Thursday , Sep , 01 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Fast Breaking it Down

By Paul Benedict

I’ve been singing the praise of Earl Watson for quite some time with the intention of applauding whichever team signed him this summer. Now with word coming in that Denver has agreed in principle to sign the point guard to a 5 year, $29.3 million deal, I really have to evaluate whether this was as good a signing as I hoped for. It’s not necessarily the money I’m concerned about, it’s the role Watson is going to have in Denver. At a mere 6’1″, Kiki Vandeweghe couldn’t have possibly been expecting Watson to shoulder heavy minutes in the backcourt alongside 6’2″ Andre Miller and 5’5″ Earl Boykins, so apparently that’s why he decided to bring back both DerMarr Johnson and Greg Buckner on one-year deals as well. Didn’t the Nuggets also just draft Julius Hodge and re-sign Voshon Lenard? So there’s essentially 7 guys filling 96 minutes of work in Denver’s backcourt? Yes, I know they can play 3 of these guys at once, but it’s not like Denver is hurting at the 3 with ‘Melo playing 35-40 minutes and Najera and Kleiza capably backing him up. It never hurts to have too much depth, especially with a team that has battled injuries as much as anyone over the last two seasons, but was Watson really worth their full mid-level? Yes. Kiki isn’t worried about how the minutes are going to be split up during the regular season, he knows he has a Playoff team on his hands. With Watson, Denver has not only a significant defensive upgrade over Andre Miller and Earl Boykins, but one of the best on-the-ball defending point guards in the league. Take a look at the West– San Antonio, Phoenix, and Sacramento, arguably the top 3 teams in the Conference right now, all have point guards capable of lighting up Denver’s backcourt. Now with Watson on board, the Nuggets match up far better against these teams. I was originally a fan of the Sprewell addition, but in the long run I’m not sure how much of an upgrade he was over what Denver already had. Watson will clearly benefit this team when it needs him the most, in the Playoffs.

Fast Breaking it Down

–Let’s just say the day started off well for me when I woke up to news that two of my notoriously favorite under-the-radar guys, Earl Watson and Devin Brown, had finally been scooped up after what seemed like a long wait. Brown has reportedly signed a 2-year offer sheet with Utah which San Antonio is unlikely to match since picking up Nick Van Exel and Michael Finley. I’m guessing teams assumed San Antonio would match any offer for Brown this summer until they picked up Finley thus leaving him with essentially no role on the club.
Kudos to Kevin O’Connor and Utah for recognizing this and pouncing all over Brown before any other team had a real chance to. Don’t underestimate this signing. Brown should be able to come in and beat out Gordon Giricek for the starting 2 guard spot, thus giving Utah a formidable defensive trio alongide Deron Williams and another underrated signing, Milt Palacio, in the backcourt. The Jazz were a team that got KILLED last season largely because their guards were slow and unable to keep up with the fast paced teams (check out their 2-18 record against the league’s top 8 scoring teams). Williams, Brown, and Palacio should allow them to not get completely run off the floor against teams that dictate the tempo against them.

–While we’re on the subject, allow me to briefly discuss some still enticing free agents that are likely to switch locations and where I’d like to see them end up.

Gary Payton to Seattle – This is where his Hall of Fame career started, this is where it should end. I know he wants a ring, but there’s no elite team outside of Phoenix that really needs him. Seattle needs him more and it would be a fitting end to a career that deserves to go out with a bang.
Jannero Pargo to Cleveland – It’s highly unlikely that Damon Jones ends up in Cleveland now that Michael Finley has spurned Miami for San Antonio. So why not take the next best thing? He’s probably not good enough to play crunch time minutes, but he can flat out light it up from outside and Cleveland still needs a point guard that can stroke it.
Jerome Williams to Houston – How can you just let the JYD retire?! I understand Williams doesn’t want to leave NYC and he’s got a ton of stuff going on in the community as well as a potential broadcasting career on the horizon, but he’s still capable of helping out a team. Houston is going to get hammered on the boards against the bigger teams out West and is still thin upfront behind Yao and Swift. Why don’t they use their Georgetown connection (Ewing and Mutumbo) to bring in a guy that can add some toughness to their frontline?
Lee Nailon to the Clippers – If the Clips are serious about making a Playoff run, they better fill out their roster quick. They don’t exactly have the most durable lineup and just can’t rely on Quinton Ross and Zeljko Rebraca to hold the fort steady while the starters are resting. Nailon is a reliable scorer off the bench who can play either of the forward positions and probably won’t cost them too much.
Reggie Evans to the Lakers – I like what the Lakers have done this off-season, but they’re still without that hustle player that can track down boards and loose balls, and more importantly, provide an example for Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum. This signing is probably far-fetched since the Lakers are expected to use their remaining money on a point guard.

