadelphia 76ers: Worse

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    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 14: James Harden #1 and Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in game seven of the 2023 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 14, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Weigh every possible outcome of the latest James Harden trade request, and the Philadelphia 76ers almost always end up looking the same: materially worse.

    Part of the devolution is already underway. Three rotation players walked in free agency: Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton and Georges Niang. Was this because the Harden soap opera prevented the Sixers from other business? Because they didn’t value any of these names? Or because they’re attempting to keep their books squeaky clean for the summer of 2024, a plan that might simply be a response to said Harden soap opera?

    Who’s to say, really?

    Matching Paul Reed’s offer sheet was a must. Adding Patrick Beverley is fine. Signing Mo Bamba and bringing over Filip Petrušev when you have Joel Embiid oozes “Look at us! We’re doing something!”

    Harden’s fate stands to worsen the situation. If the Sixers don’t deal him, will he be at his best while disgruntled and studying the L.A. Clippers’ playbook? And if he’s moved, will Philly net another star in return or the assets required to get one in a separate deal?

    That sound you hear is the ticking and tocking of Embiid’s trade-request clock.

Portland Trail Blazers: Worse

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    PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 26:  Shaedon Sharpe #17 and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers talk to each other during the game against the Miami Heat on October 26, 2022 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    This gets a little tenuous if the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard remain tethered together entering the regular season. He isn’t the type not to report or loaf through entire games (a la James Harden) and removing him from the rotation won’t do anything for his trade value or the franchise’s leverage in negotiations.

    What happens if we get a half-season (or more) of Lillard, Scoot Henderson, Jerami Grant, Shadeon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons? Could the Blazers track toward markedly better than 33 victories and top-five draft lottery odds?

    Sure. Especially if Matisse Thybulle resumes hitting his threes, Kris Murray does his best rookie-year Keegan Murray impression and Jusuf Nurkić has enough defensive gas left in the tank.

    Invariably, though, it doesn’t make sense to predict the best-case (worst-case?) outcome. We know how this works. Recycled and conflicting rumors will hold us hostage until mid-August or September, only for Lillard to begin next season on a new squad.

    And if for some reason the Blazers are winning at an inconveniently high clip, Dame or no Dame, we should expect general manager Joe Cronin to deal this team out of any overachieving.

Sacramento Kings: Worse

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 23: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors during Round One Game Four of the 2023 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2023 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Roster maintenance dominated the Sacramento Kings’ offseason—a fair approach after finishing third in the West, but one that means almost all of their progress must come from within.

    Using room-exception money on Sasha Vezenkov fits the offense-first-and-foremost motif. Will he defend well enough to get minutes with Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray in front of him?

    No. 34 overall pick Colby Jones has the strength, length and mobility to guard up and down the perimeter and shot 37.8 percent on triples during his final season at Xavier. Can he crack a rotation with De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, Davion Mitchell and the newly added Chris Duarte?

    Regression feels just as likely as any advancement in some ways. Maybe Fox and Domantas Sabonis both match their career years. Will Monk do the same? What does Barnes look like at age 31? How much growth can we realistically expect from Mitchell on offense or Duarte at both ends?

    Murray has the power to change everything. There was a Desmond Bane-entering-Year-2 air to his pair of Summer League detonations. But Memphis’ hierarchy had room to explore Bane’s featured-option persona. Sacramento’s pecking order may be more repressive with both Fox and Sabonis.

San Antonio Spurs: Better

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    BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 22: Victor Wembanyama and Jeremy Sochan during the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22, 2023 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jenny Fischer/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Jenny Fischer/NBAE via Getty Images

    Winning the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes should culminate in many steps forward for the San Antonio Spurs. Even if his offensive armory doesn’t immediately translate, even if the coaching staff load manages the hell out of him, and even if the front office jettisons vets at the deadline, this team hit the short- and long-term jackpots.

    For argument’s sake, let’s say Wemby underwhelms during his inaugural campaign. The Spurs are still set up to get better.

    Devin Vassell is developing the ball skills to be a more explosive Khris Middleton. San Antonio will benefit from him appearing in more than 38 games.

