Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's my money, and I need it now!

Baron Davis made the somewhat shocking decision to sign with the Clippers yesterday for 5 years and 65 million dollars yesterday. While I'm not in the crowd that thinks that believes that this move coupled with the resigning of Elton Brand (and the return of Shaun Livingston) makes the Clippers instant contenders in the West, I do think that it makes them someone who could surprise a couple people and snag an 8th seed in the now very deep West.

Unless the Warriors reallocate the money they failed to spend on Gilbert to getting another big name free agent (though there isn't really one on the market that fits their needs), they are almost definitely on the outside looking in. Even if they do sign an Elton Brand (ironic?) or reunite Jacko with his best buddy Ron Artest, they still could be the bridesmaid in this race.

In my opinion, there's only three teams that are a lock to make the playoffs in the West, barring injury or a Chicagoan collapse: Lakers, Hornets, Jazz. I could include the Spurs in there as well, but Duncan and Ginobili are both a year older (as in everyone else on their team and in the world) and though they still performed at world-class last year, I'm not sure how long they can keep that up, especially with Ginobili playing in the Olympics this year.

The Blazers and the Kings are two teams that I would put on the next tier. Everyone know about the moves that the Blazers have been making and they seem to have put together a team to be reckoned with for the next 10 years if it stays together, with lottery picks (or equivalent Euro players) at every position. The Kings have quietly put together a team of their own, most recently resigning Beno Udrih, who is developing into a very solid point guard, to their full MLE. If they can keep that team together, and maybe add one or two finishing touches to their roster, I think they'll make a triumphant return to the playoffs.

After that it's going to be a dogfight for the last three spots. The Rockets, Mavs, and Suns are definitely strong teams, but somewhat past their prime and also suffering from some philosophical shortcomings. The Rockets need to make some kind of move regarding the Rafer/T-Mac/Head situation (as in change it) if they think they are finally going to make it through the first round. The Mavs and Suns both are reeling from their ill-advised trades that they made last year, and I don't know if either of them can recover from them as they have eschewed the draft and are capped out of their salaries.

Three more teams in the discussion are the Nuggets, Warriors, and Clippers. The Warriors seem to be doing all they can to get themselves out of the discussion by consistently lowballing their free agent stars and drafting the same player every year. Assuming that they've already lost on the Gilbert Sweeps, I don't think there's any way they return to the playoffs.

As for the Nuggets, I just don't really like how this team plays. They have the star power to rival pretty much any team in the league. They have two players who can consistently put up 30 points per game, and a former defensive player of the year who is still very much relevant. They have one of the best sixth men in the league even before he taps his seemingly unlimited potential, and a fourth option who, many years and knee injuries ago, had the MVP in his sight. Finally, they fill out with big, bruising, clean shooting, garbage men. Clearly, the talent is there, the only question is if they can make a consistent commitment to defense and team play. I feel like a coaching change is in order, as this team could clearly use a JVG-esque influence over them.

I have already discussed the Clippers, but to reiterate, a strong point guard changes the direction of a team in an instant. With Brand and Kaman, they what should be one of the better front court tandems in the business (I realize that there are generally three forwards on a team). Al Thornton is developing into an almost all star level small forward (there's your third), and Cuttino Mobley's only responsibility will be to shoot and shoot and shoot on this team, which he clearly knows how to do. Add on the rookies Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan, and you have a very solid team. Enough to compete for homecourt in teh West? Probably not, but I'll give them the playoffs.