Grading the 2018-19 performance of all 30 NBA teams
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We've reached the end of the entire 2018-2019 season, and having just witnessed the evolution of the Toronto Raptors from perpetual postseason disappointments to enthralling NBA champions.
Now, let's revisit each of the 30 NBA teams, hand out some end-of-term grades, and see what may lie in wait as the offseason begins.
Toronto Raptors - A
Hail, the Kings of the North! Hail, the Kings of the Association! What a way to win, eh? They couldn't do it with Vince, or Bosh, or DeMar, but they did it with Kawhi in their first crack. No way the Klaw is bolting Ontario for, say, the West Coast, right? Not after winning his second title and the first for a non-US team, right? Masai Ujiri is sipping his champagne while also thinking of the best "stay in Toronto" pitch ever.
Milwaukee Bucks - A
Milwaukee is more than the Greek Freak's playground. This was a team built with smart draft picks, smart signings, and even smarter coaching. The result? The East team of the future, which actually finished as the #1 seed in the entire league. They'll learn from their ECF loss, and if they manage to retain key guys like Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and George Hill, they should be a sexy title contender pick next season.
Philadelphia 76ers - B
The ceiling remains high for a team that should have beaten the eventual champs. They'll learn from that stinging second round Game 7 defeat, and, provided they're healthy, they should be in the title contention conversation. The big questions is can they keep their core happy, or will the offseason require them to make some big changes?
Boston Celtics - C
No Celtic fan I know is happy about how Boston played this past season. This team should have contended for AT LEAST the East crown, but they ended up in the postseason doldrums. Looking ahead, a muddled future awaits, especially if Kyrie bolts and leaves a superstar-shaped void in Beantown.
Indiana Pacers - B+
Victor Oladipo wasn't supposed to be this great, and the Pacers were supposed to fold when their prized guard had a season-ending knee injury. Indiana defied those expectations, though, and very nearly finished among the top 4 East squads. They have a ton of free agent issues to contend with over the summer, though, so, well, good luck GM Chad Buchanan.
Brooklyn Nets - B+
Sean Marks looked like a genius this season, with pick-ups D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie firing on all cylinders. To hell with you if you expected these kids to be in the Playoffs, but hey, they made it. Aaand what if the Nets actually land not just one but two big names in the offseason? They have the cap space, so exciting times ahead.
Orlando Magic - B+
Steve Clifford can make gravy out of stale milk -- that's what we saw in 2018-2019 when the Magic bucked the odds to make the postseason. Holy heck, how's that for overachieving, eh? Now they know they have to give All-Star center Nikola Vucevic the payday of his life lest he flee to greener pastures.
Detroit Pistons - C+
Welcome back to the show, Blake Griffin, who has morphed from freakishly athletic into freakishly sweet-shooting. That's not to say the Pistons were great -- they were actually far from it, but conversely, they didn't crash and burn. Now, they'll need to get some help to shore up Dwane Casey's shallow bench.
Charlotte Hornets - C
It was all about Kemba Walker's brilliance this season, and that was par for the course for the Hornets. Missing the Playoffs hurt their chances of keeping their star home, Kemba's proclamations of loyalty notwithstanding. Here's to an offseason that could sideswipe Charlotte further down the East's ladder.
Miami Heat - C
I would have preferred seeing Dwyane Wade's final season have more success, but it is what it is. The Heat just didn't have the stuff this past season, Wade's occasional scoring explosions aside. And, wait, did they just pay their players $125 million total in 2018-2019? That's a ton of money, but not a ton of potential, which means the offseason is gonna be dismal in South Florida.
Washington Wizards - D
So Bradley Beal went from Wiz-for-life to "Let's see the team's direction" pretty quick. Not quick enough, though, as we had to endure a supremely anemic campaign from the Wizards, who, on paper, should have been in the Playoffs. Now, with an aging core and practically no cap space to speak of, Washington is in for a helluva long offseason... unless they manage to snare Masai Ujiri from the champs.
Atlanta Hawks - C+
ATL deserves credit for not tanking, though there's still a bit of a sting from their Trae Young-for-Luka Doncic draft-night swap. They were right were pretty much where people expected them to be, though nobody thought John Collins would be anywhere near All-Star consideration. Looking ahead, they have three among the first 17 picks in the 2019 Draft, which could mean more young talent to build upon.
Chicago Bulls - C
Injuries piled up, and the Bulls just didn't have enough depth to compensate. Not that they were preseason favorites by any stretch, but with a young core anchored on Wendell Carter, Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, they were intriguing. Still, they head into the offseason filled with more questions than answers.
Cleveland Cavaliers - C
Not the same Cavs that won the title in 2016, obviously, but to see them fall so far from the pinnacle was terrible. Overpaid Kevin Love? Shoulda sent Tyronn Lue packing earlier? Bye bye, JR Smith? All checks in what was a forgettable campaign. Now they have the fifth overall pick in a Draft where only three names are really on everyone's lips -- Zion, Ja, and RJ.
