This will be a piece in three parts, today – we’ll discuss the improved rosters of many of the NBA’s elite. Tomorrow we’ll continue to discuss improved rosters, and the return of injured players, and the day after – the Free Agent market of 2010.
Quite a few changes to quite a few rosters over the off-season. It would seem that two things are evident: currently the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is growing, and this seems to be directly in relation with some teams clearing cap space – or preparing to do so – in order to be competitive in what promises to be a very exciting 2010 free agent period.
Many teams have already made moves to improve rosters – both within the free agent signing period (and this season was a frenetic time by any standards!), and within the trade market. Rosters are also affected by injuries, and at least two teams will have to seriously adjust their early-season goals due to injuries to key players. Additionally, there are at the minimum two teams’ rosters are improving with key players returning from injury.
Firstly – acquisitions. Of an off-season rife with impact movement, perhaps the biggest impact acquisition for any team was Elton Brand going to the Philadelphia 76ers.
This free agent signing to the East strengthens a team that was already on the rise, and Brand’s addition should put them in the upper echelon of Eastern teams.
Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala lead a squad that made the playoffs last year, and started the first round against the Detroit Pistons, a perennial power-house, and pushed them to six games.
Brand, Miller, Iguodala and Dalembert will be the mainstays of this team, and expect Thaddeus Young to get increased minutes this year.
Brand addresses a weakness Philadelphia had, a strong power forward. Funnily enough, the one thing the Sixers are now missing is the one thing they traded away last season: a quality spot-up shooter. But whilst Kyle Korver now calls Utah home, Brand in town makes the City of brotherly love a more attractive destination for players seeking a possible contender.
Sixers fans can look forward to a finish right up somewhere near the top of the Eastern Conference. The only thing that will stop them from winning the Atlantic conference is the presence of Boston, and they’ll push the Celtics at any rate.
Ron Artest in Houston, with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming? Wow… seems like an amazing roster. Not only these three, but think Rafer Alston, Luis Sciola, Shane Battier, Brent Barry, Carl Landry and even Dikembe Mutumbo – and you have a roster that’s loaded with talent. Verily, how loaded this team became at forward makes one wonder whether Battier’s destined to remain a Rocket too much longer.
However, whilst this team might just perform at phenomenal standards, it’s just as likely to fall flat on it’s collective face.
Ron-ron brings more luggage to Houston than just his suitcases, and whilst he’s been on his best behavior recently, it’s a toss of a coin as to who is more likely to commit something on a truly Vickian scale: Artest or ‘Melo. Within days of being named at his new team, Artest and Yao were butting heads, something that appears to have been resolved… but at the very least, not a good sign nor a good start.
Add to that admittedly minor concern (unless… he goes off like, well… like a rocket), the fragility of Yao Ming, and to a lesser extent Tracy McGrady.
Even tho’ Yao claims his limping at the Olympics was nothing more than blisters, the fact that even with surgery for a broken bone in his foot Yao had to play in the Olympics, would be of concern to Houston. But he did have to play – he’s Chinese, and it was Beijing. A foregone conclusion.
What is the likelihood that Yao will be able to play a whole season this year?
Well… not good. The last three years, Yao Ming has missed substantial time each and every season – each time due to a lower extremity injury.
Despite seeming to be a relatively inconsequential injury, “foot stress fractures” occur due to repetitive pressure, something that’s of concern for a player of his size. It’s honestly not a good sign for Ming’s longevity.
The Rockets will be good – but an injury to one of their key 3 personnel will leave them floundering.
Toronto’s acquisition of Jermaine O’Neal puts them towards the top of the East, if O’Neal can return to a semblance of the form he had 2+ years ago.
Alongside the amply talented Chris Bosh, O’Neal will have less pressure than he faced at Indiana in recent times, and should return some good numbers in scoring and rebounding.
But can O’Neal stay healthy?
Along with O’Neal, Toronto drafted Australian big man Nathan Jawai – who steps onto the hardwood at a massive 6’10/280. Jawai’s raw, and largely untested… but with his sheer size it will be interesting to see if he can make it with the game’s elite.
Now that Toronto have 4 players who are 6’10 or taller (not that Bargnani plays particularly ‘big’), surely they’d be able to make a real push in the East?
Well… not so fast Rap-fans.
Unfortunately for the Rap-pack, they dwell in the Atlantic division… which with the Brand-to-76ers move, has become perhaps the most top-heavy divisions in the East.
Toronto will make the playoffs, but they will rely largely on which Jermaine O’Neal turns up – the superstar of Indiana two years ago, or the oft-injured lumbering big man of the last few years.
Let’s hope for the former. It’ll make life interesting.