Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Complete 2012 NBA Mock Draft

     These projections are based on the needs of teams and the selections they currently have. It is highly likely each team won't be in the same exact spot by the time the NBA Draft starts, since that is when most of the trades occur. I don't expect the draft order to be the same by tonight, but if no trades happen, then this is what the order will look like, and I am basing my draft projections on the current order. Selections should be read as "Team = Player, Position, School" For international players, I'll put down the country they played for before they were subsequently drafted.

First Round

Anthony Davis will definitely be selected first
overall, but how wil the rest of the draft turn out?
1. New Orleans Hornets = Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky
2. Charlotte Bobcats = Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas
3. Washington Wizards = Bradley Beal, SG, Florida
4. Cleveland Cavaliers = Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky
5. Sacramento Kings = Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut
6. Portland Trail Blazers = Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State
7. Golden State Warriors = Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina
8. Toronto Raptors = Dion Waiters, SG, Syracuse
9. Detroit Pistons = John Henson, PF, North Carolina
10. New Orleans Hornets = Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois
11. Portland Trail Blazers = Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina
12. Houston Rockets = Austin Rivers, SG, Duke
13. Phoenix Suns = Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut
14. Milwaukee Bucks = Perry Jones, PF, Baylor
15. Philadelphia 76ers = Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky
16. Houston Rockets = Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina
17. Dallas Mavericks = Terrence Ross, SG, Washington
18. Houston Rockets = Arnett Moultrie, Pf, Mississippi State
19. Orlando Magic = Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky
20. Denver Nuggets = Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State
21. Boston Celtics = Royce White, SF, Iowa State
22. Boston Celtics = Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure
23. Atlanta Hawks = Moe Harkless, SF, St. John's
24. Cleveland Cavaliers = Will Barton, SG, Memphis
25. Memphis Grizzlies = Tony Wroten Jr., PG, Washington
26. Indiana Pacers = Draymond Green, SF, Michigan State
27. Miami Heat = Fab Melo, C, Syracuse
28. Oklahoma City Thunder = Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor
29. Chicago Bulls = Doron Lamb, SG, Kentucky
30. Golden State Warriors = Evan Fournier, SG, France

Second Round
Festus Ezeli is one of three Vanderbilt
players I have going in the second round.

31. Charlotte Bobcats = Jeff Taylor, SF, Vanderbilt
32. Washington Wizards = Tyshawn Taylor, PG, Kansas
33. Cleveland Cavaliers = Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt
34. Cleveland Cavaliers = Furkan Aldemir, PF, Turkey
35. Golden State Warriors = Miles Plumlee, PF, Duke
36. Sacramento Kings = Kevin Jones, PF, West Virginia
37. Toronto Raptors = Darius Miller, SF, Kentucky
38. Denver Nuggets = John Jenkins, SG, Vanderbilt
39. Detroit Pistons = Jared Cunningham, SG, Oregon State
40. Portland Trail Blazers = Kyle O'Quinn, C, Norfolk State
41. Portland Trail Blazers = Scott Machado, PG, Iona
42. Milwaukee Bucks = Orlando Johnson, SG, University of California Santa Barbara
43. Atlanta Hawks = Mike Scott, PF, Virginia
44. Detroit Pistons = Robbie Hummel, SF, Purdue
45. Philadelphia 76ers = Kevin Murphy, SG, Tennessee Tech
46. New Orleans Hornets = Darius Johnson-Odom, SG, Marquette
47. Utah Jazz = Jae Crowder, SF, Marquette
48. New York Knicks = Ognjen Kuzmic, C, Bosnia
49. Orlando Magic = Drew Gordon, PF, New Mexico
50. Denver Nuggets = Scoop Jardine, PG, Syracuse
51. Boston Celtics = Tomas Satoransky, PG, Czech Republic
52. Golden State Warriors = Tu Holloway, PG, Xavier
53. Los Angeles Clippers = Terrell Stoglin, SG, Maryland
54. Philadelphia 76ers = Casper Ware, PG, Long Beach State
55. Dallas Mavericks = Maalik Wayns, PG, Villanova
56. Toronto Raptors = Dee Bost, PG, Mississippi State
57. Brooklyn Nets = Herb Pope, PF, Seton Hall
58. Minnesota Timberwolves = Hollis Thompson, SF, Georgetown
59. San Antonio Spurs = Kostas Popanikolaou, SF, Greece
60. Los Angeles Lakers = William Buford, SG, Ohio State

     If you have any thoughts or are interested why I put a certain player where, you're always welcome to comment! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the 2012 NBA Draft tonight!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Off Season Needs: Northwest Division

     At the beginning of last season, most NBA analysts thought the Oklahoma City Thunder would reach the Finals. The Thunder proved worthy, and played extremely well during the condensed season. However, they lost to the Miami Heat in the Finals, and are returning with a vengeance. The Denver Nuggets played hard and were a fun team to watch throughout the season. They took the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of elimination in the first round, but unfortunately came up short in Game 7. The Utah Jazz went on a tear at the end of the season, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Their young players are continuing to develop and they'll only get better over time. The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off a disappointing season. With a new GM in Neil Olshey, Portland is expected to make a bunch of moves to get them back into the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming off an average year, but suffered a major setback when they lost point guard Ricky Rubio last season. With him coming back healthy, can this team make a serious run for the playoffs next season?

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Denver Nuggets

Players under contract for next season: Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Jordan Hamilton, Corey Brewer, Julyan Stone, Chris Andersen, Kosta Koufos

Free Agents: Rudy Fernandez (RFA), JaVale McGee (RFA), Andre Miller

What they need: The Nuggets are a solid playoff team with a bunch of good players like Lawson, Gallinari, and Faried. However, they don't have that one All Star or superstar that will push them over the top. If they want to be serious contenders, they will need that star player to lead them. Head coach George Karl has been doing a phenomonal job with his players, and GM Masai Ujiri has made several good moves since he was given his current position. They have three picks in the draft, one in the first round and two in the second round. They might look to package the picks and players to get an All Star on their team, but no trades seem imminent.

McGee is expected to return to Denver this summer.
What to expect: I expect Karl to coach his team to the playoffs again. There is speculation the team might get rid of Al Harrington in some way because he has an expensive contract. I think Faried is primed to be a star, because of his high motor and intangibles. The team is expected to retain JaVale McGee, who has continued to develop under Karl. Andre Miller has fit well with the team, and plays great off the ball with Lawson, so I expect the team to try to keep him unless he is offered something out of proportion. Rudy Fernandez is a decent player but I don't expect the Nuggets to retain him. In the NBA Draft, there's not much known about who the Nuggets are looking at. They might look for a big man to play in rotation with Faried and McGee at #20 like Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie, and there are some rumors they will trade their two second round picks to move up in the draft. This team is set in stone for the most part though, and I expect to see them in the playoffs again next season.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

Players under contract for next season: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Wayne Ellington, Jose Juan Barea, Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, Malcolm Lee, Chase Budinger

Free Agents: Michael Beasley (RFA), Anthony Randolph (RFA), Anthony Tolliver

What they need: This team is somewhat like the Denver Nuggets. They have a lot of good players, but I think they have more with star potential. Kevin Love is already an All Star, and I think Ricky Rubio will be an All Star one day. Derrick Williams showed flashes of the star he could become in his rookie season, but he still needs to develop. With that said, they'll need more veteran presence in the locker room. They can target players like Atlanta's Tracy McGrady, Cleveland's Antawn Jamison, or Los Angeles Clippers' Kenyon Martin. These players can contribute as well as make the players in the locker room more mature. The Timberwolves are on the upswing.

Can Rubio stay healthy
this upcoming season?

