NBA opening night reaction

Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News: How different are the Mavericks? We have a long time to try and figure that out, but clearly the arrival of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden won’t answer all of Dallas’ problems right away. Mostly, the Mavs opened the season looking a lot like what we have seen around here. Dirk Nowitzki scored 34 but didn’t have one of his better shooting nights. The offensive energy came from J.J. Barea (13 points, six rebounds, four assists) as it often does. But it was clear in the Denver series last spring that the Mavericks just weren’t quite good enough at the defensive end of the floor. Since then, not much that was done here was designed to change that.

Brian Windhorst, Cleveland.com: It was quite obvious the Cavs were uncomfortable and in search mode from the top on down. Mike Brown was changing lineups and strategies on the fly, the defense was a mess for long stretches and the offense was in its old, but infamous, all-James, all-the-time mode in the final minutes. This, of course, is what the Cavs were afraid of after a somewhat ineffective preseason. While there’s plenty of time to deal with those bumps — though the Celtics will have strong bragging rights until the teams meet again on Feb. 25 — perhaps most disturbing was the effect of Shaquille O’Neal in his first real game as a Cav. He had just 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting with 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. Deeper than those vanilla numbers, however, was his inability to deliver at all in the fourth quarter. Three different times James went to him with the score tight and the game on the line and three different times he was unable to come through.

Jay Mariotti, Fanhouse: All it means it that this is a work in progress, that no magic carpet will sweep the Cavs into June and a much-desired Finals matchup with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The Celtics didn’t look like a team whose Big Three is a combined 100 years old. Rather, they were energized again by the dynamic point guard, Rajon Rondo, and bolstered by the offense and outside shooting of a widely despised newcomer, Rasheed Wallace. The Cavs couldn’t match up at times with Wallace, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and with Garnett looking sturdy and effective in his first game in seven months, the Celtics made a statement that they aren’t dead yet as a contender.

Elliott Teaford, Los Angeles Daily News:
Ron Artest had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in his Lakers debut. At game’s end, Jackson praised Artest for his standout defensive work against Al Thornton, who had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting and nine rebounds in place of injured rookie forward Blake Griffin. “He played shut-down defense very well against their scoring forward, Thornton,” Jackson said. “I thought he looked like he was in the offensive mix most of the time.”

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Bill Simmons lists the 33 most intriguing people of the 2009-10 NBA season

In Bill Simmons’ NBA preview, he lists the 33 most intriguing people of the 2009-10 season. Here are a couple of excerpts.

On the Blazers’ acquisition of Andre Miller…

21. Andre Miller
We knew Miller was a bad fit when the Blazers signed him. It just didn’t feel right. He’s a moody loner; they had great chemistry last season. He needs the ball in his hands; so does Brandon Roy. He likes freelancing; Nate McMillan is hands on. But Portland felt obligated to spend its extra cap money, and nobody else was pursuing Miller, so what transpired was the equivalent of two single wedding guests going through the motions on the dance floor.

I could use someone, and you could use someone. Unfortunately, I hate bald guys and I have a tiny butt; you’re bald and you love bubble butts. We have no spark and are destined to fail. But crap, there’s nobody better. Screw it, would you like to come back to my room?

I get Portland’s thinking: It wanted to turn that cap space into an asset. And I get Miller’s thinking: He wanted to get paid and hoped things would work out. But now we’re here. Incredibly, Portland plans on bringing Miller off the bench. He’s already miserable. (And available, by the way. Make Kevin Pritchard an offer. Seriously, call him right now.) So what did we learn? Just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it.

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The Top 10 Head Scratchers of the 2009 NBA Offseason

The NBA offseason is by no means over, but the lion’s share is behind us, so it’s a good time to take a look back at a few of the…um…let’s say “questionable” decisions of the summer. Here are my Top 10, in no particular order. Feel free to add to the list if I missed something.

1. Trevor Ariza plays spiteful hardball…and loses.
Let’s get this straight — the Lakers offered Ariza the same deal he was getting on the open market, and he refused since the Lakers could have offered more, but didn’t? Um, okay. David Lee (the agent, not the Knicks forward) says that Ariza wanted to go somewhere where he’d be “appreciated.” Lee overestimated the market for his client, and the Lakers quickly moved on to acquire Ron Artest. Now instead of playing for the world champs, Ariza is stuck in Houston on a team that faces a very uncertain future. Lee now says that Ariza turned down a deal worth $9 million more, but still picked Houston. It sounds to me like he’s just trying to save face.

