Last season, the Orlando Magic entered the 2015-16 campaign with increased expectations. For the first time in recent memory, making the playoffs didn’t seem out of the question. The Magic had a new head coach in Scott Skiles, and the organization expected to take the next step in their development.
While posting 35 wins was an improvement from recent years, Orlando fell apart during the new year. The team was in fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading into 2016, but a 2-12 record in January quickly dropped the Magic down the standings and, eventually, they fell out of the playoff race.
After an active offseason that featured plenty of player movement and another coaching search due to Skiles’ resignation, the Magic are hoping to end their four-year playoff drought and return to the postseason under new head coach Frank Vogel.
Basketball Insiders previews the Orlando Magic’s 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Giving up Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick for Serge Ibaka is forgivable, but turning around and spending $72 million on Bismack Biyombo immediately after that trade is considerably less so. With those moves, the Magic now have one of the deeper (and more confusing) frontcourt rotations in the league, which is great for their ability to defend the paint with some elite shot-blockers, but it hasn’t left the team with anybody capable of actually creating some meaningful offense. Elfrid Payton is the team’s projected starting point guard, but he can’t shoot. Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks both can pour it in, but neither is known for dominant one-on-one offense. There are going to be many low-scoring games in Central Florida this season, which means it could be another long one for Magic fans.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
The Magic spent years after Dwight Howard’s exit sticking to a patient approach to rebuilding their roster. The team was seemingly content building through the draft, letting the youngsters develop and avoiding big free agency expenditures, but the team abruptly changed course this summer. Orlando opened up the piggybank and was active during free agency to bring in veterans Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin while also trading for defensive-minded forward Serge Ibaka. There’s no question the team has gotten better defensively, which has sort of become new head coach Frank Vogel’s calling card. Offensively, the Magic lack a true go-to scorer when things get tight late in games and this will be the primary source of the team’s struggles to get over the hump.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Lang Greene
Based on what Frank Vogel was able to get out of the Indiana Pacers over the course of his time there, I think that the young core in Orlando has a capable leader. I like a lot of the pieces on the team and think that Vogel is a capable taskmaster, but it’s the front office that I question. Let’s not forget that the Magic very recently traded the promising Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Jennings has since departed for New York, while the Magic packaged Ilyasova with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade. On paper, you could argue that could be a good trade, but then you can’t help but to question why the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo to a huge deal right after that. Adding those two to Nikola Vucevic and Jeff Green (who was also signed this summer) just leaves me very confused as to just what these guys are doing. I love a lot of the young players in Orlando, but I get the sense that this season is going to be more about figuring who is there to stay and how Vogel will coach these guys than it will be about getting the Magic to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Magic had an interesting offseason to say the least. Former head coach Scott Skiles unexpectedly resigned and was replaced shortly thereafter by former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. The Magic later traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, signed Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract and Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract. They also re-signed Evan Fournier to a five-year, $85 million deal. Giving up Oladipo and Sabonis is a steep price tag for Ibaka, who has declined in recent seasons and could leave after the upcoming year as an unrestricted free agent. The signing of Green is surprising as well considering his skill overlaps talent already on the roster. Additionally, while I like the defensive impact Biyombo can add to the Magic, his contract is pretty hefty (even with the inflated salary cap) considering his limited track record. The Magic seemed to be continuing down the path of auctioning off the young talent they’ve compiled to bring in veterans that can help them compete for a playoff berth now. While I think they have sold low on that talent (see the Tobias Harris trade), I do like the hiring of Vogel. If Vogel can turn this team into a strong defensive unit (something Ibaka and Biyombo should help with), that may help this team turn things around sooner than expected. I like the young talent Orlando assembled in recent years, I just don’t love the deals they’ve made recently to bring in veterans that don’t move the needle enough to compete for anything other than a low-seed playoff berth.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
While I’m curious to see how Serge Ibaka fits with this Magic squad, I’m also excited to watch Aaron Gordon’s continued development. I interviewed Gordon last week and he made it clear that he expects to play a much bigger role under new head coach Frank Vogel. He has been working really hard this offseason and seems poised for a breakout third season. With the Vogel hire, talented veteran additions and more experience for their young core, the Magic should take a significant step forward this year. With that said, if the Magic lose Ibaka to free agency after this season, the front office will be criticized (and deservedly so) for dealing away Victor Oladipo and lottery selection Domantas Sabonis for a one-year rental who, at best, makes them a fringe playoff team.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Evan Fournier
After parting ways with Victor Oladipo, Fournier steps in as the team’s best offensive weapon given everything that he can do. Although it was center Nikola Vucevic who led the team in scoring last season, expect Fournier to take over as the team’s top offensive player. Last year was the most productive of Fournier’s four-year NBA career, as he averaged a career-high 15.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Fournier led the Magic in scoring 19 times and 24 outings with 20 or more points (including two 30-point efforts). He can finish at the rim and create his own shot. Like Manu Ginobili, his Eurostep remains one of his most effective moves. He averaged 5.7 drives per game last season, which ranked inside the top 50 in the league. He also figures to be one of the team’s best shooters next season; last year, he knocked down 40 percent of his three-point shot attempts, which was tied for 21st among qualified players.
