So far the second round of the NBA Playoffs is going more or less according to plan. Cleveland and Golden State are careening toward a rematch in the NBA Finals and destroying everything named, resembling or sympathetic to Utah and Toronto in their path. The other two series, however, are proving to be slightly more interesting and have outcomes that conceivably go either way.
The following questions were posed and answered about a week ago (May 1st to be exact) so keep that in mind when you’re reading below.
1. Which two teams in the East will make it to the Conference Finals?
Lazarus Jackson: Barring any injuries, Boston and Cleveland. Failing to hold a huge lead in Game 1 was a big deal for the Wizards - if they could have lost Morris but stolen Game 1 I would be willing to give them more of a chance. LeBron James surrounded by shooters remains a near-unguardable proposition for any team.
Ben Gulker: Cleveland and Boston.
Jamie Delaney: Cleveland and Boston
Justin Lambregtse: Cleveland and Boston. My heart wants it to be Washington, but I don't see how they beat Boston.
Kenneth Wallace: In the East, I expect to see Cleveland and Boston.
David Fernandez: The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers will duke it out for a trip to the Finals. This is going to be a great series, I see it going 7, but Boston's depth, and Washington's inability to cover Isaiah Thomas swing this series in the Cs favor.
Sean Corp: Washington and Cleveland. No team has an effective trio of two-way players as good as John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. That doesn't mean it's a sure thing Washington will be able to out-battle Isaiah Thomas' offensive brilliance or the overall depth advantage Boston has. But if Washington can cobble a bench together (featuring Brandon Jennings!), they could actually make the Finals.
2. Which two teams in the West will make it to the Conference Finals?
Lazarus Jackson: Barring any injuries, Golden State and Houston. Golden State is the best team in the league, flat-out. A completely healthy Rudy Gobert would give Utah a puncher's chance, but after the knee and ankle injuries he suffered in the Jazz-Clippers series I don't think he can stay on the court enough to have a meaningful impact defensively. I'm not sure how San Antonio matches offensive firepower with Houston - they don't take enough threes to win a race to 120 and don't have the big men (Whither Dewayne Dedmon?) to pressure James Harden at the rim in the halfcourt. Can Kawhi Leonard score 30 a night AND shut down Harden in crunch-time... for six or seven games?
Ben Gulker: Golden State and San Antonio. And this is more about my hopes than anything else. I cannot tolerate any more of James Harden's flailing arms drawing dumb fouls on 3-point attempts. Forget about hack-a-big man; the NBA needs to address this nonsense ASAP.
Jamie Delaney: Golden State and Houston
Justin Lambregtse: Golden State and San Antonio. I wish I could be confident in one of the lower seeds, but I don't see it happening.
Kenneth Wallace: In the West, I expect to see Golden State and San Antonio.
David Fernandez: Golden State and Houston in the West. Golden State, cause, uhhh, well...duh. Houston's high powered offense, lead by the should-be MVP James Harden will will prove to be too much for Kawhi and crew.
Sean Corp: Golden State and San Antonio. One of the best teams in NBA history against (my) MVP Kawhi Leonard. It's as simple as that.
Kevin Sawyer: Spurs-Warriors. The Spurs are the nominally better team, and the Rockets are a bit of a gimmick on offense, something Gregg Popovich should be able to exploit. The Warriors are a lock for obvious reasons.
3. Which team that doesn't make it would be most likely to be blown up in the off season? Could a player from that team see their way to the Pistons?
Lazarus Jackson: I would say Toronto due to sheer salary concerns. Kyle Lowry (player option), Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, and P.J. Tucker are all likely going to be unrestricted free agents - that's four of the nine or so guys in their playoff rotation. Lowry and Ibaka will be looking for max contracts, and Patterson and Tucker will be looking for starter money (which is something like $15 million per). If Toronto brings back all four players, DeMarre Carroll ($14 million per) and/or Jonas Valanciunas ($15 million per) are going to needed to be traded, unless the Maple Leaf S&E group wants to pay a truckload of money to a group that has proven it can't beat LeBron.
