Free agency report card
Do you ever go to a restaurant that asks you to take a short survey, or "rate" it after you're done eating? You'll be given a checklist of how attentive the server was, how the food tasted, the cleanliness of the establishment, presentation of the food, the mutton chops on the cook, the waitresses' "Flair" (and if I don't see at least 16 pieces of "Flair" you get an F!) and so on.
I kind of like doing this actually -- because sometimes giving a small tip is too open to interpretation. The server might just think you're a bad tipper and hate you for no reason. You want the restaurant to know why you left a $5 tip on a $60 meal.
It would be nice if fans could do that for their favorite teams' offseasons. After free agency, the teams could send out checklists to their fans, who could then fill in how they felt about their moves. Then organizations would know if they're doing right by them and can count on their repeat business. So, with that in mind, this week we'll rate some of the offseason moves (and moves we're waiting for) so far in the NBA "restaurant-style" -- complete with categories and checklists for your convenience. As they say in diner lingo: Let's go, dry rub's up!
Question: How would you describe your team after free agency?
(X) An upgrade from a year ago.
( ) Same as a year ago.
( ) Worse than a year ago.
We firmly mark this column for the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers. First of all, when's the last time Toronto beat out anyone for anything in the NBA? This is where Hedo Turkoglu wants to go after legitimizing himself as a star? I know he loves the heavy Turkish population in the city and feels more comfortable there than Portland but -- wow. This is the greatest day in Canada since Gretzky pulled the loonie from under the ice in the 2002 Olympics. (Coming in a close second was the Expos moving to Washington.) Suddenly, Toronto -- at least on paper -- becomes a team that could be a 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference next season. Jose Calderon is an emerging star who makes all his free throws (and I mean all of them), and can play alongside Turkoglu and a rapidly developing Andrea Bargnani, who is starting to remind us of Dirk Nowitzki. (Not the felonious fiancée part, though. Hey, wait a minute. "The Felonious Fiancee." It sounds like a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as a guy who falls in love with a tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lopez, please call your agents.)
But this move is all about Chris Bosh as Toronto tries to convince Bosh to stay rather than become a free agent after 2010 -- which is a theme you'll see repeated as this column goes on -- kind of like the plot lines every season in "Entourage." Toronto promised Bosh the Raptors would spend every dime they had to make the team better for this coming season and they reeled in the biggest catch they could. See! Free agents will come to Toronto! And you thought it was impossible! Stay with us! We can get you a loonie!
Whoever thinks the Ron Artest experiment in Los Angeles is going to end up badly doesn't know basketball. It's 1995 again for the NBA. "Braveheart" was cutting a wide swath through theaters, Alanis Morissette told us what we "oughtta know" and a young Chris Tucker taught us all how to laugh. In '95 the Phil Jackson-led Chicago Bulls brought in loose cannon Dennis Rodman. It was so doomed to fail they won only three more NBA championships. It's the same now. Phil is Phil. Kobe is Michael. Artest is Rodman. Gasol is Pippen. Odom is Horace Grant. When Artest is the dominant personality on a team, things have always gone badly, I admit.
But what has history shown us about putting the truly bizarre on a team with stronger and more important personalities? Things have turned out just fine. With Jackson and Bryant showing the way, Artest's antics will be a sideshow but not a distraction. And let's not forget: Artest is a more complete player than Trevor Ariza, who is coming off a fantastic six weeks. He may be Tayshaun Prince Jr., or he may be Freddie Prinze Jr. You know what you're getting from Artest: It's more than Ariza right now and Artest is still in his prime. He's a 20-7-7 guy who is one of the top three defenders in the NBA. It's simply an upgrade for L.A. And oh-by-the-way, the Lakers get Artest for about $17 million less than it would have taken to get Ariza. And oh-by-the-way Part II -- who'd have thought at this point in their careers Artest would be more sought after than Chris Tucker?
Question: How would you describe the signings we've made so far?
( ) We'll be better than last year.
(X) We'll be the same as last year.
