Zion. That’s it. That’s the storyline.
With the NBA now around a week away, I’m going to look at how the various divisions line up. We start with the Atlantic Division.
Who’s In: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jason Collins, Darko Milicic.
Draft: Jared Sullinger, Feb Melo, Kris Joseph.
Who’s Out: Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, Jermaine O’Neal, Sasha Pavlovic, Keyon Dooling, Greg Stiemsma, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Ryan Hollins, Sean Williams.
Summary: First and foremost for the Celtics this off-season was bringing back Kevin Garnett. KG fan-boys and Boston fans alike couldn’t be more delighted that the veteran decided to stick around and scream at undersized European point guards for a further three years. With KG coming back as the defensive anchor GM Danny Ainge opted to re-tool for this season as opposed to blowing it all up and starting over.
The loss of Ray Allen and Greg Stiemsma hurts but after the improved play of Avery Bradley and the acquisition of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger’s sizeable exterior the Celtics have comfortably filled any glaring holes.
One of the most underrated moves this off-season has been the Celtics ability to nab shooting guard Courtney Lee in exchange for a VHS copy of The Lawnmower Man. Lee’s game is built on top-tier defense but he can also produce on the offensive end. Lee averaged over eleven points per game off the bench for the Rockets last year and can hit the three at a healthy 40% clip. He’ll fit right in on this team.
Boston was just one win away from competing against Oklahoma for a Championship last season. With Paul Pierce healthy, Brandon Bass returning, and Jeff Green’s heart surgery successful and no longer pining for old Oklahoma, there’s no reason why Boston can’t be in similar surroundings again next June.
Off-season Grade: A.
Predicted Win Total: 48-52
Who’s in: Nick Young, Royal Ivey, Dorrell Wright, Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Darryl Watkins.
Draft: Arnett Moultrie.
Who’s Out: Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Maurice Harkless, Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Sam Young.
Summary: Andre Igoudala moving out and Andrew Bynum moving in could be my favorite move of any team this off-season, regardless of the former Lakers injury concerns. The 76ers needed to shake things up and through acquiring Bynum they’ve done exactly that.
Philadelphia was the eighth most effective fast break team last season but found their game style and specifically the lack of a go to scoring option to be their downfall at the tail end of the Playoffs.
Where Bynum excels is in the paint and last season Philadelphia ranked outside the NBA’s top twenty teams in effective field goal percentage, free throw attempts per field goal attempt, two-point field goal percentage, shooting efficiency, free throw makes per game and offensive rebound percentage. Acquiring Bynum made too much sense, which is why I’m surprised it actually happened.
Philadelphia had no problems on the defensive end last year ranking inside the league’s top ten for every defensive indicator minus opponent free throw percentage, which falling short of installing an Earthquake simulator inside the stadium you can’t exactly do too much about.
Bringing back power forward Spencer Hawes made sense given the break out Huskies ability to mesh with Bynum’s purely inside game. If Hawes and Bynum can overcome the 0.14% likelihood of remaining healthy the 76ers will finally have some semblance of an offensive pulse under the rim.
In regards to replacing Igoudala’s production; as a starter Evan Turner averaged thirteen points, seven rebounds and three assists whilst shooting 45% from the floor, numbers which essentially made “Iggy” mildly expendable. This was the perfect time to pass the torch to the former number two overall pick and give this squad a full-blown face lift.
With Jrue Holiday, Hawes and Turner all improving and solid bench production via the way of Nick Young shooting too much, Jason Richardson looking really old and Kwame Brown making me laugh; Philadelphia should continue to pose as a threat come Playoff time.
Off-season Grade: A.
Predicted Win Total: 45-49
New York Knicks
Who’s in: Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Kurt Thomas, Pablo Prigioni, James White, Ronnie Brewer, Chris Smith, Rasheed Wallace.
Who’s Out: Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan.
Summary: Does anything ever change when it comes to the Knicks? Eight names have vacated the Knicks roster this off-season whilst six fresh faces have entered. Who knows, maybe the Knicks have got it right this time? Or maybe they’re just adhering to the organisations long-standing slogan; “F–k team chemistry”
Like Randy Marsh in the Guitar Hero episode of South Park the Knicks have been making erratic and dumbfounding moves for nearly forty years in an attempt to “Catch the Dragon”, or in their case an NBA Championship.
Last season the Knicks found a winning lottery ticket in Jeremy Lin but not even six months would pass before they gave Lin away for the opportunity to sign a forty-year-old drunk wife beater (Kidd) and a point guard whose best skills are on show when in front of a buffet (Felton).
Refusing to match Jeremy Lin’s contract offer from Houston was one of the most perplexing moves not only of this off-season but in the history of pro sports. The most amusing aspect of the entire ordeal is that the Knicks couldn’t justify Lin’s contract but were happy to throw $15 million at a guy who looks like everyone’s Dad in Steve Novak and then sign a washed up out of shape Rasheed Wallace who is as old as everyone’s Dad.
