Thursday, June 14, 2012

The NBA Offseason Tip Sheet - Atlantic Division

The poster child of the NBA offseason, wearing the most ironic shirt ever.
Even though the Finals are far from over, this past NBA season is done and over with for 28 teams. For those clubs, the focus has shifted from the practice facility to the combine, from game planning to cap management. From now until next fall, the game is a radically different one, one where mere competency seems to be a rare luxury and one where panic and stupidity typically rule the day.

Yes, it’s the NBA offseason, the time of the year where fat players like Big Baby Davis get even fatter contracts! Why do they get these contracts? Perhaps the Magic also own a struggling chain of local buffets…we may never know. (If that is the case, then I expect them to throw BIIIIIIIIG money at Boris Diaw)

It’s no secret that the offseason is not always the NBA’s finest hour. Draft picks are constantly wasted, max contracts handed out to secondary players, and role players courted like superstars. It really is a mess. A big, giant, tragic mess. And even with a new CBA in place last fall, the league’s top executives STILL couldn’t stop making idiotic moves!

Since common sense is such a struggle for these people, I thought I’d take the time and offer a helping hand this offseason. Each team needs to make a move or decision of some kind, whether it be big or small, and I’m going to give each and every team one such move they should make.  We’ll start with the Atlantic Division and work our way through the league.

Boston Celtics

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $35.5M
The Move:  Offer Roy Hibbert a max contract

OK, OK, I know you probably think I’m suggesting this only out of my blind love for Roy Hibbert (especially video game Roy Hibbert). I’ll admit, there may be a hint of truth in that, but I swear on my beautiful green Celtics hat that I honestly and truly think this would be a huge move the C’s, if they could pull it off. First and foremost, let me say that any move Boston makes should come AFTER bringing Kevin Garnett back. KG was dominant in the playoffs, and I would likely cry to see him in another uniform. He’s that important. But beyond that, I’m not wed to any other outgoing free agent, Brandon Bass and Ray Allen included. And if I’m being realistic, there really is no responsible way to bring everyone back and still add the necessary pieces. There’s cap space enough to retain Garnett and add a marquee guy, and Hibbert is absolutely the player they should go after. Shot blocking, rebounding, and overall size was a major issue for Boston in the postseason, and Big Hib would singlehandedly solve all those problems. Plus, having a rim protector of his caliber would allow Rondo and Avery Bradley to be much more aggressive in forcing turnovers. Basically, I feel confident the 2012-2013 Celtics could win a title with Hibbert in the middle. (Don’t forget, Boston has its full MLE as well. Bringing Jeff Green back is very likely.) And since Hibbert is still just 25, his addition will continue to pay dividends even after KG and Pierce are gone.

Of course, as with any good plan, there’s a slight snag. Hibbert is a RFA, meaning the Pacers have the right to match any offer. Whether they would match a maximum contract, I’m not sure. My gut tells me they would, which is why I’m doing my best to not get excited about the possibility of Big Hib wearing Celtic green. If they do match, then I’d like to see them go after Spencer Hawes. Hawes is a still developing player, but showed signs this year of being the type of rebounder/rim protector we all thought he could be. Plus, his ability to step out and hit jumpers is a nice bonus, especially considering the relatively modest amount he would cost.

Brooklyn Nets

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $15.5M
The Move:  Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray…and then pray some more that Deron Williams returns
The Move II:  Don’t overpay Brook Lopez

This franchise will be an absolute mess if Deron Williams bolts in free agency, so there’s really no use in talking about adding ancillary pieces like Ersan Ilyasova until that has been settled. Either way, a tricky decision must be made on Brook Lopez, whose rookie deal couldn’t have expired at a worse team. He’s certainly an excellent scorer and a player that most any team would love to have, but his diminishing rebound rates are extremely troubling. Add in the ominous lower body injuries he suffered last season, and you have a potential death trap on your hands. He’d certainly be worth the risk on a shorter deal (2yrs $18mil?), but anything more than that would be a terrifying risk. Think of it this way: retaining Williams, Wallace, and Lopez on long term deals would put the Nets up against or over the cap for at least three years. Is a trio of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez going to win anything? Didn’t think so.

