Predicting a wild a NBA
By Adam Hoff
You have to love sports. It's one of the only entertainment
venues that keeps on giving long after the players have closed up shop for the
year. Last winter we had a wild
baseball off-season filled with A-Rod deals and no-deals, Curt Schilling joining
forces with the cursed Red Sox to fight the Evil Empire, and some of the best
players in the league (Rodriguez, Soriano, Sheffield, and Guerrero) changing uniforms. It was wildly entertaining.
Now we've got an even more
exciting NBA off-season looming.
With Shaq demanding out of LA, Coach K rumored to be the next Lakers
coach, VC wanting out of Toronto, and the likes of Kobe, K-Mart, and Rasheed
trying to decide where to collect their enormous paychecks, well, it all adds up
to some serious good times.
The whole thing has been kicked
off by the announcement that Steve Nash will be signing a 5-year, $65 million
deal with the Suns, his original team.
I guess it's safe to say Kobe won't be going to Phoenix. But there are still so many
unknowns. Will Sheed stay in
Detroit? Where will K-Mart go and will he get the
max? How will the Shaq and
Kobe soap opera
ultimately be resolved? How will
their gobs of money? How much money
can Manu Ginobili really make?
My best guesses for all these
questions and more are all right here in the 2004 NBA Off-Season Preview.
Kobe Bryant. He's been pursued by every team with
cap space, although Phoenix has already dropped out of the running
by snagging Nash. There's been a
lot of speculation that the Clippers are in the hunt, since they can offer him a
max deal, keep him in town, and pair him with young stars like Corey Maggette
and Elton Brand. However, it's hard
to imagine him moving one locker room over for less money. Remember, the Lakers can ultimately pay
him the most. I don't know
but his public persona is extremely selfish. I can't picture a scenario in which he
takes less cash. The one
possibility seems to be San
the Spurs cut loose the likes of Bruce Bowen and Ginobili, they can offer
Kobe the max as
well. Plus, he would instantly be
on the best team in the league.
Again though, he seems too selfish to ever come willingly play
second-fiddle to Tim Duncan.
The Prediction: The Lakers are
committed to re-signing Kobe.
They fired Phil and they are entertaining the idea of trading Shaq, all
because of their resolve to build around Bryant. Add in the fact that the Lakers can pay
him more and this seems like a lock.
Kenyon Martin. First of all, it's hard to believe
that K-Mart is one of the elite power forwards in the league. Just a year and a half ago, he was
absolutely killing my fantasy basketball team. However, he's been outstanding in each
of the last two postseasons and he has continued to develop his game. He's improved his rebounding and shot
blocking, added some perimeter game to his nice array of post moves, and he's
even learned to harness that insane disposition that burns beneath the surface
and allows him to be one of the most passionate players in the game. He wants the max and it seems unlikely
that the Nets will give it to him.
However, the fact that he's a restricted free agent and the Nets could match an offer sheet may prevent
other teams from doing the same.
The three teams most likely to land K-Mart – excluding his current club –
Utah. All three teams are way, way under the
cap and all three times have no shot at getting Kobe.
Since Martin is the second best player on the market, it would stand to
reason that these teams should do whatever it takes to get him. Utah would be a great fit for Martin as his
hard nosed style would work well under coach Jerry Sloan and his explosive low
post scoring would be a terrific complement to Andrei Kirilenko in the
frontcourt. Atlanta just needs players
and they definitely need interior talent.
Finally, Denver is the best match for K-Mart because
they can afford him and they give him a chance to win big right away. Even if they give him the max, the
Nuggets will still have enough loot to make a run at a big time shooting guard
like Quentin Richardson, Ginobili, or even Jamal Crawford or Stephen
Jackson. Add those two players to a
core group that already features Andre Miller, Carmelo Anthony, Nene, and Marcus
Camby and you've got one of the best teams in the West.
