An Analysis of the Big Player Transactions During the Off-Season

By: Sean Speirs

     As we finish the month of September and enjoy the last dwindling days of the MLB and the beginning of the NFL season, believe it or not the 2008-2009 NBA season is right around the corner.  Official Pre-Season games start the first week of October, with the season hitting full-on by the end of October and early November. 

     However, there was still the presumptuous off-season, where teams in both the Western and Eastern Conferences accepted the arrival of new teammates (through trades or free-agency) while also bidding farewell to old ones. 

     Here on the SportsZone blog I will go through/analyze the teams in both conferences and honor those who made the biggest moves that will not only change the face of their organization, but also add to their game-style in a positive manner. 

     I will also go through the teams who pulled the biggest flops of the summer and did not attempt to strive for the best transaction when they needed one the most and/or made a transaction that did not satisfy their needs in the end.

     For this week, I will begin with teams in all of the divisions in the Western Conference.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

THE GOOD:

1.  Houston Rockets

          Notable Additions: Ron Artest, Brent Barry, Joey Dorsey (Rookie Forward)

          Notable Loss: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  With the acquisition of Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings this summer, the Houston Rockets finally have a “Big Three” to call their own (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Ron Artest).  Although Artest has not been the perfect off-court athlete in recent history, he still has pent-up basketball talent that could potentially deem him a superstar (if he were to ever leave the rapping behind and play serious basketball).

     In 57 games with the deteriorating Sacramento Kings last season, Artest was still able to produce season averages of 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.  Artest also fills the shooting/power forward position Houston has needed for years.  He will ultimately bring in the ability to drive to the hoop, hit the outside shot, create space, rebound, and draw defenders away from other Houston players, such as Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.  All in all, this is the time for redemption for Artest.

     The Rockets also were able to acquire veteran-guard Brent Barry, who will come off the bench and be another outside sharp-shooting threat alongside PG Rafer Alston.  With all of these acquisitions, the Rockets only main loss (besides potential young talent) was vet guard Bobby Jackson, who went back to Sacramento in the Artest deal.  In actuality, it was not a big loss for the team, since Jackson has passed his prime a long time ago (only averaged 8.7 pts, 1.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds last season) and was actually dragging down the back-up guard spot behind Alston.

     If you are a Rockets fan, the only thing you should worry about is whether or not this Big Three will be able to stay healthy.  McGrady (back), Yao (foot), and Artest (back, hamstring, knees) are probably the three biggest injury prone athletes in the Western Conference, let alone the NBA.  With this in mind, the Rockets did take a risk in getting Artest.  However, something needed to be done so that the Rockets can be a serious contender in the powerful Western Conference.

     It finally looks like they will be.

 

2.  New Orleans Hornets

          Notable Addition:  James Posey

          Notable Loss: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After a huge 2007-2008 season and becoming one of the most deadly teams in the West, GM Jeff Bower and the Hornets continued their momentum this summer, and may have acquired the final piece this team has thrived for during their playoff run in April/May…deadly swingman and 3-point sharpshooter James Posey.

     Posey (who has won two championships with the recent Boston Celtics and ‘05-‘06 Miami Heat) knows his way around the NBA when it comes to the playoffs and Finals.  He also knows when to step up, hit the big shots, and become a role-player when his team needs one.  With Peja Stojakovic and CP3, Posey will be another outside threat as a shooting forward who will specialize in finding the open spot for the three-ball.  Also, with three deadly outside shooters on the court, opposing teams will stretch out their defense, giving Center Tyson Chandler and Power Forward David West better opportunities underneath.

     Amongst this acquisition came the loss of F/C Chris Andersen to the Denver Nuggets.  Again, this is no big deal since he only played in five games last season averaging 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.  In the end, the Hornets did not lose anything major this off-season (they even extended CP3’s contract).

