Blazers make big additions in backcourt
|Rating the offseason|
|Aldridge: Teams 1-10|
|Aldridge: Teams 11-20|
|Aldridge: Teams 21-30|
11. Portland Trail Blazers
2003-04 RECORD: 41-41, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Sebastian Telfair (1st round, draft); G Viktor Khryapa (1st round, draft); G Nick Van Exel (acquired from Golden State)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: C Dale Davis (traded to Golden State)
Telfair should be good, some day, and while the Blazers will have major cap room next summer, they have roster problems now, with log jams at point guard, shooting guard and small forward. Unless GM John Nash can get Arvydas Sabonis to come out of retirement, he doesn't have a lot of big man depth behind Theo Ratliff. So why do I have Portland rated so high? Because the Blazers brought back assistant coach Tim Grgurich, who is simply the best at what he does on the planet -- working with and getting the most out of young talent. Ask guys like Eric Snow how Grgruich spends hours with them perfecting one move, or retrieving balls for guys that shoot for hours. You don't hear his name mentioned in public often because he's allergic to the media, but we know, Tim. We know.
12. Charlotte Bobcats
2003-04 RECORD: N/A
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F/C Emeka Okafor (1st round, draft); F/C Melvin Ely (acquired from Clippers); F Gerald Wallace (picked in expansion draft from Sacramento)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None
Considering they started with nothing, you have to give GM Bernie Bickerstaff credit for moving up in the draft to get Okafor -- the perfect face for a new franchise trying to win back skeptical Charlotte hearts -- and to be able to get the underrated Ely from the Clippers when a dozen other teams wanted the second-year forward. In three years, those two and Wallace will be the only guys still on the current roster. But three young, athletic bigs in the first go-round is pretty impressive. The Bobcats were hurt a little when top assistant Sam Mitchell went to Toronto; it seemed like he was being groomed to take over on the bench when Bickerstaff kicks himself upstairs. Team president Ed Tapscott has assembled a first-rate organization, but the bigger question is what owner Bob Johnson will do in three years, when he'll have a full cap and have to spend the dollars necessary to either retain his own guys or bring in impact free agents. So far, Johnson seems more interested in getting his regional sports network off the ground.
13. Philadelphia 76ers
2003-04 RECORD: 33-49, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Andre Iguodala (1st round, draft); F Brian Skinner (unrestricted free agent, Milwaukee); G Kevin Ollie (acquired from Cleveland)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: G Eric Snow (traded to Cleveland)
The Sixers are trying to cut costs, but they're doing it while adding solid players for new coach Jim O'Brien. Obie's presence is the bigger deal. If the Sixers gravitate to him half as much as his Celtics players did, you won't hear any more talk about trading Iverson. It says here that O'Brien will get through to Iverson the same way that Brown did his first two or three seasons, and when the coach and star are on the same page, everyone else has to fall in line. Philly's trying to get back to the annoying defensive style that got them to the Finals -- which just happens to be the way that O'Brien wants to play. Swingman Iguodala fits the mold perfectly -- athletic and long -- and Skinner, in his second go-round in Philly, should help Sam Dalembert on the glass. Philly still has too many holes to be a real contender in the East, but the slide toward the bottom should stop.
14. New Orleans Hornets
2003-04 RECORD: 41-41, lost in first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G J.R. Smith (1st round, draft); F Chris Anderson (unrestricted free agent, Denver); F Morris Peterson (restricted free agent, Toronto)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None
I like Anderson as an energy guy behind Jamaal Magloire, and Smith can certainly shoot. But that's not a huge talent upgrade. We give New Orleans the benefit of the doubt because Byron Scott should be an upgrade over Tim Floyd. Players have to believe in their coach, and nothing against Floyd, who did the best he could, but the Hornets were a .500 team for four months after their hot start -- which leads one to believe that the players had lost faith. New Orleans will miss GM Bob Bass, one of the league's more underrated executives, who kept his team stocked with players for years. Bass did a lot of the heavy lifting for new GM Allan Bristow already by re-signing Magloire to a three-year deal last fall. There should be a fire under Scott, who still has to overcome the perception that he was more a CEO in New Jersey than the head coach. New assistant Darrell Walker, who never met a fight he wouldn't win, will have Scott's back.
15. Boston Celtics
2003-04 RECORD: 36-46, lost in first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F Al Jefferson (1st round, draft); G Tony Allen (1st round, draft); G Delonte West (1st round, draft)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None
The last time Boston had three first-round picks, the Celtics chose Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte. Um, that didn't turn out good. The C's tried to move into the top 10 in the draft, but wound up with high schooler Al Jefferson at 15 and are delighted. They may also have gotten a steal at 24 in Allen, whose presence makes me wonder about Paul Pierce's long-term future in Beantown. I know Danny Ainge says he's not going to move Pierce, and that may be true. Today. Re-signing Mark Blount was important. He's not a great player, but after taking a blowtorch to the roster last season, Ainge needed stability. He'll also need a big season next year from Raef LaFrentz, who missed the second half of last season, and increased development from Marcus Banks and Kendrick Perkins. I don't think John Carroll did a bad job as interim coach after Jim O'Brien resigned, but Ainge obviously has a better comfort level with Doc Rivers. Their relationship is crucial to the Celtics' chances of a rebound. Neither had a strong bond with their former counterparts (Ainge with O'Brien; Rivers with John Gabriel); they have to be on the same page now. Rivers is a great salesman; his lobbying was a key factor in Blount's decision to stay. Doc did a strong job early in his Orlando tenure with a team of no-names. Other than Pierce, he's going to have the same kind of group in Boston.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves
2003-04 RECORD: 58-24, lost in Western Conference finals
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: None
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None
Status quo for a team this close to the Finals is usually a good thing: Latrell Sprewell opted not to opt out of his contract, keeping Minnesota from having to fill a big hole, and the Wolves moved quickly to re-sign guard Troy Hudson before he really got on the open market. Hudson's absence from the playoffs may well have kept the Wolves from the Finals. But in the West, doing nothing is doing 55 in the right lane. And without one last first-round pick (the final penance for Joe Smith), Minnesota couldn't even take a young big man to develop, and it's not likely that 2003 first-rounder Ndudi Ebi will be ready to make a big contribution next season. It would surprise me if Minnesota started next season with the same Ervin Johnson-Michael Olowokandi duo in the middle. Normally, you hear a lot of Wally Szczerbiak trade talk in the summer, but things have been quiet along those lines; World proved in the playoffs that he and Fred Hoiberg are a pretty good combo off the bench. Assuming Minnesota gets Trenton Hassell re-signed, the Wolves have had a good summer. But they're a big man short. In the West, that can be fatal.
