After Warriors, Cavs dominated, which teams are on the way up and down
August 01, 2017 3:06 AM
by Tony Mejia
Football is still king, but pro basketball has steadily closed the gap and had itself a great month given all the drama that materialized. We’ve talked odds over the past few weeks and will shift to college football in this spot until November, but we’ll enter August by crowning the past month’s biggest winners and losers.
Golden State: The Warriors won a title and threw a parade in June, but the shadow they managed to cast in occupying the thoughts of everyone else around the league in July was probably even more rewarding. Steph Curry had fun at LeBron James’ expense, Kevin Durant trolled his Twitter followers and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson spanned the globe and were seemingly everywhere. The front office shined by re-signing Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West and JaVale McGee in addition to free agent shooters Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They landed Oregon big men Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher to develop as rookies. The execution was flawless, which is why they closed as 5-to-11 (-220) favorites at Westgate to win a championship for the third time in four years.
Minnesota: Relevance is a beautiful thing, so landing Jimmy Butler for young guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn is right up there as perhaps the top move of this offseason. Veterans Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford come on board to help support a promising “big three” featuring Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Although Ricky Rubio improved over the years, he never achieved the level of stardom predicted for him and should see his production replaced now that he’s with Utah. The Timberwolves opened at 100-to-1 (+10000) on June 24 and are now at 40-to-1 (+4000)
Oklahoma City: Landing Paul George was brilliant. Although a one-year rental is certainly a gamble, the presence of another All-Star ensures that one of Russell Westbrook’s prime years won’t be wasted like it was last season when his supporting cast failed to step up in helping him get out of the first round. In terms of risk-reward, losing Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis wouldn’t be crippling, so given the possibility George enjoys his stay enough to remain in town, it was a no-brainer.
Boston: Despite not landing Butler or George, the Celtics still improved significantly in prying top wing Gordon Hayward away from Utah. Danny Ainge turned not being enamored with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz into another future first-rounder that only cost him two spots, allowing him to draft slick forward Jayson Tatum out of Duke. Although they had to move valuable guard Avery Bradley in addition to key rotation guys like Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and Amir Johnson, the addition of Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes from Detroit mean the team is fine, depth-wise. There are still enough assets in place to make another major splash, which combined with Cleveland’s potential collapse, leaves Boston sitting pretty in the East.
Sacramento: The Kings were one of three teams (Brooklyn, Orlando) that opened as 1,000-to-1 longshots to win it all, which was frankly generous given the outlook for this franchise after dealing DeMarcus Cousins and coming away with less than they hoped. Even though I’m not big on Buddy Hield, the fact Sacramento has surrounded him with a pair of talented point guards in free agent acquisition George Hill and first-round pick De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky puts the team in great hands going forward. Veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter will help establish a more professional tone for the young guys. Great upside.
Cleveland: An acrimonious offseason has turned things upside down for the Cavs, who never anticipated Kyrie Irving was so unhappy he’d issue a trade demand. Although the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs remain the betting favorite (4-to-7, -175) to reach the Finals again, they have some egos to manage and potentially, some chemistry issues to iron out if a major move is made. Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon have come on board as reinforcements, which would be more appealing if this were 2011 and not 2017.
L.A. Clippers: Although Chris Paul announcing his intentions to leave for Houston allowed them to get something for him, the days of this group being taken seriously as a contender are temporarily on pause. The Clips went from 20-to-1 to 50-to-1 to get out of the West and are now 100-to-1 to win it all, territory that the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Pelicans occupy. While Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and, yes, Austin Rivers stayed put, no team will have more new faces than this one when training camp rolls around. Key addition Danilo Gallinari broke his hand punching a Dutch player in a European exhibition game, while the new faces from the Rockets have to be counted on to hit the ground running.
Atlanta: The Hawks made the conscious effort to press the reset button, practically giving away Dwight Howard and letting Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway, Jr. walk in financially responsible decisions that should bode well for the future but do little to keep the franchise in contention. Dennis Schroder becomes the face of the team, which will employ a youth movement and likely bring up the rear in the Eastern Conference.
Indiana: Oladipo and Sabonis are going to be better for the Pacers than most currently believe, but not getting more for George stings. Indiana will build around Myles Turner while hoping returning to the Hoosier state can help Oladipo blossom into the gem he’s occasionally shown glimpses of becoming. Picking up Cory Joseph and Darren Collison to run the point means Oladipo and the mercurial Lance Stephenson will be given every chance to play catalyst. The results: Interesting.
Utah: There’s still a lot of talent in place and Rubio, Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha and promising rookie Donovan Mitchell coming on board should keep them in playoff contention, but the fact remains they lost their top scorer and primary catalyst without getting anything in return.