Do the Other Contenders Match-Up with the Lakers?

Reed —  August 3, 2009

It seems that as soon as the championship parade at the Coliseum was finished, Laker fans have been collectively holding their breath in anticipation of an off-season in which two of the team’s most important contributors, and popular players, were free agents. Over the next 45 days Laker fans have been saddened (from losing the Los Angeles born-and-raised 24 year old blossoming small forward Trevor Ariza), maddened (by one David Lee-not the restricted free-agent Power-Forward- but the agent who engineered the Ariza exodus), intrigued (by the idea of Ron Artest and all that his signing means to the Lakers), scared to death (by the idea of Ron Artest and all that his signing means to the Lakers) and, relived (that the LO saga, which was very public and very arduous, ended the way it should have).

During all of this we have glanced around at what other contenders have been doing… “How are the Cavs gonna use Shaq?”-“Does Rasheed have anything left in the tank?”-“Theo Ratliff still plays basketball??”…we have all seen the tracker at the bottom of ESPN and heard the pundits applaud and deride various GM’s. This post seeks to go into the moves that top contenders have made this off-season and see how these moves help them match-up against our beloved Lakers. The way I see it, there are 5 other teams besides the Lakers that legitimately have a shot at winning the title next year: Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio and Denver. Because Denver didn’t make any big off-season moves (although I like them getting Lawson and Afflalo for guard depth) I will be looking at the first four teams mentioned above.


Last Season’s Record: 59-23
Playoff Outcome: Reached NBA Finals, losing to the Lakers 4-1.

Players Added/Retained: Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson
Players Lost: Hedo Turkoglu Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie

Big Risk, Big Reward Move: Acquiring Vince Carter. In deciding to let Hedo walk and pulling the trigger on the Vince Carter move, Magic GM Otis Smith has made the decision to go all-in with this team for the next couple of years. Along with Vince, the team added big-time payroll in the form of solid PF Brandon Bass and highly sought-after backup C Marcin Gortat. These moves have put the Magic in heavy tax territory. Vince only missed 2 games last season, and he is still capable of tossing up 22-24 pts a game. The guy can create off the dribble, pass better than most give him credit for and hit a high percentage from behind the arc (38%+). However, the big risk involved in this move is how he will affect the team chemistry, most notably the team defense of a team that went to the finals last year. Courtney Lee, even though a rookie last season, showed the ability to guard Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and anyone else he was asked to cover. This is Carter’s chance to show he can be part of a winning team. Considering his sulky past behavior and almost open admission that he quit on the Raptors, Carter will have to show he can play winning ball. To do this he will have to buy in on defense

Low Risk, Big Reward Move: Signing Matt Barnes. Barnes will be able to provide 3pt shooting and toughness on defense. Any playoff team could use these things, but Barnes may fit particularly well on the Magic. Most likely having to match-up with the Cavs and/or the Celtics in the playoffs, Barnes provides a player (along with Pietrus) that can, in theory, guard Paul Pierce and Lebron James for long stretches.

Stan Van Gundy’s Rest of Summer Wish List: Dwight Howard working on his back-to-the-basket game, Jameer Nelson getting healthy for the beginning of camp and Pietrus and Gortat staying injury free at the Euro Championships.

How Do They Match-up with the Lakers: Even though the Lakers won 4-1, I don’t need to remind folks how close 3 of the games were, and how great of a season the Magic had. However, much like the Lakers, next year’s Magic will be different. They have added length in Bass and Anderson and have kept Gortat. This will help them against the Lakers main strength outside of Kobe-the frontcourt trio of Gasol, Bynum and Odom. The Magic have also added a player to guard Kobe, Matt Barnes and a player who can score with Kobe, Carter. This is all to supplement their core of Howard, Lewis and Nelson. The Magic should be strong contenders next season, but the toughest job may fall on SVG and it will be interesting to see how he tinkers with the lineup. The main strength the Magic had was the two-SF frontcourt with Hedo and Rashard. Now SVG can go to a bigger lineup with Bass or Gortat teaming with Howard in the front-court. This may be the move that allows them to be a better team.


Last Season’s Record
: 62-20
Playoff Outcome: Knocked out in 2nd Round by the Magic 4-3

Players Added/Retained: Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels
Players Lost: Stephon Marbury, Miki Moore, potentially Glen Davis

Big Risk, Big Reward Move
: Signing Rasheed Wallace. This move wasn’t financially risky, as Wallace received the MLE over 3 years, but the move is risky in a basketball sense. Rasheed’s FG% has slowly been decreasing over the last few years and his interest level seems to have taken a corresponding dip. Maybe it was the rut the entire Pistons organization was in (unable to get past being a good team), but Rasheed doesn’t seem like the guy to lead the Celtics back to the top. This move suggests that Celtics GM Danny Ainge feels the team can once again count on KG to be the player he was in 2008 and Wallace can essentially be a combination of Leon Powe and PJ Brown. If Ainge is wrong on KG then the Celtics will again be undersized and undermanned. If Ainge is correct and Wallace is hitting from beyond the arc and giving Howard fits on defense, then the Celtics will again be the class of the East.

Low Risk, Big Reward Move: Signing Marquis Daniels. The Celtics have basically gone through two seasons in which Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have not had a suitable backup. Now they have one for each and it comes at the price of one player. Daniels can handle the ball and create for others off the dribble. If he can adapt to their defensive philosophy, he will be a great piece because Paul Pierce looked dead tired towards the end of that Magic series, and Daniels will allow him and Allen to get much more rest during the regular season.

Doc Rivers’ Rest of Summer Wish List: KG is getting healthy, Ray and Pierce are getting rest and Rajon Rondo is shooting 1,000 18 foot jumpers a day.

How Do They Match-up with the Lakers: A front-court of KG, Perkins and Rasheed, coupled with the ability to throw Allen and Pierce out against Kobe suggest the Celtics match-up quite well with LA. In the Finals the Celtics lack of depth would not be so glaring as rotations shorten up, so not having a quality back-up PG isn’t too much of a concern should the Celts meet the Lakers in the finals. However, any injuries to their front-court would severely hurt the Celts chances and should make re-signing the still in-limbo free agent Glen Davis a priority.


Last Season’s Record
: 66-16
Playoff Outcome: Knocked out in the ECF by the Magic (4-2)

Players Added/Retained: Shaq, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker
Players Lost: Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith

Big Risk, Big Reward Move: Acquiring Shaq. Although the price was not too high, the implications of acquiring Shaq are huge. Shaq had a strong year last year, but his team didn’t make the playoffs and his defense, especially on the pick-and-roll was even worse (if that is possible). Furthermore, everyone knows how he feels about his post touches, so how will his presence in the paint affect LBJ’s ability to drive the lane, and how will his lack of mobility hurt the Cavs defense. These issues and the risks associated with them are exacerbated by the fact that LBJ will be constantly questioned about his free agent status and the team will carry a higher profile with Shaq on board. Yea, this is the type of move that either works out really well, or really bad.

Low Risk, Big Reward Move
: Signing Anthony Parker. Parker is a legitimate 6’6 swingman, something the Cavs sorely needed. He is a low-maintenance guy in the sense that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He will play well off LBJ because of his spot up shooting ability and he will be even more important on the other end of the court because he will now allow Mike Brown to have a lineup devoid of 2 midget guards.

Mike Brown’s Rest of Summer Wish List: Shaq doesn’t get hurt on his reality show, LBJ keeps working on his ever-improving jumper,

How Do They Match-up with the Lakers: Adding Shaq to an already tall and long frontcourt helps the Cavs match-up size wise with the Lakers. They have multiple defenders to throw at Gasol and Bynum. In addition, signing Moon and Parker now gives the Cavs two more guys to guard Kobe than they had last season (when they had a total of 0 guys to guard Kobe). The length the Cavs have added on the wings may prove to be more significant than trading for Shaq, however, the Cavs still lack a versatile 4 man and in a series against the Lakers that means they have nobody to cover LO. Adding a 4 man that can defend the perimeter and hit the 3 may be the difference between a title and losing LBJ…get on the phone Danny!


Last Season’s Record: 54-28
Playoff Outcome: Knocked out of 1st Round by Dallas 4-1

Players Added/Retained: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Dajuan Blair, Theo Ratliff
Players Lost: Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto

Big Risk, Big Reward Move: Acquiring Richard Jefferson. This was an aggressive move by Spurs Owner Peter Holt, who usually doesn’t foray into tax-territory. By making this move the Spurs are signaling that they want to compete as much as possible while Duncan is still an elite player. However, adding payroll doesn’t guarantee success. Getting Jefferson means the Spurs are committed to playing Duncan as its Center with Ginobli, Parker and Jefferson on the perimeter and McDyess presumably as the other big. Jefferson will have to show that he can fit with the Spurs system

Low Risk, Big Reward Move: Drafting Blair. I was hoping the Lakers drafted Blair when he was available, and I am sure the Spurs are were ecstatic. Blair is a natural for the Spurs, he is a rugged defender and a rebound specialist. His size may not meet the measurables NBA scouts drool over, but if he is able to stay healthy, he will be the Spurs 1st contributing big off the bench.

Pop’s Rest of Summer Wish List: Tony Parker gets healthy, Manu Ginobli stays healthy and Tim Duncan gets plenty of rest

How Do They Match-up with the Lakers: As I mentioned above, the Spurs are going to be playing with Duncan as their tallest player. The Spurs had their best success with Duncan as PF and a legitimate Center covering him defensively and hitting the mid-range jumper. McDyess is no slouch on defense and can definitely hit the mid-range jumper, but at 6’9, he will have problems trying to guard either 7’1 Gasol or 7’0 Bynum. The Spurs have closed the talent gap between the two teams, but in spite of adding Ratliff, Blair and McDyess, the Lakers should still enjoy a size advantage against the Spurs. Also, the Lakers have the wonderful luxury of having Odom as an X-factor against Spurs, who don’t have a versatile 4 man to guard LO.

–Kwame A.



to Do the Other Contenders Match-Up with the Lakers?

  1. dave in hillsboro August 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Trevor Ariza was born in Miami.


  2. All four of those teams improved themselves.

    In the Eastern Conference it is going to be a dogfight for the #1 seed (to avoid the 2 v 3 matchup in the conference semis). For this reason I don’t favor Boston as they will need to pace themselves more because of age, and I don’t see them having enough gas left to beat Orlando, Cleveland and the Lakers or Spurs, in the playoffs, for the title.

    Orlando loses defense and offensive discipline with Carter and Barnes, but they are more talented than last year. But who will hit the big shots with Hedo gone? Can Jameer Nelson run the offense, keep the gunners under control, keep Howard fed and happy, along with being an offensive threat?

    Cleveland is built to win, depending on the “Big If”, but Shaq and Lebron are two really big egos in one small locker room. With Lebron with one foot out the door, and Shaq in a contract year looking for big numbers, if they don’t click incredibly well it could get ugly.

    The Spurs look pretty good, on paper, and if healthy, this could be their best team.

    Bynum is a big key, because they won the title with him at 60%, the Lakers could be scary good if he comes back strong for a full season.


  3. So as usual as every year it will be tough for the Lakers but not impossible and they have a better chance now with Artest at defense and Lamar for height Lakers will win again right? Right!!!


