May 11, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots the ball as Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) defends during the third quarter in game six of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center.  Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Though there was no single Kevin-Durant-to-Golden-State-sized splash in the NBA this offseason, teams made move after move to jockey with the Warriors in an attempt to interrupt their reign of terror.

The Rockets took a leap of faith and traded the farm for an aging Chris Paul. The Celtics used their cap space to reunite Gordon Hayward with Brad Stevens, then got rid of an asset in Avery Bradley to balance their checkbook. The Timberwolves suddenly became a legitimate Western Conference contender by ripping off the Bulls.

There were so many moves, in fact — so many trades and so many signings — that, now that the league’s transaction churn and burn has finally calmed, it’s hard to believe all that actually happened. To sum it up:

We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys come this fall (the preseason begins Sept. 30). But which of those players will make the biggest impact, and which teams will look the most improved? Which 2017-18 NBA squad will make the biggest leap?

It’s too early to know, of course, but below is my take on the 10 NBA teams that improved the most this offseason.

10. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets found themselves in a precarious position with Danilo Gallinari. The stretch 4 is a valuable piece in the modern NBA, and people loved him in Denver.

However, the team hadn’t found success since Gallo came over in the 2011 trade that landed Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on the Knicks. The Nuggets made the playoffs during the first three years Gallo was in Denver, but were eliminated in the first round each time. He’s a solid player, but not a centerpiece.

Given the state of the franchise, it was hard to justify giving Gallo more than $20 million a year and extending this iteration of Nuggets history. The team decided to let him go, and Denver shrewdly got a 2019 second-round pick out of it via a three-team deal with the Clippers and Hawks.

Denver made two great decisions this offseason: letting Gallo walk and signing forward Paul Millsap. The 6-foot-8, 32-year-old Millsap has long been one of the most underappreciated players in the league. Millsap doesn’t put them over the top, but he gives them one more valuable piece.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Cavs are interested in Jamal Murray. If Denver can pull that off and trot out Kyrie, Millsap, and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets will make some noise in the loaded West.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

Everyone around the league believes the Lakers are gearing up for an active 2018 offseason — they plan to pursue Paul George and maybe even LeBron James — and the organization made some wise moves this summer to prepare for it.

For starters, they allowed Nick Young to walk, and traded D’Angelo Russell. Though both guys are talented, valuable players, they were too much of a distraction to keep around, especially when you’re going to try to lure marquee free agents.

The Lakers’ trade of Russell to Brooklyn was good for both sides. L.A. landed Brook Lopez, one of the most underrated bigs in the league, and also snagged the 27th overall pick. That pick turned into Kyle Kuzma, who looked excellent in Las Vegas and even cracked my early top 10 favorites to win NBA Rookie of the Year.

They also did well with their lottery pick. Lonzo Ball, the Summer League MVP, is a perfect fit, and I expect Magic Johnson will continue to like what he sees in his new floor general.

8. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are sneakily moving in the East. After missing the playoffs by five games this past season, it was clear they had to retool, and they’ve made a few under-the-radar moves that I’m a fan of.

Take, for example, their trade for Dwight Howard. No one wants Dwight at this point in his career. It’s considered a given that he’s going to ruin your locker room. But the Hornets got Dwight on a bargain deal. They gave up Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee, and a second-rounder for Howard and a first-rounder.

Howard’s minutes dipped to 29.7 per game with Atlanta last year, but he posted decent numbers: 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He’s a shell of the player who was the most dominant big in the NBA, but even that shell is still a pretty solid starting 5 man.

Additionally, the Hornets pulled off my favorite pick of the draft, snagging Kentucky’s Malik Monk at No. 11. With Kemba Walker, Monk, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Howard, the Hornets should find themselves having moved up to the East’s second tier.

7. Golden State Warriors

The rich only got richer this offseason. In addition to locking up Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry for the foreseeable future, Golden State re-signed Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Zaza Pachulia, and also added some valuable pieces.

