The 1 Under-the-Radar Move That Will Benefit Every NBA Team
We spent all summer discussing the biggest NBA moves, but the more subtle maneuvers will still make a huge impact this season.
Blockbusters aren't everything. Even in this era of superstar dominance, it takes a total team effort to win a title, so the rotational shift and tweaks of strategy and chemistry are still essential. If talent were everything and the bench and cohesion afterthoughts, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers would have been champions.
Those unheralded improvements don't get so much love when they happen, but they'll surely pay off when games start up again.
Atlanta Hawks: Re-Signing Kyle Korver
The middle tier of the Eastern Conference is getting stronger, and the Atlanta Hawks' consistent hold on a playoff spot is no longer secure.
Fortunately, they're retaining the types of guys that winning teams absolutely need in today's league.
Kyle Korver won't likely live up to the full value of his four-year, $24 million contract. Nevertheless, that number won't matter when he's knocking down threes and defending the wing. He's an elite marksman and an exceedingly capable team defender, which will be vital for Atlanta's second unit.
Having Korver on the floor makes the game easier for the other four guys out there with him. Even as the East rises to meet the Hawks in the middle of the pack, his contributions could keep them afloat.
Boston Celtics: Adding MarShon Brooks
The Boston Celtics are employing a little bit of fantasy sports thinking at shooting guard.
Even before MarShon Brooks came over in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade, the Celtics already had a mercurial talent in Jordan Crawford. What this amounts to is Boston filling its rotation with high-upside guys in hopes that one of them breaks out.
Brooks lost playing time last season as the Brooklyn Nets shifted into win-now mode, but he'll get plenty of opportunities on his new team. If he can keep improving his scoring efficiency and carry it over to a larger workload, Boston will have an actual player to show from its trade—not just draft picks and filler.
Brooklyn Nets: Nabbing Jason Terry
Jason Terry will never have to play defense for the Brooklyn Nets.
That's not saying he even could at this point. His mobility is fading fast, and he was never really known for that aspect of his game to begin with. Now at age 35, Terry is most useful as a spot-up shooter who isn't asked to do anything else.
At 6'2", Terry is somehow the shortest player on the Nets roster. That means that Brooklyn has the size to have him on the floor without tasking him to contend with quick point guards or athletic swingmen.
There will still be a degree of poison-picking every time he's out there, but since he will be a bench scorer, Brooklyn can capitalize his strength while limiting the drawbacks.
Charlotte Bobcats: Trusting Josh McRoberts
Don't be alarmed, but Josh McRoberts actually played decently after he was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats, and they were smart to re-sign him.
Now, there's no way he should be playing 39 minutes per game like he was last April, but that excessive run gave McBob the chance to showcase some nifty ball-movement skills for a big.
He has never played enough for his assist numbers to jump off the stat sheet at you, but he's 6'10" and averaged over four assists per game in the final month of the season. As a high-energy forward off the bench looking to complement offense-first teammates like Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, that's useful.
Hopefully Charlotte never has to play him enough for him to approach triple-double numbers ever again, but the versatility will still come in handy.
Chicago Bulls: Getting Mike Dunleavy
Mike Dunleavy was exactly what the Chicago Bulls were missing last season—him and Derrick Rose, of course.
But it's easy to say Chicago would have been a contender with a former MVP at point guard. Nevertheless, the Bulls still would have needed some more shooting off the bench if they wanted to have a real chance at the title.
The 6'9" Dunleavy has the height to shoot over just about anyone who might guard him, and he's a conscious enough teammate to participate fully in Tom Thibodeau's defense. As long as he's hitting his jumpers and staying out of iso situations on D, he'll be a great addition to the Chicago bench.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Picking Up Earl Clark
It never quite made sense that Mike D'Antoni played Earl Clark over Pau Gasol so often last season, but it allowed Clark to prove his worth to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland just needed talent at the small forward position. Clark is by no means even a very good player, but he's rangy, he's a decent defender and he has the size to score inside and out.
Maybe playing with a point guard like Kyrie Irving will unlock Clark as a nice two-way player.
He's an average three-point shooter, but he will help space the floor for Irving and Andrew Bynum if he can take a step up there. With that facet added to his repertoire, he has the potential to be a solid starter on a playoff team.
Dallas Mavericks: Going with Jose Calderon
Finally, the Dallas Mavericks have someone to distribute the ball again.
The Darren Collison experiment clearly did not work out at point guard. Without any ability to use their max cap space on a superstar, the Mavs instead opted to use a portion of it on a pure passer, Jose Calderon.
There are two reasons he's a scary teammate for Dirk Nowitzki. They're both as efficient offensively as anyone at their respective positions, but they are also both huge defensive liabilities.
