Category Archives: Looking Forward

Looking Forward Roundup

I’ve finally finished the Looking Forward series, where I took a look at each team in the NBA in terms of how they did in 2008-2009, how they improved (or didn’t) in the off-season that has just now come to a close with the start of training camp, and what to expect out of them in 2009-2010.

I wanted to put them all in one all in one place, and since I started this in July I felt it was appropriate to provide brief updates where they are necessary. Here we go.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics – Added Shelden Williams. If he ends up in the rotation, it probably means Garnett is out, so let’s just hope we don’t see much of him this year.
New Jersey Nets – Roster-wise, nothing’s changed. But there’s a new owner in town, making the (Brooklyn) Nets a much more attractive free agent destination next summer.
New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers – Brought back Rodney Carney, plus they’ve got Stromile Swift, Primoz Brezec, Sean Singletary, and Dionte Christmas on their training camp roster. Expect one or two of them to make the team.
Toronto Raptors – Signed and traded Carlos Delfino to Milwaukee along with Roko Ukic, in exchange for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems. Johnson seems like a great acquisition, as he is capable of playing multiple positions and adds some much-needed athleticism and rebounding in the frontcourt.

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers – Good thing they signed Anthony Parker, ‘cause nobody knows exactly what’s going on with Delonte West right now.
Detroit Pistons
Indiana PacersRod Benson is on their training camp roster, which is awesome. Shame they arleady have Troy Murphy, Solomon Jones, Tyler Hansbrough, and Josh McRoberts at the 4, though.
Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks – Added Joe Smith and Jason Collins to the frontcourt. The former should receive playing time. Mike Wilks, Juan Dixon, and Aaron Miles will compete in training camp for an emergency guard reserve spot.
Charlotte Bobcats – Flip Murray was a bargain, but he’s just short-term help.
Miami Heat
Orlando Magic – Could actually warrant another post now, since they’ve kept on spending and this piece was technically before I started “Looking Forward”. Kept Gortat, signed Matt Barnes, Jason Williams, and Linton Johnson. Absolutely stacked, fans better thank the ownership. Rashard Lewis is out for the first 10 games for failing a drug test, but they should win almost all of them.
Washington Wizards

Western Conference

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks – As always, Kris Humphries is impressing in training camp. I have high hopes for Tamm Llorac, too.
Houston Rockets
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Hornets – Shockingly made a good basketball trade when moving Chandler for Okafor (it’ll cost them money in the long run, but Okafor makes less than Chandler for the next two years). Should be improved, a bit, but they have to stop giving Peja so many minutes.
San Antonio Spurs – Signed Theo Ratliff and Keith Bogans. They needed another shot-blocker and they needed another backcourt shooter. Nice.

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets – J.R. Smith is out for the first 7 games because of an old reckless driving incident, but they’re still good enough to win most of those games. Also, they let Linas Kleiza join Josh Childress and Von Wafer at Olympiakos and acquired more athleticism in Joey Graham and James “Flight” White.
Minnesota Timberwolves
Portland Trail Blazers – Signed Ime Udoka and Juwan Howard to fill out the roster. Both are heady veterans who will not see much court time unless the team is hit by injuries.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Added Ryan Bowen, Michael Ruffin, and Kevin Ollie. Vets who will challenge the young guys in practice and are capable of spot minutes if there are injuries.
Utah Jazz

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors – Still have the same talent, but this is a mess. Captain Jack wants out, Monta says he can’t share the backcourt with Stephen Curry, and I can’t blame either of them.
Los Angeles Clippers – Coach Dunleavy has stated that Blake Griffin will come off the bench, which almost made me punch a wall. On the plus side, Baron Davis came into camp in shape.
Los Angeles LakersIt’s a bit of a circus, but the Lakers are good with that. Still the favourite.
Phoenix Suns
Sacramento KingsUgh, they signed Desmond Mason. Kings fans are thrilled.

