NBA House Warming PostJuly 7, 2009
By: Matthew Wolfe
Considering how the baseball off-season shook out, it was pretty safe to assume that the free agent period in the NBA would be similar. The only difference is that there would be no prolonged holdouts by players who think they deserve more money, because the money simply isn’t there.
That is, except if you’re the New York Yankees, or their basketball equivalent Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban’s misguided quest to a title continues as fervent and futile as ever…and comedy ensues (especially for Knicks fans- think Erick Dampier and now Jason Kidd)
Assumptions aside, I’ve been very surprised to see what teams got which players, so let’s break down the same faces in different places.
Vince Carter, SG, Orlando Magic: The Magic knew that Hedo Turkoglu was going to hit the open market, and that they probably were not going to be able to afford him after a misleading playoffs (more on that later). The Nets were aware that they are not contenders and needed to dump VC’s contract. It was a match made in purgatory. The Nets receive a capable young player to replace Carter in Courtney Lee, and a more-than-capable backup point guard in Rafaer “Skip to My Lou” Alston. Neither costs a lot, but New Jersey won’t be doing much damage this year. I just don’t see this working out nearly as well for the Magic. You’re getting back a guy who can create his own shot, and can probably make a jumper from anywhere on the floor. But just because he can, doesn’t mean he will. We saw Turkoglu hoist ill-advised three-pointers in vain last year, and VC brings more of the same.
What’s really lost here is size. Turkoglu was 6’10’’, and Marcin Gortat is likely leaving town. The starting five looks like Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Michael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard and absolutely no bench, which means Orlando’s unique combination of size, athleticism, and ability is gone, and with it, another Finals appearance.
Hedo Turkoglu, SF, Toronto Raptors: Well, we just talked about his departure, so let’s discuss his arrival, shall we? Here’s a big guy with some handle, he played point forward for the majority of the fourth quarter minutes in the playoffs. Does this mean he’s re-revolutionizing the position? Hell no. If I have to see his off-hand swatting defenders away one more time, if I have to see him make a terrible pass in traffic that gets taken for an easy lay-up, IF I HAVE TO SEE ANOTHER 29-FOOT JUMPER WITH TWO HANDS IN HIS FACE…I probably won’t mind because it’ll keep the Raptors behind the Knicks in the Atlantic Division. This is what the Raptors have to look forward to, though, and what may drive Chris Bosh back to the states.
I’m not saying Turk is all bad. He brings tremendous size to Toronto’s front line, and gives them a legitimate long-range threat they haven’t had since the departure of—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—Jason Kapono. He has a ton of playoff experience and he can be a positive influence in the locker room. A starting five of Jose Calderon, DeMar Derozen, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani looks great, but again, where’s the bench? And for God’s sake, keep the ball out of Hedo’s hands at the end of regulation.
Ron Artest, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: This was the first sign of the economy’s effect on NBA free agency. Artest isn’t a superstar, but in the current NBA climate he’s a $10 million player. This is the Patriot effect though, players will come at a discounted price if you give them a better-than-average shot to win a championship. Beyond the fiscal properties, on paper this move makes all the sense in the world for the Lakers. The window is closing as Kobe rises in age, and three years of Artest will be a solid jolt into a team that may fall into complacency after attaining the Shaq-less ring. There’s no question Artest is hungry, and he’s a better all-around player than Ariza was. The key to this deal was that the only player in the entire NBA that had an defensive success against Kobe, now suits up in purple and gold and will be squatting beyond the arc while Kobe penetrates and kicks. The starting five of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, and a healthy Andrew Bynum actually causes me physical pain, and I go into diabetic shock when you remember that Lamar Odom still might come back. On paper, well, do we really need to play the regular season?
