Chauncey Billups is one of several players returning to a former home in 2013 free agency (Image | ABC)
Free-agent season is often the most unpredictable month of the NBA calendar. Mixed in with the inevitable re-signings and weeks-long dramas that everyone loses interest in are a clutch of utterly unpredictable stories of new arrivals (and homecomings) that change the landscape of the league.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out the top 20 free agent moves of the summer so far.
They had to work far harder for it than last time, but the Miami Heat are NBA Champions once again (Image | Reuters)
In the final two rounds of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat won back-to-back games just once. Pegged back three times by the gutsy Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and thrice trailing the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals, the Heat traded wins with their opponents throughout the final four weeks of the season.
Until it mattered most.
The play of Rajon Rondo in the last three games has been the catalyst behind Boston’s revival (Image | SI.com)
Eight days into the NBA Conference Finals, every team left standing has two wins to their name. No-one saw that coming.
Full credit to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics for achieving what most had assumed was beyond them in making their respective series competitive. The Celtics, in particular, shouldn’t be 2-2 with the Miami Heat after four games if you’d listened to the rumblings during the regular season about how the Big Three were fading lights, and seen their bench crumbling one game at a time as Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O’Neal and then Avery Bradley were lost for the season.
The Thunder, too, are over-achieving to be level after four. Sure, OKC are full of talent, but the Spurs were on a record-breaking 20-game winning streak spanning the end of the regular season and the playoffs, and boast one of the deepest rosters in recent NBA history.
LeBron James’ dominant individual performances in the Heat’s recovery against Indiana doesn’t bode well for the Celtics.
So the NBA’s Final Four, as it were, have been decided. In the West it all seemed over before it began with the San Antonio Spurs going unbeaten in their first two series and the Oklahoma City Thunder only conceding one game en route to eliminating the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.
The East, on the other hand, is where the drama has unfolded. When Derrick Rose went down with a torn Achilles in game one of the Chicago Bulls – Philadelphia 76ers series one could predict that the East was not going to fall into place as foreseen.
Gregg Popovich, in his 16th season as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, continues to draw incredible form from his aging veterans, specifically future Hall of Fame forward Tim Duncan.
It’s not uncommon for Gregg Popovich to be outspoken about matters around the NBA, but this season saw his own tactics roundly criticised through March and April as the veteran coach repeatedly rested aging veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker during the closing weeks of the season.
The acquisitions of Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills at and around the trade deadline greatly strengthened San Antonio’s roster, arguably the deepest in the league right now, and gave Popovich even more options in reserve. On one or two occasions, including one at first-round opponents Utah, he was therefore able to rest Duncan, Ginobili and Parker – but thanks to the new arrivals and the hot form of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter, and the steady play of DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner, the Spurs just kept winning.
Dwyane Wade’s ongoing injury problems are forcing the Heat to switch style
Given that the season started just one month after the NBA’s damaging and embarrassing lockout ended, and that teams had one week for training camp (not two) and two preseason games (not the usual six or seven), it was unavoidable, even expected, that there would be injuries around the league – but boy are they coming thick and fast. Already, Miami’s Big Two-and-a-Half has been reduced to the Big One-and-a-Half, as Dwyane Wade struggles with various nagging leg injuries, and on one occasion, even the Big Half as LeBron James joined his running mate on the sidelines and left Chris Bosh to lead an otherwise rather short Miami roster. (As a Bosh sympathiser, if not supporter, I feel obliged to point out that he had a massive game - 33 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks - to lead the Heat to victory over the Hawks.)