Early Predictions for Minnesota Timberwolves’ Starting Lineup Next Season

With Kevin Love officially traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports), the Minnesota Timberwolves will have a very different starting five than in years past.  

Many new faces will be donning the blue and green this upcoming fall.  Most of these new additions are unproven players with very high ceilings, such as Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett.

However, the Timberwolves also have solid veterans such as Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and the recently added Thaddeus Young.   

Coach Flip Saunders will have to choose between playing veterans to win now or prepare for the future by playing the youngsters.  

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Toronto Raptors Next Season

The 2014-15 regular season for the Toronto Raptors will be used as a means to not only build on their incredible success from a year prior, but to also silence any doubters who believe their rags-to-riches turnaround was merely an apparition. 

Coming within one Kyle Lowry layup of the second round of the NBA playoffs has given the players a taste of the trials and tribulations that come with postseason basketball. Since it was only a small sample, the Raptors will take that experience as a motivating factor to not only qualify for the playoffs once again, but to advance even further and really make some noise. 

Forty-eight victories and the second Atlantic Division crown in franchise history were a pleasant surprise during a period where the team was set on a path of rebuilding and retooling. Trading Rudy Gay in a seven-player deal to the Sacramento Kings before the end of 2013 was a blessing in disguise as a 6-12 start miraculously turned into a 42-22 finish.

Opportunities opened up in Dwane Casey’s rotation for players to take on more responsibility and come into their own. DeMar DeRozan was named to his first NBA All-Star team, Lowry shed unflattering labels of being hard to work with to ultimately become team leader, while sophomores Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas earned extended minutes and more touches on the floor. 

ESPN.com doesn’t believe Toronto is a one-hit wonder, projecting the Raptors to finish with the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference (47-35) and the fifth-best odds to win the conference championship. 

That’s a fair and safe prediction considering the cataclysmic makeover the East endured in just a few short months.

LeBron James is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pau Gasol ditched the Staples Center to sign with the Chicago Bulls and Luol Deng joined Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in South Beach. The Indiana Pacers, the No. 1 seed in 2014, lost both Lance Stephenson (signed with the Charlotte Hornets) and Paul George (expected to miss entire 2014-15 season with lower right leg injury), creating space at the top for a new team to establish dominance. 

Will that team be the Raptors? Are they ready to plant their flag at the top of the mountain?

 

New Additions

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. 

In the case of general manager Masai Ujiri, his offseason was more about making sure the existing wheels didn’t roll off into the distance.

Bringing back Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez was a direct message to those who came out in the thousands at Jurassic Park during the Raptors’ playoff run that their favorites weren’t going anywhere.

Lowry gave credit to the fans in being a huge reason behind why he’s dedicating the next four years of his basketball life to the city of Toronto, per Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post

I knew the fans — during the regular season — how passionate they were. But when it came to the playoffs and they kicked it up an extra notch, it definitely helped in that decision. The fan base here is unbelievable. We need that every game.

The Raptors’ starting lineup remains untouched with Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas maintaining their respective roles. Joining them will be a slew of old friends, familiar faces and some upstart prospects.

Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan Terrence Ross  Amir Johnson  Jonas Valanciunas
Greivis Vasquez Lou Williams  James Johnson Patrick Patterson  Chuck Hayes
Will Cherry    Landry Fields  Tyler Hansbrough  Lucas Nogueira 
      Bruno Caboclo   

Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira were acquired from the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for John Salmons.

What Williams provides is instant scoring off the bench and the ability to play either guard position. He’s more adept at putting the ball in the basket than being a distributor (career average of 3.1 assists), so it’s almost safe to assume that Vasquez will remain the facilitator for the second unit while Williams gets the green light to shoot from the sidelines. 

Nogeuira is a project and will have a difficult time earning playing time over his larger and more skilled teammates. Just be sure to avoid sitting behind him with courtside seats, though. That hair isn’t going anywhere. 

Speaking of projects, Bruno Caboclo will have just as many chances to learn through watching from the end of the bench with his fellow Brazilian. 

