August 23, 2012

Best off season moves

The off season is about improvement. Every team wants to improve their chances of competing for a championship during the off season, including the champions themselves. Whether it be a coaching change, Blockbuster trade, or locker room changes, every team is looking to upgrade. So far, this year's NBA off season has brought confusion, animosity, and for many sports fans, pure bliss. Though the Blockbuster trades are always spotlighted on ESPN, sometimes the small moves are what can take a team over the hump. Now it isn't over just yet, but I've put together my list of the most improved teams thus far as a result of this off season. Again, the word is improvement. These are not my preseason prediction rankings, just my opinion of who has improved the most for the upcoming seasonon (in order).

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

I'm going to begin with a working theory: the Timberwolves will creep into the eighth seed of the Western Conference and make the playoffs this season. Getting Ricky Rubio back from injury clearly supports my theory, but I'm also hoping Brandon Roy is able to give Kevin Love some help in the scoring department. I admire Minnesota's willingness to take a chance on Roy since his brief retirement kept him sidelined last season due to knee problems. Minnesota also brought in Andrei Kirilenko, who is coming off another stellar year in Russia and will be an essential veteran swing man on both ends of the floor at 6-foot-9. Even though this team still lacks a legitimate center, be warned; if Roy is even a glimpse of what he was just years ago, the Timberwolves will have a chance to make the jump as one of the bottom-tier Western conference playoff teams.

7. Philadelphia 76ers

Rod Thorn and the Sixers management found a major way to benefit from the Dwight to LA trade by acquiring Andrew Bynum. Not only has Philly lacked a true post presence over the decades, more recently they've struggled to identify a player they can give the ball to and simply say, "get us a bucket". Jason Richardson is a solid veteran pick-up who will knock down shots for Philly and Nick Young is a streaky scoring threat who should be able to fill the void of Lou Williams. This will be a much different 76er team, but that should please Sixer fans after years of mediocrity. Doug Collins is more than capable of using his new pieces to make significant strides. After all, he now has something that even Erik Spolestra doesn't have on his roster.

6. New York Knicks

The Knicks needed a point guard. Badly. Even before Jeremy Lin went to Houston. The only way for volume scorers like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to truly thrive is with a point guard who can deliver them the basketball in the right spots, at the right time. Who better than Jason Kidd? The Knicks should benefit from Kidd's presence and leadership both on the court and in the locker room. Marcus Camby was recently added as well, not bad insurance for Tyson Chandler when he gets in foul trouble. The Knicks should have Iman Shumpert back as well, who injured his knee in their first round match up against Miami in the playoffs. Veteran additions to the back and front courts should be enough to help the Knicks reach their true potential this season.

5. Brooklyn Nets:

This team almost got scary quickly when it seemed to be the inevitable destination for Dwight Howard. Although they lost out on the Superman Sweepstakes, Brooklyn will have plenty to cheer about in their franchise's first season. Adding Joe Johnson to the back court makes the Nets an instant playoff team. Deron Williams really needs Johnson, and vise versa. This duo can easily be argued as the best back court in the NBA. With that explosive scoring tandem, athletic swing man Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez remaining healthy and solid, this Brooklyn team will be a thorn in the Eastern Conference's side for years to come.

4. LA Clippers:

Lob City took Los Angeles and SportsCenter by storm when Chris Paul came to town, although I was most impressed by their grit in last year's playoffs. They showed great toughness when they beat Memphis in three straight games (including Game 7 on the road) only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. This year's Clipper team should have a little more scoring and depth with the additions of Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom. They shuffled through combo guards Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Nick Young, and Eric Bledsoe to play alongside Chris Paul last season. Crawford can help LA at the 2-guard by doing what he does best, scoring the basketball. If Odom decides he wants to actually play basketball again (for the team who drafted him in 1999), he could be the catalyst in making this Clippers squad a top team in the West.

3. Miami Heat: 

The Miami Heat just won the NBA Finals with their small ball formula: LeBron/Wade/Bosh + three point shooters = Championship. Not only did they just win with the formula, they've since enhanced it. Acquiring Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis takes their outside shooting from good to lethal. Some say the defending champs should have pursued a center since Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman are the team's only players under contract at the position. But Pat Riley openly expressed his perspective in a radio interview, "We don't really need a center". Though I disagree with the basketball legend, two things remain true: 1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it and 2. The Miami Heat are still the team to beat, technically speaking.

 2. Boston Celtics:  

After losing Ray Allen to Miami early in the postseason, Danny Ainge and Celtics management didn't panic. They brought in Jason Terry, a veteran with championship experience and a playing style that should mesh well with Rajon Rondo. The back court will also feature Avery Bradley, who saw significant minutes during Allen's injury last season; a feisty defender and competitor for Doc Rivers. Add Courtney Lee, a combo guard and known scoring threat with NBA Finals experience. The Celtics just recently announced the re-signing of Jeff Green, who missed all of last season due to health issues; an athletic, versatile forward who can create mismatches at his position. This Celtics team is just as experienced, will be younger and deeper, and should look to get some production from draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo to help Kevin Garnett in the paint. I have tremendous respect for how Boston reloaded, and look forward to seeing them adjust with their new pieces.

 1. LA Lakers:  

Mitch Kupchak is a magician. Acquiring Steve Nash was a big deal, mainly because of the seemingly infinite scarcity at the point guard position for the Lakers. Going from Ramon Sessions to Steve Nash is an improvement no matter how you look at it, and getting one of the great passers in the game is not to be taken lightly. But getting Dwight Howard makes the Lakers a top contender once again, some might say the favorite to win it all. The Laker bench has even improved with Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, two guys who can really punish teams with their outside shooting. What they will achieve is yet to be seen or discussed, but as I previously explained, (scroll down) the Lakers have put together the best team on paper.

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