A Written Podcast…
Going into the playoffs the narrative was that the Miami Heat were invincible. There was talk of them being the best team ever, being a dynasty in the making, and whether or not anyone would even present a roadblock in a Roseless, Rondoless East. But their path to the top was full of detours and potholes in the form of large, ferocious big-men who pounded the Heat into near submission. It really was quite ironic because all of the talk was of the missing point guards, but in reality the biggest, most visible guys on the court were there to challenge the Heat all along. So even though the Heat eventually won the title thanks to some legendary basketball by one Lebrin Jones (Ryan Foley voice) and some legendary origami personification by Manu Ginobili, the rest of the NBA realized the chink in their once impenetrable armor. The Miami Heat already faced a Hibbert-sized task of 3-peating by reaching their fourth consecutive finals, but now they need to do it by reinventing themselves for a third consecutive year. If they go into next season without any major upgrades in their frontcourt then they will not return to the Finals. That a rapidly deteriorating Chris Bosh is their lone (somewhat)reliable two-way big spells doom for their dynastic aspirations. Despite analytics favoring a turn towards small-ball, playoff basketball is too physical for most teams that do not employ the greatest athlete of all-time as their power forward, and even he has issues with it. Is Greg Oden the answer? Maybe, but probably not. So my esteemed colleagues: if the Heat are out as NBA champions next season, which teams have made the off-season moves to take a shot at the champ?
First off, this ‘if’ will remain a giant “IF” as long as LeBron is wearing the Heat jersey. However their weakness is undoubtedly noticeable and teams are taking action. In the East the contenders haven’t changed much. The Knicks (editor’s note: the Knicks are not a contender. They traded for Andrea Bargnani like it meant something.) and Pacers still look to be the biggest threats with the Pacers adding a healthy Danny Granger back into the mix. Then there are the Bulls and Nets. The Bulls will finally have D-Rose back but no one has seen the man on a court for over year (editor’s note 2: except for the entire Bulls organization during all of the scrimmages in which he participated and by all accounts dominated), which still leaves them as a very big question mark when it comes to contending with the Heat. Then there is the new look Nets. On paper probably the team most would choose to challenge the Heat if they were playing a video game. Video games, however, don’t take into account rookie head coaches with zero coaching experience trying to manage 5 former all-stars, manage veteran minutes, and find enough points to go around. We’ve seen what happens in LA when big names come together and the final product looks nothing like the original vision. Regardless, the team with the best chance to dethrone the Heat has to be the Pacers who have the best 2 way Big man in the East, the closest LeBron clone in the East, and a healthy Danny Granger which will help solidify their bench by moving Crazy Lance back into a reserve role.
In the West the Rockets and Clippers have made huge strides with new big man D12 and new head coach Doc Rivers respectively. The Rockets have their foundation set with Howard and Harden but still have some work to do. Look for them to shop Asik for some more perimeter shooting and some bench help, particularly in the front court. The Clippers finally have a coach that CP3 wants, and have improved their outside shooting by picking up J.J Redick and Jared Dudley. (Absolutely love the Dudley move and think it may be one of the better pick ups this off season). The Clippers have the talent and the pressure in Doc to make it click. He’s regarded as a top 5 NBA coach and the LA limelight will be shining brightly this season. Then of course there are the Thunder and this past seasons runner ups the Spurs. Spurs have the same set of questions they’ve had for what feels half a decade now: Will they stay healthy? and Has father time caught up to them? (Sure looked like Father time had Manu in a headlock and was giving him a noogie during the Finals) if they’re healthy, it’s hard to say they aren’t still the best team in the West. As for the Thunder, it’s Durant & Westbrook or bust. 2 of the top 10 players in the league and it’s all on their shoulders. Curious where the Grizz are though. If you don’t have a player to go to in crunch time, you’re not making my consideration. Sorry Grizz, you’re f-ing out! Here’s my top 5 for teams to bring down the Heat:
I agree completely on the Grizzlies. This past season was their one chance to make it and in the end they missed Rudy Gay a lot more than they thought. Would they have beaten the Spurs four times with him? Probably not, so the deal still has to be considered a success. They also got rid of Lionel Hollins so it will be interesting to see where they are seeded next season with improved squads in Minnesota and Portland looking to make a run at the playoffs. One team I’m surprised you didn’t mention is the Golden State Warriors. If Steph Curry, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut remain healthy to go along with young dynamo wings Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes and proven defensive ace and playmaker in Andre Iguodala, then they will be contending for a top spot out West. Adding Iggy was huge for them because he immediately becomes their defensive stopper taking some pressure off of Klay Thompson and allows the best shooting duo in the history of the NBA to spot up while Iggy creates at the point-forward position.