Taken with the No. 20 pick, Caboclo was hailed as the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla on draft night. He was also discussed as being “two years away from being two years away,” so there’s that. 

Averaging 11.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in four games at NBA Las Vegas Summer League, the 18-year-old swingman showed glimpses of being ready to contribute a lot sooner. The only problem is that minutes will be hard to come by at both small and power forward. There’s no need to be thrown to the wolves just yet.

One player who won’t need an adjustment period is James Johnson, a 6’9″ beast of a defender who’s ready to embark on his second stint with the team.

Johnson is well aware of how problematic his earlier years were, so this is his big chance to start fresh with an organization where his best basketball was played, per the Canadian Press (via CBC.ca): 

It never was bad, we had our bumps, but that’s war. It’s a war out there when we’re playing a game and sometimes you say stuff that you regret or you say stuff that you don’t really mean.

Dwane Casey is a great guy and I feel like he realizes that and we’ve moved forward from where we were at. We had a great conversation and I’m just ready to win and I know he is.

It was a crazy road for me, but you learn a lot throughout your mistakes. I felt like Masai [Ujiri] and the rest of the Toronto Raptors they felt the same way about the situation and feel the same way about my play and what I could bring to the team.

I still have a lot to prove, but [the Raptors] signing me for two years gives me a boost of confidence and I’m going to work my hardest to help us go further than we did last year.

 

Atlantic Division 

Should we pencil Toronto in for a second-straight Atlantic Division title now or later? Reader’s choice.

The Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are all that stands between the Raptors hoisting another banner up at the Air Canada Centre. 

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and company presented the Raptors with their biggest challenge, finishing four games back in the standings at 44-38 and beating Canada’s team in their best-of-seven series.

Former All-Star Brook Lopez will re-enter the fray at center after missing all but 17 games with a foot injury. Jason Kidd’s coaching rights were sent packing to the Milwaukee Bucks, although the void he left allowed for a more experienced coach in Lionel Hollins to take over. 

With Paul Pierce now wearing America’s colors with the Washington Wizards and Kevin Garnett one step closer to retirement, Brooklyn’s championship window may be closed. They still possess a more than credible roster with many weapons at their disposal, but with so many changes both talent and personnel wise, it’s hard to imagine the Nets being any better than they were a year go.

Carmelo Anthony will be a New York Knick for the foreseeable future after re-signing for five more years, giving fans at Madison Square Garden a glimmer of hope.

Former Raptor Jose Calderon will join him in the starting lineup as his new point guard after coming over in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks. Reuniting Calderon with Andrea Bargnani, a former No. 1 overall pick for the Raptors, should create some nostalgia moments when the two teams cross paths. 

The passion Knicks supporters have for their franchise is unparalleled, but in a city where winning is everything, expectations are set far too high far too often. Team president Phil Jackson will need to lay more brick and mortar (and a little pixie dust) before the Larry O’Brien trophy comes to “The Big Apple.” 

The 76ers have no interest in winning games, nor should they. The plan remains to continue stockpiling assets through the draft while building around a foundation of Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.

Until the time comes where all of their young talent develops and consistently puts wins on the board, the 76ers will remain near the bottom of the food chain and pose no real threat to anyone. 

It ultimately comes down to the frontcourt of Noel and Embiid keeping a clean bill of health and the front office finding supporting characters who can assist Philadelphia’s stars of tomorrow. That’s not going to happen overnight, though. The process shall continue for at least another season or two, if not more. 

Until the future of four-time NBA All-Star Rajon Rondo is decided, it’s hard to describe the Celtics’ 2014-15 outlook. He’s the cog that makes their machine go. Marcus Smart, a 6’4″ guard out of Oklahoma State and the No. 6 pick in the NBA draft, will be handed the keys should Rondo be dealt, even with the obvious downgrade. 

Entering the final year of a five-year, $55 million extension he signed in 2009, Rondo’s days in Boston may be numbered. As the only star on the roster, he’s going to command a hefty price. It would be the final nail in the coffin of a core that won an NBA championship in 2008. 

