Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-Evaluating The Kingdom

Photo from drjays.com
Just because the Internet in Ghana is spotty doesn't mean that I was not well aware of the Decision 2.0: Instagram/Sports Illustrated Edition last Friday.

This was a lot different from how I found out about the formation of the Big 3 in 2010. I had been in Ghana for about two weeks before finally making my way to an Internet cafe. It was at this point that I was forced to digest, all at once, that Amar'e Stoudemire was headed to my Knicks, and that Chris Bosh and LeBron James were to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. I couldn't control myself and said, "wait, what???" as I looked flabbergasted at my computer screen.

This time around, it was my mom who told me, while on AOL's home page before checking her email (because for some reason she's one of the 7 people on the planet that doesn't use Gmail) that LeBron James was headed to Cleveland. My mother, who is not a sports fan at all, only knew to tell me this being I had spent a few minutes earlier in the day recounting to her the insanity that was taking place back in the U.S. that I heard about through Twitter and Facebook; from website hackers, to cupcake stores, to people camping outside of James's home, to reminding her about to angry letter in blue Comic Sans that the Cavaliers had removed from their website recently.

I had some time to stew, try and digest my dinner, accept that the people who had been yelling about LeBron returning were actually not insane, accept that the Cavs actually executed their pipe dream after seemingly wasting all of their time and energy in a wild pursuit of their former hero, and read. My eyes began to digest Grantland like a seven year old let loose at a free all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet.

Now I'm calm, confused, and ready to re-evaluate the NBA landscape, which was altered forever by two links that James simply tweeted out of the blue.
First, let's look at how this even happened in the first place.

To put it lightly, the Cleveland Cavaliers are very stupid, and very lucky. Their stupidity combined with some short-term bad luck somehow turned into the fulfillment of their ultimate goal: the return of the biggest star in their franchise's history.

Had Coach Mike Brown never been rehired last summer, and had General Manager Chris Grant not made a string of signings that allowed the team, the management, and suckers like myself believe that the Cavs were ready for a playoff run in 2014, I would not be writing this article right now.

To borrow a phrase from the father of modern sportswriting himself, Bill Simmons, it seemed that God Hated Cleveland. Brown flamed out quickly because he's Mike Brown and that's what he does. Jarrett Jack didn't help the team do anything special. Andrew Bynum was a cheap gamble that had major upside, but he played a total of 24 games before declaring his unhappiness, getting suspended and forcing his way out of Cleveland. In return for Bynum, they received Luol Deng, which was a weird move, as was the acquisition of Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline. Those were deals that propelled the team to being barely mediocre, while also giving them two expiring contracts heading into free agency, because for some reason they thought that LeBron James would leave the Heat to play with Anderson Varejao's breaking down body, Kyrie Irving's non-existent defense, and Alonzo Gee's Alonzo Gee-ness.

And while all of this happened, after seemingly striking gold by winning the Draft Lottery two out of the past three years, the man who they selected with that pick, Anthony Bennett, became a laughing stock as everyone called for him to be sent down to the D-League. He began the season out of shape, and things spiraled out of control from there.

But, while it looked like we were headed towards another ho-hum, "here go the Cavs doing stupid things again" situation, it worked out perfectly for them. Had they not become decent enough to have the ninth best odds of winning the lottery at 1.7%, they wouldn't have totally lucked out and won the lottery for the second straight year.

And unlike 2013, this year, there were so many options available to them that it was a scary position for the Cavaliers to be in. Joel Embiid's injury was another weird stroke of luck for the team as they no longer had to worry if his past injury history would be an issue once he reached the NBA level, and they could draft Andrew Wiggins with a clear conscience.

And while all of this was happening in Cleveland, the Heat seemed poised to capture their third straight championship, until it became clear that the deterioration of Miami's role players was going to be a huge factor in their demise as they ran into the buzzsaw that was the 2014 San Antonio Spurs.

Everything seemed to break perfectly for the Cavaliers, and even after their fans burned their LeBron jerseys, and their owner wrote a strongly worded letter in blue Comic Sans (really, how did he think anyone would take him seriously?), their seemingly misguided frenzy to recapture their glory days by bringing back their former hero worked out in their favor.