What to expect: The Timberwolves recently traded their #18 pick to the Rockets for forward Chase Budinger. I don't think it was a bad deal since Budinger is a nice role player, but this draft class is regarded as one of the deepest in years, so I don't know if I would have done it. There has been speculation that the Timberwolves are trying to trade some of their assets for star quality talent. Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington have expiring contracts that will be attractive to teams. Nikola Pekovic is also an expiring contract, but if he produces like he did this past season, Minnesota will try its best to sign him to a long-term deal. Wesley Johnson didn't perform as well as expected in his second season, so there's question about his future with the team. I think the Timberwolves will only make some minor moves to sure up their bench, but that's it. If the key players on this team stay healthy, then Minnesota will be in the hunt for the playoffs this upcoming season.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

Players under contract for next season: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, Reggie Jackson, Cole Aldrich

Free Agents: Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey

Can Durant and the Thunder return to the Finals next year?
If they add some veterans, I think they'll win it all.

What they need: Experience. Veterans. Any of that. There is only one player on the current roster for next season who is over 30 years old, and that's Nick Collison. I would not honestly be suprised if they bought Derek Fisher back. He has championship pedigree and seemed to fit well in the locker room. Also, they need head coach Scott Brooks back. He's not Doc Rivers or Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich but he is a very good young coach. He's done amazing with this team, and I think he can bring the championship to Oklahoma City. I like the way he runs the team and they will continue to grow with him as the head coach.

What to expect: In the NBA Draft, I expect the Thunder to select Michigan State's Draymond Green with the #28 pick. Green was the face of Michigan State basketball last year and played great for the Spartans, leading them again to the NCAA Tournament. He's a high character guy and is physical down low. He's more of a tweener but can be a solid back up behind Durant. Green reminds me a lot of San Antonio's DaJuan Blair, and I expect Green to be a nice role player in the NBA no matter what team he goes to. In free agency, the Thunder won't make any earth-shattering moves. They have a lot of young talent who I can see getting more chances during games. I can see them retaining Fisher and Mohammed but you never know what can happen. The organization has been run very well since GM Sam Presti took office, so I expect them to make the right moves that will get them back to the Finals next season.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Players under contract for next season: LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nolan Smith, Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Kurt Thomas

Free Agents: Nicolas Batum (RFA), J.J. Hickson (RFA), Jamal Crawford, Mehmet Okur, Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Raymond Felton, Craig Smith, Joel Przybilla, Shawne Williams (PO)

What they need: After looking at the current roster, the Trail Blazers will need a point guard, small forward, and center. They made an extremely smart move by trading Gerald Wallace to the Nets for a lottery pick, Okur and Shawne Williams. They have two lottery picks in the draft, where I expect them to fill their needs. If Kaleb Canales remains the head coach, they have one hole filled. The Trail Blazers have four picks, two in each round, for this year's draft. In a deep class, Portland can really position itself well for next season if they draft the right players.

Portland does not want to mess up in this draft, so does that mean
they will pass up on the inexperienced Drummond, despite his high potential?
What to expect: In free agency, I expect the team to retain Batum and Hickson. Batum was an integral part of the starting five of the Trail Blazers, and the franchise adores him. I don't think he'll get the biggest payday, but he is worthy of some money I'm sure the team will give him. They reportedly extended him a qualifying offer, so we'll have to see if he accepts it. Hickson played well down the stretch for Portland and was a sensational back up for Aldridge, so I wouldn't be suprised if Portland keeps him too. I don't think Portland will keep any of their other free agents though, except Przybilla since he's been there forever so if he's willing to accept somewhere close to the veteran minimun salary, then the team will probably keep him. What they do in the draft depends on what they do in free agency. I think Portland will select UConn's Andre Drummond with the #6 pick, and Duke's Austin Rivers with the #11 pick. In Drummond, they have the franchise center they desperately need. He's a bit raw offensively, but has aspirations to be like Dwight Howard. Scouts say he's just as athletic as Howard, but his motor and intensity are questionable. If he maintains a high level of energy to become like Howard, then he will not turn out like Greg Oden. In Rivers, they get a kid who has a high motor and is one of few in the draft who can create his own shot. They have a lot of shooting guards right now, but drafting Rivers makes players like Wesley Matthews and Nolan Smith expendable to possibly trade for solid starting point guard. I think Rivers has a high ceiling, and can become like Monta Ellis one day. In the second round, they have the #40 and #41 selections, which I expect them to use on Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn and Iona's Scott Machado. If you watched the NCAA Tournament closely, O'Quinn was the player who led his team in a huge upset over Missouri. He's a smaller center who has decent range, and would be solid in a rotation with Drummond, Aldridge, and Hickson. Machado is a pass-first point guard and would be an efficient reserve during the beginning of his career. If the Trail Blazers select Drummond and Rivers in the first round, they will have to get a starting point guard in free agency. Their best, most realistic options are Houston's Goran Dragic, Los Angeles Lakers' Ramon Sessions, and Phoenix's Steve Nash. They could even try swinging a trade for Toronto's Jose Calderon. This team has a lot of free agents but I think they'll make some good moves in the summer which will propel them back to the playoffs next season.

5. Utah Jazz

Players under contract for next season: Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Earl Watson, Raja Bell, DeMarre Carroll

Free Agents: Blake Ahearn (RFA), Jeremy Evans (RFA), Josh Howard, C.J. Miles, Jamaal Tinsley (TO)

What they need: The Utah Jazz are a borderline playoff team, but they have a lot of younger players who will be critical to the future success of the franchise. This includes Kanter, Favors, Burks and Hayward. These players will have to develop quick if this team wants to go deep in the playoffs next season. The Jazz will need a small forward, which will probably be easier to find in free agency since they are without a first round draft pick and the immediate talent they need is probably not available in the second round. Devin Harris is an expiring contract and has not worked out great so far in Utah, so they might need a point guard for the future too.

Can Harris' tenure as the Jazz starting point guard
be coming to a close soon?
What to expect: In the NBA Draft with their #47 pick, I expect the Jazz to select either a point guard or small forward. I think their best options are Iona's Scott Machado and Marquette's Jae Crowder. Machado, I had previously explained, is a pass-first point guard who has an impressive all-around game I believe will translate nicely to the NBA. Crowder is a high-octane motor kind of guy, and was a leader for Marquette throughout his career there. He's not extremely tall, but he is tough and has an NBA body. I think if put in the right system, Crowder can produce and succeed as a role player off the bench. In free agency, I think the Jazz might try going for a point guard, but they should probably trade Devin Harris first. Harris has some value, so they could probably get a first round pick for him if they wanted to. I wouldn't be suprised if they traded Harris for a late first round pick in this year's draft instead of for a future first round pick. If they happen to get a first round pick in this year's draft for Harris, they should target Kentucky's Marquis Teague. I think Teague has a lot of potential like his brother Jeff, who starts for the Atlanta Hawks. Marquis plays a different kind of style from Jeff's however. I think with time, Marquis Teague can develop into a solid distributor for any team. If they go for a point guard in free agency, they can target players like Charlotte's D.J. Augustin or Los Angeles Clippers' Chauncey Billups. However, if I were the GM of the Jazz, I would wait until next year to get a point guard for the future, in either the 2013 NBA Draft or free agency, where there is a talented group including the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, Golden State's Stephen Curry, Toronto's Jose Calderon, and Denver's Ty Lawson. This team has more questions heading into next summer than it does now, but I expect the Jazz to be around .500 this year, and in contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

     That does it for my "Off Season Needs" series. I've covered each team from each division, and you can look for analysis on your favorite team on the right side of the main page. Just click the division in which your teams plays in, and read away! Next I'll be putting up my NBA 2012 Mock Draft. Kentucky's Anthony Davis is going #1, but how will everything else turn out after he's selected? I'll tell you who I think will go where. Tomorrow is going to be a great day for 60 young men, and I'm glad to say I'm going to the NBA Draft. I'm going to try to interview any players that will be there, and if I do, I'll post the interview(s) on here. Enjoy the draft tomorrow everybody!

Off Season Needs: Southwest Division

     This season, the Spurs had proven that with an older group of stars, they can still win many games. At one point throughout the end of the season and the playoffs, the Spurs went on an incredible 20-game winning streak. However, the younger and more up-tempo Oklahoma City Thunder beat them in the Western Conference Finals. The 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks played well enough to have the #7 seed in the West, but like the Spurs, fell to the Thunder. The Memphis Grizzlies played consistent throughout the season. They were considered dark horses to win it all, but were upset in seven games by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Next year seems to be a redemption year for the Grizzlies. The Houston Rockets just barely missed the playoffs, but have two mid-first round picks in the draft where they can select a couple solid prospects. The New Orleans Hornets were one of the worst teams in the league but were awarded the first overall pick of the draft by winning the draft lottery. The team also has the tenth pick of the draft and a lot of cap space.