Toronto’s 32-20 record in the division was six games better than both the Knicks and Nets, with the 76ers and Celtics being the proverbial whipping boys of the bunch.

There could be some surprises along the way in terms of the occasional upset here and there, but by mid-April, the Raptors will have their heads held high as they look down on their four Atlantic adversaries. 

 

Conclusion

Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Tyler Conway recently gave his impartial take on the Raptors’ roster and the ceiling they may have created for themselves:

Viewed through a purely objective prism, the Raptors have a bunch of dudes in that “pretty good” strata. They’re more than good enough to make the playoffs in the dumpster-dive East, but they profile as much more of a middling team than a true contender. 

Then again, there’s a credible counter argument to be made here. The Raptors ranked third in Eastern Conference scoring margin. Their Pythagorean wins-losses record would have been 51-31 or 52-30; Toronto was actually unlucky over the 82-game slate. Use data after the Gay trade, and this is a team that might have had 55 or so wins had Ujiri pulled the trigger earlier.

As far as DeRozan and Lowry have come and as bright as the future looks for both Ross and Valanciunas, an argument can be had over all four of those gentlemen lacking the star quality that makes great players elite and elite players larger than life. Where the true answer lies is on the players themselves. 

Then again, perhaps the Raptors are fine just the way they are. They’ve only scratched the surface in terms of what they can accomplish, having made the playoffs once in six years. Last year was a building block and a test of the players’ fortitude and desire for redemption. It was a fast-forward button icon on the blueprint to glory. 

We don’t know how good the Raptors can become until we see how they respond to the adversity they endured in Game 7 vs. Brooklyn. As heartbreaking a defeat as it was, that must be the last drop of fuel to the fire as they begin anew. 

They don’t have the sexy names or A-list stars, but what the Raptors do have is a core group of guys who will stick together and bust their tails night in and night out to achieve a common goal. 

Their win total won’t see a dramatic spike, but you’ll take it willingly as you gaze upon the landscape shift in the East. 

 

Prediction: 49-33, third in Eastern Conference

Best-Case Scenario: 53-29, second in Eastern Conference

Worst-Case Scenario: 40-42, eighth in Eastern Conference 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com

Christopher Walder is considered by many to be the “songbird of his generation” and the greatest center to have never played professional, collegiate, high school, house league or pickup basketball. His work has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, FanSided and several other online outlets. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports.

*Video courtesy of @limsaanity_

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Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

In today’s NBA, there is hardly a limited supply of talented point guards. 

Perhaps more so now than ever before, the league can boast remarkable depth at the position as well as incredible star power at the top. And of course, the San Antonio Spurs can claim both within their roster as well. 

The spotlight certainly falls on Tony Parker, a soon-to-be 14-year veteran who has played various roles within the organization since he was drafted in 2001. He provides the team with the superstar talent necessary to win titles, though the roster boasts plentiful depth behind him—another key given Parker’s age.

As a whole, the point guard rotation has consistently been one of the team’s strongest features, and following a strong 2013-14 campaign, there’s little reason to believe 2014-15 won’t follow suit.

 

Looking Back

As he does every year, Parker headlined the Spurs’ point guard corps with under-the-radar excellence—serving as the team’s alpha dog and primary orchestrator throughout its 2013-14 pursuit of a title.

Despite a significant drop from his 2012-13 MVP-caliber stat line—his scoring and assist averages dipped from 20.3 and 7.6 to 16.7 and 5.7, respectively—digging deeper, the Spurs’ lone 2014 All-Star showed little evidence of a decline.

His playing time took an expected hit, and his changing role within the offense—spurred on by the rapid development of Kawhi Leonard as both a scorer and a playmaker—had a noticeable effect on Parker’s numbers.

Even so, his shooting efficiency remained top-notch, hovering around the 50 percent mark throughout the season. His poise, leadership and overall ability to drive his team to success were unchanged, and his stats remained admirable given the circumstances.

