Top 10 Best NBA Personnel Moves of the Offseason
NBA rosters aren't set just yet, not with nearly two weeks left in training camp, though, for the most part, teams are done wheeling and dealing. As Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak recently told The Los Angeles Times:
"This time of year, teams are not looking to make deals," Kupchak said. "They're evaluating their team and if anything they're going to cut players as they go into the season."
Indeed, now is the time for coaches and GMs to figure out how faces new and old fit together and to trim the proverbial fat on the ends of their respective benches.
And though it may be too early to tell who the true winners and losers of the offseason are, it's safe to assume that there won't be any new (significant) items to consider before the 2012-13 season tips off on October 30.
With that in mind, let's have a look at the top 10 moves—be they trades, signings, draft picks or all of the above—to come out of a busy and exciting summer.
10. Stopgaps in Big D
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After winning the title in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks gambled on their ability to attract marquee free agents (i.e. Deron Williams and Dwight Howard) around whom to build for the future...
And lost, though not as big as you might think.
True, the Mavs certainly didn't come out as winners when D-Will opted to re-sign with the Nets and Dwight, after opting in with the Magic, wound up as the Lakers' next great big man.
Nonetheless, kudos to GM Donnie Nelson for making the best of what might've been a bad situation and cobbling together a roster that can both compete for a playoff spot now and provide financial flexibility in the near future.
The additions of Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, while not particularly needle-moving in any individual sense, served to reload the roster around Dirk Nowitzki. Collison is a solid young point guard who's performed well as a starter—13.6 points, 5.9 assists—for the Hornets and the Pacers. The same goes for Mayo, a gifted scorer who fell out of favor with Lionel Hollins in Memphis, but will have a golden opportunity to replenish his stock at shooting guard in Big D.
Up front, Kaman is a productive pivot whose familiarity with Nowitzki dates back to their days as teammates on the German national team. And Brand, while a far cry from the All-Star of yore, is still a capable rebounder and midrange shooter.
Better yet, these four are all (essentially) playing on expiring contracts, meaning that each will have that much more motivation to put forth his best effort for his own sake.
Even with these additions, the Mavs are a long way from contending for another title and could collapse if Dirk's knee proves to be a bigger problem than originally anticipated.
That being said, this team, as currently constituted, should be good enough to crack the playoff picture in the Western Conference before splashing cash at big-name free agents—Chris Paul? Dwight Howard? James Harden?—once July of 2013 rolls around.
9. The Hawks Start Over...Sort of
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Is it possible that a team can dump a perennial All-Star for what equates to a hunk o' junk and actually improve its outlook, short-term and long?
The Atlanta Hawks should be able to answer that question in due time. In his first few weeks as the Hawks' new GM, Danny Ferry shipped Joe Johnson off to Brooklyn in exchange for some spare parts (most notably Anthony Morrow), dealt Marvin Williams for Devin Harris and signed Lou Williams and Kyle Korver to affordable contracts.
That gives head coach Larry Drew a solid cast of shooters and perimeter playmakers—not to mention promising point guard Jeff Teague and newly-drafted marksman John Jenkins—who, with a contract-year Josh Smith and a healthy Al Horford manning the middle, could make the Hawks a dangerous inside-out offensive outfit and a threat to snag a better-than-expected playoff seed in the East.
And, like the Mavs, the Hawks will have the cap room to pursue Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, a fan and a native of the ATL, respectively, come next summer. At worst, they'll have the financial assets to lure a big-time free agent their way if they please.
8. The Celtics: Reloaded
Like the Hawks, the Boston Celtics bade farewell to a franchise cornerstone this summer, though Argentina needn't cry for them. Yes, the Celtics will miss Ray Allen and his ability to stretch defenses with his corner threes and his sharpshooting off screens.
But not as much as you might think. Allen became somewhat expendable for the C's once Avery Bradley emerged as a solid shooter and shutdown perimeter defender late last season.
Granted, Boston will miss Bradley while he continues his recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery. Nonetheless, GM Danny Ainge did well to replace Ray and add depth behind Avery in the interim via free agency.
Jason Terry may not be a tit-for-tat stand-in for Ray, though he's younger and more dynamic on the offensive end. He can slash to the basket, drain deep threes and isn't afraid to step up in the clutch. Moreover, JET, unlike Allen, can play either guard spot, be it alongside Rajon Rondo at the "two" or lightening the All-Star point guard's load at the "one."
As it happens, Courtney Lee may be the closer facsimile to Allen. He too is a combo guard of sorts, though the C's will most appreciate the fact that he was the second-most accurate corner-three shooter in the league last season, per Kirk Goldsberry of Court Vision Analytics.
