On Friday night, Nike, in conjunction with the NBA, unveiled their Statement jerseys. Each team had a representative to show off their team’s new alternate jersey. Paul George held the honor for the Thunder. The video focused on the Thunder from 5:55 to 6:55. Enjoy!
I feel like I’m writing these types of articles at least once a week. Not that I’m complaining. There was once a time when the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t even mentioned in the same breath when discussing names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But the Golden State Warriors have gone all Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the NBA and flipped things upside down. In order to combat that, the big names of the game are figuring out, in order to compete against the Dubs, they will likely have to join forces together.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated is the premier basketball writer of his time. If there is a big story to tell, Jenkins is probably the one telling it. His stories are bits and pieces of not only the player, but also the people around said player. His articles are about as insider as they come; like a literal reality show. Don’t get him confused with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Jenkins isn’t in the business to break news, he’s in it to the tell the story behind the breaking news.
When Jenkins speaks, it’s certainly not off the cuff. There is a lot of contexture behind his statements, especially when he says something that may be considered “breaking news”. He gets an insider’s view into a lot of the players’ lives, and with that, probably a lot of one on one time when the cameras aren’t on. Players tend to relax a little bit when the cameras aren’t focused on them. To say that Jenkins may “know” a player is probably understating it. Continue reading How the Warriors may force LeBron James to Oklahoma City.
I tried doing this last year, but I was stuck on the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Since I’m currently in Oklahoma for this summer, here goes nothing. A couple things: First off, this is done as the draft currently is right now. Trades happen, and it seems like this draft is going to be especially active. But this mock draft will go as if no trades were to ever happen on draft night. Team needs will be taken in consideration. Second of all: Mock drafts are pointless and usually incorrect….but they are fun as hell.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl Anthony Towns – C/Kentucky – He’s basically already been given a promise. Towns was last seen buying snow shoes and snow tires. Moving on..
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Jahlil Okafor – C/Duke – Los Angeles loves their franchise big men. And Okafor is about as offensively talented as they come. If the Lakers stay with the pick, they’ll choose Okafor.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell – G/Ohio State – Philly was said to covet this draft for the guards at the top. Well, they get first dibs.
4. New York Knicks – Emmanuel Mudiay – G/Congo – If (IF) the Knicks keep this pick, look for them to go after the dynamic guard out of the Congo. Phil Jackson probably thinks he can lure another franchise player via free agency, so drafting a possible franchise guard will be the cherry on top if he accomplishes his wishes during free agency.
5. Orlando Magic – Kristaps Porzingis – PF/Latvia – The slender Latvian who’s ceiling many are saying is Dirk Nowitzki falls to the Magic who await with open arms.
6. Sacramento Kings – Mario Hezonja – G/Croatia – Who knows what the Kings will do? But if they keep this pick, look for them to pair franchise center DeMarcus Cousins with this Croatian dynamo that has drawn comparisons to Drazen Petrovic (R.I.P). If you young’ins don’t know who that is, do yourself a favor and YouTube him.
7. Denver Nuggets – Justice Winslow G/F/Duke – Denver, a team chock full of bad shooters and undersized big men, goes on the defensive with their pick and gets one of the better two-way wings in the draft.
8. Detroit Pistons – Stanley Johnson – G/F/Arizona – Stan Van Gundy loves to surround his big man with shooters. While Johnson may not be as prolific a shooter as some other names in the draft, he is one of the better two-way players in the draft, and will immediately be the best perimeter defender for the Pistons.
9. Charlotte Hornets – Frank Kaminsky – F/C/Wisconsin – With their recent moves (getting Nic Batum, Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes, and reportedly Jeremy Lamb), the Hornets seem to have shored their perimeter needs. That frees them up to take the best player available and that player, to them, is Kaminsky. The Hornets rave about Kaminsky and would love nothing more than to pair him with Al Jefferson as an inside/outside post combo.
10. Miami Heat – Trey Lyles – F/Kentucky – The Heat are in that weird state where they don’t know if they are good enough to contend in the East, but they also don’t want to start rebuilding. Lyles will provide them with good depth at the forward spot, and may even start at small forward.
11. Indiana Pacers – Cameron Payne – PG/Murray State – Payne would give the Pacers a change of pace from incumbent starter George Hill, who had injury issues last season. Pairing Payne with Paul George would allow the Pacers to run a lot more.
