by Dave Fuller
Gilbert Arenas is reportedly "20-30" days from returning to the court for the Washington Wizards according to..well, himself. I think Agent Zero is to be trusted as he knows his own body better than anyone, and I haven't heard any conflicting reports from trainers. This also gives him somewhere in the vicinity of 20-30 regular season games to play. Perfect timing, and his legs should be relatively fresh from all the rest. Seems as though fantasy owners will receive a boost from their first-round pick in just a matter of weeks. If he's somehow available on the Waiver Wire, now's as good a time as any to snatch him up before someone else does. Once he gets his timing and game speed back, he'll be quite a force to contend with as usual.
KG remains out with abdominal issues, a problem which has sidelined him for five games already. It could continue to keep him sidelined past the All-Star break, so those who have watched their first-round (probably first overall pick) draft choice will have to suffer a few more weeks before Garnett is back to speed. This of course is merely speculation, but plan accordingly anyway. Besides, you can be grateful Garnett didn't pull a Gilbert Arenas; he has at least played a vast majority of the season. This could help KG owners in the same way as Arenas' issue, however: his legs should be fresh and healthy for some dominant play in the stretch run. He'll need to produce to keep the Pistons at bay.
Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon (am I missing any Bulls?), Gerald Wallace..all of the above are listed as questionable for their upcoming games. Various injuries have sidelined them, but none of these ailments are considered serious enough to keep them out for more than a week or two just to make sure parts are fully healed. Anticipate their returns within a handful of games or less.
If you saw either of these deals coming (I sure as heck didn't), I will be amazed. Pau Gasol was dealt to the Bynum-less Los Angeles Lakers, and LA gave up nothing. Not literally, but it might as well have been that way. The two first-round draft picks they surrendered to acquire the former Memphis big man will likely turn out to be late first rounders when they come to fruition, and the combo of rookie Javaris Crittenton and massive bust Kwame Brown does little to balance the deal out. All-in-all, the Lakers have quickly become one of the top three teams in the West with this deal (assuming Bynum comes back healthy) with an extremely legitimate shot at this year's title. They still have efficient PG Derek Fisher, and Gasol seems intelligent enough to adapt to Phil Jackson's triangle offense quickly. He'll have plenty of time to, anyway.
Then, the Pheonix Suns added some diesel to their fire by acquiring 35-year-old Shaquille O'Neal in exchange for Marcus Banks and Shawn Marion, both of whom are heading to the Heat. Even SportingNews.com commented on the deal as "one of the most unexpected in NBA history", and I'd be shocked if anyone knew otherwise. All Shaq will do to Pheonix is slow down their up-tempo game, much like Chris Webber did in his debut last night with Golden State. I'll get to that shortly. O'Neal simply does not have enough left in the tank to bring Pheonix to the promised land, and the lack of team defense on the Suns helps their case little. Losing fast-break and high-energy man Shawn Marion further hurts the chances of making it far into the postseason, and breaking up the chemistry of the team just exacerbates the problem of this deal. The Suns got worse. Perhaps a lot worse. As for Marion, his scoring should increase as the second option to Dwyane Wade in Miami. His turnovers, assists and field goal percentage will all get slightly worse, but will be somewhat off-set by the increased scoring and rebounding he's likely to achieve. Score one for Pat Riley, but this puzzling move is just a little too late.
Chris Webber made his debut with the Golden State Warriors last night, starting in place of either Al Harrington or Matt Barnes (Nellie plays the match-up game every single night). Luckily the game was aired nationally on TNT, so I got to watch (nearly) all of it and see how Webber played. Of course, he was very much out of shape and his timing was off, but that will come when he's back to game speed. He'll bring passion, passing, and height to a Warriors team that desparately needs it (Joakim Noah had 10 off the bench in just under 15 minutes). Once he's putting in 20-25 minutes a night in relative game shape, he should contribute in the range of 10 points/5 rebounds/3 assists on average. He will slow down the Warriors similar to O'Neal's negative presence, but the rest of the team knows how to run and they could probably be fine with him straggling behind. If I had to predict, I'd say this is a move that just keeps them as the 8th seed in the West as the playoffs roll around. Houston, Portland, and Denver are playing well, but Golden State would need to remain focused and play their best basketball to grab the 7th spot by the end of the regular season.
Unfortunately, it might not matter. Los Angeles looks to be the clear favorites to win the Western Conference championship this season. I'll be happy if Golden State makes the 2nd round again.