NEW FACES, NEW PLACES
By Charlie Zegers
11 offseason moves worth watching
Most years, before training camps even open, you can narrow down the list of title contenders to, say, seven or eight without much of a struggle. This year, the differences between the contenders and pretenders seem even more pronounced; to borrow a hideously overused poker metaphor, teams like the Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Magic and Celtics are going "all in," luxury tax be damned, while others are just hoping to hang on and wait… for next summer's free agent class, for the economy to pick up, or for new buildings that may or may not ever get built.
With that in the background, let's take a look at some of the most significant moves of the offseason, and how they might affect your fantasy NBA team.
1. Hedo Turkoglu to Toronto
Turkoglu passed on an offer from the Trail Blazers to head north of the border and play in one of the NBA's most cosmopolitan cities. He'll bring his unique "point forward" skill set to one of the NBA's most cosmopolitan rosters - and seems an excellent fit for the Raptors' system, which borrows heavily from Mike D'Antoni's.
With Jose Calderon on the floor, Turkoglu probably won't need to initiate the offense as much as he did for the Raptors, which could mean fewer assists but more scoring. But he could also be used as the de facto backup to Calderon, particularly if Jarrett Jack is used more as a shooting guard (which could happen, depending on the development of rookie DeMar Derozan).
2. Flip Saunders Takes Over in D.C.
The Wizards should have a very different look this season, with Gilbert Arenas
finally back in the fold and ex-Pistons and T-Wolves coach Flip Saunders running the show. Ordinarily, the loss of an offensive guru like Eddie Jordan - fired after last season's 1-10 start - would be a major concern for fantasy owners. Look at what happened in Phoenix, when Mike D'Antoni left town and Terry Porter
came in preaching defense. Don't expect Saunders to make the same mistake; while he'll ask the Wizards to play solid D, he understands that a roster built around Arenas, Caron Butler
, Antawn Jamison
, Mike Miller
and Randy Foye
is going to win games by scoring 110… not by holding the opposition to 79. That also means that, as usual, Washington's success or failure this season will depend largely on Arenas' surgically-repaired knee.
3. Extreme Makeover: Pistons Edition
It's hard to think of the Pistons and not think, "tight, cohesive team, polished halfcourt offense, tough and stingy defense." Well, get that out of your head, because the 2009-10 edition of the Pistons about as far from the Chuck Daly/Larry Brown teams as you can get. General manager Joe Dumars
started the shift last season, when he traded Chauncey Billups
for Allen Iverson
; a move designed to clear cap space and open up the point guard spot for Rodney Stuckey
. This summer, Detroit's reboot continued, with Charlie Villanueva
, Ben Gordon
and rail-thin rookie Austin Daye
replacing Rasheed Wallace
, Iverson/Billups and Antonio McDyess
in the rotation, and Cleveland assistant John Kuester taking over as head coach. This is a team that very clearly values offense over defense.
What does this mean for fantasy players? Detroit isn't going to become a Mike D'Antoni-style "every guy on this team will hit new career highs in scoring" team overnight. But savvy fantasy owners should expect more offense - and less defense - at The Palace this year.
4. San Antonio Reloads
With the acquisitions of Richard Jefferson
and Antonio McDyess
, the Spurs may have their deepest team since David Robinson
was sharing the frontcourt with Tim Duncan
. This represents a fairly significant shift in philosophy; even though they've been a perennial contender for the last decade or so, the Spurs have been one of the more frugal teams in the league. This year their payroll will be well above the dreaded luxury tax threshold - but they've spent wisely, creating what appears to be one of the most talented rosters in the league.
In fantasy terms, the deep roster will probably have an adverse affect on numbers; there are only so many shots to go around, and the depth should allow Gregg Popovic to liberally rest his top guys in the hopes of keeping everyone healthy for the postseason. On the plus side, McDyess is expected to start at power forward, shifting Duncan to center - so there shouldn't be any debate as to whether or not Timmy qualifies as a pivot, in any league.
Has any player's fantasy profile fallen farther, faster than "the Matrix?" Playing alongside Steve Nash
in Phoenix, Marion was in the "top overall pick" discussion, and rightly so. But since leaving the valley of the sun, he's been just another guy. This season, we get to find out of his decline is irreversible. He'll be playing in Dallas, on a team that's absolutely loaded offensively… with a point guard in Jason Kidd
that should have no trouble setting him up for easy shots. Could the move to Dallas boost Marion's fantasy value back into first-round territory?
The Trail Blazers missed out on Turkoglu, Paul Millsap
, and (depending on who you believe) David Lee
before finally getting veteran point guard Andre Miller
to take their money. Miller is an interesting fit for the Blazers… he's an excellent distributor without a great outside shot, who does much of his damage on drive-and-kicks… in other words, a very similar player to Brandon Roy
. Those similarities in mind, McMillan has already announced that he'll continue to start Steve Blake
at the point and bring Miller off the bench. While that makes some sense, it's hard to believe that's the long-term plan. It will be worth watching how Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge
and the Blazers' other young stars adapt to having a veteran quarterback to initiate the offense.
7. Eddie Jordan Takes Over in Philadelphia
It seems somewhat unfair to blame Eddie Jordan for the Wizards' struggles over the last two years. The team was built around Gilbert Arenas
, and thanks to knee surgeries, ol' Agent Zero has played about as many NBA games as I have of late. The Wizards' loss is the Sixers' gain, and the Philly roster seems well-suited to play Jordan's version of the old Pete Carril Princeton offense that made the Sacramento Kings and Wizards two of the NBA's most exciting, watchable teams. Jordan's system seems a particularly good fit for do-everything wing Andre Iguodala
and lead guard Louis Williams
, who will get the first crack at replacing Andre Miller
as Philly's starting point. Sixer fans are hoping it will also be a good fit for Elton Brand
, who looked lost as a Sixer even before his season-ending shoulder injury.
