Two weeks into free agency, and the entire NBA landscape has changed. The East got stronger and the West continues to get deeper. Once LeBron James announced he will return to Cleveland, the East became wide open. Carmelo Anthony could have changed that if he decided to sign with Chicago, but he’ll re-join a Knicks team that failed to make the postseason last year. Paul Pierce shocked the world when he took a break from playing poker to sign with Washington after the Wizards’ Trevor Ariza bolted D.C. to sign with Houston, again. Many teams believe they have won free agency, and although some big name free agents remain (Lance Stephenson, Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Dwyane Wade, although Wade is 99.9 percent likely to return to Miami), I will breakdown winners and losers as of July 14.
Is there a bigger winner than Cleveland? LeBron James instantly makes the Cavs a top-5 team in the East, and that’s before seeing how quickly Andrew Wiggins can adapt to the NBA. Cleveland would be foolish to trade Wiggins, even for Kevin Love. Wiggins has all of the tools to be an elite defender as early as this season. With James as his leader, the sky is the limit for Wiggins. Sure, Love could help the Cavs win a title this year or for the next few years. But Wiggins is 19. He’ll be the face of Cleveland once LeBron James retires. James said in his letter he is in no hurry to win a title, which gives Cleveland time to construct the roster, and to let guys like Wiggins and Anthony Bennett develop. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, however, are definitely pieces that could be dealt.
Yes, they missed out on Carmelo Anthony. But come on, although Chicago had a decent shot at landing ‘Melo no one should be surprised Anthony chose to stay in New York with that max contract. The Bulls addressed their biggest weakness: scoring. The Bulls will add three new guys (Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic) who are all impact offensive players. Gasol/Noah form one of the best big guy duos in the NBA. McDermott and Mirotic are both knockdown three-point shooters. The Bulls are poised to make a deep run in the postseason, and adding three offensive-minded big guys who can stretch the floor is certainly a great way of doing so.
Chandler Parsons might be overpaid, but he makes Dallas a better team. The thing is, Dirk won’t be around in three years, so Mark Cuban is paying Parsons the next three years solely to help Dirk win a few more playoff series, and maybe even a title. Rick Carlisle is an offensive mastermind, and Parsons is a perfect player to space the floor for Monta Ellis, and he’s all a formidable player maker who can operate Dallas’ offense on the wing. Although Parsons will be the highest paid Maverick, he’ll be the third offensive option. Losing Shawn Marion and Vince Carter hurts, but Dallas did also add Tyson Chandler, who knows Carlisle’s defensive system. Dallas struggled with interior defense, and their defensive rating was a pedestrian 108.7 (22nd in the NBA) last season. Teams shot 61.6 percent from inside five feet against Dallas last season, which was fourth worst in the NBA behind Minnesota, Sacramento and Philadelphia. Chandler helped the Knicks with his rim protecting as opponents shot 58.9 percent from inside five feet. Dallas still has some money, so look for them to add one or two more pieces.
Los Angeles Lakers
Although this is all speculation since no one really knows how teams will fair with new additions, but the Lakers missed on Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, and overpaid for Jordan Hill. The Lakers retain Nick Young and traded for Jeremy Lin. They also acquired nice draft picks from Houston. But Kobe Bryant wants to win right now, and it is hard to see this roster, as constructed right now, making the Western Conference playoffs.
Man, last Friday afternoon seemed so promising for the Rockets. Once James signed with Cleveland, Chris Bosh would bolt for his home state, which would give the Rockets enough time to match Chandler Parsons’ contract offer from Dallas. But Bosh stayed in Miami, and the Rockets decided to spend their money on Trevor Ariza, and chose not to match Parsons’ contract. The Rockets still have cap space, and also have dreams of bringing in Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love, but right now Houston looks worse than last season after losing Lin, Omer Asik and Parsons, and only acquiring Ariza and a first round pick. The Rockets have time to make moves, but when the rest of your conference gains players and you lose a starter and two key bench guys, there is reason to worry.
I’ll continue to share my thoughts and analysis on teams throughout the summer. Summer League has been fun to watch so far, especially McDermott’s 31-point performance last night. I’ll share my pre-season team rankings sometime this summer, and I’m already working on my top-10 players per position that will be released later this month.
I love Paul Pierce signing with the Wizards, and Spencer Hawes going back West with the Clippers. Oklahoma City added a much needed shooter in Anthony Morrow, and added bulk with Mitch McGary. San Antonio brings back their entire championship roster, and maybe they can add a Shawn Marion-type guy. The Spurs could use another point guard with Patty Mills sidelined for most of the season, although Cory Joseph should fill that role quite nicely. Miami adding Luol Deng at $10 million a year should make them a playoff team, but I don’t know how good that makes them. The East might be nowhere near as good as the West next year, but it’ll sure be very interesting. I wish Utah never matched Charlotte’s offer for Gordon Hayward because the Hornets would’ve been my favorite 2K team without question. Lance Stephenson in Dallas would have been fun, but I’m hoping the Hornets land Stephenson. Kevin Love will be traded before the season begins, and I think it’ll be to Boston. Orlando wants to make the playoffs this season. The Magic drafted two defensive-minded guys in Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, but they addressed offense in free agency with additions of Channing Frye and Ben Gordon. Orlando should be better, but I find it hard to believe they’ll finish in the top-10 in the tight Eastern Conference. Atlanta continues to get disrespected in every offseason discussion board I find myself reading. Al Horford will be back. The Hawks add Adreian Payne, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. The Hawks are still high on Dennis Schröder as he looks to make a bigger impact in his second season. If Atlanta can stay healthy, they are one of the seven best teams in the East.
Way, way too early predictions (not playoff rankings, just conference rankings)
10. New York
1. San Antonio
2. Oklahoma City
3. Los Angeles Clippers
7. Golden State
11. New Orleans
12. Minnesota (assuming Love remains on team)
13. Los Angeles Lakers
14. Sacramento Kings
15. Utah Jazz
The West is way, way too tough. I didn’t really know how to rank the teams, but oh well, I gave it a try.