By: The Same Page Team
In the NBA the off-season can be just as crazy as the regular season. And that can only mean one thing: Reynolds, Grant and Osubronie are here with another Three for 3. This time up they’re tackling the big questions of the summer.
1) What has been the most interesting (non-Lebron) move of the off-season?
Osubronie: As soon as Lebron made his move back home to Cleveland, the dominoes finally began to fall in free agency. The biggest acquisition since has been Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls. The two time NBA champion is back with a talented team surrounding him to mask his defensive liabilities and give him another chance at a NBA ring. Trading up from “Swaggy P” and a cast of aging, injured superstars (sorry Kobe fans) to playing along side former MVP, Derrick Rose, and the hardest working player in the league in, Joakim Noah, could be one of the best decisions he ever made.
Knowing Pau isn’t the greatest defensive player, the Bulls decided to take a chance at improving their offense. Playing along side Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson guarantees a plethora of pick and roll options. As a specialist at high screens and with an ability to space the floor, Gasol will be able to create better opportunities for Rose and Noah to get to the basket. While previously scoring 17 points/game last season, Gasol will be able to maintain his high average and improve an offense that finished in the basement last season with 93 points/game.
After playing for Mike D’Antoni, who has never drawn up a defensive play in his life, Gasol will be able to contribute on the defensive end by learning from Tom Thibodeau. Much like Doc Rivers did for Blake Griffin, Thibs will find ways to conceal Gasol’s weakness with Noah and Gibson playing backup under the rim. Hopefully we will never see Pau playing defense like this again. The Bulls, top rated defense may decline after holding teams to 91 points/game last season, but they are sure to finish in the top five and seem destined to at least compete for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Grant: I have to go with Chandler Parsons being pried away from Houston by the Dallas Mavericks. The reason being, I think it was actually an astute decision for both sides. Dallas has an ever-shrinking window with Dirk Nowitzki – they needed to try and make a big splash now. After missing out on ‘big-time’ free agents such as Dwight Howard and Deron Williams (dodged a bullet there!) in the past few off-seasons, going the restricted free agent route, against a division rival no less, was a creative way of trying to add talent to their revamped roster, while putting the screws to the Rockets. Basically, Dallas is gearing up for one last kick at the can, and a starting five of Nowitzki, Parsons, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler and (yeesh) either Ray Felton or Devin Harris is eminently better than if Parsons was replaced by say, Vince Carter or Jae Crowder in the same mix.
For Houston, guided by the effervescent nerd-beacon that is Daryl Morey, I get not wanting to pay Chandler Parsons 45 million over 3 years. Houston values assets and Parsons value at that number is significantly decreased. Statistically, he looks decent, averaging 16 points, close to 6 rebounds and 4 assists a game, but then you look and see he played almost 40 minutes a game in one of the leagues most high octane offenses. And then you look deeper and see that he finished 110th in PER last season, sandwiched between Jimmer Fredette and the aforementioned VC. This makes him the 13th best small forward in terms of efficiency, just behind Jeremy Evans and Nick Young. Yuck. The next best small forward? His ostensible replacement in Houston, Trevor Ariza, who put up similar counting stats on a slower Washington team and signed for just over half of the yearly term Parsons now commands. He’s also in another stratosphere defensively, which is good, considering Houston has a guy that does this. You can’t make this stuff up.
Reynolds: With all of the activity that’s gone on so far, it’s safe to say that the Eastern Conference this year will be a few notches quality-wise above the tire fire it was last season. Lebron aside – and admittedly, that’s a huge aside – middling teams are slowly but surely climbing into contender status, while other would-be world beaters are slinking off from whence they came. This brings us to the curious case of the Washington Wizards and their signing of Paul Pierce.
The Wizards last year struggled with consistency. They’d take leads and then blow them, they’d play for stretches where they looked unbeatable, and then get demolished the next night. The box scores tell the tale. The story of the franchise was, as per usual, one based on hope until the Wiz suddenly found themselves in the second round of the playoffs. Armed with John Wall and Bradley Beal, anchored by Nene and Marcin Gortat, the team short circuited the program. After that, well, it was Trevor Ariza (since departed) and then a lot of, uh, potential (and the professorial guidance of Andre Miller). Wall and Beal are not quite ready to close games, Nene drifts in and out of injury, and you really don’t want Gortat to be in the driver’s seat (unless a brawl breaks out). What they’ve lacked, what many up-and-coming teams lack, is a spirit killer like Pierce. Sure, he’s old now, and maybe he’s lost a step. He definitely can’t go hard every night for 40 minutes as during his mid 2000s run that peaked with the 2008 championship. But just play this scenario out in your head: suddenly the Wizards are hanging tough in a second round playoff game, they’ve got Wall and Beal gunning around the court, the ball moves in and out, screen by Nene, a second screen by Gortat, a swing out to the corner… and there’s Pierce. Your heart just stopped. It’s what the Wizards have been missing for years.
