Needs: SG, SF, PF, C
Picks: 22, 52
When free agency commences, the Nuggets will devolve into one of the league’s shallowest teams after playing the last two months of the season as the league’s deepest squad. The Nuggets could experience a mass exodus of free agents: Kenyon Martin, Nene, J.R. Smith, Aaron Afflalo, and Wilson Chandler might all be coming off the books, meaning PG (Lawson and Felton) will be the only position that they’re set at.
It’s difficult to tell who they’ll focus on re-signing. Smith appears to be the one most likely to leave because of the attention he’ll command from contending teams such as the Bulls, and they might not be too eager to bring K-Mart back after he played up to about a third of the worth of his ridiculous $91 million contract. Otherwise, Aaron Afflalo fits in very well and is a favorite of Nuggets management, and Chandler plays extremely well alongside Gallinari. Nene is the biggest variable, and while both sides seem to be amicable when it comes to discussing an extension, there’s no telling whether another team might make him a massive offer.
All this uncertainty would suggest that the Nuggets will go for the best prospect available. The pool of prospects that the Nuggets will consider based on their standing should include Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton, and Marshon Brooks, and Harris might be the best fit of the bunch with his nose for the basket, ability to play both forward spots and potential to be a great rebounder for his position.
Needs: SG, C
Picks: 2, 20,
Entering their fifth rebuilding year, the Wolves have managed to regress despite endless additions of productive young players. After winning 22 games in 2007-08, 24 in 2008-09, and then just 15 in 2009-10, the Wolves managed just 17 wins last year despite Kevin Love’s emergence as a borderline allstar and Michael Beasley’s long-awaited transformation into a top-notch scorer.
Despite all the high draft picks, the Wolves had accrued in previous years, they were without a decent point guard or center, and Wesley Johnson had an average rookie year given his NBA-ready billing and ample playing time. Jonny Flynn was injured most of the year and didn’t look like his old self upon returning, Ricky Rubio is is signed but has regressed some as his shot has not improved, and Darko Milicic, despite finishing fifth in the league in blocks, had an atrocious PER of 12.29 (40th among centers).
The Wolves payroll only looks to be around $42 million next year, but don’t expect them to make a play for any major free agents. This team is hurting with ticket sales in a small market. With Johnson’s development in his second year a major variable, the Wolves should wait one more year before they offer up a big contract. They could perhaps target a player of Eric Gordon’s caliber in 2012.
For all the laughable moves that GM David Kahn has made in the last couple years, at least he’s succeeded at bringing in top young talent at zero expense. Kahn landed Michael Beasley for just a second round pick, and Anthony Randolph for bust Corey Brewer. After two disappointing seasons in Miami, Beasley boosted his scoring average from 14.8 to 19.2 points per game, and Randolph averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 boards in just 20 minutes after averaging just 2.1 points in 7 minutes with the Knicks. Despite their depth at the big forward position, don;t look for them to pass up Derrick WIlliams if he;s available to them.
This is a team with a heavy International scouting staff and considering Minnesota’s difficulties in convincing top players to stay in town, going the international route, ala Toronto, might be a good idea. Going with the top bigman in the draft in Kanter would address their biggest team need but they would be passing up a bigger talent in Williams if he’s available.
Oklahoma City Thunder
No team has fewer needs, in the short-term and for the long-term, than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant and Westbrook, the franchise cornerstones, are both 22, while the team’s third and fourth best players, Ibaka and Harden, are both still just 21. Their new center, Kendrick Perkins, is 26, and they have top role players Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Eric Maynor all locked up for next season. Making the Western Conference finals was an enormous, even historic achievement for the Thunder considering how young and inexperienced they are, and it’s a scary sign for the other 14 teams in the West. They could certainly use a SF to relieve Durant once in a while, but who’s complaining?
GM Sam Presti has done his job as well as anyone in the league over the last four years, hitting with every top five pick (a group that now includes Harden, who looks to be either the best sixth man in the league in a year or two or a starter who can give you 17-20 points a night) and while keeping the cap low. They may find themselves with one of the league’s highest payrolls in two years, however; Russell Westbrook’s rookie contract expires at the end of this season and he’ll likely command a max deal; Ibaka and Harden have relatively cheap team options that can be picked up that year, but when it comes time for them to sign extensions, at the rate they’re improving, they could command over $20 million per year combined.
None of these concerns are immediate, however, as the Thunder have a full year to decide what they’re going to do with their core. What they will have to address, however, is the need for a complementary scorer. Durant, Westbrook and Harden are the only guys that can consistently create offense for themselves, a problem that was illuminated against the Mavs. If the Heat can be vulnerable without a dependable fourth scorer, you can bet the Thunder will be as well for as long as they continue with just three solid scorers. There may not be a quick fix in the late first round, but there’s also no doubting that Marshon Brooks, Tobias Harris and JaJuan Johnson know how to score.
