A short few weeks ago, Basketball Insiders addressed the bedlam in Northeast Ohio with a column from yours truly.
Since then, believe it or not, a lot more has transpired with the Cleveland Cavaliers—two more blowout losses, a reportedly hostile in-house team meeting, trade rumors flying everywhere—which led head coach Tyronn Lue to finally shake things up.
The decision? What this writer and most people believed would happen: Tristan Thompson was inserted back into the starting five. Of course, sarcasm flooded in after the move was made.
That’s it? With all of the problems this team is having, that’s the major alteration?
It’s understandable that this was the reaction. Before the weekend came, the Cavaliers’ starting five were essentially lifeless. The bench bunch was even losing the luster that it had during the 13-game winning streak in November. How could a singular adjustment be the answer to this mess?
Hint—Thompson’s promotion wasn’t a singular adjustment, and it turned into a domino effect. How so?
Kevin Love slides back to his natural power forward position. Though he was having an All-Star year as a stretch five, it’s clear that Cleveland was suffering from too much damage on the interior defensively. Now that he won’t be drawing those tough matchups against traditional centers on the other end of the floor, he should be able to focus even more on his play as an inside-outside scoring option.
Isaiah Thomas gets a partner in the pick-and-roll. On both sides of the court, it’s been a tough road back for the soon to be 29-year-old. He’s been up and down as a shooter as he’s tried to get his rhythm back. He’s dominated the ball quite a bit despite making some rash decisions at inopportune times. Bringing Thompson in gives him a hard screener to either attack the basket on his own or find the big man on the roll for the easy two.
J.R. Smith has a familiar face to work with. Whether or not an extra presence out on the perimeter was causing him to be hesitant, something has started to click. He explains it as a change in mechanics and a quicker release after watching film and talking to his teammates. But he’ll be getting more opportunities to shoot if Thompson keeps the defense on their toes as a threat for a lob from the ball-handler.
Perhaps the most important effect, though, is that Channing Frye is going to play key minutes once again. Yes, he’s been linked to the rumor mill. Yes, he’s an aging veteran with an expiring contract. But he is the last remaining piece that is holding this Cavaliers team together and, frankly, an X-Factor on the floor.
So get this—Frye played a combined 34 minutes between Friday and Sunday. That’s more than he played in the previous five games he stepped foot on the hardwood in total. That goes without mentioning the inactive game vs. San Antonio and the three DNP-CDs during that stretch. Against the Pistons, he’s played for over 20 minutes for the first time since December 4.
Where do you start with Frye’s impact? Offensively, he demands attention on the outside. The reason he and Kyle Korver have had so much success together on the floor is that the opposition has to pick their poison. That kind spacing itself makes it a nightmare because if you’re worried about those two shooting the ball, then the lane has to be open.
Pair those threats up with LeBron James as the one to expose that hole, and it might be a fair to assume that defenses might have some trouble on their hands. It’s one of Lue’s favorite concepts that brought Cleveland waves of success at the end of last season and in the playoffs. Putting an aggressor like Jeff Green and a versatile player such as Jae Crowder with those other three makes for an intriguing bunch. It’s the group that extended the lead over Detroit as the fourth quarter winded down; Lue loves to ride certain rotations when they’re bringing the juice, and this was a good example.
It took much longer than it should have, but Lue hasn’t had it easy on him. There have been players in and out of the lineup with injuries and other issues. Not playing Frye was very questionable, especially since Thompson had trouble on the floor with the bench, who had only one struggling shooter in Korver. Dwyane Wade is expected to return Tuesday, so we’ll see how that comes into play.
As argued before, nobody should envy Lue. He’s got the microscope on him because of the team he coaches, which is led by a man who gets the most publicity and attention in all of sports. He’s being asked to fit minutes in for everybody on a team with too much depth in the backcourt and not enough depth in the frontcourt. He’s hardheaded when it comes to certain things, but he’s also loyal to his guys, and that’s hard to do when those players aren’t producing and doing their job.
But we’ve seen in two games that maybe the best move was the simple one. It’s opened up avenues for everybody on the team to improve and gain chemistry with one another. The sample size is extremely small and it could be fool’s gold, but if they can get the kind of effort we saw this past weekend on a nightly basis, the Cavaliers can take some momentum into the All-Star break.
