Monday, June 25, 2012

The NBA Offseason Tip Sheet: Northwest Division

Because we all need a little more JaVale in our lives...
Now that the Finals are over and the actual games are done, 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’re on to the Western Conference, starting with the Northwest Division. In case you missed them, here are the previous tip sheets:

Denver Nuggets
2012-2013 Cap Number:  $49.7M
The Move:  Resign JaVale McGee

I’m very hesitant to suggest this, since the contract will almost surely be more than anyone should want to pay, but Denver is in an extremely inflexible situation right now. They have around $35M tied up in Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Chris Anderson, Al Harrington, Kosta Koufas, Corey Brewer, and Timofey Mozgov. That’s certainly not a bad collection of players, but that’s an awfully large chunk of cap space to sink into role players. Consequently, they don’t have the ability to go out and make a big deal. And with Ty Lawson’s rookie deal expiring after the season, they won’t have cap space for the foreseeable future. Therefore, if they pass on McGee this summer, they will have no ability to replace him.

Of course, there are other reasons to resign McGee besides the “I guess we HAVE to” one. JaVale has always been a supremely gifted player with the potential to turn into an absolute wrecking machine on both ends of the floor. The fact that he possesses, arguably, the lowest basketball IQ in history is really the only thing holding him back. But JaVale made some very positive strides after Washington shipped him off – no doubt a result of NOT playing with Andray Blatche and the rest of the Wizards’ gunners – culminating in an impressive showing in their first round series against the Lakers. Yeah, the risk of giving him a big deal is certainly there, but the risk of cutting bait on a seven footer of his ability is even higher. He and Kenneth Faried are immediately one of the league’s best defensive frontcourts, and the continued development of those two is Denver’s best chance at contention.

Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-2013 Cap Number:  $47.8M
The Move:  Trade Derrick Williams and the #18 pick to Charlotte for the #2 pick
The Move (cont.):  Draft Bradley Beal #2 overall

Minnesota is shockingly close to being…good? Yeah, it’s pretty weird to think David Kahn might have actually done some things right, but this team appeared destined for the 8th seed prior to Ricky Rubio’s injury. But it’s a long ways from the 8 seed to an NBA championship, and the Timberwolves simply have to get more help on the perimeter for that to happen. I mean, their current SG is…Wesley Johnson? J.J. Barea? Wayne Ellington? That’s just not good enough.

With Derrick Williams being blocked by Kevin Love, he is easily their best and most available trade chip. And with Charlotte looking to deal out of #2, they are easily their best and most available trade partner. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like Williams and #18 would be enough to get #2. With that pick, Minnesota would finally be able to acquire the type of dynamic playmaker they need at SG. And going forward, a core of Love, Rubio, Beal, and Pekovic could easily put together a dominant decade-plus run.

Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-2013 Cap Number:  $63.8M
The Move:  Trade James Harden and Serge Ibaka for Dwight Howard and J.J. Redick

This is easily the biggest, most dramatic move I’ve suggested, but I think it offers a ton of value to OKC from two sides:

1. Monetary value – Harden and Ibaka are super cheap right now, but that won’t be the case after next season, when their rookie deals expire. I can already guarantee you that Harden will get a max deal, or close to it, and that Ibaka won’t be far behind. But are they worth that type of money? For Harden, the answer is a definite maybe. The dearth of quality SG’s in the league right now certainly increases his value, but if the Finals has illustrated anything, it’s that Harden is nowhere near the class of Durant, Lebron, Wade, or even Westbrook. If I’m going to sink franchise money into a guy, I guess I actually want him to be a franchise player. As for Ibaka, I think the answer is a lot clearer. No, he’s not worth the money. Sure, he brings plenty of defense and shot blocking to the table, but he brings almost no offense to go along with it. That’s fine in the regular season, when OKC can obliterate Golden State and Charlotte every night, but it’s clearly a problem against a team like Miami. The Heat have turned OKC into a straight jump shooting team, and Ibaka has been totally unable to manufacture easy points inside. That ability is a must if I’m handing out big bucks.

If OKC were to go ahead and lock those two up that would give them four max (or near max) contract players. And Kendrick Perkins for $25.5M more. And that’s just the starting lineup! With the increased luxury tax penalties, the cost of maintaining this roster would be enormous! So from that angle, the idea of packaging those two players for one true superstar makes a lot of sense.

