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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wait Til Next Year (Eastern Conference)

Where do we go from here?: A look ahead to 2011-2012 season(whenever that starts)

As we enter a basketball recession with the impending lockout, here is my take on what all 16 playoff teams from this season can do to improve their own basketball economies:
Eastern Conference
1.       Chicago- The 4-1 loss in ECF to Miami exposed the Bulls’ lack of firepower . You’ll  hear the names Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford thrown around as solutions to the two-guard problem but neither pushes the Bulls past Miami. Bulls’ management has a tough task because the top of their roster isn’t nor will ever be better than the top of Heat’s roster without a major change even if Boozer has a healthy year (which is no guarantee). Can GarPax stomach parting with Noah and Deng for a big-time addition? Was Carlos Boozer’s disappointing 2nd half of season due to injury or is he basketball Alfonso Soriano? Tweaking this roster only keeps you behind the Heat and with the ECF being the new expectation, that’s not good enough. There is nothing to say D-Rose won’t continue to grow but who grows with him? Remember Deng and Boozer will enter years 8 and 11 respectively.

2.       Miami- The Kings of the East will only need to add depth at the PF and C spot this offseason. Mario Chalmers becomes the new Derek Fisher at point guard and Joel Anthony is a capable starting center along with the big 3. A healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller for a full season greatly help the bench. Miami should sweep the corpses of Ilgauskas, Dampier, Howard, and Magloire out the door to make room for a young big man such as……….GREG ODEN. Yes, he is injury-prone and won’t be what he should have but he is 24 years old, low-risk, and low-cost.  If you are the Heat, why not? He is a chance you can afford to take. The biggest change has to come in the mentality and attitude of James and Bosh, both will enter year 9 despite relatively young ages. They had a year to get it together, next year the pressure will be even greater to get it done.

3.       Boston Celtics- Their Big 3 have a two-year max shelf life, add the retirement of Shaq and the impending falling off of Jermaine Oneal’s legs and the Celtics have to begin the overhaul of their roster. Athleticism , quickness on the wings wouldn’t hurt either especially with Ray Allen in the twilight. J.R Smith wouldn’t be a bad look here. A mercurial personality but an explosive scorer could be handled by Doc and the vets.  Less combustible options include Shane Battier, Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.

4.       Orlando Magic- Summer 2010 meets Summer 2012 as the looming summer of Dwight is upon us.  GM Otis Smith gambled and lost when he gutted his roster in January and left the Magic undersized and shorthanded. The D12 story is of course the main subject but unlike Cleveland, Orlando can be a destination spot (no state tax, beautiful weather, new arena).  Saddled with two albatrosses in Turkoglu and Arenas, Smith will have to be creative to acquire another star (CHRIS PAUL?) to keep Howard happy. If not, let the countdown begin to Dwight’s exit.

5.       Atlanta Hawks- Despite Larry Drew’s much improved coaching job, the Hawks remain a huge disappointment. Joe Johnson’s huge contract will make him tough to move without taking back a bad deal in return. Jeff Teague is your point guard of the future and Al Horford (if moved to PF) will be a mainstay. What to do with J-Smoove is the Hawks biggest question? Multidimensional but frustrating, he represents a potentially huge gain for the coach who can harness him and Drew isn’t that guy.  A change of scenery is probably best but where to?

6.       New York Knicks- The acquisition of Melo was made for years down the road so the playoff sweep by Celtics didn’t sting as much. Now, where to go from here? Bringing back Billups allows knicks cap flexibility for Summer 2012 to lure Chris Paul or Deron Williams to the Garden. In the meantime, Knicks have to draft and sign size to pair with Amare. The interesting name here is DAVID WEST.  Assuming D’Antonini stays, West gives you a perfect step out 4 for his system.  Other possible name is Kris Kardashian, I mean Kris Humphries. (note if Isiah returns, cancel everything I said)

7.       Philadelphia- Doug Collins was a COY candidate for most of the year and maxed out the Sixers ability. The challenge now is Can Doug avoid burning out himself and players in year two as he is prone to do?  The other challenge is the Sixers offense which was pedestrian despite the development of Jrue Holiday and the resurgence of Elton Brand. Evan Turner looked more like a no. 2 pick toward end of the season but Philly needs more juice.  With a nucleus of Turner-Young-Holliday, Andre Iguadola becomes the expendable piece. Deals for Chris Kamen and Monta Ellis will be talked about leading to draft day. Ellis providing much needed juice and Kamen providing true low post scoring and ability to move Brand to the 4.

8.       Indiana- The Pacers played well under Frank Vogel and earned an 8th seed. Despite being competitive with the Bulls, they were dumped in 5. Collison, George, and Hansbrough make up the nucleus. For the Pacers to push forward to compete with New York and Orlando, Roy Hibbert has to become more than serviceable. The decision is what to do with Danny Granger. Granger is the small forward equivalent  of Chris Bosh with Raptors (great numbers, bad team) Granger has more value to another team than you and Pacers should be very open to moving him.

