Category Archives: Free Agent Signings

Looking Forward: Chicago Bulls

Last season, the Bulls fielded an interesting team. #1 overall pick Derrick Rose had a fantastic rookie season, earning himself the Rookie Of The Year Award despite his defensive struggles. Ben Gordon was an offensive beast, a guy who gave his all despite the fact he had dealt with 2 years of botched contract negotiations and knew that in all likelihood he would not be returning to Chicago. Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah were key contributors, at least when coach Vinny Del Negro wasn’t being erratic with his rotations. John Salmons and Brad Miller, acquired from the Kings at the trade deadline, provided an infusion of talent when the Bulls needed one, shoring up their depth for the post-season.

In the post-season, we were treated to an outstanding series between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls. There were seven overtimes in the first six games. There were several absolutely amazing plays that will be seen again on ESPN Classic. The Bulls lost in the somewhat anticlimactic 7th game, but we all knew that wasn’t so important, as this is a young team with nowhere to go but up… right?

Well, let’s fast forward to the summer. As you surely know, the Bulls have let Ben Gordon leave without getting anything back in return. The former #3 pick – the best player ever to take the qualifying offer – is now the best player a team has let walk after his rookie contract expired. His new 5-year contract with Detroit starts at $10 million a year. It’s enough for some to say that Detroit overpaid. They might be right, but this exit is symptomatic of a larger problem in Chicago: ownership’s refusal to spend the cash to field a legitimate title contender. It’s not just that Chicago let Detroit sign their hardest working, highest-scoring player – it’s that they didn’t even extend him an offer this summer. This, after two summers of contentious negotiations, after years of messing around with his playing time and making him come off the bench behind Chris Duhon. None of this would have even been an issue, if the Bulls hadn’t taken their offer off the table last summer.

If you want, you can believe Jerry Reinsdorf when he says that they didn’t have room for Gordon in their backcourt next season. You can believe that they’ll sign a top tier free agent in the summer of 2010. To me, the first point is laughable and the second is highly questionable, given this organization’s fear of the luxury tax. After all, a year ago one expert predicted everything that’s transpired to this point.

All that the Bulls have done this off-season is re-sign Lindsey Hunter, draft James Johnson and Taj Gibson, and sign ex-Bull Jannero Pargo. Hunter, who will be 39 in December, can still play quality defense but cannot contribute anything on the offensive end. Johnson and Gibson are 22 and 24 years old, respectively, and neither of them will likely be stars. Pargo has been sold to Bulls fans as a mini-Ben Gordon, but any fan with a memory knows that Pargo is anything but. Gordon is an extremely efficient offensive player, while Pargo is a streaky one whose percentages leave much to be desired. They’re both undersized guards who like to shoot, but the comparison ends there.

This brings me to the Bulls’ outlook for 2009-2010. I have to say, despite my criticisms of their off-season moves, the Bulls could improve next season. If Luol Deng comes back and starts contributing like he did a couple of years ago, they’ll win a few more games. If Vinny Del Negro improves his coaching (or gets replaced), they’ll win a few more games. (These two are related – the Bulls must use Deng as more than just a spot-up shooter and take advantage of the matchup problems Deng presents.) If Rose takes it to another level and improves his defense, they’ll win a few more games. If everything goes right, this team could even be the 4th best team in the East. They have that kind of talent, even without Gordon.

There is a significant gulf, though, between the top three teams in the East and the rest of the pack. As presently constructed, there are only three legitimate title contenders in the East. One must wonder if Chicago will become one in the next few years. They have the young talent to do it, and, with all the money the organization makes, they have the money to do it. It’d be great for the NBA if they did, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Not with this organization’s post-Jordan track record.

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Filed under Chicago Bulls, Free Agent Signings, Looking Forward

Looking Forward: San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs were not good enough last season. With Manu Ginobili injured, they were thoroughly outplayed by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. Those of us watching that series were treated to fantastic play from stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, but disappointed to see such a lack of help coming from their teammates. When the series ended, the future looked rather bleak for the team that had just missed the second round for the first time since 2000. They didn’t have money to spend in the summer, beyond the exceptions you get when you’re over the cap. They didn’t have a first round draft pick. Of course, Manu’s return would help, but with veteran role players Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka, and Roger Mason Jr. getting a year older and likely less productive, it was difficult to picture the Spurs returning to the spot near the top of the rankings that they’ve occupied for the last decade. If they didn’t want to waste Duncan and Parker’s efforts once more, the Spurs’ management somehow needed to get an injection of talent.

