Offseason outlook for all 30 teams (cont.)
Top Free Agents: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Ian Mahinmi
Draft Picks: 17, 55
The Mavs are expected to make a concerted effort to sign Dallas native Deron Williams, a pursuit that will affect their approach in dealing with their own free-agent guards in veterans Terry, Kidd and West. If Williams doesn't sign, the team will need quality players at both guard positions. A hole opens at center, too, if Dallas amnesties Brendan Haywood, who is owed $27.2 million over the next three years.
Top Free Agents: JaVale McGee (R), Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez (R)
Draft Picks: 20, 38, 50
Depth is the Nuggets' strength, but they'll suffer if they don't retain two of their three free agents. Miller is Denver's resident adult on the court, a calming presence who is an ideal complement to Ty Lawson in a dual point guard lineup late in close games. And McGee is the team's most talented big man, known for his immaturity in Washington but slowly putting it together in Denver, climaxed by his inspired games against the Lakers in the playoffs. Without Miller, Denver tends to tromp the throttle and play out of control. Without McGee, it lacks what could be a crucial counter to the elite opposing centers in the league. Without both, or a major free agent to compensate, the Nuggets will live and die on the speedy lineups featuring the quickness of Lawson and the uber-athleticism of undersized forward Kenneth Faried.
There will still be plenty of depth from among floor-stretching sharpshooters Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington, swingmen Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler, mediocre big men Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, energy guy Corey Brewer and their first-round pick. That's a solid, exciting team, but probably not a championship contender.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Top Free Agents: Brandon Rush (R), Nate Robinson
Draft Picks: 7, 30, 35, 52
The Warriors' future hinges on injury-plagued Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut. For the first time in his career, Curry next season won't have to share the playmaking with the ball-dominant Monta Ellis. The sweet-shooting Curry will have a wealth of scorers around him, including Bogut, power forward David Lee, second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson and two three-point specialists, Richard Jefferson and Dorell Wright, at small forward.
But aside from Bogut, this is a wretched defensive unit. The Warriors have finished among the NBA's bottom five in points allowed per possession in each of the last four seasons. Drafting defensive-minded players should be the priority, because the capped-out Warriors will be hard-pressed to upgrade through free agency. Bogut and Lee will command more than $25 million next season, but what really hurts is the $19 million owed Jefferson and backup center Andris Biedrins, whose deal is a textbook case for the amnesty provision if the team hadn't used that one-time provision on the expiring $4.1 million contract of Charlie Bell last year as part of its failed pursuit of DeAndre Jordan. In 2013-14, the Warriors are looking at a scenario where both Jefferson and Biedrins exercise their options to stay at the same time Curry becomes a restricted free agent. They desperately need Bogut to remain healthy and productive.
Top Free Agents: Goran Dragic, Marcus Camby, Courtney Lee (R)
Draft Picks: 14, 16
After three straight years of narrowly missing the playoffs, expect Houston to be aggressive about overhauling its roster. Its two highest-paid players for next season, shooting guard Kevin Martin and power forward Luis Scola, who were part of an aborted trade for Pau Gasol last December, produced seasons that hurt their value. Houston's two point guards were arguably its best players, but Dragic will be expensive to keep and Kyle Lowry told the Houston Chronicle that he doesn't think he can play for coach Kevin McHale again or return if Dragic is re-signed. The center position is in flux, too, because Marcus Camby is a free agent and Houston can buy out Samuel Dalembert for $1.5 million. Even with those two shot-blockers (Camby was a midseason acquisition), the Rockets were below average defensively. Not surprisingly, Houston's biggest need is a set identity -- something Daryl Morey tried to establish for 2011-12 with his pursuit of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Nene.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Top Free Agents: Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Randy Foye, Nick Young, Reggie Evans
Draft Picks: 53
The Clippers began last season with a point guard, Billups, as their starting shooting guard, and, after he got hurt, they ended it with two 40 percent shooters, Foye and Young, sharing the position with help from another point guard, Mo Williams (who plans to exercise his $8.5 million player option for next season). Finding a bigger shooting guard who can defend and perhaps be more efficient offensively is important as the Clippers look to become a title contender. Beyond that, Los Angeles has to create quality depth behind power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, especially considering the duo's lackluster defensive performance last season.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Top Free Agents: Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Jordan Hill
Draft Picks: 60
The status quo no longer seems capable of meeting the franchise's high expectations. Payments to Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol alone exceeded the salary cap last season but weren't sufficient to prevent the Lakers' second conference semifinals loss in a row. The Lakers already have more than $78 million in payroll for next season, a number that exceeds the luxury tax, and that's with only one point guard (Steve Blake) under contract after Sessions' decision to opt out. The situation becomes especially onerous for the 2013-14 season, when Bryant will make more than $30 million, Bynum commands a new deal and stiffer luxury tax rules wreak havoc on the team's bottom line.
