Former NBA Weaklings Who Became Playoff Contenders This Offseason
For a handful of NBA teams, there was a changing of the guards, forwards and/or centers during the offseason, and it'll lead to a changing of the guard when the 2014 postseason rolls around.
These five squads all added enough talent or filled in the proper holes, and now they're set to transition from the weaklings of the Association into legitimate playoff contenders. Only the top three in the rankings will actually have a chance to play past the 82nd game of the regular season, but all five will be in the hunt.
It's worth noting that the Portland Trail Blazers will not be featured in this article because they weren't NBA bottom-feeders during the 2012-13 season. Led by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Rip City actually had a realistic shot at the postseason before slipping back at the end of the year.
They're set to make it this year after adding depth across the board and landing Robin Lopez at center, but they didn't make too large of a transition.
The same can't be said about the next five teams.
5. Sacramento Kings
The Western Conference is too strong for the Sacramento Kings to actually make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean they won't contend for a spot deep into the NBA calendar. That's a bold call, I know.
Sacramento's biggest problems are twofold: It doesn't have multiple star players, as DeMarcus Cousins is the only one, and there's too much of a talent logjam across the board. That second part can be viewed both positively and negatively.
Although it's unclear just how the rotations will shake up, let's take a look at my proposed depth chart:
- Point guard: Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas, Ray McCallum
- Shooting guard: Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette
- Small forward: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Travis Outlaw, John Salmons
- Power forward: Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson
- Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes
There are solid players and depth at every position. That's a good combination when you're trying to take steps forward in the NBA standings, because this squad will be more resilient than most in the face of the inevitable presence of the injury imp.
Vasquez will make everyone look good offensively with his great passing, and that will set McLemore up to thrive as a rookie. The Kansas product is already quite adept at curling off screens to free himself on the perimeter, and he'll be playing with a point guard who can hit him right in the breadbasket.
Landry and Thompson may bounce back and forth in the starting lineup, but both are solid contributors at power forward.
The Kings will likely be a lottery team once more, but they'll at least put a little scare into some of the teams competing for the seventh and eighth seeds in the Western Conference playoffs.
4. Detroit Pistons
I'll go ahead and admit that I have serious concerns about the Detroit Pistons' ability to use all of the talent on their roster properly. The frontcourt talent just doesn't mesh together.
Signing Josh Smith was a great way to add an über-athletic forward with a nose for stellar defensive play, but he just creates a crowd at power forward. How are the Pistons going to distribute minutes to Smoove, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe?
If they try to play Smith at small forward, it will be a disaster.
He might be versatile, but that's just asking him to lob up perimeter jumpers instead of attacking the rim and working in the post. It also limits his rim-protecting abilities on the defensive end of the court. According to 82games, Smith posted a 16.1 PER at small forward, 18.5 at power forward and 18.1 at center during the 2012-13 season.
That said, let's put aside the concerns, because Detroit experienced such a significant talent upgrade. Add in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as well, a rookie who can space the court with his great three-point stroke, and you're looking at a team with playoff potential.
It's just all about putting the pieces together properly now.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans added two major pieces during the offseason, but they were enough to completely turn around this suffering franchise.
Now the Pelicans are poised to leave behind both their old name and their losing record.
NOLA was ready to add a high-potential rookie with the No. 6 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, but the franchise instead drafted Nerlens Noel before trading him and a first-round pick in 2014 to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jrue Holiday. Yes, the All-Star point guard.
Holiday is a legitimate star, and he proved that he was capable of being the No. 1 option during his final season with the Sixers. He'll be the leader of this backcourt, which now also features Tyreke Evans. The Pelicans completed a sign-and-trade for the former Sacramento King that essentially moved Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez for the talented guard.
New Orleans can now play either Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon together or trade the Indiana product for a true small forward. Either way, you're looking at a potent set of wing and perimeter players.
The other big key in the bayou is Anthony Davis, who should be making a massive improvement going into his sophomore season. Let's not forget how special he was coming out of Kentucky. A healthy season should be enough for him to remind everyone.
2. Washington Wizards
All the Washington Wizards needed to do this offseason was pick up a small forward.
They did that during the draft, selecting Otto Porter out of Georgetown with the No. 3 pick. Porter might not have elite upside, but he's an NBA-ready rookie whose versatility will be put on display from opening night through the first round of the playoffs.
He can score from all areas of the court, and he thrives in catch-and-shoot situations from the elbows. Expect him to set up there for a lot of drive-and-kicks from John Wall.
Martell Webster also returned to the nation's capital, and he'll continue to provide three-point shooting and sage advice in the locker room for another few seasons. That was one of the more underrated moves of the offseason, and it will pay large dividends throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
The Wizards now boast a starting five of Wall, Bradley Beal, Porter, Nene Hilario and Emeka Okafor, a lineup that should be quite impressive during the upcoming season. Wall and Beal will ideally stay healthy, allowing them to challenge the league's top backcourt combos for supremacy.
And after the signings of Webster and Eric Maynor, there's plenty of depth for the Wizards to use as well.
Expect Washington to play more than 82 games in 2013-14.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the biggest winners this offseason, and they'll shoot up those rankings if Andrew Bynum starts to play like he did when he was wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. Let's not forget just how dominant the young 7-footer was before knee injuries started to wreck his career.
If Bynum can become a potent per-minute player, he'll pair up with Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller to form one of the best frontcourts in the NBA.
But that's not where the improvement ends for Cleveland.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are both young guns. The former No. 1 pick only recently turned 21 years old, and the Syracuse product is a handful of months older. They're both going to take major steps forward during the 2013-14 season, especially if they can stay healthy.
Add in Sergey Karasev, the rare international prospect who goes outside the top five of the draft and is still ready to contribute the next season. He should help shore up the small forward deficiency, even as a rookie.
The Cavs have talent across the board, and they possess a legitimate superstar at point guard. Even if the Bynum signing was a worthless move and the Cavs cut ties with the big man before paying any more than the guaranteed $6 million, a postseason berth should still be in the cards.