Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "won" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.
Mark Strotman: Well, Vinnie, the Tigers completed their fire sale more than a month ago and the Brewers haven't been fewer than 10 games under .500 since May 11. I'd say baseball season has been done for quite awhile - we can get into Packers-Lions later - for the both of us, meaning basketball season is arriving at the perfect time. The Bulls will kick off their annual media day in less than three weeks and in less than a month will take the United Center floor for the first time since Matthew Dellavedova outplayed Derrick Rose in Game 6 (That's the last Delly reference, so just breathe).
But before we discuss Fred Hoiberg's group and its expectations, let's backtrack a bit and discuss this offseason's winners. The consensus is that the Spurs were the clear victors - it's about time something went that franchise's way - signing prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge while also maxing out Kawhi Leonard and getting David West to sign a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are back for one more run on team-friendly deals, and re-signing Danny Green (4 years, $40 million) was subtly a really important move and great value for a 28-year-old 3-and-D shooting guard.
Given the Warriors didn't lose anything this offseason it's tough to call the Spurs the favorites, but this summer couldn't have gone any better for San Antonio - they even won the Summer League championship led by Becky Hammon, which was all sorts of awesome. Having the game's best coach score the league's best offseason? Well, Pop, in the words of a teary-eyed Terrell Owens, 'It's really unfair.'
Vincent Goodwill: Well considering the Bears only exist in my world as entertainment for Jay Cutler’s underachievement, I can remove my “Lions free” tag for two weeks every fall (which I’m sure endears me more to Chicago sports fans). And while I don’t disagree with you about the Spurs winning the offseason, heck, they changed not only the makeup of their team but also became much more dynamic by signing Aldridge and keeping Leonard on an expected max extension, I still have my doubts about the backcourt, sans Leonard.
The one team that had to win the offseason for the future of its franchise did so, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Scott Brooks was a good coach for a team in the embryonic stage, but the Thunder have evolved well past the labor pains. They’re ready to have the baby, thus the hiring of former Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was well-regarded in NBA circles before now.
They have the deepest roster in the league, with rotating bigs, shooters and guys waiting to fill a role. Oh, and if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook come back completely healthy and stay that way? The championship road goes through Oklahoma City and Golden State in the Western Conference. Yes, they overpaid for restricted free agent Enes Kanter (but who doesn’t with the way the cap is rising?), but they can play anywhere between nine and 11(!) guys in a rotation on a given night without losing much.
While the Spurs have just shored up their future by signing Aldridge, the Thunder franchise is doing everything it can to keep Durant happy, as the clock on his free agency is ticking louder and louder. From here, if Durant’s foot problems are behind him, this could be a revenge year from the 2014 MVP. That would make Pop and the Spurs cry.
MS: Speaking of Oklahoma City, another small-market team that’s building toward something in a similar fashion is the Milwaukee Bucks. While one of Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez would’ve been ideal, the Greg Monroe signing is a perfect fit; Monroe’s strengths (post scoring) will be magnified in Milwaukee, and his weaknesses (rim protection) will be covered up by a host of long, active defenders. I thought it was the best fit of any player who signed this offseason, schematically. GM John Hammond moved quickly to re-sign Khris Middleton, who is still just 24 years old - or 23 months younger than Jimmy Butler.
The Bucks will “get back” Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick who was limited to 25 games in his rookie season after tearing his ACL, and though the Bucks will handle him with extreme caution, he’s going to be a contributor on a Bucks team that averaged fewer than 98 points a year ago. Add Chris Copeland to the forward mix, trading for Greivis Vasquez and the simple fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be five months older and five months better and you’re looking at a Bucks team that could challenge for a top-4 spot in the East. And while that’s not saying a whole lot, we’re talking about a team that won 15 games two years ago. Jason Kidd and Hammond deserve to be applauded. The Bucks didn’t get the sexy names in free agency. They got the right ones.
VG: I see you’re going with teams with new additions developing new traditions, and I’ve long been a fan of what the Bucks are doing with their youth along with adding Greg Monroe. Them going six games with the Bulls in the playoffs will give them much-needed positive reinforcement, as the Bulls will have to deal with that monster this season.
But I like continuity, so the Miami Heat—yes the LeBron James-less Heat—will be a team to watch this season. They get Chris Bosh back from that mysterious injury that caused him to miss the last half of the year, with a healthy Goran Dragic and a still formidable Dwyane Wade for at least 50 games (assumedly). Hassan Whiteside is a young force whose only vice is consistency but as Bulls fans know, he can swat everything in sight and lock in for an entire game.
They’ve quietly added Amare Stoudemire, who certainly isn’t a difference maker but will help you several nights during the season as a reserve when he turns back the clock on those creaky knees. They signed Gerald Green for the league minimum, a coup for Heat boss Pat Riley, who clearly wants one more shot at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to play in the NBA Finals.
If—and it’s a big “if”—the Heat are relatively healthy, they’ll be a team nobody wants to see. They still need perimeter shooting, and one has to worry about the “Thibs” miles Luol Deng has on his body, but in-season upgrades are always available for purchase. Playing in June is still a dream, but they want to make May a nightmare for the Cavs, Bulls and any other conference contender.