The inactivity of the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer falls into the lap of team owner Dan Gilbert which cannot make LeBron James too happy.
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.