If Calderon can elevate everyone around him, Dallas could ride savvy and shot-making to a dominant offense. The Mavs will need it to offset the number of points they'll be giving up.
Denver Nuggets: A Nate Robinson Boost
The Denver Nuggets have recently featured two different looks at point guard: Ty Lawson's breakneck speed and Andre Miller's aged steadiness.
Though they were often played in tandem, Denver could not run the same offense when Lawson sat. Now with Nate Robinson in town, that possibility is in play.
Robinson is another diminutive guard with explosive offensive ability—though he cannot quarterback a five-man unit the way Lawson or Miller can. That's fine; having him allows the Nuggets to play two point guards more often, giving them more freedom to push the pace even when Lawson is off the floor.
Everyone is talking about what Denver lost this summer, but this small addition bolsters what the squad already had.
Detroit Pistons: Return of Chauncey Billups
How bonkers has the Detroit Pistons' offseason been?
Chauncey Billups is back and no one even made a fuss.
Granted, it's not like Billups can do a ton himself anymore. He's 36 years old and does not have the scoring punch to offset his significant defensive issues at this point. At his best, he's a coach on the floor.
But that's exactly what Detroit needs its returning champ to be.
The Pistons are doubling down on point guard projects, shifting from Brandon Knight to the more-tantalizing Brandon Jennings. Considering Detroit's crowded frontcourt, it could be tough for a young player to traverse. Billups' mentoring will go a long way to determining the Pistons' success this season and thereafter.
Golden State Warriors: Going Big
After nailing down their small-ball formula last season, the Golden State Warriors now have the pieces to play big, too.
Carl Landry is gone, but despite his post-up game, he was a 6'9" power forward who could do little on the defensive end. In short, he's a useful player, but not for an organization that wants to spread the floor and protect the rim.
The Dubs already had guys like Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green to work as stretch forwards. Now they add Jermaine O'Neal and Marreese Speights, both of whom have the height and strength to defend inside and ease the burden on Andrew Bogut.
Houston Rockets: Defense and Threes Forever
How do you build a team around Dwight Howard? With defense and threes.
His successful Orlando Magic teams employed a version of that formula, but without anyone explosive to get the offense going out of the backcourt, Orlando was forced to add more versatile scorers like Hedo Turkoglu rather than use two-way players who could just spread the floor.
Between James Harden and the Houston Rocket point guards, all the small forwards need to do is play the perimeter on both ends.
There isn't much special about the Omri Casspi signing. He's a decent player who does just what Houston needs him to do. It's the redoubled commitment to that type of wing that matters.
Indiana Pacers: Adding Luis Scola
While they featured an excellent starting five last season, the Indiana Pacers' second unit was putrid offensively. A healthy Danny Granger is the main name off the bench for Indy now, but Luis Scola is going to be interesting.
As the league moves away from traditional post-ups, it's becoming harder for opponents to defend the likes of Roy Hibbert and David West for 48 minutes. In the past, they didn't have to—Tyler Hansbrough wasn't providing the same kind of threat as the starters.
While he's weaker on the other end than Indy's usual players, Scola is an inventive player with his back to the basket and can finish with either hand inside. He'll allow the Pacers to maintain their preferred offensive style at all times, and that will be difficult for today's teams to handle.
Los Angeles Clippers: Apparently Byron Mullens
Though they had their defensive issues in the frontcourt, there's a good reason the Los Angeles Clippers' upgrades there went under the radar: They really didn't do anything significant.
The only real addition inside is Byron Mullens, whose defensive presence will be essential to L.A.'s title hopes.
In previous years, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were borderline unplayable late in games because of their poor defense. Mullens does not have a history as a good contributor on that end, but at 7'0", 275 pounds, he gives the Clips another big body to throw at opponents.
Perhaps Doc Rivers sees something in him. Otherwise, his team is going to have a hard time in the paint.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Uninspiring Chris Kaman
In a massive deviation of character, every move the Los Angeles Lakers made went under the radar this offseason.
That's what happens when you make midlevel additions aimed at little more than a low playoff seed.
By default, Chris Kaman is the key addition for the Lakers, and that's simply by virtue of the fact that he's a viable starter. He's a 7-footer with a solid mid-range game and he plays serviceable defense. That puts him ahead of the Nick Youngs and Wesley Johnsons of the world.
But the Lakers are clearly not trying to win now. Kaman will simply keep them from getting embarrassed.
Memphis Grizzlies: Signing Kosta Koufos
There's always been a hitch in the Memphis Grizzlies' second unit: a lack of a useful backup center.
The former Nugget is a solid defender for when Gasol leaves the floor, and though his jumper could use some work, he has a good sense of when to step away from the basket and make room for his teammates to operate.
Koufos has no spectacular aspect to his game, but he's easily the most complete backup center this Memphis team has had.
