NBA training camps start on Tuesday, and after a fairly turbulent and rumor-filled summer, many squads are looking different or wishing they did. Here’s a breakdown of the offseason each Soutwest Division franchise had and how good it was with consideration for what could be expected and how it sets up the future success of the team.
They kept face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki in place (no big surprise), re-signed Brandan Haywood which was a good move considering their size issues without him, and bought the rights to underrated first-round pick Dominique Jones. They also signed international center Ian Mahinmi away from the Spurs; getting international players who already have great averages in limited time (64% FG, 2.0 rpg in 6.3 minutes) from San Antonio is always a good thing. Picking up Tyson Chandler’s ridiculous $13 million contract for one season isn’t a backbreaker considering owner Mark Cuban has a bottomless pit of money and they need more depth in the middle. Overall it was a nice but not special offseason. Grade: B+
Houston did a lot of very good yet not super buzz-worthy things this summer; basically it was another Daryl Morey offseason. They re-signed PF/C Luis Scola for the next five years at a decent price ($47 million), which he followed up by going to the FIBA Worlds and placing second only to Kevin Durant as the best player in the tournament. They picked up C Brad Miller and PG Kyle Lowry (re-signed) for a combined $10 million per season for the next three years, which is good considering how well they both fit the do-a-little-of-everything, team-first attitude of this franchise. They unloaded Trevor Ariza’s lengthy contract that wasn’t looking so hot after his lukewarm 2009-10 season and got a very cheap Courtney Lee, who can score a little, in return. First-round draft pick Patrick Patterson has that don’t-care-about-stats, bust-your-hump game that the Rockets love, so they made just about the perfect selection with him at #14. They are set up perfectly for the next few years in terms of having tons of financial flexibility, but it’s imperative they re-sign Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes next summer and figure out what to do about Yao Ming. Until then, 2010 looked very good. Grade: A-
I’m not a fan of GM Chris Wallace or owner Michael Heisley at all, but the team did do a couple nice things this summer. Let’s get the absolute stinkers out of the way first. For starters, Rudy Gay is not a max contract type of player, yet that’s what they made him. His stats are nice but have been stagnant for a few years (19 ppg, 6 rpg), and he’s never been honored in any sort of way for his game other than being on the 2006-07 All-Rookie team in a pretty weak year for rookies (Jorge Garbajosa made that team as well). It’s just way too much money to lock up for a non-franchise guy. The team also played around with the signings of first-round draft picks Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez forever, trying to put in performance clauses that no other teams use. Heisley finally relented after being made to look like a fool on a local radio program, but this stupid episode dragged out for months, so you have to think these two rookies have less than great loyalty at this point. On the flipside, Henry’s 3-point shooting should quickly be a plus for this squad, and the signing of G Tony Allen at $9 million over 3 years was pretty good. This summer had to put more questions into their fans’ heads about how this team is being run, but Henry will be fun to watch whenever he gets minutes. Grade: D+
New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets picked up a new coach and GM over the past few months, so it will be tough to judge how good they are for a while, but things haven’t gone so hot this summer in the Big Easy. Thankfully they convinced Chris Paul to be OK with sticking around and not being traded, but that was only a band aid. They had future starting center Cole Aldrich in their hands on draft night, but they traded him away and ended up with #26 draft pick Quincy Pondexter (not bad, but not Aldrich) and Craig Brackins who then was shipped to Philly along with Darius Songaila for G Willie Green and C Jason Smith. If that whole sequence isn’t trades just for making trades sake, I don’t know what is. Then they dealt super rookie Darren Collison, who was perfect Chris Paul insurance, and James Posey for Trevor Ariza, who doesn’t look nearly as amazing when he’s not winning a ring with the Lakers or with that really long contract, as part of the NBA’s four-team deal. They signed back-up PG’s Jannero Pargo and Mustafa Shakur, plus efficient but slow back-up center Aaron Gray, and that’s about as good as it got. Keeping Aldrich and dealing an obviously-soon-gone-anyway Paul for a bunch of emerging talent was probably the way to go. Grade: D
San Antonio Spurs
You can pretty much always pencil in the Spurs for having a good summer, and this year was no different, although they made a rare, clearly-bad-from-the-beginning signing that lessens my enthusiasm for their offseason. Let’s start with the good stuff. They finally signed 2007 draft pick Tiago Splitter, a Brazilian sensation who has been wrecking the Spanish League for the past few years; picking up this center is huge and should pay immediate dividends. SA re-signed the always reliable, always underrated Matt Bonner, and their draft netted could-start-now SG James Anderson, who everyone likes but I still have some guarded optimism about (his defense and passing are still works in progress). The Spurs also picked up summer league star Gary Neal on the cheap. Neal has real role player potential as a guard for SA, hitting 17 of 34 triples (awesome 50% clip) in the summer league and showing a desire to play defense. The only real knock they took this offseason was by re-signing suddenly old and not very good SF Richard Jefferson for 4 years at about $10 million per. Not smart – that really drags down the glow surrounding the Splitter signing. Grade: B-