12. Utah Jazz – Myles Turner – F/C/Texas – The Jazz are looking for post depth and Turner plays a different enough style to add another dynamic to the Jazz.
13. Phoenix Suns – Willie Cauley-Stein – C/Kentucky – One of the biggest weaknesses for the Suns last season was interior defense. Cauley-Stein fixes that immediately.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder – Devin Booker – SG/Kentucky – OKC finally/hopefully/maybe gets the SG they’ve been coveting to pair with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Kelly Oubre – G/F/Kansas – Atlanta would love for Oubre to be their version of Kawhi Leonard. Someone that can guard multiple positions and also develop a dynamic offensive game.
16. Boston Celtics – Sam Dekker – F/Wisconsin – The departure of Jeff Green and the continued development of James Young have opened up a wing spot for the Celtics heading into next season. Dekker may seamlessly transition into that spot if he is take with this pick.
17. Milwaukee Bucks – Rashad Vaughn – G/UNLV – The Bucks are said to really like Vaughn’s offensive repertoire and see him as a key piece of their puzzle.
18. Houston Rockets – Tyus Jones – PG/Duke – The uncertain future of Patrick Beverly mixed with the desire to maybe want a floor general who will push the ball more leads the Rockets to pick Jones.
19. Washington Wizards – Bobby Portis – PF/Arkansas – The versatile Portis will give the Wizards a different look than what Kevin Seraphin currently provides them as a back-up PF/C. Portis is a madman on the full, chock full of energy and ability.
20. Toronto Raptors – Montrezl Harrell – PF/Louisville – The Raptors have a lot of questions from their PF position (Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are both expiring, while the question lingers whether Lucas Nogueira is ready for consistent mintues). Enter Harrell and his toughness.
21. Dallas Mavericks – Jerian Grant – G/Notre Dame – Yep, that Rajon Rondo trade really worked out. Hence, Grant.
22. Chicago Bulls – Delon Wright – G/Utah – Derrick Rose gets injured a lot. Kirk Heinrich is old. Aaron Brooks is short and is a free agent. Enter, Wright.
23. Portland Trailblazers – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – F/Arizona – Portland may be in a world of hurt if LaMarcus Aldridge walks in free agency. At least they got Noah Vonleh from the Hornets. Now, they pick Hollis-Jefferson to eventually replace Nic Batum.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers – RJ Hunter – G/Georgia State – What better than to surround LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with another shooter.
25. Memphis Grizzlies – Jarell Martin – PF/LSU – Martin would fit in well with the Grizzlies’ front court, as there are rumors that the Grizzlies have already given Martin a promise to draft him.
26. San Antonio Spurs – Guillermo Hernangomez – C/Spain – Other than Minnesota and the Towns pick, this was probably the easiest pick to guess in the draft. Spurs…a Euro big man…possible championship contributor incoming.
27. Los Angeles Lakers – Justin Anderson – G/F/Virginia – Let’s see, an aging Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, and Jordan Clarkson. Yeah, you take the perimeter defender who can hit 3’s.
28. Boston Celtics – Kevon Looney – F/UCLA – The Celtics go with the versatile front court player who still has upside.
29. Brooklyn Nets – Terry Rozier – PG/Louisville – If there is one player the Nets are dying to get rid of somehow, its Deron Williams. Rozier is a step in the direction.
30. Golden State Warriors – Rakeem Christmas -PF/C/Syracuse – With David Lee likely not being on the team next season, Christmas give the Warriors an athletic big man that works in their system.
1. Kevin Durant will play in only 48 games this year – I’m pegging December 9th as the game Durant returns from his broken foot. If recent history is a consistent teacher, then the Thunder will likely exercise the “Russell Westbrook rehabilitation” plan when Durant returns. He’ll likely be on minutes restriction and will probably sit one of the games of a back to back for the rest of the regular season.
- Not so bold prediction – Durant will not lead the league in minutes this season.
2. The Thunder will finish as the 5th seed in the Western Conference – With injuries already stacking up, look for the Thunder to have a season similar to what the Memphis Grizzlies had last season. They struggled in the beginning of the season, going 7-6 in their first 13 games. Then Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury, and the Grizzlies went 10-13 in his absence. In total they went 17-19 in their first 36 games. After Gasol came back, the Grizzlies went 33-13 the rest of the way to grab the 8th seed at 50-32.
