View Full Version : Insider - Offseason Moves

10-15-2003, 03:15 AM
A part of this was posted on the main board, he is the rest.

Which teams made the right moves?
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, October 14
Updated: October 14
10:34 AM ET

Cavs GM Jim Paxson leads a charmed life. After doing his best to dismantle and then dismantle again the lowly Cavs, Paxson knew that that his job and his career in the NBA came down to a few hundred ping-pong balls in May. When the lottery balls fell his way, Paxson went from the Cavs' black widow to its savior overnight.

He got things right on draft night when he took LeBron James. James, almost overnight, breathed new life into the franchise. The arena started selling out. The jerseys flew off the shelves. The players suddenly wanted to play in Cleveland. Dogs and cats began living together.

And Paxson, bless his heart, got a big, fat extension.

If only it were so easy.

Rarely are the big decisions made in the summer so black and white. Franchises will be born and die this season based on decisions that were and weren't made by GMs and free agents in June and July.

As the season gets underway, Insider puts on its 20-20 hindsight glasses and asks . . . who made the right call?

Will a short-term fix rob the Lakers of a future? Don't hand another ring to Phil Jackson just yet. Sure, on paper, the additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton this summer make the Lakers roster look like a dream team. But will they play that way?

Some scouts argue that the Lakers didn't need more veterans. What they needed were young, talented legs to inject life into a franchise that gets creakier by the minute. The only significant young player on the Lakers entire roster is Kobe Bryant. With his legal issues moving from a storm into a hurricane, even if he does make it through this season, there's no guarantee that he won't flee the bright lights of L.A. after the season (he has an opt out in his contract) and try to find a more peaceful home (and a more supportive coach) somewhere else. If he does, savor this season Lakers fans. Next year, you'll be fighting for the eight seed in the West.

Darko over Carmelo? Give this to Joe Dumars. He didn't hesitate. Upon learning that his Pistons had obtained a surprising No. 2 pick in the draft, he picked up the phone and called Marc Cornstein, Darko Milicic's agent, and said essentially, welcome to the family. That night, Dumars, who just happened to be in New York for his team's playoff game versus the Nets, sat with Cornstein and Milicic in his suite at the Plaza and toasted to a bright future in Detroit.

Darko Milicic's size and versatility should make him more valuable than Carmelo Anthony.
The Pistons weren't the only ones that felt this way. The Nuggets, had they gotten No. 2, likely would've taken Darko as well. But as the season gets under way, and Carmelo is lighting things up, the question is already being raised: Did the Pistons make a mistake? The argument is that Detroit needs scorers, and Anthony's ability to step in and play right away would've given the Pistons a better shot at a title now.

The flip side, which allows Dumars to sleep at night, is this. In three years, when Darko catches up from a maturity standpoint, who will be the better player? Most likely, Carmelo will always be the better scorer. But Darko's versatility in a 7-foot-1 frame will make him more valuable. His toughness, aggressiveness in the paint, and his athleticism for his size will help him dominate down low for years. An NBA career is a marathon, not a sprint. In the long run, the Pistons should come out of this with one of the most dominant big men in the game. If they do, Dumars isn't just a genius, he's a visionary -- because everyone knows it takes two all-star small forwards to make up for one dominant big man in the vertically challenged East.

Can Mark Cuban buy a title? Another year, another max player for the Dallas Mavericks. After flirting with, and being rejected by Alonzo Mourning, Cuban panicked and traded away their most explosive bench player (Nick Vn Exel) for Antawn Jamison. While Jamison is younger, taller and also an excellent scorer, he wasn't the tough blue collar rebounder the Mavs needed. Maybe Danny Fortson (who was also acquired in the trade) is, but given his medical history, our skepticism will hang around for a while.

If he isn't, Cuban may have painted himself into a corner that he can't buy his way out of. Once the team re-signs point guard Steve Nash this summer, it will have a roster full of players with outrageous, immovable contracts. With everyone, including Paul Allen now, tightening their belts, Cuban's ability to move one of them to get that final piece in place has become more difficult every year. Unless he's willing to part with Dirk Nowitzki (he'd be foolish to), the Mavs days of wheeling and dealing may be over. If you're a Mavs fan, you better pray that the hand Cuban dealt you was the right one. You're going to be stuck with it for a while. Just ask Bob Whitsitt and Scott Layden how it feels.

Will Mt. Mutombo cast a shadow over the Nets? Signing Alonzo Mourning this summer was a slam dunk for New Jersey. He was part of the package that also gave them Jason Kidd. But dumping Mutombo as a cost cutting move may come back to haunt him. If Mourning doesn't stay healthy. If Jason Collins isn't ready to be a 35-minute-a-night center. If they suffer one big injury in the middle, the Nets will struggle this year against teams like the Pistons, who are suddenly super-sized in the middle.

Argue all you want that Mutombo wasn't going to play any minutes in the Nets up tempo style. On paper you're right. But it just takes one bad fall, and Mutombo, even at the age of 87, would start looking pretty good in the middle.

