2015 Offseason Preview: Charlotte Hornets

Much of the Hornets' investments in young talent haven't panned out as expected. What is next for Buzz City?
Many of the Hornets’ investments in young talent haven’t panned out as expected. What is next for Buzz City?

Free Agents: Jason Maxiell (Unrestricted)


 

The Hornets took a big step towards relevance in 2013, but then promptly erased all of their momentum last season. In all fairness, GM Rich Cho really did make an effort that garnered some praise, but the gamble he took on Lance Stephenson failed immensely. Not only that, but Al Jefferson couldn’t replicate the success he had the season prior, in part because of nagging injury issues. It was up to Mo Williams, of all people, to save them from further embarrassment. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Charlotte Hornets”

2015 Offseason Preview: Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 25: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 25, 2015 at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – MARCH 25: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 25, 2015 at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Free Agents: None


 

It seems hard to believe, but the Jazz could very well be finished rebuilding. They’ve established a solid core with the exile of Kanter, which allows Gobert to be a perennial candidate for defensive player of the year. Questions are still abound, however – ones that Utah will eventually have to address in the long term.

For starters, Trey Burke still has shown nothing of note. In fact, due to his sheer defensive awfulness, he might just be a net negative. How long, in that case, can the Jazz continue to show faith to their starting point guard who was supposed to be in it for the long haul? And the almost as equally maligned Exum wasn’t so impressive, either. Fear not for Exum, however; he was just a 19 year old rookie coming from Australia, and advanced metrics even suggest that he brought a solid defensive presence to the team (or at least, miles better than the one from Burke). It’s way too early to cast him out, and I would expect to see his game leap as he becomes more confident in taking his chances at driving to the basket. Gordon Hayward is a borderline star who was the heart of the Jazz’s effectiveness, and his two-way play makes his current contract a bargain even before the salary cap jump. The return of Alec Burks will undoubtedly ease some of the scoring load off of Hayward, too; the stats from the first few seasons that DeMar DeRozan has played are comparable to those of Burks’ career. Derrick Favors has proven his ability as a defensive stalwart second only to Gobert, and can only grow from here, particularly on the offensive end. Favors exhibited more promise than the likes of other athletic big men by showing off a mid-range game, and more importantly, excelling at converting easy baskets close to the rim. Last, but not least, Gobert is set to have a full season of locking down everybody in sight now that Kanter’s toxic antics are just a memory. We might even see Gobert whip out a jump shot here and there next season, thanks to his focus on adding that component to his game over the off-season (he’s reportedly meeting Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach, Holger Geschwindner, to get a few pointers).

In the draft, the Jazz selected prospects Trey Lyles and Olivier Hanlan with the 12th and 42nd picks, respectively. Trey Lyles is considered to be one of the most intriguing prospects of the draft; although he is only a 19 year old freshman coming out of Kentucky, he already has NBA-ready size – he weighs 241 pounds, stands 6’10” in shoes, and possesses an enormous 9’0” standing reach. He’s quick enough to take advantage of traditional big men, and his soft touch around the basket coupled with his long arms is a good reason as to why he finishes so well in the paint. He is, however, an average athlete, and defense is not one of Lyles’ calling cards. Unless he can improve on that end, as well as work on the shooting touch that he showed flashes of in college, he comes across as a Terrence Jones type. That’s still a good rotation piece, and Lyles could get minutes coming off the bench for Favors. Ultimately, his youth is a big reason as to why the outlook on his career is optimistic. The first of Utah’s second round picks, Hanlan, is a 6’4” junior and combo guard from Boston College. Hanlan had a solid career at Boston, and is a polished prospect – both his scoring and distributing numbers are impressive enough for the Jazz to take a chance on. Still, the competition is stout at both guard slots, and the Jazz already have equally-as-impressive Bryce Cotton (who made waves towards the end of last season with his athletic play). Hanlan has received comparisons to CJ McCollum and Devin Harris, but only time will tell with regards to how he will actually pan out in the NBA.

