The NBA season is less than a month away, and training camps are now open around the country. Preseason games will start soon, and media day has come and gone. It lacks the star power that could be on the move next year, but the 2013 offseason did feature several teams attempting to climb their way to the ranks of the elite, while others traded down in hopes of rebuilding and starting anew.
For a second consecutive season, Dwight Howard, arguably the league’s best center was on the move, while the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets decided to switch identities with a few veterans moving south of the New England area.
Some of the greatest acquisitions of the summer come not through free agency or trade, but through a return from injury. There are several All-Stars this season who will be making significant returns from injuries that either ended, or cut their 2012-13 season early, including the 2011 NBA MVP, Derrick Rose.
A few of those returns will signify changes at the top of the conference, while other could signal more changes being made, especially those teams who made a few moves for the worse during their All-Star’s recovery period.
Often it’s the most subtle and quiet changes that turn out to have the most impact. While teams like Indiana, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t bring in any notable stars, they did add role players who are going to fill in former voids in the roster.
Sometimes it’s these lesser-tier moves that end up being the biggest, such as the Heat quietly adding on Shane Battier in the summer of 2011 or the Dallas Mavericks bringing Tyson Chandler aboard in 2010. It doesn’t always take an All-Star to turn everything around, it could just be one final small, but necessary, piece to the puzzle.
With teams gearing up this offseason to prepare for the madness that will ensue in the 2014 offseason, we take a look at the ten acquisitions with the most significance, including returns from injury, of the NBA summer.
10. The Return of Rondo
This has less to do with Rajon Rondo and his return to the Boston Celtics and more to do with how Rajon and the Celtics end up in a few months.
Judging from what the roster looks like at the moment, Rondo is not going to be a happy camper, and it’ll be surprising if he’s still with the team by the end of the trade deadline.
This Celtics team isn’t going to be good. They’re not going to make the playoffs, despite being in a conference where there’s a possibility one or two playoff teams will be under .500. With the entire ‘Big Three’ departed, the Celtics are a lottery team once again.
You know who isn’t going to like that? Rajon Rondo. The perennial All-Star has made a name for himself as one of the league’s top floor-generals on a veteran-laden team that suited his game perfectly. Those days are now gone. Instead of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, it’s Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks. It’s safe to say that is a regression, especially from the team that won a championship as recently as 2008 and was a game away from the NBA Finals as recently as 2012.
Rondo will find his new number two guy in the form of Jeff Green. As if it couldn’t get any worse, some other players who will have to step up in the scoring column include shot-chucking wunderkind’s in Brooks and Jordan Crawford. At least Boston still has the Patriots.
Rondo is coming off a 2012-13 campaign where he played only 38 games before tearing his ACL, which may keep him on the bench past opening night for the 2013-14 season. Before the injury ended his season, Rondo was averaging over 11 assists for a third consecutive season, while also grabbing a career-high 5.6 rebounds per game.
While many will wait until the summer 2014 for free agency fireworks, where Rondo ends up before the February trade deadline will be a fitting prelude. He may just end up on a legitimate contender, possibly even one with an All-Star center and shooting guard clad in red and white.
9. Andrew Bynum to Cleveland
Have the Cleveland Cavaliers made a $24 million mistake? Or are they getting the jump on possessing two of the league’s top centers?
Already equipped with the oft-injured Anderson Varejao, the Cleveland Cavaliers took the biggest leap of faith this offseason by signing Andrew Bynum â€” who missed the entire 2012-13 season â€” to a two-year deal that will pay him $12 million per year.
That two-year deal could pay out $24 million, but the Cavs were smart and only $6 million in the first year is guaranteed.
After Bynum was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of three-team trade sending Dwight to the Lakers, he failed to play a single minute for the Sixers, who lost out on Andre Iguodala and $17 million paying Andrew to sit and show off various hairstyles.
Cavs fans, if you weren’t worried already about this acquisition, start now. As of four days ago, Andrew Bynum still has no timetable on his return, and probably isn’t playing in the preseason.