How long will it take Flip Saunders to hurl himself off the Target Center? Kevin
Flip Saunders could be the fall guy if the T-Wolves fall short this season.
McHale upgraded the talent and got his wish -- a long-term extension from Kevin Garnett. Will it make a difference? The T-Wolves are loaded, but someone better hang a "Handle with Care" sign on the door. Garnett's explosiveness cost them a chance to re-sign Rasho Nesterovic, who turned down more money in Minnesota to get away from KG. Now add Sam Cassell, whose mouth works faster than his motor, Latrell Sprewell (already skipping practice and preseason games), Michael Olowokandi (complaining about his touches in his street clothes) and Wally (who could barely handle what KG dished out) and you wonder how long it will take McHale to sign Eminem to a five-year deal.

All coaches love to have lots of talent, but you think Saunders is privately sweating this thing out. These guys are all locked into long-term deals. If things go south, it may be Saunders who must pack his bags this time. The key will be coming out of the gate quickly. Success covers up even the most combustible chemistry issues. If the team stumbles early, the smack will be deafening.

Did the Jazz and Nuggets miss a golden opportunity? Both the Jazz and Nuggets had enough cap space this summer to land two superstars. The Wizards and Heat had enough to land just one. But when the smoke cleared in late August, the Wizards and Heat were the teams with young players who had superstar potential. The Jazz and Nuggets? GM Kevin O'Connor made bids to four players -- Elton Brand, Andre Miller, Corey Maggette and Jason Terry. Brand and Miller flirted with the Jazz before signing elsewhere. Maggette and Terry signed on, only to watch their offers matched by their home teams. The Nuggets flirted with Alonzo Mourning before eventually securing Miller, Earl Boykins, Jon Barry and Voshon Lenard.

Should they have done more to secure a star? Neither O'Connor nor Kiki Vandeweghe wanted to overpay for a guy. But sometimes, when you play in a small market, you have to do just that to lure a superstar. At the heart of the firestorm for the Jazz was Miller. They wanted him, but not at the price he was asking. Now with Raul Lopez and Carlos Arroyo running the point, they have to be looking back and wondering whether Miller (who would've be a great fit in Utah) was worth a little extra dough. Ditto for Maggette. Had the Jazz offered him more, would the Clippers have matched?

In Denver, the key free-agent in question was Gilbert Arenas. The Nuggets claim that Miller was their guy all along. I'm a huge fan of Miller and he looks like he's fit in nicely in Denver. But Arenas has a star quality, at age 20, that Miller may never have. The Nuggets needed scoring in the backcourt in the worst way. Miller was a good addition, but had they been willing to spend a few million more, Arenas may have turned out to be an even better one.

Donald Sterling opened his wallet, but did he open it enough? Pat Donald on the back all you want for matching the offers for Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. Both of them deserved the deals they got and have bright futures in the league. But before you go and throw a ticker tape parade for the Clippers, ask yourself, for all of the money that Sterling spent, are the Clips any better?

Maybe, if you think coach Mike Dunleavy is a savior. But on paper, the loss of Andre Miller, Lamar Odom, Michael Olowokandi and Eric Piatkowski for nothing in return stings. As other teams in the West stocked up, the Clippers may have trimmed off too much fat. I'm not saying that Miller, Olowokandi or even Odom were the right fits in L.A. But the Clips stubborn refusal to do sign-and-trades (they had them for Olowokandi, Odom and Miller) has left the Clips back where they started -- a decent, but not great team.

Dunleavy said the other day that he believed the team was going to add one more proven player this summer. It should have been Arenas. The team flirted with him, even made him an offer, but was unwilling to go higher because Odom's future was in doubt. They should have cut Odom loose, paid Arenas what he was asking and swung for the fences. The Clippers needed bold strokes this summer. They got safe ones. It may only be a matter of time before those trade kickers that Brand and Maggette insisted on (in an effort to scare off the Clips) come back to haunt them.

Around the League

It appears there was no truth to the rumors that the Knicks were on the verge of swapping Kurt Thomas and Charlie Ward to the Warriors for Nick Van Exel after they signed Dikembe Mutombo. GM Scott Layden would've loved to have pulled the trigger on that deal, but according to sources, the Warriors are encouraged by Van Exel's attitude in camp.


For months, Thomas has reiterated that he wants to be in New York. Now with Mutombo in the fold, he told the New York Post that he's considering opting out of his contract at the end of the season. His first choice? Dallas of course.

If the Knicks feel there's any truth to the threat, they may want to start working harder to find a trade that makes sense. The team is still looking for a young athletic point guard. We've been hearing the package of Thomas and Ward on the trading block for years. Certainly, someone has to be interested. Ward has a million buyout on his contract this year. Thomas has only one year remaining on his deal if he chooses not to opt out. Financially, it could make a lot of sense for a few teams.

You know the Blazers would move Damon Stoudamire for that deal in a heart beat. Other deals that the may be available to the Knicks?

Pick up the phone and call the Wizards. The Wizards need a player like Thomas to give them some inside toughness. With Gilbert Arenas on board, Larry Hughes is expendable. While Hughes isn't a pure point guard, he's got more upside than anyone playing the position on the Knicks. A deal of Hughes and Jahidi White works under the cap.

