Sunday, June 25, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Southeast Division

Looking ahead to the 2006-07 season, the current world champs look to be right back into the thick of things at the top of the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference. Miami is a legit title contender again with the entire starting unit under contract for next year. But not everything is quite rosy in Miami-- they could have serious questions about the status of their bench and don't have a ton of resources to replenish it. Washington should be able to make another playoff run, but the question remains-- is do they have the personnel to advance deep in the playoffs. They must tighten up their defense and get better at moving the ball if they want to be in the upper echelon of the East Conf. with Miami, Det., & the Nets. Orlando has an outside chance of grabbing one of the last playoff spots in the East, but is not ready to be a serious contender for at least a couple years. I expect Atlanta & Charlotte to be bottom feeders once again in the East, and neither team has a real good chance of sniffing the playoffs. Although, both teams have as much cap room as anyone to possibly improve, the problem for them is the free agent crop is pretty mediocre.

You will notice the two parentheses next to the team name. The first one will either have "MLE" or a dollar amount in it. This just states if the team has the Mid-Level Exception (which is roughly $5 mil this year) that is rewarded to every team that is over the salary cap. If a dollar amount is shown that means the team is under the salary cap. There are only a handful of teams under the salary cap (which has yet to be finalized, but should be around $50-52 million), they are as of right now: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Clippers, NO/OK, & Toronto; Utah might be slightly above the MLE, but that is not finalized at this point. The dollar amount is a rough estimation at this point, and can change to a degree for a myriad of technical things like cap holds, renounced rights, player options and the yet undetermined exact amount of this year's salary cap. The second parentheses just states the draft picks that each team presently owns.

ATLANTA ($16-18 mil) (#5, #33): PG; Post player; Defense
-- I really think the Hawks have to pick up Rudy Gay if he's still around at the #5. Well, not really, but knowing Billy Knight & Co. I can't say I would be really stunned if they went with a wing. Don't worry Hawks' fans (all 20 of you), I think Knight learned his lesson last year, at least that's what I am telling myself. Although, the current rumor of Atlanta making a promise to Shelden Williams at the #5, does not really make me feel more confident in Billy Knight's GM skills. Why do you make a guarantee to a guy who's 99.9% sure going to be around at the #5? It does not add up. What if Aldridge happens to still be on the board? This is why I am very skeptical of this report. Plus, #5 is too high to take Shelden anyways, you would be better served making a deal to move down a couple spots. Shelden does fill a need for some defensive toughness on the frontline that the Hawks are clearly lacking. Other guys who they have to consider are O'Bryant (Bradley) and Ced Simmons (NC St.), although #5 is probably too high for them as well. If they don't feel comfortable with any of those guys, they have the ability to be a major player for free agent bigs like Nene, Wilcox, Przybilla, and maybe even Ben Wallace. I personally think they should take Marcus Williams at the #5. They desparately need a point (they blew their chance last year) and the free agent crop is pretty shaky--Mike James might be the best bet, but he's going to be 31/32, that's a ten-year difference right there. Williams is the best pure point in the draft with great passing ability and has a knack for getting places with his dribble, even though he's not the greatest athlete in the world. Another guy who could make sense at #5 is Randy Foye. He's more of a 2-guard in my estimation, but he would be able to split up the ball-handling duties with Joe Johnson. But for the Hawks' situation, I would prefer the pure point who's main objective is to find his teammates with precision passes

CHARLOTTE ($22-24 Mil) (#3, #50): Scoring wings; Back-up Center
-- Well, the Bobcats are officially no longer an expansion team with the fact that they are allowed a full salary cap of $50 mil as opposed to the expansion-limit $37.5 mil. So the grace period is close to being over and its time to join the big boys at the grown-up table. The Bobcats have a ton of money to play with, but there are still some rumblings that Bernie Bickerstaff might be conservative this year and try to make a big splash next year when the FA class looks to be much better. But now with Mr. Jordan entering the fold, I just can't see him sitting idlely by waiting for this team to develop gradually. So maybe they will try to throw some dollars at guys like Peja, Radmanovic or Bonzi. With the # 3 spot, I think the Bobcats should be locking in on three guys, and you're assured one guy will be there: Rudy Gay, Morrison, & Brandon Roy. All guys can bring some desparately needed scoring on the perimeter. This team's #1 scoring option right now is Okafor, not a good situation, so finding scoring is of utmost importance this summer. Foye has to get some consideration as well. He would make for an undersized backcourt with Felton, but he could possibly be an expolsive scorer in the NBA. You know looking at Aldridge at #3, if he falls, is not out of the question. Brezec is servicable, but Aldridge is a definite upgrade. Melvin Ely is a restricted free agent, so the Bobcats should look to get a free agent big like Nazr, Przybilla, or Cato if they grab a perimeter guy as expected with the #3.