From here on, the Jazz might be content to set pat. Their only free agents were Joe Ingles and Jeremy Evans; Ingles didn’t show anything overly special in his rookie year, but Utah seems committed to keeping him around, and brought him back for two more years. At the very least, all his years of experience in Australia and Europe have him very poised to the game, and the idea of Ingles as a point-forward seems enticing on paper. Evans, on the other hand, is one of the league’s better kept secrets, and was scooped away by the Mavericks for two years of the veteran minimum. At the very least, Utah will miss his presence as a positive locker room influence. But ultimately, it seems as if it was time to move on; Evans wasn’t going to get very many minutes with the Jazz, as has been the case for almost his entire career, and better talent just came up to push him further out of the depth chart.


Prediction: The Jazz have done well in building their current team, and keeping the band together for a few more seasons seems like a good idea. If they can build upon the previous synergy the team had after booting Kanter, the Jazz could be an elite defensive team next season. Keep in mind, however, the Jazz had one of the toughest schedules in the league before trading away Kanter, and their workload became significantly easier afterwards. I wouldn’t bet against Gobert, but it’s entirely possible that his impact was a little overstated. And while the Jazz started to win against playoff teams, going that late into the season, most of those teams weren’t playing at full capacity due to injuries or rest. I’ll predict the Jazz can make a very real push for the 8th seed thanks to their awesome frontcourt, a possible improvement from Exum, and Quin Snyder’s great coaching tactics, but this won’t be their year. Still, Utah is an up-and-coming team.


 

2015 Offseason Preview: Miami Heat

Mike Ehrmann/Getty
Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Free Agents: None


“There can only be one state of mind as you approach any profound test; total concentration, a spirit of togetherness, and strength.”

-Pat Riley

Nobody can seem to agree upon the Heat. Some people think Pat Riley has come out of nowhere to build a dark horse contender, and others believe that the Heat are being trumped up far too much. The upcoming season should ultimately prove who is right, and while the Heat are looking almost complete, they aren’t quite finished transforming.

The only free agent Miami decided to not keep was Michael Beasley, whose team option was declined. This isn’t a big surprise, Beasley’s defense was abysmal as always, and he didn’t shoot particularly well. In any case, a hearty round of applause should be extended to Riley for managing to re-sign Dragic while convincing him to leave some money on the table. Dragic might’ve had a down year when compared to his world-beating 13-14 campaign, but he came from a toxic situation in Phoenix and had to adjust to Spoelstra’s schemes on the fly. $90 million over 5 years is a lot more palatable than a $109 million deal over the same time period, especially with the rising salary cap, and the fact that Dragic will be 34 at the end of his deal. Luol Deng also accepted his player option, which can be seen as a win for Miami in light of their other moves. When Deng was off the floor, the Heat had an Offensive Rating of 98.0 (would rank 2nd worst), and when he was on the floor, the Heat had an ORTG of 108.2 (would rank top 12). Deng also shot a career high on eFG%, and the rest of his stats managed to keep in line with his career averages. Although one wonders how much slippage his defense might’ve seen, it’s unfair to judge Deng for his past two seasons – he was stuck in a no-win situation on the Cavs two years ago, and the many injuries last season halted Miami from creating a defensive identity. This all leads up to the decision of Wade, who made it clear he wanted to be paid after years of sacrifice, just like how Bosh was given big money not to leave for Houston. Wade opted out and gave Heat fans a real scare, but eventually was able to come to terms with a one year deal for $20 million. He still isn’t the highest paid player on the team (that honor belongs to Bosh), but it is certainly indicative of the respect that the organization feels for the greatest player in their team history. The scary thing is, this is actually closer to market value than one would imagine, if it weren’t for Wade’s spotty health.