The Thunder have a little bit more depth (at this point, anyways) than the Grizzlies did last season, especially when you consider the Grizzlies also lost sharpshooter Quincy Pondexter in early December of that year. They should be able to weather the storm a bit better than the Grizzlies.
3. Reggie Jackson will shoot over 40% from 3-point territory this season – In the final two months of the regular season, Reggie Jackson shot 25-61 from deep. That’s good for nearly 41%. In the playoffs, where the defenses stiffen and the pressure mounts, Jackson shot 21-53 from deep, good for 39.6%. I see no reason why that would change heading into this upcoming season.
4. Serge Ibaka will not win Defensive Player of the Year – The narrative is there. Last season, in the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder were severely exposed in the first 2 games with Ibaka sitting out with a serious calf injury. And if Ibaka were to duplicate his defensive stats from the last 3 seasons, he would win DPOY in a land slide. But I don’t think Ibaka will play enough games to win.
Since the calf injury, he played sparingly for the Spanish National Team this summer due to a hamstring issue. Then he missed 5 preseason games due to a sore ankle. And when he did play this preseason, he got a bit of a scare with a knee contusion. Much like Westbrook and Durant, I think the last 5 seasons are starting to take their toll on Ibaka. You can only throw a 6’10 muscular frame around with reckless abandon for so long before you gotta pay the piper. And this is the season where Ibaka will finally pay the piper. Not necessarily with a catastrophic injury, but more with the general nicks and knacks that come with age. I see Ibaka missing 15-18 games this season, which will impact his chances of winning DPOY.
5. Steven Adams will record 18 double-doubles this season – Adams needs two things to be offensively successful this season: To be on the floor and Russell Westbrook. The point guard/center duo developed a bit of chemistry this preseason. Adams averaged 12.7 points and 6.9 rebounds this preseason in nearly 26 minutes. If you can increase that to 30 minutes and feature him more offensively, then this could definitely happen, especially with Durant missing so much time. The one thing holding him back will likely be time on the floor. Adams’ propensity for fouling will likely curb some of his minutes in some games.
6. Russell Westbrook will end up Top 5 in points, assists, usage, turnovers, and steals – The Russell Westbrook we saw in last season’s playoffs will be on full display at the beginning of this season. With the Thunder’s emphasis on ball movement, look for Westbrook to be the catalyst for this style of play. Also, with defenses keying in specifically on Westbrook, look for Westbrook to rack up at least 3 triple doubles in the first 20 games of the season. When Durant returns, Westbrook’s scoring will probably dip, but his assists will probably increase.
- Not so bold prediction – Westbrook will finish 3rd in the MVP race (behind LeBron James and Chris Paul)
7. Mitch McGary will be a 2nd team All-Rookie member – When McGary returns from his injury (probably around Thanksgiving), he should continue to be the all-around post player that we saw in Summer League and in his 1 preseason game. The things McGary does aren’t things that necessarily go away when more skilled players are out there on the floor against him. Instead, with the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, etc. around him, he should be able to create more from the mid to high post. His defense will be a problem, but,really, which rookie’s defense isn’t a problem? As the team progresses towards a more skilled nucleus, McGary will eventually supplant Nick Collison as the team’s first big off the bench. Maybe not this season, but definitely next season.
8. Andre Roberson will make 65 3-pointers this season – Call me an optimist, but necessity is sometimes the catalyst to progress. Perimeter shooting is something Roberson has been working on this entire offseason. He’s already a great perimeter defender, but his offense is what will make him a bonafide NBA player/starter. With Durant being out and defenses keying in on Westbrook’s every move, Roberson will be receiving the Thabo Sefolosha treatment from defenses. Which will lead to him getting open looks from deep several time a game. The shots will eventually start falling and in the process, Roberson will make at least 65 3’s this season.