    Jeremy Sochan offered glimpses into initiation and best-defender-on-the-team versatility as a rookie. If he increases his overall offensive aggression or flashes a set jumper, his trajectory tracks toward fringe-or-better stardom.

    Malaki Branham was almost an afterthought relative to some of the other kids. Not anymore. He is quick-twitch scoring at just about every level. Blake Wesley is a human blur. If he attacks with more control and cleaner vision, another every-night guard will enter the chat. A full year of Julian Champagnie will do the wing rotation good, too.

Toronto Raptors: Worse

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    TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 23: Jakob Poeltl #19 and Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors celebrate after their NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Scotiabank Arena on February 23, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    Existential crises are never good for business.

    Last season’s 41-win drudgery set the stage for default advancement if the Toronto Raptors roster went untouched. A step forward for Scottie Barnes here, an infusion of shooting there, a full season with Jakob Poeltl there and presto! The path to 42 or more wins paved itself.

    Except the Raptors didn’t leave the roster untouched. They let Fred VanVleet walk for nothing because they were too cheap and/or disorganized to guarantee two years of max money.

    Whether FVV is overpaid was and remains irrelevant. Letting your second-best player leave without compensation because they bagged a two-year windfall objectively sucks. If the Raptors were that on the fence about VanVleet, they should’ve moved him ahead of February’s trade deadline.

    Improvement from Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko remain in play. No. 13 overall pick Gradey Dick adds functional spacing. Dennis Schröder and Jalen McDaniels deepen a shallow rotation. Otto Porter Jr. should be healthier. Pascal Siakam is coming off an All-NBA dalliance. Something, something, what if the O.G. Anunoby on-ball leap finally materializes?, something, something.

    Unless you believe (against all logic) that FVV’s exit is addition by subtraction, Toronto will be appreciably worse.

Utah Jazz: Worse

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 16: Lauri Markkanen #23 and Walker Kessler #24 of the Utah Jazz pose for a portrait during NBAE Media Circuit Portraits as part of 2023 NBA All Star Weekend on Thursday, February 16, 2023 at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images

    Some of these decisions inflict avalanches of self-loathing. This is one of them.

    The Utah Jazz remain capably deep. A rotation featuring Lauri Marrkanen, Walker Kessler, John Collins, Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, last year’s versions of Kris Dunn and Talen Horton-Tucker and rookies Taylor Hendricks, Brice Sensabaugh and Keyonte George is all sorts of offensively versatile, with just enough defensive upside to churn out yet another ahead-of-schedule romp.

    Settling on the most optimistic outcome doesn’t preclude the Jazz from getting worse. Team CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik traded Utah out of relevance last season. They’ll probably do the same this year should the situation call for it.

    There’s also the chance the Jazz are already worse. They still want for offensive table-setting and true wings and look like they’ll be more reliant on rookies and wild cards than they were to open 2022-23.

    Agbaji and Hendricks can flip this script on its head. Agbaji has real three-and-D-plus-more chops, and a Hendricks-Kessler frontcourt can will ruin lives. Still, if Markkanen is anything less than a fringe All-NBA player who levels up his playmaking, Utah will enter the league’s fun-but-worse tier.

Washington Wizards: Worse

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: Kyle Kuzma #33 speaks with Deni Avdija #9 of the Washington Wizards during the third quarter of the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 18, 2023 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

    Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

    Kudos to the Washington Wizards for ripping off the crumpled, charred, foul-smelling, years-old Band-Aid and embarking on a much-needed, long-overdue rebuild. Trading Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis and getting worse is part of that process.

    Is there a world in which Kyle Kuzma delivers an encore to 2022-23, Deni Avdija hikes up his offensive usage, Jordan Poole escapes the stench of last season, Tyus Jones game-manages his way to a career year, Corey Kispert and Johnny Davis improve, Bilal Coulibaly plays more polished than advertised on offense and this Wizards core wins 35 or more games and looks better than its predecessor?

    Probably not. But maybe. Possibly.

    Not that it matters. Team president Michael Winger and general manager Will Dawkins won’t let it get that far. The Wizards are primed for more yard sales even if they enter worst-of-the-East territory. They will certainly nip any better-than-expected performance in the bud if it comes to that.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes.



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