Injuries have played a large part throughout Bynum’s eight-year career. He’s played more than 65 games only once, including last season, and has three seasons where he played 50 games or less.
When healthy, however, Bynum is one of the league’s best centers. His wingspan attached to that 7-0 frame allows him to grab rebounds and send back shots at will, while his soft-touch around the rim and short-range jumper give him an advantage on offense that only a few centers can boast.
In his final season with the Lakers in 2012, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Cleveland would have quite the starting lineup with Bynum alongside the likes of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson, but when he actually suits up is the big problem.
As for when he does return â€” better yet, if he does return â€” how quickly will he be ready to contribute? Cleveland is not taking a huge risk because Bynum’s incentivized two-year deal is contingent on his health, and the only way it pays off is if he’s ready to finally step back onto the court.
8. Miami Heat add Greg Oden
You can say the move was a risk just because of Greg Oden’s health, but this was the best the Miami Heat could do with the limited funds they had.
By signing Oden to the veteran’s minimum, the Heat add a considerable project that hasn’t played a game of NBA basketball since December 5, 2009. However, the move was a necessity as the Heat want to avoid the struggles that ensued when facing Roy Hibbert and Indiana or Tim Duncan and San Antonio.
The Heat threw Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem at both players, but could get no answers, and that’s a problem. Indiana will be a serious threat to Miami for years to come and the Pacers just proved last year that their 7-2 center can score with ease over the Heat’s small defenders.
Besides Indiana, Miami may also have to deal with Brook Lopez and the Nets as well as Joakim Noah and the Bulls. Out west, they face the possibility of taking on Marc Gasol and Memphis or Dwight Howard and Houston. The Heat’s at a disadvantage if they seriously planned to use Bosh against any of those centers, no matter how much he’s improved as a defender.
Oden, a 7-0, 285-pound titan, is as healthy as he’s been since the latter years of the Bush administration. Miami isn’t looking for him to start or feature him in a large role during the regular season, but rather preserve him for the postseason when they run into a Hibbert or a Lopez.
It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation for Miami, who signed Oden for a single season. He’ll mainly be utilized to combat the centers who can score, as well as those who ave a heavy impact on the offensive side of the glass.
The Heat ranked 22nd in the league in points per possession (PPP) off offensive rebounds, allowing 55 percent shooting on 613 attempts. That flaw in their game was exposed last season as Hibbert and Noah dominated the glass, wasting good initial defensive efforts that ended up turning into easy put-backs for the centers.
The pressure on Oden to return will be minimal and his minutes will be monitored throughout the season. The Heat aren’t expecting Oden to become the 20-10 guy he was predicted to be coming out of Ohio State, but they do want him to become the center who can assert their authority on the boards and fill in one of Miami’s few weaknesses.
7. Detroit Pistons Revival
Where do we even begin with this Detroit Pistons team? Do you give them credit for finally bringing in some quality free agents? Or do you criticize them for bringing in two free agents who may turn the offense into a black hole?
Already equipped with the promising Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the Pistons loaded up on ostensible talent by bringing in Brandon Jennings, who will replace Brandon Knight, and Josh Smith. Detroit also added on veteran Chauncey Billups and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
But the attention is going to be focused mainly on the acquisitions of Jennings and Smith to what was an anemic offense that ranked 21st in offensive efficiency last season.
Jennings is two years removed from averaging a career-high 19.1 points and a year removed from shooting a career-high 38 percent from beyond the arc. He was one of the league’s top scorers when utilized as the pick-and-roll man, shooting 40 percent on such opportunities.
Detroit will have to make sure Brandon involves his teammates. In isolation settings last year, Jennings was a 29 percent shooter that relied on poor shot-selection and an inability to finish at the rim, converting only 49 percent of his shots around the glass.
The addition of Josh Smith should bode well on the defensive end. With Drummond and Monroe already in the front-court, adding a versatile defender like Smith will make it all the more difficult for opponents to score on the intimidating, athletic interior defense of Detroit.
