Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lightning Round (Part Two): Transactions, News, Notes

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is a long way from doing anything as fun as contending for a playoff spot, but they have more talent on the roster now than they had in early May. Kevin Pritchard may never be officially named GM but he'll still always be the last player I pretended to be on the playground before I got too old for such fantasies. Aldridge (once healthy), Roy, and Jack are potential All-stars. If they can get a role player who does even one thing well in exchange for Darius Miles, all the better. If they feel compelled to trade Zach Randolph, it will be almost impossible to get an equally talented basketball player in return. That's the rub with Zach Randolph.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings best players are aging (Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim), unsigned (Bonzi Wells--and re-signing with Sacramento doesn't appear to be an option), or crazy (Ron Artest). Though Kenny Thomas and Kevin Martin are the start of a good bench (if Martin starts ahead of John Salmons, then Thomas is the start of a good bench), there's not another veteran you'd want your team to put in the game. There is, however, Quincy Douby.

Everybody knows that Douby scored a bunch of points for Rutgers last year. I don't think everybody knows that Douby took 38% of his team's shots while on the floor while shooting over 51% inside the 3-point arc, and 40% from beyond the arc. He made 85% of his free throws, led his team in assists, and had a 7:4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Rutgers was as close to a one-man team as you could find in major college basketball in recent years. Opposing teams recognized it, keyed their defenses to stop one man, and that man foiled their efforts in terms of both production and efficiency. Douby is a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate and could be the saving grace of a disappointing season in Sacramento.

Seattle Supersonics

The Sonics have opted to give a full season's try with the roster they had at the end of the season. I think there's a good chance that results in an improved record (their team defense almost has to improve) but I doubt it's the recipe for play-off success. This is a decent roster; they should finish within a couple games of .500.

Watson and Ridnour form a good point guard tandem, especially if Watson plays a majority of the minutes. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis provide one great and one good scoring option on the wings. Wilcox and Collison should make for a nice power forward rotation alongside a potentially improved Swift/Petro platoon. If they continue to get decent production from Damien Wilkins on the wing then anything they get from Gelabele, Halperin, Felix, and Sene will be gravy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lightning Round (Part One): Transactions, News, Notes

The last ten teams in the NBA (alphabetically) suffer, with my apologies, the indignity of having their transactions lumped together. I've got to get this done and get ready for the season previews.

Orlando Magic

Signing Keith Bogans and re-signing Trevor Ariza should make up for the loss of DeShawn Stevenson. JJ Redick wasn't (anywhere near) the best player available with the 11th pick, but Orlando may be the best fit for Redick and his particular talent. The Magic should make the play-offs. The Magic will definitely be a regular part of my League Pass rotation.

Philadelphia 76ers

A: The Philadelphia 76ers are so bad...
B: How bad are they?
A: The Philadelphia 76ers are so bad they'll miss John Salmons this season.

To be fair, the Sixers have a fairly interesting (not to be confused with productive) second unit: Louis Williams, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Shav Randolph, Bobby Jones, and Steven Hunter. Being interesting is not going to help them win any games but I foresee a lot of entertaining garbage time in 2006-07.

Phoenix Suns

Letting Tim Thomas go was a no-brainer. Too many people got far too excited over the twenty decent games he played in the post-season. To expect similar production from Thomas after he signs a new contract would strain credulity. Let's hope that expecting a healthy Amare Stoudemire does not engender a similar strain.

Monday, August 14, 2006

New York Knicks: Transactions, News, Notes

We all know that this monstrous, misbegotten roster won't survive the season but for the time being one must muddle through and attempt to weigh the value of adding Jared Jeffries, Renaldo Balkman, and Mardy Collins to this putrid mix.

The signing of Jeffries renders the question of Balkman's ability to play in the NBA largely irrelevent as Balkman now figures to slot in somewhere behind Quentin Richardson, Channing Frye, Jared Jeffries, Jalen Rose, and David Lee in the race for minutes as a big guard, small forward, or undersized power forward. What uses Isiah might envision for Mardy Collins remain mysterious as at least two of Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, and Nate Robinson already figure to be complaining about minutes, touches, and respect on a daily basis.

As one who once witnessed Isiah Thomas choose to play Ron Mercer at point guard and not to have Ron Artest guard Paul Pierce throughout the 4th quarter of a play-off game, I concede that any combination of mis-matched parts could see the court simulataneously and that it is a fool's errand to attempt to decipher Isiah's decision-making process as either general manager or coach.

Furthermore, until the roster is next re-configured (+/- ten days from Halloween is my guess), those qualities that first Balkman, then Jeffries are touted to inject into the Knickerbockers' state of being: defense, hustle, and not shooting figure to come at the expense of the two remaining Knicks (Rose and Lee) who demonstrated the ability to score efficiently in the midst of dysfunction last year. The third Knick to demonstrate this quality last year, Jackie Butler, was allowed to sign with a franchise that knows what it's doing for less than 1/4 the money paid to Jeffries.

We'll speak of this again once half the roster has been jettisoned in the service of Isiah Thomas's next attempt at instant gratification.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets: Transactions, News, Notes

I, too, believe that the NO/OKC franchise could be on the rise. Chris Paul and David West are excellent and good young players, respectively. Eventually, Jeff Bower will surround those two with quality teammates. Contrary to some reports, he did not do so this off-season.

By drafting Cedric Simmons and Hilton Armstrong and trading for Tyson Chandler, Bower has almost certainly found at least one useful role player in the frontcourt though none of the three should be expected to contribute much offensively (even with Chris Paul aiding and abetting) in the foreseeable future. As for the rest of the roster, Bower allowed Speedy Claxton, JR Smith, and Kirk Snyder go in order to acquire/retain a passel of offensive players who don't score efficiently anymore (Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson) or never really have (Rasual Butler, Jannero Pargo). Claxton, Smith, and Snyder were probably not going to get the Hornets into the play-offs this year, but Bower has spent a lot of money to make the team older, more expensive, and quite possibly poorly equipped to match last year's 38 wins.

New Jersey Nets: Transactions, News, Notes

The Nets have upgraded their bench this summer (granted, it's almost impossible to avoid coming out ahead when Jacque Vaughn, Scott Padgett, and Zoran Planinic leave your organization) but they still to figure to rely almost entirely on Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson. If those three stay healthy, the Nets should win the Atlantic Division again. Keep in mind, though, that in '05-'06 Kidd played more minutes than he had since 2003 and Carter played more minutes than he had since 2001. All that good health only helped the Nets to 49 wins and a 4-1 exit at the hands of the Heat in the Conference Semis. Thus, Antoine Wright being a year older and wiser and adding Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Mikki Moore, and Hassan Adams to the bench might prevent regression more than foster improvement.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Transactions, News, Notes

Early returns indicate that Minnesota has doubled its collection of good players. The manner by which Kevin McHale achieved this feat does not encourage optimism regarding the potential improvement of the remainder of the roster. Unfortunately, as Ricky Davis and Mike James continue to exist in limbo between being excellent supporting players or a self-destructive, would-be stars, there's nothing else on the roster but mediocre role players and guys who can't beat out mediocre role players for minutes.

But for his most saddening microfracture surgery, Rashad McCants would surely have endeavored to make Davis expendable. Perhaps in '07-'08, after Kevin Garnett's clock has made one more revolution.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Milwaukee Bucks: Transactions, News, Notes

Milwaukee's had a good off-season, one that should be evaluated as the first in a two-step project to create a 50-win team. This off-season, Larry Harris has turned TJ Ford, Joe Smith, and Jamaal Magliore into Steve Blake, Charlie Villanueva, Brian Skinner, and Ruben Patterson. Harris signed Lynn Greer and drafted David Noel to provide cheap, possibly useful, bench depth.

The multi-headed point guard monster of Mo Williams, Charlie Bell, Blake, and Greer should motor along just fine without Ford's poor shooting and defending. The aerodynamic Villanueva's efficient scoring will fit quite nicely alongside rebounding enthusiasts Andrew Bogut, Dan Gadzuric, and Skinner. Patterson will provide a perimeter defensive option other than Bobby Simmons.

Only Redd, Villanueva, Bogut, Simmons, and Gadzuric are under contract for 2007-08. (The team holds options on Skinner and Noel.) Those are the five Bucks you'd definitely want to keep (along with one of the point guards, likely). If Harris can carry out the second step (acquire a player as good or better than Redd) as deftly as he's carried out the first, the he'll be feted in the summer of '07 as John Paxson has been in the summer of '06.

Miami Heat: Transactions, News, Notes

The NBA champions haven't made any significant changes this off-season. Alonzo Mourning has not yet re-signed but he is expected to do so. Gary Payton wants to re-sign as well and will probably get his wish because of Jason Williams' knee surgery. Derek Anderson may seek a buyout from the final year of his contract rather than sit on the end of the Heat bench in either warm-ups or street clothes.

If the end of the Heat bench includes a new face it will most likely be Mike Gansey, who signed a partially guaranteed deal. Gansey's probably a better player than Jason Kapono but neither player figures to make much of an impact, good or bad, in extremely limited minutes.

Chris Quinn, Vincent Grier, and Daniel Horton are the early favorites to be cut before their contracts become guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Memphis Grizzlies: Transactions, News, Notes

Memphis has gained more talent than they've given up this off-season but I'm not sure they're any closer to contending for anything grander than the fourth seed in the West. Then again, Jerry West traded for Rudy Gay who, though he inspires doubts regarding his willingness/ability to take over basketball games, has the talent to supplant Pau Gasol as the best player in Memphis while still on his first contract. Gay may or may not ever live up to the expectations placed upon him, but he doesn't appear to have much of a chance of turning into a bust, either. In a worst-case scenario, he's an adequate replacement for Shane Battier. That the Rockets threw in Stromile Swift, who will replace Lorenzen Wright, makes the trade a clear win for Memphis.

If Swift can match the production he provided during his first engagement with the Grizzlies (or even better, validate his reputation as a rebounder), then Mike Fratello will be able to deploy the various, limited talents of Jake Tsakalidis, Brian Cardinal, Hakim Warrick, Lawrence Roberts, and Alexander Johnson as a decent collection of frontcourt reserves. All, save Cardinal, are fairly intriguing prospects but only Tsakalidis, in limited minutes last season, has capitalized on his potential to any degree thus far in his professional career.

Adding Kyle Lowry (another safe draft pick who could become a quality starter in the NBA, but will likely never be worse than a good back-up) and re-signing Chucky Atkins should prevent the citizens of Memphis from seeing any more of Antonio Burks on the court despite the departure of Bobby Jackson and concerns over the health of Damon Stoudamire's knee. If Mike Fratello can similarly keep Dahntay Jones in street-clothes or at least off the court, Memphis should safely maintain their spot in the play-offs.

Los Angeles Lakers: Transactions, News, Notes

After 8100 mediocre minutes, the Devean George Era appears to be over. Why it took so long for the Lakers to find a replacement for George is beyond me, but congratulations, Mitch Kupchak, for finally acquiring a younger, better option.

I'm not as high on Jordan Farmar as some people are (right now his offensive game is basically Luke Walton's with more turnovers) but he should improve the Lakers' perimeter defense even as a rookie. Phil Jackson got a lot out of Smush Parker last year but evidence still suggets that Parker shouldn't play 2800 minutes or an imprtant role in play-off games.

Maurice Evans is a far more important acqusition than Farmar for the 2006-07 season. To get a quality bench player for a late second-round pick is a credit both to Kupchak and the Pistons apparent desire to become the third-best team in the Central Division. With a bench now consisting of Brian Cook, Evans, Radmanovic, Walton, Farmar, Ronny Turiaf and possibly Andrew Bynum, the Lakers can contend for the fourth seed in the West assuming Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom are ready to start the season.

Los Angeles Clippers: Transactions, News, Notes

The Clippers have made simple, stable, sensible decisions this off-season which still represents something of a brave new world for the organization. They locked up Sam Cassell for the next two years and replaced Vladimir Radmanovic with Tim Thomas in a like-for-like free agent signing.

Cassell's production will probably decline somewhat over the next two years but Shaun Livingston has plenty of room for improvement and he might both off-set Cassell's decline and keep Sam fresh for the play-offs. Thomas is unlikely to match Radmanovic's production (the play-offs were the first time Thomas had played well since 2004) but a healthier Corey Maggette should help the Clippers approach 50 wins again this year.

Second-round draft picks Paul Davis and Guillermo Diaz could improve either the Clippers' bench or lead the Anaheim Arsenal to the post-season.