With the smoke starting to clear from the wild and weird free agent frenzy, cavs.com takes a look at the new-look Eastern Conference ...
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Teams in the bottom half of the playoff bracket or those that are poised to break through ….
Michael Jordan and Larry Brown continue to build the Bobcats, brick by brick. The franchise made its first trip to the playoffs last spring and looks to continue their improvement. D.J. Augustin takes over for Raymond Felton, who seemed to be on the block during each season in Tobacco Road.
The ‘Cats traded Tyson Chandler to Dallas, so the pivot will be manned by Erick Dampier. The recently re-signed Tyrus Thomas joins holdovers Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace as the Bobcats look to advance one round further than last year.
After their strong second-half push and nearly knocking the Hawks out of the playoffs, there’s much optimism surrounding Scott Skiles’ Bucks.
Led by the strong play of Brandon Jennings, John Salmons and Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee went further than anyone expected, and had Bogut not suffered a brutal season-ending injury, there’s no telling how far they’d have gone.
This offseason, Milwaukee opened the purse strings – inking Drew Gooden and Salmons to big deals. Milwaukee also got more athletic on the wing, dealing for Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Up front, they drafted versatile big man, Larry Sanders out of VCU.
The Knicks may not have gotten their ultimate prize in the free agent market, they still landed Amar'e Stoudemire. Does that guarantee a playoff appearance – their first since the end of the Patrick Ewing Era? No, but it does give New York a post presence they haven’t had under Mike D’Antoni.
The Knicks got a solid point guard in free agency (Raymond Felton) and some size and toughness in Anthony Randolph and Ronny Turiaf – acquired from Golden State in the David Lee sign-and-trade.
Gone are Chris Duhon and Al Harrington, but New York reloaded with a decent second round haul on Draft night.
Like the Knicks, the Bulls didn’t get the big prize(s) they had coveted in free agency. But as of late-July, it’s a safe bet that John Paxson was happy with his haul.
Chicago built on its already-solid core of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah by adding Carlos Boozer down low and Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer on the perimeter. The Bulls moved Kirk Hinrich to Washington in a cost-cutting move, but Brewer will easily pick up that slack.
On the bench, the Bulls made the move to bring in long-time Celtics assistant and defensive guru, Tom Thibedau.
Playoff teams looking to make another run as their currently constituted …
After last year’s embarrassing ouster by the Magic, it looked like the Joe Johnson Era in Atlanta was over. But Johnson, one of the top-tier free agents in this summer’s class, re-signed a max deal to remain in the Dirty South. And right now, it looks like Atlanta will head into next season with a roster almost identical to the one that ended last season.
The Hawks got even more athletic in the Draft – coming away with Jordan Crawford and Damion James by the end of the evening.
But new coach Larry Drew will have his hands full getting the Hawks into the top of the bracket in the East – not to mention the East’s up-and-coming Southeast Division.
After last spring, the Celtics proved that rumors of their demise were greatly exaggerated, shocking foes along an improbable return to the Finals. But even that was heralded as their swan song.
Instead, Doc Rivers stayed put – as did Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. As expected, Rasheed Wallace called it quits. But the Celtics reloaded up front with Jermaine O’Neal. Off the bench, Boston lost Tony Allen but retained Nate Robinson.
The Celts also had a fruitful Draft night – adding depth to their backcourt with Avery Bradley and replacing Brian Scalabrine with Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody, who turned in an impressive Summer League performance.
Despite reaching the Finals two years ago, battling Boston for the East last spring and boasting the best big man in the NBA – the Orlando Magic currently find themselves as the second-best squad in the state of Florida.
This offseason, Orlando opted to tweak their roster – matching Chicago’s offer and retaining J.J. Redick, while adding solid pieces like Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson.
Down the road, the Magic hope that rookie center Daniel Orton can fulfill the potential that he showed in his lone season at Kentucky.
Teams that aren’t bad enough for the Lottery but haven’t quite cracked the Playoff picture …
Since dropping the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals to Cleveland, the Pistons have yet to find their way back to the top of the heap. And last year, they chewed up loads of cap space on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon – both big disappointments.
Roster-wise, the Pistons are in somewhat of a no-man’s land – mixed with aging, hard-to-move veterans like Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince – and unproven youngsters like Rodney Stuckey, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko.
