With the 2009-2010 playoffs over, it was time for one final look back on certain, players, teams, and events of the season, before turning our undivided attention towards 2010-2011.
To make sense of Kobe Bryant, the Celtics, Tyreke Evans, and last year’s acquisitions, I’ve assembled an all-star team of Bleacherreport writers, Andrew Ungvari, Robert Kleeman, Harrison Moore, and Hadarii Jones, for their expertise on the NBA world. You can read part 1 here:
6) What were the best and worst acquisitions of the 2009-2010 season?
Andrew: It’s hard to argue that Ron Artest wasn’t one of the best acquisitions considering the Lakers accomplished their goal of repeating as champions and Artest was right in the middle of it all. Rasheed Wallace had a miserable regular season but in the playoffs he did what he was brought in to do.
Zach Randolph, Anthony Parker, Arron Afflalo, Kurt Thomas, Darko Milicic, Matt Barnes, Channing Frye, Marcus Camby, Juwan Howard, Quentin Richardson, John Salmons, and Mike Miller proved to be the best transactions made by teams before and during the season.
The biggest disappointments would have to be Allen Iverson, Brandon Bass, Hedo Turkgolu, Richard Jefferson, Emeka Okafor, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Shaquille O’Neal, and Antawn Jamison.
There were a bunch of moves that were neither huge successes or massive failures such as Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Jackson, Antonio McDyess, and Andre Miller.
Robert: THE BEST: Ron Artest kept Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant occupied, ensuring complacency would not ruin the repeat bid. He delivered some huge playoff buckets and played muscular defense. His crazy antics fit like a glove in Hollywood.
Rasheed Wallace snoozed through the regular season but woke up in time to help stifle Dwight Howard and knock around Pau Gasol. The Lakers forward did win the war, but Wallace made him work for every basket. His Game Seven post play was heroic.
Antonio McDyess helped the Spurs knock out their recent tormentors by harassing and beating up Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs’ forward scored a ton of points. None of them came easy.
Matt Barnes bolstered the Magic’s reserve production with his earnest defense and adequate perimeter shooting.
Departed Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr struck unexpected gold with sharp-shooting forward Channing Frye. Re-signing Steve Nash and Grant Hill also paid dividends. The Suns finished with a 37-13 tear after January, a wonderful run for a team that missed the playoffs in 2009.
The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors did not win much, but rookie phenoms Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry established themselves as solid building blocks.
The Richard Jefferson trade made sense for the Spurs last June, and in the eyes of this writer, it still does. Did anyone other than Hedo Turkoglu, his agent, and Bryan Colangelo think the unathletic forward was worth $50 million? What the hell were the Raptors thinking?
Albert Haynesworth, Dog No. 1, meet Dog No. 2.
Joe Dumars wasted valuable cap space when he overpaid Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon. It didn’t help the Pistons that both slumped through injury-riddled campaigns.
Allen Iverson did not help the two teams that signed him. He caused more headaches than he scored points. No one wanted to see him go out this way.
Harrison: Best acquisition: Ron Artest – by a landslide.
Even greater than Artest’s throttling of Kevin Durant was the way Artest established himself as the biggest difference between the 2008 Lakers and their 2010 form with his stifling of Paul Pierce throughout the duration of the NBA Finals.
Though Pierce did shoot a nearly identical percentage from the floor in this year’s Finals, he averaged 4 less points, 3 less assists and never seemed nearly as comfortable as he was in 2008. Artest's game may not be as pretty as Trevor Ariza’s, but he brings far more intensity and defensive pressure than Ariza ever could—and as always defense wins championships.
Worst Acquisition: Shaq
Shaq was really only brought in so that the Cavaliers had something harder than a wet diaper to throw at Dwight Howard and they never even made it far enough to see the Magic in the playoffs.
Besides, Shaq even failed as a physical inside presence and posted career lows in rebounds, points and blocks while the Celtics attacked the rim with regularity. So much for the Cavaliers being “the best team” you’ve ever played with, huh Shaq?
