Welcome to the Off Season

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The first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs has been better than expected. Only 1 series has been a serious blowout (pour some out for my Blazers), and only one other has been a sweep – the closest 4 game best-of-7-series ever. We have had wild comebacks by the presumptive Eastern and Western Conference Champions. We have had the birth of Playoff Giannis, the return of Playoff Raptors, the resurrection of Playoff Rondo, the continuation of Triple Double Russell and the annual collapse of the Playoff Clippers. There have been injuries both big (toe) and small (fractures) to key players. Considering both conferences looked rather top heavy, we have been treated to some excellent battles.

Despite some stellar play by all 16 teams, only 8 teams get to advance. The other 8 get to join the rest of the League in starting their Summer in Spring. There are no moral victories in the NBA, but there are signs of growth or regression, clues as to how each franchise might approach the off season. While the Raptors, Wizards, Cavaliers, Celtics, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Jazz start preparing for the weeks ahead, the rest of the playoff participants start preparing for the coming years.

clippers logoWhat went wrong?
Well, where to start? Oh right, Blake Griffin. After finally looking like they would come out on the right side of an injury with Rudy Gobert going down only 11 seconds into the series, the Clipper Curse struck in predictable fashion. Unlike Gobert, Griffin was unable to recover from his injury, being ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. Whilst the Jazz had ample depth to cover somewhat for what Gobert provided, the Clippers had no such answers sans Griffin. A rebuilt bench routinely looked overmatched and Chris Paul just didn’t have enough help from Redick, Crawford and the rest of the bench brigade.

What are the positives?
Well, Paul Pierce didn’t have to end his career in Utah for one. Redick showed some life in game 6 to help force game 7, finally finding his stroke and getting to the free throw line. Chris Paul reminded everyone he can still will a team to victory in a hostile environment, even if it wasn’t enough to win the series. Austin Rivers provided an important boost, and showed his worth despite his rust. Aaaaand that’s about it.

What is needed for next season?
It’s brutal to say a perennial 50 win team needs to tear it down and start again, but this is basically where the Clippers find themselves. CP3, Blake, J.J., Mbah a Moute and Speights can all become free agents. If CP and Blake re-sign then the team has no room under the cap to add pieces. They have no trade chips other than DJ and Griffin. You could make the argument that a trade for Melo would work, but would it be enough to get past the 2nd round? GM Doc must think seriously about moving on from Lob City.

pacers logoWhat went wrong?
It’s pretty easy to say LeBron happened, but the best player in the NBA flexed a little in the opener and put the rest of the East on notice. The Pacers will rue their second half collapse in Game 3, which effectively sealed their fate: no team has ever come back from 3-0 to win a best of 7. The Pacers couldn’t stop the Cavalier attack no matter what they did, and were forced to spend most of the series with their best player, Paul George, double teamed.

What are the positives?
Not many, but there are some. Jeff Teague showed some life, and quietly put together a decent series and a decent year. Miles Turner finally broke out of a slump in the final game with some timely shooting and had a memorable poster. Nate McMillin seemed to have his team ready to go toe-to-toe with the defending champs, despite some questionable in-game decisions, especially early in the series. Lance Stephenson continued his strong play since joining the Pacers, and there are rumblings he could have earned back his starting gig. His jump shot returned, and his didn’t spend huge chunks of the games pounding the air out of the ball, just small chunks. That’s a win in Larry Legend’s Kevin Pritchard’s book for sure.

The biggest win, though, has to go to Paul George. Playing the Cavs meant avoiding NBA TV, which meant 4 games to remind a national audience that he’s still ‘got it’. George was spectacular, taking on the responsibility of LeBron or Kyrie seemingly every second he was on the floor, whilst being the engine, wheels, chasis, body and track for the Indy Race Car. The bad news for Indy is it might not help them keep him.

What is needed for next season?
I don’t think it would be out of line to suggest an improvement on the defensive end would be required. The Cavs are a like a Rubix Cube for opposition defences; every time you line up 3 or 4 colours on one square, you realise the rest of the cube is ruined and you have to try something else. George needs someone to help take the pressure off of him on the defensive end. An upgrade to back up point, the starting 2 spot, back up 4 and back up 5 all wouldn’t go amiss either. Ultimately, the direction Larry Bird Kevin Pritchard and the Front Office take will be determined by PG13. If he indicates a willingness to re-sign, then it becomes about filling out the fringes and hunting for complimentary pieces. If George won’t play ball, then it’s time for the Legend Pritchard to get in touch with his old pals in Boston and LA.

blazers logoWhat went wrong?
Portland won the right to get chopped in half circus style by the buzz saw that is the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, one of the major reasons they were able to rally and make the second season was in streets. Without Jusuf Nurkic, Portland didn’t have the personnel to make life consistently difficult for Golden State on D. They also succumbed to the drive and craziness that is Draymond Green. He completely got in the head of Mo Harkless, Noah Vonleh and Meyers Leonard, rendering them afraid of challenging the rim when he was near. Portland also had their own monster collapse in the second half of game 3, completely unable to defend the Warriors in transition. Overall, the deficiencies on defence and the lack of viable options on offence meant a quick series.