Detroit had a solid Draft night – tabbing Georgetown big, Greg Monroe, who should shore up the Pistons’ front line immediately and will study under one of the game’s all-time great post defenders, Ben Wallace.
Lost in the late-season shuffle was the fact that Indiana won 10 of its last 14 games, giving the Pacers some hope heading into the 2010-11 campaign.
Danny Granger is the face of the franchise and Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush and Tyler Hansbrough represent the young core of the Pacers.
Indiana didn’t acquire any free agent pieces this offseason, but had a decent Draft – tabbing Fresno State’s Paul George (who was one of the surprises from Summer League) as well as former prep school phenom Lance Stephenson.
Teams building a foundation with young guns …
Has a 12-win team ever gotten as much attention as the Nets have this offseason? It’s not all unwarranted. Their billionaire owner stepped into the public eye, the franchise is making their gradual move to Brooklyn, long-time GM Rod Thorn stepped down, and this summer they were one of the players in the LeBron James sweepstakes.
The Nets lost out on the big catch, but kept a talented young roster – including Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee – intact. Through free agency, the Nets picked up Travis Outlaw and former Laker, Jordan Farmar.
After losing out on the John Wall lottery, New Jersey instead selected Derrick Favors from Georgia Tech with the No. 3 overall pick.
In the shadow of the Elton Brand and A.I. experiments, the Sixers have quietly developed some nice pieces. Now it’s up to new coach, Doug Collins, to put those pieces together.
This offseason, Philly sent Samuel Dalembert to Sacramento, acquiring smooth-shooting big man, Spencer Hawes along with Andres Nocioni. But the big move was selecting former Buckeye and Player of the Year, Evan Turner.
Turner struggled through Summer League (shooting just 33 percent, with some reports claiming he looked out of shape) but his skill-set and versatility – and the improvement of second-year players, Jrue Holiday and Marreese Speights – should be a big boon for the young Sixers.
The Wizards have almost completed their facelift from the team Cleveland thrice knocked out of the playoffs. They’re John Wall’s team now.
Washington’s biggest offseason moment took place on May 19, when they won the No. 1 overall pick. And if Wall’s Summer League performance – leading everyone in scoring (23.5) and assists (7.8) – is any indication of his future, the Wizards could be back in business.
The Wizards also came away a pair of sturdy forwards, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, on Draft night. Flip Saunders’ squad also picked up Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian as Chicago and New Jersey attempted to dump salary.
Franchises that will enter next season with a completely different look and mindset …
The Cavaliers team that fans see on the floor next season will have a completely different look, and it won’t be just the new uniforms.
No team in the NBA underwent such a seismic shift as the Cavaliers this offseason, with the two-time MVP taking his talents to South Beach. (And taking center Zydrunas Ilgauskas with him.) That’s eight All-Star appearances, about every all-time team record except the assist mark – not to mention a combined 37.1 points, 12.5 boards and 9.2 assists per game.
Cleveland hasn’t been active in the free agent market this summer and sent this year’s Draft pick to Washington. But the Cavs did make a major move, hiring Byron Scott – who’s turned a pair of teams around in the past and has vowed to bring an up-tempo style. But maybe most importantly, has remained focused and nearly nonplussed by the departure of No. 6.
The Wine and Gold still have solid pieces and players that are accustomed to winning. A still-developing Christian Eyenga was impressive in Summer League and J.J. Hickson looks ready to take the next step after another impressive summer.
Miami’s coup reached across international lines, with Chris Bosh’s defection leaving the Raptors a huge hole in their frontcourt. The five-time All-Star’s departure – along with the end of the Hedo Turkoglu experiment – puts Toronto in a difficult spot.
Toronto did shore up their front line in the Draft – tabbing North Carolina’s Ed Davis.
Toronto re-signed Amir Johnson and has a pair of talented youngsters in Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, but it could be a rough year north of the border for the rebuilding Raptors.
Without ever playing a game, the Heat likely improved more in one offseason than any team in NBA history – retaining their superstar and adding a couple more.
But, in what was supposed to be spare parts filling out the remainder of the roster, the Heat added sharp-shooters, Mike Miller and James Jones, veteran bigs, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire, and even re-signed their rock-solid PF, Udonis Haslem.
Adding insult to injury, the Heat even had a strong second round on Draft night – selecting Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, and West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler.
On paper, the Heat couldn’t be more loaded. How it’ll all play out, however, is something we’ll see about in early November.