OTR Basketball Roundtable: As the Season Nears
Every NBA off-season seems to last twice as long as it should, especially when June and July are stained with multiple trade rumors, an interesting draft class, and uncertainty concerning a superstar's health.
Fortunately, the NBA fans are smelling pre-season basketball, as rosters are being trimmed or developed, jerseys are changing, and Allen Iverson has cut his list of potential suitors down to four or five teams.
So what does all of this mean to OTR Basketball? It means it's time for a roundtable article, and there's no better way to start the discussion than to mention those off-season transactions that have had us talking, and sometimes scratching our heads, for weeks.
1) What team(s) would you say have had the most successful off-season, and why?
Yama Hazheer: Orlando Magic. They added Vince Carter, who is a better player than Hedo Turkoglu. He has also never had a chance to work with a big man of Dwight Howard's caliber. It should help both of them greatly. Not only that, but they added a young forward in Brandon Bass, who will help rebound, and they re-signed Marcin Gortat.
The Lakers did well also by adding probably the best defender in the league in Ron Artest, and re-signing Odom. The Spurs added Richard Jefferson without losing any key members of the team.
Dannie Haynes: This offseason, it appears that the teams at the top, such as Boston, Cleveland, Lakers, Orlando, and San Antonio, found a great deal of success, and out of that group I would have to say Orlando was the most successful, because they made the most dramatic overhaul. The other teams simply added one or two pieces to get better, where Orlando made three or four significant changes.
Overall though, I feel that of all the teams in the NBA, the team that improved the most from the end of last year to the beginning of this year would have to be the Toronto Raptors. The differences are astounding when looking at the team before and after.
There are only three players, four if you count the soon to be traded Marcus Banks, still on the team, and with the addition of Turkoglu, the Raptors have a fairly strong front five. The bench is greatly improved, which should allow the starters to rest, knowing they can hold the fort.
Sean Bafaro: The San Antonio Spurs. Heading into the off-season, the Spurs looked like they would finally relinquish their title as an elite Western Conference team.
They were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks in five games and although they were suffering from injuries, they simply did not look like the Spurs of old. They relied way too much on the terrific trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to carry them.
However, after making the trade for Richard Jefferson and signing Antonio McDyess, the Spurs have added two more players to the roster that are capable of stepping up when called upon.
Jefferson is a 20-PPG caliber scorer who, when motivated, can play very solid defense as well. McDyess is a wily veteran who can still give you 10/10 a night while playing strong positional defense.
They also managed to get DeJuan Blair in the second round of the draft, who just may become the steal of the draft. He can provide you with toughness and a tenacious rebounder immediately, and learning under Tim Duncan will only help his game.
They also added veteran center Theo Ratliff to give them a shot blocking, defensive presence off of the bench. Adding these players, along with getting Duncan and Ginobili back healthy, have put the San Antonio Spurs right back among the Western Conference elite and have them in the hunt for another NBA Championship.
Stephen Dyell: The San Antonio Spurs. They added Richard Jefferson to a lineup that I believe was mainly affected by Manu Ginobili`s injury. Adding Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff and DeJuan Blair gives the Spurs a flexibity of big men that will be tough to match around the league as they also have Duncan and Bonner as starters.
The Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers are a very, very close second though, as all teams took a step up.
Brandon Neal: I have to say the Detroit Pistons improved the most. They rid themselves of Allen Iverson and added a few solid players, including Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Wilcox, and Ben Wallace.
In addition to their player acquisitions, they also replaced their head coach. John Kuester was an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season, and ironically, was an assistant when the Pistons defeated the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Spending time under Mike Brown and Larry Brown, and also being a good defensive player at North Carolina and his short tenure in the NBA, Kuester will most certainly preach defense to a team that, just a few years back, found their greatest success riding on their defensive dominance.
2) What 2009 rookie point guard would be most likely to lead a team to a championship sometime in his career?
Hazheer: Tyreke Evans. He really could become the best player out of this draft class. He has the whole package, except for shooting, but that will come to him with some hard work. He was praised for his defense at times during the college season, also. He has very high potential and is a guy you can build around.
