The NBA has seen two different, successful “Big Three” groupings in recent years.
On Thursday, overshadowing the draft, the Brooklyn Nets created an interesting challenger — the most expensive starting lineup of all time.
The Nets' projected lineup for next season includes Joe Johnson ($21.5 million), Deron Williams ($18.5 million), Paul Pierce ($15.3 million), Brook Lopez ($14.7 million) and Kevin Garnett ($11.5 million). That's a grand total of $81.5 million — well above the luxury-tax threshold — for five guys.
How well will it work and what does the latest superteam mean for the Bulls next season? Do they still have more than enough to win with, or will they need a little more?
In contrast, recent playoff teams like Boston and Philadelphia are in full tank mode, hoping to get lucky in the 2014 lottery and land someone from a talented group of incoming college freshmen.
Expect Rajon Rondo to take a long, long time to recover from his ACL tear. In a normal year, the Celtics and Sixers might not win 20 games between them, but Orlando, Charlotte and probably a few other teams will join the heated battle for lottery chances.
In the meantime, let's take an updated look at the Eastern Conference contenders. The list is short, but strong at the top:
Miami — After surviving a near-death moment in Game 6 of the Finals, everything is blissful in South Florida. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are opting in and Chris “Birdman” Andersen wants to come back, so there figure to be few changes, unless the Heat amnesties Mike Miller. One rumor has a rejuvenated Greg Oden signing on for light rebounding duty.
Indiana — The real story with the Pacers this season was the emergence of Paul George as a legitimate superstar. A healthier Danny Granger should begin mental preparation for a spot-up shooter role.
New York — This is another team where good health wouldn't have made a difference. Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony will probably never thrive in the same lineup. Heaven help the Knicks if J.R. Smith leaves as a free agent.
Brooklyn — Did we mention this Nets' lineup will be coached by Jason Kidd, whose on-the-job training will begin don Day One of training camp? Maybe he'll just let these guys make their own decisions.
This really isn't a bad gamble for Brooklyn, which is desperate to make a big splash in a new borough. The Nets didn't give up anything vital for the three Celtics (including Jason Terry). They lost MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans.
If it works, great. If not, they can always say it was because Garnett is 37 years old.
Remember in the first round of the playoffs when the Bulls refused to guard Wallace or Reggie Evans? Well, that strategy figures to change with Pierce and Garnett on the floor. Maybe it will work.
Bulls — Sure, they'll test the trade market for Luol Deng and keep an eye on unhappy Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge. But the Bulls probably won't make significant changes this summer.
They're up to 10 players after the draft — Deng, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Marquis Teague, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Nazr Mohammed is likely to return, so that makes 11 with no significant holes in the lineup and a payroll already above the luxury tax.
So forget about signing free agents like J.J. Redick or Kyle Korver. Too expensive. The Bulls will be looking for bargains and should be able to land a couple decent players for the minimum salary.
One mild source of suspense will be Nate Robinson. The Bulls might be open to extending the experiment to create an intriguing Rose-Robinson game-closing backcourt. But they'd probably agree only to a one-year deal and if Robinson can find more security out there, he figures to take it.
Robinson recently posted a message on Facebook saying the NBA isn't ready for a Rose-Robinson pairing. The Bulls may not be ready, either.
Look at it this way: The Bulls will add Rose, Deng and Hinrich to the team that beat Brooklyn in Game 7 of the first round (granted, while probably losing Robinson and Marco Belinelli), The Nets added Pierce and Garnett.
It's a manageable challenge.
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