Those that thought the NBA topography was as set as stone, A) don’t understand the ever-changing nature of organic surfaces, and B) should start to see team offices as their own species of shark: if they don’t keep swimming forward through a mantle of emerging talent, available franchise cogs, and backdoor deals, they drown. Or, at least, get fired.
In the latest rumblings of the offseason, big things have happened. Playoff-bound teams strengthened their rosters, fringe contenders are a little less fringe, and the chemistry of the Eastern Conference, where LeBron and the Heat are kings, might be forever changed.
Below are the latest free agent acquisitions and team swaps, their grades, and what this means for the makeup of the league.
The Atlanta Hawks acquisition of Mexico-born Gustavo Ayon logged low on the NBA Richter scale but it’s a quietly strong move. The 6-foot-10 Ayon can play the center position which will lighten Al Horford’s load at that spot. Before, the Hawks had no real backup big man. Depending on how you look at it, they still don’t. But with a low-key and talented young backcourt in Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Louis Williams, and the emerging Dennis Schroeder, it seems the Hawks are buying into small ball big time. Even with Ayon, though, the Hawks look like an 8th seed.
At 39 years old, Camby is ready to blast off again. Not in terms of his talent; the shot-blocking center is back in Houston with the Rockets.
That means that with Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, the Rockets are now three-deep at the center position, leaving a black cloud hanging over who becomes their go-to power forward. Little has been said about this scenario, but adding Camby might mean that Houston is more than ready to part ways with Asik for a serviceable power forward. If Houston can get a near-All-Star, expect big things from them sooner than expected.
This has been the summer of love for the once-promising Greg Oden. It seems that every team is courting the 25-year-old, with the Pelicans and the Heat the likeliest teams-to-be. That means one of two things: 1) Oden is for once showing signs of improved health, and 2) the Heat can stave off the rising powers of the East if he signs with them.
But, last time I checked, the seven-footer has had five major surgeries on his knees. As the Pelicans mature, they might be able to hide him in the bench for good spurts, but the Heat are chasing a three-peat. Whatever minutes they’ll need from Oden will only add to the renewed deterioration of his knees, which, of course, won’t turn out good for them.
Grade: If Pelicans sign, B; If Heat sign, C
Memphis was almost absolutely the spot where Miller needed to land, and he did. He’ll help space the floor for the paint-bound Grizzlies. Best part: the Grizz are a good regular season squad who will mostly need Miller during the postseason. If they can keep his minutes low from October to May, Memphis might be able to get over the Western Conference hump they ran into last year.
The Bucks just don’t seem to want to go into full-out tank or rebuild mode. So they’re constantly stuck in some lifeless middle management position where not even the corporate parties are fun. Neal will give O.J. Mayo some needed respite and can fill in for Jennings (if he stays) as well. Good pick-up by the Bucks, but they’ll ride the 7th or 8th seed trolley once more.
Larry Legend and the scraggly Pacers are cutting arteries. They’re not content with some superficial skin job, they’re looking to pierce through all layers of skin of Conference rivals the Heat and they might well be on their way. Armed with years of experience, good size (the Heat’s greatest weakness), and 14.2 PPG/7.5 RPG career averages, Scola is as good a pick-up as Indy fans could have hoped for. His production in Phoenix was highly questionable but he ended the year on a very high note. He’ll be expected to do less in Indiana where he’ll beef up a bench that really needs some spinach.
The NBA’s favorite black sheep is back in the rumour mill. Sources say both Memphis and New York are thinking of securing West’s services. The two squads can do with a backup point who can defend, shoot the once-a-game-half three, and facilitate but the Knicks can do with one less borderline personality.
Grade: If Grizzlies sign, B-; If Knicks sign, C-
All three teams chasing Williams’ number can benefit greatly from his assets. Sadly, until someone decides to start cloning players, only one team will.
His efficiency is lukewarm but he’d give any of these three teams outside shooting, perimeter speed and potency, and a dash of above-grade facilitating. Who doesn’t want that?
The Spurs can do with a nimble shooter with Gary Neal in Milwaukee. Miami can have a veteran point guard who can play for once, and LeBron would reunite with one of his Cleveland chums. Memphis would be the clear winners as they desperately, desperately need outside shooting, distributing, and a perimeter pest like Mo.
Grade: If Spurs sign, B+; If Miami sign, B+; If Grizzlies sign, A