Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Basketball Jones

There has been a lot happening in the NBA this past week. Here are a few of the stories that caught my attention. There's no mention of the still-rumored Allen Iverson to Boston deal, because for my own sanity, I'm pretending that it's not happening.

Pistons Reload
On the heels of the Nazr Mohammed signing, the Pistons have continued to move forward in the wake of Ben Wallace's departure. They announced three other signings this week - resigning backup point guard Lindsey Hunter, and adding combo guard Ronald "Flip" Murray, and forward Ronald Dupree.

I'm a big fan of Joe Dumars, and I think he's done a remarkable job this off-season with very little money to work with. Getting Mohammed with the mid-level exemption, then Murray and Dupree for low-cost deals is about the best he could have done, and with these moves, he's done a great job of adding depth to his team. (Even better, the Pistons apparently offered Flip close to their full mid-level exemption when they thought they could still resign Big Ben. When that changed, and they instead targeted Mohammed, they withdrew the offer, waited him out, and got him for about $3-4 million less than they would have otherwise paid. Well done).

The only move I question is the resigning of Hunter; Flip Murray is a combo guard, and will be much more effective. With a bigger role expected of swingman Carlos Delfino, I don't see how adding a 5th body to the backcourt is a good move at all. If anything, Hunter will take away minutes from younger, and more talented players.

Nonetheless, having replaced Ben Wallace and Tony Delk with Mohammed, Flip Murray, and Ronald Dupree, the Pistons enter the season younger, more athletic, and with youngsters like Delfino and Jason Maxiell, deeper than they have been in years. The only thing I see keeping them from another division crown is a rash of injuries, or a superhuman regular season from LeBron. In any case, I think they're at least a 50 win team, and are still a legitimate contender to win the East.

Sonics On The Move?
After failing to secure a new arena, or local buyer, the Seattle SuperSonics are being sold to a group from Oklahoma City. While this doesn't mean that a move is in the works for certain, it increases the chances from 'possible' to 'likely'. Oklahomans came out in droves to support the Hornets during their one-year stay in Oklahoma City this year; you have to think that that show of support would continue, at least for the first few years, if the Sonics relocate.

Seattle has traditionally been a strong market, and their attendance has increased slightly in recent years - they're filling around 95% of the arena. Though I'd hate to see it happen at the expense of Seattle, I think Oklahoma City will be a great NBA market. If you look at the population of metropolitan areas in the United States, the league has had success putting teams in good-sized markets (1-2 million) that don't have other professional sports teams. Some exampes of this are the Portland Trail Blazers (25th largest market), Sacramento Kings (26th), San Antonio Spurs (29th), and Utah Jazz (Salt Lake City ranks 50th). Oklahoma City currently ranks 47th. Being the only professional ticket in town helps these teams thrive, and the same thing could happen if the Sonics move.

**Update** - A good piece from Supersonics fan Zachary Geballe of Sportszilla. That piece, and the comments on this site that he links to do a good job of covering the reaction from Seattle fans. And for balance, reaction from Oklahoma City fans.

Bulls On Parade
In the aftermath of the Ben Wallace signing, the Chicago Bulls continue to remake their squad for the coming season. In order:

• They traded Tyson Chandler to Hornets for third-year guard JR Smith, and PJ Brown's leadership and expiring contract.

• They will shortly flip Smith to the Denver Nuggets for Howard Eisley. Eisley will be waived, saving the Bulls over a million dollars this season.

• That money will then be put towards signing Adrian Griffin, the veteran swingman late of the Dallas Mavericks.

You have to think that another move is in the works beyond this, since the Bulls will have an excess of players who play the 2/3 positions (Griffin, combo guard Ben Gordon, and small forwards Andres Nocioni and Luol Deng). The Bulls could still use a low-post scorer, but I don't see how they're going to get one, since they don't have the big contracts to move in order to get a KG, Jermaine O'Neal, or even a Troy Murphy. The only move I could see happening is for Drew Gooden to sign a one-year extension in Cleveland, then get traded to Chicago where they would then sign him to a long-term extension at a higher salary. Of course, working this out in advance would surely violate a handful of league rules, so don't count on it happening.

