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Western Confrence winners & Losers
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Western Conference Offseason : Winners and Losers
San Antonio Spurs:The Spurs have been criticized over the years for having a team with players that just seem to be getting older and older while still winning championship year after year. Suddenly though the Spurs have dropped their level of play and didnīt even make it past the first round of the playoffs by losing to the Dallas Mavericks; however, having an injured Ginobili was a big reason why they lost. This off season things are looking a little brighter down in Texas. First things first let's talk about the Jefferson trade. All the Spurs had to give up to get the athletic small forward was three veteran players that are past their prime and wouldn't put up more points than Jefferson if you combined their averages. Apart from looking at his offensive game , Jeffereson, can be a good defense player when he is a complementary piece to a team like he will be in San Antonio and another very important thing is that Jefferson has playes 164 games in the last season. That's right, the small forward hasn't missed a single game in the last two years and if he can continue to be healthy then Popovich can give Manu a lot more resting time on the bench which would reduce the chance of him getting injured again or being burned out by the time the playoffs start.
Apart from that problem the Spurs have a strong team. This year at the Draft, The Spurs made a steal in the NBA draft by drafting the undersized power forward, Dejuan Blair, who despite being a short power forward he is built like a linebacker. Because of his strength he (Blair) can fight to get rebounds and has a good post up game, but Blair still needs to work on his defence, finishing around the rim and non-post up situations. I liked what the Spurs have done this off season and think we could see them once again at the Western Conference Finals (and even more).
Los Angeles Lakers: Being the NBA championship brings a lot of celebration and makes the whole organization relax for a month or two (just take a look at OīBryant and Jackson going on the Tonight Show), but after the celebration is done the management has to a lot of pressure to choose which are the right players to add/trade away and keep to continue having a legit shot at a second title. Many General Managers fail to do that ( just take a look at the Miami Heat after winning the NBA Championship and then getting sweeped in the first round the next season) ; however, the Lakers have made their team even better by adding the veteran small forward, Ron Artest, who bring in top notch defense and with the 39% three point shooting he had last year he will get lots of open shots with all the shots he will get caused to Kobe being double teamed. Even though Artest isn't as athletic as Ariza he will be a big improvement since he can score at least double the points that Ariza is capable of and also has much more experience.
The only thing that seemed to keep the Lakers from being a championship team once again is the fact that Odom could have signed with teams like Dallas or Miami, but now that he has signed for sure the team has very little to worry about. Extending Shannon Brown's contract was also a very intelligent move by Kupchak as he has lots of potential which he has already showed that he could be more than just a third string point guard. The Lakers are most likely going to reach the Finals this year again and have achieved that with this successful offseason.
Dallas Mavericks:Reinforcements! Nowitzki needed a couple of more players to have a team as good as the one that reach the NBA finals only three seasons ago. Mark Cuban should be happy with this team as he has gotten more depth and expirience. Signing Jason Kidd to an extended contract already makes me think that this team is going in the right direction by not making huge changes to the core.
Now lets talk about the trades and singings this team has made. The Mavericks were involved along with the Magic and Raptors in a three way trade, the Mavericks traded away Devon George and Antoine Wright and in exchange got Shawn Marion, Kris Humpries, Greg Buckner and Nathan Jawai. Even though Marion level has dropped a lot since his Pheonix Suns days he is still a decent defensive small forward. Add the fact that he has Jason Kidd as a point guard and he might even seem better than his two quick stints in Miami and Toronto. By getting Marion the Mavericks can put Josh Howard into the shooting guard role ( Howard is a tweener meaning he is able to play both the shooting guard and small forward role). Humphries and Jawai will probably be sitting at the end of the bench a lot this season since power forwards are plentiful in the Mavericks.
The Mavericks lost Brandon Bass to the Mavericks this off season, but have also signed Drew Gooden who bring in around the same type of production that Bass has with the Mavericks. Quinton Ross was also brought by free agency from the Grizzlies. Ross was a bench player that only averaged 3.9 points per game last season while shooting 38% from the floor; however, his contract is really cheap and there arenīt many good players you can really get for less than a million dollar.
The Mavericks are back with this team and will be in the top 5 teams this year in the Western Conference.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers have been a young team that has been growing together each year and slowly removing the label of ĻJail BlazersĻimage from the Portland team into a much cleaner and admirable team. This off season the Blazers signed the free agent, Andre Miller, a veteran point guard coming from Philadelphia. Miller brings in more scoring and assists than Steve Blake had in the last season or might ever will . Also by having Blake coming off the bench means that the team has much more depth.
The Blazers had three draft picks, but didnīt bother to sign any of them so I wonīt bother writing much about them. Another thing that was very important to keeping this team was extending Brandon Royīs contract. Roy is now secured for at least five years.
