General managers spent as much time beefing up their benches this summer as they did going after additions to their starting units.
Perhaps that had something to do with the available players on the market, but it couldn't hurt that the San Antonio Spurs stormed to within two wins of a trip to the NBA Finals with head coach Gregg Popovich using a 10-deep rotation.
When coaches traditionally "shorten" their benches to rely on their seven or eight best players, Popovich did exactly what you'd expect from a notorious contrarian: he continued relying upon his squad's superior depth.
The Spurs continue to have one of the deepest teams in the league, if not the deepest altogether.
San Antonio didn't make any significant adjustments this summer, but it will return the same unit to the floor that won 10 consecutive playoff games and 20-straight overall last season. That unit had Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner coming off the bench—six guys who could probably beat some teams on their own.
Their division-rival Dallas Mavericks made huge strides with their depth.
Assuming Rick Carlisle starts Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion and Chris Kaman along with Dirk Nowitzki, his bench will include Delonte West, Vince Carter, Elton Brand, Rodrigue Beaubois and Brandan Wright.
No, Carter and Brand aren't what they used to be, but they can still play key roles and bring a wealth of experience to the second unit.
And while the Los Angeles Lakers made noble improvements to their bench and outrageous improvements to their starting lineup, it's the other L.A. team that now ranks as one of the deepest in the league.
With small forward Matt Barnes reportedly signing with the Clippers, he'll join a bench that includes Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Willie Green, Eric Bledsoe and Ronny Turiaf.
There will be questions about what Odom can contribute these days, but the Clippers now have the quintessential sixth man in Crawford and a solid veteran in Hill. You could certainly make the case that a couple of these guys should get the starting 2-guard job instead of Chauncey Billups.
The Clippers will also have plenty of lineup options.
With Hill and Barnes both capable of playing either forward position in a pinch, head coach Vinny Del Negro has the luxury of putting small-ball lineups on the floor that can run, score and defend with the best of them.
But is this the deepest team in the league?
Not quite. That honor has to go to the New York Knicks, a roster that's taken a number of small but vital steps forward in spite of losing fan-favorite Jeremy Lin.
With Marcus Camby and Steve Novak backing up Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, NYC's interior rotation has a solid edge against the Clippers (and just about every team but for the Lakers).
Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Camby won the award in 2007, so New York's interior defense shouldn't be too compromised by Stoudemire.
Novak, meanwhile, rivals Ryan Anderson as one of the very best spread-4s in the league.
The rest of the roster is just as stacked.
The backcourt features Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert (when healthy), Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith. You may not be a legitimate star in that group, but that's Carmelo Anthony's job.
What you will find are guys who can shoot, facilitate and defend–the perfect complements to Anthony and Stoudemire.
Though this roster was gutted in the trade that originally landed Anthony, general manager Glen Grunwald has done a nice job surrounding his stars with help. He hasn't just been adding bodies; he's been adding the right kind of talent.
That matters, and it's ultimately why the Knicks come out on top. Depth isn't just about how many players you have–it's about how they fit together.
By the looks of things, New York's should fit together pretty well.
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