2008 Team Needs: Northwest Division
By James Burbridge
2007-08 record: 20-62
Head Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
Team Needs: PG, PF, C
The Sonics brass have put all their eggs in Kevin Durant's basket and need to continue building around him. With six picks total this year, two in the first round, and two more first rounders in next year's draft, they have the firepower to make things happen, so to speak.
As their roster stands right now, center is the biggest glaring weakness, and even with their recent struggles selecting big men in the first round, they should strongly consider selecting either DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez if he is still available. I don't think they can sit around and wait for Swift to stay healthy, or Petro or Sene to develop. If they do, then great, then that's where they get front court depth from, but honestly its time to move on.
The relics from the Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis days should be shelved and studied as a reminder to be careful drafting players who haven't played against ANYONE. Taking long shot centers in the lotto three years in a row is ridiculous. Having Francisco Elson's three million dollar contract come off the books is the one positive comment to be said about the Sonics center situation.
The four spot seems solid with Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox, and situationally Donyell Marshall if they want to spread the floor. Word on the street is that Wilcox has some value on the market, and the Soincs could move him for more youth but they should try to keep him given his size and athleticism.
At SF, for now, is Jeff Green, the fifth pick from last year's draft. While I believe the the three spot is where Durant should be, the idea of taking the best players available and building a roster around that philosophy is appealing.
The Sonics need plenty of players, and at just about every position. Green is the type of player that brings a lot of versatility to the 3 position, and with Durant's ability to play two through possibly four, this is a team on paper that looks like it wants to exploit mismatches, which Durant and Green can provide.
Adrian Griffin is a nice veteran presence on the team, while Ronald Dupree and Michael Gelabale are both free agents this summer. Look for one to be resigned by the team next year (my money's on Gelabale).
As already briefly mentioned, Kevin Durant is manning the SG position for now with Damien Wilkins backing him up. If a top notch SG is available then the Sonics can/should take him and try to apply Durant's gifts to other aspects of their game plan. Wilkins is a solid backup, and should provide quality depth while playing out is current deal.
And finally, point guard. Essentially what the Sonics have going on here is two backup point guards with entirely different games fighting for the starting spot. Earl Watson is the defensive stalwart who can hit open jumpers while Luke Ridnour is the crazier, flashier player who is more adept at creating plays but also more turnover prone.
To make matters worse, each of their contracts leave something to be desired, like comparable play to dollars earned. Together, they eat up over twelve million dollars for the next three seasons.
The Sonics need a true starting PG to put them in their place and allow them the flexibility of trading one or both of these guys. Russell Westbrook could be targeted with the Sonics trading down 4-5 spots to grab him.
Jerryd Bayless or OJ Mayo will be considered at 4 and would offer the most value at their pick, but may not be in Sam Presti's view of a team concept as the team prepares for their move to Oklahoma City. Had Blake Griffin declared, the Sonics would have gobbled him up at 4 as their local PF of the future.
2007-08 record: 22-60
Head Coach: Randy Wittman
Team Needs: C, SF
Along with the Sonics, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of a youth movement after trading their best player in franchise history to the Boston Celtics. The Wolves are a team that needs its young players to step up, more talent and a few more years before they can be taken seriously in the Western Conference.
The Wolves live and die by Al Jefferson, the young PF who Minnesota recouped in the Kevin Garnett trade. In his first season being the go-to player on a team, he responded quite well, averaging 21 points and 11 boards to go along with nearly 1.5 blocks and a .500 field goal percentage. Not a bad player to build a team around. The only problem now is the lack of size next to him.
The rest of the frontcourt goes like this: Gomes is a nice change of pace PF to come off the bench, Craig Smith is a nice bruiser to come off the bench, Mark Madsen is a nice guy, but that's about it, Antoine Walker's contract would make Jack Palance and Suge Knight cry in each other's arms, his eight million dollar deal lasts for one more season. Michael Doleac is an unrestricted free agent and nothing more than a body at this point, and Chris Richard is still collecting paychecks off of Florida's two championship runs.
On a side note, Gomes, Smith and Richard are restricted free agents this summer. Look for Smith and Gomes to be retained.
On to the backcourt, which requires further investigation since so many lottery picks have been spent there. Last year's pick, Corey Brewer, figures to be a good player down the road. He's super-long and athletic, attributes which by themselves have gotten people into the league. But its troubling to see Kirk Snyder ahead of him on the depth chart. Whether Brewer can ever bring much on the offensive end appears to be a big question. He struggled mightily in his rookie season, coming in as a seasoned junior and was outperformed by a number of players taken behind him.
At shooting guard is Marko Jaric and former lottery pick Rashad McCants. To be quite honest, Jaric is awful and his six million dollar, four year contract make him that much harder to stomach. Whatever happened to him between his last season with the Clippers and his first with Wolves? Is it the cold weather? Did K.G. send him into shell shock? Whatever it was, he should be thankful that it didn't materialize until he signed his current contract.
As for Rashad McCants, to criticize his play would be unfair since he has been injured more than a majority of his career. At the time of his workouts, rumors spread that he torched the shooting drills team's put him through, shooting something like 70 percent from behind the arc. He has showed some nice flashes in spurts when he's been healthy. The Timberwolves simply need to get some kind of production out of him. All in all, the two spot is an area of concern for Minnesota.
Second year guard Randy Foye is listed atop the PG depth chart right now, but it is still too early to tell if he's their long term answer at PG. Foye is a combo guard, more adept at scoring than creating for others. He has struggled with injuries, but T-Wolves' brass are excited about his future.
Behind Foye is another lottery pick, Sebastian Telfair. Coming out of high school with loads of fanfare and hype, Telfair has never lived up expectations. His inability to keep defenders honest with a jump shot and lack of size has limited his speed, ball handling and passing ability, the strengths of his game.
Jefferson is a PF, not a C, so with the third pick one has to think B. Lopez and D. Jordan will enter the conversation, giving Jefferson a running mate and some support on the front lines. Lopez may have the lower ceiling, but he's a much surer bet and for a GM (McHale) who, without Garnett, finds his seat considerably warmer, safe appears to be the likeliest option.
Bayless and Mayo are the players with the most value here, but with Randy Foye and Rashard McCants already on the team, they seem more apt to go big with their pick.
2007-08 Record: 41-41
Head Coach: Nate McMillan
Team Needs: SF, PG
We all know the Trailblazers aren't really a lottery team, not in terms of talent anyways. This team is about 2-3 years and a healthy Greg Oden away from being a serious contender.
The Trailblazers, at 41-41, don't make the playoffs, thus putting a good Western team in the lottery, while the Hawks (37-45), the 76ers (40-42) and the Raptors (41-41) all make the Eastern Conference playoffs, thus placing them outside the lottery. Superior teams are in the lottery, thus stockpiling the Western Conference with more talented teams.
If the Suns, Spurs and Mavericks weren't on the way down, who knows how gnarly the West would get with teams like the Hornets, Lakers and Trailblazers all looking like the next set of contenders.
As for the Portland lineup, there are few flaws. They are loaded with young players and potentially two All-NBA players. In the backcourt, the one spot is currently manned by Steve Blake and backed up by Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez.
Blake is a very capable guard, but not necessarily starting material, but with Jack, a scoring point, and Rodriguez, the player the team would like to see ultimately win the starting postion. But adding a point guard with their 13th pick (Westbrook or Augustin) appears to be real possibility.
At shooting guard is the silky smooth Brandon Roy. The more I got to watch him this year, the more he reminds me of a Tim Duncan type player. Nothing flashy, excellent fundamentals, wins games, does whatever it takes to make you better and win games.
I'm not trying to say that Roy is at the same level as Duncan, but Roy just strikes me as the kind of player that gets overlooked and then you look back and stare in awe at the accomplishments, kind of like Tim Duncan.
Again, Portland, with their hyperactive draft days, found another young international player to stash away in Spanish Rudy Fernandez, often compared to Manu Ginobili, who is ready to come over and be a factor.
The three spot is often cited as a weak spot in the Blazers' lineup. Funny how all three players there came straight out of high school. Martell Webster, the high schooler selected sixth overall a few years back, was at one time compared to a young Glen Rice. Well...that didn't really pan out.
