The Most and Least Improved Teams of the 2012 NBA Offseason

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2012

The Most and Least Improved Teams of the 2012 NBA Offseason

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    The 2012 offseason was a chance for each NBA franchise to improve its roster and put itself in a better position entering the 2012-13 campaign. Not every club took advantage properly.

    A loaded draft in June and a flurry of trades and acquisitions made it seem like nearly every team improved.

    The reality is that several teams either didn't improve at all or regressed. 

    But don't worry—there's an exciting collection of new-look squads that took huge strides since we last saw them on the hardwood.

Fifth-Least Improved: Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Ever since the departure of the oft-scorned LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had nowhere to go but up.

    However, they've been going up at an extremely slow rate, if at all. A couple of 2012 first-round draft picks and C.J. Miles are hardly the influx of talent necessary to make waves in the Midwest.

    Through summer camp and the first couple weeks of preseason, Dion Waiters has yet to justify his draft status. He might end up leaving Kyrie Irving hanging out to dry if he doesn't iron out his jump shot.

    In the post, Anderson Varejao needs a lot more help than newcomers Tyler Zeller and Jon Leuer will supply. The team finished 25th in the NBA in scoring in 2012 and 26th in the NBA in points against, and the Cavaliers brass did little to remedy those conditions.

Fourth-Least Improved: Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls didn't adequately replace their losses during the 2012 offseason.

    Key reserves Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and John Lucas said goodbye to Chi-town.

    In their stead, the Bulls brought in Nazr Mohammed, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Vladimir Radmanovic. Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague was picked up via draft.

    Essentially, Chicago held serve on the perimeter and will suffer a little more in the paint, especially in the rebounding department, without Asik.

    Depending on the timing and nature of Derrick Rose's return, the Bulls could contend in the Eastern Conference again, but this squad didn't move in the right direction over the summer.

Third-Least Improved: Sacramento Kings

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    Despite drafting Thomas Robinson and adding Aaron Brooks, there's almost no indication that the Sacramento Kings are pointed in the winning direction.

    Brooks headlines a guard group that has an identity crisis and is far from playoff-worthy.

    In the paint, Jason Thompson is solid, but he's not worth the amount of money Sacramento threw at him over the summer (an average of more than $6 million per year over the next five years). 

    Therefore, the 2012 offseason decisions didn't simply fail to boost the Kings entering the 2012-13 campaign. They also made the franchise's financial future a bit trickier.

    Fourth place in the Pacific Division might be too much to ask, even in a best-case scenario.

Second-Least Improved: Houston Rockets

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    Three first-round draft picks symbolize hope for the future, but in the short term, the 2012 offseason will be viewed as a time when the Houston Rockets took a step back.

    Kevin McHale's bunch is far too young heading into the 2012-13 campaign.

    In a series of moves designed to free cap space and load up on draft picks (for a potential Dwight Howard trade), Houston lost Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry, Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Camby.

    Now the Rockets are left with a trio of rookies who will be led by Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. When a point guard with just over two dozen career starts is your major offseason signing, you didn't have a great offseason.

Least Improved: Orlando Magic

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    In a lockout-compacted, 66-game season in 2011-12, the Orlando Magic won 37 games.

    Here's how far they've fallen since then: Their 2012-13 season would be considered a monumental success if they can win 37 in an 82-game schedule.

    Aside from Arron Afflalo, the Magic didn't get much substance in return as part of the Dwight Howard blockbuster. There's no one who can carry this team to the playoffs anytime soon. Aging returnees Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson didn't get enough help this summer.

    Player personnel isn't the only area in which Orlando regressed. New general manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn might have bright futures, but they're a step down from the more experienced tandem of Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy.

Fifth-Most Improved: Toronto Raptors

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    Toronto might finish last in the Atlantic Division in 2012-13, but it's still one of the most improved teams this offseason.

    Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa are the biggest names leaving town, but the Raptors did more than enough to replace them and also upgraded the frontcourt.

    The decision-making of the 2011 draft will come to fruition, as Lithuanian tower Jonas Valanciunas arrives in camp this fall, and a new batch of guards and swingmen will ensure depth at the 1, 2 and 3 positions.

    Incoming guards Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields team with returnees Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan to form a deep backcourt. They won't be hoisting any kind of hardware this season, but they're several notches better than the 23-43 club from 2011-12.

Fourth-Most Improved: Boston Celtics

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    In an offseason that included the departure of Ray Allen, the Celtics actually upgraded their backcourt and did the absolute best they could to provide depth in the frontcourt.

    The addition of Jason Terry more than compensates for the loss of Allen. Terry is much more adept at creating his own shot and facilitating for his teammates. The 35-year-old is no stranger to pressure-packed situations, and he's the perfect fit for the Boston scene.

    On top of that, Boston's acquisition of Courtney Lee ensures that the Celtics will have a stronger cast of guards than they did in 2011-12.

    It was a mixed bag in the draft for Danny Ainge, but grabbing Jared Sullinger late in the first round could end up being the best steal of the whole event.

    The bottom line is that the TD Garden will be rocking late into spring and early summer in 2013.

Third-Most Improved: Brooklyn Nets

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    Mikhail Prokhorov will be doling out unsightly sums of money to the Brooklyn Nets' stars over the next few seasons, but if it means trips to the playoffs and successful rebranding of the franchise, then it's worth it.

    Playmaking shooting guard Joe Johnson is the one new piece that makes Brooklyn a much-improved team, but general manager Billy King's efforts to retain Deron Williams and the nucleus of the starting lineup is even more impressive.

    The Nets now have a nice mix of "glue guys" and skilled scorers in the fold. Joe Johnson gives Avery Johnson flexibility to mix and match his backcourt combination, and he gives D-Will the freedom to work away from the ball occasionally.

    Landing Dwight Howard would have been huge, but Brooklyn is more balanced now than it would have been if it had gone through with that trade.

Second-Most Improved: Minnesota Timberwolves

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    With a trio of moves that seemingly came out of nowhere, general manager David Kahn turned the Minnesota Timberwolves into playoff hopefuls.

    Rick Adelman's 2011-12 crew gave up more than 100 points per contest and finished 25th in the NBA in team defense. Adding Russian stopper Andrei Kirilenko should help Adelman turn that culture around and keep Minnesota in more games.

    More Russian reinforcements come in the form of 6'6" guard Alexey Shved, whose ball-handling and playmaking abilities will help Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea in Rubio's absence.

    As well, the signing of rehabbed Brandon Roy and trade for Chase Budinger mean this team has a fistful of shot-creators.

    To top it off, the Wolves' frontcourt depth got stronger with the signing of Greg Stiemsma.

    If Rubio's return is a success, this new-look Minnesota outfit is postseason-bound.

Most Improved: Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Western Conference's most prestigious franchise failed to reach the conference finals two years in a row. We were all wondering if Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would make substantial moves and change the complexion of the team.

    He answered loud and clear.

    Two megastars and a revamped bench immediately make the Lakers contenders, if not favorites, for the 2013 NBA crown.

    Not only will Dwight Howard and Steve Nash give Kobe Bryant more freedom, but they will take pressure off power forward Pau Gasol.

    Meanwhile, bench additions Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are an affordable guard-forward tandem that gives Mike Brown a complete roster.

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