What are the positives?
CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard showed they could be the most explosive back court in the NBA, no matter the opposition. 75 combined points in Game 1 showed just how flammable the pair can be. Evan Turner continued to provide steady minutes on the wing, proving to be a versatile defender and scorer. His shot still lets him down and his contract is still bad, but he was Portland’s 3rd most dependable player. Nurk proved that he is still a high impact player, and his spot minutes early in Game 3 provide hope for the Blazer future. Aminu showed up in game 4, as the only Blazer outside of Lillard who didn’t look like they had given up on the series before tip off.

What is needed for next season?
The consolidation of assets to get better assets. Neil Olshey’s premise for retaining all of his talent last summer was that they would have currency throughout the league when it came time to consolidate. The problem is getting useful enough players to make it viable to part with an Ed Davis or an Allen Crabbe. Olshey has already said that Ezeli won’t be with the team, but that won’t even drop the squad below the Luxury Tax threshold. Portland need more defence in the back court and more scoring in the front court and should think long and hard about ridding themselves of the ghost of Meyers Leonard. None of those things will be easy.

thunder logoWhat went wrong?
This series was the perfect example of everything amazing and infuriating with Westbrook. On the one hand, he was the singular reason for OKC getting anywhere this season, as well as the series. Westbrook willed himself to be everything and everyone for an OKC team that could have easily wallowed in self pity on the heels of Durant’s departure. On the other, his inability to incorporate his team fully and to empower them, quite possibly led to their inability to perform when Russ needed them most. It didn’t help that Roberson couldn’t make a free throw either.

What are the positives?
Roberson solidified his reputation as an elite defender with his stellar defence on James Harden. Westbrook proved able to trust him team more, even if only for 3 quarters of games. Taj Gibson showed to be a promising front court partner with Steven Adams and had strong rapport with Westbrook in the pick and roll. Westbrook proved to be just as relentless and insatiable in the post season as he was in the regular season, piercing the defence time and again.

What is needed for next season?
More might just be less for the Brody. As thrilling as his historic season was, it hasn’t produced the end result the team should ultimately be after. Whether he was doing too much or didn’t have the support he should have, it is clear that the Thunder need more from their secondary players. Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo represent the best opportunity for growth on the roster, and have already been compensated well for that. Westbrook, Coach Donovan and the rest of the organisation should do everything they can to promote their development.

bucks logoWhat went wrong?
Shooting, experience, depth. The Bucks had a lot going for them, but ultimately the better team won. The lack of consistent shooting – particularly from Giannis – really made it hard for the Bucks to get enough points on the board, averaging only 86 points per game on just 43% shooting over the last 3 contests; all Toronto wins. The depth of options for the Raptors proved too much for Milwaukee to overcome. Dwane Casey was able to throw multiple options on the floor until something clicked, something Coach Kidd just wasn’t able to do.

What are the positives?
This is Antetokounmpo’s world, we just happen to be living in it. Despite names like Ibaka, Lowry and DeRozan, the Greek Freak was clearly the best player on the floor in this series. Middleton played reasonably despite still not being 100% back from his hamstring injury. Brogdon showed promise in his first exposure to prime time, as did Tony Snell. And the biggest positive is that it’s not clear who the biggest surprise was – Thon Maker and his “go-go-gadget-arms” interior defence and 3 point shooting, or Greg Monroe and his throwback post game coupled with swift-footed defensive rotations and precise rebounding.

What is needed for next season?
Health. With a healthy Middleton and Jabari Parker, this is a dangerous team. Combine that with a more experienced Brogdon and Maker and a better shooting Antetokounmpo (look out if he gets to work with Holger Geschwindner!), and they are a surefire top 4 seed. Much will hinge on what Greg Monroe does in the summer. The release valve Moose offers in the post is an important part of Milwaukee’s offense. Without that and Parker, scoring could be a problem. Monroe staying could hold the key to the continued progress of the current roster, as crazy as that might sound.

grizzlies logoWhat went wrong?
Can you blame this on Chandler Parsons? Probably not, although his absence (and salary slot) didn’t help. Despite fighting gamely, the Grizz just didn’t have the depth to match the cyborg machine that is the Spurs. Secondary options like Green, Daniels and even occasionally Gasol and Randolph were not able to provide enough scoring to supplement the sublime play of Mike Conley.

