Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The NBA Offseason Tip Sheet: Southwest Division

There's no good reason why this blog isn't called "It's Dragic Time!"
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.  As we move through the Western Conference, we now look at the Southwest Division. In case you missed them, here are the previous tip sheets:

Dallas Mavericks

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $41.4M
The Move:  Amnesty Brendan Haywood and sign JaVale McGee

OK, so obviously the REAL move is to sign Deron Williams, but I doubt Mark Cuban needs any help on coming to that conclusion. But even if Dallas does land Williams (he can’t seriously pick the Nets over the Mavs, right?), they’ll still have a decent chunk of cap room and a big, giant, Tyson Chandler sized hole in the middle. While McGee isn’t yet the defensive force Chandler was, he certainly has the ability to be that and much more. His athleticism and defensive range complement Dirk well, and he’s shown flashes of significant offensive ability.

Before we go any further, let’s be up front about this; Dallas will definitely have to overpay to pry him away from Denver. The Nuggets are going to match any reasonable offer, which means a team like Dallas will need to throw serious cash JaVale’s way in order to secure him. I know this, and I’m still saying they should go for it. For one, the earth shifted on its axis last offseason when Cuban declined the opportunity to overpay a seven-footer (Tyson Chandler). My entire worldview was pretty much obliterated at that point, and Cuban needs to square things. But even more importantly (because the first one is DEFINITELY important), McGee actually has the chance to EARN that type of money! Playing for an organization like the Dallas Mavericks is exactly what a young player like McGee needs to reach his full potential. System-wise, his abilities would be maximized thanks to the heavy usage of zone defense and the presence of unselfish superstars like Dirk and (potentially) Deron Williams. And really, how could JaVale not begin to maximize his abilities under the coaching of Rick Carlisle?

For an aging team like the Mavs, this is exactly the type of risk they need to be taking. At worst, McGee is a fairly close facsimile of Tyson Chandler. At best, McGee is an elite defensive anchor and a devastating finisher around the basket. Even if the truth lies somewhere in between, McGee, at just 24, is a solid building block for a franchise that desperately needs an infusion of youth.

Houston Rockets

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $33.4M
The Move:  Trade Kyle Lowry and #16 Overall for Tyreke Evans and Hassan Whiteside

Houston has made so many efforts to land a superstar throughout the years, and it just hasn’t worked out. Even when they actually made a trade for one, it didn’t happen! But the real question I have is how big an impact would a guy like Pau Gasol make? Would he push them over the edge or something? Is Houston even remotely close to contending? In my mind, the answer to both those questions is no, and because of that, I’m tossing out any suggestions involving Pau Gasol, Andre Iguodala, or other veteran “semi-stars.”

Instead of gearing up for some fanciful championship run, what Houston should be doing is flipping their assets for young cornerstone pieces. Lowry appeared to be one of those guys, but the late season emergence of Goran Dragic has made him totally expendable. For the Kings, however, he would hold enormous value. Lowry would fill their gaping hole at PG and would finally give them a facilitator to set up their glut of shooters/gunners. If they’re as insistent on dealing Evans as they seem, then Lowry very well might be the best fit on the market.

For Houston, the upside of this deal is obvious. Evans has the talent and ability to become the franchise player Darryl Morey has been seeking. Not only that, but they’d retain one of their first round picks AND land an intriguing big man prospect in Whiteside. Plus, they wouldn’t have to sacrifice the cap room that a deal for Gasol or Iggy would entail, leaving them the ability to be aggressive in free agency (JaVale? Hibbert?).

Memphis Grizzlies

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $62.4M
The Move:  Draft John Jenkins #25 Overall

The Grizzlies have every reason to be disappointed in last season’s early playoff exit, but they have absolutely no reason to panic about it. The truth is that Memphis was put behind the eight ball early on when they lost Darrell Arthur before the season and franchise forward Zach Randolph during it. Even when Randolph returned, he was clearly not the same player, and that was likely the biggest factor in their early exit.

But that wasn’t the only cause of their demise. Memphis hit just 4.2 three pointers per game last season (27th), shooting an unholy 32.6% from downtown. Part of that can be attributed to an uncommonly bad shooting season from Rudy Gay (31%!), but only a small part. The fact is that Memphis has had perimeter issues for a few seasons now, and that’s only going to get worse with the inevitable departure of O.J. Mayo. Thus, Jenkins has to be the pick. Jenkins is definitely not the ball handler or creator Mayo is, but he brings one thing to the table that Memphis desperately needs; shooting. Really, really good shooting. As a Kentucky fan, I’ve watched a lot of SEC basketball over the years, and I’ve seen Jenkins play quite a few times. Let me tell you that there hasn’t been a player in the conference for quite some time who has scared me as much as John Jenkins. He has a lightning quick trigger, possesses a Ray Allen-like ability to move without the ball, has unlimited range, and needs almost no space to get off a clean look. Basically, he’s open the moment he stands on the floor. Memphis doesn’t need another do-it-all playmaker; they need a guy who can bury long range shots, and Jenkins is as good at that as anybody I’ve seen since Steph Curry.

New Orleans Hornets

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $38.3M (will change drastically if they buy out Rashard Lewis)
The Move:  Sign Goran Dragic

I absolutely love this fit for New Orleans, and they definitely have the cap space to do this (and more) after they hoodwinked the extremely hoodwinkable (I invented that word) Ernie Grunfeld. At 26, Dragic definitely fits the youth movement New Orleans is going with. His aggressive drive-and-kick style would make him an ideal fit alongside Eric Gordon, and his mastery of the pick-and-roll would only enhance Anthony Davis’ game. And since Davis’ offensive game is still a work in progress, Dragic’s aggressive scoring would be invaluable.

A trio of Davis, Gordon, and Dragic is more than just a good way to start; it’s a foundation upon which you can build some pretty darn good teams. And thanks to Dell Demps’ deft handling of the team’s cap situation, New Orleans will have a four year window (Davis’ rookie deal) to do pretty much whatever they want in the free agent and trade markets. The future is bright. Very bright, indeed. And Dragic is a great place to start.

San Antonio Spurs

2012-2013 Cap Number:  $49.1M
The Move:  Give the full MLE to Jeff Green

San Antonio is severely limited in what they can do this offseason unless they decide to make drastic changes. Considering how close they were to the Finals, it’s doubtful they’ll go that route. So since deals involving Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, or any of their other core players are unlikely, that leaves them with just the MLE. And with that MLE, I’m suggesting they go after Jeff Green.

Short term, Green offers an immediate upgrade over Danny Green, who pretty much crapped his pants in the playoffs. He’s bigger, he’s more athletic, and he’d be much more effective against the Kevin Durant’s and the Lebron James’ of the world. Plus, his versatility gives them Boris Diaw insurance…not just insurance for if they aren’t able to sign him, but insurance in case Diaw eats himself to death during the regular season. Long term, Green holds even more value. He represents a huge opportunity for the aging Spurs to add a potential cornerstone on the cheap.

(In case the MLE isn’t enough for Green, the Spurs should retain Danny Green and use their MLE on Marcus Camby. Or get Tony Parker some better bodyguards. Either one should be fine)

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