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West continues to add firepower in NBA free agency while East stands still

West continues to add firepower in NBA free agency while East stands still

The Golden State Warriors are going to remain intact to make another run at an NBA title after retaining a supporting cast of David West, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala in free agency and locking up Steph Curry long-term.

The Western Conference could end up stronger than it was in 2015 when the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to make the playoffs despite 45 wins. By comparison, that win total would've gotten an Eastern Conference team a No. 5 seed in the 2016-17 season.

The biggest moves at the June 22 draft shifted assets to the West. Since free agency opened Saturday, the same has transpired.

Three of the best two-way players in the NBA, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap, have gone from East to West. Butler was shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that could help bring up the bottom of the conference and qualify for the postseason for the first time in 14 years. 

[RELATED: What Porter signing max offer sheet with Kings means]

In part, because Indiana Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard doesn't believe in trading a game-changer such as George in his own conference, the Thunder look like a team that'll go beyond the first round and bring up the middle after landing George. And the Denver Nuggets are in prime position to move into a playoff spot, too, after missing the last four postseasons. They were 40-42 and finished one spot out of the playoffs, but now have Millsap on their side.

The Houston Rockets got even better after their addition of Chris Paul. They just secured P.J. Tucker, a big, physical wing defender, from the East's Toronto Raptors.

Because of salary cap constraints, the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 4 Wizards haven't been able to do much. The Boston Celtics had the best shot at George but couldn't make that happen. The best the No. 3 seed Toronto Raptors could do is re-sign two players who could be past their best in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.

The Sacramento Kings have agreed to a max offer sheet with restricted free agent Otto Porter and the Wizards will have 48 hours to match when the moratorium is lifted July 6. They''re expected to do so, but if not Porter could help make the Kings a legitimate playoff team for the first time since 2006. Even without Porter, the offseason moves and draft picks they've made have given them promise as it is. 

[RELATED: Wizards' deal with Meeks offers big upside]

Even if Gordon Hayward chooses to sign with the Miami Heat or Celtics, that won't be nearly enough to offset an offseason of imbalance. If he opts to stay with the 51-win Utah Jazz, that'll just be one more landmine in the West.

It's still tough to imagine the Warriors not repeating, but their road through an 82-game regular season will be much rougher. And if they have an injury or slip up, there could be viable replacements.

Last season's East playoff teams such as the Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks have taken major steps backward. The only conference team that has made significant, possibly game-changing shakeups is the Philadelphia 76ers. They finished 15th of 16 teams and should vault into the playoff picture.

Still, the Sixers have a lot of question marks in terms of the health of their starters and rookie Markelle Fultz. They're not going to be good enough to create a power shift in the conference just yet, but they're in a great spot.

The 2018 NBA Finals could turn into an anticlimactic consolation matchup, with the series between the best teams actually taking place in the West finals. The top of the East appears to just be treading water, which basically means its falling farther behind.

[RELATED: Wizards add guard to mini-camp roster]

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Former Wizard Jared Dudley: Time for a Wizards shake-up

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Former Wizard Jared Dudley: Time for a Wizards shake-up

Jared Dudley spent one season with the Washington Wizards. The core pieces on the current roster were there during that 2015-16 campaign. Based on that prior experience and a first-hand look Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets forward offered a candid assessment of the 5-10 squad. 

"I’m seeing a team that has been together too long,” Dudley told NBC Sports Washington following the Wizards’ 115-104 home loss. “They haven’t made progress, so it’s time to change things over there.”

John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter were teammates of Dudley for a full season. Markieff Morris joined the roster at the 2016 trade deadline. Washington failed to make the playoffs that season, but qualified in each of the next two and has reached the postseason in four of the five last years. 

The Wizards did not advance beyond the second round during any of those postseason appearances and lost in the first round last season after a 43-39 regular season. Following a 2-9 start, Washington won three in a row before falling to a scrappy Nets team that lost leading scorer Caris Levert earlier in the week to a gruesome ankle injury.

Dudley started and played 22 minutes in Brooklyn's win. The 12-year veteran's opinion on Washington included suggestions like extended use of a small-ball lineup. 

“I think (they have) good players, but sometimes, good players need different situations. For them, I think that it’s tough the way the league is changing. They play two bigs,” Dudley said about the combination of power forward Markieff Morris and center Dwight Howard. “In this day in age, Otto needs to play more four because he’s tall enough, more spacing.”

Facing a Brooklyn defense that leads the league in opponent mid-range shots, Washington often settled for such looks. The Wizards attempted a season-low 18 three-point attempts. 

The NBA rumor mill continually attempts to plot a new course for the Wizards. New York Times NBA insider Marc Stein reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves tried to “engage” Washington in trade talks for Jimmy Butler before shipping the All-Star guard to Philadelphia. “But the Wizards have kept Beal off limits amid their 4-9 start,” Stein reported earlier this week. “They would naturally prefer to trade the struggling Otto Porter, or perhaps even John Wall, but both possess hard-to-move contracts.”

Dudley sees the logic of moving at least one of those three players.

“I think they’ve had enough time, but they really haven’t (broken) through,” Dudley said. “I can see by the All-Star break or summer time one of these pieces moving. It’s going to be good for them. If it’s John, or Otto or Brad, one of them three, I think their next move is going to be good for both teams."
 

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Kelly Oubre Jr. is ready to 'take over the world' with new Converse shoe deal

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Kelly Oubre Jr. is ready to 'take over the world' with new Converse shoe deal

Kelly Oubre Jr. takes his style very seriously, perhaps to a point even further than the most fashionable of NBA players. He wants to be a figure in the industry someday as a designer of his own shoes and clothing line.

So when he approached the process of brokering a new shoe contract, he took into consideration factors that went well beyond the average player and outside of the mainstream. He wanted more than a basketball shoe. He wanted a lifestyle brand and a partnership that wasn't solely about basketball.

Oubre left Adidas to sign a new mutli-year deal this week with Nike and Converse. He will wear Nike shoes in the meantime, until a concept made by Converse is ready for game action. Then, he will become the only NBA player to wear the brand on the floor.

"Everyone knows me and I'm a different individual," he said. "Converse is reinventing themselves in the basketball world. I will be the only athlete this year flying the flag. I'm very excited to be able to represent."

Converse has a history in the game of basketball, of course. Before Nike and Adidas took over, Converse was the dominant brand for most of the 20th century, up until the 1980s. Their Chuck Taylor All Stars maintain a legacy today in the casual shoe market.

The deep basketball history of Converse appealed to Oubre.

"It's old school. It started with basketball, then it went to the rock stage, then it went to people wearing them without any thought to what the foundation of the brand was," he said.

Oubre said there is no release date yet for the new-age Converse basketball shoe. He expects to have some input on the design of future shoes and said it's part of why he chose them.

Oubre plans to begin his own clothing line at some point with the working title of 'Dope Soul.' He told NBC Sports Washington on Friday that it is "coming soon," but couldn't provide any further details. 

Oubre had restrictions under his previous contract with Adidas and had been looking forward to finding a new deal that would allow for such things. It sounds like he may be afforded that freedom.

For now, with Converse, Oubre is excited to chart a new path with an unconventional company.

"You can't really define Converse because we've done everything and we're about to take over the world," he said.