Apr 19, 2013 6:37 PM EDT
Two playoff teams from a season ago (Mavericks, Jazz) joined repeat lottery clubs such as the Suns, Hornets/Pelicans, Blazers, Wolves and Kings.
The Big Questions:
- Will they keep Marcin Gortat around next season?
- Can they get a long-term answer or two through the draft?
- How committed are they to the young guys currently on their roster?
Notable Free Agents: None
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Miami’s 1st Rounder, Denver’s 2nd Rounder (Own 2nd traded to Houston)
The Lay of the Land: After last summer, the Suns have a meaningful amount of money committed to current talent through the 14-15 season. They have some financial flexibility and the benefit of not having to overpay to keep their current guys but have a big decision to make in terms of Marcin Gortat. He is a talent and one of the few bright spots on the team but can walk away in 2014 since he is unrestricted. The Suns could try to agree to an extension or attempt to find a worthwhile offer for him any time between now and the trade deadline. The draft could end up playing a major part in this process depending where Phoenix ends up. Grabbing a big like Nerlens Noel could set a trajectory that could light the path towards other moves through trades and free agency.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Big Questions:
- Do they want to use their cap space this summer?
- Will Anthony Davis end up primarily guarding power forwards or centers?
- What should they do with Eric Gordon?
- Has Al-Farouq Aminu’s play this year earned him a new contract in New Orleans?
Notable Free Agents: Al-Farouq Aminu (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder (Own 2nd traded to Philadelphia)
The Lay of the Land: Thanks to a strong year from Greivis Vasquez, the biggest need for New Orleans has to be at small forward. Fortunately for the team, SF stands out as the only position that should have a rotation-level player at the fifth pick (the Pelicans’ most likely landing spot in the draft) between Otto Porter, Shabazz Muhammad and Victor Oladipo. The team also has an interesting option in-house in the form of Al-Farouq Aminu who had a much better year than expected. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, he is an unrestricted free agent and could end up being overpaid by another team.
Beyond the draft and Aminu, the other big question facing the Pelicans is when they want to use their cap space either by trades or free agency. With Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers all having another three years on the books, the only increased salary to come soon will be Vasquez next summer. Considering the money they have, New Orleans could choose to acquire a significant contributor or two via free agency or unbalanced trade at any point in the next two years. If Dell Demps and company see the right player become available, they could also use Eric Gordon or Robin Lopez as additional assets to get a deal done.
The Big Questions:
- Can their ownership situation be resolved in time to get new management in place for the draft?
- What kind of extension should they offer DeMarcus Cousins?
- How much are they willing to match/pay for Tyreke Evans?
- Do they use the amnesty on John Salmons?
Notable Free Agents: Tyreke Evans (Restricted), Cole Aldrich (Unrestricted) and Toney Douglas (Restricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: Unlike every other NBA team, the uncertainty around the Kings covers location, ownership, and personnel. The team needs a front office overhaul in the worst way but that process cannot start until we find out who owns the team and where they will be playing long-term. Fortunately for the franchise, they are getting closer to escaping bad contract purgatory though they have huge decisions to make on Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins over the next two summers. They stand out as two of the hardest players to get a firm read on in terms of value in the entire league and could infatuate another team enough for them to make an offer that would be hard for the Kings to swallow matching.
Since they traded Francisco Garcia at the deadline in the Thomas Robinson / Patrick Patterson trade, the only logical use of the amnesty left would be John Salmons’ $7.583 million contract for next year that only has a partial guarantee of $1 million for the following season. Clearing out that additional money would allow the team to make a bigger splash this summer without losing much on the court. Considering the new owners would like to give the fans a better quality product at the outset, a move like that seems far more likely than it would have been under the Maloofs.
The Big Questions:
- Will they be able to retain Nikola Pekovic?
- Will Andrei Kirilenko pick up his player option?
- Can Minnesota combine their assets to get more meaningful contributors?
Notable Free Agents: Nikola Pekovic (Unrestricted), Andrei Kirilenko (Player Option) and Chase Budinger (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Memphis’ 1st Rounder, Brooklyn’s 2nd Rounder, and OKC’s 2nd Rounder (own 2nd Rounder traded to Portland via Cleveland)
The Lay of the Land: After a season decimated by injuries, Minnesota has another summer full of compelling possibilities. The Nikola Pekovic situation will have a major effect because a longer-term deal will mean that he will bridge the years before Ricky Rubio is eligible for an extension and likely mean the end of any gargantuan amount of cap space, though the team would still have plenty in 2014 to make some strides. If Pekovic heads elsewhere, the Timberwolves will have a clear-cut need and more long-term money than short-term money (assuming AK47 opts in). Luke Ridnour’s expiring contract might allow Minnesota to break up the point guard logjam as well if they can get a small asset in return.
