Posted Jul 23 2010 11:43AM
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stayed in the East. Carlos Boozer defected to the East. So did Amar'e Stoudemire, about as far East as you can get. And who knows, before the season begins, will Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul follow the migration?
The superstar movement this summer has largely taken from the Western Conference. And you wonder how this will reflect next season on a conference that, for the most part, has carried the league in terms of thrills and titles in recent years.
The Lakers are two-time defending champs, but will the West look weakened next season? Not many teams in the conference can claim to be drastically improved, and even the traditional powers (Spurs, Mavericks, Suns among them) didn't upgrade themselves convincingly through free agency or the Draft.
After taking a team-by-team summer examination of the East last week, here's a look at the West and who helped and hurt themselves:
The big offseason drama involved Tony Parker and whether the Spurs would dare trade him, while they could. Well, either Parker's value wasn't very high (plenty of teams suspect he's past his prime) or the Spurs simply couldn't pull the trigger. Instead, the organization will make one last championship run with Parker-Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili. That'll get them 50-plus wins and the postseason, but how much further?
If Paul really wants out of New Orleans, then he's guilty of saying one thing and meaning another. At the All-Star break, he insisted everything was swell. It'll be curious if he strong-arms his way out of town and escapes the backlash that LeBron James -- a free agent -- received. That would be the ultimate double-standard. Not that Paul has a right to be skeptical about the Hornets, who erred greatly when they took on Emeka Okafor's deal (four years, $52 million left) and must wait until Peja Stojakovic's contract is done before upgrading the roster.
So much for the Grizzlies being too cash-strapped to pay Rudy Gay. Question is, did they pay too much for a player who doesn't sell tickets or is good enough to carry a team? Elsewhere, the Grizz need to get something from Hasheem Thabeet and Mike Conley, or else those will look like bad Draft decisions.
Suddenly, this team seems old and maxed out. Nobody in the rotation has much of an upside, and quite possibly, their best years are behind them. Not sure if Tyson Chandler will make that much of a difference; isn't he a skinnier version of Erick Dampier? Dirk Nowitzki, new extension in hand, will be 36 on the last year of that deal, collecting a cool $22 million.
Does Yao Ming have anything left? The Rockets don't have another player of his caliber, with apologies to Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks, so Yao's comeback will determine this team's postseason chances. Otherwise, it's all about developing such young and untested players as Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger for the future, while leaning on Martin and Brooks for the big plays.
Amar'e Stoudemire is gone, but the Suns plugged the hole with Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. None ia a great rebounder, which is what Phoenix needs, but then, neither was Stoudemire. The Suns should be fluid and exciting, with young legs and huge scoring potential, yet probably are no better than last season, when they reached the conference finals.
Probably the best thing to happened to the Kings was DeMarcus Cousins' reputation for being immature, which scared off enough teams to allow the Kings to draft him. After tearing up the Summer League, Cousins is ready to lay a foundation for the Kings, with the help of Tyreke Evans. A good big man and point guard usually means the start of something special.
The primary goal for the champs this summer was keeping Ron Artest from celebrating too long. Well, that and convincing Phil Jackson to return. Now they'll sweat out surgery for Andrew Bynum and hope he can finally go through a full season without a glitch or a hitch. Oh, and did we mention Kobe is 32? And an old 32, since he broke in as a teenager.
The big offseason move, and perhaps the best, was the selling of the team. Next up was getting David Lee, who should thrive on the pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry and/or Monta Ellis. Things might finally be looking up for the Warriors, or at least once Don Nelson's situation is clarified by the new bosses, who should and probably will clean house.
They were left holding the (money) bag during free agency, when nobody seriously considered signing up. So they'll move forward with Ryan Gomes and Al-Farouq Aminu and bank on the very realistic hope that Blake Griffin beats out John Wall for Rookie of the Year.
Not sure if the Blazers stole Wesley Matthews from the Jazz or simply overpaid. Perhaps both. They're putting a lot of weight on a player who went undrafted and then was a role player in his only NBA season. Anyway, there is one newcomer whose development and impact will have a huge say this season. Doesn't Greg Oden, serially injured, qualify as a newcomer?
Al Harrington was bought to keep defenses from doubling Anthony. While Harrington can score, he also makes the kind of errors that kill possessions. No telling when Kenyon Martin gets fully healthy, or if he'll blow up here in his contract year. Oh, and seeing how the Nuggets collapsed in the playoffs without him, is there any coach in basketball whose return will be more welcomed than George Karl?
Maybe some day in the future, it'll all make sense. Right now, though, the decisions made by general manager David Kahn are murky at best. He essentially gave away his best player (Al Jefferson), and other than Joe Dumars is the only person to believe in Darko Milicic. Martell Webster and Michael Beasley were acquired on the cheap, though. The Wolves better get something rather immediately from rookie Wes Johnson who, at 23, is roughly three years older than the typical lottery pick.
The big news of the summer was Kevin Durant signing long-term. Then they addressed a pressing need in the post by drafting Cole Aldrich, corn-fed from Kansas. Whether OKC takes the next step, though, depends heavily on the development of a third wheel to follow Durant and Russell Westbrook. Is Jeff Green that guy? And will James Harden make folks forget that OKC passed on Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans?
Losing Boozer doesn't sting as much when the replacement is Jefferson. Great recovery for the Jazz, and if Gordon Hayward gives anything as a rookie, then the loss of Matthews will be minimized, too. It all falls on Deron Williams' shoulders, anyway. Utah will go as he goes.
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