Which Way Did He Go?
Movers and Shakers
We are now t-minus one week away from 2017 Training Camp officially tipping off. And if you’re wondering where the Cavaliers offseason went, there’s a simple explanation for that: they didn’t have one.
That’s not totally true. After falling to Golden State in the Finals last June, the guys went their separate ways. We just didn’t know at the time exactly how separate their ways would be.
Three months later, the Wine & Gold have a new General Manager, a trio of new point guards, newfound depth at small forward, a shiny new first round draft pick to play with and some sweet new threads.
We’ve broken down the Cavaliers’ re-tooled roster over the past couple weeks.
Today, it’s time to sort out some of the other changes – big and small – that’ll shape up the league’s landscape over the next nine months. You don’t want to be watching hoops in November and blurt out: “Hey, I didn’t know that guy was on that team!” and embarrass yourself in front of your more-informed NBA buddies.
Might as well begin right in our own backyard – the Central Division – which the Cavaliers have taken in each of the past three seasons. It’s also a Division that’s been turned upside down and inside out over that same time span.
The Cavaliers have faced every Central squad but the Bucks in the postseason since LeBron’s return in 2014. And right now, they look like Cleveland’s stiffest competition in the upcoming season.
Powered by the league’s Most Improved Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and its Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee finished second in the Division last year. And after taking Toronto to seven games before bowing out in the First Round, the Bucks decided to basically build from within this offseason. Hoping to get Jabari Parker back from injury and looking for Thon Maker to take the next step, the Bucks’ only big move this summer was drafting D.J. Wilson out of Michigan.
After losing Rajon Rondo to a broken right thumb – and eventually the series to the Celtics – in last year’s Playoffs, the Bulls have eased into rebuilding mode, dealing three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to the T-Wolves, where he’ll be reunited with Tom Thibodeau on a loaded young squad. The Bulls did acquire Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen, taken No. 7 overall out of Arizona. Now that the smoke has cleared on that deal, all eyes will be on the fate Dwyane Wade.
The Pistons gave Cleveland their toughest Eastern Conference challenge in the 2016 Playoffs, but they regressed last season and were the only Central Division team to miss the postseason. Over the summer, they added a player even Stan Van Gundy won’t be able to complain about in Avery Bradley – the tough, versatile guard acquired in a deal that sent Marcus Morris to Beantown. They also picked up Duke sharpshooter Luke Kennard with the 12th overall pick, hoping to replace the departed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who signed a free agent deal with the Lakers.
With three of the five starters from Game 4 now in different locales, the Pacers barely resemble the team that Cleveland swept in four games last spring. Paul George was shipped to OKC in a major deal that returned Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Jeff Teague signed with the T-Wolves and C.J. Miles was shipped to Toronto in exchange for Cory Joseph. To get some scoring on the perimeter, Indy inked Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison as well as drafting T.J. Leaf with the 18th overall pick out of UCLA.
Let's Make a Deal
Despite the Cavs and Celtics being the top two teams in the Conference last season, both made major changes in the offseason – and they did so at the other’s expense.
In one of the biggest blockbusters in Cavaliers history, the Wine & Gold honored Kyrie Irving’s trade request and shipped him to Boston, where he’ll re-ignite the rivalry wearing No. 11 in the green and white. The Cavaliers received Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s unprotected first rounder next season.
Boston got a true superstar with big-game experience just entering the prime of his career to pair with their huge 2017 free agent prize, Gordon Hayward. But with the Cavaliers deal – and the move that sent Avery Bradley to Motown along with losing Kelly Olynyk to Miami and Amir Johnson to Philly – the Celtics are lacking some of the grit that defined them as a team under Brad Stevens’ guidance.
In the uber-competitive Western Conference, the Rockets pushed their chips to the center of the table, swinging a deal to acquire Chris Paul from the Clippers – pairing him with the league’s reigning assist leader and second-leading scorer, James Harden. The cost was steep. Houston was forced to part with Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.
Houston also added some defensive toughness to the mix – inking Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker in a frenetic offseason push to catch the Warriors.
