Yesterday we tackled the East, now bring on the West: the power conference.
Will the Spurs rebuild or reload? Will the Lakers deliver a playmate for Kobe in his final season? How about the mess in Dallas?
It's now time to look forward to the NBA Draft (June 26) and Free Agency (July 1) and see what big moves to expect in the sure-to-be-hectic NBA offseason.
Golden State Warriors
Steve Kerr and company can continue the celebration of their championship season right on through the draft. They select all the way at the end in number 30, and with good depth and a very talented starting line up, they do not need to make any moves to change positions in the draft. They actually have the luxury of bringing in a player with high potential and raw skills, and work on developing him throughout the season. There are a few players with uncertainty for 2015-16, with the most important being Draymond Green. He looked like the closest person to a defensive max-player that we’ve seen, but a rough stretch in the playoffs led others in the league to think he excels in the GSW system and may not be worth the top dollar. He will get paid for sure, but it’s likely to be in Oakland.
The Warriors have a team option on Marreese Speights and will likely part ways with Leandro Barbosa and David Lee, who they publicly said they would trade. They will target forwards in the draft to replace Lee and potentially even Speights. The ideal rookie would be Robert Upshaw, former bad boy from the University of Washington. The best way to correct an attitude problem is to put him on a team of young hard working champions. Christian Wood from UNLV could be a nice complementary player as well.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers face a difficult off-season in which management has to decide just how far over the salary cap they are willing to go, and just how much luxury tax they can afford. With the big contracts to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, there isn’t as much salary to spread around as years past. They were able to add Lance Stephenson this week, who joins Griffin, Paul and J.J. Redick in the starting line up.
The only remaining question mark on the floor is DeAndre Jordan. The double-double machine had ridiculous numbers this season, 11.5 points and 15 rebounds per game, and is going to want to be paid accordingly. How an accountant could look at the team’s books and find a way to squeeze his contract in without fainting is going to be impressive. Head coach Doc Rivers is also going to be active in bringing clutch shooting forward Paul Pierce to his hometown for an 18th and likely final NBA season. The 10-time All-Star has opted out of Washington and will become a free agent. Los Angeles does not have a first round pick this week so unless they trade into the draft, their moves will come just in the open market.
Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant and company has an interesting off-season coming up. Carlos Boozer, Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson and Jeremy Lin are all free agents and Ed Davis has a player’s option. While the team has said they are 80 percent sure they will draft Duke center Jahil Okafor with the 2nd pick, they have also been actively looking around the league for trade partners. They are hot on the DeMarcus Cousins trail, but that still remains to be seen if the Kings would part with their franchise star. It is a strange situation for one of the most historic franchises to use the draft as more than just an appearance.
This summer, they need the draft considering that next summer Kobe Bryant is no longer going to be a Laker. This could be his final season in the league, or in LA anyways, so you know the franchise needs to find that star that fill in when he retires. The obvious place to start is at the point. Jordan Clarkson filled in well last season, but he shouldn’t be used to run the offense. He is much more suited to play the 2, and they will need him to score more when Bryant is gone. He only averaged 5 assists per game while playing 36 minutes. Ohio State’s D’Angello Russell is a player who should be able to come right in and play, but again it seems as if the team is set on Okafor.
LA will also see the return of Julius Randle, whose rookie campaign ended as quickly as it began. With Bryant, Randle, Clarkson, Okafor and a point guard that they need to bring in, they should win more games than last season, but unless Bryant returns to old form and plays his final season into the sunset, it will be another season ending in May.
The Suns have become a head scratcher with their roster. After trading Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline last season, they follow up this week by shopping point guard Eric Bledsoe. If they trade him, they will be left with four guards, none of which play the point. They will need to be active in both the draft and free agency to fill that void.
They have the 13th overall pick which will need to be spent on a floor general. Down low they think they have a special talent in Alex Len, but he only averaged 22 minutes in 69 games last year. If he isn’t healthy, or isn’t as good as the team things he can be, it could be a disastrous season. They play a small set with Lenn and the Morris brothers, so adding a player like Frank Kaminsky would make sense to add size. He is 7’1” and can score both underneath and away from the hoop. It isn’t going to be easy building this team into a contender, but that process can take a major step forward with the right pick on Thursday.