Miami Heat: Standing Pat
The Miami Heat have been nearly silent this offseason, making their biggest splash by signing Greg Oden as a backup center.
So let's talk about why the two-time defending champs have been so stagnant.
This is an organization committed to continuity. Miami may not have wanted to pay Mike Miller's contract anymore, but it amnestied him solely as a luxury tax maneuver, not to bring in a cheaper wing to replace him. Oden was the lone addition because the Heat feel they have no reason to fix a winning formula.
Around the league, the title contenders are growing in strength and in numbers. The Heat have committed themselves to what won for them before, and that philosophy will shape their three-peat campaign.
Milwaukee Bucks: Trying to Win (a Little Bit) Now
It was confusing enough that O.J. Mayo was slated to be the Milwaukee Bucks' highest-paid player in 2013-14. Now Caron Butler is in town and tied atop the financial ledger.
He will make $8 million this coming season in the final year of his contract, so it's not exactly like he's hamstringing the Bucks. However, his surprising presence does indicate beyond a doubt that Milwaukee is still gunning for a playoff spot.
Who knows if the Deer actually have enough talent to snag one in the strengthening East. Butler does add some toughness and experience to an unproven roster, but he isn't the lockdown defender he once was and his offensive game is slipping.
Even so, since Milwaukee is insistent on remaining somewhat competitive, he'll be instrumental in the development of the young Bucks.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Shoring Up the Post Defense
Shabazz Muhammed has already become a headache for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but fellow first-rounder Gorgui Dieng should prove quite useful.
With Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic ensconced in the starting lineup, Minnesota needs a reserve who can protect the rim and facilitate its big scoring tandem. On both ends of the floor, Dieng has the skill set to do exactly that.
Not only can the Louisville product give the Wolves a much-needed shot-blocker, but he's an inventive passer for a center and has a decent mid-range jumper. That will allow him to ease the burden on his teammates defensively and then facilitate for them inside when he gets the ball.
New Orleans Pelicans: Protecting Anthony Davis
The new-look New Orleans Pelicans drastically revamped their lineup, but a sneaky key to Anthony Davis' development will play off the bench.
Right now, Davis is too skinny to hold up as a staunch rim protector. He'll very likely put on enough bulk over the coming years to eventually fill that role, but in the meantime, New Orleans needs to spell him inside to be competitive.
Enter Greg Stiemsma, whose only marketable skills are his size and shot-blocking ability. The Pelicans will be able to save some wear and tear on Davis by subbing in Stiemer, serving both to improve New Orleans' situational units and to give the budding star a solid weak-side defender to learn from.
New York Knicks: Keeping Pablo Prigioni
The New York Knicks would have no chance of replicating their excellent two-point guard attack without Pablo Prigioni.
Re-signing a 36-year-old role player is rarely the stuff of championship runs, but Prigioni defies his age at every turn. He's in incredible shape, is quick enough to compete at both ends and is hyper-aware on the floor, using his smarts to make plays lesser guards wouldn't even imagine trying.
There is no one better at swooping in to steal inbounds passes, and he's a savant when it comes to finding the open man. That heads-up, selfless style of play is a necessary ingredient for a team like the Knicks, always on the verge of devolving into hero ball and apathetic defense. He's the second point guard, but he sets a prime example.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Creativity at SG
All the talk surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder has focused on losing Kevin Martin, the ostensible centerpiece of the James Harden trade. The assumption has been that untested Jeremy Lamb will get the next crack at the shooting guard position, but the answer could be more than one player.
Rather, Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha could see their workloads increased.
Jackson floundered when asked to run the offense in Russell Westbrook's absence, but he's a nice slasher who could give opponents fits alongside Westbrook. Considering the superstar's length and quickness, he could reasonably guard a wing while Jackson takes the smaller man, but Sefolosha will also likely see more time as a stopper to prevent egregious mismatches.
Orlando Magic: Looking to the Future
Drafting Victor Oladipo did not take much ingenuity on the part of the Orlando Magic. Committing to move him to point guard did.
Oladipo is a confusing sort of combo guard right now—long and agile enough to cover either position well, yet not quite capable of carrying the offensive load at either. All things considered, it makes more sense for Orlando to try to teach him to quarterback the offense than to ask him to power it with his scoring.
Jameer Nelson is still there, but Oladipo is the future for the Magic. He'll get every chance to improve his play by working with other prospects like Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris—guys he could have been competing with for playing time if he were playing on the wing.
Philadelphia 76ers: Playing the Lottery Now
The Philadelphia 76ers have devoted their season so fully to prospects that there's little reason to talk about anything else to do with the roster.
It runs deeper than just swapping Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel. At every position, Philly is testing out some raw talent in hopes of finding a young contributor or even a star.
