Five Biggest Questions for ’09-10
Answers to the NBA’s Fundamental problems.
This off-season’s been chock full of re-stacking and reloading. For the last three months, the major contenders seemed to pull themselves away from the rest of the NBA pack as they tried to take advantage of the always-talked-about window of opportunity.
But with the start of training camps less than a month away, the focus of both NBA executives and fans alike turns from who could be playing for their team to who will be playing for their team. For the young teams and the clubs that have been lying in the weeds, the questions that are answered throughout camp and early in the season will either raise expectations or have coaches and players beginning to plan that late April golfing vacation to Cabo.
But the biggest questions belong to the contenders.
Here’s a look at the five questions that could have the biggest impact on the NBA season.
5. Have the Spurs done enough to make another title run?
There have been three things that have been guaranteed to happen over the last decade: Death, taxes and the Spurs contending for the NBA crown. So it was surprising to many last postseason when they were pushed to aside so easily by the Mavericks in the first round, even with injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The team took advantage of their extra off-season time by reloading and trading for their biggest new chip in Richard Jefferson, giving them another scorer to go along with their three mainstays. The Spurs also picked up veteran Antonio McDyess and drafted a couple of nice players in Jack McClinton and DeJuan Blair.
But the biggest questions still revolve around two of their three biggest players. Both Manu and the Fundamental are in their 30s and are both coming off injuries. If everyone’s 100 percent and playing to their max, it’s hard to argue that they can’t win it all. But if one or both of these guys aren’t healthy, it will be difficult for the Spurs to realistically contend for a title even with the additions that they made.
4. Will Orlando be better with Vince Carter instead of Hedo Turkoglu?
After helping lead the Magic to the NBA Finals last season, Turkoglu figured to get paid big bucks in the off-season. And he did, just not from Orlando. The defending Eastern Conference champs started looking for his replacement before Hedo even left town and they think they found their man in Vince Carter. Even at 32, Vinsanity can be an explosive scorer and he was actually a better shooter from deep last season than Hedo. Along with Rashard Lewis, he provides a tremendous inside-outside game that makes the Magic extremely dangerous on offense.
But is this what Orlando needed? Hedo is not as explosive as Carter, but his style of play meshed well with what the team needed. He is a very good ball handler and his point-forward abilities allowed him to be viewed as a distributor, which made defenders think twice about double-teaming him on the perimeter. In turn, he was able to get more open looks for both himself and his teammates. Hedo was also able to stay relatively healthy during his time with the Magic. Carter has had trouble with injuries over his career, although he has played through some of them at a high level. Orlando has plenty of talent. It’s just a matter of that talent meshing well together and staying healthy.
3. Can Shaq be Cleveland’s missing piece?
The world watched as the Cavs, the favorites in the East last season, were surprisingly pushed around by the second coming of Superman. The Magic derailed them on their way to the Finals by the Magic. So Cleveland figured the best way to defeat this Superman was to get the original. The Diesel adds a ton of size and strength to a frontcourt that includes a tall, lanky Big Z and an undersized Anderson Varejao and he immediately improves the team’s interior defense. Plus, Shaq has gained a reputation of helping other superstars get their rings and Cleveland’s hoping that he’ll do with LeBron what he did with Kobe and DWade.
But while the Big Aristotle might be getting wiser with years, his body isn’t getting any younger. He’s 37, has had knee injuries in the past, and is very, very large. Can he stay durable throughout the season and into the Playoffs? And how will he be used in the offense? Shaq’s proven that he has no problem taking a backseat to the younger superstars ever since his beef with Kobe, but will he slow down Cleveland’s offense? The Cavs are the consensus favorites in the East right now, but an injury or some drama could cost the King his ring.
2. Can Kevin Garnett return to his old form?
Last season pretty much ended for the Boston Celtics on February 19, 2009 when KG went down with his knee injury. While the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Semis and watched as Big Baby emerged into a legitimate big time player, the chances of the Cs repeating weren’t realistic with Garnett in a suit. Boston added Rasheed Wallace to the mix for added depth and re-signed Big Baby for cheap money. With the Big Three returning for another season and Rajon Rondo emerging as one of the League’s best point guards, the Celtics have the formula for raising another banner to the rafters in the Garden.
But everything begins and ends with KG. He continues to be the defensive leader on a team that won the NBA title in 2008 with the League’s best defense. Boston’s defense suffered in the playoffs last season as they had to fill Garnett’s position with Mikki Moore and Brian Scalabrine. KG still has incredible length and great instincts, but will his quickness and athleticism be affected by his 33-year-old knee? If Garnett’s healthy, the Celtics might be the best team in the NBA. If he’s not, they might get bounced in the second round of the playoffs again.
1. Can the Lakers repeat?
In the end, everything revolves around the defending champs. They still have the best player on the planet, the Zen Master, and one of the best supporting casts we’ve seen in a while. Then, they improve their defense by adding one of the best on-ball defenders in the League in Ron Artest. All of this combined with their only loss being Trevor Ariza and the Lakers look golden to make another run this year.
But now they have the target on their backs. The top contenders in the League have retooled specifically to knock them off. The NBA is very top-heavy and teams like San Antonio, Denver, Orlando, Cleveland, and Boston are all gunning to take what they feel is rightfully theirs. The Lakers still have one of the best rosters in the NBA, but is there any gap between them and the other elite teams? We’ll have to watch and find out.