9. Kendrick Perkins will not be traded this season – Perkins and his $9.4 million dollar expiring contract will look enticing to rebuilding teams wanting to either get rid of salary or looking to get up the salary cap floor. But there are two specific reasons why the Thunder won’t trade Perkins this season (or ever for that matter). No. 1, the Thunder’s big man depth is suspect. When they traded Hasheem Thabeet this offseason, they traded the only other center on the team. Adams is an up-and-comer, but still tends to foul too much for his own good. Collison and Ibaka can play center, but are much more comfortable at the power forward spot. No. 2, Perkins has buyout free agent written all over him if he is traded. While many Thunder fans under appreciate what Perkins brings to the table, other teams, especially contenders (Chicago, Cleveland, LA Clippers) would much appreciate the toughness, intangibles, and information Perkins would provide.
10. The Thunder will beat the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals in 6 games – Nuff said. I believe! Stormy weather (November and December) leads to rainbows and sunshine (May and June).
On Wednesday, the NBA Board of Governors will be voting on whether to change the format of the NBA Draft Lottery process. In the reform, the 14 non-playoff teams will still vie for lottery positioning in a lottery style system. What does change are the percentages to vie for the top 3 picks. In the current system, the team with the worst record has the highest chance (25%) of getting the number 1 pick, while the lottery team with the best record has the lowest chance (0.5%) of getting the number 1 pick. The basic gist of the current system is, the worser your record, the better your chances of obtaining a top 3 pick. In the proposed new system, the 4 teams with the worst records each have a 12% chance of getting the first pick, with the 5th worst team garnering an 11.5% chance, and the 6th worst team garnering a 10% chance, and on down the line. Even worse, in the new system, teams aren’t as protected as they are in the current system from free falling to a lower spot in the draft. Under the current system, the team with the worst record can not fall lower than the 4th pick. In the new proposed system, the team with the worst record has the possibility of falling all the way down to the 7th pick.
Free agency is to big market teams as the draft is to small market teams. Big market teams are at an advantage because they can not only build during free agency, but also in the draft if they are lucky enough. Unfortunately, small market teams can usually only build through the draft. For as great as Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Milwaukee are as metropolises, they pale in comparison to the global cultural centers that are New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles.
The Thunder experienced this with Pau Gasol this offseason. While not necessarily a top 10 player, Gasol would have instantly made the Thunder the favorites to win the title in 2014-15. But when push came to shove, Gasol, having just completed a 7-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers, decided to go with the Chicago Bulls. One of the factors in his decision was the lack of cultural diversity in OKC. Whatever that is, when you compare OKC to Chicago, you kind of see what he is talking about. I don’t know when was the last time a small market team signed a marquee free agent (and by marquee, I mean a Top-20 player at the time of his free agency). The last one was probably when Peja Stojakovic signed with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the 2006 offseason. At the time, Stojakovic was a fringe top 20-30 player in the league, but was beginning to show the signs of being injury-prone. The Hornets, of course, overpaid, and injuries were a major theme of Stojakovic’s term with the Hornets.
With this new draft reform, the NBA is essentially decreasing the life blood of talent to small market teams. The cycle of success to rebuild and back to success occurs a lot more regularly for small market teams than it does for big market teams. Small market teams have to rebuild when times get rough, and hope that they don’t make a big mistake. Big market teams can simply reload when the well runs dry. Is it always successful? No. But if the same mismanagement of funds that occurred with the New York Knicks from 2005-2012 would’ve happened to occur in Milwaukee, you can rest assured that Milwaukee would either be under new ownership or would be playing in a different city. The draft is the harbinger of hope for small market teams. And this new draft reform would lessen the opportunity for small market teams to nab a franchise talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Anthony Davis.
The ironic part of all this is that the team at the center of this change is a big market team. The visual tank job that has been the Philadelphia 76ers in the past season and a half is at the root of all the draft reform discussion. In the past 18 months, the 76ers have sent away any veteran asset they had for draft picks and cap space. And in the last two drafts, the Sixers have taken 3 players in the lottery that were either injured (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid) or not intending to come to the NBA for at least two season (Dario Saric). Strategic tanking has always been a part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding team wants to shed salary and obtain assets, while at the same time putting a “competitive” product on the floor. But Philadelphia has completely eschewed the competitive part of the equation, and has blatantly put a subpar product on the floor in order to build for the future. It is no different than other tank jobs, with the exception of the blatantness of it all.
