If you were looking forward to a more exciting and (slightly) less predictable NBA season, then you are about to get your wish thanks to the shakeup that free agency has caused throughout the league this offseason. Immediately after the NBA Finals, matters intensified and all eyes were on big names such as Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James when he actually decided to opt out and deliver “The Decision Pt. 2”.
As we all know, LeBron broke the mold first and decided to head back to his hometown of Cleveland (for reasons bigger than basketball) where he first made a name for himself. The savior of Ohio has returned and undoubtedly feels the love of all his fans, friends, and family, but there’s a different kind of love that encompasses this franchise now. After much free agency hysteria that actually started with all-star forward Kevin Love (and Carmelo as well when he decided to opt out early on during the season), it culminates with him as well. Kevin Love was officially anointed a Cavalier on August 23rd when Wiggins reached the minimum amount of days for a rookie signee to be under contract before any trade can be made final. The trade was sickeningly inevitable from the moment rumors started, and now he will rejoin his Olympic teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to complete the “Big Three”.
The Cavaliers are easily the front-runners in the Eastern Conference now, and they’ll have very few roadblocks until they eventually have to deal with powerful Western Conference teams. A finals trip is highly imminent, but people I’ve talked to and other experts and analysts aren’t ready to crown the Cavs obvious NBA Champions just yet. In fact, they still have to prove themselves and develop chemistry, play legit defense, and of course stay healthy. Even more importantly, they’ll have their work cut out against top tier Western Conference forces such as the Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder who will look to exploit the newly formed team. It all remains to be seen, and without a doubt Cleveland will be the most exciting team to watch this season.
Nonetheless, the Cavs aren’t the focus of this article; instead the microscope is centered on other teams that have added to their roster in order to improve their chances at contending for a title as well. Other teams that can chalk up Ws for their offseason efforts include organizations such as the Wizards, Bulls, Knicks, Hornets, Raptors, and even the Miami Heat came away with some much needed additions. Ironically, from my point of view at least, it seems like the powers in and among the Eastern Conference have shifted tremendously. Just by looking at that its immediately obvious to draw a contrast to the Western Conference, which did nothing outstanding or noteworthy to better its chances this upcoming season, although that doesn’t mean that their power, experience, and level of play has been diminished.
If we take a look at the Eastern Conference and the improvements made within it, it is easy to get excited over what is to come. While Cleveland seems to have an easy path to the NBA Finals this year, lets not forget that they only won the Eastern Conference Finals once during LeBron’s first stint there, granted they didn’t have nearly as good as a roster then as they do now (and their adversaries were much better). Nevertheless, Cleveland is going to have to show and prove, bottom line. Their biggest competition will certainly be the Chicago Bulls if Derrick Rose can stay healthy this year. The Bulls have proved to be a good team without Rose on the floor, making the playoffs and competing in the playoffs as well, and they have great leadership and direction under head coach Tom Thibodeau. Key additions of Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, and rookie Doug McDermott only better position the Bulls to vie for the second or maybe even number one seed in the Eastern Conference once they work those players into their already fine-tuned system. There’s certainly a lot to talk about with this organization, but their play and performance this season will speak for itself and surely land them a top Eastern Conference spot, especially with the Pacers now out of serious contention due to the season-ending injury of Paul George during a USA scrimmage game.
The Washington Wizards and Miami Heat are not far behind. The Washington Wizards will definitely be higher than a six seed this time around, and that’s because they’ve resigned a well deserving Marcin Gortat to a sweet deal, and also acquired veterans Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries. However, the real X-factor with this team is if they can get Otto Porter Jr. rolling and following in the productive footsteps of teammate Bradley Beal who has already efficiently established himself in the league as a perimeter threat. If they can get some output from Porter, this team definitely won’t miss Trevor Ariza (they still have Martell Webster who did well last season) and they’ll find themselves in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference easily. Rounding out that top 4 will probably be the Miami Heat. They only lost LeBron James, and since have added Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, and probably their new starting point guard Shabazz Napier (LeBron’s parting gift to the Heat, yes that was a compensational gesture by LeBron to the organization he knew he was going to leave after losing in the Finals). Regardless, the Heat will still be driven and focused at competing and proving that they can stay at an elite level even without LeBron James, and it’ll be interesting to see how those parts function without him despite their depth issues.
