The NBAs Losers Part 1…
Well, we’re two weeks into the NBAs interminable, never ending, winter of my discontent, playoffs. We’ve got another Spurs-Suns series to look forward too; another Sloan-Jackson coaching clinic; and the LeBron’s looking to put the knife in the ageing Celtics. So, naturally, Sports on the Brain is busy focusing his attention on… the NBAs losers.
That’s right, who cares about the teams in the playoffs, their rosters are set, their fates are sealed, their future will be what it will be. It makes no difference if I make a lousy prediction and tell you that the Suns will win in 7, the Lakers in 6, the Cavs in 6, and Orlando will beat the Hawks in 5. I’ll probably be right about two and wrong about two. Big deal. What’s far more interesting, is… what are the teams that couldn’t get to the playoffs thinking. What are they planning, or, better yet, what should they be planning?
That sounds like something I can really sink my teeth into. So, armed with ESPNs trade machine, Chad Ford’s draft predictor, and HoopsHype’s salary page (plus of course the ever useful Basketball Reference), lets try and get into the heads of the losers (careful, it’s a strange and spooky place…). Today we start with the East, after which we will move on to the West and then the 1st round losers. Warning, what follows is almost entirely drunken conjecture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also totally awesome.
(PS – just another warning, this is really freaking long. Seriously, I mean print it off and take it in to the bathroom long. And if you get to the bottom, uhmmm… dude, it’s spring, get your ass off the can and go outside).
Toronto Raptors (40-42):
There is no other way to describe this season for the Raps, other than to say it was an unmitigated disaster. Years of poor drafting, doomed this franchise to middling status and forced GM Bryan Colangelo to put all his chips in the middle for Hedo “I chose Toronto over a better team in Portland because of the crazy Turkish nightlife” Turkoglu… Yeah! Turk-O-Glue turned out not to be the glue for a winning Toronto season. His numbers declined across the board from last season, he was benched for celebrating losses in nightclubs, and without Dwight Howard protecting the rim behind him, his defensive indifference was as obvious as his penchant for smoking three packs a day. Of course, his “ole” style D fit right in on a team that gave up 105.9 points per game and had the worst defensive efficiency in the league (110.2).
Now, even bad defenders can be hidden in good defensive schemes, so much of the Raps defensive shortcomings can actually be seen as coaching shortcomings and thus as much as it pains me to clamor for a Canadian’s job, I think the first step for the Raptors this summer is firing Jay “If I stand with my hands on my head, maybe they’ll try defending” Triano. The second step is… Chris “What should I eat for breakfast, better ask my twitter followers” Bosh.
If Bosh wants to leave, well then there’s not much you can do about it, but make damn sure he leaves in a sign and trade rather than of his own recognizance. It’s in Bosh’s best interest to take the Sign and Trade, because it ensures a higher annual salary and an extra year, so if the writing’s on the wall that he’s leaving, Colangelo better ensure that he squirms his fingers in there and gets his prints all over this deal. The worst move would be the rumored trade that sends Bosh to New York for David “Defense means standing near the rim for a rebound, right?” Lee. Ughhh… a Lee-Bargnani frontline might give up 132 points a night.
Chicago will offer Luol Deng, who’s fine, but makes pretty decent coin for a player who’s missed 64 games over the last three years. Personally, if I ran the Raptors, I’d be looking to make a deal with Oklahoma and I’d be asking for Serge Ibaka, and either James Harden or Jeff Green (plus some picks and whatever filler was necessary), I don’t know what Oklahoma would do with that, but it’d be an interesting negotiation.
On the other hand, if Bosh’s twitter account tells him ‘magic eight ball’ style to come back to TO, well then fine. Bring him back, try to find someone who wants Turkoglu, shoot Jose Calderon in the knee (which wont get rid of his contract, but at least saves you the insurance money), and draft Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe. The important part is to overhaul the team with tougher players, guys who wont shy away from contact, play defense, and will protect Bosh’s shortcomings.
If, for instance, the Raps could work out a trade with New Orleans that sent Turk and his 44 million remaining to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and his 52 million contract, then it’s a move which helps both clubs. Okafor never developed an offensive game, and his defense has declined over the last couple seasons, but he still provides a mobile big body to put next to Bosh. For the Hornets, the trade saves them two million this year and six over the life of the contract. If that’s not enough savings for the insolvent Hornets, then the two teams could add to the deal, with the Raps sending Marcus Banks’ expiring 4.75 million deal for James Posey’s two year 13.5 contract. That saves the Hornets 4.5 million this coming year, getting them clear of the luxury tax, and it saves the financially troubled franchise 16.8 million all told.
