On The Spot: Eastern Conference
The Celtics may have three superstars capable of scoring more than 20 points on any given night, but that doesn't change the fact that there still is only one basketball to shoot. Making sure Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen make nice and share is the job of this second-year point guard from Kentucky, who showed quick hands on defense last season. However, his rather unimpressive 41.8 shooting mark likely won't draw a second look from many defenders.
That the Bobcats still carried the reputation of an expansion team, and, more important, played hard every night, somewhat hid the disaster that was Morrison's rookie year. If the No. 3 pick of the 2006 draft hopes to save his career, he'll have to shoot something better than the brick-laden 37.6 percent he produced last season.
Just because a career 6.6-point-per-game scorer receives a $60 million contract doesn't mean anyone expects him to light it up. But the Bulls had every right to expect him to be better than what they let go (Tyson Chandler), which he wasn't, and to provide a winning persona, which he didn't thanks in part to his standoff with coach Scott Skiles over his ability to wear his famed headband. There are signs already, though, that this season could be better, as Skiles decided to allow Big Ben his headband after his teammates said they had no objections. Maybe that small token of respect will jolt Wallace into his former Defensive Player of the Year self.
It's one thing to hit open jumpers against a team that is overlooking you in the playoffs as it focuses on your superstar teammate, which Gibson did against the Pistons in the East finals. It is another to shoot well from long range over the course of an 82-game season. With the Cavs installing more of a drive-and-kick offense this season, Gibson's ability to provide LeBron James a relief valve will go a long way toward determining Cleveland's fate.
After averaging 18.6 points and 5.7 assists in leading the Pistons to the East's top seed in the 2006-07 regular season, Billups shot 38 percent and averaged 13.5 points, three turnovers and 2.5 assists over Detroit's final four playoff games. Though 31, Billups is still the primary cog in the Pistons' engine, a fact the team acknowledged in handing him a five-year, $60 million deal over the summer. While the long-underpaid Billups worked for every dollar of that deal, he'll be expected to work just as hard to prove his new deal is for services to come, not those already rendered.
Expected to return from shoulder surgery by mid-November, Wade is probably all that stands between a return trip to the postseason and the draft lottery for a Miami team faced with an aging Shaquille O'Neal, an inconsistent Jason Williams and a collection of largely unproven youngsters.
For the $1.9 million Williams made last season, the Bucks' point guard was a bargain. For the $18.5 million Williams will earn for the next five years, might he be overpaid? Williams' 17.3 points are a nice asset in a point guard, but elite NBA quarterbacks make their biggest difference in lifting the play of their teammates. And after the struggles Milwaukee suffered through last year with Williams at the helm, he won't have the freedom to pursue his stats with impunity.
As gifted as the Nets' trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson is, New Jersey's playoff hopes rest on the 7-foot frame of Krstic. His ability to score in the low post and clean up the glass will be essential in keeping the front lines in Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland honest. But Krstic's first challenge is just getting back on the floor after missing 56 games last season with a torn knee ligament.
With Zach Randolph imported from Portland, a healthy Jamal Crawford, and Isiah Thomas' desire to run his offense through center Eddy Curry, someone is going to have to sacrifice his statistics for the greater good. It seems logical that Marbury, as the point guard, would be the guy. But after a summer filled with some incoherent, almost nonsensical interviews; along with a tawdry trip to the witness stand in the Knicks' sexual harassment trial; and a proclamation that he hopes to play in Italy at the end of his contract, it's anyone's guess as to Marbury's mind-set.
In a summer marked by fiscal restraint, the Magic spent like they had never heard of Grant Hill. They gave Lewis, a free-agent forward, the only maximum contract deal offered this offseason -- $110 million for six years. Once given out like candy at Halloween, max deals have become increasingly limited to players who can win a game by themselves. Is Lewis that type of talent? We have our doubts.
Following last season's trade of Allen Iverson, Iguodala was expected to do little more than shepherd the Sixers to the draft. Two first-round draft picks and a summer later, Iguodala now has to demonstrate he can form the backbone of a young team trying not only to win games but also win back a city dedicated to Iverson.
Those of us whose job it is to critique are quick to rip a player for not playing up to his contract. But what of the GM who signs the player to that contract? It isn't Kapono's fault that the Raptors gave him $24 million to shoot from the perimeter for the next four years. But if Kapono proves to make little difference to the Raptors' future but to tie up salary-cap space, that's on GM Bryan Colangelo, isn't it?
Having already stated his intention to become a free agent next summer, Agent Zero is likely to use the coming season as one long job interview for the max-level contract he will surely desire. While bouncing back from a knee injury may pose an obstacle to his efforts, his dicey relationship with Wizards head coach Eddie Jordan could be even more of a problem. The two briefly clashed last season over Arenas' defensive weaknesses, and, according to a recent story in the Washington Post, Arenas blamed Jordan for the knee injury he suffered. With a contract to play for, Arenas might start paying a whole lot more attention to his numbers than the standings if the Wizards' season goes south.
When a six-time All-Star dances around a summer trade request by claiming he didn't demand it, but would be open to the idea, that doesn't bode well for a team's future. Of course, the Pacers probably were already asking what kind of future they had with a player whose scoring has declined in each of the last three seasons.
Acie Law IV
The Hawks have just about everything a potential up-and-coming team needs; the only thing missing is someone to tie it all together. After trying the likes of Tyronn Lue and Speedy Claxton at that pivotal point guard position -- to rather disappointing effect -- Atlanta may find that the polished Law is the answer. That is a lot to ask of any rookie, but having played four years at Texas A&M, Law has more experience than any rookie, anyway.<br><br>Send comments to email@example.com.