By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
Before we get to the upcoming season, I have to ask how exciting were all those Internet trade rumors that changed by the hour or even minute? Hold on. Wait a second. I've just learned exclusively from an extremely reliable source that the Lakers will not pursue Dwight Howard via trade or free agency because they've coaxed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of retirement.
Now, let's take a look at some of the more interesting story lines as I deliver the merry and not-so-merry news with Christmas Day and the opening of the NBA season almost upon us.
New York Knicks: New York's big acquisition following the lockout isn't as "en-tyson" as it looks, simply for the fact that the Knicks paid All-Star caliber money (4 years, $56 million) to a player (Tyson Chandler) who isn't one. To put it into perspective, Chandler's annual average salary of $14 million over the life of the contract is not much more than what the likes of LeBron James ($16M), Dwayne Wade ($15.5M) and Kevin Durant ($16.3M) will be earning this season, and is more than players such as Steve Nash ($11.6M), LaMarcus Aldridge ($11.8M), Manu Ginobili ($12.9M) and Tony Parker ($12.5M). Overpaying for Chandler could hamstring the Knicks in trying to add the necessary pieces to make them a legitimate championship contender. And as important as his addition is, the one that might have almost as much impact as far as playoff success is Baron Davis, who was signed after being amnestied by Cleveland. The health of Davis, who could be out as much as eight-to-10 weeks with a bulging back disc, will be the x-factor in the Knicks really making some noise in the post season. Because as talented as Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are offensively, neither player is very adept at creating shots for teammates and making other players better.
Boston Celtics: When the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, they went from title contenders to pretenders. Boston has lost a lot of beef up front from last years' roster (Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Glen Davis) and it's hard to imagine the Celtics winning a championship without a physical presence in the middle. Jeff Green, who was the central player acquired in the deal with the Thunder and was a major disappointment after arriving in Boston, will not see the court this season after it was discovered he has a aortic aneurysm that will require heart surgery next month. As much as I'm not a fan of Green, this a huge blow because it severely weakens an already questionable bench and a team that lacks a lot of quality players with size up front beyond Kevin Garnett and the recently acquired Brandon Bass. Not only do the Celtics look like they're not going to be able to compete for a championship, but they may not be able to hold off the Knicks for supremacy in the Atlantic Division. And in a totally separate issue, is Rajon Rondo ever going to develop a respectable jump shot, thus forcing his defender to play up on him and opening up even more opportunities for his penetration?
New Jersey Nets: What happens off the court rather than on it will be the big story line with the Nets. If they fail to add another superstar, i.e. Dwight Howard, then it's likely that free-agent-to-be Deron Williams will have a new address next season. And that means that the Nets will probably move into their new home in Brooklyn with a very scary product. That's scary as in bad. And by the way, if Brooke Lopez isn't moved in an eventual deal for Howard, it would be nice if the seven-footer pulls down a few more rebounds than the embarrassing six per-game he averaged last season.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers rebounded from an atrocious 3-13 start last season and qualified for the playoffs by going 38-28 the rest of the way. With the nucleus pretty much intact, one of the key components to improving this year will be the play of second-year guard Evan Turner. His rookie season was a major struggle and disappointment, as he averaged just 7.2 ppg and shot 42% from the field, and often looked lost out on the floor. Turner worked extensively over the summer with famed shooting coach Herb Magee, and is feeling much more confident and comfortable overall about his sophomore season.
Chicago Bulls: How little did the Bulls think of last year' starting shooting guard Keith Bogans? Well, so little that they released him after signing Richard Hamilton. But the former Piston brings more than his shooting stroke to a team that desperately needed to upgrade at his position. Hamilton knows how to win and does the other necessary things besides scoring to do it, as he's averaged at least four assists-per-game five times during his career. His addition could very well put Chicago over the top in the East.
Indiana Pacers: General Manager Larry Bird significantly upgraded his talent level by signing free agent power forward David West and acquiring George Hill from the Spurs. West is a bit of question mark as he's coming back from surgery for a torn ACL, but if he's healthy, this is a solid addition, and it enhances the Pacers' depth with former starter Tyler Hansbrough moving to the bench. Aside from the new additions, Indiana has room to grow with its core of young players in Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert and Paul George. If they can all take their game up a notch, I think this Pacers team will open up a few peoples' eyes.
Miami Heat: I guess you can say the heat is still on Miami to win a championship after losing to the Mavericks in six games in last years' finals. Like last season, the Heat will have to do it with two below-average starters (Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers) in the lineup. But the good news is the bench got a lot stronger with the addition of 10-year veteran Shane Battier. However, the big question remains is how Battier will fit into the rotation as he plays the same small forward position as LeBron. We may very well see James get some time at the "four," with Chris Bosh sliding over to center to get Battier more minutes. Keep your eye on rookie point guard Norris Cole who could bring enough to the table to eventually supplant Chalmers from the starting lineup.
Orlando Magic: Is there anything to talk about beyond whether Dwight Howard stays or leaves Orlando? How about a little advice for GM Otis Smith. If you have to deal Howard and choose between a package centered around Andrew Bynum or Brook Lopez, then go for the Lakers' center. It's a no-brainer.