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Looking Forward: Utah Jazz

The 2008-2009 Utah Jazz had the 8th best offense in the league, the 10th best defense in the league, and finished with a record of 48-34. That’s what you call a very good team. They were never really seen as championship contenders, though. With Carlos Boozer only playing 37 regular season games, and with Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Mehmet Okur struggling through injuries at various points in the season, this extremely consistent franchise was fielding a team that lacked… consistency. Boozer came back to unseat Paul Millsap with a couple of months left in the season, but this wasn’t enough as they ran into the eventual champion Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. It’s tough to say if this team underachieved last year – you could definitely make the argument that this team should have finished with more than 48 wins in the regular season, but, as good as they were when at full health, they weren’t going to win a 7-game series against the Lakers.

This is the part where I normally dissect the team’s off-season moves, but there’s not much to say here. The only additions to this squad are their rookies – Eric Maynor and Goran Suton. Maynor should fit in nicely as Deron Williams’s primary backup; this is a very good pick-up for a team picking 20th in a weak draft. Suton is still unsigned at this point and it is unclear whether or not this 24-year-old rookie will make the roster, especially one with a frontcourt rotation as crowded as this one. Let’s move on.

The biggest story in Utah, going into the season, is how the Carlos Boozeer/Paul Millsap situation will unfold. After expressing his desire to be moved to Chicago or Miami and stating that he couldn’t see himself back in Utah, the fans in Salt Lake can’t be too pleased with him. He’s back, though, at least for now, and he probably won’t be traded unless the Jazz get an offer that makes sense from a basketball perspective. The only way they were going to ship him out in the summer was to save money this season, by trading him into another team’s cap space. They needed a trading partner that a) had the cap space and b) had confidence that Boozer would re-sign with them when he hits free agency next summer. No teams fit this criteria, so here we are. Recent Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Sloan has stated that Boozer will have to compete with the re-signed Paul Millsap for the starting job and Booz isn’t having it. Let’s see how this goes. My gut tells me everyone will get over it, Boozer will start, and both will get reasonable minutes in what will be the Duke alum’s final season with the Jazz. Who knows, though? Maybe the right deal comes along and they can trade him for a solid wing player. That’d certainly be a way to make a leap in the standings.

Even if everything remains status quo, roster-wise, the Jazz should improve on last year’s mark if they can just remain healthy. No doubt they were successful last year given the circumstances, but the previous season they won 54 games and that’s the kind of mark we should expect from them this year. No, they’re not at the level of the Lakers and they’re probably not up there with the Spurs, either. Still, don’t discount them. People didn’t think the Orlando Magic or Denver Nuggets were elite squads a year ago and, if a few things go their way, these Jazz could have similar success. They’ve got an elite PG, competent wings, and a very above-average frontcourt, especially offensively. They’ve also got one of the best coaches in the game, a guy that ensures his team comes to play every night on both ends of the floor. Not much has changed here, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

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Looking Forward: Phoenix Suns

We all used to love the Phoenix Suns, but things changed a bit last year. Under Terry Porter until the All-Star break, the Suns failed to meet expectations. The new coach was given the unenviable task of trying to change the Suns’ identity. Instead of an all-out running attack, Porter wanted to play a more controlled style of basketball. Less quick shots, less chaos, more defense, more rebounding.

It didn’t work. They slowed the pace down a little bit, but their defense got considerably worse. Players such as Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa seemed downright frustrated at times, not knowing when they had the green light to shoot. The offense wasn’t the same and the players weren’t comfortable (despite Steve Nash’s genuine effort to make it work). Their roster wasn’t capable of becoming a lockdown defensive team, especially after the Jason Richardson trade, and it came as a surprise to no one when Porter got the axe and was replaced by Alvin Gentry. Sure, Shaquille O’Neal put up great numbers (with and without Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup), but it wasn’t necessarily best for the team to make him a focal point. Even with the improvement under Gentry, the Suns remained a mediocre team and missed out on a playoff berth by 2 games.

This summer, the Shaquille O’Neal experiment was put to rest when he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers for salary relief. Matt Barnes headed to the East, too, signing with Orlando. All the Suns have done is re-sign veterans Steve Nash (36 in February) and Grant Hill (37 before opening day), draft forwards Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin, and sign free agent Channing Frye. My initial thought about all this: “What exactly are they doing? Do they even have a plan?” These are not moves I should endorse. They’re not ones that will put the team back where it belongs, legitimately in title contention. They’re not ones that will ensure future financial flexibility, planting the seeds for rebuilding. Rather, they are lateral moves, keeping them in a spot where they have just enough talent to make the playoffs if things go right. When I thought about it, though, I realized I was happy that they had kept Nash, happy they’ve pledged to keep the run-and-gun style going. It’s because, at this point, I just don’t want to see him in another uniform.

