The major draft and free agent and trade moves are done, and the NBA right now is busy catching its breath. In the meantime, we'll try to to figure it all out and see who was helped and who was hurt. Here are the 10 summertime decisions that will shape the coming season the most:
10. Kings stay in Sacramento. Imagine if that had gone the other way. Seattle jerseys would be getting stitched as we speak, and without a single professional sports team, Sacramento would look like, say, Fresno. But the NBA yanked the rug from underneath Seattle and preserved the status quo. Thanks to Mayor Kevin Johnson and new owner Vivek Ranadivé, folks in Sacramento still have something to root for. And also thanks to Ranadivé, every NBA franchise is more valuable today than a few months ago. Remember, the Kings essentially sold for $530 million; by comparison, Michael Jordan paid roughly $175 million for the Bobcats just three years ago. Ranadivé then raided the Warriors (he once owned a piece of the club) to remake the Kings' staff, led by rookie coach Mike Malone, who immediately laid down the law for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in seven years: "You're either going to embrace the challenge or resist it." Got that, DeMarcus Cousins?
9. Pelicans change name … and culture? The best summer development for the Pelicans was that David Stern didn't erase anything they did. Fueled by new ownership, name, uniforms and a thought process, the Pelicans decided to throw out the five-year plan in favor of more immediate results. It was bold, considering how deep the next draft will be, and yet New Orleans would rather make the playoffs than sink into another lottery. That's why the Pelicans spent freely, getting Jrue Holiday from the Sixers and Tyreke Evans from the Kings. It cost them two first round picks (including No. 6) and $84 million, the combined value of Evans and Holiday's contracts. But Holiday was an All-Star last year, and while Evans flat-lined after a promising rookie season, there are suspicions that he was under-coached and misused in Sacramento. Here's your top five players in the rotation: Holiday, Evans, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. That might be good enough to get bounced in the first round by the Clippers.
8. LeBron gets a true center. He didn't cost them anything, and he may not give them anything, at least initially, but Greg Oden is welcome anyway, even with the black cat that's tailing him. What's the alternative, really? Miami did re-sign Chris Andersen, but Birdman is more of an off-the-bench energy guy, not a center in the traditional sense. And Joel Anthony is, um, thrilled that Miami used its amnesty on Mike Miller. Anyway, it doesn't matter if Oden isn't ready for training camp, doesn't matter if he can't suit up for the opener, doesn't matter if he doesn't become unwrapped until Christmas. If he's healthy by next May and able to put a body on Roy Hibbert or Joakim Noah in the playoffs, he'll be the best big man LeBron ever had in Miami (Chris Bosh aside), which is like calling yourself the prettiest girl in an ugly contest.
7. Cavs try to win now, hit jackpot next summer. Gotta give it to Dan Gilbert. This was his grand plan all along: (1) Allow LeBron to leave town. (2) Watch franchise crash while trying hard to conceal happiness. (3) Draft Kyrie Irving. (4) Keep the Cavs mediocre. (5) Use the good-luck son to get another No. 1 overall pick. (6) Draft NBA-ready Anthony Bennett over Nerlens Noel. (7) Add Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum in free agency. (8) Watch the Cavs take enough reasonable steps toward respectability to make LeBron at least consider the possibility of returning in July. That's why Gilbert is a millionaire; he takes risks and makes better decisions than most of us. He's luckier, too.
6. Joe Dumars spends money, Part II. We know what happened the last time Dumars got ahold of the company credit card. He went out and bought Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, money that would've been better spent on a portable CD player. The Pistons tanked almost as fast as Dumars' reputation as a sharp evaluator of talent. When the team ownership changed hands, not only did Tom Gores keep Dumars on board, he gave him more money to spend. Who says the NBA isn't a great place to work? Dumars reeled in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings with the dough and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the Pistons' No. 1 pick. It's easy to see why the Pistons were a little desperate here; they were on the verge of becoming totally irrelevant in Detroit. Maybe the Smith-Jennings package, when paired with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, will bring some winning and excitement back to the Palace, which should be simple enough to do in the weak East. Otherwise, the next check the Pistons write will be to Dumars for his severance.
5. Larry Bird gets back behind the wheels of the Pacers. Bird won the Executive of the Year, then retired for a year, then returned and immediately showed why he was missed. In a frantic summer, he re-signed David West; added Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and Luis Scola to fortify the bench; and drafted Solomon Hill, without sacrificing the Pacers' nucleus or destroying the salary cap. Suddenly, the Pacers, who will welcome back Danny Granger, are loaded and deep and ready to make a legitimate run at a title. If Roy Hibbert and Paul George step up again the way Bird just did (for the second time), the Pacers will be trouble for anyone.
4. Mountains of issues in Denver. After they took a 1-0 lead on the Warriors in the playoffs, the Nuggets were in heaven. They'd won 57 games, were about to sweep the coach and executive of the year awards and were three wins from reaching the next round. Then they crumbled against the Warriors, saw Masai Ujiri bolt for the Raptors, George Karl get whacked and Andre Iguodala leave for the Warriors. Only one of those decisions was made by the Nuggets (Karl); the others were made for them. The franchise finds itself treading water in a pool of uncertainty because (a) new coach Brian Shaw doesn't have much of a learning curve, (b) clumsy center JaVale McGee needs to find skills in a hurry, (c) shooter Danilo Gallinari is still mending from knee surgery, and (d) Kenneth Faried hits free agency (restricted) next summer. Wow. You might say that, in their playoff series, the Warriors went one way and the Nuggets another.
3. Danny Ainge burdens Brooklyn with expectations. The Nets will either cheer or curse the Celtics boss for giving them Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. It all depends on what happens next spring and how far the Nets go. Can we all agree that if they meet the same fate as last spring -- getting ambushed by the Bulls without Derrick Rose -- then this will become a nightmare? Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is laughing at the luxury tax; he'll pay about $170 million in salary and tax this season. But it won't be so funny if Pierce and KG grow old quickly and Jason Kidd isn't cut out to coach, and Deron Williams doesn't re-establish himself as a top-five point guard.
2. Doc Rivers defects. Rivers knew that Red Auerbach's cigar smoke was not blowing through that door anymore, and he therefore did the smart thing and negotiated his way out of Boston. It was a decision that positively changed both the Celtics and Clippers in different ways. Boston suddenly had the green light to rebuild in earnest, while the Clippers got a coach who commands respect in the locker room. If coaching was the reason the Clippers failed to reach at least the West finals with Chris Paul, then that's about to change.
1. Dwight Howard leaves L.A. behind. Lakers owner Jim Buss said Howard was never really a Laker, that he was "just passing through." This could be a blessing for the Lakers, though. After this season, only Steve Nash will be under contract, and the Lakers will have the flexibility to remake the team (are you listening, LeBron?). In the meantime, they should give Kobe Bryant as much time off as he needs with his repaired Achilles. What's the rush, when you team isn't built to win a title? For that matter, neither are the Rockets, even with Howard. Houston is about two players short but if nothing else will be in better shape than the Lakers in the short term. Then again, aren't we all?