Top Defensive Player: Serge Ibaka
There is no question who Orlando’s best defender will be this season. The team desperately wanted to add a defensive-minded big man next to Vucevic in the starting lineup and that’s what they’re getting in Ibaka. The reaction to the trade that brought Ibaka to the Magic was a bit mixed, as some believe Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to No. 11 overall pick Donatas Sabonis was too much to give up for Ibaka since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, it’s clear that the Magic love Ibaka’s game and feel he can take them to the next level. He has been selected to three All-Defensive First Teams and has led the league in total blocks four times. Ibaka is a great rim protector, which is exactly what the Magic have needed since Dwight Howard left town. Ibaka held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting at the rim last year, which ranked among the best in the league. His 1.9 blocks per game ranked seventh in the NBA and he was third in total blocks with 148. The Magic haven’t had a player average more than 1.5 blocks per game since Howard in 2011, so Ibaka gives them a much-needed interior defender.
Top Playmaker: Elfrid Payton
As the team’s point guard, Payton is our pick for top playmaker. He is the player who touches the ball most frequently on the team and is in charge of running the offense. Last season, Payton averaged 10.7 points, 6.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. Payton averaged 74.1 touches per game last year. He’s shown that he’s comfortable passing to set up his teammates or keeping the ball to get to the rim, as he averaged 7.8 drives per game last season. What makes Payton such a weapon when he drives are the different head fakes, ball fakes and hesitation dribbles that he uses to keep defenders guessing. He’s a guy who can be a triple-double threat – he’s recorded three during his two years in the league and has come close a number of other times. Payton has shown a lot of promise so far during his career and many believe that he can be a dangerous point guard once he develops a consistent jump shot. He made big strides from his rookie to sophomore season in that department and it seems as though the 22-year-old is poised to be even better next season.
Top Clutch Player: Nikola Vucevic
Although a case can be made for Fournier here, we’re going to highlight Vucevic’s clutch play. It may seem odd to name a center as a team’s best clutch player, but that’s exactly what the Magic have with Vucevic. He hit two game-winning shots for the Magic last season – one against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 11 and one against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 7. Vucevic just edged out Fournier in total points scored in the final five minutes of close games (with neither team ahead by more than five points). Vucevic recorded 78 points in those situations, compared to 76 points for Fournier. One of the most impressive aspects of Vucevic’s game is his mid-range shooting. Last season, he averaged 2.2 made shots per game between 15-19 feet from the rim, which ranked second in the league; he shot 50.3 percent from that distance. Vucevic has proven to be one of best offensive centers in the league and he figures to be a guy the team can continue to count on down the stretch.
The Unheralded Player: Mario Hezonja
Hezonja played sparingly during his rookie campaign, but he left a lasting impression on fans when he did see the court. Many people in Orlando are excited about his potential, especially on the offensive end. He appeared in 79 games last year and averaged 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in just under 18 minutes per game. He elevated his production to 11.1 points per game in nine starts. What is encouraging for Hezonja fans is the fact that Coach Vogel loves his game. During his introductory press conference in May, Vogel said he is excited to help Hezonja develop. He loves Hezonja’s confidence and his ability to shoot the ball, while also saying that Mario’s skillset and style of play fits with how he wants to run the team. While it doesn’t seem as though Hezonja will find himself in the starting lineup very often, it does seem like he’ll be playing more than the 18 minutes he averaged last season.
Top New Addition: Serge Ibaka
Ibaka experienced great success during his time with the Thunder, so he could emerge as a leader for the Magic and help build a winning culture in Orlando. In addition to everything he brings on the defensive end, he also provides a scoring punch and stretches the floor. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 33 percent from three-point range last season. His numbers were down a bit compared to previous seasons, but that’s likely because the Thunder experimented with getting big men like Enes Kanter and Steven Adams more involved. In Orlando, Ibaka is in a great position and he’ll be one of the team’s top scoring options. Coach Vogel has indicated that Ibaka will be relied on more than he was in OKC. Ibaka is in a contract year and will surely be looking to put up big numbers so that he can cash in when he hits unrestricted free agency next offseason.
