Well a lot sure happened in a week, but I guess that’s expected with the start free agency. I had to do some tweaking to my top five, but I think many of us will agree that these are the top five storylines in the NBA right now.
5. Will the Boston Celtics Still Be a Contender in the East?
After the Boston Celtics lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, many considered it as Boston’s last hurrah, their last chance at winning a championship. Both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were going to be free agents, and it looked unlikely that the Celtics were going to be able to resign both. They’ve resigned Garnett, but Allen is a different story as they are currently engaged in battle once again with the Miami Heat, this time over the services of the NBA’s 3-point leader. The Celtics are willing to give up more money, offering Allen a 2 year $12 million dollar deal, while the Heat are only offering $3 million a year. It seems like Allen’s decision may solely depend on where he thinks he has the best chance at winning a championship, so naturally that would give the Heat the advantage, but the Celtics already came up with a backup plan by signing Jason Terry to a 3 year $16 million deal, which adds some much needed fire power on the offensive side. They also had two decent first round draft picks. First, in what may be the steal of the draft, the Celtics picked Jared Sullinger with their 21st pick. They followed that pick with Syracuse center Fab Melo. Sullinger was first projected to be a lottery pick, but a nagging back injury had many teams worried and his stock plummeted. Sullinger may not be the most athletic play at the power forward position, but many experts see him as a young Carlos Boozer. Fab Melo provides an instant defensive boost to an already well rounded defensive team. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the year, but he couldn’t use those defensive talents in the NCAA tournament due to bad academics. In the end, the success of the Boston Celtics will all come down to Rajon Rondo. In his series against the Heat, Rondo showed a preview of how deadly he can be when his jump shots go down. If he can develop a consistent 15 to 20 foot jump shot, he will instantly become the best point guard in the league. But as was also proven in their series against the Heat, he can’t do it by himself, and relying on older stars may bring the championship experience needed to win a title, but not the consistency and endurance needed to win a seven game series.
4. Will the Los Angeles Lakers Make Any Moves?
Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest trade in the NBA that made Chris Paul a Laker, only to have it vetoed by David Stern, which caused a mini firestorm in Laker camp that ultimately led to Lamar Odom being traded to the Dallas Mavericks for pretty much nothing. There move to acquire Ramon Sessions backfired as he opted out of his last year to become a free agent. There are still constant talks about Pau Gasol being open to anyone, which doesn’t provide confidence for the power forward. Not all is well in Laker land, and with Kobe Bryant only having probably a few years of stellar play left, one would think that the Lakers have to make a move to make one last run at a championship. First thing they should do is either trade Pau Gasol or keep him, because continuing to tease the idea of trading him can not be good for the team’s dynamic. Why should Gasol play his best for a team that doesn’t want him? And he’s not getting any younger, which means his trade value is only decreasing. They obviously need a point guard. Like I said earlier, Sessions looks to be gone and the Lakers were already thin at the point guard position. They could go for a veteran like Jason Kidd or even Steve Nash, though I doubt Nash will sign a $3 million exception. It seems like the best option for the Lakers is to trade one diva for another. Trade Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard. Both offer different options. Bynum is primarily an offensive center, but does provide on the defensive side at times. The only thing to call into question is his inconsistency when it comes to effort. He’ll have one game where he grabs 30 rebounds, then another when he only grabs 5. He hasn’t proven yet that he can be relied on a consistent basis. Dwight Howard on the other had always seemed to give his full effort to every game, but he still has his weaknesses. He’ll always be a defensive juggernaut, but he still hasn’t shown that on the offensive side and it looks like his free throw shooting will always be his Achilles heel. Now before this season, it looked like the Lakers would have to give up both Gasol and Bynum to get Howard, but with Howard recent comments about being “blackmailed” by the Magic and demanding a trade, it wouldn’t be surprising that the Magic would be willing to just take Bynum so they could get rid of Howard as quickly as possible. Let’s also not forget that he just went through back surgery. Whether the Lakers will go after Howard is up in the air, but the Lakers need to make a move because they cannot win a championship with their current roster and Bryant isn’t getting any younger.
