The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Eastern Conference preview (for the next five seasons)

Posted by disappointmentzone on 17 August 2006

The Cavs signed Drew Gooden this week to a three-year, $23 million contract. As far as I can tell, no one is particulalry excited about the deal–in all fairness, this is Drew Gooden; I wouldn’t expect much fanfare–and most of the apprehension fans feel, if they feel any, stems from the amount Gooden was signed for, not the length of the deal. I think we all agree that Gooden is talented, just maybe not $23 million talented.

I’ve discussed at some length the Cavs’ salary cap situation for the next few seasons, though I think it might be worthwhile to compile all my thoughts into a more formal, organized post, which I’ll try to write…sometime. Until then, I think it’s worth exploring the other teams that might challenge the Cavs for the Eastern Conference slot in the NBA Finals.

What follows will be scattershot and is not meant as a late-summer, really early season preview. I’m just providing a quick breakdown of the contract situations for the other teams. Maybe the apprehension fans feel about signing Drew Gooden will be alleviated once they get a load at what other teams are paying their players. If anything, it should bring a bit of perspective to what the Cavs will be facing in the next few years.

So, the first team on the list is the defending champion Miami Heat. Without further ado…

Miami Heat

Of all the teams in the East that will be contending for a NBA Finals berth in the next few seasons, Miami has the narrowest window. Shaq is 34 and is finally looking like a guy who’s been a center in the NBA since 1992. For each of the past three seasons he’s taken an extended summer vacation, arriving in playing shape sometime around Easter. He’s still a great player, but he’s older than just six years away from being 28, if that makes any sense. Which wouldn’t be a problem if the Heat didn’t sign him to a five-year, $100 million contract that won’t expire until 2010. No one is taking the $50-$75 million Shaq will be due when the Heat want to dump is salary in the next couple of seasons. Of course, the Heat front office will be less willing to admit that they want to trade Shaq than any team will be willing to trade for Shaq. $25 million per season for a humungous center who’s in the winter of his career and whose success is predicated by his size even though his health is compromised by his girth does not equal long-term success. And then there is the Antoine Walker contract, worth about $45 million over the next five seasons. Antoine Walker is just not a good player. Last season he only produced 1.7 wins. He’s 30 years old, has over 3700 3PTA in his career despite shooting only 33% from long range, and last season averaged only 5 rebounds per game. And if his shooting numbers were not already offensive, he shot under 63% from the free throw line last season. For his career he’s shooting 64%. This is exactly what I want from a 6’9” forward. At least Shaq can rest all season and then come dominate in the playoffs. Walker is entirely unable to dominate a game, yet is one of the highest paid players on his team.  Not good.

Those are Miami’s big contract problems. But if you want to add Jason Williams to the mix—he’s on the book for $45 million and won’t be a free agent until 2008—I wouldn’t hold it against you. Some people like Williams since he’s cut back on the flash, thus reducing his turnovers. If I were a Heat fan I’d be concerned that in late-game situations Gary Peyton is my point guard, as he often was in such situations last seasons. Peyton is a free agent, and about 76 years old, but wants to return to the Heat. He’ll sign for the minimum and that will be that. Oh, and at backup center is a guy who’ll turn 37 during the season and who himself needs a backup kidney. Alonzo Mourning can still defend and grab rebounds, but how much longer will he stay in the NBA? How much longer can he be effective? I don’t know what the Veas over/under is, but I’d take the under.

Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem, who’s under contract (five years, $30 million; absolutely great contract) through 2010, are the bright spots for the Heat. Other than a bevy of minimum contracts, the best thing the Miami has going for it is that it’s Miami. And Dwayne Wade. He’s pretty good, I hear.

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