— Chris Paul (@CP3) August 7, 2012
— Chris Paul (@CP3) August 7, 2012
The 2012 NBA Champion Miami Heat won the second title in franchise history last month, and they aren’t doing what they did after the previous one — standing pat (or standing Pat, as in Riley, who felt he owed it to those players to give them a chance to defend their title.)
Meanwhile, the team they defeated in the Eastern Conference finals — the Boston Celtics — have had a pretty productive summer of their own.
In New York, two basketball teams are preparing to compete for supremacy in the Big Apple, while Los Angeles’ respective NBA cliques prepare for Year 2 of their now-legitimate intra-arena rivalry.
As we saw on Tuesday, some of the NBA’s teams got worse this summer, but many more got better. Without completely ruining the suspense, allow me to state the obvious up front: the NBA is getting very top-heavy. The talent rich are getting richer and the talent starved will have trouble attracting top-tier players to improve their odds of winning. Unfortunately, that’s the NBA in the Post-Decision era.
Below is my listing of the
five six teams that have improved the most since July 1.
Number 5 (tie): Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are yet to open up the gates of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but although this team has yet to play a single game, we can already surmise the following: Mikhail Prokhorov isn’t afraid to spend money.
The 2012-2013 Nets’ starting lineup will be paid in excess of $70 million. Gerald Wallace, the pauper of the group, will earn $10 million. Although one could probably make the case that four of the five starters on this team are overpaid (and some have actually made that case), there is no question that Billy King and Bobby Marks have put together a very talented roster.
The Nets are married to this team for the foreseeable future, but it’s better to be a team that wins 45-50 games each year and battles for a top-four playoff seed than one that would have moved into a new home without a box-office draw.
Joe Johnson, while overpaid, is a major talent and will provide the Nets with a secondary offensive option and running mate for Deron Williams.
They managed to hang onto MarShon Brooks and snagged one of the NBA’s better reserve point guards in C.J. Watson. Reggie Evans provides some toughness off the bench, and their overseas addition—Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic—impressed enough NBA scouts to receive interest from a number of teams this offseason. Though they struck out with Dwight Howard and Andrei Kirilenko, basketball in New York City should be exciting. The Nets will open their season on November 1. Their first opponent? The Knicks.
Although the majority of the Nets’ best moves were re-signing their own players, their brain trust deserves credit. If Williams left for Dallas, the franchise would have been set back, big time. Instead, they opened up the bank vault, made some risky moves, and assembled a respectable team that has a chance to be the best team in New York City. Credit the Nets for emerging from this summer with a 50-win team, especially when you consider what the alternative could have been.
Number 5 (tie): New York Knicks
Though the Knicks lost Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets and Landry Fields to the Toronto Raptors, there’s no arguing that the 2012-2013 version of the Gotham geriatrics are a much better basketball team than they were a year ago. If there is a complaint about the Knicks, it’s that its roster is continually turned over. For perspective, Amar’e Stoudemire is now the longest tenured Knick, and he’s only entering his third season with the club.
The Knicks are bringing back only six players from last year’s team, but general manager Glen Grunwald has managed to upgrade the parts around the team’s core. The newly acquired point guard trio of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are all capable of playing either a half-court game or speed ball, and Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas should provide grit, toughness, and rebounding off the bench. Mike Woodson’s team is one that should have no problem getting stops on the defensive end.
Ronnie Brewer was a major contributor to the Chicago Bulls last season, and his acceptance of a one-year veteran’s minimum was a major score for the Knicks since Iman Shumpert—their best perimeter defender—is expected to be sidelined until January.
The Knicks haven’t overachieved since they made an improbable run to the NBA Finals back in 1999 and in some ways, they’re in the same predicament they were in last season. Ultimately, they need Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire to work effectively together, and they’ll only go as far as the $40 million duo can take them.
