Sam Smith: NBA deck reshuffled after offseason moves
Free agency is almost done and most teams now seem pretty much set for next season. So how'd everyone do? Sam Smith takes a first look at his projected Eastern and Western Conference standings for the 2009-10 season based on the offseason moves.
NBA deck reshuffled after offseason moves
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"Rasheed Wallace is declining physically, but [Boston is] an ideal situation for him since he can match up against reserves and isn't counted upon," writes Sam Smith. "Assuming Kevin Garnett is healthy, which seems likely, I expect the Celtics to win the East comfortably." (Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)
Free agency for the summer of 2009 is almost done with the occasional Millsap, Lee and Baby still hanging around. But most teams now seem pretty much set for next season with the exception of a few veterans who will fall through the cracks and be picked up to boost bench strength. So how'd everyone do? We'll know in about a year, but here's the first look at my projected Eastern and Western Conference standings for the 2009-10 season based on the offseason moves.
- Boston: Rasheed Wallace is declining physically, but it's an ideal situation for him since he can match up against reserves and isn't counted upon. Assuming Kevin Garnett is healthy, which seems likely, I expect the Celtics to win the East comfortably.
- Orlando: They're coming in with a more traditional lineup with Brandon Bass at power forward and Rashard Lewis to small forward for Hedo Turkoglu. I think it hurts the great mismatch advantage they had given their unique style and I see them taking a step back with Vince Carter, who always is taking a step back when he shoots those bad threes. It's still unclear if they match on Marcin Gortat, who'll be a reserve if he returns.
- Cleveland: They got a bit of a wakeup when their top targets like Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza passed, probably because of uncertainty on whether LeBron James will stay. The big move was the trade for Shaq, and while LeBron was for it, I see some issues with Shaq needing his touches. They got him to guard Dwight Howard. Maybe he does, but what about the Celtics? The Cavs prized defense will take a big hit. They settled for Anthony Parker, now 34. Well, he's better than Szczerbiak.
- Atlanta: They quietly did a nice job this summer bringing back Mike Bibby and adding Jamal Crawford in his ideal role as a combo guard off the bench. They've got a terrific amount of athletic talent, but this will be the season coach Mike Woodson is on the hot seat and we'll see if it's a distraction.
- Toronto: They had arguably the best offseason with Turkoglu bolting the 'Blazers to sign. Then they pulled off that complicated deal with the Mavs to retool their roster. They now have Antoine Wright, Devean George and Reggie Evans and have an offer out for Jarret Jack. Jose Calderon had an injury plagued off season, though we'll see if Chris Bosh's free agency distracts them. They say they are not trading him under any circumstances.
- Washington: They are the mystery team of the East after Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood missed last season. Arenas said he's done kidding around. We'll believe it when we see it. GM Ernie Grunfeld has been saying they are a potential East champion after moving their No. 5 pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye and hiring Flip Saunders. I'm giving them the big benefit of the doubt here.
- Bulls: I know. They lost their leading scorer in Ben Gordon, and that will hurt. I am convinced, though, Luol Deng will have a rebound season. Plus, John Salmons and Brad Miller for a whole season will do a lot to offset last year's slow start. It's a contract year for Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah seems serious, finally. We'll see. It is a lot of ifs, so they'll likely be locked in an April chase for playoffs like last season.
- Philadelphia: Elton Brand returns, but after missing most of two seasons who knows. Andre Miller's fate is uncertain and lately the talk was a deal for Chris Duhon. They've been unsuccessful trying to deal Samuel Dalembert and seem to be on the playoff fence, as well.
- Miami: If this does happen, the big free agent talk will center around Dwyane Wade. They locked themselves into a bad position with the Jermaine O'Neal deal and you see how much Toronto was able to do with Shawn Marion's free agency. They've left Wade with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, both of whom didn't take things very seriously. It's hard to imagine Wade having another season to rival 2008-09. That team is too heavy to carry like that again.
- Charlotte: They are a dangerous team because of Larry Brown. His teams usually make a nice jump the second season and you could see them coming the end of last season. You know Brown is going to pull off another deal at some point.
- Detroit: I guess I'm not that impressed with their moves. They were the big team in free agency, but it's difficult to see how Gordon and Charlie Villanueva fit. They've turned from a traditionally tough team into a finesse, offensive team with another rookie coach. Kwame Brown is starting center and their other big is smallish Jason Maxiell. They missed on bringing back Antonio McDyess and there continues to be talk they'll try to move Richard Hamilton to create a starting spot for Gordon.
- Milwaukee: Likewise, Scott Skiles usually makes an improvement his second season. They are blowing their team up and trying to start again. If Andrew Bogut returns and can play at a high level along with Michael Redd they have a chance to be a playoff team. It's probably too much to ask after off loading Richard Jefferson. Outspoken Brandon Jennings with Skiles could be worth the price of admission.