Many will argue that Miami has won the draft, by stealing Justise Winslow with the 10th pick, and selecting Josh Richardson at 40. Winslow is somewhat undersized for a small forward, standing at 6’4.5” without shoes, but thankfully being bestowed with a 6’10” wingspan. Coming from Duke, Winslow has achieved legitimate success as a starter on Mike Krzyzewski’s championship squad. He averaged 12.6 points in only 29 minutes per game on a 48.5 FG%, 41.4 3PT% (with an impressive 2.8 threes attempted per game), and going 64.1% from the free throw line. Winslow also stuffed the stat sheet with 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, and just under 2 turnovers per game. Being only 19 years old, the all-around game that Winslow has displayed is no small feat, and he is sure to receive some minutes right from the outset. Winslow can guard multiple positions from both a one-on-one and team perspective, and his rebounding ability should serve him well versus smaller power forwards. Still, sheer power won’t work so well for an athlete like Winslow when he squares up against the big dogs of the league, and despite his efficiency, Winslow isn’t the best at creating for himself or others. Finally, his shooting could be a fluke – although he improved upon his shot mechanics heading into college, he still had his struggles at the free throw line, which doesn’t really occur for proven NBA shooters (exceptions like Bruce Bowen do exist, however). Miami’s other pick, Josh Richardson, is no mere throwaway. The senior out of Tennessee has improved upon his game every year in college, finally exploding for 16 points in 36 minutes per game last season, and shooting 36% from three on 4 attempts per game. Richardson made sizeable improvements in his game on a yearly basis except for his two point shooting and his shot blocking (which is mostly irrelevant for a shooting guard). Clearly, to improve his three point shot and his free throws shows a lot of hard work, which could take him all the way to a major rotational role in a few years.

The Heat are trying to rid themselves of Chalmers, Andersen, and reportedly even Napier and McRoberts at the right price. Presumably, this would be to clear up space for the epic free agency after next season, but Chalmers and Andersen are both expiring contracts, anyway. Perhaps the front office has decided the two are out of place, and peddling them off to another team for practically nothing would be a move of addition by subtraction. After all, Chalmers will eventually have to give way to Napier, and Andersen’s effectiveness in anything more than limited minutes has been steadily decreasing (he just turned 37!). McRoberts would be a nice piece off Miami’s bench, but his upcoming salary of $5.7 million after next season is enough to break the bank- Zach Lowe states that he’s reportedly being offered for one or two 2nd round picks. As much as I want to say that I don’t see the point in trading away Napier because of his subpar rookie season, it wouldn’t look like an awful move if he were to be shipped away. I mean, any team in the league would absolutely rid themselves of Napier if it meant enough money to sway Kevin Durant with.


Prediction: If Wade can stay healthy, this team is back in the playoffs for sure. If Bosh comes back strong from his life threatening blood clots, he’ll be enough to make the Heat climb another few rungs on the playoffs ladder. Hassan Whiteside has been gaining national recognition for his defensive abilities, and don’t be surprised if he comes into the season as a more polished post player (perhaps with a jump shot, too). Dragic’s offensive versatility is a great fit next to Wade, and if he shoot at least in the high 30s from three, Miami becomes that much harder to guard. If Deng doesn’t face a severe drop in athletic skill, he can continue to provide the Heat with valuable all-around play. That being said, I just listed a bunch of ‘ifs’. Things might not turn out that way, and the health of that lineup is suspect, Wade especially. This isn’t even beginning to mention the state of the Heat’s bench; a rookie and someone who just missed a year due to injury (Winslow and McRoberts) might turn out to be the 6th and 7th men on this team… which is to say things could real ugly, real quick. The young guns in Napier and Ennis could be featured in larger roles if either one of them were to break out, but the opposite is just as likely.  Finally, Tyler Johnson has improved leaps and bounds, it might be time to unleash his scoring prowess upon the league, even if he doesn’t offer quite as much bang as some would expect. With health, this team can be top four in the conference material, but otherwise? Maybe more of the same – the Heat would toil in mediocrity as the injuries and emphasized weakness of the bench brings down the team. In any case, I’m confident in Miami finishing within in the 4th seed range, and gaining a second round appearance, maybe even a shot at the chip.


