Offseason Notebook: Free-Agent Impact
Before we get into this week's free-agency news, we'll have to touch on the Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson suspensions. Both Jackson and Artest will be forced to sit out the first seven games of the 2007-08 season due to their legal issues a year ago. This won't really have much of a fantasy impact, but with the way professional sports is headed (with lengthy suspensions becoming the norm), it's certainly important to keep an eye not just on those who repeatedly find themselves in legal trouble off the court, but also on those who have a history of creating problems on the court.
The way I see it, we have to start looking at these players the same way we look at those who present a serious injury risk. David Stern is trying to clean up the image of the NBA, and that means we can expect to see even more lengthy suspensions over the next few years. The Carmelo Anthony suspension last year is a perfect example. I mean, come on, he got 15 games for that? A few years back, that was just your regular run-of-the-mill NBA fight, but now it makes the list of the NBA's longest suspensions.
Now more than ever, we need to weigh the risk and reward before deciding to take a chance on a legally troubled star like Artest or Jackson, or a locker room problem like Steve Francis or Zach Randolph.
I'll be honest, I hate what the Portland Trail Blazers are doing this year. Now, before you whip out your cyber pen and rip into me, realize that I'm looking at this solely from a fantasy perspective. Real-life Blazers fans must be ecstatic; they've rid themselves of the team's biggest locker room cancer (Z-Bo) and added a bunch of emerging talent, but I look at this roster with an eye on fantasy and I see a team that will struggle to find playing time for all of its talented youngsters. General manager Kevin Pritchard is acquiring talent in waves, but where the heck is he going to play all these guys?
I think I got sick when I saw that the Blazers, of all people, were able to nab Steve Blake in free agency. That's a total waste of a few potential fantasy sleepers right there. Blake could have had some nice value had he landed with say Miami or Cleveland, but in Portland, he'll have to share time with Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez. I was all set to tab Sergio as a deep sleeper this season, but I can't see him having much value now. It's possible that Jack could be on the trading block, but even if that happens, we'll still be looking at a time-share situation at the point guard position in Portland.
As if the crowded point guard situation wasn't enough, the Blazers also re-signed Travis Outlaw (who oozes upside) earlier this week. Outlaw is still just 22 years old, and to give you an idea of his pure talent, he would have easily been a top-10 selection if he were in this year's draft. The problem for Outlaw will be the same problem he's been facing his entire career: playing time. Right now, he could start at the small forward position, but there's plenty of competition in the form of Martell Webster and, to a smaller extent, James Jones. My biggest concern is that Nate McMillan may be tempted to slide Brandon Roy over to small forward in certain situations in order to make room for all the quality point guards on his roster. Outlaw can also play a little power forward, so that helps, but that situation is just as crowded with LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye around. I'm going to love watching Portland games this year, but I'm not sure I'll be loving the Blazers' fantasy prospects outside of Roy, Aldridge and Greg Oden.
With Steve Blake gone, the Denver Nuggets went searching for a point guard, and found their man in veteran Chucky Atkins. Atkins is still a fringe fantasy player, but he should be able to knock down a few 3-pointers and dish out a few assists as the potential starting point guard in Denver. Signing Atkins will allow the Nuggets to move Allen Iverson over to shooting guard, but although Atkins may bring the ball up the court, he won't have the rock in his hands often with AI and Melo around. Atkins may also lose some time to J.R. Smith, but we'll have to see how J.R. responds after a tumultuous offseason before making that claim. That said, I'll still be looking for Atkins in the last few rounds as a 3-point specialist this season.
I'm not really sure why the Sacramento Kings felt the need to go out and get another big man through free agency. Mikki Moore had a very nice season for the Nets in 2006-07, but he's a role player at best, and the Kings already have a logjam in their frontcourt. With Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson, Spencer Hawes, and my personal favorite, Justin Williams, all in the mix, it's hard to imagine any one player having significant value. Injuries have made Miller a shell of his former self, and no other player in that frontcourt can really separate himself from the rest of the pack. Unless there are some trades or injuries, it's looking like the minutes will have to be spread out, which is the worst news any fantasy player could hear.
Crowding seems to be the theme of the day as I've just gotten word that Steve Francis (or as I like to call him, the artist formerly known as the Franchise) has signed with the Houston Rockets. So not only do the Rockets now have Rafer Alston, Luther Head, Mike James and Aaron Brooks (who was sick in Vegas by the way), but now they have Francis too. How many point guards does one team need?
Honestly, this situation isn't even worth discussing at this point of the offseason. There has to be a trade looming somewhere in the distance, and if not, we'll have to see how this situation plays out in preseason action.
I'd much rather talk about Houston's "other" big move this week, acquiring European star Luis Scola. Playing for Euroleague powerhouse Tau Ceramica, Scola put up 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and 70.3 percent from the line in 26.3 minutes per game in 2006-07. He should step in and start immediately at the power forward spot, and he's already got a fan in head coach Rick Adelman, who is ecstatic about the power forward's off-ball movement and passing skills. The addition of Scola will be a big blow to Chuck Hayes, who was looking like a very nice sleeper after his impressive second half last season.
I was just thinking that this offseason hasn't really produced many fantasy "winners" through free agency. Other than Darko Milicic, I was struggling to find a player who really benefited from any of the free-agent moves thus far. That was, until Morris Peterson agreed to terms with the New Orleans Hornets, of course.
Mo Pete will immediately step in as the starting shooting guard, and with his range, he'll undoubtedly benefit from Chris Paul's ability to penetrate and dish. The fact that Peja Stojakovic's health will still be a question -- I know he's apparently healthy, but I'm not one who likes to gamble with severe back injuries -- makes Peterson all the more attractive. Look for a big bounce-back year from Peterson with averages of 15 points, 1.7 3s and 1.2 steals looking like realistic projections.
For the first time since Kenyon Martin left, the Nets will finally have some presence and muscle in their frontcourt. First, they took a gamble on Sean Williams in the draft, then they went out and signed former All-Star Jamaal Magloire. Magloire averaged just 6.5 points, 6.1 boards and 0.8 blocks with the Trail Blazers last season, but then again, he only saw 21.1 minutes of action per game. His numbers were much better as a starter, when he averaged 27.3 minutes while putting up 8.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 23 starts.
Magloire isn't too light on his feet, and he may have a tough time keeping up with the fast pace of the NBA, but he can still be a useful commodity for boards and blocks. Despite my optimism, there are still plenty of concerns when it comes to Magloire's fantasy value. His signing prompted this discussion with my colleague at the TalentedMrRoto.com, Guy Lake:
Lake: Money says Magloire creeps up cheat sheets again, because he's in New Jersey with Kidd.
McKitish: Hmm. I kind of like him this year. He did well when he was on the court last year, and he probably starts over Jason Collins and Sean Williams.
Lake: See, he's even got you. He'll burn us again, especially in free-throw percentage and turnovers. I just hate the damage he does in those two categories.
McKitish: I'll take him late. Plus, he's really just boards and blocks in Jersey. How involved in the offense can he be with Kidd, Carter, Jefferson and Krstic handling the rock so much? He can't have that many turnovers. At least that's my theory.
Lake: Makes sense, but the dude has 10 thumbs. He's a magician when it comes to turnovers. Makes them appear out of thin air and makes possessions disappear. Plus, he'll still kill you from the line. You can probably tell I was burned by him a few years back.
Weren't we all, Guy, weren't we all? The above conversation is exactly what the Magloire signing really boils down to in the fantasy game. You'll probably be able to get him late, but will you be willing to sacrifice some turnovers and free-throw percentage in order to gain only moderately in boards and blocks?
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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