Hadarii: This one is easy. Ron Artest by far was the most important acquisition made because he gave the Lakers the defensive edge they were previously lacking. It was his performance against Paul Pierce in the Finals that stood out to me. Conversely the Antawn Jamison deal Cleveland made at mid-season ended up being a horrible choice. Jamison didn’t prove to be the second scorer Cleveland thought he was, and he completely flamed out in the postseason.
Erick: Ron Artest did exactly what he needed to do to win a championship. In the postseason he shut down Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant, plus hit timely shots in the clinching game. Of all the moves made, the Artest signing worked out the best.
Hedo Turkoglu had a nightmare of a season in Toronto. He realized that his screen/roll game doesn’t work without Dwight Howard, and all the other flaws in his game became more pronounced. He played with no competitive drive, and suffered an alarming lack of production. Now Toronto is stuck with his albatross of a contract.
7) Which new coach did the best job in 2009, and which did the poorest job?
Andrew: There weren’t a ton of new coaches this past season so I’m going to go with a coach who got his job in the middle of the 2008-09 season and that would be Lionel Hollins. The Grizzlies were in contention for a playoff spot until Marc Gasol got injured late in the season.
The worst job would have to be a tie between Eddie Jordan and Flip Saunders. Jordan never had the respect of his team and Saunders’ team underachieved way before the locker room incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton.
Robert: Flip Saunders’ Washington Wizards disappointed in so many ways. His franchise player, Gilbert Arenas, brought guns into the locker room in a December prank gone awry and was suspended for the rest of the season.
They’re still the Bullets, huh?
The Wizards lost 56 games and missed the playoffs. GM Ernie Grunfeld traded away former All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.
Saunders’ squad was a circus off the court and a joke on it. He does merit praise for not offing himself during this disastrous campaign.
Harrison: Alvin Gentry and Scott Brooks did excellent jobs, but the worst coach? Let’s go with Eddie Jordan. His Princeton offense only led the Sixers to 97 points per game, ranking 22nd in the league. Though Andre Miller did leave the Sixers, his departure alone isn’t enough to account for 14 fewer losses.
The Sixers’ had no real rotation, had no half court offense and never really figured out how to incorporate either Allen Iverson or Elton Brand into their game plan. Those are all coaching fouls. There’s a reason Jordan was among the first coaches fired.
Hadarii: This may come as a surprise, but Memphis’ Lionel Hollins really impressed me by getting all of those young players to perform as one unit. And anyone that can motivate Zach Randolph in the manner that Hollins did definitely deserves some consideration.
Erick: Jeff Bower’s decision to play more youngsters helped the New Orleans Hornets recover from a disappointing start to stay in playoff contention, while also improving their talent base going forward. In Chris Paul and Darren Collison, the Hornets have two solid point guards on the roster that may be able to see time on the court together. None of the other coaching changes of the season worked out.
On the other end of the spectrum, John Kuester is slow to make offensive adjustments, has a sloppy basketball team, and the Detroit Pistons don’t play hard for him. I’m shocked he wasn’t fired after a dismal initial season at Detroit’s helm.
8) Is Pau Gasol the best big man in the NBA, and if not, who is?
Andrew: He’s definitely the most skilled big man in the NBA but I don’t know many people who would pick Gasol over Dwight Howard if there was a big man draft held today. Howard has shown very little improvement in his offensive game since he came into the league but he’s so good defensively and so strong that it would be hard to pass him up.
But Gasol has probably passed Amaré Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzki based on having a more rounded offensive game, being a fantastic passer, and playing underrated defense. He averaged 2.6 blocks and 11.6 rebounds per game in the Finals, including 18 rebounds in Game 7.
Robert: Gasol, without question, ranks as the most skilled big man in the NBA. He can finish with either hand from either box, passes like a point guard, and disrupts countless shot attempts with his length. He has more junk in his post game than Kim Kardashian has in her trunk.
His drop step is meaner than a pit bull wearing a haywire shock collar. His post presence is bigger than his shaggy hair.
Whether that makes him the best is still up for debate. Can anyone make that distinction?
Harrison: “Best” big man can mean so many things. If we go with most balanced big man, then yes I think Pau Gasol sits atop the league.
No one matches Gasol’s scoring, rebounding, ability to block shots and passing skills.
The guy can give you anything you need. He can give you 25 points one night, 9 assists the other and 18 rebounds after that. You can’t name another big man in the NBA capable of doing all of that.