NBA Daily: Potential Bounce-Back Candidates
Basketball Insiders covers some notable players who could have a bounce-back campaign after falling short of expectations last season.
Each NBA season there is a sizable amount of players who fall short of expectations. Sometimes it is because of injuries, age, a change in a player’s role or a long list of other factors. Last season, there were several notable players that fell short of expectations because of some combination of these factors. However, many of these players are primed for a potential bounce-back after seemingly rehabilitating their respective injuries, moving onto new teams and addressing other issues that might have held them back last season.
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
The Kawhi Leonard saga is well known by all persons who have paid any attention to the NBA over the last 10 months or so. Leonard, who has suffered from a mysterious leg injury for an extended period of time, only played in nine games last season.
In those nine games, Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and one block in an average 23.3 minutes per game. Notably, Leonard’s statistics per-36 minutes were in line with his numbers from the 2016-17 season, so there is reason to believe that he could still produce at his elite level when his leg felt right. But too often, Leonard was limited to short minutes and eventually shut himself down for the season, citing his lingering leg injury.
Leonard has had months to rehab his injury and, if healthy, could have a big-time season with the Toronto Raptors after the team acquired him in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. There are still questions about the severity of Leonard’s injury, whether he will be able to regain his elite form from previous seasons and whether he will embrace his role with Toronto on the final year of his contract. However, after playing in just nine games in a drama-filled season with San Antonio, there is plenty of reason to believe that Leonard could have a big bounce-back season.
Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz had arguably the most confusing and mysterious rookie campaign for any notable player in recent memory. Fultz entered the NBA as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft and had few limitations in his game.
However, during the offseason, it became apparent that Fultz was suffering from some sort of injury to his shoulder that was severely impacting his jump shot. Fultz, his representatives and the 76ers organization offered several conflicting explanations of the apparent injury and how it would be treated. Fultz ultimately missed the vast majority of his rookie season as he rehabbed this mysterious injury. He was healthy enough to participate in the postseason but only played a minor role after missing the majority of the regular season and failing to fully overcome the issues that plagued him.
There are differing accounts of what caused the issue and some believe that the problem isn’t physical but rather mental. Reports have come out this offseason that Fultz has made significant progress in fixing the issue impacting his shooting form. Renowned trainer Drew Hanlen is confident that Fultz will demonstrate this upcoming season that his shot has been fixed and that he will show why he was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2017. If Hanlen is correct, Fultz offers the 76ers a dynamic skill set that they certainly need as they move forward in their climb up the Eastern Conference ranks.
Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls
Selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, Parker has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations that following him to the pro level. Parker has suffered two ACL tears in his short NBA career and is now trying to prove that he can stay healthy and consistently produce at the level many expected when he first entered the league.
Parker joins the Chicago Bulls this offseason after the Milwaukee Bucks essentially agreed to let him move on without interfering. The Bulls lacked a viable forward and took a well-reasoned gamble that Parker could be a solution for them. Parker still has a good amount of explosiveness and an intriguing offensive game. Parker has failed to develop any part of his game to the point that would make him a reliable contributor on either end of the court but at his age and with his set of skills, it’s reasonable to believe that he could continue developing and improving.
The issue with Parker at this point is the injury history, the fact that he is probably better suited to play power forward than small forward and his flimsy defense. If Parker can stay healthy and make sizable improvements defensively, he will be a valuable addition for the Bulls. Parker’s teammate, Zach LaVine, faces a similar situation this upcoming season and could be considered a bounce-back candidate in his own right.
Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets
It may seem like it was a long time ago, but Thomas was a legitimate MVP candidate in the 2016-17 NBA season. Thomas averaged an eye-popping 28.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 46.3 from the field and 37.9 from three-point range. Thomas was the engine of the Boston Celtics’ offensive attack and made such a significant impact on offense that it covered up all of his defensive shortcomings.
However, Thomas played through a significant hip injury in Boston’s playoff run, which has subsequently required two surgeries to address. Thomas was unable to overcome his injury issues last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, which resulted in him taking a one-year veterans minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets. There is optimism that Thomas’ most recent operation and rehab will help him make a significant recovery and allow him to produce at the level he achieved with the Celtics. If Thomas is relatively healthy, he’ll have the chance to help lead a potent Denver offense that could benefit from his playmaking and isolation scoring ability.