8. Boston's Need for 'Sheed
Danny Ainge wants to win another championship or two while the "big three" still have some tread on their tires. Enter Rasheed Wallace
, who has the chance to be the missing piece for a title team for the second time in his career. The addition of Wallace to the Pistons' core of Chauncey Billups
, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace
and Tayshaun Prince
helped get Detroit over the top in 2004. Ainge is hoping an older - but not necessarily wise - Wallace will do the same for Kevin Garnett
, Paul Pierce
, Ray Allen
and Rajon Rondo
The addition of Wallace - one of the best outside-shooting big men of his generation - gives the Celtics a front line that may be unmatched in depth and flexibility. He'll be deployed as an offensive counterpart to tough defender Kendrick Perkins at center, and in the mix - with Glen "Big Baby" Davis - for minutes at power forward behind KG. His arrival, and the return of Davis - makes the C's much better-equipped to weather another injury.
But as with the Spurs, depth doesn't necessarily mean good things for fantasy production. Wallace's arrival means Doc Rivers can spell Garnett more, and probably won't need to ask Pierce and Allen to shoulder as much of the scoring load as in seasons past.
9. Shaq's New Running Buddy
Gotta hand it to Shaquille O'Neal
- he knows how to select teammates. From Anfernee Hardaway
- back when "Penny" was good enough to have his own Nike commercials and a look-alike puppet voiced by Chris Rock - to Kobe Bryant
, to Dwyane Wade
to Steve Nash
, Shaq has played with some of the best guards of the last two decades. This year, he adds LeBron James
to that illustrious list, as the Cavs try to make a championship run before LBJ has the chance to test free agency.
Does Shaq fit in Cleveland? Sure. While not the dominant player he was in his prime, Shaq still has the ability to score more or less at will when he gets the ball on the low block - and if there's a hole in LeBron's game, it's his post-up game. Shaq, like James is also an outstanding passer, which should mean lots of open shots for the likes of Mo Williams, newly-acquired Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. And with Zydrunas Ilgauskas still in the fold, the Cavs won't have to ask Shaq to log heavy minutes, which could help the big fella stay healthy now that he's been separated from the Suns' legendary trainers.
Shaq's arrival also gives the Cavs some roster flexibility - making Ilgauskas' expiring contract an incredibly valuable asset in potential trades.
10. Air Orlando
The Magic reached the Finals last season with the strength of Dwight Howard
in the middle and a quirky lineup that started two sweet-shooting 6'10" forwards in Rashard Lewis
and Hedo Turkoglu. But the Turkoglu/Lewis lineup wasn't enough to get Orlando past Kobe and the Lakers… and when Courney Lee got the assignment to take a last-second shot against L.A., it became clear that the Magic needed a scorer.
They brought in one of the NBA's best, in Florida native Vince Carter, acquired from the Nets for Lee and a couple of expiring contracts. With Carter on board, the Magic will use a more conventional lineup: Carter and Jameer Nelson in the backcourt, Lewis and either Brandon Bass or Mickael Pietrus at the forwards and Howard in the middle. That alignment has some observers predicting a return to the Finals, even with Cleveland and Boston making improvements in the offseason, but nothing is assured. Jameer Nelson will have to prove he's healthy, and that last season's all-star caliber run wasn't a fluke. And health will be a significant factor… the trade with New Jersey leaves Orlando thin in the backcourt, and they'll need J.J. Redick and Jason Williams - who signed this summer after sitting out all of last season - to contribute.
11. The Lakers Swap Ariza for Artest
On paper, the Lakers' acquisition of Ron Artest
is a coup. Though undeniably quirky, Artest is known as one of the league's top defenders - strong enough to defend some fours, quick enough to stop many twos. He seems an ideal replacement for Trevor Ariza
, who emerged as an excellent defender and clutch performer during LA's title run last season, but whose resume isn't nearly as distinguished as Artest's.
Of course, Artest's resume isn't all positive.
Officially speaking, he's been a good citizen since the brawl in Detroit that led to his long suspension and departure from Indiana - but there were more than a few rumors of knucklehead behavior last season, and stories that were squashed by Rockets management. Even if that's true, the combination of Phil Jackson - who won championships with Dennis Rodman - and Kobe Bryant should be enough to keep Artest on his best behavior.
The bigger question at this point isn't behavior. It's Artest's skill level. Since the deal, there have been rumblings that Artest has lost a step, that he can't rely on his quickness to defend on the perimeter any more. And there have been concerns that Artest's offensive game -- more than a little bit reliant on isolations and over-dribbling - is a bad match for Jackson's famous triangle.
If the Lakers get the good Artest, they're an excellent bet to defend their title. If not, we'll be reading a lot of articles about how they messed up a good thing.
The Kings hired Paul Westphal as their new coach, but are deep-up in the midst of a rebuilding project. Sacramento will bear very little resemblance to Westphal's loaded Phoenix teams that featured Charles Barkley
and Kevin Johnson
. Along with the Kings, the Nets (who replaced Vince Carter
with Courtney Lee
) and Bucks (who lost Richard Jefferson
and Charlie Villanueva
and added… no one in particular) should be out-and-out dreadful.
Utah is loaded at power forward, after Carlos Boozer opted not to opt out of his contract and the Jazz matched Portland's offer to Paul Millsap. That makes Boozer a leading candidate to be dealt by the trade deadline, if not before, and Millsap a player who will be much more valuable in the second half than on draft day.
The additions of Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Tyler Hansbrough and Solomon Jones, the Pacers project as a much-improved defensive team this season - but getting guys like Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy healthy would be a much more important change.
Article first appeared on 9/23/09