–Is anyone even close to the Spurs out West? The team had two minor weaknesses coming into the off-season– they went through stretches where they would struggle to score because of a lack of weapons on offense; and they still were in need of another big body upfront alongside Duncan to help ease the load on their star. And what did they do this summer? Picked up two very capable backcourt scoring options in Van Exel and Finley, and added the Argentina National Team’s starting center Fabricio Oberto, a guy known for his toughness, hard work, and high basketball IQ. By adding Van Exel and Finley, Gregg Popovich can now feature so many different looks in the backcourt that San Antonio can likely beat even the best teams with Duncan having a subpar game. There’s not a single team in the Western Conference that can match up with them in a 7 game series. Don’t hand them the title just yet though– the East could be a different story.

–One team that NOBODY has talked about this summer is the Orlando Magic, perhaps the hardest team in the Eastern Conference to project this coming season. People keep dismissing them as one of the weaker teams, but I think they could be worth keeping an eye on. Take a look at their rotation:

PG: Nelson/Dooling/Diener
SG: Francis/Stevenson
SF: Hill/Turkoglu/Augmon
PF: Howard/Garrity/B.Hunter
C: Cato/Battie/Kasun

It’s not far removed from the team that finished last season 36-46 with the necessary subtraction of Doug Christie and the welcomed addition of Keyon Dooling. But remember this– the Magic were just a game out of the Playoffs before Grant Hill’s shin forced him to end his season early and the team went on to lose 8 of their last 9. There’s no question that Orlando could have used Fran Vazquez upfront to help ease the burden of being forced to utilize Kelvin Cato and Tony Battie for a combined 40 minutes a night, but Dwight Howard’s presence alone (if you haven’t seen him this off-season, he’s turned into an Amare-like beast) should make things easier on the dreaded center combo. With Francis shifting to the 2 and speedsters Jameer Nelson and Dooling manning the point, look for Brian Hill to get the Magic out and running as much as possible. Francis has gotten a bad rap since being sent over from Houston, but let’s not forget that he’s still one of the most versatile and talented guards in the league. If Hill can stay healthy and Howard flourishes as much as I expect him to (especially in a full court setting where he could get as many dunks as Amare), Orlando could be a potential sleeper in the East.

–And finally, I’d like to introduce a section of this column that we’ll call ‘Quick Shots’ where I conclude the column with brief thoughts from around the league.

Upon further review, my biggest disagreements with Chad Ford’s conference seedings are Milwaukee at #8 in the East (too high), and Los Angeles at #11 in the West (too low)

. I hope Glenn Robinson and Latrell Sprewell are shunned by all contenders and forced into signing with crappy teams. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if they chose to anyways, as long as said crappy teams offer them the most money.

I forgot to mention it above, but what in the hell was Jerry West smoking when he decided it would be a better idea to offer Damon Stoudamire most of the Grizzlies’ mid-level instead of Earl Watson?! I find it hard to believe that Watson would have turned down what West offered Mighty Mouse over a month ago (4 years, $17 million and a starting spot), but in the end, Watson’s agent Dan Fegan looked like a genius for landing his client that deal.

Damon Jones must really want to come back to Miami. The Heat have been tooling him around all summer as he waits for an offer for them, including him having to witness them acquire Jason Williams and wait out the Michael Finley situation. Now he’s on the verge of turning his back on a starting spot in Cleveland for a chance to take a much smaller role with Miami for roughly the same money.

Anyone doubting Baron Davis’ ability to make it through a full season healthy and his willingness to take the lead of a Warriors team on the verge of making the Playoffs for the first time in over a decade, need read this. How often do you hear stuff like this and the subject at hand does not have a huge season?

I’m forced into watching a lot of WNBA action and allow me to say this– Tamika Catchings is damn good. She’s one of the few players in the league that actually plays like a dude and is enjoyable to watch. That doesn’t mean you should tune into the Playoffs, but keep it in mind if you’re ever stuck watching the W.

On a serious note, I encourage everyone to reach out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Whether it’s by donating money or blood, performing some sort of community service, or just keeping these people in your thoughts and prayers, it’s our job as fortunate and proud US citizens to help out our fellow countrymen. Check out for some truly affecting photos of the disaster and superb coverage of how the Hornets might be affected.