But Parker, though the linchpin of the team’s backcourt, hardly ran a one-man show. In fact, given his preseason expectations, Parker wasn’t even San Antonio’s showstopper at the point guard position. That honor belongs to Patty Mills, the team’s resident towel waver-turned-bench spark, whose contributions proved essential from start to finish.

Though he isn’t quite the player Parker is, he shattered expectations from day one. After serving the previous year as a bench bookend, Mills entered camp slimmer, the first of many improvements that surrounded his 2013-14 campaign. 

He became one of the team’s most reliable three-point shooters and a leader in the second unit from the season’s start to his championship-clinching Game 5 performance, in which he contributed 17 points, including 14 in the third quarter. 

When tasked with a heavier workload midseason due to a Parker injury, Mills responded with the strongest month of his career, establishing himself not only as a capable reserve but also as an individual capable of carrying a team in the near future.

His breakout alone is worthy of endless praise, but given the continued excellence of Parker and the increased development of fourth-year Cory Joseph, the Spurs deserve the highest of honors when it comes to the point guard position throughout their championship season.

2013-14 Point Guard Grade for San Antonio: A

 

Offseason Developments

The 2014 offseason was filled with highs and lows for the San Antonio Spurs, and a fair share of both revolve around Mills.

After his impressive campaign, Mills—an unrestricted free agent—entered the summer with a handful of options. Numerous teams with greater needs for his services had the money available to outbid San Antonio, and there was chatter within NBA circles regarding the young man’s potential as a starter.

Fortunately, Mills ended up re-signing in San Antonio. However, the reunion is due in no small part to a shoulder injury that cost Mills both a few million dollars and the opportunity to explore a future as a starter elsewhere.

The injury will keep him sidelined for a projected six months, heartbreaking news for both Mills and the Spurs, who became reliant on his services off the bench.

Beyond Mills, San Antonio offered a partially guaranteed contract to undrafted point guard Bryce Cotton, who will compete in training camp for a two-year contract after an impressive Summer League outing with the Spurs. 

At 5’11”, Cotton is hardly an imposing threat. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in talent. His success in college led to unanimous inclusion on the All-Big East First Team.

A talented scorer, he’ll have the opportunity to translate his collegiate success into a professional setting as he attempts to secure a roster spot for the upcoming season. 

 

Looking Forward

Even with Mills sidelined, the 2014-15 NBA season won’t be too different for the San Antonio point guard crew. Parker will return to lead the team, though he’ll likely see his stats and playing time diminish, as coach Gregg Popovich conserves the health and energy of his veterans.

Additionally, an increased focus on Leonard should take a load off Parker’s shoulders as the small forward looks to build upon his Finals MVP-worthy playoff campaign.

Still, Parker will serve as the team’s offensive catalyst and a likely contender for the All-Star Game.

Backing him up will be Joseph, who will assume the lead reserve duties as Mills recovers. Joseph has manned the main backup role before and has done so well. He’s the team’s best defensive option at the 1, and his confidence running the floor allows for seamless transitions whenever Parker needs to catch a break.

Joseph, though still raw, has been improving annually, and many people, including Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon, are confident that Mills’ absence won’t prove too hard for a Spurs team knee-deep at the point guard position:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has adapted his schemes to match his team’s collective strengths; he only needs to tweak it for Joseph.

San Antonio should not skip a beat because the efficiency of the backup point guards was so similar, both offensively and defensively. 

After all, Pop captains a plug-and-play operation, inserting the next man up and getting results. Besides, the show must go on, and the franchise will undoubtedly survive an unfortunate injury to a significant piece.

And of course, once Mills returns, look for him to pick up right where he left off. Joseph—who has shined in the past when given the opportunity—may steal a few minutes should he take advantage of his upcoming increased role, though the big picture—as it relates to the Spurs’ collection of point guards—should look similar to 2013-14.

After a season in which it sported one of the greatest cohorts of floor leaders, San Antonio will look for a repeat, relying on a full recovery from Mills, consistent improvements from Joseph and perennial excellence from Parker. 

