It's July in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette's training camp invite and Cuttino Mobley's hair color were the big stories on Wednesday. You know what you need? A rambling discourse on the impacts of 2015 NBA free agency. Luckily, Flanns and Zillz are here to provide just that. Enjoy.
ZILLER: We're quickly approaching August and we've already hit the point at which NBA free agency news is trickling in. The flood is over. It even seems like most of the trades that will be done have been done. We've both shared our big-picture thoughts on the big moves already, so let's get a bit more fine with it. Which signing are you surprised you like? For me, that's Monta Ellis in Indiana.
FLANNERY: Curious to hear your Monta thoughts. The Pacers are an interesting experiment and I don't know what to make of it yet. They went from being really big, really good and completely predictable to really small and a total mystery. I love the idea of playing up-tempo with Paul George at power forward (Monta definitely helps with that), but the rest of the roster doesn't make a ton of sense for that style yet.
The other part of the Pacers thing is that Larry Bird doesn't get enough credit for having a little crazy to him. It's like everyone pushed the memories of the 2003-05 teams out of their minds post-Malice. I'm not surprised at all that Larry went after Monta. I thought he might even make a run at Rondo, but I suppose there are limits.
The Pacers are one of the few teams that actively got worse, with the Blazers and Nets being the others. All were for understandable reasons.
So many other transactions were what I call 'In a vacuum' moves. In a vacuum, the Hornets upgraded their talent and addressed major shooting woes. In a vacuum, the Pistons grabbed a few players who should thrive in Stan Van Gundy's system. Measured against other realities -- like what they gave up and how much they spent -- those moves get downgraded in a simple cost/benefit analysis. But they still work in the here and now, so I like a lot of the offseason moves.
To answer your question: I'm surprised at how much I like the Clippers getting Lance Stephenson. When they made the trade, I was ambivalent. Now that they've added Paul Pierce and brought back DeAndre Jordan, I think it was a stroke of genius. GM Doc is having a pretty nice summer.
ZILLER: Lance to L.A. is a totally interesting and potentially fate-changing move. I'm eager to see how Coach Doc sorts out the rotation; the Josh Smith signing suggests we'll get less Pierce as a stretch four than I think many of us would prefer, but we'll see. We're going to see some interesting lineups in moments when Jordan can't play.
To me, Monta is the keystone to the new Pacers working. George Hill is of the Goran Dragic mold offensively and a real good defender. Monta is more of a playmaking and high-volume Dwyane Wade type. If Monta is a top shooting guard (as you can argue he was before the Rondo trade) that's a very compelling backcourt, especially when you consider what Paul George may do in the open court. I think Monta's going to be a nice pressure release for an Indiana offense that has long needed one. (I also think that loss of David West's personality is overstated given the serious chemistry issues the team had over the past season and a half. But that's another discussion.)
Let's talk about moves we don't think will look as good a year from now. I think DeMarre Carroll is a top candidate because I don't have a ton of faith in Dwane Casey's ability to change that team's style given his backcourt. Kyle Lowry doesn't strike me as the right point guard for what Toronto is trying to do. I'm also not convinced Jonas Valanciunas is going to be able to handle the lane or the boards with a small four next to him. If Toronto doesn't improve, it will come down on Carroll, the new guy without gaudy box scores, even if it's no fault of his own.
FLANNERY: Yeah, I'm not feeling the Raptors' summer. It's like they're stuck between a core they don't fully believe in and a nebulous future without a keystone player. (I do love that DeMarre got himself paid, though. All this money feels like Monopoly money until you remember what a guy like that has gone through to get that first, and maybe only, payday).
It's too easy to take shots at the Knicks and Lakers, but for the record, I don't think either one of their recoveries was all that inspiring. That's a lot of money for Robin Lopez, Arron Aflalo hasn't been good for a few years and Derrick Williams has never been productive. I'm all on board with Kyle O'Quinn, though. He's terrific. The Lakers are going to be just good/bad enough to send their pick to Philly.
So ... the Thunder. I really don't like the Enes Kanter contract. At all. They gave up on Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones for nothing and did they really need to give Kyle Singler five years? All that plus hiring a rookie coach straight from college for the most important season in franchise history has me less than enthused about their immediate situation, which could put a serious strain on their future. Is it too early to talk about Kevin Durant?
ZILLER: It can't be too early to talk about Durant. And while surely our friends in OKC will be sick of all the baseless or lightly based speculation by yesterday, it's the dominant story of the season.
I'm going to bury a hot take I've already hinted at this month: I don't think the Spurs got massively better. Of course they were already very, very good. I think they ensured they'll be really good for four more years, which is obviously important and smart. But this isn't a team that can win 67 games, in my opinion. They've lost some depth and two true centers, replacing them with (talented) power forwards. What could change my mind here is either a Tony Parker rejuvenation or Kyle Anderson coming on big.
FLANNERY: Predicting right now that the lead-up to the summer of Durant will make all that came before it look positively quaint. There will be more teams, with more cap money than anything that's ever been in play before. Like a lot of people, I think he ultimately goes back to OKC but there are so many variables that can change the equation quickly. Even if his free agency is over in a flash, the buildup will be surreal. Our OKC friends better just get used to it, I think.
Here's my question on the Spurs: How much better do they need to get? By my reckoning they were one of the top three teams going into the postseason. They got a lousy draw because of a number of things -- some of them their fault, some of them because of an anachronistic playoff seeding system that will hopefully be relegated to the past where it belongs. People forget that they had that Game 7 won before Chris Paul hit a ridiculous shot at the end, and my hunch is they had a reasonable shot to beat Golden State. I don't think they've got 67 wins lined up, that's just not their nature, but they do have a viable transition plan in place. You're right about Tony though. They need him to be good and healthy.
There's one big question left unresolved and it involves the Cavaliers. They've got more work to do and they still have that Brendan Haywood contract burning a hole in their pocket. Do you see anyone they could make a run at with that deal?
ZILLER: At some point Dan Gilbert has to clear his throat, right? They aren't bending over backwards to overpay J.R. Smith or Matthew Dellavedova, so there's some restraint happening. But assuming one or both ends up signing, and given what else they've done this summer, is it overkill to flip Haywood's contract for a fallen star? Especially with Timofey Mozgov's contract coming up?
FLANNERY: Overkill is exactly what we're talking about here. There is no room for subtlety when you're that desperate for a championship. This Cavaliers team is to be a monument to excess on a grand scale; think '96 Bulls mixed with early 90s Cowboys. The only thing missing from the menagerie is a pop-art freakshow like Dennis Rodman. Not sure those guys exist anymore, unfortunately, so they'll probably wind up with someone like Joe Johnson, who is the exact opposite of Rodman.
We only saw the full bore of this team for a few months before the injuries started happening and I, for one, can't wait to see it as a fully-realized concept. I'd go all out for it now, too, because LeBron isn't getting any younger.
Alright, as it stands: Who are your favorites? I've got the Cavs and Clippers.
ZILLER: Warriors and Cavaliers again for me, for I am boring. The Rockets, Spurs and Clippers are tempting. I don't see anyone in the East threatening.
Of course, we are NINE MONTHS from the 2016 playoffs. We're a sick people, aren't we?
FLANNERY: Totally deranged. That's why I'm going to sit on a mountain for most of August.