5 NBA Teams Who Have Boosted Their Potential in Free Agency

Micky Shaked@@mickyshakedContributor IIISeptember 3, 2014

5 NBA Teams Who Have Boosted Their Potential in Free Agency

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Now that we can finally call Kevin Love a Cleveland Cavalier, it's safe to say the NBA offseason is in the throes of decline. The dust has settled everywhere (except in Phoenix), and it's time to assess the results.

    Twenty-nine teams had the task of shuffling their rosters to close the gap on the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, on the other hand, played it cool. San Antonio GM R.C. Buford locked down head coach Gregg Popovich for four years, re-signed the team's only free agents and added a sleeper through the draft in Zach LaVine of UCLA. It makes a whole lot of sense not to mess with an absolutely dominant formula.

    The free agency market was abuzz this summer. A few numbers:

    • All but five teams entered the 2013-14 season over the $58.67 million salary cap.
    • Three teams (Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Phoenix) are under the $56.76 million minimum salary.
    • For Phoenix, that includes Eric Bledsoe's qualifying offer!
    • 119 free agents have signed contracts

    We can only call a handful of teams true title contenders, but that's another debate unto itself. All 30 teams had a job to do this summer, and that's to improve the product on the court. Which franchises did themselves the biggest favors this summer in shedding their skin from a year ago?

    This slideshow features five teams that made the shrewdest and most impactful signings, whether it was filling a big hole or strengthening an already solid aspect of the roster.

    Make a case in the comments below for a team that didn't make it but would be on your own list.

    Note: All salary information taken from BasketballInsiders.com unless otherwise noted.

5. Washington Wizards

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The Washington Wizards give living proof to the build-through-the-draft model of franchise development. After five years in the lottery, the Wizards won more games than they have in a decade.

    John Wall and Bradley Beal, the first and third picks in their respective drafts, led a balanced squad to a first-round "upset" of the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls. The dream run ended against a dysfunctional Indiana Pacers squad.

    Trade acquisition Marcin Gortat headed to free agency while the Phoenix Suns happily added the 17th pick in the draft to their arsenal. Trevors Ariza and Booker hit the open market as well. But Washington threw $44 million at Gortat to keep him for four years.

    That sounds like a lot initially, but he starts the 2014-15 season as the 19th-highest paid center in the league and proved his worth in the playoffs with the fifth-most Estimated Wins Added among centers. Keeping him together with Nene gives the Wizards a solid front line.

    That group became even bulkier with underrated signings of veteran big men Kris Humphries at a fraction of his 2013-14 salary and DeJuan Blair for chump change.

    Among the many shrewd moves the team made, a stalemate may have been the best one. Ariza was a valuable part of the Wizards success, particularly in the playoffs. But the last time he played that well was his last contract year.

    General manager Ernie Grunfeld let Ariza head back to Houston and replaced him with Paul Pierce for one-third of the total money. And they signed-and-traded him for a trade exception.

    Signing "The Truth" came as quite a surprise. And while he probably can't give the Wizards much more than 20-25 minutes a night, Pierce knows how to get it done when the season is on the line. Washington has plenty of scoring elsewhere in the lineup for him to get something close to the Dwyane Wade or Manu Ginobili minutes treatment.

    Washington is a Derrick Rose injury away from joining Toronto as Cleveland's main challengers. It's not crazy to think the team is already there.

4. Charlotte Hornets

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    Talk about new beginnings. Not only did the Charlotte Bobcats adopt the Hornets name and logo from the city's previous NBA team that moved to New Orleans, but they added the old Charlotte Hornets records as well.

    In its last season as the Bobcats, Michael Jordan's team came just short of tying the franchise record for most wins. Marquee free agent Al Jefferson put the team on his back and led the franchise to just its second postseason appearance in 10 years.

    Despite Big Al's reputation as a swiss cheese defender, the Bobcats held opponents to the fourth-lowest points per game total (97.1) in the regular season. Unfortunately, the seventh-seeded 'Cats—including a hobbled Jefferson—were no match for the Miami Heat. The Bobcats were swept right out of the first round of the playoffs.

    Losing Josh McRoberts to Miami hurts more than the average fan might expect. Average stats aside, McBob had a unique combination of skills at the power forward position that don't always show up in the box score.

    He was a top-10 shooter from behind the arc among power forwards, and only Kevin Love had more assists per game from the 4 spot. Sharpshooter Anthony Tolliver and backup point guard Luke Ridnour also left, for Phoenix and Orlando, respectively.

    Skills aside, McRoberts became expendable as a big body when Noah Vonleh fell to the Bobcats at the No. 9 pick of this year's draft. Charlotte got the pick as part of the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette trade with Detroit.

    After finishing up the draft with P.J. Hairston with the 17th pick in the draft, Jordan and general manager Rich Cho threw max money at Gordon Hayward. But the Utah Jazz stayed true to their word and matched the lucrative offer, possibly a blessing in disguise.

    So the Hornets made a bold move late in free agency by handing Lance Stephenson a short three-year deal for $27 million, which is a shorter length and lower average salary he originally wanted. (If Stephenson doesn't pan out the Hornets can jump ship after two years via the team option on the third.)

    Charlotte really needed shooting to improve its offensive efficiency, but Stephenson is an enormous upgrade over Gerald Henderson. His presence adds a second ball-handler to take pressure off Kemba Walker and makes Henderson a valuable backup.

