Offseason Moves - Eastern Conference
By Charlie Zegers, Rotowire.com
Who’s Coming: Kevin Garnett (MIN), Ray Allen (SEA), Gabe Pruitt (32nd overall), Glen Davis (35th overall), Brandon Wallace (free agent), Eddie House (free agent), Scot Pollard (CLE), James Posey (MIA)
Danny Ainge won the offseason. The season? We’ll see.
It’s not hard to figure the Celtics’ plan. They saw two deeply flawed teams reach the Eastern Conference finals and figured, why not us? With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in green, the Celtics instantly become the odds-on favorite to win a suspect Atlantic division and maybe the whole conference.
The best part about the deal is that, unlike the splashy acquisitions made by the Knicks and Magic, Boston’s imports have skills that complement each other. KG is a brilliant all-around player and defender who won’t dominate the ball on offense. Allen is perhaps the deadliest jump-shooter of his generation. Neither should get in the way of slasher and scorer Paul Pierce.
But one note of caution: this trade leaves the rest of Boston’s roster as green as their uniforms. Rajon Rondo – best known for his complete inability to sink a jump shot – is presumably the starter at the point. Another guard, Tony Allen, is coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
The frontcourt rotation is equally thin. Kendrick Perkins will probably fill out the starting rotation as the center. After him? Journeyman Brian Scalabrine, rookies Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Brandon Wallace, second-year man Leon Powe, and recently signed James Posey. You can bet that Danny Ainge isn’t done yet; he's likely on the lookout for a veteran point guard.
Who’s Coming: Jamaal Magloire (POR), Sean Williams (17th overall), Robert Hite (MIA), Malik Allen (CHI)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Nets spent this offseason trying to maintain the status quo, handing out fat extensions to Vince Carter (four years, $66 million guaranteed) and coach Lawrence Frank (signed through the 2009-10 season). The team’s only significant loss was Mikki Moore, but his production won’t be missed with Nenad Krstic due back from reconstructive knee surgery at the start of the season.
Krstic should be ready to open the season as Jersey’s starting power forward, alongside the “Big Three” of Jason Kidd, Carter and Richard Jefferson. Free agent acquisition Jamaal Magloire will fill out the starting lineup. Look for Magloire to return to the nightly double-double production he showed in Milwaukee. He was a bad fit in Portland, forced to share the low block with Zach Randolph and deal with a general logjam at the four and five. He won’t have that same problem in New Jersey.
It seems like we say this every year, but the Nets’ bench should be the strongest in recent memory. Backup point Marcus Williams showed flashes last season and would start on a lot of teams. Jason Kidd isn’t getting any younger, and he’s spending his summer running the point for Team USA, so look for Williams to get decent minutes starting in November. Jason Collins is a non-factor on the offensive end; his defense and rebounding keep him in the league. Second-year man Josh Boone is an active rebounder, and he could become the Nets’ version of David Lee. Draft pick Sean Williams has a checkered past but will add toughness and shot-blocking ability at forward and center. Bostjan Nachbar is the second unit’s best scorer, but he probably won’t get the opportunity to put up fantasy-worthy numbers unless Jefferson or Carter miss time. Finally, the Nets signed Malik Allen to a deal to load up on frontcourt depth.
The Knicks that open the 2007-08 season in a few months will be more talented than last year’s model. But whether they’ll improve as a team is very much in doubt.
Isiah Thomas made the biggest splash on Draft Day by acquiring Zach Randolph from the Blazers. Portland took pennies on the dollar for the perennial 20-and-10 power forward – the Knicks gave up only Channing Frye (who was generally a disappointment in his second year) and Steve Francis (who immediately cashed a buyout check from owner Paul Allen and signed with Houston). Of course, there is a good reason the Blazers were willing to part with Randolph, whose history of off-court troubles is extensive and well-documented.
Some have worried that Randolph won’t be able to co-exist with New York’s incumbent low-post scorer, Eddy Curry. However, Randolph is more than a low-block scorer; he can play the high post and has a very effective mid-range game. The bigger problems lie on the other end of the court. Neither Curry nor Randolph is much of a defensive presence, and the Knicks’ guards and wings aren’t exactly stoppers. Rookie Wilson Chandler might help there, but he’ll need to work his way into a rotation at the three that already includes Quentin Richardson (reportedly healthier than he’s been in years), Jared Jeffries and Renaldo Balkman. The Knicks’ other rookie, second-rounder Demetris Nichols, could catch on as a long-range shooter off the bench. Nichols made a name for himself at pre-draft camps with his touch from long range.
