6 NBA Rosters That Could Still Use an Upgrade
Most of the 2014 free-agency fireworks are over, but there are still some marquee teams that could stand to upgrade their roster in the race for a title.
While it goes without saying that some of the league’s bottom-feeding teams could use a major talent infusion, we’ll instead focus on the contending teams for which upgrades would actually mean something in the grand scheme of things.
The issue with these six contenders for the most part, however, is that there are limited assets available to upgrade. A trade is the best solution for most of the teams on this list, as the free-agency pickings are slim and a minimum contract rarely brings back an impact player for a great team. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely.
The reason you won’t see the San Antonio Spurs on this list, even though they still have a weapon in the mid-level exception to use, is because they might not need much upgrading. While complacency usually equals death in the NBA, we’ve seen what this Spurs core is capable of.
Let’s list six of the contending teams chasing the Spurs that could really stand to add talent and fill some positional and production holes.
Is this a championship roster? As it stands, probably not. Relying on a starting frontcourt of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao is awfully dangerous, especially since Varejao is so injury prone. Who protects the rim in this lineup? Who stretches the floor?
These are all questions the Cavs probably need to address to advance, even if the presence of LeBron James makes them an instant favorite in the Eastern Conference. The rich just need to get richer here.
There are issues beyond the frontcourt that even the acquisition of someone like Kevin Love couldn’t solve all by himself. Dion Waiters has been shaky at shooting guard, and while Mike Miller and James Jones can both shoot the lights out, defensively this is a second unit that could be a nightmare.
The one positive here is that the Cleveland Cavaliers haven't been hesitant in the past to make big trade acquisitions. The Cavs can dangle future draft picks and add talent, and that will probably be necessary to build a well-rounded team.
James is brilliant, but he and Kyrie Irving can’t do it alone. The Cavs probably need another star and much better depth than what’s currently in place.
Re-signing Dirk Nowitzki and stealing Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets were both massive moves by the Dallas Mavericks, but there is still work to be done here.
The departure of valuable rotation wing Vince Carter to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Shawn Marion potentially leaving could leave Dallas a little shorthanded, even if Richard Jefferson and Rashard Lewis were brought in to plug a few holes at the 3 and 4.
The thing is, Dallas is probably a lot closer to contending than most people think. The Mavs are the team that gave the San Antonio Spurs their best series last year, after all, pushing the eventual champion to seven games. Nowitzki can be unstoppable, and defensively the Mavericks should be drastically improved thanks to Tyson Chandler.
Even with that reunion, the Mavericks can upgrade the point guard spot. Raymond Felton, Devin Harris and Gal Mekel aren't really a murderer’s row for Rick Carlisle to work with. Considering the age of the roster, it would make sense for Dallas to surrender draft picks and really try to get a quality starting point guard in a league full of them.
The Mavs are close, but upgrading the point guard spot is critical.
Oklahoma City Thunder
You wonder if Oklahoma City is ever going to be aggressive in free agency. The Thunder usually tend to sit out this time of year, but after losing Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler elsewhere, Anthony Morrow was added to provide some perimeter shooting.
You won’t find a bigger Morrow believer than me, but the Thunder still occupy Kendrick Perkins as a starting center and now lack a three-and-D guy with Sefolosha gone. Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson all look promising, but you wouldn’t mind seeing more reliable role players next to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The main point here is that Oklahoma City is so tantalizingly close to a championship that it would be a shame if it didn’t really “go for it” with a trade acquisition to upgrade from a guy like Perkins. Just about every other team on Oklahoma City’s level is being aggressive, so it’s frustrating to watch it sit back.
Player development is important, but titles should take precedent. Durant and Westbrook should be in the mix every single year, but the supporting cast could stand to improve a bit. This is a truly great team already that will certainly be in the hunt, but an upgrade at center and on the wing would be wise.
After losing Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards and Shaun Livingston to the Golden State Warriors, the Brooklyn Nets took a step back defensively and in terms of execution of late offense.
Jarrett Jack can help fill the void Livingston left, but Pierce is much more difficult to replace, especially since Brooklyn is over the cap and has no real assets to deal.
Even with that in mind, the hunt for upgrades via trade should be on full blast. This is a veteran roster that’s built to win right now, and while the offense should be helped by the return of Brook Lopez, the defense is going to need some serious help.
Luckily, good defensive players are usually cheaper to acquire than strong offensive players. The Nets don’t necessarily need more star power but instead need athleticism on the wing to make up for the aging roster.
The Eastern Conference should be drastically better next season, so you don’t like that Brooklyn appears to have taken a step back. At this point, the Nets are invested in winning now, so finding ways to add healthy young players who can contribute right away should be the priority.
It’s certainly been a wild offseason. After trading Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets let Chandler Parsons go to a division rival in the Dallas Mavericks only to strike out on adding Chris Bosh.
While Trevor Ariza’s three-point shooting and defensive acumen will certainly help the Rockets out, the bench is pretty depleted all of the sudden. Young guards like Isaiah Canaan and Troy Daniels can help fill the void and provide a perimeter threat, but up front the Rockets have some serious depth issues.
It’s also worth wondering if Terrence Jones is a good fit with Dwight Howard, or with the rest of the roster. The Rockets are going to put up points, naturally, but the improvements need to come on the defensive end. Ariza is a good start, but swapping in someone like Donatas Motiejunas for Omer Asik is going to hurt you quite a bit.
The good news is that the Rockets still have plenty of trade assets, including a large exception and future draft picks.
Whether they are cashed in or sat on is hard to say, but the Rockets need better defenders up front to be a serious contender.
What a rough offseason. There isn’t a worse position to be in than losing one of your best, youngest players in unrestricted free agency and not having the means to replace him. Replacing Lance Stephenson with Rodney Stuckey is a massive downgrade.
Truth be told, the backcourt of George Hill and Stuckey is by far the worst of any potential contender, which is obviously problematic for a team that struggles mightily to create good offensive looks. There just might be too much pressure on Paul George to do it all on that end, as you aren’t worried about anyone else other than David West beating you.
There’s also the chance that Roy Hibbert is still broken after last year’s postseason. If you’re looking for any team to take a tumble in the standings, the Indiana Pacers should have your eye.
With that in mind, adding some more scoring and shooting somehow via trade would be the best way to go. Indiana has limited assets, but to keep up with the other teams in the East, this shaky backcourt simply has to be improved. Paul George is great, but he needs much more help than this.