The return of Jeff Green, along with the draft-day additions of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, should add plenty of depth to a front court that was woefully thin last season.
And, as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently pointed out, the Celts' reloaded roster is now better-equipped to play small ball against the Miami Heat.
Which, after the C's nearly ousting LeBron and company in the Eastern Conference Finals this past spring, should be cause for plenty of optimism in Beantown.
7. Help Is on the Way for the Hornets
Chances are, the New Orleans Hornets won't win many games this season and may not fare all that much better the year after.
But GM Dell Demps deserves all the credit in the world for establishing a foundation upon which the Hornets can build a sustainable contender down the line.
To be sure, Demps got "lucky" when the Hornets' 2012 pick came in at No. 1 in the draft lottery. Even so, he did well to maximize the assets he had on hand. The top pick brought him Anthony Davis, with whom he paired Austin Rivers, a gifted ball-handler and shooter, with the No. 10 pick.
Shortly thereafter, Demps acquired Ryan Anderson—a "stretch four" who ESPN's Tom Haberstroh has pegged for another breakout year—from the Orlando Magic and re-signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon.
Not to mention how he managed to clear Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor off the books in one fell swoop.
Of course, the jury's still out on Gordon, whose persistent knee problems have bubbled up to the surface once again. But if EJ can play at or near the All-Star level of which he's capable, the Hornets could surprise some people, a la the Timberwolves circa the first half of the 2011-12 season.
And if not, there will still be plenty of exciting basketball to watch in the Big Easy, with even bigger things yet to come.
6. Heat Beat C's for Shuttlesworth
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The rich getting richer seems to be the American way these days. The Miami Heat wouldn't argue with that premise.
Or shouldn't anyway, not after prying Ray Allen from the rival Celtics.
The Heat were already favorites to repeat in 2012-13. They finally figured out how to play most effectively down the home stretch of the 2012 postseason—with LeBron James at power forward in a small-ball lineup—and went all-in on their new arrangement by forgoing the pursuit of free-agent bigs in favor of signing Jesus Shuttlesworth.
It's worth noting that Ray isn't the player he once was. Between age (37), ankle surgery and declining productivity, all signs point to Allen settling ever further into the twilight of his career.
Then again, Miami won't need him to play big minutes. Rather, Erik Spoelstra will have the luxury of bringing Allen, yet another sharpshooter, off the bench for 20-25 minutes a game.
In Allen, the Heat have themselves not only another future Hall-of-Famer who happens to be the NBA's all-time leading three-point shooter, but also the deadliest dealer of the corner three in the league. With Ray tucked away on one side of the floor, opposing defenses will be forced to choose between packing it in to slow down Miami's Big Three or getting a hand in Allen's face.
Which, ironically enough, should make it that much easier for the Heat to defend their own title.
5. Nuggets Nab Iggy from Philly
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Denver Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has proven himself to be among the most shrewd executives in the NBA, with his acquisition of Andre Iguodala standing as the latest testament to his brilliance.
To be sure, facilitating Dwight Howard's flight to LA may have put a cap on how far his own team can go. It'll be tough for the Nuggets to win more than one postseason series if they're to be matched up against the Thunder and/or the Lakers in the conference semis and finals from here on out.
But frankly, the Howard trade was bound to happen by hook or by crook, so Ujiri did the smart thing and got something for his squad out of the whole situation.
And not just any something either. In Iguodala, the Nuggets now have themselves an All-Star, an Olympian and a bona fide All-Defensive performer in the mix. His ability to lock down opposing wings will be crucial against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets were in dire need of such a defensive shot in the arm, someone who can be a stopper and force turnovers to feed Denver's lethal fastbreak.
As it happens, Iggy should fit in perfectly in that regard as well. He's long been a terror in transition and will have every opportunity to push the pace in George Karl's aggressive, up-tempo system.
Better yet, the Nuggets had only to give up Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a 2014 draft pick to make it all possible. If all goes according to plan, Denver may be running and gunning its way into dark-horse title contention in short order.
4. Brotherly Love for Bynum
As for the team from whence Iggy came, the Philadelphia 76ers came out remarkably well in the four-team Dwight deal, though how well is something of an unknown at this point.
In part because Andrew Bynum is, among other things, a seven-foot-tall enigma. Bynum's missed the entirety of the Sixers' preseason so far to rest his recently-treated knees and isn't expected back on the practice court until next week. Once Bynum suits up, all eyes will be on his knees and whether they can withstand the grind of an 82-game season.