Dan Dickau and Fred Jones are unlikely to crack Isiah Thomas’ guard rotation. Both have contracts that expire after this season, and one or both could be included in Zeke’s next deal. Second-year man Mardy Collins emerged as a solid rotation player towards the season’s end. He’ll compete with Nate Robinson for minutes as Stephon Marbury’s backup.
Who’s Coming: Thaddeus Young (12th overall), Jason Smith (20th overall), Derrick Byars (42nd overall), Herbert Hill (55th overall), Reggie Evans (trade from DEN), Calvin Booth (WAS)
The official Sixers Web site has an ad touting Philly’s first-round draft pick, Thaddeus Young. The tag line – in 48-point blue letters – is “Think Young.” We see what you did there, Mr. Philadelphia marketing genius. You took his name, and you made a comment about the whole roster.
I’m not going to say the Sixers are raw, but take Andre Miller out of the mix, and there are college teams with more experience than this Philly squad. Miller and reserves Alan Henderson and Kevin Ollie are the only Sixers who weren’t born after 1980. Combine the team’s inexperience with the fact that their divisional rivals all seem to be improving, and Philly looks like one of the early contenders for next year’s number one pick.
But even terrible teams can have solid fantasy contributors. Andre Iguodala graduated from “stat column filler” to “legit fantasy force” after Allen Iverson was shipped to Denver. “The Other AI” averaged more than 19.0 points per game with 5.7 boards, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals from January through April. Miller is one of the better rebounding guards in the league and will occasionally flirt with a triple-double. Kyle Korver is one of the better three-point shooters in the league, and Sam Dalembert – if he can stay healthy – is a good boards and blocks guy.
Then, there are the newcomers. Young is one of those “leap out of the gym” athletes with tons of potential but no obvious NBA position. He might make for a better selection in keeper leagues. Philly’s other first-rounder, Jason Smith, probably doesn’t have the same upside. However, at seven feet tall with shooting range that extends out to the arc, he’s probably better suited to contribute right away.
The Sixers made a trade with the Denver Nuggets in early September, which sent Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones to Denver in exchange for power forward Reggie Evans and the draft rights to Ricky Sanchez. Evans will likely get the starting nod at power forward, where his hard-nosed style of play will help Samuel Dalembert hold down the fort. If Philly decides to develop the youth first, Evans will see a good amount of playing time nonetheless.
The Raptors surged to win the Atlantic last season with a roster best described as “Chris Bosh and a Euroleague All-Star team." This year? General manager Bryan Colangelo has added more European players. The new imports include forward Maceo Baston, who starred for Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv and Argentine Olympic star Carlos Delfino. Oh, and Jason Kapono, who is American, but whose long-range shooting would fit right in with Benetton Treviso.
They’ll join a rotation that also features 2006 first overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani, the veteran center Rasho Nesterovic, and swingman Jorge Garbajosa. Bargnani started slow last season but improved as the season went on. With a year of NBA experience under his belt, expect better numbers across the board. Garbajosa should be recovered from that grisly ankle injury in time to start the season.
The hugely productive tandem of T.J. Ford (14.0 points, 7.9 assists per game last season) and Jose Calderon (8.7 points, 5.0 dimes) give Toronto output from the point that most teams would love. (Though one has to wonder if Colangelo would have made the Charlie Villanueva-for-Ford deal if he had known how effective Calderon would be.)
Of course, the key to Toronto’s success is All-Star power forward Chris Bosh. Last season, Bosh put up the first of what should be a career’s worth of 20-and-10 season averages. He might not be the best four in the East any more – not since KG landed in Boston – but he’s certainly in the conversation.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that a major window of opportunity may be closing for the Bulls. For eighteen months (so it seems), everyone has known that Scott Skiles’ guys were one legit low-post scorer away from being real title contenders. But Chicago opted not to pull the trigger on a deal at the trade deadline, and this summer, with guys like Kevin Garnett and Zach Randolph on the block, they signed… Joe Smith. Smith is a nice player who brings a veteran presence, but he’s not a guy who will put the Bulls over the top.