2) Which trade or signing are you still expecting to see by the end of the off-season?
Osubronie: Lance Stephenson spurned the Pacers and their forty five million dollar offer to join Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats. While this seems like the best move for him, it leaves the Pacers with an enormous void to fill. Did Lance know that the chemistry between himself, Paul George and Roy Hibbert could not be saved? We may never know why he left, but the Pacers need to sign another elite player and quickly or they can forget their reigning top spot of the Eastern Conference.
We watched all season as Indiana quickly went from a championship contender to a team with countless troubles. George’s antics off the court, the disappearance of Hibbert under the rim and numerous conflicts within the locker room proved that the Pacers need a veteran presence to stabilize the locker room. Many attribute the decline of the Pacers to the trade of Danny Granger. It did not seem like a big deal at the time, although he seemed to be the glue to hold the team together. Shawn Marion and Jameer Nelson are still available, however the latter may seem unlikely after the questionable signing of Rodney Stuckey to back up George Hill. If they decided to go solely with talent, Greg Monroe could be an excellent addition and would provide them with a offensive boost in the front court. Whomever they choose, Larry Bird needs to make a decision soon or the Pacers have an increasing chance of falling out of the playoff picture in the increasingly dangerous Eastern Conference.
Grant: The Phoenix Suns have got to do something. I don’t know who, I don’t know what, but I do know that you can’t have eight guards on your roster. Something’s gotta give Keanu! I do know that It was already a bit weird to play two point guards together, particularly when they were as good as the Slash Brothers, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. This is especially true since Bledsoe is only 6’1 and despite being a freak athlete, isn’t nearly as effective off the ball. I know that it was even weirder to then add another tiny guard in the 5’9 Isaiah Thomas from the Kings for nearly 7 million per season, a player that will want big minutes and averaged 20 points per game last season. This is even stranger after drafting another potentially undersized point guard in 6’2 Syracuse star Tyler Ennis in the first round. The team also has guards PJ Tucker, Gerald Green, Archie Goodwin and potentially, late first round pick Bogdan Bogdanovich on the roster.
I guess if the team views Dragic more as a 2 and Bogdanovich and Ennis as projects… no it, still doesn’t make sense. The big axe yet to fall is that Bledsoe is a restricted free agent and yet to resign with the team. Apparently they are quite far apart in terms of yearly salary – could the Suns really let him walk? You wouldn’t think so but quite frankly, this situation as constructed makes as much sense as Shaq and Charles Barkley at a salad bar. In conclusion, who the hell knows. I will be watching.
Reynolds: One of us is going to have to discuss Kevin Love, right? It seems like everyone else is. From the second that Lebron signed with Cleveland, all anyone could talk about was what package of players the Cavs would banish to Minnesota to get Love. He’s sitting on one last year of a stupidly short contract (cheers to David Khan for the player option next year), and despite a beautiful basketball partnership with Ricky Rubio, Love is definitely tip-toeing for the door. The main candidates have been the Cavs, who presumably would send either Andrew Wiggins (the preferred option) or Anthony Bennett (the consolation prize) plus whatever cap ballast necessary to make the deal work. The benefits to Timberwolves are immediately apparent: they’d get a potential ace of a young player in return for a lost cause free agent with one foot already out the door. Meanwhile, the Cavs would give Lebron a brilliant passer and shotmaker who is a star right now, not a potential star in three years. When you’ve got Lebron in his prime, that matters.
The other suitor, and original frontrunner before Cleveland grabbed the lead, are the Golden State Warriors, home of the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. I mention the Bros right off the top because, well, any potential deal for Love would have to – according to Minnesota and Godfather Flip Saunders – include Thompson, the smooth shooting off-the-ball wunderkind. If you’re the Warriors, do you part with half of what makes you a dynamite team? Do you prepare for the worst if the trade fails? Do you hope that a combo of Curry, Love and whatever can be squeezed from Bogut and Iguodala is enough to get you farther in the playoffs? What of David Lee in this scenario? How many sharp passing big men can one team have? The questions are numerous. And we didn’t even mention where the Boston Celtics or Chicago Bulls fit in this scenario. (Both seem to be unlikely trade partners now.) Again, the T-Wolves are getting antsy. They have to know Love is out the door. The play here for them is to take whatever they can get. Amazingly, the Love sweepstakes have remained mild. Minnesota knows they are still in the cold.
3) What do you think about the Toronto Raptors’ moves this off-season?
Osubronie: The Raptors gained some much needed respect in the league after placing third in the Eastern Conference last season. Much of the praise should be given to our All Star snub, Kyle Lowry. Arguably the best point guard in the league last season, he led his team to the playoffs and a franchise record 48 wins. As deserved as it was, Lowry was also in a contract year, which terrifies me as an NBA fan. He found $48 million reasons to play hard last season so there’s no way to know if he can maintain it.