Haynes: I feel that Jonny Flynn has all the tools to be an all-star in this league. While his height will surely be a handicap that will affect him throughout his career, his athleticism, intelligence, and heart will surely help him overcome his shortcomings.
The problem is he is on a team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, that are in no position to compete for a championship anytime soon. They have a stud in Al Jefferson, who should make his first all-star team this upcoming season, as well as sophomore Kevin Love, who appears to be team U.S.A. material, but the overall team is in tough shape.
Is Minnesota the team Flynn leads to a championship? I don’t think so. Is he the best point guard to give it a try? Absolutely.
Bafaro: Ricky Rubio. Heading into the draft, Rubio was the most talked about point guard and widely considered to be the clear cut best point guard prospect.
However, since the whole contract buyout with DKV Joventut, people seem to have done a complete 180 on Rubio.
The fact of the matter is that Ricky Rubio is still the same player that he was heading into the draft, where the majority of people were in love with his game.
He has amazing court vision, is a great passer, has excellent anticipation on offense and defense, and has a brilliant understanding of the game. Rubio and Jefferson very well may become one of the most potent big man/point guard duos in the entire NBA when both of them are at their best.
Rubio’s ceiling is incredibly high and when he reaches his potential, he is going to be one of the best point guards in the NBA and has the best chance of leading a team to the NBA Finals out of the point guards selected in the 2009 NBA Draft.
He is an elite point guard prospect with superstar potential, and I don't think that you can say that about any other point guards from this year's draft class.
If the Timberwolves, or whomever he plays for, can build a solid team around him, I have no doubts in my mind that he can lead that team to the promised land.
Dyell: None, but if I had to choose who'd be the first one to win a ring, I would have to go with Eric Maynor, as he is the missing piece the Jazz were looking for. If he pans out and everything clicks, the Jazz could do some serious damage in the next couple years.
Neal: I'm not sure if any of the point guards would be able to lead a team to a title, but picking one, I have to select Ricky Rubio, even though Brandon Jennings feels like a poor man's Allen Iverson.
If Rubio develops a shot, and that's not very difficult to do if you work hard enough, he could be a Steve Nash clone, plus defense, and that's something for future point guards to worry about.
While I don't see Rubio winning it all with the Wolves, I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to bolt to a team such as the Lakers or Knicks after his contract is up, mainly for the city and not the team. Same can be said for Jennings.
However, it's a reach for me to say that Jennings will be that point guard holding up the O'Brien trophy as a leader and Finals MVP, and while it's difficult for me to see Rubio doing that as well, it also seems to be the most likely scenario for this particular case.
3) Where do you believe LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will end up playing in November 2010? Explain your answers.
Hazheer: I see LeBron James playing for the Nets. They will move to Brooklyn, they have a nice young core, and he is very close friends with part-owner Jay-Z.
It wouldn't surprise me if Dwyane Wade left for the Bulls. Wade bought a townhouse in Chicago, it's his hometown, and the Bulls need a two-guard with the loss of Ben Gordon.
Haynes: LeBron and Wade are both expected to be the best players available in 2010. Both will have very different destinations, also.
I believe LeBron will stay in Cleveland. It would be the best thing for him and for the NBA. The story of LeBron leading a smaller-market team in the Cavaliers will help other smaller teams believe they can re-create the same story. He has changed the city of Cleveland and hopes to change their overall championship drought.
Wade, on the other hand, looks to be on the way out. He has already said he will not play for New York or New Jersey, and he wants to play for a winner. That leaves few choices, and considering Miami did nothing this offseason to help him win there, it looks as though he will try elsewhere.
I think a great place for him would be Utah, and if the Jazz could use Carlos Boozer and trade him for Wade, it could do wonders for the Jazz, and give the Heat a legitimate post scorer to build around.
Bafaro: I believe that both James and Wade will be back with their current teams after the 2010 free agent frenzy. Cleveland is a championship-caliber team and has a legitimate shot at winning an NBA championship for this upcoming season.