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Dallas Mavericks

Players under contract for next season: Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Brandan Wright, Lamar Odom, Kelenna Azubuike
Free Agents: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Ian Mahinmi, Yi Jianlian, Brian Cardinal

What they need: Dallas ideally needs to get younger talent on its squad. They will need a point guard for the foreseeable future, as well as a center to anchor their defense. In the first round, the Mavericks are stuck in a bit of a quandary. Most drafts project them to select UNC's Kendall Marshall, a point guard. However, the Mavericks are also competing with the Brooklyn Nets for the services of superstar point guard Deron Williams. If the Mavericks had both Marshall and Williams, how would they coexist? I believe the Mavericks will not select Marshall, partly because I believe he will get picked before #17. He can go as early as #6 to the Trail Blazers, and can fill a hole on at least four different teams between #6 and #17. I think Dallas should go for a big man, but at the same time, there's not really any true center that is projected near #17. Either they are ranked higher like UNC's Tyler Zeller and Illinois' Meyers Leonard, or lower like Syracuse's Fab Melo and Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli. I think owner Mark Cuban and his team will conduct a trade to move further back or further up in the draft to select some sort of big man. In the second round, they could select a point guard project. Their pick is #55, but they might be able to find a player with knowledge and experience, like Seton Hall's Jordan Theodore or Florida's Erving Walker.

Will Williams be joining the Mavericks
this summer?
What to expect: I think the Mavericks will make a strong push for Deron Williams, but he will re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets instead. Recently, I read an article about Brendan Haywood's contract and how there is a "spread provision" clause in it that allows his earnings to be near only two million dollars per year over a span of fourteen years since the money is guaranteed. I think the Mavericks will exercise this clause to sign more free agents or possibly to move Haywood. The Mavericks will waive or trade Lamar Odom, because he is obviously unhappy in Dallas. Jason Terry is a fan favorite in Dallas, so I expect the Mavericks to keep him, but only for the right price. Ian Mahinmi is developing at a sure pace, so I think Dallas will retain him as well. Jason Kidd admitted he is not capable of playing long minutes due to age, and has been rumored to gain interest from several teams, so I think he walks from Dallas. I think the Mavericks will trade up to get Meyers Leonard in the draft, but if they stay in the same spot they will probably select a small forward like Moe Harkless or possibly even Fab Melo, even though it's a stretch, The Mavericks will probably sign their point guard in free agency, and if it's not Deron Williams, I think they would sign Houston's Goran Dragic. He plays a nice pace of game and deserves to be a starter in this league.

2. Houston Rockets

Will Dragic still be a Rocket in November?
Players under contract for next season: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Luis Scola, Marcus Morris, Samuel Dalembert, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Fortson, Diamon Simpson, Greg Smith

Free Agents: Courtney Lee (RFA), Marcus Camby, Goran Dragic, Earl Boykins

What they need: In the draft, the Rockets hold the #14, #16, and #18 picks in the first round. In this spot, they can choose a number of players. Personally, I think they should hold on to one of the picks and trade the others, whether it be in a deal to move forward or backward in the draft, or to acquire an All Star caliber player. They have a crisis for sure at the point guard position. Dragic will be in high demand from several teams, so they might have a tough time keeping him. Lowry wants to be traded, so I think they should move him in a deal somewhere. They will need a point guard for the future, as well as a center.

What to expect: There are a number of rumors swirling around about the Rockets' interests to obtain Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. I believe if the Rockets made this deal, it would be absolutely foolish. Howard does not want to be in Houston at all, and they'd give up future assets to have him for a year. While certainly he would get them in the playoffs, it wouldn't be a smart move. There's been talks that the Rockets are trying to move the #16 pick and Samuel Dalembert in a trade. I think if they can make that deal for Chicago's Luol Deng they would be solid. It would give them an All Star starter who plays tough defense out on the wing. They can also be players in a deal for Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, although no talks between the two teams have been documented or reported. I expect Houston to make a strong push for Pau Gasol, but ultimately the Lakers do not want to deal Gasol. The Rockets have a ton of pieces to move, but I expect them to move Lowry for sure as well as Dalembert and the #16 pick. With the #14 pick, I believe they will take Austin Rivers our of Duke. The star guard can create his own shot, and would be a good sixth man coming off the bench behind current starter Kevin Martin. Martin is an expiring contract, and might be moved, but Rivers can be able to start next season. It'd be a bit of a risk, but it could be a high reward for the Rockets if he's handled right. The Rockets are a borderline playoff team, and if they make the right moves, they'll be in it next season.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

Players under contract for next season: Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Josh Selby, Jeremy Pargo, Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham

Free Agents: O.J. Mayo (RFA), Marreese Speights (RFA), Darrell Arthur (RFA), Lester Hudson (RFA), Hamed Haddadi, Gilbert Arenas

Crawford could be a solid option off the bench
for the Grizzlies, who need a shooter.
What they need: The Grizzlies will need an exceptional shooter on the wing as well as a back up point guard. Those are their top two priorities heading into this week's draft. The team is nearly eight million dollars over the luxury tax, so they might need to cut back despite bringing in a new owner. They're not expected to move Gay or Gasol, but there's been rumblings here and there about Zach Randolph as well as a possible return of Pau Gasol, where he and his brother would team up in Memphis. They have several options in free agency they could look at like Milwaukee's Carlos Delfino, Portland's Jamal Crawford, or Phoenix's Michael Redd. According to an article on the Memphis Commercial Appeal's website, the Grizzlies aren't hesitant about trading for a veteran who fills a need. They might be interested in trading for somebody like Brooklyn's Anthony Morrow, a shooting guard who hits shots from any spot on the floor and is an expiring contract.

What to expect: I expect the Grizzlies to bring back Arthur and possibly Speights, but that is it. Mayo has been entertaining some interest and will likely go elsewhere. Arenas played a short time in Memphis and played well, but a team like Miami might sign him to a cheap one year deal. In the draft at #25, I expect them to take Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague. He had an outstanding NCAA Tournament, which raised his stock. He won't challenge Conley for the starting job, but he will learn the ropes and play effectively behind Conley. He can become a starter like his brother Jeff of the Atlanta Hawks in a couple years. Why take a point guard? Because there aren't really any shooting guards projected to be around this spot that can make an immediate impact. However, they could possibly select former Memphis Wildcats guard Will Barton or Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, although they both would be reaches. As stated before, I think there are better options at shooting guard they can look at in free agency. Tony Allen is great defensively, they just need somebody who can shoot to come off the bench.

4. New Orleans Hornets

Players under contract for next season: Jarrett Jack, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rashard Lewis, Gustavo Ayon, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry, Lance Thomas, Greivis Vasquez, Darryl Watkins, Jerome Dyson

Free Agents: Eric Gordon (RFA), Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli

What they need: The Hornets have a nice amount of depth for next year, but they will still need some players. Xavier Henry is not a bad shooting guard, but he's better coming off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu is still developing, and I'm not sure if he's ready to start yet either. They have a big hole at center they need to fill, but it shall be filled by Anthony Davis who they'll presumably select with the first overall pick of the NBA Draft. At point guard, Jarrett Jack has been very serviceable and productive with the team, but he dealt with some injuries and is an expiring contract. The Hornets are looking to deal him to bring in a younger point guard for the future. With the recent trade of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to the Wizards, the Hornets saved some cap room. They are expected to waive Rashard Lewis, which will help them to save even more cap room. The Hornets have holes right now but most of them shall be filled by the time the season comes around.

