The status woe

With the NBA draft in the rearview mirror and the brunt of free agency complete, several teams have to feel frustrated with their inability to make the offseason improvements they had hoped.

Teams like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors.

The Celtics, Sixers and Warriors all looked to make changes to their high-salaried, low-achieving rosters, but none of the teams have been able to make significant moves this summer.

The Warriors suffered through a disastrous season in 2005-06 despite high hopes for their talented young roster. With a sort of Phoenix Suns style uptempo offense, Golden State was a trendy preseason pick to be a playoff team, but the Warriors never could put it together and hoped to revamp their roster this offseason.

But with a host of bad contracts on the books (see: Adonal Foyle, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Baron Davis), Golden State hasn't found many willing trade partners, all of whom are only interested in Jason Richardson. The only way the Warriors will be able to unload any of their bad contracts is to include Richardson in a deal, and they're not interested in doing that.

It appears Golden State will have to improve from within, which means Davis has to be the guy to step up. He is incredibly talented but has not proven that he can stay in shape or be a good leader in the league. This has to be the year Davis matures and expands his impact on his team. If not, it will be another long year for the Warriors.

It appears the Sixers are going to hang onto Allen Iverson now, and that is good news for 76ers fans who enjoy A.I.'s nightly displays of energy and scoring. But the question is, can Philadelphia actually win with him?

Unless a miracle happens, the Sixers will head into the season with basically the same roster as a year ago. And considering the team won only 38 games – and that's with Iverson having a career year, averaging 33 points per game – hope doesn't exactly spring eternal in Philly.

Where do the 76ers go from here? They're capped out, with Iverson and the untradeable Chris Webber each making about $20 million per year, and the team has no identity. The Sixers don't defend, they don't overwhelm you with scoring, and they don't rebound. Their best hope may be that Andre Igoudala develops his star potential, but that will be very difficult playing with Iverson and Webber. Igoudala won't see the ball enough to emerge as a go-to player.

Fortunately for Philadelphia, 76ers fans have always been very forgiving and should be very patient with this team – oh wait. Never mind.

Speaking of impatient fans, what are the Celtics faithful going to do if Boston doesn't do anything between now and training camp? The C's signed Paul Pierce to a three-year extension, but he had the best season of his career last year and the team only won 33 games. So clearly Boston has to give him some help.

With a group of young, talented players like Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, and Sebastian Telfair, the Celtics have some assets to work with and should be able to swing a deal. But so far, Danny Ainge has kept his hand.

Boston was in the Iverson hunt earlier in the summer, but now that that opportunity is gone and Ainge has to weigh his options. Telfair may be handed the point guard reins, but he is unproven and far too young to take over any leadership role. If Ainge can't swing a deal, Celtics fans will have to hope that their young players truly emerge this year, or 2007 will be just like 2006: lots of Paul Pierce and another trip to the lottery.

  • Before the NBA schedule was announced last week, there was one nationally televised matchup that was as easy to predict as the outcome of a Steve Nash free throw: The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers squaring off on Christmas Day.

To no one's surprise, the league made it official. For the third consecutive year, basketball fans will wake up on the 25th of December and anticipate the continuation of the league's most intriguing soap opera – the rivalry between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Last year's Christmas Day meeting was highlighted – or lowlighted, depending on your perspective – by the two superstars refusing to even acknowledge each other before the Heat's 97-92 victory. A few weeks later in L.A., the two teams met again but this time Kobe and Shaq engaged in an awkward, "Everything is OK now" made-for-TV hugathon.

Still, the rivalry will go on for as long as these two megastars are playing in the NBA, and the league will of course continue to exploit it. And why not? This is the entertainment world, and the Kobe/Shaq matchup is the most watched game of the year. Even the non-basketball fans tune in to watch them go at it. From that perspective, the Lakers and Heat should play on Christmas.

But as a former player, I wonder how fair it is to continue to schedule the same teams over and over again on Christmas Day. For the Lakers, this will be the second straight season they'll have to play 3000 miles from home on the holiday. At least the Heat players get to wake up with their families. For Kobe, Phil Jackson and the gang, they're going to hop on a plane on the 24th and be away from home on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Players are like everyone else: They want to be with family on Christmas, Thanksgiving and other special days. I realize that the league has an obligation to its fans to schedule attractive games, but I also think the NBA should look after its players and coaches. A rule should be put in place that teams cannot be scheduled to play two seasons in a row on Christmas.

  • Speaking of rules, the league officially changed its playoff seeding format last week, looking to avoid the controversy of a year ago when the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks met in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs despite having the conference's best records.

The new format awards the top four seeds in each conference to the three division winners plus the best overall second-place team, with each seed based on record. (Seeds five through eight are then given to the teams with the remaining four best records). In other words, Dallas would have been the two seed last season, ahead of the division-winning Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets, despite finishing second behind San Antonio in the Southwest Division.

The news comes a little late for the Spurs, who were knocked out by Dallas in an epic seven-game series when perhaps they should have been pitted against a weaker team. Still, the change is better late than never.

The new rule should avert most future controversies, although in theory there could be two second-place teams that win 50-plus games, relegating one of them to a fifth seed. The league felt it was important, though, to reward each division winner with at least a top four seed, and it would probably take an extraordinary set of circumstances to see the type of controversy we saw a year ago.