     The only question is whether or not Hornets Head Coach Byron Scott will position Posey as a starter or as the sixth-man off the bench to continue the high momentum of a game.  Although that answer may yet to be seen, it is obvious the Hornets are already thinking playoffs with their new addition (acquired someone who has experience with winning the rings), while some columnists are even seeing them winning the overall NBA Championship this season.

     If they do win it all, then the Hornets truly had a profitable summer. 

 

3.  Los Angeles Clippers

          Notable Additions: Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Jason Wiliams, Eric Gordon (Rookie Draft)

          Notable Loss: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette

     Result:  The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team on the “GOOD TRANSACTIONS” list that got hit hard with a dramatic off-season.  Their star PF Elton Brand looked like he was going to accept a contract extension with the team, especially after rumors reported that the Clippers got the interest of (and eventually signed) Golden State free agent PG Baron Davis.

     Unfortunately for the Clips, Brand left for the Philadelphia Sixers.  To top it all off, SG Corey Maggette also left for the Golden State Warriors.  This created a huge gap in the team.  It was obvious that the Clippers were in a bad situation that would set back the organization instead of moving forward.  They only had one star PG in Davis and one true big-man in Chris Kaman, while there were holes to be filled in the other positions.

     So what did GM Elgin Baylor do in response? 

     He acquired blocking machine Marcus Camby, Indiana rookie Eric Gordon, vet-guard Jason Williams, SG Ricky Davis and young prospects. 

     These transactions help fill the team, and give them a new beginning, a huge accomplishment for the organization/team.

     With the help of Camby inside to compliment Kaman, the Clippers are bound to continue crashing the boards and getting rebounds (as well as blocking—Camby averaged 13.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks last season).  So defensively the Clippers will continue to build, and ultimately become a force to be reckoned with.

     As for offensively, Baron Davis will lead a backcourt that will consist of Gordon and Ricky Davis, as well as Jason Williams, handling the bulk of the scoring for the team.  Baron Davis himself can carry a team, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Gordon responds and if he will be able to handle the different playing styles in the NBA.  Ricky Davis and Williams will also have to prove that they still have game left in them by keeping pressure offensively on the boards and around the perimeter.

     Also, is there a possible Clippers Big Three in the making (B.Davis,Camby, Gordon)?

     What’s amazing is that GM Baylor proved that any problem could be fixed, even if a team loses their superstars.  Also, it was obvious this off-season that the Clippers did not want to become another Memphis Grizzlies or Sacramento Kings in the league. 

     Good for them.  Next subject to tackle on the list…the shady coaching philosophy from Mike Dunleavy, but that is for another post.

     Nonetheless, the Clippers have a lot to prove (whether or not they will have an effective bench), but because of their bounce-back in the off-season, this team deserves to get high accolades when it comes to honoring those who made big moves in player transactions this summer. 

 

THE BAD:

1.  Denver Nuggets

          Notable Loss: Marcus Camby

          Additions: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After analyzing every-team in the Western Conference, the Nuggets get the most disappointing off-season award.  After such a promising rise in the last few years, acquiring star G Allen Iverson (AI), watching F Carmelo Anthony increase his skills, and making playoff appearances, one would think the Nuggets would have tried to make a strategic move this off-season that would not only increase their offensive power, but to also help out their big-men under the boards.

     Unfortunately the total opposite happened.  The Nuggets lost their Center and only defensive presence…Marcus Camby.  Camby ended up signing with the LA Clippers (above I have went through his amazing stats he averaged last season in terms of rebounds and blocks), leaving a huge gap in the Nuggets lineup. 

     In a time of what should be panic and fright, the Nuggets do not pull a “Clippers” and bounce back from this loss.  Instead, the Nuggets main acquisition (besides their not so good rookie draft pick) of the off-season is Chris “Birdman” Andersen. 

     Birdman Andersen?!?!?!

     Andersen was booted out of the NBA in 2006 due to drug abuse and violated the anti-drug policies of the league.  He was re-instated last year with the Hornets and only averaged 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds towards the end of the season.  Not saying that Birdman was not a good player back then, but as compared to today’s standards, it may take while for him to get back in the groove of things. 