So now what? We know that this was a monumental move, and that it greatly affected the NBA both on and off the court, but just how great was that effect?

Well, let's start with where LeBron's Cavaliers (I can't believe that's a thing again) are going to go from here.

They're probably not finished. All signs point to them making a very strong push to trade for Kevin Love, which would make their roster a perfect for LeBron James's skill set. Playing with two true big men, one of whom being a reliable long range shooter, would allow the four-time MVP to thrive.

But now all of a sudden I'm hearing the name Andrew Wiggins being brought up as a chip to send Minnesota's way in exchange for the 3 time All-Star. That would be a huge mistake. As good as Love is, and even though he's still only 25 years old, Wiggins has too much potential upside to give him away in a deal for Love, especially when Love will have to be re-signed next season, affecting the amount of flexibility that the Cavaliers have as they attempt to build their roster around LeBron James.

The biggest reason why they shouldn't trade Wiggins, is because they simply don't have to. The Golden State Warriors have been very reluctant to give away Klay Thompson in a potential deal for Love, and it's looking more and more like that will cause the talks between the two sides to fall through. Despite a disastrous first season, Anthony Bennett is still a 21 year old forward with size and speed. He's raw, but there's a lot of upside with him. If Thompson is in fact an untouchable, which looks like the case, Bennett is the best prospect that the Timberwolves could possibly snag in return for Love. Boston doesn't have anyone with the potential of the man who can succeed in the NBA at both the small forward and power forward positions. There's no Warrior other than Klay Thompson that would entice the Wolves as much as Bennett. And as time goes on, Love can force the issue more and more, putting pressure on Minnesota to accept that Bennett is their best case scenario. Refusing to re-sign for the long term would scare off other teams, and he's already said that he would commit to the new-look Cavaliers. Giving away Bennett, Tristan Thompson, and a first round draft pick or two would land Love easily as the Wolves will panic, fearing that they will lose their star while getting absolutely nothing in return. In fact, it's possible that the Cavs can even get away with only trading Bennett, as Minnesota's other options include centering a team around Ricky Rubio and Kelly Olynyk. If David Kahn were still around, that would actually be a possibility. Hopefully Coach/GM Flip Saunders isn't that dumb. But then again, the last time that I can remember a General Manager doubling as a coach (not named Pat Riley)...

Photo from nydailynews.com
It hurts too much. Let's just move on.

If the deal is completed before the start of the season, a team with a lineup of Irving, Wiggins, James, Love, and Sideshow Andy would be far and away the favorites in the Eastern Conference. If Minnesota deludes itself into thinking that a sub-.500 first half and Ricky Rubio's ghastly jump shooting will entice Love and make him want to sign an extension, before realizing that it's impossible, then Love won't be moved until the trade deadline in February. At which point, things could already be interesting in the East.

Obviously, the Cavaliers look like locks to represent the East in the Finals right about now, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be the best regular season team in their conference. As we saw with the Miami Heat in 2010, when the Big 3 was initially formed, teams need time to get themselves together and figure out how to fit the pieces together. And while it may look pretty obvious now, it's never that easy to gel quickly, especially when there are a lot of moving parts. Not only are James and Love (most likely. I'm really working under the assumption that there's already a #42 Cavaliers jersey ready and waiting for Love at some point this year) being added to Cleveland's roster, but so are Mike Miller, possibly Ray Allen and James Jones (this is about to turn into a 2013 Heat Family Reunion), a new backup point guard to replace Jack, such as Mo Williams, Luke Ridnour, or Beno Udrih, and of course, Wiggins.

And that's an important factor to remember throughout this entire upcoming season. Andrew Wiggins is supposed to be a star in the future, but he's only a rookie. He's new to this league, and won't be a dominating force just yet. Unlike most first overall picks, he's in the perfect position to thrive. He won't be asked to do too much as the best player in the NBA is now on his team. He's already a tenacious defender, and will be able to develop his offensive game without being the main focus of the opposing team's defensive plans. He has the tools necessary to be one of the best players in the league, so the addition of James will help steer him in that direction. At the same time, don't expect him to play at his best from the beginning of the season, as he still needs time to grow. He'll be a much bigger factor in April than he will be in November.

