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Cheap Seats: Best NBA Coaching Move

There have already been a number of coaching moves in the NBA this offseason. Which move was the best?

Basketball Insiders

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In this week’s Cheap Seats, the Basketball Insiders interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor debate the best coaching move to take place in the NBA in recent weeks.

Pistons Hiring Stan Van Gundy

The Detroit Pistons have been aimless since the 2007-08 season when they went 59-23 and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Back then, players like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace were still in Detroit, and Flip Saunders was the coach.

After that season, the Pistons fired Flip Saunders and team president Joe Dumars traded Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Michael Curry took over as coach, and in the 2008-09 season, the Pistons went 39-43 and lost in the first round of the playoffs after three years of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Since removing Saunders, the Pistons have gone through coaches on what seems like a yearly basis. The list includes Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. Between the coaching carousel and the confusing roster moves, there has been little stability in Detroit.

The team seems to have acknowledged this and are now moving in a new direction. Dumars was removed, and the team hired Stan Van Gundy as both the new head coach and president of basketball operations.

Van Gundy last coached the Orlando Magic in 2011-12. Van Gundy was let go by the organization after five seasons as the team attempted to appease Dwight Howard and prevent him from leaving, which he eventually did anyway.

Van Gundy brings strong leadership and a no-nonsense approach to Detroit. He does not shy away from telling players or the media his opinions and holds players accountable. While Van Gundy is a proven coach, the Pistons are entrusting him with running the organization on an executive level as well, something which he has no prior experience with. However, Van Gundy is confident that he can turn things around in Detroit.

“I’ve had a lot of time in the last two years so I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the organizational part of it, the basketball operations, how I would want to structure it, how I would put the pieces in place,” Van Gundy said earlier this month, while also acknowledging his limitations and admitting he would only be successful by adding great people to help him.

Van Gundy has already begun that process, hiring Brendan Malone, Bob Beyer and Charles Klask as assistant coaches and Adam Glessner as a team scout. Van Gundy said he brought in these coaches because of their past experience and because they understand the system and style of basketball the team wants to implement.

Looking at Van Gundy’s past, it appears that he will implement an offense that spreads the floor and surrounds a post player with knock down shooters. In Orlando, Van Gundy used Howard as the focal point of the offense. When Howard was doubled-teamed, players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter were ready to swing the ball around the perimeter until someone got a wide open three-pointer. It was an efficient offensive system, often ranking in the top-10 of the league. It also yielded the best production out of Howard, who is finally rounding back into his old form with the Houston Rockets, another team which spreads the floor. Unlike other efficient offensive systems, Orlando’s offense was not about running in transition each opportunity, but moving the ball quickly in search of the best shot available.

Now in Detroit, Van Gundy has a young center in Andre Drummond, who is still very raw, but is the closest thing to a young Howard as there is in the league. Drummond will continue to improve his post-game, and this will provide Van Gundy with a focal point through which to run his spread offense, as he did in Orlando. However, Van Gundy will have to add more shooters in free agency or via trade as the Pistons ranked 26th in three pointers made as a team last year (507), and made only 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (29th in the league). Fortunately, it is harder to come by a talent like Drummond, and even Greg Monroe, than it is perimeter shooters. It probably won’t happen this season, but in the near future, under Van Gundy, the Pistons will likely be a top-10 offensive team with Drummond in the middle, and shooters spreading the court around him. The difference from past years is Van Gundy has a philosophy to build around and can add players that fit his system, which will hopefully avoid signings that make little sense, like Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith.

What is often overlooked about Van Gundy is how good of a defensive team he made the Magic each season. In every season under Van Gundy, with the exception of 2011-12, the Magic were a top-10 defensive team, and in 2008-09 they were the number one rated defense in the league. While a lot of the credit for those rankings go to Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row, it was Van Gundy who managed to orchestrate the entire team into a formidable defense. Players like Nelson, Turkoglu, Lewis and Carter were never really lock down players, but they knew how to funnel players to Howard so he could disrupt them on their way to the basket. With more experience and time under Van Gundy, Drummond could one day fill the role Howard once did, perhaps even better than Howard did.

Most importantly, Van Gundy has the type of personality that can grab the attention of his players, and get them to buy in to his system and philosophy. It has been many years of aimless basketball in Detroit, but things are set to turn around behind the strong leadership and philosophy Van Gundy brings with him to the Pistons.

– Jesse Blancarte

Blazers Extending Terry Stotts

The NBA offseason has been relatively busy for coaches thus far. The Detroit Pistons lured Stan Van Gundy out of his home in Central Florida and Steve Kerr opted for the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks, which were two of the major moves. But one of best under-the-radar moves happened in Portland with the Trail Blazers opting to extend head coach Terry Stotts’ contract a couple of weeks ago.

The Trail Blazers were a surprise team this year after jumping out to the league’s best record two months into the season in the competitive Western Conference. The Trail Blazers leveled off a bit and finished as the fifth seed, picking up a first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers finished off the Rockets in six games for their first playoff series win since 2000.

