The top 5 moves on our list all involve teams that were involved in last season’s play-offs and all of whom have stepped up their challenge for next season. Throw some of the league’s best players into the mix and you’ve got some pretty exciting goings on:
5) Indiana’s off-season activity:
I know I’m cheating a little here. Clearly a whole teams transactions will be more significant that just one but exceptions can be made when we’re discussing championship contenders and the Indiana Pacers have definitely made themselves legitimate contenders. In last seasons Eastern Conference Final Indiana took the Miami Heat all the way, only to run out of steam in Game 7. Given how close the Pacers were to toppling the Heat, any improvements that they make to their roster can only spell danger for the Big Three down in South Beach.
Indiana’s biggest problem was its bench. And what a problem it was. The Indiana bench was one of the worst benches in the league last season, finishing second bottom in points per game and bottom in assists, steals and field goal percentage. In light of these statistics their achievements last season show just how talented Indiana’s starting five are.
The first step Indiana took was to re-sign one of these starters, power forward David West. West is one of the best power forwards in the game and Indiana will be very happy to have kept him on board.
The Pacers then added three solid pieces to their bench. The first was back up point guard C.J Watson, who is a welcome replacement for D.J Augustin in that role. Watson brings experience and a reliable three-point stroke of 40%. Forward Chris Copeland then followed, after a solid debut season with the Knicks.
Copeland is a high energy guy to have come off the bench and, like Watson, can knock down three-pointers with the best of them. Finally, in what proved to be the most definitive evidence of the Pacers ‘win now’ approach they traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a 2014 first round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns for Luis Scola. Scola is another fine addition to the Indiana roster having averaged in double digits for points per game throughout his entire NBA career. The fact that they’ll have such a quality coming off their bench shows that Indiana will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
4) Three team trade – Andre Iguodala is sent to the Golden State Warriors, Randy Foye and 2018 draft pick are sent to the Denver Nuggets and Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, multiple draft picks and cash considerations are sent to the Utah Jazz:
In what was one of the most high profile trades of the summer, Golden State upgraded in a big way by securing the services of All-Star small forward and Olympic gold medallist Andre Iguodala.
The swingman joins Golden State after a solid season in Denver, helping them to a franchise best regular season record of 57-25. While Iguodala remains one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, the Warriors are also getting one of the best passing small forwards in the league. Iguodala averaged 5.4 assists per game last season, second only in small forwards to LeBron James’ 7.1. Iguodala’s knack for getting to the basket as well as his ability to knock shots down from the outside allows him to create numerous opportunities for his teammates.
Golden State will now have to figure out how to balance their roster with Igudala in its midst. This will most likely work out with second-year prospect Harrison Barnes coming off the bench in a sixth man role, something he will have to adjust to after playing a starting role last year. This may, however, take some scoring pressure off of Barnes and allow him to focus on his all round development.
The addition of Igudala to the Golden State starting five as propelled them to the status of contenders in the West. While getting the best of the Thunder or the Spurs will still be a big ask, Golden State have given themselves an opportunity with this trade.
3) LA Clippers off-season activity:
Ok, I’m cheating again, but once more I cite the championship contender rule. The Clippers have been there or thereabouts for the past few years now, and this off-season they’ve finally taken the leap necessary to give themselves a legitimate shot at the NBA title.
After firing Vinny Del Negro the Clippers were in need of a new coach. They ambitiously decided to pursue the Boston’s Doc Rivers, the man who guided Boston and the Big Three to the 2008 NBA championship. Given that Boston was on the brink of major re-shuffle of priorities (more on that later), Rivers and the Celtics decided to part ways, with Boston receiving LA’s 2015 first round draft pick in exchange for the rights to Doc’s signature. With Rivers at the Clippers helm they should be steering toward the post-season success that has eluded them since the beginning of the “Lob City” era.
While securing Rivers’ talents was important for LA, it was nowhere near as important as ensuring that free agent Chris Paul remained a Clipper. During his time with the Clippers Paul has blossomed into the best point guard in the NBA and any run at the title LA can hope to make will be based around his game. With his exceptional passing, court vision and understanding of the game Paul controls the floor like no other, having the ability to act as the facilitator of the offense or take over as the teams primary scorer. However, now that Paul has committed to LA with a four-year max contract, the pressure is most definitely on him to take the Clippers deep into the play-offs.
