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An NBA Offseason Guide: The Atlantic Division
Well the 2014-2015 NBA season has come to an end which means one thing: it’s time to look forward to the 2015 NBA offseason. This year sees many teams facing an uncertain future and the moves they make in the next few months will shape the outlook of the league for the next few years. Of course you could have written the preceding sentence about any offseason in the past decade or so. But every NBA offseason brings a certain level of excitement, it presents the chance for teams who underachieved to hit the reset button and it allows crazy owners to make crazy trades and dish out mind boggling contracts. Its a time for players to bet on themselves and turn down relatively large contracts (looking at you Jimmy Butler). This guide will look at the entire NBA by division by team giving you a comprehensive breakdown on what teams may be looking for this July. Today we will be looking at the Atlantic division.
2014-2015 Record: 40-42, 7th in the Eastern Conference.
2015 Free Agents: Jae Crowder (RFA), Brandon Bass (UFA), Gigi Datome (RFA), Jonas Jerebko (UFA).
The Boston Celtics traded their two best players in Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and somehow didn’t lose a step. Perhaps it was the addition of Isaiah Thomas or perhaps it was Bill Simmon’s Ewing Theory at work. Or maybe Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo at this point in their careers aren’t as good as we thought they were. Regardless Boston was able to make a return to the playoffs after a one year absence. Whether or not they will be able to replicate that success remains to be seen, the Pacers will be better this year and the Pistons might have improved. However coach Brad Stevens will have a chance to have this unit for a whole offseason, giving him a chance to better incorporate Isaiah Thomas, an incredibly underrated offensive player. Both Marcus Smart and James Young have shown flashes of being capable NBA players, but need to improve if the team wants to take another step forward. On the whole the team has two major gaps in their roster, a paint protector and shooting. This season the Celtics used a rotation of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller in the rotation at the center slot. None of these players are exactly great rim protectors. According to NBA SportVu stats opponents shot 52% at the rim when facing Zeller and 53% when facing Sullinger and Olynyk. These aren’t terrible numbers, but they aren’t great. Smart and Bradley have a reputation for being lockdown on the perimeter, but it always helps to have a backline of defense. Boston could also use a couple of perimeter shooters for the purpose of spacing. Both Thomas and Bradley shoot at around 35% from three, but Smart and Turner are both below average shooters. Smart shoots around 33% and Turner shoots 28%, and those are Boston’s starting point guard and small forward. In order for any sort of offensive game plan to work in the NBA you need shooters to space the floor. When two of your three starting perimeter players shoot below 35% from three your team is going to have a tough time running anything on offense.
Free agents that might interest Boston for an immediate fix to their problems include Marco Belinelli and Danny Green for shooting purposes, and Tyson Chandler for rim protection. However given Danny Ainge’s dedication to the big picture don’t be surprised if they pass on those three since they may not fit Ainge’s timeframe. However Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will be unrestricted free agents this season. Both are younger, dynamic wings with decent range from three. It might be tempting to attempt to tender one of these players a max offer, or in Jimmy’s case a two year contract with a player option. Tobias Harris is another intriguing option for Boston at the small forward spot. He’s only 22 years old and is coming off a season in which he posted averages of 17 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 47% from the field, 36% from three, and 79% from the free throw line. He could be a nice fit for Boston and give them a secondary scorer to complement Isaiah Thomas. However don’t be too surprised if Boston chooses to punt on free agency and try to fill their needs in the draft. Right now CBS sports and ESPN’s Chad Ford have Boston taking Trey Lyles or Kelly Oubre with the 16th pick in the draft. Both are athletic forwards with great two way potential. Oubre would give Boston an athletic wing, who has the tools to become a solid NBA player on both ends of the floor. Some project Lyles to be a floor spacing power forward, that is if he can actually develop a jump shot. Whoever Boston winds up picking, expect them to pick the player they think is the most talented prospect available.
2014-2015 Record 38-44, 8th in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Alan Anderson (UFA), Jerome Jordan (RFA), Brook Lopez (UFA), Mirza Teletovic (RFA), Thaddeus Young (UFA).
The Brooklyn Nets are in trouble heading forward. Not only is their roster overpaid and underperforming, they don’t own their draft pick until 2019. The Brooklyn Nets organization are going to have to make some major roster decisions this summer. Brook Lopez, their leading scorer, is a free agent and may be looking to leave. Even if Lopez stays his medical history doesn’t exactly scream stable building block. Lopez played 72 games this season but in each of the last three he has played a total of 96 out of 256 games. Lopez is a good scorer in the paint and has nice touch in the mid-range area, but the Nets front office has to question whether or not he’s worth the money he is going to command on the market. Keep in mind the Nets have to either make the playoffs every year until 2019 or at least come close to nabbing the 8th seed. Tanking is not an option for this team, and given the poor performance of the team in recent years it is doubtful high end free agents see Brooklyn as a great destination, meaning there is little chance for improvement. Thus although Brooklyn needs an influx of young talent to complement Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, they aren’t getting any new pieces. The Nets also have to swap picks with the Hawks this, leaving Brooklyn drafting late in the first round when they could really use some talent. Unless Billy King is able to find the next David Lee, Tony Parker, or Jimmy Butler, don’t hold your breath.