With all this on the table, it would almost seem to be a given that at least 8 teams would be against this draft reform. Philadelphia, for sure, would be at the forefront. But stepping up to the podium has been Thunder GM Sam Presti. Surprisingly, Presti, of the championship contending Thunder, has been leading the charge against draft reform. You see, Presti knows what’s at stake. Under the current system, a couple seasons of drought can lead to gold if you draft well and spend your money wisely. But under the proposed system, those couple of seasons of drought can lead to gold or they can lead to iron pyrite. And while draft position is never an exact science, a lot more superstars are drafted in the top 5 picks than anywhere else in the draft. Presti is always looking ahead and knows that there will come a time when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka will no longer be donning Thunder uniforms. It could be in the next 2-3 seasons, just like it could be in the next 10 seasons. But when that day comes, the Thunder will likely look to the draft to rebuild.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports, Presti is struggling to come up with the six extra votes to block the 3/4 majority needed to pass the draft reform. Which is absolutely asinine to me. If those small market teams would realize how much more difficult it will be for them to land franchise talent with this change, it would seem like an easy decision for them to make. If anything, this is an opportunity for small market teams to flex a little muscle. Like Frank Underwood of House of Cards says, “There is no solace above or below. Only us – small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.” I can definitely see Presti working the back channels tonight like Underwood in trying to get those necessary 6 votes. And after he gets the votes, I can see Presti going to his hotel, opening up his balcony window, and cooly smoking one lonely cigarette while staring into the night.
In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.
Bad News First: The Negatives:
1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.
The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery. I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?
2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.
A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.
3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.
Good News: The Positives
1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.
The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.
So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.
2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.
Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.
The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.
3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.
In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs
- Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
- Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing
- Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
- Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
- Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
- Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?
2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship
Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21
2. Portland Trailblazers
Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs
- Steve Blake – Free agent signing
- Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
- James Southerland – Free agent signing
- Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
- Earl Watson – Unsigned
Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Blazers make it to the Western Conference Finals
Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30
3. Denver Nuggets
Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
- Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
- Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
- Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
- Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs
Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42
4. Utah Jazz
Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division, 15th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
- Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors
- Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
- Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
- Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
- Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors
Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games
Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Mo Williams – Free agent signing
- Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers
- Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
- Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52
1. San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 62-20 (1st in the Southwest Division, 1st in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat
- Kyle Anderson – Draft (No. 30 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Aron Baynes – Unsigned
Season Preview – Everyone keeps waiting for the Spurs to age, but every year, they come back wiser and better. The reigning NBA champs come back with the entire team basically intact. While chemistry won’t be an issue, a couple of the main players are coming back from injury. Manu Ginobili spent most of the offseason nursing a stress fracture in his leg and Patty Mills had rotator cuff surgery that will keep him out half the season. But as is the Spurs, they will turn that into a positive as Mills will be very well rested when the playoffs start next April.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Spurs repeat as champions
Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Last season: 50-32 (3rd in the Southwest Division, 7th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder
- Jordan Adams – Draft (No. 22 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Vince Carter – Free agent signing
- Jarnell Stokes – Draft (No. 35 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Jamaal Franklin – Waived
- Ed Davis – Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
- Mike Miller – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
- James Johnson – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
Season Preview – The Grizzlies have slowly put together a balanced team that doesn’t entirely depend on the post play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The additions of Jordan Adams and Vince Carter, and the return of Quincy Pondexter from injury should help spread the floor for the big man duo to operate a little easier in the interior. Mike Conley remains one of the more underrated floor generals in the league and Tony Allen is still a premier defensive menace, as we saw in last season’s playoff series against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Grizzlies make it to the Western Conference Finals
Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28
3. Dallas Mavericks
Last season: 49-33 (4th in the Southwest Division, 8th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs
- Al Farouq Aminu – Signed free agent
- Tyson Chandler – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
- Raymond Felton – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
- Richard Jefferson – Signed free agent
- Ivan Johnson – Signed free agent
- Jameer Nelson – Signed free agent
- Chandler Parsons – Signed free agent
- Greg Smith – Obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls
- Jose Calderon – Traded to the New York Knicks
- Shane Larkin – Traded to the New York Knicks
- Shawn Marion – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Samuel Dalembert – Traded to the New York Knicks
