Steve Kerr: Antawn Jamison, Dallas Mavericks
Sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing to happen to a player, and Antawn Jamison's move from the Golden State Warriors to the Dallas Mavericks could be a classic example.
Jamison was known as an overpaid, streaky scorer on a bad Golden State team. Suddenly he finds himself on a roster full of talented, similarly high-priced veterans who almost made it to the Finals a year ago.
No longer will he be asked to carry a team, and no longer will his contract be an issue. Hey, Jamison makes the max? Get in line on that team buddy! Cuban's paying everybody.
I love the fact that Jamison â€“ a classic 'tweener' â€“ is in a system in which he can thrive. Don Nelson has always loved basketball players who just play and don't necessarily need a position. Is Nowitzki a 3 or a 4? Is Finley a 2 or a 3? It doesn't matter. They just play.
Jamison will thrive in an up tempo offense, and although he's not a back-to-the-basket player, he does score around the basket with an assortment of offensive rebound put-backs, runners, jump hooks and leaners in the lane. He'll compliment all those perimeter shooters nicely.
And can he ever run on the break! Jamison's going to have some fun with the Mavericks, and it's up to him now to prove that he's more than just a guy who can put points on the board. He has a chance to be a winner.
Jason Williams, Memphis Grizzlies
'J Will' very quietly made major improvements to his game last year under the tutelage of Memphis Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown and GM Jerry West. He's always been a whiz with the ball and incredibly fun to watch. But while his game had style, it lacked substance. Terrible shot selection, awful turnovers at critical times and an utter disregard for defense made him an underwhelming, if entertaining, point guard.
I had a chance to watch him in camp in Memphis recently, and Jason has improved dramatically. He's picking up defensively full court, making smart decisions with the ball and showing restraint when the situation calls for it. Jerry West challenged him a year ago to make the most of his talent, and it appears that Jason is accepting that challenge.
If he plays well and Pao Gasol can be stronger down on the block, Memphis has a chance to move up the ladder in the West and maybe â€“ maybe â€“ challenge for the last playoff spot in the West.
Ricky Davis, Cleveland Cavaliers
Because of LeBron Mania, the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves on national TV about a dozen times this year, and there may actually be more than just family and friends on hand for home games at the Gund. This is a golden opportunity for Ricky Davis to show the fans that he is more than just a stat-happy gunner willing to do anything for a triple double â€“ remember that embarrassing moment last year?
It appears that LeBron is a wonderful passer and may spend some time at the point this season, and if that's the case, he and Davis could combine to form the most athletic backcourt in the league.
It can work, if Paul Silas can teach Davis how to play. If Cleveland is going to be good, eventually, Zydrunas Ilgauskas has to be the focal point of the half court offense and LeBron, Davis and Darius Miles have to defend, rebound, push the ball and, most importantly, share the ball.
I think it is too much to ask at this point. But if Davis can slow down, play unselfishly and listen to Silas, these guys could be pretty good in a couple of years.
Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
There comes a time in every NBA player's career when he defines himself. This is Francis' time.
Is he going to continue to over-dribble and display his best Marcus Haynes impersonation during games? Or is he going to lead the Houston Rockets to the playoffs by moving the ball, managing the game and getting the ball into Yao Ming consistently. It's up to him.
I think Jeff Van Gundy is the right coach at the right time for Francis. Jeff will instill a discipline in this team that has been lacking the last couple of seasons, and he will insist that the offense runs through Yao.
That means less dribbling for Francis, better spacing, more ball movement and open jump shots for the Rockets' perimeter guys. Steve must learn to catch and shoot without hesitation when he receives the ball out of the double teams. The guess here is that Francis, a good guy and a wonderful talent, will make the adjustment and help the Rockets win. And become a true star in the process.
Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, Chicago Bulls
These guys made a lot of improvement last season, and if they continue to get better, the Bulls could find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
People forget how young these two are, and that the learning curve will take more time. Remember, Chandler and Curry would just be entering their junior years if they had gone to college!
But the third year in the NBA is usually when players start to 'get it', and I think these guys are on their way. Scottie Pippen, if he can stay healthy, will make a difference the way the ball is distributed. And Bill Cartwright has to tone down Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford's offensive urges. But if it starts to come together for the Bulls, it's the two young big men who will take the team to the next level.
Juwan Howard, Orlando Magic
For the first time in seven years, people will not be talking about this guy's contract. Instead, maybe they'll think about the fact that he's a very good player â€“ not a superstar, mind you, but a very solid, team-leader type who can really be a factor for the Magic this season.
Howard can rebound and score, and he quietly reconstructed that ugly double-clutch, behind-the-head jump shot of his a year ago. Now he is much more efficient from 15 to 18 feet. He'll really benefit from playing with Tracy McGrady, and his work ethic and character (along with his game) could help the Magic reach the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference this season.