Important NBA Off-Seasons

This is a compelling off-season for a significant amount of teams, with the nature of contracts coming on and off the books and the potential free agent market, though many of the biggest names are Restricted Free Agents, and we saw from Anderson Varejao, there are pitfalls to this. After the jump, I’m going to run through the five teams with the biggest off-seasons coming up in terms of the long-term potential of the franchise, saying why it is so important for them and what I would do if I were in their shoes.
  1. Golden State Warriors
Why this is a big off-season: Basically, the entire team is up for free agency this summer (Andris Biedrins is an RFA, and Baron Davis, Kelenna Azibuke, Monta Ellis, Mickael Pietrus, and Matt Barnes are free agents).
What they have to work with: The Warriors only have around $34 million committed to the 2008-2009 cap (including the remnants of Adonal Foyle’s buyout), and besides Azibuike, they have Bird Rights on all of them. As such, if ownership would sign off on it, they could put around $20 million into free agents and/or trades and still retain what is a playoff team right now. Also, there are other guys on manageable contracts, including Brandon Wright, Marco Belinelli, and Azibuike if he doesn’t opt out.
Limitations: The most pivotal problem is that Chris Cohan, the owner of the Warriors, does not appear to be willing to put that kind of money into making a legitimately great team, especially with paid attendance doing as well as it is right now. After all, why would an owner put $30m more of his own money into a team with a smaller potential financial reward? I consider the potential of hosting additional playoff games (and possibly the NBA Finals) as potential revenue.
What I would do: First off, the Warriors should for sure sign Andris Biedrins and Baron Davis long-term. Both are integral players for the future of the franchise and can be signed regardless of the cap space. Azibuike and Monta Ellis would both be very nice to have, and at least Monta could be signed and traded to add further talent.
After lining up Biedrins and Davis (but not getting them on their books until as much of the space as possible is filled), Chris Mullin should go after free agents like Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Ryan Hollins, and a few others.
Drafting a big (Brook Lopez) and a developmental PG/SG/SF for the D-League could solidify the team as well.
My Potential Line-Up:
PG: Baron Davis / Shaun Livingston
SG: Kelenna Azibuike / Monta Ellis / Marco Belinelli
SF: Stephen Jackson / Trevor Ariza (or Matt Barnes)
PF: Brook Lopez / Al Harrington / Brandon Wright
C: Andris Biedrins / Brook Lopez / Al Harrington / Ryan Hollins
IR: Kosta Perovic, Earl Clark,
2. Washington Wizards
Why this is a big off-season: Two of their three best players are expected to be free agents (Antawn Jamison will be, Gilbert Arenas has an opt-out which he will almost definitely exercise).
What they have to work with: The Wizards have around $42m in committed salaries if Gilbert Arenas opts out. This would leave them with approximately $16m in space if my $58m projected cap holds. Also, they have a very good player in Caron Butler who is on a reasonable contract and young talent including Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and Dominic McGuire who are also inexpensive for the time being.
Limitations: They have a significant amount of money locked into two Centers with very limited skills and upside. Also, it is unclear whether ownership is willing to go the extra mile to make this team a contender and whether Gilbert is dead-set on returning to Washington for the future. He was born in LA and loves to make surprising moves, so who knows.
What I would do: Simply put, the Wizards have to make a decision about how they want to use the money/talent they have. The way I see it, there are two paths: go up to the cap and then sign Gilbert and possibly Jamison, or move both of them now for retainable talent. It is clear that both players have value either as expiring guys or players who could sign extensions with their new squads. Additionally, the strategy of re-signing them could lead to moves that would clear up cap space, most notably a move like sending either of the C’s (Haywood or Thomas) to a team like Orlando who will not be under the cap in any way and can use the talent. Haywood and possibly Antonio Daniels to Orlando for expiring contracts (Pat Garrity and Keyon Dooling) serves a purpose for both teams, and would give Washington even more space to work with.
If they have around $20m to work with, they should go after a top-notch big and then get depth through the draft.