- Vince Carter – Signed with the Memphis Grizzlies
- DeJuan Blair – Sign and traded to the Washington Wizards
Season Preview – Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mavericks probably had the most player movement of any team in the leauge. The team that took the eventual champs to 7 games in the first round, got their defensive stopper in the lane (Chandler), and got an up-and-coming star in Chandler Parsons. The Mavs should be a little better balanced defensively, but that all depends on the health of Chandler. If he misses a big chunk of the season (15-20+ games), the Mavericks could be in trouble defensively. The point guard position is also a question mark, as each of the three possibilities (Felton, Nelson, and Devin Harris) have been starters in the past, but also have glaring weaknesses.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Mavs make it to the Western Conference Finals
Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29
4. Houston Rockets
Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Southwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers
- Jeff Adrien – Free agent signing
- Trevor Ariza – Free agent signing
- Clint Capela – Draft (No. 25 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Jason Terry – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
- Joey Dorsey – Free agent signing
- Ish Smith – Free agent signing
- Jeremy Lin – Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers
- Omer Asik – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
- Chandler Parsons – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
- Jordan Hamilton – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
Season Preview – After striking gold in the last two offseasons, Rockets GM Daryl Morey hit a rough patch this offseason. He traded away 2 of this team’s top 5 players (Asik and Lin) for basically nothing, and failed to resign Parsons, even though the Rockets held his Bird Rights. The reasons they made these moves was an “all in” attempt at either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. By the time those two players had re-signed with their respective teams, the damage had already been done to the Rockets’ roster. The Rockets salvaged a little life this offseason by signing Trevor Ariza. The Rockets will still win games due to the talent of James Harden and Dwight Howard. But depth will be an issue, and any injury to any of the major players on the Rockets will be a huge blow to the team’s playoff chances.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Rockets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs
Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35
5. New Orleans Pelicans
Last season: 34-48 (5th in the Southwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Omer Asik – Obtained in a trade with the Houston Rockets
- Jimmer Fredette – Free agent signing
- John Salmons – Free agent signing
- Russ Smith – Draft (No. 47 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Patric Young – Rookie free agent signing (Undrafted)
- Al-Farouq Aminu – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
- Greg Stiemsma – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
- Jason Smith – Signed with the New York Knicks
- Anthony Morrow – Signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder
- Brian Roberts – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
Season Preview – After a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Anthony Davis is ready to finally take his team to another level. The acquisition of Asik will allow Davis to play his natural position of power forward. On the outside, Ryan Anderson returns from neck surgery and should help space the floor for Davis and Jrue Holiday to operate. The depth of this team is worrisome, and if the injury bug hits again, they could once again struggle to stay above water.
2014-15 will be succesful if: The Pelican make the playoffs
Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Last season: 57-25 (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder
- Chris Douglas-Roberts – Free agent signing
- Jordan Farmar – Free agent signing
- Spencer Hawes – Free agent signing
- Ekpe Udoh – Free agent signing
- C.J. Wilcox – Draft (No. 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Joe Ingles – Australian free agent signing
- Jared Dudley – Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks
- Danny Granger – Signed with the Miami Heat
- Ryan Hollins – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
- Willie Green – Claimed off waivers by the Orlando Magic
- Darren Collison – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
Season preview – While one team gets embroiled in a controversy related to race (Atlanta), another team is getting out of their racial controversy relatively unscathed. With the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them, and with new ownership, the Clippers look to build on the success from last season. The highest scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg) brings back its main core, while also adding the perimeter shooting of Spencer Hawes and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the mix. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are legit MVP contenders and the Clippers should be in the thick of things when it comes to championship contenders.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Clippers make it to the Finals
Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23
2. Golden State Warriors
Last season: 51-31 (2nd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers
- Leandro Barbosa – Free agent signing
- Shaun Livingston – Free agent signing
- Steve Blake – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
- Jordan Crawford – Unsigned
- Jermaine O’Neal – Unsigned
Season Preview – Golden State is one of those teams that seems to be on the cusp of becoming an elite team, but is missing that extra “oomph” to get them there. Unfortunately, whatever that oomph is was obtained in the offseason. The Warriors basically bring back the same team from last season. While Curry and Thompson may continue to get better, the rest of the team, for the most part, has already plateaued in terms of skill improvement/refinement. I see the Warriors still being good, but also, still not being good enough.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Warriors reach the 2nd round of the playoffs
Projected 2014-15 Record: 50-32
3. Phoenix Suns
Last season: 48-34 (3rd in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Tyler Ennis – Draft (No. 18 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded from the Sacramento Kings
- TJ Warren – Draft (No. 14 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Anthony Tolliver – Free agent signing
- Channing Frye – Signed with the Orlando Magic
Season Preview – The Eric Bledsoe contract situation has the ability to cast a huge shadow on this season for the Suns. After the feel good story that was last season, the Suns appear headed for a fork in the road with this Bledsoe situation. If he signs his 1-year qualifying offer, that could play out any number of ways, with some of those options blowing up in the Suns’ face. The Suns may be forced to trade Bledsoe, in order to keep Goran Dragic, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. All in all, I see this Bledsoe situation being too much of a distraction throughout the season for them to continue with what they started last season. Add to that the fact the Suns will no longer be able to sneak up on teams, and you are looking at a team-wide “sophomore slump”. This team will score a ton of points, and will be fun to watch, but will they be able to stop elite team on the other side of the court?