The questions surrounding the Smith addition come on the offensive end, where â€” like Jennings â€” Josh has been inefficient. He’s a bit of a chucker that recently attempted a career-high 201 three-pointers, despite converting only 30 percent of such opportunities.
Smith was brilliant around the rim, converting 77 percent of his opportunities in the restricted area, but he was abysmal everywhere else. He shot 36 percent in the 3-to-10 foot range, 19 percent in the 10-to-16 foot range and 33 percent in the 16-to-25 foot range, per NBA.com. Smith ranked 291st in the league in PPP on spot-up attempts, shooting 34 percent.
When will Josh Smith learn that he’s not the perimeter threat he’s trying to pass himself off as? He’s so comfortable using that versatility of his to defend forwards on defense, yet he wastes his athleticism and kills possessions on offense with low-percentage jumpers.
Rebounding and defense will reign supreme in Detroit, but their offense could take a few months to find any sort of rhythm with two inefficient players in the starting lineup. If the chucker keep chucking they’ll be performing a disservice of taking away touches from their young talents Monroe and Drummond.
6. The Return of Kevin Love
Going off on how poor his numbers were in the few games he played last year, let’s consider the 2013-14 campaign as Kevin Love’s official return from injury.
Love, who dealt with a knee injury last year (after a hand injury suffered in training camp), will be looking to assume his place as the league’s top power forward following a season where he played in only 18 games and shot 35 percent from the field and 22 percent from deep.
He didn’t have the same look as the Kevin Love from the year before. In the 2011-12 season, he averaged a career-high 26 points to go along with 13.3 rebounds and a PER of 25.4. His three-point shooting also significantly dropped off from the 37 percent he shot that season.
Even in limited action, Love averaged 14 rebounds and might have ended up as the league’s leading rebounder for a second time had he stayed healthy. His defensive rebounding percentage, the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while on the floor, 35.9 percent, was a career-high.
When healthy, Love is the league’s best power forward and arguably its best big man. He rebounds at a higher rate than Dwight Howard and can score from outside as well as from the block.
The addition of Love will make the last few seeds in the west interesting. You can confirm the likes of the Clippers, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Memphis and Golden State earning the first six seeds, but the seven and eight seeds are both wide-open.
With Love making a healthy return, set to join a healthy Ricky Rubio and the newly acquired Kevin Martin in the starting lineup, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make their first serious run for the playoffs since the days of Kevin Garnett.
5. The Los Angeles Clippers add shooters
When the 2013 postseason came to an end for the Los Angeles Clippers, Chris Paul had experienced yet another season that came to an end well before the Conference Finals, where he has only been once.
One of the key reasons to this, especially in his time with the Clippers, has been due to the lack of shooting threats that surround him. The Clippers finished last in 3-pointers made in last year’s postseason, converting only 4 per game and shooting less than 33 percent on such opportunities.
Outside of Paul, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford were the only capable shooters. Their stock of shooters waned with Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler departing, but with the additions of two of the league’s top shooters, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, they may have found an answer to their perimeter woes.
Redick is a career 39 percent shooter from deep and could become the next starting shooting guard for the Clippers. With the Magic last season, he was one of the league’s top spot-up threats, converting on 45 percent of his 89 3-point attempts, and was a 40 percent shooter when coming off screens.
Dudley, meanwhile, has just as impressive a resume when it comes to his shooting capabilities. He has hit at a nearly 41 percent clip beyond the arc for his career, and shot 39 percent on 173 spot-up attempts with the Suns last season.
This is going to be a considerable change of pace for Chris Paul and his duties as a facilitator now that he has two extremely capable shooters in the starting lineup. There’ll be less of a need for Crawford’s pull-ups, less of a need for shots from Matt Barnes and less pressure placed on CP3. That will leave the shooting responsibilities more on the spot-up shooting of Dudley and Redick.