But heading into this offseason, the Knicks were capped out and hamstrung. Most expected them to re-sign Lin and—at best—find a way to get Steve Nash. Once Nash went to the Lakers, though, the Knicks bounced back nicely and since then, they’ve managed to build a tough, defensive minded team that might struggle to score the ball at times… But might not have to in order to win games.
Number 4: Miami Heat
The rest of the NBA can’t be happy with what looks to be a South Beach dynasty in the making. Although there are some obvious chemistry and attrition concerns down in Miami, it’s difficult to believe that Ray Allen isn’t going to excel playing with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Signing Allen to a three-year deal for about $9 million is one of the best bargains we’ve seen this summer.
And Rashard Lewis—though not nearly the player he was back when he played with Allen in Seattle or when he helped the Orlando Magic reach the NBA Finals back in 2009—will give the Heat another reliable shooter and some frontcourt depth.
Because of James’ versatility, the Heat could play a five-man unit of James, Wade, Allen, Lewis, and Bosh. Though they may have difficulty rebounding the ball, offensively, that unit is capable of lighting it up.
Allen and Lewis are both on the downside of their careers, but since the Heat essentially got each of them for free (Allen accepted the $3 million mini-midlevel exception while Lewis accepted the $1.4 million veteran minimum), it’s hard to argue that they’re not among this summer’s biggest winners. That each player can effectively catch and shoot and play without the ball makes this a major win for Riley, who was recently in Barcelona with Team USA.
The Heat need to add another big body or two, but even without that, there’s no arguing that the NBA Champions just got a lot better. Though Chris Sheridan isn’t asking for his staff’s picks until sometime in the fall, it’s going to be quite difficult to not pick the Heat to win the conference for a third consecutive year.
All things considered, Riley has done an amazing job building a team around his Big 3, and the only reason they’re not ranked higher than number four on my list is because—though Allen and Lewis are great—the Heat would have probably been better served by finding a way to acquire Greg Stiemsma, Marcus Camby, or another more reliable center.
Number 3: Los Angeles Lakers
It’s funny how things always seem to work out for the Lakers.
This is a true story: at 12:01am EDT on July 1, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak called agent Bill Duffy to discuss a new contract for Jordan Hill. Duffy, who also represents Steve Nash, happened to be with him at that moment. The Lakers had absolutely no reason to believe that the Phoenix Suns would cooperate with them in a sign-and-trade deal for Nash, and Kupchak—knowing that the Lakers lacked the necessary cap space to make Nash a competitive offer—didn’t think landing him was realistic.
Kupchak called Duffy to talk about a new deal for Hill, but Duffy took it upon himself to ask Kupchak if he’d be interested in Nash. Kupchak said “yes,” despite not thinking the Lakers had a shot.
And now, three weeks later, Nash is a Laker.
Though Nash is on the downside of his career, his numbers prove that he can still play. He and Kobe Bryant will ride off into the sunset together, but not before they have the opportunity to win another title with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Metta World Peace rounding out their starting five.
The Lakers paid dearly (two first-round picks and two second-round picks) for Nash, but when you have the opportunity to land a former two-time MVP who averaged 10.7 assists in just 32 minutes last season, it’s an opportunity you have to take. Adding Nash not only takes Bryant off the ball—and yes, that’s a good thing—it will also have the effect of rejuvenating both Gasol and Bynum, who will certainly benefit from Nash’s forays into the paint.
With Mike Brown’s offensive system, the Lakers needed a point guard that could catch and shoot, create, and pass. They found out that Ramon Sessions wasn’t the ideal fit. They needed a point guard like Steve Nash. Instead, they got Steve Nash.
The Lakers also hoped to land Grant Hill, but after he signed with the Clippers, they came away with a good consolation prize in Antawn Jamison—whom they signed to a veteran’s minimum deal.
With one of the best starting units in the league, the Lakers are a very credible threat to win the West. Though their bench unit isn’t as strong as that of their co-tenants, the fact that they added one excellent piece and one pretty good piece without giving up any rotation players makes them a major winner. That’s especially true when you consider that the Lakers absolutely needed a player with Nash’s skill set.
