Let's begin things with the almighty New York Knickerbockers and their blockbuster headline trade of Quentin Richardson to Memphis (who was quickly unloaded by Memphis to the Clippers for another former Knick Zach Randolph... so Q Rich to the Clippers, Z Bo to the Grizz... both are sure to catapult their respective teams into the pantheon of all time great NBA teams... or not) for the much maligned Darko Milicic (for those of you with short term memory loss, remember that Darko was drafted AHEAD of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.. among others). While many fans may be skeptical of this move, I was rather pleased that Donnie Walsh managed to unload one of our many shoot-first, pass-later guards, as well as my personal least-favorite Knick. Darko will most likely never live up to his draft pick status (mainly due to the incredible success of the rest of that draft class, which of course also included Lebron James), but he has been showing signs of improvement and is a definite upgrade to the Knicks frontcourt clusterfuck featuring the likes of the immortal Jared Jeffries, Chris Wilcox and Eddy Curry.
In keeping with the orange and blue, many recent talks had indicated that Jason Kidd was high on the Knicks target list and would have been a great veteran addition to the team, but at last they could not match Mark Cuban's enticing offer of 3-years/$25 million for the 36 year old Kidd and he has since decided to stay put in Dallas.
Now that we have discussed the Knicks... let's move on to one of the bigger free agent signings so far this summer. I am talking of course about Shaq going to the Cavs to potentially end his career playing with Lebron and bringing a title to Cleveland (or so they hope). The 37 year old Diesel certainly has some stuff left in the tank and will provide a much needed frontcourt boost for the Cavs (who had an awfully hard time defending Dwight Howard this past postseason). This deal also sent Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace to Phoenix (clearly a salary dump move for the Suns, for they will likely waive Pavlovic and Wallace has said he will retire). I certainly feel for Suns fans lately, it is clear that GM Steve Kerr believes their window to win a championship with this current squad has closed and they have begun the rebuilding process (a long, slow and painful process for any fan to endure) and as well as sending Shaq packing, they have also been looking to deal both Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
The next major move to take place (which actually happened before the Shaq deal) was the Bucks sending Richard Jefferson to the Spurs in another similar salary dump deal, while acquiring Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto. This deal is a serious winner for the Spurs, who add the dynamic scorer Richard Jefferson to an already stacked starting lineup, which now features four all-stars in Duncan, Ginobli, Jefferson and Parker. The Spurs believe their window is closing quickly to win another championship with this core and they certainly made the necessary moves to give them as good a shot as anyone this year. Watch out for San Antonio.
In keeping with the Bucks, who have seemingly gutted their roster, they also lost Charlie Villanueva via free agency to the Pistons. The Pistons also made another big acquisition by signing free agent Ben Gordon from the Bulls, but did also lose Rasheed Wallace to the Celtics, and are likely to lose Allen Iverson as well. All in all, the Pistons have come out on top and should be optimistic about their new potential starting five of Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell.
Let's stop for a second and reflect on Boston's recent signing of Rasheed Wallace. If this had happened five years ago, the Celtics may have been unbeatable - picture this starting lineup when all players were in their prime - Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett. At one point that was a bonafide allstar team, and currently ain't too shabby either. However, all reports point to Marbury leaving town (which is a good thing for Boston) as Rondo has clearly established himself as the Celtics point guard of the future.
As the balance of power slowly shifts back to the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic had to make their move to stay competitive with Boston and Cleveland and pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Nets by landing Vince Carter. This is certainly a "swing for the fences" deal because they did lose their best young guard (Courtney Lee) for an aging, albeit effective, veteran in VC. This deal would have been even sweeter for the Magic had they been able to hold on to Turkoglu, but alas they could not afford him and Hedo opted to spend his days in the international friendly city of Toronto, giving Toronto an impressive starting five consisting of Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.
As if winning the NBA championship and retaining Kobe Bryant in the offseason wasn't enough, the Lakers have gone ahead and added Ron Artest to an already scary good Lakers team that at this point has to be the clear cut favorite to repeat as champions. Although they did lose Trevor Ariza (a vital part of their championship run), who signed with the Rockets, they replaced him with the more than capable Artest. Not only did they sign Artest, they also got Jackson to agree to stay on as head coach for at least one more year, showing that they aren't done yet.
Some more minor moves occurred around the NBA as well:
- Jamal Crawford to the Hawks (Speedy Claxton and Acie Law going to the Warriors)
- Randy Foye and Mile Miller to the Wizards (Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to the Timberwolves)
Now that we have gone over all of the major moves to this point in the NBA free agency, I will rank the best starting five in the league ON PAPER and include my incredibly premature predictions for the 2009-2010 season. Keep in mind, the following are only MY PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS (using the five best players on a team, and many will probably change because as we know, NBA coaches love messing around with their starters), and of course I am assuming that everyone will stay healthy, which we also know will never happen, but it makes this more fun.
1. Lakers - Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
2. Spurs - Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner
3. Celtics - Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett
4. Magic - Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard
5. Cavaliers - Mo Williams, Delonte West, Lebron James, Anderson Varejao, SHAQ
6. Nuggets - Chauncey Billups, JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene
7. Mavericks - Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Erick Dampier
8. Raptors - Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani
9. Jazz - Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur
10. Pistons - Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell
11. Heat - Mario Chalmers, Dwayne Wade, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal, Udonis Haslem
12. Hawks - Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Al Horford
13. Hornets - Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic, Mo Peterson, David West, Tyson Chandler
14. Thunder - Russel Westrbook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic
15. Blazers - Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Lamarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden
16. Wizards - Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Mike Miller, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
17. Bulls - Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah
18. Clippers - Eric Gordon, Baron Davis, Blake Griffin, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman
19. Knicks - Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington, David Lee
20. Rockets - Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Luis Scola
21. Suns - Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez
22. Warriors - Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Corey Maggete, Anthony Randolph, Andris Biedrins
23. Bobcats - Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor
24. Grizzlies - Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet
25. 76ers - Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Samuel Dalembert
26. Nets - Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Keyon Dooling, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez
27. Bucks - Ramon Sessions, Brandon Jennings, Michael Redd, Bruce Bowen, Andrew Bogut
28. Pacers - TJ Ford, Danny Granger, Jarrett Jack, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster
29. Timberwolves - Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flyn, Ryan Gomes, Kevin Love, Al Jefferson
30. Kings - Bobby Jackson, Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans, Andres Nocioni, Spencer Hawes
Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Spurs in 7
Eastern Conference Finals: Cavs over Celtics in 6
Finals: Cavs over Lakers in 7
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin
MVP: Lebron James
There was no reason or rhyme to those predictions, I just have some sort of gut feeling in July that this year Lebron will prove to Cleveland that he can in fact win a title, and then move on and bring his glory to New York (wishful thinking, I know... but a fan can dream!).