The Hot Stove has finally begun to cool.
The NBA has simply never had an offseason like this one. For that matter, neither has baseball.
When was there ever a three-month stretch where there were so many high-profile changes on the bench and on the floor? So many big-name players involved in trades? So many small-market teams with millions in cap room-and, for the first time in memory, the willingness to use it? So many talented but unproven high schoolers taken in the draft?
Every team in the league has had an opportunity, at one time or another since the end of the Finals, to do something big. Just about every team tried to do something meaningful to shake things up, change the landscape. (That is, by the way, the biggest impact of the Laker Follies; everyone now thinks they have a real chance to win, which hasn't been the case in five years.) And as July descends into August, we now have enough information to make some judgments. While the final destination of players like Jamal Crawford and Erick Dampier could still impact the scoreboard, we can at least take a stab at the question: Who has improved the most this offseason?
By "offseason," I refer to everything that's happened to a team since the day it played its final game. That means everything -- new ownership, new coaches, new buildings, new players. Some teams, obviously, have thus had a little longer to make changes. Some teams concentrated on the draft, while others banked on free agency. And others were better to begin with, and didn't have as much work to do. I tried to take all of that into account when ranking the teams -- as well as noting smaller moves that may not make headlines, but will help.
Please keep in mind: This is not a predicted order of finish for next season. Nor does it mean that I think the teams at the bottom of the rankings will be in the lottery. This only covers the offseason, where owners, GMs and agents rule, and is only a measure of where these teams are relative to themselves last season. Once the ball goes up, the players usually decide who wins for real.