17. Los Angeles Lakers
2003-04 RECORD: 56-26, lost in NBA Finals
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Sasha Vujacic (1st round, draft); F Lamar Odom (acquired from Miami); F Caron Butler (acquired from Miami); F/C Brian Grant (acquired from Miami); C Vlade Divac (unrestricted free agent, Sacramento)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: C Shaquille O'Neal (traded to Miami); G Derek Fisher (signed with Golden State)
I've spent the past week or so reading about how the Lakers, to put it delicately, are about to go into the toilet. Let me paint a slightly more bullish scenario. No matter his role in the demise of Phil Jackson and departure of O'Neal, Kobe Bryant is still the best player in the NBA, and that's a start. Freed to do what he does best, he could be a weapon the likes of which the L hasn't seen since the early days of well, you know who. And, the Lakers will be a younger, more athletic team next season, capable of doing different things than in previous years -- especially with Odom, who will create matchup problems playing alongside Bryant -- if he can stay at small forward. Plus, people seem to be totally devaluing Rudy Tomjanovich as a coach. T didn't just sit around and smoke cigarettes on the way to back-to-back titles in Houston, you know. Also, the Lakers won't be cash poor next season, starting a new local cable television deal that will pump millions into Jerry Buss' pockets over the next few years. The bottom line is the bottom line; the Lakers are no longer a dominant team. But they aren't going to fall over a cliff, either.
18. Los Angeles Clippers
2003-04 RECORD: 28-54, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: G Shaun Livingston (1st round, draft)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: F/C Melvin Ely (traded to Charlotte)
There was much teeth-knashing and boo-hooing in Clipper Nation when Bryant, to the surprise of absolutely no one except the Clippers and my man Stein (the monkeys are ready to roll, Steiny), decided to stay with the Lakers. Here's one voice saying relax, things will be fine. Especially since they were able to get Livingston, whom many scouts believe will be the best point guard in the league in three years. Maybe it's me, but I don't know if that would happen if he had to give the rock to the Kobester every time up the floor. Assuming the Clips match Phoenix's offer sheet for Quentin Richardson, the starting five isn't bad at all, and L.A. should still have a little bit of room left for next summer. Still, I'm not buying the notion that because the Clippers were in the final two in the Kobe Sweepstakes, that's worked some kind of magic on Donald Sterling's reputation. Only winning -- and paying to keep the winning going -- will stop the rolling of that rock.
19. Washington Wizards
2003-04 RECORD: 25-57, did not make playoffs
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: F Antawn Jamison (acquired from Dallas)
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: G Jerry Stackhouse (traded to Dallas)
The Wiz didn't want one more kid on their roster, so they traded what became Devin Harris to Dallas for Jamison's 20 points a game. In the East, Jamison should be able to do a little more on the low block and give Kwame Brown room to operate. Most of Washington's improvements have to come from the existing roster, especially Brown, second-year forward Jarvis Hayes and third-year forward Jared Jeffries. Hayes could stretch the floor for everyone with his range, but he looked lost on the floor in his rookie season. Fully healthy after an ACL tear his rookie season, Jeffries looked strong in the summer league, but you know what that and 50 cents will buy you. But the biggest key is Brown. He showed a definite uptick last season, putting up some big numbers on the likes of Chris Webber. But it's decision time for GM Ernie Grunfeld; Brown is in his option year and the Wizards are going to have to ante up next summer if they want to keep Brown around. Washington also needs a healthy season and more maturity from Gilbert Arenas, who teased when on the floor last season with his ease in scoring -- and drove everyone in D.C. crazy with his turnovers. Eddie Jordan really likes second-year point Steve Blake, and the Wizards better take notice, because a half-dozen other teams do, too. But Washington's best hope comes from realignment; in a new division with Orlando, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami, the Wizards should at least compete.
20. New York Knicks
2003-04 RECORD: 39-43, lost in first round
SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS: None
SIGNIFICANT LOSSES: None
Isiah Thomas is trying everything -- Jamal Crawford from the Bulls, Antoine Walker from the Mavs, Erick Dampier from the Warriors, Vince Carter from the Raptors. I don't think he'll get all of that done, but he'll get something done. Watching Thomas as the Knicks got filleted by the Nets in the playoffs was all the evidence you needed that he knew his roster wasn't near good enough to compete for real. Any of those proposed moves will take the Knicks even further over the cap, but owner Jim Dolan still doesn't seem to care about costs. With the demise of the Nets, the Knicks are top dog again in the greater NYC. But that's obviously not enough. Which is why, even if Allan Houston returns to health next season, Thomas is shopping everyone on his team except for Stephon Marbury. Sooner or later, someone will bite.
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