Roundtable: Analyzing free agency (cont.)
4. Which offseason move is destined to disappoint?
Ian Thomsen: If Millsap's offer sheet goes unmatched and he goes to the Trail Blazers, that would be a very solid move to deepen their frontcourt. But what happens if Utah retains him? The Blazers were positioned uncomfortably this summer as a team with specific needs, in terms of the position, style and age of the free agent they were seeking. They wanted to improve their team without upsetting the chemistry and balance established by their young players. That's why available talents like Carter (too old?) and Artest (too risky?) didn't quite make sense. But they need to do something with the cap space -- although they can wait to see if a trade into their space will develop by the February deadline. It makes no sense for the Blazers to jump into a big free-agent move that doesn't fit within their narrow parameters, but at the same time it must be difficult for them to watch other teams improving while Portland patiently seeks the right opportunity.
Jack McCallum: I'll say Turkoglu in Toronto. I like Hedo and think he'll have a productive season, but it won't lift the Raptors into the top four in the East, which was the general idea after last season's disappointing 33-49 campaign.
Chris Mannix: Shaq in Cleveland. Is the Big Twitterer an upgrade over Ben Wallace? Sure, but I can name 50 players who fit that description. Shaq certainly gives the Cavs a low-post presence and, provided he can stay healthy, will help Cleveland's push for a 70-win season. But Shaq will have difficulty against Cleveland's two most formidable East opponents, Boston and Orlando. For all the talk about Shaq's ability to defend Dwight Howard in the low post, the Magic aren't going to put him there. They are going to be utilizing his speed and athleticism outside on the pick-and-roll, where Shaq is an enormous liability. Same against Boston, which can play Wallace and Garnett in tandem and dare O'Neal to defend them on the perimeter. As good as O'Neal still is, he isn't what the Cavs really needed.
Steve Aschburner: Can I say Zach Randolph, even though he wasn't a free agent? Rats. OK, then, I'll say Trevor Ariza. Even though he's younger and more stable than Artest, Ariza is the sort of role player who gets better as his team does, too. On the Lakers, who were poised to chase a championship, he was versatile and valuable; on a Rockets squad that might be taking a large step back, Ariza may seem more ordinary and replaceable. He needed more time breathing the championship air to absorb it fully.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Villanueva to the Pistons. What does it tell you when his previous team, the Bucks, doesn't even extend Villanueva a qualifying offer despite averaging 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds? Doesn't even want the right to consider matching? He got a reported five years and $35 million from Detroit and a lot of other teams don't mind a bit.
5. How do you see the top four teams in each conference right now?
Ian Thomsen: Here's how I think it will go during the regular season. In the West: Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavericks. Maybe I'm assuming too much to think that Duncan and Ginobili will be healthy next season, but if so, the Lakers and Spurs will distance themselves from the rest of the conference. In the East: Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Atlanta. The Celtics will sacrifice a few wins in hopes of pacing their veterans for the playoffs. The Cavs will be the team to beat in the East.
Jack McCallum: In the East, Boston is the cream of the crop, with the healthy-Garnett caveat. How can you not like Cleveland teaming Shaq with LeBron? I hated what Orlando did, but then again, I've never been a Vince Carter fan. I can't see the Magic getting back to the Finals and may battle Atlanta and a rejuvenated Detroit to hang on to fourth. In the West, the Lakers are definitely still the team to beat, and the Spurs' offseason moves (landing Jefferson and McDyess) put them back in the hunt. I see Utah, Portland and Denver battling for third and fourth ahead of sinking Houston and still-trying-to-figure-it-out Dallas.
Chris Mannix: If we're predicting regular-season records, in the East it's Cleveland (should be a monster regular-season team), Boston (the Celtics still need one more wing player to win back their title), Washington (adding Miller and Foye to the backcourt and Saunders on the bench makes the Wizards a scary offensive team) and Orlando (Carter can still play pick-and-roll but he's not as complete a player as Turkoglu). Boston my pick to come out of the conference. In the West, it's the Lakers (with a small-but-growing fear in the back of my head that Artest might prove to be a distraction), Spurs (not that Popovich cares about the regular season), Nuggets (bringing back the same core) and Trail Blazers (any offseason addition will only make a talented young team stronger). I see San Antonio emerging from a bloody conference playoffs.
Steve Aschburner: In the East, Boston, Cleveland, Orlando and either Chicago or Washington are my preseason top seeds. The Wizards have the best chance of installing a completely new culture, while getting a boost from injured regulars Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood. Atlanta just seems very Peter Pan-ish, determined never to grow up. In the West, I see Lakers, San Antonio, Dallas and Utah, at least while waiting for the Millsap-to-Portland and Carlos Boozer-to-someplace speculation to sort itself out.
Scott Howard-Cooper: East: Celtics, Cavaliers, Magic, Bulls. While signing Wallace is filled with positives, the real issue in Boston isn't the move the Celtics made. It's the move they didn't make. How is Rajon Rondo feeling about being on a team that has questions about his approach, and how will he do in the face of the trade rumors that will inevitably come next season unless the C's start 19-1? West: Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Trail Blazers. The defending champs put themselves in position to be even better next season by signing Artest. L.A. needs to keep Odom to make that an absolute statement, but that deal should get done. The Nuggets accomplished their No. 1 summer goal by re-signing Chris Andersen and added desired depth at point guard by trading into the first round to get Lawson. Now let's see how the Linas Kleiza free agency plays out.
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