The Cavs are also able to give LeBron an extra year on his contract and higher percentage increases each year, which ultimately results in more money. I just don’t see a player like James leaving a contending team, nor do I think that he will leave the extra money on the table to go elsewhere.
Dwyane Wade is not in as good of a situation, but the same idea applies with him as far as I am concerned. I just don't see him being able to walk away from the Heat and leaving all of the extra money on the table.
However, one thing that I can potentially see happening is James and Wade re-signing with their teams to receive all of the extra benefits, but if they are not happy with the direction that their teams are headed, they could possibly ask to be traded halfway through the season. This is one thing to keep in mind.
Dyell: LeBron and Wade will not have to rent a moving truck, in my opinion, as both will stay put. Money rules everything, and they are both receiving tons from advertisements and can also earn the most from their current teams.
If they do, Wade to Chicago and LeBron to New…Brooklyn?
Neal: I may be one of the few that believes the duo will make their decisions based on not only money, but also their hometown.
It's difficult for me to imagine LeBron James in anything but a Cavaliers jersey, and that's where he should stay. There's a good chance the Cavaliers will get to the NBA Finals in 2010, and it would more than likely seal the deal for him if they came close to winning a title, yet failed by the slimmest of margins.
In the back of LeBron's mind, he wants to win a title for the state of Ohio more than anything else, especially after the city of Cleveland has crowned him their sports savior since 2003.
Unfortunately for the Heat, Dwyane Wade could be on his way out the door and headed to the Central Division. Chicago wasn't going to pay Ben Gordon his money, and why wouldn't Wade jump on the opportunity to share the ball with Derrick Rose and a healthy Luol Deng?
With him hinting that he's going to explore free agency more than he's going to win anything for the Heat, one can't help but wonder if the Heat's inability to bring in Lamar Odom or Carlos Boozer toppled their chances of retaining Wade after 2010.
4) If your favorite team were to have your dream match-up in the 2010 NBA Finals with anyone else (opposing conference), who would it be and why?
Hazheer: The Golden State Warriors vs. the Orlando Magic, my favorite team against the team that my favorite player Vince Carter plays for. I would love to see this match-up.
Haynes: In this scenario, the Toronto Raptors would be in the Finals. The best competitive match-up against a playoff-caliber team, in my mind, would be against the Portland Trail Blazers, pitting their starting five of Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden against the Raptors starting five of Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani.
This match-up would have two subplots to it, one being Turkoglu’s decision to go to Toronto instead of Portland, as well as the battle of the top two picks in the 2006 NBA Draft, Bargnani and Aldridge, with Roy making a strong case for being the best player in that draft.
The battles of Bargnani against Aldridge would be fairly even, as both players are strong offensive threats, and Aldridge having a slight advantage on defense.
Turkoglu would be the x-factor of the series, and there really isn’t anyone on the Blazers who could guard him.
The Blazers, however, have Brandon Roy, a top 10 player in the league. These factors, combined with the play of the starting point guards in Calderon and Miller, would make this a very interesting series.
Bafaro: The Toronto Raptors vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While this match-up may not appeal to very many other fans, I think that it would be an awesome series and not only because it is my two favorite teams playing each other for the grandest prize in the NBA, but because I believe that it would be a very entertaining series.
As a long time Raptors fan, there have not been many more exciting games that the Raptors have been a part of than the ones against the Sonics/Thunder franchise. It seems that whenever these teams meet up, it is always a fast-paced, close, hard-fought game, and these two teams always bring out the best of each other.
It would also be a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of the NBA’s finer young talent, with the likes of Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Andrea Bargnani, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, DeMar DeRozan and James Harden all showcasing their abilities.
Although this match-up may not appeal to the majority of NBA fans, this would definitely be my dream NBA Finals match-up.
Dyell: New Jersey Nets vs. Dallas Mavericks.
Having Jason Kidd playing against Devin Harris would be amazing to watch in the Finals, and just the facial expressions of Mark Cuban would put a smile on every Nets fan's face.
Neal: If it were up to me, I would find a way to place the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
The series would feature the two best players in the NBA in Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but the true story will be Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal's Finals reunion, except for the fact that they would be on opposing teams.
