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Improvement. That's the name of the game in the offseason, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Teams can get better in a variety of ways -- through holdover players raising their games, through trimming dead wood from the previous season's roster, or by adding talent through the draft, trades or free agency. And sometimes, it doesn't even take any of that -- it just takes a different general on the sidelines pulling it all together.

But one thing remains constant: Standing pat is a formula for failure. In a business in which careers tend to be brief, it's imperative to constantly bring in new blood. Just ask the Miami Heat, who were so giddy about winning a championship in 2006 that they brought back the same roster last season -- and watched their aging crew fail to win a single playoff game in one of the weaker title defenses in league history.

Fortunately, half of the league's teams have made additions to their rosters that should prove quite helpful in the coming season, and that's the group I'll be discussing today. While not all of these moves were in the teams' best long-term interests ($24 million for Jason Kapono!?!?!?), what I want to do today is focus on how those maneuvers affect each team for this coming season in particular.

And if we're only looking at the upcoming season, even a fairly reckless move can have positive short-term effects.

With that as the background, here's a midsummer update showing the teams that have made themselves more formidable than they were a year ago:

(Major additions and subtractions are given in parentheses)


1. Houston Rockets
(added Mike James, Luis Scola, Jackie Butler and Aaron Brooks; lost Juwan Howard and Vassilis Spanoulis; replaced Jeff Van Gundy with Rick Adelman)

While you're focusing on the San Antonio-Dallas-Phoenix triumvirate in the West, don't sleep on Houston. The Rockets have quietly put together a roster that very well could be the last team standing in the Western Conference in 2008.

Start with the decision to replace Van Gundy with Adelman -- a change in direction that will likely make the team more up-tempo and offensive-minded. They'll miss Van Gundy's defensive genius, but given the offensive stagnation this club showed in 2006-07, it's not a bad trade.

Moreover, hiring Adelman was especially important in this case because it basically adds another player to the roster. Bonzi Wells bristled under Van Gundy after showing up out of shape, and hardly played last season. But he seems excited by being reunited with Adelman, who coached him to a strong campaign in Sacramento two years ago.

From there, add in two vastly underrated trades. The first one pilfered James from Minnesota for Howard, giving the Rockets a do-over on the disastrous James-for-Rafer Alston trade two years ago. The second nabbed Scola and Butler from San Antonio in return for Spanoulis.

Scola, a skilled Argentinian who has been one of the best players in Europe for the past half-decade, will make an immediate impact as a starting power forward. Butler, as a young center with strong scoring skills in the post, should energize a second unit that was bereft of offense last season.

In the big picture, the Rockets aggressively addressed their three main problems: stagant offense, point guard and power forward. Between the coaching change, the additions of James and first-round pick Aaron Brooks at the point, the pickups of Scola and Butler up front, and the de facto addition of Wells, this team suddenly looks loaded. At this point in the offseason, nobody has upgraded more than this club.

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2. Charlotte Bobcats
(added Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley; lost Brevin Knight; replaced Bernie Bickerstaff with Sam Vincent)

While cynics will claim that frugal Bobcats owner Robert Johnson only signed off on the Richardson deal because he had to get over the minimum salary floor, there's no question that the deal addressed a huge weakness that has plagued the Cats throughout their existence.

Richardson is a reliable scorer and rebounder -- one that will help push rookie bust Adam Morrison out of the rotation if he struggles again -- and gives the Bobcats a much-needed go-to guy late in games. It also allows sharpshooter Matt Carroll to shift to a more suitable sixth-man role, in which his defensive shortcomings won't be so glaring. As a late first-rounder, Dudley could be surprisingly effective too -- don't be shocked if he's earning important minutes by season's end. Add it up and a playoff run doesn't seem far-fetched at all.

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3. Phoenix Suns
(added Grant Hill, Alando Tucker; lost James Jones)

The Suns sold one of their first-round draft picks (uh-gain) but they also used one to grab Tucker, a tweener who should be able to fill in a lot of the minutes played by Jones. But their big grab was Hill, who is as brittle as they come but still a star when he's healthy enough to go.

He should thrive in Phoenix's running game and take over Boris Diaw's role as the de facto point man when Steve Nash is out of the game. Plus, his willingness to sign on the cheap means the Suns might not be done maneuvering just yet. After four decades they're still looking for a title in the Valley of the Sun; Hill might be the guy to get them over the top.

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4. New York Knicks
(added Zach Randolph, Wilson Chandler, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones; lost Steve Francis and Channing Frye)

I'd rank this higher if I had any faith in the ability of Curry and Randolph to defend with even a smidgen of enthusiasm or competence, but I don't. The two will combine to give the Knicks the league's most defensively disinterested frontcourt, and that should put them in the bottom five or so in defensive efficiency.

But offensively, the Knicks might be good enough to play .500 ball anyway. Randolph is a beast in the post, and he can play the high post and float in his feathery left-handed jumper if he needs to clear the lane for Curry. Adding Chandler, Dickau and Jones also helps in the depth department, especially if it gives Isiah Thomas the stones to finally cut Jerome James.

However, the Randolph deal didn't help the Knicks nearly as much as it did the rest of the league, who now can rejoice in several more years of expected luxury tax payments from Zeke's spendthrift regime.

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5. Atlanta Hawks
(added Al Horford, Acie Law)

Throw in two more lottery picks to a cast that already includes rising stars Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, and suddenly the Hawks look a lot more like a real basketball team. Horford was one of the top talents in an extremely strong draft, and at his size he'll probably be able to play some center -- a spot where the Hawks have been badly undermanned in the past.

I'm less bullish on Law's prospects, but he can't be any worse than the gang that manned the point for Atlanta last season. As with Charlotte, it's possible this team's lottery days are coming to an end. Too bad nobody will be in the stands to see it.

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6. Boston Celtics
(added Ray Allen; lost Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West)

Long-term, I have grave doubts about whether this was the right move for Boston; as I've mentioned before, unless they're about to use Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract as bait to bring in another star, I hardly see the point of acquiring Allen.

But in the short-term, Allen will be a big upgrade on the Wally/West combo that manned a lot of the shooting guard minutes for Boston last season, and that should be enough to pull the C's out of the cellar in the Atlantic.

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7. Memphis Grizzlies
(added Mike Conley, Darko Milicic; lost Chucky Atkins; replaced Tony Barone with Marc Iavaroni)

The Grizzlies added two coveted young talents in Conley and Milicic, with the latter being hugely important because of the lack of a dependable frontcourt sidekick for Pau Gasol. Conley also figures to make an impact, but given his youth, it may come more in future seasons than the present.

Besides, he's filling some big shoes: Unbeknownst to many, Atkins played out of his mind a year ago. Conley will be hard-pressed just to match those numbers this season, let alone exceed them. But with these two additions, Grizz fans at least can see some light at the end of the tunnel.