By Shaun Powell, for NBA.com
Posted Sep 24 2009 11:14AM
The following lucky few have this much in common: They're wealthy and healthy, love their jobs, enjoy a measure of fame and status and generally have too many blessings to count.
They're also under tremendous stress, or will be, once the ball goes up on the NBA season.
They're the players, coaches and general managers on the spot, the ones who will, in large degree, determine what happens to their teams in 2009-10 and maybe beyond. Some will seize the situation, accept their so-called plight, flourish and pay very nice dividends. Others will shrivel and wilt and, like it or not, will bear the burden for their team coming up short.
Also on the line is their reputation, something their money can't buy. Some on this list are trying to repair damage; others are simply trying to build a solid rep for the first time. Regardless, we'll know where they stand once the season is over and the evidence rolls in.
Which leads us to an easy first candidate:
He brings intensity, muscle and swagger to the defending champs, which, as Ron-Ron watchers know, is a mixed bag. What you see from Rodman Lite is what you get. You can't take the good without the goofiness. Sooner or later, he'll do something to make his team cringe. The Lakers just hope he becomes unhinged in November, not June. After all, they won a title with Trevor Ariza, the player sacrificed for Artest in the off-season. Of the two, Artest is clearly better all-around, but the Lakers never worried about Ariza going volcano. Much depends on how Artest copes with the one person who truly matters. After signing with the Lakers, Artest expressed a man-crush on Kobe Bryant, a player he once tried to crush.
It wasn't his fault his knee betrayed him. But the Wizards are on the hook for roughly $90 million over the next five years. If Arenas doesn't get back to being a franchise player, they'll need a federal bailout. Two years ago, when healthy, Arenas was solid on both ends and also entertained (Agent Zero was the NBA's best quote machine). In that sense, he was a complete package: a three-time All-Star with back-to-back 29.3 and 28.4 scoring efforts, who played below the rim but was fun to watch. And now, for the health of the franchise, the Wizards need him to return to form, pronto. Or rather, Hibachi.
He's the only player who routinely gets a double-double-double. That's points, rebounds and flak. A beast in the low post, gifted with ambidexterity and blessed with biceps, Boozer should be a power forward craved by everyone. Except his own team red-flagged him by trying to dump him. The divorce was all but done once Utah hitched itself to Paul Millsap, his backup. It's only a matter of time now. Wherever he winds up, Boozer must shatter the rap about his focus and desire, something he gathers almost as easily as points and rebounds.
Poor guy. He was squeezed out in Miami and missed the championship parade. And then, after averaging 55 wins in two years and reaching the Finals last season in Orlando, he had to listen to talk about his job. Dwight Howard didn't help matters by raising questions about strategy in the Playoffs. With Vince Carter now aboard and Jameer Nelson finally healthy, the stakes are high once again in Orlando. For someone who refreshingly doesn't draw attention and never assigns blame, Van Gundy will draw attention and find blame, unfairly or not, if the Magic go poof.
For the second time in his life, Ferry can dictate the immediate future of the franchise. The first time was when the Cavs gave him millions as a player (not his fault, but still). This time, as GM, he must surround LeBron James with championship talent and, by extension, keep The King in Cleveland. Ferry placed his fate in the hands of Shaquille O'Neal. If Shaq isn't making a difference by the trade deadline, Ferry must act quickly to keep hope alive. Or else hope (i.e. LeBron) will be gone.
He came to the Clippers with a big contract and rep for clutchness. Then he shot 37 percent, had his lowest scoring average in eight years and didn't lead by example. If you could quote his body language, it said he'd rather be anywhere else but with the Clippers. There were whispers that he soured on the Clippers once they lost Elton Brand. Well, Davis might have someone better in rookie forward Blake Griffin, who deserves a better Davis.
Can you imagine that, two years removed from a no-brainer draft decision, there are rumblings the Trail Blazers should've taken Kevin Durant instead? That says plenty about Durant, but also something about Oden, raw and hardly the impact player many expected him to be. Big men develop slowly, and Oden did suffer leg injuries, so patience, please. Still, Oden can make everyone in Portland exhale if he learns a pet move, elevates himself to third option on offense and grabs more than seven rebounds a game. Is that asking too much too soon? No, it isn't.
The Knicks need Curry to drop weight, increase his intensity and become a force on the boards so they can trade him by the deadline and clear cap space for next summer. Basically, the Knicks need a miracle.
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