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James Harden Expects to See a ’20-Year-Old’ Kobe Bryant on the Court This Season

Everybody is curious to see how Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant plays this season after he has missed parts of the last two seasons with serious leg injuries. The Houston Rockets’ James Harden firmly believes that the Black Mamba will be ready to play when he steps onto the court.

The Lakers and the Rockets open the 2014-15 season against each other on Oct. 28 at the Staples Center. There is no doubt that all eyes will be on Bryant that night.

[ThePostGame, h/t LakersNation]

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Tickets for Cavs season opener are a tad bit expensive

It’s not a secret that LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers is going to be an economic dream for the city of Cleveland. But if you’re planning on attending his regular season home debut against the New York Knicks on October 30, you might want to start saving now.  Ticket information courtesy of Stubhub.com It doesn’t take a math major to draw a conclusion about cost here. We did the research and the cost of taking a family of four to Cleveland’s home opener is more than buying a nice little house in the city of Cleveland itself. On the off chance that you have over $90,000 to throw around for a 2.5 hour basketball game, you will obviously be treated to one of the best seats in literally the biggest sporting event in Cleveland since the Indians World Series appearance back in 1997. I don’t know about you, but I am feeling the house a little bit more at this point. Sorry, King James. Photo: SB Nation The post Tickets for Cavs Season Opener are a Tad Expensive appeared fi

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Breaking Down Orlando Magic’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?

Do they actually need to?

Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.

However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.

Players like Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris possess too much talent to lock them away behind a rigid system focused on two or three players to provide points.

To understand the importance of the Magic’s wing position, it’s probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.

 

Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14

Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.

The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.

He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.

Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.

In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.

Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.

Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.

 

Changes During the Offseason

The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.

Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye’s addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?

Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.

They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn’s system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.

The Magic’s No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6’9″, 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.

The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.

 

Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15

Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.

The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.

Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.

This brings us to the rookie.

Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.

The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.

Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.

His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can’t get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.

Likewise, if Ben Gordon can’t produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6’6″ athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.

Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.

Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.

One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.

The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo‘s departure, but Orlando’s fans don’t need to be concerned.

The young guns are ready to take over.

 

All stats and info taken from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless stated otherwise.

You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.

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Top 5 Reasons Why the Los Angeles Lakers Won’t Make the Playoffs This Season

Despite acquiring a few fresh faces this summer, the Los Angeles Lakers are not prepared to qualify for playoff contention. Whether it’s an inability to effectively defend opponents, the lack of a true starting-quality center or the presence of too many talented teams, the Lakers just don’t possess what it takes to make the postseason in 2014-15.

Five key reasons exist to explain this case. Each one holds the potential to impact Los Angeles’ performance as a whole, and the criteria are ranked in order of least influential to most influential.

Without further ado, let’s begin. 

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How Much Do Chicago Bulls Need from Pau Gasol Next Season?

Between both frontcourt positions, the Chicago Bulls have 96 minutes per game to distribute between Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol in their 2014-15 campaign.

How many of those minutes will go to Gasol?

The 34-year-old Spaniard, and two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, is undoubtedly one of the top post presences of his generation. But whether he should clock major minutes in his twilight stint with Chicago is a dubious question. More likely, he’ll become an invaluable role player, redefining himself in a fashion reminiscent of Ray Allen with the Miami Heat.

Like Allen, Gasol left his storied NBA franchise on questionable terms. Under-appreciated as part of the reign of Kobe Bryant, and misused through multiple coaching changes, Gasol’s got something to prove with the Bulls. “Instinct told me to pick Chicago,” he told the press at his introductory conference. He’s got more basketball life to live.

But his new mission shouldn’t involve the workload of a cornerstone. Gasol’s new job, if optimized, will make him into a kind of perfect basketball poison. Because he’s troubled by injuries—he missed 55 games combined over the past two years—and also plays with two elite defenders in Gibson and Noah, Gasol should be employed strategically. 

Twenty to 25 minutes per game should be enough time for Gasol to make his imprint, giving the Bulls another look with his dexterity in the lane and passing vision from the high post. Gasol can duplicate a lot of what Noah did as “point center” last year. Gasol and Noah, Bulls fans hope, can also converge as twin passing threats and find each other and cutting teammates at the rim.

