Mike Woodson said it Monday: “Everyone’s loading up in the East.” On paper, that’s true. Each of the Eastern Conference teams that finished ahead of the Hawks have added a bigger name than Jamal Crawford. But games, as we know, aren’t played on you-know-what.
And there’s a chance the Hawks, assuming Marvin Williams returns to their roster or a reasonable facsimile is found in a sign-and-trade, have closed the gap even more. Think of it this way:
1. Cleveland: The Cavs added Shaquille O’Neal, one of the five greatest centers ever. But he’s 37 and he hasn’t played on a team that won a playoff series since Miami took the NBA title in 2006. And, just as he didn’t fit with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix, there’s no guarantee he’ll mesh with LeBron James in that charming American city on the banks of Lake Erie.
LeBron is the world’s best player because he can get to the rim anytime he wants. Shaq has always been at his best two feet from the rim. Mightn’t the latter gum up the works for the former? Doesn’t a team with LBJ need to space, as opposed to clog, the floor? And won’t the presence of two of the game’s outsize personalities make things more difficult for coach Mike Brown, already believed to be in disfavor after the Cavs’ loss to Orlando?
2. Boston: 35, 34, 33, 32 … No, that’s not a countdown. Those will be, come Opening Night of the 2009-2010 NBA season, the ages of Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. By way of contrast, the oldest contributing Hawk — Mike Bibby — is younger than the youngest of the Celtics’ Big Four.
Wallace is the Boston newcomer, but isn’t he just a more temperamental version of Kevin Garnett? (This assumes it’s possible to be more temperamental than Kevin Garnett.) They both shoot jump shots. They’re both forwards, as opposed to post presences. Is a backup — Wallace figures to play as a reserve — who averaged 12 points a game last season apt to push an aging team back to the top? And who juggles all the egos?
3. Orlando: Vince Carter will open up things for Dwight Howard, right? Consider: Carter took 366 more shots for New Jersey last season than Howard did for the Magic. (And the Nets had a pretty fair young center in Brook Lopez.) Vince Carter usually opens things up only for Vince Carter.
Once considered the next Michael Jordan, Carter isn’t even player Joe Johnson. “He makes big shots,” said Woodson, speaking of Carter, but he also stops the ball. Orlando reached the NBA finals because its perimeter players — Hedo Tukoglu, Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston — played expertly off their burgeoning big man. Three of those four are gone. That’s a net loss, not a net gain.
Bottom line: Nobody is apt to move the Hawks ahead of any of the above in preseason rankings, but preseason rankings weren’t kind to the Hawks last season, either. And they won 47 games and advanced to Round 2 of the playoffs. They could well win 55 and reach Round 3 — yes, the Eastern Conference finals — next time.
And maybe I’ll get to go back to Cleveland! Yes!!!