Maybe John Paxson decided against a big trade or splashy free agent signing because he thinks the Bulls’ homegrown players and draft picks still have room to improve. He’s probably right. Last year’s lottery pick, forward Tyrus Thomas, was stuck behind veteran P.J. Brown for big chunks of last season. However, he showed flashes of major potential towards the season’s end. Gritty forward Andres Nocioni missed more than a third of last season due to a variety of injuries. If he can stay in the lineup, Chicago’s outlook improves again.
Perhaps Paxson opted not to deal because he couldn’t bear to part with Luol Deng. Deng’s name came up in just about every trade rumor last season, but Paxson resisted all the overtures. The reward for his patience is an emerging star at small forward, one who will regularly top twenty points and double-digit rebounds and provide lockdown defense on the perimeter. Or maybe he thinks his starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon is one of the best in the Association. Or that it made more sense to draft a guy like Joakim Noah than to use that lottery pick in a big trade. Who knows?
Who’s Coming: N/A
At press time, the Cavs hadn’t made a single move. No trades. No draft picks. No free agents. Is their inactivity a sign of weakness? Or confidence?
It’s easy to be confident when you’re the King. LeBron James cemented his place in the pantheon of NBA stars by leading what many considered to be a deeply flawed Cavs team to the Finals. But just as the Cavs’ romp through the Playoffs showed LeBron’s brilliance and the potential of second-round draft pick Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and energetic Brazilian forward Anderson Varejao (a restricted free agent Cleveland is expected to retain), the Spurs’ four-game sweep in the Finals exposed some of the warts that many observers thought were there all along.
Cleveland has no answer at point guard, where Damon Jones has been a huge disappointment and Eric Snow is on the downside of his career. The same could be said for center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has clearly lost a step and whose presence on the floor slows the Cavs’ pace to a crawl. Additionally, Larry Hughes has yet to show anything near the level of production he posted as a Washington Wizard.
Shocking as it may be, the Cavs’ best chance for regular season improvement might be better play from the King himself. Last season, LeBron developed a well-earned reputation for not playing with an appropriate level of urgency at all times. If James can kick the habit of taking plays – or quarters – off, it might not matter how productive the rest of his team is.
Who’s Coming: Rodney Stuckey (15th overall), Arron Afflalo (27th overall), Sammy Mejia (57th overall), Cheick Samb (51st overall, 2006 draft), Jarvis Hayes (WAS)
As he was re-signing with the Pistons, Chauncey Billups told the Detroit Free Press that the team’s work ethic suits his blue-collar mentality. We’re with you so far, Chauncey.
Then he said he thinks the team can still compete for championships. We’re less convinced of that.
The fact that Detroit reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season is a testament to the incredible cohesiveness and skill of what’s left of their championship squad. Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince play together brilliantly, but general manager Joe Dumars still hasn’t filled the hole created by Ben Wallace’s departure. Nazr Mohammed was a bust. Chris Webber is still a valuable contributor on the offensive end, but he’s so immobile at this point one might even call him “inert.” Neither Webber nor Mohammed is expected to be with the team when training camp begins, and Dumars is likely working the phones right now, looking for a five.
Dumars has done a good job of fixing the Pistons’ other notorious weakness, bench play. Even during their championship run, Detroit generally went only seven or eight players deep. They’ll go into this season with a very solid bench featuring the re-signed veteran Antonio McDyess, improving third-year power forward Jason Maxiell, and scoring guard Flip Murray. With Carlos Delfino now in Toronto, the Pistons were able to pluck Jarvis Hayes from Washington. Joining that group are rookies Rodney Stuckey, a big scoring guard, and Arron Afflalo, a big point. Cheick Samb, a raw shot-blocker from Senegal, could work his way into the mix at center.
The roster changes in Indiana are very minor. The biggest difference? Travis Diener replacing Darrell Armstrong as Jamaal Tinsley’s primary backup. As roster shakeups go, that’s not going to deflect much attention from the Kevin Garnett trade. But that certainly doesn’t mean that Indiana is standing pat. The change they’ve made in the seat closest to the scorer’s table will have a major impact on their 2007-08 season.
Coach Rick Carlisle is gone after four mostly disappointing seasons. Replacing him is former Celtics and Sixers coach Jim O’Brien – a man whose coaching philosophy differs from Carlisle’s about as much as possible. Carlisle is notoriously rigid and controlling – famous for calling set plays on nearly every offensive possession. O’Brien, on the other hand, allows his players freedom on the offensive end so long as they commit 100 percent on D. He’ll also encourage his Pacers to shoot the three regularly and push the tempo.
