NBA Free Agency 2012: How New Additions Will Fit into Top Teams' Plans
The last few weeks have been hectic with player movement in the NBA. There have been free-agent signings, trades and sign-and-trades. But this is the time of year where a few prudent moves can take a team from cellar dwellers to title winners, just like the Boston Celtics in 2007-08.
This season figures to be no different, as we've already seen a bunch of high-profile players switching teams. The Brooklyn Nets have fortified their roster. The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Steve Nash via sign-and-trade. Plus a few other teams have bolstered their rosters and improved their chances this season.
Here are 10 teams that really improved their prospects of competing for a title with some savvy moves during this free agency period.
Steve Nash to Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired point guard Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade. The Lakers get Nash in the deal, while the Suns get draft picks (first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, second-round picks in 2013 and 2014).
Nash should immediately help the Lakers. Whether or not it's enough to get the Lakers past the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat remains to be seen, but this upcoming year's Lakers should be better than the team that lost to Oklahoma City in this past year's playoffs.
Nash obviously gives the Lakers an elite point guard and distributor. He's also an excellent shooter, even though he doesn't score a ton of points.
The New Look and New Named Brooklyn Nets
Last season they were the New Jersey Nets and not very good. This season they'll be the Brooklyn Nets and they should be much better.
The new acquisitions should take the Nets from 12th in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to a sure-fire playoff team in 2012-13. However, without a trade for Dwight Howard, the Nets probably won't be championship contenders next season.
Jason Terry Agrees to Deal with Celtics; Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass Re-Sign
The Boston Celtics looked to keep their championship window alive this offseason, and might have done just that by re-signing Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass and agreeing to a deal with Jason Terry.
The Celtics essentially replaced the loss of Ray Allen with Terry. By bringing back mainstays in Bass and Garnett, Boston should be in the same position it was in last season. Considering Boston made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, that's not a bad position to be in.
With Jeff Green hopefully healthy and back in the mix, and rookies Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger contributing, the Celtics might be in position to challenge the Miami Heat.
Although, the Heat did make a few moves of their own...
Miami Heat Sign Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis
Even without much cap space to work with, the Miami Heat have improved their roster by signing a couple quality veterans. Sharpshooter Ray Allen and former All-Star Rashard Lewis have agreed to join the Heat.
In Allen, the Heat are getting one of the NBA's premier three-point shooters. If healthy, Lewis should give the Heat a spark off the bench. Between the two of them, it should be a sizable improvement to Miami's overall depth.
Considering Miami won a championship this past season, any additions it made were a bonus. By adding two more solid veterans to the mix, Miami bolstered its shot at repeating.
Los Angeles Clippers Trade for Lamar Odom
When properly motivated, Lamar Odom is one of the NBA's best all-around players. Odom clearly wasn't motivated to play for the Dallas Mavericks last season. But the Los Angeles Clippers, who recently traded for Odom, hope that a change of scenery and a return to L.A. will do him well.
With Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in the mix, and Chauncey Billups hopefully healthy, the addition of Odom should take the Clippers from a playoff team to one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. The addition of Odom won't put the Clippers past the Thunder, or probably the Lakers and Spurs, but they should have a chance to make some noise in the postseason.
Tim Duncan Returning to San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have posted the Western Conference's best regular-season record the past two years. By re-signing Tim Duncan, the Spurs are making another run at an NBA championship.
It's hard to imagine the Spurs dropping off much next season. They're perennial contenders, and as long as Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Popovich are in the mix, that's unlikely to change.
San Antonio will have to navigate through the Thunder if it wants to win the Western Conference. But outside of Oklahoma City, there are no teams in the conference clearly better than the Spurs.
The Lakers and Clippers could be better than San Antonio, but the Spurs dismantled the Clippers in the playoffs and you never know what you're going to get from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Roy Hibbert Re-Signs with Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are bringing back unrestricted free agent Roy Hibbert. Hibbert, an All-Star last season, is signing a max deal to remain in Indiana.
After making the playoffs last season, the Pacers should be able to qualify for the postseason again. The problem for Indiana is that while they're good enough to qualify for the playoffs, they aren't good enough to be an elite team.
By re-signing Hibbert to a max deal, they don't have much cap flexibility to improve their prospects. The Pacers seem destined to finish in the middle of the pack...until they don't even do that. Indiana might have been better off letting Hibbert walk and using a max contract on a player that's truly elite.
Minnesota Timberwolves Sign Brandon Roy and Trade for Chase Budinger
Before Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were a borderline playoff team. By signing Brandon Roy and trading for Chase Budinger, the Timberwolves are hoping to get over the hump and back into the playoffs.
It would seem that Minnesota has enough talent to sneak into the playoffs. Kevin Love is one of the NBA's top power forwards. Ricky Rubio is looking to be an All-Star caliber point guard. Minnesota also has No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft Derrick Williams entering his second year. Chase Budinger should give Minnesota a good option at small forward.
The key will be Brandon Roy. If Roy can return to the level of play he displayed early in his career in Portland, then Minnesota is a shoe-in for the playoffs. But even if he can't, Minnesota should have a good chance to sneak into the back end of the playoffs.
New York Knicks Sign Jason Kidd and Complete Sign-and-Trade for Raymond Felton
New York also could match Houston's offer for restricted free agent Jeremy Lin, but even if they don't, the roster is already greatly improved.
New York has a chance to challenge some of the top teams in the East. Plus, with Kidd's veteran presence, he might be able to get the Knicks to mesh more as a team. After all, the Knicks have enough talent. They just need to get everyone on the same page.
Elton Brand and Chris Kaman Sign with Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks fortified their frontcourt by inking center Chris Kaman and forward Elton Brand. When paired with Dirk Nowitzki, Brand and Kaman should give the Mavs a formidable front line. On top of that, both Brand and Kaman signed one-year deals, giving the Mavericks the flexibility to go out and sign a big-name free agent next season.
While the Mavericks aren't a championship contender with the additions, they probably wouldn't have been anyway. Anything short of signing Deron Williams and coaxing a trade for Dwight Howard would put the Mavs as a middling playoff team in the Western Conference.
Because contending for a championship wouldn't have been feasible, adding Brand and Kaman to short deals is the next best thing. They're not locked into long-term contracts and they can still go out and greatly improve the roster next season.
And with the right moves next offseason, the Mavericks could be in position to make a push for another title. But the additions should be enough to get them into the postseason this season.
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