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 19, 2013 2:25 PM EDT
After playing only four minutes on an injured foot in the New York Knicks' final regular season game, Rasheed Wallace retired on Wednesday. One of the most talented and controversial players of his generation, he was still effective at 38, 20 years after he appeared on the national scene at North Carolina.
Along with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki, Wallace redefined the power forward position and revolutionized the game. But while he was as talented as his four contemporaries, he's the only one won't wind up in the Hall of Fame. Wallace never cared much for his image or his legacy, which is why, paradoxically enough, he became such a beloved countercultural figure.
There were very few things Wallace couldn’t do on a basketball court. At 6’11, 230 with exceptionally quick feet and a rumored 7’4 wingspan, he was a defensive prototype. He had the strength to battle the best low-post scorers on the blocks, the quickness to move in space and the length to protect the rim. He had all the tools on the offensive side of the floor too: an excellent post game, complete with a turnaround jumper that was essentially indefensible and the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line. His versatility on both sides of the ball and his understanding of the game made him the perfect teammate, capable of playing any role his team needed.
If there was a criticism of the way he played, it was that he wasn’t selfish enough. Despite being an overwhelming force on the low block, he shied away from dominating the ball, preferring to play a more team oriented game and often floating out to the three-point line. Even though he could create his own shot against anyone, he never averaged more than 20 points a game. His lack of aggression on the offensive end can be seen his number of free throw attempts. While Dirk, Webber, KG and Duncan all had seasons with more than six a game, Wallace’s career high was a little over four. He wasn’t as suited to being a primary offensive option as his peers, but when he was dialed in, his versatility allowed him to have a similar impact on a game.
In many ways, Wallace was ahead of his time. His fascination with the three-point shot drove many fans and analysts crazy, but it’s the ideal place for a big man to be on offense. The modern game is built around spacing the floor, with coaches in the NBA and the NCAA searching everywhere for a “stretch 4” who can drag his defender out of the paint. The problem comes on the other end of the floor, as most jump-shooting big men can’t play defense. Wallace was a stretch 4/5 who doubled as one of the best defensive big men in the game. MVP candidates are the only players more valuable than that. It's the same reason why Chris Bosh, not Dwyane Wade, is the second most indispensable player on the Heat.
It’s no coincidence Wallace won everywhere he went. The only year he missed the playoffs was his rookie season, when he played with Webber (!) and Juwan Howard (!!) on an underachieving Washington Bullets squad that was quickly broken up. By 22, he was one of the key players on the legendary “Jail Blazers” squads in Portland, where he began to develop the “rebel without a cause” reputation that followed him throughout his career. Seven years later, he wound up with the Detroit Pistons, where he teamed with Ben Wallace to form one of the most fearsome defenses in NBA history. He finished his career with stops in Boston and New York, where he was still a key player on two elite teams, even in his late 30’s.
Few players had more near misses than Wallace. The Jail Blazers came this close to knocking off the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2000, blowing a 15-point lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers went on to win the next three NBA titles while the Blazers were quickly dismantled after the public grew tired of their off-court shenanigans.
In 2005, a year after Wallace got his revenge on L.A. as the missing piece for the Pistons, they lost to the Spurs in a classic 7-game series in the NBA Finals. In 2010, Wallace was the third big man for the Celtics who lost to the Lakers in another 7-game Finals that went right down to the wire. A couple bounces are all that separate Wallace from four titles.
All that, however, has been overshadowed by the way he carried himself both on and off the court. In terms of records that will never be broken, his 41 technical fouls in 00-01 is up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. With the NBA now suspending players after 16 technicals, no player will ever be able to carry on such a long-standing feud with the officials. Perhaps the best testament to Wallace’s talent was his ability to thrive despite so openly thumbing his nose at the sport’s power structure.
That’s where Wallace angered so many basketball traditionalists. Rather than using his immense talent to make himself the very best basketball player he could be, he used it to give himself the freedom to be the type of player he wanted to be. Wallace was such a good player that he could afford to view the game from an entirely different perspective, disregarding the basic norms of being a professional. He openly used recreational drugs, disrespected people in power and spoke his mind. Depending on your own personal view of the world, that made him either a hero or a villain. What made Wallace such a fascinating character is that he didn’t really care either way.
If a player doesn’t care about his image, there’s nothing the media can do to him. These are things he actually said, in reference to the NBA drafting kids out of high school: "They don't know no better, and they don't know the real business, and they don't see behind the charade," Wallace told The (Portland) Oregonian. "They look at black athletes like we're (expletive deleted). It's as if we're just going to shut up, sign for the money and do what they tell us ... As long as somebody CTC, at the end of the day I'm with them. For all you that don't know what CTC means, that's 'Cut the Check.” Wallace, quite literally, said anything he wanted too. He was good enough of at basketball to get away with it.
Wallace had the ability to be a Hall of Famer. He could hold his own against anyone in the NBA at his position; no one played better post defense on Tim Duncan. Circumstances never quite worked out for him, but it doesn't seem that he's all that bothered by it. The greatest players are supposed to play for their legacy, as if securing a place in Bill Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid should be their main goal. But why should a player spend his whole career worrying about how it will be viewed when he’s 60? Hopefully, he won’t spend his entire middle age re-fighting the battles of his youth. Rasheed Wallace was the A student happy with a B+. What’s the difference? He understood all the grades are pointless anyway.
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 12, 2012
As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
Oct 15, 2012
The Thunder will again be title contenders, but the Northwest Division is impressive in its depth as the Nuggets, Jazz and Wolves will again be in the playoff chase while the Blazers aren't too far off in their rebuilding process.
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 31, 2012
Anthony Davis will become a member of the Hornets, but the draft is extremely fluid behind him with teams needing several weeks to sort through their unusual number of options even to the Bobcats at number two.
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 “Amnesty 2.0", here is a team-by-team look at which players are eligible for amnesty and identify the reasonable candidates.
Feb 27, 2012
The biggest part of the weekend for LaMarcus Aldridge was the time he had around the other players. He learned a lot from the guys and plans on taking his lessons back to Portland for the season's stretch run.
Dec 26, 2011
Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, UConn, Florida and Arizona each begin the 11-12 NBA season with 10 or more players on NBA rosters.
Dec 24, 2011
After a whirlwind free agency period, the balance of power in the NBA looks a lot different than it did less than a month ago, with the Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Mavericks looking like the legitimate 2012 contenders.
Dec 16, 2011
While the Blazers and Grizzlies improved and are built around long, athletic and skilled front-courts, the rest of the Western Conference (excluding Oklahoma City) returned to the pack.
Dec 13, 2011
If you're a seven-footer with any type of coordination, you will die a very wealthy man. This hasn't changed in the 2011 offseason and will not be changing in the future.
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