July has come and gone and August is quickly doing the same. You know what that means? The NBA Offseason is on its last leg and winding down as teams begin to look towards the start of camp. Rosters are pretty much set, the dog days of hefty contracts have passed and most of the prized free agents have chosen their future location. Heck, Ben Gordon and Caron Butler were even signed to relatively large contracts after slipping tape from the 2008-2009 season to the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons front offices. Okay, maybe you could persuade me that Butler (and his very entertaining post-three-pointer phone call routine) deserved the money, and Gordon is still a sho–… On second thought, let’s leave those deals for another time. We saw one superstar return home, and two other stars take a clue from the Wu-Tang Clan and pick money over two arguably better teams. We watched as the Rockets swung for the fences and came up with Trevor Ariza. We saw < strong>Chandler Parsons hit the clubs with Mark Cuban. Point is, this has been quite an entertaining summer, and now that most of the moves have already occurred let’s look back at the 10 biggest winners of the NBA offseason.
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Honorable Mentions: Isaiah Austin and his NBA Draft Moment, Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin Memes, Kanye West compares himself to LeBron James, Drake & Blake Griffin ESPY Skits, James Harden gets “defensive” about Chandler Parsons jokes and much, much more.
1. Cleveland’s Rise
Maybe a little blatant homerism from me on this one, but can you really blame me? At the beginning of the offseason Spencer Hawes, whom the Cavaliers had just traded two second round picks for at the deadline, bolted for the Clippers midlevel exception (4 years/ 23 million) without so much as a goodbye, and Luol Deng had long packed his bags. No one knew what to expect from the Cavs with the number one pick. Another Coach was fired. Just another standard offseason in Cleveland. But then things started to go in a surprisingly correct manner: David Blatt, The Popovich of Euroleague and “one of the best basketball minds” according to Fran Fraschilla was hired as the new Head Coach. Andrew Wiggins, he of superstar potential, was selected with the number one pick. So far so good. At this point I remember thinking, “you know….maybe LeBron is coming back”, but just like most Ohioans I kept that feeling deep, deep inside me. Then it happened. Put aside the hoopla surrounding his return for a mere moment, and think basketball: the Cavaliers went from rebuilding to contending, from “possible Eastern Conference 8th seed” to the Vegas odds on favorite to win it all. Kevin Love, who just weeks beforehand had essentially made it clear that he would never resign with an Irving led Cleveland squad longed to be traded to Northeast Ohio. Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) is now on the Cavaliers radar. THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN CLEVELAND. Cleveland was able to obtain the NBA’s best player out of nowhere. From an emotional standpoint, Cleveland is on the rise. People are happy in Ohio now; it may be 60 degrees in the middle of summer, but hey, WE HAVE LEBRON.
2. The Spurs Keep It Spurs-y
While the rest of the league went through a dramatic shift in power, the champions kept their core free agents and added Boris Diaw clone Kyle Anderson in the draft (a perfect fit for player and team). With Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker (his decision) and Manu Ginobili resting (Spurs denied his participation after he injured his right fibula sometime during their championship run) instead of playing in the FIBA World Cup and Tim Duncan back for another go around there’s no reason to think the Spurs, returning every major contributor and role player, shouldn’t be the prohibitive favorite to return to the Finals yet again. Finals MVP and breakout star Leonard is still only 23 years old and improving. Oh, and Gregg Popovich threw some shade at the Miami Heat too. Outside of luring Pau Gasol to San Antonio, this is the best possible scenario for Tim Duncan and friends. It’s been a relatively quiet and efficient summer for San Antonio, just how they like it.