 

2015 Offseason Preview: Sacramento Kings

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 29: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on in the second half during a game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on December 29, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 29: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on in the second half during a game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on December 29, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Free Agents: Ryan Hollins (Unrestricted), Andre Miller (U), Reggie Evans (U)


 

Even when compared to the Knicks and Sixers, I would have to say the Kings are the biggest joke in the league right now. With more subterfuge than a House of Cards episode going on between George Karl, Vlade Divac, and DeMarcus Cousins, they were truly the messiest team heading into free agency.

Declaring the Cousins project a failure and blowing up a team that maybe, just maybe, started to go places is a sadly valid option. The end result of that path was widely thought to be sending Boogie to the Lakers for ten cents on the dollar, but now that all depends on the Roy Hibbert trade. Otherwise, the Celtics could very well pounce with their “Godfather” offer now, and it could happen if tempers irrevocably flare once more. If Ranadive (or Divac, who knows?) instead decides to can Karl, perhaps a new coach can be chosen with Cousins’ approval. Giving him that kind of authority is a dangerous game, but it beats the embarrassment of having to start all over again. Sacramento’s currently a hodgepodge of ill-fitting talent who should be enough to sway Cousins to stay, but the players they have acquired are very questionable. Rondo came off of an awful year with the Celtics and Mavericks, and by all means was a terrible offensive player (although he did arguably provide great defense). George Karl clearly has a history of butting heads with players, and if he slights Rondo, the situation becomes very toxic. This either makes Collison a bench player, or he starts next to Rondo – both are awkward fits. McLemore is still hated by advanced stats, but has improved, maybe enough to be a nice piece off the bench. Clearly, he hasn’t shown any starter-level play. The new addition of Belinelli specifically catered to Rondo, and while his three point ability hasn’t wavered, he was an awful defensive player for the Spurs. Rudy Gay turned in a decent season for Sacramento, but his value is capped. While he’s a fine volume scorer and adequate rebounder, he doesn’t provide much in the way of defense, and will look to play more power forward next to Cousins. This hasn’t worked well in the past, but if the whole team goes small, we could witness a shift in the effectiveness that Gay has at power forward.

With the 6th pick in the draft, Sacramento chose Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS is not, as many think, an admission that Cousins will inevitably be traded – many have noted that he provides the defensive presence and athleticism the Kings have sorely lacked (at the draft combine, he reportedly recorded a maximum vertical of 37 inches and stands 7’1” in shoes). This moves Cousins to his preferred position at power forward if Cauley-Stein is a day one starter (unlikely with Karl’s coaching methods). He’s a high risk/high reward player, who also showed off some nice shooting range with Kentucky, and he could be one of the very best players to come out of the draft. On the flip side, Cauley-Stein has a history of concerning leg injuries which gave teams some pause, but if he can work through those, he is absolutely the prototypical defensive big the Kings could use. I would peg him as a Tyson Chandler type, which could be very useful in the future.

The Kings have parted ways with Derrick Williams, but there’s no real love lost here; Williams was mostly atrocious in Sacramento, and definitely needed a change of scenery. Andre Miller has drawn interest from teams outside of the Kings, and they could stand to lose out on his services if he values winning a ring. Ryan Hollins provided, more or less, a warm body and six fouls a night – he doesn’t inspire much confidence as a presence on either end of the floor. Finally, if Reggie Evans is overlooked by contenders and pseudo-contenders alike, he could be picked back up by Sac-town; his rebounding numbers were as strong as you’d expect, despite his advanced age and limited minutes. Yet, with their remaining cap space (created by the atrocious deal that sent Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and a protected 1st round pick to the Sixers + the right for Philly to swap 1st round picks with them in two future drafts), they have been spurned by a multitude of free agents, including Monta Ellis and Wesley Matthews. Rudy Gay has gone on the record to state that he’d be happy with recruiting Josh Smith from the Rockets to join his team, as the two are good friends. The collection of Kentucky players (from which Rondo and Cauley-Stein also hail) are going to go a long way in mending Cousins’ trust with the team. Smith could also be a legitimate option for the Kings when they go small, as the Rockets successfully displayed with his talents in the playoffs.


