….John Poulter checks in to discuss the Blackhawks tough playoff loss, and Jeff Rich joins us to discuss the Golden State – Houston series, along with his thoughts on the baseball season to date.
Don’t miss a cameo from Dick Vitale.
It’s one of my favorite times of the year- NBA trade deadline season! A time when unsubstantiated rumors are thrown around like insults at a roast. As a future NBA GM, I have spent countless hours on the ESPN Trade Machine figuring out ways to manipulate rosters to address team needs. This season, I have crafted five trades that would impact the NBA landscape. These trades comply with salary cap regulations as well as rules regarding trading draft picks. More importantly, I believe these trades to be mutually beneficial for the teams involved and interesting for the league. Without further ado, here are my big deals.
Bobcats receive: Evan Turner
Sixers receive: Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and Blazers 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
The Bobcats are currently clinging to the eighth seed in the East. After years of ineptitude, the Cats need to give their fans some sense of hope. Turner is a solid all-around player, averaging 17.4 points, 6 rebounds and just under 4 assists per game. The Cats would have the option to insert Turner into the starting small forward spot or use him as their sixth man. Either way, Turner would be an upgrade over Jeff Taylor and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Rumors are circulating that the Sixers will be active at the trade deadline. With an eye towards the future, GM Sam Hinkie will be looking to bring in draft picks and expiring contracts. Acquiring Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and the Blazers 2014 first round pick will do both of these things. It’s hard to imagine the Sixers giving Evan Turner a long-term deal in the offseason. Thus, it makes sense for Philly to get what they can for him now.
Warriors receive: Greg Monroe
Pistons receive: Harrison Barnes
Why it works-
Golden State is one of the most entertaining teams in the league. However, they have had a disappointing season thus far and are only nine games above .500. One of the primary issues for the Warriors has been figuring out who to play in crunch-time. The addition of Andre Iguodala has left Harrison Barnes as the odd man out. As a result, Barnes has become expendable for the Warriors. By trading Barnes to Detroit for Greg Monroe, Golden State could add much needed frontcourt depth and solidfy their crunch-time five. A closing lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Monroe would be deadly on the offensive end and big enough to hold their own on the boards.
The Pistons have a logjam in the frontcourt. The experiment of playing Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith together has been an epic failure. Not only is Detroit’s offensive spacing terrible when those three are on the floor together, but they are also allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Bringing in Barnes would give the Pistons a natural small forward who has the potential to grow into a very productive player.
Suns receive: Pau Gasol
Lakers receive: Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract, Miles Plumlee & Suns 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
Some writers predicted the Suns to be in full tank mode this season (slowly drops his head in shame). Shockingly, the Suns are in playoff position and appear just a piece away from serious contention. Pau Gasol would be a great addition, bringing a reliable low post presence that could take some of the scoring pressure off of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe come playoff time. Gasol would make the Suns a difficult matchup for anybody in the West.
The Lakers are awful and it appears they will be for the near future. The goal for L.A. should be acquiring draft picks and slashing salary. Gasol has never fit in well with Mike D’Antoni’s system and it appears both sides would benefit from a change. The draft pick the Lakers would acquire will not be as valuable as many would have guessed before the season, but in a deep draft, the Lakers could add a nice young piece. Miles Plumlee has shown flashes of competence as a backup center and would be a key sweetener for the Lakers.
Rockets receive: Jeff Green, Phil Pressey & Vitor Faverani
Celtics receive: Omer Asik & Aaron Brooks
Why it works-
The Omer Asik soap opera has to come to an end. The Rockets would do well to bring in Jeff Green, a player who can play the stretch-4 and space the floor for Harden-Howard pick-and-rolls. Green is shooting 36% from three-point range this season. While this is a respectable mark, I would expect this percentage to increase upon arriving in Houston as Green would no longer be the primary offensive focus of the opposing defense.
In Asik, the Celtics would acquire a quality big man who could anchor their defense for years to come (if they choose to re-sign him after next season). Pairing Asik with Jared Sullinger would give the Celtics a talented, young frontcourt pair. In addition, next season the Celtics would have Asik’s expiring contract as a trade chip to utilize in their rebuilding process.
