Winning Now or Never
A story of the NBA rich getting much richer.
Of the 30 teams in the L, only five teams in my opinion have a realistic shot at winning the title next year. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and (gasp) the San Antonio Spurs are pre-season contenders to be the last team standing in June; teams I feel you could safely put a few dollars on in Vegas (not that I condone that).
These five teams made the strongest and most talked about personnel moves in pursuit of a title in one of the craziest summers we’ve seen. But how did this happen? How in the world can other organizations sit back and watch the rich get richer?
The current economic recession seems to be more of a blessing than a curse for organizations looking to compete for a title sooner rather than later. On one hand, you have teams looking to shed payroll in order to get themselves as close to or as far under the salary cap as possible. As a result, they start a fire sale on some very good players with very large contracts, and they’re looking to dump these guys on anyone who’ll take them. How else can you explain Shaq going to Cleveland, RJ being shipped to San Antonio and Half Man, Half Amazing landing in Orlando?
On the other hand, you have the unthinkable. There are now very good, All-Star caliber free agents who are willingly signing for less money. Part of that seems to be in their competitive drive to win a championship; the other is the realization that teams aren’t as eager to shell out the big bucks as they once were. All of these things combined make ’09-10 one of the most anticipated and exciting seasons of NBA basketball in recent memory. The NBA is more of a numbers game now than it ever has been before, so if you’re a fan of the Celtics, Cavs, Magic, Lakers or Spurs, did your team make the grade when it comes to competing for a title? Let’s find out…
Additions: Rasheed Wallace ($19 million, three years), Glen Davis ($6.3 million, two years), Shelden Williams ($825,497, one year)
Subtractions: Leon Powe, Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore
Taxable ’09-10 Salary: $12.31 million
The Boston Celtics managed to get Rasheed Wallace for the next three years at the blue light special, mid-level exception rate which also includes very minimal pay increases of less than $500,000 over the next two seasons. That’s not a bad deal for a 6-10 guy who can not only play inside, but can also stretch the defense with his outside shooting. With ‘Sheed playing alongside a healthy Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby Davis, the Cs have the most imposing front line in the League and makes them instant contenders to win it all next year. The Celtics are also in negations to add Marquis Daniels, but that deal has yet to be finalized. It seems that Danny Ainge’s thought process this off-season was simple; he wants to win another ring and hang another banner in Boston. Not now, but right now!
Los Angeles Lakers
Additions: Ron Artest ($33.95 million, five years), Lamar Odom ($32.8 million, four years), Shannon Brown ($4.2 million, two years)
Subtractions: Trevor Ariza, Sun Yue
Taxable ’09-10 Salary: $21.46 million
How hard was it for the Lakers to part ways with Trevor Ariza, the man who played a key role in their championship run this past season? Not hard at all when you can add a guy like Ron Artest to take his place. Yes, this is the equivalent of the Bulls signing Dennis Rodman, and the Lakers hope Artest will bring the same kind of success. With Artest the Lakers got older, but they also got more experienced and stronger defensively which is exactly the reason they brought him in. The team also managed to resign Lamar Odom, which turned out to be the biggest coup of the summer. They’re also hoping that along with Phil and Kobe, Lamar can help keep Ron Ron in line, given their history of playing AAU ball together as youngsters. GM Mitch Kupchak showed serious business savvy by signing Artest and Odom for a lot less than what they could’ve gotten on the open market and managed to not be outdone by the other teams that also made moves to improve.
