After a slight delay, Alex Theoharides (@Minne_Pop) and Matt Domino continue their conversation about the NBA offseason.
(Editor's Note: Due to the demands of Wedding Season, Alex and I had trouble finishing the second half of our conversation on our scheduled deadline. However, we would not leave you hanging. So, just in time for the start of the NFL season tomorrow night, we have the second half of our 2013 NBA Offseason analysis.)
DOMINO: Alright, Alex, after a slight delay, it’s time to
continue our conversation and focus on the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Based on how the offseason played out, when we talk about the East,
there is only one real place to start....
THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS!!
know I love the downtrodden Bobcats. It may be that they are owned by
my favorite basketball player of all-time, or that they are just so bad I
feel some kind of pity for them (or kinship with them), but each year I find myself rooting for the ‘Cats.
it or not, I actually like the direction they took this offseason. As Zach Lowe pointed out in his column last month, the Bobcats have taken a
different direction than the Philadelphia 76ers and the Utah Jazz in
trying to re-build their franchise. Instead of blowing their team up and
aiming for the lottery, by signing Al Jefferson this offseason, the
Bobcats are looking to build in the same manner as the Pacers and
Grizzlies teams of the past half decade. They are compiling decent,
young, well-priced assets that they hope to develop into quality
players/stars or flip for a savvy veteran like a David West or Zach
Randolph or make a smart free agent signing like Memphis did with Tony
Allen, which will push them over the top.
Al Jefferson is
not that signing, but I am not as low on Big Al as a lot of experts are.
I am inclined to believe that he will help the team’s perimeter spacing
as well as give them a go-to offensive option. According to the quotes
from Big Al in Zach Lowe’s piece, Jefferson seems to appreciate the fact
that Charlotte sought him out so strongly and is embracing his role as
the elder statesman, mature post-player. When you pair that mindset with
his career skill set (9 seasons, 16.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 50% FG,
71% FT, 20.6 PER and terrible defense), it seems like a smart—albeit
overpriced—signing for the Bobcats in an attempt to change their team’s
I think that their young pieces will play well
off Jefferson. Kemba Walker quietly had a solid season (17.7 PPG, 5.7
APG, 3.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG 42% FG, 80% FT, 32% 3PFG, and 18.0 PER). Michael
Kidd-Gilchrist (I still believe in MKG!) can only improve off his
underachieving rookie season (and 2013 Summer League) and has the
attitude to do so—plus if he can hustle, give them rebounding and
defense, he will be a fine wing complement to Big Al. I think that Cody
Zeller will be neck and neck with former Indiana teammate Victor Oladipo
for Rookie of the Year and I really like the progress that Jeffery
Taylor made last year and over this summer. I’m a Summer League nerd
just like you, and apparently Taylor and Zeller already have a nice chemistry that we may see on the ‘Cats’ second line.
if everything goes right for this team, they could sneak in as an eight
seed. But the last 3 spots in the East are up for grabs between about 6
teams, so that’s a long shot. That being said, I’m bullish on the
OK, now feel free to slap me! Your turn, what is
your under the radar/slightly delusional Eastern Conference move that
you’d like to wax poetic about?
THEOHARIDES: As you
might know, I hated (and secretly admired) Michael Jordan the
basketball player. Is it fair to say that where you seem to be most
drawn to basketball played at its highest level, I am more drawn to the
emotional connection I make with specific teams and players?
have never thought of it that way, but you’re actually right. Growing
up, my father wasn’t really a sports fan, so I had to educate myself.
Living outside of Philadelphia, the streets bled Eagles green. I learned
to throw a football with my neighbor’s Philadelphia Eagles green
football. During that time, I had three formative sports experiences:
watching the Dallas Cowboys destroy the Eagles in the 1992 Divisional
Playoffs, getting to stay up late and watch the UNC/Michigan 1993 NCAA Title Game, getting to stay up late and watch the Triple Overtime Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Suns. To this day, I have
balanced appreciating sport (and especially basketball) played at the
highest level (Bulls, Heat, Modern Big 3 Celtics, Rajon Rondo at his
most transcendent and unique), with an overwhelming sense of constant
dread and torture (Eagles). What separates me from being a bar-screaming
jackass, is that I don’t pretend to have any true investment in these
teams, not do I take any true satisfaction in their success—other than
to say, “Yes, that is the destiny they were meant to fulfill.” Does that
make sense? I feel like in there somewhere is the reason why I’m drawn
to writing fiction over anything else. Maybe you can explain it to me?
How much am I paying you for this therapy session anyway?