I’d then make an offer to Josh Childress. Remember him? Well, two years ago, Childress was a restricted free agent with the Hawks, when, fearful of the Hawks matching, no teams stepped forward with an enticing offer. With no other offers to compete with, the Hawks low balled Childress, who in turn took a better payday overseas and left for Europe. Childress has an out clause in his three year contract with Olympiacos Piraeus, and has intimated he’d like to return to the NBA.
I’d make him an offer of the midlevel exception at 12:01 on Free agency’s first day. The Hawks at this point are such a mess that they might not match, and making the offer immediately means that Hawks’ management will still be trying to sort out star Joe Johnson’s free agency. It might not work, but it might…
Finally, I’d hire Avery “Mr Squeak” Johnson. I know that his philosophy of hard nosed defense and controlled offence is anathema to Colangelo, but… at this point Colangelo’s system has been shown to have a few shortcomings (unless of course you have Nash and Stoudemire running it…)
All of that, gives a top eight of:
C- E. Okafor
PF – C. Bosh
SF – J. Childress
SG – D. DeRozan
PG – E. Bledsoe
6th – A. Bargnani
7th – J. Jack
8th – R. Evans
How good they are would depend on the development of DeRozan and Bledsoe and how well sieves like Bosh and Bargnani take to Johnson’s system, but the long term outlook is better than anything this year’s squad offers.
Indiana Pacers (32-50):
On March 6th, the Pacers were a horrendous 20-43 and in line for a top five pick in the draft, but then Jim O’Brien got his team rolling and they strung together a decent 12-7 streak to finish the season. That run dropped the Pacers to the 10th pick in this year’s draft. In a draft with five marquee guys, that’s unfortunate.
Indiana is basically doing what the Knicks are doing, only without the fanfare and a year later. After next year, they could have a 17 million in payroll with only three players on the roster; this year’s pick, Dahntay “I’ve never met a turnover I didn’t like” Jones, and Danny “Why in the world did I sign that extension” Granger. It’s likely that they pick up the team options on youngsters Roy Hibert, Brandon Rush, and Tyler Hansbrough which would increase their cap number to 23 million, but that will still leave 30 plus million to lavish on free agents.
Now Indiana isn’t exactly an attractive option for young black men. It’s not the Big Apple, it doesn’t have the glamour of LA, or the nightlife of Miami, and, as Spike Lee once famously pointed out, it does have some unfortunate historical links to the clan, but it also has a rabid basketball savvy fan base, and it has a history of great hoops. Unfortunately for the Pacers, while this year’s free agent market features unrestricted game changers like LeBron and Wade, 2011’s best free agents, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, and Thaddeus Young (I don’t list Kevin Durant, because, well, it just isn’t happening…) are all restricted. The only two unrestricted free agents of note are Carmelo Anthony (also not happening) and David West, both of whom have ETOs.
Of course, cap space isn’t only about free agents, the Pacers could also use that space to extract talent from financially floundering franchises. For instance, to use a team from above, if the Pacers offered the Hornets the expiring contracts of Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster, and the 10th pick, and took back James Posey, Peja Stojakovic, and Darren Collison, the Hornets would reduce this year’s payroll by an all important 3.79 this year, which probably gets them out of the luxury tax. The deal also saves them a shade over 11 million on the life of the contract.
