We kick off of the 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit with the debut article on the site by Herija Green, who brings a tremendous amount of sports writing experience to us. I’m sure you’ll love his stuff.
On the surface, it might make some sense to begin my scintillating six-part NBA preview with the defending champion Boston Celtics and a look at the Atlantic Division, but since I make my home in beautiful Southern California, we’re going to kick things off with the Pacific Division. Then we’ll tackle the other five divisions as we get closer to the start of the season.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25)
Lost in NBA Finals
After the Grizzlies gift-wrapped Pau Gasol in early February, the Lakers made huge strides in 2007-08, jumping from first-round fodder to championship contender. There’s no question they caught some breaks in the playoffs – primarily against the Spurs when Manu Ginobili was gimped by an ankle injury – but overall, they looked like the best in West, earning them a showdown with the Celtics.
Boston exposed some significant Laker weaknesses during the Finals – rebounding, toughness, perimeter defense by anyone not named Bryant – and embarrassed them in a non-competitive Game Six to win the championship. The Lakers return largely intact this year minus energy guy and notorious
salad towel tosser Ronny Turiaf (Warriors), but the big addition is the return of Andrew Bynum, whose absence is the crux of any argument from fans that think the Lake Show is set for another title run.
While that makes for good water cooler talk, the reality of the situation is that we’ve yet to see how the combination of Gasol, Bynum and Lamar Odom will function in the frontcourt together since none of them looks to be quick enough to defend opposing small forwards. Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar vanished in the Finals, and Derek Fisher is another year older. Kobe Bryant is still in his prime, but between the playoffs and the Olympics, he has logged a ton of minutes in the last 12 months, plus there’s that whole thing about delaying surgery on his injured pinkie – if that backfires and Bryant needs the surgery in-season, the Lakers could be in a world of trouble.
Guy I like…Farmar – Despite a ghastly performance against Boston, Farmar looks to be the best of the backcourt options opposite Bryant. He’s got speed and a decent outside touch, and I’d look for the Lakers to limit Fisher’s minutes a bit more in ’08-09.
Guy I hate…Odom – His ability to fill up a box score is tantalizing, but he’s not a natural three and has the tendency to disappear for long stretches. If things don’t work out with the Lakers’ giant frontcourt he’s the one that will get sent packing. Durability (65 games per season over his career) and toughness (both physical and emotional) are also concerns.
PHOENIX SUNS (55-27)
Lost in First Round
The Suns were on cruise control with a 34-15 record before dealing Shawn Marion to the Heat for Shaquille O’Neal in early February, and then they went just 21-12 from that point to fall to the sixth seed and a first-round matchup with their nemesis, the Spurs. The move was an all-in play for a championship, but O’Neal’s style didn’t mesh with Phoenix’s up-tempo pace and it ended up looking like an ill-advised panic move. Head coach Mike D’Antoni left for much greener pastures (read: money) during the offseason, and despite rumours aplenty surrounding speedy but erratic Leandro Barbosa and underachieving Boris Diaw, the roster is a familiar one.
The hiring of Terry Porter, a former NBA point guard, should help keep things moving offensively, and the Suns still two boast two of the league’s best in Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, but their window of opportunity is nearly closed. Nash (34), O’Neal (36) and Grant Hill (35) are all getting long in the tooth, and it’s imperative that Porter do a better job than D’Antoni of distributing minutes during the regular season to keep his veterans fresh for the playoffs. If he can successfully integrate youngsters Alando Tucker and Robin Lopez into the rotation, the Suns might actually have something left come April and May. If not, it might just be time to blow this thing up for 2009-10 when Shaq’s mammoth contract suddenly becomes a potentially attractive bargaining chip.
Guy I like… Tucker – This is a bit of a flier, but Hill can’t average 32 minutes per game again in ’08-09, and Tucker was a scoring machine at the University of Wisconsin. He’s a great athlete and a natural fit for Phoenix’s wide-open style. D’Antoni missed the boat on Tucker – hopefully Porter doesn’t do the same.
Guy I hate… Nash – Sure, he’ll still rack up a bunch of assists, but he tired badly down the stretch and there has been off-season talk of resting him throughout the season to keep him fresh. While that may mean reduced minutes at some points, it’ll probably mean additional days off as well, which isn’t exactly what fantasy owners want out of a first-round pick.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (48-34)
The Warriors were the association’s hard-luck team last year, finishing with the NBA’s 12th-best record, but only ninth-best in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Things didn’t get much better in the offseason as they lost Baron Davis, Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes to free agency, re-signed Monta Ellis to a big-money extension only to watch him get injured and then lie about the circumstances, and dished out a fat free-agent contract to Corey Maggette, who plays the same game as any other number of players already on their roster.
