Sam Amico grades the teams from the East, and reports how they did in the off-season.
By SAM AMICOFS Ohio
Staying on top is never easy; getting there is even tougher. But in the NBA's Eastern Conference, teams that fit into both categories certainly have given it their best shot with two months remaining before training camp.
Here's a look at who has done what, and how well it's worked, to improve their rosters so far:
Celtics: Losing Ray Allen means the end of the Big Three era, but certainly not the end of the Celtics. Instead, the Eastern Conference finalists may have improved with the addition of Jason Terry (via free agency) and guard Courtney Lee (via trade), as well as the drafting of potential steal Jared Sullinger. And, oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt that they re-signed Kevin Garnett.
Nets: Failed to land Dwight Howard, but that can’t really be seen as a negative, since the Nets never had him in the first place. Considerably more important was re-signing guard Deron Williams -– which happened shortly after trading about half the roster to land Joe Johnson. The Nets also re-signed big men Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, and added backup point guard C.J. Watson, giving themselves some stability as they enter their first year in Brooklyn.
Heat: What’s left to do after winning the title? If you’re the Heat, you steal the best perimeter threat away from the team that gave you the most trouble in the playoffs. That would be none other than Ray Allen, whom the Heat nabbed in free agency. In case that wasn’t enough, they’re hoping Rashard Lewis returns to the sharpshooting form he displayed with the
Magic a few years back.
Pacers: Matching Portland’s lucrative deal for All-Star center Roy Hibbert was the most vital step in maintaining the Pacers’ up-and-coming status. Adding free agent point guard D.J. Augustin helps shore up the backcourt after losing Darren Collison (to Dallas). And drafting former Duke center Miles Plumlee no longer seems like such a reach after he dominated the glass during summer league.
Wizards: Managed to trade Rashard Lewis, a major victory in itself. Then the Wizards amnestied Andray Blatche, a natural talent with the approach of a bust. On top of that, they drafted Bradley Beal, expected to be a rookie sensation, and traded for two hustle players in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Already, the culture is much better. The results should be, too.
Bobcats: It took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all of 21 minutes in summer league to prove the Bobcats added some needed pizzazz by drafting him second overall. Also, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions should provide a veteran upgrade to the backcourt. The Bobcats won’t make the playoffs, but they won’t win just seven games, either.
Bucks: Never a major player in the marketplace, the Bucks’ tallest task typically is to draft well and take care of their own. They certainly did the latter by re-upping with Ersan Ilyasova, an underrated big man who does just about everything well. As an added bonus, lottery pick John Henson performed better than even they expected in summer league.
Raptors: Well, so much for Steve Nash. But that’s OK, as the Raptors obtained one of the league’s best defensive point guards in Kyle Lowry, who’s considerably younger than Nash and fills one of their most pressing needs. And while they overpaid for Landry Fields, he and big man Jonas Valenciunas, who arrives from Europe, offer improvement all on their own. Lottery pick Terrence Ross is expected to provide immediate athleticism, too.
Knicks: Jeremy Lin was lost after signing a large contract with the Rockets, in a move that surely gave Knicks fans a case of Lindigestion. The team responded (sort of) by landing Raymond Felton and greybeards such as Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby. Later came shooting guard Ronnie Brewer. Not bad, but not the type of offseason that keeps you No. 1 in your own city.
76ers: If nothing else, the Sixers got younger in the frontcourt, using their amnesty provision on Elton Brand and adding Kwame Brown (via free agency), and Arnett Moultrie and Mo Harkless (via the draft). In the backcourt, Lou Williams was allowed to leave (to
Atlanta), while Nick Young and Dorrell Wright arrived. Read: The Sixers pretty much stayed the same.
Bulls: Everyone knows the most the Bulls can do is wish Derrick Rose a speedy recovery from knee surgery -- then cross their fingers until he returns. In the meantime, they replaced Kyle Korver (Atlanta) and Ronnie Brewer (Knicks) by bringing back Kirk Hinrich and quietly signing Vladimir Radmanovic to shore up the bench. Meanwhile, Omer Asik’s departure (to the Rockets) will likely prove to be an underrated loss, particularly when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll.
Pistons: Nothing to see here, unless Andre Drummond is more Serge Ibaka than Kwame Brown. And based on summer league, that possibility certainly exists. If not, picking up Corey Maggette’s expiring contract can be seen as a small victory for this once-proud franchise.
Cavaliers: Perhaps no team has made more offseason headlines without really doing anything. The Cavs’ top draft choice, Dion Waiters, flashed some promise -- but only after showing up to summer league out of shape and in desperate need of a perimeter shot. Their second draft-day acquisition, Tyler Zeller, was better. But despite all the assets and salary-cap space, the Cavs have yet to make anything close to a splash.
Hawks: New GM Danny Ferry arrived with promises to overhaul the roster, and from that standpoint, he didn’t disappoint. Gone are starters Joe Johnson (Nets) and Marvin Williams (Jazz), and in are marksmen Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and draftee John Jenkins. Devin Harris is also in, giving the Hawks a nice one-two punch (with Jeff Teague) at the point. But the bottom line here is the Hawks are revamping with an eye on the future. This year, they’ll be worse.
Magic: Dwight Howard is still a member of the team. Ryan Anderson is not. Andrew Nicholson may have been the steal of the draft. In short, the Magic have a disgruntled star and a bunch of question marks. Yuck.