NBA Summer Moves: Pacific Division
The Lakers arm themselves for another title run.
SLAM concludes its breakdown of the NBA’s offseason moves by traveling out west to examine the Pacific Division. Certainly the Lakers have received the majority of the headlines in recent months with the resigning of Lamar Odom and the addition of Ron Artest, but the rest of the division rivals haven’t exactly made major waves. Perhaps the biggest news outside of Showtime reloading were the departures of Shaq, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford from their respective rosters.
Phoenix had an overall quite summer, signing Channing Frye but not much else after trading away The Diesel. The Clippers landed Rasual Butler which was a nice pickup for their backcourt, but the best move was likely trading away Randolph. Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith should see minutes as well, but neither is a groundbreaking addition. Golden State added veteran role players who will help their frontcourt and provide a little stability at the point guard position, while the Kings made questionable move after questionable move after having such a strong draft.
Best Offseason Move: Lakers resign Lamar Odom
Technically you can make the argument that resigning Kobe Bryant was the best offseason move, but there was never any doubt of that happening. Odom may be the most important secondary player in the League and the list of reasons stacks almost as high as his 6-10 frame. For starters there is his simple value as a match up nightmare on the floor and the production he has shown throughout the playoffs in a Lakers uniform. He’s an X-Factor, an enigma; whatever you want to call it, losing Odom would have meant no repeat for Los Angeles – that’s almost a guarantee.
What gets lost in the shuffle sometimes is the value that Odom has beyond his abilities on the basketball court. It might have been hard to envision this in his first few years after bolting from URI, but now entering his 11th season in the NBA, Odom is a calming veteran presence within the Lakers locker room. How many players with his kind of ability would be content to come off the bench? Not many, but Odom is content to play the role of sixth man extraordinaire when it is needed. Don’t think for a second that he won’t be a significant factor in keeping Ron Artest in line with the rest of the roster once the season gets underway. In short, this was the single most important player resigning in the NBA this offseason.
Potential Over-The-Top Move: Lakers sign Ron Artest
Is it possible to make an over the top move as the reigning champs? Maybe not, but the addition of Artest has the Lakers in a position to be an even better team than they were last season. This move has been compared to the addition of Dennis Rodman to the Bull during their second string of championships in the late ’90′s. It’s easy to draw parallels given that both players have volatile personalities and are specialists on the defensive side of the basketball. Rodman kept his personality in check and the Bulls won three titles while also setting a new standard for regular season excellence. If Artest can do the same, LA could very well pull a Chicago-like stretch and put together a second three-peat together with a squad built around their respective superstar. Let’s not forget either that the Lakers now feature arguably the best defensive backcourt in the NBA between Kobe and Artest — think that won’t be a significant feature if there should be a Boston/L.A. rematch?
Best Long-Term Move: Warriors trade for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton
This move gets overlooked a lot given the headlines that the Lakers made this summer, but this was one of the smarter decisions in the Pacific Division given that Golden State now has a couple of true point guards on their roster. Obviously the bulk of the playing time in the backcourt will be going to Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, but neither one is a true point guard even though there have been hopes that Curry could become one. Both look to get their shot and are valued as scoring guards which works well for the Warriors high octane style, but a pure floor general is a nice addition. Law and Claxton are adequate point guards, who if nothing else, can serve as mentors for Curry as he continues to develop his skill set as a playmaker at the pro level. Furthermore, when either one of these gunners is off the floor, Claxton or Law can be inserted into the lineup to manage the offense and feed their teammates for shots.
This trade that sent Jamal Crawford to Atlanta is also going to go a long way to take care of the potential sharing issues that would have arisen with three very trigger happy backcourt players on the floor at one time. Golden State may have lost a scoring weapon in Crawford, but there will now be enough basketball to go around for Ellis and Curry. This of course also frees up a good amount of cap space for the Warriors to make a run at one of the high profile free agents next summer as well.
Most Overpriced Move: Kings sign Desmond Mason
Inking a one-year deal for the league minimum $1.18 million hardly seems to qualify as an overpriced move, but none of the free agent signings in the Pacific Division this summer really fit that label. Instead, this proves to be the biggest head scratcher of a move in that Sacramento is shelling out money for a veteran who is clearly on a steep decline and who plays a position they don’t need any more depth at. Mason played in just 39 games for the Thunder last season, missing the second half of the year with a hyperextended knee. His averages were modest at best, but again, the question remains: where will he get his minutes? The Kings already have Kevin Martin, Donte Green, Andres Nocioni, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia who will be competing for minutes at the wing position. Given the tremendous youth and numbers that Sacramento is already sporting there, bringing on Mason – even for as little as they did – seems like a pointless move.
Worst Offseason: Kings
Sacramento certainly had an active offseason and drafted well, but their other offseason moves really just raised a lot of questions, most notably, why did you sign this player? The acquisition of Desmond Mason has already been talked about at length in this writeup, it just doesn’t really seem to do anything for the Kings other than fill a roster spot. Mason is aging and coming off of an injury plagued 2008 season and will likely be at the bottom of the totem pole in the Sacramento backcourt to start the season.
The signing of Sean May wouldn’t have been terrible other than the fact that May is essentially the same player as Ike Diogu, only more injury prone and in worse physical shape. Diogu didn’t see a ton of action and it isn’t likely his replacement will see huge minutes given the presence of Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and draft pick Jon Brockman, but one of them will be a member of the rotation. Diogu had more upside and would have been a decent enough keeper, but May is definitely a downgrade at this spot.
Best Offseason: Lakers
Resign major playoff X-Factor? Check. Upgrade on Trevor Ariza and sign defensive specialist? Check. It’s generally a difficult thing to upgrade your team after winning a championship but the Lakers managed to do that. In bringing back Lamar Odom and signing Artest, LA has put themselves in a position to add yet another string of titles to their ever growing collection of banners out west. It’s hard to find a lot wrong with this team. They feature arguably to top player in the game, a pair of lockdown backcourt defenders, two talented 7-footers inside, one of the best non-starters in the League and pretty good depth to boot. It’s going to be another good year in Hollywood.