Nick Young has become overshadowed by his Swaggy P alter-ego and propensity for being involved in off-the-court drama, but when Young is hot, he’s one of the best shooters in the league. Additionally, his decision to take a pay cut and sign with Golden State tells me he’s done some growing up and, at this point in his career, he values winning above personal accolades. Getting the 32-year-old Young on a one-year, $5.2 million deal was a steal for the Warriors.

The Warriors also purchased yet another draft pick to snag Oregon’s Jordan Bell, a 6-foot-8 forward with a high basketball IQ who does it all. He wants to be Draymond 2.0.

Though Omri Casspi isn’t a household name, he’s a valuable bench player who agreed to take the veteran minimum. He could turn into another unheralded, undervalued vet who contributes valuable minutes in the NBA Finals.

6. Brooklyn Nets

Thanks to foolish management, the Nets have managed to both be terrible and have no exciting young players on the roster in recent years. What we’ve witnessed in Brooklyn has been a rare feat of ineptitude.

But give GM Sean Marks credit: the Nets were desperately in need of a rebuild, and he took sage steps toward achieving that end this summer. The most noteworthy of Marks’ moves was his trade for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.

Russell has had an interesting career, to say the least, and for all the jokes about him being a TMZ beat reporter, he’s shown flashes of brilliance on the court. I think the former No. 2 overall pick could still become an All-Star.

Other great moves for the Nets: holding onto Sean Kilpatrick and flipping Justin Hamilton for DeMarre Carroll’s contract, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Is “The Process” finally coming to fruition? It sure seems like this is the year the Sixers are actually going to try to compete.

After stockpiling picks for years, the Sixers finally gave one up. They traded a future first-rounder, in addition to the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, for the 2017 No. 1. They used that pick to select Markelle Fultz, the consensus No. 1 prospect, who on his best days shows shades of James Harden.

This was the right pick for Philly’s roster, but Fultz wasn’t the only promising rookie they acquired. The Sixers also snagged Jonah Bolden, Latvia’s Anžejs Pasečņiks, and France’s Mathias Lessort — all three were high on my list of under-the-radar wings who could turn into rotation players.

And Philly actually signed someone, too! They splurged on J.J. Redick. The deal involved way too much money, but the Sixers had plenty of cap space, it was only a one-year deal, and Redick’s veteran presence and deadly three-point shooting should greatly benefit Philadelphia this year.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

Who would’ve thought going into this offseason that the Thunder would pull off perhaps the biggest trade of the summer? It sure seemed like Oklahoma City would go into next season the same way it ended the last.

Instead, the Thunder pulled off a heist. They flipped Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Paul George, one of the 10 or so best players in the NBA. It was a stunner of a deal.

Whether George and Russell Westbrook can coexist remains to be seen. They both have a bit of an edge of them, and George likes to have the ball in his hands in crunch time (though throughout his career he hasn’t proved to be a clutch player).

Even if things click this year and the Thunder make a playoff run, it seems like a foregone conclusion that George is heading to Los Angeles next year. However, the deal made the Thunder better, and they didn’t have to give up much at all to pull it off.

3. Houston Rockets

Houston paired two of the best offensive guards in the game when, late in June, the Rockets pulled off a trade with the Clippers to acquire Chris Paul. In return, Los Angeles received half of Houston’s roster — Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, and Kyle Wiltjer — in addition to a future first-round pick and cash considerations.

Though it looks like a lot, it really wasn’t much. Paul is one of the 20 or so best players of all time. Though he’s never found postseason success, and though we don’t know if he’ll be able to play with Harden, Houston is rolling the dice because both players are simply that good. The Rockets’ creed: put the best players on the court and they’ll figure it out.

The Rockets may not be done dealing. Rumors have swirled that Carmelo Anthony is headed to Houston in the near future. A Paul-Harden-Anthony three-headed duo would be lethal on offense; it’s tough to imagine how a team would gameplan to defend the Rockets.

2. Boston Celtics

The Celtics did what everyone expected them to this summer — they let Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk walk, and after a long back and forth they signed Gordon Hayward, reuniting him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

Then the Celtics did something unexpected — they dealt Avery Bradley, one of the best defensive guards in the NBA (a two-time All-NBA Defensive Teamer), and a 2019 second-round pick for Marcus Morris. The way I see it, both teams improved as a result of the deal.

