NBA Preview Series: Subtle, but intriguing story lines to watch develop in the Eastern Conference
The smoke has cleared and the dust has settled. Team USA has won the FIBA World Cup in Spain and are now back home preparing for training camp. With the tournament complete the focus of basketball fans now shifts back to the United States and the upcoming 2014–2015 NBA season. The summer of 2014 has certainly been one to remember with many memorable headlines that will have a huge impact on the new season. There have been a few headlines in particular that have been well covered and discussed to exhaustion via articles and podcasts around the web but the good news is that I am not here today to write about any of them. I am not here to write about how good the Chicago Bulls will be with a healthy Derrick Rose nor am I writing this to predict how successful Cleveland will be without a true rim protector. I am not here to discuss the basketball Geography of the LeBron James/Kevin Love Pick & Roll nor am I not here to compare Bradley Beal to Ray Allen. I will not be asking ask if Miami can win by building around Chris Bosh either. I want to talk about a couple of (not so) sneaky stories that we should watch develop in the Eastern Conference this season and discuss their possible impact on the playoff picture. For starters…
1. What will Stan do?
Stan Van Gundy was given a 5-year contract worth roughly $35 million to serve as both the coach and president of basketball operations for the once proud Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were known for their dominance from 2001–2008 by featuring a team who had no star but played extremely well as a unit. The 2013–2014 reincarnation is arguably the opposite. The 2013–2014 Pistons featured players who were talented individually but either played out of position (Josh Smith) or did not fit well together due to a lack of outside shooting and ball movement. In free agency Detroit began to address their outside shooting woes by overpaying, I mean signing Jodie Meeks to a 3 year, $19 million contract but it’s clear that the Pistons will need a lot more than that to succeed. It is Stan Van Gundy’s job to discern which assets are worth keeping and which assets are worth moving and a lot of that will depend on what direction in the standings he wants to go. The Pistons are a team that can easily take a lower seed in the playoffs if they can move talent for assets that fit. Conversely the Pistons are also a team that can easily be a lottery team if they move talent for future assets and decide to compete later on. It will be very interesting to see what Van Gundy decides to do with his team but one thing is for sure the Pistons will not stand pat.
2. How will Brooklyn adjust?
After a failed attempt to seize more power within the Nets organization coach Jason Kidd was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite his questionable methods Jason Kidd found success by playing a small ball line-up which played two point guards (Williams and Livingston) who moved the ball brilliantly while featuring (now former Net) Paul Pierce as the team’s Power Forward. This move was made out of necessity due to Brook Lopez, one of the league’s best interior scorers missing 65 games and the playoffs. Brooklyn finished the final 65 games with a solid 37–28 record and won a playoff series in Lopez’ absence.
Brook Lopez is scheduled to return this season and the Nets will be coached by Lionel Hollins. How the Nets are able to adapt to these two factors will really dictate how their season goes. The Nets are without assets so the franchise really needs to have another successful season and they should if they get a good season from their X-Factor, Deron Williams.
Williams was once arguably considered the best at his position and a top 15 player in the NBA. Injuries have put a halt to that however if Williams can even become 80% of the player he was then the Nets should be able to secure one of the last playoff spots. If Williams fails to help the Nets adapt to the return of Lopez and a new coach it will mean that at least one team from New York will miss the playoffs next season.
While it is very unlikely that the Nets and Pistons will have any impact on the league beyond the second week of May 2015 these are still two stories that NBA fans should watch as the season unfolds. The Pistons have assets and talent that can be used to either go in the tank or bump somebody out of the playoffs in the East. The Nets on the other hand do not have the assets and are forced to try and compete now and steal one of the last playoff spots. If you are a fan of the Raptors, Wizards, Heat, Hornets, Knicks or Pacers these two stories carry a lot more relevance than what’s going on in Cleveland and Chicago right now.
About the Author
Colin is a former high school and college basketball player who still actively participates in the Toronto basketball scene. He enjoys discussing anything related to hoops and kicks, particularly sneaker aesthetics and his beloved Los Angeles Lakers.