The offseason of professional basketball is hardly ever dull, with enough trades, free agents and contract extensions to satisfy any hoops junkie. In fact, some even think what happens off the court is more interesting than what happens on it. Given the recent internationalization of basketball, the buzz and rumors of the sport’s transaction wire transcend leagues and even national borders.
This is not at all lost on the players involved. When talking to last year’s Villanova men’s basketball senior class, each of them stated that one of the biggest changes they anticipated in making the jump to the pros was the incredible influence of business in an environment that, in the player’s younger days, consisted of a seemingly simple game. Now, many face pivotal seasons in their basketball careers in ’07-’08 season.
Now that much of the dust has settled in the pro basketball offseason, nearly every recent alumnus of the Wildcats has been impacted by the turbulent seas of the business of basketball.
T’wolves get a new top dog
The biggest splash during the NBA’s “vacation time” was made by the Boston Celtics, who acquired superstar power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a blockbuster trade. The Celtics, with the additions of Garnett and shooting guard Ray Allen, have quickly gone from laughingstock to the most intriguing team in the league headed into next season.
However, it should also be interesting to watch how the other side of that trade unfolds. In giving up Garnett, Minnesota lost the player who had served as the face of its franchise for the last 12 seasons. It will be up to the team’s newly-formed young nucleus to give the team a new identity.
Villanova All-American Randy Foye, in just his second NBA season, has been given the reins to run the Timberwolves new-look offense. Foye, who played in all 82 games last season and averaged 10.1 points per game, has been given the starting point guard job for the upcoming season. After trading Mike James to Houston for Juwan Howard and waiving Troy Hudson, the team’s other two options at the point, it seems clear that Minnesota is confident in its 23-year-old guard to help lead one of the youngest teams in the league, which also features budding star Al Jefferson and this year’s seventh overall pick, Corey Brewer.
Lowry back in the mix
After missing nearly the entire ’06-’07 NBA season with a broken wrist, former ‘Nova point guard Kyle Lowry is back with the Memphis Grizzlies and ready to compete for playing time as the team’s floor general.
“I try not to even think about it,” Lowry said in an interview with NBA.com. “It was frustrating sitting out 72 games because I know I could have helped the team. It is time to move on.”
Although he is now healthy, things aren’t much easier for Lowry, who has some stiff competition. The Grizzlies brought in former Ohio State standout Mike Conley Jr. and European star Juan Carlos Navarro to battle Lowry and the incumbent Damon Stoudamire for minutes at the point.
The 21-year-old Lowry, whose NBA experience consists of just 10 games, proved he is back to his old form with a great showing on the Grizzlies’ summer league team. He averaged 16.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field in the team’s five games.
Benvenuto a Italia
Three former Wildcat teammates will head to Italy together to begin the ’07-’08 season in two of Europe’s most prominent basketball leagues.
Allan Ray, who, after one season with the Boston Celtics, was cut loose due to an overcrowded roster, has caught on with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma (also known as Lottomatica Roma). Ray signed a two-year deal with the Italian Serie A team worth $2 million, a significant raise over the $687,456 he would have made if he remained with the Celtics this season. In his only season with Boston, he averaged 6.2 points per game in 47 contests.
Just before his Celtics career ended, Ray performed well on the team’s summer league roster. The guard started all five games and averaged 10 points per game.
Ray joins former Sacramento Kings guard Erik Daniels, former Houston Rockets guard David Hawkins and New Jersey Nets draft pick Christian Drejer on the Roma roster.
About 140 miles away, Mike Nardi will begin his professional career with Basket Napoli (also known as Eldo Napoli). Nardi, whose grandparents were born in Italy, received Italian citizenship, which is key for his ability to play in Italy for the long-term due to roster restrictions on foreign players. Also featured on Napoli’s roster is former Stanford forward and NBA Development League player Matt Haryasz.
Earlier this summer, Nardi spent time in Las Vegas on the Grizzlies’ summer league roster along with former backcourt mate Lowry but did not appear in any games.
Joining Ray and Nardi in Italy this year is former Wildcat forward Will Sheridan. “Bump,” as he is affectionately known, will suit up for Vanoli Soresina, in Italy’s LegADue.
While Sheridan will not compete in Italy’s top league, Serie A, with his former teammates, he has a chance to in the near future. According to LegADue rules, the top two teams in the league this year will be promoted to Serie A.
Sheridan could be a nice fit in Eurobasket, more known for its finesse style. The forward was well-known for his toughness and ability to do the little things, and could help bring a more physical style to Vanoli Soresina.
Guten tag, Curtis
After bouncing back from two knee surgeries with a successful senior season at Villanova, forward Curtis Sumpter greatly increased his chances of catching on with a pro team. Sumpter’s first shot was with the Denver Nuggets’ summer league squad. The former Wildcat performed well, averaging 9.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game.
Later in the summer, Sumpter signed on to play with the KÃ¶ln 99ers of the German Basketball Bundesliga (BBL). The team, based in Cologne, has been in existence since 1999 and features former Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat.
Following the lead of Jason Fraser, who is playing for the Auckland Stars in New Zealand, Sumpter will head to a foreign country to prove that he is durable enough to return to fufill his NBA dreams.