Team Needs: Northwest Division
By Tyler Ingle
Chalk-full of youth and talent, the Northwest Division has some of the brightest futures in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trailblazers and the Utah Jazz are three of the NBA's youngest teams, yet all three made the playoffs this past season, and will almost certainly be competitive for many years to come. Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets are never an easy out (especially when healthy). With four playoff teams in its division, the Northwest is also one of the most competitive and well-rounded divisions in the NBA. If one of these teams wants to separate itself from the pack (in a good way), they will need to address some of their weaknesses and question marks. So without further ado, here are your Northwest team needs.
Team Needs: Depth
George Karl's bout with throat cancer hurt the Denver Nuggets near the end of last season. They fell from the second seed in the Western conference standings to the fourth seed, and ended up losing a first round series to the Utah Jazz. Acting head coach Adrian Dantley can't be blamed for the free-fall, but the Denver Nuggets certainly had more success when Karl was on the sidelines. The good news is that George Karl is expected to be fully recovered and back to the bench for the start of the 2010-2011 season. Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson are also in the process of fixing their own nagging injuries. A healthy Denver Nuggets team is far more capable than what we saw at the end of last season.
The Denver Nuggets have most of their team on the payroll through next season, so unlike quite a few other teams, they don't have to worry about a major contributor bolting (unless Kenyon Martin opts out of the final year in his monster contract). Guys like Malik Allen, Johan Petro and Joey Graham could be re-signed for cheap or replaced fairly easily. Should the Nuggets be willing to spend their mid-level exception, they could even add some more depth to their roster. Don't be surprised if an offer sheet is sent to Tyrus Thomas later this off-season, as the Nuggets have been trying to get him on the roster for some time now. A sign-and-trade seems more likely though, as the Nuggets already project to be in luxury-tax territory next season.
J.R. Smith has gone through his share of troubles in Denver. He is a remarkably explosive scorer, capable of putting up huge numbers in short amounts of time, and he has a knack for getting the crowd involved with a timely windmill dunk, or a 28-foot three pointer. The question is, does the positive outweigh the negative? Smith drives his coaches and his fans crazy, he has done jail time, and he has been known to say the wrong things at the wrong times. He is inconsistent, emotional, and a loose-cannon. Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has publically stated that he wants a smarter team next season, and that could mean that Smith is on the trading block.
Though the Nuggets currently don't own any first round picks, general manager Mark Warkentien expects the Nuggets to be players in the 2010 draft. It is possible that he is planning on buying his way into the late first/early second round similarly to last season, when he bought Ty Lawson from the Timberwolves. A standout target is Gani Lawal, who would provide more offense than any other front line player that the Nuggets brought in off the bench last season, as well as another toughness and rebounding presence. If they do end up moving J.R. Smith, then they should look to replace his scoring spark off the bench. Terrico White and Dominique Jones both make sense here, and could be available.
Team Needs: Size, C
Picks: 9th, 55th
The Utah Jazz are coming off an interesting season. They continue to show flashes of brilliance, but ultimately were dominated by their biggest weakness, size. The Los Angeles Lakers frontline has a combination of quickness and length that the Jazz just cannot compete with. The Utah Jazz will look to add some size and a low post defensive presence during this offseason, in an effort to take the next step in becoming a title contender.
It is unknown if the Utah Jazz will be willing to pay to keep Carlos Boozer in a Utah Jazz uniform next season. Greg Miller won't be easy about putting the team in a luxury tax situation, especially if they aren't legitimate title contenders. Paul Millsap has also played extremely well over the last two seasons when Boozer has been out with various injuries, so losing Boozer wouldn't leave the Jazz with a gaping hole in talent. If the Jazz keep Boozer, it likely means that they will have to bargain off Mehmet Okur, Paul Millsap or Andrei Kirilenko for any sort of cap relief. However, because Boozer will want a long term-contract, he is the prime candidate to be in a different uniform next season. Kyle Korver is another free agent that Utah may hesitate to re-sign, but if Boozer is let go they could keep Korver and stay under the luxury tax limit.