Carmelo Anthony, Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have taken a lot of heat for failing to retain Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah Moute and replacing them with Anthony. Anthony is coming off a rocky season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which turned to Anthony for additional scoring and floor-spacing.
Anthony was never able to fit into the Thunder’s offense, which is largely dominated by Russell Westbrook and now Paul George as well. He couldn’t find the range on his jump shot for long stretches of the season, which is what the Thunder needed the most from him.
Anthony now joins a Rockets team that prides itself on moving the ball and manufacturing wide open looks from beyond the arc. If Anthony can find the range on his jumper and maintain at least passable defense within the team’s defensive schemes, he could be a nice boost for the Rockets. However, the likelihood at this point is that any offensive contributions Anthony brings will be outweighed by his inability to switch on defense. The Rockets nearly upset the Golden State Warriors last postseason with their collective ability to switch every matchup effectively with the help of defenders like Ariza and Mbah Moute. That sort of scheme can’t be replicated with this roster as it stands today, which means Anthony will really have to make a significant impact on the offensive end.
Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers
Gallinari has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and last season was no exception. Gallinari only managed to play in 21 games as he suffered two glute injuries and fractured his right hand later in the season.
Gallinari was relatively effective in the time he did play last season though his shooting percentages were mostly down. Gallinari makes for an interesting fit alongside Tobias Harris in the Clippers’ frontcourt considering both are strong offensive contributors and each can play either forward position depending on the matchups. Gallinari is under contract through next season at roughly $21-22 million annually.
Gallinari having a bounce-back season could have big implications for the Clippers both on and off the court. If Gallinari can produce consistently he could help lead the Clippers to a playoff berth, which many forecast as unlikely considering how absurdly deep the Western Conference is. Additionally, if Gallinari can rehabilitate his value, it will become easier for the Clippers to move his expiring contract after this season should it be a prerequisite to bringing in two star free agents with the significant cap space the Clippers are projected to have. The Clippers have their sights set on Kawhi Leonard, who could be enticed by the promise of bringing in another max-worthy free agent.
These are just some of the many players that are hoping for a bounce-back season. Keep the conversation going and let me on Twitter (@JBlancarteNBA) know who you think could be set for a bounce-back season.
NBA Daily: The Best One-Year Contract Signings of 2018
Spencer Davies looks at several of this summer’s best one-year signings from both a player and team perspective.
Short-term contracts are a beautiful thing in the NBA. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is going to be a part of a franchise for the long haul, it does mean that player is going to give it his all to earn a payday in the following offseason.
There are multiple reasons for somebody to sign a one-year deal. Maybe it’s a “show ‘em, prove it” type of situation. Perhaps it’s a veteran whose career is winding down but still has a desire to play the game and teach those who are younger.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a beneficial tool for both the provider and the recipient. Teams don’t have to be hooked on for long-term money at first, and if they like a guy enough, they can come to terms at a later time if desired.
Let’s look at this summer’s one-year signees and their respective situations. For the purpose of this article, we’re only going to mention players going to new teams, not ones who are coming back (e.g. Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, etc.)
Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets ($2,029,463)
The case of Thomas is proof that nothing in this league is guaranteed. From an MVP candidate on the brink of earning a maximum contract to sustaining a devastating hip injury, to being traded twice in one season, to signing a veteran’s minimum deal this offseason—the fall was not a graceful one.
Still, this contract will help accomplish two things. One, it will give the Nuggets a backup floor general they’ve desperately lacked over the last few years. Two, it will allow Thomas to get some sort of momentum back headed into 2019 free agency. He can still score and get to the rack. A summer of healing—physically and mentally—should only help that.
Anthony Tolliver – Minnesota Timberwolves ($5,750,000)
This is a flat-out steal of a signing for the Wolves. While Tolliver isn’t getting any younger at 33 years old, he is one of the most underappreciated veteran forwards in the league. He had a fine season with the Detroit Pistons one year ago, knocking down a career-best 43.6 percent of his triple tries.