The Prediction: Although Denver makes the most
sense, my gut tells him he'll end up in Atlanta. The fact that Kiki didn't pull the
trigger on a Nene for K-Mart sign-and-trade leads me to believe that the Nuggets
are unwilling to give him max money.
will have no such qualms and since this is Martin's chance to get the big
payday, expect him to take the money and run, err, lose.
Rasheed Wallace. When the NBA Finals ended and Sheed
was kissing his daughter at center court in all his insane glory, it seemed like
a no-brainer that he would re-sign with the Pistons. After all, he just won a title there, he
loved his coach and teammates, and they can pay him a boatload. However, he's insisting that he wants to
go to a city where his family can set up shop and live happily ever after. Shockingly, Detroit isn't topping
Sheed's "Best Cities to Live in" list.
Imagine that. If he does
indeed forgo the $10 million plus salary and takes a mid-level exception
somewhere, it looks like Philly and New York will be the two options. He's been wanting to play in New York all year and
Philly is his hometown, so they seem to be on pretty even footing.
The Prediction: Wallace is a lunatic, so anything is
possible, but I think he'll ultimately be convinced to re-sign with Detroit.
The situation is just too good to pass up, from the money to the
stability to the chance to win titles.
As a Sixers fan, I'd love to see him end up in Philadelphia where he can
team with AI as one of the most explosive duos in the league … both on and off
the court. Alas, it's probably not
Manu Ginobili. This guy is the ultimate sleeper in
the free agent class. He was a
top-15 fantasy player over the first two months of the 2003-2004 season before
he got hurt, went on the IL, and came back to a reserve role. If he gets a chance to start, his
production will skyrocket.
Antonio wants to resign him, but they are probably going
to string him along in the hopes of getting Kobe.
That fact, plus his ever-increasing price tag, will probably land him in
Utah. Both teams need a big upgrade at the "2"
and love Ginobili.
The Prediction: I'm guessing that he
gets more money than anyone thinks.
Five years and $45 million sounds about right. You could flip a coin between San Antonio, Utah, and Denver, but I'm going with Utah. Denver is courting both K-Mart and Q and is
probably the least willing to fork over $9 mil a year. The Spurs can afford to sign him to a
long extension and they probably won't get Kobe, but I'm guessing their indecision will
drive Manu into Jerry Sloan's awaiting arms. Not literally, but you get the
idea. Manu will team with AK-47 to
build a foreign foundation of young stars in Utah.
Erik Dampier. His stock is rising every day. This seems a little alarming, since his
first and only truly good season in the NBA came during his opt-out year, but
the fact that Damp is a legit big man makes him attractive to a lot of
teams. There have been rumors of a
three-way deal to the Lakers and a sign-and-trade with Memphis, but plenty of
teams, including Miami,
Indiana, and Mavericks are
interested in him. I could see him
signing with a contender for the mid-level, but with his price going up so
dramatically, that seems unlikely.
However, it is also unlikely that any of the teams with a lot of cap room
will give him a big offer either.
So that pretty much leaves a sign-and-trade as the most likely
The Prediction: I'm betting Memphis. I don't think Dampier or the Warriors
are in play any more in regards to the Shaq deal now that Nash is in Phoenix, so Memphis should move right
in to get Damp. The hang up will be
whether the Warriors can demand Stromile Swift as part of the deal. I'm guessing they can't. Jerry West should be able to convince
Dampier to come to Memphis regardless, and he'll back Golden State into a corner by offering a few role
players. It will be either that or
nothing. I'm guessing the Warriors
take it and Dampier ends up in Memphis and gets more money.
Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. They are taking visits together and
seem to want to play together, so we'll lump them into one. It seems to be coming down to the
Clippers or the Nuggets for Q. His
stock went way up last year as a big, rebounding guard with deep range. He's pretty much the ideal fit for
Denver. Miles also got a big boost thanks to his
play in Portland
down the stretch. He's a bit of a
risk because the Blazers can match any offer (same with LA and Q), but he seems
to want to follow Richardson wherever he goes.