Well, in late July, it’s fair to say that they’ve done exactly what they were supposed to do. The first splash was when General Manager R.C. Buford cleverly acquired small forward Richard Jefferson from the cash-strapped Milwaukee Bucks for the expiring contracts of Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, and Fabricio Oberto. To trade some spare parts for a very talented wing player in his prime at the age of 29 is a shrewd, shrewd move from an organization that is known for its shrewd moves. RJ is an additional scoring threat for this team that needed a scoring punch, and he’s more than capable of hitting the corner three-pointer that we’re used to seeing from their wings. He’s a solid individual and team defender, too. The rave reviews given to Buford after consummation of this deal were well-deserved.

The Spurs were also able to address their frontline, which was suddenly quite bare after the RJ deal, by adding Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair to the roster. McDyess, signed at the mid-level exception, is essentially a better version of Kurt Thomas – he’ll play solid defense and hit baseline jumpers, opening up the lane for Tony Parker. With his skillset at 34 years of age, he should remain effective for the duration of his contract. I believe he is perfect for the system in San Antonio. Blair, who miraculously (or absurdly, depending on your perspective) fell all the way to the Spurs at #37 in the draft, is quite simply a beast of a rebounder. He fell because of injury concerns, not talent, and I predict that there will be plenty of teams regretting their decision to pass on him once the season is underway. He can contribute right away on the glass and at 20 years old he will only get better.

Getting to the point, the Spurs’ should have a top 9 that looks like this next year:

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Roger Mason Jr., George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, and Michael Finley.

Not bad, I say. Now let’s look at the 9 players who stepped on the court for their season-ending loss to the Mavericks in the playoffs:

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, Kurt Thomas, Roger Mason Jr., George Hill, Bruce Bowen, and Ime Udoka.

That second group of players was well-coached and efficient. They moved the ball on offense and played solid defense. Two of them are stars who had great seasons. Problem is, that is not enough talent for an elite team – there were just too many average to below-average players eating up minutes and possessions last season. Next season, the Spurs will still have the system we’ve grown to love, with a very talented roster running it once again. Sure, questions remain about Jefferson adjusting to being a 4th option and playing off the ball more than he’s used to. Sure, the Spurs could probably use another shooter in the backcourt off the bench. Regardless, with the moves they’ve made this off-season, they have to be in the conversation if you’re talking about title contenders.

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Filed under Free Agent Signings, Looking Forward, San Antonio Spurs, Trades

Looking Foward: Cleveland Cavaliers

Starting now, on Vittorio De Zen’s Fast Break, I’m going to take a look at each team in the NBA with regards to how they fared last season, what moves they’ve made in this off-season, and what these moves mean for next season. I kind of accidentally started this last week, with the Orlando Magic.

I’m going to continue this by taking a look at the team most experts predicted would defeat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There’s only one way to say this: the loss to Orlando should not have surprised anyone. Orlando had a great, great team last season. They proved it all year, winning 59 games despite the loss of their All-Star point guard before All-Star Weekend. Cleveland won 66 games on the strength of an absolutely insane season from the greatest player in the game. Yes, LeBron had the best supporting cast he’s had so far in his career, but this was by no means a great supporting cast. They ended up winning the most regular season games last year, but both the Magic and Lakers achieved their impressive records despite serious injuries to key players. Quite simply, the Cavaliers overachieved. I’m not meaning to diminish the achievement – it was an extremely impressive one, and Cavs fans should be grateful for witnessing such a remarkable season. Rather, I want it to be clear that Cleveland was not home to the best team in the NBA last season and their loss in the Eastern Conference finals shouldn’t have made anyone feel like the year was a failure.

