News and Notes From Around The NBA

morgan spoknyContributor IJanuary 26, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 08:  Rasheed Wallace #30 and Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on January 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2009 NBA free agency is under way and here are a few questions for Morgan from our loyal readers pertaining to the recent moves throughout the league.

1. ” The Celtics are the latest team to come out of Free Agency landing Rasheed Wallace, clearly by signing the grizzled veteran this shows that the Celtics are preparing for another title run, but what do you make of the Pistons signing Villanueva and Gordon? In your opinion is this a team rebuilding or staying in the hunt”?

First lets address the Wallace signing. It’s a great move for Rasheed and the Celts. After falling victim to injuries last year, the Celtics will look to rebuild from a disappointing season and this is exactly the guy to add to the nucleus. I grew up in Portland watching Rasheed and while he always had issues staying on the court due to his loud mouth, he may be one of the most underrated players of the last decade. He brings a great post up game, spot up 3 point ability, solid rebounding and interior defense and most importantly he is yet another guy that has a ring which will definitely help in the post-season. This move instantly makes the Celtics the favorite in the East, and pushes them to the top of my power rankings. Not only was this a superb addition to the club, he signed relatively cheaply (2 yrs 12 mill), and will get plenty of opportunities.  It’s a solid move for both sides and seems like a perfect match made in heaven.

With that said lets step into the second part of the question. The Pistons are rebuilding but will definitely be staying in the hunt. One of the quirkiest things about basketball is that under good management and scouting it is very easy to turn around a franchise because the roster size is relatively so small. A team really only needs to fill 5 to 8 roster spots, and all it takes is one good draft pick to change the entire face of a franchise. The Pistons should remain competitive and in the mix but still don’t have enough to rival the powerhouses, Boston, Orlando and Cleveland who have all been busy making moves this off-season.

Ben Gordon was the biggest of two moves made by Detroit this off-season, signing for (5 yrs 50 mill). It’s certainly an interesting move for Joe Dumars and it probably wont be the last of this off-season for Detroit. Gordon is a legit scorer who can spread the court and shoot the 3, posting at least a 40 % average every year of his career which is very impressive. He has also shown that he is pretty clutch, as shown last year in the playoffs where he averaged 24 pts. He gives the pistons a totally new look but his scoring ability can only be utilized if he is given the opportunity and playing time. You would imagine since he was given 50 mill, and was the pistons early splash that he will get the minutes but that means that franchise shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s days in Detroit may be limited. Early rumors have speculated about a Hamilton/Boozer swap, which is an interesting idea and may end up being a great move for both teams.

However, if they deal Hamilton for Boozer they will leave Villanueva feeling a crunch to his minutes. I’ve always liked Villanueva ever since the first time I saw him play alongside Lebron at the McDonalds All-American game. He has always had issues regarding his intensity and while he exploded statistically last year, he may get lost in the mix in DET and start to lose focus which will subsequently hurt his numbers. If they can clear him some room and find him the minutes I think this could be a great signing. However, Detroit has always relied on a deep bench and unfortunately that seems to be the same case this year. Charlie has some good upside and I could conceivably see him improving on his 17 and 7 season of last year, but I can also see him getting limited pt, losing focus and never realizing that potential.

2.” What can we make of the Mavericks resigning Jason Kidd for three years”?

For much of his playing days he was the best point guard in the universe. Now, after being humbled by the NBA’s new elite playmakers and being forced to reinvent himself he is hoping to prove he still has enough gas left in the tank to end years of disappointment in Dallas. Along the way he has considerably improved his outside shot and there is no questioning that he still can rack up the assists with the best of them. While he remains one of the strongest and biggest pg’s in the league he just doesn’t possess the speed to be considered one of elite pg‘s in the league. However, with that said he is still a top 10 pg in the league and was definitely helped out by the lack of depth at pg during this years FA, which subsequently allowed him to command top dollar (3 yrs 25 mill plus). The competition, Andre Miller and Mike Bibby fall into the same boat as Kidd, as each is aging and has a flaw or many flaws to their game. The Mavericks never seem to be able to get over the hump and it’s only gotten worse since being bounced in the finals a few years back. In my opinion the Mavericks are in the same boat as the Pistons, good enough to make the playoffs, but little threat to win it all.

3.” Does the loss of Hedo Turkolou and the addition of Vince Carter, cause the Magic to take a step back, or will this move help them get over the hump and win it all in 2010?

First lets talk about the addition of Hedo and how it will effect Toronto. The signing of Hedo does come at the expense of having to move Marion to the Mavericks, which isn’t going to kill the team as Marion has lost his star power since leaving Phoenixs fast paced offense. Hedo is a guy who is really cashing in on his great post season performance, and while I do like him as a scorer, I think the (5 yr 53 mill) price tag is far too pricey especially in this market. He blossomed with the increased playing time in Orlando but before he came to the Magic he was a fringe player with little value and considering that teams could of picked up Ariza for nearly 20 mill less, I think Toronto over spent for his services.

However, with that said he was one of only five players in the NBA to average at least 19.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. The other four players were Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. So the question remains, did the magic pull away from the pack by trading Courtney lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie for Carter and his nearly 35 mill owed on his contract? No, but I think they are at the very least on par talent wise with last years roster or even slightly better. I still like the Rasheed Wallace signing and I have to give the Celtics the pre-season edge, but the Magic are at the very least staying competitive and giving themselves a chance. Vincanity brings name notoriety and will help sell tickets and merchandise. He may not have the same explosiveness to his game, but he can still spread the court alongside Rashard Lewis and open up the interior for Dwight. I have a hunch that he will be focused and ready for a great year, and put up some nice numbers since he has a legit shot at winning an elusive title. Financially the team may have taken a huge shot in terms of its flexibility but only time will tell when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and compnay hit the open market.