  4. Team clearly improved the most in my estimation was Cleveland getting Shaq, even at his age. If they can keep him healthy all the way through to the finals, assuming they make it that far, he would be ultra-motivated against the Lakers/Kobe, for obvious reasons…

    I also thought that the Magic gave up too much in an up-and-coming star in Courtney Lee and the point guard that got them through the playoffs and to the finals, Rafer Alston. Vinsanity showed how selfish he was back in that ’02 series the Raptors played the 76ers and the fact he had to attend a graduation at North Carolinca before gm 7, a game he didn’t play well and missed the last-second shot – probably due to fatigue. The other stupid thing they did was match on restricted free agent Gortat, this was after Brandon Bass signing. They’ve already got Rashard Lewis and Dwight at PF/C, then they sign Bass, but also Gortat (who bad-mouthed Van Gundy to a polish newspaper in the playoffs, basically agreeing with what Shaq said of him). Doesn’t make sense. Only think I like that they did was bring in Matt Barnes, he is majorly underrated.

    The Celtics adding Rasheed was stupid, first off how many forwards do they already have??? If I were then I would have maybe looked at trading Rondo while his stock is so high, he is so erratic. But what would unmotivated Rasheed add to them that Perkins (or KG) can’t do, Powe would have been wiser to keep around. Again, moves that don’t make sense.

    Richard Jefferson fit in with the Bucks like a sore-thumb, he hasn’t played real well in a couple seasons, since he was a Net. It will only help his game under Pop and and the Spurs ‘big-3’ now a ‘big-4’ but still Manu & Duncan are a year older, can they even match up to the Nugg’s – let alone the Lakers?

    Nice article, very thoughtful. Gotta look at the Lakers though having a great chance next year whomever they meet up with in the playoffs. Man, can’t wait to watch Artest/Kobe/Odom & Pau on the floor at one time, that will be killer!


  5. Nice article, the classification (risk/reward/etc) was a good vehicle to describe each team relative to LAL. Only omission of note – no mention of Artest as a matchup problem, article only considers our top four (LO/Pau/Drew/KB).


  6. The Magic did the best job at addressing their issues, and I also think we might see them use Gortat for a trade before all is said and done.

    I think the Celtics are going to regret their decision to pursue ‘Sheed immensely.

    Cleveland didn’t improve their biggest weak spot at the 4. Shaq will be an improvement over ‘Z, but they will still get killed by combo-forwards.


  7. PeanutButterSpread August 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    TA wasn’t born or raised in LA, but it sure felt like he was.

    He only attended UCLA for one year. but that 1 year was enough to make him an LA “product” for life, especially since he was also a huge Laker fan to boot.

    I still see him as a LFL.


  8. Health will (obviously) be a key for each of these teams. That as much as anything may determine who is left standing at the end.

    Beyond that, I think the Magic scare me most. They made it to the finals without Nelson last year. And as was pointed out, that 4-1 finals was deceptive. Vince seems to play Kobe well, if I recall correctly. Bass is a good pick up. They are my bet to take the East.

    Can’t wait for the season to get underway. There are some good teams and some exciting players to watch.


  9. I guess because Trevor went to Westchester, I assumed he was raised in LA, my bad.


  10. PeanutButterSpread August 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    kwame a. –

    true, I forgot TA attended Westchester High, so I guess he was raised in LA after all!


  11. Almost every center in the modern NBA era had an enormous statistical downturn when he turned 37. Robinson, Ewing, and Hakeem all dropped off a cliff when they hit 37. Shaq had a nice come back year last year, but I strongly believe that he won’t be half as effective this year as he was last year.

    Orlando will hold Gortat’s contract until next year, because he will be a base-year compensation guy this entire season, so they’ll only be able to get back whatever value he had in his previous contract, which was $400k+. So his BYC value would be somewhere around $2.9 mil (50% of his new contract), meaning they can only take back someone whose contract is between $2.2 mil and $3.5mil (rough numbers). But if they hold onto him for a year, they can move him for someone worth a little more than the MLE.

    Rashard Lewis is going to have a career year burning all those slowpokes in the East frontlines.


  12. I think Orlando improved the most. I know a lot of people are not sold on Vince, but he is exactly what they were missing in the Finals. Their offense came down to either a three pointer, or a dunk by Howard. That’s it. Vince gives them the scoring option they sorely need when those other two options are taken away.

    And adding Bass (and keeping Gortat) were great moves, also.

    I am not sold on the Cavs gaining Shaq. First, off Shaq is most effective in the lane. At the same time, that is where LeBron is most effective. I am interested to see how Mike Brown addresses that issue. Which brings me to my second reason, Mike Brown. It is bad enough his offense does not truly capitalize on LeBron’s game. How will the Cavs offense truly take advantage of both LBJ and Shaq? Their games are not as compatible as some may think.

    Rasheed Wallace is the player Cleveland needed. He is a long armed defender who could have played along side Z if needed. And most of all he could stretch the floor open up space for LeBron.

    Lastly, I am not sure Shaq will be able to duplicate his performance this coming season. In the first part of last season he benefited from Porter running the offense through him. In the second part of the season he benefited from Gentry’s fast pace where the extra possessions make everyone’s numbers go up. He will see neither in Cleveland.


  13. I’m worried. How will we guard Rondo now that Sun Yu is gone? what will our future be like without the “chinese magic”? Please… somebody help us!


  14. Great post kwame. All 4 of those teams improved, potentially by leaps and bounds. Out of the 4, the Spurs scare me the least. That’s not to say they’re not formidable, only that the other 3 could give us more fits.

    To me, Orlando is easily the most stacked of the group, but a healthy Boston matches up the best with us. It’s hard to decide who’s more of a threat. Just adding Nelson would put Orlando much closer to our level, and if (as I suspect) SVG tweaks the system to get the most of out VC, they might give us the most fits.

    That said, I still think Orlando has difficulty matching up with Boston. If those two end up playing, both healthy, I think we’re more likely to see Boston.

    It’s interesting to think about, comparing how much we’ve improved to those teams. It’s hard to be unbiased, either we’ll be homers or we’ll be pessimists, but it’s hard to judge how much we’ve improved compared to a revamped team like Orlando.


  15. Mock Sun at your own peril. He will come back to haunt us.

    Am I the only one disappointed our championship DVD wasn’t titled “The Year of the Rising Sun”?