That makes a lot of sense to me and I believe the going rate is $120 an
hour. What say you send me a check for $200 and we call it even?
question of why people become obsessed with certain teams or players or
even sports has always fascinated me. For instance, when you listen to
Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe discuss basketball it’s obvious that they
approach their obsession very differently. Simmons is a fan of his team
first, a fan of storylines/drama second, and a fan of the game of
basketball third. Meanwhile, Lowe almost always focuses on the nuances
of basketball, on what makes basketball, when played correctly, such a
beautiful game to watch. Personally, I find the concept of rooting for
one team over another to be entirely arbitrary and nonsensical thought
experiment; however, I also find it much more enjoyable to follow
basketball when I root for or against a specific team. In fact, it is
often just as much fun to root against a specific team, which is why the
NBA has been so enjoyable since Lebron and Bosh joined Wade in Miami.
Their union gave casual sports fans a reason to watch games in much the
same way the Jordan Bulls were must watch TV throughout his career.
course, Michael Jordan (and to a lesser extent Scottie Pippen)
routinely dominated the first basketball team I ever loved, the 1990 -
1994, New York Knicks. Therefore, I must say that I revel in the Bobcats
misfortune and wish nothing more for their franchise than a century
spent learning how to lose with grace. With that being said, I would
like to plug the fine coverage of the Bobcats that Derek James puts out each week.
enough, I still resent Jordan but I have moved past hatred with his old
team, the Chicago Bulls. I don’t think nearly enough attention has been
given to Derrick Rose’s return this year. One of the underlying themes
of the Heat’s championship runs is that they haven’t had to play an
“healthy” Bulls squad. Basketball fans have missed out on the chance to
see two highly talented teams that don’t like each other compete at full
strength. What I like about the Bulls is that they are the one team
left in the NBA that isn’t afraid to mix it up with their opponents.
There has been a lot of talk that the Bulls haven’t done enough to
surround Derrick Rose with the talent needed to beat the Heat. However,
this spring we watched a very similarly constructed team, the Indiana
Pacers, take the Heat to 7 games.
Which starting 5 would you rather have?
Last year’s Indiana Pacers
PG: George Hill
SG: Paul George
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
This season’s Chicago Bulls
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
for that matter, this season’s Indiana Pacers, which will be able to
substitute out Lance Stephenson for Danny Granger. I think that both the
Bulls and the Pacers are going be better than they were last year.
particular, I think the Bulls have the depth to contend with the Heat.
Jimmy Butler has a real chance to become one of the premier defensive
2-guards in the league, Noah should have been the Defensive Player of
the Year in 2012-2013, Boozer is the starting power forward of the So
Overrated He’s Now Underrated All Stars, Deng is a fantastic all around
player, who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, and
Derrick Rose is a former league MVP. I don’t think it’s crazy to think
that IF the Bulls can stay healthy they will contend for the NBA
Championship. Of course, that’s always been the Bull’s issue. Health is a
legitimate concern for a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, who has a
strange obsession with overexerting his starters in meaningless regular
season games. However, IF the Bulls can avoid major injuries, they are
the most complete team in the East. Plus, if they beat the Heat, the
Bulls will give sportswriters an excuse to use up all the “Derrick Rose
From Ashes” headlines they’ve been saving since he tore his ACL.
What do you think? As a Heat fan, do the Bulls make you nervous?
DOMINO: As far as those starting fives go, it’s basically a toss up in my opinion.
it comes to Indiana and Chicago, you really have to look at the
benches. The Bulls can bring Taj Gibson, the newly signed Mike Dunleavy
Jr., steady veteran Kirk Hinrich, promising second year point guard
Marquis Teague, and the perennially consistent Nazr “1996 and 1998 National Champion” Mohammed off their bench. Meanwhile, the Pacers have
C.J. Watson (huge upgrade over D.J. Augustin), Lance Stephenson
(potential Sixth Man of the Year), Chris Copeland (didn’t like this
signing), Ian Mahimni (just a big body) and, their big offseason
acquisition, Luis Scola. Scola will definitely add scoring (17.3 PPG,
47% FG, 78FT last season in Phoenix) and offensive diversity to the
team’s second unit, and the Pacers’ overall defensive scheme and culture
will help hide his shortcomings, just like in his Houston days under
Jeff Van Gundy.
Wait, I was trying to make the point
that Indiana’s bench is better, but, again, I think the benches are
actually a wash and that Chicago’s might actually be a little better.
think all we can hope for is that Chicago and Indiana end up as the #2
and #3 seeds and wage an epic war in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
And to be honest, each of these teams should be scaring the living crap
out of Miami right now. They are both deeper, younger, and may even be
better than the Heat. However as the 1993 and 1998 Bulls both showed,
that doesn’t always matter in the playoffs when you have the best player
in the world and a team that knows what, to use one of the worst sports
clichés, “it takes to win a championship.”
stop dancing around the elephant in the room here. What about Brooklyn?