Another option? Antonio Davis is begging to get out of there, and the Raptors would love the cap space and the toughness that Thomas provides. If the Raptors threw in their No. 1 draft pick, would the Knicks bite?

Speaking of regrets, are the Celtics having second thoughts about rookie Marcus Banks after a pretty miserable preseason. No one gives up on rookies that fast. But everyone, including Banks, appears to be a little concerned.
"I would say there's one thing that I would like Marcus to do and that's relax," Danny Ainge, director of basketball operations, told the Boston Globe. "I think Marcus is going to be fine and I am just as excited now as I was when we drafted him. He does things you can't teach. He beats his man off the dribble and gets into the paint. His penetration and explosiveness are things you can't teach."

Added coach Jim O'Brien: "He is where he is. I didn't have a pace for him . . . He'll get there. He's a smart kid. He's hungry. He's a good listener. He wants to get better. The coaches spend extra time in the video room with him, explaining his mistakes. If you try to force any number of things down somebody's throat, it not a good learning experience. It's just a gradual process."

It's no big surprise. Very few rookie NBA point guards thrive in the league. It's the hardest position to learn and usually takes three or so years for a point guard to hit his stride -- especially someone like Banks who was more of a combo guard to begin with.

"It's just the transition from college to the NBA," said Banks. "It's just about how fast you learn and, of course, you're going to not catch on too fast. I've got plenty of time, almost 90 something games. I'll take my time and everything will come to me. I'll be all right. When I was in college, I went through the same thing; it's going to take five, six, seven, eight, nine games. It's going to take 20, 30 practices before you start growing as a person and a player and that starts affecting your basketball."

The best new invention of the summer? The No Sweat Wipe. If you've already been to a preseason game, perhaps you've noticed that the NBA towel boys, the kids who sit under the basket and run out to wipe the sweat off the court, have a new weapon at their disposal. The No Sweat Wipe is a long pole with a circular disk attached to the end. Under the disk are a number of towels used to wipe off sweat from the floor.
The inventor got sick of watching multi-million dollar players slip on wet spots on the floor and wondered to himself why teams weren't using a more efficient method of making sure the floors stayed dry. The No Sweat Wipe was born over the summer and has already been adopted by 23 NBA teams.

Which makes you wonder, what are the other six NBA teams thinking? The Jazz, Hornets, Bucks, Raptors, Sonics and Nets are the only teams in the league who have yet to adopt the tool. C'mon guys. Even the Clippers and Warriors have forked over the cash.

Peep Show
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Tuesday, October 14
Updated: October 14
10:25 AM ET

Denver Nuggets: After six days a week of seven-hour workouts, Nikoloz Tskitishvili is making sure no one's taking his lunch money this season. "He got addicted," Nuggets strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess said in the Rocky Mountain News. "He's got a great work ethic anyway, but it got to the point where I'd be like, 'All right, Skita, that's enough.' He is more mentally tough than I could have imagined. Some of the workouts are absolutely grueling." As a result, the 214-pound small forward is now a 243-pound power forward without adding more than 1 percent body fat. "These are not normal numbers," Hess said. "I've been in the NBA eight years, and this is the first time I've seen anyone improve that much and keep his speed and agility."

Los Angeles Lakers: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Lakers can only offer Shaquille O'Neal a two-year extension on his current contract rather than the expected three. Either way, the paper reports that O'Neal would eventually become the highest paid player in the game with the extension worth, at most, million. "There's no doubt this is the most talented, aggressive big guy who's played a basketball game," Coach Phil Jackson said. "For him to have any letdown is going to be either through motivation or he's not kept himself in the kind of condition he has to in the off-season, hasn't taken it that seriously. And injury, to his legs, knees, toe, whatever. That's an important factor for the big guys. But, we watched David Robinson [play nearly to 40] and you look at [Kevin] Willis. They still can play basketball. The big guys can play basketball in their late 30s. There's no reason Shaq shouldn't be a real good player in his! late 30s if he still has an appetite for the game." O'Neal's age was the determining factor in the length of the extension.

New York Knicks: The Knicks offense has been so bad lately that Allan Houston is willing to return to the floor whether he's healthy or not. "It's a lot tougher sitting out when you see everybody struggling," Houston said in the NY Daily News. "I think we just need some chemistry right now. People are still trying to get a feel for their own games. We have to get a feel for what everyone's role is as a unit." Houston is expected to practice for the first time on Thursday and play in Fridays preseason game against the Spurs.

Houston Rockets: Former Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich, a recent cancer survivor, returned to the Toyota Center to take a look at his old team and says that he's feeling fine after quitting smoking and eating better. "I've been up against some things in my life, and here was another one," Tomjanovich said in the Houston Chronicle. "And it was major, just like the other ones were major. I trusted in God and trusted in people, too. The thing I feel is what a fortunate person I am to have so many good, close, loving friends. I never felt alone in this fight, never alone. That's really big."