10 NBA Teams Poised to Take a Major Step Forward Next Season
Each NBA offseason, every team goes through changes. This offseason, 10 teams have made key acquisitions to get much better.
This is not to say that each of these teams has done so in the same way. Trades, free-agent signings, improved health and even new management are all ways in which teams got better this offseason.
These 10 teams are primed to take a big step forward. How far forward depends on the team, but each is now equipped to have success. All we can do is point to that fact, analyze why that is and then allow the games to be played.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the most fun underdogs to root for over the past few years. Last season, they pushed their way higher up the playoff hierarchy before narrowly falling to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. No one has forgotten what they did the year before when they defeated No. 1 seed San Antonio and pushed the talented Oklahoma City Thunder to a Game 7.
However, going into the 2012-13 season, Memphis will have something it did not have last year, the combination of Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph both completely healthy, which should frighten the rest of the NBA.
While neither of these players looked comfortable on the court together last season, the lack of a training camp and offseason combined with Randolph’s injury problems was probably why. This year, these two will be given the time necessary to learn to play together and get completely healthy.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has shown great acumen in his handling of his team over the past few seasons. He will do his part in figuring out how to make this configuration of players mesh on the court.
The Grizzlies may not have been as active as other teams were in free agency, but they will use a full offseason to fix their health and chemistry problems.
The Toronto Raptors may be one of the biggest winners of the offseason. Right now, their draft picks and free-agent signings have the potential to make them a much, much more competitive team in the Eastern Conference.
Kyle Lowry is an upgrade at point guard over the talented, but limited, Jose Calderon. Landry Fields is a good young player that can certainly be a building block for success. Jonas Valanciunas looks like he has star potential. Terrence Ross is certainly talented and Quincy Acy is a great value considering where they got him in the draft.
When you add those four new players to a returning core of DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson, you get a team that looks like it has the makings to grow into a contender in a few years. It also will be better immediately.
It make take the Raptors some time to learn to play together, but once that adjustment time is over though, they will be a much-improved team.
At the beginning of the summer, it would have seemed unlikely that the Brooklyn Nets could take a step forward in the offseason without adding Dwight Howard to their roster. They managed to do so without him.
Joe Johnson is a very good player in this league. He was not worth the ridiculous contract that the Atlanta Hawks gave him. However, it seems that Johnson, in the wake of being overrated thanks to that contract, has since been underrated as far as what he can do on the court.
Johnson is a scorer, pure and simple. Often, he will have nights where you do not even notice he is in the game and yet he scores over 30 points. He is not a No. 1 player on a team. He is a sidekick, but one of the better ones in the league. He is also 6’7” and long, making him a defensive asset when he's motivated. The Nets will get that out of him, as the pressure will not always be on him to score as it was in Atlanta.
The Nets round out their lineup with one of the game’s best point guards in Deron Williams, a tough rebounder in Kris Humphries, a very good defender and rebounder in Gerald Wallace, and a talented center in Brook Lopez. Very few NBA teams can exceed or even match the talent in Brooklyn's starting lineup.
Management will need to add qualities pieces to the bench, but that should not be too hard though. The Miami Heat have been an example of how older veterans will sign for less money to play with star power. The Nets have that star power now, and that is why they have moved forward.
Many have bemoaned the loss of Ray Allen, who defected to the Miami Heat as a free agent, but the truth is that the Boston Celtics are much better right now than they were two months ago. Even without Allen, Boston has greatly increased its chances of beating the Heat.
It was clear that Allen was not going to start any longer in Boston, thanks to the emergence of Avery Bradley. While Allen was good in a bench role in the offseason, Jason Terry will be better at it. Terry has played that role his whole career for the Dallas Mavericks, and he knows exactly how to play it to perfection.
Boston also used its two first-round draft picks to draft two talented big men: Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. While neither is ready to be a star right now, each will help the Celtic bench.
The sign-and-trade for Courtney Lee gives the Celtics a guard who can also fit in well with their defensive mindset. The re-signing of Jeff Green gives the Celtics another talented piece to bolster their bench. Each of those two will be integral in helping Terry revitalize a Celtics bench that has been very poor in recent seasons.
Boston took a major step forward. It gave up a Hall-of-Famer in Allen but gained five pieces that make it deeper and more diversified. That does not guarantee a championship, but it certainly doesn't hurt the C’s chances either.
Los Angeles Lakers
Recent Los Angeles Lakers teams have been deficient in two primary areas. Point guard play is the first, and bench play is the second. It appears they have assuaged both those concerns this offseason.
First, the addition of Steve Nash will be the floor general the Lakers needed. While Nash does little for the team defensively, he has the potential to make them much better on offense. The two-time MVP is one of the few point guards in the league that can command the respect it would require for Kobe Bryant to agree to give up the ball. Nash will spread things around and inflate the production of big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Bench production has also been addressed in the signing of free-agent power forward Antawn Jamison. As a Cleveland Cavalier last season, Jamison averaged 17 points and six rebounds per game. With Nash passing him the rock, Jamison should have ample opportunities to make an impact as he is exactly the type of player Nash thrives with.
