This NBA offseason has been full of moves that will change the landscape of the league. The defending champion Miami Heat are still the team to beat, but a number of teams have elevated themselves into championship contention with their roster upgrades.Some teams, like the Utah Jazz, are preparing to tank their season to grab a coveted spot in the 2014 Draft Lottery. Others are content keeping their roster intact and believe they can compete with the pieces they have.
Nonetheless, the teams that have made improvements, regardless of how large, deserve to be recognized. Here are the ten teams that improved the most so far in the offseason. Note that they may not be the best teams in the league, but their improvements will help them finish higher next season than they did the last.
10. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons signed Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups this offseason. They finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with a 29-53 record. Smith has career averages of 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.1 blocks. Billups brings a veteran presence that is worshiped in Detroit. The Pistons have budding talent in Andre Drummond that will benefit greatly from having those two around.
9. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls finished last season with a 45-37 record for the 5th seed in the East. Roster-wise, the Bulls are remaining fairly pat but they will be much improved for next season. With Derrick Rose supposedly returning at 100% and Jimmy Butler given the starting job at shooting guard, the Bulls will be the Miami Heat’s biggest competition in the East. Don’t expect them to finish the season any lower than 3rd in the East.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota had a rough 2012-13 season. They finished 31-51 and 12th in the West. Their fortunes will turn around in 2013-14. Kevin Love is set to return from injury and will fit in nicely with Nikola Pekovic to be one of the best frontcourts in the league. Their acquisitions of Corey Brewer, Ronny Turiaf, Kevin Martin and Luke Ridnour will also help nab them one of the last two spots for the playoffs.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers finished last season with a 24-58 records and 13th in the East. With Anderson Varejao out with injury and Kyrie Irving struggling with staying on the court, the Cavaliers posted a record much worse than their roster would indiate. The acquisition of Jarrett Jack gives the young duo of Irving and Dion Waiters a veteran point guard to learn from, while Andrew Bynum signing gives the Cavaliers a top-3 center from two seasons ago. With all but two playoff spots essentially locked up in the East, the Cavs will be serious contenders for those spots.
6. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta went 44-38 last season with the 6th spot in the East. Despite losing Josh Smith to free-agency, the Hawks upgraded their frontcourt by Paul Millsap, one of the most consistent power-forwards in the league. Al Horford is already one of the best centers in the league and the addition of Millsap will only make him better.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have an incredibly small window of success. In the biggest trade of the offseason, the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. Their signing of Andre Kirilenko was just the cherry on top of a busy and successful offseason. If Garnett and Pierce can fight the inevitable decline associated with age, the duo of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez can play next to two all-time greats. The Nets have some of the most cerebral, defensive-minded players in the league with a head coach to match. They will finish next season within the top three spots in the East and legitimate championship aspirations.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans had a paltry 27 wins last season for the fifth worst record in the league. Thankfully, their future looks bright. Eric Gordon had a dismal season, but looks to be rejuvenated by the new talent. All Star Jrue Holiday and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans were acquired through trades to give them a stronger backcourt. The re-signing of Al-Farouq Aminu and continued maturation of Anthony Davis will also give the Pelicans a chance to compete. The Pelicans will be in the thick of the battle for one of the two final playoff spots in the West.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers won the Pacific Division for the first time in franchise history with a 56-26 record. The Clippers had fringe championship aspirations last season, but those expectations have only increased with their offseason moves. They acquired championship head coach Doc Rivers, sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and point guard Darren Collison. They also re-signed Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and All NBA First Team guard, Chris Paul. By keeping their core and upgrading their support players, the Clippers are in the race to win the West.
2. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors were one of the most improved teams going into last season. They went from a .348 win-loss record in 2011-12 to .573 in 2012-13. The Warriors, despite losing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, have bolstered their roster by adding Andre Iguodala, Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal. The acquisition of these four players has given the Warriors one of the deepest benches in the league. Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green, two more Warrior bench players, have had a successful offseason in the Las Vegas Summer League, giving the Warriors even more reasons to believe that they can and will compete for a championship next season.
1. Houston Rockets
The Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and have become the most improved team in the league. They finished 8th in the West last season, but Howard gives them an inside-out combination that will put them in the running for one of the top four seeds in the West next season. When Howard is on, there are few teams that can stop him down low. Houston legitimately has the potential and talent to go from the 8th seed to 1st in the span of one season. If the other players on the roster can commit to getting better and adjusting to play around Howard, the Rockets will be the team to beat next season.