Prediction: I don’t see this panning out well at all for Sacramento. The defensive talent on the team doesn’t sound reassuring, and Rondo has been gumming up offenses for years. Even when a team ‘caters’ to his strengths, his sheer presence as a space-killer nullifies most of his work. Cauley-Stein is still a rookie, and therefore, not much can be expected of him in terms of transcendent play. Belinelli will get nowhere near the looks he got in San Antonio, and the Gay-Cousins experiment was only truly outstanding when Isaiah Thomas shared the floor with him. If Karl stays on the team, he runs the risk of alienating Rondo, Collison, and Cousins for a litany of reasons. If he is fired, the talent pool of coaching is just about as unproven as it gets, and Calipari would be a longshot to acquire, anyway. Despite mortgaging the future of their draft picks, I see this team regressing even further in light of the western conference contenders upgrading yet again, and DeMarcus Cousins might seriously think about leaving. For now, the burden of proof lies upon Sacramento.


 

2015 Offseason Preview: Phoenix Suns

How will Brandon Knight's second year on the Suns pan out?
How will Brandon Knight’s second year on the Suns pan out?

 


Free Agents: Earl Barron (Unrestricted), Marcus Thornton (U), Gerald Green (U)


 

For a team said to be on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity, the Suns have taken quite the tumultuous path in the last few years. From the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire to the Knicks, to trading away the franchise’s face in Steve Nash, to the surprising breakouts of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and finally, the ill-fated Dragic/Bledsoe/Thomas trio that resulted in trading away Dragic and Thomas while acquiring Brandon Knight. In all this time, not once have the Suns made the playoffs. With the ever-shifting dynamics of the league, however, the upcoming year could finally break the drought for many fans in eager anticipation of a return to the big dance.

The Suns took care of business pretty quickly by re-signing Knight to a contract worth $70 million over the course of 5 years. Knight’s value has been questioned frequently over the course of his career, with several advanced statistics being cited against his favor (Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player, his subpar TS% relative to the volume of his scoring), but he had a career-best year in Milwaukee until his move to Phoenix. Although his level of play nosedived, it should be noted that Knight injured his ankle, and later had to undergo season ending arthroscopic surgery to correct his injury. With a fresh start, Knight can resume his productive play as he gets acclimated to the team, and form an athletic combo with Eric Bledsoe, who has managed to play an (almost) full season with starters’ minutes. Phoenix also signed Mavs center Tyson Chandler to a 4 year, $52 million deal. Chandler provides the interior protection that the Suns have sorely lacked for so long, and perhaps more importantly, his elite finishing at the basket and propensity to collect offensive rebounds will prove pivotal to the team. Also, the medical staff in Phoenix should keep Chandler about as healthy as he can be; in fact, Chandler’s career should be enhanced to the point where the final year on his contract shouldn’t look too awful, despite the fact that he’ll be pushing the age of 37.

In an effort to open up room to sign Aldridge, the Suns traded away Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock to the Pistons while only getting back a 2020 2nd rounder back. as a means of creating an extra $8 million worth of cap space. Granger showed nothing of his prime Indiana form on the team, and Bullock was an intriguing prospect, but the likes of TJ Warren and Archie Goodwin made him the odd man out amongst the prospects. Marcus Morris played meaningful minutes in the Suns’ pace-n-space system, but his production was ultimately replaceable. While Phoenix’s pitch was enough to make Aldridge seriously consider taking his talents there, he ultimately chose San Antonio. Now, McDonough has to focus his resources on acquiring depth for the team, and perhaps dealing away Markieff Morris, as well. The Morris twins are practically inseparable, and Markieff was very critical of the trade – which was only precipitated by their deplorable conduct over the past season (this includes possibly assaulting their former mentor, with a court case pending which could see jail time for the twins). A Morris/Ilyasova swap could take place to reunite the twins in Detroit, but it is clear that the Suns’ management feels like they owe the twins nothing, and Ilysaova was underwhelming in his return from injury.

