NBA Summer Moves: Central Division
Milwaukee cleans house and the Cavs get a little deeper.
Much like in the Atlantic Division, the rich get richer in the Central. Cleveland made the most noise by acquiring Shaq in a trade with Phoenix, but it’s their other moves to solidify the bench that really puts the Cavs on top of their counterparts. Detroit didn’t do much to change their complexion as a team other than get a bit younger, while the Bucks decided to turn over quite a bit. Chicago did almost nothing, but actually might be better off with the the departure of Ben Gordon now that Derrick Rose will have more freedom to operate in the backcourt and Luol Deng is reportedly healthy. The Pacers? Well, aside from the departure of Jarret Jack, they didn’t make too many waves. Let’s take a look at the awards.
Best Offseason Move: (See “Potential Over-the-Top Move”)
Potential Over The Top Move: Cavaliers trade for Shaquille O’Neal
Cleveland somehow managed to pull off the biggest high-risk, high-reward deal in the offseason for a second round draft pick in 2011 and some spare parts. Given how little the Cavs gave up to land The Diesel, they have to get a little bit of credit, especially given the fact that if the 37-year-old veteran can perform functionally, he could be the necessary piece to get Lebron & Co. to the Finals. But there are a tremendous number of potential pitfalls and questions that arise with the addition of O’Neal to the lineup.
First and foremost there are the questions about how durable the big fella is going to be this year. How many quality minutes can Shaq give on a nightly basis? Will he be able to operate at a high level through a deep postseason run? All of that will depend on how much the Cavs are going to rely on him during the regular season to anchor their frontcourt. This of course is a nice bridge into the next potential issue that arises with the addition of the former MVP.
How much is playing time for Zydrunas Ilgauskas going to diminish? There will be few times, if any, that both big men will be on the floor at the same time — that would create matchup nightmares defensively for Cleveland and slow their offense tremendously. Imagine LeBron and Mo Williams trying to push the tempo with Big Z and Shaq on the floor — Cleveland’s fastbreak game would resemble the VMA’s after Kanye grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift; everything coming to a screeching halt.
Let’s not forget as well that Shaq likes to plant himself on the block when his team has the ball, at least at this point in his career. Ilgauskas, as slow footed as he is, can step away from the paint and knock down the open jumper. What does this have to do with anything? LeBron’s offensive game is built around his ability to get to the basket and finish. Sure he can heat up from the perimeter like anyone else in the League, but don’t think for a second his game isn’t built on finishing around the rim. If Shaq is camping out inside when he is on the floor that only stands to ensure that there will be additional defender crowding the area around the rim — making it harder for LeBron to finish or pass to open teammates in the area.
Still, even with all of these problems that could arise, Cleveland acquired a player who could put them in the Finals for nothing more than a couple of role players and a meaningless draft pick. For that, they get the nod over the Pistons who will have their moves explained later in this breakdown.
Best Long-Term Move: Pistons sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva
Detroit let Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace walk this offseason, and they signed younger clones. OK, so clones might be a bit of an exaggeration but it isn’t too far off the mark. Joe Dumars watched a pair of aging veterans — one a versatile big man who can shoot, the other a one-dimensional scorer — depart the Pistons for other teams in the free agent market. The end result of these moves are simple: Neither AI or ‘Sheed were players capable of being a cornerstone type of talent and the same can be said for Gordon and Villanueva.
Gordon is a talented scorer, that has never been questioned, but let’s face it — the guy has never excelled at anything else for extended periods of time. His shot selection if often questioned despite the fact that, when he is in cruise control, there are few players who can light it up from the perimeter like he can. Gordon’s defense is also probably bashed a little too much, but he will never be confused with an All-Defensive NBA selection. In many ways, he is Allen Iverson just preferring to do more of his damage from the perimeter as opposed to attacking the basket and possessing fewer point guard skills.
Charlie V is probably the closest thing there is to the second coming of Wallace in the under-25 crew the NBA features right now. A well-built big man with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and create matchup problems. There’s been so much talk about the fact that if Villanueva ever saw more than 30 minutes per game in a season his numbers would be fantastic — at least higher than his career averages of 13 and 6 — but maybe the fact that he has never seen that much playing time means something.
Neither of these signings are a downgrade for the Pistons, they just aren’t a significant upgrade. Detroit isn’t suddenly going to ascend back to the top of the Eastern Conference, but if nothing else they just assured themselves of four to five more years of battling it out for a bottom four playoff seed. This may not sound like a great long-term move, but compared to the rest of the division, this one tops the list.
Most Overpriced Move: Cavaliers re-sign Anderson Varejao
This is a classic case of supply and demand in actual practice. Cleveland needed a versatile frontcourt player who can hustle, provide help on the glass and bring energy to the floor. One option was Charlie Villanueva who quickly was scooped up by Detroit, after that the pickings were slim. So, why not stick with someone who has already filled that role for several years? He isn’t going to put up gaudy numbers, never will, but he does fill a need for this team. He hustles, is scrappy and is perfectly happy setting screens on offense without ever expecting to get the basketball thrown in his direction more than a couple of times a game.
Is this a bad signing? At the end of the day, no, because the Cavs need Varejao to succeed in the long run as far as the postseason is concerned. But the big man certainly broke the bank with his new contract and that one is hard to argue.
Worst Offseason: Bucks
This one was fairly easy given that Milwaukee cleaned house and not in a good way. The Bucks are actually still a team that could surprise and sneak into the Playoffs this season if they overachieve with their young nucleus, however, they really have just cut their roster down to the bare minimum. For starters there was the Richard Jefferson trade which essentially amounted to a deal to bring on aging big man Kurt Thomas while dumping the contracts of Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto. Other trades resulted in shipped off Malik Allen, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems for the additions of Carlos Delfino, Walter Sharpe and Roko Ukic. Forward Hakim Warrick was also signed in hopes of filling the void left by Charlie Villanueva who was allowed to walk as a free agent, as was point guard Ramon Sessions.
What this ultimately amounts of for Milwaukee is a roster that will be loaded with unproven players, putting most of the onus on vets Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, with rookie Brandon Jennings feeling pressure to perform right away as well.
Best Offseason: Cavaliers
Again, this is a case where a contender in the East added necessary parts to help shore up some of the holes in an otherwise very strong lineup. Cleveland was able to deal Ben Wallace and Sasho Pavlovic for Shaq — albeit an aging Shaq — but it’s still The Diesel. O’Neal gives the Cavs a dominant physical presence inside who can body up other elite centers in the League in a way that Zydrunas Ilgauskas could never; he’ll be able to provide a pretty good scoring presence inside as well.
Anthony Parker was signed and will provide the bench with another scoring option — something they sorely needed during the playoffs last season. The veteran shooting guard should see an improvement in his shooting percentages this year since he won’t see as much playing time and won’t be relied on as heavily as he was in Toronto. At the end of the day, this is a veteran who can shoot from the outside and plays adequate enough defense to not be a liability at the other end of the floor.
The Jamario Moon signing will also be a great addition to the bench rotation. He is athletic, can score in transition, plays multiple positions and is a solid, long defender who can provide a spark for stretches of action. In addition to that, in scenarios when Cleveland wants to go a bit smaller, they can do so with Moon and LeBron on the floor at the same time, moving King James to the power forward position to take advantage of his size. Lastly, the signing of Leon Powe has gotten overlooked somewhat because he is coming off of an injury, but the gritty forward was a great rotational player for another contender in the Celtic — he should fit just fine in Cleveland.