Team Needs: Pacific Division
The champion Lakers made it out of the Pacific division as the only playoff team. It clearly didn’t hurt them for their playoff run. Next year won’t be the same. Shaq aka The Big Cactus has a team of veterans in Phoenix, the Clippers have the 1st pick in the draft, and Golden State is loaded with talent. Kobe’s Lakers ripped through the Pacific last year with a 14-2 record, but next year should be much more challenging with nearly every team on the rise.
Los Angeles Lakers
2008-2009 Record (65-17, 1st in Western Conference)
Returning Payroll - $51.8 mil
Guaranteed Contracts: PF/C Pau Gasol ($16.5 mil), C Andrew Bynum ($12.5 mil), SF Adam Morrison ($5.3 mil), SG Sasha Vujacic ($5.0 mil), PG Derek Fisher ($5.0 mil), SF Luke Walton ($4.8 mil), PG Jordan Farmar ($1.9 mil)
Restricted Free Agents: SG Shannon Brown ($797,581)
Player Options or Early Termination Options: SG Kobe Bryant ($23.0 mil)
Expiring Contracts: SF/PF Lamar Odom ($14.1 mil), SF Trevor Ariza ($3.1)
Team Needs: Young, athletic point guard
Draft Picks: 29th pick (1st round), 42nd pick (2nd round), 59th pick (2nd round)
The champs have some work to do in the off-season. Both Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza are free agents. Both were integral parts of the Lakers run through the postseason. Odom is 29 years old and Ariza is 23. The Lakers are sure to sign one of these guys, but signing both could prove to be difficult.
The younger and more athletic Ariza established two things during the playoffs. First, he is a top notch defender. He's everything that a good perimeter defender needs to be: long, quick, and active. Second, he established himself as a dead-eye three-point shooter (nearly 48% in 23 playoff games). Putting both parts of Ariza's game together and it makes him a very attractive free agent, especially at 23 years old.
Odom may be more effective than Ariza. He's bigger and can do a little bit of everything: rebound, blocks shots, and score the basketball. With more of a track record, he will probably command a little more money than Ariza. The champs have their work cut out, but both Ariza and Odom want to stay in LA and try to repeat for the title. Jerry Buss has that to his advantage, and by the start of training camp next year, both Odom and Ariza should be back in purple and gold.
Another issue that the Lakers are faced to deal with is their current situation with veteran point guard Derek Fisher. Fisher hit some huge shots for the Lakers in the finals, but his struggles were very apparent. Backup guard Jordan Farmar has been hot and cold thus far in his career. Drafting at 29 could be a spot where a proven point guard is available. With so many point guards in play, drafting one could shore up a future problem for the Lakers, if Farmar isn't the answer. Local UCLA product Darren Collison makes sense. He should be available at 29 and could inject some youth and athleticism into the Lakers back court.
If the Lakers decide to go another route, they could draft a small forward for an insurance policy in case Ariza or Odom get away from them. Gonzaga's Austin Daye is a big wing like Odom, but is likely a few years away from contributing. Georgetown's Dejuan Summers or Victor Claver of Spain could also be options here.
2008-2009 Record (46-36, 9th in Western Conference)
Returning Payroll - $62.3 mil
Guaranteed Contracts: C Shaquille O'neal ($20.0 mil), PF Amare Stoudemire ($16.4 mil), SG Jason Richardson ($13.3 mil), PG Steve Nash ($13.1 mil), G Leandro Barbosa ($6.6 mil), G Goran Dragic ($1.8 mil), C Robin Lopez ($1.7 mil), SF Jared Dudley ($1.3 mil), SG Alando Tucker ($1.1 mil)
Restricted Free Agents:
Player Options or Early Termination Options:
Team Options: Louis Amundson ($855,189)
Expiring Contracts: SG/SF Grant Hill ($1.9 mil), SF Matt Barnes ($1.2 mil)
Team Needs: backup point guard, small forward
Draft Picks: 14th pick (1st round), 48th pick (2nd round), 57th pick (2nd round)
The Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs for the first time since Steve Nash re-signed with them in 2004. GM Steve Kerr has blown up the team somewhat in the last year. He traded their best and only perimeter defender in Raja Bell, sending a message that he wants this team back at a fast pace, outscoring teams. Bringing in Shaq changed the landscape of the team but he actually picked up his game when he arrived in Phoenix, and now seems very comfortable playing as a Phoenix Sun.
This team is going to be competitive in the West if they stay healthy. But, now with Shaq and Nash getting older, the health issue is a big concern. If injuries, age, or anything derails the season and they are not competitive, Shaq and Amare's expiring contracts will most likely be dealt to a contender to clear up cap space for 2010 season.