  16. zephid, that is interesting stats on the centers. It did look like at times Shaq was completely overmatched/out of place out on the court last season (even sad to watch since I know a lot of Laker fans, like myself, still like Shaq and root for him). But other times he showed glimpses of the Shaq of ‘2000, dropping a reverse spin-dunk or a nice finger-tip shot over a center, or snatching a rebound with power. But if as you point out a lot of big-time centers dropped off right around this current age for Shaq, then the signing is much-less valuable as it appears for Cleveland.

    Gortat’s signing is still a mystery, the Magic are tying up a lot of their salaries in their PF/C’s with Dwight, Lewis, Bass & Gortat. Besides, here is a guy in Gortat that bad mouthed their coach, played sparingly in the playoffs, didn’t want the Magic to match and is not going to see much playing time with the Magic. I don’t know what they were thinking, maybe I’m missing something but Magic bringing him back primarily as trade bait, and as zephid says it will probably be at least a year before they even get some value under the complicated NBA trade rules, well I just don’t understand the Magic’s thinking…


  17. Um, yeah. #1 is right. You may want to correct that right now.


  18. I like the addition of Vince for Orlando. He can do just about everything on the court that Turk could, only better. Bass and Barnes are good additions for what was a fairly shallow frontcourt.

    However, I think Boston wins the East if they stay healthy (and if KG is still KG when he comes back). Not only has Rasheed shown he can give Howard problems as Kwame alluded to, but Perkins also did an excellent job on him last year. If Howard is anything less than super, I don’t think Orlando has enough advantages elsewhere on the court to beat Boston over 7 games.

    Not really sold on the Shaq trade as a difference-maker for Cleveland, even if his production doesn’t fall off a cliff. Orlando can pick-and-roll him to death, and Boston can drag him out of the paint with Sheed. I also think he clogs up the paint for LeBron, especially with Varejao alongside him most of the time (which is another reason they need the versatile 4 Kwame describes).

    San Antonio is much improved without a doubt, but at the end of the day they still can’t match up with Kobe or Odom, and still have to pick their poison between Bynum and Gasol. Unless Duncan has a 2003-type series (assuming he and Ginobili are even healthy), they don’t quite have the horses to top the Lakers. That could change though as they still have some expiring contracts to package for another quality player.


  19. Do the Other Contenders Match-Up with the Lakers?”

    No, they do not.


  20. Thanks for pointing out that Orlando will miss Courtney Lee. He’s been kind of an afterthought in that trade but he was big for them in the playoffs last year. A Lee/Harris backcourt is a nice foundation in NJ.

    Maybe I’m jaded but it seems next to impossible for Vince and SVG to be on the same page.


  21. so the team that scares me the least is….wait for it…. The Cavs. Call me crazy, but of the big 5 the Cavs are the only team that won’t have a 2nd all star next year. Inside/Outside combos are what make championships these days, and the Cavs have the weakest one right now.

    As I see it: 1)Kobe/Pau. 2)Pierce/KG 3)Nelson/Howard 4)Duncan/Parker 5)Lebron/Shaq. And I would rank their teams in the same order.


  22. 11) That is the same age QBs tend to have the biggest drop-off, too.


  23. Nice article, the thing I like about other teams making improvements is that it’s an adjustment to match up to OUR team (and okay, to Dwight too). Perhaps not as hare-brained as all the moves when we got Pau, but some reaches nonetheless as contending teams realize the Lakers’ championship window is firmly open yet again.

    As for Sun Yue, I believe we’ll see him again in this league, IF he can wrench himself loose of his nation’s control over his basketball development.

    At least I got to see him dunk in a Laker (practice) uniform:

    Oh sigh, Sun’s Laker career in two possessions (where’s the defensive awareness?:


  24. I would still say Orlando is the team to beat in the East because of them coming in second to the Lakers in the Finals and the moves they made this off-season, which I like and think adds depth. Then I would say Boston would be the 2nd team the Lakers much watch out for because with Boston the Rasheed move was good to match up with us(Lakers) but you still can double off Rondo and disrupt the other big man, I really think they need a PG who can punish a team for doing that consistantly which Rondo hasn’t shown the ability to do yet and I’m not worried about the Cavs at all because just as you mentioned they still don’t have that guy who can shoot 3’s and defend. Aslo they let Courtney Lee go because he is too small and couldn’t defend Kobe, they needed more size and Orlando did that so the Lakers better watch out for them.


  25. The east doesn’t scare me, because in the end, it’s just going to be one of them that we have to go through, and whoever that is, will be battered.

    To me, everything hinges on Bynum. If he becomes half the player he was just before his second injury, we have all the answers and all the questions while our opponents are riddled.


  26. props on the article. one of the things that I’d refute though is that lebron doesn’t need to work on his jumper, he needs to work on his post up!! something refined, with footwork half way to where kobe’s at and we should be rightfully scared, with or without a 37 year old center. I do wonder how they’ll split the limits on center, and where does Z fit in, if neither centers can guard the PNR. For the magic, I do believe they’ll have to change their playing style to an extent to cater for bass (more minutes than battie) and gortat (may try playing him next to howard).. also i think one of orlando’s biggest strengths last postseason was having a ball-handling forward. VC can get his shot, but now PNR duties probably goes back to nelson, i wonder if this affects their ability to get the corner 3.

    but through and through, i must say i’m itching for the season to start. between the chasms between the top5 and bottom feeders, the lessening and marginalizing of the middle tiers. I’m just happy to be a laker fan.

    and does anyone else notice how slow artest is on their 2k9?


  27. The 09-10 schedule is set to be released tomorrow, always interesting to see which 6-8 teams the Lakers play on the road during the “Grammy Trip”.


  28. Orlando is NOT going to be as good as you think they are. Firstly, our finals was NOT close. I don’t care how revisionist you want to be, but we beat them 4 games to 1. We blew them out of 2 games, one of them on their home floor. We beat them twice on their home floor. Everyone should remember that this is the NBA finals –two very good teams. It is like this every year. This is as good as a blow out as you are going to get in the finals. The only game the Magic actually won, was one in which they shot the highest FG% in finals history! We blew them out.

