Cavs’ newcomers can’t get it done

The much ballyhooed opener between the Cavs and the Celtics ended in disappointment for Cleveland, as Boston grinded out narrow win, beating the Cavs, 95-89.

LeBron had a great game — it’s sad when we don’t think twice about a 38-point, 8-assist, 4-rebound, 4-block, 2- steal effort — but he once again didn’t get what he needed from his supporting cast.

Shaquille O’Neal was serviceable, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes, but he missed a pair of crucial free throws in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were trying to mount a comeback. Anthony Parker, starting in place of the still-missing Delonte West, scored 10 points (on 3-9 shooting), but had a bad sequence in crunch time. In the last three minutes, he missed an open jumper, retreated too early on defense after LeBron shot a long three (missing an opportunity for an easy offensive rebound) and let a James pass sail through his hands and out of bounds. Parker is a good player, but he didn’t show it down the stretch.

As for the Celtics, Doc Rivers was hoping to limit Kevin Garnett to 30 minutes, but he kept him in the game in the fourth quarter when he saw an opportunity to beat the Cavs on their home floor. KG finished with 13/10 (in 33 minutes) and hit a difficult bank shot over O’Neal in the fourth quarter.

Rasheed Wallace came off the bench to score 12 points in 24 minutes. He was in the game in crunch time, essentially splitting time with Kendrick Perkins at center. Paul Pierce led the way for the C’s with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

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Cavs commit to Varejao

It looks like Anderson Varejao is staying in Cleveland.

Varejao’s contract is worth $42.5 million over the six years, and the final year is only partially guaranteed. Incentives could push the total amount to $50 million.

Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan, says that the Cavs turned down a few sign-and-trade offers.

“I’m excited about it,” Fegan said. “I will tell you several teams made sign-and trade proposals where Anderson could have made $10 million or $11 million a year. Some very good players would have been involved.

“He wanted to stay in Cleveland. There were also a number of teams with cap space, like Oklahoma City and Portland, who were interested.”

I estimated Varejao’s value to be somewhere in the $5.5-$6.5 million per year range, so without the incentives, this contract came in a little bit above that. The thing I worry about from the Cavs’ perspective is the fact that it’s going to be tough to play Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal together because neither guy has the ability to hit an open 15-foot jumper. This will allow the defense to sag into the lane which will help to close off LeBron’s drives.

In addition, the Cavs have a verbal agreement with Anthony Parker (formerly of the Raptors) and have their sights set on Channing Frye.

The Cavs have also agreed to terms with Toronto free agent Anthony Parker. The final figures of the deal are not set, but he will receive a portion of the $5.8 mid-level exception for either two or three years.

The Cavs hope to sign Channing Frye with the remainder of their mid-level exception.

Shaq is clearly a short-term fix, but with the Varejao, Parker and possible Frye signings, and assuming the salary cap falls to somewhere in the $50 million to $53 million range, the Cavs aren’t going to have the cap space necessary next summer to woo a big-name free agent like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. They may still be able to work out a sign-and-trade, but with roughly $30 million already spoken for heading into 2010, the Cavs won’t have the cap space to make two maximum contract offers.

Cleveland is clearly treating this as a “must-win” season, but what happens if they flame out in the playoffs again?

Marion trade rumors heating up

No pun intended. Seriously. That title just happened organically.

Anyway, the Heat are considering an offer that would send Shawn Marion to the Raptors for Jermaine O’Neal, or so says the Miami Herald.

The Heat considers center its No. 1 need and O’Neal as the best center available but remains concerned about his sore right knee (which has sidelined him 11 games this season) and the $23 million he’s due in 2009-10, the last year of his contract. It’s 50-50 whether Miami will accept Toronto’s offer of O’Neal for Marion and Marcus Banks, the official said. The O’Neal camp is optimistic it will happen.

Taking on O’Neal’s contract for the 2009-10 season is a bit of a departure for the Heat, who were thought to have been interested in signing Carlos Boozer this summer.

The Heat is receptive to trading Marion for a productive player whose contract runs through 2009-10 because: 1) Carlos Boozer, the top impending free agent, is no longer viewed as the ideal fit here, with Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley at power forward. 2) Even if Miami kept Marion and didn’t re-sign him, it would have less than $10 million in cap space this summer, not enough for Boozer anyway.