Number 2: Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge has done a masterful job this offseason. His first move was agreeing to an extension with Kevin Garnett the day before Garnett would have hit the open market. And though he failed at re-signing Ray Allen, the acquisition of Jason Terry will take the sting away. That’s especially true since Terry is comfortable in a sixth man role (Allen wasn’t) and is probably better at creating his own shot off the dribble than Allen is.
Ainge also managed to acquire Courtney Lee from the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal, so they’re set at the two-guard spot.
Jeff Green has been medically cleared to resume his NBA career and he will help to fortify a reserve unit that will feature two of the NBA draft’s major steals—Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger. Though Fab is a bit of a project, his defensive presence will help, while Sullinger can provide some much needed post offense and—if healthy—help keep Garnett’s minutes down so he’s fresh for the playoffs.
The Celtics lost Greg Stiemsma and will probably lose Mickael Pietrus; and both departures will hurt. Stiemsma showed flashes and Pietrus’ defense was a major asset since the Celtics have to match up against the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James eight times this season. Even still, Danny Ainge did exactly what he needed to do to keep the championship window open just a bit longer in Beantown.
By re-signing Garnett, Green and Brandon Bass, snagging Terry off of the open market, executing a sign-and-trade for Lee, and drafting both Sullinger and Fab, the Celtics are a deeper, younger, and stronger group. Their losses hurt, but if Avery Bradley is able to return at 100 percent this season, the Celtics—if healthy—will almost certainly win the NBA’s Atlantic division once again. Whether they can accomplish more remains to be seen, but credit Ainge for upgrading the Celtics roster and ensuring that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will not end their careers playing in vain.
With this crew, it seems highly likely that the Celtics will have another crack at the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
Number 1: Los Angeles Clippers
It’s easy to forget that Chris Paul is one of the better players in the league. As a condition to his being traded from New Orleans to Los Angeles’ “other” team, Paul had to forgo the right to opt out of his contract following last season. As a result, he is locked in for the 2012-2013 season.
Paul recently made news when he turned down an extension from the Clippers. As of now, his plan is to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and evaluate his options. But Donald Sterling, shockingly, seems willing to spend whatever it takes to build the Clippers into a true contender and convince Paul to stick around.
Everything I’ve heard suggests that’s exactly what Paul plans to do. And if you consider what the Clippers have done to surround him with talent, it’s difficult to imagine him leaving.
This offseason, the Clippers signed Blake Griffin to a five-year extension worth about $95 million, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. They managed to unclog their point guard situation by trading Mo Williams to the Utah Jazz in a three-team deal that netted them Lamar Odom. They also re-signed Chauncey Billups, snagged Jamal Crawford with their midlevel exception, and somehow convinced Grant Hill to join them for the bi-annual exception.
Randy Foye, Nick Young, and Kenyon Martin are gone, but the Clippers have upgraded their roster. Ryan Hollins—whom the team signed this past Monday—will provide them with another active body at the center position and so will Ronny Turiaf, who the club agreed to terms with early this morning. If Griffin continues to develop and Paul stays healthy, the Clippers will have one of the deeper teams in the NBA’s Western Conference and should be able to challenge both the Lakers and Thunder for supremacy on the left coast.
Though they’ve lost some rotation players from last season, the Clippers have a solid starting five that features Paul and Griffin as the main cogs and have the luxury of bringing veterans like Odom and Billups off of the bench. Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe are amongst the incumbents returning from last season’s squad.
The Lakers acquisition of Steve Nash and their pursuit of Dwight Howard may have overshadowed the moves the Clippers have made this offseason, but we’ll see how it plays out on the court. That’s where it counts.
The Clippers probably have the deepest 10-man rotation in the entire league, and that’s something we couldn’t say about them last season.
