The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 28, 2008 1:48 PM PDT
We haven't discussed title contenders in a while, and the landscape has changed considerably since the last time through. I'm wondering what your take is on some of the leading candidates.
In the East:
To me, it's still "The Celtics" and "Everybody else." I think they'll add some help at the point before the trade deadline, whether that's KG's old buddy Sam Cassell or Damon Stoudamire or someone else. That will shore up this squad's most glaring weakness. They aren't going to win 70, but they're pretty clearly the team to beat.
The second tier in the East has gotten a bit more interesting, though. Detroit is almost certainly the second-best squad. I'd still put Orlando in that group, though I have zero faith in their backcourt.
Then there's Cleveland, who seem to be back from the dead. Do you think the return of Varejao made that much of a difference for the Cavs? They looked like a lottery team through the first quarter of the season, but right now they have the fourth-best record in the East. (Yeah, I know, it's the East.)
And what about Washington? Is it possible that they're better without Arenas? Caron Butler has been an absolute monster for the last few weeks; it'll be a crime if he doesn't make the All-Star team.
In the West:
The interesting thing in the Western Conference is that I think you could make a legit case for about five different teams. San Antonio is probably the favorite, but I wouldn't be inclined to bet against the Hornets, the Lakers (at full strength) or the Jazz. (The other three playoff teams in the West as I write this are Denver, Golden State and Portland. Sorry, don't see any of them reaching the Finals.)
Who do you like at this point?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 29, 2008 1:01 AM PDT
I think the Lakers with a healthy Andrew Bynum are really interesting because suddenly the biggest shot-maker in the league has some running mates, and that's very dangerous in the playoffs. And it would also be interesting to see how they stack up against Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio. You also get Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, who have won 13 championships in the past 17 years. Besides those two, only Rudy Tomjanovich, Pat Riley and Larry Brown won titles during that span. San Antonio's still the clear favorite, though because they've won two out of three, and they've won twice with the current group.
The Celtics should handle everyone else in the East - unless LeBron miraculously got a quality running mate in Cleveland like Kobe did with Bynum in LA. (Kobe's also got Lamar Odom, a better player than any Cavalier besides James). Even then, I'd expect Boston's stars to buckle down once the games start to matter again.
The Hornets are the other really interesting team - now the top team in the West. Chris Paul is arguably the league MVP at this point, and as I pointed out in mid-November, they have incredible balance on their roster. They just blew out Denver (albeit without Carmelo Anthony) tonight for their ninth straight win. I don't take them as seriously as the Lakers because of Phil Jackson and Kobe, and in the NBA, teams rarely break through on their first try. Even if they were the top seed, I'd expect them to fall in the second round to the Spurs or the Mavs.
The West is even deeper this year than usual when you throw in Utah, another team with a lot of talent and depth. And don't forget the Rockets, who haven't gotten it together yet, but who could cause some problems (assuming they qualify). I see them passing Portland eventually, but that still leaves them as the No. 9 seed unless they can pass Denver, the Lakers or Golden State.
I'm still not buying the Pistons as a serious title contender. Maybe as much of a lock as any team in the league to win in the first round of the playoffs, but against the better teams, I think they'll struggle. I know they've played very well early on, but I can't shed my image of them as a team on the way down. Maybe they'll have a brief spike again and test the Celts in the Conference Final, but even if they were to win that, I can't see them stacking up against a team in the West. In fact, the Celtics are the only team in the East with any shot at winning it all - at least until LeBron or Dwight Howard get more help.
As for the Wizards, they're only marginally worse off without Arenas. Who needs a shoot-first point guard who launched 21 field goals per game at a 42 percent clip last year? He does get to the line a lot and knock them down which is good, but unless he's near 45 percent (like he was in 2005-06), he doesn't have that much value to the team. More shots for Arenas means less for Caron Butler - 48 percent from the floor, 91.5 from the line.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 29, 2008 9:07 AM PDT
A quality running mate for LeBron doesn't seem impossible -- look at all the guards that are available right now, with Jason Kidd officially on the list as of yesterday.
Cleveland, it seems, is one of the few places that would actually make sense for a guy like Kidd. They can't worry about building for the future. If they don't show LeBron some progress, he'll be gone in 2010. Besides, Kidd's contract ends at the same time as King James', which means Cleveland could, theoretically, have Kidd coming off the cap and the opportunity to bring in a replacement in that same year.
Now, I don't have a degree in advanced mathematics, so I have no idea whether or not there's a snowball's chance in hell of making a Cleveland/New Jersey trade work... my guess is a third team would need to be involved in order for it to make any sense for the Nets. (I don't think the Nets are taking back Larry Hughes.) But Rod Thorn is way smarter about these things than I am.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 30, 2008 1:24 AM MT
Kidd would help, no doubt, maybe even elevate Drew Gooden's, Larry Hughes' and Zydrunas Ilgauskas' games to another level, but it's hard to see what the Nets would take in return. A Kidd/James team won't ever finish in the lottery, so draft picks are worthless, and the Cavs have no significant salaries off the book until after 2008-09. Even then, it would only be Eric Snow's $6.7 million and Gooden's 6.4.
Article first appeared on 1/29/08