2014-15 will be successful if: The Suns make the playoffs
Projected 2014-15 Record: 45-37
4. Sacramento Kings
Last season: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Omri Casspi – Free agent signing
- Darren Collison – Free agent signing
- Ryan Hollins – Free agent signing
- Nik Stauskas – Draft (No. 8 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Jason Terry – Traded to the Houston Rockets
- Aaron Gray – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
- Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded to the Phoenix Suns
Season Preview – The Kings seem to finally be on the upswing. They are starting to assemble a team around DeMarcus Cousins, with shooters on the outside (Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas) and rugged enforcers/rebounders on the inside (Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson). Rudy Gay will provide further perimeter scoring and Darren Collison will attempt to quarterback the whole thing. They will continue to fall short due to the weakness of the point guard position, but the maturation of Cousins will start to point the ship in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings make a play for Rajon Rondo sometime this season.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Kings surpass 35 wins.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 37-45
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Last season: 27-55 (5th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Carlos Boozer – Claimed off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls
- Ed Davis – Free agent signing
- Jeremy Lin – Obtained in a trade from the Houston Rockets
- Julius Randle – Draft (No. 7 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Pau Gasol – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
- Chris Kaman – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
- Jodie Meeks – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
- Kendall Marshall – Waived; Claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Bucks
- Kent Bazemore – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
- Jordan Farmar – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
Season Preview – As someone who respects Kobe Bryant, this is not how I envisioned his final years. The Lakers are going to struggle, and struggle bad. Kobe may have a couple Kobe games left in him, but Father Time remains unbeaten (unless your name is Timothy Theodore Duncan). The Lakers are loading up on short contracts to coincide with the end of Kobe’s contract. Then, the Lakers will look to do what the Lakers usually do: lure top talent with the auspices of Hollywood glitz. But until then, it will be a lot like Lolo Jones’ performance on Dancing With the Star, which is to say cringe-worthy.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Lakers keep their 2015 first round pick (Top 5 protected; if it’s outside of that range, it goes to Phoenix)
Projected 2014-15 Record: 29-53
Southeast Division Preview
1. Washington Wizards
Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Southeast Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers
- DeJuan Blair – Sign and trade from the Dallas Mavericks
- Kris Humphries – Sign and trade from the Boston Celtics
- Paul Pierce – Free agent signing
- Trevor Ariza – Signed with the Houston Rockets
- Trevor Booker – Signed with the Utah Jazz
Season Preview – The young players for the Wizards finally started coming into their own last season. John Wall became an All-Star for the first time, and Bradley Beal showed signs of being one of the best 2-guards in the league. In addition, the acquisitions of Nene and Marcin Gortat have given this team an inside/outside balance that is one of the better ones in the league. The loss of Trevor Ariza may show itself more on the defensive end, but Pierce should be an adequate stop-gap as the Wizards wait on the development of Otto Porter. The only trip up I see with this team is perimeter depth. If Wall or Beal go down for any extended amount of time, this team could be in trouble.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Wizards make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 49-33
2. Charlotte Hornets
Last season: 43-39 (3rd in the Southeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference)
Season ended: Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Miami Heat.