All this means Nets coach Lionel Hollins is going to have to rely on most of the same crew next year. Joe Johnson can still score a little, he did average 14 points per game last season on 43% shooting from the field. However his backcourt mate Deron Williams put in one of the worst seasons of his career averaging 13 points and 6 assists on 38% shooting. This past year Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were paid over 40 million dollars combined for those less than stellar performances. They could try to shoot for a player like Tobias Harris, Draymond Green, or maybe even Arron Afflalo in free agency. But even if they were able to sign a mid-tier free agent, what’s the endgame? None of the players I just mentioned are going to move the needle for the Nets. They are still going to be a fring .500 team in the East. They’re not going to be competitive for a while unless they can sign a superstar free agent like Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis (Lebron ain’t leaving Cleveland again). However it seems highly unlikely they are going to be able to land that caliber of free agent. Which leaves me with my original point, all Brooklyn can do until they get more talent is keep making the playoffs and make sure they don’t surrender a high pick to Boston or Atlanta until they can rebuild through the draft. Just keep on swimming Brooklyn fans, just keep on swimming.
New York Knicks
2014-2015 Record: 17-65, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Quincy Acy (RFA), Cole Aldrich (UFA), Lou Amundson (UFA), Andrea Bargnani (UFA), Shane Larkin (UFA), Alexey Shved (RFA), Jason Smith (UFA), Lance Thomas (UFA), Travis Wear (RFA).
The poor Knicks, they sign Carmelo Anthony to a max contract this past summer only to see him miss 42 games this season. They managed to get screwed in the lottery and dropped to the 4th pick in the draft, which they may or may not trade. Currently the players that show the most promise on the roster are Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Of course when I say promise I mean they’re all under 25 and are capable NBA players. They might be decent pieces to surround Carmelo Anthony with, but the Knicks could definitely use more talent at every position. Phil Jackson is committed to rebuilding that roster around Anthony, which means any player they draft or sign in free agency has to complement his game. It is uncertain where New York is going to obtain the right pieces necessary to contend. Even in the watered down east, the Knicks aren’t close to beating the recent Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers. They don’t have shooters, they don’t have a shot blocker, and they don’t have any perimeter defenders. So essentially other than a designated scorer they have no pieces in place. This wouldn’t be a problem if the player they’re building around wasn’t on the wrong side of 30 and had a no-trade clause in his contract. There’s nothing wrong with building around a 30 year old, as long as his name is Lebron James and the team doesn’t need four years to rebuild. Galloway might be the point guard moving forward, he is coming off a solid rookie year posting averages of 11 points, 3 assists, 4 boards, and 1 steal per game. But he did this on 39% shooting and he might not get as many opportunities as he did this year. Hardaway is another player on the Knicks roster who has been solid, averaging 11 points. However with Anthony, Galloway, and Hardway, you still need at least two other competent NBA players in the starting lineup to begin to compete for a playoff spot.
Of course this is where Phil is supposed to come in and get those other competent NBA players. New York has been linked to current Piston forward Greg Monroe in various free agency rumors. The recent trade for Ersan Ilyasova seems to be a sign that Monroe isn’t coming back to Detroit, opening the door for New York to sign him. However that begs the question, how the heck is Monroe going to help the Knicks? At this point in his career he’s essentially a low post lefty who can make some plays at the elbow. He’s not a terrible defender, but he’s probably better off being paired with a shot blocker and not being relied upon to be the shot blocker. Also Monroe would clog the lane and provides little in the way of floor spacing, something you want a lot of when you run your offense through Carmelo Anthony. New York may try to swing for the fences and attempt to woo the big names in free agency, namely Marc Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge, but at their age it’s doubtful that either would want to go to a rebuilding team. Which leaves mid tier guys like Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Danny Green, Khris Middleton, and Tobias Harris. Anyone of these players would immediately help New York be at least slightly more competitive, but they’re only going to do so much and with the exception of Harris I don’t see any of these guys leaving their current teams. Fortunately New York has the 4th pick in this draft, which means they can grab a young, talented, player without having to sell him on any sort of plan. They’ve been linked to Emmanuel Mudiay, Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow, and D’Angelo Russell so far. Really New York just needs to pick whoever they think has the best shot at being an all star. New York could just use a talented player who’s under the age of thirty, the position really doesn’t matter.
2014-2015 Record: 18-64, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Luc Mbah a Moute (UFA), Jason Richardson (UFA), Glenn Robinson (RFA), Thomas Robinson (UFA), Henry Sims (RFA), Ish Smith (UFA).
