It's been a wild few weeks of offseason activity in the NBA, so which GMs and team presidents are pushing all the right buttons? Who is making things worse for their respective organizations? Who is sleeping at the wheel?
Well, let's see...
Boston Celtics: They haven't made a ton of transactions or thrown money around in a number of different directions, but Danny Ainge made one perfect manuever:
Signing Rasheed Wallace. Rasheed is a PERFECT fit for Boston, given their current personnel. 'Sheed gives the Celtics a second top-tier post player alongside Kevin Garnett, and he complements KG's offensive game because he'll often spend time spacing the floor beyond the three-point stripe. So while KG's down on the block goin' to work, Sheed can spread to the corner or wing to open things up in the lane. KG can either take advantage of that spacing to play one-on-one, or he can draw the double and kick it to Rasheed.
'Sheed is also an experienced postseason player with both the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers, and you can be sure that Doc Rivers' team will return to the postseason in '09-10. Despite being called "lazy" and "brash" in the past, Wallace is, in fact, a highly UNSELFISH teammate. He's often been called TOO unselfish, but that's something that won't be a problem with shots to go around for Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo as well. The fact that Rasheed is willing to defer to teammates depending on the situation, only helps Boston's potential continuity as a unit.
The only problem for the Celtics right now is...did Ainge piss off Allen and Rondo with the trade rumors involving the Pistons? Are the two guards now discontented?
That remains to be seen, but Allen is generally a consummate professional. I'm sure he'll come to play. Rondo, on the other hand, is still on the immature side. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the organization's comments including the word "uncoachable." Hmm.
Cleveland Cavaliers: This one's almost by default. Danny Ferry has been active, and he's gained superior players to the ones he's dumped. But that DOESN'T mean that they've improved enough to win the NBA championship. If both the Celtics and Cavs remained healthy throughout the upcoming season, I'd say the Celtics would have the better chance to win it all. Especially considering the way they play defense with Garnett active and on the floor. Add Rasheed's defensive experience to that mix, too.
But back to Cleveland. By this point many of us already know that Ferry traded Ben Wallace, a second-round pick, and "cash considerations" to the Phoenix Suns for Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq looked pretty sharp last year, better than he did the previous season, but is he THE answer for Cleveland? Does he really take them over the top? Is he THAT much better than Zydrunas Ilgauskas at this stage in both of their careers? Will he make THAT much of a difference?
These are all questions that will have to be answered during the upcoming season. However, I believe the answer to most of those questions will be, "No." Shaq's still one of the better centers in the league -- in large part because it's a weak position talent-wise -- but there's no guarantee of harmony with LeBron James. On a personal level, sure. But basketball wise, Shaq's been known to clog things up and slow an offense down to a halt. This is old-age Shaq, I'm talking about. Could he hinder LeBron's development in some way?
Sure. It's a possibility.
Let's not forget that the Cavs also added swingman Anthony Parker, a very reliable outside shooter with an excellent team attitude. Savvy move there.
Dallas Mavericks: Re-signing Jason Kidd makes more sense with Shawn Marion in the picture. When Mark Cuban was talking about bringing Kidd back BEFORE the Marion trade, I was scratching my head (depending on the size of the contract, obviously). But Dallas sent Antoine Wright and Devean George to the Toronto Raptors for Marion -- who had a bit of a lost season last year -- and then followed up with Kidd to complement "The Matrix."
What Marion does, though, is bring new life to this Maverick unit. I feel like I've been seeing the Dirk Nowitzki-Josh Howard-Jason Terry show for centuries now. It wasn't working out with just them and Kidd or his predecessor Devin Harris (man, they'd love to have him back). But Marion brings a new element. He's still explosive, and Kidd is the type of point guard that can bring out the best in Marion's game. Like Steve Nash, Matrix's teammate in Phoenix, Kidd loves to push the tempo and get the ball to finishers on the break.
Marion is a finisher. And he can defend. I like the way this lineup looks: PG-Kidd, SG-Terry, SF-Howard, PF-Marion, C-Nowitzki. And obviously Marion and Nowitzki can split the center-guarding responsibilities depending on the opposing team and match-up situation.
Cuban also acquired power forward Kris Humphries in the Marion deal, and Humphries is a guy who has always performed well despite limited opportunity to shine. He's very active on the boards and is an underrated finisher in the paint. He can certainly contribute valuable minutes off the pine.
Detroit Pistons: Sure they lost Rasheed Wallace on the open market, but it was time for a change in Detroit. It started with the Chauncey Billups trade during the '08-09 season, and Joe Dumars was right to begin breaking up the core. Should Billups have been the first one to go? From a basketball standpoint, no. From a monetary and future consideration standpoint? Probably, yes.
So now 'Sheed's out of the picture, and in come Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. These aren't the type of players we've been used to seeing in Detroit the past decade. Deeetroit Basketbaaaaaall (loudspeaker guy) has been about defense, slow tempo, and keeping the score close. Well, it wasn't quite working last year; things basically slowed to a dead stop. In part because the team's core was aging, but mostly because the East became too strong with the Cavs, Celtics, and Magic. The Pistons, the way they were (Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallace) couldn't contend with the big boys anymore.
With that in mind, Dumars has decided to shoot for a more explosive offense. He's certainly heading in the right direction with Gordon and Villanueva. Gordon is one of the most dangerous volume scorers in the NBA, and Villanueva can really light it up for a 4-man. Will they defend?
Well, that's another story. But Prince and Hamilton will still be there to anchor the defense, as far as understanding of rotations and responsibilities go. They can tutor the newbies.
I also loved the Michael Curry firing. It was definitely a mistake hiring him in the first place, but at least Dumars abandoned ship at the appropriate time. One year of terrible halfcourt sets and poor fourth-quarter preparation was definitely enough. Dumars needed a new coach for this new unit, and he has one.
I think another move is on the horizon for this franchise, considering the overload with Rodney Stuckey, Hamilton, Gordon, and Will Bynum (recently re-signed). Their offseason may need to be re-evaluated at a later date. Time will tell.
San Antonio Spurs: I don't love Richard Jefferson (I watched him very closely for a long time, I'm a Nets fan), but I think this is the right fit for him. Jefferson's not the man for a go-to type job, instead he's better suited as a quality complimentary player. That's exactly what he'll be in San Antonio, or at least I assume that's what head coach Gregg Popovich has in store for RJ.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili will continue to be the cornerstones, but their collective performance should be elevated by the additions of Jefferson and veteran power forward Antonio McDyess. 'Dice is a Spur-type player, a quality fit for Popovich's style and the fabric of the organization. This team has improved. The Bruce Bowen/Fabricio Oberto minutes-with-limited-production thing wasn't working. Bowen's not a shutdown defender any longer, either.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards making a quality offseason move?
What planet is this?
This can't be real.
But yes, in fact it is. The Washington Wizards traded a first-round pick, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, and Oleksiy Pecherov to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Perfect time to dump a lottery selection for proven talent, because this draft class was unspectacular to me.
Foye hasn't even hit his prime yet...what a steal. Miller is a nice asset to a core already including Gilbert Arenas (back and healthy), Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Andray Blatche. The only issue with the deal is, will there be enough shots to go around? Arenas, Butler, and Jamison aren't exactly the most unselfish of players. Hey, who am I trying to kid -- they are straight-up hogs.
But it's a style that nearly got them past the Cavaliers in the playoffs a few seasons back, and one that could possibly succeed with both Foye and Miller in the fold. Key word: "possibly."
All right, it's getting late. I'll get to the losers next time, in a second post. Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment below.
(The Red Sox are the new Yankees. How did they make the transition? "JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land." It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)