This is yet another big splash made by a championship-contending team this off-season and further clarifies a trend of the strong getting stronger in the NBA. The Lakers, though losing Trevor Ariza, who was invaluable to their championship run, gain a tough, rough player in Artest, who gives them the physical and personality edge that they have been lacking the past two seasons. Chemistry concerns are obviously a concern with the volatile Artest, but given his friendship with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom and his eagerness to win, it’s more likely than not that his presence on the Lakers will be a net gain for both he and the team.
- Artest will see his fantasy value decline. He is not going to get the 15 shots per game he saw in Houston last season, and if Lamar Odom re-signs with the Lakers, it’s unlikely that Artest will see 35:30 per game either. Expect his 17.1 points per game to decrease to somewhere in the 14 to 15 range, his rebounds to to remain steady at around 5 per game and his field goal percentage to rise from 40.1 percent last year. He’ll be asked to focus more on the defensive end, which could mean more steals and blocks. Phil Jackson’s decision to return as the head coach of the Lakers bodes well for the management of Artest’s personality. Jackson’s experience with Dennis Rodman should prove quite useful this season with Artest on board.
- Bryant may see a boost in production thanks to Artest’s presence on the floor. The reigning Finals MVP will spend less time and energy covering opposing teams’ star players, like LeBron James, and will be able to be more efficient on the offensive end, which spells trouble for other teams. Expect his points and rebounds to remain steady, and his assists to rise.
- If Odom re-signs, he’ll have even stronger competition for playing time, which means his frustrating inconsistency will most likely continue. There is a chance that Odom will be able to focus more of his energy on the offensive end with Artest handling more of the defensive grunt work against opposing small forwards and power forwards, so all hope is not lost for Odom’s value just yet.
- Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum might have more competition for rebounds, but their values should remain intact. Artest’s signing could prove particularly helpful for Bynum, who was prone to getting into foul trouble early and often. With Artest there to do a better job of preventing opposing players from getting into the lane as easily, Bynum may find himself with less opportunities for blocks but more time on the floor, which should even things out.
Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva reportedly agreed to five-year deals with the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, for at least $50 million and $35 million, respectively, which should improve the values of both players.
Gordon, whose value is probably a bit inflated after his superhuman playoff performance against the Boston Celtics, finally nabs the big-time contract he couldn’t get from the Chicago Bulls, while Villanueva lands on a playoff-contending team after being dissed by the Milwaukee Bucks. These moves are big improvements for the Pistons, who fell from grace after trading away Chauncey Billups in return for Allen Iverson for financial flexibility.
As an undersized shoot-first shooting guard, Gordon won’t lead the Pistons to any rings but gives them a go-to scorer. Offensively, Gordon and Villanueva will improve the team, but the signing of both players signals a departure from the defensive-minded Pistons teams of the past.
- Villanueva, who averaged 16.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 44.7 percent shooting from the field last year, should see his minutes (26:53 per game last season) increase significantly. Throw in the near-certain departures of big men Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess to free agency and it’s clear that the Pistons will lean on 6-foot-11 Villanueva to fill this void. Expect his numbers to rise across the board.
- Gordon, however, needs to hope that the Pistons trade away Richard Hamilton, which is a realistic possibility. If the team retains Hamilton, their backcourt will primarily be composed of Gordon, Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey, and only two can be on the floor at a time. This would mean that Gordon could very well be relegated to the sixth man role he had for so many years in Chicago, though it would seem unlikely that the Pistons would spend $10 million a year on a bench player. With the team’s present roster, Gordon should produce numbers similar to last season’s, with a couple fewer points, more assists and more turnovers a possibility.
- Stuckey, who the team is doing its best to groom as its star point guard, will continue to see significant minutes but consistency will be his main struggle, regardless of who plays with him. His value should be improved as he matures and sees defenses focus more on his new teammates, freeing him up a bit more.
- Hamilton should see fewer shots per game, but will still offer consistent value. If he gets traded, his value could change more drastically.
- Tayshaun Prince will likely see more rebounds, but the rest of his numbers should remain steady.
- Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown will share most of the minutes at the Pistons’ shallow center position, but only Maxiell offers potential for marginal value. Villanueva may have to put in some minutes at center, too.