By Mike DeStefano
The summer set the tone for an extremely active first month of the
season. A lot of notables have changed addresses and donned new
jerseys, including six former All-Stars (with hopefully a seventh on his way out of NYC in the near future). These big moves
have drastically changed the teams involved, so I’m going to play
professor and grade the biggest acquisitions of this young season based
on how these new-look squads performed through Early December.
1. Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets – A
Bringing Billups home has finally gotten this talented group
playing up to their potential. They are 17-7 ( 1st in the Northwest),
15-4 with Billups in the fold. He’s producing the way we’ve come to expect from
him (18 points and 7 assists per game), but it’s the leadership and defense that
are most valuable to Denver. He’s carried this team to this record despite the
fact that Carmelo Anthony has just begun to play like a superstar this season. Furthermore,
they received cap space by letting McDyess go, which is clearly a priority with
the way they gave Marcus Camby away. But now, that looks smart. Nene is playing
the best basketball of his career, but know this: Everything good that’s happening
with this team right now comes back to Billups.
2. Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons – D
Joe, take solace in the fact that you didn’t get an F. After
a summer of strong words, that’s what you would have gotten if the only roster
move you made was the addition of Kwame Brown.
The Pistons are only 9-9 with Iverson in the lineup, with home
losses to Minnesota by 26 (not a misprint), Washington by 13 and Portland by
11. In fact, seven of those nine losses have been by double digits. I agree
that Dumars needed to shake things up, but Billups brought stability and leadership
to this team, and those are things that a championship team cannot afford to
sacrifice. Iverson’s play hasn’t helped anything; 17.6 points and 5.9 assists
are way below his career averages. The team needs time to develop chemistry,
but there’s no guarantee that will come. Getting McDyess back will help in the long run, but
this team is going nowhere fast. No longer legitimate title contenders, it seems like a safe bet that they’ll be absent from the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in seven years. On the bright side,
they remain in tremendous cap shape and should be able to reload quickly.
3. Elton Brand to the Philadelphia 76ers – D-
This looked like the best move of the summer. Last year, this
young Elton-less team rallied for an unlikely postseason birth before losing
a hard-fought series to the Pistons. With Elton, many basketball fans and analysts
expected Philly to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Right
now, they are 10-14, tied (with Toronto) for last in the Atlantic Division. When
you’re behind the Knicks in the standings, you know something’s wrong. Samuel
Dalembert came out and said that “it’s not the same team that was playing last
year,” and he’s right. It’s hardly Elton’s fault, although 17 and 10 are below
his career averages, and his field goal percentage is down. The problem is that
GM Ed Stefanski failed to consider two things when signing Elton. First is that
Elton missed all of last year and may not ever be his old self. The second,
and most important, is that Andre Iguodala might not be able to go from main
man to second option and might not be able to fit in to a half-court offense
that goes through the post. His lack of production is the biggest reason for
the sub-.500 record. Let’s see how they respond to Cheeks’ firing.
4. Baron Davis to
the LA Clippers – F
Maybe things would be different if Elton had stayed put. Then again, this is
a Clippers team that has considerable talent on its roster, so there is no excuse
for their 6-17 start. Baron’s 17 and 8 per game are solid, but it’s his inability
to lead this group that has hurt this team most. He’s been inconsistent and
doesn’t look to be getting along with Coach Mike Dunleavy. Perhaps the addition
of Zach Randolph will infuse some energy into a group that should be playing
much better than it has, but so far no luck.
As for the theft of Camby from Denver: any time you can get a Defensive Player
of the Year for nothing, it’s a positive no matter how bad the team
is doing. But Camby’s contract will soon outweigh his production. Getting Randolph
will be graded an Incomplete, although 24 and 10 through 9 games is all
they can ask for. The real question is whether or not he can help them win games.
