Eric Gay/Associated Press

As a number of NBA front offices jockeyed for position during the beginning stages of free agency, some came away as big winners, while others had to pivot after coming up empty on landing big names.

Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James), Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol) and Chicago Bulls (Jimmy Butler) all retained their star free agents for top dollar. While those moves were all no-brainers for both sides, it doesn’t necessarily put those three organizations among the most improved of free agency.

Rather, teams that retained key free agents while also adding a collection of talented fresh faces to the fold improved their rosters most. Squads on the opposite end of the spectrum either lost important free agents or didn’t bring in enough (or any) talent necessary to move the needle.

So, which organizations earn distinctions of being the most- and least-improved teams of 2015 free agency?

Most Improved

San Antonio Spurs

It would be surprising if the Spurs weren’t viewed unanimously as the most-improved team of the 2015 offseason. San Antonio retained Kawhi Leonard on a max contract, Danny Green on a (more than reasonable) four-year, $45 million deal, Tim Duncan at a discount (two years, $10.4 million) and Manu Ginobili on the cheap as well.

Re-Signed Spurs | PointAfter

In addition, Gregg Popovich’s ongoing dynasty courted LaMarcus Aldridge on a four-year, $80 million deal—beating out other suitors like the Phoenix Suns. The former Trail Blazers power forward is one of just three players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds throughout the past two seasons.

Players Who’ve Averaged 20-10 Since 2013-14 | PointAfter

The dual post-up and face-up threats in Aldridge and Duncan make the Spurs really good on paper, but depth still appeared to be an issue after trading away Tiago Splitter to land LMA. That was, until veteran forward David West hopped on board for the veteran’s minimum to chase a ring.

Aldridge gets a lot of credit for his mid-range chops, but West was actually far better from around the elbows last season (48.3 percent vs. 41.3 percent for the $80-million-man).

David West 2014-15 Shot Chart | PointAfter

Bottom line: The Spurs are absolutely loaded with talent once again.

Milwaukee Bucks

Jason Kidd’s Bucks are a young team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Retaining Khris Middleton, one of the league’s most underrated ‘three-and-D’ players, wasn’t exactly a sexy signing—but it was still the right call.

Khris Middleton 2014-15 Shot Chart | PointAfter

In addition to shooting the three-ball at a remarkably efficient clip from both corners, Middleton continued to make a name for himself on the defensive side of the ball. According to, the lanky swingman held opponents to a 48-minute PER of under 12 at every position he defended (11.5 for shooting guards, 9.8 for small forwards and 11.3 for power forwards).

He locked down guys at multiple positions, so it’s no surprise Milwaukee was a vastly superior defensive unit with Middleton on the court.

Khris Middleton: On/Off Stats (Opponent) | PointAfter

Milwaukee’s success will ultimately hinge on what strides Michael Carter-Williams will be able to make in his third season at the point guard position, but the acquisition of free-agent big man Greg Monroe ensures that the roster will be significantly improved compared to a season ago.

Monroe is the opposite of a rim protector—he has a career average of 0.6 blocks per game despite his 6’11” size—but the Bucks already have enough defensive prowess in-house to compensate. John Henson’s lanky frame can fill in down low by blocking shots, while MCW, Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and Middleton can lock down opponents on the perimeter.

Unlike in Detroit, where Monroe was pushed out of the paint by the promise of a younger Andre Drummond, the Georgetown product can once again focus on his interior offense. He wouldn’t have been a good fit for many teams, but “Moose” landing in Milwaukee to play for the Bucks just makes sense.

Los Angeles Clippers

After Defensive Player of the Year candidate DeAndre Jordan made a verbal commitment to join the Dallas Mavericks, Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said on Bleacher Report radio that his team’s offseason deserved an “F” grade.

Since then, DJ got cold feet and returned to the Clippers, LA retained backup guard Austin Rivers and also brought in lefty forward Josh Smith for the veteran’s minimum (though he’ll still be cashing checks from the Pistons). Frankly, Jordan’s last-minute decision single-handedly flipped the Clips’ offseason from a disaster to one that keeps the team right in the thick of championship contention.

Los Angeles Clippers Offseason Signings | PointAfter

If Lance Stephenson can somehow return to form, while Paul Pierce keeps staving off Father Time, the talent here has a ton of potential—even in the loaded Western Conference. Let’s just say their offseason grade was better than an “F.”

Least Improved

Portland Trail Blazers

A playoff team can’t just lose four-fifths of its starting lineup and come out at the other side unscathed. Portland signed franchise point guard Damian Lillard to a hefty extension, but Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez will all suit up for different teams.

Portland’s Departed Starters | PointAfter

After winning 51 games and the Northwest Division a season ago, it’s actually logical to believe the Trail Blazers could fall out of the playoff picture. Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee are solid additions, but Lillard needs a lot more help.

Denver Nuggets

Former franchise point guard Ty Lawson, who was traded to Houston following his second DUI arrest in six months, wore out his welcome in the Mile High City. The Nuggets are poised to move on from the veteran floor general by way of rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, but they’ll be moving forward with a roster that didn’t experience much (if any) improvement.

2015 Denver Nuggets Offseason Signings: | PointAfter

Its own two free agents—guards Jameer Nelson and Will Barton—were both re-signed. But that means the Nuggets will be heading into next season with a 30-win team, plus new head coach Mike Malone and the aforementioned lottery pick. It appears things are going to get worse (or at least stay the same) before they get better in Denver.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were a change of heart away from landing DeAndre Jordan to be the team’s new starting center. The franchise definitely needed a new interior anchor following the departure of former DPOY Tyson Chandler—who signed with the Phoenix Suns. Instead, DJ reneged on his verbal agreement to join Mark Cuban’s cause. As he returned to LA, the Mavs scrambled to find a replacement and traded for veteran big man Zaza Pachulia.

Dallas Mavericks Center Carousel: | PointAfter

Pachulia is a solid role player, but he’s a huge downgrade from both Chandler and Jordan. Dallas also lost Monta Ellis—who signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Indiana Pacers—and replaced him with Wesley Matthews for more than 1.5 times as much money ($70 million over four years).

Provided that Matthews is 29 years old and coming off an Achilles tear, there’s reason to believe the Mavericks are considerably less talented than they were a season ago. It’s hard not to feel for Dirk Nowitzki at this point, who took a huge pay cut last year with the hope he’d compete for a second title. There appears to be no chance of that happening now.

Much like the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, the Mavericks are essentially stuck in limbo. They’re not good enough to compete in the Western Conference playoffs, but not bad enough to land a high lottery pick. Frankly, that’s the last place you want to be in the NBA.

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