BEST AND WORST OF THE OFFSEASON PART 1: TRENDING UPWARD

Below is the first in a series of features previewing the 2012-13 season. I begin with a snapshot of the Clippers’ offseason, followed by four teams that I also consider offseason winners. In addition, I want to hear what you think about who made the best moves. Tweet me your top team in the West and top team in the East with a brief explanation. Use the hashtag #LACInsiderPoll. We’ll post the results, complete with a few of your comments Friday on Clippers.com.

In June when Chris Paul returned to Los Angeles after a brief respite from basketball, he was asked what he planned to do during the offseason. His answer was actually a pointed question: “What offseason?”

More than ever, Paul was right. The NBA has become a 12-month league. The Finals lead to the Draft to free agency to Summer League and so on. There is no longer time for rest.

Working with that state of mind, the Clippers got to work early in the process, acquiring Lamar Odom for Mo Williams and the 2012 draft rights to Furkan Aldemir, who was selected with the 53rd pick. Shortly after free agency began they added high-scoring wing Jamal Crawford and re-signed Chauncey Billups. Odom, Crawford, and small forward Grant Hill, who was introduced July 20, made up for the loss of key members from last year’s rotation (Williams, Randy Foye, Nick Young, and Reggie Evans). They also provide an element of experience, versatility, and leadership that help make the Clippers one of the league’s most dynamic rosters.

From there, the front-office triumvirate of Clippers President Andy Roeser, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, and Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks continued adding depth. They brought it Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf, and Willie Green, giving the Clippers a veteran-laden 11-man rotation.








> Additions: Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf
> Re-Signed: Griffin (extension), Billups
> Subtractions: Foye, M.Williams, Evans, N.Young

Despite the departure of Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey to Portland, the loss of five players from last season’s playoff team, and minor surgical procedures for superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers offseason moves still leave the team in a better position than they were last season. The ancillary pieces of the roster fit better, youngsters like Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe have another year of experience, and all five starters from opening night last season are back.

The Clippers are one team trending upwards. Here are four more organizations that will likely reap the benefits of a successful offseason:









> Additions: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark
> Re-Signed: Devin Ebanks, Jordan Hill
> Subtractions: Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts

In a way it might be worth thanking the Lakers for ending the Dwight Howard trade saga. After months of speculation and hearsay, they acquired the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aug. 10, effectively in exchange for All-Star Andrew Bynum. On the other hand, the trade was bad news for the rest of the league. By adding Howard to the offseason haul of future Hall of Famer Steve Nash, veteran scorer Antawn Jamison, and 3-point specialist Jodie Meeks, the Lakers arguably solidified three areas of weakness from 2011-12 (their point guard play, interior defense, and bench scoring) and put together a starting lineup of five former All-Stars. Of course, Howard is only locked in for one season, but it’s a calculated risk by a front office that had a blockbuster offseason.








> Additions: Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Jerry Stackhouse, C.J. Watson, Tyshawn Taylor
> Re-Signed: Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace
> Subtractions: Gerald Green, Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson

Re-signing Deron Williams, who admitted he was torn between returning to the Nets or signing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, was a major victory for free-spending Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as his team moves to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The ultimate prize may have been partnering Howard with the superstar point guard, but the Nets emerged just fine without the enigmatic center. They flipped several expiring contracts for a consistent All-Star (Joe Johnson) and re-signed starters Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries. While the size of Lopez’s deal has drawn criticism, he still provides a unique dynamic as a mid-range scorer that few centers can. The Nets also added depth by prying C.J. Watson away from the Bulls and agreeing to a sign and trade with the Clippers for fan-favorite Reggie Evans.








> Additions: Anthony Davis (draft), Austin Rivers (draft), Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, Darius Miller (draft)
> Re-Signed: Eric Gordon
> Subtractions: Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Carl Landry, Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon

A year after facing a similar situation as the Orlando Magic (trying to find the most impactful deal for the franchise’s most important player), the Hornets have emerged as one of the most promising young teams in the West. They may not be a playoff team yet, but they should be greatly improved thanks to a combination of luck and resourcefulness. Obviously, luck factored in as they vaulted to the No. 1 spot in the draft to nab NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis. Dell Demps then added Austin Rivers (No. 10), turned Gustavo Ayon into Ryan Anderson, created cap space by shipping the long-term contracts of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to Washington for Rashard Lewis, who was subsequently waived, and re-signed former Clipper Eric Gordon. New Orleans also locked up third-year head coach Monty Williams with a contract extension. Not bad for a team that finished last in the West in 2011-12 (21-45) and just two months ago was owned by the league.








> Additions: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger (draft), Jeff Green, Fab Melo (draft), Jason Collins
> Re-Signed: Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling
> Subtractions: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, Jermaine O’Neal, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Sasha Pavlovic

At first glance losing Ray Allen, a surefire Hall of Famer and member of Boston’s original “Big 3,” seems like a big blow, but Danny Ainge and the Celtics made several moves to assure they’ll remain among the East’s top teams. Days before free agency opened, Boston signed Kevin Garnett for three more seasons, all but guaranteeing the team’s leader will wear green and white for the remainder of his career. They added Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo in the first round of the draft, improving a front court that at the end of last season included Garnett and Brandon Bass (re-signed as well) and literally little else. In effect they replaced Allen with free agents Jason Terry, a fearless gunner, NBA Champion, and former Sixth Man of the Year, and Courtney Lee, who will be unleashed defensively with Avery Bradley on the wing. Jeff Green will help, too, adding another versatile player behind Paul Pierce. All in all, the Celtics did well in re-tooling as opposed to rebuilding.


Check back Monday, Aug. 27 for the four worst offseasons.

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