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NBA Power Rankings, summer edition: Warriors start on top, but Celtics, Bucks knocking on door

The Warriors sit on top of our Summer NBA Power Rankings, but the Clippers and Grizzlies are in the top five.

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Major offseason transactions are typically finalized by this time in the summer. The likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Donovan Mitchell may all be playing for different teams come the start of the upcoming season, but that won’t happen this year. Nonetheless, with the offseason winding down and team rosters becoming more or less finalized, it seemed appropriate to compile a Summer NBA Power Rankings. There at the top, of course, are the current champions.

The First Group: The Warriors (53-29). Of course the defending champions will open the new season atop these rankings; however, they will need contributions from players like Moses Moody (who shone in Summer League), Jonathan Kuminga, and James Wiseman if they hope to make a deep playoff run. Plus, the young players need to assist in limiting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green’s playing time. Donte DiVincenzo was a shrewd acquisition, and he may have a fantastic comeback year in the Bay Area.

2 – Celtics (51-31). It was a perfect offseason for Brad Stevens and his team. Getting to the NBA Finals highlighted the need for the Celtics to strengthen their roster with more depth and shot creation to limit Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s playing time. They acquired Danilo Gallinari as a free agent and traded for Malcolm Brogdon, neither of whom were considered core players. Having discovered their identity and goals in the middle of last season, the Celtics are well-positioned to contend for the Eastern Conference regular-season title this year.

3. Bucks (51-31). When it comes to championship contention, why does everyone seem to be ignoring Milwaukee? If Khris Middleton had been healthy for Game 1 against the Celtics, the Bucks might have won back-to-back titles. There were no major roster changes this offseason, but the team did make the right call in re-signing Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis. The second half of the season could benefit from the return of Joe Ingles, who, if healthy, could add valuable depth for the playoff push. The Bucks are bringing back nearly their entire championship team from two years ago, and that could be enough to win it all again.

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As for the Clippers, they come in at number four (42-40). Now that everyone is feeling better, the Clippers are a terrifying team to face. Tyronn Lue and the rest of the coaching staff will have to work hard to keep this team healthy. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are dynamic two-way wings who can propel an offense and shut down the opposition’s best players. Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Luke Kennard, and many others form a solid and adaptable supporting care st for the team. It was smart to sign John Wall, and he’ll share point guard duties with Reggie Jackson. Though the loss of Isaiah Hartenstein hurts, the team’s depth allows them to make up for it.

Grizzlies, No. 5 (56-26). During this offseason, they made it a priority to do what was most important: sign star player Ja Morant. After that they kept the core together by re-signing Tyus Jones and John Konchar and replacing Kyle Anderson (with the Timberwolves) and De’Anthony Melton (with solid draft picks and a promising Summer League showing) with new players (the 76ers will love him). The rotation of this deep team should stabilize, and the players who broke out last season should continue to improve, but can the team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs do it again?

6. 76ers (51-31). James Harden is reportedly accepting less money to win (the exact amount is unknown at this time), and Daryl Morey has made good use of the extra funds by signing P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, and trading for De’Anthony Melton. This team has all the supporting cast members it needs to compete, including a Tyrese Maxey who is primed for a breakout season; now it’s up to Joel Embiid and James Harden to prove they belong alongside each other as superstars on a championship squad. It’s not something I’m concerned about Embiid being able to do (assuming he stays healthy), but Harden? He will have to carry the team’s expectations for performance in the postseason.

7. Suns (64-18). After all the upheaval, Deandre Ayton has returned and is making all the right noises about wanting to play. When things go wrong, Monty Williams will know just what to do to fix them. The Suns made the right call by re-signing Devin Booker, their star player, and essentially running the ball. The Suns led the league in wins with 64 last season. The Suns have to be contenders if 37-year-old Chris Paul can maintain his current level of play, but can they overcome the depth and versatility of the Western Conference’s best teams? Or they may come to regret passing up on Kevin Durant.

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8. Heat (53-29). As of right now, Durant is still in Brooklyn (and not likely to be moved for a while), and Miami does not have the first-round picks to compete with the Knicks for Donovan Mitchell. Nonetheless, the East’s best regular-season record last year spent the summer trying to land another star to go with Jimmy Butler. P.J. Tucker’s absence will be felt, especially in the postseason. Even with the return of key players like Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin, and Dwayne Dedmon, the Pacers look like they might be heading in the wrong direction. Unless Pat Riley makes a surprising move, we have no idea what his next move will be.