Thunder receive: Arron Afflalo
Magic receive: Jeremy Lamb, Kendrick Perkins & Mavericks 2014 1st Round Pick
Why it works-
The Thunder are playing excellent basketball this season. An upgrade from Jeremy Lamb to Arron Afflalo would put the Thunder in pole position to capture the NBA title. Afflalo is having a great season for Orlando, averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 42.7% from three, per NBA.com. Unlike the James Harden trade, the Thunder should focus on the present rather than the future and go all in on a championship run. Adding Afflalo would signal the front office is doing just that.
Orlando is 16-38 with Afflalo. Trading him will only benefit the Magic by ensuring that they will lose more games and get a better chance at a high pick in the draft. What’s more, Afflalo will be 30 years old next season and it is unlikely that he will factor in to the Magic’s long-term rebuild. The Magic would be happy to acquire an additional pick and a potential talent in Jeremy Lamb. Perkins will also be in the last year of his contract next season, making him a possible trade asset.
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Nolan Block and I continue on our quest to unveil each NBA team’s New Year’s Resolution. In Part 1, we looked at the underwhelming Eastern Conference. Part 2 looks into the Western Conference from bottom to top.
Nolan- On paper, the Utah Jazz are not the worst team in the league. They have assembled a team that looks like they are close to competing for a playoff spot in the West. In the NBA, there are not many true, skilled 7 footers. The Jazz have one of the potentially best young centers in the league in Enes Kanter. Between Kanter and Favors, Utah looks solid in the frontcourt for years to come. Trey Burke is finally looking like the player everybody saw at Michigan the past couple of years and he can develop into a good starting point guard in the League. The Jazz must decide, however, what to do with Gordon Hayward. He wants money that he does not necessarily deserve. He is having a career year this year, but history shows us that players tend to over-perform in a contract year. If they can resign Hayward for a reasonable price and gain a top three draft pick, we might be looking at a core of Burke, Hayward, Parker, Favors, and Kanter. How’s that for a starting five loaded with potential?
Kevin- There is potential there, but I don’t see Gordon Hayward in their long-term plans. As you mentioned, he’s looking for big money in the offseason. Unfortunately for him, he’s shooting a shade over 40% from the field on 14.5 shots per game, per NBA.com. Add Utah to the mix of teams that needs to hit it big in the draft to turn around their fortunes.
Kevin- Maybe it’s best to look at the positives first. Isaiah Thomas is a solid, young point guard. Rudy Gay has played well since coming over in a trade. DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t attempted to kill a teammate. Besides that, Sac-Town has been pretty atrocious. They are a train wreck defensively, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions, second worst in the league, per NBA.com. Until they compete defensively, the Kings will continue to be a Western Conference bottom dweller. Furthering the despair in Sacramento has been first round pick Ben McLemore’s play. He’s averaging just 8.5 points in his 25.6 minutes per game, per NBA.com. It is never a good sign when your star rookie’s most notable moment is this.
The Kings are bad. They probably will be for a while. Their fans should just accept it.
Nolan- You are correct, the Kings are bad, plain and simple. They don’t play any defense and their offense looks like pickup basketball more often than not. That being said, I do think there is hope for the future (not the near future, but the future nonetheless). Cousins is a monster when he shows up to play, Isiah Thomas has been playing brilliantly and Rudy Gay looks like he has finally found a home. The encouraging play of Sacramento’s core players has to be some of the first good news for Kings fans in the post C-Webb-Mike Bibby era. More good news for Kings fans, they still reside in Sacramento.
Los Angeles Lakers- Get Younger and Talented This Off-Season
Nolan- Personally, I admire this Laker squad. I am willing to wager that the casual NBA fan has never heard of 75% of the Lakers roster. They are made up of players that nobody else wanted, yet, they would be in the playoff picture in the East. Having Kobe go down again this year ultimately ruined the chance for this team to reach the playoffs, but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. The Lakers aren’t really known for building through the draft, but they are going to need to hit a home run in this draft. Free agency will also be huge for them. With big names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Luol Deng among others available, the Lakers have to get some talent and shed the old guys that are weighing them down and spend too much time on the bench with injuries.