I love the Knicks!
Signing Marcus Camby softens the blow a touch and the former Knick will slot right in behind reigning defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler. In typical Knicks fashion the Camby deal won’t expire until after the 2015 season resulting in the Knicks having a forty-two year old Jason Kidd and a forty-two year old Marcus Camby on their roster.
With Iman Shumpert out for an extended period landing depth in the form of Chicago Bulls defensive guard Ronnie Brewer can only increase the Knicks chances of finally making it out of the first round of the Playoffs.
Head Coach Mike Woodson will have it all to do this season. If Woodson can exercise Felton’s pop tart demons, JR Smith’s ability to be JR Smith, Melo’s four-hundred-and-fifty-two different variations of the jab step and Amare’s desire to punch fire extinguishers he’ll find himself in the coach of the year discussion. What’s more likely to happen is Woodson failing and being fired before Christmas.
The Knicks will win enough games for a top five seed in the East but they’re still a long way off capturing that Dragon.
Off-season Grade: D.
Predicted Win Total: 44-48.
Who’s In: Joe Johnson, Mirza Teletovic, C.J Watson, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse, Andray Blatche, Tyshawn Taylor, Josh Childress
Who’s Out: Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Gerald Green, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, Sundiata Gaines
Summary: If you’re a starter for the new look Nets franchise you’re more than likely bathing in a tub of money every night and have bumped knuckles with Jay-Z without it being incredibly white-guy awkward. This means that I am incredibly jealous of you.
In what has been nothing short of an eventful off-season all five of Brooklyn’s expected starters will be guaranteed more than double-digit millions for each of the next two years. In a surprise to nobody Brooklyn has wound up as the home of max contracts thanks to a 6’8” Russian Billionaire with a fetish for Jet Ski’s and a care free cheque book.
The Nets may have missed out on the big (sook) fish in Dwight Howard this off-season but they managed to convince franchise point guard Deron Williams to stay thus ensuring they will be competitive enough to challenge for a top four seed in their conference. Bringing back Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez was a must once Williams decided to commit, and when Joe Johnson arrived in town any Dwight Howard trade was off the table.
According to Nets Coach Avery Johnson, Brook Lopez has spent the off-season in the Bohemian province of Chinchero bottling and consuming the sweat of 1000 Peruvian beards in a bid to combat his fear of rebounding the basketball. With “sources” confirming rumors that Jerry Stackhouse is waving a towel from the bench at a Hall of Fame level the Nets rise to relevance is very much in full swing.
The most perplexing element of the Brooklyn off-season was that general manager Billy King somehow managed to hit a home run despite previously being responsible for about fifteen of the twenty worst trades of all time.
This year’s free agency period saw Danny Ferry, Danny Ainge and Billy King all deliver close to “A+” off-seasons for their respective organisations. If you’ve ever needed a reason to pull your kid from school and relocate your family to the Colorado Mountains in fear of an impending apocalypse, look no further than the success of these gentleman.
Off-season Grade: A
Predicted Win Total: 43-47
Who’s in: Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, John Lucas III, Jonas Valaniunas, Jerel McNeal, Chris Wright.
Draft: Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy.
Who’s Out: Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson, Gary Forbes.
Summary: If you’re Canadian and love roller coasters than this Raptors off-season was built for you. General Manager Bryan Colangelo tried to play it a little too cute when signing Knicks free agent guard Landry Fields to a $20 million offer sheet in an attempt to knock the Knicks out of the race for Steve Nash. What happened next was hilarious for neutrals, and a full-blown fetal position inducing nightmare for Raptor fans and Laker haters.
Nash wound up dissing his Canadian buddies for the bright lights of Hollywood essentially leaving Colangelo with more egg on his already permanently egg covered face, and Landry Fields with an opportunity to showcase that pro-athlete business nous and invest $20 million in obscure inventions like dog-to-human language translation devices and flood friendly floating furniture (Shoutout to Scottie Pippen).
As for the upcoming season the Raptors will do what they always do; win thirty ‘something games, land a middle of the road lottery pick and wait for their key pieces to request a trade once everything appears to be in place.
Andrei Bargnani, Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry are all quality pieces if you’re a big mediocrity guy, and rookies Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will keep intrigue relatively high and name pronunciation on a knives edge.
There’s not a lot to suggest that Toronto will be in the Playoff hunt (there’s nothing) but as long as they keep those alternate camo jerseys off the court it will be a step in the right direction.
Off-season Grade: C-
Predicted Win Total: 28-32
Quick Side note: I love this division. It’s loaded with star talent, rivalries, playoff teams and a legion of quirky guys who could have meaningful roles. Just look at this list: Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Raymond Felton, Reggie Evans, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Andray Blatche. They need to rename this the “Jackpot Division”.