Of those guys, Patrick Patterson in the Jon Leuer "starter-level-four/small-ball five" role would most intrigue me for Detroit. If you could swap the two and sign Patterson to something like Leuer's deal (4/$40), that would be great for the Pistons. I think Patterson gets more than $10 million as a UFA though, so I doubt that happens.
Ben Gulker: Of the second-round teams, I'd think it would have to be Toronto. Assuming Lowry opts out, at least three rotation players will be unrestricted free agents. Even approaching the latter stages of his career, Lowry will command a hefty payday, and with DeRozan already making huge money, Toronto may choose to part ways.
Of first-round teams, I'd have to think Indiana, Chicago, and Memphis would be the most likely candidates, but I'm not sure adding anyone from those rosters - apart from guys who won't be available - moves the needle much.
Jamie Delaney: I think Toronto needs the most dramatic changes to contend. It's been badly understated how awful the Demarre Carroll signing has gone and the writing is on the wall for Jonas Valanciunas future after watching that Bucks series. He is a servicable player in the wrong spot, call it Greg Monroe 2.0.
I also think San Antonio is in for dramatic changes and could see them making a run for CP3 this offseason. They would have to move some combo of Parker, Gasol, and LMA (i'd guess the first two) to make it work financially, but I believe their system offers Chris the best shot at a title before he retires. SAS has a history of being able to manage older players exceptionally well and a cp3, Kawhi, LMA core is pretty lethal and could seriously compete for a title at least the next couple of years.
Justin Lambregtse: Maybe Utah. George Hill and Gordon Hayward are both free agents. If Gordon Hayward gets enticed into reuniting with Brad Stevens in Boston, I doubt Hill returns to Utah. They could be gutted even though they are a promising young team. I don't see any player coming to Detroit.
Steve Hinson: The Raptors are the clear choice here, with Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Patterson's contracts all expiring. It'll be an interesting offseason for them, whether their season ends in this round or later. I don't really see any of their guys as a natural candidate to be a future Piston though.
Of the eliminated teams, I'm really interested to see how Indiana moves forward with Larry Bird's long overdue resignation. The Pistons should absolutely throw their hat in the Paul George Sweepstakes - I'm not at all convinced the Lakers are a foregone conclusion with him.
Kenneth Wallace: Assuming I am right that the Raptors fall to the Cavs, I think they are the team most likely to make some major changes in the offseason. Big issue will be whether they retain Ibaka; I think he's made them better. Where they need help is at small forward, where Carroll has been disappointing (remember when we wanted to sign him?). How about we trade them Marcus Morris for Delon Wright and their first?
David Fernandez: Of these 4 teams, I think the Raptors might be thinking about "blowing it up", seeing how Lowry is due to make MAJOR dollars this offseason. Although, I don't see any team blowing it up, to be honest. Keep running it back if your'e Toronto, it's the first time in a long time that their team is even relevant, so you might as well sell out your arena, make it to the playoffs each year and keep this middling ship going.
Sean Corp: Of the second round teams, I think that nobody is primed for a "blow-up" situation. However, Boston could be interested in building using some of their pieces and make others expendable (maybe they want Andre Drummond to shore up a rebounding problem?). I could see Derrick Favors out of Utah considering his injury issues and his role on the current team. If Cleveland doesn't make the Finals and it's because of bad defense I think the team might be willing to move Kyrie or Kevin Love for the right piece (*cough* CP3 *cough*).
Kevin Sawyer: Whichever team loses the Cavs-Raptors series was primed for major changes. The Cavs will try to move anyone not named LeBron, but I don't see the Pistons moving in. The Raptors would likely ditch Ibaka, and I think he's the kind of player SVG would break the bank for.
So who do you all have, now that things are a bit more decided in the four matchups? Is there a player on a potential losing team you’d like to see end up on the 2017-18 Pistons roster? Hit us up in the comments below.