Since we were discussing sentimentality in sports earlier, are you still
in mourning over the official end of the Celtics’ Big Three Era? Do you
think the Nets have a legitimate shot at the Finals?
Nets are a fascinating experiment in the win now, build later mentality
that dominates many professional leagues in other countries. Although I
love when teams concern themselves primarily with winning as opposed to
building, the Nets worry me because their roster seems a little thin to
really compete for a championship.
Roster depth (listed in the order I think they will eventually play):
Point guard: Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Jason Terry
Shooting guard: Joe Johnson, Alan Anderson (a smart pickup, he was good last year for Toronto), Jason Terry
Shooting Forward: Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Jerry Stackhouse (if he doesn’t retire)
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, Reggie Evans, Mason Plumlee
Center: Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche
at the roster, the primary issue that jumps out to me is the obvious
question of the team’s health. Clearly, Pierce, Garnett, Terry, AK-47,
and Stackhouse (again, if he doesn't retire) will need plenty of nights off. The Nets are already
indicating that Garnett will not play in back-to-backs. Meanwhile,
Williams, Livingston, and Lopez have all missed games throughout their
careers due to fairly serious injuries. The most significant player on
the roster is Williams, who is one of the top point guards in the
league. If he has to miss games, neither Livingston or Terry are
reliable backups. I expect it to take the Nets roster a few months to
learn to play together, particularly with Jason Kidd learning on the job
as a first time NBA coach. On paper, the Nets are built to contend in
the postseason; however, if the team deals with injuries and missed
games throughout the regular season, I could see them being as low as a 5
or 6 seed in the playoffs, which will make it difficult for them to
have a realistic chance of beating Miami, Chicago, or even Indiana. So I
guess the question is, what do you see as the Nets’ ceiling?
DOMINO: Wow, you have Terry barely cracking the rotation! You must hate the JET as much as I do!
THEOHARIDES: He was awful last season, and there are just some things that you can never forget.
think the Nets’ ceiling is the second seed in the East and facing the
Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. To break this down a little more,
I’m going to show you how I think the teams will finish in the East
1. Miami - This is based solely on the recent
news of Wade training with Tim Grover, Riley giving him a goal to be ten
pounds lighter, and the fact that the Heat have Lebron
Chicago - Thibodeau always pushes his team to compete every night and
even with Rose working his way back in, I think they’ll finish second
3. Brooklyn - Their depth is astounding no matter how old they are.
Indiana - Remember, they came on late last year and they have chemistry
and rotation issues to sort out with Granger, Stephenson and Scola.
New York Knicks - Let’s discuss their moves in a little bit. I actually
like their team and I think they’ll be a sleeper by the time the
Playoffs roll around. Although, the fact that Ron Artest’s stand-up show at Caroline’s (which I had purchased tickets to attend!) was cancelled
casts a dark shadow on their season.
6. Atlanta Hawks -
The Hawks made smart, cost-effective personnel decisions (like signing
Paul Millsap) that should keep them right in the middle of the top-heavy
7. Detroit Pistons - The most active offseason team
now trots out an impressive starting five of
Jennings-Billups-Smith-Monroe-Drummond. They can mix and match their
second and third units with one of their big men and their variety of
wing players and that should get them at least a seven seed. Anything
else would be slightly disappointing.
Wizards - The Wall-Beal-Porter youth trio mixed with their veterans
should be enough for the eighth seed, just edging out the Cavaliers and
9. Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavs will be
battling to the wire with the Wiz for the eighth seed. They do have
Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and his left hand, as well
as Jarret Jack and #1 Draft Pick Anthony Bennett, but I just don’t think
that’s enough to get back to the Playoffs for the first time since
Lebron left town in 2010.
Do you agree with me at all?
Give me your Top 8-9 in the East and then tell me what you think is
going to happen to everyone’s favorite NBA Franchise...THE NEW YORK
THEO: Okay, the top two teams are easy:
Miami Heat - As long as Lebron is healthy (never mind Wade & Bosh)
Miami will always be able to steamroll regular season opponents. Lebron
is just too good and plays too hard on a nightly basis for opponents to
really deal with. The only time you really see him struggle (albeit,
just barely) is in the playoffs when teams have more time to focus on
game planning for him.
2. Chicago Bulls - I expect them to
bring Rose back relatively slowly. However, like you said, Thibodeau
teams compete (perhaps to their long-term detriment) extremely hard in
the regular season.
After that, it gets a little trickier
for me. I respect the talent on the Knicks and Nets, but I think Indiana
is deeper and more balanced than both of New York’s teams (at least in
the regular season).
