NBA Players such as Mike Conley Jr. have hit the jackpot this summer, but will the teams that paid them roll snake eyes when it’s all said and done?
This past NBA season saw the Chicago Bulls finish with a record of 42-40. But in spite of the Bulls possessing a winning record, they failed to qualify for the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2008. The past few years have seen the Bulls as one of the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference, but they have been unable to reach the NBA Finals as injuries and LeBron James have done them in. Now the Bulls have to answer several questions over the summer within their organization with one of them being whether or not is it time for them to start over.
The problems for the Bulls began last spring when Tom Thibodeau was fired as their head coach. Thibodeau had been the head coach of the Bulls since 2010, and he took Chicago to the postseason in each of the six seasons that he was with the team. But Thibodeau and Bulls general manager Gar Forman had a strained relationship at best which reached a breaking point last spring.
Forman would maintain his position with the Bulls, and he would hire Fred Hoiberg to replace Thibodeau. This past NBA season wasn’t an easy one in Chicago as Hoiberg was attempting to implement his system which concentrated on opening up the Bulls offense as opposed to Thibodeau’s style that focused more on defense. The end result was attempting to put a square peg into a round hole which resulted in the Bulls missing the playoffs.
Point guard Derrick Rose was the first overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Bulls in 2008 and he has been a solid player which included him being named as the league’s MVP in 2011. But Rose suffered a torn ACL to start the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and that along with several knee injuries since then have taken away from his effectiveness. This past season saw Rose appear in 66 games for the Bulls as he averaged 16.4 points and 4.7 assists. However next year will mark the final year of Rose’s contract with the Bulls, and even at the age of 27, you have to wonder if the team is ready to move on from him?
Like Rose, center Joakim Noah has been a staple of Bulls basketball in recent years. Noah was the Bulls first-round pick in 2007, and he has been the heart and soul of the team since then. Noah was the embodiment of the Bulls under Thibodeau as he was a defensive presence which was highlighted by him being named as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. However injuries have begun to take their toll on Noah as he has missed 68 games over the last two years. Noah is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and as the team has had a change in philosophy, I doubt that he will continue to call the Windy City home. And along with Noah, center Pau Gasol will more than likely opt-out of his contract as he has been a frustrated player in Chicago.
However as Rose’s star he begun to fade in Chicago and the Bulls are no longer one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, the stock of small forward Jimmy Butler has taken off as he has become the new face of the franchise. Butler was a diamond in the rough as he wasn’t selected until 30th overall in 2011. Butler’s numbers have increased in each of his five NBA seasons and he is turning into one of the better two-way players in the game. Butler made the NBA’s All-Star team in each of the last two years, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he could one day be the MVP of the league.
But with the Bulls currently as the crossroads, they have to make a decision as far as completely starting over, or building around Butler. If the Bulls wanted to trade Butler, a player with his caliber could command a ton in return to Chicago if the team were willing to part with him. However being that the Bulls became such a down trodden franchise after the Michael Jordan era team was dismantled in 1998, I don’t see the team willing to start over from scratch like that again which means that they must find the right players to put around Butler. Aside from Butler, the Bulls do have quality players on their roster in small forward Doug McDermott, power forward Nikola Mirotic, and reserve forward Taj Gibson. The Bulls do have the 14th overall pick in the NBA Draft this month while they also have free agency. This year’s draft is a deep one and there is a good possibility that the Bulls could find themselves an impact player early on; especially a point guard which will be important as the team already has $74 million committed to salaries for next season.
Forman found his man, but the Bulls spent the entire 2015-2016 NBA season searching for their identity under Hoiberg which they still haven’t found. And this will be an important summer for the Bulls as the last thing that they can afford to do is revert back to being an afterthought after all of the hard work by Thibodeau which once again made them a contender.
Although that Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant currently has a net worth of $80 million, he is set to cash in this summer. Durant is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and he’ll headline this year’s class of free agents in the NBA. In nine years with Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, Durant has averaged 27.3 points per game while leading the NBA in scoring on four separate occasions. Durant is also a seven-time NBA All-Star along while being named as the league’s MVP in 2014. Durant is one of the best scorers that the NBA has ever seen, and even though that he’ll be able to decide which NBA city that he is going to call home next season, should he really give strong consideration into leaving Oklahoma City?