     How will this guy fill the Camby gap?  As a matter of fact, the Nuggets STILL need to fill this gap (and trust me, Kenyon Martin is not the answer).

     If the Nuggets don’t act accordingly and search for a F/C that can be a true powerhouse underneath, expect to see this team crumble as there is no one able to step up and be a part of the AI and Anthony duo (and these two players will not be able to carry this team alone).

     At least the other teams in the Western Conference have nothing to worry about in Denver.

 

2.  Sacramento Kings

            Notable Loss: Ron Artest

            Addition: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  Believe it or not, once you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Sacramento Kings, it did this summer.  The organization basically handed Artest away to Houston, and in return received Bobby Jackson (who will most likely end his career in Sacramento, unless traded again). Now while some fans might enjoy the fact Jackson is back with the Kings, in actuality, it will slow down the Kings.

     It is sad to see that Artest, the Kings only player worth some value on the trading block only brought the Kings a C-List player in return, rather than a mid-to-high B-List player.  Did GM Geoff Petrie even try selling Artest on the market? 

     It seems like this team just enjoys giving away players for nothing in return.

     Trading star PG Mike Bibby to the Atlanta Hawks was bad enough for the Kings last season.  Now they truly have no one to carry the momentum of the team (do you really think Brad Miller, Kevin Martin, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are a powerful enough trio?), which is now filled with, at best, mediocre talented players who will continue to be pressured to performing well throughout the season.  Although rookie Jason Thompson might show promise this year, he won’t be able to make a huge impact without adequate help around him.

     The Kings need to act accordingly before/during the season or they will continue to be forgotten in the NBA, especially in the star-studded Western Conference.

 

3.  Memphis Grizzlies

          Notable Loss: Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Kevin Love

          Additions: O.J. Mayo, Marko Jaric

     Result:  I don’t think anyone has any idea where the Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace’s mind is.  After giving up the Grizzlies only star Pau Gasol to the Lakers last season for star-less Kwame Brown, the Grizzlies could’ve only gone up the ladder of redemption.  However, it seems they went a few rungs down.

     This summer, the Grizzlies continued to shock the world by proving how they cannot partake in any player transactions.  However, they did get hopeful rookie-sensation O.J. Mayo from Minnesota in a huge deal after the Rookie Draft in exchange for veteran Brian Cardinal, sharp-shooter Mike Miller, and to-be rookie-sensation powerhouse Kevin Love.

     In actuality, the Grizzlies may have been better off keeping Love and Cardinal since they only have Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother) as their only force under the boards.  The acquisition of Mayo was gutsy, but this team already has enough shooting forwards and guards.  What they really needed were power forwards and centers.

     On paper, the Grizzlies did not make a dramatic move this summer like they needed to.  However, like I said before, no one knows what GM Wallace is thinking, and in the end this could all be part of a master plan that could actually be the start of the Grizzlies changing for the better. 

     Or at least Wallace and die-hard Grizzle fans believe such a radical idea.

     In all of this mess, the only good move the Grizzlies pulled off was that of losing Kwame Brown, and that wasn’t even a move.  Brown was a free-agent.

———

     Keep a lookout on the SZ Blog as I analyze the teams who made it big and/or flopped in the Eastern Conference this NBA off-season (as well as an overall look at the teams who were “in-between good and bad” during this player movement period).

 

BY: SEAN SPEIRS

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM AND NBA.COM

             

 

 

 

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So I was one for two in my predictions but I still feel very about both analyses. Before we get to the Finals preview, a few thoughts about some goings on in the NBA.

1- The officials really screwed the Spurs in the Western Conference. That no-call on Derek Fisher in Game 4 doomed the Spurs to lose Game 5. I believe the Spurs go on to win that game if Barry goes to the line and the Spurs, with the series tied at two, go into LA feeling pretty good and probably taking Game 5. That game alone gave the conspiracy theorists more than enough amunition to last them the year.