The biggest problem that Minnesota has at the moment is the lack of a coherent core around their best players (Kevin Love and Rubio, in my estimation) that makes sense with their strengths and weaknesses. Even though this off-season can go in many directions given their assets, the Wolves would be wise to understand who they are building around and use the strongest building blocks they have.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Big Questions:
- Can they pull a starter-quality player through free agency or an unbalanced trade?
- Will they re-sign JJ Hickson?
- How much better will Damian Lillard be next season?
Notable Free Agents: JJ Hickson (Unrestricted) and Eric Maynor (Restricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder, T-Wolves’ 2nd Rounder, Celtics’ 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: With three core starters (LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum) locked up through at least 14-15 and a fair amount of cap space, the Blazers have a clear opportunity to take their team to another level talent-wise. With nine players already under contract for next season, four draft picks, and only around $43M on the books before draft picks, they can be aggressive with the space they have in either of the next two summers. Even though this year’s class is weaker they could get a nice SG or C through free agency or by getting a talent from a team looking to be a player in the big 2014 free agent class.
Portland also faces an interesting decision on JJ Hickson. He has been a nice contributor this season but the team will likely have to face the reality that they can better use the money they would pay him to shore up more glaring holes in their roster and/or make a more significant upgrade in talent. I absolutely love the situation the Blazers have right now though it will take more positive moves this summer to work into the tightly packed Western Conference Playoffs.
The Big Questions:
- Can they get an elite talent through free agency?
- Will they retain any of their young free agent guards?
- If they get a major player, will they have enough depth to compete this season?
Notable Free Agents: OJ Mayo (Player Option), Darren Collison (Restricted), Rodrigue Beaubois (Restricted), Chris Kaman (Unrestricted), Brandan Wright (Unrestricted), Elton Brand (Unrestricted) and Anthonty Morrow (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: Dallas is in an unusual situation because they only have six players under contract for next season and four of those six will be on the last year of their deals. Unfortunately for Mark Cuban, two of those contracts (Dirk Nowitzki’s final year and Shawn Marion’s player option) combine for $32 million. That large number makes it much harder to build a long-term team in just one summer. Fortunately, it could become a two-year process where the team gets one building block now and then another significant one next summer after those big salaries come off the books entirely. Furthermore, a progression like that would build momentum and potentially make Dallas more enticing to someone in next year’s class.
The Mavericks also face the challenge of making decisions on O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois at the same time. Mayo can go wherever he likes if he declines his player option with DC and Roddy Buckets have to deal with being restricted free agents. Having that much volatility in terms of salary will make it harder for the front office to keep things together unless they can hold off their RFA’s from signing until after they handle potential big ticket players. Dallas also loses out with the new sign-and-trade rules because now the number of teams that would acquire any of the three guards while giving resources to Dallas has been cut dramatically. One of the most complicated and convoluted summers could also yield fantastic results if the dominoes line up over the first few weeks of July.
The Big Questions:
- What combination of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson do they keep?
- Can they agree to an extension with Derrick Favors or Gordon Hayward?
- How will they use their insane amount of cap space beyond retaining current players?
Notable Free Agents: Paul Millsap (Unrestricted), Al Jefferson (Unrestricted), Mo Williams (Unrestricted), Randy Foye (Unrestricted), Earl Watson (Unrestricted), DeMarre Carroll (Unrestricted) and Jamaal Tinsley (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Golden State’s 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: The best way I know how to describe Utah’s challenge this summer is that they have to attempt to speak two languages at the same time. Free agency all happens in the same whirlwind so the Jazz front office has to figure out whether they can retain one or both of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap (and at what price) while also trying to figure out how to use the remaining cap space to make the best possible roster while sitting on cap holds for Jefferson and Millsap as long as they are unsigned. Fortunately for Utah, they have a ton of salary cap space and that gives them a little more time flexibility than they would have without it.
One of the downsides of possessing multiple young talents at the same time is that eventually they will need to get pay raises. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward will leave their rookie deals next summer, which means they are eligible for extensions until the start of next season. Thanks to restricted free agency, the downside risk of not coming to a deal is lower than for unrestricted players but the team must estimate the cost of retaining both of them and Enes Kanter one year later when doling out contracts now. With two first round picks and plenty of room to add new salary, no team has a greater opportunity to improve this summer than the Utah Jazz.
