Which NBA team had the best offseason? Five teams who improved the most.

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We are more than 75 signings into free agency, and surprisingly most of the deals are either ones I think are good, or at least are defensible from the team’s perspective. There is a notable signing I don’t like, and nobody seems to have an idea what the plan is in Detroit, but for the most part teams have signed players they need on reasonable contracts. Beyond that, there has been a flood of trades, and the NBA Draft proved interesting.

But which NBA team had the best offseason? Who improved the most?

Here are our five NBA teams that made big steps, had the best offseason and improved the most in the past weeks.

THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The Lakers’ improvement is not dramatic but incremental. However, when you’re talking about the defending champions with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster, getting better at all makes them that much harder to knock off the mountain top next July.

The Lakers traded for Dennis Schroder, who is an upgrade as a point guard and secondary shot creator over Rajon Rondo. Schroder is a better scoring threat and will space the floor better as a shooter. Along the front line, the Lakers have Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, an upgrade over Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Harrell brings incredible energy when he steps on the court, and Gasol is the kind of high IQ player who thrives next to LeBron. On the wing, Wesley Matthews replaces Danny Green, which keeps a good defender and respected shooter in the role.

The Lakers improved their bench and lost nothing in the starting group (so long as Gasol, 35, and Matthews, 34, don’t feel the effect of age too much), and last year’s version already won a ring. Any list of favorites for the next NBA season has to start with Los Angeles, and every other team is targeting them.

THE ATLANTA HAWKS

The order came down from ownership: It’s time to put a roster around Trae Young that isn’t just about rebuilding but can make the playoffs. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has done that.

First, the Hawks drafted Onyeka Okongwu, the defense-first, high-energy big man out of USC who can back up Clint Capela at center (and you could argue Capela is a new addition because the strong pick-and-roll center never played a minute for Atlanta before the coronavirus shutdown last March). Then in free agency, the Hawks used their cap space to grab Danilo Gallinari, one of the league’s better stretch fours and another player who will space the floor. They likely added Bogdan Bogdanovic at the two guard, a perfect fit as a secondary playmaker with size next to Young (Sacramento can still match Atlanta’s four-year, $72 million offer, but likely will not).

Atlanta’s numbers fell off a cliff last season whenever Trae Young sat, now the team has Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn backing him up, providing better floor generals and, in Dunn’s case, a strong defender.

The Hawks may not be done (don’t be surprised if John Collins is on the move, those rumors are flying around the league), and defense is still going to be an issue, but this is a much better team. Atlanta is a playoff team in the East — and one that will be entertaining to watch.

THE PHOENIX SUNS

Like Atlanta above, another team that made bold moves to leap into the playoff picture next year, something encouraged by the Suns’ 8-0 bubble run (that said, they likely are a bottom-four playoff team in the West, the conference is ridiculously deep).

The big move was trading for Chris Paul, bringing the best floor general of a generation and an intense competitor who can change cultures to the Valley of the Sun. He will make players around him better — Devin Booker somewhat, but more Deandre Ayton and the role players — and push the team not to settle for less. Phoenix also made a smart move picking up Jae Crowder in free agency, the kind of solid veteran presence this team needed.

Phoenix was already poised to make a leap next season, but adding CP3 to the mix makes them a dangerous team in the West.

THE LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Clippers may have lost the energy and passion Harrell brings, but his limitations on defense — and how that can be exploited — were evident when the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down and sent Los Angeles home from the bubble.

Serge Ibaka is an upgrade in terms of versatility and playoff fit. He can protect the rim, body a big like Nikola Jokic (as much as anyone can slow him), plus he can guard out on the perimeter. On offense, he can space the floor from three and get buckets inside. The Clippers also kept Marcus Morris — who played well for them in the postseason — and they upgraded backup shooting guard with Luke Kennard.

The Clippers also switched coaches to Tyronn Lue. He may not be an upgrade over Doc Rivers, but he’s on that elite coach level and brings a different voice and focus to a roster that needs to find the chemistry that eluded a talented roster last season.

THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

For years the feeling has been the same: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are an amazing backcourt, but is that enough? Then a few years back Jusuf Nurkic came on board, adding strong passing and a presence in the paint, and while that got them to the conference finals the issue was still a lack of defense and depth on the wing.

Portland added Robert Covington to the mix and he is the high-level 3&D wing this team needed. Mix in a re-signed and healthy Rodney Hood and suddenly the wing play for Portland looks pretty good. Portland also re-signed Carmelo Anthony, and while the future Hall of Famer will see a reduced role (especially with Zach Collins healthy), his presence helps this team.

Portland filled weaknesses and got better. In a West loaded at the top (Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, plus Dallas and Utah looking to leap up to the top four, Golden State getting healthier, and the list goes on), it’s not going to be an easy season for the Trail Blazers, but this is a team that can do some damage in the West.

Honorable mention: A case can be made that the Milwaukee Bucks belong on this NBA best offseason list with the addition of Jrue Holiday, a true upgrade. However, losing George Hill, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez — then missing out on Bogdan Bogdanovic — makes us question how much better the Bucks really got. If Torrey Craig and Bryn Forbes step up this will be a better team, but we’re going to need to see it.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.