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With the mega-trade market quiet, here’s a glimpse at what the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors can expect.
At this point in the NBA offseason, there are not likely to be a ton of surprises. Barring a massive trade involving Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving — which seems less likely each passing day — rosters look roughly how they will look on opening night. Already, the free agency signings and draft day selections have been endlessly analyzed and commented upon, but there are a few other subplots that have not been commented upon much. These are all unlikely to upset the balance of the league, but they are nevertheless worth keeping an eye upon when the season arrives.
The Cavaliers Have Put Together the Most Handsome Backcourt Ever
The Cavaliers were one of the NBA’s biggest surprises last season. With Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen becoming All-Stars and Evan Mobley finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting, Cleveland established itself as one of the most intriguing and promising young teams in the NBA. With their core in place, the team did not make many big moves this offseason, though they did shore up their backcourt, adding Raul Neto and re-signing Ricky Rubio after trading him away last season.
Neto and Rubio will be a huge boon to a team that often struggled with guard depth, with Rubio and Collin Sexton both suffering season-ending injuries and Darius Garland and Caris Levert missing several games each near the end of the season. More superficially, this means that the Cavaliers have easily the most handsome guard rotation in the NBA.
For a team that is reemerging on the national scene, likely to make the postseason for the first time in four years, the welcoming (and enchanting) visages of Neto, Rubio, and Garland will ensure that the Cavs make a good first impression on potential fans. What fan will be able to look into any of their eyes without being immediately won over?
The Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert Relationship
Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason thus far was the Minnesota Timberwolves trading for Rudy Gobert. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year will certainly shore up Minnesota’s defense and make the lives of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards easier on both ends of the court. Of course, Anthony Edwards is a gloriously insouciant player, confident as can be and unconcerned with the opinions of others while fearlessly offering his own.
Last season, Edwards made it clear that he did not believe Gobert was the best rim protector in the NBA — oddly giving Kristaps Porzingis that honor. As Edwards said of Gobert, “He don’t put no fear in my heart. I don’t know why.”
I doubt this is something that is going to preemptively tear the Wolves apart from within, but I am curious to see how Gobert and Edwards mesh. One is very serious, so intent on the court as to seem humorless. The other is a walking combination of audacity and joy who never seems to take anything too seriously. And it’s like not Edwards is likely to be in awe of Gobert’s accomplishments or veteran presence. To have perhaps the most persnickety and the most carefree players in the league sharing a locker room should contain a handful of delights this upcoming season.
Are the Pacers Embracing a Tank?
For literal decades, the Indiana Pacers have avoided being bad at all costs, holding tight to mediocrity — fearful that if they lose consistently, their college hoops-obsessed fan base will leave them behind.
And so they have made the playoffs 25 times since 1990, though they have lost in the first round 15 of those times. The last time they drafted higher than the No. 6 pick they used to select Bennedict Mathurin this summer was in 1989, when they selected Rik Smits. Now though, it appears that they may be entering a true rebuild for the first time in many years.
They have missed the postseason the last two years, traded Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, and have reportedly been engaged in further trade talks regarding Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. It really looks like they may be tearing it all down and focusing on a youth movement, building around Mathurin and Tyrese Haliburton.
It would be a massive change in organizational principles from the Pacers, which makes one wonder if they’ll redevote themselves to making the postseason at all costs soon. Seeing what direction the Pacers, who — despite being traditionally one of the most steadily well-oiled teams in the NBA, appear quite aimless now — end up taking will be a subplot worth following this season.
The Raptors Have a Type
Besides their height, there aren’t a ton of commonalities between them in style of play, but they are uniformly long and athletic, rangy defenders that can make life very difficult for the opposition. With players such as All-NBA talent Pascal Siakam, 3&D extraordinaire OG Anunoby, and reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, the Raptors have the talent to be a uniquely flexible team with the ability to throw a seemingly infinite number of looks at opponents.
And considering how much Nick Nurse loves to experiment, he’s sure to make the most of those possibilities. Seeing the ways that Toronto deploys this strange and enticing mix of wings and bigs will make them a team to seek out on League Pass throughout the upcoming season.