3. How Good Will the Brooklyn Nets Be?
So I think we all can agree that the Brooklyn Nets have been the busiest team during this offseason so far. First they resign Gerald Wallace to a 4 year $40 million deal. Then they traded Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, and Jordan Williams to the Hawks for Joe Johnson and his $90 million contract over the next four years. Then the Nets made their biggest move by resigning Deron Williams to a five year $98.8 million deal. But wait the Nets aren’t done yet. They’re still looking to get Dwight Howard by trading Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and their first round draft picks (2013, 2015, and 2017). So basically the Brooklyn Nets roster could be Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Howard, and a bunch of scrubs. Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov is obviously following the Miami Heat blueprint and on paper, it looks to be a better blueprint then the Heat. The Nets have shooting with Johnson, athleticism with Wallace, a top 3 point guard in Deron Williams, and potential size with Howard. But in order for this to work, the Nets also need to sign the right role players. The Heat role players stepped up huge in the finals. The Nets need those same results to compete with the Heat. If they also get Howard, they would be majorly over the salary cap and would have to pay close to $30 million in luxury tax, but I guess having a billionaire as the majority owner takes away that sting. So did the Nets make all the right moves? I would assume that everyone questioned the Joe Johnson move. He’s a star with a superstar contract. A max contract player who only put up 18.8 points last season and if Howard does go to the Nets, he would be the third option on the team. A third option scorer with a max contract. Yeah I could see that backfiring big time for the Nets. Now will the Nets compete in the East? With their current roster, they should definitely make the playoffs, but their chances at competing for a championship all depend on whether or not they get Dwight Howard.
2. Will the Heat Repeat?
Well the Heat finally backed up what they said back when the Big 3 were put together and won their first championship. Now the question remains: will it be not just 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7? Right now will just stick to see if they can get 2. The first positive sign for the Heat is that they will not lose anybody significant in free agency. Eddy Curry, Juwan Howard, and Ronny Turiaf, are unrestricted free agents, with Terrel Harris being the lone restricted free agent. Like I said, the Heat are not losing anybody significant to free agency. The one significant loss they may have is Mike Miller, who came up huge in game 7 of the finals, going 7-8 from 3. The guy is obviously dealing with major back issues and with the possibility of back surgery in the near future, the talks of retirement have started to enter the picture. If he does retire, the Heat will need a consistent 3 point threat to replace him. What better replacement for Mike Miller then Ray Allen. If they do get Allen, they then need to put their focus on getting a big man. Their lack of size is without a doubt the Heat’s biggest weakness. Luckily for them, their last two opponents in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder also have weak front courts. But if the Brooklyn Nets get Dwight Howard, they could prove to be one of the Heat’s biggest obstacles. But since Howard isn’t a Net yet, I have to base it on current rosters, and right now, the only team that has a chance of stopping the Heat is the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder’s lack of experience hurt them in the Finals, but with a championship lose on their belt, one would think that they would be ready to step up next year. If they don’t, then it should be title number 2 for LeBron James.
1. Where in the World Will Dwight Howard Be Next Year?
Well, it looks like LeBron James doesn’t have the carry the title of villain anymore, because Dwight Howard is doing a pretty good job at making himself villain #1 in the NBA, and Howard can only blame himself for creating this mess. He’s transformed from Superman to Hank Henshaw, Cyborg Superman (comic book fans will get this and laugh…hopefully). It’s at a point right now where no one should believe a word this guy says. First he wants to stay in Orlando, then he wants to join the Los Angeles Lakers, then takes it back and wants to stay in Orlando, now demands to be traded the Nets, because he felt he was blackmailed into not opting out of his contract with the Magic. The Magic are doing whatever they can to appease Howard, but nothing seems to work. The Magic fired head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith to keep Howard happy because it became clear that Howard wanted them out. Howard will deny this of course, but his ability to tell the truth is just as bad as his free throw percentage. Now the Magic find themselves in a position where they have to trade him. Howard now seems to have one place in mind and that’s the Brooklyn Nets. Now earlier I talked about the proposed trade between the Magic and the Nets and if I were the Magic, I go forward with the trade as soon as possible. Brook Lopez was injured last year with a broken foot, but if healthy, he’s proven to be a well balanced center. And while many refer to Kris Humphries as Mr Kardashian, he’s proven in the past couple of seasons that he’s top NBA rebounder, tying for fifth last year with 11 rebounds per game. The Magic would also be getting 3 future first round draft picks. Yes they will probably be in the late first rounders, but draft picks are draft picks. The Magic need to do whatever they can to get rid of the headache that is Dwight Howard and if the Nets are ready to deal with him then good luck to them.