The Utah Jazz are looking at their second highest draft pick in 27 years. Besides Deron Williams, the Jazz have had no top-10 draft picks since 1983. Currently positioned at the 9th pick after hustling Isiah Thomas in 2004, the Jazz are in a perfect position to add a big man who can contribute off the bench right away. Greg Monroe is a name that is being thrown around a lot by the media, and it is no wonder. Monroe can play either the power forward or the center position and his offensive skills would mesh perfectly with the various complexities of Jerry Sloan's system. A big time bonus is the size of Monroe's shoulders, and how perfect they are for setting screens. That may not seem like a big deal, but those are the types of things that Jerry Sloan loves. All Jarron Collins did during his tenure in Utah was set screens and draw charges, and he became one of Sloan's favorite players (over 200 starts for Coach Sloan). Cole Aldrich, Eddie Davis and Ekpe Udoh are all also possibilities with the 9th overall pick. They would provide a shot blocking/defensive post presence that Utah hasn't had since the glory days of Greg Ostertag.
Team Needs: PG, rebounding big
Picks: 22nd, 44th
The Portland Trailblazers are another team with an array of young talent. However, unlike the Thunder, the injury bug got the best of them. When healthy, the Portland Trailblazers go deep at every position, with an impressive mix of veterans and prospects.
Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge are still considered the future of Portland's frontcourt. Combine that with the recent extension of Marcus Camby, and the likely scenario that Joel Pryzbilla opts into his $7.4 million dollar option, there doesn't seem to be much room for free agent Juwan Howard next season. He could be re-signed for cheap if the Trailblazers want to brace themselves for another injury-plagued season. Either way the Blazers seem set in the post, both long-term and short-term. On the wing you have all-star Brandon Roy. Nicholas Batum, Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster give B-Roy a plethora of running mates. Provided they stay healthy, the Blazers are also set on the shoulders.
The biggest question of the Blazers roster is who runs the point? Brandon Roy is at his best with the ball in his hands, making plays for himself and his teammates. Andre Miller had an up-and-down season as the starting point guard last season. His ball-dominant nature conflicted at times with Roy's ball-dominant nature. Miller played his best ball when Roy was out (see his 52 point game against Dallas), and questions about how well they can play together will continue. Bayless is an enigma of sorts. He's very talented offensively and makes more sense as a backcourt partner for Roy, but he lacks consistency and seems to drift in and out of favor with Nate McMillan.
If their point guard is the only situation that they need to address, they could use their first round pick (#22) on Avery Bradley. Bradley could be a better fit with Brandon Roy. Defending the other teams' point guard and knocking down open shots, while letting Brandon Roy handle the ball and initiate the offense. Possible targets for the Trailblazers in the second round (#44) include Jarvis Varnado, Luke Harangody and Gani Lawal.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Team Needs: PF, C
Picks: 21st, 26th, 32nd, 51st
Sam Presti is looking to build a reliable team that will be atop of the NBA Western Conference standings for many years to come, and it's hard to dispute that he has his club on the right track. Despite being the youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder made the playoffs and pushed the eventual Western Conference champs to six games. They play with hustle and grit, and are deep at almost every position. There are very few holes in the Thunder roster and with four draft picks and a good deal of salary cap space, they will look to fill them this offseason.
The Thunder owns the 21st and the 26th overall picks in the draft this season. I'd expect them to draft a couple of young bigs who fit the program. Jeff Green is very talented, but a lot of people feel like he would be best suited in a Lamar Odom type of role off the bench. Serge Ibaka is a dynamic, athletic shot blocker with bounds of energy -- perfect for the Thunder's style of play. Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison are both serviceable bigs, but an upgrade at the starting center position could result in a few extra wins over the course of the season. Byron Mullens has a lot of potential, and could be the eventual successor, but there are still a lot of question marks surrounding his work-ethic. In the draft, it couldn't hurt to take a defensive stud with a nice mid-range game in Larry Sanders. He could take his time developing off the bench and challenge Byron Mullens. Daniel Orton could also find himself slipping to 21, and Oklahoma City seems like a perfect fit for him as well. In the second round the Thunder could use a nice shooting prospect, but any additional depth couldn't hurt the team. You can't expect them to be as healthy as they were last season.
