Offseason grades: Eastern Conference
Aug. 4, 2005
By Tony Mejia
CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
Tell Tony your opinion!
The East gained enough strength this offseason that it can no longer be considered the clear weak link of the NBA's two conferences. It was classic Robin Hood, with the poor benefiting from some of the richer Western teams' losses.
As a result, you'll notice a lot of Eastern teams got very high grades for steps taken during the offseason. Friday, when West grades are unveiled, you'll see who paid the heftiest prices.
Phoenix guard Joe Johnson is headed to Atlanta if a sign-and-trade deal is finalized.
Provided the acquisition of Joe Johnson goes through, the Hawks have finally taken a legitimate step toward respectability. Paying for a versatile difference-maker's services just before he truly blows up is not only shrewd but shows a willingness to gamble that makes a statement to the team's sparse fan base that the days of sitting back and simply accepting failure are over. After the worst regular season in the NBA in nearly a decade, Hawks fans finally got a chance to enjoy themselves this offseason between the Johnson rumors, drafting future star Marvin Williams, the courtship of Eddy Curry and the signing promising young center Zaza Pachulia of Milwaukee to an offer sheet. Grade: A+.
The Celtics stuck to their guns and cut ties with Antoine Walker for the second time and opted not to re-sign Gary Payton, meaning they'll continue rebuilding on the run. Last year's division title came as somewhat of a surprise after captain Paul Pierce questioned the direction the franchise was headed in, but the fact is, the shrewd drafting of Danny Ainge made winning possible sooner than later. Another key component was added when electric prep Gerald Green slipped to them in the draft, and the team continued to gamble on young talent with the acquisitions of Qyntel Woods and centers Curtis Borchardt and Albert Miralles. None has proved a thing in the NBA, but the Celtics are hoping at least one pans out. Prying Brian Scalabrine from New Jersey gives them another variable with a solid shooting big man. Grade: B.
As you would expect, the Bobcats weren't a heavy player in the free agent market, continuing to bide their time and build through the draft as they begin their second season. Drafting North Carolina products Raymond Felton and Sean May ensures they'll be able to continue gaining attention despite losing, especially as they move into a state-of-the art-arena. The Bobcats did do some tweaking, shipping out point guard Jason Hart and adding center Jake Voskuhl from Phoenix to complete their frontcourt rotation. They also re-signed Kareem Rush, likely Felton's backcourt mate. Grade: C.
The Bulls' primary goal this offseason was to hang on to their parts, including head coach Scott Skiles, who they came dangerously close to losing. After a few scares with some players, it looks like they'll be able to keep their nucleus intact; Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Chris Duhon and Jannero Pargo are all expected to re-sign. As long as the team continues to grow together and doesn't get complacent, keeping things status quo is all any Bulls fan could have asked for. Grade: B+
It was a given Cleveland was going to get LeBron James a playmate considering their cap flexibility, but what the franchise was able to accomplish went above and beyond expectations. Kudos to new GM Danny Ferry for coming in with a plan to spend owner Dan Gilbert's money and flaunting it freely. When Michael Redd and Ray Allen said no thanks, the team kept plugging away and wrapped up Larry Hughes, whose playmaking abilities will help take pressure off James just the same. Order of business No. 2 was to keep Zydrunas Ilgauskas around, and that too was executed. Next came the addition of Donyell Marshall, who, if focused, will be an absolute steal. The Cavs went after Sarunas Jasikevicius only to lose out to divisional rival Indiana. That one hurt, but expect the Cavs to keep plugging away with other moves that should involve the dealing of power forward Drew Gooden for a more veteran influence and the acquisition of another point guard, with Marko Jaric, Earl Watson and Damon Jones the most likely candidates. The Cavs are clearly not interested in solely making the playoffs. They want to win, and they want to do it now. Grade: A+.
