Which NBA Title Contender Made the Biggest Offseason Splash?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2012

Which NBA Title Contender Made the Biggest Offseason Splash?

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    Not every contender made a lot of noise this summer.

    The San Antonio Spurs were more than content to hold on to Tim Duncan while re-signing young talents Danny Green and Patty Mills. After a 50-16 regular-season record that culminated in a six-game Western Conference Finals throwdown, you can understand R.C. Buford's willingness to stand pat.

    Meanwhile, the Spurs' opposition in the Conference Finals similarly elected to stay quiet this offseason. Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti added first-round draft pick Perry Jones III to his young core, betting on its ability to build upon a formula that clearly worked.

    Other title hopefuls showed far less patience.

    Here's a look at which of those busy offseason shoppers took the biggest step forward.

5. New York Knicks

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    There are a few teams that just missed inclusion in this list.

    If you think the Brooklyn Nets are already contenders, their acquisitions of All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and backup point guard C.J. Watson will certainly take them a step further. The fact remains, though, that a team should probably have to prove it can make the playoffs before we call it a "contender."

    If you think the Dallas Mavericks still deserve mention among the Western Conference elite, then a thoroughly rebuilt roster that added O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand would surely qualify as having made a big splash.

    At this point, though, there's just no telling what will happen to this team. It hardly resembles last year's squad.

    The New York Knicks get the nod here given how impressive this team looked under Mike Woodson toward the end of last season.

    And, they would have looked better against the Miami Heat in that first round if not for injuries to Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert. 

    Though the organization won't fully make up for the loss of Lin with a platoon of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, adding Kidd to the mix will functionally add another coach to the bench.

    The more important moves were relatively quiet ones. Adding center Marcus Camby and swingman Ronnie Brewer to the bench will make New York a significantly better defensive team. Losing Landry Fields will hurt a bit, but he wasn't worth what the Toronto Raptors were willing to pay him.

    Given the Knicks' lack of cap flexibility, this team did a nice job of putting the roster in a position to succeed.

4. Miami Heat

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    If a quality signing were defined by its hype, adding Ray Allen to the Miami Heat would be the most important move of the summer.

    But it's not.

    Nor was adding 32-year-old Rashard Lewis. Miami's rotation of aging role players just got a little bit deeper, but these moves should be kept in perspective. After all, there are only so many minutes that can go around to 30-something-year-old three-point shooters on the wing.

    Given that Lewis can't defend nearly as well as Shane Battier, it's hard to imagine the guy getting that many minutes in the first place.

    As for Allen...well, he's 37. He can still shoot with the best of them, but he won't do much more than that. 

    Miami got better. They won't have to rely as heavily on Mike Miller, and that's a good thing (unless it's Game 5 of the NBA Finals, apparently). They can afford to give LeBron James more minutes at power forward. There are definitely things to like about these moves.

    They just aren't all they've been cracked up to be.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jamal Crawford won't be a significant upgrade over the combination of Nick Young and Mo Williams, but moving Williams does clear the way for talented 22-year-old Eric Bledsoe to see more minutes, and there's something to be said for that.

    Los Angeles' backcourt should be better this season, though not significantly. At the very least, the nice thing about Crawford is that he can create his own shot and do so from just about anywhere.

    But the real improvements came in the frontcourt, where the second unit will look quite a bit different.

    Veteran small forward Grant Hill will give the Clippers' bench some much-needed depth and experience. Perhaps more importantly, he instantly becomes one of the best defenders in the rotation.

    He can also make plays and hit mid-range jumpers. That won't hurt either.

    Ronny Turiaf isn't the most thrilling signing, but this team needed someone who could fill in for the foul-prone DeAndre Jordan. He'll play a limited role, but he proved with the Miami Heat last season that he could still rebound and defend—blocking over a shot per game while averaging just 17 minutes through 13 games.

2. Boston Celtics

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    Things weren't looking up for the Boston Celtics when they lost Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, but their summer prospects changed soon enough.

    Jason Terry may not be as pure a shooter as Allen, but he's a little bit younger and perhaps a bit more versatile at this stage in his career. Wherever you come down on the Terry-Allen comparisons, Boston's really upgraded the lineup by working out a sign-and-trade deal with the Houston Rockets for Courtney Lee.

    The 26-year-old can hit the three and can get to the rim, but he's an even better perimeter defender. That's something the Celtics didn't have in Allen and won't have in Terry.

    Beyond re-signing Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, Boston also brought in some younger help by taking Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo in the first round of the draft. If just one of those guys works out reasonably well this year, the Celtics will be in good shape.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    It's hard to argue with this one.

    The Los Angeles Lakers' bench won't be the best in the league, and their 15th-ranked defense probably won't improve one bit. But adding Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison will certainly make this a better team.

    L.A. needed a distributor at the point who could get Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum some better scoring opportunities. They also needed someone in the second unit who wasn't afraid to take (and make) some treys.

    Those problems are solved.

    A word of caution is in order, though. This could actually be a worse defensive team now. Nash and Jamison weren't good defenders in their prime, and that won't change now that they're 38 and 36, respectively. If Matt Barnes doesn't come back, that's one less solid defender in this rotation.

    In theory, it should be nearly impossible to score on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

    In practice, it's just too easy to run against this team, and clubs with guys who can score from mid-range are even more dangerous. In other words, it still won't be especially easy for the Lakers to stop the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs.