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The 2014 NBA offseason has provided some major storylines and newsworthy action. After San Antonio dominated the NBA Finals, Team USA cakewalked to the FIBA World Cup Championship. Our focus now returns back to the key offseason transactions that have occurred in the Eastern Conference and what to make of them. Certainly by now everyone is aware that the King has returned. LeBron James’ decision to leave Miami and sign with Cleveland kicked off the domino effect that is NBA free agency, resulting in a handful of notable transactions ranging from players to coaches and GMs. In an offseason where studs like Joel Przybilla announced retirement, some teams out there must have been looking for a savvy NBA vet to impart knowledge onto a team heading in a new direction.
Just kidding, but seriously, Derek Fisher made a Jason Kidd-esque move in accepting a coaching job fresh off retirement surrounded by familiar personnel. Hell, while I was on the topic, here’s q quick rundown of NBA players that decided to throw it in: Derek Fisher, Shane Battier (who claims he will run for Congress in Michigan), Quentin “Q-Rich” Richardson, Joel Przybilla, Chauncey Billups, Ronald Dupree, and Darko Milicic (LOL nice, Detroit). While some old names have left the game, others have relocated to new cities, and some remain where they call home, giving it another chance. Let us move on and take a look at what has happened this summer in the Eastern Conference.
Moves That I Loved
LeBron James returning home to Cleveland has to be a story everyone can appreciate. I am a huge fan of this move as it reflects the timeless story of a true hero. How perfect of a story this move could prove to be as LeBron started his young journey in his hometown of Cleveland and was faced with conflict resulting in him fleeing. The protagonist struggles at home (in this case mainly because he had no supporting cast that could match or complement his championship caliber), leaves after continued failure and teams up with a partner, who becomes a good friend, in a glamorous new location to gain experience along his path. After success away from home, the Hero returns to bring his people glory and share his experiences and knowledge with the land he hails from. It is utterly insane how many people are willing to play with LeBron now that he has won compared to his first stint in Cleveland. Additionally, his deal is structured in a manner that allows him to restructure and sign a new contract once this CBA has expired. It goes without saying that Kevin Love joining the squad helps tremendously and places Cleveland in AT LEAST the top three of their conference.
Another aspect of the offseason I loved was what the Washington Wizards (wait can we call them that? Redskins joke there) brought big man Marcin Gortat back on board in addition to signing Paul Peirce, who I still think is “rec-league”, to a two year deal. Within these next two years, Washington has the chance to win the Eastern Conference and compete for the NBA Championship. Not to get ahead of myself, but some believe Kevin Durant will follow LeBron’s lead and return to Washington next offseason, presenting a real opportunity for the Wiz. Back to this season however, Washington can be a top three team as well. They showed last year that they can compete and if Wall and Beal continue to develop, they can lead a team of vets such as Nene and Pierce to the promised land. Although this team lost Trevor Ariza, a solid perimeter defender, they still have a chance to be top dog.
Lastly, sticking with the top three teams in the conference, I loved what the Bulls did. After missing out on Melo, LeBron, and even Bosh or Wade, Chicago did the next best thing. They cut Carlos Boozer and got Pau Gasol to join. Amnesty clauses were made for cutting Carlos Boozer. Taj Gibson is young and hungry and just as talented a Boozer, who I quite frankly felt had been washed up two seasons ago. The Bulls have a real shot, pending Derrick Rose stays healthy. Joakim Noah balled out last year and displayed some serious development both as a leader and playmaker. If Rose can get to the rim and hit some of his mid-range jays, I like Chicago to win, if not be second, within their conference. Cleveland and Chicago will form a great rivalry and I feel they will be one-two all year in conference. I know it is easy to pick these three teams, but they have made moves this offseason to ensure they can live up to the hype and utilize the talent they posses. As a side note, keep an eye on Doug McDermott’s progression this year as he can be a great wingman much like Kyle Korver.