Boston needed frontline help, particularly with the departure of Olynyk, and toughness. Morris provides that and then some. Detroit needed…well, the Pistons just need everything, and Bradley is a tremendous asset. Because of the Hayward deal, the Celtics would not have been able to retain him when his contract expires next summer.

Boston also got Duke’s Jayson Tatum at No. 3, and Celtics fans are already calling him the next Paul Pierce. That may be premature, but he looked great in Summer League.

Keep an eye on the Celtics. They make another move before the deadline. I’m looking at Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder as pieces that may be traded.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves! They’re relevant! We finally get to watch Karl-Anthony Towns on national TV!

Though there were a few fleecings around the league this offseason, the T-Wolves pulled off the greatest of them all. They traded for Chicago’s Jimmy Butler on draft night. What they gave up in return was shockingly uncompelling.

Chicago traded Butler and the No. 16 pick (Justin Patton) for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen).

Butler is an All-NBA player, and you’d have expected the Bulls could have gotten more in return. The trade had Chicago fans calling for the firing of the team’s front office. Maybe one day we’ll hear the true story of how this unfolded and the Bulls got peanuts in return for one of the league’s best 3 men.

The Timberwolves also traded Ricky Rubio and signed Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. We don’t know yet how all these pieces will fit — will Andrew Wiggins be content with being the third banana? — but, with a suddenly interesting roster, the Timberwolves should certainly be competitive in the Western Conference playoffs, after finishing 13th in the West this past season. Talk about an offseason improvement.

Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer. His work has appeared in Complex, USA Today, and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.

Ranking the No. 2 overall NBA Draft picks in the lottery era
QUIZ: NBA players who have recorded 40+ pt games since 1999-2000

Since the 1999-2000 NBA season, 171 players have scored 40 or more points in a single game through the 2016-2017 season. How many can you name?

Clue: Team(s) that the players played for at the time of their 40+ point game and the number of times the feat has been accomplished.

