Bird had to make changes

Updated: July 23, 2004, 1:00 AM ET
By David Aldridge | Special to ESPN.com

Rating the offseason
Aldridge: Teams 1-10
Aldridge: Teams 11-20
Aldridge: Teams 21-30
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.:

Offseason rankings
21. Indiana Pacers


2003-04 RECORD: 61-21, lost in Eastern Conference finals
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Stephen Jackson (acquired from Atlanta)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F Al Harrington (traded to Atlanta)

Despite his team making the Eastern finals, Larry Bird obviously didn't like what he saw. He shipped Harrington off to the Hawks for Jackson, who got $44 million in a sign-and-trade deal and will ultimately be Reggie Miller's replacement. Jack has a lot of good attributes -- he's not afraid of anyone, he'll take and make big shots and he's got superior defensive instincts. But he clashed at times with Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and Rick Carlisle is cut from a similar coaching cloth. I don't expect Ron Artest to be on the opening-day roster, either; he's been shopped around all summer after his mystifying near-absence from the Pistons' series. The Pacers are still trying to figure out a way to get Dampier, but the biggest concern has to be Jermaine O'Neal's knee. He says he'll be okay, but no one is penciling him in for 80 games just yet. Even though Indiana dominated the Pistons in the regular season, Detroit won when it mattered, and the Pistons have gotten even better. Indiana needs to make another deal to keep pace.

22. Sacramento Kings


2003-04 RECORD: 55-27, lost in second round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: C Greg Ostertag (unrestricted free agent, Utah)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: C Vlade Divac (signed with Lakers); F Gerald Wallace (taken by Bobcats in expansion draft)

Another team whose window of opportunity is now. GM Geoff Petrie is not one to panic; despite his team's inability to break through, he's kept the core group together for five years and shows no signs of making noise with a big trade. Divac's departure hurts more emotionally than on the floor; he was a big brother to Peja Stojakovic and Vlade was the first guy who said he wanted to play in Sacramento when he signed up six years ago. That changed things. But the Maloof Brothers are adamant about not being a tax payer, so Vlade had to go. Ostertag has never been as bad as people say. As a player, he was overpaid. But he is what he is. And as a backup for Brad Miller, he'll be fine. I think the Kings will get a big season next year from Chris Webber, who gutted it out on one leg down the stretch in the playoffs. Bobby Jackson's return is obviously a major shot in the arm. But keep an eye on Stojakovic. He did not play well against the Wolves and didn't take kindly to Webber's veiled criticism of him afterward. I point this out for information purposes only: Peja has a contract out in two years.

23. Seattle Sonics


2003-04 RECORD: 37-45, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: C Robert Swift (1st round, draft)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: G Brent Barry (signed with San Antonio)

Losing Barry was a blow, though not totally unexpected. Seattle was hoping to replace him with Derek Fisher; they were in on Fish until the very end. But the need for a one remains. Despite constant rumors that they're shopping Ray Allen, the Sonics insist they want to give him a contract extension. Now that he's hired Lon Babby as his agent, they'll have the chance. Still, there's been too many rumors about the Sonics shopping everyone for anybody to really be comfortable. I sense major changes up and down the organizational chart before next season. Whether that's Vlad Radmanovic or Rashard Lewis remains to be seen, but you keep hearing that owner Howard Schulz is determined to cut costs. Swift, the high schooler out of Bakersfield, CA., looks like a keeper. But he's a kid, and it's going to take him a while to find his legs … and his arms.

24. Atlanta Hawks


2003-04 RECORD: 28-54, did not make the playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Josh Childress (1st round, draft); F Josh Smith (1st round, draft); F Al Harrington (acquired from Indiana)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: G Stephen Jackson (traded to Indiana)

The Hawks are about the future, with a new ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, taking over from Time Warner. It's a strong team, with Steve Belkin and Bruce Levenson at the top. Bernie Mullin will run the team as president, and his first decision was a good one -- leaving GM Billy Knight alone to continue the rebuilding effort. Knight brought Mike Woodson in from Detroit to be head coach, and Woodson is putting together a solid staff that includes Herb Brown and Larry Drew, who still deserves to get a chance to run his own team. But that's another story. Woodson will do well if ownership is patient. Given time, he and Knight will put a good roster together. They ached for Dwight Howard, but the ping-pong balls didn't bounce that way, so Knight went for solid if unspectacular in Childress. Harrington will get the opportunity to start and put up numbers that he didn't have in Indiana. The Hawks will struggle next season, but they should have a lot of cap room next summer, and will likely be a bigger player in free agency.

25. Toronto Raptors


2003-04 RECORD: 33-49, did not make the playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: C Rafael Araujo (1st round, draft); G Rafer Alston (unrestricted free agent, Miami)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F Morris Peterson (signed by New Orleans)

I think new general manager Rob Babcock is going to do well. He's put a terrific braintrust around him, including brother Pete, the former Hawks' GM, and Wayne Embry, one of the best ever at building a franchise. And I think Sam Mitchell is going to be a really good head coach. The problem is that this team isn't very good, and its best player is demanding to be traded. Not an auspicious beginning for the new guys. I like Araujo, just not with the eighth pick overall; he would have been available midway through the first round. I also like Alston, and $5 million a year isn't going to kill anybody. But the Vince situation needs to be resolved. It's not going to do the franchise any good if its franchise player wants to be elsewhere. I know he sells out Air Canada Centre, and in a nation with one NBA team, that is not a small consideration. I do not pretend I have the answer here. But it's a problem.