It became apparent against Orlando that Cleveland had some weaknesses that needed to be addressed in the summer. One of them was a lack of a big shooting guard who can defend tall guys when Delonte West is overmatched. Enter Anthony Parker. Another was a lack of an elite athlete besides LeBron James. Enter Jamario Moon. These two ex-Raptors are nowhere close to stars in the NBA, but they bring specific tools to the table that Cleveland was missing. I’ve already discussed how I think Anthony Parker will fit in Cleveland, so now I want to touch on Jamario a bit. I am aware that Toronto fans became frustrated with his offensive decision-making last season, but other NBA observers know that he does many positive things on the basketball court. If Miami declines to match Cleveland’s offer, they will not only add another athlete to the team, a guy who can rebound and help the team get easy baskets on the fast break, but they will greatly increase their flexibility. The Cavs had a very tough time matching up against the combination of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis last season. When the Lakers fielded a frontcourt of Ariza, Odom, and Gasol, the Cavs had trouble too. Now, Cleveland should be able to deal with these kind of lineups more effectively, as they can play Jamario Moon at the 3 and LeBron James at the 4 when the situation calls for it.

This ability to move LeBron James to the 4 at times is not a small point, when you consider the offensive end. First, think about how LeBron was able to dominate 3s last season. He could explode past them whenever he wanted, using his superior athletic ability. His strength advantage was certainly intimidating, but he rarely ventured down to the post. Now imagine him making those same moves to the basket against 4s. I can’t think of a single power forward with the ability to deal with LeBron James’s guard skills and guard speed. I think that playing James at the 4 for stretches will greatly improve their offense, and I doubt he would be bullied much on the other end, considering his size and strength.

While we’re talking about size and strength, I must obviously talk about the Cavs’ acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. The Big Witness should be able to help the team next year. He is especially important if thinking about a rematch with Orlando, as his lower body strength and agility has allowed him to contain Dwight Howard much, much better than Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao have been able to. This isn’t just about the matchup with one team, though. If he clears the lane when he’s supposed to, doesn’t take plays off on the defensive end, and doesn’t whine about minutes, then he will significantly improve the Cavs’ chances. His acceptance of fewer touches and minutes than he’s previously played is huge, here, as the Cavs have other players who can score, including a Lithuanian center who is arguably superior to Shaq. He simply needs to properly play the role assigned to Ben Wallace last season, and use his scoring and passing ability down low. As a 37-year-old playing with LeBron James, he can and should sacrifice some individual stats for wins.

If this Moon signing goes through, I would count Orlando’s offseason as one of the league’s best. They have directly addressed the weaknesses that were exposed last season. Barring injury, it’s safe to say they’re in the same class as the Lakers, Magic, Celtics, and Spurs. They’re legitimate contenders, and you can thank Danny Ferry’s recent moves for this. We really should be excited about the Cavaliers next year. Still, don’t pencil them in for the finals just yet. We can’t make the same mistake as last year.

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Filed under Cleveland Cavaliers, Free Agent Signings, Looking Forward

Two Signings That Suck And Two That Don’t

It’s that time of year again, where the shuffling of players around the league allows us basketball fans to argue about which teams have found bargains, which have overpaid, and why the hell guys like Paul Millsap and David Lee are still available.

I’m going to take a look at four of the most recent reported signings in the NBA. Two of them exemplify GM’s overpaying to re-sign guys who only appear to be invaluable to their teams, and two of them show smart franchises recognizing under-heralded talent that can be valuable pieces on a winning team, and signing them at the right price.

Let’s take a look, first, at everybody’s favourite former drug user, Chris Anderson. The Birdman bounced back from a multi-year suspension to become a regular in Denver’s excellent big man rotation last year. He deserved all the attention he got last year. He deserved the praise. He deserves your respect.

But he doesn’t deserve a five-year contract, and I’ll tell you why.

Everything positive that Anderson does on the floor is a result of his athletic ability. That’s fine, we love him for it. It’s his energy and hustle and jumping ability that makes him effective. It’s his ability to make his presence known the moment he steps out on the floor that made me tell anyone who would listen that my hometown Raptors should sign him last summer. But I’m telling anyone who will listen, now, that he’s going to be just about useless in a couple of years. The Birdman that we saw this past season is the best Birdman that we will ever see. He turned 31 two days ago. This is about the time where NBA players tend to lose their athletic ability. When this happens to Anderson, he won’t be able to contribute. He is a player who annoys the other team by being a nuisance, flying around the court with reckless abandon. He gets weak-side blocks. He gets put-back dunks. He gets the crowd going. I bet he’ll still be able to do this next year, but I wouldn’t bet on it after that. More importantly, I don’t see him ever becoming a player who plays good post defense, hits open jump shots, or passes deftly. And that’s how older big men survive in the NBA.

