For sports fans, the NBA may not be the best source of entertainment right now. Watching summer league is something to do when theirs nothing on TV but a great movie you’ve seen 15 times. I have the same attitude with summer league as I do with pre-season football; when it comes to young players, I’ll let the coaches separate the turds from the prospects and then decide for myself who I like when the meaningful games start up.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at what was actually a great off-season and a great draft. The real question this year is whether any team improved enough to the point that they can prevent the Miami Heat’s third consecutive championship as well as the conversations of whether LeBron is/was/will be better than Michael Jordan. Here are a few teams that might be on that list.
Brooklyn Nets: Easily the biggest offseason winner in LeBron’s conference. Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov pulled all the strings and spent about 200 gazillion dollars ($82 million to be exact) on their brand new, fancy starting lineup. Acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from Boston absolutely made sense and was their best chance at reaching a top 2 or 3 seed in the East. With Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, and Lopez on the court, from top to bottom they have the most depth. But there are three major questions. Can Paul Pierce and Garnett stay healthy (as they surprisingly have over the past few years.) Can Deron Williams return to the form he played in his Utah days when him and Boozer showed flashes of Stockton and Malone? And perhaps the biggest question of all; can Jason Kidd COACH. We knew him as “the coach on the court,” we don’t know him as the actual coach managing $82 million worth of veteran starters in a big city with high expectations.
Indiana Pacers: Everyone is and was extremely high on this team after they beat up, spit at, knocked around, whatever you want to call their fierce battle with the Heat in the Eastern Semi’s last season. Paul George emerged as a real star (with a certain clutchness to him) and Roy Hibbert made Chris Bosh look like a rookie making his first playoff appearance in the paint. Add Danny Granger (injured last year), big offseason acquisitions Louis Scola and Chris Copeland and I think you’ve got a legit contender here. You know they play the Heat tough and they’re good for 50 wins this year (49 last year.) My only question is how will Granger and George, both of whom need the ball, interact on the court together.
Chicago Bulls: Welcome back Derrick Rose! And please take a bow.. Of the three teams, I think this is the one in the East with the most potential to beat the Heat in a seven game series. If that’s going to happen you need two things to go your way right off the bat and the Bulls have them. One, you need someone who can slow down LeBron. The Spurs had Kwahi Leonard, who did as good of a job in the Finals as you can ask. The Bulls have Jimmy Butler, who is a nuisance defensively and more importantly 6 foot 7. This is helpful. Two, you need to be able to attack Miami’s weakness defensively, which from a position standpoint is point guard and from a team standpoint is the paint. Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the league when healthy whose strength is attacking the basket. Surround him with shooters like Deng, Dunleavy and free agent acquisition Daequan Cook, you’ve got something going there. The big question with the Bulls is health. Can they get a full (or close to full) season of Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng? We have yet to see it happen and it is highly improbable but on paper this is the best defensive team in the East. They don’t have to be healthy all season, but they do come playoff time.
Houston Rockets: I know I went on a tirade earlier about how Dwight does not necessarily put this team at the top of the mountain, but the bottom line is they are a top three team in the west immediately. Lin, Harden, Parsons, Dwight, Asik. That’s the starting five right now with Camby, Beverley and Terrence Jones coming off the bench. Scary on paper, and if everyone stays healthy they’re definitely good for the 2 seed. The Harden/Howard pick and role game should be deadly and if Dwight can keep grounded they will be one of the better defensive teams. The key for them is for everybody (Dwight) to know their roles and play to the system. This is not a run and gun get up the floor type of team, which is unfavorable in today’s NBA. I still think OKC is just as good and their style is more favorable. Which leads us to..
Oklahoma City Thunder: The big question in last year’s playoffs is what would have happened if Russell Westbrook did not get injured? I’m not saying the Heat got lucky by any stretch of the imagination, the Lebrons deserved everything they got last year. But there is a case to be made for the Bulls not having Rose, the Pacers not having Granger, and OKC not having Westbrook. We all know the Harden deal was dreadful and made Sam Presti look painfully amateur, especially with the way Kevin Martin looked at times. However Perkins and Ibaka are solid down low and Durant is Durant. But they NEEDED Westbrook mostly because Durant is not nearly as effective when he’s getting assaulted with double teams every offensive possession. The Thunder will be there when the dust clears, but they have to be fully healthy to dethrone the king.