Apr 11, 2013 4:00 AM EDT
Before their 102-91 victory on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns had not beaten the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas since 2007. That game, a wild 129-127 double-overtime shootout between two high-octane offenses, was the highpoint of one of the most exciting rivalries in the NBA. With Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki squaring off, every matchup between Dallas and Phoenix was must-see TV. Six years later, there are few late-season games more depressing than a meeting between these two franchises. In the NBA, if you can’t sell wins, you sell hope. It’s hard to have much hope for below .500 teams giving so many minutes to players in their thirties.
For both, the road to mediocrity began when they lost their All-Star big man in free agency. Re-signing either Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler would have been a gamble, but the bigger one was losing that type of asset without getting anything in return. The Suns went from going to the Western Conference Finals with Amar’e to missing the playoffs; the Mavs went from winning a title with Chandler to being swept out of the first round. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they were essentially committing themselves to a rebuilding process with a franchise player in his mid-thirties. And without much young talent on either team’s roster this season, there’s no telling when that process will end.
Ever since Robert Sarver bought the Suns, they have had a penny wise, pound foolish attitude towards the draft. From 2004-2008, they sold the rights to the picks that became Luol Deng, Rudy Fernandez, Rajon Rondo, Nate Robinson, Serge Ibaka and Wilson Chandler. Instead of embracing the value of securing talented young players on cost-controlled deals, they sweated giving someone on the end of their bench a guaranteed contract. As a result, as Nash got older and Amar’e began breaking down, there wasn’t a Tiago Splitter or a Kawhi Leonard around to pick up the slack.
The Mavs haven’t gotten a player out of the draft since Devin Harris in 2004. It hasn’t been a question of money; they actually bought a first round pick in 2010. Unfortunately, they used it on Dominique Jones, a third-year guard already languishing in the D-League. A lot of teams draft players who need two or three stops before they stick in the NBA; the Mavs draft players who wash out of the league as soon as their rookie contract ends. Maurice Ager, their first-round pick in 2006, played in 82 total games in his NBA career. There’s a good chance Rodrigue Beaubois, their first-round pick in 2009, never plays in the league again.
While it’s hard to draft well in the latter stages of the first round, that’s the only way all but a select few franchises can replenish their talent pool. The Spurs consistently find contributors with picks worse than the Mavs or the Suns have had. Drafting basketball players isn’t the game of chance that many GM’s like to pretend; there are certain teams that have been counting cards for years. Just follow the San Antonio front office tree, from Oklahoma City (Sam Presti) to Charlotte (Rich Cho) and Orlando (Rob Henningan). All those guys have proven they can evaluate young talent, which is more than you can say for the front office in Dallas or Phoenix.
Without any young building blocks, both teams had to dive head-first into the morass that is free agency. It’s possible to fit an undervalued free agent into your system (see: Tony Allen in Memphis), but giving out big contracts to guys who aren’t superstars is usually an invitation to pay for someone else’s problem. The Suns used the cap space created by Amare’s departure to bring in Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus. And while their world-class medical team has squeezed production out of guys like O’Neal, Grant Hill and Michael Redd, what good is a player (literally) on his last legs to a rebuilding organization? There’s no point in having a mentor for young guys who won’t stick in the NBA.
The Mavs, at least, have had the decency not to commit long-term to a bunch of mid-level free agents. Chris Kaman, on a one-year $8 million contract, has the highest usage rating on the team and the lowest assist rate. On the other side of the floor, he plays defense at about the level you would expect for a lumbering 7’0 270 center on the wrong side of 30. OJ Mayo, who has a $4 million player option for next season, remains as inconsistent as ever, with a jumper that comes and goes and wildly varying levels of decision-making and defensive intensity. Here’s all you need to know about Darren Collison: in his last season before unrestricted free agency, he lost his starting job to a 37-year-old with a 9.1 PER.
What has to be most concerning about a lost season in Dallas and Phoenix is the lack of progress from their rookies. Kendall Marshall, whom the Suns drafted at No. 14 overall, has looked completely lost. He’s got good size and passing instincts for a PG, but he’s a poor shooter and a below average athlete. He has the game, athleticism and hairline of a guy 10 years his senior. Jared Cunningham, a shooting guard from Oregon State whom the Mavs drafted at No. 24, has barely seen the floor. His D-League stats might explain why: he’s a 6’4 200 guard who can’t shoot or run point.