In addition to Noel in the frontcourt, the Sixers are still developing Arnett Moultrie at forward and are even kicking the tires on Royce White to see if they can accommodate his wayward talent. At guard, Michael Carter-Williams is set to bring the ball up, with 20-year-old Tony Wroten serving as the vet back there.
GM Sam Hinkie would have to be some kind of sorcerer to hit on all of those young guys, but the law of averages indicates he'll get at least a couple of viable players out of this bunch.
Phoenix Suns: Trying Two Point Guards
Everyone praised the Phoenix Suns for acquiring Eric Bledsoe, but there hasn't been as much talk about the decision to hang on to Goran Dragic.
In theory, the Suns can play both guards together. Though Dragic has usually run the point in his career and is a bit short for the wing, he is an efficient enough scorer and pesky enough defender to play up to the task. It's not ideal, but it's worth experimenting.
A cellar-dweller like Phoenix has some leeway to test an unconventional combination of talent. If Dragic and Bledsoe mesh well together, then the Suns will know they have something to build around going forward. If not, they still have a valuable trade piece in Dragic and will be that much closer to a high lottery pick.
Portland Trail Blazers: Creating Depth
Great news, basketball fans: The Portland Trail Blazers aren't going to kill Damian Lillard.
Playing without such frivolities as playable backups last season, the Blazers ran their rookie point guard of the future for 38.6 minutes per game. Since this is a franchise with a long history of young stars succumbing to their own bodies, it was in their best interest to find an alternative to burning out Lillard.
That's why Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum are here. Portland now has three guys who can handle the ball and score well enough to play off it when need be, giving Lillard both the rest he desperately needs and weapons he could always use. These additions will aid his development and protect his star status.
Sacramento Kings: Trading for Greivis Vasquez
Don't underestimate just how badly the Sacramento Kings need a pass-first guard in their lineup.
The closest thing they had to a true point guard last season was Isaiah Thomas, who led the team with a dismal 4.0 assists per game. Meanwhile, the 6'6" Greivis Vasquez may not have the physical or athletic makeup of a modern facilitator, but his 9.0 assists were good for third in the NBA.
Consider that the Kings are building around a young center in DeMarcus Cousins yet have featured an entirely shoot-first backcourt. Never before has Boogie had the benefit of someone consistently creating for him. Vasquez's presence will teach Sacramento a lot about its supposed cornerstone.
San Antonio Spurs: Finding Ginobili-Lite
The San Antonio Spurs know exactly how to use Marco Belinelli.
He's essentially a poor man's Manu Ginobili—a shooting guard who is an inventive shooter and can create for himself. Where Belinelli falls short is his efficiency and his passing. Ginobili gets himself easier looks and makes more of the tough ones, and he has always had a flair for finding teammates in unexpected ways.
No one is asking Belinelli to be Ginobili; after all, Ginobili is still in San Antonio, but Gary Neal isn't. The newest Spur will be asked to provide scoring off the bench, and he's versatile enough that Gregg Popovich will find exciting ways to use him in the second unit.
Toronto Raptors: Holding All Their Cards
This never became a big deal, but it's bizarre that the Toronto Raptors haven't moved one of their swingmen yet.
Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are both plus scorers who work best in isolation, but without much efficiency. It's possible to play the two of them together, but with a burgeoning post weapon in Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross waiting for his opportunity, it might not be preferable.
Yet the up-and-coming Raptors are wise to stockpile talent right now. So far, it seems Valanciunas is the only player essential to Toronto's long-term plans, so it makes sense to test out as many potential pieces to put around him as possible. Those that don't work out will still suffice as trade chips later.
Utah Jazz: Picking More Young Bigs
Good Lord, there is so much untapped potential in the Utah Jazz's stable of big men.
We were already heading for our first season featuring Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as full-time starters. Now Rudy Gobert, Utah's latest first-round pick, is already coming stateside, giving the Jazz yet another center prospect to trot out as a reserve.
It's a good thing Utah has no intentions of winning next season because Gobert is far too raw to contribute right away. But the Jazz did not pick the Frenchman for his polish; they fancied his 7'1" frame and his crazy-long limbs. With his upside, Utah will have no problem letting him learn on the job in a tanked season.
Washington Wizards: Maintaining Continuity
Bringing back Martell Webster wasn't a sexy move for the Washington Wizards, but it was a necessary one for a team looking to get back into the playoff picture.
With John Wall approaching superstardom and Bradley Beal fast becoming a very good player in his own right, the Wiz don't need anything extraordinary from the small forward position. What they need is someone who can hit threes and body up on D while being comfortable playing within his role.
Webster proved he could do that last year, hitting a career-high 42 percent from beyond the arc and playing physically on the perimeter as the Washington guards made their leaps. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet, but no one is asking him to. The greatest contribution Webster can make is to allow Wall and Beal to shine while remaining unnoticed himself.