I’m not here to rip on the Nuggets too harshly. I understand the rationale for this move. They have a team that can contend for a title right now and they want to bring their key pieces back. Couple that with the fact they have little room to maneuvre, and you get this kind of signing. I’m just saying that it’ll look bad in a couple of years. Plus, there were better players available.

Anderson Varejao, like the Birdman, recently received a contract extension with his current team. It’s for 6 years and worth $50 mililon. Also, like the Birdman, he is not a basketball player who we can call “skilled”. He doesn’t bring much to the table, offensively. I’d call him an annoyance. You don’t want to play against him. He will be physical with you, flop, and then complain to the referee if the call doesn’t go his way. Sometimes, in the case of Bruce Bowen from a few years back, you really want someone like that on your side. In Varejao’s case, I’m not sure that you do. If I had one thing to say to Varejao supporters, it would be this John Wooden quote: “never mistake activity for achievement.”

He’s active, yes. He flails around out there. He is very noticeable, but he’s not always doing the right things. I would scream at the TV last year, asking him to simply play solid defense instead of trying to draw a foul at every opportunity. He’s athletic enough to do so. Some TV commentators will praise him for his hustle and energy, but I’m sure coach Mike Brown was frustrated by his decision-making ability, at both ends. To me, this is an example of a very average role player making well above-average money. He’ll be on a very good team next season, one that has a shot at winning the chip, especially with Shaquille O’Neal playing the minutes that used to go to Ben Wallace and Anthony Parker playing those that went to Wally Szczerbiak (more on that in a minute). If this happens, then you could say it’s worth it. If the Cavs fall short once again, I don’t see this deal helping to convince LeBron James that Cleveland is the place where he’ll have the best chance to win, long-term.

Cleveland, though, has impressed with their other recent deal, involving now-former Raptor Anthony Parker. It’s been reported (or at least tweeted) that he will receive a two-year deal from Cleveland, netting him $6 million. That, in my eyes, is very fair.

Parker is an aging but skilled two-guard who no longer deserves a starting role on a good NBA team. He’s not the defensive stopper he once was, nor is he as consistent a scorer. However, at $3 million per, this is a steal. The Cavs needed a taller shooting guard than Delonte West not named Wally Szczerbiak or Tarence Kinsey. They need guys in their system who can hit open shots. They need guys who can help them win, now. Parker needs to be on a team where he is not asked to do too much. He needs to be on a team with good players who attract a lot of attention and allow him to hit open shots or hit open teammates with crisp passes. A guy like him, heading to a team with the best creator in the league and two legitimate 7-foot-plus centers who can play in the post? That’s a dream. Just a perfect fit. Well done, Danny Ferry, and all the best to you, AP. From a Raptors fan.

San Antonio’s pick-up of Antonio McDyess for the mid-level exception is a move that mirrors what Cleveland has done with Parker. McDyess is another player who is past his prime, especially athletically, but still has something to give a team that is trying to compete for a championship. All those things I mentioned Chris Anderson can’t do, Antonio McDyess can. He hits his open jumpers. He plays post defense. He makes smart decisions almost all of the time. This is a guy who will not hurt you out there, despite being 34 years of age. In a finely tuned system like the Spurs, where everybody embraces their roles, all McDyess has to do is fit in and continue to do the things he does well. He’s well worth the NBA’s average salary for the next two seasons. Apparently, the third season is only partially guaranteed, and that’s the way it should be. He will continue to be effective, but no one lasts forever. It’s amazing, really, what the Spurs have done this off-season, in picking up Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, and possibly bringing back some of the players they shipped out in the Jefferson deal. You have to love it. If all organizations were like the Spurs, I’d have nothing to complain about.

-Vittorio De Zen

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Filed under Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Free Agent Signings, San Antonio Spurs

Colangelo’s Tremendously Tricky Turkoglu Trade

He did it!

Since hearing about Hedo Turkoglu’s intention to play for the Raptors this upcoming season, Toronto fans (myself included) have been worried about what the move would mean for their team’s chances of improving their depth this off-season. Now, it seems Bryan Colangelo has pulled off a four-team deal that will allow Shawn Marion to be paid more than an average salary in Dallas and give the Toronto Raptors the ability to inject some more talent into a roster that, as presently constructed, is very thin.