There is one giant question mark looming over Sacramento and it comes in the form of 6’11”, 270lbs. center DeMarcus Cousins. The 24 year old had a monster season, scoring 24 points per game, which led the position, and pulling in 12.7 rebounds. Team ownership does not want to trade him but head coach George Karl seems to be hot on the idea. If Cousins isn’t traded away from the team this season, he still needs help on the roster. Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore return to the floor but point guard Darren Collision is coming off an injury and Andre Miller is a free agent.
The Kings have been exploring several trades and still may try to acquire Ty Lawson, a favorite of Karl’s. They need a 3-point shooting guard who can lift the team’s 21st ranking from long range. They also have the 6th overall pick which they could use for a point guard, but they do not have a second round pick so their only time at the podium will need to be worth it.
Another need they have is at power forward. Cousins needs a mate down low and Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Omri Casspi are not going to get it done. If they don’t select a point guard at number 6, they could go after Myles Turner of Texas or Kevon Looney from UCLA, two traditional power forwards entering the draft.
No team had a bigger up and down season than the Mavs. After bringing in Rajon Rondo before New Years, Dallas became a front-runner to challenge Golden State. It didn’t pan out, due in large part to injuries, and now they face some big roster questions. Monta Ellis has a player’s option for next season and he could join the unemployment line with free agents Rondo, J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler, Richard Jefferson and Amar’e Stoudemire. Whatever moves they make, they also need to keep in mind what they commit to future salaries as it could effect Raymond Felton, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki, who all become free agents next summer.
If Rondo and Barea do not resign, Felton becomes the only point guard and if Ellis opts out, Devin Harris becomes the only shooting guard. Those will be immediate needs not just for reserves, but also for starters. Felton and Harris are past their prime to play 30 plus productive minutes a game.
If Chandler does not come back, then center is just as important. At the 21st pick in the draft, they won’t have the luxury of landing a true center so they would need to fill that in the open market. They could draft someone like Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant to take over at the point, or if they take the best player available it could end up being Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8” power forward.
They came so close, but fell so fast in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets became a one-man show at the end and James Harden could only do so much. With Harden, Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza returning, they have a base to build off of. They do need a point guard, as Patrick Beverly is a restricted free agent and Jason Terry an unrestricted free agent. If neither resigns, that leaves just Pablo Prigioni and Nick Johnson to run the point.
Corey Brewer is also a free agent, which leaves K.J. McDaniels as the back up to Harden. Their most glaring need is to bring in a second scorer, and not just someone who can fill up the basket, but create his own shots doing so. Harden cannot do it all, and as we saw against the Warriors, if a good team traps him, the offense becomes legless. If they let Josh Smith walk away to the open market, which they should, they will have money to bring in a scorer like Louis Williams or Wesley Matthews.
They have the 18th pick Thursday and can use that to bring in a player to take the bench minutes behind Harden. The ‘Bearded One’ is going to command a lot of minutes, so it is a good opportunity for a raw talent to come in, watch and learn.
The Grizz seem on track to resign big man Marc Gasol, so that is a very good sign for the team who fell short in the playoffs this post season. If Kosta Koufos does not resign, they may need to address that loss with the 25th pick Thursday night. They need toughness down low to play alongside Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, so a rookie like Christian Wood or Justin Anderson could help.
Koufos wants to be a starter again in the league, and there is no way he plays over Gasol, so he is likely to walk. Anderson is not a center by any means but the 6’6’, 230 pound forward can hit 3’s and bank down defenders. The most important move for Memphis is to keep Gasol in town, draft the best possible forward or center available at their pick and then fill the rest through free agency. There are not a lot of holes to fill, but the right moves could set them up for a great season.
New Orleans Pelicans
They made the post season and got swept in four games, but what was most impressive was how Anthony Davis performed there. He dominated just as he had all season. If Davis remains happy as a Pelican and does what other great team leaders do and recruit other free agents, this could become a good destination for players to go and have a chance at winning. They need a solid center to play with Anthony Davis so resigning Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca is a priority. Both played well in New Orleans so the team is going to try to bring one, or even both, of them back.
Asik may command more on the open market as he scores and rebounds more than Ajinca. They have a good duo of guards in Eric Gordan and Tyreke Evans, so the other concern is at the small forward position. Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham and Luke Babbitt played decent last season, but to truly compete with the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, they will need someone who can hit 3-pointers and play solid defense. Someone like free agents Kawhi Leonard or DeMarre Carroll would fit beautifully on that roster. With Davis playing as well as anyone in the league and a solid group of guards, the Pelicans could be just a player away from making a run.
