Now that NBA free agency is mostly settled, we can examine the aftermath. The jump in salary cap, not surprisingly, brought with it a slew of expiring contracts. Creating one of the more interesting off seasons since “The Decision.”
The Denver Nuggets are the only team yet to sign a new player to their roster. Choosing instead to rely on their young talent to develop together. Don’t expect much this season.
Other teams chose a more proactive approach in their pursuit of a championship or at least continued or resumed relevance. Below are four such teams.
One piece away from a championship. Unfortunately, that piece is in a time machine.
First they traded away the home-town fan favorite in Derrick Rose for an overpaid Robin Lopez. Then they signed outdated guards Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.
In a league becoming ever more dependent on the 3 ball, the Bulls will be unable to keep up with the juggernauts.
While there are some interesting names on their revised roster, Fred Hoiberg faces a possible spacing nightmare with a backcourt of Rondo, Wade and Butler.
Is there a bright side? Their summer league team won the championship, showcasing talent in the pipeline. Look for 6-11 forward Bobby Portis, star of the Vegas tournament, to have a breakout sophomore year as he clicks with this recomposed backcourt.
In very un Pat Riley fashion the Heat struggled to attract any major free agents. Their only notable signing was the re-signing of young center Hassan Whiteside. In the biggest jump in NBA salary history, Whiteside went from just shy of a million dollars per year to a deal worth a hundred million dollars over four years.
The problem is that move might have been enough to keep them out of the lottery but is nowhere near enough to repeat a top-3 finish in the retooled East. Leaving them in contention for a dreaded 7-10 spot.
Whether they are contenders or not will come down to Chris Bosh and his blood clots; a medical retirement is not out of the question. If he plays, it would not be with the same fearless aggressiveness as before his health faltered.
While the shot-blocking Whiteside offers upside, there could be much more from 20-year-old Justise Winslow. Riley will see that he gets the time and the trust to develop into an elite small forward.
With Daryl Morey in charge you know the Rockets are never going to have a quiet offseason. He did not disappoint this summer.
They began by hiring an experienced and respected coach, Mike D’Antoni. Then they added two former Pelicans in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, both offensively minded. They should fit well into the Rockets’ new stretch-the-floor system.
This is a system that, in full D’Antoni fashion, will look to outpace and outscore. Gordon is a spot-up shooter who should fit well with a ball-dominant James Harden when running a small lineup. Anderson is a 3-point shooting stretch 4 of the type Morey has chased for years.
Morey then secured veteran center Nene Hilario for $2.9 million on a one-year deal. Nene and Clint Capela should be more than fair replacement for Howard, and at a fraction of the cost.
Compared to Howard, Capela had superior blocking and similar rebounding in per 36 and advanced metrics.
His offensive deficiencies will be hidden by the firepower around him. And he can connect on lobs if an opponent tries to cheat off him. Look for Capela and Harden to have career numbers.
Golden State Warriors
In the blockbuster signing of the year Golden State shocked the NBA world by signing Kevin Durant.
While no one can deny the immediate impact of adding a top-5 player to a team that just broke the regular season record, there could be a painful assimilation early in the season.
As Rockets coach D’Antoni suggested: “Too many chefs in the kitchen.”
They will not repeat a 73-win season, but their ancillary signings might have secured a championship. Replacing Andrew Bogut with Zaza Pachulia for only $2.9 million is larcenous.
Their second unit should continue to dominate the league with the re-signing of Shawn Livingston and adding a quality veteran in ring chaser David West. If for some reason the splash trio goes cold, the trio of Zaza, West and Green will secure rebounds to keep giving them chances.
This is a team built to go deep, with the depth at nearly every position to have multiple all-stars on the floor throughout the game. Without needing to focus on a regular-season record, Golden State should reach the Finals once again.