4. ” Why can’t the Artest signing with the Lakers work”?

I Definitely have mixed feelings about the Artest signing (5 yrs 32 mill). A few years ago his stock was exceptionally low as he was throwing around the threat of quitting playing ball to work on his album, my world. And of course how could we not mention the unforgettable fight where he and a few other guys went into the stands and assaulted fans. Artest is at the top of his value right now and his perceived worth is so much higher than it was a few years ago. Realistically there still exist lingering issues regarding his focus and attitude in LA, but my gut feeling is that under the tutelage of the Zen master Phil Jackson, Artest will not step out of line off the court and will fill in nicely as a defensive stopper on the court. Artest may just end up working as he is more proven than Ariza, but the loss of Ariza will be most certainly felt and with the recent big transitions throughout the league and teams taking advantage of the weakened economy by stockpiling talent on the cheap, it leaves me wondering if the Lakers will have enough to win another championship next year.

5. “Should the focus for the Rockets have been to seek out a center and not a swing like Trevor Ariza”?

I think it’s a great move for whoever lands Ariza. Early reports were that he signed with Houston, but recently there has been speculation that he may sign with Cleveland. I love Ariza and he is a great signing considering his age and potential. He has improved his long game since he played down the road at UCLA and is an elite perimeter defender who was among the league leaders in steals (1.67 per/game) in limited playing time. Not to mention that he is extremely athletic and can really finish in the transition game. He was an intricate piece for Lakers last year, and it is really surprising to see the Lake show low ball Ariza and let him walk. Cleveland could certainly use Ariza especially since all the East contenders from last year are upgrading and they can’t afford to be left out of the loop, especially if they want to retain king james who may be filling for Free agency.

Now lets talk about the Ariza signing and the Rockets. Sure, the Rockets could have used a new center to replace Yao, as of right now they are going to have to rely on 6′9 Luis Scola which leaves them playing pretty small. We all know how teams fare when they get into the playoffs and play undersized. But as is the case in most years, bigs are a tough commodity to find and there weren’t really any viable options available this off-season. The only true center available was Anderson Varejao, who has had a hard enough time getting paid by Cavaliers for the last few years and earlier this off-season threatened to opt out of his deal, although he recently agreed with the Cavaliers on a pricey extension. A big like Varejao can realistically command considerably more money even in this weakened market than the 35 million Ariza reportedly signed for, simply because teams have to overpay for size.

It really doesn’t make any sense for the Rockets to overpay for the likes of Varjeao to fill a vacant hole when they could spend the money on Ariza and drastically improve their overall talent elsewhere. Drew Gooden, Lamar Odom, Paul Millsap, Chris Anderson, Zaza Pachulia are available but none of them possess the height to fill the void left by Yao. So with that said, yes they are in need of a Center, as is the case for most of the league, but none currently exist on the market, unless they want to really overpay. I like that they signed a young, up and comer for a relatively cheap price. Ariza will help them reach the playoffs again this year, even in the perennially tough western conference.

6. ” Based on the draft and the moves so far during the NBA free Agency, rank your top 5 teams?

1). Boston- Even without any 1st round picks the Celtics are number one because of the huge addition of Rasheed Wallace. A healthy KG, Pierce, Rondo, Allen, Wallace is just too nice to ignore. The Wallace signing is enough for the Celtics to leap frog the pack and take the title in 2010.

2). Orlando- The tides have changed as the East begins to take over the power in the league. No 1st rd pick to speak of, but it doesn‘t even matter. They traded off Lee, Alston, Battie, and Hedo but brought in Carter and that is enough for me. The Magic sure hope they aren’t getting fools gold and I am going to take a stance right now and make a bold statement, Carter will average close to 25 points and be in consideration for a MVP. Even with all those losses, the Magic seem more intact than the Lakers and I have them jumping in front of the power rankings as of right now. We still have to see what the Lakers do regarding Odom or what replacement they can find with cash they save.

3). Los Angeles- Wait, do you see a trend? Hmm, I do, contenders once again pass on the draft as the Lakers deal off their pick for cash considerations. The Knicks trade for the pick and take Toney Douglas in exchange for the cash. The lakers this off-season essentially swapped Ariza for Artest. We are still waiting to hear from Odom, but sounds like he will be walking and that leaves the Lakers in quite a predicament, but still very talented.

4.) Cleveland- An Off-season where they have yet to sign any real big Free agents but they still managed to improve the team. They resigned Varejao and traded for Shaq and maybe this will be enough to help the Cavaliers win it all, but going into the season they seem like the 4th best team on paper. We will have to wait and see what kind of combo, Shaq and Lebron will make, but I for one am tickled with excitement to see what happens.

Toss-up 5/6

Sa/Denver- They are pretty interchangeable to me and they round out the top 5/6- Neither team had any picks in the 1st, which is down right shocking! San Antonio is hoping to stay healthy and the Nuggets are looking to build on their success from last year. It should be a tough power ranking race all the way down to the end of the year. The Spurs are getting older but seemed to have added some pieces along the way last year and the Nuggets will look to continue the learning process for Carmelo and Smith.

By: Morgan Spokny

Scouting The Sports Contributor