As for the rest of the conference, it's best to start off with the team that LeBron James left, the Miami Heat. Immediately, their plans changed, as it seemed that both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would follow James's lead and leave Pat Riley high and dry. That was moreso the case with Bosh, as most people assumed that should LeBron decide against returning to Miami, that Bosh would take his talents to Houston, teaming up with Dwight Howard to form a lethal inside-outside big man duo. But, only a few hours A.D. (After Decision), the man who knows everything before it's announced, NBA Twitter breaking news extraordinaire, and one of my most important bookmarks during this time of year, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted this:



Wow, okay. He turned down a pay cut and the chance to play with James Harden and Howard for more money and the ability to play with an aging Wade, Danny Granger, and the only Heat player under contract at the time, Norris Cole. Even better, he was in Ghana during all of this. So he chose the money over the ability to win a championship, which I don't blame him for at all. Seriously, the man is allowed to do whatever he wants, and if he wants more security for him and his family, so be it. But it was an interesting choice. Sure, the East is the weaker conference, so the new-look Heat have a chance to be towards the top of the conference, but the better team he'd be playing with in Houston would have given him a much better chance at capturing his third NBA title.

 
Photo from expressionex.com

At was at that point that it became obvious that Dwyane Wade would be re-joining him in Miami. The issue now became, how big of a pay cut would he take. When James initially opted out, only to be followed by his teammates Wade and Bosh, it was assumed that the latter two would receive large pay cuts in order to allow James to make slightly more money, and to re-tool the roster. But, with Bosh taking a near-max deal, and having already agreed to terms with Granger and Josh McRoberts on small contracts, how much money will Wade take?

The deals for Cole, Chalmers, McRoberts, and Granger are all relatively small, but the Heat cap situation is still interesting. Basically, Wade will have to accept much less money in order to accommodate the yet-to-be filled out roster, Luol Deng, and possibly one other key player.

I disagreed with the acquisition of Deng. The Heat needed to get younger and deeper, and made a mistake with this signing. I really wanted to see them go after Pacer guard and wild card Lance Stephenson, whose play and antics made my preseason prediction true. Initially, I had wanted Stephenson to end up with the Hornets to see him team up with big man Al Jefferson and fellow wild card, now former (Mc)Bobcat McRoberts. But, now I feel that Miami would have been a better situation for him. And that's not just because we still get to realize the dream of having Stephenson and McBob play together, leading to a legendary run of on-court randomness.

Sure, having both Lance and Wade on the same team would mean that one of the two (most likely Stephenson) would be forced to play as an undersized small forward on defense, but his presence as a slasher would have been very important now that the Heat have lost their biggest star. This would also allow Wade to continue to alter his style of play, relying less and less on driving to the hoop himself from the wing, and instead, as he's been starting to do over the last couple of seasons to compliment James, cutting into open spaces to receive well placed passes in his best scoring areas. The Miami offense could have been run through  Stephenson, which sounds simultaneously ridiculous and exciting. As long as he's committed to his team, which is admittedly a huge uncertainty, Lance is an exceptional player, and very capable at controlling the ball. His gifted passing would have been helpful to the Heat, who are struggling to find a new focal point, now that their point forward is back home in Cleveland.

Deng's contributions will be mostly in the form of defense and three-point shooting, which is fine, but not good enough for a team that just lost such a dynamic player.

And now, even with Deng on the roster, I would still sign Lance Stephenson if I were Pat Riley. But there would be one condition, that would make this potential contract highly unlikely: Dwyane Wade would have to go to the bench.