Kevin- I believe that old guy on the bench you are referring to is Pau Gasol. I don’t see a scenario where Gasol is on the Lakers after the trade deadline. His relationship with D’Antoni has never been good and he has missed numerous games due to “illness.” Rumors about a Gasol-for-Bynum trade are out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gasol finds himself in Memphis when all is said and done.
Memphis Grizzlies- Be Patient
Nolan- I’m not sure how people continue to overlook Mike Conley Jr. All the man does is put up big numbers across the board and he gets no respect. He is the perfect point guard for this Memphis team. He plays defense, he can score when he wants, and he is a great facilitator. The Griz have looked awful at times this year but they have been playing much more like the four seed from last year of late and that is all thanks to Mr. Conley. Injuries have had a huge effect on this team, like many other teams this year, and the Grizzlies must bide their time until they get healthy. Once The Big Spanish returns, the Griz will get much more dangerous. Teams will have to stop quadruple teaming Z-Bo down low and not many people are going to be driving the lane looking for easy buckets with The Big Spanish anchored down low. With Conley firing on all cylinders and a healthy Gasol, look for the Grizzlies to make some noise in the second half of the season.
Kevin- I don’t know where I’ve been, but I somehow missed the Nickname Committee coming up with the name “Big Spanish” for Marc Gasol. I will now only refer to him as Big Spanish. Their defense is currently ranked 24th in points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. One has to assume this will improve with Big Spanish back in the mix. He is supposed to return within the next few weeks, providing a needed shot-in-the-arm for Memphis.
Kevin The Nuggets are painfully average. They are currently two games under .500 (15-17) and rank near the middle of the league in both offensive and defensive rating. What used to be an exciting team with great depth has turned into an average team with no real potential to do any damage in the West. The team seems to lack an identity as new Head Coach Brian Shaw attempts to implement a system much different from previous Head Coach George Karl. If I were Denver, I would put every player on the trade block except Ty Lawson. I would look to bring in players that can provide athleticism and defense. Also, I would return to a run-and-gun style, utilizing Lawson’s speed and the altitude to run opponents into the ground. Denver’s current collection of talent will result in an average record. The recent in-fighting in Denver only adds to the need to make changes. Do you see their current roster being good enough to compete in the West?
Nolan- In no way is there current roster good enough to compete in the West, let alone sneak into the playoffs. When Javale McGee is supposed to be your starting center, you have some serious problems. This Nugs team has the same problem previous Nugs teams have had the past few years, they do not have a superstar. Sure, they had Melo a couple years ago, but what has Melo won? A couple of playoff series? That’s about it. The Nuggets need a superstar badly because all they have right now is a team full of roll players and a potential All-Star in Ty Lawson.
New Orleans Pelicans- Sell High on Ryan Anderson
Kevin- When Anthony Davis has been healthy, the Pelicans have been a really fun team to watch. They are very good offensively, scoring 106.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. This is largely due to the great play of Ryan Anderson. Anderson is averaging 19.8 points per game and is shooting 40.9% from three-point range, per NBA.com. On the other hand, Anderson is a poor defensive player who has also contributed to New Orleans’ bad defensive numbers. The Pelicans allow 105.9 points per 100 possession, per NBA.com. While Anderson is fun to watch on the offensive end, New Orleans will need to vastly improve its defense in order to be a legitimate contender in the future. One move that could improve their defense would be an Anderson for Asik swap. Asik would provide New Orleans with a defensive presence to pair alongside Anthony Davis. Imagine trying to get a shot in the lane against those two. Houston would benefit by landing a stretch-four that has familiarity playing with Dwight Howard from their Orlando days. I think this trade benefits both teams and would make New Orleans instantly better on the defensive end.
Nolan- The Anderson-Asik swap may work out for both teams, but I don’t think it benefits the Pelicans that much. In my opinion, Omer Asik is very overrated. When was the last time anybody saw him play meaningful minutes? It’s been a while and the fact is that he is absolutely horrible on offense. There is a reason why the Pelicans have yet to pull the trigger on this trade. I like what the Pelicans are doing so far, especially with the Jrue Holiday trade they miraculously pulled off. Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough credit for his play. He has been hurt more often than I would like, but he is a monster when healthy. If the Pelicans can add another piece in the offseason they could be dangerous next season.
