With the 2009 NBA Finals over, it’s time for both the Magic and Lakers' organizations to answer huge questions regarding free agent signings if they want to make it back for rematch for a shot at the title next season.
With key players Hedo Turkoglu of Orlando and Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza of Los Angeles all becoming unrestricted free agents, both franchises are looking at nothing short of franchise changing personnel decisions this offseason.
Hedo Turkoglu is the big unrestricted free agent for Orlando this summer. Although, Marcin Gortat is a restricted free agent, and Anthony Johnson is also looking for a deal in a suddenly crowded backcourt.
The question for Orlando is, who to cut loose in order to make enough room to re-sign their most important player aside from Dwight Howard?
There is no doubt Hedo will command an imposing contract as he has made himself into one of the best players in the league.
While players like Lebron James may dazzle and razzle with his blinding speed, ridiculous athletic forays to the basket, and intimidate people with glistening muscles and imposing 6’8” stature, one could argue that Turkoglu does more as a 6’10” forward who can play nearly four positions with his size.
Turkoglu can also handle the ball like a point guard, shoot three-point shots with an assassin’s accuracy, and on top of that, he’s a reliable passer.
What doesn’t always show up on stat sheets is how important Turkoglu’s scoring can be. Far from being a stand still jump shot specialist, Hedo has become a savvy ball handler during critical stretches and represents Orlando’s most reliable scoring option.
It remains to be seen how Orlando will structure next season’s roster, but it’s apparent that they’ll need to cut loose at least one contract to make enough cap room to sign their star forward.
Orlando’s backcourt has become suddenly crowded with All-Star Jameer Nelson back in the lineup. While, Nelson’s tentative play in the finals was less than inspiring, make no mistake, Nelson demonstrated all-star caliber play this season and is the clear undisputed point guard and leader of the Magic.
That leaves Rafer Alston or Anthony Johnson, two veteran point guards fresh off quality playoff runs.
It’s hard to imagine Orlando keeping three-point guards on the roster, so one will be gone eventually.
Orlando’s backup center Marcin Gortat could be looking for a pay raise as an unrestricted free agent to reward his productive 2008-2009 campaign. In a sad commentary on the state of NBA’s centers, Gortat may actually find a good supply of willing suitors.
Orlando may be happy to let him walk, if only they weren’t so thin at center. With hardly any legit centers to back up Howard, Orlando has to answer some issues with depth at this position.
Orlando's major players will be back next season, including Turkoglu. Their biggest questions will be, which key backups will come back and which will find new teams after this summer?
Ideally, they'd love to keep both Alston and Gortat on board as quality backups, but economics may dictate otherwise.
It’s hard to actually quantify Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza’s importance to the Lakers, but if ever there were intangible x-factors these two guys basically exemplify that quality.
Odom is technically a bench player, but his stats, his play, and his minutes don’t say bench player at all. Much like Mickael Pietrus of Orlando—who immediately replaces Courtney Lee for the Magic some time soon after tip off—and even Andrew Bynum, he is mostly planted on the bench, watching Lamar Odom gather most of the minutes as a so called “bench player.”
Most coaches rave about Odom, and it’s not hard to imagine why.
Whether you want a 6’10” body who can deliver nifty post moves and guard opposing power forwards, or you want a player who can launch three-point jump shots and handle the ball like a guard, Odom has it covered.
Odom is a quiet performer, however, one who likes to quietly work his way into double-doubles.
But, he’s no doubt a glue guy.
His defense on Rashard Lewis during the finals and help defense on Dwight Howard needs to be commended. Whether Odom plays as a long armed small forward or a solid shooting, crafty power forward, he gives the Lakers a dimension of length and flexibility that is too important to ignore.
Some might disagree, but I don’t think the Lakers have a shot at defending their title without Lamar Odom.
Starter Trevor Ariza is another player the Lakers will look to re-sign.
I’ve liked Ariza’s game since the beginning. I’ve compared him favorably to Mickeal Pietrus of Orlando. Both players are young, athletic, and great defenders with good wingspan. Ariza is a solid shooter and devilishly quick fast break finisher.
Ariza provides that critical defensive stopper at the wing positions, an almost mandatory ability of NBA title contenders today. With Bynum performing poorly during the playoffs, Phil Jackson’s frontcourt duties by committee depended on the combined efforts of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Trevor Ariza to frequently balance the might of Dwight Howard on the boards and in the paint.
Although Kobe is often credited for having the best defensive game on the Lakers (if not the NBA), he is 30-years-old now, and, in the Finals Series against Orlando, the toll of the long postseason had taken a noticeable toll on the allegedly immortal Kobe.
Meanwhile, it is obviously Ariza who has the freshest legs on the Lakers, and it will more often become Ariza’s assignment in the future to guard the Carmelo Anthonys, Paul Pierces, Lebron James,’ or Hedo Turkoglus of the NBA.
While Ariza doesn’t light up the scoreboard, his ability to limit opponents from doing so means he’ll need to return as an important cog in the Laker lineup if this team expects to be back to defend their title.