6 NBA teams that got better in free agent frenzy this summer

The biggest trade of the NBA offseason is still on the horizon, but free agency is mostly settled. As the league waits for the Damian Lillard trade to finally go through — and perhaps a James Harden trade as well — rosters around the NBA have been reshuffled by free agent frenzy.

Free agency is mostly about filling holes on a team’s roster, especially now that superstars rarely hit the open market. There are lots of different ways to evaluate deals between players and teams, but at its core, a good free agent addition is one that makes the team better regardless of the money involved.

With free agency coming to a close, it’s time to look at the teams that improved during the trade period. This list does not emphasize teams that have retained their own players – only those that have added new players to the list. Check out our list of free agency winners and losers and a look at the league’s least team-friendly offseason signings.

Teams that got better

Houston Rockets

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After winning only 59 combined games during the last three seasons, the Rockets were more active in free agency than any team in the league in hopes of finally climbing out of the Western Conference cellar. Houston paid over $242 million to acquire three players in free agency: Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks and Jock Landale. The Rockets also signed Jeff Green and Aaron Holiday. VanVleet and Brooks got more money than anyone expected, but Houston had to pay a high price to lure quality veteran talent to one of the league’s youngest teams. The Rockets’ future will still hinge on their loaded young core — Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Tari Eason and Alpren Sengun — and this year’s free agents will be tasked with helping them go from prospects to winners players. While it feels like Houston overpaid in the market, there’s no doubt the team will be much better next season after adding so many veterans in free agency. In fairness, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Indiana Pacers

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A year ago, Bruce Brown said no one wanted him free. All he had to do to change that was become a playoff hero for the Denver Nuggets en route to the first championship in franchise history. Brown went from making $7.5 million last year to getting a huge two-year, $45 million contract with the Indiana Pacers that includes a team option in year two. It’s a great payday for a career role player in Brown, but there’s no question that his defensive toughness, spot-up shooting and quick ball movement will be a nice addition for the Pacers. Brown can slot in as the connective tissue on both ends of the floor around Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and Bennedict Mathurin. The Pacers also made a good trade for Obi Toppin, acquiring the former top-10 pick from Knicks for only a few second round. Toppin gives Indiana a lob threat for Haliburton and a potential floor spacer as a shooter. Indiana will still be very young when you add first-round pick Jarace Walker to the four, but it’s possible this team could be destined for a big jump in the standings with two good veteran additions and improved young centerpieces.

Phoenix Suns

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The Suns made their big move right before the draft by acquiring Bradley Beal from the Wizards for Chris Paul and a bounty of second-round picks and pick swaps. With Beal joining fellow big-money stars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, Phoenix was essentially limited to only minimum contracts in free agency, but still came away with an impressive haul of talent to help boost their depth. Eric Gordon can still add a burst of shooting at 34. Keita Bates-Diop is a big forward with an improved shooting stroke, Yuta Watanabe is a 6’9 three-point sniper, and Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu add new skill sets to the frontcourt. The Suns will go as far as their stars will take them, but they deserve credit for rebuilding their depth on the fly with so little room to work with.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Cavs entered the offseason with a clear strategy: Add shooting at the wing at any cost. The team paid a combined $89 million to add Max Strus and Georges Niang, a statement no one could have imagined a year ago. While the money feels shocking, getting knockdown shooters around the core of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley feels like a sharp move. It’s easy to forget that the Cavs won 51 games and had the second-best point differential in the NBA last season after their quick and embarrassing first-round playoff run, but this team should be very formidable again with the added benefit of some extra wing shooters.

Dallas Mavericks

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The Mavericks needed some defensive toughness and spot-up shooting between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, and they found a good fit when they acquired Grant Williams in a three-team trade, signing him to a reasonable three-year, $54 million deal. Williams won’t be a high-usage offensive player, but he can hit an open jump shot and make quick pass reads while providing the type of defensive versatility Dallas needs. I’m not quite as high on the Seth Curry signing given his dip in production in recent years, but he still made sense as a buy-low shooter. The team also added former top-five pick Dante Exum, who has quietly improved as a shooter in recent years while playing overseas.

Chicago Bulls

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The Bulls’ decision to run it back for next season baffled almost everyone who followed the league, but the additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig should help at least a little bit. Carter and Craig are both capable three-point shooters who will help a team that finished dead last in both three-point attempts and three-point field goals last season. Carter will be a welcome addition at point guard for a team ready to be without Lonzo Ball again, proving bulldog on-ball defense and quick-trigger shooting on the perimeter. The Bulls also needed forward depth and found a good fit with Craig, a high-energy rebounder who hit 39 percent of his threes last year in average volume. Carter and Craig won’t change the world for the Bulls, but they should make a 40-win team a little bit better — as long as Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic can remain as durable as last season.

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