Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yao, Villanueva and a Brand New Season

The scope and landscape of the NBA field is changing in a hurry. A key acquisition in Cleveland, a high risk/reward trade in Orlando and devastating injury news in Houston could be enough to turn the NBA on its head. That's not to say that come June the Knicks will be awaiting the winner of Thunder/Timberwolves Western Conference Finals Game 7, but things will be a little different come next season.

The West

The Lakers will still be favored come tipoff and things will likely stay that way for the remainder of the season, but with Yao Ming likely to miss the entirety of the 09/10 season, Shaq's departure from Phoenix and Jason Kidd possibly leaving the Mavericks, some big names will be absent in the West, leaving way for others to join the playoff party come April.

Shaq did not bring the Suns any glory in his one and a half seasons in Phoenix, but the rebuilding Suns may struggle to even contend for the 8th playoff spot until they figure out some semblance of their style from the Mike D'Antoni days. Look for Golden State to reemerge as a possible playoff team next season and for young teams like Portland to make a little more noise this season.

Betting Tools And Live Odds

With Yao probably spending the entire season on the bench, the Rockets must look to resign Ron Artest to secure a second option behind Tracy McGrady, whose injury problems are no secret to Rockets or the other 29 NBA teams. Without McGrady or Yao in this year's semi's, the Rockets took the Lakers to 7 games and gave them their biggest scare in this year's playoffs, so it's not like the Rockets will lay down and die without their big man.

Big name free agents in the West include Kidd (Dallas), Carlos Boozer (Utah-player option), Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers-Early Termination Option), Artest (Houston), Lamar Odom (LA Lakers), Trevor Ariza (LA Lakers) and Chris Andersen (Denver). Bryant isn't going anywhere, but after that, it's anybody's guess. We'll probably see Boozer in another uniform next year and my gut is telling me that both Odom and Kidd will play somewhere else as well. The young Trevor Ariza and a revitalized Chris Andersen will probably stay put. As for Artest, it depends how the Rockets decide to handle Yao's injury. If they still believe they can contend this season, then keeping Artest is vital. If they give up any hope of winning without Yao, Artest's departure will free up some cap space for future acquisitions.

The East

Out East, the biggest news came in Cleveland, who acquired arguably the most dominant big man in the history of the game. Near the bottom of the hill in his career, Shaq will still provide LeBron and the Cavs the consistent inside force they have lacked. Zydrunas Ilgauskas now becomes the best backup center in the league, much the same way Alonzo Mourning was the best backup center sitting behind O'Neil in Miami when the team won the title in 2006. As Charlie Villanueva failed to receive a qualifying offer from Milwaukee today, his tenure with the Bucks comes to an end. Speculation has Villanueva joining LeBron and Shaq in Cleveland, especially if Anderson Varejao leaves. If he arrives in Cleveland, along with the arrival of Shaq, Ilgauskas' new role and the renewed energy Mo Williams showed last season, who can beat LeBron and the Cavs come May and June?

Bet On Wimbledon

So many things can change between today and tipoff of the new season. The Knicks may eventually land Ricky Rubio, as he seems unlikely to invest in thermal underwear and galoshes so that he may spend any portion of his professional career on the frozen tundra of Minnesota. The Knicks are going to be the team to watch in the next few seasons, as they are building a strong, young core. Just don't look for any significant climb up the standings this season.

The draft night trade that sent Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Magic and Tony Battie, Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee to the Nets will have a major impact on the makeup of both teams. The Nets now look to redefine themselves post-Carter, whose scoring ability is coveted by all teams. Carter will join Dwight Howard in Orlando, a pairing that Orlando may have missed in the Finals against Los Angeles. With Hedo Turkoglu possibly leaving, the addition of Carter helps the Magic lock down that extra scoring threat. If the Magic know what's good for them, however, they will do everything they can to resign Turkoglu, who had a career defining playoffs. Imagine a lineup of Jameer Nelson, Carter, Rashard Lewis, Turkoglu and Howard. Not too shabby.

Detroit may look to acquire Boozer, who has also been rumored to be targeted by Miami, the city in which he spends his offseason. The Carlos Boozer saga is unpredictable at this point, as he still does not know whether he will option out of his contract and many teams are rumored to be interested in the power forward. Andre Miller (Philadelphia), Allen Iverson (Detroit), Ben Gordon (Chicago), Mike Bibby (Atlanta), Rasheed Wallace (Detroit), Turkoglu (Orlando) and Villanueva (Milwaukee) are the biggest names in this year's free agent class in the East.

Smart Betting Tactics

The Cavaliers will enter the season the favorites and, like the Lakers, will probably remain that way for the duration. Orlando will still be in the mix, especially with the addition of Carter and even if Turkoglu finds a new home. The possible addition of Boozer in Detroit may breathe new life into the Pistons, who last season seemed to begin their decline from perennial contenders in the East. Detroit also fired head coach Michael Curry today after only a season as head coach. More evidence of the Piston's unwillingness to let themselves sink? Or a kneejerk reaction to their losing record last season?

I'm not so sure things will be much different come April 2010, other than a mix-up of last year's top 8, but who knows, maybe the Bobcats will finally make that leap into the postseason. Or maybe the Pacers, Bucks or the new-look Nets will surprise a few people next year. It's tough to say. And a lot depends on the free agent period set to begin in July.

Written By Danny Hobrock