3. Indiana Pacers - The Pacers
finished 3rd in the East last season with a bench made up of dudes
Domino used to dominate on the streets of Brooklyn (mind you, they were
11 at the time and he was 22, but still)(fake story*). Other teams in
the East have improved, but with the additions of Granger, Scola, and
Chris “Don’t call me Aaron” Copeland, the Pacers should be able to
string together an impressive regular season.
(*Editor’s Note: This is a true story. I once steamrolled a fourteen year old kid while playing full court press in pick-up basketball in Greenpoint. To be fair, he was talking A LOT of trash. I am not proud of this fact, but to maintain editorial integrity, I have to be honest.)
New York Knicks - You wanted my take on the Knicks? Here goes: Carmelo
Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Skinny Ray Felton are too good at basketball
for the Knicks to fall below a 4-seed. The rest of their roster was
built as if Guy Ritchie were writing a script about a hard luck group of
aging ballers, who join forces to convince the dumbest owner in the NBA
(also the lead singer of one of New York’s hottest bands, JD & the Straight Shot)
to give them one last paycheck. Look at the rest of their roster: Metta
World Peace, more like “James Dolan got Fleeced” (grimace). Two tall
men who can’t play defense (Bargnani & Stoudemire). A wily Argentine
(Pablo Prigioni) and a Slovenian Street Legend (Beno Udrih). Oh yeah,
and just for kicks, they got that guy with the lip tattoo on his neck
to join up too (Kenyon Martin). I don’t know, I’m kind of excited for
this Knicks season. I haven’t even mentioned Iman Shumpert and Tim
Hardaway Jr., who may have been the steal of the draft. The Knicks are a
definite League Pass team for me this year. Unfortunately, I also see
them losing in an epic first round playoff series to your ...
5) Brooklyn Nets - Too old to win much in the regular season; too gritty to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Kyrie Irving is one of the biggest health risks
this side of the entire Minnesota Timberwolves roster. However, if he
plays a full season, the Cavs have more talent than any of the remaining
teams in the East.
7) Detroit Pistons
LEAGUE PASS ALL STARS - I can’t wait to watch this team on a nightly
basis (somewhere Mrs. MinnePop is shaking her head and hiding the
remote). Everyone forgets how good Josh Smith is at basketball. By far
the best player of the remaining teams in the East.
Milwaukee Bucks - This was an interesting exercise because it revealed
that the East is a little deeper-mediocre than most people realize. I
could have pegged Washington or Atlanta into this spot. However, I feel
that it is the Bucks’ Sisyphean destiny to always make the playoffs but
never to advance past the first round. Plus Nick “The Quick” Van Exel is
one of their assistant coaches so that has to count for something.
DOMINO: Oh, you mean, this Nick Van Exel? OF COURSE that counts for something.
East is definitely better than people realize. The Knicks and Nets
jockeying for the fourth seed should be very interesting considering all
the pointless trash talk that has already occurred between the two
teams thus far this offseason. And, as we have both noted multiple
times, the 6-8 seeds could really go in any direction. For instance, it
was extremely difficult for me to slot the Cavs finishing ninth in the
standings, and I could EASILY see them overachieving and grabbing the
sixth seed as you so boldly predict.
Speaking of bold
predictions, let's each make one crazy prediction for the Eastern
Conference this season and then wrap this thing up.
is that the Pistons have an underwhelming start to the season while they
figure out their rotations and chemistry. However, after the All-Star
Break they start to gel before going on a thirteen game win streak in
the second half of March, cementing their status as the 2013-2014 league
darlings. They enter the playoffs as the seventh seed and upset the
Chicago Bulls in a thoroughly entertaining and nail-biting first round
series. Along the way, they are compared numerous times to the ‘06-’07
and ‘12-’13 Golden State Warriors.
What you got?
Rondo comes back a few games after Christmas. He struggles for a little
while with his shot, before putting up his typical double-double stats.
Meanwhile the Celtics hover around the 8 seed in the East, which puts
them at risk to lose a top pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft. As a
result, Rondo gets traded by Boston to the one contending team most in
need of a quality point guard. That’s right, the Houston Rockets. I
worked out a few scenarios on the Trade Machine, but the one that seems
the most likely is Rondo for Asik and Motiejunas. What do you think?
Doesn’t it seem like Houston is just one piece away from a championship?
Doesn’t it seem like Boston just wants to fold this season? Doesn’t it
seem like Rondo & Harden & Dwight could beat Miami?
love this scenario. It puts one of my favorite players back in the
thick of the title hunt and Rondo would give the Rockets a mean streak
that I feel like they currently lack. You, my friend, know how to make a
bold and slightly far-fetched prediction!
On that note,
let’s wrap this little chat up. We’ll reconvene in about a month when we
start getting antsy for the first game of the season on Tuesday,
October 29th. Yes, it’s really THAT close.