Anthony Davis is expected to make opponents
"Fear the Brow."
What to expect: As mentioned before, I think the Hornets will waive Rashard Lewis sometime during the next seven days. In the draft, they will definitely take Anthony Davis at #1, and I think they will take another big body at #10 like UNC's Tyler Zeller or Illinois' Meyers Leonard. They might even take Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, despite rumblings about him having constant back issues. I think they'll trade Jarrett Jack and maybe another player or pick to get another first round pick, and use that pick to select Washington's Tony Wroten Jr. Wroten has a lot of potential, and stands at 6'6". He is taller than most point guards, and can play off the ball. He reminds me of Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, and I think Wroten could fit in New Orleans. I think the Hornets will do whatever it takes to keep Eric Gordon in town, even if it means giving him a max contract. He was the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade, is a consistent player and future All Star, and is the best player on the team right now. I think he'll get a ton of interest in free agency, and so the Hornets will probably have to give him the max deal. This team will be very young and have some growing pains, but I think they'll cope decently with the lack of veterans and established talent on the roster. Four years down the road, this team will be one of the best in the Western Conference.

5. San Antonio Spurs

Players under contract for next season: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, James Anderson, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Derrick Byars, Cory Joseph

Free Agents: Danny Green (RFA), Patrick Mills (RFA), Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw

Can Duncan lead the Spurs to another
championship as he finishes out his
illustrious career?
What they need: The Spurs proved this year that father time has not caught up to their best players just yet. However, they will need to start making the transition toward the future. They have some decent players coming off the bench like Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter but I don't think they are ready to start. They are without a first round pick in this year's draft, but I think they can cope easily with what they have now. The Spurs will still be a top team in the Western Conference next year, but they will need to start giving their younger players more experience, mentoring, and playing time to be ready for the future.

What to expect: I don't expect really anything to change with this team next year. Tim Duncan isn't going anywhere, he will finish out his career in San Antonio. Danny Green could attract some attention, there have been rumors that the Celtics are interested, but I think the Spurs will try to keep him. Patrick Mills wants to come back, despite very little playing time, and Boris Diaw played well in their system so the Spurs might actually offer him a contract. This team will be relatively the same next year, and I expect them to be a top team in the West again.

     Lastly, I'll be going over the Northwest Division. The Oklahoma City Thunder reached the Finals but lost, so what will they have to do this off season to win it all? The Denver Nuggets are full of good players, but can they get that one superstar to push them over the top? The Portland Trail Blazers have a lot of free agents this summer but can they come back after a disappointing season this year? The Minnesota Timberwolves were looking good early in the season, but can stud point guard Ricky Rubio come back fully healthy? And finally, the Utah Jazz got hot at the end of the season, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs. How can they improve so they get farther than the first round? Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Off Season Needs: Pacific Division

     In the Pacific Division, there was exciting competition between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for the top spot and a chance at the #3 seed in the Western Conference. Ultimately, the Lakers had won the spot, and the Clippers had to settle for the #5 seed. Both teams beat their quarterfinal opponents respectively, but they both also lost in the semifinals. Phoenix made a playoff run at the end of the season, but could not finish out the very end of the season strong and instead, Utah earned the #8 seed in the West. Now, the Suns are hanging in the balance with the possibility of former MVP point guard Steve Nash leaving in free agency. In Golden State, Mark Jackson completed his first year as a head coach. He did well, but for much time point guard Stephen Curry was injured, as well as center Andrew Bogut whom they acquired in a deadline deal for Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson. After the trade, they shipped Jackson to San Antonio for Richard Jefferson and a draft pick. Next season there's more expectations for Golden State to succeed. In Sacramento, much controversy still exists with the possible relocation of the franchise. There are questions about former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans fitting in the system, and some believe Marcus Thornton is overvalued. The Kings are in somewhat of a crisis, but it will be interesting to see how their situation plays out.

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Golden State Warriors

Players under contract for next season: Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins, Dorell Wright, Richard Jefferson, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Jeremy Tyler, Charles Jenkins

Free Agents: Brandon Rush (RFA), Mickell Gladness (RFA), Chris Wright (RFA), Nate Robinson, Dominic McGuire, Mikki Moore

What kind of impact will Bogut have on the
Warriors during next season and beyond?
What they need: Their starting lineup is pretty intact, and they have some nice bench players. However, their rebounding and defense were both ranked 28th in the league. Bogut coming back should help, but losing Ekpe Udoh in that same trade for Bogut might hurt them. Golden State will need more rebounding at the forward positions, as well as some defensively oriented players. A perfect fit in the draft would be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out of Kentucky, but the Warriors would probably have to move up to get him. Other forward prospects they can look at include UNC's Harrison Barnes and John Henson, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, as well as others.

What to expect: In the NBA Draft, I have a feeling the Warriors will select John Henson at #7. The lanky power forward has a knack for blocking shots, and will be an inside defensive presence for Golden State immediately. His offensive production will take time to develop, but Henson can benefit from playing in a rotation with David Lee and Andrew Bogut. The Warriors have already stated they plan to re-sign Brandon Rush to a new deal, and so even though they would like a young, new small forward, they can wait until next year. The team might like to bring in forwards like the Lakers' Devin Ebanks, Clippers' Reggie Evans, or Memphis' Darrell Arthur through free agency. If the team can stay healthy, they should be able to finish next season around .500 and in the hunt for a playoff spot.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Players under contract for next season: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Gomes, Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins, Caron Butler

Free Agents: Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Mo Williams (PO), Nick Young, Bobby Simmons

What they need: The Clippers were about right in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories, except rebounding. They have a bunch of decent rebounders, so I think they will be fine. What the Clippers really need is a third All Star to pair with Paul and Griffin. Paul has an expiring contract, and they need to get a veteran star who will make an impact and push this team to championship contender status. I think a very solid fit for the Clippers would be Ray Allen. He's a class act, has the championship pedigree, and is one of the best shooters in the game. On a 2-year deal, I think he'd be a good fit for the team. They also need reserve bodies down low to play behind Griffin and Jordan, so they might target players like Sacramento's Jason Thompson or Memphis' Marreese Speights.

How far can the Clippers realistically go in the playoffs? If
they get another All Star, they can go all the way.

What to expect: The Clippers supposedly like Billups, but he is not a shooting guard. He is a legitimate point guard, and maybe a sign-and-trade would be the best scenario for the Clippers and Billups. I expect them to bring fan favorite Reggie Evans back, and also either Randy Foye or Nick Young. Mo Williams is reportedly unhappy with the Clippers, so is it possible he could switch over to the purple and gold Los Angeles team over the summer? There's been small rumors of a possible trade for Dwight Howard but I don't think the Clippers would attempt any deal. There's also been rumors of a possible trade for Monta Ellis but I don't believe that would happen either. I think their best route would be going for Ray Allen as mentioned before, then add several effective, proven role players to the bench to give the team more depth. If the Clippers can do that, this team has a chance of contending for the championship.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

Players under contract for next season: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Josh McRoberts, Andrew Goudelock, Christian Eyenga, Steve Blake

Free Agents: Devin Ebanks (RFA), Darius Morris (RFA), Jordan Hill, Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy

What they need: A lot of things. The Lakers might be in some trouble. They are without a legitimate starting point guard, and Pau Gasol drama has been escalated to a level where they might actually need to trade him. They will also need a back up for Bryant, and a younger, talented forward to shoot and play behind World Peace, who has now become more of a defensive liability. They don't have any first round picks in the draft, but trading Gasol would probably be able to get them one.

What shall be the fate
of Gasol?
What to expect: I don't think the Lakers will retain Ramon Sessions. I think they like him, but there are better point guards on the open market. At this point, Sessions is trying to get a big pay day, and the Lakers are too much over the luxury tax to pay him what he wants. They would need to move Gasol first. If they can convince Steve Nash to play on a lower salary for a chance to compete for his first championship, it would be a perfect situation for the Lakers. Nash might be older, but he's the game changer and facilitator the Lakers could use. The Lakers will also trade Pau Gasol. The Houston deal seems too hard to ignore, and I think they will deal him to the Rockets in a package with Blake and a draft pick and receive in return tough point guard Kyle Lowry, power forward Luis Scola, center Samuel Dalembert and a first round pick in this year's draft (either #14 or #16) which they can use to draft a forward like Baylor's Quincy Miller or Perry Jones, whom the Lakers have reportedly been interested in. I don't think the Lakers will get either Deron Williams or Dwight Howard this summer, but there is a possibility. I think they'll retain Jordan Hill, but they'll need to sign several other reserves to complete their bench. It will be an intriguing summer for the Lake Show.

