Tomorrow is the first day of August, and that means a lot of NBA players—both old and new—will be going on a much-deserved vacation as they get some final rest before training camps open in the fall. This comes after a number of headline-grabbing moves during the July free agency period, with some teams getting better, and others worse. Today, we’ll just focus on those teams who got better.
While there are still some players who are in limbo right now (e.g. Nikola Pekovic and Greg Oden), most of the player movement has concluded this offseason, with a huge crop of players switching teams and conferences, signing new deals and getting ready to show a new set of fans what their general managers have wrought this summer.
Now is the time to take stock and figure out who won and who lost during after this latest transactional period. Some teams are headed for the lottery, while other lottery teams are gunning for the playoffs. There were others who didn’t make many moves at all—content to bask in the glow of a roster that’s already competing for a title, while there are others who made some significant moves in the hope they’ll get over the final hurdle in their march towards the Larry O’Brien trophy. Here are the 5 most improved NBA teams after the summer of 2013:
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5. Detroit Pistons
We know that Brandon Jennings has taken a bit of beating this summer as teams pretended to look the other way during his restricted free agency, but he’s definitely worth the reported four-year $24 million he signed for before heading to Motown. We also know that Josh Smith‘s four-year $56 million deal had basketball Twitter talking about how only the Darko Milicic pick was worse for GM, Joe Dumars. That’s ridiculous and one of the reasons you have to take all the back-and-forth instant analysis from NBA Twitter at something much less than face value. Maybe people have already forgotten how excited NBA Twitter was about the Clippers advancing in the playoffs last year after they won their first two games against Memphis—at home, no less! We know what happened after that bit of boneheadedness, but no one offered up a “welp, I was dead wrong,” tweet after Memphis decimated
Vinny Del Negro’s Chris Paul‘s team.
There are, however, very real issues with this Detroit group’s offensive spacing. You can just read this, and plug in Brandon Jennings for Rajon Rondo. Just consider the fact that Jennings—at least from a percentage perspective on long-range 2-pointers—was significantly worse than Rondo last year. Yeah.
Detroit might be a mess midway through the year, but the Smith signing wasn’t crazy. He was the third best free agent this summer and he was the first or second best player on a Hawks team that just kept making the playoffs even after Joe Johnson sleepwalked to Brooklyn with his asinine contract in tow. The point is that Smith was a good signing by Dumars, even if he ends up dealing him at the trade deadline because Detroit’s paint is getting claustrophobic. Jennings was signed at a discount for three years, and under the tutelage of Chauncey Billups will hopefully see a big change in his decision making. As far as his shooting, hopefully he’ll do better than his new mentor Billup—career 41.6 percent from the field—and the Pistons will be good despite the long 2-pointers Jennings can’t lay off.
Greg Monroe still might get traded this summer, or in February, or next summer, depending on how he teams with Smith at the two forward spots. Andre Drummond appears to be the freak of nature everyone said before the 2012 Draft, but without the character issues that seem to always be wrong (i.e. scouts don’t realize the guy is a head case, or they think he’s a head case when he’s really just been in a bad situation). Let’s not forget that Dumars can also flip the expiring contracts of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey if a team like the Jazz comes calling looking to free up money next summer.
Regardless, can you remember caring at all about the Pistons this time last year? No one did, and yet they’re definitely getting DVR’d every night on League Pass, now. This team could challenge for a top 4 seed in the East, or they could fall all the way to the lottery. More likely they’ll be a 7 or 8 seed. But for a team, in a city, that’s not had very much to cheer about, just caring about this team again is a very big win for Dumars.