If the Thunder stay the course, they are destined to be contenders for many years to come. Westbrook should become more efficient and continue to improve his point guard skills, and Harden should eventually take over as the starting shooting guard. Experience and patience are the Thunder's biggest needs at this point. The rest of the Western Conference should be afraid.
Team Needs: SG, SF, defensive-minded Center
Picks: 4th, 16th, 23rd, 45th, 56th
Ahhh, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The fat kid chasing the school bus, eating the dust of his Northwestern peers. However, not all hope is lost. The T-Wolves have some talent overseas, a solid amount of cap space and five draft picks this season. Players like Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Jonny Flynn and Corey Brewer all have some talent as well. So there is hope for a good deal of improvement from the T'Wolves next season.
There are numerous reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves will likely struggle to reel in an impact free-agent. Minnesota just can't offer as much in terms of winning and talent to players like Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay as other teams can. So even with an open payroll, you have to wonder if the Timberwolves can really utilize it to dramatically improve the team. Big names aside, it is possible for the Timberwolves to sign a few role players, but it is unlikely that we see any of the big names in a T'Wolves jersey next season.
The T'Wolves own five draft picks this year, three of which are first rounders (#4, #16, and #23). With the 4th overall pick their options are limited. They could take Wesley Johnson, who would bring a well-rounded wing player to a very unstable rotation. Some people question whether Wesley Johnson would be a good fit with Corey Brewer, and this is a legitimate concern. Both players are apparently at their best when playing off the ball and that would put Jonny Flynn in a tough position, where he would be forced to dominate the ball a bit more than he seems to be comfortable with. DeMarcus Cousins is the other option, but he is a post-dominating player in the mold of an Al Jefferson. Kevin Love is also similar in terms of talent. Moving up to get Evan Turner is clearly their best option, even if it means taking on some ugly contracts or giving up another draft pick or two. As for their later picks, the T'Wolves should look to add depth on the wings, and add a shot blocking post player who complements Jefferson and Love. Ekpe Udoh would be a nice fit if he falls to 16. If he is gone they could take a Paul George, Luke Babbitt or Gordon Hayward. Any of the three would add a shooter that the Timberwolves lacked last season (no player on the roster averaged over 1 made three a game or shot over 40%).
Hard to imagine the Wolves getting even younger with 3 more first round picks and I think that they have enough overseas talent. Look for them to make multiple trades with picks and players. Their profile changes if they can pick up Turner and an athletic center, that will make them more attractive to Rudy Gay when they make an offer...and they better make an offer or the fans will start to riot. I wouldn't be surprised to see Dalembert or Anthony Randolph in their line up and either Love or Big Al gone, maybe Brewer would be part of a trade w/ Philly to get Turner.
Uhh Jarron Collins sucked. If Sloan liked him so much then why is he not with the Jazz anymore but the Suns?. We haven't had a shot blocking presence since the glory days of Greg Ostertag, PLEASE. He was horrible. I hated watching him. Try Mark Eaton. Never watched him play because it was in the late 80's and I was born in 87, but I have heard that he was great. I often thought Ostertag was lazy, and did not have any passion for basketball whatsoever. I think that he is the reason why we have never won a championship.
What about Marcin Gortat out of Orlando? He is a very mobile, young and big center that doesn't get much PT behind Howard. What would you think they would want for him?
I want us (the Thunder) to draft Sanders with our 21st pick, Pondexter or James with the 26th, and Craig Brackins with the 32nd.
Sanders because half of our post players are undersized (Green- 6' 9"; Collison- 6'9") and he can bring instant defense and shotblocking with his height and long arms.
Pondexter/James because we need a backup for Durant badly.
Craig Brackins because he would be a steal that late. At least people will see that he's a steal; he should go in the 1st round but he slid for no reason
please don't ever say
"the glory days of Greg Ostertag"
why does everyone forget about jerryd bayless? he's only 21 and still has an enormous amount of potential to be the starting pg.