5. Ron Artest to the Houston Rockets – B+
Artest’s arrival in Houston was met with mixed reviews. Would he take this team
to another level and out of the first round or would his instability and cancerous
past destroy them? Thus far, Ron’s tour with the Rockets can only be looked
at in a positive light. They are not where optimists thought they could be,
but they currently sit a half game out of the division lead at 15-9. Artest
has been solid but not spectacular, averaging 16 and 6 on 35% shooting, much
lower than his career average of 42%. However, his effects have definitely been
felt on the defensive side of the ball, with Houston currently holding teams
below 93 PPG, good for 5th in the League. And all of this comes without Tracy McGrady, who’s limped to 16 PPG in only 17 games played.
6. Jermaine O’Neal to the Toronto Raptors – C
This isn’t the start that Raptors’ fans expected after giving the reigns
to Jose Calderon while bringing in a former All-Star center to play alongside
Chris Bosh. It seemed like a lop-sided trade: an oft-injured point guard for
a center anxious to rejuvenate his career. But so far, O’Neal has not produced
the way Toronto needs him to. They currently sit at 10-14, tied for last in the Atlantic Division. O’Neal is only averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. To add insult to injury, the
Raptors have gotten no production from their backup point guards and would probably
be better off with Ford coming off the bench. If not for Chris Bosh’s MVP caliber play early on, who knows where this team would be?
7. Mo Williams to the Cleveland
Cavaliers – A+
Quick, can anyone tell me off of the top of their heads what Danny Ferry
gave up to bring Mo to Cleveland? Didn’t think so. Meanwhile, the Cavs are off
to a 20-4 start, following up an 8-game win streak with 11 straight victories.
Before their recent loss to Atlanta, their first three losses came at the hands
of Boston, Detroit, and New Orleans, three teams believed to be among the NBA’s
elite at the start of the season. Mo has done a great job providing King James
with a reliable second option, averaging 16 points and 5 assists per game and
allowing LeBron to raise his game to yet another level. The brilliance of this
move is that this shoot-first point guard has fit in with the Cavs seamlessly.
There have been no chemistry issues for the Cavs, who have leapfrogged Detroit
as the second best team in the East.
8. Richard Jefferson to the Milwaukee Bucks –
The rough start is not Jefferson’s fault. He is averaging 18 points per
game and leads the team in minutes. But his impact is not being felt the way
Scott Skiles had hoped. The Bucks are 11-15, fourth in the Central Division.
This team has suffered through a number of injuries early on, but the fact is
that they just aren’t producing enough offensively. On the other side of the
deal, New Jersey is sitting at 12-11. When a team gets a 20 point per game scorer
for pennies on the dollar, and that player’s former team is better than his
new team, the grade can be no higher than a D.
9. James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets
There is no way to give this deal a fair grade because it was not made with
the regular season in mind. While the Hornets are 13-7, it is not where Chris
Paul and company wanted to be midmay through December. They got smacked by the
Blazers and have also lost games to the Bobcats and Kings, two teams they should
have beaten with ease, but are finally on track having reeled off 8-of-10. Posey
is right around his career averages of 9 points and 4 rebounds per game and
has provided this team with defense (see: picking LeBron’s dribble in victory
over Cleveland) and clutch shooting (3-pointer with 19 seconds left to beat
the Nuggets). This team will cruise to 50 or more wins with Posey playing a
supporting role, but the true importance of this deal will not be understood
until May or even June.
10. Mickael Pietrus to the Orlando Magic
When Orlando started 0-2, I laughed at the fact their only significant move
this off-season was the acquisition of another small forward to play alongside
Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Since then, I’ve had to eat my words as the
Magic have gone 19-6 to overtake the upstart Hawks for first in the Southeast.
Pietrus is averaging 13 points per game while shooting the best percentages
of his career, proving that he could be productive from the 2-guard spot. Now,
he is out for 3-4 weeks with a thumb injury.
– TJ Ford (IND): He’s healthy and he’s producing, but his team
is not winning.
– GSW Deals: Crawford and Maggette combine for 40 per game
but the team plays no D.
– NYK Deals: Check back in July 2010.