His best quality, however, is the way he defends. We all know how much Tom Thibodeau loves his hard-nosed, experienced players. With the Wolves losing Nemanja Bjelica to the Sacramento Kings in free agency, there’s an opening at the backup four position behind Taj Gibson, and Tolliver fits into it perfectly.
Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans ($3,000,000)
There’s a homecoming in the Bayou. A former Rajun Cajun from Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton will likely be as comfortable as he ever has in the NBA. Let’s not forget how talented the 24-year-old maestro is. He’s the definition of an all-around point guard, which should help him in the long run as the game requires all-around play.
As Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins headed west, the Pelicans nabbed Payton and Julius Randle to re-tool. Payton should serve well as not only Jrue Holiday’s backup, but could also see action on the floor along with him depending on how Alvin Gentry wants to tinker with his rotation. It’s a new team, new haircut and new life for the fifth-year guard.
Mario Hezonja – New York Knicks ($6,500,000)
Like Payton, Hezonja is another former Orlando Magic first-round draft pick who hasn’t quite panned out, but has looked solid when given ample playing time. Year three was a big jump for all intents and purposes, considering his first two seasons in the NBA were a flop. He was able to step up when others were injured, providing production for a depleted bunch that needed it—and carved out a bigger role because of it.
Enter Hezonja on a Knicks team that is down its superstar Kristaps Porzingis for potentially most, if not all, of the upcoming season. They’re going to need somebody to help score the basketball next to Tim Hardaway Jr. and promising rookie sensation Kevin Knox. It’ll be interesting to see how Hezonja fills that void and how he responds to playing in the Big Apple.
Trevor Ariza – Phoenix Suns ($15,000,000)
The rebuild is officially underway in the desert. There are a new coach, a new roster and a new set of young talent eager to gain experience at the professional level, and Ariza is there to set the tone of a championship mindset right from the get-go. With one touch of pen to paper, he became the highest-paid player for the 2018-19 season on the roster, and maybe the most important.
Having been a part of many playoff teams in the span of his 14-year career, Ariza’s locker room presence will help new head coach Igor Kokoskov establish a winning culture right off the bat. He’s a guy who’s “been there, done that” in almost every situation since he’s been in the league, so he knows how things work on and off the floor. Between Ariza and Tyson Chandler, the inexperienced Suns will have plenty of advice.
Brook Lopez – Milwaukee Bucks ($3,382,000)
As mentioned in last week’s “Odd Men Out” series highlighting the central division, John Henson’s tenure in Milwaukee could be coming to a screeching halt. Mike Budenholzer is a new head coach with his own system and philosophy coming into town. The Bucks are going to be moving the basketball like a hot potato and getting shots up like it’s nobody’s business.
Lopez is going to be a beneficiary of that change. Over the last two seasons, he’s become a rather reliable three-point shooting big that can stretch the floor. Pulling out those centers to the perimeter will allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to wreak havoc in the paint and collapse opposing defenses with ease. And if they ever want to use the veteran seven-footer as a post threat, he’s a solid passer on the block, too.
Carmelo Anthony – Houston Rockets ($2,400,000)
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Anthony’s memorable stay with the Atlanta Hawks will be remembered forever…just kidding. But his single season with the Oklahoma City Thunder will actually go down as one of the worst in his career. Whether it was the role he was placed in, an off-shooting year, or just father time catching up, he didn’t look like the same Carmelo.
That said, the Rockets are banking on seeing him return to form. While many are writing him off already from the start, it’ll be interesting to see how playing with Chris Paul and James Harden affects Anthony’s drive. Will he play within former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and buy into what Houston is selling? Only time will tell, but this deal is necessary for both sides, especially with Ariza moving to the desert.
DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors ($5,337,000)
Seeing Cousins go down with an Achilles injury while he was in the midst of one of the best seasons in his career was brutal. You’d be hard-pressed to not think of the “what-if” concerning New Orleans’ run in the playoffs and the second-round exit…which was ironically courtesy of his new team, the Warriors.
Nobody likes to hear it because of Golden State’s dominance of the NBA, but this agreement makes a ton of sense. Steve Kerr has lacked a reliable offensive center for almost the entirety of his time in the Bay. It’s the one element the team has lacked to cover all bases, and now, it’s gone…kind of.