Additions: Vince Carter ($51.6 million, three years), Marcin Gortat ($33.95 million, five years), Brandon Bass ($16 million, four years) Ryan Anderson ($8.2 million, four years), Matt Barnes ($3.2 million, two years), Jason Williams ($1.3 million, one year)
Subtractions: Hedo Turkoglu, Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, Tony Battie
Taxable ’09-10 Salary: $8.31 million
GM Otis Smith added some major firepower to an already potent offensive squad by bringing in Vince Carter. Add ‘Half Man, Half Amazing’ to the other offseason deals that Smith made, and you’ll see that he not only improved his squad, but he also managed to keep them in contention to defend their Eastern Conference crown in the process. Losing Hedo Turkoglu in free agency, moving a young guy who could potentially be a solid pro in Courtney Lee, and trading away a veteran PG in Skip couldn’t have been an easy thing to deal with. But when you can add an eight-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player to your roster who offers better production than all three of those guys combined (when he’s on top of his game), it makes that pill a little easier to swallow. The real question about Vince Carter is which one did Otis Smith get? Did he get the one who seemed unmotivated and disinterested last season in New Jersey; or a rejuvenated, glad to be back home Vince with an extra bounce and spring in his step? That remains to be seen. Smith also got some help for Dwight Howard in the post by not letting Gortat get away (much to his dismay) and stealing away a poor man’s Paul Millsap in Brandon Bass; all at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks. They’ve also just added Jason “White Chocolate” Williams to the mix who’s trying to make a comeback after briefly retiring. With these additions, look for Orlando to make another “magical” run deep into the post season next year.
San Antonio Spurs
Additions: Richard Jefferson ($29.2 million, two years), Antonio McDyess ($18.96 million, three years), Theo Ratliff ($1.3 million, one year), DaJuan Blair ($2.7 million, three years)
Subtractions: Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto
Taxable ’09-10 Salary: $9.99 million
What happens when the guy who has the final say in all personnel decisions just also happens to be the head coach? How about four NBA Championships with three coming in the last six years? Gregg Popovich did the unthinkable this summer. He traded away his best perimeter defender in Bruce Bowen and two of his most reliable big men in Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto. In return he got a younger, more athletic perimeter guy who plays pretty good defense himself and then went out and signed two even more reliable and also more productive big men in free agency. Simply put, ‘Pop’ knows what he’s doing. Richard Jefferson adds a much-needed athletic dimension to a team that looked old and slow last season. He can not only run the floor with Tony Parker, but he’s also a very reliable insurance policy should Manu Ginobili not be 100 percent coming off ankle surgery. Bringing Theo Ratliff and Antonio McDyess into the fold adds veteran leadership and even more rebounding to a team already solid on the glass. As an added bonus, McDyess can also create space for Tim Duncan to work on the blocks because of his mid range game. The Spurs could’ve added more toughness to an already “soft” team, and they still may not play a brand of basketball that’s fun and exciting to watch, but they’re definitely a team to watch out for this season.
Additions: Shaquille O’Neal ($20 million, one year), Anderson Varejao ($38.5 million, five years), Jamario Moon ($8.9 million, three years), Anthony Parker ($5.5 million, two years), Leon Powe ($1.77 million, two years)
Subtractions: Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak
Taxable ’09-10 Salary: $10.06 million
The Cavs are in hot pursuit of a title and are desperately trying to help LeBron James “Get It in Ohio.” The prevailing mindset of GM Danny Ferry is that winning a championship will be the only thing that convinces LBJ to stick around for a few more years. Unfortunately, in comparison to the moves made by the other teams in the Eastern and Western Conference, Cleveland doesn’t look any closer to being able to achieve either goal. They brought in Shaquille O’Neal as essentially a one-year rental, but this isn’t the Shaq of old. Despite the season he had in Phoenix and the fact that he does make All-Star caliber perimeter players better, he’s still older, a lot slower, and at the end of his career. Ferry also tried to make the team more athletic on the wing by bringing in Jamario Moon and attempted to add more outside shooting and perimeter defense with the addition of Anthony Parker. These guys are solid pros, but they’re still nothing more than ‘C’-level role players and not the kind of guys that can put a team over the top. The team also resigned—and in my opinion, overpaid—Anderson Varejao and brought in Leon Powe as a serviceable backup. But losing Joe Smith and his shooting ability will really hurt them. Ultimately, this is not a championship caliber team, not even on paper. Sorry Cavs fans, but the 35,000 square-foot castle that the King just built could very well end up being his summer residence after this season. Oh well, at least the pre-game rituals should be entertaining this year.
I don’t know about you, but October can’t get here soon enough!