The most concerning position for the Suns is small forward. Grant Hill played 82 games last year, his most healthy season in years, but he is a free agent. As is Matt Barnes. Between Hill and Barnes they took up most of the minutes at the 3 spot. With the 14th pick, the Suns will most likely be looking for a small forward. Even if both Hill and Barnes re-sign, Phoenix would be better served adding some youth and athleticism to their small forward position. Wake Forest's James Johnson is a very athletic small forward and would be ideal at the 14th pick for the Suns. Another option is Louisville's Earl Clark. He doesn't have the polish or offense of Johnson, but he is longer and more versatile.
Another concern for the Suns is their point guard situation for with Steve Nash in the final year of his contract. The two-time MVP does not need a replacement for now, but he could use qa back up. He is still main guy in their explosive offense. But, as it seems every year, no one is there to let him sit down for 10-15 minutes a game without the Suns drastically losing production at the point. Leandro Barbosa is a scoring guard, although he covers the point when needed. Goran Dragic played some point down the stretch of the season with mild success, but never logged long minutes for a big stretch of the season. If the Suns decide not to go the small forward route, this could be the year to grab Nash a full-time backup and let Barbosa stay where he belongs at the two-spot.
Golden State Warriors
2008-2009 Record (29-53, 10th in Western Conference)
Returning Payroll - $53.1 mil
Guaranteed Contracts: G Monta Ellis ($11.0 mil), PF/C Andris Biedrins ($9.0 mil), SG/SG Corey Maggette ($9.3 mil), SG/SF Stephen Jackson ($7.7 mil), PF Ronny Turiaf ($4.2 mil), SG Kelenna Azubuike ($3.1 mil), PG Brandan Wright ($2.7 mil), Kosta Perovic ($2.1 mil), PF Anthony Randolph ($1.8 mil), SG Marco Belinelli ($1.5 mil), SG Anthony Morrow ($736,420)
Restricted Free Agents: None
Player Options or Early Termination Options: G Jamal Crawford ($9.4 mil)
Expiring Contracts: PG Marcus Williams ($1.3 mil), C.J. Watson ($711,517)
Team Needs: point guard, scoring option in post
Draft Picks: 7th pick (1st round)
The Golden State Warriors were not able to recover last year from losing their leader and point guard in Baron Davis. Not making the playoffs was a disappointment for a team with proven players. The good news is that the Warriors have four of their best players locked up long term. Guard Monta Ellis and center Andris Biedrins are locked up until 2014 and guard/forward Corey Maggette and guard Stephen Jackson until 2013. All the Warriors need is to stay healthy and play together and their undeniable talent should take them to the playoffs.
To add to their talented roster, the Warriors have the 7th pick in the draft. It appears they will try to grab one of the talented point guards in the draft and move Monta Ellis to the two-spot, where he is more comfortable and an explosive scorer. In 2007-08 season, when Ellis played shooting guard alongside Baron Davis, he averaged 20.2 ppg and shot 53.1% from the field, amazing for a shooting guard. Syracuse's Johnny Flynn or prep phenom Brandon Jennings are the probable choices. Davidson's Steph Curry could be chosen with the 7th pick, and would work well in Nelson;s offensive system, but he is not expected to be there when they pick. Arizona's Jordan Hill would aslo offer them excellent value at their pick, if available.
The big-men situation looks like it could be a few years off. Andris Biedrins is a great player, and although he finishes at the top of the league in field goal percentage every year (57.8% last year), he doesn't have much of an offensive arsenal. Most of his points come off of offensive rebounds and drop-off's. The Warriors could really be exciting next year if their young big-men come to play. Their two 1st round picks in 2007 (8th pick Brandan Wright) and 2008 (14th pick Anthony Randolph) will have to contribute or else this team will be depending solely on their perimeter to get most of their offensive production. Both Wright (21 years old) and Randolph (19 years old) showed signs of contributing consistently last year, but it will have to be on a game to game basis if the Warriors are to have a balanced attacking team.
Health is the biggest issue for Golden State next year. After a year of injuries from most of their key players, Ellis (25 games), Maggette (51 games), and Stephen Jackson (59 games), the Warriors will be looking for a more consistent starting lineup. If that happens, and they add a solid point guard, Golden State should be back in the playoff picture next year.
