By: The Same Page Team
For an inaugural NBA season preview, the Same Page Team thought they’d get together to answer three compelling questions for each conference in anticipation of the 2012-2013 season. Join Daniel Reynolds, Dan Grant and Richie Guzman as they attempt to go Three for 3. First up: The Eastern Conference.
Which off-season trade will have the greatest impact in the Eastern Conference?
Richie: With what was probably one of the busiest off-seasons in the league since 2008, it’s hard to single out which particular moves will impact the standings the most. Miami aside, there are certainly going to be some changes in the East’s overall standings. The 76ers have a bright future for their young team with the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, pending the status of his fragile knees. The Brooklyn Nets have one of the best back courts in the league with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams and are a shoe in for the play-offs and quite possibly the Atlantic Division title. The Celtics have added depth and solid veteran presence in the signings of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa.
BUT, I firmly believe that the biggest surprise will come from the constantly disappointing Toronto Raptors. The trade for underrated PG Kyle Lowry has given the team a future elite player that Toronto fans have been praying for since the departure of Vince Carter. Lowry possesses excellent shooting and dribbling abilities that will definitely be an asset to the Raptors lack of firepower. But ultimately, this guy LOVES passing the ball and dishing out looks. We are all dying to see what Valanciunas can do and I can guarantee you that he and Bargnani are going to be getting looks from Lowry all game. The Raptors aren’t going to the Finals anytime soon, but Toronto fans can finally have a season to look forward to and a competitive (and entertaining) team to watch. Look for them finishing 4th in the Atlantic while battling it out for the final spot in the playoffs.
Dan: There have been numerous moves this off-season which will change the complexion of the East for years to come. But for this season in particular, nothing will have a bigger impact than Ray Allen’s decision to spurn the Boston Celtics and move to the Miami Heat.
Allen took significantly less money and presumably similar playing time to go to Miami, which sends one message to his old team. ‘These guys are better than you. They’re younger, they’re hungrier and they’re going to beat you. And then you tried to trade me. Twice. Screw this and screw you. I’m going to play with them and we’re going to stomp you’. Allen’s move forced the Celtics’s hand and led to their creation of a revamped backcourt, which has perhaps the most depth in the league, with the mercurial Rajon Rondo, the feisty Avery Bradley, underrated Courtney Lee, speedy Leandro Barbosa and dynamic Jason Terry. Not to mention giving guys like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo an even deeper chip on their shoulder, if that is possible without actually hitting their collective pelvis.
Let’s not forget about Allen himself. The best 3 point shooter in NBA history is now running the wing alongside the league’s most dominant player in LeBron James and one of the best in traffic creators in Dwyane Wade. Think he’ll be open much? If Allen can stay healthy, he’ll be a huge addition for the Heat, even if he’s only playing 20 minutes a game off the bench. He’ll definitely be a crunch time staple. Think Dell Curry for the early aught Raptors, but times a million.
Daniel: Usually when a team makes a deal that lands them a marquee player that team is said to have ‘won’ the deal. This year, the new Brooklyn Nets attacked the off season with great gusto so as to rebuild a roster that had recently featured Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar. After locking down Deron Williams to a long term contract, they managed to get another marquee player in Joe Johnson. Rejoicing followed as the Nets were now seen to have one of the better backcourts in the conference. Bucking convention however, and lost in all of the Brooklyn buzz, was the real winner of the deal: the Atlanta Hawks.
Yes, the franchise that managed to famously whiff on Chris Paul and trade Pau Gasol made a wise move. After years of 1st and 2nd round playoff exits, new GM Danny Ferry addressed the core problem of the team; they were anchored to the fortunes of one of the least compelling ‘stars’ in the league. In finally dumping Johnson and his albatross of a contract, the Hawks are now poised to seize a new destiny shaped by their compelling frontcourt of Al Horford and Josh Smith. Toss in the three-headed backcourt of a further developed Jeff Teague, the still useful Devin Harris, and the at least semi-conscientious gunner Lou Williams and we’re suddenly talking about a very intriguing team. And let’s face it, when was the last time you thought of the Atlanta Hawks as intriguing?
Who will be the Eastern Conference’s breakout player?
Richie: It’s no secret. I fucking love Brandon Jennings. It all began last year during the already redundant Jeremy Lin era of the 2011/2012 season. Journalists and basketball fans all over the world were drooling after the storyline that was Jeremy Lin. I agree, however, with the famous tweet by boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Perhaps not the best wording but Floyd did have a point. If you look at Brandon Jennings’ stats from last season they were almost IDENTICAL to Lin’s. And although they are both not All Star calibre players, I believe that Brandon Jennings is on his way. BJ is entering a contract year and the fact that the Bucks declined to extend his years in Milwaukee is only going to fuel his drive to improve. While sharing the spotlight in the backcourt with Monta Ellis, I only see Jennings’ stats improving this year in the assists and points categories. Remember, this is a player that chose not to go to college and instead start his Pro career early in Europe. If the Bucks fail to bring him back next year, there will be many other teams flooding the phone lines of his agent next summer. BOOK IT!