4. Phoenix Suns

Players under contract for next season: Josh Childress, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Hakim Warrick, Sebastian Telfair

Free Agents: Aaron Brooks (RFA), Robin Lopez (RFA), Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Michael Redd, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price

What they need: If there is any place the Suns are nearly par at, it's in the post. Gortat has been solid for the Suns, but he will really need to step up next season if the Suns want to be relevant. Frye is doing average and still hitting treys, and Markieff Morris played nicely in his rookie season, but will need to step up to a larger role in his sophomore season. Robin Lopez is a formidable back up to Gortat, and Dudley is a sharpshooter on the wing and is starting to become a more complete player, but has to be more consistent. If Nash leaves as expected, they will need another point guard. Their shooting guard position is also in jeopardy, as both Brown and Redd are unrestricted free agents.

The Suns are reportedly very fond of Waiters,
but will they end up with him in the draft?

What to expect: In the NBA Draft, I expect the Suns to take Syracuse guard Dion Waiters. I believe Waiters is a stud, because of his solid work ethic. I think his value is back and forth, but he can become a steal from this draft in the long run. I'm unsure if Waiters will fall to Phoenix, but if he does, they must pick him. In free agency, I don't think the Suns will retain Nash. He likes the area, but he'll have so many suitors, and he will probably go to wherever he can win as well as make the amount of money he deserves. There are other alternates for the Suns though, including Portland's Raymond Felton, Los Angeles Lakers' Ramon Sessions, Houston's Goran Dragic or their own Aaron Brooks. They'll also need to get a legitimate power forward, because I don't think Morris has a legitimate post-up game in his repertoire yet and therefore, is not tall enough to play that position. They might target somebody like Boston's Brandon Bass or Orlando's Ryan Anderson in free agency. I expect the Suns to be a bit below average, and I think this summer will be the start of the rebuilding phase for Phoenix.

5. Sacramento Kings

Players under contract for next season: DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, Hassan Whiteside, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Travis Outlaw

Free Agents: Donte Greene (RFA), Jason Thompson (RFA), Terrence Williams (RFA)

What they need: They have depth, but also a lot of bad contracts. They're going to need some tough veterans on this team, who have some decent skill. Most, if not all, of the veteran players on this team are overpaid and need to be moved. For this team to become legitimate, they will need to get an All Star veteran in there, preferably at small forward or center. Several rumors insist that Memphis has Rudy Gay on the trading block, so maybe they could explore a deal for Gay? However, it seems unlikely. They also need a center. Thompson is a free agent who will field some nice offers that I don't think the Kings could match. Hayes has been riddled with some injuries lately and is a defensive liability at this stage of his career. He might be better suited for a mentoring role.

Tyreke's tenure in Sacramento may be
coming to an end soon.
What to expect: To follow how I explained Hayes being better suited as a mentor, I think the Kings will select UConn's Andre Drummond with the #5 pick of the draft. He's a legitimate seven footer and has been compared to Amare Stoudemire. His potential is very high and while he does have some risk, I think Hayes would be a good mentor to him and Drummond could be successful with the Kings. He and Cousins in the same front court would cause nightmares for any defense, and they can become like the next Gasol and Bynum or to an exaggerated extent, Duncan and Robinson, in the low post. I believe the Kings will also move Tyreke Evans. It's a smart move because he's an expiring contract, still young and talented, but just doesn't fit with the Kings' system. Sacramento might have trouble moving bad contracts like John Salmons, Francisco Garcia and Travis Outlaw but I think they'll ultimately move at least one of them. Garcia is an expiring contract so he might be valued by a couple teams, but Salmons and Outlaw will be a lot harder to move. Salmons is still a serviceable player, but did not perform well last season, and the Kings might have to use their amnesty clause to get rid of him. Next year will be very controversial and many questions will arise throughout the franchise, including whether they will relocate or not.

     Next I'll be looking over the Southwest Division, which has the potential to become the most competitive division in all of basketball. The Grizzlies are now looking to overtake the Spurs, while the Mavericks are trying to make a statement in free agency that can return them to the Finals. The Rockets still have a chance at obtaining Pau Gasol, but have questions at point guard with Kyle Lowry unhappy and Goran Dragic a highly foreseen free agent. Then there are the Hornets, who will presumably select Anthony Davis #1 in next week's draft to start the rebuilding process. They also have several key free agents including Eric Gordon. Can they rebuild fast enough to be competitive in this tough division? We shall find out soon enough. Stay tuned, there's much more story lines to discuss throughout the Western Conference!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Off Season Needs: Southeast Division

     This year, the Southeast Division was arguably the most controversial division in the entire NBA. First you have the Miami Heat. There are the fans, and the haters. The nonstop bickering and banter about LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh will avail to no end until the minute they win a championship together. If you head up the coast of Florida, then travel west on SR 50, you'll reach Orlando, home of the Magic, where there also was nonstop chatter because of all the Dwight Howard trade rumors spreading around. There is still major controversy to this day. In Atlanta, the Hawks have established their ground and are considered an annual playoff team. However, they never seem to be able to take the next step. The Wizards took a quick step to rebuilding by trading away Javale McGee and Nick Young in a deal for Nene. They have the #3 pick in this year's draft, and are on their way. The Bobcats have taken their first major step of the summer by recently naming St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap their new head coach. But, they still have a ton of work to do to turn their ship around.

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Atlanta Hawks

Players under contract for next season: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford
Can (left to right) Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Joe Johnson
take the Hawks farther than just the second round?

Free Agents: Ivan Johnson (RFA), Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Collins, Kirk Hinrich, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Jerry Stackhouse

What they need: This year, the Hawks looked very good without Al Horford. With him back in the starting five and Josh Smith in the prime of his career, the Hawks can realistically get to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat will still be the top dog in their division, but the Hawks have a lot of pieces that can get them that far in the playoffs. The Hawks will need a reserve point guard so they might try to obtain Iona's Scott Machado in the second round of the draft. They'll also need some bodies down low and shooters, so they might be interested in bringing back Jamal Crawford or signing reserve big men like Detroit's Jason Maxiell or Charlotte's D.J. White.

What to expect: Basically, their entire bench is set to hit the market this summer. So, they're going to need depth. Ivan Johnson was a nice option off their bench and since he is restricted, I think the Hawks will re-sign him unless another team presents him with an outlandish offer. However, I don't believe the Hawks will retain any of their other free agents, simply due to lack of interest. In the NBA Draft, I believe the team will select Royce White out of Iowa State. White is a forward who is big, physical, and tough. I expect them to draft him to play behind Williams and Smith, who they might dangle around as trade bait. In free agency, this team has to sure up its bench, so I only expect small contract signings from the Hawks.

2. Charlotte Bobcats

Players under contract for next season: Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Corey Maggette, Gerald Henderson, Reggie Williams, Byron Mullens, DeSagana Diop, Jamario Moon

Free Agents: D.J. Augustin (RFA), D.J. White (RFA), Derrick Brown (RFA), Cory Higgins (RFA), Matt Carroll (ETO), Eduardo Najera

What they need: This team is young for the most part, so they're in the rebuilding stage. I think legendary owner Michael Jordan and GM Richard Cho are seeking to build this team to a championship caliber through the draft similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder's logic. With that said, what they need is almost everything. They need forwards the most. I don't believe they could really go wrong by drafting either Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kansas' Thomas Robinson, since they both fill needs. After that, they'll need bench players at all positions because every player on the roster besides Walker and Biyombo will be a free agent in 2013, and I don't believe many of their players desire to re-sign. They need to move expiring contracts or players of any value for draft picks like the Minnesota Timberwolves are infamously known for.

