Brooklyn Broadcast Breakdown: Most Improved NBA Teams

Nets on YES announce trio says Cleveland, Detroit are teams to watch
10/30/2013 9:49 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Will Mike Brown again find success in Cleveland the second time around?(AP)
For the second year in a row, the Brooklyn Nets have to be included in the conversation as, at least on paper heading into the season, the “Most Improved” team in the NBA.

A survey of the league’s general managers agrees, as the Nets placed in a six-way tie for second (behind Detroit) in that category in the annual GM poll, and Nets on YES analyst Jim Spanarkel was 100 percent behind that assessment as the preseason ended.

“It’s hard not to pick the Nets, because once again, you have to look at it and say “if every team in the league remains healthy, which team made the best moves?” Spanarkel asked. “To me, the Nets would be right up there around No. 1. Obviously, the Pacers have made some good changes by bringing in C.J Watson, Chris Copeland, and now Luis Scola, and obviously the Rockets have to be right up there with Dwight Howard, but I think the changes that the Nets made and the guys they brought in, with the experience, leadership, and added depth and flexibility, are huge. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko are four people, but they can play maybe 10 positions if you added them up, and that gives them an edge over everybody else.”

Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello both chose to omit Brooklyn from their answers on the most improved teams, with the “Birdman” giving some love instead to those Pistons that won the league consensus.

“I’m really impressed by what they have up front; Andre Drummond improved dramatically as the season progressed last year, Greg Monroe is highly skilled, and no one has ever questioned the talent of Josh Smith, who can be dominant on both ends of the floor,” Eagle said. “I think he looks at this situation as a chance to prove his worth in this league. He’s no longer in Atlanta; that was a young group that came up together, but now he’s a veteran and has a chance to put his stamp on a team. Add in a change of scenery for Brandon Jennings and that’s a team that could surprise some people, and even bringing in Rasheed Wallace to bridge the gap between the modern player and the new coach could turn out to be an important asset.”

One other team, though, that both Eagle and Fratello cautioned to be on the lookout for is one of the five that tied with the Nets in the GM survey: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“There are so many rebuilding teams, but if Andrew Bynum plays, I think Cleveland, with a lot of the young guys they have, could surprise a lot of people and make a lot of noise, a lot more than people think,” Fratello said. “They have a great frontcourt if Bynum plays, and Anderson Varejao is back and Anthony Bennett comes along, and you have to love Kyrie Irving. That could be an interesting team.”

“Yeah, I also think Cleveland is going to take the biggest jump, because they’re smart in the way they’ve built this team,” Eagle added. “They have an elite point guard already in Irving, who can be an All-Star if he stays healthy, and now you add the growth of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, an engaged and motivated Bynum, and some pieces off the bench, it could be a good mix. The franchise has been patient, they’ve developed through the draft and made strong free agent signings, and I like how this group has come together.”

Both Detroit and Cleveland have situations where there is a new coach, and although both have coached in the league before – and the new Cavs boss even has experience in that organization – Eagle says they both have different qualities that can help them take a young group to the next level.

“Certainly I think with Cleveland, there’s just a better feeling around the organization, and now that Mike Brown, who is well-liked and has a history of success, albeit with LeBron James, is back, there is a frame of reference to fall back on for the organization,” Eagle said. “As for Detroit, Mo Cheeks comes from a team that had to do it the right way, developing young talent through the draft, and now steps into a situation where he has a blend; he has young players, but he has a couple of veterans who have had a certain level of success and are trying to take that next step. I think he learned a lot from his experience in Oklahoma City, keeping everybody happy but knowing when you have to put your foot down and demand certain things from your players.”

And, all that said, Spanarkel mentioned one more team that could be “improved” in one sense of the word: the Indiana Pacers, who will get Danny Granger back at some point this season. Granger played just five games last year due to injury and will miss at least the first three weeks of this season with a strained calf, but when he returns, it will make for an interesting dynamic according to Spanarkel.

“What happens with Granger is one of the biggest things in the NBA I’m interested in,” Spanarkel said. “We saw Paul George establish himself last year and they have a great frontcourt, so I’m interested to see if Granger comes back strong and what kind of impact he has. The Pacers played so well last year without him, and I think adding him just makes them better on paper – but with Granger playing 30 minutes, somebody who played a lot last year won’t be, so that’s an interesting dynamic.”

Either way, it appears as if Indiana will be one of the teams battling Brooklyn for Eastern Conference supremacy, so perhaps the more turmoil there, the better?

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