Cousins probably won’t be seeing much action in the first part of the season. It takes a good chunk of time to fully recover from an Achilles injury, and there will be no rush him on the floor. But once he is cleared, the Warriors are going to be scarier than they already were. And if he looks like his All-Star self, Boogie could be looking at a solid payday next summer.
Tyreke Evans – Indiana Pacers ($12,400,000)
It’s easy to forget what Evans did last season because it happened with the Memphis Grizzlies. They were battered and bruised from the jump. There was a controversial early coaching change. It wasn’t a good year for the franchise. But it was a good year for him.
Evans put up numbers that he hasn’t produced since his rookie season back in the 2009-10 days in Sacramento. He was the leader of the team and was quite frankly the only consistent player that the Grizzlies could depend on nightly. He stayed healthy for the most part, and sat out at the end of the season to ensure he earned a good deal in the offseason.
And so, the Pacers came calling to add another playmaker to insert next to Victor Oladipo. Evans can attack the basket, distribute and shoot like he did early in his career. His best basketball is clearly ahead of him. This is a dynamite move by Kevin Pritchard to bolster the talent and depth of this roster as Indiana looks to take advantage of a wide-open Eastern Conference.
DeAndre Jordan – Dallas Mavericks ($22,897,000)
Jordan was the last domino to fall in the era of “Lob City” in Los Angeles. With Blake Griffin getting traded to the Pistons last year and Chris Paul going to Houston the summer beforehand, it was only a matter of time until the third member of the group had to exit.
Give kudos to Jordan—he stuck it out. Through thick and thin, through the trade rumors and all of the madness, he honored his contract and 10 years with the Clippers without a peep of drama. That’s all you can ask of a player these days. Now, though, it’s ironically on to a team he negotiated with and came close to signing with three years ago, the Mavericks.
Paired with playmakers like Dennis Smith Jr. and highly-touted international rookie Luka Doncic, Jordan will be a part of a Dallas team aiming to bounce right back into the playoff picture. Harrison Barnes will likely be slotted back at small forward on the outside more, while Dirk Nowitzki should give him enough spacing to corral those offensive rebounds and jam some putback dunks. We know he’ll be catching those alley-oops every night, too.
In the end, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle get the guy that they’ve wanted all along—and Jordan gets paid along with an opportunity to really cash in a year from now.
As you can see, there’s a lot of value to these one-year contracts for both sides. We’re going to witness the best out of these players as they chase after the real prize next summer in a growing, stacked class of free agents.
NBA Daily: Teams That Could Take a Step Back
With all that’s happened this summer, there could be a few teams due to regress thanks to a not-so-happy off-season, writes Matt John.
Disclaimer: There’s a difference between the words could and will.
The team that most likely will take a step back this upcoming season will be the Cleveland Cavaliers, for obvious reasons. LeBron James’ departure leaves such a ginormous void that it would be surprising if Cleveland makes it back to the playoffs. Fortunately, LeBron has not left the Cavs in anywhere near the pathetic state they were when he deserted them the first time. Still, expectations for Cleveland this season are nowhere near what they’ve been the last four years.
The teams that could take a step back, on the other hand, are in a different state. They didn’t lose a basketball legend like LeBron James, but after what’s transpired this off-season, their roster now begs a question or two.
For all we know, some player(s) from their current roster may play better than anyone expects, or they may get a player(s) who change everything for the better, in which case, they would have nothing to worry about. As their roster currently stands, the following teams currently have specific red flags that they cannot ignore if their aim is to take another step forward this season.
It’s been a tough summer for Houston. They didn’t get LeBron. They had to overpay Chris Paul to keep their status as the Warriors’ chief competitor in the west. They added Carmelo Anthony, whose age and decline has made many doubt his fit on the team. The team luckily re-signed Clint Capela for a fair price after his monster season, but their potential regression stems from the wing depth that they lost.
Rockets fans have probably heard it all about losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and for good reason. They were agile, versatile, and best of all, they could shoot the rock. Ariza shot almost 37 percent from three-point land last season while Mbah a Moute shot 36 percent. They are not the easiest players to replace.
The Rockets added James Ennis III in hopes to filling in for their departed wings. Ennis, who shot 33 percent from distance, could turn out to be one of the most underrated additions this off-season, but there’s only so much he can do. Counting on him is risky given that he’s not the most proven player in the league, and Michael Carter-Williams is not making anyone sleep easy in H-Town.
