It’s easy to watch what transpired this summer and look at the Eastern Conference as a wasteland. Paul George and Jimmy Butler were shipped West for little return. LeBron James is not so quietly planning a move to LA himself, leaving the East wide open for any star who is willing to take a seat at the throne. Assuming LeBron leaves it will be the first time someone else will represent the East in the Finals
Things are definitely in limbo to say the least. But with so much star talent outbound there will be a lot of opportunity for the other guys. John Wall has carried himself like a superstar and now he can finally make that run. Giannis Antetokounmpo made some noise last year. With just LeBron in his way the Greek Freak could start his ascension as the new king of the East.
Same goes for the two unicorns in the Atlantic division, Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid. Can they start to carry their struggling franchises back to relevance or will the Boston Celtics reign supreme? A lot of moving parts to get to in a conference that is going through a rebuild itself.
Let’s break it down with takes from Mike Cortez and Tyler Birss of H&H.
This is a close one. If Carmelo Anthony stays in New York (which is looking more likely by the day), the answer is the Knicks. A deal with the Rockets was done until it wasn’t so look for some Melo drama early and often if this carries into the season. If he stays, however, the possibility of the Knicks being good exists – good for the East that is.
Melo’s chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis is evident on the floor. They make life easier for each other and it sucks they met each other at the wrong time in their careers. Porzingis is the new frontman for the Knicks and will be asked to take that leap. It’s an opportunity for Jeff Hornacek to get creative and utilize Porzingis’ malleable potential on the offensive end.
Frank Ntilikina will also be an interesting watch as we see what the Knicks saw in the French guard that they did not see in Dennis Smith Jr. or Malik Monk. He projects to be the starter heading into the opener. His initial duty will mostly include corralling the opposing team’s top guard and feeding Porzingis, Melo, Willy Hernangomez, and of course the $72 million man, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Speaking of Hardaway Jr., he will have a lot to prove next season. The Knicks threw him the bag in free agency (to defend the indefensible Knicks for a second – Kent Bazemore got the same contract from the Hawks last season and no one batted an eye) with the expectation he will be the shooting guard of the future. He’s been working out with (Hoodie) Melo and Frank in NYC playing pickup so hopefully that chemistry carries over into the season.
As for the Nets, things are shockingly not too bad in Brooklyn. Sean Marks has done his best to resurrect a franchise that dealt itself the death penalty five years ago. The Celtics own their first round pick next season, but after that the nightmare is over. They also added D’Angelo Russell who might end up being a steal in a trade for the Lakers to clear room for Lonzo Ball.
With no reason to tank the Nets offer the most entertainment. Head coach Kenny Atkinson will look to give Russell the ball early and often, and see how new pieces Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll fit in. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Jeremy Lin, and rookie center Jarrett Allen are all capable role players so the pieces are there.
The Nets offer the best possible feel good story but the pick here remains the Knicks. They offer the best of both worlds. Either they will be good and be a feel good story for the league, producing great games. On the flip side they can also be a trainwreck leaking with petty gossip. No matter what you are always talking about the Knicks.
Do I expect either the Knicks or Nets to be particularly entertaining this coming year? Not at all. I will find the Knicks to be an unbearable mixture of nonsense and stupidity until they allow Carmelo Anthony to play for another franchise. I realize that Melo has a no-trade clause – it just doesn’t seem like NY has ever gone all-in on finally making a deal. At least Phil Jackson is gone, but nevertheless, I look forward to the day when ESPN can stop discussing Melo’s possible destinations.
Of course, Kristaps Porzingis provides plenty of entertainment value. Young, capable up-and-comers are on the roster such as Willy Hernangomez. While these pieces could make for some watchable moments, I’m still going to go with the Nets on this answer.
Will jaded D’Angelo Russell be better than secretly filming people D’Angelo Russell? That I can’t answer. While he might not be fully jaded, there’s no doubt that Russell has to feel as if the Los Angeles Lakers gave up on him. Giving merely two years to such a high pick is hardly a fair sample size. Russell should have a tremendous deal to prove in Brooklyn.
In addition to Russell, I’m interested in how Allen Crabbe performs with a larger role. Despite his massive contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, Terry Stotts never fully embraced giving Crabbe an upgraded role. The opportunity to start and log meaningful minutes should exist with the Nets. I’ve also been a fan of Sean Kilpatrick since his college days at Cincinnati. Perhaps he along with the other guards on Brooklyn’s roster can make for a quality rotation of scorers.
Neither the Knicks or Nets will offer breathtaking displays of gorgeous basketball. My apologies if that’s what you were hoping to hear. For both fan bases, however, I’m sure steps towards improvement will be deemed acceptable. That doesn’t seem like a given for the Knicks. In the case of the Nets, improvement will occur, giving Brooklyn the edge in the department of being more watchable.