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John Schuhmann

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If Kevin Garnett is sidelined again with injury, it will diminish the Celtics' signing of Rasheed Wallace.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Contenders' fates tied to familiar faces, not new ones

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Aug 21 2009 11:31AM

Much has been made over the last month-and-a-half about the league's contenders and the high-profile additions they've made to get themselves over the top. And there's no doubt that each of the new faces will have an impact in their new places.

For many of the teams that made major moves, the big questions are tied to their returning players, not the new guys. The only offseason acquisition that is clearly his new team's biggest X-factor is Ron Artest, who could make the Lakers a tougher defensive team ... or ruin whatever chemistry the champs have.

These six teams have bigger questions with the guys that were already on their squad.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key additions: Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe

No matter what you think about Shaq's game these days, you can't deny that the Cavs got him for basically nothing. Then they added Parker, Moon and Powe without losing anyone from last season's rotation.

The new additions should give Coach Mike Brown more roster flexibility and help the Cavs match up better with the Magic and Celtics. But that won't matter if Mo Williams gives a repeat of his performance in the East finals against Orlando.

Williams got his first real taste of the postseason this past spring and his inexperience showed. While he talked a big game (remember him saying: "I don't see them beating us four times" during the Playoffs?), he shot 32 percent in Games 1-4 of the conference finals, unable to back up his words.

LeBron James played out of this world in the postseason, averaging 35.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists, while shooting 51 percent from the field. But the MVP got very little help from his teammates when he needed it.

Williams was the other All-Star on the squad and came up short when it mattered most. Even with the Cavs' additions, Williams will have the ball in his hands quite a bit. If he repeats last year's performance, the Cavs will be in trouble.

Boston Celtics

Key Addition: Rasheed Wallace

As usual, there are questions with Wallace. Will he behave with his new squad? And how much does he have left in the tank after pretty much disappearing in last season's Playoffs?

There are also questions about Rajon Rondo after early-summer rumblings that he's a distraction in the Celtics' locker room and Danny Ainge's quote that Rondo needs "to grow up." Will the negativity send Rondo further in the wrong direction, or will he get back in his team's good graces? With no back-up point guard, Rondo's state of mind is certainly an issue.

But without a doubt, the biggest key for the Celtics this season will be the health of Kevin Garnett. It was Boston's defense that won them the championship in 2008, and Garnett was the backbone of that D. Arguably, a bone spur in Garnett's right knee is what kept Boston from banner No. 18.

With him in the lineup last season, the Celtics were 44-13 with a stellar defensive rating of 101.1 (points allowed per 100 possessions). Without him, they were 18-7 with a defensive rating of 110.2, which was worse than the league average.

Doc Rivers will undoubtedly keep Garnett's minutes as limited as possible, but the Celtics can't afford to miss him for any significant amount of time. But with three elite teams -- Boston, Orlando and Cleveland -- in the East and home-court advantage vital in the Playoffs, every game with Garnett counts.

Orlando Magic

Key Additions: Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson

Carter, Barnes and Bass replace Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie, giving the Magic a little more versatility. Orlando had struggled against teams like Boston and Detroit, which boasted two legit big men. Adding Bass, who boasts strength and athleticism, will help Orlando match up better with those types of teams.

Still, the Magic can't take the next step until Dwight Howard does. He's the best center in the game, but Howard must refine his offensive repertoire by further developing his post moves and adding a reliable face-up jumper.

Teams such as the Celtics and Lakers, who boast solid post defenders, can get away with defending Howard with single-coverage and staying at home on Orlando's shooters. But if Howard develops a more complete offensive game, he will become much more effective against rangy big men like Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol. Not only that, but an improved post game will let Howard ring up huge numbers (as he did in Game 6 against the Cavs), or it will free up his teammates for open perimeter shots.

San Antonio Spurs

Key additions: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess

Jefferson and McDyess both seem like perfect fits in San Antonio: Veterans with oodles of postseason experience that can fill roster needs and take pressure off the Spurs' other stars.

If healthy, the Spurs are right there with the Lakers in the Western Conference and are legitimate title contenders. But, as it has been for the last few years, health is the No. 1 concern in San Antonio.

In 2008, the Spurs lost to the Lakers in the conference finals with Manu Ginobili playing on an injured left ankle. He re-aggravated that ankle at the Olympics and had surgery on it last year. The ankle injury struck again last season for Ginobili, as he sprained it in February and missed the Playoffs completely.

Fellow All-Star Tony Parker injured his ankle three weeks ago while practicing with the French national team. It's not thought to be a serious injury and Parker has since returned to action. But if France wins its next game, it qualifies for Eurobasket 2009 and Parker could be playing into mid-September. That will lessen his recovery time before the Spurs hold training camp. That could be key for the lightning-fast Parker, as ankle injuries -- no matter how serious -- can linger and diminish the effectiveness of quick players.

As great as the additions of Jefferson and McDyess are, the Spurs aren't beating the Lakers without a healthy backcourt.

Dallas Mavericks

Key additions: Shawn Marion, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas

Marion gives the Mavs athleticism, defense and while his numbers aren't like those of his Suns days, the Matrix's contributions are fairly consistent.

Consistent, however, hasn't been the best word of late for Josh Howard.

Howard was the second-best player for the Mavs in 2005-06 (when they were runner-up in the Finals) and in 2006-07 (when they won 67 games). But off-the-court incidents and on-the-court inconsistency sent Howard's reputation in a downward spiral.

Despite playing with injuries that would require surgery to his ankle and wrist after the Playoffs, Howard was able to somewhat rebuild his reputation with a solid 2008-09 campaign. But for the Mavs to truly benefit from their summer moves, they need Howard playing at an All-Star level and taking the offensive load off of Dirk Nowitzki's shoulders.

Atlanta Hawks

Key additions: Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague

The Hawks needed another playmaker and they got it in Crawford. He'll be able to keep teams from paying too much attention to All-Star Joe Johnson. But Crawford's addition won't keep foes from leaving Josh Smith alone when he ventures outside of the paint.

That's what the Cavs did in the conference semifinals, and Smith obliged them by missing jumper after jumper. Smith is an athletic freak and a defensive force, but these days, teams need at least four guys on the floor who can shoot. With Smith playing power forward and either Al Horford or Zaza Pachulia playing center, the Hawks come up short on that end.

Smith shot just 42 percent from the field and 2-for-15 from 3-point range in the Playoffs. If he hasn't improved his jumper, the addition of Crawford won't make the Hawks much better.

If you have a question or comment for NBA.com's John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

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