– Cody Taylor
WHO WE LIKE
1. Aaron Gordon
After becoming a household name following his incredible performance in February’s Slam Dunk Contest, what’s not to like about Gordon? The most remarkable thing about Gordon is that he’ll be turning 21 years old later this week, meaning he still has plenty of room to grow as a player. In his second season, he averaged 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His per-48 stats offer a look at what he could produce given an increased role: 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. It can be quite exciting to watch Gordon play since his athleticism allows him to make impact plays all over the floor. He has a great understanding of the game and has one of the best work ethics in the league. Oh, and his confidence is through the roof. He’s much more comfortable entering this campaign and many are expecting him to have a breakout season.
2. Frank Vogel
Was Scott Skiles’ unexpected resignation in May actually a blessing in disguise for the Magic? Vogel was among the top candidates remaining at the time and the team moved quickly to hire him as their next head coach. Given his success with the Indiana Pacers, the hiring of Vogel looks to be a great move. Vogel consistently put the Pacers in great position to be successful and his teams were always known to be very good defensively. Vogel has already set the bar high for next season, stating that the team will make the playoffs.
3. D.J. Augustin
One of the biggest areas of concern for the Magic last year was the backup point guard position. The team tried to address that issue prior to last season by signing C.J. Watson, but he played in just 33 games after battling a calf injury for much of the year. The team then traded for Brandon Jennings, who left to join the New York Knicks this summer. Now, the Magic have brought in Augustin to bolster their backcourt depth. He will give the second unit some much needed shooting; he’s a career 37-percent shooter from three. Augustin also brings a ton of experience to the team and has played on plenty of contenders. It remains to be seen if it will be Watson or Augustin who will ultimately backup Elfrid Payton, but the Magic have legitimate options at the position for the first time in a long time.
4. Bismack Biyombo
Whether or not you agree with Orlando’s decision to give Biyombo a four-year deal worth $72 million, it’s evident that Biyombo can make a big impact for the Magic. He helped his league-wide perception last year with Toronto Raptors – particularly during the playoffs – by making hustle plays and defending the paint. He pulled down a franchise record 26 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was impressive. It appears Biyombo will be counted on to anchor the Magic’s second unit and that could be a role he flourishes in. It’s clear that the front office is in love with Biyombo judging by the contract they gave him. Coach Vogel’s teams have always been great defensively and Biyombo looks like he’ll fit right in with what the team wants to do.
– Cody Taylor
SALARY CAP 101
The Magic have had a busy offseason, acquiring Serge Ibaka via trade and then going under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign players like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin. The team also re-signed Evan Fournier, locking in at least $104.8 million in salary on 13 players. Orlando invited six players to camp, all on non-guaranteed summer contracts, to compete for two open roster spots. The Magic also have their $2.9 million Room Exception available.
Next summer, Orlando may reach $29 million in spending power under a $102 million salary cap. That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, C.J. Wilcox and Elfrid Payton. Only $1 million of C.J. Watson’s $5 million salary is guaranteed for 2017-18. While Ibaka is eligible to have his contract restructured and extended, the Magic do not have the necessary cap space to get that kind of deal done.
– Eric Pincus
The theme of the Magic’s offseason was adding defense. They have a great defensive mind in Vogel on the sideline and they added a couple of very talented defenders in Ibaka and Biyombo to help the team improve on that end of the court. The Magic improved to 17th in defense last season under Scott Skiles, but they clearly would like to be significantly better this season. In addition to Ibaka and Biyombo, Payton and Gordon have emerged as great defenders as well.
– Cody Taylor
As strong defensively as the Magic may seem on paper, there are plenty of questions about their offense entering this season. The team failed to add a star through free agency and now they must decide who will become the squad’s go-to option. Vucevic led the team in scoring last season at 18.2 points per game, with Fournier next down the list at 15.4 points per game. Key players like Payton, Gordon and Biyombo are not known to be great scorers, which begs the question: Where will the scoring come from?
– Cody Taylor
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Magic finally break through into the playoffs?
With his bold statements, Vogel has set a playoff-or-bust atmosphere in his first season as Magic head coach. The team made a number of moves that signal their desire to win now and return to the postseason. While it seems as though the team’s defense will be much improved, there are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to how these pieces fit together. While the Magic certainly have the potential to improve their win total this year, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season.
– Cody Taylor
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.