There is no doubt that the Los Angeles Clippers starting lineup was one of the best in the NBA last season, but when some of those guys weren’t on the court was when the Clippers really struggled. The Clippers appeared to have made it a priority this offseason to add some more depth to their bench. Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson are good depth signings, but it was obvious that they needed a impact player coming off the bench next season. That is why it was a perfect fit for the Clippers to sign forward Josh Smith to a 1-year veterans minimum contract on Thursday. Smith is only 29 years old, so he still has many years of production left in him and he is the type of playmaker that can change a game coming off the bench. Smith can score, pass, and rebound which will really help the Clippers when he has to step in when a player needs rest or if a player has an injury. Smith might not quite be the all-star caliber player that he used to be, but he is still a really good player that other teams have to be worried about. The Clippers are already a playoff team, yet they just haven’t been able to reach the western conference finals recently because they just haven’t had the depth to overcome the western conference teams that have more depth. Smith should be able to change all of that by himself and he provides some more stability to the Clippers at the small forward position.
The New York Knicks are obviously in a major rebuild mode so it was expected that they would make a big splash in free agency by making at least one major free agent signing, but they are continuing to lose out on the big players like LaMarcus Aldridge that they wanted. Sure, signing center Robin Lopez and shooting guard Arron Afflalo will help, but those aren’t the types of moves that make them a playoff team in a weak eastern conference. The Knicks were interested in some big name players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, and DeAndre Jordan. However, for some reason those players just didn’t seem to have the same level of interest in joining the Knicks. In fact, Aldridge strangely cancelled his scheduled meeting with New York altogether. At least New York is trying to get better, but unless they can lure some big name players to their team then they probably aren’t going to be a contender really soon. I have confidence in Phil Jackson to get the job done, but unless he gets some more talent to work with then the process will take a lot longer.
It was an underwhelming rookie season for Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon in 2014, but he surely looked impressive in his 1st summer league game on Saturday as he had 22 points and 18 rebounds in a 75-74 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Gordon looked to have an improved jump shot, although he still hasn’t quite become a better free throw shooter as he went 4-10 on Saturday from the free throw line. Sure, it is only the summer league and the most talented players in the NBA aren’t out there, but if Gordon can continue to put up performances like he did on Saturday then he could help to solidify a starting spot at power forward for the Magic next season. I’d like to see Gordon become more consistent offensively and that’s really what is holding him back because he certainly has the physicality to do everything else. Gordon still has a lot to prove to new head coach Scott Skiles in the summer league and if he can keep playing like he did today then maybe he can carry that consistency into the start of the 2015 season.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been able to compete fairly well in the western conference the past few seasons as they have made the playoffs 5 out of the last 7 years, but it appears the days of winning for Portland might be coming to an end after losing tons of key players in free agency. The Trail Blazers are never really active in free agency as they tend to be one of the most frugal teams in the league, but it was clear that they were probably not going to make much of an effort to retain the key guys on their team like LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews. However, that decision to let those types of players go will really end up hurting the Trail Blazers going forward. The Western conference keeps getting better, but it is hard to picture Portland being much competition with everything they’ve lost this offseason. Losing Aldridge to the Spurs obviously hurts the most since he was the heart and soul of their team for several years and his ability to score will be missed a lot. Also, with Matthews departing then the Trail Blazers will lose their identity which is to shoot 3-pointers and he was consistently one of the best in the NBA at doing that. Losing Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo to the Knicks in free agency won’t hurt as much, but those guys were certainly key contributors for Portland last year. Lopez brought a consistent physical presence to the Trail Blazers and now they’ll need veteran center Chris Kaman to replace that style of play next season. Portland did make a nice addition to their depth by getting Al-Farouq Aminu from the Mavericks in free agency, yet I believe they overpaid him with a 4-year/$30 million contract and I doubt he will make much of an impact. Keep in mind that Aminu has only averaged 6.4 points per game so far in his NBA career. At least the Trail Blazers still have star point guard Damian Lillard on their team, but they will have to somehow get some more talent to replace the key players that they lost if they even want to think about competing in the crowded western conference next season.
It became more apparent this postseason that Warriors head coach Steve Kerr really had no use for veteran power forward David Lee. He only played 8.2 minutes per game in the 13 games that he made an appearance in during the 2015 playoffs. Lee is heading into his contract year next season with Golden State and he is scheduled to make nearly $15.5 million which is way too much for a guy who only started 4 games in the 2014 season. I still think that Lee can be an all-star caliber player, but he just doesn’t fit in well with Steve Kerr’s philosophy of having a small lineup. It appears that Lee has played his last game in a Warriors uniform, although the main question will be if Golden State can find a team to take on his huge salary. Golden State obviously wants to get rid of Lee, but the problem will be if they can find a team that is willing to give up something for him. The Warriors need to offer that they will take on a portion of his salary or else I don’t know if they will be able to trade him despite him having quite a bit of talent left. Either way, don’t expect to see Lee to be back with the Warriors for the 2015 season, although I’m sure that Golden State will look to find a team to trade with before they just cut ties with him.
The Atlanta Hawks have just not looked good at all so far in the eastern conference finals as they are down 2-0 in the series to the Cleveland Cavaliers as they will play game 3 tomorrow in Cleveland. However, they will be without Kyle Korver for the rest of the postseason with an ankle injury that he suffered during game 2 on Friday. Korver is the best shooter that the Hawks have and he might even be their best player overall, so it is a huge blow to a team that will need a lot of help to beat a very talented Cavaliers team in the series. Atlanta has really struggled offensively and without Korver then there isn’t much help that it can get much better since he seems to be the one player on their team that can score the ball consistently. Surgery is still an option on his ankle and it is an unfortunate injury for a Hawks team that has made it so far this season.
The Sacramento Kings haven’t even made the playoffs since 2005 and the last time that they won 30 games was in 2007. However, with new head coach George Karl and an abundance of young talent the Kings appear to be on the upswing to be able to contend in the near future. DeMarcus Cousins is obviously the current face of the franchise for Sacramento as he has turned into one of the best centers in the NBA, but it is likely that he could be gone before the 2015 season begins. Cousins averaged 24 points and nearly 13 rebounds in 2014, yet it was only enough to give the Kings a 29-53 record last season. His effort and attitude has been questioned at time and he isn’t known as much of a team player, so that is why he could end up being traded away. I think it would be a smart move for the Kings since they could get maybe even multiple 1st round draft picks or great players in return for him. Cousins is still 24 and his best years are still ahead of him, so he could be a long-term player to build around for any NBA team. It is certainly not an easy for George Karl to make since Cousins has been a very productive player for the team for the past 4 years, but it might end up improving the team since they could still acquire a lot for him.