The Thunder have finished each of the last five NBA seasons with a winning record which was highlighted by a trip to the NBA Finals in 2012. The combination of Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook has put Oklahoma City on the map and when these two dynamic play makers are healthy, the Thunder are a tough team to contend with.
In 2013, the Thunder finished with the best record in the Western Conference and they appeared to be on a collision course with the Miami Heat for a rematch in the NBA Finals, until Westbrook suffered a knee injury in the postseason. Durant could not do it all by himself and the Thunder were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Last year the Thunder were ravaged by injuries all season long which was highlighted by Durant being limited to just 27 games due to a foot injury. The Thunder still managed to win 45 games, but they fell one victory shy of making the playoffs which resulted in head coach Scott Brooks being fired.
To replace Brooks, the Thunder hired Billy Donovan who had spent the last 19 years as the head basketball coach of the University of Florida where he led the school to four Final Four appearances and a pair of national titles. Donovan was brought in due to his ability to work with different personalities along with the fact that his offensive system predicates ball movement. Led by Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder have one of the deepest teams in the NBA this season as they can put stress on any opponent.
Through 49 games, the Thunder are 36-13 as they are benefiting from playing in the porous Northwest Division where they are the only team there that currently has a winning record. The Thunder have the third best record in the Western Conference and they’ve flown under the radar a bit due to the strong seasons that both the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are currently enjoying. And as good as the Warriors and Spurs are, it is not that far fetched to believe that the Thunder could defeat one of these teams in a seven-game playoff series to advance to the NBA Finals; which again raises the notion of why Durant would want to leave Oklahoma City?
Durant is going to get paid wherever he plays at next season, but the Thunder have the ability to offer him more money than any other NBA team. Durant will be 28-years of age and he’s getting to the point of his NBA career where he wants to win a title, and right now the Thunder give him the best option as far as making that happen.
Durant is only one of three current Thunder players that are not under contract for next season, and with the NBA’s salary cap set to expand due to a new television deal, Oklahoma City is set up to contend for the coming years.
With the Thunder, Durant knows that he doesn’t have to carry the team by himself as Westbrook continues to evolve into one of the better point guards in the NBA. Aside from Westbrook, the Thunder have a legitimate low-post scoring option in center Enes Kanter while power forward Serge Ibaka is one of the better shot blockers in the NBA. Thunder general manager Sam Presti is one of the best cap guys in the NBA while also consistently putting a contender on the floor in Oklahoma City.
This summer will see Durant faced with the allure of playing in a bigger market such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Chicago, or Washington D.C., but he would theoretically be starting over as he would need to get adjusted to a new team, and a new city. Relocating to a bigger market would be great for the Durant brand being that he is one of the top athletes currently signed to Nike, but a new NBA team doesn’t necessarily bring immediate success.
In 2010, small forward LeBron James famously announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. There James would team with fellow NBA All-Stars in shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh as they were looking to win championships together. The Heat would make the NBA Finals in 2011, but they would fall to the Dallas Mavericks before claiming the title a year later against Durant and the Thunder.
Durant and Westbrook are on the same page and the Thunder franchise will be more than willing to give both of them whatever they want in order to remain in Oklahoma City. But right now it is Durant that holds all of the cards as his decision this summer could potentially shape the landscape of at least 10 NBA teams for next season.
The San Antonio Spurs organization has been around for 48 years, but the last 18 years have been quite remarkable for them. After going 20-62, the Spurs won the NBA’s Draft Lottery in 1997 which allowed them to draft power forward Tim Duncan. And since then the Spurs have become the model of consistency in professional sports. The Spurs have made the postseason in each of the last 18 NBA seasons and they’ve gone on to claim five NBA Titles over that stretch with the lockout shortened NBA season in 1999 being the only time that the Spurs have failed to win 50 regular season games over that stretch. And when the Spurs reach the playoffs, their opponents respect and fear them as they’ve proven that playoff seeding means absolutely nothing to them. Some people keep attempting to write off the Spurs as being an aging veteran club, but like any successful business, they continue to reinvent themselves and adjust to life in the NBA.
