Monday, June 26, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Northwest Division

Currently for next season, the Northwest Division is in a dogfight with the Atlantic Division for the weakest division in the NBA. The Northwest is a definite step down from either the Southwest or Pacific; you could call the Northwest the red-headed stepson of the West Conf. if you like. Well, somebody has to win this division, and once again it should be the Nuggets. The Nuggets won this division last season, was honored with the #3 seed in the West, and was thoroughly whipped by the #6 seed Clips in the 1st round. Even with that said, The Nugs have decent talent to deal with, especially a very solid frontline that has good size. The major issue for the Nugs is they have no one on the roster that seems to have the ability to hit a open jumper outside of 8 feet. They have to find not just one player, but multiple guys who can shoot, so to have pressure releases for Carmelo. I don't expect much out Portland once again this year, and they will be fighting for one of the top spots in the lottery again. Now Seattle, Minnesota, & Utah are sort of all jumbled together in the middle in my mind. I really do not see much separation between the teams, and I don't see any of these teams making much noise in the West Conf. next year. I mean they all have a chance of sneaking into the bottom of the West Conf. playoffs, but I can't see any of them getting out of the 1st round as presently constituted. Seattle is in serious cost-cutting mode, so I can't see any major deals for them. Minny has only their MLE and has a slew of mediocre guys with tough to move contracts. And Utah only has 6-7 guys on their current roster, so they just need bodies and barely have more than the MLE to use.

*--You will notice the two parentheses next to the team name. The first one will either have "MLE" or a dollar amount in it. This just states if the team has the Mid-Level Exception (which is roughly $5 mil this year) that is rewarded to every team that is over the salary cap. If a dollar amount is shown that means the team is under the salary cap. There are only a handful of teams under the salary cap (which has yet to be finalized, but should be around $50-52 million), they are as of right now: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Clippers, NO/OK, & Toronto; Utah might be slightly above the MLE, but that is not finalized at this point. The dollar amount is a rough estimation at this point, and can change to a degree for a myriad of technical things like cap holds, renounced rights, player options and the yet undetermined exact amount of this year's salary cap. The second parentheses just states the draft picks that each team presently owns.


DENVER (MLE) (#49): Shooting; SG; Back-up post player
-- Shooting, Shooting, & Shooting. Pretty plain & simple, I could probably end my Denver synopsis right there. I said it was a major deficiency at the start of the playoffs and made the point it would be their ultimate downfall and anybody who watched that 1st round series saw what happened. Melo's life was made miserable by the constant double & triple-teaming, and when he tried to kick out to his teammates it was a lost cause. The Nuggets have been trying to find a shooter or SG for two years now but have struck out twice. And they really hamstrung themselves when they couldn't get Manu 2 years ago and decided to throw their extra cap money at Kenyon when they already had Nene. This move screwed them last summer when there was a pretty good 2-guard crop of free agents. Then last year after they could not find a 2-guard, they felt compelled to show they did something in the summer, so they signed a third point guard to a 5-year, $5 mil deal. This is why I don't have a problem waving goodbye to Kiki. But as luck with have it this year, Denver only has the #49 pick in the draft and the free agent shooting guard class is pretty barren--Harpring & Flip Murray are the only guys who make any sense with the MLE. Although, not all hope is lost, because the Kenyon Martin fiasco has opened the door for some trade options. I feel the Nugs should definitely look to deal Kenyon's bloated contract and try to split it up into a couple returning players, no question one of the incoming players has to be a shooting guard. Then you would have a 2 and still have the ability to resign Nene. The Nugs basically have to make a decision between Kenyon or Nene. If they really want Kenyon instead, they need to sign & trade Nene. Even if they procure a shooting guard thru a trade, they still should look to sign a bench player who can drill it from deep; basically Denver should not be comfortable with only one shooter, they need multiple guys. They should keep tabs on guys like Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Radmonvic, or Devean George to use their MLE on. The Nugs also need to go after a back-up post player (Elson & Reg Evans are free agents), preferably someone who can give them a little low-block scoring that Camby or Nene don't really bring.

MINNESOTA (MLE) (#6, #36, #37, #57): Center; PG; Perimeter shooter
-- The Wolves' status is tough to get a handle on right now. First off, Garnett trade rumors have been flying since mid-season, but I don't think he goes anywhere unless he demands it. Another issue for Minny, is they have a handful of middling-type talent all signed to similar type $5 mil/year deals that all have at least 4 years left on the contract--Jaric, Hudson, Hassel, & Blount have these tough to trade deals. I think the first thing they need to look for is someone to replace Mark Blount in the starting line-up. I am not a huge fan of his and he's an inexcusably bad rebounder for a center; the Wolves can definitely do better. If Aldridge falls to #6, Minny should definitely scoop him up. I don't think its crazy to move KG to the 5 full-time. In today's NBA, I think you are going to see a move to more athletic frontlines, plus what centers nowadays will physically overwhelm KG? Shaq & Yao. Those guys are physical mismatches for most pure centers anyways. O'Bryant & Ced Simmons have to be bandied about as well, although the #6 might be a bit high. There is some uncertainty at the point guard as well. Right now they have a combined $12 mil per year invested in Marko Jaric & Troy Hudson for at least 4 more years. The problem is neither of them is quite starter quality and better served coming off the bench. Also, the guy they had starting at the end of the season, Marcus Banks, is a free agent and might be priced out of the Wolves' range. So this is why they are looking at guys like Marcus Williams, Rondo, & Randy Foye. It would not be out of the question for the Wolves taking a guy like Rudy Gay if he fell cause Trenton Hassell is the only small forward on the roster. The Wolves maybe should just go with the best player available strategy. Also, Minny could use someone who can provide some outside marksmanship lost with the trade of Wally. With the back-to-back picks in the 2nd round, the Wolves have to look at guys like Mike Gansey (W. Virg.), Leon Powe (Cal), Paul Davis (Mich. St.), & Nik Caner-Medley (Maryland).