Walker is a candidate to be the starting
point guard for the Bobcats next season.
What to expect: I believe that although D.J. Augustin wants to stay, another team will give him an offer Charlotte will refuse to match. Walker shall become the starting point guard. D.J. White and Derrick Brown have a lower possibility to walk away because they will get low-ball offers, but I think at least one of them will leave. Then the team will look forward to the draft, where they will select Thomas Robinson at #2. The hybrid forward is exactly what the Bobcats need, and I wouldn't be suprised if the team conducted some draft night deals where they could ship away a veteran player like Corey Maggette for a first round pick and select a younger, cheaper forward like St. John's Moe Harkless or Iowa State's Royce White. In free agency, they'll likely have to overpay for players to join the team but I expect them to get a couple decent reserve players, something this year's free agent market is plentiful of.

3. Miami Heat

Wade and the Heat look to
continue their dominance.

Players under contract for next season: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, James Jones, Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman

Free Agents: Terrel Harris (RFA), Ronny Turiaf (PO), Eddy Curry, Juwan Howard

What they need: They need a center who can defend and body up against any big man in the NBA, similar to a Kendrick Perkins. The Heat are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, but they need that one defensive stalwart in the paint who can cover and disrupt the best bigs they will face continuously like Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Roy Hibbert. Joel Anthony is a good defender, but is too small to cover players of that caliber. If Mike Miller retires because of recurring back issues, they'll need to look into acquiring a shooting guard to play behind Wade.

What to expect: Pat Riley will do nearly whatever it takes to get Syracuse's Fab Melo. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and is exactly what the Heat is looking for. I think they'll have to move up in the draft to get him, but I wouldn't be suprised if they dealt their first rounder with another pick or a player to obtain Melo. If they can't get anything done, they might stay at their spot and draft Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli, a center projected to be selected around Miami's draft choice. In free agency, I expect them to try signing a low-price guard who is an exceptional defender like Indiana's Dahntay Jones, Brooklyn's DeShawn Stevenson, or Cleveland's Anthony Parker.

4. Orlando Magic

Players under contract for next season: Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, Justin Harper, Chris Duhon, Glen Davis

Free Agents: Ryan Anderson (RFA), Ishmael Smith (RFA), DeAndre Liggins (RFA), Jameer Nelson (PO), Earl Clark (PO), Daniel Orton

What they need: Pieces for rebuilding. No matter whether it be Brooklyn, Dallas, Los Angeles or anywhere else, Dwight Howard is not staying with the Magic for any longer than next season. Orlando has to be smart and make sure it ends up with assets like Utah did when they traded away Deron Williams and not like Cleveland who ideally hoped LeBron James would stay. They need to keep Ryan Anderson, who is coming off the best season of his career and is starting to enter his prime. If they can move expiring contracts like J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, and Quentin Richardson, they should. They should try to stock up on draft picks and younger talent. Moving Dwight Howard will get them at least one good prospect for the future, so if the franchise is smart, they need to realize that they need to build for the future now or they can be cellar dwellers for a long time.

Hennigan, the Magic's GM, has a lot of
crucial decisions to make through next season.
What to expect: I know that CEO Alex Martins wants to surround Dwight Howard with enough talent to fuel another run to the Finals, because owner Rich DeVos is getting very old and wants to see his team raise a banner before he passes away. So in saying that, I think Martins and new GM Rob Hennigan are going to go for the championship, and take the risk in seeing Dwight Howard walk and try to go on a playoff run instead of focusing toward the future. They're going to make as safe or smart a draft pick as they can next week, and in free agency I expect them to go after Steve Nash, unless Jameer Nelson accepts his player option. They will probably retain Ryan Anderson, but somebody could offer him a big contract. However, I wouldn't be suprised if the Magic completely unloaded this summer and started rebuilding. I don't think they will go that route, though.

5. Washington Wizards

Players under contract for next season: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Nene Hilario, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Shelvin Mack, Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin

Free Agents: Morris Almond (RFA), James Singleton, Brian Cook, Cartier Martin, Maurice Evans

What they need: They need two things. First, to keep John Wall happy. Second, to get an established All Star talent in the locker room. The Wizards are now starting to look like the Denver Nuggets, with a good mix of young players and veterans and most of their players are solid. Players like Seraphin and Vesely still need to develop, but they have plenty of time. They need a prolific scoring two guard most. I like Crawford, but I think he's better coming off the bench and has the potential to be a Sixth Man of the Year player. The Wizards have a lot of pieces now, and some can become extendable, so I don't think this franchise is done making moves just yet.

Can Washington keep Wall satisfied in D.C.? The young phenom
point guard is the key to the future results of the franchise.

What to expect: This will be a good season for the Wizards fanbase, because they will return to the playoffs. This team has made the right moves so far and is positioned well to go to the postseason next year. The recent trade for Okafor and Ariza was brilliant. They both fill needs and are solid veteran players who can instill maturity, defense, and developmental skills in the locker room. I don't think the Wizards are finished yet, however. I doubt they'll retain any of their free agents due to lack of mutual interest. In the draft, it will be intriguing to see who Washington will select. I have a feeling they'll pick Florida guard Bradley Beal. He is undersized, but is a consistent scorer and a hard worker. It will be a grind for him in the NBA but I think he will develop into a solid offensive player. But, if Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still on the board, I think the Wizards select him. His defense is fantastic and his offensive game isn't polished, but it's decent. His offensive skills will develop over time, and I think he can be the next Andre Iguodala in the right system. His potential is very high, and he has a chance to be a fantastic player in the NBA. In free agency, I think the Wizards will only sign some low-salary role players to fill up their bench. They'll need some reserve guards for the most part, so they might target players like Toronto's Alan Anderson, Phoenix's Ronnie Price, or Brooklyn's Armon Johnson. If most key players on this team stay for a while and the young players blossom and develop, the Wizards can become contenders down the road.

     The Southeast Division has a possibility of becoming the most front-loaded division in the NBA, with the exception of the Charlotte Bobcats of course. It can produce possibly four playoff teams for next year. There are a lot of decisions to be made this summer, and there might be some old faces in new places by the time November comes around. This division will have some interesting competition next year. Next, I'll be starting to analyze the Western Conference teams, starting off with the Pacific Division. Can the Lakers hold their ground atop the division? Or can the Clippers overtake them? How will the Steve Nash saga fare in Phoenix? Can Bogut fit with the Warriors? And will the Maloofs move the Kings out of Sacramento? Stay tuned, there's much more to unfold.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Off Season Needs: Central Division

     This year, the Central Division had some interesting competition early. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers were jocking early for first, but ultimately Derrick Rose and company led the Bulls to first place, while the Pacers reached third place. The Milwaukee Bucks made a surprising and intriguing deal at the deadline when they traded a once considered "untouchable" player in Andrew Bogut and disgruntled forward Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors for electrifying scorer Monta Ellis and a developing big man, Ekpe Udoh. The Cleveland Cavaliers started nicely out of the gates, but an injury to rookie sensation Kyrie Irving destroyed all hopes of making a run for the playoffs. And the Detroit Pistons, well, they're in rebuilding mode. How can each of these teams get better over the off season?

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Chicago Bulls

Players under contract for next season: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Jimmy Butler

Free Agents: Omer Asik (RFA), Mike James, John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine

What they need: A second superstar, or at least a second All Star. I thought the Bulls could have made it to the Finals if Derrick Rose didn't tear his ACL in the first round, but they do need a second All Star caliber player to be Rose's security blanket. I was shocked they couldn't beat Philadelphia, even without Rose. In a system that preaches defense, I don't think Carlos Boozer fits. He's an offensive-minded player who produces efficient numbers, but not for the amount he's getting paid and he is not a good defender. He's not a good post player either. It might be hard to move him, but if the Bulls are able to trade him in a deal for Pau Gasol perhaps, then that can push the Bulls over the top. Gasol is an All Star, has won the championships, and is still a good, tough player who was simply overshadowed by Andrew Bynum the past two years in Los Angeles.