3. Restricted Free Agents Not Named Bledsoe Or Monroe
The top two restricted free agents, Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe and Pistons power forward Greg Monroe, remain unsigned and have yet to be “poached” by an opposing team armed with a max-offer sheet (by the way, big fan of using words most often associated with a Saharan hunting trip to describe the act of signing another teams player). But outside of the top two, many of the high caliber restricted free agents received big money from a new team or from their original team by matching the offer. Restricted free agency allows the former team the option of matching any contract offer (in the exact same terms), which often times means big time money ends up going to an above-average player. After signing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik as restricted free agents in 2012-2013, the Rockets watched as Mark Cuban offered the same type of high-salaried contract to their third best player, role player Chandler Parsons (3yr/46 million), forcing Daryl Morey and the Rockets to play a 72-hour game of cat and mouse with Chris Bosh and Parsons. In the end Bosh said “thanks, but no thanks” to Houston and Houston did Parsons the same. Either way, Chandler Parsons is now being paid more money from the Mavs than Dirk Nowitzki.
Gordon Hayward, after one tumultuous season playing as the Jazz’s de facto alpha dog, received a max-offer sheet from his Highness Michael Jordan and the new look Hornets. This time the Jazz chose to keep the young core intact and matched the offer. Either way, Gordon Hayward got paid.
Isaiah Thomas (20.3PPG, 6.3APG, 1 Chris Paul interaction denied by Boogie Cousins) saw the writing on the wall after the Kings signed another small and speedy point guard (Darren Collison) to replace him. Thomas was signed for relatively cheap by Phoenix (4 years/ 27 million) given his production, but he gets to play for a team that “wanted” him, and barring a Bledsoe divorce should be an early favorite for 6th man of the year.
4. Joel Embiid’s Twitter Account
I saw someone tweet a post earlier this summer that said something along the lines of, “Embiid’s twitter account reads like a parody of a real person”, except it’s not. Embiid has taken Twitter by storm, quickly becoming one of the most followed and talked about accounts on the web. From his tape-delayed frozen response to being selected by the 76ers to his swooning tweets towards Kim K (before finding out she’s off the market) and Rihanna (still in play… she followed him!!!!), Embiid’s school girl-esque drama tweets like (https://twitter.com/JoelEmbiid/status/493957571468750849) makes Joel-Hans Embiid a highlight of my Twitter feed. He’s goofy, but how can you root against him? Here’s to hoping he keeps his tweets PG-13, and avoids any and all J.R. Smith “Pipe” tweets possibly in his future.
5. Bottom-Feeders Getting Better
Nobody is calling Utah, Orlando, Philly, and Milwaukee a fearsome foursome, but the four worst teams of the past NBA season have all spent the summer adding serious talent to their rosters.
Milwaukee added stud forward Jabari Parker with the number two pick in the draft, got the coach they wanted, Larry Sanders is apparently spending his time off the court reading books, Jerryd Bayless and the Chipotle loving Kendall Marshall were added for cheap, and Giannis “The Greek Freak” continues to look like a bottomless pit of potential capable of becoming a superstar. A tad bit more exciting than last year’s highlight of Zaza Pachulia and the player formerly known as O.J. Mayo, yes?.
Utah lucked out on draft day as Dante Exum fell into their laps at number five; giving them the possible franchise caliber player they’ve searched for (sorry, Trey Burke). They kept Gordon Hayward, named Quin Snyder as Head Coach, and still have a collection of young, promising players (Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Alec Burcs, and Rudy “SlenderMan” Gobert). Seriously, do not underestimate this team’ss potential to either: A. continue developing their young core and hope one or two make the “leap” over the next few seasons or B. package some of them in a deal to acquire another star player. Utah probably lacks the experience to make a run for a lower rung of the playoff ladder this season, but the talent is there.