- Indiana: I think Tyler Hansbrough will come in and help right away. It's unclear they match on Jarret Jack, though many projected them to pick a point guard because of uncertainty about that position. If Mike Dunleavy can return and give them something they, at least, can be competitive.
- New Jersey: They've broken it up more quietly now after dumping Vince Carter. They have some nice young talent, though with their lame duck status and arena future unclear, it's difficult to attract free agents. They could be a bit of a surprise if their young guys come along.
- New York: It's going to be all LeBron all the time. It's difficult to see why he'd go there no matter what happens with the Cavs season given the run of free agents passing on them. It's going to be an all-for-myself season with the team being broken up to accommodate free agency.
- Lakers: This is assuming they bring back Lamar Odom. They've been slow to do so given their high luxury tax status. Their big key has been their size, and Odom is a big part of that. I like the Artest move, though they'll have moments when they wondered why. Artest might be OK in the playoffs because the offense still will be about Kobe and Pau. If Odom balks, they fall to second.
- San Antonio: They've made as good of moves as anyone with the steal of Richard Jefferson and luring Antonio McDyess. Finally, they again have a real three and four. And, yes, Duncan is a center. Assuming Manu Ginobili is recovered from his ankle issues, they are gearing for a last run and can challenge the next two seasons.
- Dallas: Give them credit for being so creative with the deal for Shawn Marion. They brought back Jason Kidd, which is key to making Marion effective as Marion has no offensive game on his own. They figure to get a better season from injured Josh Howard and assuming they get Gortat, they have terrific versatility to go small or big as well as any team.
- Denver: Their big home court advantage should carry them this far, but they may have caught a bit of lightning in a bottle last season. They took a lot of tams by surprise and Chauncey Billups had an amazing season. They'll be pushed to duplicate it.
- Portland: Missing out on Turkoglu was a killer. He takes so much pressure off with his ballhanding. It's uncertain what they are up to now with their offer out to Paul Millsap. It's also curious why they've upset Brandon Roy in contract negotiations. We get to find out if Greg Oden is a bust. If he is this begins to fall apart.
- Phoenix: That's assuming Amar'e Stoudemire returns and is healthy. Many forget they were on the way to 50 wins before Stoudemire was hurt. Steve Nash clearly will be happier with Shaq gone and they retained Grant Hill. They're back to running and say they have a bench this time and will use it. We'll see.
- Utah: They're still the only team really in free agent flux with the offer on Millsap and trying to deal Carlos Boozer. They did bring back Mehmet Okur, but no one really knows what will happen and who'll they'll open the season with. Sloan and Deron Williams means playoffs, though.
- New Orleans: They're in flux with constant talk they need to deal Tyson Chandler to save money. They've still got Chris Paul and David West, which might be good enough to make the playoffs and that's about it. It could be a season when Paul begins to lose patience, though. Watch for that.
- Oklahoma City: They're going to be one of the most entertaining to watch. James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the backcourt is no point guard, but two guards. They'll score a lot and if they defend, who knows. With Thabo, Nick Collison and an improving Shaun Livingston they have some bench depth.
- Houston: No Yao. Not much of a season. Plus, Artest gave them a terrific season. Trevor Ariza is going to find life is a lot tougher without defenses guarding Kobe and Pau. Tracy McGrady will hover over them as well. It was a small window that's closed.
- Memphis: It now become a question from here on if which dysfunctional team emerges. Zach Randolph with O.J. Mayo and talk of adding Allen Iverson. Geez. We'll see if Hasheem Thabeet can play some defense as advertised.
- Golden State: There's a big deal somewhere. Maybe. They supposedly were the leaders for Bosh and Stoudemire and nothing happened. So they draft Stephen Curry, another scoring shooting guard. This is the most bizarre organization in history. Nellie gets enough wins to pass Lenny Wilkens and bails about January or February.
- Clippers: Getting rid of Randolph was huge for saving Blake Griffin's rookie season. Will Baron Davis play? Will Chris Kaman? There's still talent and loads of questions.
- Minnesota: The thinking seems to be they were a mess so what's the big deal? They traded their best depth for the rights to Ricky Rubio and he'll stay in Spain. They'll play rookie Jonny Flynn and hope he doesn't run too fast and shoot before Al Jefferson sets up.
- Sacramento: Poor Noce. This is the NBA kindergarten with all sorts of kids running all over the place. Noce will be shaking his head a lot and be in every trade rumor all season. Because he is Noce.