Those intangibles will kill you though. I hate to bring up the past, but does anyone remember that this is Ron Artest, the most volatile and destructive player of our era? Am I the only one that thinks he still festers a hatred for Kobe after the elbow in the Western Conference Semis? It probably won’t be until the playoffs, but I’m expecting a full-out heel turn by Artest, I’m talking Wrestlemania XV, Triple H-giving-X-Pac-a-Pedigree-effectively-ending-DX-and-subsequently-the-Attitude-Era heel turn. Jim Ross on the microphone:
JR: Oklahoma City is up two points with just five seconds left, You know this ball is going to Kobe. This game truly has been a slobberknocker! Fisher in-bounds to Kobe off the announcer’s table, Kobe dribbles, what’s Artest doing…OH MY GAWD! SPEAR! SPEAR! RON ARTEST JUST SPEARED KOBE TO THE GROUND! The Staples Center is livid and Artest can only smile and laugh! What’s this? He’s breaking away his Lakers warm up suit. IT’S A CELTICS JERSEY WITH THE NUMBER 18! ARTEST HAS DEFECTED TO THE CELTICS!
(God. If you’re listening. Please?)
Trevor Ariza, SF, Houston Rockets: This signing may be the worst of this off-season, but you can’t blame the Rockets as much as you can blame the Lakers. Ariza struggled on teams with limited talent, beginning with the Knicks and moving to a young Orlando team before landing with LA. Surrounded by Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, and Odom, he was consistently the fourth or fifth option on the court, and was often found unguarded due to a slew of double teams. If he couldn’t capitalize there, he would have been out of a job. He found his niche with the Lakers, and was nothing more, and never will be more than a bit player to a stacked team. With Yao’s career in jeopardy, and Tracy McGrady being T-Lack, I’m hard-pressed to believe that Ariza is going to be the one piece that propels the Rockets to contention.
Now, if Yao is able to salvage his career, and McGrady can make a resurgence in the middle of the season, this team can compete. In Alston’s absence, Aaron Brooks showed the same lightning he had at Oregon. Luther Head, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, and Chuck Hayes are a great group of role players, and they provide Houston with some promise. A championship is completely out of the question.
Richard Jefferson, SF, San Antonio Spurs: Well, I’m pretty sure I already know where the Executive of the Year Award is going. Let’s just skip all the crap and go straight to this starting five: Parker, Ginobli, Jefferson, Duncan, and generic space-waster #4. If you move Duncan to the 5, what a great opportunity for DeJuan Blair to learn on the job with a group of guys who consistently get the job done, and a coach with the Midas touch.
Getting back to Jefferson, he’s not the plus defender that Bruce Bowen was. Then again, Bowen isn’t the plus defender he used to be either. Look at the firepower Jefferson brings. Great speed, good ball handling, beautiful jumpshot, and jumps out of the gym. The Spurs look as close to an even match for the Lakers as anyone in the league now, and they’ll be the one thing they haven’t been all decade long—fun to watch.
Charlie Villanueva/Ben Gordon, PF/SG, Detroit Pistons: These deals are about a week old, and I still have no idea what to make of them. Ben Gordon put on a show in the Bulls-Celtics series, as if Vinny Del Negro whispered “free agency” into his ear during every time out. Chuck-Vil-A has always been pretty consistent, pushing double-doubles every night, never doing anything spectacular but never doing anything stupid, and might even prompt a few Detroit fans to shave off their eyebrows. It’s like the opposite of Ben Wallace’s afro. Couple this with the departure of Allen Iverson, and you have a very loose clubhouse, which is great.
Rasheed Wallace left though. Is Kwame Brown going to be Villa’s right hand man? Is Jason Maxiell the center of the present? Neither of those guys can give what Sheed gave the Pistons. Here’s the starting five: Stuckey, Hamilton, Prince, Villanueva, and Maxiell/Brown, with Gordon coming off the bench. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this team. They’ll score triple-digits every game, but they’ll have a hard time stopping anyone.
Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Boston Celtics: His nickname is no longer Sheed. That’s too plain. No, now Wallace shall be known as Aflac, because if Kevin Garnett gets hurt and misses work, it won’t hurt to miss work. Here’s what Aflac brings to the table:
– A wily veteran who can complement the shooting of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce
– A big man who can bang down low on defense, but can expand the offense with his 3-point range
– Experience at PF when needing to spell KG (or if he gets injured), as well as at center to share the post with KG
– Tons of playoff experience, including a ring that came against the Lakers back in 2004
It’s obvious that Aflac was meant to join this team before we even realized. I implore you, find a hole in this starting five: Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Aflac. Not only that, but Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, and Glen “Get Out of My Way Kid” Davis coming off the bench, this team has to got to be the Eastern Conference favorite. I can’t think of another big move this off-season that would even rival the Celtics…
Shaquille O’Neal, C, Cleveland Cavaliers: After some February talks and post-playoff rumors, here is quite possibly the most entertaining pairing in all of basketball. King James, meet Shaq Diesel, the Original Superman, Wilt Chamberneezy, Big Aristotle, Big Shaqtus, Shaqovic, the self-proclaimed “Greatest of the Universe”. Now, I could tell you what seems to be the popular thing to criticize about this trade, and blab on and on and on about how Shaq cannot defend the pick and roll. That’s too boring. Shaq brings something to Cleveland that was lost in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fun. If you watch the regular season, you’ll notice that when Mo Williams, LBJ, Delonte West, and the rest of the Cavs were laughing and having a good time, they were also winning. When the pressure was on against the Magic, they stopped having a good time and got serious. And lost in embarrassing fashion. Check out the starting five: Williams, West, James, Varejao, and Shaq. You’ve got your shooters, your slashers, your bangers, and you’ve got F-U-N. But when it’s go time in the playoffs, Shaq has been there enough to know when it’s playtime and when to unleash the warrior. And even at his age, he’s got a few battles left in him.
Jamal Crawford, SG, Atlanta Hawks: This was the deal I probably understood the least. Granted, Acie Law and Speedy Claxton had no future in Atlanta. Does anyone remember that guy, though? The one that’s really really good that plays the same position as Crawford? Yeah, that Joe Johnson guy. The guy who played in all but three games last year and averaged 21.4 points a game last year. Unless Jamal Crawford learns how to play point guard within a few months, he’ll never play (I know Crawford had some time at PG for the Knicks, and that is why I still said he needs to learn). Crawford doesn’t factor in to the starting lineup, and he won’t make this team any better or worse. I don’t get this move, and unless Crawford puts up 15 points in 10 minutes every game, I never will.
Jason Kidd/Marcin Gortat, PG/C, Dallas Mavericks: I’ll get Gortat out of the way first. He’s a body who will spell Erick Dampier very well, and probably steal some of his minutes as the season progresses. I don’t know much about his skill set, but I just have a hunch. Now onto Jason Kidd. THANK YOU MARK CUBAN! I was so worried that my beloved Knicks were going to dump LeBron’s money on the aging superstar. But that’s what you, Mark Cuban, the George Steinbrenner/Daniel Snyder of the NBA, are here for. In a floundering economy, you still find it within your budget to re-sign an over-the-hill point guard who has lost more than a step, can’t defend the new breed of guards, and in his old age probably doesn’t have the eyesight he used to. Ok, that last one was a stretch, but you’re not going to convince me otherwise with these crutch stats about his increased field goal and 3pt percentage either. The only reason Cuban grabbed onto Kidd so tightly was so he didn’t look like an idiot when he gave Devin Harris to the Nets. Not traded, gave.
Did JJ Barea deserve the job? No. But instead of signing Kidd and Gortat and trying to sign-and-trade for Shawn Marion, take this money and get Marion and Gortat, then trade for another PG somewhere. Hell, Phoenix is looking to dish, if you love aging point guards, go after an old fling in Steve Nash. At least you’ll never have to question his shooting. Or if you’re dead set on out-bidding the Knicks, jump on the Nate Robinson bandwagon and put him at point guard. Jason Kidd, at this point in his career, doesn’t have the juice to win a championship. Not with the current Mavs team at this point. Their starting five is unchanged, so get ready for a 5th seed and an early playoff exit.
So there you have it. The Raptors got a little better, the Magic got a little worse. The Mavericks got older, and the Cavaliers got funner. The Celtics, Spurs, and Lakers got beastlier (that’s a word now), and the Pistons and Hawks befuddle me, for different reasons. And the Knicks…well they added Darko Milicic.
(What? I left out the Zach Randolph/Quentin Richardson trade? Please, people haven’t cared about Q since Van Wilder.)
Questions or comments? E-mail Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org