New Blood in Baltimore
Heading into the offseason, the Atlantic division seemed like the most wide open one on the league. New York won it last year, but struggled to stay above .500 despite playing having nearly half their games come against expansion teams. Boston arguably performed the best of the expansion teams, though surely not as well as star center King DeMoura expects from his team. Virginia has yet to find an identity outside of Ricky Spyder, and seems likely to be replaced in the division by the recently-relocated Atlantic City, who are a total blank slate.
Baltimore got out to a hot start, but sputtered down the stretch to a 4-10 record after trading starting point guard Robert Ivory and having their owner resign mid year. Heading into the offseason, it could have been argued they were in the worst position of any team in the division, with 4 key members of their team with overalls of 87 or higher (Hakuna Matata, Ricky Suerte, Sada Baby, and JT Dulany) all retiring. Thomas LeClaire and Jamal Davis have solidified themselves as one of the best front courts in the league, but depth and a primary perimeter scorer were dire needs for the team.
However, more than a month before the draft even begins, Baltimore has already been radically overhauled. Perhaps it comes as a surprise given their record last year and the general public opinion towards expansion teams, but they were able to secure the services of perhaps the two best free agents on the market in Tim Riggins and Aldo Huxley (via Albuquerque in a sign-and-trade). Huxley’s downhill driving and point-of-attack defense is a perfect complement to Riggins’s three-level scoring, and both provide a nice counterbalance to Davis and LeClaire’s inside game.
One more underrated aspect of the signings is Riggins’s coaching experience, which is something that is surely lacking for owner/GM Luke Swiatek. Nearly half the league pursued Riggins for that very reason, as he brings a lot more to the table than solely what his player can produce on the court.
While those two acquisitions will garner most of the headlines, they were far from the only one. Baltimore also managed to acquire Ernesto Romero III and Jack Lawson from Michigan in addition to Riggins, even though it did cost them the sharpshooting guard Keyon Hens and significant draft capital. In fact, this marks the second straight year that Ernesto has been moved in a deal for the #1 overall pick. However, adding him to the frontcourt tandem of David and LeClaire should be an upgrade on Suerte and make for a true Cerberus down low. Lawson’s versatility to play two ways at either forward spot should be a big boon as well, and be an upgrade over the ghostly Sada Baby.
The offseason isn’t over yet for Baltimore, as they have one open roster spot left (and probably will fix it with the #11 overall pick, either via a trade or the draft itself). However, they’ve absolutely plugged every possible hole they have, and then some. Meanwhile, New York lost both Kam Melo and the aforementioned Huxley (though they did bring in Ivory to replace one of them), Boston is mostly banking on internal improvement so far, and AC is just trying to figure out who’s going to be on the team. Baltimore is far from a proven commodity, but as the calendar turns to S4, it’s tough to deny that the Constellation have a lot of momentum.