Nolan- Kevin Love is a monster. It doesn’t make sense, nobody can really figure it out, but he is an absolute monster. He has been putting up video game numbers this year and deserves to be on a team that will contend for a title. Newsflash: the Timberwolves aren’t even in the playoffs right now. Re-signing Love isn’t going to be about the money. The Wolves have plenty of money to sign Love to a max contract and keep him in Minneapolis. What needs to be done to re-sign him comes from a personnel standpoint. I’m not so sure Rick Adelman is the man to lead this team. In my opinion, the Wolves need to cut ties with him and go after a young guy with some experience. They are a young team that plays fast paced basketball and bringing in a young, energetic head coach would help enormously. Also, the Wolves need to find a quality small forward to start. It’s not Chase Budinger. It’s definitely not Robbie Hummel. Show K-Love you care and go out and get him what he needs to compete or we could be seeing him and college teammate Russel Westbrook in gold and purple sooner than we thought.
Kevin- Re-signing Love is definitely a must for Minnesota and adding quality pieces to the roster will certainly help in that goal. However, Minnesota will also have to figure out what to do with Ricky Rubio. The man is shooting 35%. While he is certainly more of a distributor than a scorer, he has to present some sort of shooting threat to keep teams from constantly using his man to double Love. At times, Rubio looks like he is terrified to shoot and it is hurting Minnesota’s offense. They have to figure out if he is one of their stars of the future.
Dallas Mavericks- Establish a Plan For the Future
Kevin- The Mavericks are holding on to the eighth seed in the West with a 19-14 record. While they will likely make the playoffs this season, the Mavs primary focus should be on how they will handle the future as Dirk Nowitzki enters the twilight years of his career. Dirk has put up solid numbers this year, scoring 21 points and adding 5.8 rebounds per game. Still, Dirk’s minutes are being watched carefully and he cannot be counted on to carry a team deep in the playoffs at 35 years old. Nowitzki is in the last year of his contract and has hinted that he will return to Dallas for a hometown discount. Once Nowitzki is signed to an extension, for a figure likely around $10 millions per year, the Mavs will have to figure out how to handle the rest of their roster. Dallas will have plenty of cap room to add a big name in free agency. Whatever player they sign will have to take over the lead-dog role as Dirk transitions to a secondary option.
Nolan- The Mavs have a ton of cap space. The Mavs plan to go after big name free agents. I feel like we have read this story before. Oh yeah, that’s right, this happens almost every offseason and they never catch the big fish they go for. They couldn’t reel in Dwight Howard, they couldn’t get LeBron or any other big name from the 2010 free agent class, and they couldn’t bring in Derron Williams (who is from Dallas!). That being said, I think they did a pretty good job in signing Calderon and Ellis and reshaping Ellis’ game from chucker to playmaker. I need to see something out of Mark Cuban this offseason. He needs to go out and get a guy that can be “the Guy” in the twilight of Dirk’s career.
Nolan- There is no need for this Suns team to tank like everybody (including myself) thought they should. Eric Bledsoe simply isn’t human. Goran Dragic is playing like an All-Star. The Morris brothers are looking like the stars they were in college. Miles Plumlee is a starter and having a big year. That’s right, Miles Plumlee folks. Jeff Hornacek has done a brilliant job coaching this group. If they can continue to play like they have been, he has to be a name in the running for coach of the year. The Suns have three first round draft picks in what is being heralded as the best draft class since 2003. Three! The Suns could package these picks to get an established star or they could package them to move up to select the player want. Phoenix might want to take this draft very seriously, however, because taking Alex Len with the fifth overall pick last season was not a smart move, especially with the defensive upside of Nerlens Noel on the board at that point.
Kevin- I was another person who thought the Suns would be in full tank-mode this season. Like you said, their backcourt of Dragic and Bledsoe has been unreal. Moreover, the fact that Miles Plumlee can provide valuable NBA minutes is baffling. I watched him his entire career at Duke and was not convinced he could walk and chew gum at the same time. If Phoenix can avoid screwing up the draft, they will have an exciting team for the next five years.