2- The draft is coming up and my man J-Fense just wrote an interesting article about what the Bulls should do with the first pick. However, I could not disagree more with him. Hinrich has shown that he can be all-star caliber point guard and Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah have shown to be nothing more than athletic, defense orientied power fowards. I believe the Bulls must draft Beasley. He instantly upgrades their presence in the post which helps a jump-shooting team more than a point guard. If the Bulls think it through, a player who commands a double team in the post to open up outside shots for Gordon, Hinrich, Noicioni, and Hughes is more valuable than a point guard who passes to players on the wing who can not create their own shot. John Paxson, please take Michael Beasley.

3- While the firing of Flip Saunders was not much of a surprise, it disappoints me that he is the one held accountable for the actions of Rasheed Wallace. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com wrote an article claiming that Saunders did not have the respect of his players and only McDyess played hard consistently. Well I say that is a bunch of crap and the coach should not be to blame if his players are unprofessional cry-babies. And Rasheed Wallace is the ringleader and the one to blame. Wallace has a tendency to be a malcontent and let his emotions get the better of him. I actually think Saunders did a good job of coaching in the series, it was just his most important player (sorry Chauncey and Rip) played like he didn’t care.

Now, onto the preview…

GUARDS: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

The point guard matchup here is the most important one in the series and the most intriguing. You have young Rajon Rondo who has become more important to his team than Ray Allen and the wily veteran Derek FIsher. If Rondo can play solid defense on Fisher (something he was not able to do in the Pistons series [did anybody see the way Billups abused him in Game 6?]), then I feel like the Celtics can call it a day because there is no way they are stopping Kobe. Rondo needs to keep grabbing boards, leading the break, dishing the rock, and making smart decisions (seems easy right?).

In all reality though, it doesn’t really matter what the other Lakers do because it all revolves around Kobe Bryant. He averaged just under 30 points a game in the Spurs series and that was considered a masterful job by Bruce “Dirty Mo-Fo” Bowen. Are you kidding me? There is nobody on the Celtics who can matchup with Kobe like Bowen could and the only one who gets a look off the bench who could handle him is James Posey. Is Doc Rivers going to sacrifice offense for defense and sit Ray Allen like he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6? I don’t think so, he’s not that good of a coach. And that mini-resurgence we saw from Ray-Ray was just a mirage. I can’t see him really being a factor in this series with Kobe matching up against him (very different from Rip Hamilton).

FORWARDS: ADVANTAGE CELTICS

This is where the Celtics have a huge advantage. Paul Pierce vs. the useless European that is Vladimir Radmonovic. Phil Jackson, in an effort to limit Kobe’s minutes vs. Pierce, has decided the likes of Radmonovic, Luke Walton (who should be starting and another reason why Phil Jackson is one of the most overrated coaches in the history of basketball, but that is for another time), and Lamar Odom. Only one of those three has a chance at holding Pierce up and that man belongs on KG (can you guess who?). Maybe Coach Jackson is trying to coach down to Doc Rivers’ level, I just don’t know. But expect Pierce to have a monster series offensively and to struggle defensively on Kobe (at least I hope Doc doesn’t put Ray-Ray on him).

Power Forward is another position where the Celtics have a huge advantage. KG is the heart and soul of this team and plays with enough intensity to light up the entire city of Los Angeles for 2 weeks straight. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom plays with the intensity of a wet noodle, has a penchant for missing key free-throws down the stretch, and disappears from games for quarters at a time. I also believe he is going to struggle on KG or Perkins because one is too skilled and the other is just way too big for him to handle (and by big I mean fat).

CENTER: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pau Gasol is the most important Laker. This team revolves around Kobe but he is the moon to Kobe’s sun. He is perfect for this offense because he passes, shoots, and is foreign ( I don’t really know if that is important or not, I just wanted to say that). Kendrick Perkins on the other hand has the ability to be dominant for a half and then disappear for the next game and a half. He also has a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him and is susceptible to technical fouls. However, I’m higher on Perkins than most for the simple reason is that he does what he is asked of: rebound, defend, and clean up the garbage around the rim. He fits into the flow of his team and doesn’t mind being the fifth option. His humility is refreshing for a player drafted out of high school while his English skills are sort of scary (I don’t think he can handle words with more than three syllables, but who cares because neither can I).

