Beard: NBA’s elite teams reload in offseason in effort to catch champion Bucks

Detroit News

Every offseason, the NBA landscape changes through what teams do in free agency, the draft and trades to augment their roster. For most teams, it’s small improvements that they make to try to become more competitive and squeeze their way into the playoffs.

For a few elite teams, it’s subtle changes to put them in position to be true contenders and jockey for position among the half-dozen or so teams who have true championship aspirations.

The Pistons aren’t in that latter group yet, but they’re making some additions to get them there in due time, with general manager Troy Weaver at the helm. They added Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and signed Kelly Olynyk in free agency, but they didn’t have very many significant changes to the roster otherwise.

The top tier of the league continued to improve, and created a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots. They’re all chasing the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, who bring back the majority of their core in their quest to become the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back titles since the Miami Heat in 2013.

More: Pistons burning questions: What’s ahead for Motor City Cruise and their roster

For years, the Western Conference has been a bit stronger from top to bottom than the East, but next season could be an exception. Many of the top teams in each conference are retooling and setting up for what could be an exhilarating playoff run.

Here’s a look at how some of the top teams remade their rosters.

►Milwaukee Bucks: The champions remained mostly intact. They brought back George Hill and added Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye, who could be an underrated piece. P.J. Tucker, who was an integral defender, will be missed. They continued to build around Giannis Antetokounmpo, but they will have much more competition from the top teams if they’re going to hold their crown.

►Los Angeles Lakers: It wouldn’t be an NBA offseason without the Lakers making a splash and trying to get back into contention. They made one of the biggest moves of the summer by trading for Russell Westbrook, giving them a coveted guard to go with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. With so much salary locked into three players, they had to add minimum contracts — and they did well with Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard and Malik Monk, among others. They’ll have challenges during the regular season in trying to rest their veterans and keep everyone healthy, but if they get to the playoffs, they could be dangerous.

►Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers are coming off an MVP-caliber season from Joel Embiid, but the big question mark entering the season is what will happen with Ben Simmons, who has been the subject of trade rumors. They added former Piston Andre Drummond for depth at center, and he’s an upgrade over Dwight Howard. Whether Drummond and Embiid can jell together is a big question mark. Philadelphia has been close several times, but this is the year that they need to make something big happen.

►Miami Heat: The Heat were the sixth seed and had a decisively lopsided exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Bucks. They were aggressive in free agency and added Kyle Lowry via trade and picked up P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Caleb Martin in free agency. Those are all upgrades who could help them be in the conversation as one of the top teams in the East. They have a nice balance of young players and veterans who could get them through the regular season and in position to make noise in the playoffs.

►Chicago Bulls: The Bulls finished 31-41 last season, just two games out of the play-in tournament. They were aggressive in the offseason, adding guards DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Derrick Jones Jr. in trades and drafting Ayo Dosunmu. They traded Lauri Markkanen to the Cavs and some other pieces such as Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young were good veteran players, but they’re clearly going for more than just the 10th seed this year.

►New York Knicks: The Knicks fizzled in the playoffs, but their big offseason move was solidifying things at point guard by adding Kemba Walker and another capable scorer in Evan Fournier, who will take some of the scoring load off Julius Randle. They didn’t have the experience to make a playoff run this year, but with their additions, they could be in the mix again.

►Phoenix Suns: The Suns didn’t have to do much after their run to the NBA Finals. Elfrid Payton and Landry Shamet are good additions in the backcourt and JaVale McGee gives them a needed big man behind Deandre Ayton. The experience in the playoff run last season will be valuable for them to make another run this year.

►Utah Jazz: The Jazz made some small moves, adding Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside and Eric Paschall in the summer. Derrick Favors will be a big loss for their roster, but with the depth they had, they again will be one of the top teams in the West, barring significant injuries.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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