With their key pieces in place LA set about adding players that would compliment their current roster. In a three-team trade between themselves, Phoenix and Milwaukee the Clippers acquired small forward Jared Dudley and shooting guard J.J Redick in exchange for Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe. While Bledsoe is one of the best young point guards in the league, he was wasted playing behind Chris Paul and using him as a trade piece was a smart move. Redick and Dudley will both bring additional three-point prowess, something the Clippers were missing last season.
Darren Collison and Byron Mullens make up the final additions, both brought in to provide quality back-up to the Clips starting unit. Collison will act as the back up ball handler to Chris Paul and can provide useful production off of the bench while Mullens will bring some extra length to the Clippers’ second unit.
The Clippers should be ready to take the step up and become genuine contenders this season though finding a way through any one of San Antonio, Memphis or Oklahoma City will be no easy task.
2) Dwight Howard signs for the Houston Rockets:
After weeks of uncertainty the “Dwightmare, Part 2” came to an end when Dwight Howard decided to take his services to Houston. The much-maligned center departed LA after a year of strife in which injuries and fractious relations with various parts of the Lakers organisation left Howard unsettled and in search of a new home.
While Atlanta, Golden State and Dallas were all in the hunt to land the league’s premier center, Houston’s youth and ambition were what drew Howard in.
Despite having a rough year with the Lakers, Howard still managed to put up impressive numbers. Though 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game aren’t quite the monster figures Howard was used to in Orlando, they’re still some of the best in the league. The fact that he was playing injured for half the season highlights the fact that Howard is still a difference maker wherever he goes.
In Houston Howard will have the floor spacing he requires to return to the dominance he exhibited while in Orlando. The Rockets hit the three-pointer at a rate of 36% last year while attempting 29.2 per game, an NBA high. Houston and their host of shooters was probably a key part of his decision. However, one of Houston’s gunners definitely had more influence than the rest. James Harden showed last year that he is capable of being an NBA teams number one scoring option, taking the step up to superstardom. In a recent interview Howard cited playing with Harden as one of the main reasons he chose the Rockets.
So what can we expect from Houston next year? Well, Rockets fans should be very excited about D12 landing in Houston as he turns what was a young side with a lot of potential into an elite Western Conference team. Harden and Howard will combine to form a devastating pick and roll combination and with Howard requiring heavy attention from opposition defenders down low, Houston’s shooters will get all sorts of open looks this season. However, whether this particular set of players can take the Rockets deep into the play-offs still remains up for debate. Jeremy Lin still needs to show improvement if he is to be able to effectively share ball-handling duties with James Harden and the team’s collective defence will need some work. Expect Howard’s and Harden’s Rockets to battle with Golden State and the Clippers for the 5th seed in the West and potentially upset higher seeds in the play-offs.
1. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J White are traded by the Boston Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and multiple draft picks:
In 2008 Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, while under the guidance of Doc Rivers, led the Boston Celtics to their first NBA championship in over twenty years. While Ray Allen broke up the party last year by joining LeBron and D-Wade in Miami, Pierce, Garnett and Rivers all stayed in Boston to give it one more shot. This was put to bed when Rajon Rondo went down with a knee injury mid-way through last season, ending any slim title shot that remained. This summer Boston’s powers that be decided it was time for the Celtics to re-build around Rondo and say goodbye to Garnett and Pierce. With Rivers none to keen on the prospect of re-building, the Celtics are now without all of their major pieces. The era of the Big Three in Boston in officially over.
Looking to benefit from Boston’s re-building project is east coast rival the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have invested in winning this season and by bringing in some of the league’s best veterans they’ve given themselves a decent shot. While Pierce and Garnett are not the forces they used to be, each still possess a unique skill set that is difficult to find these days. Garnett is and will go down as one of the league’s toughest players. His no nonsense attitude on the court is coupled with terrific understanding on the defensive side of the ball. Pierce, aka “the Truth”, is still one of the league’s best clutch shooters and between him and Joe Johnson Brooklyn will be hitting game winning shots on the regular.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn any winning they wish to do this year will have to come at the expense of the Miami Heat and LeBron James. Yet with All-Stars Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams making up the rest of Brooklyn’s starting five nets fans can expect big things from their team this season.
Do you agree with our selections? Read our picks from 10-6 here.
image: © en321