NBA PM: Top Five Most Improved Teams
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Top Five Most Improved NBA Teams
For those who work around the NBA, there really is no such thing as an offseason. When the NBA Finals are over and the game schedule takes a five-month hiatus, the work of winning basketball games really begins, especially for the 29 teams who didn’t win the championship. By the first of August, however, the bulk of the heavy lifting is over; the impact free agents have signed, the draft is in the books and most of the significant trades have been made. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five teams that have helped themselves the most to date.
1) Indiana Pacers – Last season, the Pacers were one win away from the NBA Finals, and considering how much they have helped their second unit over the offseason you can bet they will give the Miami HEAT a run for their money once again in 2013-14. The return of Danny Granger will help immensely as will internal improvement from young stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, but with C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola the Pacers now have a legit second unit that can not only hold the lead when the starters take a breather, they could easily add to it a bit. They also have injury insurance and the ability to cause match-up problems, as all of those players are more than capable of starting and playing big minutes.
2) Houston Rockets – There was no bigger name in free agency this summer than Dwight Howard, and by landing him the Rockets believe they are ready to contend. That may or may not be true, but there is little doubt that the pieces are there for Houston to be extremely tough in 2013-14. Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams, Aaron Brooks and Marcus Camby are all experienced veterans who can step up and play significant roles if called upon, but who will also be happy to play supporting roles in the second unit and on the practice court. Houston is deeper, more experienced, and they have a much more dangerous front court going into the new season. There are still questions to answer, especially at point guard and power forward, but the Rockets can go far without making another move.
3) Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers are coming off of their best regular season in franchise history, and while their postseason run was cut remarkably short (due in part to a Blake Griffin ankle injury), the Clippers wasted no time correcting the issues that cost them a longer season. Head coach Doc Rivers is a proven winner, and won’t be prone to making the same mistakes that his predecessor did time and time again. The Clippers have better outside shooters in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and they added a key backup point guard in Darren Collison, who has a great relationship with Chris Paul and is looking forward to backing him up again. Byron Mullens adds some front court firepower, though he doesn’t help LA’s front line defensive deficiencies. It remains to be seen if the Clippers can contend without a more concerted defensive game plan, but maybe Rivers can coax that out of his existing players.
4) Brooklyn Nets – The Nets are looking to set all kinds of records this season, most of them involving the most money ever spent on an NBA team. That may or may not lead to them being in the mix for a championship when the dust settles in late May of 2014, but the team is certainly impressive on paper. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and even Alan Anderson are excellent additions alongside Brooklyn’s stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, but can a rookie head coach and a much older core compete with the young legs in Chicago and Indiana and the trio of stars in Miami? The Nets are certainly improved, but $180 million (estimated, with tax and penalties) is a heck of a lot to spend on a team that could very well lose in the second round of the playoffs.
5) Detroit Pistons – While the Nets have been grabbing every veteran star player they can get their hands on, the Pistons haven’t done too badly themselves. Josh Smith was arguably the third-best player in free agency, and while there are questions about how efficient he can be at the three, there’s little doubt that a front court of Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will certainly dominate the glass. Any ill-advised shots from Smith will most likely turn into easy put-backs for one of Detroit’s front line guys. Like Smith, Brandon Jennings is a low-efficiency scorer, but the Pistons are hoping that by putting him a situation where he has so many quality bigs to feed that he might be a little more selective when it comes to his own offense. His defenders will certainly spend some of their time preoccupied with providing help defense in the post. The return of Chauncey Billups was a nice move, as well, as he can help Jennings grow into a better floor leader and also provide a quality veteran voice to help new head coach Mo Cheeks change the culture in Detroit.
Honorable Mention: Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers
Waiting On Greg Oden
Every year, as free agency winds down, we run into one or two stoppers who have basically every other free agent on hold. This year that stopper is one of the seemingly most unlikely of all cases. Former Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, whose career was cut short by multiple knee injuries, is supposedly ready to resume his career, and a number of teams are hoping to find a bargain center by helping him revive his career. Oden’s decision is supposed to come at some point today, though as of this writing there is said to be no frontrunner among the teams who have shown interest.
Meanwhile, a number of interesting front court players are waiting for Oden to make his decision so they make the most of their negotiations, which can then include some of the teams that ultimately missed out on Oden.
First on our list of available big men is Ivan Johnson, who spent the last two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks after a colorful college career and a couple of stops in the D-League and in Korea. His quick temper has been an issue for him over the course of his career, but he is an outstanding scorer in transition and even reasonably good in a half court set. He ranked in the 60th percentile defensively last season, so he’s not exactly a stopper, but he is a willing defender and a capable rebounder, as well.
Louis Amundson never seems to be on anyone’s radar, and yet at the end of the day he is always able to find a job because he does a lot of little things on and off the court that make him a valuable commodity. In seven NBA seasons he has been on eight teams, and at least half a dozen teams have expressed interest in adding him for next season, including the Dallas Mavericks, Miami HEAT, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
Needing absolutely no introduction is Antawn Jamison, who is hoping to put one more contract under his belt before he hangs up his kicks. Jamison is the consummate pro, comes to work hard every day, mentors the young players on the team, and even after 15 years in the league he can still contribute on the court, too. The Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Bobcats, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies all reportedly have interest in Jamison.
This afternoon the Orlando Magic put Al Harrington on waivers, and while he is not a big man, it will be interesting to see if he becomes a player of interest once some of the above names commit elsewhere. Harrington can still stretch the floor, and like Jamison, he is a veteran leader and a solid person to have next to young and improving players. He is also someone who can still contribute to a playoff team, especially in a limited role off the bench. He hopes his injury is now behind him and he’s ready to show he still has something to contribute to the NBA.
NBA Chat with Bill Ingram
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