LM Otero/Associated Press

20. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are hesitant to dive head-first into a rebuild, even though they’ve lost Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford in the last 13 months. But that stubborn approach has them in danger of treading water near the NBA’s midsection—the least desirable place for a franchise to find itself.

L.A. isn’t moving the needle in either direction. Teams don’t launch themselves up the ladder by keeping Avery Bradley or adding the likes of Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Luc Mbah a Moute. But those also aren’t the transactions of a team looking to bottom out.

The Clippers, it seems, are fine with being fine. They’ll be competitive, but they’re at least one blockbuster deal from being interesting.


19. Dallas Mavericks

Only under the perfect circumstances would it have made sense for the Mavericks to forgive DeAndre Jordan for previously leaving them at the altar. But, as Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News explained, Jordan’s one-year agreement is almost the ideal setup:

“If the Mavericks and Jordan find that this is a great fit and the young core of Dennis Smith Jr., [Luka] Doncic and [Harrison] Barnes can grow with Jordan, great. He could return next season and the Mavericks still would have loads of money to throw at other free agents.

“And if this doesn’t work? This will go down as a one-year experiment that didn’t go as planned but also didn’t compromise the Mavericks’ long-term goals.”

Dallas doesn’t have an in-prime star, which caps its ceiling. But the floor for a Jordan-Smith-Doncic-Barnes-Dirk Nowitzki-Wesley Matthews sextet should be comfortably above last season’s 58-loss dumpster fire.


18. Detroit Pistons

Free agency was never going to simplify the challenge awaiting the Pistons and their new head coach Dwane Casey. The success of at least the next two seasons will be defined by the health and production of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, plus whatever Casey can squeeze out of Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard.

That said, Detroit’s revamped front office seemingly made the best of a tricky situation. Draft night might have yielded two rotation pieces (Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown), even though the Pistons didn’t own a first-round pick. Glenn Robinson III could be a bargain if he realizes his potential, while Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon are both veterans who know how to win. 

But it takes stars to win in the Association, and the Pistons’ best players aren’t always healthy and don’t necessarily fit.


17. Miami Heat

Running back a 44-win roster is as mundane as it sounds, particularly when several key contributors are on the wrong side of 30. But the Heat had no other choice. All possible spending money was invested in previous summers, and attempts to move big contracts have proved futile.

Keeping Wayne Ellington helps from a basketball sense, since his shooting threat and constant movement breathe life into this sometimes stale attack. But he also pushes this group into the luxury tax (for now, at least) and further crowds the wing rotation.

Most Miami eyes will be locked onto the decisions made by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem regarding their futures. But the real key will be the development of the Heat’s scant youth. It’s hard to see this season being dramatically improved in South Beach without significant steps forward from Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo.


16. Portland Trail Blazers

Are the Blazers trying to corner the scoring-guard market? Hadn’t the rest of us already wondered whether their one-way backcourt was too flawed to function?

Maybe Portland felt it exploited a market efficiency, but this summer was a strange interpretation of the roster’s needs. The group needed defense everywhere and upgrades at the wing. The front office instead delivered multiple scoring guards on draft night (Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr.) and again in free agency (Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas).

While last season’s Blazers grabbed the West’s No. 3 seed, they only had three more wins than No. 9 and ranked 12th overall in net rating. Their margin for error was already razor-thin, and it’s hard to see how this summer widened it.

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