Webster appears to be fairly one dimensional, and while he can shoot the ball, opposing players know he can't do much else, making their jobs that much easier. Travis Outlaw, the lanky, super athletic forward out of Mississippi, is finally starting to develop into a spot starter in the league.
In the front court, everything is going to revolve around Oden. This guy was a top overall pick the minute he exited the womb. Gifted with length and athleticism usually not bestowed upon seven footers, this gentle giant should lock down the Blazers frontcourt for the next 15 to 18 years, provided he bounces back from microfracture surgery in the same manner that Amare Stoudemire has.
Backing up Oden is Joel Przybilla, a big body that provides defense off the bench, and Raef Lafrentz. As much as I loved Raef during his days at Kansas, and wanted so badly for him to be a great NBA player, it just hasn't been the case. Lafrentz does provide a good shooting touch if that's what is called for, but it certainly doesn't justify his monster contract, coming in at over 12 million dollars this season.
Joining Oden in the front court at the four spot is LaMarcus Alrdidge, with Channing Frye and Josh McRoberts in reserve. With Oden's injury this past season, Aldridge was given the opportunity to come into his own. Given his skill set involves more mid-range jumpers than Oden's, the two should complement each other nicely.
Frye's rookie season with New York seemed to indicate that he might one day be an all star type player, but much of his hype has cooled off and he is being more fairly assessed now. Frye offers nice size, athleticism and adequate defense, but an inadequate offensive game.
Had McRoberts entered the draft coming out of high school, or even one year out of college, he would have been a lottery pick (or close). His two years at Duke exposed him for what he really is as a player; a lumbering big man that seems to do everything ok, but nothing spectacularly. As if the Blazers didn't already have enough players, also within their cupboard of international projects is English big man Joel Freeland, a 20 year old athletic big with a decent perimeter shot.
With all that said the Blazers also have the 13th pick and could go in a number of different directions. Since there is no glaring need on this team, the best player available philosophy stands to reason. Players the Blazers should target include PG Russell Westbrook, SF Joe Alexander and C JaVale McGee.
2007-08 record: 50-32
Head Coach: George Karl
Team Needs: PG, SG
Much has been written in recent weeks about the Nuggets willingness to listen to offers for anyone on their team, including Carmelo Anthony. Now, I agree whole heartedly that this Nuggets team needs to be reworked, but to ship out Anthony for anything less than another young superstar (which is unlikely to happen) is ludicrous.
Anthony is truly the only player on this team worth hanging on to and needs to be built around. The truth of the matter is this team on a whole just isn't that great and the glut of big contracts is tying their hands as far as making worthwhile improvements.
When you look at the 2008/09 contracts of Allen Iverson (nearly 22 million), Carmelo (14 and a half million), Kenyon Martin (14 million), Marcus Camby (8 million) and Nene (over 9 and a half million), the money just isn't there to bring in someone other than a mid-level exception type player
The PG position is one of definite need for the Nuggets. As of right now Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins share the bulk of the minutes at the position, and neither is starter material at this point in their careers.
Anthony Carter comes off the books next season, and luckily Atkins is paid an understandable salary, but he is no spring chicken and his tendency as a shoot-first point guard certainly doesn't fit in with the other, more talented shoot-first players Denver has on the roster. Taurean Green is a quality shooter who comes at a cheap price, which is a plus, but isn't ready to play significant minutes yet, let alone lead a team.
SG on the surface looks like a strength for George Karl's squad. Having a future hall of fame player in Allen Iverson man your starting two spot isn't too shabby, with the athletic J.R. Smith backing him up and the defensive minded Yakhouba Diawara bringing up the rear. But it isn't all gravy for Karl's shooting guard situation.
For one, as mentioned above, Iverson is making almost 22 million dollars. It should also be noted that his and Anthony's game is quite similar since both are volume scorers and whether or not their styles of play could mesh together has been questioned since Iverson was brought in two years ago.
Smith, for all his physical gifts and impressive deep shot, doesn't bring a complete game, with no semblance of a mid-range game. Its either three pointer, drive to the basket or nothing for Smith. There are also numerous reports of J.R. having a bad attitude and causing friction in a locker room, bringing down his value.