It’s far too soon to give up on either, but the holes in their game were evident in college. Marshall played with four future first-round picks at UNC: Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock. It’s pretty easy for a pass-first PG to look good in that environment. Yet even with all the defensive attention his teammates drew, he averaged only 8 points on 47% shooting. Cunningham, the best player on a team that went 7-11 in the Pac-12, was a clear reach in the late first-round. To the extent he succeeded in college, it was by being the best athlete on the floor, which won’t be enough at the next level.
With the importance of the draft magnified by the new CBA, both teams have to turn some draft picks into home runs. Cunningham and Marshall don’t even qualify as getting on base. For the Suns, it became a worst of both worlds situation with Nash: they were too emotionally attached to pull the plug and he was too good to be on a bottom-feeder. As a result, they hovered around .500 for two more seasons without getting any younger. The Mavs are one more failed offseason before they are facing that exact scenario with Dirk, who will be 35 in three months. There was only so long Dallas and Phoenix could paper over their inability to find and develop young talent. This season, those chickens have come home to roost.
Jan 27, 2013 12:41 PM EST
The 2012 NBA Finals between the Heat and Thunder were the high-point of a league-wide shift towards floor spacing and away from post play. This season, LeBron James and Kevin Durant have separated themselves even further from their peers, looking poised to wage many more championship bouts over the next decade. Just like Michael Jordan, who never saw a Hall of Fame 7’0 in any of his six NBA Finals appearances, they may be the biggest beneficiaries of a lost generation of big men.
From 2002-2007, four centers were taken No. 1 overall. Six years later, the only one currently playing is coming off major back surgery. Yao Ming and Greg Oden are out of the NBA entirely, no one knows when Andrew Bogut and Andrew Bynum (taken 10th) will be back and Dwight Howard has been a shadow of himself in Los Angeles. Howard was supposed to be the centerpiece of a title contender and one of the faces of the league, not the hobbled captain of a ship that be sinking. Something is happening to the NBA’s best big men and the league needs to figure out what to do about it.
Of course, this is hardly new. NBA history is chock full of big men with careers cut short by injury, from Bill Walton to Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie. A 6’10+ human being is in the 99th percentile of height, an extreme physiological outlier in every sense. Maintaining proper circulation to the extremities at that size is difficult enough, even before accounting for a brutal year-round playing schedule with preseason, regular season, postseason and international games.
Nor can the injuries be pinpointed to one part of the body. Yao was undone by his feet and ankles. Oden and Bynum combined for at least six major knee surgeries before the age of 25 while Bogut has had numerous seemingly flukish injuries to his elbows, hands, wrists, knees and ankles. In his time with Orlando, Howard earned the “Superman” nickname by being nearly one of the NBA’s true ironmen. When I saw him in Dallas, his back was so stiff it didn’t look like he could bend over and pick a quarter off the ground.
The easy answer to the injury question is the size of modern centers. Like every other position in the NBA, they’ve grown bigger, stronger and faster over the last 50 years. We may have reached the natural end-point in terms of how big someone can be and stay healthy over the course of an 82-game NBA season. Yao was listed at 7’5 310 while both Oden and Bynum checked in at 7’0 285. Even in a game of giants, those three stood out in the crowd. The average center last season was only 6’10, 250.
Yet Shaq, generously listed at 7’1 325, carved out a long and relatively healthy NBA career, not breaking down until he was in his late thirties. How was he able to avoid the debilitating injuries that have plagued his successors? It certainly wasn’t his commitment to physical fitness. Was his decision to recover from injuries “on company time” ultimately a good thing for the companies that employed him? These can’t be academic questions, not when franchises worth hundreds of millions of dollars rest in the balance.
Baseball has a similar dynamic with young pitchers, simultaneously the most valuable and most fragile assets in the sport. The difference is that the MLB has made a proactive attempt to protect their players. Over the last generation, the game has changed dramatically. Complete games have gone from commonplace to practically non-existent while pitch counts have taken over the sport. Last season, the Washington Nationals famously shut down Stephen Strasburg just to avoid the possibility of an injury.
That’s not a scenario you’ll see too often in the NBA, where players are given the majority of the blame for being “injury-prone”. However, you can just as easily say that certain teams are more injury-prone than others. There is as wide a range of competence among the league’s 30 medical staffs as there is among its 30 front offices. The Phoenix Suns are proof of that.
