Though bettors and fans are wide-eyed gaga over the start of college football and the NFL, basketball looms just ahead on the calendar. In less than two months, the NBA will tip off their 2007-08 campaign, and even though you may not have heard much this summer about the game, there's been more going on than just Tim Donaghy copping a plea agreement.
It’s already been one crazy summer for the NBA. Kevin Garnett has changed addresses. The Seattle SuperSonics are trying to do the same. And LeBron James has a jump shot. Let’s take care of that basketball jones and check in on the mayhem.
A Pocketful of Posey
We knew Danny Ainge was going to have to do some more work to fill out the Celtics depth chart after he traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff (along with cash and draft picks) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. And whom did he acquire? James Posey, Eddie House and Scot Pollard.
Uh-oh. Posey had something of a bounce-back campaign in 2006-07, but he still finished with a 12.75 PER, ranking 49th among NBA small forwards. That puts him below the likes of Seattle’s Damien Wilkins (13.13) and Toronto’s Joey Graham (12.86), and while Graham may have room for improvement, Posey is 30 and getting old quickly.
House (15.11 PER) actually has some value as a backup point guard to Rajon Rondo, and Pollard (8.52 PER) is at least good for six fouls a game at center. But Ainge has to do a lot better than that to justify Boston’s alleged status as a title contender. The Celtics are 18-1 on the futures market to win the NBA championship; that’s up from 75-1 at the open, but still behind nine other teams, including Cleveland, Miami, Chicago and Detroit in the Eastern Conference.
Folks in the Pacific Northwest are up in arms over the Sonics. They already saw one team leave under dubious circumstances when Michael Heisley bought the Vancouver Grizzlies and promptly moved them to Memphis. But at least Heisley had the decency to sing the Canadian national anthem before making his intentions clear.
"But we didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here," Oklahoma City businessman and Sonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon told the Journal-Record last month. And while majority owner Clay Bennett continues to "negotiate" a revised KeyArena lease agreement with Seattle city officials, the NBA fined McClendon $250,000 for his honesty.
This leaves handicappers in a quandary. The Sonics should be lame ducks, but their front-office shuffle points at a team with a bright future. Just as the Wolves are poised to exceed post-Garnett expectations with Jefferson manning the middle, the Sonics will miss Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis a lot less once they see what Kevin Durant, Delonte West, Jeff Green and a healthy Robert Swift are capable of. Keep an eye on the regular season victory totals and see if you can grab the Sonics at a bargain price.
Chicks Dig the Long Ball
Team USA steamrolled over the competition at the FIBA Americas Tournament, putting the shine back on the American brand of basketball. The biggest development in the tournament, though, was the excellent jump shooting provided by LeBron James: 76 percent from the field and 23-for-37 from behind the arc. He capped things off by hitting eight 3-pointers against Argentina in the gold-medal game, powering the U.S. to a 118-81 victory.
James obviously wasn’t content with his 2006-07 performance, when his PER dipped from 28.17 to 24.56. He started working heavily on his jump shot during last year’s playoffs, when it became apparent that nobody other than Daniel Gibson was able to connect from outside. Then he spent hours in the gym this summer with Cavaliers director of development Chris Jent. Those hours have clearly paid off.
But will they pay off for Cavs supporters? Cleveland hasn’t done anything to improve last year’s roster -- not even a draft pick to speak of. Coach Mike Brown didn’t impress during the postseason with his conservative approach, and other teams in the East -- Hello, Boston! -- are threatening to overtake the Cavs in the standings.
King James will have to find even more areas to improve on if his team has any hope of winning the title at 8-1. How about those free throws?