    Throwing $14 million at Marvin Williams for two years seems a bit pricey, but he has value as another veteran voice to balance out Stephenson's antics and the youth that's so prevalent on the roster. Brian Roberts and Jannero Pargo fill out the backcourt.

    With the injury to Paul George and the double effect of stealing Stephenson away, the Pacers have been weakened while Charlotte simultaneously vaulted itself into the conversation of teams that can make some postseason noise in the balanced Eastern Conference. 

3. Dallas Mavericks

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    You know how there's this weird phenomenon that dogs often look like their owner? The Dallas Mavericks as a team seem to have adopted a lot of Mark Cuban's tendencies. Despite his often bristly persona and controversial viewpoints, Cuban's methods of business are obviously effective given his net worth in the billions.

    The Mavericks' offseason moves can definitely be described as bristly and controversial, and we'll have to wait on deeming it effective. Coming the closest to beating San Antonio in the playoffs, eighth-seeded Dallas had a lot to be proud of last year.

    The Mavericks erased the memory of not making the postseason the previous year (and sweating it out through the final day of the regular season this time) by pushing the Spurs to seven games.

    Dallas became the definition of a veteran team last summer by adding Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Monta Ellis to the backcourt, and bringing in Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair up front.

    And it sort of worked as the Mavs finished third in offensive efficiency, but also 22nd in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN.

    This time around, the name of the game was surrounding the aging Dirk Nowitzki with more spry legs. But the Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton additions via trade (in exchange for Calderon) doesn't exactly follow in that vein.

    It does, however, return to them the rim protector who was so crucial to the team's 2011 championship run. Felton is no spring chicken, but a fresh start away from the distractions of New York City could bring out the 14-and-7 point guard he was with the Bobcats earlier in his career.

    The marquee "Cuban" move was signing restricted free agent Chandler Parsons away from division rival Houston, and doing so in a night club. In a vacuum, this move is a head-scratcher because Parsons is probably not worth $14 million a year on paper right now.

    But this is exactly why Nowitzki took such a giant pay cut down to $8 million. Together he and Parsons cost $22 million, less than Amar'e Stoudemire or Kobe Bryant or Joe Johnson make individually. Switch Dirk's and Parsons' salaries if it makes you feel better.

    But Cuban didn't stop there, filling out the roster with Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu and the ageless Richard Jefferson at basement bargains. In a horrendously talented Western Conference that largely stayed put, the Mavericks will surprisingly have the most differentiated product from last year.

2. Chicago Bulls

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    USA TODAY Sports

    In many ways, this was the summer of 2010 all over again for the Chicago Bulls. Despite offering free agents and trade targets one of the most ready-made rosters in the league, Chicago again struck out on the same big fish four years later.

    No LeBron, no Carmelo, no Bosh (and no Kevin Love trade).

    The Bulls were desperate for some sort of shot in the arm after losing Derrick Rose for basically two full seasons. This time they did a lot better than walking away from the free agency frenzy with Carlos Boozer. 

    Having finished in the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting and dead last in scoring, Chicago's needs were clear. So Gar Forman and John Paxson finally brought over the mysterious and highly touted European draft stash Nikola Mirotic.

    The 6'10" power forward shot better than 41 percent from downtown last season. Though that doesn't necessarily translate directly to the NBA, it would have tied him with Spencer Hawes for the best percentage from distance among 4s and 5s.

    Add Doug "McBuckets" McDermott to the mix, Tony Snell's newfound range and the sneaky late signing of veteran scorer Aaron Brooks, too. Chicago now has some nice deep threats it didn't have a year ago.

    But then, Chicago made the ultimate "adding strength to an already solid position" move. Having two top-notch interior players like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson is a luxury most teams don't have. The Bulls rubbed it in by adding Pau Gasol to the mix.

    Gasol may not be the same player who won two championships with Kobe Bryant, nor is he much of an improvement over Carlos Boozer on defense. But Gasol doesn't have to be with the aforementioned Noah and Gibson patrolling the paint.

    How many teams would trade their frontline rotation for Jo-Pau-Taj-Mirotic? Probably all of them.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    No, Kevin Love did not join Cleveland as a free agent. The Cavaliers will be on top of this list next season as well if/when he officially signs a max extension.

    LeBron James alone gives Cleveland the best free agent haul, and it's not even close.

    I could regale you with paragraphs upon paragraphs of how the Kyrie Irving-led teams did X, while the new "Cleveland LeBrons" will do Y. All that matters is that the franchise hasn't won more than 33 games since King James bolted for warmer weather and championships in 2010.

    As with his move to South Beach, LeBron is like a shark that attracts all the other little fish flanking him waiting for the scraps. Only the Cavaliers had the cap space to provide a better supporting cast than Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis.

    LeBron has so far:

    • Extracted Mike Miller from Memphis after he surprised everyone with a full 82-game season
    • Reeled in Shawn Marion to take some of the defensive pressure
    • And let James Jones tag along because James Jones wants to win championships
    • Ray Allen may not be far behind.
    • Oh right, he waved his magic wand/scepter/sword/whatever kings use, and Love appeared while Cleveland rid itself of Anthony Bennett

    Losing Tyler Zeller and Spencer Hawes certainly hurts the frontcourt depth, but it won't matter when Love is throwing LeBron, Irving and Dion Waiters outlet passes until their eyes bleed. This team could score 120 points a night.

    General manager David Griffin would have traded away roster fillers Sergey Karasev, Alonzo Gee, Jarrett Jack and Carrick Felix in his sleep. While LeBron has as much NBA head coaching experience as David Blatt, it's fine because we all know how The Return of the King ended.