There’s a similar storyline going on in Orlando as the front office continues to keep the books level, and is slowly putting together the most athletic team in the NBA. They selected super athlete and Dime interviewee Aaron Gordon with their first pick, swapped with Philly for sleeper Elfrid Payton (who looked like a steal during Summer League, posting near triple doubles in a few games), Victor Oladipo is a member of the USA Select Team (playing against the cream of the crop of summer can only help him get better), and they took a flier on the French swingman Evan Fournier (while dumping Aaron Afflalo, albeit for much less than a first round pick). The only complaint I have with them is the relative splurge for Ben Gordon (2 years/ 9 million), but it is a deal that can be easily slotted in any trade offer. Remember they still have Tobias Harris (22 years-old), Nikola Vucevic (23 years-old), and Maurice Harkless (21 years-old) on the team as well. This team is young, athletic, and has no one to shoot the three ball (Ben Gordon may have actually been paid to shoot every and all three-point attempts). Is Orlando’s future brighter than Miami’s now?
Finally we’ve reached Philadelphia, Tanking Central. I admire Sam Hinkie’s blatant goal to select an injured prospect each draft, therefore giving him one year of padding each summer (Don’t be mad at me! You haven’t even seen play yet, wait till next season!). Well, it’s working: Nerlens Noel looks every part of the enforcer we imagined, and his offense was a pleasant surprise in Summer League. Plus, they added Dario Saric (see ya in two years!), Pierre Jackson (who absolutely killed the D-League last season, but ruptured his Achilles tendon July 5 against the Magic), K.J. McDaniels (rotation player!), Jerami Grant (thought to be a one-time first round selection), Jordan McRae (looked good in SL) and the reigning Twitter King, Joel Embiid. Assuming the 76ers overall plan is to “acquire as many assets, whether it be picks or players, and develop into a contender over time,” adding this collection is pretty much spot on. Embiid probably won’t play this year, but we’re quick to forget how obvious it looked that he would go number one before the injury. Anyone who learns how to play basketball that well in that short amount of time has a chance to be a spectacular player. Saric, when he arrives, is a point forward who should mesh well with the incumbents, and don’t forget Michael Carter-Williams (the reigning ROY, nonetheless) is running the point. Philadelphia kept to the plan and now has an even bigger collection of prospects at their disposal, not to mention a probable top five pick next June. TANKING FOR THE WIN.
6. Former Point Guards Turned Coaches
Mark Jackson made the leap from broadcasting to coaching, and then Jason Kidd came straight out of a Knicks uniform to walking the sideline for the Nets. This offseason we’ve seen two former point guards without head coaching experience be tabbed as Head Coaches. Steve Kerr, former three-point marksmen and Suns front office executive spent most of the summer flirting with the Knicks before accepting a 5 year/25 million dollar offer to coach the Warriors. After losing out on Kerr, Phil Jackson turned his eyes towards his former player (and most recently Thunder role player) Derek Fisher; signing him to a 5 year/25 million dollar contract, too. Long gone are the days of earning a head-coaching job after working as an assistant for multiple years (look at poor Patrick Ewing), and more than ever are candidates being hired without prior experience. Not to be outdone in all this was Jason Kidd, who made an apparent power play for final say on all personnel decisions to Nets ownership. Needless to say the Russians were not happy, and Kidd began pushing himself out. Next we heard rumors Kidd was in position for a front office job with the Bucks, and then a Doc Rivers type role of Coach and Exec. In the end Kidd was traded to the Bucks for two second round picks and Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew (who helped give Mike Woodson the ax in Atlanta years ago; karma’s always ready) was shown the door. Point guards turned coaches is turning into a staple of our NBA summer diets, and this year was even better than the past year for former point guards. One can only hope we see a Smush Parker led Lakers team in 2016.