My Potential Line-Up:
PG: Gilbert Arenas / Antonio Daniels
SG: Nick Young / DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler / Dominic McGuire
PF: Andray Blatche / Okafor / Darius Songalia
C: Emeka Okafor (or Biedrins or DeSagana Diop) / Trent Plastied (1st Round Pick)/ Etan Thomas
IR: Oleksiy Pecherov, Dominic James
3. Seattle/Oklahoma City Super Sonics
Why this is a big off-season: The surprising team on this list, considering the rebuilding stage that it is perceived that they are in. However, they have a significant chance to make a difference in where the franchise is going for the next 4-5 years.
What they have to work with: A compelling mix of talent, starting with Kevin Durant and including guys like Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, and Jeff Green. Furthermore, they do not have any truly “bad” contracts, as Wally Szczerbiak’s is expiring next season and all of their other contracts for beyond that season are manageable. Also, they will have a high draft pick to work with and hold a second 1st round pick (Phoenix’s) and a few 2nd rounders to get some depth/stash some talent. Also, the Sonics are a little under the cap at $56m if they don’t sign Robert Swift long-term.
Limitations: While their players on longer contracts are somewhat manageable, the market for them (especially in terms of ways that can make the Sonics meaningfully better) are limited in a sense.
What I would do: The Sonics should move all of the contracts possible for expiring deals and/or young talent. The initial part of their project has to be to decide that Kevin Durant is a pure 3 (which is what he’ll be long-term) and build around that. They can easily move Chris Wilcox to the Magic for expiring contracts and a potential upgrade in the 1st round (Suns pick -> Magic pick swap) and Luke Ridnour to a team like the Heat (or Nuggets) for Jason Williams and a pick or young talent. The more complicated moves involve Nick Collison, but it would not be surprising for a team that needs a PF like the Clippers (if they expect Brand to go), the Lakers (for Kwame Brown’s expiring), the Sixers (in what would probably be a 3-way deal involving a guy like Andre Miller), or the Wizards (for Jamison’s expiring if they decide to go the other way). Moving Collison, Ridnour, and Wilcox for expiring contracts would give the Sonics approximately $20m under the cap, and that’s not including potentially sending Earl Watson and/or Wally on their way. Also, they should try to sign and trade Delonte West for a big that can help them as a depth guy or a PG/SG should they go after size like Biedrins or Okafor with their cap space. A player like Trevor Ariza to compliment Kevin Durant at the 3 / 4 slot could also make for a compelling roster move.
With that cap space, the Sonics should go after size and a legitimate SG to pair with Durant if possible.
In the draft, they could look at a high-end PG like Derrick Rose to a big like Kevin Love or Brook Lopez. With what they have, it would be optimal to get the best big possible for their system and then pick up a PG later in the draft, potentially moving up to get one of the Collison, Augustin, or Lawson triumvirate. In the 2nd round, the Sonics should get some boom/bust guys and Euros to stash for when the roster clears itself up a bit.
My Potential Line-Up:
PG: Earl Watson / Collison, Augustin, or Lawson (other 1st rounder)
SG: Andre Iguodala / Damien Wilkins / Wally Szczerbiak
SF: Kevin Durant / Jeff Green / Damien Wilkins / Wally Szczerbiak
PF: Drew Gooden (for Delonte West) / Taj Gibson (2nd Round)
C: Kevin Love (or Brook Lopez) / Johan Petro / Saer Sene
IR: James White, Sean Singletary, Mickael Gelabale
Europe: Yotam Halperin (PG/SG),
4. LA Clippers
Why this is a big off-season: Their two highest profile players and a few of their other top talents will be in flux and management will have to make decisions on the direction the team is taking.
What they have to work with: In terms of talent that should be on the team for the future, the first two names are Chris Kaman and Al Thornton. Also, they have Corey Maggette and probably Elton Brand opting out, so they are assets in their own way, as the Clippers have Bird Rights on both and there are very few teams with cap space.