The New York Knicks will reflect its recent years – either being pretty good or pretty bad. Hopefully they can prove myself and many others wrong this season after all that President and “Zen Master” Phil Jackson has put into place and maintained since he took over the reigns. With Carmelo Anthony locked in faithfully in favor of the Jackson regime, and ample roster changes, the Knicks will be heavily tasked with stringing together their chemistry once again with a promising and talented roster. New additions include solid point guard Jose Calderon (who has one of the best assist/turnover ratios in the league), explosive young point guard Shane Larkin, former Baylor standout Quincy Acy, veteran Travis Outlaw, big men Jason Smith and Samuel Dalambert, and two young rookies who should turn out to be decent role players in an offensive system. Other key pieces are still intact as well (for now) such as J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Amare Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani who will hope to play a full season after exiting early last season. With the help of their new coach Derek Fisher, the Knicks hope to establish an effective system and strategic approach this year that translates into wins, especially against the teams that they should have no trouble with. For now, there’s not much light to shed on the Knicks and speculation can’t be accurately made until they play and show their skills on opening night at home against the Bulls, and the very next night in Cleveland. Nonetheless, I’m absolutely sure that Phil has more up his sleeve along the course of this season as hopes on making the Knicks a unanimous Eastern Conference threat and potential championship contender as soon as possible, despite the recent sentiments of Carmelo Anthony who remarked that this isn’t the Knicks year. Nonetheless, I at least expect a trip to the second round in the playoffs from the Knickerbockers.
The bottom of the Eastern Conference likely goes to the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, and the Detroit Pistons potentially. With Drake (Toronto’s Ambassador) pitching like he’s a baseball player (in reference in trying to court KD), the Raptors have been relevant in the tabloids and talked about more so than before. The real reason they’ll go back to the playoffs will be because of their ample backcourt, which recently attained Lou Williams and retained Kyle Lowry. Demar DeRozan will again be an all-star, and this team should play hard night in and night out. All they’re really missing is a big man similar to a Tyson Chandler type caliber (the Knicks should’ve traded him there instead). As for the Hornets, the addition of Lance Stephenson beside Kemba Walker and the other young talent they have there should be interesting. Now that he will start, their depth gets boosted slightly and he will add an aggressive and experienced level of play to their squad that might just help them run teams out of the gym on any given night if they’re not ready. This team is only a superstar or elite big man away from shaking things up themselves believe it or not. Way to stick with it MJ.
As a whole, the Eastern Conference will be fun to watch, and with the NBA schedule recently released, most of the marquee matchups and must see games revolve around the Eastern Conference. On the other hand, many teams despairingly stood idle in free agency, bringing into question their true chances and intentions at coming closer to realistically contending for a title. Ironically, as I mentioned earlier, the majority of the teams that deserve shameful recognition happen to be from the Western Conference. It seems like the West really took the offseason off, because no real key moves were made unless we are talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m not sure if this was the NBA’s inconspicuous attempt to collectively revive the East, shift attention to it, or even the odds among conferences, but regardless the West raises my brows because it doesn’t seem like its top tier teams are trying to increase their own chances of winning an NBA Title.
This is such a big deal because in a division that is so competitive, you must evolve to get a different result. Premier teams like the Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Blazers, and Thunder (who all have championship aspirations) have virtually the same rosters with no real improvements. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is good for team chemistry purposes, it could still have negative implications. For teams like the Spurs (who are looking like this year’s Western Conference favorite), what I’m saying is null and void, but for other teams like the Warriors or the Clippers for example, sometimes your clock runs out and that same team you’re trying to get over the hump with needs some more horsepower or a total cleanse. So since that didn’t happen across many teams, what should we expect?
In my serious opinion, this is my firm stance on the West and its kind of disappointing because the conference feels imminently predictable unless things like unfortunate injuries occur (hopefully not, get better PG), or mid-season trades occur. But even so it leaves many questions rightfully unanswered. Will things pan out the same? Will the teams that couldn’t get over the hump fail once again since nothing new was implemented? Is it safe to fast forward the season and assume the Thunder and Spurs will face off in the Western Conference Finals once again? I sure hope not, but that’s the way things seem in a stagnant yet powder keg like Western Conference. The standings and ensuing playoff seeding will be more revealing, but unless something drastic changes, the West won’t because it hasn’t. Honestly, besides the Timberwolves (and the Spurs who I’ve excluded) can you really sit there and discuss another team in the wild wild West who’s bettered its chances at reaching the Conference Finals or even NBA Finals?!
Regardless, it is going be an exciting season with plenty of stories and drama to discuss. I’m sure Rondo could be traded, Phil uncovers other things up his sleeve (when everyone thought the Knicks options would be limited), Kobe’s return will be interesting, the Bulls are back, Wiggins may just be an all-star out the gate, the all-star weekend will take place in New York, and Jason Kidd will valiantly attempt to vie for coach of the year (insert crying face emoji here), among other things. Either way you slice it, from every angle, the NBA looks appetizing and I can’t wait for it to begin and I’m very glad we have the FIBA World Cup to hold us over for a bit. Nonetheless, consider my lengthy analysis and compare it to what you see and hear as the season approaches and think of my take on it, as I strongly feel that the East will be accountable for the majority of headlines this season and steal the spotlight.