The NBA’s off-season began with a bang last week, as the draft was held at Madison Square Garden. After the draft ended, things continued to heat up, as a number of big trades were made, including two separate deals involving some of the top point guards in the league.
Things may get even wilder, as the league closes in on July 18 when trades can become official and free agency begins in earnest. There is still a long way to go in the off-season and many more moves to be made, but a number of teams showed what their plans might be for the upcoming season.
Now is a good time to look at those teams, and how some of these early moves will effect the Association next season.
Washington Wizards (no price): The Wizards made Kwame Brown the first high school player ever selected with the top pick, but did little else besides acquiring DePaul forward Bobby Simmons in the second round. The next step is whether or not Michael Jordan comes out of retirement and brings Charles Barkley with him. Look for the Wizards to stay pretty quiet, otherwise, this off-season, as they try to save some cap room for Vince Carter, who is a free agent after next year.
Chicago Bulls (350-1): The Bulls ended up taking the other preps selected in the top four, dealing Elton Brand to the Clippers for the rights to Tyson Chandler, the second selection overall. Chandler will be paired with Eddy Curry, the fourth pick, to form the cornerstone of a starting lineup with an average age younger than N’Sync. Chicago made the biggest splash of the draft, but general manager Jerry Krause is taking a big chance trading Brand, a former Rookie of the Year, and starting over.
The Bulls had the worst NBA record with Brand, so the team figures it can’t get much worse. Both Chandler and Curry are a couple of seasons away from making a real impact. The Bulls may own the two most talented players in the draft, and in two or three seasons, may have two perennial All-Stars. However, they could finish with the worst record again this year.
Los Angeles Clippers (75-1): The Clippers look like a real playoff contender after finishing well last year and bringing in Brand. Los Angeles needed an inside presence, but didn’t want to bring in another young player looking to develop. The team thinks that Michael Olawokandi could still become a quality player, but he needed help up front.
Brand isn’t big for a power forward, and he will face much more difficult challenges in the Western Conference. However, he is tenacious, has good touch, and is a very hard worker. Along with Lamar Odom and Darius Miles, the Clippers have some young stars to build around, and will be a tough team to face this season. (Opened 120-1)
Atlanta Hawks (120-1): Most expected the Hawks to take Shane Battier with the third pick, but they traded the selection to the Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Grizzlies took Spain’s Pau Gasol with the pick, and chose Battier with their own selection, the sixth overall. For Atlanta, this was a coup. Abdur-Rahim is from the Atlanta area and may be able to help draw local fans.
The Hawks have always had trouble selling out brand-new Phillips Arena, and certainly need a public relations shot in the arm. On the court, they added one of the most talented forwards in the league. Abdur-Rahim is capable of averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game all season. With Theo Ratliff at center, Jason Terry in the backcourt and Toni Kukoc next to Rahim, the Hawks now have some talent. Atlanta also picked up two first round picks in next year’s draft for Jamaal Tinsley and Terrance Morris respectively. (Opened 250-1)
Grizzlies (250-1): The Grizzlies decided to completely turn over last year’s roster. In gaining Brevin Knight, Lorenzen Wright and Gasol, a Dirk Nowitzki-type player, they traded Mike Bibby to Sacramento for Jason Williams and Nick Anderson. Add Battier to that equation, and the Brizzlies have a completely new look. Guard Will Solomon, a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, was the top second-round pick and should see some time in the rotation.
The Grizzlies will be in Memphis this season, so bringing in Williams, who is from West Virginia, as well as Battier will certainly help ticket sales. The team will struggle to find some wins and an identity. The roster may be different, and a bit deeper, but the results will look similar to last year, at least for next season. (Opened 350-1)
Golden State Warriors (350-1): Rumors had the Grizzlies prizing Michigan State shooting guard Jason Richardson with their sixth pick. Golden State squelched that talk by taking Richardson fifth. With their second choice in the first round, the Warriors tabbed Notre Dame shooting forward Troy Murphy. Golden State was able to select Arizona guard Gilbert Arenas in the second round. Both first round picks were surprising, but the Warriors plan to move Larry Hughes to point and play him with Richardson. (Opened 350-1)
If Hughes can make the adjustment, the Warriors will have one of the biggest and more athletic backcourts in the league. The 6-foot-10 Murphy is a great shooter, who should rise in importance with the new defensive rules that favor shooters. The Warriors were crippled by injuries last year, with inside players Danny Fortson, Erick Dampier and Marc Jackson missing considerable time. If they can stay healthy, the Warriors have a tremendous amount of talent.
New Jersey Nets (75-1): The Nets wanted Richardson badly also, but were forced to settle on Eddie Griffin, the forward from Seton Hall. Just an hour into Griffin’s NJ career, he was dealt to Houston for all three of the Rockets first round picks. The Nets received Arizona’s Richard Jefferson, an extremely athletic player who shut down Richardson during the NCAA Tournament, Stanford center Jason Collins and combo guard Brandon Armstrong from Pepperdine.
One day later, the Nets and Suns pulled off a shocker of a trade, exchanging Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd. Obviously, the Nets have decided to undergo a major facelift, adding a number of players to what was one of the shallowest rosters in the league. Whether or not they got enough back for Griffin remains to be seen, but he was never the player they wanted in this draft., just the most marketable. (Opened 100-1)
Houston Rockets (40-1): The Rockets made out very well in this deal. Rather than going to a team that should be in the lottery again, Griffin goes to Houston, where Steve Francis is the franchise, and the team is clearly on the rise. The Seton Hall freshman will provide shot-blocking and rebounding, and should take the Rockets out of the Chris Webber sweepstakes, and into the playoffs. (Opened 50-1)
Phoenix Suns (25-1): The Suns continued to make changes with their roster Friday, sending Cliff Robinson to the Detroit Pistons for John Wallace and Jud Buechler. However, getting Marbury is clearly the key to their rebuilding. After losing in the first round of the playoffs four of the last five seasons, Phoenix may have to get worse before getting any better. Without the defense of Kidd and the outside shooting of Robinson, it may get a lot worse. Phoenix will now look to Marbury, Shawn Marion and center Jake Tsakalidis to lead them to their customary playoff spot, although the playoffs could be a longshot this season. (Opened 25-1)
Sacramento Kings (12-1): On the other hand, the Kings knew they had to be pro-active, in case Webber decides to leave town. With their top pick, the 25th overall, Sacramento chose Gerald Wallace, a gifted athlete from Alabama. Wallace doesn’t have much of a jump shot, but is an incredible finisher on the break. With the acquisition of Bibby, the Kings have a much more patient floor general than the erratic Williams. The Kings, even without Webber, have a number of scoring options like Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Doug Christie, if he re-signs. They should benefit from Bibby.
With a long way to go until the season begins, most teams still have a lot of work to do before their rosters are finished projects. However, it is very interesting to see the teams quickly take shape. (Opened 12-1).
Editors Note: The odds, provided by Las Vegas Sports Consultants, are as of June 28 for winning the 2002 NBA title.