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July 18, 2012
Free Agency
Winners and Losers

by Bradford Doolittle

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The NBA does a remarkable job of feeding their hoops-starved fans, even after the championship parade is over. The draft follows soon after the Finals end. Then July 1 hits, the day that the NBA calendar flips, and our attention turns to trades, offer sheets and cap space. Meanwhile, the summer leagues hit Orlando and Las Vegas, giving us an early preview of incoming rookies and emergent fringe players. By August, things start to settle down, but there is always the WNBA and before you know it, training camp is here. Professional basketball has truly become a year-round proposition.

The hectic weeks after the league's transaction moratorium ends can make your head spin, so it's always good to take a snapshot of the league to get a sense of where things stand. That's what we're doing today by choosing some winners and losers from a free agent season that isn't over. Taking a snapshot.

Each free-agent signing adds, or subtracts, wins to a team's bottom line and since there are only 1,230 wins to go around in a season, those wins are also subtracted, or added, from the rest of the league. Every move affects every team in the NBA cloud. I chart those small changes in wins over the course of the summer, and these bottom-line changes in projected victories factor into list of teams we're going to spotlight today.

Of course, there is a certain amount of art in declaring a team a winner or loser in this sense, because some teams are positioning themselves more for long-term improvement rather than for the coming season. So the list is a mixture of subjective and objective criteria. Teams aren't being judged strictly on their possible jump in 2012-13 wins, but instead more of how well they are executing their organization plan by using -- or not using -- free agency. That assumes, of course, that the team has an organizational plan to begin with. Some teams make you wonder.

WINNERS

Brooklyn Nets

Tetaining Deron Williams was huge and would put make the Nets a winner in free agency if they did nothing else. Remember, the Joe Johnson trade doesn't factor in because we're talking free agent-related activity here. On that front, the Nets have retained Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries and lost Gerald Green. The possibility that the Nets might use these assets to eventually acquire Dwight Howard would make these moves look even better, but we've been dancing that dance for a long time.

Indiana Pacers

During a summer in which the Pacers turned over their front office, incoming general manager Kevin Pritchard did a fine job of keeping together and tweaking a roster on the upswing. Keeping Roy Hibbert was imperative and they managed to work that out with having to deal with the limbo that goes with an offer sheet. They picked a point guard by casting their lot by retaining George Hill on a reasonable, if long, contract. They added a high-quality backup center in Ian Mahinmi in a sign-and-trade deal that sent Darren Collison to Dallas. That move was debatable; it kind of depends on your opinion of Mahinmi, who was an unrestricted free agent. Indiana finished the puzzle by adding high-upside, low-cost bench players in Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin. Augustin immediately becomes the best playmaker on the roster, and he's got a lot to prove.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are in win-now mode and their acquisition of Steve Nash puts them back into title consideration. They have the downside that goes with any veteran roster, but Nash's ability to make everyone around him better is worth the risk. If they end up landing Antawn Jamison, their winners-standing may be in jeopardy. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but they're better off without him.

Miami Heat

Rashard Lewis has to prove that he's still a killer shot-maker from the frontcourt and Ray Allen has to prove that his body isn't breaking down. But the Heat didn't lose anything from its title roster, so there is nothing but upside with those acquisitions. And there is a possibility that the Heat could field one of the scariest teams we've seen in some time.

Other winners: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings

LOSERS

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have been cautious and cheap this offseason as they prepare for a season that will mostly be played without Derrick Rose. Kyle Korver was traded so, technically, he doesn't fit into this article, but Chicago let C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer walk, strictly for financial reasons. Kirk Hinrich is the only addition so far and even that isn't official because Chicago has allowed its offseason to be placed on hold by the impending offer sheet Houston is going to give to Omer Asik. Right now, considering Rose's absence for at least half the coming season, the Bulls are headed for a low playoff seed in the East -- on paper. Tom Thibodeau will probably see that they are better than that, but that has nothing to do with free agency.

Philadelphia 76ers

It's as simple as this: The Sixers let Louis Williams walk and replaced him with a markedly inferior player in Nick Young. Signing Kwame Brown and Royal Ivey doesn't exactly make up for that, especially because with a creative offseason, the Sixers were poised to build off an exciting playoff run.

Phoenix Suns

It was time to turn the page on Nash, but it's what's come since his departure that leaves you scratching your head. Goran Dragic is a worthy replacement for Nash, but that's the upshot of Phoenix's offseason. They signed underachiever Michael Beasley and claimed Luis Scola off amesty waivers. You're looking at a roster where the best player is probably Marcin Gortat, who projects as about a six-win player. They haven't added the kind of future assets you'd like to see a rebuilding team gather. When it comes to free agency, it's never wise to build with mid-priced players, but that's what the Suns have done.

Other losers: Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors

TREADING WATER

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were positioned to make a big splash in their pursuit of Deron Williams. It didn't work out. Instead of locking up a bunch of middling players in response, the Mavericks have loaded up on short-term contracts, retaining their flexibility for a future run at an elite player. The roster, as is, doesn't profile as a playoff-quality team. The overall plan remains sound, but there promises to be some short-term pains.

New York Knicks

The Knicks did well to retain J.R. Smith on a bargain contract. Steve Novak was a worthy retention as well, though the dollars and length of his contract would be problematic on a thriftier team. Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd look good on paper, which is why the Knicks stand second in the East in our summer projections, even after the loss of Jeremy Lin. That bit of mismanagement is why the Knicks don't ascend to the winner's group.

Other treaders: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards

INCOMPLETE

Houston Rockets

The Rockets' long-term plan is a good one: Find the franchise building black that their roster has lacked since Yao Ming was injured. Adding Jeremy Lin is a major boost to Houston's offseason outlook. However, there is still the impending offer sheet to Asik out there in limbo land, and a good bit of cap space that Houston still has to play with. It's too soon to judge the Rockets' free agent activity. Same hold true for the Timberwolves, out other incomplete mark, who are waiting on the outcome of Nicolas Batum's offer sheet.

Other incomplete: Minnesota Timberwolves

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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