Now that it's clear to everyone that even after a regular season filled with lots of rest, Wade has too many miles on his body to play too many minutes at a high level come playoff time. So, converting him to a Manu Ginobili-esque Super Sixth Man role would be the perfect compromise for him. He'd still be a very important player, as his brain allows him to make up for the new limitations that his body is beginning to place on him. He can play against the second unit of the opposition, giving the Heat All-Star fresh legs off the bench as he runs the offense while the starters are allowed to rest. This would mean that both Stephenson and Deng would start at the wings, which would be a very good fit, as Stephenson's attacking nature would mesh well with the more perimeter-oriented Deng. Even though this would be a great decision from an on the court standpoint, Wade has meant too much to this team for too long for them to actually make that decision. I hate it when teams make decisions based on factors such as their history with the organization, or how the fans would react, instead of what would give them the best chance to win, but I have to accept that it's everywhere, no matter how much it pisses me off.

Now that we're done talking about my Lance to the Heat pipe dream, it's important to consider another possible signing for them. The Phoenix Suns completed a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for point guard Isaiah Thomas, giving them another point guard to pair with Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Even though Thomas would fit perfectly with restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe, it's hard for me to believe at this point that they would re-sign the young point guard after he tests the open market. That would require them to work quickly on finding a potential destination for Dragic via trade, and I doubt that such a deal could be made in such a short span of time. The acquisition of Thomas was an odd decision for the team. Bledsoe has the potential to be a star point guard in the NBA, and it looks like Phoenix is just going to let him walk away.

So, if he is in fact walking away, I would love to see him in a Miami uniform next season. He's basically the same player as Stephenson, but smaller, and a better ball handler. He's a great defensive point guard, and his offensive game improved greatly while in his first season in Phoenix, despite only playing in 43 games due to injury. Being that their only point guards right now are Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Shabazz Napier, Bledsoe would give them a much more dynamic scoring presence from that position, while providing a significant defensive upgrade. That's a much more likely signing than Lance Stephenson, and it also makes a lot of sense. But, it would be hard for the Heat to sign either of those players, as it's unlikely that they'd have much cap space available to deepen the rotation while improving the top of the roster. Hopefully Wade's contract is small enough that the team would be allowed flexibility. The team will definitely take care of him financially in the future, as he's probably the best player in their franchise's history (yes, above LeBron James, because his Heat career has 7 years on LeBron's short-lived stint), and the man who delivered the Larry O'Brien trophy to Miami for the first time in 2006. It will forever be Miami-Wade County.

Even with all of that talk about potential moves, the Heat as currently constructed will be just fine in the Eastern Conference next season. Clearly, they don't look like title contenders as of yet, but they will be a good bunch that should challenge [insert LeBron James's team here], the Indiana Pacers (should they re-sign Stephenson, which will be difficult), and the Chicago Bulls at the top of the conference. Right now it looks like a second round exit is the most likely scenario, but they certainly won't be an easy out.  

We can't simply skip over the Bulls at this point. When it became obvious that Wade would be returning to his team, the Bulls ended whatever hopes they had of bringing him to the place where he grew up: Chicago. They continued to push for Carmelo Anthony, but when he chose to re-sign with the Knicks (!!!), they executed their backup plan, and instead snagged Pau Gasol, creating an inside-outside big man combination, much like Houston would have had if Chris Bosh decided to sign there. Assuming that Derrick Rose is healthy (wild assumption, I know), the Bulls will be the biggest threat to the Cavaliers. Joining Gasol, Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in the starting lineup will be Jimmy Butler and either Kirk Hinrich or Mike Dunleavy, Jr. on the wings. Not to mention, off the bench will be Dougie McBuckets, the almost mythical European forward Nikola Mirotic joining the NBA from Spain, and of course, Taj Gibson, who has been a huge X-factor for the Bulls for a few years now. I didn't even mention Tony Snell, who's getting better, and will asked to do less this year, which should allow him to grow. This team is very talented and quite deep.

Unfortunately, the Bulls, Cavs, and Pacers all play in the same division, so one of those teams (most likely the Pacers) won't have the luxury of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

As for the rest of the East, teams have gotten better in smaller ways, but overall, the conference should be drastically better than it was last year, when it was historically awful. At least one good team will miss the playoffs.