Note: Includes playoff games with 40+ points

LAL - 135
Kobe Bryant
PHI/DEN - 81
Allen Iverson
CLE/MIA - 76
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
ORL/HOU - 49
Tracy McGrady
OKC/HOU - 42
James Harden
MIA - 41
Dwyane Wade
DEN/NYK - 40
Carmelo Anthony
OKC - 39
Russell Westbrook
Vince Carter
Shaquille O'Neal
GSW - 32
Stephen Curry
GSW/WAS - 30
Gilbert Arenas
DAL - 27
Dirk Nowitzki
BOS - 24
Paul Pierce
PHX/NYK - 22
Amar'e Stoudemire
Ray Allen
NOP - 15
Anthony Davis
CLE - 14
Kyrie Irving
Stephon Marbury
POR - 13
Damian Lillard
MIL - 12
Michael Redd
MIN/CLE - 11
Kevin Love
GSW - 11
Klay Thompson
TOR/MIA - 10
Chris Bosh
SAC/NOP - 10
DeMarcus Cousins
DET - 10
Jerry Stackhouse
TOR - 9
DeMar DeRozan
SAS - 9
Tim Duncan
GSW - 9
Monta Ellis
CHI - 8
Jimmy Butler
Jamal Crawford
LAC - 8
Blake Griffin
Antawn Jamison
WAS - 8
Michael Jordan
Kevin Martin
Chris Paul
Jason Richardson
BOS - 7
Isaiah Thomas
POR - 6
LaMarcus Aldridge
SAS - 6
Manu Ginobili
Ben Gordon
Richard Hamilton
ORL - 6
Dwight Howard
ATL - 6
Joe Johnson
SEA - 6
Gary Payton
WAS - 6
John Wall
SAC - 5
Mike Bibby
IND - 5
Paul George
SAS - 5
Tony Parker
POR - 5
Brandon Roy
Gerald Wallace
NOH - 5
David West
MIN - 5
Andrew Wiggins
WAS - 4
Bradley Beal
Ricky Davis
MIN - 4
Kevin Garnett
IND - 4
Danny Granger
DET - 4
Grant Hill
NYK - 4
Allan Houston
Larry Hughes
Al Jefferson
UTA - 4
Karl Malone
IND - 4
Reggie Miller
Jalen Rose
DEN - 4
J.R. Smith
Nick Van Exel
CHO - 4
Kemba Walker
SAC - 4
Chris Webber
Deron Williams
PHX - 3
Eric Bledsoe
UTA - 3
Carlos Boozer
Elton Brand
Sam Cassell
Pau Gasol
Rudy Gay
Al Harrington
NJN - 3
Devin Harris
Stephen Jackson
SEA - 3
Rashard Lewis
TOR - 3
Kyle Lowry
HOU - 3
Cuttino Mobley
PHX - 3
Steve Nash
POR - 3
Zach Randolph
NYK - 3
Nate Robinson
CHI - 3
Derrick Rose
NYK - 3
Latrell Sprewell
MIN - 3
Karl-Anthony Towns
Mo Williams
Nick Young
ATL - 2
Shareef Abdur-Rahim
GSW - 2
Baron Davis
DEN - 2
Danilo Gallinari
NJN - 2
Richard Jefferson
Jason Kidd
SAS - 2
Kawhi Leonard
NOH - 2
Jamal Mashburn
O.J. Mayo
POR - 2
C.J. McCollum
DEN - 2
Antonio McDyess
MEM - 2
Mike Miller
UTA - 2
Paul Millsap
HOU - 2
Yao Ming
POR - 2
Clifford Robinson
Peja Stojakovic
ATL - 2
Jason Terry
SAC - 2
Marcus Thornton
BOS - 2
Antoine Walker
LAL - 2
Lou Williams
ORL - 1
Arron Afflalo
MIL - 1
Giannis Antetokounmpo
HOU - 1
Trevor Ariza
PHX - 1
Leandro Barbosa
TOR - 1
Andrea Bargnani
MIN - 1
Michael Beasley
DAL - 1
Rodrigue Beaubois
DET - 1
Chauncey Billups
BKN - 1
Bojan Bogdanovic
PHX - 1
Devin Booker
MIN - 1
Corey Brewer
HOU - 1
Aaron Brooks
WAS - 1
Caron Butler
LAL - 1
Andrew Bynum
GSW - 1
Jordan Crawford
NYK - 1
Eddy Curry
PHX - 1
Tony Delk
CHI - 1
Luol Deng
VAN - 1
Michael Dickerson
PHX - 1
Goran Dragic
NOP - 1
Tyreke Evans
DAL - 1
Michael Finley
HOU - 1
Steve Francis
MEM - 1
Marc Gasol
LAC - 1
Eric Gordon
PHX - 1
Gerald Green
BOS - 1
Jeff Green
UTA - 1
Gordon Hayward
DAL - 1
Josh Howard
DET - 1
Reggie Jackson
MIL - 1
Brandon Jennings
IND - 1
Anthony Johnson
DEN - 1
Nikola Jokic
DEN - 1
Linas Kleiza
MIN - 1
Zach LaVine
PHX - 1
Shawn Marion
LAL - 1
Jodie Meeks
UTA - 1
C.J. Miles
POR - 1
Darius Miles
POR - 1
Andre Miller
NJN - 1
Anthony Morrow
MIA - 1
Alonzo Mourning
CLE - 1
Lamond Murray
IND - 1
Jermaine O'Neal
UTA - 1
Mehmet Okur
ORL - 1
Victor Oladipo
LAC - 1
J.J. Redick
LAC - 1
Quentin Richardson
MIL - 1
Glenn Robinson
BOS - 1
Rajon Rondo
TOR - 1
Terrence Ross
LAL - 1
D'Angelo Russell
HOU - 1
Luis Scola
MIL - 1
Ramon Sessions
POR - 1
Damon Stoudamire
DET - 1
Rodney Stuckey
MIN - 1
Wally Szczerbiak
TOR - 1
Charlie Villanueva
POR - 1
Rasheed Wallace
GSW - 1
C.J. Watson
POR - 1
Bonzi Wells
SEA - 1
Damien Wilkins

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