Lottery Teams primed for 2013-14 insider
Lottery teams primed for 2013-14
Amin Elhassan [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Insider | April 12, 2013
David Richard/US Presswire
Things are looking up for Kyrie Irving and the Cavs in 2013-14.
With the 2012-13 regular season almost in the books, teams are communicating one of two things to their fan bases: either excitement for an impending playoff run or hope for a brighter future. This has been the general marketing directive that teams have employed to keep customers paying for tickets and companies pouring in sponsorship dollars. If you aren't selling the product on the floor today, you have to be selling the product on the floor tomorrow.
In some cases, this is mere lip service, as there really isn't much realistic hope that next season will be any better than this season was. But good decision-making and the proper execution of a clear vision (and some luck) can help lift a team to relevance next fall, perhaps step toward contention and eventually a championship.
Here are four lottery-bound teams that can legitimately look to a bright 2013-14.
Despite rumblings to the contrary, Cleveland still has a situation that a lot of lottery teams (and some playoff ones as well) would envy. It's a combination of incumbent talent on the roster, potential cap space, and a draft pick inventory that could catapult the Cavs from the Eastern Conference cellar next season.
INCUMBENT TALENT: It starts with a bona fide superstar in the making in Kyrie Irving, whom I said earlier this season would be the best point guard in the NBA by 2015. Anderson Varejao was leading the league in rebounding before a knee injury sidelined him; when healthy, he's one of the most underrated bigs in the league and an elite defensive presence. Tristan Thompson has had a bounce-back sophomore season, nearing a double-double at 11.5 ppg and 9.3 rpg.
CAP ROOM: The Cavs currently have $36 million in salary obligations for 2013-14; by waiving C.J. Miles, Chris Quinn and Kevin Jones' non-guaranteed deals and renouncing the rights (thus removing the cap holds) to free agents Luke Walton, Daniel Gibson and Omri Casspi, Cleveland can clear almost $20 million in cap room. The Cavs probably won't want to use too much in order to prepare for the potential bonanza 2014 free-agent class, but they'll still be able to upgrade their supporting cast.
DRAFT PICKS: From an assortment of trades, Cleveland could conceivably have the following in the 2013 draft: a top-five first-round pick, two top-five second-round picks and a first-rounder somewhere among the 16th to 18th picks. That's not to say the Cavs would use all those picks; rather, this allows them to be "players" on the pre-draft trade market, allowing them to acquire productive vets on short-term deals.
The Wizards probably should have been in the playoffs this season; in fact, since John Wall's return in January, they have performed at a playoff level, going 24-21, posting the seventh-best defensive rating in the league (99.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the 11th best efficiency differential (+2.0 points per 100 possessions). They might not have the cap space and pick arsenal Cleveland has, but they still have some assets to be excited about.
INCUMBENT TALENT: Much like the Cavs, any conversation about Washington begins with their No. 1 overall pick point guard. I wrote about Wall's importance to the Wizards, and how his return has been a big part of their resurgence this season. Rookie Bradley Beal has struggled with injuries as well, but when healthy (and playing alongside Wall), he's probably been the best rookie shooting guard. Nene has been a solid low-post option and the anchor to Washington's defense, as well as adding greatly needed professionalism to its locker room.
CAP FLEXIBILITY: While the Wizards won't have any cap space, they are far below the luxury tax threshold and will have the full complement of cap exceptions (non-taxpayer midlevel exception, biannual exception, minimum salary exceptions) to augment the roster. The main impending free agent they have to retain is Martell Webster, who was one of the best value signings this season.
DRAFT PICKS: Washington has its own 2013 first- and second-round picks, and it also has the Knicks' 2013 second-round pick. The draft has been a hit-or-miss proposition for Washington the past few years, but this is a nice chance to add some low-cost talent to surround Wall, particularly as his salary balloons in later seasons.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland has all the makings of a team that will be the darling of the NBA next season; the 2013-14 version of the Golden State Warriors, with an exciting young point guard and an All-Star veteran big. Depth has been an issue this season, but they'll have the tools available to rectify that situation.
INCUMBENT TALENT: Presumptive rookie of the year Damian Lillard is one of just six players in the history of the league to average at least 18 ppg and 6 apg as a rookie and has revived a spark in the Blazers' fan base. LaMarcus Aldridge has turned in another All-Star campaign, and Nic Batum has flourished in the first year of his new contract, averaging career highs in points (14.3), rebounds (5.6) and assists (a whopping 4.9).
CAP SPACE: As I pointed out last week, the Blazers will have a modest amount of cap space with some creative cap management, which will allow them to add depth to a painfully thin roster. Their main impending free agents are Eric Maynor, whose midseason addition was a welcome boost to their bench play, and J.J. Hickson, who might have played his way out of Portland's price range.
DRAFT PICKS: While Portland doesn't have any first-round picks in 2013 (they traded away their first two years ago for Gerald Wallace, who they in turn flipped for the 2012 pick that became Lillard), they do own 2013 second-round picks from Boston and Minnesota, which both figure to be in the top half of the round. In a draft that figures to be pretty flat (short on star talent, but lots of potential contributors), having two seconds is not necessarily a bad thing.
Another injury-marred season led to another lottery finish for the Wolves, who haven't made the playoffs since 2004. To put that in perspective, the last time Minnesota made a playoff appearance, LeBron James was a rookie and the Charlotte Bobcats had yet to play a game.
INCUMBENT TALENT: Ricky Rubio has yet to develop a perimeter jumper, and as long as that is the case, his development will be stymied. But he's an electric pick-and-roll player, particularly when playing with Kevin Love, who's missed most of this season to a variety of injuries. Love's ability to act as a stretch 4 gives Rubio a ton of space to operate and pick apart defenses. Center Nikola Pekovic has developed into one of the most underrated centers in the league, and Alexei Shved was a nice pickup as a combo guard off the bench.
CAP FLEXIBILITY: The Wolves are likely to operate as an over-the-cap team to take advantage of the numerous cap exceptions available to non-taxpayers to improve their team (also, it is highly unlikely that they'd renounce the rights to Pekovic, who is entering restricted free agency). Andrei Kirilenko can opt out of a deal that's due to pay him $10.2 million in 2013-14. Finally, Chase Budinger (who has also missed most of the season to injury) is entering restricted free agency and might be the scoring wing/3P shooter that they've been missing all season.
DRAFT PICKS: Similar to Cleveland, Minnesota is well-stocked when it comes to draft picks. It has: its own 2013 first-round pick, unless it falls out of the top 13 (it is almost certain to be in top 13); Memphis' 2013 first-round pick (projected 25th-27th); 2013 second-round picks from Brooklyn (projected 50th-52nd) and Oklahoma City (58th or 59th).
Also like Cleveland, the Wolves will probably package some or all of these picks to acquire veteran talent, although I suggested they try to draft scoring combo guard C.J. McCollum.