Dan: Kyrie Irving already kind of broke out for the Cavs last year, handily winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, posting a 18.5/3.7/5.4 stat line, shooting 47% from the floor, 40% from 3 point range and 87% from the line. That’s tremendous for anyone, let alone a 19 year old rookie. This season, I expect even bigger and better things. Rather than a sophomore slump, the second season is where superstar NBA PG’s make their bones; Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, all improved significantly in year 2, followed by achieving true superstardom in year 3. I expect no less from Irving, a kid who dominated grown men last year. The Cavs are his team now. With the addition of the explosive Dion Waiters and another year of familiarity with his teammates, only lingering health issues are stopping Irving from taking things to the next level this season. The Cavs might not make the playoffs, but Irving’s first all-star appearance is definitely on the radar, especially with Rose out for at least the first half. His continued development will do a lot to help Cleveland fans start to forget the King of South Beach (not really… but they can try).
Daniel: My pick for breakout player of the Eastern Conference has already, um, broken. He’s already won a championship in fact. Coming into next season, however, he is in the unique position of being the clear (young) focal point of a team stocked with able veterans, visions of golden trophies in their eyes. Guessed who it is? Rajon Rondo. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Rondo’s a known quantity, his game (poor jump shooting warts and all) is well established. But I say that there is something different this year. For Boston, in years past, there was the notion that Paul Pierce could lead the way, that KG could reach back in time and throw up a gem of a game if needed, and of course, Ray Allen was usually on hand with timely jumpers. But those legs are old or gone now, the bench has changed dramatically and Rondo has the chance going forward to define the next era of the Celtics.
It seems bizarre now to consider that the Celtics once seemed to be so active in trying to trade Rondo. For a time, GM Danny Ainge seemed to be making weekly statements that vacillated between love and apathy. For a player that was said to be a brooding type, given to bouts of moody, seething contempt, Ainge’s “Aw shucks, we love Rondo” routine should have been grating and divisive. Instead, with the team restructured, the title window creaking surely shut, Rondo stands poised, in all his indignant glory, to breakout not as a superstar player, but as one of the more significant players of his era.
What is the most interesting Eastern Conference storyline for the coming season?
Richie: The obvious answer to this question is “Can The Heat repeat this year?”. While I certainly believe that they most likely will, I yawn at the thought of that being the most interesting storyline in the East or in the League. Honestly, I’m interested to see if the Magic can win more than 10 games this season. This is a team that completely self destructed last season with the Dwight Howard/Van Gundy drama. Now with a new coach, no franchise player and perhaps Hedo Turkoglu as their best option I want to see what the hell is going to happen in Orlando this year. This team is a joke! I was at a Raptors pre-season game recently and saw a game at halftime between two Under 12 Girls teams from Markham play and I’m pretty sure both those teams were more entertaining to watch than the Orlando Magic. They are definitely going to tank purposely for a top 3 pick, but just how many games will they lose? And how long until the league intervenes on transactions where teams give away their star players for next to nothing? (Ahem, Chris Paul to The Lakers? I’m still crying).
Dan: This could get ugly…or maybe not? Andrew Bynum, emerging head case and career injury risk is now the main man in Philly, his hometown no less. Bynum finally lived up to superstar potential last season, dominating the paint and taking over as Kobe’s number 2 man for the Lakers. However, Bynum hasn’t been the best player on his team since high school (he made the jump straight to the NBA) and who knows how he’ll handle it and when (or even if) his sometimes enigmatic personality will gel with the rabid Philly faithful.
That being said, he is a hometown boy and he’s the best NBA centre not named Dwight, when healthy. The potential to make good is enormous. Philadelphia has a long and checkered history with big men. Wilt wanted out and fled to California. Moses led them to glory but only spent four of his prime years in town, returning for a fifth at age 38. Sir Charles booked his ticket for Phoenix. Derrick Coleman was a massive disappointment (Derrick, if you’re reading this… you were). C-Webb less so, but was certainly past his prime and often injured. And now Bynum. If any fan base will embrace one of their own, it’s Philly. But Bynum is going to need to show them a toughness that has been lacking in his career to date. Dummying JJ Barea during a sweep game? That’s not toughness. Toughness that Philly will appreciate comes from bringing your lunch box, working hard every day and showing a bit of swag when things are going well. This is toughness to Philly. If Bynum can bring even a bit of that, he’ll be welcomed back home. If not… things could go badly, as they only can in Philadelphia.
Daniel: I was about to start writing about the Indiana Pacers and their ongoing quest to get out from the basement of the conference and the shadow of the Malice at the Palace. In the past few years the franchise has managed to re-invent its entire roster, re-engage some fans and get back into the mix of the playoffs. But let’s be honest, they just don’t have the personnel to make a real push to the Finals. Their point guard situation remains shaky (George Hill? DJ Augustin?!), they have a lot invested in some questionable and/or shaky wing players (I say Danny Granger doesn’t have it and Paul George still has a ways to go), meanwhile David West is clearly on his last legs and God love Roy Hibbert, but how far is he taking you?
No, the real amazing story of the Eastern Conference is in Milwaukee. Do you realize that we are about to get a full season of the Monta Ellis and Scott Skiles show? The former is one of the wildest players in the league, known to be all over the court at once, shooting any shot at any time and showing a, let’s say, conditional attitude towards defence. The latter? Scott freakin’ Skiles! I am definitely fascinated to know what will happen when one of the most disciplined, rigid, hard-ass coaches in the league has to deal with one of its most freewheeling, irrationally confident players. Fear the Deer, indeed.