Expect a different Laker team next season. Expect one that is more balanced, has a point guard that runs an offense and a bench that can actually come in and score points. That all sounds good, especially when you add Kobe Bryant who proved last season that he still has what it takes to win. Oh yeah, this Laker team just took a major step forward.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are benefiting from a mixture of the same factors as some of the other teams on this list.
Chris Paul was traded to this team shortly before the season started last year. He had very little time to develop a rapport with his teammates. While he was able to accomplish that slowly as the season wore on, he will be even more successful at it this season with a full offseason and training camp.
Keeping Chauncey Billups was the biggest move the Clippers made this offseason. The team thrived with Billups and Paul starting alongside one another. Each brings a leadership and coolness to the floor that is hard to find. Normally, having multiple floor leaders can lead to division. It is a testament to these two that they were able to make it work so well.
The Clippers also added Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford to their bench, which greatly adds to its firepower. Paul and Blake Griffin are stars, but they need help off the bench. The Clips cannot rely on them for so much of their production and now they will not have to.
The Clippers' addition of two productive veterans combined with Paul having an entire season with LA to build off of makes them look more and more like a contender in the West.
The Cleveland Cavaliers appear poised to take the next big step in their rebuilding process. They did not make that many moves in the offseason, but they did make the big ones they needed to in order to move forward.
The biggest addition to the team so far is Dion Waiters. The Cavaliers desperately needed a scoring wing to complement blossoming star point guard Kyrie Irving. Waiters is a big combo guard who can get to the basket. He makes the team better immediately and should start from day one.
Letting go of Antawn Jamison was also a necessary step. While Jamison did play well for the team last season, it was time for the younger players behind him to get their chance to shine. Rarely do teams actually add by subtracting, especially giving up a player of Jamison's caliber. But the Cavaliers did in this case.
Last year’s lottery pick Tristan Thompson played well in spots, and center Tyler Zeller will have an impact right away. This Cavaliers team is focusing on youth, and it will pay off next season and beyond. And if the Cavs somehow manage to land Andrew Bynum, there's no telling how good they'll be.
New Orleans Hornets
The Chris Paul trade left the New Orleans Hornets with a bunch of pieces that did not equal a winning combination. They have gone to great lengths to correct that problem this offseason.
The first thing they did was draft Anthony Davis No. 1 overall. Davis was clearly the best player in the draft, and he could be the type of player that changes the dynamic of a franchise for a decade. He has been compared to Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and even Bill Russell. We should not go that far yet, but he does have the potential to get there eventually.
The second thing New Orleans did was draft Austin Rivers No. 10 overall. Rivers is a very talented combo guard who can score with the best of them. He has a good shooting stroke and could be a good point guard in the league if given time.
Matching the offer sheet Eric Gordon signed with Phoenix was also an important move for New Orleans. Gordon is one of the best young shooting guards in the game. He has had little time to show that ability in New Orleans, thanks to an injury-filled year. He will be the focal point of the offense moving forward.
The Hornets have taken a major step forward by developing a core of young talent in these three players. The emphasis may be on the team's long-term future, but it will also make them better next season.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers probably believed they were near contention a year ago. That proved false throughout the season, and now multiple players and the head coach are gone. Luckily for Blazer fans, their team has made the moves necessary to return to contention next season.
Portland drafted point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard in the first round, two excellent picks. Each has a decent chance of contributing early. Lillard was the most impressive rookie of the summer league, and he will probably start from the day one.
The Blazers also retained the services of both J.J. Hickson and Nicolas Batum, each of whom is an important building block for the future of this team. Hickson will probably be the sixth man off the bench, backing up All Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Batum is not a star yet, but he has major star potential.
Letting Jamal Crawford go and trading away Raymond Felton were also big moves. Together, they seemed to be the cause of a lot of off-the-court strife for the team as a whole. The Blazers are better without them.
With these additions and subtractions, the Blazers are much better than they have been. They are younger, more lethal offensively and better equipped for next season and beyond.
The Washington Wizards have been known for a long time as the knucklehead team of the NBA. That is an image and mode of operation they are trying to shed, and this offseason was part of that.
This initiative began at the trade deadline last season when the Wizards shipped out Nick Young and JaVale McGee. In exchange, they got back a very good big man in Nene. It was clear they were a completely different team after the deadline last year, with John Wall and Nene proving that they are a formidable duo.
In the offseason, Washington traded away Rashard Lewis in exchange for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, two players they can certainly use. Both Ariza and Okafor add the toughness, rebounding and defense that the Wizards desperately lacked.
With Wall, Ariza, Okafor, and Nene, the Wizards just needed a shooting guard to round out their starting five. They found their man at No. 3 overall in the draft in Bradley Beal of Florida. Beal is a talented shooter that does a little bit of everything for his team, especially rebound. He is also the perfect complement to Wall in the backcourt.
The final piece of the puzzle was amnestying the talented-but-overpaid power forward Andray Blatche. Now, the Wizards have one of the most well-rounded starting fives in the NBA. With veteran leadership combined with their young talent, the Wizards will be much better than last season.