    Now, in those finals I was always most scared of hedo. I knew what we were going to get from Howard –rebounds on hard fought points. Rashard, despite having a nice shot, doesn’t have much else. Hedo on the other hand is very versatile and can do a great many things. His drives in the lane upset me the most, as he could pass or shoot or take it all the way. Vince is not the player Hedo was. I don’t even think that Vince would win a 1 on 1 game against Hedo, because of Hedo’s size.

    Everyone remembers the Vince of 2001 not the Vince of 2008. He is going to be 33 years old by next years playoffs. He is over the hill and coming down. Athletes fall disgracefully fast when they are past their prime –especially those who rely soley on talent and not on acquired skills. Furthermore, Vince has always been and done 1 thing: lose. He has made it to the playoffs only 6 of his 11 years and has NEVER and i mean NEVER made it past the 2nd round of the playffs. The Nets made it to 2 nba finals back to back, prior to Vince getting there. After his arrival, they never again made it past the 2nd round.

    The celtics have me worried. It all depends on health with them. Pierce seems to be declining in my eyes. KG is still great, but how will he be post-injury? Sheed also looks like he is declining fast. It is much harder to turn it off and on than you think. I highly doubt that this year he just wasn’t trying and next year he will try. Nevertheless, they pose the most serious risk.

    Cleveland is not much better than last year because they failed to fix the most glaring problem: coaching. Would Phil Jackson ever just tell Kobe to go 1 on 5 in the WCF? That’s what Brown/Lebron did for entire GAMES. This is a tell tale sign of horrible coaching. Also, Lebron has some VERY good teammates. He does not use them as well. If he was not the NBA/Media’s darling, then he would be treated as Kobe was 3-4 years ago. Selfish, ball-hog, etc etc etc. Except that he actually has very good teammates to get involved and Kobe had Smush/Kwame/Mihm.

    The Lakers are still by far the best chance to win. It is very difficult to repeat because of the psychological let down. Will the lakers have one? If they don’t they have the best chance to win.


  29. Keep whistling,


    Blazer fans.


  30. The Celts and Spurs are two teams that improved themselves, while keeping their core players. CleveBron and Magic changed the whole dynamic of their teams. Chemistry will be a problem for both, considering that new additions will have to find the role they play on a new team.

    The one team I felt had the best off season was not on the list: Denver. With the signing of T. Lawson and A. Affalo, they pretty much kept the same personnel. Coach Karl will be able to use “Us Against The World” and “Nobody Respects US” to rally the troops all year long if they continue to be off everybodys radar. Denver was a very good team last year and will be even better this year.


  31. DirtySanchez- I agree with. I mentioned Denver as one of the other 5 contenders, but didn’t delve into their offseason because they only added small pieces (although adding those pieces to their core will keep them among the Leagues best teams).


  32. I think the Nuggets have done pretty well for themselves. They retained Birdman; Afflalo is an upgrade, and so is Ty Lawson.

    I’m not too keen on the Magic’s moves. Bass+Gortat+Barnes > Turkoglu? No way. And no back-up pg, save Anthony Johnson. Was depth what they really needed to address? They ought to have simply hired a free throw coach for Howard. If Howard hits his FTs at a better rate, he’d be a lock for MVP.

    And I don’t know that Boston ever recovers from letting Posey walk. Surprised they haven’t gone out and gotten a similar kind of player–a combo forward. And they still lack a trustworthy back-up pg.


  33. Good comments folks. Don’t forget that
    the Magic add a healthy Jameer. I think with a healthy and strong Bynum, we can beat all the listed teams, and without him (god forbid) it will be a crapshoot, but I like our chances.

    But Portland is the only team that I am nervous about. ( Actually, Bobcats too, but they aren’t getting to the finals. ). I am not sure Miller is the missing piece vs the Lakers. He isn’t a speed demon though he can get to the hoop, and he isn’t sharp from 3. He can give Roy a break from running offense, though. They have a ton of maturing players so they’ll be better just from age.

    In any case, this will be a great year to watch. The post-Gasol trades in Spring 08 you knew were going to torpedo the Suns and Mavs. This year it’s not so clear who will be better.


  34. Aside from the teams I mentioned in the post there are a couple other teams that may be able to vault into elite status this year:

    Mavs: If they had gotten Gortat I’d have them listed in the top 5. I think Marion proves to be a relevant player again next year.

    Portland: If they can keep Oden healthy and integrate Miller with Roy.

    Clippers: Well, maybe not a contender, but they may be an impact team this year.


  35. 29, we were a Courtney Lee lay-up and one Dwight Howard free throw away from being down 3-1 with Game 5 in Orlando. If anything, the series was much, much closer than the 4-1 end score really accounts. Yea, Game 1 was a legitimate blow-out, but a lot of that had to do with nerves, and I can’t blame them for giving up in Game 5, considering they would’ve had to win three games in a row, something we haven’t done since February 1, 2008, two of them back-to-back in LA. They basically said, “we can’t beat these guys, so why kill ourselves when all we’re doing is giving the Lakers more money from home games?”

    And Vince Carter has not relied on his athleticism for quite some time. If anything, he is most criticized for his love-affair with the three point line, although it’s not quite as one-sided as Josh Smith’s. Vince Carter was getting very serious All-Star consideration last year, but because the Nets were so tremendously stinky, lost out. He really does everything Turkoglu can do, except a little better. The only question now is whether he’ll remain utterly allergic to defense the way Hedo was.


  36. Los Angeles Lakers 9-5
    Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1
    Boston Celtics 5-1
    San Antonio Spurs 8-1
    Orlando Magic 10-1
    Denver Nuggets 12-1
    Portland Blazers 12-1

    per scoresandodds. Other sites have Orlando at 8-1 and Blazers at 22-1.

