We all know what the big moves by contenders were this season. The Spurs brought in LaMarcus Aldridge and somehow managed to convince David West to take an $11 million pay cut, while the Rockets traded for Ty Lawson, giving them one of the league’s most frightening backcourts. But what of the the more low-key moves? Let’s look at some under-the-radar offseason transfers and signings by contenders, which could have a surprisingly high impact on how they perform this season.
Matt Barnes – Memphis Grizzlies
After 13 years in the league, Barnes will finally suit up for the team that originally drafted him. It’s hard not to think of a team and a player more made for each other than Barnes and the Grizz. He’s the quintessential tough guy, and the Grizz are quintessentially a tough-guy team. He’s a clear fit for their mentality, and will likely gain a following right away. More importantly, though, he could help the Grizzlies with their floor-spacing woes. He shot a respectable 36.2 percent from deep last season, and 44.4 percent from the field. Within the Grizzlies system, Barnes will likely be a low-usage player, but he can stretch the floor as a small forward or off-guard, allowing Marc and Z-Bo to do more dirty work in the post. Plus, he can augment an already grimy defense, and has no qualms getting in the face of opponents, even if they’re former teammates.
Mo Williams – Cleveland Cavaliers
Hey look, we all had a brief infatuation with Delly during the Finals. His random 20-point outburst in Game 3 and his intense performance on defense won him many fans. But the reality is, his offensive game is severely limited, and as the series went on, the Warriors quickly realized he wasn’t a scoring threat, applying more and more pressure on LeBron, and easily taking the series. It became clear Cleveland sorely needed a backup point guard, especially considering that injuries have been a concern throughout Kyrie Irving’s career. That’s why bringing Mo back to Cleveland was a huge move. As we saw last year, he’s still a capable scorer, averaging 14.2 points a game (his highest total since his last season with LeBron), and stunning everyone with a 52-point performance during his time in Minnesota. Williams will likely play a Sixth man role, similar to the one he played on the 2011-12 Clippers, but if Kyrie misses any time, the Cavs now know they have a capable, experienced point guard to fill in.
Tiago Splitter – Atlanta Hawks
This one really feels like it should’ve gotten more hype. Splitter was one of the pieces the Spurs had to relinquish in order to clear cap space for Aldridge, but it can’t be understated how much this signing means for the Hawks. First off, it’s hard to think of a better center combination in the league than Al Horford and Splitter. Having a player like Splitter, who could probably start for the half the teams in this league, come off the bench, is an enormous luxury. Additionally, he gives the team some much needed Horford insurance. Al has suffered season-ending injuries in the 2011-12 and the 2013-14 seasons, and as great as he is when healthy, there’s always a lingering concern about his body holding up under the rigors of an NBA regular season. Admittedly, Splitter has been bothered by injuries as well, but just having one of these guys healthy gives the Hawks a solid option at center, and if both can stick around, this team could again sneak up on people next season, even after clinching the No. 1 seed last year.
Josh Smith – Los Angeles Clippers
It’s hard to fully comprehend everything that’s happened with Josh Smith over the past few seasons. For years he was a borderline All-Star in Atlanta, and a key contributor on a perennial playoff team. Then, he went to Detroit and the wheels fell off. The Pistons’ poor spacing was a nightmare, with all of Smith’s worst attributes on full display: the casual indifference to transition defense, the poor shot selection and the on-court attitude. The who imbroglio led the Pistons cutting Smith with 2.5 guaranteed years still left on his contract. Smith rebounded by playing surprisingly well with the Rockets. However, the Clippers appear to be a perfect landing spot for him. Their “lob city” aesthetic is the perfect match for Smith’s athleticism, and by relieving Blake Griffin, he’ll help improve last year’s woeful bench.
Jason Thompson – Golden State Warriors
The Kings, Smith’s team for his entire career, traded him to the Sixers in one of the more obvious cap space dumps of the offseason. Of course, for a team like the Sixers, an experienced vet who has already reached his ceiling made no sense, so they sent him to the Warriors where he can be a rotation guy on one of the best teams in the league. With David Lee departing for Boston, Thompson gives the Warriors a solid backup big who can improve the team’s post presence. Thompson has never been a flashy player, but he’ll likely be quietly effective. Plus, after being trapped on the vast wasteland that is the Sacramento Kings, playing for a coach like Steve Kerr could give him a serious boost.