The Spurs haven’t been known for dipping their hand into free agency in order to obtain a highly touted player. But that changed this summer when they signed power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year deal worth $80 million. In nine seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Aldridge averaged 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as he was a four-time NBA All-Star. Aldridge will be 30-years old next week and at this point of his NBA career, he is solely focused on winning a title which led him to joining the Spurs.
Duncan is 39-years old and the Spurs recognize that he won’t be playing basketball much longer and Aldridge is someone that he can pass the torch to; just as Duncan was passed the torch in San Antonio by David Robinson.
The expectations for the Spurs will be high in the upcoming NBA season, but they are one team that doesn’t get fazed by that. Aldridge has always been able to put up solid numbers in the NBA, but he is now joining a team where individual stats do not matter as the only stat that the Spurs are concerned about is the final score. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t have a problem chewing out his star players which is something that Aldridge is going to have to get accustomed to in a hurry in order to be a solid contributor in San Antonio.
Aside from Aldridge, the Spurs signed veteran power forward David West who was willing to play for the veteran minimum of $1.4 because he is seeking to be a part of an NBA Champion. In 12 NBA seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and Indiana Pacers, West has averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 while also being a two-time NBA All-Star. But at this point, West doesn’t have a problem coming off of the bench as a role player if it means that he can get his hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy and be called an NBA Champion.
The Spurs also re-signed shooting guard Manu Ginobili, small forward Kawhi Leonard, and shooting guard Danny Green as along with Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, their core is still intact as they’ve reloaded for another title run.
In December and January, not that many people are paying attention to the Spurs as they are finding their way on another long NBA journey. But as a result of Popovich resting his veterans throughout the NBA season, the Spurs always seem to get their sea legs in March and April just in time for the Playoffs. And before you know it, another deep playoff run is in the cards in the San Antonio. Duncan and Popovich will be looking for their sixth NBA Championship together while Aldridge has joined the Spurs express with his first title in sight which should make for an exciting 2015-2016 NBA season in San Antonio.
There’s something quite unique about the bond between twin siblings as they have a bond between them forever. The journey of NBA centers Brook and Robin Lopez began in North Hollywood, California. The Lopez twins would play high school basketball at San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno, California before attending Stanford University in Palo Alto, California as they are West Coast guys at heart. As a sophomore, Brook would average 19.3 points and 8.2 rebounds as he was named as a Third-team All-American. In 2008, the Lopez twins would each forgo their final two years of eligibility at Stanford in favor of the NBA Draft. Brook Lopez would be selected by the New Jersey Nets with the tenth overall pick while Robin would go to the Phoenix Suns with the 15th overall selection.
Brook has spent his entire NBA career with the Nets which has included moving with the team from Northern New Jersey to Brooklyn, New York in 2012. And with the Nets, Lopez has gone on to become a cornerstone of their franchise which culminated in an All-Star Game appearance in 2013. Robin on the other hand has had to work a little harder to find stability as he has been traded twice, but at each stop along the way he has provided energy and a presence on the defensive end of the floor.
The Lopez twins each hit the free agent market this summer looking to cash in on a big payday, but nobody expected what we’ve seen from them. Brook decided to return to the Nets while Robin decided to join him in the Big Apple. Robin wasn’t going to join the Nets and be his twin brother’s backup; so instead he opted to take his talents to the other side of the East River and join the New York Knicks on a four-year contract that is worth $54 million.
The past three years have seen the Nets make the NBA Playoffs, but they haven’t been a real title contender while the Knicks are coming off of a season where they only managed to win 17 games. What the Lopez twins have done is to put a spotlight on NBA basketball in New York City once again as sports reporters will have plenty of material to now go off of in order to drum up a story in regards to the brothers.
