The draft is long past. Free agency is nearly a month old. Summer league has just ended. Andwhile we’re still nearly 2 months away from the start of training camp, most teams are nearly completely built withonly a few moves aroundthe edges yet to be completed. So, I figure now is as good a time as any to take a look around the league at some of the teams andhow they’re coming together. We’ll start with our very own Lakers…
*With Raja Bell spurning the Lakers for a second stint with the Jazz, the Lakers have moved on to re-signing Shannon Brown. At this point, I think Brown is the best option on the market for LA andI am hopeful that a deal can get done to bring back the high rising combo guard. I understand that many would still like the Lakers to make a run at T-Mac or at Matt Barnes, but in the end I’d rather have the guy that knows the system, is comfortable in his role, and is well liked by his teammates in the Staples Center locker room. If Brown is indeed brought back andwe make the assumption that both Lakers 2nd rounders make the team, the Lakers are looking at 12 players on their roster – Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Pau, Bynum, Blake, Odom, Sasha, Brown, Walton, Caracter, and Ebanks. If the Lakers look to carry 13 players (like they did last season) adding a big man that can play some minutes at C is in order. We’ve discussed this before, so I won’t discuss names as the usual suspects have not changed. However, the Lakers may also look to add another guard andthe name being floated around is the Guard from Harvard, Jeremy Lin. It’s been reported that the Lakers have contacted Lin’s agent to discuss him joining the Lakers and I must say that I’m intrigued. Lin’s surely a season or two away from being a contributor, but at least one person has already said that Lin could be a “Derek Fisher” type of guard as his savvy and competitiveness are two things that shine through when watching him play. So, this is something to continue to watch.
*The Miami Heat sure are rounding out their roster nicely. Brought in to flank the Pep Boys (my nickname for Wade/Lebron/Bosh) are Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Big Z, Jamaal Magloire, and James Jones. Those guys join Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, and 2ndround picks Dexter Pittman, and Jarvis Varnado. That’s 12 guys is all of them stick with Juwan Howard expected to be the 13th when he signs a deal within the next few days. And while the there’s some older guys in that group and a couple of 2nd rounders (that likely won’t see any time), that’s a solid few role players to play next to the Heat’s big guns. If I was a Heat fan, I’d still be worried about the lack of real size (outside of Z) and whether or not a crunch time line up of Wade/Miller/Lebron/Haslem/Bosh has enough toughness on the glass anddefensive presence in the paint. But, other teams will also need to be concerned with a trio on the wing like the Heat can offer while also having mobile bigs that can play the pick and pop game quite nicely. No one will know how this will work until the games start, but I will give Riles credit for bringing this team together in a way that many doubted as possible when “the decision” was first announced.
*The other team that I’ve been impressed with is the Chicago Bulls. They’ve added Boozer, Korver, and Brewer to the Rose/Noah/Deng/Gibson mix andnow that looks like a pretty complete team with a nice mix of complementary pieces that should work well together. Obviously the key is the continued development of Rose andwhether Boozer can keep up his high level of play (I have little doubts about either), but if those things happen the Bulls will have a very good team that could easily slide into that top 3 or 4 in the East with Miami, Orlando, and Boston.
*Speaking of Orlando and Boston, they’ve been a bit under the radar in the off-season but should still be considered major threats. They’ve essentially held on to the rosters that got them to the ECF this past season and they’ll surely be hungry to try and get back to the Finals next year. Yes, Boston is a year older and have added Jermaine O’Neal to replace ‘Sheed while losing Tony Allen to Memphis. Andthey still must deal with a recovering Perkins that won’t be in action early in the season. But, they’re still in the Matt Barnes “sweepstakes” andwith Doc, Pierce, Allen, andKG all returning with a steadily improving Rondo, I don’t think we can write them off quite yet. As for Orlando, they held onto Redick and have returned every major piece. They still have Dwight and Jameer and if Lewis can have a semi-bounce back season they’ll also be a major threat to win the East. I mean, who in that conference really guards Howard well?
*Earlier I mentioned Raja Bell andhis signing with the Jazz. We’ll Utah is another team that has been quietly good this off-season. Sure they lost Boozer and Korver to the Bulls. They also let the Blazers over pay for Wesley Matthews (whom I like, just not at the salary he got in the first year). But, they’ve added Bell (who is a very good shooter in his own right and will be better on D than Matthews and light years ahead of Korver) and they traded for Al Jefferson from the ‘Wolves. So, they’ve essentially replaced Boozer and Matthews/Korver with Big Al and Bell, still have Deron (who is a monster) and have AK47 who is surely now recovered from the calf strain that limited him in the playoffs. When you look at that team, I like a crunch time line up of Deron, Bell, AK47, Milsap, and Jefferson. And when Okur recovers from his achilles injury, that’s another weapon that they may be able to use.
*As for the rest of the West, lets just say it’s a mixed bag. I think Dallas overpaid for Haywood and that they had to be hoping for more than Chandler when trading Dampier’s non-guaranteed deal. Meanwhile Denver needed more size and rebounding in their front court and they signed Al Harrington to a full mid-level deal. Houston is a team that I really like if Yao is back healthy as I think their top 8 guys (Brooks, Martin, Battier, Scola, Yao, Ariza, Lowry, Brad Miller) are good pieces for Adelman’s system andyou know they’ll defend well. And the Spurs have also had a quietly effective off-season by getting a commitment from Tiago Splitter while also Jedi mind tricking Richard Jefferson to opt out of his contract while (reportedly) still in talks to potentially bring him back for much cheaper.
My final thoughts on all of this is that we’ve likely seen the exporting to the East of enough talent that we may now see more conference parity than we’ve seen in recent years. The West will still be tough with the Lakers, the still up andcoming OKC, Portland, Houston, Spurs, Mavs, Nuggs, and Suns (who added Turk, Childress, and Warrick to make up for Amar’e going to the Knicks). But the East is now much more respectable with anywhere from 2-4 very good teams at the top and teams like the Bucks, Hawks, ‘Cats and even Knicks still talented enough to push a team in a series. Too bad we’re still two months away from seeing it all unfold.