2. Grizzlies acquire Zach Randolph.
Once the Clippers traded for Randolph (and his toxic contract) last season, I thought the bar for NBA general managers had hit a new low thanks to Mike Dunleavy and his wily ways. But Dunleavy proved that he wasn’t the dumbest GM in the league when he convinced the Memphis Grizzlies to take on the final two years Randolph’s contract at the tune of $33.3 million. Remember that $25 million or so of cap space that the Grizzlies were going to have next summer? Yeah, that’s down to about $8 million with this brilliant move. Just when it looked like Chris Wallace was going to rehab his image after the Pau Gasol trade — Marc Gasol panning out, trading for O.J. Mayo — he goes and does this. Sigh.

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Take my overpaid star…please!

Memphis GM Gerald Wallace took a lot of heat for trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers. But if we’ve learned anything in the past few days, it’s that Wallace was simply a man ahead of his time.

On Tuesday, we learned that the Bucks agreed to trade Richard Jefferson to the Spurs for Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Amir Johnson. (Fabricio Oberto was part of the original deal, but San Antonio sent him to Detroit for Johnson, who was then sent to Milwaukee.)

Regular readers know I’m a Bucks fan, and I spent the last couple of days grumbling on the Sports Bubbler message boards about how we didn’t get anything in return for Jefferson, who is still a pretty good player. When Wallace traded away Gasol, at least he got Javaris Crittenton (who was considered a prospect with upside at the time) and Pau’s brother, Marc, who turned out to be a productive center for the Grizzlies.

Then I wake up today to see that the Cavs and Suns have agreed to go through with that long-rumored trade that will send Shaq to Cleveland for salary cap relief. Who do the Suns get in return? A retiree (Ben Wallace), a bench player with a partially guaranteed contract (Sasha Pavlovic), some cash and a second round pick.

This is the going rate for a Third Team All-NBA center these days.

We knew that this summer had the potential to be a rough one for free agents, but it’s a little surprising to see that good players like O’Neal and Jefferson could be had for virtually nothing. Bucks owner Herb Kohl and Suns owner Robert Sarver realize that their clubs aren’t legitimate contenders, so they don’t see the point in paying the luxury tax just for the privilege of being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. What kind of an effect these moves have on season ticket purchases remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that if a team is willing to spend, there has never been a better time to acquire talent. You’re not going to get someone like Caron Butler, who plays for a (pretend) contender and has a reasonable contract, but you can get Jefferson, who is overpaid and is on a mediocre team that is up against the luxury tax. And the older the player, the more likely he’s available. Teams aren’t going to give up good players that are in their early- or mid-twenties because the plan is to rebuild before they’re over the hill.

So who might be on the move for a bag of peanuts and some salary cap flexibility? How about Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Vince Carter, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Redd, Ray Allen or Rip Hamilton?

Truth be told, a team like the Suns isn’t going to give the youngish Stoudemire away for cap flexibility alone. But as the price of a star goes down, the price of superstar goes down as well.

It promises to be an interesting summer.

Shaq to Cleveland?

Talks between the Suns and the Cavs regarding a possible deal sending Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland are reportedly ongoing, but nothing is imminent.

The clubs have not spoken within the past few days, but sources say talks of a possible trade involving O’Neal, Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic never completely died after it was first discussed in February.

O’Neal, 37, will make $20 million next season in the final year of his current deal, while Wallace will make $14 million in the last year of his contract and Pavlovic $4.9 million with only $1.5 million guaranteed.

The salary swap is close enough to make the trade work under the salary-cap guidelines, and the Suns would save $10 million in the transaction — $4.5 million in salary and $5.5 million in luxury-tax payments.

They could save even more money if Wallace takes a buyout, a possibility that was raised when Wallace said he was considering retirement after the Cavs’ Eastern Conference finals loss to the Orlando Magic.

If the Suns acquired him and bought out his contract for less than face value, they could lower their actual expenditures, although the full amount would still count toward their luxury-tax total.

What’s funny is that the Suns walked away from the negotiation table last season because they thought that a trio of Shaq, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire could contend under new coach Alvin Gentry. Stoudemire got hurt, so what’s changed? It appears that the Suns are unwilling to pay the luxury tax price of keeping Shaq on the roster, that’s what.

This trade has the potential to set up some serious drama next season. Imagine a (hopefully) healthy and motivated Shaq joining LeBron in Cleveland. Assuming the Lakers win the Finals, Kobe and Co. will be seeking a repeat. Imagine Shaq and Kobe squaring off for a title next season…

Whether or not this helps Cleveland depends solely on Shaq’s ability to play at a high level deep into the postseason. If they do acquire him, they will need to watch his minutes closely and give him some time off during the season. Winning 66 games isn’t as important as having a healthy Shaq ready for the playoffs.

I like this trade for Cleveland, but Shaq wants another extension and he knows he’s not going to get it in Phoenix. It’s not necessarily a good idea for the Cavs either, as any extension for O’Neal means that they won’t be able to sign a big-name free agent next summer. But if they can rent Shaq’s services for a season and see how it goes, then maybe he could play himself into an extension with an NBA championship.

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