Atlanta Hawks: There was a silver lining in the cloud of last years' second- round loss to the Bulls and it goes by the name of Jeff Teague. The third-year point guard was thrust into the starting lineup due to a Kirk Hinrich injury, and put up 15.8 ppg and shot 55% from the field in his five game matchup with eventual MVP Derrick Rose. Hinrich is expected to miss at least the first month of the season following shoulder surgery, which will give Teague a chance to lock up the starting job permanently.
Washington Wizards: A combination of injuries, poor shooting and way too many turnovers were the predominant theme for John Wall last season, who nonetheless finished second to Blake Griffin for the Rookie of the Year Award. The speedy point guard is feeling healthy and ready to improve on those scary shooting stats (40% FG, 29% 3-PT FG) and his penchant for coughing the ball up too much as he had the second highest turnover rate in the league at 3.8 per game. Wall is terrific in the open court, but still has to show he can be effective in the half-court game too.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins last season, which also led to the insertion of Serge Ibaka into the starting lineup, gave the Thunder the size and interior defense it desperately needed. All the pieces are in place to contend for the championship. The two big keys will be Russell Westbrook's decision-making and James Harden being more assertive offensively and looking to score more off the dribble as he did in last years' playoffs. Kevin Durant and company look like they're ready for their first trip to the NBA Finals.
Denver Nuggets: It's the first full year of the post-Melo era, and if last season was any indication, Denver should be just fine without Carmelo Anthony. The trade provided the Nuggets with a lot of depth, which might even get better later in the season when they'll have the option to re-sign restricted free agent Wilson Chandler who is currently playing in China. Danilo Gallinari, who took over Anthony's small forward spot upon his arrival, has to show he has more to his game than just scoring, and become more of facilitator, as he's averaged a minuscule 1.5 apg for his career.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio's long awaited arrival in Minnesota comes with a little less luster than when he was originally drafted fifth overall in 2009. That's because despite his magical ball handling and passing skills, his outside shot did its own vanishing act, and he appears to have lost all confidence in it. He shot just 39% from the floor and an ugly 22% from three- point range in his final season in the Euroleague and averaged a dreadful 1.5 points per game in the 2011 Eurobasket tournament.
Memphis Grizzlies: Without Rudy Gay, the "Griz" upset the Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs last season and then took the Thunder to seven games before bowing out. As a matter of fact, they played better after Gay went down (.600 winning percentage) than they did before (.543). This speaks volumes about the impact of his replacement, Tony Allen, as it does Gay. Allen is one of the premier wing defenders in the league, and it's no coincidence that Durant's lowest output among all three playoff series last season was against the Grizzlies, where he averaged more than a point-per-game less than he did in the regular season. Hopefully Gay has learned that there's more to the game than just putting the ball in the basket, so his return will have a real positive impact on what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks: Christmas came early for the defending champs when the Lakers gift-wrapped Lamar Odom and sent him to Dallas. The addition of last season's Sixth Man of the Year winner is not just a luxury for the Mavs, because he'll help fill the rebounding void left by the departure of Tyson Chandler and the scoring punch from J.J. Barea who signed as a free agent with the "Wolves." I think the loss of their defensive anchor in Chandler and the breakdown ability of Barea will be sorely missed and Dallas doesn't look as formidable this season.
Los Angeles Lakers: Odom, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, which player on this list sticks out like a sore thumb? The correct jeopardy answer is, "Who is Lamar Odom? And because of the fallout from the Chris Paul fiasco, its Murphy and Roberts who will help try to fill the void left by the disgruntled Odom being dealt to the Mavericks. It's still hard for me to fathom, along with Kobe Bryant, that GM Mitch Kupchak traded Odom to the defending champs for what is likely a late first-round draft pick along with a second rounder. "I don't like it, to be honest with you," said Bryant following the trade. "You're talking about the Sixth Man of the Year last year. I mean he played lights out. It's business and money and things like that, but still you don't send Lamar to the Mavericks." Even with Odom last season, LA was swept out of the second round by the Mavs. It's hard to imagine the Lakers seriously competing for a title without their versatile sixth man and still having one of the worst point-guard tandems in the league in Derek Fisher and Steve Blake.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Lakers' loss was the Clippers' gain. The pairing of Chris Paul with Rookie of the Year winner Blake Griffin will likely make the "Clips" Hollywood's most entertaining basketball team to watch. Veterans Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups are the other big new faces in LA, and along with Paul and Mo Williams, they give the rest of the young nucleus a lot of mentors to learn from. I think the Clippers have more overall talent than the Lakers, and if everything falls in place for the former laughing stocks of the league, they could very well leap frog their Staples Center cohabitants and take the Pacific Division. Look for Paul and Griffin to also be serious MVP contenders.
Sacramento Kings: "The Jimmer Show" moves from Provo, Utah to Sacramento where Jimmer Fredette joins other young talent in former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Fredette brings amazing range that goes well beyond the three-point arc, but also has a quick release, an ability to create space for his deadly jumper, and just an overall real good feel for the game, which includes the ability to create shots for teammates too. He may very well create a backcourt that sports two rookie of the year winners.
Golden State Warriors: New head coach Mark Jackson's mantra is defense, but it may be tough to execute with his undersized backcourt (Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis) and a not very athletic power forward in David Lee.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.