Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Of these Eastern Conference up-and-comers, who’s more likely to end up the better team in 2014: Brooklyn or Indiana?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana. Even if, by the phrase “better team in 2014″ we’re talking mostly about the playoffs, I still think the Pacers are poised to achieve more. They’re going the old-school route of improving year by year, with The Finals an expected step next spring. The Nets mostly have gone old, period. Even in the best-case scenario, they have a rookie head coach (Jason Kidd) who should ration his guys’ minutes through the regular season, which would argue against, say, 60 victories. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett engineered an instant turnaround in Boston, but that was six years ago.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Let’s see, the Pacers finished as the No. 3 seed in the East, knocked off the No. 2 seed Knicks and took the two-time defending champs to Game 7 in the conference finals and you’re still calling them “up-and-comers?” I’m calling them right there on the threshold, banging on the door with younger legs and more significant upside than the Nets. If Brooklyn added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry five years ago, they’d be real championship challengers. Now they’re just old.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Indiana. There might not be a more confident team west of South Beach after last season’s heavyweight tilt with the Heat. The Pacers improved their bench this summer and if Danny Granger accepts a role as a sure-fire Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Frank Vogel‘s humble, hard-working team with a chip on its shoulder could be lethal. Brooklyn is going to be fascinating to watch. We’ve seen these collection of aging All-Star teams go bad, but it will help the cohesiveness that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are longtime teammates and so well respected. All-in-all, this is not an easy task to pull off for rookie coach Jason Kidd, who is already talking about resting Garnett on back-to-backs. Where the Nets finish in the regular season (of course top four is optimum) might not matter as much as how well they’re playing in March and April (a la the San Antonio Spurs).
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Indiana. Tough call, though. Ask the Heat how good the Pacers were last season. And now combine that answer with the “addition” of two players while barely removing any pieces from the core of the 2012-13 roster: Danny Granger and Luis Scola. Brooklyn is also realistically headed for a long run, so this could be close enough to be 2 and 2a. No one should discount the Bulls for 2b if certain health issues that have become tiresome to discuss become part of the past.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Pacers lose in a name recognition fight with the Nets, but they win everywhere else. I know Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will disagree with me there, but what else would you expect from two of the greatest competitors of their generation? The fact is, the Nets got both of those future Hall of Famers just a bit past their respective primes. The Pacers have a core group that is in the midst of an ascent in the Eastern Conference and league standings, led by All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert and standout veterans David West and Danny Granger, whose return from injury (much like Chicago’s Derrick Rose) should be just as or more significant than any free agent signing by any legitimate contender in the East. Frank Vogel has a team that has been tested and tasted playoff success in each of the past two seasons, a team with chemistry that is proven. Those are crucial components for a contender that the Nets simply do not possess.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering the Pacers were one win away from making the NBA Finals last season, I’m not so sure I’d label them an “up-and-comer” — they’re here and ready to go. Of these two teams, I think I’d give a slight edge to Indiana. Aside from that “almost Finalists” thing, they’ve improved their bench, the obvious weak point last season, and they get an All-Star (Danny Granger) back from injury. I wrote a few weeks ago here that I thought the Nets were constructed to be a better playoff team than regular-season team, and I still believe that. But just because they wait to play full throttle doesn’t mean they’re going to be better than the Pacers.
Aldo Avinante, NBA.com Philippines: Brooklyn will be the more improved team next year. The sheer amount of star power and veteran presence will catapult them into one of the true contender to Miami’s throne. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko will bring everything you want to improve on: defense, scoring, playmaking, veteran leadership and then some, with the core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in place, expect the Nets to be one of the top teams all year.
Daniel Senovilla, NBA Espana: Scola is a player very familiar to the Spanish people. We have seen him since he was a rookie and I hope he gives the Pacers the perfect “bench man” they sorely needed last season against the Heat. He’ll also bring more power to the paint for a team that’s already very good in that zone. On one hand we have the “romantic” view of the Pacers — young players with talent — and on the other hand we have the rich team with the new old legends from Boston. We’re idealists over here. The Pacers deserve, and will get, another opportunity.