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Friday, June 21, 2024
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"For Better or Worse, NBA Will Play With Off-Season Swaps"

Each new day brings sports fans that much closer to the start of the 2001-2002 National Basketball Association season. The season promises to be an intriguing one, as many teams have dished out millions of dollars for free agents in efforts to remain competitive and challenge for playoff spots.

The off-season garnered much attention, most notably in the continuing speculation about a Michael Jordan comeback. Jordan kept his fans guessing until just a few weeks ago, when he finally revealed he would return in a Washington Wizards uniform, a decision that by then seemed inevitable.

While public attention has been concentrated on Jordan, several clubs made significant changes; some for the better, some for the worse.

Eastern Conference

The New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns completed one of the summer's marquee trades, swapping big-time stars Jason Kidd and Stephon Marbury. Although it appears both squads will benefit tremendously from the deal, most, including myself, believe the Nets got the better half, considering Kidd's all-court abilities and mental approach. Marbury is better known for his scoring abilities and tendency to be a one-man show.

On the flip side, the Chicago Bulls, who not too long ago dominated this league, showed no signs of breaking loose from their horrid play of the last few years by trading Elton Brand. This may prove a trade-in they tremendously regret making in the not-too-distant future.

The Toronto Raptors continue to show that even Canada can produce a fine basketball organization by accomplishing their main off-season goal of locking franchise player Vince Carter into a long-term deal. They also managed to further strengthen their playoff-bound roster with the addition of some quality veterans, including future hall of famer Hakeem Olajuwon to starting center. Look out for this team, definitely a fierce Eastern Conference contender.

The Atlanta Hawks proved to be one of the more surprising teams this off-season by totally revamping their line-up. They signed defense-minded center Theo Ratliff, offensively-talented forwards Toni Kukoc and Nazar Muhammad, as well as highly regarded small-forward Shareff Abdul-Rahim. All around, the team improved significantly and is looking to push for a playoff spot, which may not be too far out of reach.

In mid-summer the New York Knicks continued to raise eyebrows when they threw a $100 million contract at Allan Houston. Houston has proven himself to be a steady scorer, but not a star or a man to build your franchise around. In effect, they all but eliminated their chances of signing Chris Webber, or at the very least a mid-talented big man, hence ignoring their first priority. The team should remain competitive in the Eastern Conference, but falter in the second round of playoffs to a more well-rounded club like the Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks.

Then there are those eastern teams that remained relatively conservative in the off-season.

Defending Eastern Conference champions Philadelphia 76ers will enter the new season with a few question marks and at the heels of completing a huge three-team deal. The 76ers obtained Derrick Coleman from the Charlotte Hornets, who were sick of his poor attitude. In exchange for Coleman, the Hornets got forwards George Lynch, Robert Traylor and Jerome Moiso from Philadelphia and forward Chris Porter from the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors got forward Cedric Henderson and a conditional first-round draft pick in 2005 from Philadelphia, as well as cash from the Hornets. The Sixers also received guard Vonteego Cummings and forward Corie Blount from Golden State.

Reigning MVP Allen Iverson has yet to fully recover from nagging injuries sustained to his shoulder and ankle last year. Without Iverson at 100 percent it is hard to imagine his team playing as tough as they did last year, or gliding through the regular season with such ease.

Several other Sixers starters will enter the season hobbled, including Aaron Mckie, Eric Snow and Dikembe Mutombo. As a result, second-year man Speedy Claxton will be forced to carry more weight on his shoulders early on, and keep his team near the top of the standings until the team heals.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks' biggest acquisition was Greg Foster. The team hopes another year of its core players working together will further unify the squad and improve the team all around. These players include Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and Glen Robinson.

Despite the Hornets' persistent financial woes, they somehow managed to field a competitive team led by developing star point-guard Baron Davis and power forward Jamal Mashburn, who is coming off his best year. The huge trade further increases their depth. They are another team that will stay very competitive in the NBA East, and with this latest deal could go as far as the NBA finals.

The Orlando Magic's greatest feat this summer was getting Grant Hill healthy enough to play. Hill will fit nicely into the mix with Tracy McGrady, and could cause problems for many teams if he stays healthy. Look for the team to have a good year, and challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.

Teams not mentioned, including the Heat, Celtics, Cavaliers, Pistons and Pacers, were not ambitious in the free agent market and for the most part kept their rosters intact. Don't expect much from them this year; making the playoffs would be a huge surprise for any of them.

Western Conference

Early in the off-season the Sacramento Kings won perhaps the biggest victory of them all, re-signing mega superstar Chris Webber to a $100 million-plus long-term deal. On top of that, they unloaded highly overrated point-guard Jason Williams, and in return received improving point-guard Mike Bibby and second-year-player Mateen Cleaves.

On the reverse side, the Houston Rockets could be in a deep hole, as Hakeem "The Dream" was lost in free agency to the Toronto Raptors. The team lacks any solid veteran leadership; its success will rest on the shoulders of a bunch of unproven youngsters led by star shooting-guard Steve Francis.

The Los Angeles Clippers brought new optimism to the long-dismal franchise with the blockbuster acquisition of center/power forward Elton Brand. At 22 years old, and with two years of experience under his belt, Brand is expected to only get better and make the Clippers a perennial playoff contender year-in and year-out.

The Utah Jazz are a team that will still challenge for a playoff spot, but age and lack of depth will prevent them from advancing past the first round of the playoffs. Karl Malone will still score and rebound frequently, and Stockton will still play good defense and tally up assists. Beyond that, this team is without direction and will hit a brick wall come playoff time.

The Mavericks had a franchise year last season, advancing to the second round of the playoffs. This year, they remain intact while unloading both Howard Eisley and Calvin Booth. Over the summer they added veterans Danny Manning and Tim Hardaway for depth. Expect another solid season from this squad.

San Antonio nearly lost David Robinson early in the off season by submitting an embarrassing first contract offer, but soon after re-signed him with a more reasonable deal. Derek Anderson was lost to free agency, but they signed pure-shooting-guard Steve Smith. With Tim Duncan in the last year of this contract, this team needs to win now, although it will take a miracle to do so.

Portland looked so promising two years ago. My, how things have changed. After a largely disappointing year, Steve Smith, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony are all gone. In have come Derek Anderson, Steve Kerr and a rehabbed Shawn Kemp, among others. This team has the potential, but all hope will fall through in the first round of the playoffs.

While the Warriors are in rebuilding mode with three heavily touted but unproven rookies, the Timberwolves kept their core, re-signed Joe Smith and remained relatively neutral in the off-season free agent market.

The Sonics, Grizzles and Nuggets are all headed south in the standings. They are marked by poor personnel, shaky front offices and unhappy players. These teams are doomed to fail.

Finally, the champion Los Angeles Lakers remained intact, while adding Lindsey Hunter and Mitch Richmond. Look for this team to again challenge for the title with Kobe Bryant and Shaq at the helm.

Enough Said.



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