Monday, August 10, 2009

NBA Offseason Improvement Part 1

This was a very interesting and exciting NBA offseason. As the deals look to be mostly wrapped up, this is a good time to look at which teams improved the most for next season. I won't try to rank them, but these teams have taken significant strides this offseason. These are not the only teams that have improved; I will add more later.

Washington Wizards

With a 19-63 record in the 08-09 season, the Wizards had no way to get worse in the offseason. After bad luck gave them the #5 pick, Ernie Grunfeld came up with moves that will ultimately put this franchise on the right track. Trading the pick(which would be used on Ricky Rubio) was a wise move, especially given Rubio's uncertain contract status, and his lack of desire to play for certain teams.

Randy Foye is not a household name, but he is very skilled. He has improved each of his first three years, and put up 16 points and 4 assists a game last year. He gives the Wizards a good alternative to Deshawn Stevenson, who has been very inconsistent. He also will help with defense. Mike Miller(the other pickup in the draft pick trade) is a strong-shooting SF who can step into the lineup immediately. He fills a void, and can rotate with Caron Butler, or start alongside him. A career 40% 3 point shooter, he can space the floor. To get these players, the Wizards had to give up Pecherov(who looks like a draft bust), Etan Thomas(a player with a large contract who was blocking younger players from getting a chance), and Darius Songalia(a valuable spare part who was replaced by Fabricio Oberto), along with the draft pick. All in all, a very good trade.

This team will be very exciting to watch next year. With three all-star caliber players in Arenas, Jamison, and Butler, along with good depth, the Wizards have a shot at going deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This will hinge on the development of Javale McGee and Andray Blatche, who will be asked to play key reserve roles. The weakness of the Wizards has been defense in recent years, and frontcourt play will be a major factor in how far they go next season.

I see another potential trade in the works given the backcourt depth and frontcourt needs that Washington has. If not, it will be difficult to get all of the talented guards into the rotation, especially given Flip Saunders' liking for short rotations. I would predict the Wizards to get to the playoffs and advance a round or two into the playoffs next year. Another trade will improve their odds, however.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs had an interesting offseason dilemma. With an aging core, they needed to add talent, but do it without massive subtraction. Acquiring Richard Jefferson was a good move, as the Spurs needed to acquire a younger, healthy scorer. Jefferson has played all 82 games the past two seasons, and will help to stabilize the rotation. The Spurs had to give up Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, and Kurt Thomas. None are game-changing factors, and Bowen's defense has dropped off recently, but they were important reserves, and their absence will hurt. The Spurs somewhat offset this by drafting Dejuan Blair, who had an excellent season for Pittsburgh, and was projected as a much higher pick. Knee injury aside, he can provide a Fabricio Oberto-like presence, and help down low.

The Spurs also signed Antonio McDyess, an interesting move. Although 34 and with multiple knee injuries in his history, McDyess is a 10 point 10 rebound player who knows his role and plays it well, having been to several conference finals. He will be an upgrade over Kurt Thomas, and will be able to start in the event of injuries.

If Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker can stay injury-free, the Spurs look extremely promising for next season. Their season will hinge on the health of their core players, and how well Richard Jefferson can integrate with other high scoring players. I don't see the Spurs making any more major moves, but a depth signing is not out of the question. Although not in quite the same class as the Lakers(who also improved this offseason), the Spurs should go deep into the playoffs(at least better than last season), and have an outside chance at a title.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have one of the best GM's in the business in Joe Dumars. He put that reputation on the line when he traded Chauncey Billups, and this offseason was supposed to be the payoff. With the headline moves being Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, it is difficult to be too enthusiastic about the moves. However, questioning Dumars has never been a wise bet in the past.

Not re-signing Allen Iverson was an extremely wise move. He did not help the team last season, and was not a good fit. Ben Gordon, who put up 20 points a game last year on a .450 shooting percentage, will fill the void that Iverson leaves. Gordon is much more of a team player than Iverson, and while he will not be a primary scorer, will be a good complement to Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey.
Signing Charlie Villanueva made Rasheed Wallace unnecessary, and in some ways, Villanueva is an upgrade. Wallace did not seem to put in much of an effort last year, and it showed on both sides of the floor. Losing Wallace and Iverson could be a blessing in disguise for this team. Although it is arguable that the Pistons overpaid for Villanueva, he will fit in well at power forward, and will be able to contribute. He took a big step forward last season, and will hopefully continue that trend.

The main concern with the Pistons is a lack of a center. Signing Ben Wallace will not help the situation at this point(he has tailed off quickly). Chris Wilcox, Jason Maxiell, and Kwame Brown are all horrible options at center. A committee approach or a small lineup may have to be used next season.

John Kuster will be under the spotlight next season in Detroit, and he has his work cut out for him. Integrating so many pieces into a veteran core will be tricky, and his being a rookie head coach will make it doubly difficult. While I see the Pistons being better than they were last year, I can't see them restarting their run of Eastern conference dominance. On paper, a team with Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, and Charlie Villanueva sounds great, but depth and the center position are large question marks. Integrating Ben Gordon with Hamilton and Stuckey will also be a challenge, although he is used to being a bench scorer. I see the Pistons having a slightly winning record and losing in the first round of the playoffs next year. I believe that the 2010-2011 season is when we will see a marked improvement.

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