As is the case with most everything in life, the NBA is divided into the 'haves' and 'have nots' and the player moves made during this off-season have done nothing to level the playing field. In fact, the gap between those teams that will be legitimate contenders and the also-rans has only gotten wider. Here's a look at a few of the leaders of the NBA 'arms race' in each conference and what moves they made to fortify and reload for the coming season.
Los Angeles Lakers - The defending NBA Champs are in an interesting position. In what amounted essentially to a swapping of players, the Lakers lost Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, who in turn lost Ron Artest to the Lakers. On paper it seems like a great move for the Lakers... but as they say, the games aren't played on paper. It remains to be seen if the volatile Artest can mesh with Kobe (and his ego) on the court, as well as whether or not Ron-Ron gets seduced and distracted by the LA/Hollywood scene. The final piece of the Lakers off-season puzzle, and the one that may well be the tipping point on whether the Lakers get slightly better or slightly worse overall, is the Lamar Odom situation. What was once thought to be a no-brainer, resign Odom, has somehow blown up in the Lakers' face with Odom on the verge of defecting to the Miami Heat for a reported 5 year $34 million offer.
San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs made a very solid addition to their team when they acquired SF Richard Jefferson by sending Kurt Thomas and Bruce Bowen to the Milwaukee Bucks (who, in salary dump mode, have already waived Thomas and will most likely do so with Bowen as well). In Jefferson the Spurs get fresh legs to take the place of Bruce Bowen who, despite a long career as a lockdown defender, had a significant drop-off in performance last season. Though not a significant threat as an outside shooter, Jefferson can collapse the defense by driving the lane and creating his own shot, or kick the ball out to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili for the 3. The Spurs also enticed free agent PF Antonio McDyess from the Pistons by offering him the full mid-level exception, and added 14 year veteran C Theo Ratliff, also from the Pistons. Though a bit long in the tooth, Ratliff can still give the Spurs solid minutes every night to allow Duncan valuable rest.
Dallas Mavericks - The Mavericks made a few moves in order to keep pace in what is arguably the most competitive division in the NBA. They started by resigning Jason Kidd to run their offense for another 3 years. They then added SF Shawn 'The Matrix' Marion in a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto (that included multiple players and 3 other teams), and PF Drew Gooden from the Spurs. In somewhat of a side note, the acquisition of Gooden was kind of sloppy seconds for the Mavericks, who had had their sights set on Orlando's Marcin Gortat, a restricted free agent. The Magic, however, matched the Mavs offer sheet and retained Gortat... after stringing the the Mavs out for the full 7 days allowed before doing so, which effectively tied up the money the Mavs had 'set aside' for Gortat and prevented them from going after any other 'top shelf' talent in the meantime. Hey, all's fair in love and restricted free agency!
Houston Rockets - Ok, other than the Ariza acquisition mentioned earlier the Rockets didn't really do much this off-season in the way of trades. They did acquire from the Atlanta Hawks the rights to 6'11" David Andersen of Australia, but that was hardly the Rockets' big off-season move. No, unfortunately, the Rockets big 'move' was the loss of Yao Ming for the season before it even starts. Due to recurring foot problems Yao has had surgery that will keep him off his feet for 2 months, and off the court for the entire season, but which will hopefully fix the problem once and for all. Having been plagued with foot problems like Yao's for many seasons, several years ago Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas had the same surgery Yao just did and Ilgauskas hasn't had any foot issues since so there is good precedence.
Of course, as the Rockets are 'my team' I found the news that we'd be without Yao for the entire season to be incredibly crappy, and it definitely puts something of a damper on the coming season. One never wants to be in the position of 'rooting' for their team not to make the playoffs in order to get a better draft pick, but....
Cleveland Cavaliers - The 'name' pickup for the Cavs of course was Shaq, but he's not really going to do much to improve their team in my opinion. Other than being a big body to bang against Dwight Howard 4 times a year, Shaq's contribution will be relegated to clogging up the lane and generally getting in King James' way. In fact, Clown Prince Shaq's best performances this season may well be relegated to pre-game introduction skits and post-game locker room interviews. The under the radar pickups for the Cavs are SG Anthony Parker from Toronto and SF Jamario Moon from Miami (who declined to match the Cavs' offer). Moon in particular gives the Cavs increased length and athleticism in the swing man slot, which will allow the Cavs to match up more comfortably against top level Eastern Conference opponents, especially the Magic, who dominated their match-ups against Cleveland last season. And, of course, the most important 'move' the Cavs made was in retaining C Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Orlando Magic - The Magic had a huge loss to deal with in the departure of SF Hedo Turkoglu to the Toronto Raptors. They have filled it quite nicely, however, by picking up a reinvigorated Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets, PF Brandon Bass from Dallas, and SF Matt Barnes from Phoenix. The much traveled Barnes is a solid addition to the Magic's bench, and can legitimately be expected to provide the Magic 20 minutes and 8-10 points a night.Brandon Bass, however, may prove to be the key addition. The 6'8, 250 lbs Bass is a legitimate post player, which will allow the Magic to play Rashard Lewis at his natural position of SF where he is unquestionably more comfortable and productive. The Magic's matching of Dallas' 5 year $34 million offer sheet in order to retain C Marcin Gortat, who had his coming out party during the playoffs and Finals, cements the Magic's lineup for another run at the Eastern Conference title and shot at the Championship.
Boston Celtics - The Celtics picked up arguably the biggest impact free agent this off-season with their signing of Rasheed Wallace. When he's in the right frame of mind (i.e., not feeling lazy), Rasheed is one of the best players in the NBA. His combination of size and ability to hit outside shots is a rare package that will fit very nicely with the Celtics' roster. And with the veteran leadership of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen it's very unlikely that the Celtics will experience behavioral issues from the potentially temperamental Wallace. The pending addition of swingman Marquis Daniels also gives the Celtics some added depth to their bench. The last thing that needs addressing by Boston is locking Glen 'Big Baby' Davis - who had a breakout season and playoff run - down into a new contract.
It remains to be seen which teams' moves will pay off for them in the coming season, but there's no question this has been one of the more active off-seasons in recent years as far as 'name' player moves were concerned. Just wait until summer of 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tyson Chandler, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Redd are all free agents... GMs are already circling in anticipation of that blood in the water!