There are still some solid free agents out there too fellas. Andre Kirilenko could be the missing piece to a championship puzzle because he looked like the AK47 of old last season. When he is right he is one of the most versatile defenders in the association and could push a team like Cleveland into the playoff picture in the East (that is if Kyrie Irving can stay on the court). I’m not exactly sure what he is looking for: money or a chance to win? I think he should sign on with a team with some promise like Cleveland, Washington, or Portland and see what happens. And what about Andrew Bynum? What would you rather do: sign Bynum for a 2 year 12 million dollar deal (editor’s note: this piece was written 2 days ago. Cleveland reportedly has offered this deal… G stands for genius) or Greg Oden for 2 years at the veteran minimum? I might go Oden, but apparently there is a clause you can add to a contract protecting the club against previous injuries, so I think either one could be had without damaging a franchise’s future.
Also, what moves do you like so far in free agency? Best move? Worst move?
For the Warriors, I love the signing of Iggy and with a healthy David Lee and Bogut combo they’ll no doubt be dangerous. Thompson and Barnes are young and should continue to get better. However, as much as I have a boner for Steph Curry, his shaky ankles will make or break this team’s contention hopes. I definitely overlooked them a bit by not giving them a shout-out but they are still behind the 4 teams I mentioned for that reason.
They call this time of year in baseball the Hot Stove season and I always love it. Tons of speculation and great debate that won’t be settled for months or years to come. An over opinionated wannabe sports columnists dream. But right now the NBA is on fire! I think one of the stranger moves this off season is Josh Smith to the Pistons. There’s no doubt defensively they are going to be difficult to beat up front with Smith, Monroe, and Drummond. However, for as good as they’ll be defensively, they will be equally as poor offensively. Drummond is a project in the works offensively. Monroe has a solid all around offensive attack but doesn’t have tremendous range and teams will gladly let J. Smoove Antoine himself to death. I don’t think the fit is terrible but it’s going to be an awkward transition. As I alluded to earlier I love the Jared Dudley pick up in Clipper land. This guy has needed be that solid 3’s and D guy on a championship contender for almost 3 seasons at this point. I think he’ll be great working with Chris Paul and will help generate floor space along with their other newcomer J.J. Redick.
You brought up Andrew Bynum and AK47. Them 2 in Cleveland makes a lot of sense. especially if they are on 1 year deals. If you’re Andrew Bynum is taking a one year deal and having a monster season then cashing in with a loaded class of free agents next season, not your best option?
I don’t think Bynum would really want a one year deal, considering the fact that he would be a free agent in a pretty stacked class. It’s a buyer’s market, and Bynum would really need to have a MONSTER season to offset the train wreck that was his time in Philly. But then there’s the question of his health and the idea of him being a long term commitment, a thought that at this point should make GMs instinctively shudder. So, even if he does have a great season, I don’t think Bynum can really do anything to significantly boost his stock. I would imagine that after watching the Heat run over two of the best teams in the NBA with small ball that a lot of coaches would rather go that route than a permanently-banged-up problem-child work-in-progress center. (editor’s note: no one is beating the HEat at their own game. The only chance to beat them is to have one of the top 5 rim-protector’s in the league) I know what you’re thinking: hey, the Rockets just did that. So why not. Well, the difference being durability. I think Bynum has painted himself into a corner where he’s going to end up playing for a mediocre or good team as opposed to a legit contender. That being the case, it wouldn’t make any sense to sign him to a one year deal. Why do that if you’re not in a position to win now? On the flip side, signing a guy with such a spotty body of work on and off the court is a huge gamble if you’re a contender, who could use the money to firm up what you already have. Hey, the Heat need a center. Sounds like something the Miami Heat would do, right? Wrong. They’re already in the financial pits for next season as is (Google it), and have to resign LBJ and Bosh to keep the Big 3 together. So who needs a traditional center that has the supporting cast to make a title run? Thunder? Serge Ibaka. Spurs? Duncan. And Bynum’s not the class of person SA runs with anyways. Pacers? Hibbert. Knicks? Chandler. Uh…Bulls? Noah. You get my point. Bynum has enough talent that he warrants a high price tag, but that price tag and his bum knees overshadow his talent. Who knows, maybe someone will roll the dice (the prodigal son and the Lakers?) but I doubt it. Have fun on the Bucks, Andy. Talk about between a rock and a hard place.
