It was just over one year ago that the Cavaliers altered the Eastern Conference landscape with a blockbuster trade to acquire Donovan Mitchell from Utah – the second monster deal the Jazz pulled off over the previous summer.
For Cleveland, the Mitchell trade transformed the franchise – accelerating the team’s youth movement and helping propel the Cavs back to the Playoffs for the first time since LeBron James’ departure in 2018. The All-Star guard hit the ground running, establishing himself as the team’s unquestioned leader and enjoying the best statistical season of his career.
The biggest offseason free agent signing in the East last summer didn’t seem all that consequential – Jalen Brunson inking a deal with the Knicks – but as the Cavaliers can attest, the move eventually made a major splash.
But all that stuff about last year’s offseason movement isn’t going to help you when the TNT crew breaks out their first “Who He Play For?” of the 2023-24 season and – while playing along from your couch – you have no idea which team 2023 FIBA World Cup MVP Dennis Schroder now plays for.
With Training Camps tipping off within weeks – and most players already working out with their squads – most of the dust has settled on the offseason movement from this summer, with the sticky James Harden situation as the only major drama remaining.
FREE AND EASY
Where better to start than in the Cavaliers own Division, which the Milwaukee Bucks have won in each of the five years since LeBron James departure to L.A. in 2018.
Despite winning 58 games and the Central Division, Milwaukee got bounced by Miami in five games – and decided to get a little younger through free agency, inking guards Malik Beasley and TyTy Washington Jr., while also reuniting the Lopez brothers, signing Robin Lopez to a deal after his single season with Cleveland.
Chicago’s Lonzo Ball hasn’t played since mid-January 2022, missed all of last year and could be out again this season. With that in mind, the Bulls added some backcourt depth through free agency – signing guard Jevon Carter, who had his best season last year in Milwaukee – and gained some frontcourt toughness, inking Torrey Craig, who spent last year in Phoenix.
The Pacers were very targeted in their offseason pickups – making just a single free agent pickup. But it’s a player whose riding high – guard Bruce Brown, who posted career-highs in his 5th season last year in Denver, playing a big role in the Nuggets Championship run as a reserve.
Former Cavalier Dylan Windler – tabbed with the 26th overall pick in 2019 – signed with the Knicks this offseason. Like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused, New York must love those redheads, also inking swingman Donte DiVincenzo – who spent last year with the Warriors – to a four-year deal.
The East’s top teams reloaded through free agency, as well, with the Conference Champion Heat upgrading in the middle with veteran big man Thomas Bryant and welcoming back Josh Richardson, who spent his first four years in Miami. Boston inked a pair of reserves in forward Oshae Brissett and guard Svi Mykhailiuk. And the Sixers added some attitude – signing the pugnacious Patrick Beverly, who’ll play for his fifth team in the last four years, along with Mo Bamba, who finished last season with the Lakers.
Lonnie Walker IV, who also spent last year in Tinseltown, moved East over the summer – joining the Brooklyn Nets – as did the hero of this year’s FIBA World Cup tournament, Dennis Schroder, who eschewed the Lakers generous offer and instead opted to sign with Toronto, citing the relationship between himself and their new head coach, Darko Rajakovic.
WHEELING AND DEALING
Last summer, the Cavaliers swung for the fences on a deal that altered both Conferences. This summer, it was the Wizards turn.
After spending his first 11 years with Washington after being taken with the 3rd overall pick in 2012, Bradely Beal was part of a three-team blockbuster between the Wizards, Suns and Pacers – with Phoenix sending Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, four future first-round pick swaps and six future second-round picks. The Pacers sent Bilal Coulibaly (the 7th pick in this year’s Draft) to the Wizards in exchange for Jarace Walker (No. 8) and two future Second Rounders.
The Wizards weren’t done there, either – sending Kristaps Porzingis to Boston in a three-team deal with Grizzlies that saw Marcus Smart shipped to Memphis. The Wizards picked up Tyus Jones and Danillo Gallinari in the trade.
The Knicks tabbed Obi Toppin with the 8th overall pick out of Dayton back in 2020, but they sent the high-flying forward to Indiana for a pair of second-round picks.
Detroit was hoping to accelerate their rebuild in last year’s Lottery after winning just 17 games, but San Antonio won the Wemby sweepstakes, and the Pistons landed with the 5thoverall pick. Instead, the Pistons jumped into the trade market over the summer – dealing for backup guard Monte Morris along with our old friend Joe Harris, who is, percentage-wise, the top active three-point shooter in the NBA with a career .437 mark – sending a package of picks to Washington and Brooklyn, respectively.
FEELING THE DRAFT
As the NBA Draft continues to be reshaped, with only two of the top seven picks playing college ball, the big prize went West – with the Spurs winning the rights to select Victor Wembanyama.
Both of those picks – Brandon Miller (No. 2, Alabama) and Anthony Black (No. 6, Arkansas) went to Eastern Conference teams – Miller to the Hornets and Black to the Magic.
The Magic were also one of five teams in the East with a pair of picks in 2023.
Along with Miller, Charlotte tabbed Arkansas’ rangy point guard Nick Smith (No. 27) to back up LaMelo Ball. Orlando grabbed combo guard Jett Howard – the son of Juwan Howard – out of Michigan with the 11th overall pick. The elder Howard actually played a single season with the Magic back in 2003-04.
The Nets selected Brandon Miller’s fellow forward at ‘Bama, Noah Clowney, with the 21st pick and grabbed former five-star recruit, small forward Dariq Whitehead one pick later out of Duke.
In the Central Division, the Pistons drafted swingman Ausar Thompson at No. 5 overall – one pick after his brother, Amen, was taken by the Rockets. With the 25th pick, they selected point guard Marcus Sasser out of Houston. The Pacers also grabbed a former Cougar in the First Round – rugged forward Jarace Walker at No. 8 – the highest-drafted player out of Houston since Hakeem Olajuwan – along with guard Ben Sheppard, a four-year man at Belmont and one of just three seniors taken in the first round.
Washington selected French forward Bilal Coulibaly at No. 7 overall, the Raptors took sharpshooter Gradey Dick out of Kansas at No. 13 and the Heat tabbed seasoned forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. with the 18th pick out of UCLA.
The Celtics, Bulls, Cavs and Bucks had no First Rounders this past June, and the Knicks and Sixers didn’t make any picks at all.
Four Eastern Conference teams made coaching changes over the offseason, as well.
In Detroit, Dwane Casey stepped down to take a front office role with the Pistons – replaced by Monty Williams, who was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2021-22, one year after taking the Suns to the NBA Finals.
The man who topped Williams in those 2021 Finals, two-time Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer was let go after five years on the job in Milwaukee following the Bucks’ five-game First Round loss to Miami. He’ll be replaced by former Raptors assistant, Adrian Griffin, making his NBA head coaching debut this year.
Speaking of former Raptors coaches and former World Champions, Nick Nurse goes from Toronto to Philadelphia after Doc Rivers was shown the door by the Sixers following their third straight Playoff exit without reaching the Conference Finals.
Replacing Nick Nurse north of the border is another first-time NBA coach – well-respected former Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic.