Notable Players Still in Free Agent Pool
Every year, a number of players are signed by NBA teams in the middle of the season. While most free-agent acquisitions happen over the summer, some important moves occur after the games begin as well. There are plenty of talented free agents who stay ready throughout the season in case a team comes calling.
Sometimes, these midseason additions become important contributors for their new team, with San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley and Miami HEAT center Chris Andersen being perfect examples.
Who could be a midseason steal this season? Here’s a look at some of the notable veterans who are still unsigned. NOTE: This list doesn’t include players who are overseas. That will be a separate article, with players who may sign with an NBA team after completing their overseas commitment.
Ray Allen, 39 years old, 18-year veteran – Allen hasn’t officially announced whether he’ll play this season, but many people around the league believe he’ll sign at some point during the campaign. Just about every contender in the league is showing interest in the sharpshooter, and waiting to sign allows him to ensure he’ll be joining a team with a realistic shot at the title and one that has a significant role for him. Allen can obviously still contribute; he averaged 9.6 points per game last year on the Miami HEAT and hit perhaps the biggest shot of his career the year before, which helped Miami go on to win the championship over the San Antonio Spurs. Allen is also highly coveted for his leadership, as he’s a strong veteran presence and knows what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. A new rumor involving Allen seems to pop up every week, and his camp has been quick to shoot them all down, but don’t be surprised if he signs at some point during this season.
Emeka Okafor, 32 years old, 9-year veteran – The only reason Okafor isn’t already on an NBA roster is because he is still recovering from a herniated disc in his back. There has been a lot of interest in Okafor’s services, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be ready to play until December or January at the earliest. Once Okafor is healthy, expect many teams to come calling. He’s a very good rim protector who has been a starting-caliber big man throughout his career. He has never averaged less than a block per game in any of his nine NBA seasons, and he last averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and one block during his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. The Cleveland Cavaliers would make a lot of sense for Okafor, as they lack a rim protector and only have 12 fully-guaranteed contracts (Alex Kirk, Will Cherry and Lou Amundson aren’t guaranteed).
Gal Mekel, 26 years old, 1-year veteran – Mekel was waived by the Dallas Mavericks when they signed J.J. Barea. The Mavericks could’ve traded the young point guard, but the situations on the table weren’t very appealing for Mekel so they waived him instead to do right by him. Mekel nearly signed with the Indiana Pacers as their hardship exemption player, but a visa issue got in the way and the Pacers had to settle for A.J. Price instead (as detailed in-depth here). Now, Mekel is training on his own and staying in game shape. His salary for this season and next season were fully guaranteed, so he will be paid whether he joins a team or not. This allows him to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to present itself rather than jumping at the first offer he receives. A number of teams are intrigued by Mekel, according to sources, and he could be the next floor general signed with other point guards like Price and Ish Smith off the market.
Quincy Miller, 21 years old, 2-year veteran – Unlike many of the players on this list, Miller is still extremely young and full of potential. If you recall, Miller was being projected as a future NBA star (and likely lottery pick) back when he was a high school star. While he hasn’t lived up to those expectations (dropping to the second round in 2012 and recently being waived by the Denver Nuggets despite having a guaranteed deal), it’s far too early to give up on the Baylor product. He has only spent two seasons in the NBA and played sparingly. However, he still has some upside as well as the versatility to play multiple positions. A number of teams are reportedly intrigued by Miller including the Indiana Pacers, L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets (with L.A. working him out later this week), so he’ll likely be signed sooner than later.
Will Bynum, 31 years old, 7-year veteran – Bynum was traded from the Detroit Pistons to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Joel Anthony, and then Boston waived him shortly after. Bynum suffered a strained hamstring during the preseason, but his camp insists that he’s completely healthy now. The veteran guard has been training in his hometown of Chicago as he waits to join a new NBA team. Last season in Detroit, Bynum averaged 8.7 points and 3.9 assists off of the bench. He has been a productive reserve throughout his seven years in the NBA, and could be brought in to strengthen a team’s second unit. Bynum’s 2014-15 salary ($2,915,908) was fully guaranteed, so he can afford to take his time and wait for the right situation to present itself.
Dante Cunningham, 27 years old, 5-year veteran – Six months ago, Cunningham was arrested for domestic assault and spent time in a jail cell. Later on, the charges were dropped and a police investigation found that the accuser had lied and tried to frame Cunningham by sending herself threatening messages. However, the incident was enough to keep Cunningham from being signed when his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired over the offseason. Now, Cunningham is trying to clear his name and resume his career. He’s working out near Penn State, where one of his college teammates is coaching, and waiting for a call from a team. His agent Joel Bell told the Associated Press that one team said they couldn’t afford the public-relations backlash that would come from signing Cunningham, given the negative headlines that athletes with domestic violence charges have made lately. The 27-year-old has been productive throughout his career and the facts seem to be on his side, so it’s possible that an NBA team will give him the benefit of the doubt and sign him at some point this season.
Jermaine O’Neal, 36 years old, 18-year veteran – It remains to be seen if O’Neal will suit up again in the NBA. Over the last few years, he has openly talked about retirement and seriously considered it over the summer. However, he didn’t announce that he was walking away from the game, so for now we’ll assume that he’s still a free agent option. O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he has held up pretty well. After a rough two-year stint with the Boston Celtics, O’Neal bounced back with two solid seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors. O’Neal was a solid rebounder and interior defender, and when pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he came through by averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13 games. Don’t be surprised if O’Neal joins a team this season and puts on an NBA jersey one last time.
Earl Clark, 26 years old, 5-year veteran – The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride for Clark. He spent training camp with the Memphis Grizzlies, who waived him in late October. The Houston Rockets immediately claimed Clark off of waivers, but then cut him three days later. He then joined the Iowa Energy of the D-League, only to be traded Rio Grande Valley Vipers the following day. Now, he’s still on the Vipers’ roster and can be called up by any NBA team. It was just two years ago that Clark emerged as a significant contributor for the Los Angeles Lakers, taking Pau Gasol’s starting job at one point. He wasn’t able to sustain that success with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then the New York Knicks, which is why he finds himself in the D-League. However, he could be an interesting call-up option, as he has shown that he can be a solid two-way player who provides energy off of the bench.
Rashard Lewis, 35 years old, 16-year veteran – Lewis inked a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks over the offseason, but the offer was pulled off of the table after he failed his physical. The Mavericks found that he needed surgery in his right knee. Dallas has said that they’ll consider signing Lewis once he recovers from the injury, but nothing is guaranteed. Mark Cuban has remained in touch with Lewis, who is working out in Dallas as he tries to get completely healthy and in game shape. Last postseason, Lewis showed that he can still play at a high level. His role with the Miami HEAT increased during the playoffs and he was moved into the starting lineup for eight games. He had a five-game stretch in the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals in which he averaged 13.8 points, hitting 18 three-pointers at a 52.9 percent clip. Lewis’ 1,787 three-point shots ranks eighth in NBA history.
Carlos Delfino, 32 years old, 8-year veteran – Delfino didn’t play in a single game last season with the Milwaukee Bucks after undergoing multiple surgeries on his foot. Over the offseason, he was traded to the L.A. Clippers and subsequently waived. He had surgery to remove a screw from his foot last month and there has been no timetable for his return to action. If he continues to have issues with his surgically-repaired foot, it’s possible that he won’t play for a second straight season. However, if he is healthy, expect some team to take a chance on him since he’s a talented reserve scorer who can spread the floor. He last averaged 10.6 points for the Houston Rockets in the 2012-13 season.
Ivan Johnson, 30 years old, 2-year veteran – The Dallas Mavericks waived Johnson prior to the start of the season, and now he’s looking for a new home. The veteran big man played in the Las Vegas Summer League to showcase his game to NBA executives after spending last year in China. Prior to that, he was on the Atlanta Hawks for two years, averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds. Johnson is the epitome of a tough enforcer, which is attractive to some teams. Teams are constantly auditioning big men, so Johnson may get a chance to show what we can do at some point this season. As he so eloquently told Basketball Insiders during summer league, “I’ll f*** anybody that’s in front of me [to get back into the league].” Never change, Ivan.
Dahntay Jones, 33 years old, 10-year veteran – Jones was one of the last cuts by the Utah Jazz prior to the start of this season, and it’s possible that he could join another team at some point. Jones appeared in every Jazz preseason game, but Utah decided to keep some of the younger guards who had been guaranteed money. Not only can Jones provide solid perimeter defense and toughness to a team, he’s a veteran leader. Jones tried to help Utah’s young core as much as possible on and off the court during training camp and the preseason, and he could be a valuable piece for a team in need of a strong locker room presence.
Eric Maynor, 27 years old, 5-year veteran – It wasn’t long ago that Maynor was considered one of the better backup point guards in the NBA. He was very good during his first three years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, running the offense and rarely turning the ball over. Then, Maynor tore his ACL in January of 2012 and he hasn’t been the same since. The Thunder traded him the following year and he has since had stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards. His production dipped significantly, particularly during his season with the Wizards. Washington really hoped he could be the team’s backup floor general behind John Wall, but he struggled to the point that they had to trade for Andre Miller and move on from Maynor. He briefly suited up for the Sixers, but was waived after eight games. Because he has had some success in the league, it’s possible that he could get another look to salvage his career.
Travis Outlaw, 30 years old, 11-year veteran – Outlaw didn’t make the New York Knicks, losing his roster spot to undrafted rookie Travis Wear. New York traded Outlaw to the Philadelphia 76ers (to free up space for Wear) and then Philly waived him. Outlaw will receive the $3,000,000 he was guaranteed this season, so he’ll be paid whether he’s in the league or not. The last few years have been somewhat rough for Outlaw, as he has struggled (and parted ways with) the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings and Knicks. However, he has stuck around the league for 11 years as a role player and always seems to end up on a roster, so don’t be surprised if he gets another shot this season.
Ronnie Brewer, 29 years old, 8-year veteran – It wasn’t long ago that Brewer was a starter for the Chicago Bulls, playing a key role for them in the 2011-12 season. But since leaving Chicago, Brewer hasn’t been very productive. His numbers decreased during his stints with the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, playing very few minutes. He rejoined the Bulls toward the end of last season, but was let go in July. It’s possible that Brewer could get signed at some point this season, since he’s a solid perimeter defender and veteran presence. He knows his role and has plenty of playoff experience as well. He has averaged 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the course of his eight-year career.
Peyton Siva, 24 years old, 1-year veteran – The Detroit Pistons decided to waive Siva after his rookie season. He joined the Orlando Magic for training camp and the preseason, but didn’t appear in any games. When he signed with the Magic, it was with an understanding that he would be waived and then join the Magic’s D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks. The arrangement made sense for both parties, as Siva got some guaranteed money to supplement his D-League salary and the Magic ensured that they’d have him in Erie. That’s where Siva finds himself today, but any NBA team can call him up and sign him this season. It was somewhat surprising that Siva didn’t land on NBA roster over the summer since he’s still just 24 years old and played pretty well in the Orlando Summer League, averaging 10 points, five assists and a steal. He’s certainly someone to keep an eye on in the D-League, as he may be called up at some point this season.
Xavier Silas, 26 years old, 1-year veteran – Silas spent the last two training camps with the Washington Wizards and was the last cut each time. This preseason, he was productive, but the Wizards opted to keep 12-year veteran Rasual Butler over him. Silas has had stints in France, Israel, Argentina and the D-League, and had a stint with the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2011-12 season. If Silas does make an NBA roster, he will be suspended for one game since he left the bench during a preseason confrontation that took place between Paul Pierce and Joakim Noah.
Tyrus Thomas, 28 years old, 7-year veteran – Thomas hasn’t played in the NBA since being amnestied by Charlotte, but he recently told Basketball Insiders that he’s trying to make a comeback. He is still getting into game shape after recently undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his back, but he’s working out twice a day in San Antonio and looking good. He’s determined to show that he has matured and change how he’s perceived, because he’s the first one to say that he made some mistakes and took things for granted while he was in the NBA. Thomas is still very young compared to many of the players on this list, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get another chance in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Josh Howard, Kenyon Martin, Hasheem Thabeet, John Lucas III, Greg Oden, Elliot Williams, Richard Hamilton, Mickael Pietrus, Earl Barron, Dwight Buycks, Marquis Teague, Lamar Odom, Stephen Jackson, Marcus Camby, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike James, Daniel Gibson, Seth Curry, Doron Lamb, Damien Wilkins, Keith Bogans, Terrence Williams, Jason Kapono, Donte Greene, Adonis Thomas, Arnett Moultrie, Robert Covington, Jeff Adrien, Erik Murphy, Josh Powell, Brian Cook, Bernard James, Hassan Whiteside, Kwame Brown, Jason Collins, Dexter Pittman, Solomon Jones, Andris Biedrins, Chris Johnson, Aaron Craft, Khem Birch, Renaldo Balkman, Malcolm Lee, Andrew Bynum
Next week, we’ll take a look at some players who are currently abroad and who may be signed by an NBA team after they complete their overseas commitment.
NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe
Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.
Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.
No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.
And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.
“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”
While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.
Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).
He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).
It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”
Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.
And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.
A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.
“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”
Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.
And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.
The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.
“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”
Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.
“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”
Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”
So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.
NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future
David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.
One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.
House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.
He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.
“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”
This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.
Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.
When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.
Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.
“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”
Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.
In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.
“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”
Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.
In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.
“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”
As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.
The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.
“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”
PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.