Here’s some of what Kelly Dwyer said about Nash in his top 10 point guards of the last decade list:

We play to win, I guess, but we’re also playing because it’s fun. Nobody says, “I’m going to go down to the Y later this afternoon to try and contribute to a winning cause.” We say, “I’m going to go play basketball,” a game, a game that’s fun. You’ve seen this dance before.

So, he’ll get burned on D. And at the end of the day, other players will have more points, rebounds, steals and assists, even. But man, isn’t his game something to behold?

Take this quote and apply it to the whole team. They have flaws. Obvious, season-shortening flaws. We know they are going to be overmatched, some nights. In a cold, rational world, the smart thing would unquestionably be to blow this thing up and start over. Ditch the veterans, develop young guys, rebuild. We live in the real world, though, a place where Phoenix Suns fans would be distraught if the franchise abandoned its fiery Canadian saviour. It’s really a shame that this franchise fell short of winning a title this decade, and it’s a shame that this year’s team won’t measure up to those of years’ past. Still, they’ll be fun for another year or two, and that’s what we want.

I can’t honestly say I’m very excited about the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. I can’t even say I find them that interesting, beyond seeing if Amar’e can successfully come back from eye surgery and start playing defense again. Still, I know I’m going to end up watching a ton of their games and I know I’m going to love it. They might not be the Suns of old, but they’re still worth our time.

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Looking Forward: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat were decent last season. 43-39, with the league’s 11th-best defense and 20th-best offense. Good enough to lose the most boring, meaningless 7-game series in NBA playoff history to the Atlanta Hawks. Dwyane Wade turned in an individual season for the ages, but his teammates were not good enough to make this team a serious contender in the East.

With Wade’s free agency coming up in the summer of 2010, many expected Miami to try to make a big splash this summer and surround the megastar with more talent. With Toronto in the same situation with Chris Bosh, they overhauled the roster and invested significant money in Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani in an order to solidify their core. What did Miami do, get Lamar Odom and Carlos Boozer? Nope. These avenues were explored, but all they ended up doing was replacing Jamario Moon and Mark Blount with Wade’s buddy, Quentin Richardson. Bleh.

This is a risky strategy, following the Knicks’ lead in holding out for the 2010 sweepstakes. Dwyane Wade might not be content with another season on a middle-of-the-pack team, losing in the first round of the playoffs. If he sees himself being trapped in Chris Paul Hell and bolts to Chicago or New York next summer, their fan base will be crushed.

Thing is, if it works, it really works. Next summer, everyone’s contract is up. They already have a potential star in Michael Beasley and a nice young PG in Mario Chalmers, and they’re going to have enough cap room to re-sign Wade, sign another big-money player, and find a few role players. As a Raptors fan, I’m absolutely terrified that Bosh will join Wade in Miami. Boozer, Amar’e Stoudemire, and even David Lee are also legitimate possibilities. Of course, this raises the question of whether or not Beasley can be converted to a 3, but if that becomes a problem it will be a pretty good problem to have in Miami. In a city where it seems every NBA player would love to play, having the most flexibility in the league in a star-studded free agency period is certainly a good thing. This team has had an extremely boring summer and I’m not even very excited about watching them in 2009-2010, but I understand their thinking. They have a plan and they’re going to stick to it.

If the Heat are not going to be in the East’s upper echelon (and they won’t be), the single most important part of 2009-2010 is going to be how they develop Michael Beasley. This supremely talented player only played 25 minutes a game for Erik Spolestra’s club last season, despite being taken #2 overall in the NBA draft. Even with his defensive deficiencies, this is far too low. His scoring and rebounding translated very well to the NBA. This season, he’s got to get far more minutes and they have to run more plays for him. With increased playing time and an increased role, there’s no reason this kid can’t average 20 PPG next season. They need to give Beasley the opportunity to shine – it’s the right move for their future, even if it’s later determined that he doesn’t fit alongside Wade and Free Agent X in Miami’s long-term plan.