For the Pacers, this gives them the young point guard that they’ve been looking for since Jamaal Tinsely went tits up. With a couple other moves, the Pacers still would have a little over 20 million to use in 2011. At which point, I’d dip back into the Hornets reservoir and make David West a 10 million a year offer. Given the general cheapness of Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, I’d also make a front loaded, slightly inflated offer to restricted free agent Marc Gasol. Heisley and Memphis GM Chris “I still cannot believe I wasn’t invited to Bill Simmons’ Atrocious GM Summit” Wallace can almost certainly be bullied into letting Gasol walk. Finally, I’d take a low cost flier on Milwaukee free agent Micahel Redd. Knee injuries have robbed Redd of the last couple seasons, but he still has one of the sweetest strokes in basketball and thus is worth a flier. Those moves give the Pacers a 2011 roster of (they also will have a lottery pick for the ’11 draft, but speculating where and whom in 2011 is just too much for this bloated scribe):
PG – D. Collison, A. Price
SG – M. Redd, D. Jones
SF – D. Granger, B. Rush, J. Posey
PF – D. West, T. Hansbrough
C – P. Gasol, R. Hibbert
So, you see the key for the Pacers this off season will be to hold serve, not hand out any dumb deals (like, uhmm… say giving a shooting guard with a PER of 9.07 a four year 11 million deal), and maintain their flexibility for next year. Getting a coach who understands the importance of tanking for lottery position probably wouldn’t hurt either, but you didn’t hear that from me…
New York Knicks (29-53):
New York, New York it’s my kind of town… After a decade of ineptitude (the last two years of which were intentional) this is the summer that Knicks fans have been waiting for. I can only imagine that the wait has been excruciating. The NBA’s most intense, knowledgeable fans have been subjected to the Scott Layden era (trades for the obnoxious contracts of Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson, really starting the bloated spending that became the Knickerbockers trademark), the Isaiah “nothing’s ever my fault” Thomas era (Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, Eddy Curry, Malik Rose, Jalen Rose, Penny Hardaway, Jerome Williams, Maurice Taylor, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and of course Anucha Browne Sanders and Eddy Curry… need I elaborate?), and the Donnie “First we show up with a lot of money, then we see who signs” Walsh era (61-103 two year record).
They deserve something better, someone better, a King to lead them back to the promised land. Will they get him? I don’t know, but I just dropped 1600 words breaking down the Pacers and Raptors, which means if I tackle the Knicks here, this post will come in at a Simmons-esque 45,349 words. And since I have neither his panache for timely celebrity references, nor his ‘keep the reader engaged’ humor I’ll have to make the Knicks their own column…
Detroit Pistons (27-55):
Wow, how the mighty have fallen, and please somebody get Lifecall on the line, because I don’t think the Pistons can get up. Here we have a shinning beacon of what not to do with cap space. For all those teams that come in to this offseason expecting to reel in the big haul, they should study the Pistons.
Detroit GM Joe “Hey, I drafted Darko, gave Rip Hamilton a franchise killing three year extension, and traded our best player, but I’m a nice guy, so people still think I’m a great GM” Dumars traded team leader Chauncey “Not so Big Shot” Billups last season for Allen Iverson’s expiring contract. It freed up 18 million in cap room for the Pistons, which they wisely used on… Ben “Just not quite starter material” Gordon and Charlie “hairless cookie monster” Villaneuva… What? Them? Really? I mean, any time you can add two players who didn’t start for losing teams and it only costs you ten years and 95.7 million, it’s a no brainer, right?
It was one of those moves that had you scratching your head, I mean, even if it worked perfectly what did the Pistons have? A 42 win team? 45? 47? Surely not 50, not with a frontline of Villaneuva, Ben “I died four years ago, but nobody noticed” Wallace, and Kwame “Michael Jordan f***ed me up worse than Lindsay Lohan” Brown. When the injury bug hit and Rodney Stuckey proved not to be a younger Billups, well, the Pistons spiraled straight down the toilet to a 27 win season. Whooo… the NBA “where ex-players with no formal business training negotiate deals with seasoned litigators” happens!
Philadelphia 76ers (27-55):
Sometimes the worst thing you can do for your franchise is nothing. That would seem to be what happened to the 76ers this season. At the deadline the sharks were swimming around the 76ers bleeding body, looking to scavenge some part of Andre Igoudala. What the Sixers needed to do was cut him off like their right arm, tie him to the bloody foot (Samuel Dalembert) that’s floating alongside and save the rest of the body.
Look I love Iggy, I wish the Suns had drafted him in ’04 instead of trading the 7th pick to Chicago. But the reality is that Iggy’s probably the third best player on a championship squad and because of the mess that is the Sixers, he’s come to be their best player. This poses two problems, first Iggy’s paid as their best player, and second, he believes that he should be a team’s best player. I’ll let you decide which is the bigger problem.
The Sixers have good young pieces, but they also have a lot of deadwood bogging them down. What they need to do, is tie Iggy to one of those pieces (either Elton Brand or Dalembert) and free themselves of those contracts. Fortunately for them, this is the perfect summer to do that. There are a lot of teams with big money to spend, but really there are only a few marquee guys (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Johnson, Amare, maybe Boozer, maybe Gay) some team is going to get left out in the cold.