PORTLAND (MLE) (#4, #31): Center; SF; Back-up PF
-- For an organization in all sorts of disarray in the locker room & board room, they could have really used the first pick. I think this franchise sees its possible savior in the Kool-Aid moustached, gym rat from the Northwest, and he might be the right fit. Morrison already has seemed to have endeared himself to the local fanbase that is hankering for players that don't have sketchy off-court activities. The Blazers could definitely use a small forward since its no secret that Darius Miles's days are numbered in Portland. The problem is that Morrison might not be there at #4, so they might need some contingency plans. Supposedly, Nate McMillan likes another Northwest product, Brandon Roy, and probably sees a lot of himself in the 6-6 guard with a good handle & defensive prowess. Although, the Blazers really don't need much help in the backcourt with 4 guys who can play the point and couple guys to man the SG, including Martell Webster. What the Blazers need is help up front: they only have 3 post guys on their current roster. If Joel Przybilla does not resign, Portland will have search for a starting caliber center, not to mention a back-up post player. Once again. the name LaMarcus Aldridge comes to mind if he falls to 4. Tyrus Thomas or Rudy Gay are possibilities as well if Morrison's gone. With the #30 & #31 picks, they should just look the opposite what they get with the #4--if they get a SF at 4, get the best post player available at #30 & #31 or vice versa. Players to consider at 30-31 are: James White (Cincy), Powe, Pittsnogle, Paul Davis, Shawne Williams (Memphis) & Alex Johnson (Fla St.).

SEATTLE (MLE) (#10, #40, #53): PF; Defensive Wing
-- Portland's Nortwest cousin is experiencing the same uncertain future and financial difficulties that could effect their off-season gameplan. I am sure that Seattle would love to get their hands on quasi-local product Morrison, but they would have to work some magic to move up. The same situation needs to happen if they want Seattle's own B. Roy. Nonetheless, the Sonics need to address defensive shortcomings first & foremost. This year's squad was one of the worst defensive teams of all-time, although some of that has to placed at the feet of Bob Weiss; like I've said before, coaches who are nice guys equal bad team defense 90% of the time. I am not so sure Bob Hill is too nice, I am just not sure he's a good coach. I will not be surprised if he's the first coach to get the axe this year. It seems like the Sonics have set their sights on Sheldon Williams at the #10 and he's probably the best interior defender in the draft, so I think its a good choice, especially with Chris Wilcox in limbo as a restricted free agent. The only problem is Atlanta supposedly has their sights set on him as well, so it could come down to which team can trade up to grab him. If Sheldon's not there, Ced Simmons is the best choice for a PF. This team could also use a back-up wing who can defend a little considering Damien Wilkins is there only 2/3 back-up behind Allen & Lewis. I think Bobby Jones would be the exact perfect fit at #40 if he's there. He played at U of Wash., he's probably the best perimeter defender in the draft who can guard 1s, 2s, & 3s, and he has the potential to be a Bruce Bowen-clone. There is also a chance that Rashard Lewis could opt out of his deal after this season, so this makes the case for Morrison even more convincing. So at #10, Seattle also has to consider either Rod Carney or Ron Brewer if they don't like the bigs left on the board.

UTAH ($5-7 mil) (#14, #46, #47): SG; Defensive Big; Back-up PG
-- Utah's cap situation is not totally set yet because some optioned contracts are yet to be finalized, but basically the Jazz should not have much more than the MLE to play with this summer. Last time I checked, the Jazz only had 6 players on their current roster, so they definitely have some holes to fill. The biggest need is for an athletic shooting guard who creates some scoring chances. It seems like all signs point to JJ Redick, which is not that surprising since the Jazz see the possible next coming of Jeff Hornacek. The only problem is JJ has some serious questions if he can create his own shot consistently at the next level and he might not really be that different than the guy he might unseat, Gordon Giricek. If I was Utah, I think guys like Carney, Shannon Brown, & Mo Ager are better fits for what they need. They also need an athletic presence on the frontline that Okur, Boozer, & Araujo lack. So if they don't want to go 2-guard at #14, a guy like Saer Sene or Hilton Armstrong could fill that athletic void. The Jazz also could use a veteran back-up at the point to spell Deron Williams. Right now Deron's the only point on the roster, so a guy like Speedy Claxton, Chuck Atkins, or Bobby Jackson could be had with some of the MLE. They might also have to consider resigning Harpring cause they have no wing back-ups at the current time either.

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