The Eastern Conference is shifting dramatically this summer. The Cavs catapulted forward with the signing of LeBron James (regardless of what happens with Love). The Bulls added Pau Gasol and might finally have a healthy Derrick Rose. The Hornets (no longer the Bobcats) added Lance Stephenson to Big Al Jefferson and crew, so they could be a sneeky good team next year as well.
Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards seem to have taken a step forward in many respects. John Wall and Bradley Beal are the young cornerstones of that team and they get better every year. In addition, the much maligned Ernie Grunfeld had himself a very solid offseason.
In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.
Free agency brings competitive balance to the East
The East is up for grabs with as many as a half-dozen teams eying the Finals. That won't make it better, but it will make it far more competitive.
Yes, it will be odd seeing Pierce in a red white and blue jersey, but no more than seeing him in a Nets black and white one. Plus we can root for Pierce now without caring what impact that has on our future draft pick status (because how we root matters!). He adds the championship experience that a young, talented team needs and they avoided over-paying for Ariza in the process.
It won't just be Pierce filling Ariza's shoes either. It is starting to look like Otto Porter (a non-factor last year) end up playing like he is worth the number 3 pick he was a year ago.
Otto's Summer League game so far, on the other hand, is playing out to what we all can expect it to look like come the regular season. He's curling around screens to free himself for open jumpers, taking (and hitting) step-back shots, knocking down the mid-range shot in addition to the occasional three-pointer, grabbing rebounds here and there, hustling, making the smart pass and understanding where to be on the court to maximize space not only for himself but for his teammates.
They even had a breakthrough performance by Glen Rice Jr. who won the Vegas Summer League MVP.
Rice earned the honor by averaging 25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game on 46 percent shooting. He had rough moments, such as in the Wizards' semifinal loss, but he also scored 150 points on 96 shots and had the moment of the tournament.
In addition, keeping Gortat and adding Humphries and Blair allows the Wizards to be a lot more confident in their low post production. Booker was inconsistent and Nene is always going to be in and out of the lineup with injuries. So they needed consistency, which is what they should get with Humphries in particular.
So the Wizards are stacking up to be a fun team this year. They've fooled me in the past, but I think they could be a top 5 team in the East this year and I look forward to watching them play.