With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan likely to make their usual postseason disappearing act, the need for shooters to stretch the floor is dire if this Clippers team is serious about contending for titles.
4. Brooklyn Nets commit to winning now.
Give credit to the Brooklyn Nets, they have a lot of great names on their roster. They have a lot of great names, and that’s all we can say at the moment. Because there have been so many teams over recent years with a lot of great names that have accomplished very little, it’s become difficult to get overly enthused when a team makes several big splashes in free agency.
The Nets made the blockbuster trade of the summer when they sent Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and three first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
The Nets sent three first-rounders to Boston for three players that are at least 35 years old. It’s obvious what direction the Nets are going in: they want to win and they want to win now. By sacrificing three future first round picks and a couple of fringe-players, the Nets now find themselves in the same category as the likes of Miami, Indiana and Chicago.
Brooklyn’s starting lineup will be composed of nothing but All-Stars, with Pierce and Garnett joining Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in the starting five. The bench will boast Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, who signed for an incredibly low price, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Reggie Evans and Shaun Livingston.
It’s a risky move by the Nets. They’ve no doubt become a better team from last year, but two of their starters and their sixth man can see retirement on the horizon, and their backcourt is still experiencing difficulty working off of each other.
Garnett will give the Nets a huge upgrade on defense and a scoring touch that extends out to 20 feet. The Nets were the 28th worst team in the league when it came to defending post-ups last season, something that should improve with Garnett helping Lopez.
He’ll also take the interior defense’s attention off of Brook, which should give the 25-year-old All-Star better looks from everywhere on the court. Garnett will also team well with Deron Williams or a comfortable pick-and-pop game.
Pierce and Terry will thrive coming off screens and in spot-up opportunities. Pierce is still capable of playing in isolation settings, but the opportunities will be scarce with Williams and Johnson likely to dominate the ball-handling responsibilities.
This is what Brooklyn believes to be a championship roster, and they’ll have to live with that decision until the eventual retirements of their recently acquired elder statesmen.
3. The Pacers Strengthen their Bench
It’s official: the Indiana Pacers are a serious threat to the Miami Heat’s reign in the Eastern Conference.
It’s not because of David West and Paul George re-signing, either. Instead, it’s the acquisitions of former New York Knick Chris Copeland, former Brooklyn Net C.J. Watson and former Phoenix Sun Luis Scola that’s made Indiana a possible representative for the East in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Indiana played well in its loss to the Heat in the last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, pushing the series to a decisive Game 7. However, their downfall proved to be their lack of talent off the bench. With Danny Granger out of the picture, the Pacers were thin after placing Lance Stephenson in the starting lineup.
The Pacers playoff bench was limited to D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Sam Young and Tyler Hansbrough. Because of how poor the quality of talent riding the pine was, the starters were forced to carry the load, each one averaging at least 37 minutes of playing time in the seven-game series.
Those heavy minutes played a role once Game 7 rolled around. Indiana fell 99-76 and the game wasn’t in doubt after halftime. The Pacers had the look of a top-heavy team that relied too heavily on its starters, with no player on the bench averaging more than 14 minutes of playing time during the regular season. That’s not going to be a problem this year following the additions of Copeland, Scola and Watson.
Copeland, a 29-year-old entering his second NBA season, averaged 9 PPG and shot 42 percent on 3-pointers in his rookie year with the Knicks last season. Watson, who was a nuisance to Miami in his time with Chicago, shot 41 percent from beyond the arc with the Nets last year.
Indiana ranked 22nd in three-point percentage last year, but the biggest deal of these two acquisitions is that they’re both far better than anybody Indiana was featuring off their bench in 2013.
Scola, who will be 34 in April, is coming off one season with the Suns where he averaged 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He doesn’t fit well in the Pacers system on the defensive end â€” it would be a nightmare if they had him defending Chris Bosh âˆ’ but he’s still exponentially better than any player off Indiana’s bench from last year.