As bold as the Rockets’ move was, the Thunder did them one better: pulling the trigger to acquire Paul George, entering the final year of his contract, in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis. It’s a risky move, but pairing the dynamic four-time All-Star with the Association’s reigning MVP might just get the Thunder another shot at Kevin Durant’s Warriors this spring.
Aside from the Jimmy Butler-to-Minnesota deal, the summer’s biggest trade was between a pair of non-Playoff teams looking to emerge from a prolonged funk. That transaction was between the Lakers and Nets – sending former Cavalier Timofey Mozgov and former No. 2 overall pick and former Ohio State standout D'Angelo Russell to Brooklyn in exchange for veteran big man, Brook Lopez.
Some teams underwent a major facelift over the past summer. Others decided to make small tweaks and roll the dice with essentially the same squad.
The Bucks, Blazers and Suns front offices had a quiet offseason. The Bucks and Suns have been slowly building through the draft and both seem poised to take the next step. Despite arguably the best backcourt in the league, the Blazers find themselves in somewhat of an NBA no-man’s land. They’re a Playoff team, but without the requisite firepower to run with the Western Conference’s big guns.
Milwaukee might’ve been the league’s most inert team this offseason – emerging only to draft D.J. Wilson out of Michigan with the 17th overall pick, continuing their trend of tabbing long, lean athletes who like to work around the rim.
The Suns have one of the league’s most dynamic young scorers in Devin Booker. When healthy, Eric Bledsoe’s one of the most efficient point guards in the league and T.J. Warren has improved in each of his three seasons in the desert. The Suns also tabbed versatile Kansas All-American Josh Jackson with the No. 4 overall pick.
The Blazers also made their biggest summer splash on Draft night – beefing up their interior with Gonzaga’s Zach Collins with the 10th pick and rugged Purdue center, Caleb Swanigan at No. 26.
Ready for Primetime Players
Every year, fans that are tired of the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and Rockets look for a sexy new pick for the team that’s finally poised to unseat the alpha dogs.
Trying to crack the Western Conference’s upper echelon, we have the Timberwolves, Lakers and Nuggets.
The Timberwolves made the big move to acquire Jimmy Butler, matching him up with Karl-Anthony Towns – one of the league’s best young bigs – and former No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, himself looking to elevate his status as one of the game’s emerging superstars. Jeff Teague takes over the point for Thibs’ team – with Kris Dunn moving on to Chicago and Ricky Rubio relocated to Salt Lake City. Thibodeau will also be reunited with underrated forward, Taj Gibson, making the free agent move from OKC.
The Lakers have been looking for answers during the post-Kobe era, and it looks like they’re starting to find them. They pulled the plug on the Timofey Mozgov experiment and D'Angelo Russell’s act was beginning to wear thin in Tinseltown. They brought in Brook Lopez for some consistency in the middle. And L.A. got its man on Draft night – tabbing Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 overall pick before selecting Kyle Kuzma (27) and Josh Hart (30) to reload their roster.
A little lower under the radar, Mike Malone’s Nuggets have something brewing out in the Mile High City. Nikola Jokic was a revelation in the second half of last season and Denver nearly reached the postseason for the first time since 2013. This offseason, they landed a major free agent prize in Paul Millsap and traded for impressive young forward, Trey Lyles.
But not every up-and-coming team is west of the Mississippi.
This year – after an NBA eternity of waiting out “the process” – it seems like the once-hapless Philadelphia 76ers might finally be ready to a push towards respectability and, if everything falls just right, a potential Playoff spot.
Last year’s top overall pick, Ben Simmons, is finally healthy and ready to join this year’s No. 1 selection, Markelle Fultz. Those two will be joined by a couple of promising youngsters – Dario Saric and Joel Embiid – who finished second and third, respectively, in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting.
The Sixers also added some veteran leadership to guide their green roster – inking J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson over the summer.
It might not be enough to put the Sixers into the Playoffs – something almost every NBA fan would love to see after so many seasons in the cellar. But hey, it’s the week before Training Camp. And if this isn’t the time for hope to spring eternal, when is?!