Thursday, June 25, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Shaq is finally headed to Cleveland. The Cavs are acquiring him for the 46th pick in Thursday's draft plus Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, two players the Suns will be more easily be able to move off their books. The deal, which this blog first discussed in February, gives LeBron his first Hall of Fame-caliber teammate, albeit one in the twilight of his career. Shaq will turn 38 next March, but his 17.8 points per game and 8.4 rebounds from last season represented a renaissance that included a deserving selection to the All-Star Game, where he split MVP honors with Kobe. Now, Shaq will look to one-up Kobe with another NBA title. It's clear Cleveland wants to win this season, while LeBron is still under contract. There's no other reason to acquire a center in his late 30s with a $21 million salary. The move shores up Cleveland's frontline, which was overmatched by Orlando's athleticism and diversity of skill in the Eastern Conference Finals. It provides LeBron with the kind of playoff-tested sidekick that he sorely missed in that Orlando series, as long as Shaq remains healthy and in good playing shape. Shaq's continued production at a high-level is a risky proposition, but the Cavs must go all-in this year. It's a gamble worth taking. The move makes sense for the Suns, too, who were going nowhere. It will be painful for Phoenix to lose Shaq, Steve Nash, who is sure to follow, and other veterans like Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill, but it's clear they were no longer close to being title contenders after missing the playoffs this year. Now, they can begin to rebuild.

2. The Spurs, another perenial contender that took a step back this past season, found a way to move back into the picture. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson for Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas gives the Spurs the kind of athletic wing player they've long lacked to put along side Manu Ginobili in crunch time. Jefferson, 29, revitalizes the aging Spurs, who get Ginobili back from the ankle injury that prematurely ended his season this year. Jefferson averaged 19.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists last year, and has experience as a contributing member of a contending team with New Jersey in the first few years of his career. It's another shrewd move by general manager R.C. Buford, and while it's far from a panacea for the Spurs, who must be wary of the long-term health of Ginobili and Tim Duncan, it's likely the best move they could have made this offseason. The trade is a salary dump for Milwaukee, a franchise that continues to search for answers, having failed to win more than 42 games for eight straight seasons after making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001.

3. I hesitate to do mock drafts with as many trades and potential deals affecting the draft order as we've seen this year, but here's a stab at it. A lot of speculation holds that Ricky Rubio, the 18-year-old Spanish point guard phenom, will drop after a poor workout with Sacramento. Don't buy it. Rubio, competing in last year's Olympics, has already shown he can compete at a high level with world-class competition. He shouldn't fall out of the top four, and if he does, a team or two will look back on this draft with a great deal of regret.

1. L.A. Clippers: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
2. Memphis: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
3. Oklahoma City: Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
4. Sacramento: James Harden, G, Arizona State
5. Minnesota: Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
6. Minnesota: Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson
7. Golden State: Demar Derozan, SG/SF, Southern Cal
8. New York: Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
9. Toronto: Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis
10. Milwaukee: Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA

Update: Golden State appears to be sending Jamal Crawford to the Hawks for point guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton, so I'm now projecting the Warriors will take Demar Derozan instead of Jonny Flynn, whom I see getting scooped up by the Knicks.

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