Diawara, while not much of an offensive player, has good size and plays good perimeter defense, a quality the Nuggets can use. Smith and Diawara are both restricted free agents this summer while Iverson has an ETO this offseason. Don't count on him giving up that much money to move to another team for a smaller contract.
Carmelo Anthony mans the three spot and if the Nuggets are smart, he'll man it till he retires. Trading him right now, when he is arguably in the prime of his career, should be considered a crime against the city of Denver and fans of the Nuggets everywhere. He's essentially a short power forward with the athleticism of a three who absolutely punishes defenses.
But enough about Carmelo, we are all familiar with his game already. Behind Anthony is Eduardo Najera, a bruising, hustle player adept at defense, rebounding and keeping the defense honest with a newly improved three point shot. Doesn't play outside of his skill set, which makes him more valuable. Najera is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so look for a team looking to make a playoff run to go after him.
The power forward spot is where most of the Nuggets financial woes come from. Certainly the talent is there, and as far as depth goes its the deepest position the Nuggets have, but it doesn't add up to the dollars they have invested by a long shot.
Kenyon Martin sits atop the depth chart, with Linas Kleiza and Nene playing supporting roles. Between Martin and Nene alone, their combined 2008/09 cap figure comes in at over 23 and a half million dollars, and it just gets worse each season since Martin has four years left on his deal and Nene five. For being two oft-injured players, that is one swell payday.
Martin has not been able to regain his form after season ending knee injuries, while Nene has battled his own injuries the past year (testicular cancer being one.) Even when healthy, neither is as dominant as their contracts would suggest.
The player that generated the most buzz this season was Linas Kleiza. The former Missouri forward showed a nice, versatile game and has the youth and cap friendly contract that teams covet. It seemed that he was the contingent piece in the Ron Artest trade talks, but the Nuggets decided not to let him go. One of Denver's main offseason priorities this summer should be to find a taker for either Martin or Nene, freeing up some major dollars while also opening up more playing time for Kleiza.
At center is former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby, with Steven Hunter playing in reserve. Camby is a better than average center that brings boards and blocks to the game. His offensive game is limited, but he is capable of having some big nights here and there.
But with Iverson and Anthony given the scoring task, his offensive production isn't a major concern and is usually a bonus. He is a valuable piece of this team given his skills and size, not to mention his reasonable contract. Hunter is a big body with decent athleticism and a defensive mentality, a good, but not great backup.
With all that said, this is still a team that won 50 games in the Western Conference, but they just don't exude the feeling of a dominant team. I don't believe that they could beat the Spurs, the Lakers, the Celtics, the Pistons, the Suns (pre-Shaq), etc., in a best of seven series. Climbing to the ranks of those teams is difficult, but necessary if winning a championship is the main goal.
The Nuggets greatest area of need, point guard is not likely to be available at 20, unless D.J. Augustin somehow falls to them. They would help themselves this year in the draft by focusing on backcourt. A player that comes to mind is Kansas G/F Brandon Rush. Rush is a long athlete that plays good on the ball defense and has a beautiful outside stroke. North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson is said to be in the mix at their pick, but he would be a reach as it's questionable whether he can be more than a back up and his decision to leave early certainly doesn't impove his chances.
2007-08 Record: 54-28
Head Coach: Jerry Sloan
Team Needs: C, depth
The Utah Jazz have a young, highly competitive roster and are over the cap by just four million dollars. Somewhere Knicks' fans are tearing their eyeballs out. Top to bottom this team is stacked and are only going to get better given their youth. If this team can be held together (there are already rumblings that the Heat have their eyes on Carlos Boozer), they should be title contenders the next five seasons conceivably, maybe longer.
At PG, the Jazz have future All NBA candidate Deron Williams. This team should be credited for moving up in the draft three years ago to select Williams, the first point guard off the board. While they did pass over Chris Paul, one can hardly criticize given Williams play this past season (the Hornets wanted Wiliams as well). And all indications are that Williams will hold up better due to his unusual size and strength.