The plan remains big cap space in 2010, with Miami expected to pursue Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudamire to pair with Dwyane Wade, who can also be a free agent that summer.

Aside from the injury, O’Neal’s PER (16.27) indicates that he can still play. The question is the knee. If he’s almost back then this looks like a pretty good move for the Heat because it gives them a short-term option at center while still freeing up plenty of cap space in the summer of 2010 to re-sign Wade and pursue another big like Bosh or Stoudemire.

It’s interesting that Boozer is no longer considered a fit because he plays the same position as Beasley. I thought Beasley would end up as a small forward in the NBA, but the Heat view him as a power forward because he has a tough time defending opposing small forwards. This will be something for Bosh or Stoudemire to consider, whether or not they want to play center for the Heat.

On the flip side, Marion would give the Raptors an athletic forward. Right now, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono are splitting the wing duties, so Marion would serve as an upgrade. He can also play power forward. Interestingly, the Raptors are #18 in the league in total pace, so they are not pushing the ball as much as people might think. The addition of Marion would likely change that.

Assuming O’Neal’s knee is ready and he can help the Heat, this looks like one of those trades that is good for both teams.

The article mentions a few other teams that are interested in Marion. It’s a good read.

Is the NBA ’09 free agent class better than ’10?

When I saw the headline — “’09 free agents may be better than ’10 class” — I was ready to jump all over David Aldridge for saying that any free agent class could be better than the one that will likely feature LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire. But as I read the full article, he made some sense. I still don’t agree with him, but I see his point.

Here’s a look at the possible free agents in ’09:

Those with asterisks either have options for ’09 or can terminate existing contracts for ’09, and many are expected to do one or the other, for one reason or another:

Kobe Bryant*, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Hedo Turkoglu*, Mehmet Okur*, Andre Miller, Mike Bibby, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Kyle Korver*, Anderson Varejao*, Drew Gooden, Stephon Marbury, Grant Hill, Brandon Bass, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak, Zaza Pachulia and Anthony Parker. Jermaine O’Neal could join the group if he walks away from $23 million next season. (Don’t hold your breath. There’s no asterisk by Boozer because he’s already said he’s opting out next summer.)

Aldridge has four major arguments:

1. 2010 is fool’s gold.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that unless seismic changes take place, James is either going to stay in Cleveland in 2010 or go to New York. Maybe Los Angeles. Wade will almost certainly choose between Miami, New York, L.A. and Chicago. Bosh will choose between the preceding cities and, perhaps, Detroit. And that’s it.

Without the Big Three on the market for most NBA cities, the ’10 class loses a good bit of its luster. That’s going to leave a lot of teams with max money to spend on mostly not-max players.

Read the rest after the jump...

2008 NBA Preview: #15 Toronto Raptors

Offseason Movement: The Raptors turned their depth at point guard (T.J. Ford) into a former All-Star big man (Jermaine O’Neal) in a nice trade that could really pan out if O’Neal can stay healthy. He has two years and $44 million remaining on his contract, so it’s a risky move, but if he can play 70 or 80 games, he’ll really give a big boost to the Toronto frontline.
Keep Your Eye On: Jose Calderon, PG
It was Calderon’s fine play (PER: 20.51, #5 amongst point guards) that made Ford expendable. He played 30 minutes a game last season, and will be asked to increase that to 35-38 minutes. That extra PT will give Calderon the opportunity to become a star. Last season, he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 assists, while shooting 52% from the field and 43% from long range. In short, he’s the quintessential point guard that is flying way under the radar.
The Big Question: Are the Raptors tough enough to take that next step?
With a projected starting lineup of Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh and O’Neal, there’s no doubt that there is plenty of talent in Toronto, but do they have the mental toughness to win a series or two in the playoffs? That’s the next step that this team has to prove it can make.
Outlook: If O’Neal, Calderon and Bosh can stay healthy, the Raptors are a pretty much a shoe-in for the playoffs. However, with Boston and Philly, the Atlantic is looking like the toughest division in the East, so if they falter or suffer a bad injury or two, it’s not inconceivable that Toronto could be fighting for a postseason berth in April.

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