The most logical response is to trade Gasol, who has two years and $38.3 million left on his deal and disappointed in the last two postseasons, but how much can the soon-to-be 32-year-old fetch? Can a package involving Bynum be put together for Dwight Howard? Will the Lakers amnesty Metta World Peace (two years, $15 million remaining) to clear his salary from the cap and luxury-tax bill? The team needs to get younger, quicker and more athletic, especially on defense, where it ranked last in forcing turnovers and among the worst five teams in fast break points allowed, a major reason for a mediocre No. 13 ranking in points allowed per possession.
Top Free Agents: O.J. Mayo (R), Darrell Arthur (R), Marreese Speights (R)
Draft Picks: 25
While ownership could soon change hands from Michael Heisley to technology magnate Robert Pera, the Grizzlies enjoy plenty of stability on their roster. Four starters -- power forward Zach Randolph, center Marc Gasol, point guard Mike Conley and small forward Rudy Gay (whom Memphis insists is not being shopped) -- have at least three years left on their contracts and the fifth, shooting guard Tony Allen, is in the fold for next season. Even if Mayo, the team leader in three-pointers made, returns, Memphis is still short on perimeter shooting to help space the floor for Randolph and Gasol down low and Gay on the wing. Another area of weakness is backup point guard, where Gilbert Arenas struggled behind Conley last season.
Top Free Agents: Michael Beasley (R), Anthony Randolph (R)
Draft Picks: 18, 58
It is no secret what the Timberwolves need: wing scorers who can catch-and-shoot on kick-outs from point guard Ricky Rubio and drive to the hoop in the space provided when power forward Kevin Love draws opposing big men out with him to the three-point line. A parade of nonentities -- Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington -- at small forward and shooting guard, plus coach Rick Adelman's heavy use of small backcourts involving Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea at shooting guard, had the Wolves being outscored at those positions by an average of 10.7 points per game, according to 82games.com.
Once Rubio recovers from knee surgery (he's not expected to be ready until at least a month or two into the season), Minnesota is in good shape with him, Love and emerging center Nikola Pekovic as its foundation and Barea as a spark plug off the bench. Beasley remains too immature and unreliable, so the hope is that last year's No. 2 pick, Derrick Williams, can slim down and slide over to small forward after a disappointing rookie season. But with a floor-spacing star like Love (who can also score inside), Rubio's passing and Adelman's prowess as an offensive strategist, the situation is ripe for the Wolves to find a swingman who specializes in scoring.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Top Free Agents: Eric Gordon (R), Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli
Draft Picks: 1, 10, 46
The Hornets are set to add power forward Anthony Davis as the No. 1 pick, and they intend to re-sign Gordon to form what they hope is a dynamic inside-outside combo for years to come. The Hornets need a healthy Gordon after ranking 28th in points per possession while playing at the league's slowest pace last season. New Orleans also looked to the future with its recent trade of established, defensive-minded veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, a deal that has created more financial flexibility (the two will make a combined $43 million through 2014) but won't result in immediate help because the one player acquired from the Wizards, declining forward Rashard Lewis, could be bought out before suiting up for the Hornets. But with Davis, Gordon, the No. 10 pick, cap space over the next few years, new ownership and a coach (Monty Williams) who always has his team playing hard, the Hornets have a promising foundation.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Top Free Agents: Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed
Draft Picks: 28
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have their extensions, and James Harden and Serge Ibaka are up next. Whether the Thunder can keep the latter two remains to be seen, as the luxury tax likely would come into play. (Harden and Ibaka are eligible for extensions this summer; if they don't sign then, they would become restricted free agents next year.) If the Thunder are concerned about Eric Maynor's recovery from an ACL tear -- he's already resumed workouts -- they could look to add another point guard. A backup for Durant would help. Oklahoma City doesn't get much scoring from its power forwards or centers, but then again, its Big Three make up for a lot of that. Assuming the Thunder can keep their nucleus in place, it's all about tinkering around the edges.