Of all the teams on this list, Houston is the most likely to have the best season. It’s just that losing the little guys that keep the wheels turning may wind up being one of their biggest regrets.
Philly also had their sky-high hopes derailed this summer. They hoped to win the LeBron James sweepstakes only to come up empty-handed. Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his formal agreement with them and opted to go to the Kings. And now, rookie Zhaire Smith is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
Not all went wrong for them this summer. They acquired another potentially golden asset on draft day when they traded for Miami’s unprotected first-rounder in 2021. Better yet, they kept most of the roster intact while maintaining their cap flexibility. Wilson Chandler brings a tough-minded scorer that the Sixers desperately needed in the playoffs, and Mike Muscala is a capable stretch big.
So why is Philly in danger of taking a step back? Primarily, it’s from their perimeter. Keeping J.J. Redick was the right move, but he is 34 and his defense is slipping. Chandler and Muscala should fill in well for Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, but the latter two brought playoff experience to the team compared to Muscala and Chandler, who don’t have nearly as much.
Philly’s franchise cornerstones also raise concerns. As impressive as Ben Simmons was his rookie year, teams should be aware of both his strengths and his flaws. Now that the NBA has seen what he brings to the floor, teams will continue to take advantage of the absolute zero spacing Simmons provides for the Sixers. While Joel Embiid’s flaws do not stick out as much as Simmons, he still will be an injury risk that Philly has to monitor carefully.
Markelle Fultz could undo all of these concerns, but he remains an enigma. Question, though: Why haven’t they hired a general manager yet?
Remember when the T-Wolves were the team everybody believed had a great future ahead of them? It’s amusing to see how much the script has flipped in Minnesota in just one year’s time.
It’s not what they lost this summer that brings cause for concern. The real story for them this summer has been the reports of contention. First, there was a report that Tyus Jones considered asking a trade. Then it came out that Jimmy Butler had issues playing with Andrew Wiggins. Most recently, it’s come out that Butler may not be fond of playing with Karl-Anthony Towns either. Somehow, Minny’s future may not be as promising as it once appeared.
Perhaps we should have seen the warning signs sooner. Shabazz Muhammad requested to be waived while the team was solidly in the playoff hunt. Later on, reports said Wiggins believed the Timberwolves were holding him back. To top it off, Jamal Crawford declined his $4.5 million option to test free agency, or in other words, he preferred to test a notoriously dry free agency over putting on a Timberwolves uniform again.
Minnesota’s talent and coaching should still be enough to fuel another playoff berth, but contentious locker rooms could accelerate a catastrophe is nothing gets resolved. If things don’t get in order, this could be more than just a setback.
This could be a meltdown.
Portland Trail Blazers
Hey, speaking of flipped scripts, there may not be a team whose script has flipped in as short a span as the Blazers. Back in April, Portland was believed to be a team ready to fight with the best of the west. As we all know, that’d didn’t last long.
Portland’s problems don’t stem from any locker room issues or who they have lost or who they failed to get. They lost Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier, which hurts them somewhat but not immensely. Seth Curry was a good find and Zach Collins should improve next season. Portland’s problem is that, as a team, this might be as good as it gets for them. They certainly have a playoff-caliber roster, but the rest of the conference isn’t slowing down for them.
Portland’s competitors around the conference have either stayed the same or gotten better. Teams like the Lakers and the Spurs have added top-notch players to their teams. Other teams like the Grizzlies and the Mavericks have anteed up to make a run at the post-season. Factoring in the other competitors they already had to deal with and Portland will have their hands tied just trying to make the playoffs.
The Blazers’ problem is not that they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. It’s that they are good enough to just make the playoffs and that’s about it. Unfortunately, they’re not in a position where they can find any easy improvements. They are teetering at the luxury cap line, and it seems their best players, as good as they are, are about as good as they can get.
Unless they can make a substantial trade, Portland will probably stay where they are, which could hurt them with the improved conference.
Every one of these teams mentioned wants to be better than they were this past season. If they do what needs to be done to fix their problems, that could take them a long way.
If they don’t, then there could be trouble.