It’s hard to envision the Warriors leapfrogging over anyone to get into the playoffs this year, especially with the Trail Blazers ready to add Greg Oden to one of the NBA’s best young lineups. Golden State has too many weapons not to put some serious points on the board, but it doesn’t play much defense and might miss the intangibles Davis brought to the table when healthy and not openly feuding with head coach Don Nelson. Look for the Warriors to slip back towards the .500 mark while leading the league in 125-117 losses this year.
Guy I like… Andris Biedrins – He quietly pieced together a pretty good season last year and could be even better without Davis launching 22-foot fade-away jumpers with 19 seconds on the shot clock. There’s already talk of an increased offensive role for Biedrins while Ellis is on the mend, and if he can establish himself during that time we could be talking about a 15-12 guy instead of a 10-10.
Guy I hate…Stephen Jackson – Yes, he’s a potentially explosive scorer, but he’s also bat shit crazy and doesn’t have Davis to keep him on the straight and narrow. I can’t see him approaching 20 points per game again in 2008-09 with Maggette on board. I look for him and/or Al Harrington to be dealt during the season.
SACRAMENTO KINGS (38-44)
The Kings used to be one of the NBA’s best-run franchises, but somewhere along the line the Maloofs decided they cared more about eating cheeseburgers with a $6,000 bottle of merlot than putting a viable contender on the court. They rid themselves of Mike Bibby last year and unloaded the always colourful (a polite word for insane) Ron Artest during the offseason. They’ve got a ton of guys with contracts that run out after the 2009-10 season and looked to be positioning themselves for a full rebuild the following year, but that amazingly didn’t stop them from pissing away north of $30 million to control Beno Udrih’s rights for the next five seasons.
Sacramento has a couple nice pieces in place with Kevin Martin looking like the real deal and Brad Miller still a solid frontcourt player, but it’s also saddled with the likes of Shelden Williams (primed to take Tony Battie’s infamous title of “El Busto”) and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who I swear I saw dealing blackjack at the Palms during the offseason in what had to be an effort to recoup some small part of the nearly $13 million he’s still owed. The Kings did ink Bobby Brown to a deal during the offseason, but unfortunately it wasn’t that Bobby Brown, which means there will in fact be no humpin’ around this season…and probably not much winning either.
Guy I like…Martin – I hate to designate a team’s best player here because it tends to elicit the old “no shit” response from readers, but Sacramento doesn’t offer much else. Martin is a capable scorer and decent rebounder, and without Artest around he could push his scoring average over 25 or 26 points per game. If you’re looking for a semi-sleeper, I’ve got my eye on John Salmons.
Guy I hate…Udrih – Call me old fashioned, but I like my fantasy point guard to actually, you know, get some assists. The 26-year-old was serviceable last year, but was given a nice new deal in the offseason, which means I’m not expecting better than the 12.8 points and 4.3 assists per game he managed last year. He’s got Marko Jaric written all over him – don’t say you weren’t warned.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (23-59)
Elton Brand’s injury killed the Clippers in 2007-08, and his shady departure following the Davis signing may kill them again in ’08-09. Brand was reportedly instrumental in getting Davis to sign with the Clips, but then instead of re-upping with the club, he inked a long-term deal with the 76ers. To LA’s credit, it swung a deal for Marcus Camby, which gives the Clippers a nice interior one-two punch defensively with everybody’s favourite German, Chris Kaman. They let Maggette walk and look ready to give his job to Al Thornton, who showed some real promise as a rookie. Drafting Eric Gordon was another good move as Cuttino Mobley is average at best, and I also like the addition of Steve Novak, a lights-out shooter who should benefit from Davis’ ability to penetrate and Camby/Kaman pounding the glass for reloads.
The two big questions for LA’s “other” team is whether Davis can stay healthy – the Clips signed “White Chocolate” Jason Williams to back him up, but that’d be a major downgrade – and how Camby plays after being unceremoniously dumped by the Nuggets. With an inspired performance from the former Defensive Player of the Year and 70-plus games out of Davis the Clippers could make an unexpected push for a playoff spot.
Guy I like…Thornton – He averaged 16 points and almost six rebounds per game after the All-Star break last year, and with the team’s leading scorer from last year (Maggette) out of the picture, Thornton could push towards the 20 PPG plateau.
Guy I hate…Davis – I always worry about a borderline star that just signed a big deal, and when that same guy hadn’t played 70 games since 2001-02 before last season I get even more worried. Plus, Davis seems more interested in infiltrating Hollywood than he does winning NBA championships. I mean, how long before he and Sylvester Stallone are collaborating on a new reality-based sports show for ESPN that centres on competing to be the Clippers’ 15th man? The answer: Not soon enough…but I’m still not drafting him.