COACHING: ADVANTAGE JACKSON

While I hate Phil Jackson and believed he has lucked into two of the greatest situations ever (MJ and Kobe + Shaq), Doc Rivers is still the worst coach in the NBA not named Isiah Thomas (can we still make fun of him? I think I still can because he is a moron and morons deserved to be ridiculed). The triangle offense is effective, even if nobody exactly knows what it is and he sticks to his rotation, which can’t be said for Mr. Rivers (does he run an offense?)

BENCH: ADVANTAGE EVEN

I truly believe the Celtics have a better bench, but you never know what Doc Rivers is going to do with his talent other than misuse them. The problem is the Celtics have too much talent on the bench, which could be confusing for a mere mortal. However, the rotation should consist of Eddie House, James Posey, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown. Sam Cassel can not handle being a backup and a bad one at that and Glen “Big Baby” Davis needs another year of seasoning to understand the nuances of playoff basketball. Each of those four adds energy and understands their roles on the team. PJ Brown also adds experience while Eddie House, at least from what I’ve seen, is just excited to be there.

Phil Jackson has the lesser talent, but gets more out of his players by sticking to a consistent rotation. Jordan Farmar has played inconsistently but is still getting minutes because he is a winner and Jackson does not want to mess with his confidence. Sasha Vujacic adds European toughness, as does Ronny Turiaf (is that possible?) while Luke Walton is the perfect player for this offense and should be playing 30 minutes a game but I’ll settle for him getting 20 and giving the Lakers a huge weapon off the bench.

X-FACTOR: RAJON RONDO PG, CELTICS

This one was tough to pick, but if Rondo can supplant Ray Allen as the third most important Celtic for all the right reasons, then this series is the Celtics for the taking. However, if he is the third most important Celtic for the wrong reasons (poor shooting, bad defense, and turnovers), then consider the Celtics French Toast.

KEY MATCH-UP: KOBE VS. PAUL PIERCE

While they may not play many minutes against each other, the two best scorers in this series will go a long way towards determining which team wins. If Kobe can outscore Paul by ten or more points, Kobe will add another MVP trophy to his hardware.

PREDICTION: CELTICS IN SEVEN

While most experts are proclaiming the Lakers to be the best in all the land, I think the Celtics have way too much talent to lose. Throw in home court advantage with the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule that punishes the lower seed, I’d look for the Celtics to win and Paul Pierce to take home the MVP Finals with a spectacular performance that will remind people why he is the only remaining Celtic left from the last decent Celtic team.

BEARD

Age Bound to Hurt San Antonio Spurs

By: Sean Speirs

 

     Some say that valuable experience comes with age.  Unfortunately, experience will not be enough to help the San Antonio Spurs as their old age begins to rust this off-season.

 

     After enduring a tough NBA post-season this year with series against the Phoenix Suns (4-1) and the New Orleans Hornets (4-3), the Spurs were hoping their road to another NBA championship would be less stressful.  However, MVP Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers had a different agenda, and overthrew the defending champs in the Western Conference Finals 4-1.

 

     With their season now over, the future of the Spurs does not appear that promising anymore, especially since their squad will be one year older come next season.  Typically, one would say big deal, it is only one year.  But to the Spurs, that year could mean the demise of their championship franchise.

 

     Currently, the average age of the Spurs is 31.2, a range of two to seven years older than the average age of the other NBA teams [youngest being the Chicago Bulls at 24.2].  11 players of the Spurs 15-man lineup are 30 years old or older.  Six of those 11 will become 35 years old or older during next season, including starters Bruce Bowen (36) and Michael Finley (35), role-players Brent Barry (36), Robert Horry (37), Damon Stoudamire (34) and Kurt Thomas (35).