It also makes for a good soap opera, with Andrew Bynum playing Shaq in the paint, sometimes crowned Shaq's second-rate replacement, and it would be interesting to watch the greatest coach of all-time, Phil Jackson, outsmart the 2009 Coach of the Year, Mike Brown (or Brown's intelligent assistant coaches, of course).
5) Predict the two 2010 NBA Finals teams, the winner, and your reasoning behind it.
Hazheer: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Lakers in six games.
It is hard to tell just yet, so this is just my early prediction, but the Celtics will be hungry. Who else would they rather want to face than the Lakers? Boston would be on a vengeance during the playoffs and could go on a big run.
I think, ultimately, they will lose to Los Angeles because of the defense the Lakers could play. Bryant could shut down Allen, while Artest could lock up Pierce. If Gasol and Bynum could play Garnett like they played Dwight Howard, the Lakers will win in six.
Haynes: In June, 2010, the NBA Finals will be between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston has the tools to contend again, as long as Wallace agrees to come off the bench, and everyone stays healthy.
Orlando seems to have done too much tinkering to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, and Cleveland just seems to be unlucky.
Los Angeles is the same basic team as last year, and their only roster move was an upgrade at small forward, with the acquisition of Ron Artest.
Kobe is also the most competitive player in the NBA and will surely want to prove that he is the premier player in the league. San Antonio is a close second in the Western Conference, but age and injuries will eventually catch up to them.
As for the winner, I see the Lakers repeating. Their front five is possibly the best in the league, and their overall lineup is eight deep, with players coming off the bench that would start on any other team in the NBA.
Bafaro: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics.
The most storied rivalry in NBA history will be renewed in the month of June as these two juggernaut franchises will meet in the NBA Finals for the second time in the last three years.
The Lakers and Celtics have both made moves this offseason that look to better their chances of winning it all. The Lakers signed Ron Artest to give them another lock-down perimeter defender and a capable offensive player.
They also re-signed Lamar Odom and will have a healthy Andrew Bynum back. The Celtics brought in volatile Rasheed Wallace and also signed swingman Marquis Daniels.
The Celtics are also going to look internally for improvement, as youngsters Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins will make an attempt to step their games up. The biggest thing of all, however, is that Kevin Garnett will be back in the lineup.
These two teams look poised to make another run to the Finals, but I think that the Los Angeles Lakers will ultimately end up as the repeat NBA champions. The Lakers have the best player in the game today in Kobe Bryant, and he has a fantastic supporting cast around him.
They did lose to the Celtics two seasons ago, but that loss showed them what needs to be done in order to win on the big stage.
The Lakers' superior talent will prove to be the difference maker in the 2010 NBA Finals, and they will walk away with their second NBA championship in as many years.
Dyell: Boston Celtics vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
Celtics were without Kevin Garnett this postseason, which allowed the Lakers to shine. Both teams added stars in Wallace and Artest, so one only can assume both became better.
As for a winner, the series could go either way, but Lakers should take it in seven.
Neal: The Lakers simply replaced Trevor Ariza with Ron Artest, and will cross their finger in hopes that Andrew Bynum will finally stay healthy, while the Celtics can bank on Kevin Garnett's return, as well as Rasheed Wallace's effectiveness on both ends of the court.
The popular pick will be the Lakers and Celtics, and it may also be the smartest one, as I can't say for sure if the LeBron and Shaq experiment will work out in Cleveland without the Phoenix training staff on hand, and with O'Neal clogging the very lane LeBron James makes a living in.
The Lakers will more than likely have home court advantage because I see them winning 65 or more games this upcoming season, and Boston will win at least two in the NBA Finals, where the Lakers will finish them off at the STAPLES Center in six games.
The 2009-10 season begins Tuesday, Oct. 27, with the Boston Celtics playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at 7:30 PM ET, followed by Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 PM ET.
Be sure to visit OTRBasketball.com for all of your NBA and NCAA basketball discussion, and above all, enjoy the 2009-10 NBA season!
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