The series against the Rockets illustrated how crucial Stotts is to the Trail Blazers. Stotts worked under Rick Carlisle in Dallas in 2008 and was often tasked with getting Dirk Nowitzki open looks and he faced a similar scenario with Aldridge against the Rockets. Aldridge had his way with the Rockets in the first two games of the series, scoring 46 and 43 points, which led Rockets head coach Kevin McHale to change the way Aldridge was guarded. The move somewhat paid off with Aldridge shooting just 8-of-22 from the field and scoring 23 points in the next game. But Stotts created a variety of different pick-and-roll situations where Aldridge could get the ball or create an opportunity for another player to get open. In Game 4, Aldridge turned in an efficient 12-of-23 performance to help the Trail Blazers take a 3-2 series lead.

The Trail Blazers’ decision to keep Stotts around for at least three more years will have a tremendous impact on the team moving forward. The series against the San Antonio Spurs showed the team’s weaknesses, but they are a work in progress and with the extension Stotts will be able to continue to see his work progress in the next couple of seasons.

The Trail Blazers are a young team that returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. One glaring weakness the Trail Blazers had all season was the bench and lack of depth. Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey will have their hands full this summer to improve the Blazers’ dead-last bench production in the league. It’s looking more and more likely that backup point guard Mo Williams will opt out of his contract and he could elect to sign elsewhere, leaving the Trail Blazers with an important position to fill. Olshey will have to decide if their bench help will come from outside or if their answers are already on the roster. Another thing missing from the team’s roster is the lack of veteran leadership, which could have a huge impact on the younger players.

It’s clear that the Blazers will have some work to do before they can compete with teams like the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami HEAT, but a couple of moves here and there and the Trail Blazers could find themselves in a position to compete.

– Cody Taylor

Grizzlies Retaining Dave Joerger

The Memphis Grizzlies surprised many people following the 2012-13 season, when they chose to not to renew the contract of former head coach Lionel Hollins. He had led the team to a franchise record 56 wins and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals before being bounced by the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Grizzlies’ impressive season, opposing viewpoints between Hollins and upper management, specifically majority owner Robert Pera and former CEO Jason Levien, was the catalyst for his departure.

With Hollins out of the picture, long-time Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger was promoted to fill the team’s vacant head coaching position.

Joerger picked up right where Hollins left off. In his first season as an NBA head coach, the Grizzlies adhered to the same blueprint laid out by Hollins during his tenure. The team’s identity continued to be centered on their stingy defense, controlled pace and strength down low.

The team got off to a slow start under Joerger; the Grizzlies had a record of just 13-17 through 30 games with their new head coach. Wins were tough to come by early on, and the absence of star center Marc Gasol played a major factor in the team’s difficult start. Gasol was sideline for nearly a month and a half, missing a total of 23 games with a knee injury. The slow start surprisingly had Joerger on the hot seat and there were even reports that Pera strongly considered firing Joerger mid-way through his first season. Pera never did pull the trigger on that move and in hindsight that looks to be a wise decision.

The Grizzlies got back on the right track shortly after Gasol returned to from injury on January 14. To no one’s surprise, the return of the former Defensive Player of the Year had a very positive effect. The team finished the season in strong fashion, going 37-15 in their remaining 52 games and ending the year with a record of 50-32 – a remarkable turnaround for a team that appeared bound for the lottery prior to Gasol’s return.

Joerger orchestrated a group that was again one of the premier defensive units in the league. Memphis finished third in points allowed per game, giving up just 94.6 a night, and ranked seventh in defensive rating at 104.6. The numbers were slightly down from the team’s league-best defense in 2012-13, but still more than respectable for the first-year coach. It was that great defense that helped the Grizzlies secure the seventh seed in the tough Western Conference and a first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Grizzlies were considerable underdogs going into the series but quickly proved they belonged. Going into Game 6, the Grizzlies held a 3-2 series lead and had a chance to close out the Thunder at home. It was in that Game 6 six when everything that could go wrong seemingly did. Not only did the team get blown out, losing 104-84, but Zach Randolph got into it with Steven Adams and took a swing at his face as the two ran down the court. That incident resulted in Randolph being suspended for Game 7. On top of that, Mike Conley, who had one of the best seasons of his career, suffered a hamstring injury late in Game 6. Conley was able to play in Game 7, but even so the undermanned Grizzlies didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Thunder and were eliminated.

After 50 wins and an admirable effort in the playoffs against one of best in the West, you would think Pera would be happy with his new coach. However, that was not the case. Like Hollins the year before, despite a strong season Joerger was again on the hot seat due to Pera’s concern regarding their relationship. The team even allowed Joerger to interview with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves thought highly enough of Joerger following their interview to offer him the head coaching position, which he would later reject. After his visit with the Timberwolves, Joerger met with Pera and it was during that meeting the two seemed to hash out their differences and get on the same page. Joerger described it as a “really good, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation.” Shortly after their get-together, the team and Joerger came to terms on a three-year contract extension, ensuring his position with the organization.