The Prediction: Even though the odds are good that Q
and Miles both re-sign with their current teams after their offer sheets are
matched, I just have a hunch that this is where Denver spends its money. I still think they should have traded
Nene for K-Mart and done whatever they could to get Ginobili (for an all-M
starting five of Miller-Manu-Melo-Martin-Marcus) and even without it they could
get Martin and one of the elite "2's", but their unwillingness to throw max
money at K-Mart will cost them. I'm
guessing they end up overpaying for Q and Miles as a consolation prize. What a shame that would be though.
Mehmet Okur. For a while last year, this guy was
a fantasy contributor. However, the
Rasheed Wallace trade changed all that.
He wound up sitting on Larry Brown's bench and getting other teams
excited at the prospect of a legit big man coming onto the free agent
market. If Wallace takes a
mid-level somewhere, Mehmet will get a lot of money and undoubtedly stay in
Detroit. However, if Sheed stays and takes Okur's
money and playing time, he'll be forced to look for a $6-8 million payday
elsewhere. Phoenix was supposed to be
the frontrunner, but they've spent all their money. That pretty much leaves Denver and Utah … again.
The Prediction: Even if they get Miles
and Richardson, the Nuggets would still have about six million to spend, but I'm
guessing that Utah is the
winner here. They'll continue the
foreign flavor and add Okur to the middle of the lineup that has been saddled
with the likes of Greg Ostertag for over a decade.
Jamal Crawford. I love Crawford, but nobody else
seems to like him. The Bulls
clearly don't, as they have drafted Ben Gordon to take his spot in the
lineup. There are a lot of teams
that make sense for Jamal, but few with the kind of money he can probably
command. Atlanta could give him the
rest of their money, but do they need a slightly taller version of Jason
Terry? The Clippers want him, but
will they be too busy wooing Kobe to get him? The Knicks have wanted him for a long
time, but why would he go there to sit behind Marbury and Houston? The Bobcats have a lot of money and with
Omeka on board, maybe they want to try to get better now? So many questions.
The Prediction: This is the toughest one to
read. I could see the Bobcats
paying $10 mil a year for him. I
could see the Hawks giving him the rest of their cash and sending Terry to
Indiana for Al
Harrington (a deal I've been suggesting for about a year now). That would give Atlanta a core of
Crawford-Childress-Harrington-Martin to work with. Not bad. However, I see Jamal ending up in
Clippers have needed a game-breaking point guard for about 15 years and Crawford
fits the bill. They'll give him
four years and $32 million and accept him as a consolation prize after losing
out in the Kobe
sweepstakes. It would be a nice fit
though. He'll fill the scoring void
left by Q and form a nice trio with Brand and Maggette. Crawford is a lot better than people
realize and while his decision may come in the later stages, he might wind up
being one of the best pulls in this class.
Mark Blount. This guy's stock went through the roof
last year when he started rattling off double-doubles on a nightly basis in
Boston. I'm sure the Celtics would like to get
him back, but there's no chance of that.
The Mavs, Sixers, and Heat are all rumored to be courting him with their
mid-levels. He makes sense for each
of the three teams as he provides some inside scoring, rebounding, and
The Prediction: The Mavs are probably going to have
to spend their mid-level of emerging stud Marquis Daniels, so it ultimately
comes down to Miami and Philly. The Heat make the most sense for Blount
as he gets Brian Grant by his side doing dirty work and Lamar Odom, Dwayne Wade,
and Caron Butler creating shots for him.
If he uses his head, he'll go to South Beach and play in the Conference Finals
next year. However, I'm betting
that he'll go with his heart and head to Philly to be reunited with Jim
O'Brien. That should make for a
nice consolidation prize in Philadelphia and help keep some of the pressure
off of AI.
There are plenty of other free
agents out there, including Vlade, Brent Barry, Derek Fisher, Rafer Alston and
many more. However, you have to
Shaq and the Lakers. The rumor winds seem to have shifted
and now the prevailing theory is that O'Neal will remain a Laker for next
season. People think that the
difficulty in trading him will keep him in LA or that the arrival of someone
like Coach K will make him want to stay.