( ) We'll be worse than last year. (Knicks fans only.)
Welcome to the middle box, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.Getting Shaq was all about showing LeBron James the team would do whatever it could to make LeBron happy so he doesn't leave in 2010. And that's a great thing -- because as important as it is to win the NBA title, it's even more important for the Cavs to keep LeBron lest they slip back among the NBA downtrodden, which is exactly where they were before The King. A motivated Shaquille O'Neal, which he was for the most part of last season and will be this season, is a 17-and-8 guy. A bit of an upgrade over Zydrunas Ilgauskas but not one that makes Cleveland a title team. Contrary to popular belief, he's not going to shut down Dwight Howard, who will make Shaq look silly every time they run the pick-and-roll. Expect a lot of the same from Cleveland next season. Now, if Mo Williams would hit a shot or two in the playoffs? Then we could be talking, but just Shaq doesn't do nearly as much as has been opined.
For the Celtics, bringing in Rasheed Wallace will make up for the expected loss of Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who blossomed last season when forced into more minutes in the absence of Kevin Garnett and will now likely be allowed to leave if (I should say when) a team makes him a restricted free-agent offer the Celtics now will not match. I don't think this move is going to blow up in the Boston locker room, due to the strong presence of veterans who will be able to quiet Wallace down a little (see "Artest, Ron"). He can still hit a 3, score 15 a game and play rangy defense, which satisfies some of Boston's needs. But even in signing Wallace, the Celtics got thinner. Davis racked up 15 and 6 for Boston in the playoffs after stepping in for Garnett (even winning a game against the Magic with a jumper while running over a young fan in the process). His production will be sopped up somewhat by Wallace. And don't forget Leon Powe's injury problems caused Boston to cut the cord with him -- a year after he was one of the big playoff heroes for the C's. All in all, Boston looks about as good as it was last season: talented starting five yet yearning for that bench that made all the difference in the world in the Finals against the Lakers.
Question: If some star players are still available, what should we do?
( ) Sign them -- we can always use more talent.
( ) Negotiate with them to see if they're interested in signing.
(X) Let them go somewhere else -- there must be something wrong with them.
You knew it would only be a matter of time before we got to Allen Iverson and Andre Miller. Iverson is sitting at the biggest crossroads of his career. With all he's accomplished, the list of teams he can go play for is the size of the list of teams he's already played for. (That would be three.) Teams that have been suggested as possible destinations for A.I. -- now that just about every team with a good present situation or a diagram for its future has said "no" -- are Golden State, Memphis, Sacramento and Charlotte. Quickly, let's cross off Charlotte despite the Larry Brown connection. The Bobcats have built a young, talented and deep roster. They should make the playoffs this season and don't need Iverson and his 30 shots per game to get in the middle of things. So that leaves the other three teams who don't seem to have a plan as possible landing spots. And when you say you're interested in playing for Memphis, what does that tell you about where your career is? Iverson, believe it or not, is only one step away from being out of the league. Had he just stood up straight during the final three weeks of last season, come off the bench and not made an issue out of it in Detroit, he'd be salvageable. But after that? No one who wants to win wants a part of him.
Andre Miller is a different story. Every year he's viewed as someone who can be the answer to a team's questions. He can play uptempo, run an attack with an athletic team pretty well, yet when the offseason comes around interest in him wanes. I don't get it. He's a big guard who can play better one-on-one defense than most. He's coming off one of the best all-around seasons of his career. Yet, he wastes away in obscurity (or Philadelphia). I'm surprised no one has jumped on him yet, but I guess I shouldn't be. It's been par for the course for him his entire NBA life. It's quite obvious to me that the rest of the NBA knows something I don't, so I will concede to them on the Miller point. And oh, Andre, here's some free advice. Now that Jason Kidd re-upped with Dallas for three years and $25 million, it's time to back off from this three-year, $30M demand.
I hope you enjoyed your dinner visit to the NBA Homesick Restaurant. Tell a friend, why don't cha?