He can’t score with Nowitzki or rebound with Dwight Howard on a consistent basis, but he’s capable of outdoing either in a head-to-head matchup on a given night.
Besides, he’s got a hell of a trump card: two championships to set him above his contemporaries.
Hadarii: Right now, Gasol is absolutely the best big man in the NBA .
Erick: I believe Gasol is the best in the game for multiple reasons. First of all, he has more offensive moves at his disposal than any post player in the league. He has hooks over either shoulder, spins, drop steps, fadeaways, and shows amazing touch around the basket. He also can face-and-go, can shoot out to 18-feet, and is a terrific passer who torches defensive rotations or post double teams. He’s also incredibly sound fundamentally and has terrific balance with all of his moves allowing him to absorb contact and still finish plays.
Defensively, Gasol isn’t outstanding individually, but he’s a smart help defender with incredible length to contest shots at the basket.
Dwight Howard is Gasol’s biggest rival, but Howard’s offensive game is severely limited compared to Gasol’s. His best attribute is setting a high screen, cutting to the hoop, and then sealing, but if he gets bumped out of the paint, he can be defended one-on-one by most good defenses.
Howard also can’t show on the perimeter as well as Gasol, and tends to ball watch on defense. His rebounding is phenomenal, and his overall defense grades out as better than Gasol’s, but not enough to overcome Gasol’s offense.
What other challengers are there to Gasol?
Dirk Nowitzki is a terrific outside shooter who can also sometimes lurch to the basket, but perimeter shooting is more fallible than work done inside. And as Dirk gets older, his defense and rebounding gets worse and worse.
Chris Bosh is a total non-defender who doesn’t have the offensive skill set of Gasol.
Kevin Garnett has lost a step defensively, has become little more than a 20-foot jump shooter offensively, and is too timid to take over games.
Tim Duncan’s explosion is gone. He has difficulty scoring against good post defenders, and is no longer a plus individual defender.
It’s Gasol and the field for the best big man in the game.
9) Which lottery team faces the toughest offseason?
Andrew: I think it's going to be New Jersey and Toronto. If you think about it the Nets are probably the least attractive of all the teams with major cap space. Had they won the draft lottery that would have changed their fortunes almost immediately.
Now they'll probably end up having to overpay second, third, or fourth-tier free agents like Rudy Gay or Shannon Brown or save their cap space for next summer and take the chance that the league's salary cap will dwindle and it won't be worth nearly as much.
The Raptors will probably have to sign-and-trade Chris Bosh and dump Hedo Turkoglu for 20 cents on the dollar. They have the 13th pick in the draft so they're not going to be able to get a franchise player to build around and it's not like they have anything else on their current roster worth building around.
There are lottery teams that don't have any cap space like Indiana but I wouldn't label their offseasons as tough because there are no expectations like the ones in New Jersey.
The Clippers are adding Blake Griffin and a lottery pick, the Sixers are drafting Evan Turner, the Warriors, Rockets, and Hornets will finally be healthy, the Pistons are probably one or two moves away from being back in the playoffs, the Kings have the league's reigning Rookie of the Year, and Memphis is already on the cusp of making the playoffs and can match an offer to Rudy Gay if they choose to.
Robert: The Timberwolves have not reached the playoffs since Kevin Garnett protected the interior.
The two best players, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, have not coalesced. The roster needs more athletes, better defenders, and more competitors willing to give Kurt Rambis their best effort.
Former GM Kevin McHale twice traded away the creative wing scorer his roster still lacks. The current GM, David Kahn, is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
The Nets, Kings, Warriors, Wizards, and Clippers seem a few moves away from turning significant corners.
The Timberpuppies seem a few moves away from further irrelevancy. The Knicks are 1b in this discussion because their entire scheme depends on landing star players who say they want to win. Donnie Walsh has a lot of dough to spend but no Plan B if none of the primo free agents agree to take it.
Harrison: The Celtics, by far. For starters, there's the fact that they'll be harshly criticized no matter what they do. Though the core group the Celtics have in place now deserves another run at a title, people will lambast the Celtics’ organization for not taking steps to rebuild should they give that group another run and fail to capture the 2011 title.