New York Knicks - F
Nobody picked the Knicks to do much good this season, but to win fewer than 17 games? Holy heck that's just an affront to how New York City is among the steamiest hotbeds of hoops. And they're still dreaming of landing any combination of KD, Kyrie, or maybe even Zion (let's trade for... how about Zion for the NYC GDP?)! Oh New York, New York. What a farce.
Golden State Warriors - B+
Kinda weird not giving the Kings of the West something lower than A, but they were favorites to three-peat, and they fell short. They kinda stumbled into first place in the West, and didn't really dominate like we know they could. Reality bit them hard this season, and the worst may not yet be over as the offseason limbo beckons.
Denver Nuggets - A
Hell yeah these Nuggets shone bright like diamonds this past season. You'd have been a fool to pick 'em as a top 2 team in the West, but hey, these guys aren't fool's gold by any standard. They were the real deal, and they will continue to be hella strong, especially if they manage to keep Paul Millsap for next season.
Portland Trail Blazers - B+
Such an enigma, these Blazers are. They have just one bona fide superstar, but they managed to finish with a better record than Houston and OKC. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic weren't shabby, too, and we could be seeing a really dangerous big three combo in the Northwest. If Nurkic recovers well, then look out for these kids to continue rising to the top.
Houston Rockets - B
Many harp on Houston for underperforming this season, and well they wouldn't be wrong. At the same time, when the Rockets were on, they were practically invincible, as proven by their league-best offensive rating. That's good because their core should be intact for next season, and some cunning mid-level moves may finally push them over the top.
Utah Jazz - B+
The 2018 Jazz were meh, but the 2019 Jazz were uh-may-zing. Donovan Mitchell's stock continues to gain traction even as Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles straddle the limits of imagination. The challenge? Find another star to pair with Mitchell to really boost their chances next season.
Oklahoma City Thunder - C+
At their best, the Thunder were world-beaters, but at their worst, they were one wonky collection of moving parts. Winning 47 games while being in the West isn't anything to scoff at, but given how both Russ and PG are among the elite of the elite, OKC needs a much better body of work to show for. At least they should be relatively stable in the offseason, save for the finance wizardry needed to address their sizable luxury tax.
San Antonio Spurs - C+
DeMar DeRozan wasn't expected to fit in this well. The Spurs weren't supposed to do well after the DeJounte Murray injury. Oh but they still found a way to win and barge into the Playoffs. Yes, their cracks and chinks have been more exposed now than ever before, but this isn't a sinking ship just yet. Stability -- as opposed to superiority -- has become their mantra.
Los Angeles Clippers - B+
Holy heck, it seemed like whatever Doc Rivers touched turned into gold this past season. They won much much more games than expected, hit the postseason, and now seem like a prime free agent destination for next season. You can't really hate the Clippers when they shatter their preconceived limits.
Sacramento Kings - B+
Don't scoff at these Kings. I mean, they finished higher than a LeBron team, a KAT team, and an AD team. Wow, right? Now that's playing over and beyond whatever the pundits wrote in the preseason. I'm iffy on the Luke Walton signing, but hey, the upsides on guys like De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley is indeed quite exciting.
Los Angeles Lakers - D
Laker fans are now rejoicing at the trade that landed them Anthony Davis, but that won't erase such a tiresome 2018-2019 campaign. He failed. The team failed. The organization failed. Will the AD trade turn things around? Ticket sales will surely skyrocket, but they're still one max player (or maybe a ton of role players) away from being a true threat.
Minnesota Timberwolves - D
What an unqualified disaster, this season was for Minny. Well, with Jimmy Buckets and coach Tom Thibodeau now out of the equation, at least the Wolves can look to a cleaner slate in the offseason and beyond. Also, Karl-Anthony Towns is still a bona fide Minnesota Marvel.
Memphis Grizzlies - C
Just when Memphis looked solid, they sent Marc Gasol away to the Wall up North, where he just won his first NBA title. Erstwhile sidekick Mike Conley is probably thinking he could do the same elsewhere, so it should be a very anxiety-filled offseason for the Grizzlies.
New Orleans Pelicans - D
All the Pels needed to do was make Anthony Davis feel like he had secure footing in Louisiana, but that proved to be too much to ask. Maybe AD's leaving was actually a foregone conclusion anyway. Well, at least New Orleans has some interesting young pieces (and Julius Randle's former teammates!) to play with in the offseason.
Dallas Mavericks - C+
Their dismal record undermines a truth -- these Mavs could be very good, very soon. Luka Doncic is already a star, Kristaps Porzingis seems well on the way to full recovery, and they have a ton of cap space to play with in the offseason. Not bad for a team that bid adieu to icon Dirk Nowitzki.
Phoenix Suns - C
Another year, another bleh for the state of Arizona. The Suns have some enticing youth to form their core, but they have yet to make the same jump we've seen from, say, the Sixers. Are they tanking, or are they just really really bad? Oh well, at least Monty Williams is the new sheriff in town, and he should run a pretty tight ship next season.
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