Its Shaqs world, baby É
but does anyone else live in it?
So far this offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks have pretty much stood pat. The Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs have made important acquisitions. The Trail Blazers, per their custom, have shuffled the deck.
A couple of experts Ñ coaches Doug Collins (Washington) and Eric Musselman (Golden State) Ñ analyzed the moves and what they could mean to the NBA Western Conference race.
Their major move this summer was having surgery done on Shaquille O'Neal's big toe on Ñ that's right Ñ 9-11. O'Neal is expected to be out six to eight weeks, which means there's a good chance he either won't be ready or won't be at full strength for the first two of four regular season Laker-Blazer battles Ñ opening night, Oct. 30, at the Rose Garden, and Nov. 3 at Staples Center.
The Lakers re-signed promising guard Devean George to the midlevel exception and sent little-used Lindsay Hunter to Toronto for Tracy Murray, once the NBA's 3-point champion while with the Blazers.
'The big thing for the Lakers is keeping George,' Collins says. 'They couldn't lose him. He is coming into his own, he did a good job in last year's playoffs, and he gives them a nice back-up, a guy they can use in crunch time.'
Murray, 31, has never fulfilled his promise as a long-range shooter. But his career mark is 40 percent on 3-pointers, and he has never had the benefit of playing alongside players such as O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
'Tracy can make perimeter jump shots and stretch the defense,' Musselman says. 'I don't know how much of an impact he will have during the regular season, but in a seven-game playoff series, he can maybe bust out for one game and make a difference.'
Sacramento kept everybody from the team that came tantalizingly close to eliminating the Lakers in last year's playoffs. Geoff Petrie, president of basketball operations, added free-agent plum Keon Clark, a 6-11 forward who played last season in Toronto.
'Clark is a major signing for Geoff,' Collins says. 'He is an athletic guy on the wing who can block shots and gives them energy. To add somebody with that kind of size and talent takes a lot of pressure off their inside people.'
Musselman says Clark will help the Kings a lot.
'He can play two positions and guard three positions, and he runs the floor,' he says. 'They are a great running team, and he is going to enhance that. The other thing is, he gives (Vlade) Divac an extra rest throughout the course of the season.'
Dallas continues to pursue potent free-agent forward Rashard Lewis, but it looks like he will stay in Seattle. The Mavs are searching for a starting small forward after letting go of the offensively challenged Greg Buckner. Dallas is likely to re-sign Eduardo Najera, who averaged 6.5 points and 5.5 rebounds off the bench last season, and Adrian Griffin, who started part of the season.
'They will miss Buckner, who was a very underrated role player and can defend 2s, 3s and even 4s,' Musselman says. 'But they have similar players in Griffin and Najera, whose roles will increase.'
San Antonio has been active Ñ and not just when they jettisoned Antonio Daniels to Portland for salary cap reasons.
They acquired serviceable guard Speedy Claxton from Philadelphia and signed ageless 7-footer Kevin Willis, who was with Houston last season. But the biggest move was the signing of 6-6 shooting guard Emanuel Ginobili, the straw who stirs the drink of the Argentina team that beat the U.S. in the world championships. Ginobili, 25, was San Antonio's second-round pick in 1999.
'Ginobili is phenomenal,' Musselman says. 'He could be rookie of the year. He has experience against pros, is mature and is a good shooter who can defend.
'Claxton helps them a ton, too. He makes (starting point guard) Tony Parker a better player. (Claxton) will put pressure on Parker, knowing there is somebody behind him who can play the position. You don't have to use Willis big minutes, but it is hard to find big guys you can throw into for possessions like him.'
Collins figures that Willis, even at 40, will give quality relief to big men David Robinson and Tim Duncan, who had only 6-7 Malik Rose in reserve last season.
'One thing I respect about Willis, the guy is always in great shape,' Collins says. 'If he can get on that front line a little bit, that is the one area they really need help.'
Portland added guards Antonio Daniels, Jeff McInnis and Charles Smith and waived Shawn Kemp.
The Blazers also are bringing back 7-3 Arvydas Sabonis; agent Herb Rudoy says Sabonis has signed a three-year contract, including two option years. The first year is guaranteed at about $7 million.
Restricted free agent Bonzi Wells has not signed, but at the least the Blazers will retain him for next season.
'Antonio gives them a very athletic shooting guard,' Collins says. 'The big question is, where does Damon (Stoudamire) fit in, and are there enough minutes for all those guards? I think Sabonis will really help, if he can approximate what he gave them before. He is a big guy who can pass and gives you a physical presence, and they sorely missed him last year.'
Musselman says the Blazers 'have always had depth, and they have added to that. Now they have great size at the point guard position. The key is getting everybody to accept their roles.'
Team to beat: Lakers
Collins and Musselman believe that the status quo remains in the West. The Lakers are at the top, with Sacramento close behind, assuming Chris Webber isn't incarcerated or emotionally wrought from sanctions via his alleged perjury in the University of Michigan booster case.
Collins: 'As long as Kobe and Shaq are healthy, the Lakers are still the team to beat. I put Sacramento right there with them, as long as Webber will be able to play through the distractions that could possibly become a problem.
'We know Dallas can put points on the board. They are as explosive as any team in the West. The big question is the commitment to defense and rebounding. If they can improve those two areas, watch out. San Antonio has a lot of smaller guards. A lot of how they do will be tied to how well David Robinson plays. If he is healthy, can he be that guy alongside Tim Duncan? Tim can't carry the load himself.'
Musselman: 'The Lakers still have the two studs, and if they have a healthy season, they have a chance to be better than they were last year. If Kobe or Shaq suffer a major injury, Sacramento, Dallas and San Antonio all have the horses to contend.
'I would rank the Kings next, and the Spurs will be a very interesting team to watch.'