Some of us doubted that this would be possible, as multi-team trades are very difficult to pull off in the NBA and it seemed that there was no reason for the Orlando Magic to help the Raptors out by including Turkoglu a sign-and-trade scenario. However, after hours of number crunching and phone calls, the Raptors and Mavericks, with the help of the Memphis Grizzlies, have facilitated a deal that Orlando couldn’t turn down. When this trade is officially completed, the Magic will receive a trade exception worth an estimated $7 million that will allow for them to acquire additional talent. This is exactly how GM Otis Smith was able to land Rafer Alston for virtually nothing at last season’s trade deadline, a move that opened the door for them to make the NBA Finals with their all-star point guard Jameer Nelson unavailable.

Where does this leave the Raptors? Well, firstly, they have acquired Devean George and Antoine Wright in this deal, players who address their shallow wing depth and whose contracts come off the books at the end of the upcoming season. Additionally, they have the mid-level exception. Some players that have been signed at MLE-value this summer include Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, and Marcin Gortat. The Raptors can use this to sign a player who can come in and contribute right away. They also have the bi-annual exception, which many people believe will be used on serviceable center Rasho Nesterovic. There are rumblings that this puts the team in a position to bring back guard Carlos Delfino even before delving into either of those two exceptions. I’m not sure the truth of that last point, but, regardless, the opportunity exists to add some key pieces to the rotation before the start of the season.

Whilst I still quite strongly disagree with the idea that Hedo Turkoglu is worth his enormous multi-year deal, Bryan Colangelo has given his franchise more options than it seemed to have yesterday. The team is not limited to filling out the roster with minimum-salary level players. Essentially, this means the Raptors might have more than four good players on the team next season. This is what we were hoping for in Toronto, and for this, Mr. Colangelo should be applauded.

-Vittorio De Zen

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Hedo World!

Hedo Smash

If you’re reading this blog, then you’re aware that my beloved Toronto Raptors have recently agreed to terms with free agent forward Hedo Turkoglu on a five-year deal that will pay him upwards of $50 million. The Turkish Wonder is the most significant free agent the Raptors have snatched from another team in their 14-year history. He wanted to come to Toronto, so much so that he backed off on a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s not because the Raptors are better than Portland (they’re not) and it’s not because the Raptors are paying him more (they are, but only slightly) – it’s because he and his wife love the city of Toronto. They like that it’s a bit closer to Turkey and has a large Turkish population. They don’t care that we don’t get ESPN here. They wanted to live here. This is refreshing for Raptors fans.

…but I’m a Raptors fan, and I’m not chuffed about the signing. I’ve tried to talk myself into it. I really, really have. Try these out for size:

“He’s 6’10, we’ll have one of the tallest frontcourts in the league!”

“He’s not very athletic, so he won’t deteriorate much over the course of his contract!”

“We really needed a crunch-time scorer!”

“He can run the pick and roll with Chris Bosh!”

“His signing might convince Bosh to stay in Toronto!”

I’ve uttered these words. They’re not lies. Problem is, they don’t justify giving the guy $11 million a year. Especially if it costs the team the opportunity to assemble a decent bench next season. I’m not as stunned as Tim Chisholm by the deal, and I don’t think that it will “stagnate [Andrea] Bargnani’s growth”, but he’s right when he says that the Raptors need an elite rebounder at the 3-spot and that taking possessions away from uber-efficient Jose Calderon is a bad thing. Chisholm again nails it when he says that the Hedo signing runs counter to GM Bryan Colangelo’s stated plan to get more athletic and defensive-minded. As Kelly Dwyer pointed out to Portland fans when it seemed like Turk was heading to Rose City, he was made to “look old and slow up against Trevor Ariza in this year’s Finals”. Whilst Turkoglu should make the Raptors’ offense prettier (and, believe me, I like a pretty offense as much as the next guy), the team’s defense and rebounding must improve if a serious run in the playoffs is expected.

Of course, if Colangelo pulls off a couple of deals (like this one) and is able to come up with a few complementary pieces, then this signing (and this team) would look better than it does right now. It is unfair to start making serious predictions about how the team will fare next season, the ending of the previous paragraph notwithstanding. The thing is, regardless of what happens to the rest of the roster, the fact remains that the Raptors have overpaid a 30-year-old who, as Dwyer stated, is “a fine player, but an average one”. And I can’t get excited about that.

– Vittorio De Zen

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