With the 13th pick in the draft, the Suns selected shooting guard Devin Booker from Kentucky. Booker is one of the best shooters in the draft, and also one of the youngest rookies drafted. Coming off the bench in his freshman year, Booker shot 47% from the floor, shot over 40% on threes, and shot 82.8% on free throws. In just over 20 minutes a game, he was good for 10 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, half a steal, 1.5 fouls, and a turnover per game. From a glance, he sounds like reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams, but Booker is an unusually perceptive player for his age who will take the right shots and make the necessary passes. Despite his somewhat pedestrian vertical of 35 inches, Booker’s 6’6” stature (in shoes, at least) and 6’8” wingspan indicates he has the potential to develop defensive skills. Due to his average athletic ability, Booker struggles with finishing at the rim, and one should not expect him to be a playmaker right from the get-go. Booker also has subpar lateral quickness, and is prone to being beaten off the dribble when playing defense. Unless injuries strike, look for Booker to accrue limited minutes as part of some three-guard lineups as he becomes used to the NBA in general.

The Suns don’t have very many free agents remaining; only Earl Barron, Gerald Green, and Marcus Thornton are yet to be re-signed. While Barron and Thornton were mid-season acquisitions made to bolster the bench long after the season was lost, Green is only two seasons removed from being an electrifying starter who had the shots to go with the hops. Last season, he faced some regression, but was mostly kept on the bench due to the fact that coach Hornacek did not approve of his abysmal defense – this lead to some tension between the player and the coach. This late in the process, it’s entirely possible that Green could find a home elsewhere, and while his name hasn’t made very many waves, he is sure to be a good bargain for most teams in the league. What the Suns really need, however, is big man depth. Josh Smith has reasserted his value in Houston, and his strong playoffs performance could parlay a stint with the Suns. Jordan Hill provides more raw rebounding energy, even if he’s prone to questionable decision making. Darrell Arthur could be an intriguing project as he has shown many streaks of impressive play in the past few seasons, but has been hampered by his health. Finally, Dorrell Wright, while not the best defender at any position, can play at the wing and stretch to the four when the team goes small. The common denominator here is that all of these players have shown some semblance of shooting, whether it be from mid-range or from three. As options are starting to grow thin, it would be prudent for McDonough to act quickly.


Prediction: Now that they have a legit presence to anchor the paint, these Suns are looking to finally punch their ticket to the playoffs. Chandler’s veteran leadership will erase the woes the Morris twins dragged in, and if his health holds up (a pretty safe bet), he can energize the rest of the team with his hustle plays. Bledsoe will continue his mini-LeBron antics, and will be even more deadly if he can regain his outside shot. Knight will look to make yet another improvement with his level of play, like he has done every season in his career. The departure of Wright and possibly Green will sting, but this speaks to the commitment the front office has in building a stout defense. Look for the Suns to claw at that 8th seed with a renewed ferocity, and this time? I think they’re gonna make it.


 

2015 Offseason Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Dec 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and center Al Horford (15) celebrate a victory against the Washington Wizards in overtime at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Wizards 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and center Al Horford (15) celebrate a victory against the Washington Wizards in overtime at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Wizards 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents: Paul Millsap (Unrestricted), Elton Brand (U), Demarre Carroll (U), John Jenkins (U), Pero Antic (Restricted)


 

The Hawks were the darlings of the league during the regular season and the new champions of team-ball, ready to carry the torch passed from the Spurs, until they met an ignominious end at the hands of the Cavaliers in the form of an Eastern Conference Finals sweep. Now, their future is uncertain as the all-star starting five seems to breaking up, while Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver recover from surgery. During a time where their front office is in disarray after the dismissal of Danny Ferry, head-coach-turned-team-president Mike Budenholzer will certainly have his hands full in keeping his core guys. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Atlanta Hawks”

2015 Offseason Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs face a reloading period. Can LeBron take this team to a title next year?
The Cavs face a reloading period. Can LeBron take this team to a title next year?