Not to mention whether 'Drew actually fits in with the rest of the Sixers roster. Bynum was traded to a team that, like a fellow New Jersey native of his, was born to run, with the likes of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nick Young and Dorell Wright prepared to push the pace.
Bynum, on the other hand, is more of a plodder, whose weak knees aren't well-suited to such strain.
With all of that said, the Sixers' snagging of Drew in the Howard trade counts as a coup in their favor. In Bynum, Philly now employs the second-best center in basketball and arguably the best offensive pivot around. Bynum's ability to produce points in the paint will come in handy for a Sixers squad that struggled to score last season.
As for his health, Bynum managed to survive the 2011-12 season without physical incident, though his commitment to the game mentally remains in question.
Still, the Sixers hope that a change of scenery and a shift into a new-found role as the go-to guy will spark Bynum to even greater heights beyond "just" another All-Star appearance. If it does, Philly could be a dangerous team in the East come playoff time.
3. Lakers Pull Independence Day Surprise with Steve Nash
Coming into the summer, Steve Nash had been expected to wind up with either the Knicks or the Raptors. New York needed a veteran point guard to lubricate its stunted offense, and Toronto was desperate for a native Canadian son to fuel interest (if not a winning operation) north of the border.
Instead, both teams (and most of the basketball world) were stunned to see Nash shipped to the Lakers in a free-agent fireworks show that few saw coming. As ESPN's Marc Stein detailed in July, the Lakers were able to convince Nash, a longtime star with the rival Phoenix Suns, to come to LA, and Nash, in turn, talked stubborn Suns owner Robert Sarver into signing off on the deal.
In doing so, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak had only to sacrifice a slew of (likely low) draft picks and the trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom trade last December. In return, he wound up with the best point guard to don the Purple and Gold since Magic Johnson, a player whose sharpshooting, crisp passing and superb pick-and-roll ball-handling should blend perfectly with the talents of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
2. Nets Flip Flotsam for Joe Johnson
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Yes, Joe Johnson is officially a 30-something (31, to be exact), with a ball-stopping style of play known to slow down offenses and a massive contract that figures to clog the Brooklyn Nets' cap space for years to come.
But the value in picking up Iso Joe from the Atlanta Hawks extends far beyond just the player himself for the Nets.
Not that anyone should turn his or her nose up at a guy who's capable of averaging 20-4-4, can shoot from the perimeter, handle the ball and run the pick-and-roll, overpaid or otherwise.
More importantly, by moving quickly to acquire Johnson in July, Nets GM Billy King saved himself and his organization from Brooklyn-bound oblivion. Without Johnson in the mix, Deron Williams may well have opted to sign with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, even if doing so would've meant forfeiting an extra year on his contract and the millions that came with it.
With him, the Nets were able to retain D-Will's services and solidify their backcourt as the best in the NBA, all while stirring up excitement and establishing reasonable playoff expectations for their debut in the brand-new Barclays Center.
Doing so may have cost the Nets a shot at landing Dwight Howard, but by all accounts, the Magic weren't exactly willing partners in that endeavor.
And at the very least, the Nets didn't have to give up much (i.e. Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and a pair of draft picks) to bring the six-time All-Star swingman to the Big Apple.
1. The Dwightmare Ends in LA
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Speaking of Dwight Howard, his move to LA has to rank as the best of the offseason. The Lakers were a solid playoff team before Mitch Kupchak pulled off his latest miracle, though they were hardly in the championship conversation, even with Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison entering the fray.
That all changed on August 10, when Kupchak pulled the trigger on the four-team deal that put Dwight in purple and gold. In doing so, the Lakers gave up Andrew Bynum, the second-best center in basketball and a player they groomed themselves, for the best big man on the planet.
Bynum may be an All-Star and a darn good low-post scorer, but as far as overall impact is concerned, he'd be lucky to hold Howard's jock. Dwight doesn't come saddled with concerns about effort, intensity and athleticism.
That is, unless three Defensive Player of the Year awards, perennial All-Star and MVP contender status and a likely spot on the Hall of Fame count in that regard.
To be sure, Howard's bad back left was and still is of considerable concern in LA, though not any more than Bynum's repaired knees. And at this point, Dwight looks like he'll be ready to play again before the season opener rolls around on October 30.
The Lakers will certainly need his defensive presence once he does. Howard is just the sort of rim protector that LA needs to make up for lack of youth and athleticism on the perimeter. Offensively, his ability to finish in the pick-and-roll—the best of his peers in the NBA—will play well with Nash, who's a master of the two-man game himself.
And assuming Dwight doesn't get cold feet after the season, he'll serve as the ideal centerpiece around which the Lakers can prepare for their impending future without Kobe Bryant.