The Pistons' primary concern this offseason has been distancing themselves from their former coach and courting a new, more stable replacement. Both objectives were accomplished. Was it the right move? Probably not. While they certainly had their reasons to terminate Larry Brown, especially with Flip Saunders waiting in the wings, everyone is going to scrutinize the decision and second-guess it if the Pistons don't end up right back in the finals, where L.B. led them in both his seasons. Fair to Flip? No way. Reality? Absolutely. Darko Milicic, who will no doubt play more under Saunders, got his option for 2007 picked up. Grade: C-.
Though not equipped to do much, the Pacers still managed to get stronger. Danny Granger, provided his knees aren't an issue, should become an immediate contributor after coming over with the No. 17 pick in the draft. The retirement of Reggie Miller should be eased by the signing of coveted Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, a noted 3-point marksman who has won consecutive European titles and picked Indiana over Cleveland and best pal Ilguaskas simply because it has a better chance to get him another championship. Though not an acquisition, Ron Artest returning to play on the team's summer league team shows some maturity and a desire to take this season seriously. Grade: A.
Arguably the busiest bees of the offseason, the Heat reacted to their disappointing finish in the Eastern Conference finals with a complete overhaul. Getting the ball rolling, they convinced Shaquille O'Neal to re-negotiate his contract so they could have money to play with. Word is the big man actually agreed to a 5-year, $100 million dollar deal after $125 million was the initial offer. Clearly, O'Neal is more interested in rings than things. As a result, Pat Riley and Co. began work on a deal around July 4 to surround O'Neal and Dwyane Wade with a nucleus they can grow with for the next few seasons. Valuable power forward Udonis Haslem was re-signed with a generous offer. In came Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey. Out went Eddie Jones, Qyntel Woods and Rasual Butler. Undoubtedly the Heat got the best of it from a talent standpoint, but it remains to be seen if there will be enough basketballs to go around. O'Neal's presence makes the game simpler, but he'll require his full allotment of touches to make that happen, and it remains to be seen how that will affect team chemistry with so many egos on board. Riley also expects to add one last piece to the puzzle, possibly Dallas' Michael Finley, within the next few weeks; Miami has its full mid-level exception still available. The team still seems to lack a perimeter threat and reportedly remains interested in bringing back Damon Jones, who does have other suitors. Grade: A- (A+ if all play nice).
The Bucks overspent to retain Michael Redd, giving him a $90 million dollar deal, but you can understand why. What's the point in getting everyone excited over landing No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut if you're just going to let your franchise player walk? With both in the fold, the Bucks are generating excitement, particularly since they also coaxed coveted small forward Bobby Simmons to come over from the Clippers. With T.J. Ford returning to action at the point, Milwaukee has its nucleus intact. Dismissing Terry Porter after practically guaranteeing his return was their lone dubious move, but it opens up the door for former assistant Terry Stotts to get a second chance with a franchise that actually seems committed to winning, far different from his previous stint in Atlanta. The only decision left to be made is whether to match the offer sheet for Zaza Pachulia, who gives them the toughness up front sometimes lacking with Joe Smith. Grade: A.
Lawrence Frank was at Shareef Abdur-Rahim's door shortly after midnight on July 1, so who do you think Jersey's primary target was? The Nets ultimately beat out the Bucks for Reef's services, landing the power forward for their trade exception and a first-round pick. They hope he can take the pressure off Nenad Krstic while blending in with the team's up-tempo style. The Nets also identified Miami point guard Keyon Dooling as a target but lost out to Orlando, who offered the potential for more playing time. They lost Brian Scalabrine and are sure to add a few more role players in the coming weeks, but Abdur-Rahim was their must-have, and they secured him, making them the favorites in the Atlantic. Grade: B.
