Believe it or not, basketball is nearly afoot! …Well, not really, but free agency starts next month! That’s exciting, right? Well, maybe. There were plenty of big-name free agents in the NBA this summer, but unfortunately in Real Deal all we have is Evan Turner and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Nevertheless, I, at least, am excited because we will finally have some action going on again in this league. There are new owners who I’m sure will want to shake up their rosters, and since the trade market has been quiet so far, perhaps they’re all gearing up to splash the cash on free agents.
To get us warmed up, I’m kicking the dust off of the ol’ Real Deal Reports (and hoping I don’t inhale any asbestos or Raymond Felton’s career’s ashes in the process). I’ll be releasing one each Friday for the next few weeks leading up to September 1. Each report will contain previews and predictions for each team in two divisions, one from the East and one from the West. At the end of the month, I’ll be doing a report on the best free agents available and potentially blowing up your spot on some stealthy names you were thinking about.
So without further ado, here we go!
This is a roster that needs a lot of work – only 9 players are under contract, and hardly any of them aside from Jones and Nurkic can even be deemed useful. On the plus side, Boston has an absolutely massive free agent budget (over $68 million) this summer that they can use to sign big players or trade for them. Boston will have some deciding to do: do they keep all five of their first-round picks, putting out a team that would be almost entirely rookies and second-year players? Or do they trade some of them away for more proven commodities and go for a playoff push in the wide-open Atlantic? With all of the assets Boston has, it would only take a few well-calculated moves to surpass New York and Toronto, probably the two weakest teams realistically competing for a division title this year. Only two players on this roster scored more than 17 fantasy points per game last year, so Boston will need to decide quickly if this is really the core they want to build around. It could be a very interesting offseason in Beantown.
With a new owner in town, the Nets are fully in retooling mode in an attempt to salvage a pretty god-forsake situation. Last year’s Brooklyn squad didn’t do a single thing to try and improve – in fact, it was the only team firmly out of the postseason race by last season’s trade deadline that didn’t bother to acquire another draft pick, and they signed exactly zero free agents all last season. Oh, and let’s not forget when the team fell asleep and missed out on getting picks #2 and 3 in last year’s rookie draft, letting Andrew Wiggins slip right through their fingers and ending up with PJ Hairston instead. So, yeah, let’s just say I’ve got some work to do. But there is certainly some talent here. Lopez and Evans are truly a shaky core to build the franchise around, but the supporting cast has enough potential to make me think that this could be a semi-quick retool and not a full-blown rebuild. You could do worse for role players than Davis, Shumpert, Vonleh, Adams and Robinson – all young, cheap and with some promise. Still, I’m not getting my hopes up. It’s a big risk to trust in Lopez’s feet and Evans’ willingness to play off-ball.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Last year’s team was carried by DeAndre Jordan and, luckily for the Knicks, the big man will stay in LA, where he figures to retain similar production to last season. But competition in the Atlantic will become tougher very quickly with new blood in terms of management and talented rookies coming in to Brooklyn and Boston, and Toronto is still somehow probably the best team in the Atlantic. Nearly every role player for the Knicks took a small hit in value this offseason – Lawson’s arrival in Houston really hurts Beverley, Hardaway will likely be buried in Atlanta’s deep rotation, Kaminsky will likely have a chance to play a lot more than Zeller, and Boozer and JR Smith are still unsigned. It’ll be up to Jordan to carry the load once again for a team that is in real danger of falling off a cliff. Aside from Jordan and maybe Joe Jesus, who can they really rely on at this point?
This is kind of an interesting team. Kind of. MCW and Danny Green are the most valuable/noteworthy players here, along with the chronically underrated Wilson Chandler. The rest are a bunch of question marks. Shabazz Muhammad was a pleasant surprise last year, but there’s so much emerging young talent in Minnesota that you’ve got to think his minutes are going down. Cole Aldrich might be interesting as the only center behind DeAndre. Mitch McGary has a great Summer League and might contribute this year. Everyone else, though, you can pretty much throw in the trash heap. The team has a $62 million budget to work with, though, so that’s pretty good. It’s hard to analyze the team at this point because, like Boston, there are so few players on the roster – but there is also massive cap space to work with.