The Nets-Knicks rivalry goes back to 1976 when the then New York Nets joined the NBA after the American Basketball Association folded. The Nets had to pay the NBA $3.2 million due to the league’s expansion fee and $4.8 million to the Knicks for “infringing” on their territory. This left the Nets in financial peril and they were forced to sell the contract of Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. And thus the first die was cast in the rivalry between the Nets and Knicks. The Nets would then move to New Jersey where they would meet the Knicks three times in the playoffs, but the rivalry never truly amounted to anything. There was hope that the rivalry would intensify when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, but it has been lukewarm at best. However the rivalry stands to reach another level just due to the fact that the media in New York City will run the notion of Brook playing for the Nets and Robin for the Knicks.
On the court, the Lopez brothers have different styles even though they both are mellow. Brook is more the scorer while Robin tends to provide size off of the bench while grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. Brook had to prove himself this past season to new Nets head coach Lionel Hollins who wanted the seven-footer to be more aggressive. Robin played a big role for the Portland Trailblazers last season as he helped them win the Northwest Division Title for the first time in franchise history. Robin now joins the Knicks to play in the famed “triangle offense” of team president Phil Jackson. Lopez should have success with the Knicks due to the fact that he plays well without the basketball as Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony is known to play a ton of isolation ball. But one things is for sure as the newspapers in the Big Apple will have something to talk about game day between the Nets and Knicks.
This past NBA season saw the Portland Trailblazers go through their fair share of trials and tribulations. But under head coach Terry Stotts, the Trailblazers still managed to go 51-31 which was good enough for fourth place in the Western Conference and their first division title since 1999. But in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies proved to be too much for the Blazers who were eliminated in five games. The loss to the Grizzlies made it 14 out of the last 15 seasons that the Blazers have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. And little did we know how much would change for the Trailblazers when they exited the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee on April 29 when their season came to an end.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge entered this off-season as an unrestricted free agent after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in a Blazers uniform where he became the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds and second to Clyde Drexler in points. And with that Aldridge has let the Trailblazers front office know that he doesn’t intend to return to Portland next season as he is set to join the San Antonio Spurs. The past five seasons have seen shooting guard Wes Matthews average 15.4 points per game for the Blazers. And like Aldridge, Matthews is not returning to Portland as he has agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks. Over the past two years center Robin Lopez became one of the top role players for the Blazers, but now he has agreed to join the New York Knicks where he will reunite with shooting guard Arron Afflalo who agreed to a two-year deal worth $16 million with New York after averaging 10.6 points per game for Portland last season. And once you factor in that the Trailblazers traded small forward Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets, five of Portland’s top six scorers will be employed by different NBA teams for the upcoming season.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey did scramble to sign point guard Damian Lillard to a maximum five-year contract that is expected to be worth more than $120 million once it is finalized as he will become the new face of their franchise with Aldridge moving on. The Trailblazers did also sign former Los Angeles Lakers power forward Ed Davis who they hope can fill the void of the departed Lopez, but it is clear that Lillard will be the focal point of this season and in the Western Conference, one man cannot do it by himself; especially from the point guard position.
The Trailblazers play in one of the smaller media markets in the NBA and they’ve always had to concentrate on drafting wisely and efficient trades which they will have to continue doing. And now that the Blazers appear to be rebuilding, Olshey is hard at work attempting to put a competitive team out on the basketball court.
The Trailblazers entered the 2015 NBA Draft with the 23rd overall pick which they used on small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The acquisition of Hollis-Jefferson allowed the Blazers to trade him and backup point guard Steve Blake to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for center Mason Plumlee and the draft rights to small forward Pat Connaughton as both players will certainly become developmental projects for them going forward.
Olshey and the Trailblazers knew coming into this season that they would be rolling the dice as they had a numerous amount of players that had the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents as they were trying to make a push for their first NBA Championship since 1976. And in an era where players are going to for the money as the teams are not loyal to them, they’re going to take the money and run to a new team in a new city that is willing to pay them and in some cases, give them a better chance to win. With the NBA salary cap and free agency, smaller market teams such as the Trailblazers have to build their teams as if they were a collegiate basketball squad being that there is consistent roster turnover. The Blazers have somewhat cushioned the blow of losing Aldrige, Matthews, Lopez, Afflalo, Batum, and Blake, as when the new season begins this October, the folks in Portland will have to get accustomed to a brand new team that’ll be wearing the red and black.
