At this point every hoop-head is probably nauseated by the Kevin Durant to the Warriors takes that are flooding the airwaves on every major podcast, TV show, and digital media channel. So it's about that time to shift our focus back to the Eastern Conference, to showcase a few improved teams who made impressive changes this offseason, and who could affect the Detroit Pistons' playoff positioning come next season (yes, we're definitely dancing again next year).
This does not mean that these teams had the most explosive offseason, but have certainly improved and could affect the Pistons' chance of landing a better seed.
We'll specifically be paying attention to four teams, one of which finished just above the Pistons last season (looking at you, Indiana Pacers) and the other three who were on the outside looking in on the playoffs, the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls.
The Indiana Pacers
Key Acquisitions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson
Key Departures- Ian Mahimi, George Hill, Solomon Hill
First and foremost, this team will go as far as Paul George takes them. No one would ever doubt that fact, but the acquisitions they've made should bode well for George and the city of Indy.
Starting with the Pacers' new starting point guard, Jeff Teague; he's an explosive offensive player, who has the ability to take over a game on any given night. This will be the first time, the one-time All-star will have the opportunity to play with an extra-talented wing player in Paul George, so it'll be exciting to see how these two players will blend together. The ceiling for these two would be a poor man's Westbrook and Durant, seeing that Teague frankly is not at the caliber that Westbrook is, (Teague averaged just about 16 and 6 last year, compared to Westbrook's 23 and 10). Either way, this duo could give Pistons fans headaches, especially if one of the two is having an off night, and the other has one of those games where everything is working.
Looking at the Al Jefferson signing, the Pacers got him on an extremely team-friendly deal (3 years, $30M), especially when seeing some of the money lesser-known players have signed for this offseason. There's no mystery to Al Jefferson; he's a low-post magician, double-double machine, and takes up enough space down low to be a factor when protecting the rim. He's comfortable with coming off of the bench (see Charlotte Hornets), which could bode well for the development of Myles Turner, seeing that Turner will need ample minutes to continue to grow. And who better to mentor Turner, as a big man, than Jefferson?
Lastly you'll find Thad Young, the talented player who has yet to find his NBA home. I'm not sure that Young is a perfect fit on this Pacers roster, seeing how he's a streaky shooter at best, shooting career averages of 32% from three, and 48% overall, but offensively speaking, be certain that he's an upgrade at the PF position from Mahimi and Solomon Hill who averaged a combined total of 13.5 ppg. The Indiana Pacers wanted to have an offense-first identity, and adding Teague, Jefferson and Young will certainly help them put points on the board.
The Orlando Magic
Key Acquisitions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks
Key Departures- Victor Oladipo, Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, *Domantas Sabonis
Since Dwight Howard left the Orlando Magic, this franchise has been in complete disarray. The Magic has been that team with an impressive young roster, that could not make it work simply because their players were/are young and didn't necessarily complement each other's game.
They made some moves that will hopefully (if you like Central Florida) improve the fit for this team. Trading away young talent in Oladipo and the unproven Sabonis could prove to be costly, but the Magic are in a *make the playoffs now* mode, as the Pistons were last season. Adding playoff experienced players like Ibaka, Biyombo and Green should pay dividends on the maturation of their overall group.
Also, the Magic addressed one of their biggest needs; spacing. Their premier players were primarily threats from inside the three-point line. They finished 22nd in three-pointers attempted, 23rd in three-pointers made, so they brought in players who have proven in seasons past, the ability to space the floor, like Meeks, Ibaka and Green. The addition of these floor-spacers should also help the development of their non-shooters like Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic, all of which are considered to be cornerstones of this franchise moving forward. The Magic won't be asking their young core to do something they're not equipped to do, they can be prolific at the two-point game, and leave the threes to guys like Jodie Meeks (if he can stay healthy).
Obviously, you won't be seeing Biyombo chuck it from deep next year, but there's something to bringing in a guy who has a well-defined role: grab rebounds, block shots, dunk, repeat. He won't be pulling any J-Smoove-like antics, by trying to be a player who he is not, and he's damn good at what he does do well. Everyone witnessed the Biyombo coming out party this past spring and if he can bring that level of intensity and motivation to this young group, you may even see Jeff Green give 100%.
All in all, I like the additions of these pieces and believe they should improve drastically from their 35-47 record from last season.
The New York Knicks
Key Acquisitions- Derek Rose, Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings
Key Departures- Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, Arron Afflalo
The Knicks are the text-book definition of the word "mystery" going into next season. They've certainly added name brand players in D-Rose, Joakim Noah and SWAG himself; Brandon Jennings. But name recognition means very little if the players don't fit well together.
Without a doubt the Knicks improved greatly at the point guard position, trading away an older, un-athletic, defensive-liability in Jose Calderon, and acquired Derek Rose coming off one his better seasons after a myriad of knee injuries in seasons past. Rose played in 66 games last year, the most he's played since 2010-11, and averaged a respectable 16.4 ppg and 4.7 apg, all while playing alongside a similar player in Jimmy Butler who also thrived with the ball in his hands. Complement his productivity, and hopefully improved reliability, with two additional solid backcourt players in Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings, and the Knicks are now starting to look like a team that can cause some rumblings in the East.
It should also be noted that Joakim Noah has a Chicago-sized chip on his shoulder. Fred Hoiberg saw Joakim as spare parts, and clearly made up his mind early into last season that Noah was not in his plans moving forward. Noah is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve, and has always been that "I can't stand the guy, but would love to have him on my team" type of player. Now he'll be bringing his heart, passion, playoff experience, and double-double production with him to the Mecca, alongside his long-time teammate Derek Rose and fellow All-Star in Carmelo Anthony.
The Chicago Bulls
Key Acquisitions- Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez
Key Departures- Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakhim Noah
Adding one of the best players of this generation will not hurt your professional basketball organization. Yes, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade play the same position. Yes, Wade was born and raised in Chicago, and the entire city is excited to have him home. Yes, this is Jimmy Butler's team, no matter what generational All-star was added to the roster.
It'll be interesting to see how the Bulls utilize both Butler and Wade, seeing that they're both better with the ball in their hands, than they are running off of screens and hitting spot up jump shots. Wade isn't a three point shooter (career average 28%); he likes to drive and create, getting to the rim or shooting a two-point jumper. The same could be said for Butler, although he's a slightly better long-range shooter than Wade. I don't know how it's going to work, but adding a passing big-man like Robin Lopez should help remedy a stagnant offense, if Wade and Butler go for the "your turn, my turn" style offense.
The Bulls missed the playoffs last season, the first time since 2007-08. Kudos to their organization for refusing to run back the same old squad for another go-around, to see themselves battle for the 8th seed, or limp into the playoffs before being promptly sent home packing. They'll be better off with Derrick Rose off the team, and while they'll certainly miss the production that Pau Gasol brought, the Bulls are finally starting to look like Jimmy Butler's team. There's no better teammate to have, to show Butler how to lead, than Dwyane Wade himself. I'd expect to see the Bulls back in the playoffs next year, but what seed will they have?
Now I turn it to you, Detroit Bad Boys nation. Am I overthinking (and over-crediting) these teams? And will they negatively affect the Pistons' seeding? Post in the comments to share your thoughts!