But guys, while we’re talking about centers, thoughts on the D. Howitzer trade? I personally think that this move is the beginning of a championship team assembling itself. They now have two superstars who are at the top of the ladder in their respective positions, a great coach, a strong wingman in Chandler Parsons, and a handful of reasons for people to come play for them. If Jeremy Lin can keep improving as a pure point guard, and Houston can fill some of the gaps on the bench and at power forward, I think this team can be deadly. And, if I’m a Rocket fan, my confidence in GM Daryl Morey is at an all-time high to make it happen.
If you are Bynum you are taking as much guaranteed money as possible. There is just no guarantee his knees hold up carrying around 300 pounds of out of shape pudge. But a Cleveland team with Irving, Waiters, AK47, Thompson, and Varejao? With Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum in the mix? I like that roster. That’s a nice roster (Eddie Murphy voice). I hate the Josh Smith deal for Detroit because they will be the worst offensive team possibly ever unless they decide Drummond will be their big off the bench and play Smith as a small-ball four (his destiny). And you know what, they probably will because Drummond isn’t ready to play big minutes. 20-25 minutes a night with the occasional 35 when he is playing out of his mind on defense. But hey, you knew someone was going to overpay (though they didn’t completely overpay him) Smith and Detroit wasn’t going to get anyone in next year’s free agency class so why not? It’s better than giving that type of money to Charlie V.
I know you love Dudley and I do too, but the Redick acquisition was HUGE for the Clippers. Redick is one of the best 3 point shooters in the league, plays solid defense, and can actually create his own shot. Billups/Green to Redick is a much bigger upgrade than Butler to Dudley.
DK, the Rockets are going to be very good. They may even be great, but until Dwight proves to me he is 2010 Dwight and not whatever he was the past two years then all this title talk should stop. The Harden/Howard pick-and-roll could be the most destructive force in the NBA, but Dwight hates playing pick-and-roll. For whatever reason he thinks he is a dominant post-player, but that train went off the tracks the minute he stopped working on his mid-range Duncan bank shot (remember when it looked like he might actually develop this shot?! Why did he abandon it??) Also, despite my love for J-Lin since he got me on ESPN he is not the answer at PG. Patrick Beverley should be the guy and Lin should be shopped for a stretch 4. I’m just not a Dwight fan and if he doesn’t buy into the dirty work then the Rockets will be a 5-seed.
I actually really like the Kaman signing for LA. He can work in the role Gasol played last year in the high post dumping the ball into Pau and will not cry when he doesn’t get his touches in the post. I really want to go off on Dwight right now because he is such an amazing nincompoop, but I’ll settle with calling him a nincompoop. I think a Nash/Gasol/Kaman trio can keep the Lakers afloat long enough for a Kobe comeback and a push towards the playoffs. It is unlikely, but if you are paying the luxury tax you might as well try to give your fans something to cheer for. (It should be noted that the Lakers should 100% tank this season. But they won’t, so whatever.)
I also LOVE the Celtics moves. I was unsure at first, but Brad Stevens is the dime at the bar you unexpectedly bag right after your fiancee dumps you for a guy with more money. She’s young, smoking hot, and surprisingly easy to talk to. You don’t even have to buy her a drink! She just smiles and refuses your offer but invites you to sit down anyways. You know, she really might be the girl of your dreams…or you might just be really drunk. Either way, it feels good at the time. I’m actually liking the Olynick pick right now because this draft sucked. The potential of the players in this area was rotation player at best so grabbing the best of the average was a great move. It just sucked we had to trade up to get him. In the words of the late great Patrice O’Neil, I think Olynick is a “fine-ass ugly bitch,” but like kind of in a special way. This girl actually looks better when surrounded by her better looking friends. She is the perfect compliment to a group of 8s and 9s because she makes them more approachable. That is Kelly Olynick. He is going to be a great role player. And in this draft that is exactly what the Celtics could have hoped for.