    I think before LO signed, the odds were 5/2 for the Lakers.


  37. I disagree that Denver will be a threat to the Lakers this season. The Lakers beat them in six this past season, Denver hasn’t really gotten any better, and the Lakers have added a player (Artest) who matches up substantially better than Ariza in trying to check Melo. If those two teams met again at full-strength, I don’t see how anyone could say the Nuggets come out on top.

    I think Chauncey’s honeymoon will be over and for some reason – just a fan’s hunch – expect the Nuggets to pull a Golden State circa 2008, when everyone built them up from what they’d done the prior spring but they couldn’t sustain it the next fall and beyond.

    I’m also not sold on the Spurs or Cavs, where age and square pieces in round holes will do those would-be powerhouses in come May. I agree with those who see Orlando as the class of the east, even if VC is way overrated, and out west, look out for the Blazers to be the real threat to the Lakers. They matchup as well as anyone, player for player.


  38. To me, the teams added in talent though some loss promise for the future. To add talent surely means increasing the ceiling of potential. However, count chemistry to that and that reveals the reality that all these, us included have to face. Amazing how everyone else is selling their souls via the cap space. That said I know we can match-up with all of them. That to me is something to keep me sleeping at night.

    Shelden to Boston? I thought he was under our nose.


  39. Duncan and Dwight are the best Centers in the league right now. Without Shaq or Yao (or really any true Centers worth speaking of) Duncan at C is fine, even preferable come playoff time.

    Besides that, Duncan usually matched up with the guy who was least likely to give him foul trouble so he’d have avoided Pau anyways. Whether the rest of the Spurs frontcourt platoon can contain Gasol is another question.


  40. Kwame,

    Pretty good job. However, I disagree with this:

    “Barnes will be able to providetoughness on defense.Barnes provides a player (along with Pietrus) that can, in theory, guard Paul Pierce and Lebron James for long stretches. ”

    Count me as someone who thinks Matt Barnes is no defender. Also, it’s Vince who would be an effective defender against Kobe. VC actually matches up fairly well with Kobe.


  41. off topic, but why can’t we make off season moves that hire the Suns’ medical staff or something like that?

    not that i think Vitti is as incompetent as they make it sound like on the web, but still, with so much hingeing on health, teams would be smarter to employ medicineball rather than moneyball…


  42. On paper the Magic are really good. They are extremely talented and all just depends on how it comes together. The thing that will help them the most if they happen to meet the Lakers again in the finals (or anyone else for that matter) is a healthy Nelson. With Nelson they will have someone that can exploit the Lakers biggest weakness. Don’t forget that he burned the Lakers twice last year in the two regular season games. I think that if he was healthy or this years finals it would have been a longer series.

    SA will be good if everyone is healthy, but when was the last time Ginobili was healthy 2 years ago. With the addition of Jefferson they have some insurance against a Ginobili injury and may well make the WCFs even if Ginobili is not healthy but I don’t think they will be good enough to beat the Lakers without a healthy Ginobili.

    Boston’s success will depend on how healthy they are and how much rest the starters can get during the regular season. Pierce and Allen looked gassed by the end of the season this year. Also if Rondo continues to improve they may be scary good (especially if he gets his jumper to a respectable level).

    Cleveland is a big question mark. How will the addition of Shaq effect the offense and defense? How much does Shaq have left? Can he stay healthy? Can big Z stay healthy? Can they defend the pick and roll at all?


  43. Kwame,

    I like very much what you’ve done in your analysis, but basketball can be a game of abrupt year to year changes, and I’d like to suggest a few reasons why we need to think more broadly about next season.

    First of all, every season is a new season, with new challenges. Even though the Lakers have only switched one player from last season, they will come together differently next season. I’m speculating the Lakers will be more about power and less about speed, more about controlling transitions and less about steals, more lockdowns at slow tempos, and less basket trading at up tempos.

    I also am speculating more salary dumping by the have nots, allowing some emerging “haves” to tweak themselves into playoff threats near the midseason trade deadline.

    Without going into any detail, let’s consider some other teams that might either get in the playoff chase by mid season–or fold. I’ll explain why I think so at another time.

    Eastern Conference:

    Bulls, Wizards, Pistons, Pacers, Hawks

    Western Conference:

    Nuggets, Mavericks, Jazz, Hornets, Rockets, Blazers, Clippers


  44. On paper, there is no other team (as currently constituted) that can beat the Lakers. Health is the key to the Lakers going back to back. I only wonder about 2 things:

    1. How will Artest deal with the triangle? I know he has had a little experience with it before & says he really likes it, but I have unrealistic expectations about a perfectly smooth transition because of being spoiled by Pau’s seemingly instant accclimation.

    2. With the schedule coming out…if the Lakers play the Griz in Jan, Andrew Bynum must be chained to his hotel room door, right?

    Now that the summer of worry has turned for the better, I was also thinking how incredibly lucky us Laker fans are for how competitive the team has generally been and how many finals appearances and championships have been had. Fans of so many other teams would give up a kidney for that kind of success. I will enjoy this summer… a lot.


  45. Artest will add a lot to the team, but I’m not ready to say that he can guard Lebron. What he does do is allow us to throw different looks at almost every great player in the leage. We have 2 above average defenders to throw at anybody that may get in our way, except for elite point guards.

    Howard- Gasol/Bynum (worked well in the finals)

    Lebron- Kobe/Artest (Kobe has kept him in check in the past, and Artest’s defensive numbers against him looked good)

    Carmelo- Kobe/Artest

    Pierce- Kobe/Artest (again, a previous analysis showed Artest has done well)


    Duncan- Pau/Bynum

    Unfortunately, we don’t have many answers for Tony Parker, Rondo, or Jameer Nelson besides occasionally throwing Kobe at them and hoping Shannon Brown steps up.


  46. which reminds me, I totally buy into the idea that Kobe/Artest can be like Jordan/Pippen on the defensive end.