Aside from Beasley (and Mario Chalmers), there’s probably not going to be much improvement from anyone on this squad. Dwyane Wade does almost as much as humanly possible and, if Jermaine O’Neal actually does return to All-Star form like he says he will, it will defy all logic and historical precedent. It’s a bit unfortunate for Heat fans, to see the same mediocre team trotted back out there again this year, probably destined for another first-round defeat. I guess they’ll just have to live with having one of the game’s very best and most exciting players on the roster. That isn’t so bad, actually.

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Looking Forward: New York Knicks

Chandlernari

“Let’s get this out of the way.”

This is what the Knicks’ management thinks of the upcoming season, and likely what they were thinking at the beginning of last season too. It’s clear the Knicks are looking towards the summer of 2010, as they should be. Upon hearing today’s news that Nate Robinson’s one-year deal is essentially finalized and David Lee’s will soon be too, I figured it was time to get this preview out of the way.

If you watched any Knicks games last season, you no doubt noticed a significant change from the previous few seasons. With Donnie Walsh pulling the strings to dump the worst offenders of the dreadful Isiah era and Mike D’Antoni freeing his players to push the ball and get quick shots up, this team was infinitely more watchable. Sure, they still won only 32 games, but that’s what you get when you don’t have a real starting centre and you have Chris Duhon playing over 36 minutes a game. They were still the butt of some jokes on late-night TV, but their play was a huge, huge upgrade from what we were used to. At long last, the Knicks were fun.

Going into the off-season, there were questions about what would happen with Lee and Robinson. Both had just had phenomenal seasons and would likely want their deserved multi-year contracts. However, with the Knicks not wanting to commit potential LeBron James money to anyone and with few other teams in the free agent market this off-season, their situations lingered until… well, about now. Fortunately for Knicks fans, though, these two should give the team more of the same solid production next season, even if they don’t figure to be in the team’s long-term plans.

The only other free agent move Walsh even considered was signing Ramon Sessions. The young PG ended up signing a below-market-value deal with Minnesota, but would have been a big upgrade over Duhon at the point in NY. I can’t fault the GM for not pursuing him, though – anything that would jeopardize the 2010 financial flexibility Walsh has worked so hard to set up probably isn’t worth it. Knicks fans have suffered for too long, they deserve a shot to become an elite team. You have to stay with the plan. Even if the plan fails and they don’t land a megastar next summer, it’s worth the gamble. It just means that you’re going to have summers like this one, where the two biggest new faces are rookie Jordan Hill and Darko Milicic.

You know what to expect from the Knicks next season. They’ll play at a blistering pace and surprise more talented teams every once in a while. They’ll be a fun watch, but you’ll never consider them “relevant”. Without the circus surrounding the team at the early stages of the season this time around, and with some progression from young players Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, they could make a slight improvement on their record from last season. Still, we know this isn’t a playoff team and it isn’t a team that’s going to scare anybody. That’s okay for now, though. Maybe next year.

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Looking Forward: Detroit Pistons

Old Huskies, New Pistons

The Detroit Pistons are in transition. We all know this. This is why they made the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. This is why Rip Hamilton’s contract extension made no sense. This is why they signed two ex-UConn Huskies (Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) who don’t quite fit the traditional Piston mold. Finally, this is why they probably should have grabbed Rajon Rondo from Boston earlier this summer.

You’re aware that mainstays Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Antonio McDyess are gone. Amazingly, Ben Wallace is back, along with the aforementioned marquee free agent Huskies, big man Chris Wilcox, and rookies Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers. In addition to this, maligned head coach Michael Curry is gone, replaced by long-time assistant John Kuester, who was on Larry Brown’s staff when Detroit for their 2003-2004 championship season.

Kuester, the architect of Cleveland’s much-improved offense last season, will be charged with improving what was the league’s 21st-best offense in 2008-2009. He’s got the tools to do it, I tell ya. Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Chris Wilcox all have their faults, but they can score. Despite appearing to be a chucker, Gordon is quietly one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and Charlie V. turned in an impressive 21.7 points per 36 minutes last season in Milwaukee. Wilcox, in the East, will be serviceable at both the 4 and 5 spots. His inconsistency, especially on defense, will likely remain, but so will his excellence in pick-and-roll situations. Point guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum can put the ball in the basket, too, and you don’t need me to tell you what Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton can do.

Does this mean they’ll be better this season?