26. Dallas Mavericks


2003-04 RECORD: 52-30, lost in first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Devin Harris (1st round, draft); G Jerry Stackhouse (acquired from Washington); C Pavel Podkolzine (acquired from Utah)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: G Steve Nash (signed with Phoenix)

Cubes has written his version of why Nash went to Phoenix on his blog, but that doesn't change the fact that he lost an asset -- one of his biggest -- for nothing, and that violates NBA 101. It may not make business sense, but in this league, you've always got to assume that there's some crazy team out there who will overpay, and plan accordingly. Harris has gotten rave reviews in summer league play, but if you want to bet the joint on a rookie point, go right ahead. And the Mavs couldn't get anything going with the Lakers for O'Neal. Still, losing Nash isn't a death blow. Cuban was smart to re-sign Marquis Daniels, who'll be a key component of Dallas' team of the future, with Harris and Josh Howard and, maybe, Podkolzine. (And this 7-foot kid Didier Ilunga-Mbenga signed last week isn't bad, either). The problem for Dallas is that it still has guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley who want to win now. The kids are going to be good, but can they help next year?

27. Milwaukee Bucks


2003-04 RECORD: 41-41, lost in the first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F Zaza Pachulia (acquired from Charlotte)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F Brian Skinner (signed with Philadelphia)

The Bucks are hoping to pry Etan Thomas from Washington with an offer sheet, but I wouldn't count on it. And that's not much accomplished for a team that overachieved last season, but won't have the element of surprise next year. And why am I hearing rumblings about Terry Porter, who did a sensational job in his rookie season as head coach? Assistant Jim Boylan is a good pickup. A full year from Keith Van Horn will help, but the Bucks go nowhere if T.J. Ford doesn't make a full recovery from his back injury. After he went out of the lineup, Milwaukee struggled to score in transition. They'll probably lose able backup Damon Jones, so shoring up the point is a key; Michael Redd needs somebody who's creative to get him the ball, because he knows what to do with it once it hits his hands.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers


2003-04 RECORD: 35-47, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G/F Luke Jackson (1st round, draft); G Eric Snow (acquired from Philadelphia)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F Carlos Boozer (signed with Utah); G Kevin Ollie (traded to Philadelphia)

Okay, we all know why Cleveland is all the way down here. A promising rebuilding project was knocked off the rails when Boozer decided to spurn an alleged agreed-upon deal and went to Utah. (I'm not going to rehash what happened except to ask one thing -- if Boozer had re-signed with Cleveland, wouldn't the league have had to look into it?) Owner Gordon Gund can hold his head up; his reputation, already strong around the league, is now sterling, and only idiots would hold GM Jim Paxson accountable for what his owner told him to do. The damage to the team, though, is still significant. A position that shouldn't have given the Cavs a worry for a decade is now unmanned. Tony Battie could start there, but that would affect Cleveland's depth, and the Cavs are adamant that they won't trade Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Jackson and Aleksander Pavlovic, picked up from the Bobcats in an expansion draft deal, will provide desperately needed help on the perimeter, and Snow is a terrific pickup. You could envision Paul Silas playing he and Jeff McInnis together if he really wants to get after people defensively. The Cavs are still going up; that's what having LeBron James can do for a franchise. But their rate of ascent has been slowed dramatically.

29. Memphis Grizzlies


2003-04 RECORD: 50-32, lost in first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F Brian Cardinal (unrestricted free agent, Golden State); G Andre Emmett (acquired from Seattle)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None

No, I haven't lost my mind. The Logo is still the Logo. But the teams behind Memphis in the West last season are all muscling up, and every team ahead other than the Lakers isn't losing ground. Moving into FedEx Forum should be a big boost for a team that built a nice fan base last season at the Pyramid. But what's Logo got up his sleeve? He's taking his sweet time re-signing Stromile Swift, which leads me to believe he's already got a deal in his pocket and is trolling for something a little better. Bringing in Cardinal will help, but you wonder if Memphis can keep Cardinal at $39 million, and re-signed Shane Battier at $37 million, and get Swift under contract this summer, and still be able to pay Pau Gasol next summer. The Grizz are only down here for now. Once the Logo pulls off whatever he's going to pull off, they'll go on a rocket ride.

30. New Jersey Nets


2003-04 RECORD: 47-35, lost in second round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F/C Nenad Kristc (2003 first-round pick)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F Kenyon Martin (traded to Denver); F Rodney Rogers (opted out of contract)

There's a pall over 16W. It's not just losing Martin (yes, I know it was a "trade," but they lost him). It's Jason Kidd's knee and the gamble on Alonzo Mourning that failed. Mostly, it's not doing right by team president Rod Thorn and giving him a new contract. It was Thorn that brought Kidd to East Rutherford, and it was Thorn that drafted Martin, and it was Thorn who helped reshape the image of the Nets from a bumbling, stumbling franchise to one that knew what it was doing. I'm told that the Nets didn't allow Thorn to talk to the Raptors about their vacant GM position, which is their right. But if you do that, you then have to give him a new deal. His expires at the end of the season. I'm willing to bet that if Thorn is re-signed, he and new GM Ed Stefanski will figure out a way to keep New Jersey competitive. The Nets could have $15 to $20 million available in cap room next summer, assuming they don't re-sign Kerry Kittles and Mourning doesn't try another comeback, in which case New Jersey should be off the hook for the last two seasons of his deal. (Dikembe Mutombo's $14 million is already going away after next season.) That would put them in the exact position the Nuggets and Jazz were in this summer. Bruce Ratner is already behind the eight ball in the court of public opinion by taking a pass on Martin. He can do a lot to stanch the bleeding by keeping Thorn in the fold.

David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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