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As usual, the offseason began with numerous significant trades, sign-and-trades, and free-agent transactions. Here’s my take on the best and the worst of these thus far.

THE WORST DEALS

- Contrary to popular opinion, Brooklyn’s acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be disappointing.

Pierce will be 36 when the season commences and for the latter part of last season his wheels were wobbly. Give him until Christmas before his wheels fall off, preventing him from routinely attacking the basket and becoming strictly a jump shooter. So, too, his lateral quickness has slowed to the point where his defense (while never a particular strength) will make him a liability when the Nets don’t have the ball.

At age 37, KG’s odometer is on the verge of expiring. These days, he talks better defense than he’s capable of playing. His chronic failures on offense in clutch situations are well-known around the league and, and like Pierce, he rarely can take the ball to the rim in any circumstances. For sure, his self-aggrandizing chest-beating will raise his teammates’ intensity level a few degrees, but on the basis of his recent history (missing 80 games in the last six seasons), he’s liable to spend nearly as much time cheerleading from the bench as he will on the court.

- The arrival of Josh Smith in Detroit likewise raises false hopes. This guy has a habit of taking bad shots, and of not always coming to play. His incredible physical talent is undermined by his dismal basketball IQ.

- Even with the questionable stability of his knees, Andrew Bynum will insist on being the mainspring of Cleveland’s offense. However, when opponents rig their defenses to stymie his pet spin moves, and also look to double him on the move, Bynum’s offense can be contained even if/when he’s ever healthy. When last seen playing defense, Bynum had difficulty deciding when to challenge lane penetrators and when to pay full attention to his man-to-man obligation. Furthermore, after being coddled in Los Angeles by Jimmy Buss, Bynum’s work ethic leaves much to be desired.

- The Knicks desperately needed a creative scorer to take some pressure off of Carmelo Anthony, but JR Smith’s erratic play (especially in the playoffs) failed to adequately get the job done. Indeed, the only consistencies in Smith’s game are his reluctance to pass, his penchant for taking ill-advised shots, and his reckless, gambling defense. Plus, there’s always the possibility that his surgical knee takes longer to completely heal than advertised.

- The Knicks’ most ballyhooed move was obtaining Andrea Bargnani. Although he can shoot the lights out from downtown, New York’s latest “savior” can’t rebound or defend, is strictly a straight-line driver, and is incredibly soft. In Toronto, Garbarg-nani was rarely in game-shape, played with little intensity, and blamed all of his shortcoming on various injuries. If he thinks that the Toronto media was on his case, should he revert to his habitual failings, this guy ain’t seen nothing yet.

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THE BEST DEALS

- Since Brook Lopez is unathletic, can neither rebound nor defend; Iso Joe Johnson used to play defense; and Deron Williams is only useful with the ball in his hands; the addition of Andrei Kirilenko is a huge plus for Brooklyn. Although AK can be bullied, his earnest, long-armed efforts on defense gives the Nets a semi-stopper that the departed Gerald Wallace failed to provide.

In the same vein, Metta World Peace puts some backbone into New York’s often limp defense. If MWP no longer possesses the lateral quickness to satisfactorily defend fleet-footed wingmen, his bump-and-bang tactics are still successful against power forwards. And he remains a streaky three-point shooter and an underrated yet legitimate scoring threat in the low-post. However, ever since winning a championship with the Lakers, MWP has played with only occasional intensity and with routine selfishness. 

Will playing in his hometown be an inspiration? Or a distraction?

- Jarrett Jack is relatively slow and his jumper is a sometimes thing. But the dude is tough and plays smart, aggressive defense. His competitive attitude will be valuable both on the court and in the locker room. Jack is a subtle yet important addition to the Cavs.

- Monta Ellis can penetrate and score in dynamic fashion. He’s even willing to pass! His explosive (if somewhat streaky) offense gives Dirk Nowitzki a worthy partner on offense.

- Of course, the biggest deal has been Dwight Howard's taking his considerable talents to Houston. Look for Kevin McHale, working in tandem with Hakeem Olajuwon, to inject some juice into Howard’s plodding offensive moves in the pivot.

Yes, DH12 can rebound and block shots, but he’s often out of position on defense and is distraught when he fails to get the touches he thinks he deserves. All of Howard’s on-court deficiencies can be improved (except perhaps his dismal free-throw shooting), yet his mindless immaturity just might be permanent.

Even so, Howard remains the best of a mediocre crew of current centers.