Los Angeles Clippers
2008-2009 Record (19-63, 14th in Western Conference)
Returning Payroll - $59.7 mil
Guaranteed Contracts: PF Zach Randolph ($16.0 mil), PG Baron Davis ($12.1 mil), C Chris Kaman ($10.4 mil), C Marcus Camby ($9.7 mil), SG Eric Gordon ($2.8), SG/SF Ricky Davis ($2.4 mil), SF Al Thornton ($1.9 mil), SG Mardy Collins ($1.9 mil), C/PF DeAndre Jordan ($736,420)
Restricted Free Agents: F Steve Novak ($797,581)
Player Options or Early Termination Options: PF Brian Skinner ($1.3 mil)
Expiring Contracts: SG Fred Jones ($616,658)
Team needs: SG/SF depth
Draft Picks: 1st pick (1st round)
Losing Elton Brand in the offseason to Philadelphia was a big blow for the Clippers. Even so, expectations were high. They signed home-town point guard Baron Davis to a five year deal and stole defensive stud Marcus Camby from the Denver Nuggets (but now they have to pay him). Eric Gordon was picked with the 7th selection fitting a much needed two-guard hole. But, after a 19 win season it's clear that the Clippers had not changed their fortunes despite adding a good deal of talent.
The Clippers only have one pick this year, but they don't need any more. The lottery balls bounced their way and they wound up with the top pick in the entire draft. Shortly after, the Clippers announced that they are taking national player of the year, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, a no-brainer.
With Griffin on board next year, the Clippers will have to clear some room for the young stud. A rotation of big-men that consisted of Griffin, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Zach Randolph would be unmatched by just about every team in the league. But, one of these players (Randolph if possible), if not two, are sure to be moved to another team. It does not make financial sense for the Clippers to keep all four, and it may take minutes away from Griffin.
There is not a glaring hole that the Clippers need to fill. Baron Davis is their point guard. Rookie Eric Gordon proved he could score the ball this year, averaging 16.1 ppg, and 2nd-year small forward Al Thornton scored at a 16.8 ppg clip. Both Gordon and Thornton are young and have their best days ahead of them. Combine that perimeter with the big men mentioned, and the team doesn't seem to be in desperate need of anything. But, as is the story every year with the Clippers, they may have problems meshing together and playing at a high-level consistently. The history would tell us not to expect the Clippers in the playoffs next year, but it will not be for lack of talent.
2008-2009 Record (17-65, 15th in Western Conference)
Returning Payroll - $51.2 mil
Guaranteed Contracts: SG Kevin Martin ($10.2 mil), PF Kenny Thomas ($8.8 mil), SF/PF Andres Nocioni ($7.5 mil), PG Beno Udrih ($6.0 mil), PF/C Spencer Hawes ($2.3 mil), G Francisco Garcia ($5.8 mil), PF Jason Thompson ($2.0 mil)
Restricted Free Agents: PF Ike Diogu ($3.9 mil), SG Rashad McCants ($3.6 mil)
Player Options or Early Termination Options:
Expiring Contracts: G Bobby Jackson ($6.1 mil), PF Cedric Simmons ($1.7 mil), C Calvin Booth ($1.1 mil)
Team Needs: point guard, small forward
Draft Picks: 4th pick (1st round), 23rd pick (1st round), 31st pick (2nd round)
The Sacramento Kings ended up with the league's worst record and the draft lottery wasn't too kind to them, pushing them back to the 4th selection in the draft. Good news is that they select at 23 and 31 as well. After finishing with just 17 wins, it's clear that the Kings will be using their selections to add the best player possible regardless of position.
Kevin Martin can score the ball. He averaged 24.6 ppg, but missed 1/3 of the season due to injuries. Rookie Jason Thompson (11.1 ppg, 7 rpg) and 2nd-year guy Spencer Hawes (11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) showed enough last year that they should be logging big minutes at the forward and center spots next year. Guard Francisco Garcia was consistent (12.7 ppg in 65 games). Other than that, nothing is for certain.
Before last season, point guard Beno Udrih signed an unexpected 5-year extension. Less than a year later Sacramento was trying to dump his salary before last season's trade deadline. Needless to say, the Maloof brothers aren't happy about their point guard situation. With the 4th pick in the draft, their problems could be solved. Depending on which way OKC goes with their 3rd pick, Spain's Ricky Rubio could be available, and the 19 year old is highly coveted, a magician with the ball. Rubio is somewhat of a high risk selection. But, most NBA scouts seem to agree that Rubio's ceiling is higher than any point guard in the draft.
If Oklahoma City does select Rubio at 3 it puts the Kings in a complex situation. It would mean that Arizona State's James Harden is available or possibly the 7-2 Tanzanian center from Uconn, Hasheem Thabeet. It is unlikely that either of these player would slip past the Kings at four. Then, with obvious point guard issues still looming, Sacramento would have solid point guards still available at 23 or even 31.
The 4th pick will depict how they draft later on. But, the Kings will be pleased if they get the Spanish point guard and then are able to add a couple of athletes with the 23rd and 31st pick.