San Antonio Spurs
Where to begin with the Spurs? Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner are free agents this summer. With Duncan and Ginobili at 39 and 37-years old respectively, this may be the time to shake up the roster. Both are set to return however as the franchise seems set to tinker with the lineup around these two and Tony Parker.
Danny Green played well this season but if it comes down to him or Kawhi Leonard, Green has to go. With the 26th pick in the draft, they could possibly bring in Virginia’s Justin Anderson to back up Ginobili in Green’s absence. Leonard is a restricted free agent and the Spurs need to make sure that he is the face of the franchise going forward.
After playing stellar defense on LeBron James in his Finals MVP playoff run last year, followed up by this season’s award for Defensive Player of the Year, he is a can’t-let-go talent. He can also score too, notching a career high 16.5 points to go along with 7.2 rebounds. He made $3 million last year and should at least triple that this summer. If they lose Bonner and Green in order to keep Duncan, Ginobili and Leonard, they can live with it.
No team has been more active shopping their players than the Nuggets this off-season. Publicly trying to move up the draft from their current 7th position, the team has packaged Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried in multiple reports, just to jump up one spot.
Jameer Nelson has a player option and if he opts out and Lawson is traded, the team will be without a point guard. Change may not be a bad thing at the point as the team ranked last in the league in passes per game. D’Angelo Russell from Ohio State will be long gone at 7, which is likely who they are trying to move up for, but Murray State’s Emmanuel Mudiay may still be there.
The Knicks, Magic and Kings are the three teams right before Denver, and all three need point guards. They should also look to upgrade at the center position as it seems 20-year old Jusuf Nurkic is still a year or two away from playing his potential. In 62 games last season he averaged just 6.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.
The T’Wolves have the number one overall pick and it seems obvious that they will take Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns with that selection. Towns joins an explosive young roster that includes Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. The team is open to trading the 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett, which could bring in another draft pick on Thursday in return. Even with this young talent, they are still far, far, away from the playoffs.
Ricky Rubio and LaVine will handle the point and Kevin Martin the 2-guard, but the power forward position is the real concern. Kevin Garnett has yet to decide his future and if they do ship Bennett, they will be without a real power forward. They will draft Towns as a center so they will need to find a find a forward in the open market. They somehow have $56 million in contracts for next season, and will pay big for Towns, so they likely won’t land a big free agent.
Someone like Brandon Bass, Luis Scola or Andrea Bargnani could help. With so many young players on the roster, they aren’t going to be a playoff contender this season, so it’s best to let the kids play and grow regardless of outcome.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Perhaps the biggest decision for the Thunder this season will be how they structure future contracts to make sure Kevin Durant is taken care of next summer when he is a free agent. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the 45 win Thunder need to be healthy this season. Had they been last year, they would have made the post season.
With Durant and Russell Westbrook running the show, and Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Anthony Morrow complimenting them, they should have a solid return season. The only free agents are Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler and if either gets pricey, they can let them walk.
Kanter can be replaced by Adams, who may not be as productive, but he is cheaper and opens room for the team to bring in a veteran scorer for the bench. The Thunder draft 14th and will likely look to bring in a small forward to back up Durant. On the open market they will likely look to bring in another point guard to replace D.J. Augustin, perhaps someone like Rodney Stuckey.
The Blazers could have 9 free agents this summer, including All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. All three could very well return, but the team faces a rough few weeks until free agency starts.
Damian Lillard and Steve Blake are locked in at the point and Nicolas Batum will be just fine at the small forward position.
If Aldridge or Lopez leave town, those positions become immediate needs. If they all stay, the team should use their 23rd pick to bring in a back up small forward to compliment Batum. Christian Wood is a great option as he could play either forward position by backing up Batum, or splitting time with Meyers Leonard if Aldridge leaves. They should also bring in a back up shooting guard to rotate with Aarron Afflalo in case Matthews get injured again.
The Jazz played great after the All Star break once they traded Enes Kanter and gave the playing minutes to Rudy Gobert. They had the best defensive rating in that period and went 19-10. They improved by 13 games from the previous year, and with a good summer, they could break the playoff barrier in 2015-16. They return with Trey Burke and Dante Exum at the guards, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward as forwards and Gobert at center.
Their bench depth could be their biggest concern as the back up guards are Bryce Cotton and Alex Burks, neither which sparks excitement should either starter miss time. Perhaps bringing in a player like Jeremy Lin or Aaron Brooks would be ideal for this situation.
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