Naughty Nines (48-34). The Nuggets are ready to make a run now that their core players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., are all healthy and back in the lineup. In the offseason, they added Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two players who will be invaluable in the postseason. While the loss of Monte Morris will hurt, backup point guard Ish Smith is a solid replacement. Eventually, they will prove this ranking to be too low if everyone stays healthy and the team gels.

Wolfpack, Number Ten (46-36). The Timberwolves went all in this offseason, trading for Rudy Gobert (and giving up a lot of picks in the process), signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a max contract extension, and adding talented bench players like Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes. The Timberwolves should improve significantly defensively, win a lot of games, make the playoffs, and possibly even host a round of the playoffs with the help of Anthony Edwards, who is entering his third season and is poised to make a leap (although, in the very deep West, hosting may be asking a lot). There are many unanswered questions about this team, but they should get to the playoffs with relative ease.

11 – Mavericks (52-32). If they put the ball in the hands of Luka Doncic and surround him with shooters, while also playing better defense than expected last season, this may be too low of a ranking. The loss of Jalen Brunson for no reason is a blow, and Tim Hardaway Jr. must shoulder a heavy load as the team’s new go-to scorer and shot maker. Christian Wood is a solid new addition. We can expect a more focused and productive season from Doncic this year, and he may even challenge for MVP honors, but how far can this team go with just one player?

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Twelve Raptors (48-34). The Raptors are running it back with their long, switchable, interchangeable, and hard-to-play-against system, and they remain a potential destination for Kevin Durant in a trade (although all KD trade talks have slowed for the time being). The Raptors have re-signed Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young, and they’ve also signed free agent Otto Porter Jr., who should be a good fit for the team’s current system.

13. Nets (44-38). I have no idea where to place the Nets, so this is where they will stay for now. This is a top-five, if not top-three, team in this ranking if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both show up for training camp, and Ben Simmons is ready to play and accepts a role. Depending on who is acquired in return, this could be an unfavorable spot if Durant and Irving are traded prior to (or during) training camp. Perhaps Durant will return but not Irving. How would their return affect the team dynamic, if at all? The Nets made smart moves by acquiring T.J. Warren, acquiring Royce O’Neal through trade, and re-signing Nic Claxton and Patty Mills. Yet, what kind of a team are the Nets?

15. Bulls (44-36). Is there too much weight placed on the final third of last season and the playoffs, when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were injured and the Bulls’ defense collapsed? Maybe. If we were to look at the Bulls’ performance through the first half of the season, we would see them in a much better position. By re-signing Zach LaVine at a maximum contract value, Chicago made the best and only real choice available to them. The Bulls did not make any bold moves this offseason, despite the positive effects of bringing back Derrick Jones Jr. and signing Goran Dragic. Chicago is competent, but they still look like a team that could make the playoffs but wouldn’t be a major threat in the Eastern Conference.

16. Hawks (43-39). If you look at the stats, Dejounte Murray is Trae Young’s ideal backcourt partner. Murray is a reliable defender at the point of attack, a reliable creator of secondary shots, and a reliable scorer who can help keep the team afloat offensively when Young is on the bench (a long running issue in Atlanta). Can the Hawks go far with this backcourt? What kind of seasons Clint Capela and DeAndre Hunter have could determine a lot. With the addition of Maurice Harkless in a trade, the Hawks now have not one but two Holiday brothers on their roster.

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Team 17 Cavaliers (44-38). The Cavaliers could end up higher in the standings than teams like the Bulls and Hawks, so their current position seems unfair. The decision to fully compensate Darius Garland was the right one (and maybe Collin Sexton still returns, that shockingly still hangs out there), Ricky Rubio is a good pickup once he regains his health, and Robin Lopez will add depth beyond Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. During the Summer League, Ochai Agbaji showed signs of being a player who can contribute right away. The success of Mobley and Garland this season will determine whether or not this ranking is too low, despite all the positive changes.

