2012-13 record: 44-38 (6th)
Biggest departures: Josh Smith
Biggest arrivals: Paul Millsap
Analysis: Atlanta’s off-season is currently in a major state of flux. They decided to let Josh Smith walk and take a near max contract with Detroit, but rebounded very nicely by inking Paul Millsap for two years and $19 million. Not only is $9.5 million per season an extremely fair price for a talented power forward like Millsap, but the Hawks also maintain future flexibility with just a two year deal. I love this move, as Millsap has long been a secret of the stat nerds and Smith is infuriating. However, Atlanta’s backcourt is a complete question mark at the time of writing. The latest has Jeff Teague signing a $32 million offer sheet from Milwaukee and former Hawks coach Larry Drew, but the Hawks are apparently considering. They’ve also been rumored to be looking at former Buck Monta Ellis. My grade for Atlanta will depend a lot on what they do at point guard; I’m a big Teague fan.
2012-13 record: 41-40 (7th)
Biggest departures: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers
Biggest arrivals: Brad Stevens, A flaming bag of shit
Analysis: The Celtics decided quickly that it was time to restart from scratch. After the Doc Rivers Saga, Boston and Brooklyn agreed to an insane blockbluster swapping future Hall of Famers Garnett and Pierce for a ton of draft picks and some horrible contracts (Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, etc.). This trade probably amounts to a win-win scenario, but it was certainly ugly. Boston had no compelling reason to fight to the death for a low playoff seed and the right to be slaughtered by the East’s elite. Instead, they seized the opportunity to pilfer several first round picks from Brooklyn and jump started the rebuilding process. It’s not pretty, but the Celts do have two first round picks in four of the next five seasons, including the right to swap with Brooklyn in 2017*. They put the cherry on top by hiring promising young coach Brad Stevens, of Butler prominence. Seems like a very logical choice for a young team starting a lengthy rebuild.
*- If Boston’s gamble pays off, the Nets could win a title and still be horrible in 2017.
2012-13 record: 49-33 (4th)
Biggest departures: Gerald Wallace
Biggest arrivals: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Kidd (head coach)
Analysis: Has there ever been an off-season with bigger splashes from one team? The Nets surprised a lot of people by hiring the retired-as-recently-as-ten-days-ago Jason Kidd as the new head coach, which was interesting until they pulled the trigger on the aforementioned trade with Boston. Brooklyn got a lot better this off-season. They kept every key contributor from last season’s 49 win team and added two former superstars who can still contribute a lot. Furthermore, a team derided by many as gutless or heartless added two of the fiercest competitors in league history. The last piece of the puzzle for Brooklyn was signing Kirilenko for $3.1 million*. I’m all about AK47, you guys. He does just about everything you need on both sides of the floor, and he’ll help glue Brooklyn’s puzzle together. They’re a legit title threat and possibly the second best team in the East.
*-and $5 million in Russian whores from owner Mikhail Prokhorov
2012-13 record: 21-61 (14th)
Biggest departures: Tyrus Thomas
Biggest arrivals: Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller*
Analysis: Insert joke about Michael Jordan being the worst owner in the league. Not really much else to say; the Bobcats continue to make no sense. They amnestied Tyrus Thomas, which is cute, but signed defensive black hole Al Jefferson to a three year, $43 million contract. Not exactly a logical signing for a young rebuilding team that should learn how to play the right way. The most curious ‘cats move of all, though, came on draft night. After a wild first four picks that saw dark, dark horse candidate Anthony Bennett go #1 overall, Charlotte passed on top prospects Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore for Cody Zeller, the soft big man from Indiana. Ever notice how “soft big man” never sounds good? Let’s just say I don’t envision Cody Zeller bringing the Bobcats to prominence….
2012-13 record: 45-37 (5th)
Biggest departures: Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Ron Adams
Biggest arrivals: Mike Dunleavy Jr., Kinda Derrick Rose
Analysis: The Bulls have been pretty quiet this summer, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be optimistic about next season. Primarily, Tom Thibodeau has declared Derrick Rose to be “back”. I probably don’t have to explain too much how the (presumably) healthy return of a 24-year-old MVP point guard helps the Bulls*. Aside from that bonerific topic, the Bulls did great by signing Dunleavy to a two year, $6 million deal–especially considering that he confirmed turning down offers for more money and years because he longed to play for a contender and admired Rose**. Dunleavy’s sweet shooting will fit perfectly into the Bulls’ shooter sets and he’ll give a strong effort learning Thibodeau’s proven defensive system. However, Joakim Noah started to break down last season without a true back-up, and so far the Bulls have done nothing to address that. Besides that, only time will tell how Chicago’s two draft picks turn out. Strapped by the luxury tax and diving deeper into it after the franchise’s first tax bill this past season, fans should be excited that the Bulls are willing to pay a lot to field a team capable of beating anyone in a seven game series.
**-for any conspiracy theorists saying Rose will miss more games to start the season, Dunleavy and Rose share the same agency.
2012-13 record: 24-58 (13th)
Biggest departures: none
Biggest arrivals: Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett
Analysis: The Cavs made two BIG splashes already. First, they surprised just about everyone by choosing Bennett first overall rather than Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo or another. Bennett is widely considered to be ready to contribute to an NBA offense, but not ready at all to defend. If he can improve on that end, Cleveland would be thrilled. However, the team shook things up greatly by agreeing to a complicated two year deal that only guarantees $6 million but can be worth up to $24 million (there’s a team option). If Bynum is healthy, Cleveland is a young playoff team with maximum salary cap flexibility for the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes*. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Bennett and the gang learn winning basketball. Yay. However, if Bynum can’t get or stay on the court, Cleveland will be pretty bad again. The core is injury riddled (Irving, Waiters and Varejao have all missed a lot of time) and Bennett is a 3-4 tweener that may never fit their personnel. The Cavs took a home run swing, and as a small market team struggling to recover from the last superstar it lost, why the FUCK not?
*-they have no chance, in my opinion. You, led by the owner, ostracize and tear down a 26-year-old man and expect him to crawl back a few years later? No way. That’s without even mentioning that the franchise is LOCATED IN CLEVELAND, OHIO!!
2012-13 record: 29-53 (11th)
Biggest departures: none
Biggest arrivals: Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups
Analysis: Joe Dumars armed with a lot of cap space is both a beautiful sight to behold and an undoubtedly bloody one. Just ask my close friend and Detroit fan @ribevan. The Pistons threw Smith a big contract and he said “fuck it! Let’s play in Detroit. It’s a truly emerging economy!”* Now that I’m done senselessly bashing Detroit and their filthy citizens*, we can look at how the Pistons will shape up next season. They’ll definitely be a big team, with natural power forward Smith playing the three and talented big man Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond behind him. The addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Chauncey Billups should help spread the floor with shooting, but it’s still going to be ugly most nights on offense–that’s just the way of J-Smith. I don’t hate what the Pistons are doing, I just don’t know if Smith’s the right piece to build around. Drummond has been lighting the summer league on fire and Monroe and Brandon Knight are promising. This team could sneak in the playoffs, but it’s hard to see a blueprint to building a championship contender with the current core. Regardless, fans have a lot more reason to be excited now than they have in any of the seasons since the 2004 title team was dismantled.
**-sorry. Last one I swear.
PART II OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE GRADES WILL RUN THIS WEEKEND