Backup PG Eric Maynor has been solid but is said to be on the trading block with OKC rumored to have a promise in place with Boston College’s Reggie Jackson. Jackson would give the team a back up more similar to Westbrook meaning there wouldn’t be any change of pace when Westbrook exits the game.
Portland Trail Blazers
Needs: PG, SG, C
Picks: 21, 51
A healthy lineup of Miller, Roy, Wallace, Aldridge and Oden, with Matthews, Batum, Camby and Fernandez off the bench, is a serious contender. You have all the right pieces: two go-to scorers, excellent wing defenders, top-notch post defenders and rebounders, a few three-point marksmen and terrific size. The sad reality for Portland is that Brandon Roy will probably never be his old self again and that Greg Oden, now a restricted free agent, may end his run with the Blazers after stepping on the court just 82 times.
The fact that they still have all those pieces in place, however, suggests that they could still make a run if they can figure out how to make it work. Depending on his health, re-signing Oden should be a priority, as he’s still just 23, and with Camby’s contract running out at the end of the year, they need a center anyway.
The Blazers won’t have any cap space this offseason, but they wouldn’t mind if they brought the same team next year. Aldridge exploded last year and was one of the league’s top dozen players for the entire season, finally fulfilling his potential. He’ll even be a bargain next year at $11.8 million. Wesley Matthews silenced the critics of his new, big contract by averaging 16 points and continuing to play terrific defense, and Nicolas Batum continues to make strides towards becoming a high level small forward in the league. Andre Miller was as reliable as always, contributing 12.7 points and 7 assists while playing 80+ games for the 12th straight year, and Camby, at age 37, still managed 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Miller is down to his team option, and it’s likely that the Blazers will pick it up as he’s one of the most dependable point guards in the league and provides valuable veteran leadership. The Blazers are essentially relying on three older players now: The 35-year old Miller with his team option, the injury-plagued Roy and the 37-year old Camby.
The team is eyeing Kenneth Faried would be great fit as a rebounder for this Blazers squad. Nikola Vucevic could be an option as a scoring center. A high-level scorer like Jordan Hamilton could also thrive given Roy’s limited playing time.
Needs: PG, SG, SF
Picks: 3, 12
As far as trading away a superstar is concerned, the Jazz appear to have gotten a decent return on their deal: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and likely either Brandon Knight or Enes Kanter. Knight and Kanter are hard to compare as prospects, with Knight being the much better fit and Kanter the more potential-laden risk. With the 12th pick in hand as well, and as many tradable assets as any team in the league right now, the Jazz hold as much power as anyone heading into the draft. Everyone besides Favors is expendable.
Kanter is the better prospect, but the Jazz already have one of the league’s most talented frontcourts, a group that includes Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Mehmet Okur. Selecting the Turkish big man would likely mean trading away at least one of their bigs, with Okur or Millsap the ones most likely to go. There are plenty of teams that would like to get their hands on Okur and his $10.9 million expiring contract, and Millsap, despite his awesome productivity, is also expendable as a result of Utah having relatively short big men; they can’t afford to start a 6-7 PF and a 6-10 C, especially when neither is an excellent defender.
Favors is clearly the future at PF, and the best possible complement to Al Jefferson. Big Al tries on the defensive end and is a very good shot blocker, though he’s slow and can be found out of position quite often. Favors’ measurements are scarily similar to Dwight Howard, though, where Jefferson’s previous frontcourt mates (Love and Millsap) were either similarly slow or gave up a lot of size on a consistent basis. The Kanter argument revolves around the notion that you can’t have too many good big men in today’s league, and the thought that they could potentially add local product Jimmer Fredette at 12.
Another option the team is said to be exploiring is Jonas Valanciunas whose buyout and NBA readiness would likely keep him in Europe next season. Utah would surely take him at 12, and might even consider him at 3. Although it would be difficult to explain to fans why the 3rd pick in the draft isn’t with the team next season.
The backcourt is similarly troubled. C.J. Miles has frustrated Jazz fans with his inconsistent play, though he improves each year, could eventually average 16 or 17 points, and is definitely worth the $3.7 million option that the team is debating picking up. Devin Harris is the definition of a solid point guard in the league, but he isn’t the future of this rebuilding team.
At 12 a true SF like Jordan Hamilton is a real need with Kirilenko coming off the books. The Jazz would like to re-sign Kirilenko, but he may get a better offer from a team that isn’t in rebuilding mode. Despite not remotely living up to his max contract, AK47 will surely be missed.