While there are a few transactions here and there that could still happen this offseason, most of the major roster moves have already gone down. Players have been drafted, trades have been made and free agents have signed, and now we head into the 2015-16 season with a pretty good sense of which teams and players will make improvements, and which will fall flat on their faces.
The following list of six players all improved their situations this summer by changing teams. The guys mentioned below changed addresses and now find themselves with good opportunities to contribute and win after (for whatever reason) a year ago they were not necessarily as fortunate:
Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets – It’s hard to know whether Lawson himself will have a better season or whether he’ll just allow MVP runner-up James Harden to somehow play even better, but the fact that Houston now has a legitimate secondary ball handler definitely alleviates some of the pressure on Harden to create, and that’s going to open up everything for this Houston offense. Lawson can penetrate and break down defenses with the best of them (he is, after all, one of the quickest players in the NBA), and that’s going to keep defenses honest and open things up for Harden. Lawson could definitely see his assist numbers rise next year, especially if he gets his off-court issues under control. There’s no question that leaving a rebuilding lottery team for a true title contender is a massive upgrade for a talented player like Lawson.
Lance Stephenson, L.A. Clippers – Two seasons ago, Stephenson was a serious candidate to be named the league’s Most Improved Player, and at the midpoint of the 2013-14 campaign there were even rumblings that he could be named an All-Star. Neither happened, but he turned his big season into a big paycheck with the Charlotte Hornets, then promptly fell out of favor with head coach Steve Clifford and ended up becoming the biggest free agency bust of the year. Traded this summer to the L.A. Clippers, however, Stephenson should have a much easier time under Doc Rivers, and already there’s been talk that he could end up starting at two-guard. All summer, Stephenson has been working on shooting off the ball at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas so that he can play a more traditional shooting guard role, and L.A. hopes they found a bargain in trade, assuming Stephenson gets his groove back now that he’s playing for one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
Roy Hibbert, L.A. Lakers – The minute that Larry Bird said he wanted to play Paul George at the four and run a more up-tempo offense this upcoming season, everybody knew it was the end for Roy Hibbert in Indiana. Easily one of the most inconsistent talents in the league, Hibbert has varied in his career between chest-thumping rim protector to meek, clumsy monolith. His situation improved this offseason simply by measure of ending up in a place where he was really wanted. Hibbert always has been a more effective player when his confidence is high, and getting a new opportunity with the Lakers could help him get back to form. Or, Hollywood and Kobe Bryant could eat him alive, but it’s too early to think pessimistically. Whatever happens, the bottom line is that this definitely is a better situation for Hibbert than Indy was.
Moe Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers – While Harkless is nowhere near as big a name as the other players on this list, he’s got perhaps the best opportunity to leap from relative NBA nobody to significant contributor for a respected NBA team. The Blazers are retooling in the wake of losing their entire starting lineup (save Damian Lillard), and as it stands Harkless has a great opportunity to see some big minutes there at small forward, battling only Al-Farouq Aminu and potentially Allen Crabbe for playing time. It’s impossible to know what he’ll do with the opportunity, but at least he’ll get it in Portland. Orlando just couldn’t find a role for him.
Rajon Rondo, Sacramento Kings – Frankly, Rondo could have signed absolutely anywhere and it would have been a better situation for him than what he left behind in Dallas. He and Rick Carlisle never clicked, and the prickly point guard ended the season nursing his ailments (or being asked to stay away from the team, depending on who you believe) rather than helping the Mavs make a playoff push. Now, he finds himself at the helm of an interesting Sacramento team that could either be really good or one of the league’s biggest disasters this upcoming season. However it plays out, it’s a small miracle he managed to find himself an opportunity as a starting point guard considering his personal and injury issues the last couple of seasons.
David Lee, Boston Celtics – The Golden State Warriors didn’t necessarily have to find a better landing place for David Lee, pushed to the bench last season thanks to Draymond Green’s breakout year, but they did right by Lee (and their cap situation) by shipping him off to Boston over the summer. The Celtics obviously aren’t going to take Lee quite so deep into the playoffs this season, but he should find himself in the starting lineup for a promising young team, and that certainly is worth something. Nothing against Amir Johnson or Jared Sullinger, but neither is likely to make a Green-ian leap this year.
What other players do you foresee having better years in new digs this season? Keep the conversation going on Twitter, or hit up the comments section to add your thoughts.
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