MIAMI (MLE) (None): Bench help; PG; Wing shooters; Back-up 4/5
-- Miami does not have much recourse about adding new pieces besides the MLE and their vet min. contracts. They have no draft picks right now and they really have no trade assets besides maybe Doleac. But then again Riles did not have much last year and he strung together some spare parts to fool Danny Ainge into sign & trading Ant Walker, so stay tuned. (Side note--Do you realize Ainge had his hand in 2 of the last 3 NBA titles: he sign & traded Walker in exchange for basically nothing and in a roundabout way he allowed the Pistons to acquire Rasheed at the trade deadline in '04. And both of these deals did not have to be made.) The Heat's starting unit is intact for next season, but their 3 main bench performers' status is uncertain. Payton is a free agent and is considering retirement. Ditto for Alonzo. James Posey has a player option for $6 mil that he still as to date not made a decision on, but it has to come in the next few days. So you can see that Miami could have big holes on their bench. Even if Payton were to come back, the Heat need to find a younger, defensive-minded PG or combo guard. Without a draft pick, Miami might have to look at a guy like Marcus Banks in free agency. They could use a back-up wing because they could be losing Posey, Shandon Anderson (FA), and Derek Anderson is done. If your offense is going to revolve around Wade iso-ing at the elbow for the next 10 years, you should try to make sure the wings you go after can stroke from deep. Guys like Harpring, Devean George, & Van Horn could fit the bill; Kukoc, Lamond Murray & Piakowski could be short-term solutions for a year or two. A guy 6-10 or bigger who can swing between the 4 & 5-spot would help the Heat and provide a little more size at the 4-spot, especially with the prospect of Zo's retirement.

ORLANDO (MLE) (#11, #41, #44): SG; SF
-- Here's a team who came on strong late in the season and made an unexpected push for the playoffs. They have a promising, young core to bulid off of Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard and even Darko showed some sparks of untapped talent after the trade. In this draft, the Magic are one of the few teams that does not really have to worry about their frontline with Dwight, Darko, & the rights to Fran Vasquez. Maybe with their second round picks they can look for bigs, but at the #11 they will not find anything better than what they have, and they have a bigger need for a SG. I think Rodney Carney would make a lot of sense at 11, and there is a good possibility he's still there (right now he's projected in the 7-15 range). Other players who could be at # 11 & make sense are: Ron Brewer (Arkansas), Redick, Mo Ager & Shannon Brown (both Mich St.). I would prefer Carney there because he's the best package of defense, shooting, & size of any of those guys. And the Magic really need to think defense at the SG cause you have liabilities surrounding the position with Nelson & Turkoglu. Carney can move over to SF in a pinch and the Magic might need this with Grant Hill's contract winding down. Brewer would be my second choice if there, cause his ball-handling could allow Nelson to play off the ball some and he can play three positions as well. Although, the Magic don't need to look for another young big in the draft, it would not hurt them to look for a veteran back-up to help out--someone like Lo Wright or Nazr would work.

WASHINGTON (MLE) (# 18, #48): PG; Center; Defense
-- A lot of people will say that the Wizards already have a pretty good point guard in Arenas. I don't think so. Gil is not a very good point guard--he's a very good 2-guard who needs a ball-handler next to him to let him just worry about attacking the rim. Gil's just a poor decision maker with the ball, which is backed-up by high number of turnovers, terrible asst/TO ratio & one of the worst shot selections in the NBA. I've felt this way for a couple years now, and the Wizards' brass agreed with me last year by bringing in Antonio Daniels, but he seemed to underachieve this year. At the #18 pick, Rajon Rondo could be there and would provide a much needed jolt to a porous defensive team. Jordan Farmar would also make sense. Another possibility would be Mardy Collins, a 6-6 combo guard who could allow Arenas to guard opposing points. Washington also needs to look for a post player that can provide some consistent defensive effort. They have Brendan Haywood in the middle, but you just can't count on him to give a consistent effort every night. At #18 if Rondo's gone, the Wizards could look toward the two UConn interior defensive stalwarts--Josh Boone & Hilton Armstrong--to back-up Heywood. Another priority for the Wiz, is to resign Jared Jeffries. He did a superb job guarding Lebron in the playoffs and he is one of the few guys on the roster that actually thinks defense first. The Wiz are stocked in the scoring department with Arenas, Butler, & Jamison capable of getting 20 every night; its the overall defense & decision making that is an issue.