They’ll have the chance to develop such chemistry, as Gasol is likely to start. Head coach Tom Thibodeau tends to give starting jobs on a basis of seniority whenever there’s a gray area. Gibson is arguably a better player at this point of his and Gasol’s respective careers. Gibson clocked a staggering 26.5 player efficiency rating in an increased role against the Washington Wizards in the postseason. He’s a remarkable player and is squarely in his prime.

But Thibodeau showed he’s respectful to tenure by starting Carlos Boozer over Gibson throughout 2013-14, during which Gibson was a vastly superior player. And Thibodeau may also be wise to mix and match his bigs so as to have one defensive-minded big next to a score-first man for most of the game.

In other words: Expect to see Gasol, a questionable defender as he ages, next to Gibson or Noah, while rarely sharing the floor with Mirotic. Thibodeau’s obsessive zeal for protecting the rim makes the Gasol-Mirotic combination a dim possibility. 

The Bulls need the extra punch Gasol brings on offense, but they’ll also be expecting a lot from him off the court. His experience and renowned, team-first attitude were big parts of Gasol’s appeal to Chicago. He enters a long-running cultural effort by the team—the Bulls are only interested in players eager to accept Thibodeau’s intense principles and tireless eye for X’s and O’s detail.

By bringing Gasol on board, the Bulls gain a personality who knows how to weather the harshest challenges of the NBA calendar and someone who’s happy to share his know-how with the rest of the roster. Mirotic learning under Gasol also bodes well for the Bulls’ future.

A fellow Spanish speaker, Mirotic will face rough lessons and a steep learning curve in his first year playing in the United States. A mobile, skilled power forward, Mirotic also falls in a similar category of player as Gasol. He stands to learn a lot as his understudy.

The Bulls got themselves a winner in Pau Gasol. He isn’t the same all-world player he was in his prime, but he’s still a singular character in the league. If Chicago manages his role just right, he could turn out to be their best acquisition in years. 

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Predicting the Roles and Impact of Each Detroit Pistons Newcomer This Season

This offseason the Detroit Pistons brought in six new players to fill a variety of roles, from starters to end-of-the-bench types.

New coach and team president Stan Van Gundy was aggressive in the free-agent market, finding players to address their biggest weakness in 2013-14: perimeter shooting. At a 32.1 percent mark from beyond the arc, only the Philadelphia 76ers were worse than the Pistons. As a coach who routinely played four perimeter threats at a time while with the Orlando Magic, Van Gundy made sure to address their shortcoming.

”From a skill standpoint on the perimeter, shooting was our primary focus, to the point that there really wasn’t anybody we were interested in that wasn’t a very good range shooter,” said Van Gundy to Yahoo. ”We really wanted to change that.”

The strength of the team is on the interior with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. The improved outside shooting should open more space for the three bigs to operate down low and minimize the frequency of opponents double-teaming them on the block.

Training camp will determine whether or not a couple of the signings find themselves in the starting lineup, but there’s no doubt that several of the new players—listed alphabetically—will play significant roles for the Pistons this season.

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Predicting the Most Improved NBA Teams for the Upcoming Season

The offseason has a funny way of establishing hope in even the most moribund NBA franchises.

It’s the time of year when “the roster looks great on paper!” becomes an operative phrase. It’s when best-case scenarios reign supreme and when most teams seem to have an easy route to a playoff spot or a 50-win season. (See: Anthony, Carmelo.)

Once the 2014-15 season actually begins, of course, a litany of injuries, boneheaded plays and soul-crushing last-second losses will damper much of that enthusiasm. The basketball gods are often cruel, fickle beasts.

A number of teams have legitimate reason to be thinking big this coming season, though. Thanks to some combination of internal improvement, external additions (via the draft, free agency or trades) and the weakening of divisional foes, these squads are poised to significantly improve upon their 2013-14 records.

Based on those factors, here’s a look at which teams will undergo the biggest turnarounds this upcoming season.

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