With the NBA All-Star Weekend around the corner, and the NBA Trade Deadline right after that, there’s definitely going to be some things happening in the League. With that in mind, check out five major story lines that the NBA will see heading into the All-Star Break…
1. Celtics add a veteran for the second half of the season and playoffs
Since assembling the Big Three before the 2007-2008 season, the Celtics have made it a trend to sign veteran free agents at the veteran’s minimum for the second half of the season and the playoffs. During the 2008 championship run, the Celtics signed P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell in February and March, respectively, and both proved to be instant contributors to the Celtics’ success. Last season, the Celtics signed Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury in late February hoping to win a second straight title, but both failed to make their marks as the Celtics bowed out in the second round. The options aren’t as attractive this time around, but here are a couple of guys still looking for a team: Von Wafer, Jacque Vaughn, Wally Szczerbiak, Shavlik Randolph, Chris Mihm and Tryonn Lue.
2. Cavs keep up effort to retain LeBron
LeBron James was fined $25,000 yesterday for kicking a water bottle during the first quarter of Wednesday night’s win over the Wolves. This paradox, LeBron being frustrated despite enjoying the best record in the League, is what have the Cavs scrambling to find more players to keep LeBron content. Mo Williams, Shaq, and the ever-improving Anderson Varejao, are doing their part, but regular season success hasn’t translated well for the Cavs the past two seasons. The latest rumors have the Cavs pursuing Antawn Jamison, Troy Murphy and Andre Iguodala, who has four years and $56 million remaining on his contract. GM Danny Ferry has not been shy pulling the trigger, but he better act fast and act smart if he wants any chance to keep LeBron around. Before Anthony Randoloph’s injury, Ferry should have made more of an effort to trade J.J. Hickson and an expiring contract to obtain him. Iguodala or Jamison would be a nice complement to LeBron, but even if the Cavs manage to acquire a big name and win this year, it still may not be enough.
3. Stan Van Gundy reshuffles lineup to give his team the best chance to win
This past offseason, the Magic made it very clear that they are determined to be the perennial Eastern Conference representative in the Finals. They surprisingly matched the Mavs’ five-year $35 million offer sheet to the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, and also signed Brandon Bass – only to keep both of them riding the bench for the first half of the season. They also snagged Matt Barnes, who never manages to find a team or a long-term deal in the offseason, but then contributes to the team in big ways. In 23 games as a starter, Barnes has averaged 11.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 STL, in 31 minutes, filling in for and complementing an injured and slumping Vince Carter. Vince, of course, was the Magic’s biggest offseason acquisition, and the Nets wouldn’t be 4-40 if he were still there. He hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far, but more importantly, the Magic are still finding ways to incorporate him into their offense effectively without ruining Rashard Lewis’ and Dwight Howard’s rhythm. The Magic are in fourth place in the East and tied with Atlanta for first in the Southeast division, but they have not looked nearly as fluid as last season and are having trouble against teams above .500. Part of the problem has been their inability to get Dwight the ball in the post (where he needs it), and this is also to the credit of teams figuring out how to fluster Howard in denying him the ball and double-teaming him once he gets it. Besides this, Stan Van Gundy is still trying to determine the best rotation, and he has been ignoring many good options in deference to Vince. Ryan Anderson, acquired in the Vince trade, has proved to be a good, consistent, player when given the opportunity. Van Gundy better figure this out or the Magic won’t return to the Finals.
4. Portland makes moves for a big man
It is no secret that Portland needs a big man. Badly. With Greg Oden recently appearing to be more fit for a career as a different type of professional and Joel Pryzibilla out for the remainder of the season, the Blazers need a force in the post to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge if they want to have any chance of making a serious playoff run. Juwan Howard has been putting in admirable effort since the injuries, playing nearly 35 minutes a game and grabbing loose balls, but he has had noticeable difficulty handling the league’s bigger big-men and faster 4’s and 5’s. One rumor that has surfaced is the Blazers’ pursuit of the Wizards’ Brendan Haywood. This move would help the Blazers tremendously, but the Wizards have asked for Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez in return. GM Kevin Pritchard is going to have some tough decisions to make approaching the trade deadline, but it seems unlikely that he trades a combination of valuable pieces of his young core in order to make a short-lived playoff run this year unless he can pair them with Andre Miller and his regrettable contract.
5. Salary Dumping
‘Tis the season for creating cap relief. Seemingly every team is trying to create cap space for LeBron, D-Wade, Amar’e, Joe Johnson, etc. but teams are also taking the 2011 free agent batch into consideration and the imminent $5-$10 million cap reduction that David Stern will set after this season. Every trade we see before the deadline, and there will surely not be a shortage of them, will involve terms like “and a second round draft pick,” “cash considerations,” and “Tracy McGrady’s washed up body.”
What do you think will be the big story lines heading into All-Star break?
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