I say no way. I don't think
people are respecting Shaq's resolve here.
He's done in LA. I also don't believe Mark Cuban for a
minute. With that said …
The Prediction: Shaq's headed for the Big D. He's going to be pulling pranks on
Cuban, going for 30-and-10 every night, and snagging one final MVP award as he
leads the Mavs to the title.
There's no doubt that he's on the downside of his career, but a fired-up
Shaquille O'Neal is still very capable of dominating for at least one more
season. Cuban will cave and trade
Dirk – as he should – to get a legit shot at a title. He'll also ship out Antoine Walker and
the Russian Giant leaving Shaq a talented roster including Marquis Daniels,
Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Michael Finley, and several role players. Ladies and Gents, there are your 2005
Also, there's no way Coach K is
going to be in LA. It would be so
stupid all the way around. It's stupid for Coach K because he's taking his
legacy and gambling it. If he stays
at Duke, he's a legend and cements his place as the best college coach since
John Wooden. If he goes to the NBA,
even the best case scenario isn't as good as that. More importantly, it's stupid for the
Lakers because college coaches simply don't work in the pros. I'm so sick of all this "if there's one
guy that can do it" talk. Forget
it. There's a reason Larry Brown
became the first guy to win title in both college and the pros … because it's a
poor match. I believe the Lakers
will hire Rudy T but I believe they
should look up Pacific Coast
Highway and snag Paul Westphal. His mentality is perfect for the
situation and his family is already settled in the area. It's a prefect match.
The Spurs and all their money. You might be asking what happens to
the Spurs if Kobe re-signs with the Lakers and Manu bolts
for Utah. Well, that's an interesting
The Prediction: First, they'll re-sign Bruce Bowen. Next, they'll bring Stephen Jackson back into the
fold. It was a mistake by all
parties that he wound up in Atlanta last year, but he continues to prove
that he can play. He's tough, plays
physical defense, and can drill threes all day. Honestly, had the Spurs still had
of Hedo Stink-aglu this year, they would have won that series against the Lakers
and had a 50-50 shot of beating Detroit in the Finals. Finally, they'll bring in Adonle Foyle for some Shaq-proofing
backup at center.
Derek Fisher will sign with Houston for the mid-level
and take over as their point guard.
D-Fish will be cashing in on a postseason that saw him playing the best
basketball of his career.
Unfortunately for Houston, they are forgetting that he's not a
traditional bring-the-ball-up point guard.
This will force T-Mac to do a lot of ball-handling. For an example of how this might turn
out, see the 2003 Western Conference Semis when an exhausted Kobe Bryant ran out
of gas against the Spurs.
The Sonics and Bulls will make a
deal. Chicago was trying to deal
a draft pick for a veteran in the weeks leading up to Draft Night and despite
all the bluster from John Paxton about keeping both Ben Gordon and Luol Deng,
I'm not buying it. Add in the fact
that Seattle is
shopping Ray Allen and you've got a match made in heaven. Chicago can send Gordon and Tyson Chandler to
the Sonics, solving two problems for Seattle and getting a growing problem off of
their hands in the process. In
return the Bulls get a veteran superstar who can team with the likes of Kirk
Hinrich, Deng, and Eddy Curry. It
makes total sense.
Brent Barry will get some serious
cash. I have no idea who he'll
wind up signing with, but I'm guessing that he'll be one of the surprise winners
of free agency. He can handle the
ball, play both guard positions, and shoot the lights out. With so much cap space floating around
out there, somebody is going to be intrigued enough to throw $20 million plus at
him for three years.
Vince Carter and Paul Pierce won't be
traded. Pierce is rumored in
every other deal out there and Carter has demanded a trade. It says here that both players will stay
where they are and miss the playoffs again. Sucks to be them.
Well, that's probably enough for
now. As always, I'll feel lucky to
get one or two these predictions right.
No matter what though, it should be a fun off-season in the NBA.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for
WhatifSports.com and can be reached at email@example.com.