How will Thibodeau respond
without Rose for most of the year?
What to expect: Not as great of a season as this year. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has his work really cut out for him, since Rose will miss at least half the season because of his injury. Unless this team gets a superstar over the summer, they'll be a bit over .500, and when Rose returns, they'll probably climb to the #4 seed or something like that. In free agency, expect them to retain Omer Asik, unless a team overpays him. I think the Bulls will make several other moves, especially in a free agency pool filled with guards. They will probably sign a point guard who can start and mix time with C.J. Watson, like Denver's Andre Miller. Also, don't be surprised if they push for Memphis' O.J. Mayo, who has been on their and Indiana's radar for a while. Getting Mayo will irk the Pacers franchise, after they failed to obtain him in trade scenarios. I don't know if they will trade Boozer, but if they don't, expect only minor moves that will keep this team in playoff contention without Rose.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Players under contract for next season: Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Omri Casspi, Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Samardo Samuels, D.J. Kennedy, Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton

Free Agents: Semih Erden (RFA), Alonzo Gee (RFA), Luke Harangody (RFA), Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker

What they need: They're going to need wing players. They are set at the 1, 4, and 5 with Irving, Thompson, and Varejao. However, they still have voids at the 2 and 3. Casspi is better coming off the bench, and so are the other players on the roster. Gibson is too small to be a shooting guard in any system, and he must learn to be more of a point guard. Every player who is currently on the team, besides Irving, Thompson and Varejao, is an expiring contract this upcoming season. This means that players like Walton, Casspi, and Gibson, who have moderate salaries, are more likely to gain interest at the deadline and can be moved to a playoff contender or a team looking to create more salary cap. They can move these players for picks in the 2013 Draft or for other players with longer deals. I can see this team trading for a player like Detroit's Ben Gordon.

Can Irving (left) and Thompson (right) lead
the Cavaliers back to the playoffs?

What to expect: The Cavaliers are going to build through the draft. I expect them to take Florida's Bradley Beal with the #4 pick. Scouts have highly praised his talents, and some say he has the potential to be the next Ray Allen. With Beal and Irving, the Cavaliers have a set, young back court for the next four years at the least. If Beal is off the board, expect them to take Harrison Barnes out of UNC. The small forward is in good shape and has supposedly impressed at the Draft Combine, and I think he would be a solid fit with the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers also have the 24th pick, and it's been rumored they will take St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson, who is a stretch-four and is very versatile. He does fill a need, so it'll be interesting to see what route they go. In the second round, they can draft a point guard to play behind Irving, like Iona's Scott Machado or Washington's Tony Wroten. In free agency, expect the Cavaliers to sure up their bench with small deals. If they make the right moves and aren't hampered by injuries, they can make the playoffs this upcoming season.

3. Detroit Pistons

Players under contract for next season: Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Tayshaun Prince

Free Agents: Vernon Macklin (RFA), Walker Russell (RFA), Jason Maxiell (PO), Damien Wilkins, Ben Wallace (retirement)

Jared Sullinger is an option for the Pistons
in the first round of this year's draft.
What they need: If there's any one thing good about the Pistons, it's that they have their point guard and center in Knight and Monroe. However, everything else is terrifying. Stuckey is a shooting guard in a point guard's body. He plays like a lesser-skilled version of Russell Westbrook. Prince is stuck to the team with a long, expensive contract at the end of his career. Not a smart move. Then you have Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Gordon can score amazingly on some nights, but has been dealing with injuries his whole time in Detroit. Villanueva is overweight, and not even close to what he was in Milwaukee. He was overpaid to begin with, and now, it's imploded in Detroit's face. Detroit will need to build through the draft, because they don't have much money to toss around in free agency. At #9, I think they will select Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, UNC's John Henson, or Baylor's Perry Jones III. They need a forward to sure up their front line. I think Sullinger has a ton of potential and is the best selection for them at that spot. Henson, to me, is too frail and not muscular enough to survive in the NBA. Jones III is literally a boom or bust. He was alright in college, but he has major question marks surrounding his game. I don't know if the Pistons can go through another potential failure.

What to expect: The only joyful moment this season for the Pistons was when Ben Wallace retired, because everybody celebrated the championship moments and years they had with him. In the upcoming season, I don't see this team getting much better. They have too many bad contracts that will be hard to move and I can honestly see this team getting even worse. They won't be like the Bobcats, but they are years away from getting back to the playoffs. They'll only make a couple moves in free agency, but they will ultimately be a lottery team again next year.

4. Indiana Pacers

Players under contract for next season: Danny Granger, David West, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Pendergraph, Paul George, Lance Stephenson

Free Agents: Roy Hibbert (RFA), George Hill (RFA), A.J. Price (RFA), Leandro Barbosa, Dahntay Jones (PO), Kyrylo Fesenko, Louis Amundson

What they need: To bring Roy Hibbert back. He's an All Star, and was a huge key to their success this past season. I believe some team will offer him top dollar, and possibly a maximum contract, but Indiana has to be prepared to match it. They are also expected to retain George Hill, but it's not out of the question if he goes elsewhere. I think Hill is a solid player, but is more of a hybrid guard rather than a point guard. I think a great fit for the Pacers would be Toronto's Jose Calderon. The Raptors have been rumored to have him on the trading block, and he is a great passer and facilitator. I think giving up a first round pick for him would be a good move for the Pacers. They also need scorers to come off the bench, so they might target Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Portland's Jamal Crawford, or Minnesota's Michael Beasley. Big men down low coming off the bench are also needed on this team, so I could see them targeting players like Dallas' Ian Mahinmi or Philadelphia's Lavoy Allen.

The future success of the Pacers will be determined by where
Hibbert (left) decides to take his talents this summer.
What to expect: If they can keep Roy Hibbert, another solid season. I think they're capable of claiming the #2 seed in the East. This team will be more developed and ready going into next year, and I think they will be a force to reckon with. They'll make moves this off season to sure up their bench by signing efficient role players. I don't know if they will be good enough to surpass the Miami Heat and get to the Finals, but it's not out of the question. However, if they lose Roy Hibbert, it destroys their post presence. David West will be a nice fill-in, but he could be demanded if the Pacers have a bad start to their season because he is an expiring contract. If they lose Hibbert, they're automatically a borderline playoff team, even in a weaker Eastern Conference. The future success of this franchise is dependent on if Hibbert stays or signs with another team.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

Players under contract for next season: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Beno Udrih, Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden, Mike Dunleavy, Shaun Livingston, Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman, Tobias Harris, Larry Sanders

Free Agents: Ersan Ilyasova, Kwame Brown, Carlos Delfino

What they need: Their back court is set with Jennings and Ellis, so they really only need to get some bench help. Mbah a Moute and Dunleavy will split time at the small forward position, while Drew Gooden will start at power forward. I think Larry Sanders will start at center. If not, Ekpe Udoh will. This team is somewhat like Indiana, because they don't have any superstars but have the pieces to get in the playoffs. I think all that Milwaukee needs is depth, because next summer they have a lot of free agents, especially at the forward and guard positions. In the draft, I believe this team will select either Baylor's Perry Jones III or UConn's Jeremy Lamb. Both would come off the bench this season, but will be groomed for the future.

How well can Jennings (left) and Ellis (right) coexist next season?
What to expect: I think the Bucks have a lot of nice pieces and will make the playoffs this upcoming season. I don't believe they will contend but they can make it to the second round if they play their cards right. I doubt they will keep any of their free agents. Ilyasova is suspected to sign elsewhere, and Delfino is a sharpshooter on the wing that will be valued more by another team. Brown was simply an expiring contract that they used to clear up salary space. I think they will sign only a couple players through free agency, and maybe look to put some higher-end expiring contracts on the block, like Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, or Shaun Livingston. The Bucks have some talented players and were close to the playoffs this past season, so I expect a productive season from this franchise in the 2012-2013 season.

     This division is unique because it has four playoff caliber teams. It might not shape out to be the most star-studded division next year but it will definitely be competitive. Up next I'll be analyzing the Southeast Division, which features the latest Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat and the worst team (by winning percentage) in NBA history Charlotte Bobcats. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Off Season Needs: Atlantic Division

     During this condensed season, the Atlantic Division produced three playoff teams: the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers. The other two teams, the now known as Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors, did not qualify for the playoffs. As expected, most of these teams were hampered by injuries during the season, which led to their eventual downfalls. There were some positive signs for these teams, but each team has crucial decisions to make in the off season which can affect their outcomes for next season and beyond. Let's take a look at each team and their off season needs...

