Now that most of the major movement has happened during a seriously crazy NBA off-season, that changed the structure of an entire conference completely it’s time to look back and review whats happened, react to how the league was affected and make some predictions for the up-coming season and beyond. Todays PullupBuckets’ post will cover the Eastern Conference and later on I’ll cover the West.
The landscape of the Eastern Conference might has well have gotten nuked, both teams that played in the conference championship last year suffered severe losses and will not at all resemble last year’s version of themselves. The Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat lost the greatest player on the planet when Lebron James decided to take his talents back to Cleveland, they replaced him with Luol Deng at SF, and were at least able to retain Chris Bosh who will most definitely be asked to assume a larger roll on the team. I believe Bosh can be the best player on a playoff team, especially in the East, also Luol Deng is an above average player at his position and even though he will never be able to replace what LeBron did for the them, he plays hard nosed defense, can create his own shot, and has that winner’s attitude, you know, the type of player willing to play long minutes and through minor injuries. Unless a major transaction is made to bring a ball handler into Miami that can score and help create for the rest of the team or a rookie of the year type season from Shabazz Napier, the Heat can still make the playoffs but, they wont make it out of the first round, most likely.
Meanwhile, the losers of last years conference championship game most likely wont even be sniffing the playoffs next season. After losing Lance Stephenson to the Hornets in free agency, the Pacers doubled down when they lost rising superstar Paul George to a broken leg while he was practicing for team USA. George will be gone for the entire season. Its hard enough to overcome the loss of 2 starters on a playoff team but, these were Indiana’s best overall players, Lance has handles that are superior to George Hill’s, their starting PG, and even led the team in assists last year, he was going to be a major loss before Paul George went down. Now with both of them gone, they have absolutely nobody that is capable of creating offense on their roster, which was already offensively challenged last year causing Indi to rely heavily on their defense. Making it even more unfortunate is the fact that Paul George was also their best perimeter defender, he always guarded the opponent’s best player during crunch time minutes. Indiana will not be in next years playoffs, not when Roy Hibbert is the best player left on their starting roster, David West is getting older, I am not a George Hill believer. Their only off season acquisitions were CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey, which would have been a nice addition to last years team, but are in no way going to be able to hold the fort down with Lance and Paul gone. The only question is, how long into the season will the Pacers throw in the towel and start tanking for a better draft pick, and will they find anybody interested in trading for Roy Hibbert. They need to use Paul George’s absence to their advantage and tank themselves into a top 3 pick next year then, hopefully, in 2015 they can return a healthy George to the lineup along with a future star rookie and a big free agent to begin this rebuilding process quickly because this Pacers team had a slight opening in that championship window for the last couple years and actually looked like a team that would continue to be in the championship hunt for a few years to come. Now, with the loss of Lance and Paul, last years late season collapse, and Roy Hibbert’s consistent inconsistency, that window has been slammed shut.
Let’s look at some teams that benefitted from the World Champion San Antonio Spurs spanking the Heat so bad they sent LeBron running back to Ohio. Starting with the teams most likely to reach the conference finals on down.
The obvious first choice here is the champion of multiple draft lotteries and is the hometown team of the King, the Cleveland Cavaliers. After signing LeBron back into the organization and finally taking Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s hateful letter to their renewed savior down from their website, the Cavs are now trading consecutive 1st overall draft picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love. The Cavs are going to run out a lineup that includes two all-stars to team up with the league’s best player, plus, two 4th overall draft picks, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Just to recap they are starting two 1st overall draft picks LeBron and Irving, two 4th overall draft picks in Thompson and Waiters, and got Kevin Love by trading another two first overall draft picks, and these are all players that were originally drafted by the Cavs!! They sure do seem to have some good “luck” in the draft lottery, I have a solution for this, by the way, an idea I tend to introduce in our next podcast. This lineup should make it to the Eastern Conference Finals despite the complete lack of playoff experience from four of their starting 5.
