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!
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
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.