NBA PM: East Teams Facing The Most Pressure
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Patience runs at a premium in the NBA. Every team wants to win or at least compete for a championship, but in the end only a select few actually do. Some get lucky in the draft or sign a franchise player in free agency, but even then, building an elite team takes time.
Once the pieces are in place, though, immediate results are expected. Over the next two days in the NBA PM we are going to look at the teams facing the most pressure. While the main focus is teams in serious contention for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, we’ll also take a look at a couple teams deep in the rebuilding process who are expected to take a serious step forward in their development this season.
When Nets owner Mikhael Prokhorov took over he had ambitious dreams of signing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. When he missed out on them, he tried to trade for Carmelo Anthony before settling for Deron Williams when Anthony ended up with the rival New York Knicks. Williams was a huge acquisition, but as a soon-to-be free agent Prokhorov had to convince him Brooklyn was the place for him to be. By acquiring Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, he was able to do that.
Now, after re-signing Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and adding Mirza Teletovic, CJ Watson, Jerry Stakhouse, and a couple of rookies, the Nets have a payroll that is over $80 million. They finally have reached a level where Prokhorov can accurately describe them as contenders, but that’s just on paper.
For him to get his money’s worth, the team has to be amongst the best right out of the gate as the open a new era in Brooklyn. Nets head coach Avery Johnson couldn’t ask for a better team all things considered. He’d undoubtedly prefer to also have Dwight Howard, but the Orlando Magic just weren’t going to let that happen.
There’s no grace period in Brooklyn for this team to come together. They have to hit the ground running from the start. The media in New York is relentless and unforgiving. Expectations are high; if they’re not met the Nets will have to hear and read about it every single day.
New York Knicks
Also sporting a payroll in the $80 million range, the Knicks are cashed in for a big run in 2012-13. They’ve missed out on their fair share of superstars as well, but a core of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler is nothing to be disappointed with. Most teams in the league would kill for that kind of star power. It is reasonable to ask if they can get the job done together, though.
The Knicks haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2000. Each of the last two years they’ve been knocked out of the first round. The rabid Knicks’ fan base is clamoring for a deep postseason run. They may get what they’re looking for. This season head coach Mike Woodson has a full season to implement his system and the supporting cast is deeper. Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby were solid veteran additions that have extensive playoff experience. The difference-making pick up has to be Raymond Felton. Replacing the beloved (by the fans, certainly not his former teammates) Jeremy Lin, Felton needs to bounce back from a bad 2011-12 campaign in a big way in order for this Knicks’ team to reach their full potential.
No matter what the Knicks roster looks like the team’s faults are always magnified. That could happen to an even larger extent this year because they finally have a squad that can be a viable threat in the Eastern Conference. If it doesn’t happen, we could see some of their big names put on the trading block.
The Celtics have been a mainstay lists like this ever since they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to pair alongside Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. The only thing that has changed now is Allen is a member of the HEAT, but the pressure and state of urgency is still the same. That’s because they really did a nice job of replacing Allen with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. They also have the promising Avery Bradley who should benefit from his absence as well.
Garnett is the centerpiece that keeps this team in the championship mix. In the postseason he looked a lot more like he did in his prime than someone who needs to be considering retirement. Unsurprisingly, he signed on with Boston for three more years before other teams were even allowed to contact him.
This doesn’t change the fact that a breakup and change of the guard is inevitable. It just delays it. If the Celtics find out they’re not capable of contending anymore, we could see Garnett and Pierce shopped around. Rondo’s name was involved in some rumors last year, but as of now it appears that he’s the guy the Celtics will build around for the foreseeable future.
A major player in the biggest trade of the offseason, and perhaps the last decade, the 76ers came out as one of the winners with Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. They were set to enter 2012-13 looking slightly better than they did the previous season, where a Derrick Rose injury was the main reason behind their run to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
With Bynum they have a new face of the franchise. He’s widely regarded as the second-best center in the game. He’ll dramatically change the way they play on both ends of the floor. Offensively he gives them a true back-to-the-basket scorer who they can run through; defensively he’ll make his presence felt in the paint by protecting the rim and grabbing at least 10 boards a game.
The only downside is that he’s in the final year of his contract. There will be a handful of teams with cap space this summer eager to make him a max offer. The 76ers have some advantages, but if he doesn’t feel like he can contend there for the next five years, he could leave and they’ll be in a worse place than they were before his arrival.
When you talk about winning multiple championships as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh did before they even played their first game together with the franchise, nothing less is acceptable. The HEAT caught an incredible amount of negativity when they lost in the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. They responded well by coming back to win the 2012 championship, but as many have pointed out, it’s just one and they talked about doing a lot more than that.
Heat President Pat Riley has done his part by upgrading the roster despite the fact that they were the league’s best. He went out and added two former All-Stars in Allen and Rashard Lewis, who on paper look to be perfect fits for the HEAT’s style of play.
The only person who will be feeling slightly less heat on the team is head coach Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra should see a Doc Rives-like jump in credibility and respect now that he has a championship under his belt. Doc hasn’t won once since 2008, but his name is still mentioned in every conversation regarding who is the league’s best coach.
The start of the 2012-13 season is right around the corner. Three weeks from now every team will have had their official media day, which is followed by the start of training camp. The start of the regular season will be here before you know it. With that in mind, HOOPSWORLD has started pushing out team previews. The Charlotte Bobcats preview was released earlier today and two more will be released each day as we lead into opening night.
Free Agency News: For a Monday in the middle of September, today was actually a busy day across the league. A handful of free agents came to agreements with new teams. Here’s a breakdown of the action:
- The Cleveland Cavaliers finally found middle ground with swingman Alonzo Gee. Gee grew leaps and bounds last season, averaging a career-high 10.6 points per game. The Cavaliers, one of the few teams with cap space remaining, made it clear that they were going to keep him. That scared other teams away, hurting Gee’s leverage. He opted to switch agents midway through the process, so that slowed the process as well.
- The Cavaliers also signed undrafted free agent Kevin Jones. Jones was regarded as the best player to go undrafted. The inside-outside threat should help bolster the Cavaliers’ frontline if he’s able to make the team. His versatility gives him a chance to make the cut.
- Small forward Dominic McGuire received a partially guaranteed contract from the Toronto Raptors. The defensive-minded forward is the 15th player on their roster.
- Former All-Star center Jamaal Magloire also received a partially guaranteed contract from the Raptors, making him the 16th player on the roster. So, the battle for the final spot will likely come down to McGuire or Magloire, whoever the franchise feels like they need more.
- According to reports veteran center Mehmet Okur is fielding interest from multiple teams overseas. The Minnesota Timberwolves were rumored to be interested in him earlier this offseason, but they’ve since brought in Hassan Whiteside and other big men for workouts. It looks as if they have moved on, which means if Okur is looking for the biggest payday, overseas may be his best bet.
NBA Chats: Chat wraps from earlier today are available from Stephen Brotherston and Bill Ingram. Tomorrow’s chat schedule features Eric Pincus and Anthony Macri. As always you can also checkout our entire upcoming chat schedule and previous chat schedule.