Say the Knicks get their wet dream scenario and sign James and Bosh. Then assume that the Bulls move quickly to add Johnson and Boozer, and the Suns, buoyed by their (fingers crossed) run to the finals, re-sign Amare. Suddenly, Miami’s looking at the prospect of losing Wade if they don’t do something, so would they use their space on Iggy and Brand (whom Riley tried to sign way back in 2003) and send Michael Beasley back to Philly?
I know, I know, Beasley’s a massive bust, but he’s still young and that deal clears 107 million off Philly’s cap. Given the massive amount of money owed to Brand, it’s possible that the Heat would insist on Dalembert over Brand, since the Haitian center only has 12 million left on his deal. That’s fine you make that move too, but you’d want some more compensation as a result. Iggy’s a good player, but the deal the team has given him actually makes him a bad player for the Sixers.
Make that trade, figure out a way to get in the top four to select Derrick Favours and suddenly you have a young eight man core of:
PG – J. Holliday
SG – J Meeks (ouch, definitely need an upgrade here)
SF – T. Young
PF – D. Favours
C – Brand/Dalembert
6th – M. Beasley
7th – M Speights
8th – L. Williams
That team wont be good next year, but in Holliday, Young, and Favours, you have a lot of upside and if Beasley rehabilitates the future truly looks rosy. It’s a process, but then when you lose 55 games, you need to think about baby steps and long term improvement.
Washington Wizards (26-56):
Well, that was a fun season wasn’t it? Death of an owner, poop in a shoe, guns in the locker room, and a stripped down roster… add it all up and you’ve got a 26 win season. On the bright side for Wizard fans, the purchase of the team by Ted Leonsis should soon be official. Leonsis, who did a remarkable job rebuilding DC’s hockey team – this week aside of course, should make his first move giving Ernie “Wait you missed all but eight games last season with a knee injury, hhmmm, ok, I guess I’d better make it 111 million” Grunfeld the pink slip.
It may be that Flip Saunders follows him out the door, but this team isn’t going to be competitive for a couple years, so there’s no real harm in keeping Saunders around to be the fall guy in a year or two. Grunfeld’s insistence that the Wizards just needed to be healthy to be a contender show that the game has passed him by. If I’m Leonsis, I start texting sweet nothings to Portland GM Kevin Pritchard who seems to be losing a power struggle in Portland. Pritchard overhauled the Blazers, bringing them back from the dead after the Jail Blazers era. He is the perfect man to understand the delicate balance of rebuilding with draft picks, kids, and cap space management.
The Wizards only have a 10.3% chance of winning the lottery, so whomever Leonsis hires to replace Grunfeld will probably have to do it without John Wall or Evan Turner. Further complicating the new GMs job, will be the old gunslinger himself, Agent Zero. As I mentioned a couple months ago, Arenas will be hard, but not impossible to move. Like the scenario above involving Miami and the Sixers, Washington may find a taker for Glbert once the free agent musical chairs have stopped.
Round and round the free agents go, where they stop nobody knows… oops, no one chooses to sign with the Knicks and Donnie Walsh, desperate to have somebody to show for all this waiting, trades Eddy Curry’s expiring contract for Arenas. If you can’t see that happening, well you’ve never paid attention to the fun things NBA GMs do when the pressure’s on. If the Wizards can get Arenas off their roster, then they will truly have a clean slate with which to rebuild. After that, it’s about making some smart draft choices and filling in the cracks. If the Wiz have Pritchard, I think they’re back in the playoffs in three years.
New Jersey Nets (12-70):
Yowza… twelve wins. That’s one heck of a season. At least we know one thing, you can cross the Nets right off the LeBron list. The two time MVP isn’t going to a franchise that could barely avoid being the NBA’s worst team ever.
Much like the Wizards, the upside for the Nets is a new owner. The Russian Mark Cuban seems like he’s going to be just the man to bring the Nets out of the Swampland and into the limelight of Brooklyn. The Nets have a couple of good young bodies in point guard Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez, and they have more cap space than Meg Ryan has botox, but ughh… 12 wins. Yikes.
That’s too much work for me, plus it’s late, and I hear wolves. Sorry Nets fan(s?), some problems are too big even for a man armed with Sports on the Brain and ESPNs trade machine. You’re on your own…
Look out Next Week for the Western Also-rans and then the 1st round losers.