Expect the 76ers to stick to their gameplan this summer. Sam Hinkie has for the past two years, constructed some of the worst rosters that have ever graced an NBA court. The ultimate goal of course is to hopefully strike gold and draft that player they can build a title contender around. Once again, similar to last year, the front office has to determine which players are actually NBA caliber players. Nerlens Noel looks like a keeper and they seem to like Isaiah Canaan, but no one knows if Robert Covington and Tony Wroten are legitimate NBA players or merely the product of the fast pace and having a lot of opportunities due to the lack of talent. Then there is the matter of Joel Embiid. It has been recently reported that Embiid has suffered yet another injury setback and could potentially miss the entire 2015-2016 per a report from Pro Basketball Talk. Bare minimum he is going to miss the start of the season and summer league. This is big for the 76ers because this was supposed to be the season when the coach and front office could evaluate the center and see what kind of player he could be. Coming into the draft Embiid was tabbed as a potential franchise center. Having not seen him play NBA basketball yet, no one knows if he is capable of being that guy at this point.
This leaves the 76ers in a tight spot because at the third pick in the draft one of two big men in Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis will be available. If the front office thinks Embiid’s injury is the sign of a larger problem and could be recurring throughout his career, then he could take either Porzingis or Okafor with the pick. If Hinkie and coach Brett Brown are still confident Embiid can be a good NBA center they might go with a point guard or a wing. Trading Michael Carter Williams in the middle of this past season may indicate that Brown and Hinkie feel good about taking either D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay with the third pick. However if the 76ers do go with either Okafor or Porzingis, it could mean Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel will be traded at some point. As crazy as that may seem, this is the team that traded Michael Carter Williams after one and half seasons. This also might be the year Philadelphia tries to sign a mid tier free agent in order to get to the salary cap and begin to load up on talent. Actually wait that idea looked a lot better in my head than it on my computer. Forget it they’re probably punting on free agency again. Hypothetically they could try to grab Leonard, Butler, Green, or any other young guy out there, but it doesn’t look like Hinkie wants to build that way. It also doesn’t look like the team is even close to trying to compete yet. Hopefully I’m wrong and the team does sign a young free agent to complement this year’s draft pick in order to improve the team. But this is Philadelphia we’re talking about, they’re probably going to keep driving the tank.
2014-2015 Record: 49-33 4th in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Landry Fields (UFA), Tyler Hansbrough (UFA), Chuck Hayes (UFA), Amir Johnson (UFA), Greg Stiemsma (UFA), Lou Williams (UFA).
Does anyone know the long term plan for the Raptors? Is there a long term plan for the Raptors? My own theory has been this whole thing has been an accident and Masai Ujiri planned to tank after trading Rudy Gay during the 2013-2014 season. But a combination of the team performance improving post trade and a weak Eastern Conference lead to Ujiri changing plans at the last minute and waiting to see what this team was capable of. Now two first round exits later the core of Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas may have reached its peak. Overall, Kyle Lowry turned in another solid year averaging 17 points 4 boards and nearly 7 assists per game. However his production took a dip after the all star break. Pre break the point guard turned in averages of 18 points 4 rebounds and 7 assists per game on 42% shooting. Post all star break Lowry average 15 points, 4 boards and 5 assists per game on a poor 35% shooting. Lowry did miss time late in the season with a back injury, so maybe that was to blame for the dip in production. Derozan similarly turned in a great year averaging 20 points and 3 assists. But these numbers are down from last season when he average 22 points and 4 assists, furthermore his shooting was down this year from 43% from the field and 30% from three to 41% from the field and 28% from three. While it may seem that merely getting to the playoffs would be a huge achievement for a Raptors franchise that has struggled after the departure of Chris Bosh, this team has had home court advantage in both of the playoff series they have lost. It is unclear what can be done to get this team over the hump. They could continue to rely on improvement from Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. However Valanciunas seems to have stagnated and Ross may have taken a step back after a promising sophomore year. Valanciunas has posted similar per game stats going from 11 points and 8 boards his sophomore year to 12 points and 8 boards this year. It is unclear if Ujiri will want to continue with the core of Derozan, Ross, Lowry, and Valanciunas or if he wants to trade one of them and rebuild.
If he chooses to continue to build around this core he needs to find wing depth and decide if he still wants to roll with Amir Johnson as the power forward. Johnson is a solid defender and a capable pick and roll player as the roll man. However it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the team upgraded at the power forward role, not necessarily trading Johnson, but maybe bringing him off the bench. Thaddeus Young and maybe Khris Middleton may be worth a look for Toronto. Although they would both be undersized for the position, they could play the role of a stretch power forward. There are a few wings Toronto could chase that would be in their price range. Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy, and Jared Dudley will all be available and should be obtainable for a price Toronto would feel comfortable paying. Belinelli and Dunleavy both also bring a very small dose of ball handling while Dudley is a better defender and rebounder. But they can all shoot the three ball well and don’t need the ball to succeed. If Ujiri doesn’t look to fulfill these gaps Toronto could look to grab a wing in the draft. Right now per CBS both Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Sam Dekker could be available to the Raptors at 20. Dekker is the better shooter, Hollis Jefferson projects to be the better defender. Or they could go with Bobby Portis as CBS’s Zach Harper suggests. Portis is an interesting prospect who could develop into a stretch power forward who could also lock down his man on defense. His versatility on both ends of the floor may intrigue Ujiri who as I said earlier may look to change it up at power forward. The NBA landscape is dynamic and constantly changing. There are a number of teams that look to be better next year, the Raptors have to keep pace or they risk falling behind.
That’s it for the Atlantic Division, come back later for the Central Division.