Shooting — perhaps the easiest basketball skill to work on alone — has never been more valuable.
Silly as it sounds to say out loud, teams are looking for shooters (and keen to reward the best).
Illustration No. 1: Joe Harris, who was struggling to stay in the league through his first two seasons in Cleveland, has blossomed in Brooklyn beyond all reasonable projections and just landed a four-year, $72 million contract (with an additional $3 million in unlikely bonuses) from the Nets.
Illustration No. 2: Washington’s Davis Bertans elected not to play in the N.B.A. bubble to guard against injury after an offensive breakout in his fourth N.B.A. season, then duly agreed to a five-year deal with the Wizards worth up to $80 million on the first day of free agency.
Practice your shooting, kids. Obvious as it sounds.
The West is still the deeper conference, by far, but the East’s top six is a more competitive jumble.
Miami made a wholly unexpected trip to the N.B.A. finals and improved its roster through the acquisitions of Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless. Milwaukee will remain a contender for the league’s best regular-season record, and presumably be a better playoff team after acquiring Jrue Holiday, even after the Bogdan Bogdanovic fiasco.
Boston lost Hayward but agreed to add the bruising Tristan Thompson to fill a clear need in the frontcourt on a team-friendly contract. Toronto will certainly miss Ibaka and Gasol but has re-signed Fred VanVleet and hopes Aron Baynes can step into the center void.
Daryl Morey has been decisive upon arrival in Philadelphia by shipping out the ill-fitting Al Horford and bringing in two needed shooters: Danny Green and Seth Curry. The Nets are poised to acquire the sharpshooting Landry Shamet from a draft-night trade and, beyond re-signing Harris, should finally have both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in uniform.
The jockeying among those six teams is going to be heated and unpredictable. The rest of the West’s ability to prevent the Lakers and the Clippers from delivering the conference finals showdown they still owe us, by contrast, is questionable given that Denver, Houston and Utah have nudged their rosters forward only marginally — if at all. Golden State’s loss of Klay Thompson to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon tear likewise scuttles the Warriors’ expected surge back into contention. Portland and especially Phoenix, through Chris Paul’s arrival, have strengthened, but Dallas will have to overcome a late start to the season for Kristaps Porzingis as he recovers from knee surgery.
Nothing we’ve seen matters more than what happens with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract in the next 26 days.
The Milwaukee Bucks have until Dec. 21 to persuade Antetokounmpo to sign a five-year, $230 million so-called supermax contract extension. If he signs it, Milwaukee’s failure to acquire Bogdanovic after it was portrayed as a done deal will become a footnote.