Wait til Next Year (Western Conference)

Where do we go from here?: A look ahead to 2011-2012 season(whenever that starts)
We continue our look ahead with a look at the Western Conference Playoffs
Western Conference
1.       San Antonio- Expect the Spurs to stay status quo, despite the real need for youth and athleticism. The Duncan succession plan has to start eventually so don’t be surprised if Spurs drop an offer to Restricted Free Agent Marc Gasol of Memphis just to be a little scare into Memphis. San Antonio needs depth on the wings and at point guard. Popovich doesn’t appear to be big on George Hill and with Tony Parker the most movable piece, do not be surprised if a move is made and the Spurs become a player for Deron Williams in Summer ’12. Jamal Crawford would give the Spurs the explosion they lack.

2.       Los Angeles- The 4-0 drubbing by Dallas and retirement of Phil/hiring of Mike Brown has many thinking the sky is falling in Laker Land. While their demise is exaggerated, moves do need to be made.  The popular theory is Howard in Summer ’12 but in the meantime, LA has to get quicker in the backcourt and have real pop off the bench. The Lakers lack the cap space to sign Howard so can the Buss family be convinced to move Bynum?  In the best scenario, Odom becomes the starting SF and Ron Artest can be moved on. The successor to Fisher has to happen and making a move for Atlanta’s Kirk Hinrich or Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey would be a nice fit. Two wild card names to add bench scoring: J.J Barea and Leandro Barbosa, two undersized by quick guards who both gave the Lakers fits in the past

3.       Dallas- The Champs of the NBA are in a very interesting position. J.J Barea, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, and DeShawn Stevenson are all unrestricted free agents.  Chandler is probably the highest priority because of what he brought on the defensive end. Butler is a wild card coming off two major injuries.  Roddy Beaubois returns and could be a tradeable asset. J. Kidd likely to return next season and Dirk appears to be entering another prime. If Butler isn’t all the way back, Dallas could use a slasher to complement their passing and shooting game. Rudy Gay becomes an interesting name if Grizzlies resign Gasol, the salary cap may make Gay available. Expect Dallas to focus on adding youth

4.       Oklahoma City- The best AAU team in the league only has one restricted FA in Daequan Cook. So in order to achieve the next step and make a Finals, the Thunder have to simply get older and mature. Durant, Harden, Westbrook and Ibaka are all 23 and under. The growing pains of the Dallas series will serve them better long term. The roster moves are small for this team , the big steps come will be if Durant can improve his off-the ball and post game and Westbrook settles down.  Adding a steady hand like a Shane Battier wouldn’t hurt but the internal maturity is the biggest key.

5.       Denver-  The Carmelo trade made Denver a feel good story but a 4-1 loss to Thunder in opening round, including three close losses, showed how much he was missed. The Nuggets were like many of George Karl’s Sonics, good balance but no closer. J.R Smith is expected to move on which will allow them to resign Aaron Afflalo. Nene is a tough call for Nuggets management but with K-Mart’s contract off the books, I would expect them to resign him. Ty Lawson should be the #1 at point guard which could allow them to package Raymond Felton , Wilson Chandler, Birdman, and the draft picks to bring in another scorer (Danny Granger, Rudy Gay?)

6.       Portland- Too many cooks spoiled the broth and Portland has too many of the same player. Batum, Fernandez, Roy, Wallace, Wesley Matthews make for a crowded wing position group and having not won a first round series since the JailBlazers days, its time to change the mix in Rip City. Brandon Roy’s great game 4 vs Dallas doesn’t disguise that his best days are behind him. Can you find a contending team who might be willing to take a chance on him and get something in return. With Marcus Camby close to retirement and Greg Oden’s bad feet and luck out the door, Portland could use another young big to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge.

7.       New Orleans- Chris Paul has said all the right things about New Orleans but reality eventually hits that winning there is too tall a task. David West can become an unrestricted free agent , along with Carl Landry. What can Hornets do to keep Paul or is it too late? Trading Paul for Westbrook makes great talk for sports radio but not likely. So Hornets have to try to entice Nene or Marc Gasol with dollars available if West leave. Marcus Thornton, who Hornets traded for Landry, is a restricted free agent is a viable option. The Hornets management might be under more pressure than any other management to satisfy its best player.

8.       Memphis- The People’s Champs surprised by beating the Spurs 4-2 in round one and pushing OKC to a seventh game. The Grizzlies face a potential tough decision. Z-Bo resigned for big dollars under the assumption that Marc Gasol would be signing as well. Assuming Gasol is in the fold, what happens to Rudy Gay especially if the CBA is as restrictive as we think. A healthy Gay would be a superior trade piece to have and OJ Mayo’s resurgence could see his stock rise.  Popular veteran Shane Battier is expected to walk with Xavier Henry stepping in.