Now that the World Cup is over for the Americans, it’s time to start discussing a sport that is perennially important to the United States (sorry soccer fans, but there still aren’t many of you). Anyway, the NBA Draft has concluded and teams are making moves in free agency. What teams are really on the way to improving this season?
Let’s start with the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins with the first overall pick, subsequently allowing the Bucks to take Jabari Parker #2 overall. Wiggins has potential through the roof and is already a solid defender, while Parker is a player already in the mold of Carmelo Anthony. The Cavs are trying to finally improve, and by drafting Wiggins and re-signing Kyrie Irving to an extension, they’re on their way to doing that. The Bucks now have a great scorer on their hands in Parker, and with a new coach they’re also looking to start getting progressively better. Other winners of the draft include the Chicago Bulls, who traded away the 16th and 19th picks to get Doug McDermott, the fantastic scorer from Creighton, at #11 from Denver. McDermott gives the Bulls the shooter they have been looking for for years, and also makes Mike Dunleavy expendable, which will help as they look for free agents to bring to the United Center. The Heat also came away with a solid first pick, getting Shabazz Napier out of UConn through a trade in the late first round. Napier does not project to be a real star in the NBA, but he’s a good facilitator and an efficient player, and possibly most importantly, LeBron James loves him. As for losers, I personally don’t like the Timberwolves’ pick of Zach LaVine at #13, because I really don’t expect much from him in the NBA and Minnesota will be relying on him too heavily I would assume, considering the Ricky Rubio experience really hasn’t worked out. (Dis)Honorable mention goes to Nik Stauskas being picked at #8 by the Sacramento Kings. A pure shooter who doesn’t play defense is really not what an already bad team in the Kings need right now.
Nothing major has happened in free agency as of yet, because none of the biggest names in this year’s free agent class have gone anywhere. Irving re-signing was notable, and it’s a big deal that Tim Duncan is returning to San Antonio, but the biggest news won’t be coming until Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James pick. Most signs point to LeBron returning to South Beach, but the issue is who will be around him. Chris Bosh also opted out of his contract for this year, and while I’m sure they would like to bring back the Heatles, Bosh is reportedly looking for about a 5 year/$90 million deal, and King James wants a max contract. Pool that together with Wade probably not wanting to take a very big pay cut, and Miami has issues. That being said, I still find it doubtful that LeBron would go elsewhere. The real interesting free agent this year is Carmelo Anthony. Melo really has two paths to choose from during this free agency period: Either stay where your family enjoys living and take the most money, or go to a place where you are more likely to win a championship. If he takes the former, Carmelo will remain a New York Knick and will get the most money that could be offered. If he chooses the latter, he has a few options, including Dallas, Houston, the Lakers and the Bulls. While my status as a fan of the Chicago Bulls does create some bias, the fact of the matter is that if Melo comes to Chicago, they are instant championship contenders. You have to be concerned still with the health of Derrick Rose, but a starting five of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Melo, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, along with Dougie McBuckets and DJ Augustin on the bench, would be phenomenal. It’s hard to argue that he could go to a better “win now” situation than if he went to Chicago. We don’t know how things will shake out in Miami, the Pacers are still a question mark; Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls makes them arguably the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Then again, money talks, and if Carmelo really is just in it for the money, than a Knick he shall stay. For Melo’s sake, I hope the public reacts favorably to his decision to either take the money or go for the championship.
While they are the biggest names, teams can still get good pickups in free agency this year that aren’t LeBron or Carmelo. For example, Chandler Parsons, despite reportedly wanting to stay with the Rockets, is a free agent and you can bet many teams will be clamoring for his services, including the Bulls if things fall through with Anthony. Let’s also not forget that while he isn’t a free agent yet, Kevin Love is on the market. Allegedly Golden State and Chicago are his two top choices of trade destinations, but there are a lot of obstacles. For example, Golden State is not very willing to give up Klay Thompson and the Bulls may have to give up a key piece as well if they go after him (read: Gibson, Butler, or both). Also, the question remains whether or not he wants to sign an extension wherever he ends up going. No team is going to want to trade away valuable assets for maybe two years from someone, no matter who they are. As you can probably interpret from this article, the Bulls have a lot riding on this off-season. They won’t be completely uncompetitive if they don’t land a big-name player, but they really need some help to be true title contenders. If they can’t land Anthony, trade for Love or even land somebody like Parsons, they had better hope that Doug McDermott becomes a star in his first season.
Unlike in many other sports, one player can completely change a team in basketball. Whether it’s a young star you just picked up in the draft who you’re wagering your future on, or an established star who you need to win now, this off-season is a crucial time for many teams to make moves that will improve them or make them contenders foe the Larry O’Brien trophy. One thing to keep in mind is to just remember that Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussard aren’t the gospel; nothing is official until a player signs a contract. As a Bulls fan, I know from experience. One player can make or break the future of your franchise, and it could also mean the changing of the guard in both conferences as we know it.