I know I may be in the minority, but I think Patty Mills has a chance to be a very good point guard in the NBA. Before he got injured in college, he was projected as a top 20 pick. He thoroughly outplayed Stephen Curry when St Mary's played Davidson.
Also, I know it's the D-League but he absolutely dominated in his 5-game stint with Idaho, averaging 25.6 points, 5.4 assists and an impressive 50% three-point shooting. Obviously with the Blazers he won't be required to score as much but he's a very underrated passer.
While D-League statisctics are not necessarily an indicator of NBA production, Mills has shown the ability to rise to challenges and step up during big games. I am Australian, so I admit I'm a little biased, but it also means I've watched him play for many years. I have no doubt that if given the minutes, he'll rise to the occasion in the NBA as he has managed to do at each stage of his career thus far (including on the world stage). He has a very good head on his shoulders and is mature beyond his years.
To project his NBA potential, you only need to look at his play in the 2008 Olympics against the US when he scored 20 points with three steals against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd.
From what I've heard, he'll be given the reigns as the starting point guard of the Blazers' Summer League team. I think Bayless is better playing the two-guard and I'd like to see them form the second unit backcourt next season.
I know that not many people know much about him but here's an article I wrote about Patty Mills- http://bleacherreport.com/articles/319370-blazers-patty-mills-takes-d-le...
What does everyone else think of a super quick Mills-Bayless second unit backcourt?
The writer was joking when he said "The glory days of Greg Ostertag." Anyone with eyes could see that. Anyone who thought he was serious obviously missed out on his sarcasm. Great write. Hilarious and well thought out. Glory days? Ha! You sir, are witty. In other news, I agree that Patty Mills has a fighting chance. He's a strong player. I hope we get to see more of him soon.
Yeah, it was pretty easy to see that the writer's tongue was firmly in cheek with the "Glory Days" comment.
It's even a little more subtle than just straight up sarcasm too. The double entendre is that when Ostertag was the starting center, it actually WAS the glory days for the Jazz. I think the writer was alluding to the fact that Greg Ostertag actually had little to do with the glory days.
Perhaps I'm reading too much in to it. Either way, well written article and I thought the glory days comment was great.
Not so sure about the Northwest Division being 'chalk' full of talent though : )
I assume you meant chock-full? Unless the Northwest teams use a blackboard as opposed to the more contemporary whiteboard.
Maybe it should be a politically correct, non-discriminatory greyboard?
Now I'm definitely reading too much in to it.
Good article Tyler, your assessments are pretty much spot on in my opinion.
Glad you agree with me on Patty Mills, I think he can become a very good point guard in the NBA, and is a good fit with the Blazers.
I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes in his first summer league and preseason.
Hopefully he can stay injury free this time.
Well Brodie Jay -- if that is your real name -- I'm sorry, but my Dad is a professional chalk-maker for the CAA. Chalk has put food on my table, gas in my tank, and monkeys in my Barrel of Monkeys. So EXCUUUUSE ME if I want to show a little love to chalk! You dirty chalk-hater.
Anyway, it wouldn't be fair to count Patty Mills out yet. He still has a good deal of potential and makes sense off the bench. However, I can't see the Blazers going for any other position at the moment unless they plan on trading somebody (very possible). Who do you think the Blazers should draft in the first round this season?
mds0549 - I can see them making Rudy an offer, I just can't see Rudy accepting.
WesleyMatthews23 - Jarron Collins was on the team for eight seasons and he started 200 games. He had no redeemable qualities other than his size, his screens and his ability to draw charges. He was very obviously a Sloan-favorite. And yes, my Ostertag comment was sarcasm.
Sinister77 - Good idea. He would be a great fit in Minnesota's frontcourt. I think Orlando likes him, though.
Mc_lovin - Not bad, but they still need muscle in the frontcourt.
mj23bulls - I mentioned Bayless.
brodiejay - I couldn't have possibly explained the Ostertag line better myself (didn't think I would have had to). Also, I'm taking classes online and we use Blackboard. It's finals week and I think it's broken me noggin'.