What Are They Thinking?
Every year, free agent season brings us a handful of signings that make fans shake our heads. Inevitably, most of them end up coming back to haunt the team that handed them out. Here are my picks for the worst deals so far. In reverse order:

3. Darius Songalia, Washington Wizards. 5 years, $23.5 million
What exactly has this guy done to justify a multi-million dollar deal, much less a multi-year committment. Looking at his stats, he doesn't project to be much more than an energy player off the bench. This deal is the 2006 version of the Brian Scalabrine signing, only worse, since he's making about twice as much money to do nothing.

2. Nene, Denver Nuggets. 6 years, $60 million
Anytime you can overpay to keep an injury-prone, unproven big man, you have to do it. He's still young, and could improve upon his first three season, but it's just as likely that the Nuggets will come to regret this deal. On the other hand, as the Tyson Chandler trade proved, there will always be someone willing to take a risk on a young, overpaid big man, so if Nene busts, he should be easy to move.

1. Mike James, Minnesota Timberwolves. 4 years, $23.5 million.
Anytime you have the chance to ink a 31-year old, shoot-first point guard with one good season under his belt, to a long-term deal, you have to do it. More importantly, didn't the Wolves just add Randy Foye, a rookie who fills the exact same role for them? Oh yeah, and let's not forget about Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson, and Trenton Hassell. Aside from Foye and the injured sophomore Rashad McCants, the Wolves have put together a team comprised of one distrungtled superstar (Kevin Garnett), one aloof swingman (Ricky Davis), and four shoot-first guards, three of whom purport to play the point. They have four guards who do the same thing, three of whom (James, Hudson, Jaric), along with Hassell, have combined to give the Wolves a backcourt that doesn't move the ball, and whose only success has been killing the team's cap flexibility for the rest of the decade. Does Kevin McHale put any thought into how to put a team together? Only the presence of an even more incompetent executive in the league (Isaiah) has kept people from talking about how poor of a job he's doing.

It's All About Value
To end this post on a high note, here are two moves in the works that I like a lot:

• The San Antonio Spurs signed Jackie Butler to an offer sheet. Butler, the unheralded third-string center of the New York Knicks, is expected to be let go, and will join the Spurs at the price of $7 million over 3 years. Butler may not be able to replace Rasho Nesterovic and/or Nazr Mohammed, but he's 21 years old, and comes at a bargain rate. As John Hollinger points out, he shot 54%, and averaged almost 16 points per 40 minutes. He's still weak on defense, and tends to get into foul trouble, but he's young, and working with the talented Spurs coaching staff will only accelerate his development. This could be the steal of the off-season.

• The Suns are after free agent point guard Marcus Banks. The Suns, who are expected to offer him between $3.5 and $4 million per year, are looking for someone to spell Steve Nash, and Banks is as good as anyone they're going to find. He disappointed in Boston, but that's mostly a factor of people expecting him to become more than what he is. He'll never be a star, or possibly even a starter, but he's a good, traditional point guard who is sound defensively, can push the ball and get his teammates involved, but can't shoot the ball very well. That's what you get. If you expect anything more, you're liable to be disappointed. He's well suited to the Suns style of play, and as the backup, should be an excellent fit. A 2 year deal with an option, in the aforementioned financial range, would be a good deal for both sides.


At 7:23 AM, Blogger Alex said...

To update on Marcus Banks, he's agreed to a deal with the Suns that's worth 21 million over 5 years. That's a little higher, and longer, than I would have given him, but from a pure personnel standpoint, he's a good fit, and in any case, the Suns aren't getting under the cap anytime soon.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger cynical joe said...

As to the Seattle situation; the Sonics do now have more leverage regarding a new stadium, AND that stadium might make a good home for an NHL team.


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