Moves I Am Unsure Of
There are some teams that made moves I am doubtful of. Some moves I am uncertain about include Lance Stephenson getting a massive deal by Charlotte. Although a two year deal with a third year club option is not a bad thing, the contact is for $18 million, a steep price for a problem child who may pan out and lead the league in triple doubles again. I love the new “old” uniforms in Charlotte, but there are few talented players on their squad. Lance is a known punk and on a team that finally reached the postseason last year, a distraction is the last thing they need to continue to grow and possibly the reason they take a mega step back this year. Al Jefferson can ball, Kemba and MKG are coming along, but there isn’t much else there. I can’t really blame Charlotte for spending money, but as Gob from Arrested Development would say, “COME ON!!”
Next in line of continued doubts comes Jason Kidd. I think he was unworthy from the start as a head coach; he had and has no credentials and (oh yeah, he beat his wife too) the only thing he brought to the table in Brooklyn was the fact that he had been a terrific basketball player for the Nets. He drove out Lawrence Frank, a fine coach, and is most known for spilling water on the sideline to draw a timeout. While he is out of Brooklyn, he is Milwaukee’s next problem. Can he teach Jabari Parker and be a positive influence? I am not here to bash Jason Kidd but how committed is he to this team and when will he give up on them? Surely they cannot make noise in an improved, but still average Eastern Conference, especially with such youth surrounding a future star.
Lastly, I am a big doubter of what is going on in New York. Bringing in Phil Jackson is a power move and in time, I’d guess two or three seasons, this club can compete in the playoffs and return to its former grand stature. However, is Derek Fisher the right guy or is he just a yes man to implement Phil’s system? If so, why doesn’t Phil coach right now and not wait for things to get worse? I understand the travel limitations and Phil’s health, but Detroit is trying the same move as New York with Stan Van Gundy acting as head coach and president of basketball operations. While Melo is there to stay, can they get any pieces together and is Carmelo Anthony really a winner, or just a phenomenal scorer and talent? Needless to say, I don’t see the Knicks as a threat to anyone this season, although I am interested to see how this saga unfolds.
Moves I Did Not Understand
In the 2012-2013 season, Lionel Hollins led Memphis to the Western Conference Finals and although they were swept by the Spurs, Hollins got this team to a point many believed could only be achieved on paper. Hollins had a good team and made them better, but his contract was not renewed. I don’t know why Hollins was not asked back, but good for Brooklyn. I don’t think this move really helps them now and they should expect that their door has closed, but if they are looking for a win now remedy, it’s not going to happen.
Again with the Knicks and me not understanding what it is they do but why has Melo chosen to stay? The only two reasons I can think of are Phil Jackson and the fact that you are still in the East, giving you a much better chance to reach the playoffs. However, the Knicks decision-making is poor when it comes to the front office, so why does Melo want to stick around for five years chewing up all sorts of cash? Oh, maybe it’s the money… In any event, has Carmelo learned nothing from players agreeing to less money in order to present an opportunity for help via free agency or re-signing others (A la Tim Duncan & Miami’s Big 3)? The Knicks have a roster on par with Charlotte at best so why didn’t Carmelo dip?
Lastly, another player who chose to stay put leaves me scratching my head. Chris Bosh left a four-year max contract ($88 million) on the table in Houston to re-sign with Miami. While this deal being more lucrative (five year, $118), Bosh would have gotten a chance to join a new big three and play his more fitting stretch-four, power forward role. Dwight would have clogged up the middle, Harden would work the lane and wings, and Bosh would hit top-of-the-key and other mid-range, baseline type jumpers. This would have been a great fit for Bosh, but he chose to rejoin Miami, who should still make the playoffs, with Dwayne Wade, Mario Chamlers, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Andersen.
While there are many unanswered questions, all will soon be clear as the 2015 NBA season unfolds. Quietly, I feel as though Boston and Philadelphia will be the next teams to “come-up” in the next few years. Boston has high hopes for Rookies Marcus Smart and James Young as we see how Brad Stevens fares with a full year of Rajon Rondo (who I think would fit beautifully next to DeMarcus Cousins). Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Evan Turner can be some pieces moving forward while Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid & Nerlens Noel could pan out into a force in Philly.
The most obvious loser of the NBA offseason sadly has to be small market Indiana. With the Paul George injury and departure of Lance Stephenson, Indiana goes from Eastern Conference Champs and NBA Finals hopefuls who were supposed to knock off Miami, to not reaching the playoffs. Rest up and enjoy the show with us, Paul George.