Golden State Warriors- Spend More Time with Those Close to You
Kevin- The Warriors have won eight games in a row and look like a totally different team with Andre Iguodala back in the lineup. As expected, the Warriors have been very good offensively, playing at a fast pace and raining threes. When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson get hot from three, the Warriors are nearly unstoppable offensively. What has been surprising about the Warriors is their defense. Golden State is fourth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. They have also been a very good rebounding team, ranking second in the league. What Golden State needs to do now is stay healthy and gain familiarity with one another. Curry, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes have all missed time this season. If Golden State can keep their core healthy going into the playoffs, I could see them getting hot at the right time and making a run.
Nolan- We’ve talked about this before at great length, the future of the Warriors relies on the paper mache ankles of Steph Curry. If he stays healthy, they will have a shot against anybody. Who do you focus on guarding when you play them? Curry? Thompson? Lee? The list goes on and no matter who you focus on, somebody can always destroy you on this roster. I don’t see any playoff series that Golden State plays in going less than six games. They are never out of it because of the way Curry, Thompson, or Barnes can get hot at the drop of a hat. I can’t wait to see them in the playoffs again.
Nolan- The Houston Rockets can flat out score the ball, there is no disputing that. Yet, besides Dwight Howard, the Rockets lack an elite defensive player. You might be able argue for Patrick Beverly, but I do not think he’s on that level at this point. James Harden might be the worst defensive two-guard in the league at this point and Jeremy Lin does not have great foot-speed. Come May and June, this Rockets team must play defense in order to compete for a title. Look at some of the last few winners of the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Heat, the Mavericks, the Spurs. All of those teams got after it on the defensive end. I know what you’re thinking, “There is no D in Dallas.” That Dallas squad had Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, two elite defenders in the starting lineup. The defense has to get better for this team to compete or Dwight might start whining and complaining again. We all know how much of a diva he can be.
Kevin- I see Houston as a team that will make some moves before the trade deadline. It is an organization that values defense and focuses on defensive metrics when evaluating talent. Currently, Houston ranks in the bottom half of the league in many of these statistics. I could see Lin moved for a defensive presence on the perimeter.
Los Angeles Clippers- Tread Water Without CP3
Kevin- Chris Paul’s shoulder injury is obviously a major blow to the Clips. They currently hold the fourth seed in the West, but with Paul out for at least one month there is a chance the Clippers could fall in the standings. The Clippers goal over the next month should be to keep within a few games of the fourth seed. If they can stay within range of the fourth seed, Paul would have a chance to carry the Clips to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. During Paul’s absence, Blake Griffin will have to assume a bigger role. Griffn has had a great season thus far, averaging 22.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Besides increasing his statistical production, Griffin will have to act as the team’s voice without Paul. Griffin has a great opportunity to take control of the Clippers fate. It will be interesting to see if he can handle the responsibility.
Nolan- The Chris Paul injury affects the Clips much more than most realize. I’m not sure Blake Griffin is the player he is without Chris Paul being his point guard. Griffin has improved tremendously in his time in the league, but I still think he is overrated. Darren Collison is a serviceable backup, but after watching Tony Parker and the Spurs make him look like a high schooler last night, it is obvious he is not a starting-caliber player. The Clips are in trouble and I am not sure they have the personnel to hold the four seed with out CP3. The only way I can see that happening is if legendary coach Doc Rivers can somehow inspire these guys to stick together and play good fundamental basketball. The offensive numbers won’t be there without Paul, but if Rivers can get these guys to buckle down defensively, they might just be able to tread water at the four seed.
Nolan- The Spurs continue to amaze me year in and year out. How are they still this good? They are so old. It just doesn’t add up. Coach Popovich could probably be the coach of the year every year in the NBA, the guy does an amazing job. The Spurs are one of the only franchises that are consistently good no matter their personnel. If you look at their roster, there is no way you could tell me they are a top three team in the loaded West. That being said, the regular season really doesn’t matter to these guys at all. It is all about resting their veterans for the playoffs and preparing to make yet another deep run in the playoffs.
