NBA power rankings after very unusual free agency

NBA free agency usually brings fireworks just days before July 4.

This year — delayed by four-plus months and with a lack of big-name free agents — it didn’t shake the ground as much, but between the draft and free agency, there were still teams that clearly got better and others that didn’t quite help their standing with the season just around the corner.

With most transactions now finalized and the season’s scheduled tip-off less than a month away, here’s a look at the post-free agency NBA power rankings.

The Lone Defender

1. Lakers

LeBron James and company were hardly a month removed from leaving the bubble with the Larry O’Brien Trophy when they somehow got even better — avoiding cap concerns to add Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Dennis Schroder, veteran wing Wesley Matthews and veteran center Marc Gasol while re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and (all but assuredly) Anthony Davis. They did lose Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Danny Green, but look primed to defend their title.

The Ring Chasers

2. Bucks

Though all eyes remain on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential supermax extension, the Bucks landed Jrue Holiday as their big acquisition. But the failed sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic would have been even better.

3. Clippers

The winners of last year’s offseason, when they nabbed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, had a quieter free agency, bringing back Marcus Morris and signing Serge Ibaka to make up for losing Harrell. Now they just need to figure out their chemistry under new head coach Tyronn Lue.

4. Nuggets

They lost Jerami Grant to the Pistons, but otherwise largely stayed the same behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic as they gear up for another tough run through the Western Conference. First-round pick RJ Hampton could be a wild card.

5. Heat

The surprise Eastern Conference champions re-signed Goran Dragic, who thrived during the bubble playoffs, and Meyers Leonard, plus locked up Bam Adebayo. They also signed former Lakers guard Avery Bradley, who should add a strong defensive presence.

6. Celtics

General manager Danny Ainge locked up Jayson Tatum with a max contract extension and bolstered the frontcourt with Tristan Thompson, but didn’t exactly fill the hole left by Gordon Hayward — even if he wasn’t playing at the level Boston hoped he would. If first-round pick Aaron Nesmith can shoot it off the bench, that’ll help.

7. Nets

A year after the Nets shook up New York by drawing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn, they’ll finally get a chance to play together at full health under new coach Steve Nash. Bringing Joe Harris back was important, and trading for Landry Shamet helps add to their depth — barring a monster trade for James Harden.

8. Raptors

Keeping Fred VanVleet in Toronto — er, Tampa Bay — was key as the Raptors look to reload, but they’ll have to do it without Ibaka and Gasol.

The Missing Pieces

9. 76ers

Can Doc Rivers’ arrival help to finally translate the 76ers’ talent into postseason success? They got Al Horford and Josh Richardson off the books and added shooters Danny Green and Seth Curry in return. Stay tuned to see if team president Daryl Morey has any more tricks up his sleeve.

10. Warriors

A much higher ranking was in store for the 2018 champs before the brutal news came out about Klay Thompson’s Achilles injury, which will sideline him for a second straight season. A healthy Stephen Curry and Draymond Green could still make noise, but they’ll need No. 2 pick James Wiseman and trade addition Kelly Oubre Jr. to step up.

11. Mavericks

They’ll run it back with a more experienced Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, who they hope will be fully healthy once he returns from offseason knee surgery that will force him to miss the start of the season. The Mavs did add some toughness in trading for veterans Josh Richardson and James Johnson, and drafted some intriguing prospects in Josh Green and Tyrell Terry.

12. Jazz

With the COVID-19 drama between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell seemingly in the past, the Jazz re-signed Jordan Clarkson, brought back Derrick Favors and extended Mitchell, largely keeping it status quo.

13. Trail Blazers

It hasn’t been splashy, but the Blazers quietly had a strong offseason — trading for Robert Covington, signing Derrick Jones Jr. and re-signing Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony to bolster the roster around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

14. Suns

By trading for Chris Paul, the Suns went from a promising team with a young core to a team that could be a handful. Devin Booker and his teammates showed their potential by going 8-0 in the bubble, and Paul could help take them to the next level.

15. Rockets

On paper, the Rockets are still plenty capable of doing damage. But how will it work if Harden and Russell Westbrook remain on the roster as disgruntled stars? Signing Christian Wood could be a nice move if he continues to rise.

16. Pacers

They missed out on bringing Hayward home, but re-signed Justin Holiday and drafted Duke wing Cassius Stanley. Victor Oladipo’s future in Indiana bears watching, but for now he’ll be back to join a core of TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon.

The Future Troublemakers

17. Grizzlies

It’s all about building around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the Grizzlies gave them a shooter in No. 30 pick Desmond Bane and a big man in No. 35 pick Xavier Tillman.

18. Pelicans

New Orleans got a new weapon for Zion Williamson to play with in speedy Alabama point guard Kira Lewis Jr. They’ll miss Jrue Holiday, but re-signed Brandon Ingram and added veterans via trade in Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams.

19. Hawks

They had plenty of cap space available and put it to good use to supplement the roster around Trae Young. An active front office added Danilo Gallinari, Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn and Rondo after drafting USC big man Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 6 pick.

20. Spurs

After their 22-year playoff streak came to an end, the Spurs were quiet in free agency but drafted 3-and-D wing Devin Vassell to add to their young core along with Duke guard Tre Jones.

21. Magic

Which Cole Anthony do the Magic get? The one who was a top recruit or the one who mostly struggled at North Carolina after knee surgery? For now, he’s their big offseason acquisition after losing veteran guard DJ Augustin.

22. Kings

They lost a shooter when they didn’t match the Hawks’ offer sheet for Bogdanovic, but locked up De’Aaron Fox with an extension and had Tyrese Haliburton fall into their lap in the draft.

23. Timberwolves

They opted for Anthony Edwards as the surer No. 1 pick instead of finding out what LaMelo Ball’s ceiling could be. He joins Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell as a talented core, but it remains to be seen how it plays out.

24. Wizards

They re-signed Davis Bertans, signed Robin Lopez and may have drafted a steal in Israeli star Deni Avdija. The bigger worry is how John Wall looks when he comes back and whether he actually wants to stay in Washington.

25. Hornets

Michael Jordan may have had money burning a hole in his pocket, as the Hornets added Hayward with a monster $120 million contract. Though it looks like an overpay, he should at least help a young group that now includes a polarizing talent in LaMelo Ball.

26. Bulls

Billy Donovan is their new coach and he’ll be tasked with sorting through a roster that added No. 4 pick Patrick Williams to its roster of young players with potential.

There’s Always Next Year’s Offseason

27. Pistons

The rebuilding franchise was oddly the hot spot for centers this offseason — drafting Isaiah Stewart, signing Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor. French guard Killian Hayes could be an interesting project, but plenty of work still to be done.

28. Knicks

For a second straight offseason, the Knicks mostly punted. They hope they added a piece of their future in No. 8 pick Obi Toppin, but kept their cap space for the rainy day fund otherwise known as 2021.

29. Thunder

Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the overflow of future first-round picks can’t play just yet. Until they appear in the flesh, it will be a struggle with Paul and others gone.

30. Cavaliers

Isaac Okoro, Darius Garland and Collin Sexton are all top-10 picks who offer some hope, but Kevin Love and Andre Drummond remain expensive contracts that could be moved down the road.

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