After one season as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it wasn’t a total surprise that power forward Kevin Love has decided to opt-out of his deal and become a free agent. This past season Love averaged 16.4 points and 9.7. rebounds per game which were his lowest totals since his second year in the NBA when he was a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. For his seven-year NBA career, Love has averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game as he is one of the better power forwards in the league. And although Love has said publicly that he would be interested in returning to the Cavaliers, I highly doubt that this will be the case next season.
Last summer when small forward LeBron James decided to leave the Miami Heat and re-join the Cavs, he wanted to form another “Big Three” like he did in South Beach which led to a pair of NBA Championships there. And with point guard Kyrie Irving already on the Cavaliers roster, Cleveland only needed to find a big man to makes James’ wish come true. Love was getting tired of losing with the Timberwolves and he was looking for a change of pace. Love was traded to the Cavaliers last summer in a three-team trade that also involved the Philadelphia 76ers. And in return the Timberwolves received a king’s ransom with Cleveland sending them shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and power forward Anthony Bennett. Bennett was the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft while Wiggins was the first choice in 2014 and they joined a rebuilding Timberwolves team while Love had his sights set on his first trip to the postseason in his NBA career. But from Love’s first day in a Cavaliers uniform, he never fit there.
Love’s game was never able to correspond to that of James who took an immediate liking to Irving and power forward Tristan Thompson. And when Love suffered a torn labrum in the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers actually played better with Thompson now being inserted into the starting lineup as you have to wonder if Cleveland would have able to make the NBA Finals with Love in the same fashion that they did without him?
With the Timberwolves, Love was able to put up 26 points and 13 rebounds routinely because his team was always losing and they were an after thought. And even though the Cavs do not play in a big media market, Love was not able to handle the pressure cooker that he was in on a nightly basis playing alongside James.
So now it is time to play the guessing game as far as where Love will be playing next season. Love is a West Coast guy and after bypassing on center Jahlil Okafor last night during the 2015 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers have a glaring need in their frontcourt. Love is very familiar with the bright lights of Hollywood as he was born in Santa Monica, California and he played his college ball at UCLA. With power forward LaMarcus Aldridge letting the Portland Trailblazers know that doesn’t intend to return there next season, the Blazers have a need at the power forward position as well. Love grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon and he already spurned the folks in that state when he decided to attend UCLA as opposed to the University of Oregon. If center Roy Hibbert decides to decline his player option for next season, the Indiana Pacers could be in play for Love’s services, but would playing there with small forward Paul George restrict his game like it did in Cleveland with James? The Boston Celtics are desperately seeking a star player to build their team around, but would Love be up for the pressure that comes when he puts that green uniform on? The Toronto Raptors enter this summer with cap space and their guard oriented team needs a big man to play off of. And once you look at the Big Apple, both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets need to make a splash. The Knicks missed big time with the fourth overall pick last night in the draft by taking power forward Kristaps Porzingis and you have to wonder if Knicks team president Phil Jackson will get desperate and sign Love? But would Love’s game be able to function alongside that of Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony who commands the basketball on most offensive possessions? The Nets could be up a creek after power forward Thaddeus Young opted out of his deal and center Brook Lopez is expected to follow suit. The Nets also traded center Mason Plumlee to the Trailblazers and if Nets general manager Billy King doesn’t make a big move soon, he could be a man without a country; or in this case a team.
Wherever Love will play basketball next season he will have to shed the reputation of him merely being a stats guy as he has been known to put up gaudy stats as far as points and rebounds, but it doesn’t mean a thing being that the teams that he generally plays for don’t win and they’re typically blown out. Staying in the Eastern Conference for Love would be a reach because he would have to face James and the Cavs four times a season. If Love decides on the Lakers, he would be coming home, but there would be added pressure to put on the purple and gold and more importantly to produce championships there. But wherever Love calls home for next season, he’ll more than likely be overpaid and he’ll be on a team where he can get lost in the shuffle.