Wade becomes catch of 2010
-- With the Miami Heat doing nothing this summer, the biggest free agent target for next summer may be Dwyane Wade. Though Wade always talks about remaining in Miami, he certainly left open a strong possibility of moving on in comments last week to South Florida media. The Heat Sunday contacted Wade's representatives to presumably offer an extension on the first day possible. No one expects Wade to sign now. Said Wade: "As it stands today, 2010 is an opt-out year for me, and I'm looking forward to 2010. As I said to Pat Riley, I'm all about winning. I want to make sure we're putting ourselves in position to not just win games, to not just get in the first round, but to compete for a championship. And if it's not happening this year, then me signing that deal to give myself flexibility is pointless. I will wait until that's happening. I'm concerned from the standpoint of, I don't want to be fighting for eighth place or seventh place, coming off last year, where we fought for fourth. I don't want to step backwards. I want to continue to take steps forward. If other teams have made moves that are going to be productive for them and we haven't made any, then we might be stuck. And that 'stuck' doesn't mean fifth. It might mean lesser. I would like us to make some kind of move. ... On paper, so many teams have passed us, but it's on paper, so you don't know yet. I've been here six years, and if me signing back will lure people, that hasn't happened. Over the last couple of years, no one [big] has made their way to Miami. I don't believe that's the final decision for someone coming down. You have to get them and make them feel they want to come here. I'm here. I love to be here and everyone around the league knows this is where I want to be. Why would I want to leave Miami? That's what everyone is thinking." Hearing that, Wade certainly seems to make a heck of a case for leaving. It puts the pressure on the Heat to come up big in a season in which they could have difficulty making the playoffs. Though Miami has going for it the ability to pay Wade close to $30 million more with an extra year contract if he stays, and Wade has indicated finances also would be a major factor.
Summer on the Strip
-- The Las Vegas Summer League, in which the Bulls will participate starting games Tuesday, kicked off this past weekend as the Orlando Summer League games wrapped up. The Magic's Ryan Anderson, looking like a surprise pickup in the Vince Carter deal, the Pacers' Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook were said to have been the most impressive in Orlando. ... With the Heat, Bobcats and Hawks the only franchises not having summer-league teams, the Bobcats have loaned first-round pick Gerald Henderson to the Timberwolves' summer-league team in Las Vegas for offseason play. ... It's going on all over the NBA. Even in Portland. Brandon Roy is upset over negotiations on an extension and says it's 50-50. Owner Paul Allen, one of the richest men in the world, apparently has told Trailblazers management it must break even. The Oregonian quoted Tod Leiweke, the head of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment saying: "Paul Allen shouldn't subsidize the Blazers to be in Portland and we're getting closer and closer to that magical break-even number which Paul's asked for." Allen reportedly has asked his team of analysts and advisors to cut costs and apparently has given the basketball enterprise a two-year window to break even.
NBA news and notes
-- One of the interesting stories of the Las Vegas Summer League is Adam Morrison, the No. 3 overall pick and shooting and scoring star of the 2006 draft now trying to make it back after knee surgery and being traded to the Lakers. Morrison had 24 points and the game winning free throws in a win over the Raptors in Las Vegas. "Its tough being a competitor and not really contributing," Morrison told reporters after Friday's game. "I knew coming in that I probably wasn't going to play (with the Lakers). The guys on the team were always cool and always made me feel like I contributed in a way in practice and helping the team out, so that always make you feel better when the fellas let you know that you did something to help the team out." ... It doesn't seem Amar'e Stoudemire, who can be a free agent after next season, is so excited about a rumor of going in trade to the Warriors, which may be why Golden State seems to have backed off trying to make a deal. Said Stoudemire to the Arizona Republic: They call me Sun Tzu (Stoudemire changed his nickname from STAT Standing Tall and Talented to Sun Tzu after reading the Art of War) for a reason. I'm just being honest, stating facts over here, baby. I can play the 5, if need be. Whatever it takes to get us back to the top. I played five in our glory years. If I've got to do it again, we can do it. I'll sign an extension with a team that has a future. The ball is in midcourt right now. It's on both sides. We have to come to an agreement here and figure out what's best for both of us. If I had to re-sign with a mediocre team, it would be here. Because I'm here (Phoenix). I've been here my whole career. And I would love to bring the Suns back to where we once were. That's my ultimate goal, a la Paul Pierce. He did it with Boston. He stuck around. Boston took care of him. They made the right decision to bring in Garnett and a few other players and they won a championship. Hopefully, we can do the same here. I think my game itself deserves maximum level. I'm top 10 in the NBA. I'm top 10 for the past six years. I'm just going to improve. I'm 26 years old, going into the prime of my career so I think I deserve a maximum extension. It's all about winning. Why go to Golden State and try to rebuild there when I can stay here and rebuild here? The situation didn't make total sense to me. I think the Suns are trying to make the best decision for them so I've got to deal with it." ... Stoudemire, who has a Black Jesus tattoo, had an additional outpatient surgery last week for his detached retina and told the Arizona Republic: "Expect me, like you would expect Jesus, to come back. I'm coming. The injury knocks me down and kills STAT. Now, what's going to happen is the reincarnation of Sun Tzu." Stoudemire said he has become friends with the last descendent of Sun Tzu. Yes, free agency is a risky business.