Phil Jackson has been working his magic in New York and looks like he's going to bring my Knicks back to the postseason next year. He's already brought in a coach that I'm interested in, Derek Fisher, re-signed the team's star player, Carmelo Anthony, gotten rid of dead/dying money by shipping Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler to Dallas, and in turn made the team younger, deeper, and better, with the additions of Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Cleanthony Early, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (underrated storyline: Greek Freak Mania in New York will turn him into a legend quickly) via that trade with the Mavericks. He had his eyes on reuniting himself and Fisher with Gasol in New York, but it didn't work out. That's unfortunate, but not the end of the world. Surely, the Knicks aren't going to be title contenders just yet, but they're headed in the right direction, which is an unfamiliar position for the Knicks and their fans, including myself.

Wait, so the Knicks are actually doing something correct????? Is that possible?

Yes. So far, Zen Master GMs look like the way to go. Every team in the league should take note.

The Charlotte Hornets are getting better. No, not only are they getting a better name (because what the hell is a Bobcat?), the team itself is improving, having added Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston through the draft (plus, I think that this is the most likely outcome for Lance Stephenson). They already tried to bring in Gordon Hayward, but the Jazz matched their offer. As with the Knicks and their failed attempt and luring Gasol, it's not the end of the world. Vonleh has great potential as an inside-outside big man, which is what Al Jefferson has been for years. They're very similar in their styles, so the veteran presence of Big Al should really help Vonleh's development. Hairston showed a great ability to put the ball in the basket while at UNC. It's unclear whether or not he can be a top scorer in the NBA, but he doesn't have to answer those questions as of yet. Jefferson basically carried this team to the postseason by himself, shouldering the load offensively throughout the season. He'll continue to be the focal point of the team as those rookies grow around him. The core of the team is shaping up nicely, and they should remain in the thick of the playoff race for quite a few years.

Last season the Knicks decided "nah, let's just spin our wheels and throw away the final playoff spot." While this was going on, the Atlanta Hawks were playing horrible basketball, but continued to hang onto the eighth seed despite doing everything short of forfeiting their right to qualify for the playoffs. Even though they backed into the postseason, the Hawks' run was quite an interesting run. They will always be associated with the almost inexplicable trajectory of the 2014 Indiana Pacers, who struggled through the Atlanta series before winning in 7 games. At the time, the story was all about how badly the Pacers were playing, which was only partially true; the Hawks were playing good basketball to counteract the fall of the Pacers. Led by long overdue first time All-Star Paul Millsap, point guard Jeff Teague (who looked like he was headed to the All-Star Game earlier in the season, before coming back down to earth), and yes, Pero Antic and his ridiculous ability to stand at the three point line and wait (easily one of the best three point campers of our generation. Right up there with Steve Novak and Kyle Korver), Atlanta outplayed their 38-44 record.

Antic's role will be decreased this year, because, as people may have forgotten, the Hawks have a great new addition: Al Horford. Prior to going down with a season-ending injury in December, Horford was having the best offensive season of his career, scoring 18.6 points per game. He and Millsap were playing off each other very well, as they are both very good passers for their position. Having him return to this roster for a full season is a huge factor. This year, they'll be in the playoff hunt again, but deservedly so this time around. 

The Wizards, who looked primed for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals before collapsing on multiple occasions against the Pacers in the second round, have upgraded at small forward in a big way. While allowing Trevor Ariza to walk to the Houston Rockets (I will finally get to them later), Washington scooped up Paul Pierce as a replacement. With John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, and Marcin Gortat and Nene in the frontcourt, Pierce don't be asked to do too much on this team. In Brooklyn, due to Brook Lopez's injury, Deron Williams's inefficiency, Kevin Garnett's advancing age and Joe Johnson being Joe Johnson, Pierce was forced to carry the team too often. With his new team, he'll be allowed to simply be to wily veteran who can shoot, and save his energy for the end of games, at which point he can take over if necessary. This acquisition may turn out to be a lot more important than it seems right now.