What are the positives?
Mike Conley is a star. Anyone that wasn’t sure should re-watch game 4 of this series. Conley has more than lived up to his record contract, and his improved play should bode well for the coming years. Coach Fizdale became an overnight sensation thanks to his amazing monologue on advanced stats, but more importantly cemented the buy in from his group. Gasol had a strong year and Zach Randolph embraced a bench role he could have easily balked at. It’s not hard to envision a healthy squad making a run at a top 4 seed next year.

What is needed for next season?
Chandler Parsons, or someone who wants to trade for him. Memphis will only have fringe money to spend on talent this summer, so the opportunities for improvement are slim. Fizdale and GM Chris Wallace will be looking for development from their younger players – Baldwin IV, Ennis, Davis and Harrison all improving might represent their best chance at significant improvement outside of a healthy Parsons. The identity of the squad should remain in tact, but Grindfathers Randolph and Allen are getting long in the tooth. Convincing them to stay plus retaining the now ageless Vince Carter will likely be important. Don’t Rook these guys!

bulls logoWhat went wrong?
Put your hand up if you thought Rondo would be the most important Bulls player come playoff time at the start of the season. Liars! No one saw this coming, possibly not Rajon himself. But here we are. Chicago’s mismatched roster shouldn’t have been in the position to be up 2-0 on paper, but they had finally found an identity and style of play, something Fred Hoiberg has been looking for for 2 years now. Rondo going down completely threw that off course, and the platoon of point guards GarPax had acquired proved woefully incapable of offsetting his absence. Mirotic also provided next to nothing for the series: 8 points per on 34% shooting (28% from 3) and a net rating of -12.7 for the series.

What are the positives?
Chicago showed the ‘Three Alphas’ could in fact not just co-exist, but thrive. They were able to leverage their strengths early on, and showed the discipline to stick with their identity. The young players like Zipser, Portis and Grant all showed moments of rising to the occasion at different points, which should bode well for their progress. Hoiberg was able to win the early coaching chess matches, engineering schemes that took advantage of Boston’s weaknesses on defence: rebounding and Isaiah Thomas.

What is needed for next season?
Say it with me now: shooting! This team is in desperate need of some better spacing, as well as a proper Beta to Jimmy’s Alpha. Butler has stated he wants to stay in Chicago, but wants another star to play with. He has also said he wants both Rondo and Wade back. Someone explain salary cap to Butler. The Bulls could open some serious cap space, but would have to waive Rondo and convince Wade to leave. If they do that, it’s likely to make Butler less thrilled about his working environment. Ultimately, it might be time to cash in on Jimmy and get to rebuilding with Boston’s Brooklyn picks.

hawks logoWhat went wrong?
Too much John Wall and Brad Beal. When it came down to it, Atlanta just couldn’t match the potency of the Wizards’ back court, especially Wall. No matter what they tried, Wall meticulously picked the Atlanta defence apart for either his own forays or setting up his teammates. The Hawks back court was spotty outside of Dennis Schroder, with Bazemore, Hardaway and Calderon all proving to be inconsistent. Add that to Dwight having a minimal impact on the series (8 points in 26 minutes per contest) and Atlanta just couldn’t put enough points on the board.

What are the positives?
Bring on the youth! Both Schroder and Taurean Prince came to play against the Wizards, and this bodes well for the future. Prince flashed an off the bounce game and a quick first step, occasional range on his jumper and some stifling defence. Schroeder seemed to grow up before our eyes, finding more and more confidence to make the right play as the series went on. This is the man that Atlanta paid $70 million and traded Jeff Teague to keep. Both will hopefully use this as a springboard to launch their summer training and propel them into next season.

What is needed for next season?
This question hinges on 2 players – Tim Hardaway Jr and Paul Millsap. The Hawks have expressed his desire to retain both players, but as always money talks. President Bud could open up a lot of cap space by letting Millsap and Hardaway walk, but it’s unlikely a star will come to ATL without a carrot to dangle. The continued growth from Prince will be vital, especially if he can be consistent from the 3. The smart move would be to tear it down and gather some assets on the same age line as Prince and Schroeder, but tanking for picks may not be a viable option for ownership considering the stadium is often less than full on game day; let alone if you added a bottom 5 roster to that.


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