New York Knicks

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $63M
The Move:  Patience

I’m well aware that saying the word “patience” in the Knicks facility is akin to yelling the “F” word in a crowded pre-school, but it really is the best course. In fact, given their cap situation, it’s pretty much the only course. After the Knicks use the MLE to retain Jeremy Lin, they will have no way to add additional talent (no first round pick, either), unless of course you consider minimum contract guys, like Mike Bibby, to be “talent.” Moving Amare has been oft-talked about, but giving him away for 40 cents on the dollar is not a plan, it’s a panic move. The fact is that the Knicks are in the position they’re in because of moves like that. They panic signed Amare after missing out on Lebron, and they panic traded for Carmelo in response to Miami’s moves. Now, thanks to their impatience, they’re almost certainly going to lose Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, and Landry Fields for nothing, leaving them with a painfully thin roster.

That’s not the only reason to be patient, though. The team responded to Mike Woodson down the stretch, and it’s vital for them to see what they actually have. After all, we really haven’t seen them all play together yet. Can Carmelo and Amare co-exist? Is Jeremy Lin for real? How good can Iman Shumpert be? Can these guys actually play defense together? Is Amare eroding or was it just injuries? Those are all questions that need answered, and muddying up the waters with more drastic moves will only add to those questions without really answering any of them.

Philadelphia 76ers

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $49.1M
The Move:  Amnesty Elton Brand and trade Evan Turner for a scorer

First and foremost, let’s just agree that Elton Brand isn’t worth the $18.2mil he’s due next season. No, he wasn’t a bad player – in fact, he was fairly good last season – but the emergence of Lavoy Allen definitely makes him expendable. Besides, Brand’s value lies mostly on the defensive end of the court, whereas Philly’s biggest area of need is offense. That leads me to the trade of Evan Turner. Most people seem under the impression that Turner turned the corner last season. Uh, not so much. Sure, he improved from his rookie season, but that isn’t really much of an accomplishment at all, and it certainly doesn’t mean he was good. Turner’s 12.6 PER was well below average, his shooting was as awful as ever, and his .068 Win Shares per 48 minutes (league average is .100) shows that he wasn’t a major contributor to Philly’s success. Those numbers got worse in the playoffs, where he posted a 9.1 PER, a .414 TS%, and an unbelievably bad .001 WS per 48 minutes. The most astounding part of it is that Turner, a player drafted for his offensive ability, contributed negative offensive win shares in both the regular season and the playoffs. He can’t shoot well enough to play on the wing, and he can’t distribute well enough to play point. Basically, he’s the exact opposite of what Philly needs. Yet, for whatever reason, there seems to be plenty of teams still in love with him. With Turner still having value, and with the extra cap space from Brand’s amnestied contract, the 76ers could be in a prime position to pick up a big time player.

If I were Philly’s GM, the first call I’d make would be to Memphis, inquiring about Rudy Gay. The Grizzlies will be in luxury tax territory this coming season, and a swap of Turner and a pick for Gay would be a huge get. Sadly, I doubt Memphis is in the market to dump contracts now that they have a rich new owner. That being the case, my next call would be to Atlanta. The Hawks and Josh Smith seem destined to part ways, even if it makes little sense, and the Sixers would be wise to scoop him up. Smith would give them much more offensive punch at the PF spot, while sacrificing none of the defensive Brand brought to the table. Also, his high post passing would only enhance the ability of slashers like Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young. Plus, they would still have $15mil+ of cap room to retain some combination of Lou Williams, Spencer Hawes, Jodie Meeks, and Lavoy Allen.

Toronto Raptors

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $41M

Rumor is that the Raptors are actively shopping their pick (#8 overall), and have targeted Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala. First of all, let me just say they’re nuts if they think either the Grizzlies or 76ers would give away their guy for just the #8 overall pick. The only way Toronto could entice them is by throwing in DeMar DeRozan or Jonas Valanciunas, and that would be about the dumbest thing ever. All Toronto will accomplish by sacrificing young talent for an Andre Iguodala level player is to thrust the franchise into NBA purgatory, which is exactly where you DON’T want to go. Better to be really bad then right in the middle. With DeRozan, Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, and Ed Davis, the Raptors already have an intriguing collection of young talent. The #8 pick, especially in this draft, gives them the chance to add yet another young piece, and that opportunity can’t be passed up for the chance at four or five extra wins. After all, you can’t win without a superstar, and Toronto simply can’t get one of those unless it is through the draft. They should swing for the fences with the #8 pick and let these young guys develop.

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