By and large, the last 4 teams in a Conference’s playoffs (referred to here as Contenders) are considered to have legitimate shots at reaching the NBA Finals, where underdogs can surprise opponents and shock the world by winning the Larry O’Brien trophy. The 2013 NBA free agency period is far from over but, following the start of the NBA free agency period, what have the first four teams that were eliminated done to move into better positions for next year? The coaching carousel didn’t stop in the Eastern Conference, and splashes have been made in 2013 free agency. Let’s take a look at each team and see.
Team and 2012-2013 playoff seeding: Houston Rockets (8)
Key acquisitions: C Dwight Howard, C Marcus Camby, F Omri Casspi, F-G Francisco Garcia, G Reggie Williams, G Aaron Brooks
Key Departures: F Carlos Delfino
Ability to move into contendership: Instant…like the laughs you’ll glean from this clip. The Rockets masterfully set themselves up to be key players in the Free Agency market and have delivered too. With the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets have become a legitimate contender, and with top center Omer Asik still on the team, the Rockets have the ability to become even better than they are constituted presently through a trade. They are certainly a contender and with the fact that their two stars have both lost in the Finals, (one to Kobe and the other to Lebron) the motivation to win a Championship should be unquestioned. It will be interesting to see what they can be in the next season or two, but they are already being discussed as one of the top teams in the West. This distinction makes sense as their pieces fit together well.
Team and 2012-2013 playoff seeding: Los Angeles Laker (7)
Key acquisitions: C Chris Kaman
Key Departures: C Dwight Howard, F Earl Clark, F Metta World Peace
Ability to move into contendership: This hinges on the Achilles tendon of Kobe, but you didn’t need me to write that for you to be aware of that glaring fact. They will likely be anywhere from a 4 to a 6 seed, and their championship window is closing fast, so I’d expect them to be a tough out in the playoffs next year. They lost their Center and Earl Clark, who’s surprisingly good play last year helped them to scratch and claw their way to the 7 seed. However, the loss of their Center may really be addition by subtraction. D’Antoni had to adjust his schemes to placate Howard, instead of being able to run the team in his own style. With Howard gone, D’Antoni can now run the offense the way that he wanted to without the pressure of appeasing a star. Kobe is a big fan of D’Antoni, so he would go along with D’Antoni ‘s system and with Nash, they can still do some great things offensively despite the age. Let’s just hope that D’Antoni doesn’t make Gasol play like he did in 2012-2013.
Team and 2012-2013 playoff seeding: Los Angeles Clippers (4)
Key acquisitions: G Chris Paul, G JJ Reddick, G Darren Collison, F Matt Barnes, C Ryan Hollins
Key Departures: C Ronny Turiaf, G Chauncey Billups
Ability to move into contendership: Immediate. They lost veteran leadership when Chauncey left but they replaced it with a championship-winning coach who provided them with long-term stability by spurring Chris Paul to stay with the team. I’d make that trade. This team is loaded and the future is bright with Doc Rivers and Chris Paul at the helm guiding the immensely talented roster including young stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and savvy vets Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, and JJ Reddick. Much like the Rockets, they have instantly become a contender with their offseason, and the biggest reason for this widely held notion about the Clippers is Doc Rivers. Once he was signed, the Clippers became a go-to spot for free agents.
Team and 2012-2013 playoff seeding: Denver Nuggets (3)
Key acquisitions: G-F Andre Iguodala, F Corey Brewer
Key Departures: G Randy Foye, G Nate Robinson, F-C JJ Hickson, C Timofey Mozgov
Ability to move into contendership: Nonexistent. I’m still scratching my head over the George Karl move, and it seems like the Nuggets aren’t tired of being the New Age version of the mid 2000s Pistons in the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade: a team with a nice roster of talent but no identifiable star to lead them anywhere. Many have said that Brian Shaw has deserved a coaching job for years, but the Nuggets aren’t giving him the pieces to be as effective as his predecessor. They haven’t picked up any huge stars or been in trade talks for any big names that would change the dynamic of their team to one where the Nuggets would have someone who they could identify as the go-to guy when the team is down, when crunchtime hits, or when they need leadership to take them past the first round. As a result, they probably will face another first round and out scenario, if they make the playoffs.