Monday, July 13, 2009

Above the Rim: NBA Off-season Moves

The NBA off-season started with a bang as the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns, but there still might be one or two bullets (Carlos Boozer?) left in the chamber before the off-season is over. Here is a summary of the big moves so far.

Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs traded for the talented wing after Jefferson spent last season in Milwaukee. Jefferson has shown that he can be very effective when playing with an all-star point guard (Jason Kidd in New Jersey) and that will continue in San Antonio where he will play with Tony Parker. The Spurs still have the pieces to win a championship with Parker and Tim Duncan both returning and healthy. Sixth man Manu Ginobli may be wearing down as it is taking him more and more time to come back from nagging injuries. With Ginobli deteriorating, Jefferson will step in and be the third option for the Spurs as they challenge the Lakers in the West. The Spurs gave up aging role players Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, and Fabricio Oberto to get Jefferson, but RJ should be able to make up the difference as he helps spread the floor for Duncan and Parker and scores around 17 points per game this season.
Verdict- major upgrade; the Spurs gain a high scoring wing while giving up three veterans who are in decline

Vince Carter, Orlando Magic
The Magic traded Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie for Carter (and Ryan Anderson). After watching the Magic dismantle the Cavaliers in the playoffs last season, I think this trade will actually hurt Orlando, along with the loss of Hedo Turkoglu. The Magic were built on perimeter shooting, ball movement, and Dwight Howard. Lee and Alston both fit that system well and Battie was a solid back-up in the post. Carter will not fit that system as well because he likes to dribble and drive. That could make the Magic stagnant as it will slow down the offense and result in lots of players becoming stationary. Alston was expendable with Jameer Nelson returning from last season’s injury, but the Magic have now lost Lee, who was a promising young guard, and Turkoglu. Carter can score, but he needs the ball and that could take away from the rest of the team’s effectiveness.
Verdict- one step backwards; the Magic lose a young core player in Lee and Carter may not mesh with Howard and Rashard Lewis

Shaquille O’Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs finally pulled the trigger on the Shaq to Cleveland trade that was rumored at the February all-star break. Shaq played 75 games last season, his most since playing 73 in 2004-2005 with Miami when they won the championship and he should be motivated next season by the chance to win a ring with LeBron. However, the Cavs should not expect, nor do they need Shaq to match last season’s 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. If Shaq can perform at that level, the Cavs would be thrilled, but with LeBron and Mo Williams already in the offense, the Cavs should be satisfied with 15 points and 7 or 8 rebounds a night. With shooters like Delonte West, Williams, and Daniel Gibson, the Cavs should also benefit from Shaq’s ability to pass out of the post. The Cavs still have Zydrunas Ilgauskas to back Shaq up and split minutes, so Shaq may not see 30 minutes a game like he did last season. However, this will keep both Shaq and Z fresher and healthier for the playoffs where Shaq should give the Cavs a better match-up with Dwight Howard than Anderson Varejao and Z did last season. With this acquisition, the Cavs greatly strengthened their front court and added size that should help against Orlando, Boston, and the Lakers.
Despite all of these positives that Shaq brings, the real plus for the Cavs is what they gave up to get him. Subtracting Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic without gaining anyone might be seen as improving the team and at least could be seen as not getting worse. So to add a talent like O’Neal while giving up two players who would not have played significant roles next season is a major coup for GM Danny Ferry. It is reminiscent of Ferry’s trade last off-season in which he gave up Joe Smith and Damon Jones and received future all-star Mo Williams in return.
Verdict- big upgrade in the post while not giving up any value

Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers and Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
While both of these players were free agents, their signings virtually created a trade. The results should be interesting as well. The Lakers definitely improve in the short term with Artest joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to make the Lakers the early favorites to repeat. Artest is more polished than Ariza, although a very similar player, and is an upgrade to the Lakers for the next three years.
However, Ariza is only 24 and could become much better than Artest by the end of the contract. A good perimeter defender with the ability to score, Ariza will be in his prime near the end of this contract and could become a star. Artest has probably peaked, and while he is a good player, there won’t be any more improvement.
Verdict- this deal makes the Lakers better in the short-term, but the Rockets better in the long-term. If Artest can keep his emotions in check and avoid the suspensions that have hurt him in the past, the Lakers should win at least one title in the three years of this contract. Artest represents a mild upgrade over Ariza due to his more polished game, especially offensively. However, the Lakers may have hurt themselves in the long run because Ariza may develop into an all-star. The Rockets, on the other hand, may not make the playoffs next year with injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but Ariza will be able to mature with Aaron Brooks, Von Wafer, and the Rockets other young players. When Yao returns and the Rockets use McGrady’s salary to sign other pieces when he comes off the books, the Rockets may be in a strong position to make a run at the Finals in the last few seasons of Ariza’s 5-year deal.

Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons made a splash on the first day of free agency by spending $90 million on these two young players. Coming off a disappointing season in which the Pistons made the playoffs, but finished under .500 and were swept by the Cavs in the first round, the Pistons used their cap space to add two of the better young players in free agency. Initially targeting Carlos Boozer, the Pistons turned to Villanueva after Boozer exercised his player option with the Jazz. Villanueva will provide the Pistons with scoring and rebounding at the 4, but he will not be the banger Rasheed Wallace was. Villanueva is more of a finesse forward and is not as good defensively as Wallace. However, because he is only 24, Villanueva could grow into a more complete power forward and show he is worth $40 million over 5 years.
Gordon has already proven that he can score with anyone in the league, including Ray Allen in the playoffs, but the Bulls were unable to persuade him to stay in Chicago. The Pistons gain a shooting guard with unlimited range to plug next to promising young combo guard Rodney Stuckey. While Gordon can shoot the lights out, he is only 6’3” which can present match-up problems with some of the NBA’s bigger backcourts and Gordon is not very strong defensively to begin with. The signing also gives the Pistons three shooting guards (with Stuckey and Rip Hamilton) and no real point guard.
In these two deals, the Pistons sacrifice defense for offense and get younger in the process. Neither Villanueva nor Gordon will carry this team defensively like a Tayshaun Prince or Ben or Rasheed Wallace would. Also, neither player is the go-to-guy that can absolutely carry a team to victory. Both are good players, but they are not at the level where they will put a team over the top. The Pistons should see improvement, but they will not be able to catch Orlando, Cleveland, or Boston.
Verdict- moderate upgrade with defensive questions

Rasheed Wallace, Boston Celtics
This deal should help the Celtics depth, but should not be a very big upgrade. Wallace joins a crowded front court where Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, and Leon Powe are already fighting for minutes. Wallace could provide intensity and perimeter shooting at the 4, but his potential contribution is being greatly exaggerated. Garnett will still be the starter, and Davis and Powe are productive back-ups who will also get playing time. While the Celtics did not spend much to obtain Wallace (just the mid-level exception), the signing will not put them over the top. If Wallace plays, it will take minutes from Powe, Davis, and maybe Garnett. If he doesn’t play as much, then his contribution is even more limited. Wallace does not present a major upgrade over what Boston already had, so it does not improve them that much to play him instead of their other post players.
Verdict- staying in place

Potential deals that could make waves are the rumored three team trade that would send Carlos Boozer to the Bulls and Kirk Hinrich to the Blazers, Boozer to the Pistons for Hamilton, and Boozer to Miami. I don’t think Boozer will be traded, but he could be the final piece of a championship for some teams in the league, especially the Bulls.

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Blueday said...

I like the Bucks right now to make the playoffs next season. They just need someone to step up and be their floor leader.