While LeBron and his team may be the class of the East in the end, the general quality of the competition has greatly improved, so it will be harder for him to make it out of the conference unscathed for the fifth year in a row. In fact, let's take a quick look at how the Eastern conference will play out this year. Obviously, this will be a very, very, very preliminary preview. It's only a thought exercise, just to illustrate my point that all of a sudden, the East looks to be a bit crowded. By the end of the season, it looks like the playoff seeds will look something like:
  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Chicago Bulls
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Miami Heat
  6. Indiana Pacers
  7. Charlotte Hornets
  8. Atlanta Hawks
See? I mentioned the improvements the Knicks have made, and they didn't crack my top 8. Neither did the Brooklyn Nets, who will be negatively affected by the losses of not only Pierce, but Shaun Livingston.  I like the idea of the Pistons making the playoffs, but they've wasted their time this offseason with an avalanche of average bench scorers that probably won't fit well together.

Everyone should be expecting the Cavs to make it out of the East, even with the higher quality competition. 

But, what about the Western Conference? The deal between the Cavs and LeBron also had a profound effect on the other half of the league.

It would be best to start with the Houston Rockets, who basically changed their entire conference with a few mistakes in the wake of LeBron's decision. As mentioned above, they had been courting Chris Bosh for the past week. There was a belief amongst many that should LeBron return home, Bosh would bolt for a better situation in Houston. But, like I said, he chose the money and stayed in Miami. Again, I don't blame him, but it would have been really fun to see him play for the Rockets.

Unfortunately for Daryl Morey and the Rockets, they were very certain that Bosh would join their team. Once the world was informed LeBron's next destination, they worked quickly to bang out a trade that sent Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers along with a first round pick for cap space and a trade exception, because they needed to clear out room in order to sign Chris Bosh. Well, as we already know, that didn't happen. Earlier in the summer, they shipped Omer Asik to New Orleans. This was a move to clear cap space, but it also served other purposes as it allowed the Rockets to receive a first round pick, and clear up one of the more awkward situations in the NBA: unhappy Asik playing for the Rockets. Still, that trade was done in a hurry in order to gain some flexibility for this summer. They may have been able to get a bit more from another team.

So, not only did they forfeit Lin, and a little bit of the Asik return they may have gotten from another team, they lost Chandler Parsons in this entire fiasco. The plan was to let Chandler Parsons become a free agent a year early, and use his Bird Rights to go over the salary cap to sign him. This would have allowed the Rockets not only to grab a superstar in free agency, but also to lock up Parsons long term, without a headache. If they chose to keep him around next year under his existing contract, he would have made less than $1 million in salary. But, their plan backfired, as he gained interest from other teams. For some reason, I guess this didn't dawn on Rockets management, as they thought they'd be able to keep their man without a problem. Instead, Parsons received an offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks worth $46 million over three years, much more than the Rockets had planned to give him initially.

Now, things have gotten interesting. They've lost out on all the biggest names in free agency, and, in the process, ignored Parsons long enough that he accepted a large contract from the Mavericks. That deal was just too big for Morey to swallow, so he decided not to match it, and suddenly, Chandler Parsons is a Mav. In the meantime, Houston still needed a small forward, so they went out and overpaid for a former Rocket, Trevor Ariza. Not only is he older than Parsons, he's not as good. I much rather would have overpaid Parsons and dealt with his very large contract than overpay Ariza, even though he'll be making about $7 million less per year than Parsons. Parsons's upside is worth the lack of cap space. It's not like the Rockets could have used that cap space for anything this year. Sure, it would be great if they signed Kevin Love next year, but he's most likely going to be traded prior to hitting the free agent market, and the Rockets don't have enough assets to entice Minnesota.

It was a valiant effort for Morey, but he completely struck out this offseason. He easily could have kept Lin and Parsons, and added a few smaller pieces to add to a roster that looked like a championship contender at times last year. But instead, he went all out for a star player, missed, lost both of those key pieces, and got Trevor Ariza. It's going to be very hard for the Rockets to recover from those mistakes.

Not only did LeBron James change the face of the Eastern Conference, and shifted the scales from Miami to Cleveland, he made Daryl Morey look like a complete fool.