And for the record, there are several gypsum (used to make blackboard chalk) mines, in the Northwest. So it looks like everything I said made perfect sense, and I can get my promotion now.
Rudy Gay is not going to leave Memphis for this team.
His agent will look for a max deal and if he does not get it they will work out a sign and trade. And guarantee you it will not be the Minnesota. Gay will flee to a major market where he belongs.
Nice write up. Agree with everything in the article - nice to see a thorough and well-thought out analysis. Look forward to more articles like this from this web site.
"And for the record, there are several gypsum (used to make blackboard chalk) mines, in the Northwest."
Ha ha. Touché. That's awesome. I can't really argue against that kind of research.
It would appear then, that the Northwest Division is in fact chalk-full.
I stand corrected.
As for who they should draft, I can't really think of any better option than what you suggested. As you pointed out, they're pretty chalk full at the wing and big positions.
Andre Miller isn't getting any younger, so the Blazers would be wise to stock up on point guards and hope that one of them pans out to be a capable successor.
A pure point guard would be ideal, but I think their potential options at #22 (Bradley, Bledsoe, Armon Johnson and Terrico White) can't really be described as traditional (set-up) point guards. Bledsoe is untested playing the one, so they may take a gamble on his the potential to play the position. It worked out for Westbrook.
Either way, as an Aussie, I hope Patty Mills becomes their Tony Parker/Barbosa-esque point man of the future.
i think the author meant the jazz low post defense has been so horrible such that even Ostertag's era was considered to be great in jazz's standard...
I think it will be interesting to see how Kevin Pritchard's supposed rift with Paul Allen will affect how the Blazers operate on draft day. Normally the Blazers are extremely active moving up, buying picks, etc but if Pritchard and Allen are having problems communicating I wonder if KP will have the same authority to make so many moves. Plus if Pritchard is on his way out (there have been many reports that he will be) idk if he has the same incentive since he won't be along for the long term.
It's a shame. I love seeing what the Blazers do on draft day
I'd also like to point out that Rudy Fernandez was frustrated all year with his diminished role so he'll probably want out, but the Blazers do still have Victor Claver overseas.
Nuggets: Moving into the draft to pick up Gani Lawal would be a great move. They desperately need frontcourt depth and youth as none of their bigs are exactly iron man's. Lawal is a high character, hard working, athletic big who's offensive game is growing and can spell Kenyon Martin when he needs right now.
Utah: Boozer is probably gone, and Center is the position of Need. Greg Monroe would be the best fit and they should do what they need to go up and get him. Aldridge is a solid pickup in that Joel Pryzbilla mold, but Monroe would add so much more and can play some 4 also.
Portland: Avery Bradley is almost a Bayless clone with better Defense and less range. Kevin Seraphin would be their best option at 22 where they can stash him in europ for a couple years as they already have a jammed frontcourt. With 44 Jarvis Varnado could be a solid guy that is ready for spot duty now and is a McMillan type hardworking, defensive minded big.
Oklahoma City: Should target, Damion James, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Kevin Seraphin. Damion James should be their main target as he would give them depth at the 3 position and is definitely the type of guy that would benefit well playing off of a Duran and Westbrook. He will also be able to run with them and play above the rim. He's also a high character guy that is ready to contribute, which seems to be how this team likes to draft.
Minnesota: PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM COUSINS!! -- This team does not have the veteran stability to keep Cousins in line and he is an Al Jefferson double. Jefferson is proven and Cousins could easily flop as Jefferson is a hard worker who has shown dedication to being in shape. Unless they wish to draft Cousins and trade him for multiple pieces, they should go after Wesley Johnson. Johnson will provide another athletic wing who can shoot to play alongside of Corey Brewer/Ryan Gomes/ Wayne Ellington, and will be a great player to run off of screens for set plays. Johnson could develop into a Danny Granger Type scorer who would look great next to Big Al. Jefferson will bounce back next year as it is known to take a full year to completely return from a knee injury.