(RELATED CONTENT: Five biggest losers in free agency)
(RELATED CONTENT: Team-by-team offseason moves and analysis)
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Guess what folks? We have an update on Dwight Howard (surprise!), and the news is not good if you were hoping to see a trade this summer. According to a source, the Howard saga may drag on until next summer as the Orlando Magic continue to search for the absolute best scenario. If there is one good news to take from this, it’s the fact that we no longer have to expect a trade to happen on a daily basis. See the latest on the situation, along with other NBA transactions in today’s news below:
A.J. Price will join the Wizards to backup John Wall, according to Michael Lee:
The basketball world is focusing in on Barcelona, where Team USA narrowly defeated Argentina today. For coverage of that, check out Chris Sheridan’s piece on why there’s no need for Team USA to panic, and also be sure to read his Diary of the Uncredentialed, and Jan Hubbard’s look back at the Barcelona Games in 1992, twenty years later.
Here’s today’s news from all over the NBA:
Dan Malone just completed his sophomore year at University of Kings College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is spending the summer in Baltimore, where he covers the Single-A minor-league baseball team the Aberdeen IronBirds for OriolesHangout.com. He will be blogging on weekends for SheridanHoops this summer.
The two biggest names in this game we love remain Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
And as free agency slows to a crawl after three frenetic weeks, the basketball world’s focus is on Barcelona, Spain, where Bryant, James and the rest of Team USA practiced and held court with the international media, one day before their “friendly” vs. Argentina on Sunday.
In terms of popularity, Bryant is the unquestioned king. His jersey is the top seller internationally, while James is third, trailing Derrick Rose. And in another impromptu study without empirical data, he remains the king as well.
From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press: “They carry cameras and microphones, sprinting toward Kobe Bryant like Christmas shoppers who just spotted the “it” gift sitting on shelves. Their questions come quickly, some in English, many in Spanish, and Bryant gives the perfect answer every time. Yes, Spain is an incredible team that can pose problems for the U.S. No, Pau Gasol isn’t getting traded from the Lakers as long as he is there. The only thing Bryant can’t seem to explain to reporters is why he’s so much more popular than his teammates on the Olympic basketball team. “I don’t know. I don’t know where it comes from or how that happens,” he said Saturday with a laugh. “It all started with the Dream Team in terms of basketball becoming so global. When I came into the NBA, I kind of inherited kind of the globalization of the game, and then having grown up overseas they really kind of laid claim to me because this is where I learned how to play the game, is overseas.”
Most of Bryant’s interview session was genial. He removed the edge he normally reserves for American media, left out the occasional swear words he drops here and there, and acknowledged the history of the moment – that Team USA was back in Barcelona, 20 years after the Dream Team put its indelible stamp on the international game at the 1992 Olympics.
Earlier this month, Bryant boasted that this current crop of Americans could beat the Dream Team. Members of that squad such as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird laughed it off.
The setting almost required Bryant to be asked again. And when he was, Bryant adopted his on-court persona and refused to back down.
From Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “People who think we can’t beat that team for one game, they’re crazy,” Bryant said. “To sit there and say we can’t, it’s ludicrous.” Asked if that’s a viewpoint he plans to share directly with Jordan next time they cross paths — after MJ opined that opening up this back and forth was “not one of the smarter things [Bryant] ever could have done” — Kobe answered: “He knows. They got beaten by a college select team once. Doesn’t mean we’re a better team than them, but s—, we can beat them one time.” The trouble, of course, is not only that we’ll never know the truth, but also the reality that Team USA’s many injury casualties in 2012 (starting with Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh) have drained much of the passion out of the debate. USA Basketball will not be taking to the London Olympics anything close to the best team it could have fielded. Combine that with the fact the original Dreamers had an untouchable cultural impact that changed the face of the game forever — or the fact the competition is so much better two decades later compared to an awestruck field that conceded the gold to the glittering Dream Team before anyone even reached Barcelona — and you have too many complicated variables to process to spend too much time on this particular hypothetical. “Those are things I think about during the summer when I’m at the beach with my family,” Team USA boss Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. “Not when I’m coaching the USA team.”