What's next for Parsons?  He joins a Mavericks team that just gave away multiple assets to Phil Jackson in order to take on two bad contracts in Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. This was also a Mavericks team who inexplicably took the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in their first round series. Last season's Mavericks will be a lot different than this season's but not really. There will be a lot of turnover with the roster, but generally, it's more of the same. The best case scenario is that Dirk Nowitzki helps Chandler Parsons grow into an All-Star level, which he is certainly capable of. Along with Dirk Nowitzki's legendary mid-to-long range shooting, both Parsons and Monta Ellis can shoot and drive to the rim, allowing for many drive and kick opportunities. A lot of Dallas's success in 2014 came from the fact that Ellis went to the rim hard on possession after possession, and was able to put the ball into the hoop, or the ball would make its way out to Dirk. Parsons can not only a very effective catch and shoot guy, shooting 41.2% in such situations last season, which provides another option alongside Dirk for the inside-outside game, but he can be the facilitator in that scenario as well.

Where Dallas's problems lie are at point guard, where they suffered a significant downgrade, and on the bench, now that Vince Carter is headed to Memphis, and it looks like Shawn Marion is headed elsewhere. Jose Calderon is worlds better than Raymond Felton, which us Knicks fans will see in action as the season unfolds. Signing Richard Jefferson won't make up for the fact that Carter, possibly Marion, Wayne Ellington, and Shane Larkin are all no longer in Dallas.

But what about poor Jeremy Lin? As soon as LeBron James made his decision, he was pushed out of Houston in what ended up being a futile attempt at signing Bosh. Now, he's in Los Angeles, playing with Kobe Bryant, who I'm sure still hasn't forgotten about this performance:

 

Not only was Lin torching Kobe's team, two boys from my school held up this sign, literally giving Lin an edited version of Kobe's nickname. 

Photo from hoopdiary.com
Everyone talks about Kobe's insane competitiveness and drive, so there's absolutely no chance he's forgotten about that game. 

I'll give a quick prediction for how the Western Conference will play out in the wake of LeBron James's decision, only because I did it for the East. While I think that the East is suddenly crowded (knock on wood), the West is obviously still the better of the two conferences. 
  1. San Antonio Spurs Until Further Notice
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. Los Angeles Clippers
  4. Golden State Warriors
  5. Portland Trail Blazers
  6. Memphis Grizzlies
  7. New Orleans Pelicans
  8. Houston Rockets
I really want to put the Phoenix Suns in there as well, but not after they lost Channing Frye to the Magic. Also, I'm still working under the assumption that Bledsoe is a complete goner. 

So, there you have it. With an Instagram post and a bit.ly link, LeBron James altered the direction of the NBA. Instead of living in a world featuring a re-tooled but aging Heat competing for supremacy in the East, James joined a more raw group of players in Cleveland. Guys who are still growing. Together, they can dominate the league for years to come. 

And in response, the rest of the league began to make moves. Teams added players in order to put themselves in a better position to counteract the new beast that has been formed in Ohio.

With the anticipation leading up to his Decision, and the immediate aftermath, what we had known for years was confirmed once again; this is LeBron James's league. With a new team and a new situation, it will be interesting to see how he fares initially. He's looking to cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to have ever lived. The sky's the limit for him, and by the time he's finished, the comparisons to Michael Jordan won't be met with such vitriol from the people who watched His Airness play. And he's chosen to return home to accomplish his goal of being the best ever. The quest will begin this fall. He already had two championships under his belt, but with a few more, he would officially launch himself into the stratosphere. He's not Jordan. He will never be Jordan. There will never be another Jordan. But he can be the best LeBron possible. I just don't like comparing the two because they're different sizes, and play different positions, and played in different eras. He may be better in the end, but at that point it's just personal preference. But no matter what, soon, he and Jordan can be considered far and away the best two players to have ever lived, without discussion. He has the ability and the help to make it happen. It won't be easy, especially with every other team in the NBA watching out for his Cavs, but LeBron has the drive and the talent to make it happen. 

Contract details courtesy of Hoops Hype and ESPN.

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