The Raptors had a truly roller coaster season last year. Led by Lowry and DeRozan, Toronto’s path to the Atlantic championship was smooth sailing – until the titanic trade for Kobe Bryant nearly sank the ship. New York was quickly catching up as the team was taking on water rapidly. Luckily for Toronto, though, management was unable to throw Kobe overboard and even salvage a bit of usefulness from the deal, winning the division in the end. (Okay, enough boat references. I just thought – you know, since the Titanic sank in the Atlantic – whatever.) Funnily enough, the Raptors’ success in this league will depend a lot on the success of the real-life Raptors. Part of the rapid decline last season was due to the Kobe saga, sure, but it was also partly because of what the real Raptors were doing in the NBA. Lowry and DeRozan were doing pretty much 100% of the work, and it caught up to them. They both had terrible second halves and the Raptors got their asses handed to them in the playoffs. They should be back to normal this season, though, as Toronto has reloaded to take some of the load off the star backcourt. Beyond the duo, however, they lack anybody that really stands out. Depth is important, but so is star power. Gortat, Hickson and Waiters are all decent players, but they don’t exactly scream division winner. Bargnani and Dellavedova can’t be counted on and the others aren’t worth mentioning. How Toronto uses its two first-round picks – either by trading the picks or making them – could go a long way in shaping how woes will be running in the Six this season.
2. New York
Same standings as last year, yeah, but this time everyone will be a lot closer together at the top (or the bottom, depending on how you look at it). Toronto still has enough talent to win the division, but only just. New York still has DeAndre Jordan, and that’s enough to come in second in the Atlantic. Brooklyn, Philly and Boston will all be improved from last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if four of these teams finished with wins in the mid-30s. It’s going to matter who wins this division, because I don’t see any of the others making the postseason.
One of the teams of destiny of last spring’s playoffs, this squad sort of underachieved all year before making its mark in April. I think the regular season record will be much improved this time around. With a full roster already set, Golden State won’t actually have to make any moves – actually, scratch that, they’ll actually have to unload some bodies to get under the maximum of 15 players. Plus, they still have a top-10 pick! All that really means is that Golden State will probably be consolidating and upgrading. This is not a team to mess with, led by reigning MVP Steph Curry, and it’s hard to see anybody else coming out on top of the division this year.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
A lot of people felt the Clips were robbed of a playoff spot last year, but a closer look at the roster leads one to believe reveals that a lot of these players underachieved. Aside from the big two of CP3 and Blake, LA didn’t get too much help from anybody except Kyle Korver, who is simply not a good enough third-best player for a team with deep playoff aspirations (just ask the Atlanta Hawks). With no first-round picks until 2017 and virtually no cap room, the Clippers might have to make some big decisions this summer.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The injuries to Kevin Durant basically knocked LA out of contention last year, which was a real shame because the Lakers had built quite a nice squad around him. This team has a slew of good big men, which is pure gold in this league, but the team needs a point guard in order to be a contender. A small free agent budget and few tradable assets make me doubt they’ll get it, though. This team is difficult to project, since it basically hangs on how well KD and Dirk do, which is impossible to predict.
Another team that probably should have made the playoffs but was bitten by the injury bug. Russell Westbrook gave one of the most memorable performances in recent memory during the end of last season, and there’s little reason to believe he’ll slow down this year – even with a healthy KD back. The Suns have one of the league’s best frontcourts, but a real lack of big men is a major problem. The likes of Gibson, Humphries and Johnson will just not get the job done. After missing out on the playoffs last year, I feel that Phoenix is going to be one of the hungriest teams this winter. This team thinks it is a contender, and I expect them to make at least one or two big moves before all is said and done.
The Kings started off last season as one of the league’s most dominant teams, but somewhere along the way Kobe got hurt and they lost two first-round picks. Dieng was a nice get at the end of last season, but now the Kings are left with Boogie, Rudy Gay and not many other bodies outside of the geriatric ward. West, Williams, Nelson, Crawford and probably Lopez will all be taking on smaller roles next year, leaving the Kings high and dry, and three of those guys will be 33, 35 and 35 at the start of the season. The only other two players on the roster are really fringe NBA players – in fact, one of them, Farmar, is playing in Israel this season, and Ennis will probably not sniff the basketball court this season playing behind Wade, Deng, Winslow, Green and probably Johnson and Richardson, too. This is the type of team to make a few moves to get them back up to competing at a high level, and a nearly $32 million budget is pretty darn good, but for now the Kings look like the odd man out in this stacked division. This is my surprise decline team for 2015-16. Even with Cousins, one of the league’s two or three most dominant players, there’s not much else to inspire a lot of hope – and depth is an issue. This team needs bodies.
1. Golden State
2. LA Lakers
4. LA Clippers
This is going to be a competitive division, and I bet four of these teams can make the playoffs, or even all five. So many superstars – Steph, Durant, Westbrook, Boogie – make this the division to watch for 2015-16. I’m predicting good seasons from KD and Dirk, which is the only reason I’ve placed the Lakers above Phoenix, who I expect will probably prove me wrong. The Clippers are in danger of becoming irrelevant in such a tough conference, and the Kings showed at the end of last season that the team is trending in the wrong direction. This division was hyper-competitive by last spring, but I suspect the Dubs can run away with it this time around.