The NBA Season has tipped off and it is a really exciting time for players and fans alike. Every offseason brings changes that create excitement for the regular season. Some teams trade players, others sign big free others, lucky teams manage to do both, and draft picks have an unpredictable mystique about how they’ll perform. With all the moves and acquisitions of the offseason, teams can transition from afterthoughts to power players and this year is no different. The 2013 NBA offseason left us with several teams that look nothing less than stacked …… on paper. We all know the game is played on the court (ex: 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers). That being said, there are teams that have rosters that I am really excited to see play together to see if they play up to their talent.
The Houston Rockets are one of two teams most people would likely first point out when speaking of new power teams. Last season’s addition of star guard James Harden and this offseason’s acquisition of Dwight Howard give Houston one of the more formidable starting lineups in the league this season … on paper. With the ever improving stretch wing Chandler Parsons, newly improved double-double machine Omer Asik, and the man unfortunately known more for injuring Russell Westbrook than his own play, Patrick Beverley, Harden and Howard have plenty of options that can hold their own. But the question isn’t if they can hold their own; It’s whether or not they can play together, and win.
The Rockets’ have an uphill battle regarding their bench. Other than The Weeklong Sensation Jeremy Lin and recently returning, but questionable, Aaron Brooks, nobody else really stands out. Former Sacramento Kings teammates Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia reunite to play the wings off the bench, but as a Kings fan, I can speak on the fact that neither was ever all that spectacular, yet each has his own limited set of skills to contribute. Terrence Jones is still a work in progress but has potential to make an impact off the bench this season if he takes advantage of his sparse minutes.
If this lackluster bench can proves critics like me wrong, they may have a chance at making some noise out west. Because of the magnitude of both Harden and especially Howard, given the circumstances that led to him joining the Rockets (see: last two and a half Dwight Howard seasons), the Rockets have the most to prove on the list of paper teams.
Other than the Rockets, the Brooklyn Nets made the most offseason noise with their acquisition of former Boston Celtics champs Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and also sharpshooting sixth man Jason Terry, who will join the already established synergy of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. In addition to their dominant (on paper) starting five, they have a very respectable bench in the aforementioned Terry, new Net Andrei Kirilenko, streaky forward Andray Blatche, guard Shaun Livingston, and scrappy Reggie Evans.
What makes Brooklyn scary is their size. Brook Lopez is a proven post scorer, but has been critiqued for his lack of imposing force on the defensive end and on the boards. Enter, Kevin Garnett. Garnett is no stranger to rebounding and nobody is going to question his tenacity … Trust me, don’t do it. He’ll be the yin to Lopez’s yang in the paint and they should pair nicely, given Garnett’s mid range game and Lopez’s offensive postgame. Factor in Pierce and Johnson on the wings, assuming they can manage expectations on touches with Williams playing the necessary facilitating role and you have a fluid offense that can be potentially unstoppable. When every player on the court is a threat to score, there will either always be one-on-one coverage or someone will always be open from a double team. Teams with weak defense will be blown out by Brooklyn.
Their second unit will keep them in games and allow the starters to rest, which will be important for the long term success and health of veterans Pierce and Garnett. The lineup of Livingston, Terry, Kirilenko, Blatche and Evans could be a lower tier NBA team’s starting five. Bench, size, defense, elite point guard. It looks like Brooklyn has all the essentials for competing for a title. Now, all they have to do is win one. Easy enough, right?
Had the circus act known as Dwight Howard been the main event of a different season, Brooklyn would be the team to watch, but they fit in nicely as the #2 team with the most to prove.
Amidst the headlines of Dwight Howard joining Houston, the Celtics moving to Brooklyn, and Andrew Bynum completely jumping ship, Detroit has quietly put together a pretty strong lineup themselves. Point guards Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups have joined a roster of giants that includes Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and newly acquired Josh Smith. Despite the league becoming more of a guard oriented league, size is a huge component to winning championships. Other than the two time defending champion Miami Heat, each of the last champions dating back to the David Robinson Spurs have had multiple talented giants in the paint (The champions before them were Jordan’s Bulls and then the list begins again). The Pistons have a stretch wing in Smith and young studs in the paint with Monroe and Drummond and Charlie Villanueva, when healthy, off the bench.
Also, Brandon Jennings should be able to elevate his game further with through the mentorship relationship he’ll have with veteran guard Chauncey Billups, who is still more than capable of stepping up to hit the big shot, and also Rodney Stuckey to provide another guard presence.
Detroit’s bench isn’t stellar, but they have serviceable players such as Will Bynum, Kyle Singler and Josh Harrellson, and also a rookie shooter in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, having both spent their last few seasons on teams going nowhere and relocating with a big paycheck, will step onto the court with huge expectations, thus why they’re number 3 on the list of paper teams that have the most to prove.
The Cleveland Cavaliers benefit from their youth in that they won’t be heavily critiqued immediately. However, Kyrie Irving is on the brink of becoming an elite point guard and Andrew Bynum is soon to return from an injury that had him miss his entire (one season) tenure as a Philadelphia 76er. In addition, they acquired rookie Anthony Bennett in this year’s draft who will join Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller as the team’s young studs. Jarrett Jack will be a solid contributor off the bench, as he displayed last season for the Golden State Warriors as will C.J. Miles.
Bynum, when healthy, is one of, if not the, best centers in the NBA. He can play both ends of the floor and is a demanding presence in the paint. He will look to build on his legacy as he reunites with former coach Mike Brown and joins All Star guard Irving, hoping to recreate a classic inside-outside game in Cleveland.
Cleveland is young, unpredictable, and still flawed and Bynum is being eased back into the lineup, so expectations should be reasonable for them, at least in the immediate future. However, they have a roster that can make some noise in their division and in the conference too. They look good on paper, but they have much to prove.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The Pelicans have a nice young nucleus forming around marquee 2012 draft pick Anthony Davis. They acquired All Star Jrue Holiday from Philadelphia, former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans from Sacramento (sheds tear), and already have Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson in the constant rotation. They’re still young and need to grow together, but they look to improve, especially at the point guard position. They’re not the deepest team around, but having a player like Evans off the bench, with the ability to play three positions, makes the lineup combinations endless for New Orleans. It pains me to see Evans come off the bench, but he may actually flourish in that role, similarly to James Harden pre-Houston. Anthony Davis continues to improve and Jrue Holiday should improve in all areas with better players around him.
I don’t expect a playoff turnaround, but New Orleans has a nice young roster with some major acquisitions that could have them making a little bit of noise out west.