Kevin- The Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA. Both teams have established, veteran superstars (Duncan/Brady), fantastic, ornery coaches (Pop/Belichick), and more than a decade of continued success. They play a beautiful brand of basketball that involves great teamwork and an understanding of one’s role. This year’s incarnation may be one of the Spurs’ best. San Antonio ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, an accomplishment only matched by the Thunder. I love this team and I hope they can stay healthy for another run.
Oklahoma City Thunder- Don’t Rush Russell Westbrook Back!
Kevin- Russell Westbrook may seem like a super-human when he is out on the court. However, his string of knee injuries over the last eight months have demonstrated that he is a mere mortal. Westbrook came back from offseason surgery nearly a month sooner than expected at the beginning of the season. His most recent injury should be handled much more cautiously. Westbrook is scheduled to return after the All-Star break. The Thunder should stick to this timetable and make sure Westbrook does not attempt an early return. Kevin Durant should be able to carry the Thunder during Westbrook’s injury. In addition, Westbrook’s absence from the lineup will provide players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb valuable experience. Come playoff time, the Thunder need the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook to be at full-speed. They do not need Westbrook to rush back for meaningless regular season action.
Nolan- I one hundred percent agree. Shut Westbrook down for the rest of the season. Seeding matters very little to the top teams in the West. As long as they finish in the top three they should be set up nicely for the playoffs. Kevin Durant continues to amaze me on a nightly basis and is making a very strong case to win his first MVP. Honestly, I think that OKC might be better with Westbrook on the bench. Sure, he is a top ten to fifteen player in the league. Still, all he does is take shots away from Durant. I think OKC would be better off with a pass first point guard like Rajon Rondo or Derron Williams. I don’t think we have seen the best of Kevin Durant yet. Put somebody on the court that wants to pass to him and I think you have a repeat NBA champion. Did I mention that I cannot wait for the Western Conference playoffs?
Portland Trail Blazers- Don’t Fade Down the Stretch
Nolan- I don’t think there is anybody out there that can say they thought the Blazers would be this good this far into the season. The Blazers have been playing out of their minds this year. Lamarcus Aldridge is looking like a bona fide MVP candidate and Damian Lillard has proven to be the steal of the draft from two years ago. Simply put, the Blazers are on fire right now. The only question I have is will this team fade in the second half. The Blazers have been getting it done from the perimeter so far this season. The law of averages states that they cannot stay this hot from the field, especially from three, for the whole season. Will a cold shooting streak derail the Blazers come May and June? That is the question this team must answer to prove that they are the best in the West. The race in the West should be one of the best in recent memory and I cannot wait to see how this conference shakes out in the New Year.
Kevin- I love watching Damian Lillard. His excellent clutch play is particularly enjoyable. Lillard is shooting just under 69% from the field when the score is within five points with under three minutes to play, per NBA.com. He has hit multiple game-winners this year and absolutely thrives in pressure situations. His clutch play gives me more confidence in Portland. I don’t see Lillard allowing Portland to shrink in big moments, especially come playoff time. I’m on the Blazers bandwagon. Keep Portland Weird!
All Photos and Stats Courtesy of NBA.com
October is upon us, bringing about cool temperatures, pumpkin-infused everything and the start of the NBA season. It seems as if it were just yesterday that Ray Allen was backpedaling into the right corner to bury a game-tying three in Game 6 of the Finals. But since that moment, Miami won its second consecutive title, Doc Rivers departed Boston for sunshine and contention, the Nets went all-in on a talented yet geriatric roster, and Dwight Howard pulled a Dwight Howard.
These happenings and others have left us with dozens of juicy storylines heading into the NBA season. I narrowed the cornucopia of intriguing plotlines down to eleven questions whose answers will shape the NBA season. Here are the first five questions.
Houston landed the biggest name in the free agent market by signing center Dwight Howard. Howard will join James Harden and instantly form one of the best frontcourt/backcourt tandems in the league. Harden and Howard form a deadly pick-and-roll duo for the Rockets. Harden”s ball-handling and passing skills are underrated and Howard should once again be a dominant finisher now that his back and shoulder are healthy. Yet, Houston”s ability to make it out of the West may come down to forward Chandler Parsons. Parsons will be called on to space the floor and open up the lane for Howard. He shot 38.5% from three last season, , a solid percentage that is likely to increase in his third season. Parsons may also be called on to play more of a stretch-4 position this season, as Houston lacks these types of players on their roster. Look for Houston to use a crunch-time lineup similar to the Orlando teams Howard played on, surrounding Howard with four shooters that clear the lane for the pick-and-roll.
