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!

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