Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Heb 11:1
The topic du jour seems to be comparing our team now as opposed to the team from last year (pre Walker trade). The most obvious difference is Payton. Gone will be his steady veteran hand at the point. However, also gone will be his tendancy to walk the ball up and run plays that the coach didn't call. Other than that, you can sub Scalabrine in for Googs and come out on top. Sub in some young players for Jiri, and based on his play last year, we probably come out on top again. Even if you call it even on those, there's not that much drop off.
Still, much of the East has made moves to get better (even if they don't all work out - see New Jersey). So can we rest on our laurels and expect an over .500 team? Perhaps.
The key is with the kids. Our starting lineup could feature Delonte West, Tony Allen, and Al Jefferson. Basically, last year's draft class (and Reed should get some increased minutes as well). This is basically where the kid gloves come off and the young players start to earn their keep. A lot of faith is being put in the younger players on this team, and they'll sink or swim this year.
When it comes to our record, its not a matter of what personel moves we made this offseason. Our record will simply be a reflection of how fast our young players mature and develop into their roles on this team. Its that simple.
Was Al Jefferson good enough to be a starter last year? Not until the very end (if then). If he's good enough to be a solid NBA starter this year, that will be huge. If he continues to show his star promise, all the better. He's got low post instincts that can't be taught and a knack for getting rebounds that I wish could be taught to one of our post men. However, if he has a sophmore slump or turns out to be fools gold (the latter seems less likely), then it could be devestating for this team - at least in the short term.
What about putting the offense in the hands of a guy who only saw a handful of games his rookie year? Delonte West looks and sounds like a coach's dream. He has court awareness and a great jumper. But so did Jiri Welsch. Things can sour quickly in this league. On the other hand, Delonte could do what Kirk Hinrich has done in Chicago, or better.
Tony Allen hit the wall hard last year. Many are doubting him now because of how he tailed off at the end of the season. I am much more optimistic. Of course it always comes back to my defensive bias. But I like a guy that can be a disrupitve force on D, fill the lanes on the break, and give you a few "wow" moments a game. If he ever gets centered and focused, look out. Could he continue his tail off? Sure. But if he does, there is a fleet of guys ready to fill in if he does.
Don't sleep on Kendrick Perkins either. He might not ever reach the levels that Al could, but he's got the make up of a solid NBA center. I don't need to tell you how rare that is. He's got the size already, he's got a mean streak and a nose for the ball. If we can keep him out of foul trouble and continue his learning curve, he could be the anchor of the defense and the starter of many fast breaks.
I've already gone over Marcus Banks, but it is worth mentioning that he made some great strides at the end of the season where he was being used for long stretches at a time. If he can continue his growth along the learning curve, he could be this team's starting point guard. If not, he could still be a bargaining chip.
Ignoring for the minute that Ricky Davis is far from a mid-life crisis, we also have Justin Reed and Ryan Gomes that are showing more promise by the day. Neither promises to be a star in the traditional sense of the word. However, each has many qualities that you look for in role players. I could see one or both guys becoming glue guys in the fashion of Eric Williams. I'll use this space to squeeze in Orien Greene as well. A good backup PG is rare in this league. Lets see if he can fill that role. If these players don't step up, the team will have to spend Scalabrine money on another role player (or players) to fill that need in years to come. If they do step up, the team can save that money for resigning all these youngsters.
But that's not all! Way down there at the end of the bench could be the most prized jewel of all. The skinny high school kid with the short finger might become the best player on this team. Of course he could be a collosal flop in the mold of a Kedrick Brown, but if we can keep him away from too many cheeseburgers, we'll have one step in the right direction. Forgetting for a moment this kid's insane hops and penchant for the highlight real, you must not forget the silky smooth jumper that he already has. Unlike many phenoms, he won't need to be taught how to keep his elbow in and follow through. He will need a lot of work on defensive rotations and ball movement, but that is easy enough to pick up in time. Once this kid learns the ropes of the NBA, there's really no upward ceiling.
So cheer up. Maybe we won't make any more moves this offseason (though I won't stop rumor-mongoring). Perhaps the biggest difference between this team and last year's edition will be the rookies and the valuable experience the non-rookies gained in the last year. Doc has done a good job so far of working in the younger players. Can we expect them all to turn into stars? Not a chance. Can we expect them all to improve from last year? I think so.
Can we count on that? Well, I guess we just have to have faith.