With more development that the young players in this team will have (Roy, Fernandez, Aldridge, Oden and Batum) plus adding a veteran leader (Miller) this team will have more experience and players to improve from last year.
Utah Jazz:Nothing big, nothing flashy, but at the same time this team ends up being a winner. The Jazz didn't trade or sign any new players, but instead made sure that Paul Milsap and Ronnie Price had their contracts extended. In my opinion this will make Utah a much stronger team than other teams that are adding new players since the team knows each other well and therefore has good chemistry. I think if Boozer was traded to Miami like some of the rumors said the Jazz wouldn't be such a strong team coming in next season.
The Only addition to this Utah team would be the point guard, Eric Maynor, who brings in some scoring, but limited passing ability. Maynor will probably be the third string point guard and can learn a thing or two from Deron Williams. This team will probably be better than just an eight seed team like last year.
Los Angeles Clippers:With the first pick in the draft the Los Angeles Clippers choose..... How many times have we heard that one before? Surprisingly only twice in their who history. One would think that they would have at least a dozen with all the bad seasons theyīve had. Their first pick in 1988, Danny Manning, turned out to be an all star while their first pick ten years later, Michael Olowokandi, turned out to be a complete bust. So, the question is: How will Blake Griffin turn out? Griffin is an athletic power forward (freak of nature if you will) who can turn out to be one of the top ten players in the league due to his dominance in the boards, running the floor well, good post up game, good vision (getting teammates wide open shots and work ethic. Out of all these pros there are only a few cons like his need to improve his free throw and defense which should come as he becomes even stronger. He is no Olowondaki, that for sure.
Apart from being fortunate enough to get the first pick in the draft, The Clippers also managed to get rid of the team cancer Zach Randolph in exchange for Quentin Richardson and then trading him for Telfair, Madsen and Craig Smith. This was a great move by the Clippers as they now get a decent back up point guard for Davis, a backup point guard with much potential and a veteran bench scrub. Telfair and Smith will give the Clippers more depth which they desperately needed last season and at the same time they got rid of Randolph, who did more harm to the team than good.
Oklahoma City Thunder:They are young, they are talented and are getting at least a top five draft pick each year. Let Durant, Green, Harden , Westbrook and the rest of the gang develop a bit more and this team is scary. First lets talk about their new addition to this young team, James Harden, a shooting guard out of Arizona. Efficiency is definitely something you could say is one of Hardenīs pros as he averaged 20 points in an average of 12 shots per game. Despite not being the most athletic player, Harden still managed to finish inside the line and getting to the stripe. Harden still needs to polish his mid range game and take care of the ball more as he had 3.4 turnovers per game (which really came by being asked to do too much which wonīt happen in Oklahoma). The Thunders are also bring the Congolese Serge Ibaka, who had been drafted in the 2008 draft and meanwhile had been playing in the Spanish league. Ibaka is a powerforward with a long wingspan that can block, good ball handling (only one turnover per game in Spain) and has a lot of athletism .
Bringing Ibaka and drafting Harden were great moves, but over at the free agency all the Thunder did was trade some of their junk for other junk. The Thunder traded both Atkins and Wilkins for Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards were he struggled both this and last season. Thomas will probably be the back up PF next season and wonīt have much to bring to the table. Their other signing is Kevin Ollie a shooting guard who has never had impressive stats and this probably wonīt change in his 12 season in the league. The Thunders are in the right path because of their youngsters, but the management has to find a way to bring veterans with more skills that Ollie or Thomas.
Golden State Warriors: No big changes this off season over at Golden State. They got rid of Jamal Crawford who just went along with Don Nelsonīs system and chucked the ball like there was no tomorrow. With such a low shooting percentage, Crawford, was doing more harm than good to Golden State and probably wonīt make the Hawks a better team. My only problem with Mullinīs move is that they basically received two players that bring in nothing to the table (getting a player that scores at least more than five points would have been nice). Acie Law averaged 2.9 points and 1.5 assists while Speedy Claxton averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 assists per game. I know that Nelsonīs system will get them to be a bit better in the offensive end, but still these two guys are bench scrubs. The second trade made by this team was also ill advisied by trading Marco Bellineli to the Raptors for Devean George. George is a veteran who is close to the end of his career and wonīt bring much more to the table than the other forwards that this team already have, meanwhile, Bellineli only has two years in the league and even though he has had injuries putting him back he still has lots of potential.
The one positive thing that has happened to this team is drafting the combo guard Stephen Curry. Curry will fit perfectly into Nelsonīs system as he puts down points in bunches with his tremendous range of shooting, shooting well of dribble and shooting of balanced. The combo guard also has good passing ability, but he really didnīt have any good players to pass to while at college. The only downside to Curry is that he is an undersized shooting guard at six foot three who despite having quick hands, he lack athleticism to defend bigger and tougher players. The Warriors still arenīt a playoff team, but will be in the future with the development of their young players.
New Orleans Hornets:The Hornets had taken a step back this off season due to injuries and losing Posey so keeping Chris Paul happy was probably the main thing in the managementīs mind. This off season thought the Hornets have not done anything spectacular that could make a huge impact on the team. First you have the ĻswapĻof Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor. I call it a swap because no team really gets a better player, but the Hornets do win in this trade since they get a shorter contract with Okafor plus Chandler has been fighting injuries the last season while Okafor hasnīt missed a game in in the past two season. The second addition to the team is Ike Diogu who has been hoping around from team to team each season while having some kind of injury. Diogu could help by coming out of the bench, but he is no Posey.
At the draft the Hornets drafted the under sized point guard Darren Collison who despite being a very quick player and having a high basketball IQ doesnīt have much size and strength to defend larger guards. Collison also has a very awkward and slow shot. Collison will have to fight for the back up position with Daniels. Then you have the shotting guard Marcus Thorton who was a scoring machine in college because he had a whole offense trying to get him shots and when he will have to look for his own shot things become ugly. Apart from that he also wonīt be able to get inside as much in NBA since he is undersized. The Hornets havenīt gotten better or worse this off season and Chris Paul might not be a happy camper in the future.
Denver Nuggets: Did you hear that? itīs the sound of a pin falling in Denver, thatīs how quiet things have been over there. The Nuggets have made two trades this off season: first one sending a second round pick in 2011 for Arron Afflalo and Walter Sharpe and the second trade was to get more cap space by sending Steven Hunter to the Clippers in exchange for a future second round draft pick ( Sharpe and Sonny Weems were later traded for Malik Allen). Both Malik Allen (veteran adding 3.2 ppg last season) and Afflalo (sophomore 6.2 ppg last season) showed very little playing time and gave back very little production or potential to be more than bench scrubs. These two guys will probably be sitting at the end of the bench for most of the season.
At the draft the Nuggets drafted the point guard, Ty Lawson, coming out of Michigan state. Lawson might be small ( six feet flat with shoes on), but makes up with a combination of speed, shooting ability and strength. I think Tyson could end up being a good backup point guard for Billups as the season goes on .
The Western Conference is very competitive so when a team suddenly decides to start to rebuild or has lots of injuries things can go downhill pretty quickly. Let's take a look at the teams that will most likely be playing for the ping pong balls or fighting for the glorious 8th seed because of the bad management.
Houston Rockets: Luck, Luck, Luck. That is something that the Houston Rockets have lacked this off season. First you have Yao Ming missing the whole season due to a foot injury and just to make it worse, Tracy Mcgrady will also be in the sidelines until around February. This is the only team in the Losers section where you can't blame the General Manager (in this case Daryl Morey) for having a bad off season. It must feel like the 05-06 season in Houston right now but worse since Yao and Mcgrady lost 70 games in total that season. This means that Luis Scola will have to play with a lot of intensity each game, but having Chuck Hayes and Brian Cook playing major minutes won't be pretty at all.
Thought that sounded bad already? Well as you know from earlier in the blog Ron Artest left the team and to make things seem a little better they signed the athletic small forward, Trevor Ariza. As good a role player Ariza can be its like trying to fix a bullet wound with a band-aid. The team also got a couple of steals by drafting the strong shooting guard, Jermain Taylor, in the second round of the draft along with the forward Chase Budinger, but what they lack the most are still are good big men. This team could have been amazing without injures, but like I said earlier, "luck, luck,luck."
Sacramento Kings: So what did the Kings do to improve from last year's disastrous season? Apart from the draft this team was really quiet this off season. Mainly since they didn't have much cap space. Having to pay six million dollar next season for the washed up Shareef Abdhur-Rahim ( a player who passed his prime a long long long time ago). I'm not sure what Geoff Petrie was thinking about three off seasons ago.
Now let's talk about the main move that Petrie has done this season and that is drafting, with the third pick, the freshman shooting guard ( some say he could even be a big point guard) Tyreke Evans . By drafting Evans the Kings get a player who has great court vision and ball handling (main reason why people think he could be a point guard). Tyreke also has a facility of getting the line due to his strength and quickness. Tyrekeīs only weakness is his perimeter shooting, 27% shooter from beyond the arc while at Memphis. If Tyreke improves that part of his game he would have the potential to be an all star. The other player drafted by the Kings is the Isreali Forward, Omri Casspi, who had a successful season in Meccabi Tel Avi last season. The 23rd pick in the draft has lots of athleticism, can consistently shoot 3 pointers and can easy box out and rebound with his length and height of six foot nine. Omriīs only weakness is that he doesnīt pass much, canīt defend bigger players due to lacking body strength and has a hard time creating his own shot.
The Kings have a team with lots of young players with potential (Martin, Thompson, Evans, Casspi and Hawes), but being a playoff team is still a long way off.
Pheonix Suns: I wouldn't want to be Steve Nash at the moment. The veteran is reaching past his prime soon and is sticking with a team that doesnīt know whether it should stick to the same core or start rebuilding or even what type of game they should even play.
The Suns have traded away Shaq leaving the management, team and fans with a feeling of failure which bringing Shaq to Pheonix was. In return the Suns got Ben Wallace (waived), Sasha Pavlovic, draft picks and cash. So what did the Suns do to fill the center spot now that Shaw is gone? The signed Channing Frye. Now I know that Shaq was not fitting well with the run and gun style of play, but you could put both Channing Frye and Robin Lopez on the court at the same time and they wouldnīt do half of what the 37 year old Shaq can. Add the fact that Matt Barnes is leaving the team and the Suns front court is weaker than ever.
I donīt like the direction this team is going, but neither Grant Hill or Steve Nash are leaving and have extended contracts. If I were either of them I would try to have signed to a team for a veteranīs minimum for the chance of getting a ring. Time is ticking and soon enough they will have to retire.
At the draft the Suns drafted Earl Clar, a small forward/ power forward who despite having lots athletism and speed he mainly uses his jump shot or fade away to score. He can create mismatch problems because of his size and shooting, but will have to improve in getting into the line. They also got the ĻotherĻ Griffin kid at the draft, but haven't signed him to the team yet.
The Suns probably wonīt make the playoffs for the second season in a row and re-building will probably come afterwards (even though it should have been done this year)
Minnesota Timberwolves: Itīs been all about Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, but the question is will he stay or go? The Timberwolves say that they're doing all they can to bring him, DKV says he still owes them money and Barcelona and even Real Madrid are still trying to lure him. I wouldn't want to be a Timberwolves fan at the moment. Too much drama. If Ricky does come to the NBA then he will be a decent backup and if he stays he in Europe he will become an even better player while gaining more trade value. By drafting Johnny Flynn though the Timberwolves have ensured having a point guard with a bright future that won't have the legal troubles that Ricky has. Flynn is athletic and can could get into the lane easily in college, but at being six feet flat he will have to develop his jump shot and three pointer. Gonna have to work on controlling the ball too (3 turnovers per game last season).
Lastly you have the Etan Thomas for Quentin Richardson who was then traded for Blount of the Miami Heat. This is the third time that Kahn trades a player before they really became a Timberwolve. Apparently this trade was made for saving space in the cap since there have been rumors that Blount will be waived or even traded (doubt it) in the near future. Kahn has created a mess of a team with a leader (Jefferson) that won't have much help to work with. With some many changes I don't think this team will be successful next season.
Memphis Grizzlies: Finally the bottom of the barrel.....Yes the Memphis Grizzlies. Every time I hear the name I think of a failed Vancouver Grizzlie franchise that had to move to Memphis because of bad management, not winning any playoff games in the two time they made it and giving away Pau Gasol for peanuts. Now has this team done anything to come out of that shame? well no they're just sinking deeper and deeper. First lets start with their second pick in the draft, Hasheem Thatbhett, a player tha could have a lot of potential with his, but could also be a bust. Hasheem is seven foot three center who is blocking maching (4.5 blocks and altering at least 6 to 9 more shots per game), has lateral quickness and is getting better at the mid range shot. These three things make him a great player in the NCAA, but has a raw post up game. keeps the ball too low which leads to turnovers and canīt face big men with NBA type bodies. He had terrible games when he faced Dejuan Blair, one of the few players with NBA type bodies that the NCAA has. Just imagine when he has to face a player like Howard. If Hasheem manages to become tougher then he wonīt go down the Kwane Brown road. The second player the Grizzlies drafted was the small forward DeMarre Carroll, at the 27th draft pick, who despite not being as good as other forwards in terms of shooting skill and ball handling he still brings in lots of toughnes and rebounding. Lastly you have Sam Young a defense specialists who with his athletismn and size could frustrate lots of players at the college leve, but will have to translate this int othe NBA. Apart from his defense, Young also scored 19 ppg last season while nearly shooting 50% from the field. Young will be a good back up for Rudy Gay (these two have a similar type of game).
Randolph is a cancer for a team since he easily gets angry in the court (throwing a punch at Louis Ammundsen) and playing horrible defense. One could argue that he did score 27 points and got 11 against the Grizzlies in one game, but at the same time Kwane Brown coming in for a injured Darko go 10 points and 11 boards. Yes I am taking about THE Kwane Brown first round pick AKA mr.bust. As bad as that already sounds he has one last con to him. Games Missed. Last season he missed 32 games due to suspensions and injuries. This trend will not stop in Memphis. The Grizzlies despereatly needed a big man, but Randolph is not the solution. Can you say draft?