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Boston Celtics

Players under contract for next season: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Sean Williams

Free Agents: Greg Stiemsma (RFA), Ray Allen, Brandon Bass (PO), Kevin Garnett, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green, Ryan Hollins, Mickael Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic

What they need: Boston ideally needs to get younger players on the roster. They've been scrambling for players to try to fill the void left inside when they dealt Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Boston might draft a center, possibly Fab Melo from Syracuse, or resort to free agency for a center like New Orleans' Chris Kaman or Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes. They also will need to address their bench, which was not very productive. They need back up players who can score or create, like Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Golden State's Brandon Rush, or Charlotte's D.J. Augustin.

Garnett is one of the biggest names on this
year's market, but expect him to stay put in Boston.

What to expect: Kevin Garnett truly loves Boston and is the anchor of the defense, so expect him to return. Avery Bradley has proven his worth and is ready to start every day, so I don't believe Ray Allen will re-sign with the team, especially after his recent surgery. If Brandon Bass does not pick up his player option, I don't expect Boston to go after him. They will likely give Jeff Green a chance, and he could become a great comeback story if he returns healthy and majorly productive after heart surgery last year. In the draft, they will most likely pick up front court players, possibly Iowa State's Royce White or as stated before, Fab Melo. In free agency, they will make mostly small deals, but the right ones in that. This team will look a lot different come October.

2. Brooklyn Nets

Players under contract for next season: MarShon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro.

Free Agents: Brook Lopez (RFA), Sundiata Gaines (RFA), Armon Johnson (RFA), Deron Williams (PO), Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace (PO), Jordan Farmar (PO), Gerald Green, Damion James, DeShawn Stevenson, Shelden Williams

The future of the franchise rests on the
shoulders of Deron Williams.

What they need: A whole lot of everything. This is one of the biggest summers the franchise will encounter, and it can determine the future of GM Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson. Moving into a new city with a grand state-of-the-art arena and a flexible cap room, the Nets have to respond this off season. Everything truly hinges on the decision superstar point guard Deron Williams makes, and every player this team acquires will be determined by the Deron factor, on if he stays or leaves. The team needs to get more bodies down low that can rebound. The only set position on this team right now is shooting guard with MarShon Brooks and Anthony Morrow. Gerald Wallace has to decide by tonight if he will pick up his player option for next season.

What to expect: As a Nets fan, I'd like to say I'm a little biased and that Deron Williams will re-sign with the team, they'll successfully trade for Dwight Howard, and be a Finals contender for the next five years. However, I'm unsure what will happen. Williams has stated he has no idea what he wants, so I can't say anything for sure about him. I think Billy King will work some magic and get the Nets a first round pick in the draft, which will get a talented young player to Brooklyn. In free agency, the Nets are expected to retain Brook Lopez. But after that, it's Deron Williams or bust. If the team can bring Williams back, a great ripple effect will take place, and the team can become first options for targeted players like Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova and New Orleans' Carl Landry. However, if he doesn't re-sign, expect King to overpay for role players and push for a trade for Dwight Howard. If King can't get Williams and Howard in Nets uniforms by next summer, he'll be out of a job.

3. New York Knicks

Players under contract for next season: Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Josh Harellson, Jerome Jordan, Dan Gadzuric

Free Agents: Landry Fields (RFA), Jeremy Lin (RFA), J.R. Smith (PO), Steve Novak, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Baron Davis

Jeremy Lin is the biggest question for
the Knicks this off season.
What they need: The Knicks have pressing questions in the back court. Fan favorite Jeremy Lin is expected to return, but a desperate team could overpay for him and snatch him away. Landry Fields was a starter for most of his tenure on the Knicks, but last year his statistics dropped drastically from his rookie season, and the team might let him go. Mike Bibby and Baron Davis did not really pan out, and Iman Shumpert will be out most of next season due to a torn ACL injury against the Heat in this year's playoffs. The team needs legitimate starters at each guard position to seriously contend for a championship next season.

What to expect: I believe Jeremy Lin will re-sign, and they will take a chance on the Harvard graduate to be their full time starter. I think they can retain Fields, but a team might sneak in and hand him an offer sheet the Knicks won't want to match, so I think he will depart from New York. J.R. Smith likes the area and system, so he will probably stay put and pick up his option. The Knicks will go after guards who can be bench players or starters, like Memphis' O.J Mayo, Denver's Andre Miller, or Philadelphia's Lou Williams. I expect them to sign some players around their caliber.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

What plans will Philadelphia be conducting
this off season?
Players under contract for next season: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Thaddeus Young

Free Agents: Lavoy Allen (RFA), Jodie Meeks (RFA), Sam Young (RFA), Xavier Silas (RFA), Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Elton Brand (ETO), Lou Williams (ETO), Spencer Hawes.

What they need: Scorers. Lou Williams came off the bench and led the 76ers in scoring, it was that bad. They can go after players like New Orleans' Eric Gordon, Indiana's Leandro Barbosa, or Phoenix's Shannon Brown. There aren't any great scorers in free agency, so they might resort to the draft. The 76ers can draft Washington's Terrence Ross or Duke's Austin Rivers. However, some analysts suggest they might go for a big man like Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie.

What to expect: I think Elton Brand will stay, and Evan Turner will become a full-time starter. Lou Williams has said publicly he will become a free agent, and I think Philadelphia will lose him, but keep sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. I think a team will come around and offer Spencer Hawes big money, so I don't believe he'll be in a 76ers uniform either next season. The team will try to acquire a young big man with a lot of potential, but they might also have to get some wing players. I think the team will be like they were this year, but might not make the playoffs. They'll be around the 8-10 spot in the Eastern Conference next year; I just don't really see them getting much better or worse. They will probably be making bigger moves next summer.

5. Toronto Raptors

Players under contract for next season: Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Gary Forbes, Amir Johnson, James Johnson, Linas Kleiza

Free Agents: Solomon Alabi (TO) (RFA), Alan Anderson (RFA), Jerryd Bayless (RFA), Ben Uzoh (RFA), Aaron Gray, Jamaal Magloire

What they need: Veteran All-Star caliber wing player and a point guard for the future. The Raptors have a tough choice to make with the #8 pick. They can put it in a package with Ed Davis and another player or two and trade for an athletic wing like Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Indiana's Danny Granger, Atlanta's Josh Smith, or Memphis' Rudy Gay. They also have the option of using the #8 pick to draft a point guard, most likely Weber State's Damian Lillard or UNC's Kendall Marshall.

Will Valanciunas be playing for
the Raptors next season?.

What to expect: I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Raptors could actually contend for the playoffs next season. However, they must make good moves to do so. If Jonas Valanciunas successfully gets through the buyout process, the Raptors can sign him to a rookie deal. If the Raptors have the chance, they should make a move for Andre Iguodala. He's a vocal leader and I think he's exactly what head coach Dwane Casey wants. They should package the #8 pick with Ed Davis, Aaron Gray (sign-and-trade) and James Johnson, and I believe it will be enough to convince the 76ers to trade Iguodala. I don't expect the team to retain any of their free agents unless they would take a low salary. The team will look to trade Jose Calderon, who has an expiring contract. If they trade the #8 pick, they'll go after a point guard in free agency. They have multiple options, like Canadian-born Phoenix guard Steve Nash, Dallas' Jason Kidd, Houston's Goran Dragic, and Portland's Raymond Felton. The Raptors could even try to swing a trade for Houston's Kyle Lowry, who has stated he wants to be traded. Lowry is an athletic, young, versatile point guard who can be solid for the Raptors long-term.

     Each team in this division has a lot of questions and buzz surrounding them, and so their respective general managers will be put to the test this summer. All of these teams have the potential to make the playoffs next year if they make the right moves, so it will be interesting to see how everything plays out. Will Boston stay as the cream of the crop? Will the Knicks be consistent enough to be true contenders? Will Brooklyn live up to all the hype? Can the 76ers get back to the playoffs, and go farther than they did this year? And can the Raptors make deals that can get them back to the playoffs? It will definitely be an intriguing off season for the Atlantic Division.