Limitations: They are still hamstrung a little by Cuttino Mobley’s oversized contract and Tim Thomas will still have two years beyond this one.
What I would do: Basically, it all hinges on whether or not Mr. Brand wants to return. If he does, you give him all the money he wants and slide Al Thornton over to SF and use the available cap space as possible. Regardless of what he choses, it would be smart to bring Shaun Livingston back- he has great size, unselfishness, and court vision, which are rare traits for a PG and some which are not dramatically affected by his devastating injuries. Also, since the Clippers have Bird Rights, they can effectively use the money without hitting the luxury tax. In terms of Maggette, it simply depends whether the team can get better value for him in a sign-and-trade or at the deadline. Personally, it seems like they could probably get more for him during the summer, as teams will have a more complete sense of their team and since no team will have Bird Rights on him, they won’t get the value of him for a few years like a team could if the Clippers move him around draft time. However, combining him with a guy like Mobley could really raise some eyebrows and help the team long-term. Also, moving Sam Cassell for an expiring and young talent could pay dividends, but seems fundamentally unlikely.
Free Agency: Assuming Maggette and Brand opt out, the Clippers will have approximately $35m committed to players for the 2008-2009 season. Naturally, ownership won’t let them go ridiculously over the cap with potential Brand/Corey/Livingston deals, but getting a guy like Gilbert Arenas would make sense from a financial standpoint (he’s a local kid) as well as a basketball sense.
The Draft: The Clippers should have a solid pick and hold their second round pick.
My Potential Line-Up:
PG: Shaun Livingston / Gilbert Arenas / Damon Stoudamire (for Maggette)
SG: Gilbert Arenas / Cuttino Mobley
SF: Al Thornton / Matt Barnes or Trevor Ariza
PF: Elton Brand / Hakim Warrick (for Maggette) / Josh Powell
C: Chris Kaman / Kosta Koufos (1st Round Pick)
IR/Inactive: Jason Thompson (2nd Round Pick), Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Salim Stoudamire
5. Atlanta Hawks
Why this is a big off-season: They actually have some cap space and have Bird Rights on their top FA’s.
What they have to work with: One of the most talented young teams in the entire NBA. Joe Johnson is a great player (not a superstar, but the kind of guy you want to have), and their young core of Al Horford, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, et al is fantastic.
Limitations: They don’t have their first round pick (sent to Phoenix in the Joe Johnson trade).
What I would do: First, they should be required by law to keep Josh Smith. The man fills in the stat sheet like only a few guys do and seems to really be playing up to his potential. Sure, he bring headaches and lacks maturity, but his game is the real deal.
Since they have Bird Rights on him and Childress, they should maximize their cap space, which is probably around $15-20m after the cap holds. That money should be used to bring in the best big man they can get, which is probably Andris Biedrins. It’s OK if they have to overpay for a big- they’ve got enough talent everywhere else to justify it. If they give him $12m, they could pay someone (or a combo) around $5m and still be able to sign Josh Smith and either sign or move Josh Childress and stay under the cap. Ideally, they’d also move Speedy Claxton at the deadline, but that does not seem like a rational possibility given the tepid market for mediocre PG’s getting paid $5m+. Regardless, it would be prudent for the Hawks to either move Josh Childress for a PG like Luke Ridnour or overpay for Jose Calderon. Also, they could go for more of a combo guard like Monta Ellis because of Joe Johnson’s ball-handling skills, but a pure PG would be much better to have. Also, moving Shelden Williams for a player at another position would make sense given the moves previously done, but there isn’t a great market for him at the present time.
My Potential Line-Up:
PG: Luke Ridnour / Acie Law IV / Joe Johnson
SG: Joe Johnson / Chris Lofton (2nd Round Pick) / Bobby Jones
SF: Josh Smith / Marvin Williams / Bobby Jones
PF: Al Horford / Marvin Williams / Shelden Williams
C: Andris Biedrins / Zaza Pachulia / Al Horford / Ryan Hollins
IR/Inactive: Speedy Claxton, Solomon Jones, James White

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