Can we give a big round of applause to the Washington Wizards for their patience and self control this offseason? They could’ve let their playoff success take them on an emotional rollercoaster ride, that started going the right direction, up, but ended suddenly plummeting down in a free fall that ends in corkscrews and loop-to-loops, leaving one feeling nothing but ill. Instead of trying to keep the team together that had some playoff success at all costs by overpaying to keep Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, they decided to only overpay for one of them, and guess what? They chose right!! They let Trevor Ariza sign with Houston on a 4 year $32 million contract and replaced him with Paul Pierce at 2 years for $10 million. That helped keep their cap clear for the royal rumble free agency year of 2016, and they replaced Ariza with a more valuable, champion veteran. This move also lets last year’s 3rd overall pick Otto Porter grow by giving him more minutes in the rotation plus the occasional start whenever Pierce needs to rest. Now that he is at an advanced age, he is going to need as much rest as can be afforded to him, at least we know he keeps a wheelchair handy. If I was Washington Id put PP on a minutes restriction to keep him fresh for the playoffs and rely on Otto Porter and Martell Webster to step up during the regular season and provide wins to relieve Pierce from adding anymore mileage to that jalopy. Marcin Gortat played outstanding during last years playoffs, the Wizards straight punked Chicago down low and that’s a team that had Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Not to mention Nene always misses time during the season with injuries, which makes Gortat that much more valuable to the team. When Nene is healthy, their skillsets compliment each other and create one of the stronger PF/C combinations in the entire league. Smart moves by the Wizards, improving immediately without compromising their future at all, very impressive stuff, I mean really, it’s scary to say but, the Wizards look like they might actually become a competent franchise, its fucking magical. Can’t wait to see John Wall and Bradley Beal grow together.
While Chicago missed out on the Melo sweepstakes, which would’ve made them an automatic favorite in the East, they were able to sign the very versatile Pau Gasol who also adds playoff experience and a championship pedigree to an already seasoned and battle hardened Bulls team. The addition of Gasol gives the Bulls 2 of the best passing big men in the league and by far the best big boy passing combo, and since both of them can hit the midrange jumper they’ll be able to share the court for extended minutes and although both like to operate from the high post, there shouldn’t be spacing issues between these 2, their basketball IQs are too high to allow it, and they’re both versatile enough to operate from any part of the floor inside the three point line. So the big questions going into this year is going to be the exact same questions everybody had for them going into last year. How will Derrick Rose comeback? How long will he stay back? And how good can this team be without a healthy Rose to run the show? Last season Bulls management made a failed attempt to tank into the draft lottery by trading Luol Deng, one of their 3 most valuable players and more respected men in the locker room, to the Cavaliers in the middle of the season. They severely underestimated Coach Thibs’ pride and the determination from the heart of their squad, Joakim Noah. This team has already proved its incomparable toughness in the 2 consecutive years that they lost their best player and leader in Rose, overachieving expectations and making muffled noise in the playoffs, but ultimately they couldn’t overcome the difference in talent in the latter rounds. Their major additions were drafting McBuckets, a F, and signing Gasol, a PF/C, from FA. Now the Bulls currently start Noah and Gibson at the PF/C position, and are going to trot out Tony Snell, could be good still too young, Jimmy Butler, is good but also young although not as young, and Mike Dunleavy?, ’nuff said, with the only real backup PG in the unfortunate case Rose gets re-injured or just will never be the same, being Kirk Heinrich. Don’t see a contender here without some serious D-Rose contributions to the team on top of a move to give them depth at the wing.
Hornets – They had an excellent draft, picking up sharpshooter PJ Hairston and skilled big man Noah Vonleh and were able to sign Born Ready, a triple-double machine to an affordable contract. The Hornets’ lineup is massively improved now that they can trot him out alongside Kemba and MKG on the perimeter, this is going to be a fun team to watch and a hard team to beat come playoff time. I think they are a year away from serious conference title contention, they are still green and getting swept by the Heat in the 1st round cannot really be considered playoff experience. Possible chance of them being the 2013 Pacers, id put it at around 35%.
Raptors – Made a crucial deal bringing back the human bowling ball known as Kyle Lowery. Lowery was essential to the leap the Raptors made to get into the playoffs and that in turn made the country of Canada go crazy, he was almost as important to their run into the playoffs as the fact that they play in the East. They also traded John Salmon’s corpse to the Hawks for Lou Williams, who although he didn’t have a good year last season, is still a valuable offensive weapon and should be huge for them coming off the bench as a sixth man. Valancunias will have another year of growth behind him, he showed some signs last season that he is going to become a baller and serious post threat, but this team is one move away from being serious about theirs. A lineup of Lowery, Ross, DeRoazan, Johnson, Valacunias with Patterson and Williams off the bench is a nice team, shit, its a playoff team, its just not a finals contender. Unfortunately they are going to have to sacrifice one or two of their young pieces and bring in a superstar to ever have a chance at contending.