19. Kings (30-52). Keegan Murray was one of the league’s best, earning MVP honors while also showcasing himself as someone who could immediately help the Sacramento Kings. Murray and Domantas Sabonis engaging in dribble handoff action may become a staple of new head coach Mike Brown’s offense. The additions of Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter give Sacramento a fighting chance of becoming a playoff team. Even though this team does not have a particularly high ceiling, they may be able to make the playoffs and end the losing streak if De’Aaron Fox improves and Brown shores up the defense. The Kings have a good team, but they will need some breaks to make it through the tough Western Conference.

The Knicks are ranked twentyth (37-45). While discussions regarding a potential trade for Donovan Mitchell have slowed, the Knicks remain the frontrunner due to possessing an asset that Danny Ainge and the Jazz covet. Preferred selections in a draft. Portland East, featuring Mitchell, the recently signed Jalen Brunson in the backcourt, and RJ Barrett at the three, would be a fun and solid playoff team. They might even make a nice run once in a while. Should the Knicks trade away how many draft picks? Re-signing Mitchell Robinson made a shrewd move, and Isaiah Hartenstein is a fantastic addition for the Knicks.

Pioneers, No. 21 (27-55). In the near future, Damian Lillard will earn more than $60 million, and the Portland Trail Blazers have assembled a compelling roster around him with players like Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Jerami Grant, and Gary Payton II. However, how strong is this squad? They need a vintage, All-NBA level performance from Lillard if they want to make the playoffs this year. The roster’s lack of depth is a real problem. Sadly, shoulder injury kept us from seeing Shaedon Sharpe play significant minutes at Summer League, but the 57th overall pick Jabari Walker is showing promise.

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No. 22: Hornets (43-39). Charlotte’s offseason was relatively uneventful despite the drafting of Mark Williams and the re-signing of Cody Martin. LaMelo Ball’s promotion to No. 1 may have been the most noteworthy development. The loss of Miles Bridges, the team’s leading scorer from the previous season, on felony domestic violence and child abuse charges causes the Hornets to drop in the rankings. His future with the team for the upcoming season remains in doubt (the Hornets retain his rights through a qualifying offer, but right now nobody is going near him with an offer).

Wizards, No. 23 (35-47). They re-signed Bradley Beal to a massive extension and attempted to surround Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis with reliable supporting cast members like Will Barton, Monte Morris, and Delon Wright (but released reliable supporting cast members like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Thomas Bryant). Is that going to be enough for the far East? Even though Johnny Davis was the tenth overall pick for the Wizards, his impact this season will be evaluated after seeing him play in Summer League.

Injectors, or Pistons, Number 24 (23-59). Even though Jaden Ivey’s injury prevented him from being evaluated early in the Summer League (he was explosive but raw in his debut), Jalen Duren stood out by swatting shots, making excellent passes out of the post, and scoring in the paint. He may find success if he teams up with Cade Cunningham. Both re-signing Marvin Bagley III and taking a chance on Kevin Knox were wise decisions for a young, improving team. They won’t be winning many games, but Detroit should provide plenty of excitement.

Rockets, Number 26 (20-62). Jabari Smith showed real promise on defense at Summer League (as much as anyone defends in Las Vegas), although his offense is going to take a while to come along. Smith combined with the impressive Tari Eason brought something Houston needs to the court in Houston. TyTy Washington could be a steal at No. 29 (the latest in a long line of Kentucky guards to shine outside of Lexington). There’s a lot of growth to do, but with Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. driving the offense, and the just re-signed Jae’Sean Tate, there is a strong young core in Houston.

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27. Pacers (25-57). The rebuild is on in Indiana, and Bennedict Mathurin stood out in Las Vegas and looked to be a key part of it, scoring 19.4 per game and almost never turning the ball over. Mathurin paired with Tyrese Haliburton is a start. The Pacers did not succeed with the bold move of landing Deandre Ayton, but expect more moves — Myles Turner and Buddy Hield are available via trade and it would be a surprise if either ends the season in a Pacers uniform.

30. Spurs (34-48). The long-anticipated rebuild is on in San Antonio, and Keldon Johnson is now being paid to be at the heart of it. We didn’t get to see Jeremy Sochan at Summer League, but Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley showed flashes of promise in Las Vegas. This is the kind of teaching, developmental job that Gregg Popovich enjoys as a coach, and this team will get better (and likely not finish last in these rankings), but this team also isn’t going to win a lot of games. It’s a rebuild that will take a few years.

NBA Power Rankings, summer edition: Warriors start on top, but Celtics, Bucks knocking on door originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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