Top Free Agents: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez (R), Aaron Brooks (R), Shannon Brown, Michael Redd
Draft Picks: 13
So much will depend on whether Nash leaves after an eight-year run in his second stint with Phoenix. If Nash and the Suns part ways, the team will have potentially more than $20 million in cap space and a lottery pick available to rebuild around center Marcin Gortat, swingman Jared Dudley, stretch power forward Channing Frye and second-year forward Markieff Morris, all under contract for at least the next two seasons. Notably missing from that group is a creative, productive offensive player at shooting guard or small forward, and the post-Nash Suns would require a point guard even if they retain Brooks, who played in China last season. Meanwhile, losing Hill would hurt a defense that ranked only 24th in points allowed per possession.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Top Free Agents: Nicolas Batum (R), Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, J.J. Hickson (R)
Draft Picks: 6, 11, 40, 41
The Blazers need help everywhere but forward, where All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge should be fully recovered from hip surgery by training camp, and where Batum and swingman Wes Matthews are also being counted on to assist in the rebuilding effort. In the backcourt, point guard Raymond Felton won't be re-signed after his disastrous one season in Portland, and combo guard Jamal Crawford, also a disappointment, can opt out. Either way, the Blazers will be in the market for guards and a center, the latter a position at which Joel Przybilla started after the midseason trade of Marcus Camby.
Top Free Agents: Jason Thompson (R), Terrence Williams (R), Donte Greene (R)
Draft Picks: 5, 36
What Sacramento needs the most is veteran leadership. The team has opted for high-profile talent in the last three drafts, initially scoring with 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans only to watch him regress last season because he hasn't found a way to utilize his extraordinary size and quickness in a manner that improves his teammates; his move to small forward produced mixed results and obviously didn't do anything to address Sacramento's lack of outside shooting. Center DeMarcus Cousins, the No. 5 pick in 2010, has been as advertised: incredibly skilled and emotionally immature, though he took a step forward in his second season. And last year Sacramento added Jimmer Fredette in a draft-night trade but watched him struggle as a rookie and get passed in the rotation by point guard Isaiah Thomas, the last player taken in the second round.
All of this young talent -- which also includes 25-year-old shooting guard Marcus Thornton and two free agents in the 25-year-old Thompson and 24-year-old Williams -- is desperate for mentorship and guidance (whether they know it or not), but the only two Kings over 30 are journeyman John Salmons and fringe player Francisco Garcia, who have never won a playoff series in their careers. With cap space, the fifth pick and a beguiling but disgruntled talent in Evans, the Kings have the resources to go out and get players who will improve the team in the locker room as well as on the court. Both aspects are necessary if Sacramento is to improve a defense that ranked 29th in points allowed per possession.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Top Free Agents: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Daniel Green (R)
Draft Picks: 59
It is foolish to pronounce the Spurs as being too old -- what has become old over the years is the inaccurate naysaying regarding their sustained excellence. General manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich have done a tremendous job in aging the core trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The youngest of the three, Parker, has become increasingly dominant at the expense of the eldest, Duncan. Popovich has moved away from a deliberate, low-post offense to a league-leading one that relies on rapid ball movement and penetration by Parker to generate open three-pointers (the Spurs were second in threes made and first in accuracy last season), putting less wear and tear on Duncan, who is also playing fewer minutes.
Not everything is perfect, of course. The defense is good but not as fearsome as it used to be, and the Spurs could still use an athletic rim protector to join Duncan and Tiago Splitter. But every year, Buford finds unsung players who flourish playing Spurs basketball. And while it is true that the Spurs haven't won a title since 2007, they are 111-37 in the last two seasons and have won at least 61 percent of their games in each of Popovich's 15 full seasons. They'll be back at it next season, still aging, still not old.
Top Free Agents: C.J. Miles, Josh Howard
Draft Picks: 47
The Jazz do not have a first-round pick, but obtaining more young talent in the draft is not as much of an immediate priority as rectifying a roster imbalance of having several quality centers and power forwards and a shortage of swingmen. The most impressive thing about Utah's return to the playoffs last season was that coach Ty Corbin didn't need to sacrifice rebuilding for victories, providing more than 20 minutes per game for second-year players Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors and more than 13 minutes per game for rookies Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Favors and Kanter join Jefferson and Paul Millsap at the center and power forward slots, a logjam only partially remedied if Millsap spends more time playing small forward as part of a huge front line. Ideally, Utah would swap a big man -- preferably Jefferson, a proficient low-post scorer but a lousy defender with an expiring $15 million contract -- for a dynamic wing player who can penetrate and shoot the three-pointer (Utah had the lowest percentage of its points from long range in the NBA), or perhaps a point guard to push or replace Devin Harris, who has an $8.5 million expiring contract. A lockdown perimeter defender would also be a boon, though more minutes for Favors and the maturation of Kanter and Hayward will beef up a defense that ranked 19th in points allowed per possession.