For all that's said about Isiah Thomas, the man goes about his business and usually gets it done. Consider the mess he inherited from Scott Layden, and understand that despite all the struggles, he has upgraded the Knicks, if only to make them justify the cost of a courtside seat. He landed Larry Brown, promising to share creative control in return for the services of a true coaching genius. He dealt valuable commodity Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson, whose best days are surely ahead of him and who, if nothing else, adds further star power with bride Brandy checking out the home games. Also arriving is Jerome James, who could be a bust -- or could be great. Considering the Knicks paid about $6 million a year in a market that demands more for agile 7-footers who can potentially put up 18 and 8 a night, it's worth the risk. The Knicks also were very fortunate in securing Nate Robinson; as it wouldn't surprise anyone who saw him this summer if he has a starting job by January opposite Stephon Marbury, who will be converted to two-guard. Fellow first-round picks Channing Frye and David Lee have work to do if they're to become contributors this year. Good or bad, Isiah is anything but complacent, and there is likely another move or two in the works. He'll tinker with anything to claw into contention, and you have to respect that. Grade: B.
It's never good when your first-round pick allows his girlfriend to convince him to stay home, but that's precisely what happened with Spaniard Fran Vazquez, at this point a wasted lottery pick. Sorry to say, but every day you have with Grant Hill's services is potentially the last, so the pressure is on to win immediately, and what Vazquez pulled didn't help. The Magic did acquire Keyon Dooling, which means he'll join Jameer Nelson in a point guard platoon as Steve Francis, who likely will still monopolize the ball, moves to the two, leaving DeShawn Stevenson back to coming off the bench. The Magic made the right move in bringing back Brian Hill as coach, if only for karma's sake, and hockey guy John Weisbrod's departure was most definitely a blessing. But they must add some help up front for Dwight Howard, especially since their top choice to do so won't be arriving for at least another year. Grade: C-.
Undoubtedly, the greatest move Philadelphia could've ever made was to terminate Jim O'Brien's contract with multiple years left on it and turn things over to the long-coveted Maurice Cheeks. Why? Well, Allen Iverson has never been happier, and a content superstar makes for a great situation. Iverson has challenged fellow star Chris Webber to work out and try his best to come back healthy, so if he succeeds, the Atlantic will have its best 1-2 punch -- apologies to Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. The Sixers also maintained their promise to keep Samuel Dalembert and Kyle Korver on board regardless of price and were about to make the same commitment to Willie Green before he crashed and burned in a pickup game. It remains to be seen what they do with Green, and they're clearly in the market for another perimeter scorer, but all in all, the Sixers' offseason has been a productive one. Grade: B.
Sure, there has been enough picking on Rob Babcock on this site, but ... Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham both had their summer league sessions cut short by injury. If that's not an ominous sign of things to come, we don't know what is. Consider the Raptors have made a big deal over the signing of Jose Calderon, a point guard from Spain who played with some terrific big men at Tau Ceramica, one of the country's top club teams. He's being called the prototypical point guard the Raptors have always craved. Wasn't that going to be Rafer Alston? If hurriedly going backward was what paced the league, the Raptors might be headed for their first banner. Since it's not ... poor Chris Bosh. Grade: D.
Losing Larry Hughes hurts -- that can't be denied. He was the Wizards' primary defensive catalyst on a team that offered very little resistance, and managed to co-exist with Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas beautifully. Losing local hero Juan Dixon also presents a problem; he had that fearless demeanor that made him a clutch performer, giving Washington a feared scorer off the bench. At the same time, the franchise was able to turn disappointing Kwame Brown into Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins, players who should offset those losses. They then landed coveted free-agent point guard Antonio Daniels, who should be the catalyst on defense and provide a steadying influence next to Arenas. Will this team be as good as last year? Probably not. But it can still contend for a playoff spot given its ability to rebound; not on the court, but from those two very damaging losses. Grade: C.
Seems like too many easy A's were handed out in the East...Miami deserves one.
Click HERE to see the rest of my "oversized" signature.
"Leadership is diving after loose balls." -Larry Bird
Minnesota, LA, and Sacramento have all went backwards, while Miami, Indiana, and New Jersey have taken big leaps.
This... is... SPURTA!!!
A friend of mine said if the Raptors finishes 2nd or higher in Atlanta, he'd cut his penis off.
Tim Duncan is a…he’s a pimp. - Ron Artest
"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow, it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it. But all that had gone before." - Jacob Riis
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