Conversely, if they do decide to blow everything up and start over they’ll have the rabid Celtic fan base to answer to once the team falls off the deep end.
Hadarii: The Washington Wizards will be pretty bad for the first part of the season, but if Gilbert Arenas and John Wall can co-exist, they could be fun to watch.
Erick: The Detroit Pistons because there is so much the team needs to do in order to become competitive. Out of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, and Tayshaun Prince, they need to find takers for at least one player out of that cast, as their contracts prohibit the Pistons from fielding a balanced team.
Detroit also needs to upgrade its frontcourt, evaluate Rodney Stuckey, and figure out what to do with Charlie Villanueva, who has been a disaster since joining the Pistons.
If Detroit stands pat, it will be another stale season for the Pistons with little hope for the future.
10) Tyreke Evans walked away with Rookie of the Year honors, but which of the award candidates projects to make the most impact, in terms of winning and turning around a franchise's fortunes? Base your answer on what you saw from said rookie in the 2009-2010 season.
Andrew: I would have to say it's Evan because he's clearly the cornerstone of the Kings after they traded Kevin Martin to Houston at the deadline. All of the other rookies who were drafted in the lottery are either role players or are on teams that already have clearly designated franchise players like Stephen Curry has with Monta Ellis and James Harden has with Kevin Durant.
I would put Brandon Jennings second and I'm tempted to put Blake Griffin third.
Robert: I like Stephen Curry, but the Warriors culture of embarrassment, chaos, and losing might yet corrupt him.
I was appalled to see how much the Kings celebrated Evans’ statistical achievements in a losing season. The TV broadcasts even featured a “Tyreke watch.” Hey, we only won 24 games, but we drafted a guy who averaged 20, five, and five. Way to go, losers.
Evans’ is a spectacular talent with a bright future, but I worry after the franchise fawned over his averages that he might think losing is OK as long as he scores.
That brings me to Darren Collison, a superb athlete who showed he could produce in Chris Paul’s absence. The New Orleans Hornets unearthed a scoring guard who can both spell Paul and play alongside him.
Collison and Marcus Thornton afforded the Hornets some much-needed reserve firepower. They can also step into the starting lineup if one of the starters suffers an injury.
If GM Jeff Bower can add some more pieces (assuming the prospective win-at-all-costs owner takes the reins from George Shinn) in the next year or two, the Hornets will return to title contention.
Harrison: It’s nearly impossible to project a career based on a rookie season. In 1996 Kobe was Shannon Brown, in ’94 Grant Hill was LeBron James and in ’84 John Stockton was just some guy buried at the end of a bench.
The list goes on, but very few people have come out of the gates of college (or high school) like Michael Jordan, who shot over 50% from the floor while averaging 28 points per game.
Brandon Jennings looks attractive now, but he could just as easily become Tracy McGrady, an injury depleted source of unrealized potential. Blake Griffin came into the NBA and was nearly handed the Rookie of the Year award before he even logged a single NBA minute. One year later and Griffin has as many NBA minutes as Katt Williams.
What have I said all this to say?
That I’m really not smart enough to know.
Hadarii: I may be out in left field with this one, but what I didn’t see from Blake Griffin actually makes me think he could help the Clippers tremendously next year. The Clippers weren’t bad in the post with Chris Kaman, and Griffin could give the other Los Angeles team one of the better post combinations in the West. That being said, I’m extremely impressed with Stephen Curry, and if the Warriors make a commitment to defense and keep their guys healthy, watch out!
Erick: Out of last season’s super rookie point guard class, I declared Tyreke Evans my Rookie of the Year. I still believe he’ll have the most impact in the league because of his next-level athleticism and strength.
Players who can score as well as Evans does at the basket change franchises. Evans’ problem is that he’s not as polished in traditional point guard responsibilities. I can envision him turning the Kings around, but probably as a two-guard and not a point guard.
Stephen Curry is a playmaker and a scorer but he’s the worst defender in the bunch, and he plays for a franchise that values circus ball and not basketball.
Brandon Jennings is an above average point guard, but his streaky shooting and inability to finish at the rim restricts his ability to be a reliable difference maker.