Monday, June 26, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Southwest Division

Arguably one of the best divisions alongside the Central Division, although the Pacific is gaining fast. You have two of the best teams in the NBA, the Spurs & Dallas, who had to slug it out in a legendary playoff series one round too early cause of a flawed seeding system. They also have another team in Houston, who if they can avoid the injury bug, has to be considered a legit title contender as well. Memphis is no slouch itself and finished with the 4th best record in the West. Conf. this season. The Hornets also were a huge surprise this year (I thought they would win 15 games at the most), nearly making it to the playoffs with not much apparent talent on their roster. Each team looks to have the ability to make the playoffs, and three teams have a chance to get very deep. Dallas should still be top-notch, but they have a big decision to make on Jason Terry. San Antonio is by no means in some rebuliding mode, they just need to make some tweaks to bring in some more athleticism at the forward spots. Houston's biggest problem has more to do with getting their current players healthy. Memphis still looks to be solid, but they aren't going to make a step up to the next level unless they get some scoring pop around Gasol. The Hornets look headed in the right direction and they have multiple picks in the top 15 & roughly $15 mil. to toss around in free agency.

*--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.

DALLAS (MLE) (#28, #58): Back-up PF; Shooters; PG
-- While still probably licking their wounds and pitching conspiracy theories to the media, the Mavs look to be a serious contender once again and do not have too many ends to tie up. Although, the one outstanding issue for the Mavs this off-season is what to do with Jason Terry. It's a tough call: do they resign him to a significant deal to be their point guard or do they put their faith in the developing Devin Harris? They could also just say they want Terry & Harris to be their backcourt of the future. I am not really sure how I feel on Terry--I waver back & forth, so will see what happens. One thing they need to add from outside the organization is a back-up 4 who can provide some low-post scoring and defense behind Dirk. One thing absent from the Dallas offense is a consistent low-post scorer. Dirk will go down there sometimes, but it just seems he's reluctant to go down low consistently, and the Mavs have to mix up their jumpshooting-centric offense. The problem is there is really no one who fits that description in this free agent market. Another thing that Cuban might want to examine is the possible need for a shooter or two. The Mavs could be losing free agents Van Horn & Terry, and they could lose Stackhouse next summer when his deal expires. So all of sudden, the Mavs could be in dire need of some shooters. With the #28 pick, I would not be surprised for the Mavs to look oversees so they can keep the pick over there & groom him. But on the other hand, they did find Josh Howard with #29, so maybe they think they can strike gold once again.

HOUSTON (MLE) (#8, #32): SG; Post player; PG
-- The Rockets are coming off a season that was completely decimated by injuries. By the end of the year, they were relying on guys who were barely NBDL-level talent for serious minutes. If they can avoid these injuries, especially McGrady, they have a legit chance to compete for the West Conf. crown. The problem I see is that McGrady's back issues could very well be chronic and this could really muddy the future for Houston. With that in mind, I think the Rockets' first item of business is to draft a SG or SG/SF who can relieve some pressure off McGrady. Some people have Redick plugged in here at the #8, thinking his shooting is a perfect fit with the doubles that Ming & McGrady attract. I agree he's makes a great compliment on offense, but its the defense that worries me. With Redick there, you are putting a lot of pressure on McGrady to defend the opposing team's best wing player since JJ's a major liability. And if it was my call, from now on I would try to conserve McGrady as much as possible during the regular season and let him focus his energy on the offensive end. This is why I think Rod Carney is the best fit next to Tracy. He's obviously not as good a shooter as JJ, but he's good enough to keep the defense from totally collapsing on Yao & McGrady. And there no doubt he has the ability to be a top-notch defender who can spell Tracy at the SF as well. There's some talk they need to look for a point, but I'm not so convinced. They have Rafer Alston who is solid and needs more time for evaluation because of injuries this year. They also have Luther Head as a combo guard who did a somewhat better than expected job in his rookie season. They also have the rights to Vassilis Spanoulis, a young 6-4 point who has been pretty good over in Europe. They might be better letting things play out for a year or two with the points they have, then evaluate. The Rockets could also look to add another post player, presumably one that is athletic and play both PF & C; athletic is the key word since the Rockets have Mutombo & Juwan Howard as their only other post players. The Rockets don't seem enamoured with Stro Swift and seem to prefer him coming off the bench. So maybe if they don't go with a SG at #8 they will look at guys like Shelden or Ced Simmons. Other than that, there really are not many options in free agency that will be an upgrade from Swift. With the #32 pick, the Rockets could look for a guy like Paul Davis or Alex Johnson to groom behind Yao since Dikembe is playing on fumes.