7. The Zen Master’s Return
Jackson has been out of the basketball world since retiring as the Lakers Head Coach after the 2010-2011 Playoffs, and heading out to the pastures of his ranch in Montana. But after taking the past few years off, Jackson was enticed at the opportunity to return to basketball – this time as the President of the Knicks. Things started off a little rocky to begin with: Carmelo Anthony opted out (which was always his intent), Steve Kerr passed on the Knicks, and then Melo looked like he was moving on. In the end Jackson was able to lure Melo back to the Big Apple, get a Coach who will install his patented Triangle offense, and pull the trigger (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) on a deal that sent Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, and most importantly two second-round picks in this past NBA Draft. The Knicks drafted two highly thought of players with those picks, Wichita State’s CleAnthony Early, and Greek Freak older brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo. While the Knicks didn’t land a partner for Anthony this offseason, they didn’t take back any heinous salaries the Knicks usually love going for. That means after this season, with Andrea Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire coming off the books, the Knicks will have only $41,391,974 committed in salaries for the summer of 2015, and with the cap expected to rise there might be even more room to work with. All and all, I’m giving Jackson credit for coming in and doing three things the previous regime was unable to do: 1. Ridding some excess salaries for the upcoming summer. 2. Acquiring draft picks. 3. Getting J.R. Smith to admit he deserved to be traded (therefore giving me some slight hope he may come to play this season…. O.K. don’t quote me on that). Given the circumstances, this offseason was a win for Jackson and the Knicks.
8. Derrick Rose and The Bulls Return to Contention
Before I go any further, this is all assuming Rose is able to stay healthy for the entire season (fingers crossed). Although the Bulls came up empty handed in the Carmelo Sweepstakes, they did acquire veteran big man Pau Gasol, who should be energized playing basketball with a decent group of teammates and will enjoy not being the scapegoat of all issues for this team. Plus they imported 2011 first round pick Nikola Mirotic from Euroleague, and added another three-point threat by drafting Doug McDermott 11th in this year’s draft. Both players are at the least capable three-point shooters to surround Rose, Gasol, and Joakim Noah. Tony Snell looked a lot more capable of being an NBA player in Summer League, and don’t forget about Taj Gibson, either. Oh, and they added Aaron Brooks to back up Rose. This team is deep and obviously well-coached. It all hinges on Rose returning to form, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, the man’s played in only ten games over the past two seasons.
But come on, how can you not get excited for Derrick Rose!? Rose is reenergized, more mature, and most of all healthy. We’ll get a better look when the team heads off to compete in the World Cup, but if he’s anywhere near the player he was originally, then the East might be a little more fun this season.
9. Players involved in the FIBA World Cup
It’s no secret that Carmelo Anthony had the best seasons of his career following an Olympic run, and while this may not be the Olympics, it is an opportunity for some of the NBA’s younger generation of stars to grow and develop over the summer. With Kevin Love (trade rumors), LaMarcus Aldridge (contract season?), Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook (injured back/recovering from multiple knee surgeries) sitting out the event, players like Damian Lilliard, Kyrie Irving, and DeMarcus Cousins all have a greater chance of being selected to the 12-man FIBA roster. Regardless, just playing in a competitive setting over the next two months allows everyone to get better than their NBA counterparts. Even the select team, which includes but is not limited to: Dion Waiters, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Douggy McBuckets, and Draymond Green are spending their offseason learning the level of commitment needed for success. Playing for Team USA not only is an honor for a citizen, but an opportunity to compete and grow as a player in a way that even the Drew League or various Pro-Am tours cannot. All in all, the FIBA participants are winners because they come into the season in better basketball shape than their teammates. A win for anyone involved.
10. Adam Silver
Silver finished his first year as the NBA Commissioner, and after a successful Finals, Silver continued winning in the summer. He shared a special moment with Isaiah Austin at the Draft, forced out Donald Sterling as Clippers owner, and watched as the NBA continued to be relevant all summer as the whole world again waited for LeBron’s Decision. Silver came into power the polar opposite of his predecessor, no more evident then him referring to players as friends. David Stern never said, “My friend LeBron James.” What does all this mean? Maybe it’s something, or maybe not. Interested in ideas like a midseason tournament, a longer All-Star Break, and lottery reformation, Silver is tackling issues left and right. There might be a potential lockout looming in the distance (2016-2017), but in the meantime Silver is enjoying praise from both owners and players. With the moniker @NBA now being placed on game balls, it’s only right we end this with a #Winning for Silver.
Who do you think won the offseason?
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