2. Basketball value – I mostly explained this above when I detailed why Harden and Ibaka aren’t worth max contracts. Both players have flaws in their games, and neither provides what OKC needs most – interior scoring. Not only would Howard solve that issue, but he’d also UPGRADE OKC’s already stellar low post defense.  And in getting a valuable role player like Redick, OKC would maintain their depth and stellar perimeter scoring.

Look, I know this deal isn’t happening. For one, we don’t know if Howard would sign an extension with OKC. If not, then this deal is stupid. For another, Sam Presti has steadfastly refused to shake things up. But decision time is coming for Harden and Ibaka, and it’s questionable whether they can really keep both. This is, perhaps, OKC’s last opportunity to make a move like this before their cap situation becomes too inflexible, and they would be wise to take advantage of the Dwight Howard situation. Honestly, I can’t think of a more well matched “Big Three” then Durant, Westbrook, and Howard. Their games would complement each other perfectly. If it were to ever happen, then the league might as well close up shop for a decade, because OKC would simply own the league.

Portland Trail Blazers
2012-2013 Cap Number:  $29.7M
The Move:  Trade the #6 overall pick for Tyreke Evans

It’s shocking that Portland is in this situation since, not too long ago, they had a foundation of LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Greg Oden. Aldridge is all that is left after Roy and Oden’s careers were effectively ended by knee injuries. But now, thanks to the incompetent Nets, it appears as if luck has crept its way onto Portland’s bike trails. So why deal such a high draft pick for a shaky guy like Tyreke Evans?

For starters, the #6 pick has historically been extremely unfruitful. Since 1985, only six #6 picks have ever made an All-Star game. Only two of those players ever made it to multiple All-Star games (Antoine Walker and…Brandon Roy). Even more telling is the average PER of just 13.1 and the miniscule EWA added per season of 2.8. And the players…man they’re terrible! Recent #6 picks have included Jan Vesely, Ekpe Udoh, Jonny Flynn, Yi Jianlian, Martell Webster, Josh Childress, Dajuan Wagner, DerMarr Johnson…and that’s just since 2000! So while the #6 pick SOUNDS really good, it’s actually not a great asset.

Thing is, everyone thinks it is!!! Which is exactly why dealing it for Tyreke Evans is such a brilliant move! I talked about Evans in my Chicago Bulls suggestion, so you pretty much know how I feel about him. To recap, I think he might be the best value on the market right now. Evans still needs to figure out his game, and obviously work on his shot, but he’s already a well above average player and he has the potential to be a full blown superstar in the future. For a rebuilding team like Portland, that’s exactly what they need. After all, a foundation of Aldridge, Evans, and Nic Batum is pretty darn good. Plus, since Evans is still on his rookie deal, they would maintain plenty of cap room to be aggressive in free agency (Roy Hibbert? Goran Dragic?). With a little luck, Portland could quickly find themselves back in contention.

Utah Jazz
2012-2013 Cap Number:  $51.5M
The Move:  Trade Paul Millsap to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala

Perhaps it’s playing in Utah that has shielded the magnificence of Paul Millsap from our eyes. Or perhaps it’s the fact that he eerily resembles Shelden Williams (who is a terrible, TERRIBLE basketball player). Either way, Millsap is a stud, and his performance last season was key in Utah’s surprising resurgence.  The undersized big man posted a sterling 21.8 PER and .179 EWA per 48 minutes. In case you were wondering, he’s ranked one spot ahead of Dirk Nowitzki in both categories…so yeah, he’s good.

So why trade him? Well, when you have Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter, something has to give. And since Jefferson’s contract (and game) would severely limit their market, Millsap is the guy. The fact is that Utah simply can’t keep Favors off the floor any longer, not even for Millsap. The young big man made huge strides last year and looked like a future star against San Antonio. He MUST play, which means Millsap MUST go.

Millsap for Iggy is, perhaps, the best match I’ve come up with yet, and I honestly don’t see how this wouldn’t happen in real life. Millsap would be a big upgrade at the PF for Philly, while Iggy would give Utah the dynamic wing player they need to take the next step. His complimentary style would fit well the Jazz’s post-up heavy offense, and his defensive presence would free up Gordon Hayward to focus on scoring. Even more importantly, his ability to play “point-forward” would make up for Utah’s inadequacies at the PG spot. And since Iggy’s contract expires after the season, Utah wouldn’t lose any payroll flexibility.

This one is too obvious. It’ll never happen…

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