- P.J. Hairston – Draft (No. 26 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Brian Roberts – Free agent signing
- Lance Stephenson – Free agent signing
- Noah Vonleh – Draft (No. 9 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Marvin Williams – Free agent signing
- Luke Ridnour – Signed with the Orlando Magic
- Josh McRoberts – Signed with the Miami Heat
- Anthony Tolliver – Signed with the Phoenix Suns
- Brendan Haywood – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Chris Douglas-Roberts – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
Season Preview – The Hornets (formerly the Bobcats) come into this season with as high of expectations as they’ve ever had in their 10 year reincarnation. Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho have slowly put together a balanced team that is built on defense. The key now will be developing the young talent they’ve obtained over the past 2 seasons, while also learning how to consistently win. Al Jefferson provides the Hornets with a go-to scorer, while Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be nightmares on the defensive end for opposing wings. If the Hornets can find consistent scoring from the perimeter, they may be a surprise team in the East.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Hornets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35
3. Miami Heat
Last season: 54-28 (1st in the Southeast Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference)
Season ended: Game 5 loss in the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs
- Luol Deng – Free agent signing
- Danny Granger – Free agent signing
- Josh McRoberts – Free agent signing
- Shabazz Napier – Draft (No. 24 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- LeBron James – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
- James Jones – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Ray Allen – Unsigned
- Shane Battier – Retired
- Rashard Lewis – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
- Toney Douglas – Signed overseas
- Michael Beasley – unsigned
Season preview – It was a good run, boys. The four year “Big 3” experiment yielded four consecutive trips to the Finals and two championships. “Not 1, not 2…” wait, yeah, only 2. LeBron James returning back to Cleveland has brought the Heat back down a notch or two on the NBA spectrum. While Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are still in tow, the engine that made the team run is no longer there. The team that we’ve seen for the past four years will be completely different. No longer will the threat of a driving James cause defenses to collapse into the paint, leaving a plethora of wide open shooters. Instead, Miami will likely run its offense inside/out through Bosh. Gone are the shooters that provided that floor spacing for James and Wade to operate. And the lingering concern over Wade’s health still remains. The Heat will still win games, but there will be a significant drop-off from the previous four seasons.
2014-15 will successful if: The Heat make it to the Eastern Conference Finals
Projected 2014-15 Record: 44-38
4. Atlanta Hawks
Last season: 38-44 (4th in the Southeast Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)
Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Indiana Pacers
- Kent Bazemore – Free agent signing
- Adreian Payne – Draft (No. 15 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Thabo Sefolosha – Free agent signing
- Lou Williams – Traded to the Toronto Raptors
- Elton Brand – Unsigned
- Gustavo Ayon – Signed overseas
- Lucas Nogueira – Traded to the Toronto Raptors
Season preview – If there is a team in the league that wants the season to start already, it is the Atlanta Hawks. The offseason can be a cruel time for a team that is embroiled in controversy. The Bruce Levenson/Danny Ferry race fiasco is a situation that probably won’t be completely resolved until next season. On the court, Atlanta is one of those teams that’s always good enough to win more games than it should, but loses out on getting a good draft pick because of that. Al Horford returns after missing most of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle. Their front line of Horford, Pero Antic, and Paul Millsap will be one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. The addition of Sefolosha will help shore up the perimeter defensively, but will provide little from an offensive standpoint.
2014-15 will be successful if: The Hawks make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42
5. Orlando Magic
Last season: 23-59 (5th in the Southeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference)
Season ended: Last day of the regular season
- Evan Fournier – Obtained in a trade with the Denver Nuggets
- Channing Frye – Free agent signing
- Aaron Gordon – Draft (No. 4 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Ben Gordon – Free agent signing
- Willie Green – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Clippers
- Elfrid Payton – Draft (No. 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
- Luke Ridnour – Free agent signing
- Jameer Nelson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
- Arron Afflalo – Traded to the Denver Nuggets
Season preview – The Magic are at the point in their rebuild where they need to decide on what to do with some of their young guys. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris will be coming up on restricted free agency next offseason, with Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, and Fournier coming up with offseason after that. The Magic will probably be a big player at the trade deadline as they need to start moving some of their young pieces for either a big name player or assets. On the court, the Magic will continue to be an uptempo transition team, especially with Payton manning the point. Victor Oladipo will need to show improvement on his jump-shot, but Ben Gordon and Frye will provide some of the spacing Oladipo needs to operate. I see the Magic slightly improving, but still struggling to consistently win.
2014-15 will be successful if: The young guys continue to develop and the Magic end up with a Top 7 pick.
Projected 2014-15 Record: 26-56