Free Agents: Kendrick Perkins (Unrestricted), James Jones (U), Iman Shumpert (Restricted), Matthew Dellavedova (R), Tristan Thompson (R), Mike Miller (Player Option), JR Smith (PO), Kevin Love (PO), LeBron James (PO)


 

The Cavaliers have returned to elite form, and in a major way. The additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love managed to vault one of the worst teams in the league all the way to being just two wins away from an NBA championship. The scary part is, they’re probably going to be even better next season.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love managed to prove their worth on a contending team after an underwhelming 20-20 start to the season, which included an injured LeBron as well as calls for the head of rookie coach David Blatt, who made stellar adjustments later in the season, especially in the playoffs. Tristan Thompson elevated his game to another level after Love was lost to injury, and Timofey Mozgov was the defensive anchor the Cavs so desperately needed at the time they traded for him. Even Knicks castaways JR Smith and Iman Shumpert had their moments, and Dellavedova was briefly a hero. But not all is well in Cleveland, who must face the issues of trying to balance their expiring contracts.

Between LeBron, Love, Smith, and Mike Miller, only Miller exercised his player option to stay with the team next season. While James Jones is practically a lock to receive the veteran minimum (and hence be retained), the Cavs are likely going to say goodbye to Perkins and perhaps Dellavedova, who could be overpaid based on his Finals performance. They will also have to run the very minor risk of Love bolting for Los Angeles, Boston, or maybe even Portland (should Aldridge leave), among other teams. Tristan Thompson will command an eight figure salary per year after proving his enhanced proficiency at inside finishing, offensive rebounding, and providing adequate defense throughout the season. Shumpert could also receive an inflated deal due to the nature of Restricted Free Agency, especially because a variety of teams (Mavericks, Bucks, Lakers) are reported to have an interest in him. JR Smith is asking for a salary that would pay him about 8 million per year, which is actually fair market value for his services – hence, the Cavaliers are likely to strike a deal. Going back to Love, the Cavaliers are expected to offer him a max contract that deals out $110 million over the course of five years. Although this sounds steep, if Love were to take a one year contract with a player option, and opt out after next season, he would be owed significantly more money based on the spike in the salary cap. The odds that Love accepts this contract are great for the Cavaliers, seeing as how he has professed a desire to stay with the team long-term for the entirety of last season. Finally, LeBron could ask for the mega-deal he finally deserves, but is likely to stay with Cleveland on a one-year max contract with a player option. From there, this allows him to opt out after next season, and the Cavaliers could extend full Bird Rights in their next contract negotiation. A five-year max deal with the new salary cap would pay out over $200 million to LeBron, and he would make an average of $43 million per year based upon the current projections of the salary cap.

In order to free up some cap space and make subtle upgrades to their bench, the Cavaliers have made some very shrewd choices. During the draft, they traded the #24 pick (which ended up being Tyus Jones) to Minnesota in exchange for the #31 and #36 picks, which landed in the second round. This is significant because second round picks have no cap holds that count against the team, and their minimum salaries on the rookie scale are practically negligible when they are signed. The Cavaliers made the most out of their picks, too, selecting 20 year old Cedi Osman out of Turkey. Osman is a versatile point-forward who not only has size to play numerous positions (he’s 6’8”), but the athleticism to last in the NBA. According to GM David Griffin, it will probably take Osman at least two years to be freed of his contractual obligations in Turkey, but that will give him the necessary time to develop. Although Osman isn’t the most skilled shooter, he has a remarkable motor and is willing to do the all the dirty work a team needs, which fits in well with the other role players on the team. This is very similar in comparison to the 36th pick, Rakeem Christmas. Christmas is a senior out of Syracuse who was labeled with NBA-level potential, but only really came into stride in his final season at college. He is physically similar to Tristan Thompson, with both earning the label of being an undersized power forward/center who gets by on athletic ability. Christmas might have recorded an average vertical, but he also had the second longest wingspan of all measured prospects, ranking just below Robert Upshaw. Weighing in at over 240 pounds, Christmas has an NBA-ready body and could find minutes right away. It is fair, however, to question his upside; he turns 24 later this year. Also, despite making strides in his game, Christmas still shows questionable effort at times, and will have to learn an entirely new method of defense after playing four straight years defending in a 2-3 zone. It will take him some time to truly make an impact, and his ability to guard the giants who man the center position in the league are doubtful at the moment. Finally, with the 53rd pick, Cleveland selected junior Sir’Dominic Pointer out of St. John’s. Pointer is a quick player who can run the floor for easy transition baskets, and also frequently passes to teammates. However, he isn’t the best at scoring in the half-court setting, nor can he shoot from long range, which makes his value limited on that end. He shines defensively, where his aggressive brand of play allows him to guard multiple positions despite his average wingspan, and is the catalyst towards the respectable rate at which he collects defensive rebounds. Still, don’t expect Pointer to receive anything more than spot minutes in the rotation, if at all, until he learns how to fit within the offense.