At backup are Jason Hart and Ronnie Price. Neither player is anything to write home about (except Price's occasional highlight reel plays), but each knows Sloan's system and what he expects of them, which makes them commodities.
At shooting guard the Jazz have once again showed their drafting prowess with the emergence of Ronnie Brewer. Coming out of Arkansas, Brewer was viewed as an athletic guard with a wacky jump shot that many teams were cautious of.
Would he be able to use of elite athleticism if team's didn't respect his outside game? The Jazz selected him knowing they needed an infusion of athleticism on their mostly slow footed team and the decision has paid off. Brewer uses his speed and length to hassle defenders and was among the league leaders in steals this past season. His defensive versatility gives the Jazz some wiggle room if they decide to move Andrei Kirilenko, but more on that later.
Backing up Brewer are guards C.J. Miles and Morris Almond. Miles, a former McDonald's All-American and Texas Longhorns recruit, entered the draft out of high school was was taken early in the second round. He brings a quality offensive game to the floor with a nice jumper with distance and decent athleticism, giving the team some quality minutes in their playoff series with the Lakers.
Almond, a first round pick last year, is a dead eye shooter whom many compared to Allan Houston coming out of Rice University. He lacks lateral quickness and prerequisite athleticism to be a good defender, but his shooting ability will give him time on the floor.
Again at SF the Jazz have a nice stable of players who all bring production in one way or another. Starting is Andrei Kirilenko, the enigmatic Russian super defender. His ability to defend multiple positions and fill up a box sheet has made him a fantasy favorite for the past several years.
Much has been made of his on again off again relationship with hard line coach Jerry Sloan and Kirilenko's big time contract, nearly 14 million with four more years, making him the target of numerous trade discussions. While I like his game, I can understand the argument for trading him given the Jazz's upcoming paydays.
In two years time the Jazz will have the re-signings of Boozer (who will get a near max deal from someone), Deron Williams (who will definitely get a max deal) and Ronnie Brewer. As noted above, Brewer's emergence as a young perimeter defensive presence makes the letting go of Kirilenko a little easier to swallow. Trading him now while he still has value would make the most sense.
Behind Kirilenko in Utah is Matt Harpring and Kyle Korver. Harpring is a big small forward with an improving three point shot and relentless attitude on the boards, making him one of the best rebounding small forwards in the game. The trade to bring over shooter Korver from Philly looks to be a good one, addressing one of Utah's biggest weaknesses, perimeter shooting.
In the front court are the tandem of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, two players whose differing games bring about visions of the SNL "Ebony and Ivory" skit.
Since leaving Cleveland, Boozer has turned into one of the game's fiercest and most productive power forwards. Imagine if he had stayed in Cleveland and continued to play alongside Lebron (certainly Cleveland fans cringe at the thought).
Okur's statistics took a drop this season after being named to his first All-Star team last year, but his ability to stretch the floor while helping out with rebounds and giving Boozer more room to operate on the blocks cannot be measured by numbers. He is a deadly outside shooter who's mere presence around the three point line keeps defenses honest.
Behind Boozer at power forward are Paul Milsap and Kyrylo Fesenko. Milsap, a three time NCAA rebounding champion out of Louisiana Tech and former second round pick, is a crafty player who combines his strength and athleticism to make up for his lack of height.
Milsap becomes a restricted free agent this summer with a team option, which will more than likely be exercised. Fesenko is an interesting European player who is big and athletic, and oddly enough plays with a bit of a mean streak. He was selected to play in the NBDL All Star game. And finally we get to Jarron Collins, backup center to Okur. While not the defensive presence of his twin brother, Jarron brings a little more offense, but thats not saying much.
So with 54 wins, the Jazz will select 23rd overall this season. Depending upon who is available, a backup center would be nice, which is presumably why everyone and their mother is placing Roy Hibbert in Utah next year.
Hibbert would give the Jazz more depth at center, while also adding more size to the position. He may still be around since everyone other team wants to run more and Hibbert runs with Boris Karloff like grace and agility. Utah's half court system would be a good fit for Hibbert. If Hibbert's gone, another senior such as Jason Thompson makes sense for a team dangerously close to contending for a championship.
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