With Granger returning, which will likely send Stephenson to the bench, it will give the Pacers a deep well of talent to choose from the sidelines. It’s a drastic improvement from Augustin, Hansbrough, Young, Mahinmi and Gerald Green.
Indiana had the right idea in their near upset over Miami last year. By adding legitimate talent to the weakest part of their roster, the Pacers have become the primary threat to the Heat’s throne in the East.
2. The Return of Rose
One of the most heavily hyped returns in recent memory, Derrick Rose will be facing a mountain of pressure in his return to the NBA following a year-long absence from a torn ACL.
Although the severity of a torn ACL is potentially career-threatening, Rose was met with criticism after he decided to take the entire season off, despite being cleared to resume normal basketball activitoes by team doctors late last season. Obviously Rose did not want to risk making a late-season return when he knew he would be uncomfortable because of the lack of confidence in the repaired ligament.
Rose, who turns 25 in early October, is three years removed from an MVP season where he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists a game while leading the Bulls to 62 wins and a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. He’s been plagued by injuries since, playing only 39 games in the lockout-shortened 66-game 2011-12 season and recently sitting out the entirety of the 2012-13 season.
The injury occurred April 28, 2012, right as Chicago’s Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was ending. The Bulls, who were again a No. 1 seed that year, fell in six games.
Even in the absence of Rose this past season, the Bulls managed to earn a five seed and secured an upset over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. They lost in five games to the Miami Heat in the next round, but kept it competitive in a majority of the contests.
With Rose returning, the Bulls essentially get back their offense. The Bulls had a top 15 offense in PPP from 2010 to 2012, but finished 24th in 2013 with the likes of Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague running the point.
A prediction for Rose would mean nothing because useless because no one knows how he’ll return. He could come back better than ever, or he could return sluggish with the look of a player who hasn’t played a game of basketball in a year-and-a-half.
What isn’t in doubt is this Bulls team improving and showing similarities to the Chicago teams that had the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2011 and 2012. With such a large emphasis placed on the regular season in Chicago, the Bulls could very well earn a No. 1 seed again if Rose returns to form quick.
1. Dwight Howard to Houston
The Houston Rockets were the winners of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes this summer, signing arguably the league’s best center while also managing to keep Omer Asik around, at least for the time being.
Howard’s stock has dropped over the past year following a season with the Los Angeles Lakers where he failed to meet unrealistic expectations. Back surgery in the 2012 offseason hampered Howard’s usual production, although he was still the league’s top rebounder for the fifth time in six years.
Nevertheless, the emphasis on Howard’s failed season with the Lakers led to his inability to construct any sort of chemistry with Kobe Bryant, as well as his reluctance to adjust to being a number two option. Howard had spent the previous eight years on an Orlando Magic team that featured him as a primary option on offense.
Amid all the criticism and the ailing back, Howard still posted averages of 17.1 points on 58 percent shooting to go along with 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. There was too much pressure put on Howard’s shoulders when his body wasn’t ready for it, and the Lakers simply couldn’t feature Dwight in a role he was comfortable embracing.
Howard won’t be the primary scoring option with Houston, but his role in the offense should become heavier with James Harden and Jeremy Lin as the facilitators. With low-post specialists in coach Kevin McHale and Rockets consultant Hakeem Olajuwon in his ear, there’s a chance Dwight could refine his post-game and begin to add more dimensions to his offensive repertoire
Hopefully this is the year where Howard also embraces the pick-and-roll game, taking advantage of one of the strongest and most underutilized attributes, his speed and quickness for such an imposing player.
Plus, unlike last year, nobody is expecting Dwight to will the Rockets to a 73-win season and an easy championship. He’s going to improve a Rockets defense that was porous last year, finishing in the bottom 10 for PPP allowed, and add a scoring touch to a position that was void of creating points on its own last year.
Houston, an 8 seed that fell in six games to Oklahoma City in the first round last year, has become a championship contender with the addition of Howard. However, it’ll interesting to see if he can thrive in a system where he is not looked to as the primary offensive option like he was in Orlando.
What do you think?
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