Whether we are talking about NBA franchises or individual players, they all will experience this journey in one form or another.
Successful or unsuccessful.
Recently speaking, the Heat, Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers have all experienced, in some form, a journey of success.
We know that, come playoff time, these teams will be a factor…
While maybe letting the Lakers sit this one out.
But just because the Heat are two-time champions and the Thunder are again favorites in the West, does not mean there is not success to be had in the NBA this year.
The door is more than unlocked for several other teams to join the conversation. In fact, it’s practically wide-open. Several teams in the East and West have made substantial improvements this offseason.
Joe Gabriele of NBA.com takes a look at the landscape of the eastern conference: “Last year at this time, the Celtics were considered one of the few teams that could beat the Heat. One year later, Boston is in rebuilding mode while two of their former stars are busy building Brooklyn into Miami’s biggest challenge. But the Nets are the only club that made some major moves this summer. How might the Easter Conference stack up this season? With teams readying their rosters for Training Camp, here’s an abbreviated overview ….”
Gabriele does not start with any surprises, listing the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets and Knicks to start his list. He then identifies a few teams that may have the firepower to make the leap from lottery to playoffs:
Added Horsepower – The Pistons (29-53) haven’t reached the postseason since 2008-09 and have averaged just 27 wins over their last three seasons. So this offseason, Detroit opened its wallet and inked Josh Smith to a big free agent deal. About a month later, the Pistons dealt for erratic-but-talented point guard Brandon Jennings. Detroit won’t be running teams out of the gym, but – with the frontline of Smith, Andre Drummond and Moose Monroe – they’ll be extremely tough to score against in the halfcourt. Mo Cheeks replaces Lawrence Frank as the Pistons look to return to the good old days of Deeee-troit basketball.
Capital Gains – Unlike other teams trying to return to the postseason, the Wizards (29-53) have taken a more methodical approach to building the roster. In 2010, they drafted their point guard (John Wall). In 2012 they got their 2-guard (Bradley Beal). And this past June, they filled their small forward spot with Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. Along with veterans, Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, the Wizards – like the Pistons and Cavaliers – are hungry for a return to the tournament.
Ferry’s Facelift – The Hawks (44-38) have reached the postseason for the past six seasons but haven’t made it past the second round in any of the six and not past the first in the past two years. Something had to give and the Cavs former GM continued the shakeup that began with the Joe Johnson trade last offseason. This summer, Ferry parted ways with Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia and brought in free agents Paul Milsap, Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and drafted a pair of interesting international first-rounders in point guard Dennis Schroeder and center Lucas Nogueira. Ferry also poached head coach Mike Budenholzer from the Spurs – another piece to the culture change taking place in the Dirty South.
Gabriele, who is NBA.com’s Cavaliers beat writer, did not touch on the Cavs, who many believe have a great chance to make a significant leap this year thanks to an abundance of young talent.
Kyrie Irving is certainly the future. He’s elite in almost every regard — with some work to do on the defensive end — and recently came in as the No. 6 overall projected player in the league in the year 2017 by SBNation.
But one player can only carry a team so far, and for the first time in Irving’s young career, he should expect to have the necessary help to catapult Cleveland back into the spotlight.
Well, at least the conversation. It’s a start.
According to Nate Duncan of Hoopsworld, this will largely hinge on the development of shooting guard Dion Waiters and power forward Tristan Thompson, both selected No. 4 overall by the Cavaliers in the 2011 and 2012 drafts.
Cleveland’s young players present two main personnel questions for the coming year. The first is who will be their power forward of the future. They have now invested No. 4 and No. 1 picks over the last three drafts in that position between Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, but it does not appear they can play together. The second is whether Dion Waiters is the long-term answer as a starting shooting guard. These two players, both surprise No. 4 picks at the behest of Cleveland’s analytics, could well determine the ceiling of the Cavaliers’ resurgence.
Make no mistake, Bynum is a huge addition for Cleveland. He is the first player whose name resonantes nationally to decide to come to Cleveland — in any sport — in a long time. But Bynum hasn’t played a game in over a year and has significant injury concerns that have reasonably tempered expectations.
Bennett, who is a supremely talented prospect on the offensive end, has yet to play a game.
Entering their second and third seasons respectively, Waiters and Thompson have had a reasonable amount of time to acclimate into the NBA. Duncan takes a look at some of their pros and cons:
Thompson quietly improved across the board last year in his second season, although it escaped much notice because Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder and the second half of Cleveland’s season devolved into (Marv Albert voice) gar-bage time. A 16 PER for a player who just turned 22 in March is quite promising. Thompson recently garnered more attention when it was reported he would be switching his shooting hand this season.
Ultimately, Thompson’s ceiling seems limited because he hasn’t an elite skill aside from his offensive rebounding. He lacks the great shooting ability or elite athleticism of the truly great power forwards. He certainly could develop into an above-average starter, but he doesn’t appear to be the true frontcourt star the Cavs want to pair with Kyrie Irving long-term.
Thompson’s ceiling is hard to peg, but it’s fair to remain optimistic. He has the necessary intangibles it takes to succeed in this league, which is half the battle.
Yes, he has shown offensive, defensive and size limitations, but he has found ways to overcome all of them to this point.
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