By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
In last week's Give and Go column, Chris Liss and I talked about how difficult it is for NBA teams to handle major personnel changes at mid-season. Comfort level and familiarity with teammates is so crucial to success at both ends of the floor – and that really only comes from practice reps. And yet, several teams with title aspirations decided to roll the dice this year and make major changes at the deadline or just before.
How's it working out so far?
Dallas is 4-4 with Jason Kidd in the lineup, having lost to New Orleans, San Antonio, the Lakers and the Jazz. (In other words, the four teams they'll most likely need to get past in order to make the Finals and justify the Kidd trade.)
Phoenix is just 2-4 with Shaq, and some fans are getting restless, questioning whether Mike D'Antoni is able to adjust his system to a more half court-oriented team.
Cleveland is 3-2 since their extreme roster makeover… but the level of competition they've faced leaves a lot to be desired. They beat Memphis, Minnesota and the Bulls, but dropped games to Boston (the only real elite team they've faced) and Milwaukee.
Phoenix and Dallas are now 6th and 7th overall in the stacked Western Conference… with the Mavs just 2.5 games ahead of Golden State, currently in eighth. (Denver is ninth, 1.5 games behind the Warriors and three in back of Dallas).
Cleveland has much less to worry about – they don't stand much of a chance of catching Detroit for the Central Division crown and one of the top three seeds in the playoffs, and the bottom half of the East is so dreadful there's little chance they could fall any lower than the sixth seed. Besides, the level of competition the Cavs will face – such as tonight's game against the Knicks – is sort of training camp-esque anyway. The Cavs will have a much better chance to jell as a result.
Around the League:
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 every now and again - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time or role or skill level. Comments and questions are always welcome - just post 'em on the message board at the bottom of this page.
Sam Cassell (BOS): By the time you read this, the deal should be finalized, and Sam Cassell will be a member of the Celtics. It remains to be see how he'll be used, but playing for a title contender will certainly represent an upgrade for Sam-I-Am.
Devin Harris (NJ): Marcus Williams is still the starter, but that really only means he's on the floor for the tip. In Sunday's game, Harris played 36 minutes to Williams' 19 and tied for the team lead in scoring with 21 points. He managed just two assists, but the Nets had just eight for the entire game – San Antonio's defense will do that to you.
DeSagana Diop (NJ): Diop isn't starting for the Nets either, but he has emerged as a key player for New Jersey, particularly on defense. In the Nets' last two games the tandem of Diop and starter Josh Boone has done an excellent job of limiting the opposition's post scorers – Tim Duncan had just 13 points on 4-14 shooting on Sunday. Diop won't score much, but he did have seven boards and two blocks in 20 minutes against the Spurs. (He may be limited in Tuesday's game due to a toe injury, but it's considered minor and won't affect him for long.)
Mehmet Okur (UTA): Okur has been inconsistent for most of this season, but he's stepped up his production of late, posting double-doubles in four of five games. He might get a short-term boost in value of Andrei Kirilenko (see below) misses a few games.
Al Thornton (LAC): Tim Thomas (see below) is out indefinitely, which puts Thornton into the starting lineup for the next few games.
Eddy Curry (NY): Only if you're desperate - but if Zach Randolph's sore foot (see below) causes him to miss a few games, Curry might actually put up numbers. He had 19 points and eight boards against the Hornets on Monday night.
Ricky Davis (MIA): With Dorrell Wright out for the season (see below), Davis should re-emerge as a productive bench option for Miami. Davis has a high ceiling as well, due to the uncertain status of Dwyane Wade.
Larry Hughes (CHI): Thabo Sefolosha's groin injury gave Da Bulls the excuse they needed to move Hughes into the starting lineup. He responded to the promotion with 23 points, five boards and four assists against his former teammates in Sunday's game.
Drew Gooden (CHI): Like Hughes, Gooden has been moved into Chicago's starting lineup, replacing Tyrus Thomas at power forward.
Jameer Nelson (ORL): Nelson is expected to return to the lineup for Tuesday's game. He had been sidelined due to illness.
Marcus Williams (NJ): It's just a matter of time before Williams officially loses the starting job to Devin Harris – but the Nets seem committed to getting him more minutes that he did as a backup to Jason Kidd. If you picked up Williams for his run as a starter, don't drop him right away – reserve him if you can and see how he does in around 20 minutes a night.
Andrei Kirilenko (UTA): Kirilenko left Monday's game with a hip injury after taking a hard foul from Dirk Nowitzki. The Jazz are reporting that there's no significant damage and that he should be considered day-to-day.
Tyronn Lue (DAL): Lue is expected to sign with Dallas, where he'll serve as primary backup to Jason Kidd and, therefore, be a complete fantasy nonentity. But Lue is also a very good three-point shooter, which may lead Avery Johnson to get him on the floor more often – possibly as a backup to Jason Terry as well. He probably isn't worth a roster spot, but he's worth watching.
Shawne Williams (IND): Williams has been inactive for the last several games while dealing with a police investigation. (Just what the Pacers needed – more trouble with the law.) He may not travel with the team on their upcoming three-game road trip.
Tyrus Thomas (CHI): Thomas' run in the starting lineup appears to over, but the Bulls are saying he'll still have a major role. In his first game since losing the starting gig to Drew Gooden, Thomas netted 12 points with seven boards and two blocks in 25 minutes.
Bonzi Wells (NO): Wells aggravated his sore Achilles' tendon in Sunday's game and was inactive for Monday's win over New York.
Zach Randolph (NY): Randolph has missed two straight games with a foot injury.
Tim Thomas (LAC): Thomas suffered a groin injury during Friday's game and is out indefinitely. Al Thornton will start in his place.
Dorrell Wright (MIA): Wright is done for the season after having surgery on his knee.
Article first appeared on 3/4/08