Labelled a misfit in the NBA, Lowry has never really found a home in the league. After stints with the Rockets and Grizzles, Lowry was labelled un-coachable and a distraction in the locker room; nonetheless, he finally found a place with the Toronto Raptors. The move to bring in Rudy Gay was seen as semi-strategic at the time to keep Lowry happy (he’s a close friend of Gay’s) in Toronto. It was thought, once Gay was gone, that Lowry was sure to be next. Instead he decided to embrace his inner alpha-male and take over the team. Since he now has his big payout, can he guarantee that he will be able to play at the same elite level for four straight years or will he become disgruntled as he as so many times before.
The most important part of the Lowry signing was keeping Raptors’ chemistry intact. He hit career highs in all categories and the bromance that developed between him and DeRozan last season was comparable only to the likes of Turk/J.D. and Bunk/McNulty. Now that GM Masai Ujiri has resigned the rest of the team, Raptor fans can be very optimistic that the team will reclaim the Atlantic division crown.
Don’t us down Kyle, DON’T LET US DOWN!
Grant: I think they’ve made a good start, in terms of their long term prospects. The core of this team is locked up for the next two seasons at least, Amir Johnson aside, and a full training camp will only help this group grow. The team’s undeniable chemistry and unselfishness was their biggest weapon last season. These were guys who genuinely seemed to be rooting for one another, who shared the ball and who worked hard on defense.
All that said, the East, while no longer as top heavy, is an improving conference. There are going to be less easy nights this season; teams that were atrocious last season might not be playoff bound, but will be undeniably improved. New York has added Jose Calderon and some guy named Phil Jackson. The Pistons landed Stan Van 3000 and have another year of familiarity with their weird lineup. The Hornets added Lance Stephenson. The Magic and Sixers, while still very young, are a year closer to whatever they hope to become, and have added even more young talent to their burgeoning rosters. The Nets lost Paul Pierce but looked better with Joe Johnson playing a bigger role anyway and they’ll have Brook Lopez back (in theory). The Wizards added the aforementioned Pierce and look poised to break-out. A little someone named Derrick Rose is returning to the Bulls. The Bucks added Jason Kidd and Jabari Parker. Who knows what the Hawks and Celtics will do – both feel unfinished. The Heat and Pacers are still tough teams. Oh and Cleveland appears to have made some roster moves.
The point is that the East is in flux right now. The vibe I’ve been getting is that this is good for Toronto and that they can take advantage of all these muddy scenarios, rip out to a good start and hopefully win their division again, and this time go deeper in the playoffs. The idea has legs, but the Raptors are still a player or two away from being real contenders in the East. The fact that they’re paying Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and the ever-loving Marcus Camby 20 million dollars this season has hamstrung them in terms of being able to add outside talent. Look for Masai to make an in-season trade involving the Fields and/or Hayes contracts along with future draft picks to try and put this team over the top. The East is improving; Toronto needs to keep pace.
Reynolds: After the buzzer sounded at the end of Game 7 last year, the Toronto Raptors had to do four things. (I mean, four things after recovering from such a heartbreaking loss. I’m still bitter.) Those four things, in order, were: resign Kyle Lowry, resign Patrick Patterson, resign Grievis Vasquez, and find a strong defensive wing player. GM Masai Ujiri surveyed the scene. I like to pretend he took a breath, picked up the phone and then… made it all happen.
We’re doing it, we’re going full Hubie Brown for the rest of this. OK, you’re a Toronto Raptor fan. You’ve watched your team let free agent after free agent walk away, you’ve traded star players for junk, you’ve never been able to lure a top flight free agent to the city and when you finally did it was Hedo Turkoglu. Your draft picks have been hit or miss. You’ve been saddled with the corpses of Hakeem Olajuwon AND Jermaine O’Neal in the same decade. You’ve just had your best season in 15 years but the key player that got you there could leave (not to mention two very significant role players). You had a defensive weakness exposed again and again in the playoffs. You feel hopeful, but you’re not sure how optimistic you want to get. You pray that your GM will somehow many it all happen. He has to make it all happen. Then, over a week or so, he makes it all happen!
OK, me again. I’m not losing my mind here. The Raptors are still not a championship team. They are going to push as hard as the other teams in a suddenly wide open Eastern Conference. But it means something when the pieces just full into place. When the big names are resigned, when players are talking about how they have to come back, when roles are effortlessly filled (welcome back James Johnson). It just feels good, as a fan, to watch a front office go about making the smartest decisions. If we were still in Hubie Brown mode, we’d be talking about some other team on national TV. But now, suddenly, people are talking about the Toronto Raptors.