Probably. They should be far better on the offensive end, but questions remain. What will happen to Rip Hamilton? He obviously shouldn’t have had his contract extended, and it’s probably going to be tough to move him in this economic environment. We know Gordon is the future of the Pistons’ 2-spot, but Kuester has already committed to bringing him off the bench while Rip is around. A big challenge for this new coach is going to be to allocate minutes in a way that keeps everyone happy and doesn’t leave guys playing out of position for so long that it puts the team at a disadvantage.

Kuester’s also going to have to put some thought into how to get these guys to play D. This squad was average on that front under Michael Curry last year, finishing 16th in the league (down from 4th the previous year). With a bit of luck, they’ll sustain something close to that mark this coming season – Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are certainly not defensive-minded players, but I don’t think their efforts will be significantly worse than what we saw from Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace last season.

If all goes right, then, we’ll see an elite offensive team and an average defensive team. This is the opposite of what we saw from Larry Brown’s championship-winning team (it should be noted that the great Flip Saunders had them playing elite-level ball on both ends) and it’s why I must stress again that this team is in transition. There is some serious talent in Detroit, some of it young and some of it old. Pieces remain from the perennial Eastern Conference Finals teams earlier in the decade, but they don’t represent the majority of this roster anymore. It’ll be interesting to see how this franchise negotiates this tricky terrain of trying to rebuild while staying in the playoff hunt, rather then tearing everything down and starting again. Grabbing at least one post-season victory this time would be a good start.

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Looking Forward: Indiana Pacers

I could probably copy and paste my recent Milwaukee Bucks post here and you’d get the idea.

Indiana, like Milwaukee, had to deal with major injuries last year and missed the playoffs. Again, like Milwaukee, they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to how most are projecting the East’s 2009-2010 playoff picture. If all goes right, sure, they could sneak in there, but it’s hard to argue that they’ve improved, talent-wise, during the off-season.

Here’s a quick run-down.

Players Added: Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Solomon Jones, Luther Head.

Players Lost: Marquis Daniels, Jarrett Jack, Rasho Nesterovic, Stephen Graham, Maceo Baston, Jamaal Tinsley (kinda).

With due respect to Psycho T, I’d argue that for this season Daniels, Jack, and Nesterovic are the three best players on those lists. Unfortunately, they all reside on the “Players Lost” list. Still, you can’t really kill the Pacers for the boring moves they’ve made this summer (besides the Dahntay Jones one – inexcusable). As was the case with Milwaukee, they didn’t have much room to manoeuvre because they’re so close to the luxury tax. With the money Troy Murphy, Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, and Jeff Foster are making, they likely won’t be in a position to make a big splash next summer, either. This is the result of mistakes of the past, mistakes that other teams should learn from. If you’re going to invest big, long-term money to a player, you better make sure it’s a guy who can be a top player on a successful team. Danny Granger fits the bill fine, but while I like Murphy and Dunleavy, I don’t think they should be your key guys. So, if you’re going to slam the Pacers’ front office for assembling a middle-of-the-road team, that’s fine, but realize those seeds were planted well before this summer.

Let’s talk about positives, though. These guys were a fun bunch to watch last season. They pushed the ball at every opportunity, finishing 3rd in the league in pace. Granger is a great, great young prospect, and I’m not just talking about fantasy basketball here. Roy Hibbert had a much better rookie season than I could have anticipated, shockingly posting a better PER than former Pacer center Jermaine O’Neal was able to muster. Theses guys should improve this year. So should Brandon Rush, who showed a lot of promise when he was given a starting role for the last month of his rookie campaign. T.J. Ford, who no longer has to share minutes with Jarrett Jack, has a great opportunity to bounce back from what was a down year in 2008-2009. Also, the new faces might help them improve their defense from last season. All good things.

Like I said about Milwaukee, it’s not too far-fetched to see the Pacers ending up with the 8th seed. Nobody’s penciling them in now, though, especially with the way some other Eastern teams have improved. With a week until training camp starts, Indiana fans are anxious and can do nothing but hope for the best. If this year’s squad is as fun as last year’s and finishes with a better record, I guess that’s a successful season. If you take a broader look at this franchise, though, there are real problems. Danny Granger, at 26, is approaching his prime – do we really want to wait until the summer of 2011 to see him (potentially) on a winning team? I say no. Mediocrity is annoying.

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