  47. #36 zephid,

    When you have to make that many excuses for a team, then you know you are in trouble! First off, in game 2, that would have been a miracle for them to sneak that one out. They were never ahead by more than 3 points for the entire game. Secondly, they had 1 chance and that was a miracle lob from mid court with a second left on the clock. It would have been a miracle if they won. Secondly, you can make all the excuses you want for games 1 and 5, but they were BLOW OUTS. You have given excuses on why they were blow outs, but they were nonetheless. Furthermore, they lost game 4. They lost it not because of 2 missed free throws, but because they were outplayed. The Magic got 18 free throw attempts in the 4th quarter and overtime –the Lakers not only got 0 free throw shots, but they didn’t even have a foul called for them until 1 minute to go in the 4th quarter. I don’t care what you say, this was patently unfair. I must correct myself, the Lakers did get free throws, when they were up by 7 points with less than a few seconds to go in overtime. Yet the magic still lost this must win game, at home.

    Furthermore, this series was much closer to a SWEEP than anything else –even though the magic shot the highest FG% in finals history, they still should have lost game 3. Ugly play, missed foul shots and turn overs cost us that game –even then we had a chance to win with the ball in Kobe’s hands as time was running down.

    Like i said, you can make excuses and whatifs all you want. The truth of the matter is that the NBA finals was an absolute destruction —as bad and lopsided as you are going to get in the NBA finals. There was never even a moment when it seemed to the unbiased fan, that the lakers had a chance of losing. Not even a moment when things were balanced –everyone knew that the lakers were going to win that series unless they had a massive collapse.


  48. Yes, the Lakers were going to blast them off the court in game 4 until the officials took over.


  49. I agree with Kaveh – you could make an argument that series was closer than
    4-1, but the truth of the matter is, the Lakers got one of the worst jobbings I’ve ever seen from the referrees in Game 4, and still won.

    It wouldn’t have come down to Howard missing free throws if the Lakers had got JUST ONE freakin’ call in that 4th Quarter.

    The Lakers gave away Game 3 with turnovers and poor execution down the stretch – that was their game to win.

    And Game 2 – well, they needed a ridiculously difficult hail-mary attempt at the end of the game to win.

    As far as the breakdown of the contenders:

    1) I think everyone is WAY overrating Matt Barnes as a defender. Since when did he become the second coming of Raja Bell? He’s a terrific streak shooter from distance, but he’s not a good defender.

    2) Swapping Hedu for Vince is NOT an upgrade. In the regular season, they might be better, but when has Vince ever shown the ability to step up in crunch time in the playoffs (the way Hedu did time and again)? Playoff games are usually won in crunch time. Who’s Orlando’s crunch time guy, now? Vince? Really?

    3) The Celtics were and still are the most difficult matchup for the Lakers. If the Lakers meet a reasonably healthy Celtics in the Finals, I have no idea what the outcome would be…the only upgrade is Artest guarding Pierce instead of VladRad…

    4) Cleveland is going to implode…maybe during the regular season, maybe during the playoffs. The Lakers are still a terrible matchup for them (especially now that Artest can guard Lebron). Odom is still matchup nightmare for them, and any benefit of having Shaq is nullified by the Lakers having Bynum to throw at him. Also, Kobe absolutely torched Anthony Carter every time the Lakers played Toronto. Carter can’t guard him.

    5) Spurs WHEN HEALTHY are a difficult matchup for the Lakers, too…but what guarentee is there that they’re going to be healthy? The Lakers, as they’ve shown the past two years, have pretty much figured out how to gameplan for the Spurs – Gasol takes away Duncan’s angles with his length, Kobe guards Tony Parker, and they zone up on the rest of the guys. Ginobili has been hurt for long stretches the past two years, and he’s not young anymore…who’s to say last year wasn’t Duncan’s last great season? I just don’t see them holding up over the long season.

    6) Denver caught lightening in a bottle last season – replicating that will be very difficult. I see them ousted in the second round next year.


  50. #42: I don’t think 72 will happen because of the travels. When the Lakers got off to a fast start last season, there was talk of hitting 70 and we all know how that went.

    I can’t think about the playoffs much less the finals right now. The top teams got better, arguably; so did we, arguably. We’re still the favs, as we should be. The one I fear most, the one manned team, is Team Injury.

    The regular season just can’t come soon enough. Arggghh.


  51. With 3 teams being fined for early schedule leaks, there must be some tasty matchups that the league didn’t want released until ESPN “analysts” could write up the obligatory “10 Must See Games” or “The Matchups that Mean the Most” type of fluff. We all know that the Lakers will likely play Cleveland, Orlando or Boston on Christmas because…well, like the Cowboys are to Thanksgiving, so the Lakers are to Christmas. I think the League should just come out and say that the Lakers will play a HOME game every Christmas. There will the epic 7 to 9 game roadie around the Grammy’s (and that trip this past year galvanized the team). There will (hopefully) only be one trip to Memphis. Perhaps this is the year where the Lakers run the table on the Texas Triangle on one trip. And I’m sure that our lone game at MSG will be on national TV this year (hoping for more magic from #24). I predict the season opener will be October 27 or 29th versus the Spurs, although it will likely be Dallas, Portland or some other middle of the road or “up and coming” WC team . And if we stay healthy and the schedule has some occassional 3 day breaks (we had 1 in the last 2 1/2 months las season), then 72 could be in sight.


  52. The Lakers will be visiting Memphis … on February 1st.

    Looks like our young Andrew might have dodged the whole “Grizzlies in January” curse, but just barely.


  53. 17/21 at home to start the season?

    Here…we’d like you back in the Finals. Maybe this will help.


    NBA schedule makers.


  54. The Lakers have 20 b2bs next season. That’s nearly half their games. Plus they have such a ridiculously home heavy sched to start the year that they have a march sched with 4 home v. 11 away games. Ugh.


