It seems BF management and I are sharing brainwaves. My apologies for duplicating Prada's work. This is what I get for not checking the site at my day job.
After the Wiz creamed Chicago and then maimed Indiana, I started to think about the team's future in a vacuum. I nearly convinced myself that no matter what steps Ted and Ernie take this summer, the Wizards will be good next season.
The Eastern Conference lends itself to this sort of thinking. Everybody knows the disparity by now: In the West, our one and two seeds would've ranked fourth and fifth; seeds 3-8 wouldn't have made the playoffs. A fan more prideful than me might feel ashamed of the apparent lack of talent, management, and coaching that's plaguing the East right now, but I gotta say, making it to the postseason felt good. And if your team sucked this season? Well, it helps to remember that making the playoffs in our conference is the equivalent of winning a water-treading contest: You just have to avoid drowning. Hell, the Hawks basically tried treading with one arm, swallowed half a gallon of diarrhea pool water, then took the one-seeded Pacers to seven games.
So when the Bullets Forever crowd started talking about what to do this summer, I figured it didn't matter too much. Short of trading Bradley Beal and John Wall for Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings (these trades would not actually even work!), of course we'll be good next year. Spend big on a free agent? Cool. Keep Ariza and Gortat and watch the Gortat-Wall PNR blossom next year? Cool. Re-sign Booker? Cool. Let Booker walk? Cool. Develop Otto Porter into something other than a "third round draft pick" so that we don't have so much money tied up in small forwards? That would totally be cool. This is the East! We can't lose (again)!
But then it hit me: What if the East is less bad next year? What if the pendulum starts to swing back toward quality, and we're not a lock for the playoffs? What if the decisions made this summer will echo for all eternity?
That got me thinking about what our conference might look like next year. Bear with me as I speculate.
TEAMS THAT WILL LIKELY STAY FRESH IN 2014-2015
Indiana: This summer will no doubt be interesting and dramatic, but let's be conservative and say they only a) re-sign Lance, b) learn a few offensive schemes, and c) figure out what to do with Roy Hibbert. That's enough to make the postseason, IMO. And if they can't afford to keep Lance, maybe they pick up a traditional point guard to cover his distribution and scoring. Either way, do they really miss the postseason in 2014-2015?
Miami: The big three may go their separate ways, but if they don't: D-Wade does another maintenance program, Ray Allen and Shane Battier are replaced, Miami keeps killing. (If they do go their separate ways? IDK. I just DK.)
Toronto: Lowry stays, DeRozan improves his accuracy, Valančiūnas grows. Without that awkward Rudy Gay period, the Raps win 50+ games.
Chicago: Let's be charitable and say Derrick Rose comes back and plays at least half the season (even though he has played roughly half a season's worth of games in the past three years combined). A healthy him + (Noah + Gibson) = very pleasant basketball. (They might also amnesty Boozer and recruit a star, in which case aslkjdlksdlkasldka)
Washington: Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, Gortat (or some combination thereof) gave the Wiz a winning record for the first time in a long time. Do we trade some of that talent for MOAR talent, and win MOAR games? IDK. That's what this post is about!
Charlotte: Solid defensive team that's looking to add three-point power. And if they land a three point shooter who can play defense, a la A-Aron Afflalo? Watch out, now, ya might get stung! (Because they are the Hornets again.)
TEAMS THAT TOOK A TEMPORARY BREAK FROM FRESHNESS IN 2013-2014
Atlanta: They went 16-13 through game 29, when they lost big man Al Horford to a pec tear. They were 22-31 on the rest of the season. Horford comes back, Atlanta comes back. BET ON IT. (Also, Young Emoji!)
TEAMS THAT ARE GONNA WILT
Brooklyn: Yeah, Brooklyn and its bizarro small-ball lineups can probably keep winning, but their success is contingent on 1.) re-signing ever-reliable jack-of-all-trades Shaun Livingston, who's due a big payday this summer, and 2.) maintaining the bodies of a 36-year-old small forward, a 32-year-old shooting guard, a 38-year-old center, and a 29-year-old point guard with the attitude of a teenager and the ankles of a retiree.
TEAMS THAT ARE BASICALLY COMPOST HEAPS, AND THUS CAN ONLY GET BETTER
Orlando: The Magic are not going to scare anyone next year, but just you wait. Vučević is 23, Oladipo is 22, and Tobias Harris is 21. With the 4th overall pick this year, they will probably draft Dante Exum, who is allegedly 18, and then God knows who else (they have many picks). Give 'em a year or two, plus a big UFA signing down the road, and this is the kind of team the Wizards should be thinking/nightmaring about when they do business this summer and next.
Philadelphia: See above. They might not be good next year, but it's hard to imagine them being worse than they were this year, and it's even harder to imagine them not being much better two years from now. MCW, Nerlens Noel, Jabari Parker, and several other talents from this year's draft, with Thad Young providing that veteran leadership, means two years from now the league laughing stock could be the league terror.
Milwaukee: So entertaining, and yet so bad. But lots of potential! John Henson and Brandon Knight are not awful, and everybody seems to think the Greek Freak could be really good down the road. With the second pick in this draft and a mature Larry Sanders (snort) this team could really go places! But probably not next year.
Boston: The Celtics are a weird mix of old and young, good and bad. Is a rehabilitated 28-year-old Rajon Rondo the kind of player you can build a championship team around? Boston has the picks to find out. Or they could trade those picks (and players) for stars in their prime, in an attempt to replicate Miami 2010. Either way, we shouldn't fear them next year. But the year after? Probably.
THE X FACTORS
Cleveland: And the Lord said, "Here ya go, dummies. Try not to screw it up this time." Seriously. The Cavs have Kyrie Irving and another number one pick in a loaded draft. If they don't make the playoffs next season, either with Kyrie + Embiid/Wiggins or Kyrie + a veteran star, it is because God actually hates them.
New York: Here's what happened in NY this year: Carmelo Anthony turned 30, Amar'e Stoudemire got paid $21.6 million, and Raymond Felton started 65 games. How could the Knicks possibly be an X factor next year? They call him Phil Jackson. Listen, I don't think the guy has mystical powers, but I do think he understands the irreparable damage it will do to his legacy if New York has another joke of a season. Something will happen to the Knicks; something that could make them good. (Or not.)
Detroit: Problems: Too many bigs, a shoot-first point guard who makes Jason Kidd look like Hawkeye, and more personnel turnover than a truck-stop nudie bar. Solution: Stan Van Gundy. Can he make Josh Smith attempt fewer threes? Figure out which big to get rid of? Convince Brandon Jennings to pass more and shoot less? Only time will tell. But I'm betting he does something. And it's not like Detroit has a talent problem, just a judgement problem.
If you've made it this far, God love ya. In conclusion, the killer was Professor Miller in the library with an eight ball tucked in a tube sock.
TL;DR: This was a watershed year in terms of the East looking like garbage, and every coach, player, fan and front office realized it. The conference has nowhere to go but up (unless you are Brooklyn, in which case you are worm food). Orlando, Philly and Boston will likely be problems next year, and contenders two years from now (Milwaukee might be too). Cleveland, Detroit and New York, now that they're under new management, could very well be better tomorrow. There are no guarantees in life--even taxes and death are negotiable. We must continue to #prayfornene, and make smart moves this off-season.