by MARK GREY
This NBA off-season started off with bang. All-Stars were switching teams everywhere you looked. The Lakers made a big move that they hoped would keep them on the top, while the rest of the top teams in the NBA looked to add that final piece to the Championship puzzle. While the rosters of just about every team in the NBA have shaken up over the last month, one thing is for sure: the more things change, the more things stay the same.
The early favorites for the NBA finals heading into next year are the Lakers and Celtics. If that sounds familiar, it should. This will be the third year in a row for both teams to be favored to make the Finals. In fact, the Lakers and Celts have combined to win 32 of the 63 titles in history, so there really is nothing new there. A closer look at all the other NBA teams and you can see not much has changed across the league.
The San Antonio Spurs have been one of the best teams in the league over the past decade and are a threat to win the title every year. Their success has been rooted in a roster full of veterans, some of the best second and third options in the game, and great coaching. Throw in a player at the end of his career looking for a ring and a steal in the draft and that’s Popovich’s recipe for success. This off-season, Coach Pop was back in the kitchen with his same cook book. The Spurs landed Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, then somehow got DeJuan Blair in the draft. Since they are making spur-like moves this off-season, they will be right back in the hunt for a title next season...just like they have been for the last 10 years.
The Orlando Magic made it all the way to the Finals last year with no clear-cut number one option, but three great number two options. This off-season, they swapped out Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, six one-way, half a dozen the other; anyway you look at it, it’s 20 points a night and a match-up problem for opposing defenses. With a healthy Jameer Nelson, the Magic will be right back in the hunt again next season.
The Celtics were a team full of stars at the end of their careers searching for their second rings. This off-season, they added Rasheed Wallace -- one more star looking for his second ring. Mix in four proven All Stars with a young emerging Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics are right back where they were at the start of last year.
The Dallas Mavericks have long been a team full of talented players who have never won anything. They have plenty of All Star players who never seem to equal the sum of their parts. This off-season they brought in the very talented Shawn Marion and resigned an aging Jason Kidd. The Mavs will win a lot of games in the regular season and earn a spot in the middle of the playoff pack out West, but will be no threat to the elite teams. Basically, they are right in line with last year.
Last season, the Lakers were a team full of question mark players...also known as players who, if they show up, are unstoppable. This summer, they landed the biggest question mark in the NBA in Ron Artest. So this upcoming season, instead of wondering which Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum is going to show up, we can all ask if Artest will show up. If he does, the Lakers are the team to beat.
In Cleveland all the talk was about LeBron. Questions arose about whether he would resign and if he had enough help to lead his team to the title. One season later, they have added Shaq and now have the strongest perimeter player and strongest post player in the league. However, the question is still the same: does LeBron have enough help and will he resign?
The Nuggets were so in tune with the theme of keeping things the same that they went out and did absolutely nothing this off-season. Carmelo, who is still getting better, and Chauncey Billups are enough keep them completive and near the top in the West, but don’t look for them to go any further than they did last season. The New Orleans Hornets and the Utah Jazz seem to have gotten the same memo as the Nuggets and, therefore, next year once again will be battling for the7th and 8th seeds.
The Portland Trailblazers were a young up-and-coming team last year that no one wanted to face in the playoffs. By not adding Hedo, the Trailblazers will once again be a young team who no one wants to face in the playoffs. However, they will still be a couple of years a way from a title shot.
The Pistons were a big disappointment last season with a log jam in the back court. So, this off-season they went out and signed Ben Gordon, aka Rip Hamilton 2.0, and Charlie Villanueva, aka Tayshaun Prince 2.0. This is the second year in a row Joe Dumars has brought in a player who plays the same position as the best player on the team and left a new coach to deal with it. Looks like another disappointing year in Motown next season.
Last year in Philadelphia the big question was how the Sixers were going to look with Elton Brand in the lineup. One year and no big signings later, the question is still how the Sixers are going to look with Brand in the lineup. In DC, the whole season rests on the knee of Gilbert Arenas; nothing new there. In Phoenix, the Suns were an exciting team to watch, just old and in the wrong Conference. They resigned Grant Hill and Steve Nash. So now they are still old and still in the West. In Golden State they were undersized, scored a lot, and played very little defense. Don’t look for Stephon Curry to rock that boat. In Houston, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are hurt … why does that sound familiar?
On the surface it looks like a lot changed, but when you look at it carefully, it really hasn’t. The teams that always make safe moves made moves. The teams who never do anything did nothing. The teams we expected to fight for the title last season will be right back at it again next season. While every team has a few new weapons for next season, it looks like the same teams will be going to war.