  55. 50. I’ve been a Laker fan all my life since the Magic/Kareem days, but wow…talk about revisionist homerism. You need to rewatch the Finals and take them Laker rose-colored glasses off.


  56. January and March will tell the tale of this year’s Laker schedule – we have 11 road games in each month. Wow. And I thought we would have had fewer back to backs, but that is the way it is.


  57. The road trip at the end of January will be tough. 8 away games in 11 nights with two back to backs in there one at the very end.

    I think Bynum should just sit out the game in Memphis (stay in LA and in bed or something) just to be safe even if its not in January.


  58. Your post addresses quite well how contenders match up against the Lakers.

    Whether you, however, consider the Blazers contenders or not, I actually fear them the most in the West. The Lakers have beaten Spurs, they beat Orlando in the finals last year, and proved they can show up focused in Boston and Cleveland at least during the regular season.

    The Lakers, however, have not won in Portland in about 2 years. On top of that, Portland can match up with LA and they play against the Lakers extremely hard.


  59. New Post up about the schedule


  60. 4.

    Your reasoning is so off-base, I had to respond:

    “Team clearly improved the most in my estimation was Cleveland getting Shaq, even at his age. If they can keep him healthy all the way through to the finals, assuming they make it that far, he would be ultra-motivated against the Lakers/Kobe, for obvious reasons…”

    I fail to see how this is the case, since Shaq will be pushing the Cav’s second best player (in both Net Production and Roland Rating, see out of the starting line-up, who happens to be a much better fit for LeBron offensively and who plays superior defense (15.0 Opp. Production to Shaq’s 18.7). This goes without mentioning that in going all in with Shaq, Cleveland failed to address their team’s weakest link in the 4 spot, which they are now manning with Varajao, JJ Hickson, & Darnell Jackson.

    “I also thought that the Magic gave up too much in an up-and-coming star in Courtney Lee and the point guard that got them through the playoffs and to the finals, Rafer Alston. Vinsanity showed how selfish he was back in that ‘02 series the Raptors played the 76ers and the fact he had to attend a graduation at North Carolinca before gm 7, a game he didn’t play well and missed the last-second shot – probably due to fatigue. The other stupid thing they did was match on restricted free agent Gortat, this was after Brandon Bass signing. They’ve already got Rashard Lewis and Dwight at PF/C, then they sign Bass, but also Gortat (who bad-mouthed Van Gundy to a polish newspaper in the playoffs, basically agreeing with what Shaq said of him). Doesn’t make sense. Only think I like that they did was bring in Matt Barnes, he is majorly underrated.”

    First of all, I’m not sure where you get “up-and-coming star” from Courtney Lee’s game. Solid rookie season, yes, but we’re talking about an old rookie by NBA standards: seriously, dude’s going to be 24 in 2 months.
    Speaking of VC, he actually played pretty darn well in that Game 7 (which actually took place in ’01); he shot poorly at 6-18 but made up for it with 7 rebounds, 3 steals, & 9 assists to 0 turnovers (see As far as being tired… dude took a 1-hour flight on his owner’s private jet 5 hours before tip-off. C’mon now.
    Finally, you’re really coming out of left field implying that Lewis, Bass, & Gortat are replications of each other. Lewis may be 6’10” but he’s a pure wing player. Bass is a slightly undersized at the 4 much less the 5. Gortat is a true 5 at 6’11”, 240, who has already proven himself to a quality back-up to Howard.
    Oh yeah, and Matt Barnes is not good.

    “The Celtics adding Rasheed was stupid, first off how many forwards do they already have??? If I were then I would have maybe looked at trading Rondo while his stock is so high, he is so erratic. But what would unmotivated Rasheed add to them that Perkins (or KG) can’t do, Powe would have been wiser to keep around. Again, moves that don’t make sense.”

    Before signing Wallace, the Celtics had Garnett, who is coming off of knee surgery at age 33; Powe, who is coming off of his 3rd knee surgery; Davis, who is a fat crybaby who asked for 3X the $ that Ainge offered him, and Scalabrine, who is Scalabrine. Wallace may be old and in decline, but is also a very experienced and crafty player who has a lot to offer as a back-up on mid-level $. I’m sure he’ll be more motivated playing for a legit championship contender than he was for a sinking ship last year.
    It’s pretty funny to see you call Courtney Lee an “up-and-coming star” while labeling the younger and far superior Rondo as erratic. Seriously, dude averaged 16.9 ppg, 9.8 apg, and 9.7 rpg in the playoffs. Please Ainge, trade him now…


  61. 64) Aaron- Oh, that’s right. Bill Simmons is wrong anytime he’s doubting a Laker player, but he’s right every time he gives one credit. I forgot.


  62. i agree and disagree with the debate on the lopsidedness of the finals. sure it was definitely one-sided but it was not by far an “absolute destruction —as bad and lopsided as you are going to get in the NBA finals.”

    c’mon there have been a good amount of sweeps that were alot more lopsided than that series and surely, a bunch of 4-1 series that were as well.

    i would say detroit over l.a. 4 -1 in 04 was a lot more of a whooping then orl-l.a.. they were an overtime away from getting swept and in all the losses, they never lead in the second half. now that series was a 4 -1 whooping.


  63. Regarding Finals losses, I remember when the Spurs swept the Cavs in 2007 those games were very close. When the Lakers beat the Sixers in 2001 it was 4-1. But the first four games were all very close. So what’s the point?

    It is not so much about how close the games were. It is more about the fact the Magic couldn’t at least force the series back to Los Angeles. A 4-1 series is not a close series. A 4-3 series is a close on.


  64. right. totally my point. well, the cavs spurs series 2 of the games were close. all i was trying to say was that it wasn’t close but it’s not like the magic were totally annihilated or anything like that either and it certainly wasn’t as bad as you could get in terms of nba finals losses.


  65. #66 – I think he is refering to the fact that when simmons credits the lakers with something, it is already painfully obvious.