 

The Cavaliers also have the contract of Brendan Haywood as a trade chip, being able to take back around $10.5 million in salary. A potential trade target is San Antonio, who could offer a combination of Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, and Boris Diaw in exchange for Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal. These players could make Cleveland a seriously deep and versatile team, and further their chances at contention. Of course, other deals could be pursued, or the Cavaliers could simply end up waiving Haywood themselves if they are unable to find any takers. For now, however, he is their true weapon for building in free agency.


Prediction: The Cavaliers will retain everyone except for Perkins,and the Haywood contract will be used to bring in new blood. With a deeper team, the core of LeBron/Kyrie/Love won’t have to be pushed as hard next season, and they can be better-rested for the playoffs. With another year to build some experience playing together, the Cavs are a very real candidate to win 60+ games, as well as the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Although Atlanta and Chicago could still pose a threat to them, I would pencil in Cleveland for a reappearance in the finals as of this moment. The question is – can they make the final push to win?


This piece is part 6 of the 30 Team Offseason Preview Series by Fazal Ahmed.

2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; D'Angelo Russell (Ohio State) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents: Carlos Boozer (Unrestricted), Ronnie Price (U), Wayne Ellington (U), Ed Davis (U), Wesley Johnson (U), Jeremy Lin (U), Vander Blue (Restricted), Jordan Hill (Team Option)


 

“We’re a young, eager group ready to restore this franchise back to where it once was. I think that kind of sums it up. These guys are ready. I’m excited to play a piece in that project. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a long road, it’s going to take a lot of work. I know the three of us are and I know the guys in the locker room are more than ready and willing to. ”

-Larry Nance Jr.

Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers”

2015 Offseason Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas enters another year of Free-Agent fishing. How will the offseason pan out for the Mavs?
Dallas enters another year of Free-Agent fishing. How will the offseason pan out for the Mavs?

Free agents: Rajon Rondo (Unrestricted), JJ Barea (U), Al-Farouq Aminu (U), Monta Ellis (U), Tyson Chandler (U), Richard Jefferson (U) Amar’e Stoudemire (U), Charlie Villanueva (U), Greg Smith (U), Bernard James (Restricted)


 

By now, most people believe they have the Mavericks’ approach to team building figured out, and to some extent, they’re absolutely right. In an interview with Grantland Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Dallas Mavericks”

2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

NBAE/Getty
NBAE/Getty

Free Agents: Dahntay Jones (Unrestricted), Hedo Turkoglu (U), Glen Davis (U), Ekpe Udoh (U), Austin Rivers (U), DeAndre Jordan (U)


 

“I love this challenge. As strange as it sounds, I thought a couple of those bad years in Boston where we were trying to add players and we finally did it [helped me]. I love those years because you’re building and then when you’ve finally got it, you’re built toward a championship and try to win another one, so this is a great stretch.”

-Doc Rivers

At their peak last season, the Clippers looked like less of a dark horse and more of a real contender. Doc Rivers the coach did an admirable job for 93 games, until everything came crashing down in that incredible series loss at the hands of James Harden and the Rockets. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers”