New York Knicks
Listed above are last season’s Eastern Conference playoff teams and the lottery teams that did not make the playoffs. If you have been paying attention to this year’s offseason moves, you’d notice that none of these teams has made a move to improve upon last year’s team. It’s only Day 3, I get it, but if any of these teams are looking to challenge the Warriors, and to a lesser extent the Cavaliers, then Top-Tier talent is needed to finally keep us interested. To no fault of their own, other than the Celtics, some of these East teams had All-Stars that were coming up on free agency. If we’ve learned anything from Lebron James leaving in 2010, a team cannot let th at prize walk away for nothing, even if it means becoming irrelevant for the next couple of years. But who would’ve thought those East All-Stars would be going West, and two of them would be traded to the West?
Look at those Markets!
As the “destination market” has dwindled over the past decade, more and more players are going to where the players are, not where the destination is, excluding the Miami Heat of 2010, and even then there was a sense of organizational structure. While Lebron was going back and forth between Cleveland and Miami, and then back to Cleveland, many of these East teams hovered around relevance, racking up on awful free agent signing, rookie extensions and Front Office mularkey. Anybody looking to play in Detroit, Philly, Charlotte, Orlando or Brooklyn? Pew. Even places like Toronto, Atlanta and Indiana aren’t even destinations, although the local fanbases of said teams are committed.
Front Office Turntables
As most NBA fans know, the best way to build is through the draft, developing those players on cheap contracts and then extending them so they don’t leave via free agency. As we look at these lottery teams, many of them have traded away their assets, or haven’t built up any equity in the player development category. With coaches and general managers switching teams like an Eyes Wide Shut reboot, the talent and front office both seem ordinary due to unrest in each organization. The Pistons once looked like they would climb up the East standings, but with little cap room, a Josh Smith signing that was a complete disaster, injuries, and players such as Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson plateauing in today’s “Pace and Space” NBA. With Stan Van Gundy as coach and president, the Pistons are already pressing luxury-tax land and haven’t even signed Kentavious-Caldwell Pope yet and have used up most of their Mid-Level Exception (no apologies for the nerd talk). The Orlando Magic are in reboot mode, again. Who would’ve thought Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, both drafted by the Magic and traded to the Thunder would net Paul George? So the same two players that brought in Serge Ibaka, also brought back Paul George for the Thunder? Then they traded Ibaka to the Raptors for Terrence Ross and a draft pick that was then traded to the 76ers for a future pick? No wonder the Magic are bad at this. The Magic are on another coach, another GM, and another lottery season with free agent money wrapped up in guys that are borderline starters. The Charlotte Hornets are in the predicament the Magic are looking at now: Having to extend average/roll players, while not having enough money to sign a free agent. The most the Hornets could net is a player the caliber of Nicolas Batum, which even in the East is not consistently good enough. They have the coach, an All-Star caliber player, and even in the East it’s good enough to make the playoffs every so often, but not enough to acquire more than a Dwight Howard. The Brooklyn Nets have become the Sacramento Kings of the East: A terribly run team with cap space, but only enough to get restricted free agents paid for other teams. The Knicks are, the Knicks. I’ve done enough with the Knicks this year. Even the Pacers and Hawks have let go of their contending days. Those two teams, along with the Bulls have made some questionable front office moves that have pushed away their All-Star players. So that leaves the Miami Heat and the 76ers, two teams that have revamped their image in less than a year. The 76ers now have Jerry Colangelo at the helm, and the Heat of course have Riley, so both, even in losing have the cache to bring in a free agent or two. The 76ers have drafted high, it’s the drafted well part that is yet to be seen. The Heat have made lemonade out of fallen rain: Developing 2nd round talent, D-League talent, and fringe players on one year deals.
Some Teams said, “No more”
We’ve all watched Lebron and company go to the Finals every single year. While it’s been a constant, it’s more impressive for all the teams that have given up chase in his pursuit of greatness. We watched the last piece of Chicago go to Minnesota, Paul George is in Oklahoma City, leaving Lance Stephenson in command, and Atlanta is turning into the pre-Joe Johnson era (Shoutout to Josh Childress and Salim Stoudemire). That’s three playoff teams seemingly falling into rebuilding mode, while having All-Star talent under contract just a week ago. While those have given up, the Raptors have dug in deeper this offseason. They brought back both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, even though neither showed face in the playoffs, and their offensive philosophy once again mimicked the 1990s. Unlike the Raptors, the Bucks and Wizards are a bit younger at their core positions, but like the Raptors, don’t have enough cap space to sign anybody knew of importance. That leaves the Celtics, a winning team, with draft picks and cap space.
The Celtics are in a horrible game of double-dutch
The Celtics are a NBA 2k17 match made in heaven. Like the Trailblazers of 2015, they over-achieved to skyrocket to the top of the East. Not only were they a one seed, they also capture the first pick in the 2017 draft via the Nets, and all was well with the Boston world. Funny thing happened, Isaiah Thomas got injured, they lost to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and everybody forgot about the Celtics prowess. Let’s just go in order. Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are free agents in 2018, and Boston has the first pick of the draft which happens to have 2! point guards. They take neither, trade down for more assets, and take Jason Tatum, OK! (in my best “Story of OJ” voice). Jimmy Butler is available, and sources say the price is too high, but he goes to Minnesota for a pick swap, Kris Dunn and an injured-extension ready Zach Lavine: OK! Paul George was available, and sources say the price was to high, but he went to OKC for Oladipo and Sabonis plus no picks: OK! Now, planning for the future is fine by me, especially in the NBA when you’re only an injury or free agent departure from moving up the rankings. The Celtics have Cavalier potential, (I’m stretching, but there’s nobody else to compare them to) with the 76ers draft stock and cap space to boot. I really hope they don’t screw this up, but if Gordon Hayward does not sign, the Celtics fanbase will watch the same team next year while they compete and rebuild on the fly.
What is next for the East?
So the East is filling with young talent, mid-level players with big/un-tradeable contracts, and destinations in which no player wants to go, other than Miami and Boston. So what can they do? For now, nothing because they can’t. They’ve already invested into their rosters, as well as their coaching staff, and with the on-court game changing, they have to roll with what they have, or attach a future 1st rounder a contract and ship that player way. These East teams must rely on player development, draft picks and consistency in the front office as well as their coaching staffs. Injuries, player surges, coaching vacancies, and player busts happen all the time in the NBA, but for the near future, the East must become precise in their efforts to regain relevancy.