Players like Tinsley, who chafed under Carlisle’s rigid system, should love playing for O’Brien. Additionally, O’Brien’s pacing and spread-the-floor approach should play to the strengths of jump shooters like Troy Murphy and slashers like Danny Granger and – dare I say it – noted bust Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Then there’s Jermaine O’Neal. He’s another perfect fit for an O’Brien team – a dynamic scorer who defends his position well. But will he stay in Indiana? Or will Larry Bird and company decide that it’s time to start anew? With a number of teams in the East making significant improvements and the Pacers solidly out of the championship mix, it’s not hard to imagine O’Neal in a Bull or Laker uniform by the trade deadline.
Who’s Coming: Yi Jianlian (6th overall), Desmond Mason (NOH), Ramon Sessions (56th overall), Jake Voskuhl (CHA), Awvee Storey (free agent), Royal Ivey (ATL), Michael Ruffin (WAS), Samaki Walker (free agent)
OK, let me get this straight. The Bucks were told that Yi wouldn’t play in Milwaukee. Larry Harris drafted him anyway. Then Chinese officials started coming out of the woodwork and telling the world that they were merely looking out for Yi’s development potential. Needless to say, that's behind us, and Yi will be playing for the Bucks this season.
Even without the international drama, the Bucks weren’t having an offseason to write home about. They managed to re-sign Mo Williams, but lost promising forward Ersan Ilyasova to a team in the Spanish league and will likely lose Ruben Patterson as well. Adding Desmond Mason and Jake Voskuhl doesn’t figure to help much.
After picking in the lottery for what seems like the 39th straight year, the Hawks have actually assembled the makings of a talented, exciting basketball team. This season’s Hawks might even be a playoff team – in last year’s East. The Hawks are improving, but they don’t seem to be improving as quickly as the rest of the conference.
Third-overall pick Al Horford has a mature game and should be able to contribute immediately. But opinions are mixed on Atlanta’s other lottery selection, point guard Acie Law III. Some see him as an instant upgrade from last season’s three-headed monster of Speedy Claxton, Tyronn Lue, and Anthony Johnson. Others see a brilliant college player who doesn’t do any one thing well enough to excel as a pro (the latest in a long line of players like Mateen Cleaves, Khalid El-Amin, and Tyus Edney). Either way, we generally don’t expect big fantasy numbers from rookie point guards.
For big fantasy numbers, look to Joe Johnson – one of the elite guards in fantasy – and emerging star Josh Smith (nearly three blocks per game last season). Zaza Pachulia should continue to serve as a decent option at the perpetually-thin center spot. Meanwhile, the Williamses – Marvin and Shelden – should continue to improve as well.
We’re just not going to call MJ “stupid” for acquiring Jason Richardson, although that’s the adjective Stephen A. Smith used during the live coverage of the NBA Draft 2007.
When it comes to basketball, we think it’s safe to assume that Michael Jordan has forgotten more than we’ll ever know. With that in mind, we’ll call Jordan’s biggest move of the offseason “controversial” and admit that we’re curious to see how Sam Vincent will hand out playing time this season.
This is not meant to imply that Richardson isn’t a terrific player. He’s a dynamic scorer who can create his own shot, and he’s an excellent rebounder for a guard (better than five per game for his career, and nearly seven a game during last year’s playoff run). He and Gerald Wallace will form one of the better 2-3 combinations in the league. We’re just not sure what that leaves for Adam Morrison. However, it’s hard to imagine the third overall pick from 2006 being consigned to “bench scorer” duty at age 23.
Vincent’s decisions at the other positions should be easier. In the frontcourt, Emeka Okafor and Sean May will get as many minutes as their occasionally-brittle bodies can manage. Meanwhile, Primoz Brezec, second-year man Walter Herrmann and rookie Jared Dudley will see their share of time. Raymond Felton will take over the starting spot at the point with Brevin Knight gone. He has no obvious backup unless the team chooses to re-sign free agent Jeff McInnis.