It was a tumultuous few weeks following the Grizzlies’ elimination and front office changes. Pera has obviously not been afraid to shake things up and will still have some work to do to fill out the front office, but bringing Joerger back is a step in the right direction. Joerger is young and very familiar with the roster and playing style that has led the team to heights previously unseen. There is no reason why the Grizzlies shouldn’t find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt again next season under the leadership of Joerger.

– John Zitzler

 

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NBA AM: Is It Smart To Bet On Yourself In This Market?

Many extension-eligible players opted to bet on themselves and a questionable free agent marketplace next summer.

Steve Kyler

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No Big Surprises On Draft Extensions

The big news yesterday wasn’t a new extension for a 2014 first round draft pick, it was the news that the San Antonio Spurs reached a three-year, $72 million extension with veteran LaMarcus Aldridge.

The news was surprising for a couple of reasons. The biggest being the Spurs had shopped Aldridge in trade scenarios this offseason under the idea that he was a problematic fit for the Spurs.

Ultimately, Aldridge and the Spurs ended up in the same place on his deal. The Spurs were not going to be big free agent players and locking Aldridge in now gives them some security as well as trade leverage later. In Aldridge’s case, his camp saw the marketplace this past summer and all of the mouths that need to be fed in July and realized he wasn’t likely getting more money on the open market come free agency.

One of the things the Spurs found out was that trading a player with a player option is not an easy task as teams that would give up value want to know what comes next, either way. Over the past few years, player options have become almost toxic in trade, mainly because there are two classes of trade partners, one that wants the ending contract and a player for a stretch run in the postseason and teams that want the player for next season. The options make valuing the player sticky at best.

In doing a deal for Aldridge, the Spurs basically lock him into their roster for this season but give themselves a trade chip next summer, if they need it. This was smart for both sides. The Spurs locked in the player and the trade asset, Aldridge locked in money he likely wouldn’t have gotten in the open market.

For those players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, yesterday closed the window on the “Early Extension Period.” While there were talks all the way to the wire on several players, the bulk of the deals that didn’t get done didn’t get close enough to seal the deal.

The Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart frequently talked about an extension, and his camp labeled the talks as getting “close” but ultimately, future luxury tax concerns killed a possible deal before the extension deadline, meaning Smart will hit free agency in July.

The Celtics will have a couple of months to see if Smart continues to evolve before they have to make decisions, and they now know what a deal would take for Smart to sign outright. Given the Celtics tax concerns, there is a window for a team with cap space to poach him in July if they come with the right kind of offer sheet. While the Celtics can obtain the right to match Smart with a $6.53 million qualifying offer, the tax issues won’t go away without a cap dump of a trade. Equally, the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, so the C’s have the luxury of seeing what unfolds in the next three months before the February 8 trade deadline.

The Orlando Magic and their pair of 2014 draftees, Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, talked about extensions, mostly out of courtesy. The Magic would have done deals if it favored the team, but the new front office in Orlando has been open and honest that they are still very much in evaluation mode on the roster and were not going to pay a premium at this point.

The Magic’s reluctance to do a deal wasn’t about valuing either player as both are said to have been very good so far, this preseason. The Magic don’t have a clear-cut direction yet and inking a long-term deal with either would have been counter to their goal of flexibility. Equally, the Magic also know that both players are unlikely to get huge free agent offers unless they blossom this season, which would make matching an easier decision after seeing how they play this season.

Neither player entered the process expecting to reach a deal, so there is no ill-will about not getting an extension. Both players have said publicly and privately they knew they had to earn their next deal and came into camp with that mindset.

The Utah Jazz and guard Rodney Hood engaged on an extension most of the summer. The Jazz are very committed to Hood, but would not commit to a deal at this point for a bunch of reasons, the biggest being they don’t really know what the team is yet. Hood is going to get a big opportunity this year, and the Jazz want to see if he can handle the increased load and stay healthy. Injuries have ravaged the Jazz lately, and they were reluctant to lock in a big number to a player that hasn’t been durable.

Of the bunch, Hood is the most likely to get a deal without the restricted free agent offer sheet process next summer—the Jazz may simply pony up and pay him if he can fill the void they hope he can for the team.

The Milwaukee Bucks and injured forward Jabari Parker did talk about an extension despite him having torn his ACL for the second time. The Bucks looked at the idea of locking Parker in at a value, but ultimately, neither side got close enough for it to be realistic. Parker is expected to return to action sometime in February, meaning he may log enough games for a big deal in July to be realistic, especially if the Bucks are as good as they project to be this year and land home court in the postseason.

The big hurdle for all of the players that did not get an extension is that the free agent marketplace in July does not project to be as robust as it was even last year. A number of agents urged their clients to take the security of money on the table this summer, and many players opted to bet on themselves, which always sounds like a great idea until the reality of restricted free agency sets in.

Nerlens Noel and JaMychal Green were both causalities of a shrinking marketplace this past summer. It will be interesting to see if some of the players that got close this week get less in the open market in July.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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