Golden State made some serious noise in the playoffs last year. Despite their success and a promising nucleus, the Warriors decided to shake things up during the offseason by signing Andre Iguodala and choosing not to re-sign Jarret Jack. Iguodala provides Golden State with an athletic wing that defends and is someone who does not need to have the ball in his hands offensively. What will be interesting to watch is how Golden State Coach Mark Jackson balances playing time between Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. Thompson and Barnes had excellent moments during the Warriors playoff run and showed great upside. But Iguodala”s presence seemingly means less minutes for Barnes at small forward. Coach Jackson could choose to insert Barnes at the 4 for stretches of time, but that would force him to take out either David Lee or Andrew Bogut. Taking out Lee would hurt with rebounding and low-post offense, while taking out Bogut would eliminate any shred of defense presence the Warriors would have on the floor. Barnes appears to be the odd-man-out of a crowded wing rotation in Golden State.
The Cavs chose to follow standard operating procedure during the offseason: drafting a Canadian first overall, working with a player on switching his shooting hand, and signing a seven-footer whose love for bowling derailed his previous season. Cleveland will be fascinating to watch this season. Kyrie Irving has already established himself as an elite offensive guard, but his defense along with the Cavs” team defense will need drastic improvement. Cleveland ranked 26th in defensive efficiency last season, allowing 106.9 points per 100 possession (Hoopdata.)The Cavs also face challenges in how to juggle their lineup to utilize both Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett. Both are “tweeners” who will have difficulty matching up defensively. Moreover, the Cavs will hope to get production from Andrew Bynum. Bynum is unquestionably one of the most talented big men in the league. However, his startling injury history, apparent lack of passion, and disturbing hair styles have greatly tarnished his image across the league. On paper, the Cavaliers have enough talent on their roster to make a run for one of the East”s final playoff spots.
Up five points with 24 seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Spurs could see the Larry O”Brien Trophy being wheeled out of the tunnel. The Spurs were unable to close out that game in Miami, eventually losing the series to the Heat. Unfortunately, that epic collapse has distorted our view of what was an improbable and sensational Spurs season. In what has seemingly become an annual topic, the Spurs face questions about whether their window of opportunity has closed. The answer to that question will come down to two key factors. First, whether Tim Duncan can continue playing at an elite level. At 37, Duncan averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds last season. If Timmy is the alien I believe him to be, he will put together another quality season with similar numbers. If he shows signs of slowing down or struggles through injury, the Spurs will find it difficult to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The second question is whether Kawhi Leonard can build off of his Finals performance and make a Paul George-like jump into NBA stardom. Leonard showed his prowess as a rebounder and defender in the Finals, consistently beating out LeBron James on the boards and slowing him down on offense as much as one mortal can slow down James on offense. If Duncan can continue to turn out all-star level numbers and Leonard can elevate his play to the next level, look for the Spurs to be in contention, as they are every year.
The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink in last season”s Eastern Conference Finals. They did so despite having a bench that was historically inept. Indiana addressed that problem during the offseason, upgrading from DJ Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young to CJ Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. In addition, the Pacers get forward Danny Granger back from a knee injury that kept him out during the majority of the regular season and all of the playoffs. Granger will likely be reinserted into the starting lineup to begin the season. Not only will this improve Indiana”s starting unit, but the second unit will also benefit as former starter Lance Stephenson will come off the bench. In Granger, the Pacers have a quality defender who has been counted on in the past to lead the team offensively. With Paul George now slated as the number one scoring option, Granger will have to find a way to contribute as a secondary scorer, working off the ball and producing more from catch-and-shoot situations. If Granger is unable to adjust to his new role, the Pacers can use him as a trade-piece in order to acquire more depth and draft picks. Granger is in the final season of his contract and will earn over $14 million this season. Expiring contracts carry high value in trades, so the Pacers will certainly have multiple options if they choose to move Granger.
Part 2 of NBA Storyline-A-Palooza coming later this week.