With the NBA season around the corner, our resident analysts get together to discuss a variety of topics before tip-off. In Part 1 of their 5-part series, Vinny Ginardi, Mike Aurigemma, Michael Cresci, Greg Kaplan and Tom McCarthy discuss the off-season winners last summer.
Vinny Ginardi: I don’t think that there is any doubt that biggest offseason winner was the Los Angeles Lakers. After losing in the conference semifinals in two consecutive years, the Lakers needed to do something to try and catch back up to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Well they did that and more by bringing in two-time MVP Steve Nash and the best center in the league, Dwight Howard, all without having to sacrifice Pau Gasol. That gives the Lakers the best core in the league in Nash, Howard, Gasol and Kobe Bryant. It’s difficult to project how a team of superstars will coexist, but given how different each player’s position is and the general unselfishness that Nash has displayed throughout his career, it’s not unreasonable to think that this bunch will be able to mesh right away.
Los Angeles also made a few unheralded moves that make the team even more dangerous. The Lakers picked up veteran forward Antawn Jamison, who even at 36 years old, can provide valuable scoring and rebounding off the bench. He’s also a different type of forward than Gasol; while Gasol is a great mid-range shooter, Jamison can stretch the floor even more and consistently hit the three-point shot, which will free up the lane for Howard. He’s also capable of playing small forward, which is Los Angeles’ weakest position. Another signing that improve the Lakers chances even more is that of shooting guard Jodie Meeks. While Meeks has proven to be inconsistent at times, he gives the Lakers a different type of identity when Bryant goes to the bench. Meeks could see a lot of open looks from three from penetrations by Nash or double teams given to Howard.
Mike Aurigemma: Just for argument’s sake, I will not pick the Lakers even though it is clear they had a tremendous offseason. In my opinion, the Miami Heat are right up there with them even though some of the players they got may appear like smaller moves.
When a team with LeBron and Wade is able to add two outstanding three point shooters like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis around them it definitely appears to be an outstanding offseason. Not only did they get better with the addition of Allen, but they also weakened their main competition in the Eastern Conference by taking him away from the Celtics. This is something that cannot be overlooked and Allen should easily be able to shoot the ball at a much higher clip. Even with these two coming towards the end of their careers the game will never be easier for them. Can you even imagine trying to cover a lineup of Wade, Allen, James, Lewis and Bosh? I certainly cannot.
Michael Cresci: The Lakers demolished this offseason with the same ferocity with which Warriors fans boo their GM.
That’s boring though so I’m gonna talk about the Minnesota Timberwolves because I’m in love with their decision to take a flyer on Brandon Roy. If Rubio comes back from his injury relatively quickly and Brandon Roy can be 75% of his peak then the core of Rubio-Love-Roy has a lot of potential. Roy’s health as always been a problem but if he can stay healthy then Minnesota snuck a bona fide star onto their team at the 2 guard slot. Kevin Love’s stock has been rising rapidly since last season and I still think he may be the most underrated player in the NBA. He brings so much to the table and increased talent on the wing along, with the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a scoring threat in the middle, should only make him better. Throw in Derrick Williams looking to prove himself (not a lock but he provides another viable body with a lot of upside) and the T’wolves may be building a foundation that can bring them places in a stack Western Conference.
Greg Kaplan: It seems I’m a smidge late to the Lakers love party, so I’m going to throw a curve ball at everyone and say the team that had the best off-season was actually the Brooklyn Nets. When we evaluate which teams had the best off-season, I think we need to look at the complete package. Yes, teams like the Lakers and Heat added significant pieces that reaffirmed their place at or near the top of their respective divisions. However, the Nets were a bottom-feeder last year with seemingly no direction after what many thought was a foolhardy trade that landed them Gerald Wallace for a smattering of unprotected first round draft picks. There was still a ton of buzz around the league that the Nets could or couldn’t get Dwight Howard out of Orlando, and Deron Williams was ready to bolt as a free agent and head to his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
And then, something happened. In the 11th hour of what appeared to be a catastrophic chain of events, the Nets shocked the NBA world by trading for Atlanta Hawks star Joe Johnson. The move was clearly bigger than just that, though. Deron Williams has openly admitted that had the Nets not acquired Johnson, he would’ve been gone as a free agent without hesitation.
While the move effectively removed them from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, they were able to hold to MarShon Brooks (somehow), giving them a solid three-guard line-up of Williams/Brooks/Johnson and a decent enough front court duo of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez to be a powerful team in the East. Add that with the new depth on the bench including Andray Blatche (great low-risk, high reward signing), Mirza Teletovic (one of the better foreign imports this year), Tyshawn Taylor (a steal for that part of the draft) and even Josh Childress (the ‘Fro lives!!), the Nets are primed for a massive jump in the Eastern Conference standings.
Tom McCarthy: Basketball-wise, the Lakers were the biggest winners. They got Steve Nash, one of the best offensive point guards in history and a floor general that Kobe will actually respect and defer to (sometimes) for basically nothing. And they upgraded from Andrew Bynum to Dwight Howard, again without throwing any other pieces of consequence into the deal, and without taking on Turkoglu or Big Baby Davis. I actually don’t think enough has been made of that, because people are greatly overrating Bynum. He might be the second best center in the league, but the gap between him and Howard in terms of basketball ability is much larger than the gap from #1 to #2 at any other position. I know Bynum’s post moves are smoother, but Howard still scored more points per game than him, and that was without a Kobe or Gasol to take the double teams away. Also, because Dwight is so much better as the roll man in the pick and roll, he could actually be a better fit offensively for the Lakers than Bynum would have been, and that’s not even taking the huge defensive upgrade into account. With all of the good news coming out of Lakers camp about Howard’s recovery, this is shaping up to be an awesome year for the storied franchise.