Since July 1, there have been free agent signings totaling nearly $2 billion. In addition, there have been a dozen trades involving 22 players and 12 draft picks.
But which teams have really improved themselves? And which teams have taken a step backward?
In this edition of the Three-Man Weave, we take a lot at who won – and lost – the offseason in the Eastern Conference.
1. Which Eastern Conference team has had the best offseason thus far?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER: I already declared the Cavs the winners of free agency even though they added one player – Mo Williams – because nobody chasing them got better to the point where they might actually challenge the Cavs in late May. (OK, there’s Miami, but their best pickup, Justise Winslow, came through the draft.) Everyone has to come to grips with the fact that the road to the title will be running through Cleveland for the next several years, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be. Everyone else is playing for runner-up status. That being said, props to the Bucks for getting Greg Monroe and the Hornets for getting Nicolas Batum. Those are very nice pickups.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR: Milwaukee has a slight edge over Indiana. I like what the Pacers have done, adding Monta Ellis and making a concerted effort to move away from smashmouth basketball. But the Bucks added Greg Monroe and Greivis Vasquez while sacrificing almost no continuity. Monroe will be the consistent frontcourt scorer the Bucks lacked last season, and don’t be surprised if Vasquez supplants Michael Carter-Williams as Jason Kidd’s more trusted floor general. It is also no stretch to assume that Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and John Henson are going to get better, and there are plans to sign Henson to an extension.
MICHAEL SCOTTO, COLUMNIST: The Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the East and fortified that standing by retaining Kevin Love. While it may not be sunshine and rainbows between Love and LeBron James, they will find a middle ground to make the pairing work. They’re too good not to, plain and simple. As long as Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith return, the bench depth will be a strength. Smith may not be a necessity with Mo Williams in the fold, but Cleveland wouldn’t be as entertaining without Smith. Speaking of Williams, he was an underrated signing on a bargain two-year, $4.3 million deal. Honorable mention to Milwaukee for adding Greg Monroe, the young post presence and rebounder it needed.
2. Which Eastern Conference team has had the worst offseason thus far?
SHERIDAN: That would be the Knicks, who struck out on all their A-list guys and settled for a bunch of guys off the scrap heap who might – might, I’m telling you – get them above 20 wins next season. This is a franchise that had its sights set on Monroe, Wes Matthews and/or Tobias Harris. They never even called Harris, they were scared off on Matthews, and they ended up with the lesser Lopez and a new shooting guard, Arron Afflalo, who will be so focused on scoring a big new contract with a new team (he has an opt-out after one year) and will be such a problem volume shooter that the over/under on Carmelo Anthony ripping him is Dec. 1.
BERNUCCA: Boston. I know Chicago didn’t do much, but there wasn’t much the Bulls could do beyond retaining Jimmy Butler. The Celtics have spent two years turning over their roster and acquiring assets. This was supposed to be the summer that GM Danny Ainge packaged a bunch of those for a transformational player. He even had a playoff appearance as a selling point. And he adds Amir Johnson, David Lee and two rookie guards to a crowded backcourt? The Celtics still don’t have a player who commands a double-team and may get squeezed out of the postseason by improved Indiana, Charlotte and Miami. Better luck next summer.
SCOTTO: The Celtics had a puzzling offseason. They overpaid for Johnson (two years, $24 million) and traded for Lee and Perry Jones. All are solid players, but that’s three forwards along with Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko already on the roster. Heck, they even drafted another forward in LSU’s Jordan Mickey. That’s nine forwards on a 15-man roster. Meanwhile, they tried to move up in the draft but couldn’t. Taking Terry Rozier 16th overall raised some eyebrows. Boston was blown away by his workout and thinks he can play alongside Marcus Smart. The Celtics better be right or they will have to trade one of them. The team remains in a transition period with many more draft picks coming. Expect trades down the road.
3. Which Eastern Conference team has had the strangest offseason thus far?
SHERIDAN: That would be the Sixers, who lost Joel Embiid for another year but picked up two players and three first-round picks from Sacramento. The Kings are going all-in with Rajon Rondo, George Karl, DeMarcus Cousins and owner Vivek Ranadive, only one of whom figures to remain in Sacramento a year from now if that team misses the playoffs again, which is quite likely in the loaded West. I think the Sixers lucked out with Jahlil Okafor, especially given the latest news on Embiid. Still curious to see what they do with their cap room, but not holding my breath. It would not surprise me if Sam Hinkie hangs onto it into February again to keep restocking his overflowing cupboard of future picks.
BERNUCCA: Detroit. It is obvious that Stan Van Gundy wants to build around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. I just question what he is putting around them, which appears to be redundancies and question marks. He drafted small forward Stanley Johnson, then traded for Marcus Morris and Danny Granger. (Not to mention picking up Anthony Tolliver’s $3 million option.) Is Aron Baynes really worth $6 million as a backup center? Is Joel Anthony worth another $2.5 million as a third-string center? And unless Van Gundy dumps a player, acquiring 35-year-old point guard Steve Blake could cost him Spencer Dinwiddie, who needs a longer look.
SCOTTO: The Brooklyn Nets prematurely ended the Deron Williams era and saved a lot of money in the buyout process. However, they overpaid Brook Lopez with a three-year, $60 million deal after hastily trading away his younger insurance policy and an Olympian in Mason Plumlee. They had good depth at point guard, but that’s no longer the case without Williams and Steve Blake. Jarrett Jack is slated to become a full-time starter for the first time since 2007. Don’t be shocked if Joe Johnson is shopped again near the trade deadline in the hope of replenishing needed draft picks. Brooklyn will need Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson to become key contributors if it wants to make the playoffs. With that in mind, playoffs in Brooklyn? “Fuhgetaboutit!”