And Bryant no longer is alone on his island well off the shores of conventional wisdom. His Robinson Crusoe now has a Friday in the form of Chris Paul, who told Stein, “In all honestly, what’s he supposed to say if you guys ask him? Tell me what everybody would have said if Kobe said, ‘We can’t beat ‘em.’ We respect that team, believe me. I was 7 at the time. Even though I don’t remember all the games, I used to collect all the [basketball] cards. But let me tell you something: As long as you know me, as long as I’m playing this game, you’ll never hear me say that I think any man can beat me.”
James didn’t attract quite the crowd that Bryant did, not even with his newly minted status as NBA champion. But he did get a visit from our Chris Sheridan, who noted that although Bryant may be the more popular player, James is Team USA’s leader in both action and words.
From our embedded editor-in-chief: “It has taken years and years for the words LeBron James and NBA champion to be used together in the same sentence without a pejorative disclaimer, and I wanted to get a reading from James one month after the NBA Finals concluded as to how that fulfillment has changed him. We already know he is proud of himself, which he has let everyone know through tweets such as this one. Anyone who watched him closely on the night of Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder can attest to the unabashed joy and sense of fulfillment he was feeling as the final minutes of that blowout victory ticked away. And now, an ocean away and a month removed, the simplest of questions needed to be asked: How ya’ feeling, champ? “It hasn’t changed me at all. I was able to accomplish a goal of mine, I’m very excited about that, but it hasn’t changed my personality or anything like that,” James told SheridanHoops.com. Moments earlier, a member of the USA Basketball staff had told me exactly the opposite – that James was carrying himself with the pride of a champion, and the other players on the team were treating him with a new level of respect – the type of props earned among your peers only when you have a ring (or have one coming, to be pequito mas accurate). But James was having none of it. “I don’t know, not really. I don’t really seek out how people look at me or view me or treat me differently. I just be myself, and it doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It’s always great when you can set out a goal and you can achieve it through hard work, and the best thing about it is you cut no corners, you don’t take every day off, and you just try to make your best effort. There’s always a fulfillment for that. You feel good about it.”
On Sunday, Argentina will be trying to figure out a way to slow down the hard-charging James, something that the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Britain were unable to do. That puts them in a club with 29 NBA teams.
In fact, the James freight train apparently caught the eye of a coach over a decade ago who wanted to put it to use in another sport.
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “(Ohio State coach Urban) Meyer has a connection to LeBron James, too, one that goes beyond James’ fondness for the Buckeyes. “I offered him a scholarship when he was a sophomore in high school at St. Vincent St. Mary’s,” Meyer said. “I was at Notre Dame. He was a receiver, and I was a receiver’s coach.” How good was he? “Great.”
We now return to our regular programming, also known as the Dwight Howard saga.
It was a relatively quiet day on the Dwight front. There were no reports of trades, no reports of new trades, no denials of reported trades. The declarations from Howard’s agent (Dan Fegan) and Andrew Bynum’s agent (David Lee) that their clients would not commit to signing long-term with their prospective new teams have the rumor mill churning very slowly.
Slowly, but churning nonetheless.
From Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Byron Scott was as surprised as anyone to read that he has a close relationship with Lakers center Andrew Bynum. “I don’t know who wrote that, but I’ve read that as well,” Scott said Friday in a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where the Cavaliers finished summer league with a 3-2 record after a 98-64 victory over New York. “No, we’re not very close. We’re not very close at all.” With rumors swirling about Bynum coming to Cleveland as part of a three-way deal that would send Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Anderson Varejao and draft picks to Orlando, one of the reasons Bynum supposedly was interested in joining the Cavs was his close relationship to Scott. That relationship was news to Scott and more proof that the trade is more rumor than fact.”
Or perhaps it’s cold feet. It’s not every day you become the league’s youngest GM and your first assignment is to trade a top-five player and franchise cornerstone in a way that doesn’t bury you in eternal irrelevance. Pulling the trigger on that sort of transaction might give one cause for pause.
From Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio: “Mostly, what seems to be the sticking point in this deal is not an agent or player, but the indecisiveness of the Magic — and their new GM, Rob Hennigan. According to sources, the Magic have frustrated potential trading partners by continuously changing terms at the last minute. This supposedly dates back to their dealings with the Nets a few weeks back, when Nets GM Billy King felt an agreement that would send Howard to Brooklyn had been finalized, sources said. Instead, the Nets re-signed their own free-agent center, Brook Lopez, eliminating themselves from landing Howard. The Magic, meanwhile, have for the time being moved on to the Lakers, Cavs and possibly Rockets, and are said to be acting equally as difficult — with the Magic’s thinking seeming to be there’s no need to rush when they possess the big asset everyone wants. Makes sense, but as one opposing GM noted, there’s no way the Magic can bring Howard to camp in late September, and the clock is ticking. So the pressure soon will be on Hennigan, if it’s not already. As for the Cavs and Lakers, both teams reportedly have been determined in their pursuit of Howard and Bynum, respectively, with one source saying the Cavs are acting “cautious, but aggressive.”
There was some minor business done Saturday by the Timberwolves, who reportedly signed restricted free agent center Greg Stiemsma to a one-year, $3 million offer sheet that the Celtics cannot match because they only have the $1.9 million bi-annual exception available. More on this later.
There was also some other pretty cool stuff:
Rookie Harrison Barnes knows that Warriors executive Jerry West is the league logo and already is picking his brain.
In a touching acknowledgement of the tragedy in Aurora, CO, the Nuggets wore black headbands during their summer league game.
Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie has some sponsor suggestions for NBA jerseys. Among the better ones: Orlando Magic: Excedrin. Because this Dwight Howard headache isn’t going to end anytime soon.
The NBA Finals are leaving the pizza oven of San Antonio and headed back to the cut-with-a-knife of the [...]
And now, the Clippers and Celtics in the deal that can’t happen, has to happen and/or has already in [...]
The San Antonio Spurs are crowding the paint and daring LeBron James to take jumpers. So why doesn't of [...]
The most important playoff series in NBA scheduling history — the one that changed the NBA Finals a a [...]
Every professional sport lives by the famous adage, “Coaches are hired to be fired.” It is well go [...]
MIAMI - The Miami Heat knew they could not go to San Antonio down 2-0, and as much as the Spurs wanted [...]
The deadline to withdraw for the NBA draft has now passed. The biggest name to exit was Dario Saric, to [...]
“But that really was for our fans and it got wonderfully out of hand. And how everybody covered 6 [...]
There is an alternate universe somewhere in which the Lakers stayed healthy, and people still speak of [...]
At long last, the NBA playoff matchups are set in stone, and as always, the Western Conference figures [...]
Go ahead and grab a lead in a Euroleague final against Olympiacos. Go on. I dare you. How many a [...]
After failing to live up to expectations in his first two seasons in the NBA (mostly due to a variety a [...]
MIAMI -- On Friday evening in South Beach, from about 8:00 to 10:00 PM, clouds covered the sky and the [...]
The original Spurs championship team was based heavily on the frontcourt duo of David Robinson and Tim [...]
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio's super sixth-man, started his first game of the season Sunday night in Game [...]
Hello and welcome to the Evening News. As the Finals continue, we’ll keep you updated every the of [...]
In case you missed it, the NBA released the list of early-entry candidates for the 2013 Draft last have [...]
NEW YORK - When the NBA draft lottery ended with the Cleveland Cavaliers owning the No. 1 pick, most a [...]
After the Celtics-Clippers deal stalled last night, today seemed like something of a letdown. Luckily, [...]
Until now, the Brooklyn Nets had been methodical and deliberate about naming a new coach. However, that [...]
PHILADELPHIA - The hard truth of life in the NBA is that once you’re down, it’s nearly impossible a [...]