Who’s Coming: Smush Parker (LAL), Penny Hardaway (free agent), Daequan Cook (21st overall), Alexander Johnson (MEM), Brian Chase (free agent)
Pat Riley decided to keep the gang together and make one more run. Makes sense since the Heat still qualified for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with Shaquille O’Neal playing in just 40 games and Dwyane Wade playing in 51 games. Sure, you could argue that says more about the Eastern Conference than it does about Shaq and D-Wade’s supporting cast, but that’s neither here nor there. Yes, the East is still the weak sister to the West. But full strength, Miami is as good as anyone in the conference.
So will they be at full strength? Hard to say. The latest reports on Wade’s rehab from shoulder and knee surgery aren’t super-optimistic; word is he might not be ready for the season opener. O’Neal, on the other hand, could be healthier than he’s been in years, assuming he’s following his own advice from “Shaq’s Big Challenge.” Alonzo Mourning is back for one more run, along with forward Udonis Haslem and veteran Antoine Walker.
Point guard Jason Williams is also iffy health-wise. A series of abdomen, knee, hip and foot injuries caused J-Dub to miss 22 games last year, which forced the Heat to add depth at the point during the offseason. New addition Smush Parker is expected to challenge Williams for playing time and possibly the starting job. The rest of the rotation is in flux; James Posey signed with Boston this summer and Gary Payton has yet to sign with a team.
Who’s Coming: Rashard Lewis (SEA), Milovan Rakovic (60th overall), Marcin Gortat (57th overall, 2005 Draft, selected by PHX), Adonal Foyle (GSW)
Orlando landed the biggest free-agent of the offseason, signing Rashard Lewis to a contract one could charitably describe as “generous.” But as with several of this summer’s big acquisitions, it left many observers scratching their heads. Needless to say, the Lewis-Dwight Howard combination gives Orlando a solid inside-outside punch that not many teams can match. On the other hand, the Magic already had a 6-10 athletic three with long-range shooting touch on their roster. That man, Hedo Turkoglu, just wasn’t costing them $110 million over six years. They also have Trevor Ariza, who many feel is destined to be a highly productive player in this league.
Perhaps new coach Stan Van Gundy has a master plan to make a winning team out of a dominant big man, three small forwards (Lewis, Turkoglu and Trevor Ariza) and an undersized backcourt featuring the 6-0 Jameer Nelson and 6-4 sharpshooter J.J. Redick. A more likely scenario: more changes coming soon. Orlando really hasn’t made any move to replace free agents Grant Hill or Darko Milicic, whose departures left pretty significant holes on the wing and at power forward. An addition to the front court is probably most crucial. Van Gundy can probably get away with playing Turkoglu or Ariza at shooting guard, but right now the only big men on the roster after Howard are veteran space-eater Tony Battie and jump-shooting forward Pat Garrity. Neither offers much of a solution in a conference that now features Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Zach Randolph at the four spot.
Who’s Coming: Nick Young (16th overall), Dominic McGuire (47th overall), Oleksiy Pecherov (18th overall, 2006 draft)
Gilbert Arenasuses all sorts of interesting motivations to drive himself. Annoyed at falling into the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft, he made himself an All-Star. When he was cut from Team USA, he got a measure of revenge by putting up big numbers against the teams coached by the USA Basketball staff. He even threatened to return to college just to hang 50 points on Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils.
This year, Gilbert Arenas is playing for a new contract.
Watch out, NBA. He might average 40 a game.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. A slight one. We’d actually be pretty surprised if he’s not in the neighborhood of 30. And let’s not forget, Agent Zero is not the only threat on a Washington team that was right in the mix at the top of the East before Arenas hurt his knee in early April. (He’s expected to make a full recovery before the season opener.) With Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler at the 3 and 4, Washington’s “Big Three” matches up pretty well with anyone’s.
Unlike those guys in Boston, the Wizards’ Big Three actually has a pretty solid supporting cast. The center tandem of Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas – assuming they can co-exist peacefully this year – provides decent production in the middle. The arrival of last year’s draft pick, seven-footer Oleksiy Pecherov, the return of Darius Songaila from a back injury that cost him more than half of last season, and the continued improvement of Andray Blatche might give the Wiz enough depth in the frontcourt to consider dealing one of their feuding pivots. In the backcourt, Antonio Daniels can back up Arenas or play alongside him, which gives coach Eddie Jordan the flexibility to play matchups with those two, defensive stopper DeShawn Stevenson and athletic rookie Nick Young. During the offseason, small forward Jarvis Hayes signed with Detroit.