Maybe it’s the warm climate that attracts so many other retirees, because something about Phoenix is a tonic for the NBA’s most injury-prone players. Steve Nash and Grant Hill missed 41 total games in their last four seasons with the Suns. They’ve already missed 61 (!) in their first year in Los Angeles. Here’s how many games Shaq played in his last five seasons: 40, 61, 75, 53, 36. Guess which was his only full season with the Suns. Michael Redd played almost as many games with Phoenix (51) in last year’s lockout-shortened season than he did in his last three (61) with Milwaukee. Jermaine O’Neal has been relatively healthy for them this season. Jermaine O’Neal!
I’m not a doctor and I’ve never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express; I really have no idea what makes the Suns different from everyone else. Here’s one interesting article about their “secrets”. Whatever their methods, the Phoenix medical staff should be like the San Antonio front office, with disciples spreading a proven philosophy far and wide throughout the league. However, accountability for a position that rarely gets much media attention will only happen if the players demand it through free agency.
Bynum and Howard will be unrestricted free agents this summer, while Oden will be looking to make a comeback. In choosing a team, their first priority has to be choosing a franchise with a world-class medical staff. If Phoenix can give those guys a measurably better chance at staying healthy, that’s a pretty big deal. Maybe there’s no answer to the riddle of keeping big men healthy in the modern NBA, but if anyone can crack the code, it’s the Suns. I don’t want to be writing the same article about Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors a decade from now.
Dec 27, 2012
Bernard James recently spoke with RealGM over the phone to discuss the battles he faced on his way to becoming a rookie in the NBA with the Mavericks and what his future holds going forward.
Dec 20, 2012
Without Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki never gets his ring. Without him dominating the paint on both sides of the ball, ďLinsanityĒ never happens. And if he had stayed in Dallas, Carmelo Anthony would be battling the tabloids on a .500 team, not competing for an MVP award on a contender.
Dec 12, 2012
As we move forward with ďAmnesty 2.0,Ē we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
Nov 27, 2012
Ten-year NBA veterans should have the respect basketball fans for what they have accomplished in their careers, but that doesnít mean they no longer have to prove they are worthy of minutes. In fact, itís the exact opposite. The burden of proof should be on the veteran to show heís capable of overcoming the aging curve.
Nov 15, 2012
The biggest difference between Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki isnít what they do on the court; itís the type of players you can put next to them. They're both future Hall of Famers, but Gasolís ability to do almost everything on the court allows many more types of big men to be successful next to him.
Oct 03, 2012
The Spurs, Mavericks and Grizzlies should be playoff teams again in 2013, but the development of the Hornets and Rockets will be equally fascinating.
Jul 19, 2012
The Heat, Thunder and Lakers appear to be a cut above the remainder of the NBA, but how do the 27 other teams rank?
Jun 29, 2012
Whle the Pistons, Blazers, Bobcats, Nets, Thunder and Bulls headline the 'Great Drafts', the caboose of 'Bad Drafts' is comprised of the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks, Wolves, Heat and Knicks.
Jun 29, 2012
On Washington's transformation, the Austin Rivers mess, USA vs. International, Damion Lillard anointed at point guard, Boston's back-to-back picks and how Meyers Leonard fits with Portland.
Jun 28, 2012
The Andre Drummond/Perry Jones effect on this draft before we make sense of picks seven through 30 just hours before a flood of draft-day trades shreds every mock.
Jun 21, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft is a week away and nothing is certain beyond Anthony Davis going to the Hornets with the first overall pick even though several scenarios are beginning to crystalize.
Jun 19, 2012
There are two core reasons why players outperform their pre-draft expectations, while there are two main paths for prospects to underachieve.
May 23, 2012
While every team in the lottery can bring their Anthony Davis jersey if they win the first overall pick, the gap between Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond is extremely narrow for me and highly intriguing.
Apr 24, 2012
There was great concern about how teams would struggle with so many games in so little time, but the numbers indicate that they fared better than expected. Teams averaged a .547 winning percentage in the third game of consecutive days.
Apr 19, 2012
As we move forward into the 2012 offseason with ďAmnesty 2.0", here is a team-by-team look at which players are eligible for amnesty and identify the reasonable candidates.
Jan 06, 2012
Like quarterbacks, quality big men are difficult to find. Here is a look on how the lack of strong frontcourt depth could harm teams like the Knicks and the Clippers in a†compressed regular season.
Dec 29, 2011
Roster management is a zero-sum game, and for every spot claimed by a young player, a veteran has to give way. Here are some notable names not on an NBA roster as the 11-12 season gets underway.
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