Well, new NBA contracts and trades could become official Wednesday. And with that, Dwight Howard bought some Houstonians breakfast and Andrea Bargnani officially was dealt to the New York Knicks. Between those two extremes, some great moves became legal, while question marks remained for others:
Howard to Rockets
Just to clarify off the top, past experience prohibits seasoned observers from simply classifying these as the "best" moves. Have you paid any attention to Dwight Howard over the past three years? Despite the headache quotient, he is the third-best, perhaps even the second-best player in the NBA when he wants to be. If he can make it work with James Harden in Houston -- and given their positions and ability to form a very formidable pick and roll combination, there is no reason other than D12's immaturity that they won't -- the Rockets are immediately in the conversation for best in the West. Consider Harden's shooting range and that of Chandler Parsons, mix it with Howard's dunking and you'll have a team in heavy rotation on TNT and ESPN.
Although the mega-trade still wasn't official as of Thursday morning, the Nets suddenly have a starting five of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams with Jason Terry coming off the bench. That's a lot of talent and a lot of salary. In fact, under the NBA's 2013-14 salary cap of $71.7 million US, released Tuesday night, the Nets will pay close to the equivalent of that ($70 million) in luxury tax alone based on their projected payroll of $98 million. Of course, this means nothing to oligarch owner in Mikhail Prokhorov, but big money and big egos don't always synergize smoothly. Consider also that they will be coached by Jason Kidd, retired from playing for about 25 minutes. The idea was to steal the back page of the daily tabloids from the Knicks and they've done that. Will the Nets be a better team than the Knicks? Probably. But keep in mind that fantasy team-like additions of talent don't always mean fantasy team-like wins, as last year's Los Angeles Lakers can attest. Memories of that gong show should at least add a little dose of skepticism for Howard and Houston, too.
Some final thoughts in defence of D12. Kevin McHale is a much better coaching fit for Howard than Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni ever was and he won't have Kobe Bryant hovering over him in Texas. That said, tune in for the first Lakers-Rockets tilt, everybody's bet being on Christmas Day.
Smart, low-key moves
Iguodala to Warriors
Golden State lost out on the Howard sweepstakes, although it was likely never really in it, given the state tax (or lack thereof) situation in Texas. But the Warriors came out fine, all things considered. Adding a premier wing defender and solid offensive player like Andre Iguodala without giving up much of anything more than makes up for the loss of combo guard Jarrett Jack.
Doc Rivers to Clippers
It's hard to be happy for a team owned by Donald Sterling. But for the first time since Magic Johnson was forced to retire in 1991, the Clippers go into a season as, unquestionably, the best basketball team in L.A. It's safe to say at this point that one of the Clippers, Spurs, Rockets or Thunder will be coming out of the West next June. Former Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is the big coup. But player additions like J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Darren Collison keep their bench very good, even though they lost Eric Bledsoe.
For now, the Cavaliers should be Canada's team. When they go small and Tristan Thompson slides up to the No. 5 spot, Anthony Bennett will play the 4 and you'll have an all-Canadian power forward-centre combo. But how often (or if) that will happen is anyone's guess. Centre Anderson Varejao should be healthy and now, curiously, they have added Andrew Bynum. There's a long list of jokes in there. But now there's also a long list of trade rumours revolving around Thompson and Cleveland's sudden glut of bigs.
Toronto fans who, in past weeks, were excited about the possibility of a terrible-by-design season -- a tank operation in hopes of a 25 per cent chance to land Andrew Wiggins -- have been thwarted by the realities of the NBA. The Raptors, never good enough, are now not bad enough. With Boston leading a list of tankers that you almost wish would include the Lakers, too, the 2014 draft sweepstakes have already begun
(Aside: Think about it, the two winningest franchises in NBA history could be poised to pick very high in that very deep draft. Kobe Bryant's return from his Achilles injury may have something to say about it. But I digress).
Newly hired Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri more or less kiboshed the tank talk for good on Wednesday, telling the media that staying the course was the only option.
"We're going to be aggressive out there," he said. "But we're also going to wait and see what we have on our team instead of doing something stupid and quickly.
"What are we going to do? Throw players away?"
In other words, Ujiri is not trading Rudy Gay for Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. The Raptors have no choice but to play the hand they have now. They are improved in some areas. For example, the signing of Tyler Hansbrough brings much-needed toughness and not a ton else and the most popular (I didn't say "best") player to walk the North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus since Dante Calabria should be a hit with the hockey crossover fans in Toronto, due to his possession of what Brian Burke liked to call "sandpaper." Steve Novak is an excellent three-point shooter and little else. These may seem one-dimensional additions from a Toronto standpoint. But at least they're improvements in needed areas.
Kyle Lowry, you ask?
Well, like clockwork, entering a contract year, word out of Vegas as he watched his teammates gather for summer league is that he is completely ripped, having spent the past two months in the gym, chipping away that baby fat he's been ridiculed about. As currently constructed, the Raptors will challenge for one of the bottom three playoff spots in the East. That's not to say that if Ujiri has a more desirable chance to blow the thing up at mid-season, he won't. But the tank-for-Wiggins talk is over. Tim Leiweke and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment should now begin planning his free agent-wooing (I can see it now, "Homecoming") for what figures to be the summer of 2018.
Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach
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