MEMPHIS (MLE) (#24): Scoring wing; Center; PG
-- Even though they finished with the 4th best record in the West Conf., the Grizzlies have a lot of work to do if they want to break out of the middle of the pack. Most people seem to think that Memphis's primary need is for a rugged center, but I disagree. I don't deny they need someone to pair with Gasol to do the dirty work, but the Grizzlies most glaring need is someone who can flat-out score on the perimeter. I mentioned in my 1st round preview for the Grizz-Mavs series that Memphis' lack of scoring around Gasol would cost them and it eventually did. Mike Miller is nice, but he's not going to create a whole heck of a lot of scoring chances. Plus, he's seems fine with coming off the bench and if you have a guy like that willing to be a 6-man it really makes your bench scoring even better. On top of this, Ed Jones is in the last year of his deal and is a complimentary player anyways. The problem for the Grizzlies is they only have the #24 pick where they will probably not find a dynamic scoring wing. Maybe guys like Shannon Brown, Mo Ager could be considered, or even a guy like Guillermo Diaz from Miami. At the #24, they could also make a play for Jordan Farmar if he's there since their only point guard right now is Damon Stoudamire, and he's coming off a major injury & is going to be 33/34 next year as well. Like I mentioned before, the Grizzlies do have to look for post player opposite Gasol, especially since Lo Wright is a free agent. Someone like Josh Boone could be a good choice at the #24 to provide some rebounding and good solid position defense. Nazr Mohammed is a possiblity in free agency for a big.

NEW ORLEANS/OKLA ($15-17 mil) (#12, #15): Center; SF; Back-up PG
-- The first hole the Hornets have to address in the center position. They have PJ Brown manning the 5 spot admirably but he is winding down his career and is going into the last year of his deal. So honing in on a guy like Hilton Armstrong, Pat O'Bryant, or Saer Sene with either the 12 or 15 pick is the right move. The next maneuver after finding the best center is trying to pick up the best SF on the board with the other pick. Draftees like Ron Brewer, Carney, Shawne Williams or Euro Thabo Sefolosha would make some sense. Desmond Mason is going into the last year of his deal and he's better suited coming off the bench. But they are not forced to get a SF in the draft, they could go get another post player if they want, because they can turn their attention to the FA market. The SF position is by far the best represented position in the overall FA field with guys like Peja, Radmonvic, Al Harrington, Tim Thomas, Devean George, & Jared Jeffries (restricted) available. And with Chicago & Atlanta comfortable at their wing spots, the Hornets only have to compete with Toronto & Charlotte. In the Hornets' favor, I have to imagine that FAs will look more highly on a team that just missed the playoffs & the chance to play alongside Chris Paul. Speaking of Chris Paul, the Hornets also need to find a back-up for Paul since Speedy is a F.A. The Hornets don't need any one great and should look for a vet, so they don't have to worry about a point in the draft. Possible candidates are: Bobby Jackson, Chuck Atkins, & Lindsay Hinter fit the bill.

SAN ANTONIO (MLE) (#59): Athletic post player; Defensive wing; Back-up center
-- The furor over the demise of the San Antonio Spurs is way premature. They could have easily won that Dallas series if a couple things went their way--for example, what if Manu does not make that unnecessary foul on Dirk. But the one thing that stood out in the series is that they got beat on the boards too much cause they had to downsize to try to guard Dirk. What I think this team needs is basically a younger version of Bob Horry. Someone who's in the 6-9, 6-10 range who is athletic enough to defend on the perimeter. I think the Spurs should really consider moving Duncan to the 5 permanently and placing an athletic 6-10 or bigger guy next to him. Nowadays what centers are really going to physically overwhelm Duncan defensively? Yao, Shaq & maybe to a lesser degree Ilgauskas. That's really it. So when you play those teams you just start a guy like Nazr (if you resign him) at the 5. In the new wave of the NBA, I think you need to look for athletic frontlines without sacrificing the size like Phoenix does. The problem for the Spurs is that they only have the #59 pick in the draft and will more than likely use it on an obscure Euro they can stash oversees. The Spurs also have to be concerned in finding a young wing who can eventually fill the defensive role of Bruce Bowen. Bowen is still very good, but he's at that precarious age where you're in danger of getting slow & falling off the map overnight. It does not help that their back-up wings Finley & Barry are also around 33-34 years old as well. Looking at the FA market, the one guy that stands out that could answer both questions of a defensive 3 & a guy 6-10 or so, all in one package is Jared Jeffries. I think he would be a great fit for the Spurs because he can switch between the 3 & 4. The only problem is he is a restricted FA, so the Wiz have the ability to match any offer. Other guys the Spurs can look at in free agency are Dev George and Lo Wright to possibly fill the void left by Rasho & maybe Nazr.