 

     With such an older team developing in the league, how long will it take until they cannot keep up with other, mostly younger, opponents? 

 

     The answers to this question became evident throughout all of the Spurs playoff games.

 

     Bruce Bowen could not keep up his once stellar defense against Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan suffered a slow inside game due to Hornets big men Tyson Chandler and David West, Manu Ginobli was playing through constant injuries, and Michael Finley could not find his deadly outside shot.

 

     Although the Spurs had an overall good season, clinching second place (56-26) in the Southwest Division, the true test of an NBA team is always the playoffs, whose outcomes can change the face of teams who fail to produce. 

 

     The Spurs this year was one of those teams, as the first signs of rust started to show, officially setting an expiration date for their once effective bench.

 

 

     Enough is enough.  There is no reason for this team to hold on to older players any longer that make up most of their lineup.  The Spurs already have experience from their superstars Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli (all have won 3 or more titles with this team).  By keeping older players, the Spurs are carrying dead weight that is preventing their “Big Three” and overall team from becoming a dominant future contender.

 

     –Bottom line: changes need to be made and fresh legs are necessary in order to compliment the quick style of play from starting point guard Tony Parker (26), the true future of this franchise.  What is needed, more specifically, is an agile/aggressive shooting guard/forward that can drive the ball, finish in the middle, and settle with the occasional outside jumper.  Younger Spurs Matt Bonner ( 28 ), DeMarr Johnson ( 28 ) and Ian Mahinmi (21) will never fill those needs and assets at the pace they are going, all three of these players average between two to four points a game.

 

     For General Manager R.C. Buford and Head Coach Gregg Popovich, in order to accomplish this main goal of change, the best chance the Spurs have is to let go of some, if not all, of their veteran free agents (Horry, Finley, and Thomas) and invest in a younger player through NBA draft trades.  They could also depend on a massive off-season trade that can bring over some youth and adequate help from off the bench.  Either way, expect the Spurs to try to edge their way into trade offerings and draft picks this off-season.

 

     All in all, if the Spurs got anything out of the 2007-2008 playoffs, it was a wake-up call from the future, warning them of the downfall that is about to come. 

 

    This is truly a rude awakening that cannot be ignored any longer.  If serious moves are not administered this off-season, the Spurs are in for a rough season next year.

 

     At this point, it’s safe to say that it’s time to panic.

Sean Speirs

Images Courtesy of YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Hey SportsZone fans and readers,

Welcome to “SZ: Questions of the Week”.

This feature on SportsZone’s webpage is where fans/readers will be able to answer sports questions that will be posted every week.  Readers will be able to give their opinion and might even debate with our very own panelists (who will answer the same questions), as they do on-air during the academic year at American University.  If you see a posted question that you want to take part in answering or see an absurd answer that you think is wrong,  let your voice be heard and leave a comment.  This is your chance to join the interaction and debate that is seen onSportsZone every week, only on ATV.

Thanks: Sean Speirs and the SportsZone Crew

Questions of the Week: Week 1

1) The NBA playoffs have finally reached the Conference Finals.  In the East, the Detroit Pistsons are up against the “Big 3’s” Boston Celtics (a great analysis of the matchup has been written by Sean “Beard” Wagman–see below).  Meanwhile, in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers are facing the defending champions San Antonio Spurs.  Of these two series, which teams will we see in the NBA Finals?

2) The Yankees are in an ongoing slump this season, capping it off with their recent loss to the New York Mets this past weekend.  Without A-Rod, the Yankees are 8-12 this season.  Should this team start to worry, or is this a repeat of the Yankees we saw last season (same type of slump, but came back strong to make it into the playoffs)?  Who is to blame, the players or new manager Joe Girardi?

3) Believe it or not, among all the other sports, the NHL is still going on and its Stanley Cup Finals time as the Detroit Red Wings (going for their fourth Cup since ’97)  take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (in the finals for the first time since ’92).  Who will be crowned victor in this epic series and why?