Thursday, June 29, 2006

NBA Draft Recap & Analysis (West Conference)

DENVER: None (Traded the rights of #49 Leon Powe to Boston)
-- I was loving this pick when they made it, but then they turned around & made a boneheaded move; I thought Kiki had already left town. They had a guy in their hands who has 1st round talent, and also fills a void for a back-up post player & then you deal him for basically nothing. He's a 2nd round pick, you're not even financial obligated to him, its like a free player at this point. And if you don't want Powe, why do you pass on a guy like Mike Gansey as a 2-guard? To me, the Nugs should be doing everything in their power to pick up as many SGs in anyway they can. Its like the Nugs' front office is secretly playing cruel jokes on Melo. GRADE: F

MINNESOTA: Randy Foye (Villanova) (#7 via Port.); Craig Smith (Bost. Coll.) (#36); Loukas Marokefalidis (Greece) (#57)
-- I am not quite sure why Minnesota did not just take Foye at the #6, has anyone answered this question yet? Anyways, they got there hands on a pretty good player, although it will be interesting to see what position he plays. I am not so sure he works well playing the point alongside Ricky Davis, although having him paired with Jaric could work well. Craig Smith should have not even been drafted. Classic undersized PF with short arms & little athleticism--Powe has much more pro potential. GRADE: B-

PORTLAND: LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) (#2 via Chi.); Brandon Roy (Wash.) (#6 via Min.); Sergio Rodriguez (Spain) (#27 via Phoe.); Joel Freeland (England) (#30)
-- I pretty much liked what they accomplished. They picked up arguably the best player in the draft & they started off in the #4 spot. I think Aldridge could work well with Randolph cause Zach can do all the bruising work on the low block & LaMarcus can float out. I would be interested to find out why they did not take Morrison & how there fanbase will react? Although, that possible negative fan base reaction could be tempered with the addition of another Northwest product, Roy. I am sure Coach Nate has to be jacked that the Blazers found a way to pick up Roy and he's probably already penciled in as the starting 2-guard. Not really sure why they needed to pick up Sergio--even with Telfair gone the Blazers still have 3 points left on their roster that saw significant time last year. I imagine they will keep Freeland oversees for awhile, and I am sure they don't want to pay four 1st round contracts this year. GRADE: A-

SEATTLE: Saer Sene (Belguim) (#10); Denham Brown (UConn) (#40); Yotam Halperin (Israel) (#53)
-- For the third year in a row, the Sonics go after another young 7-footer who's a major prospect. Not really sure why they went this direction again, especially when they picked up a similar, raw player last year in Petro. Ced Simmons was still on the board and he would have made more sense, especially with Wilcox's status in limbo. There's some talk that this was more a penny-pinching pick where they stash Sene over in Europe for a couple years so the Sonics do not have to pay him now. Denham Brown is a nice pick-up at #40 because the Sonics really need depth on their wings, especially a player who can defend like Brown. GRADE: C

UTAH: Ronnie Brewer (Arkansas) (#14); Dee Brown (Illinois) (#46); Paul Milsap (Louisiana Tech) (#47)
-- Utah was one of the top performers on draft night in my opinion. They picked up the athletic 2-guard they needed in Brewer. I probably would have taken Carney, but I have no big problem with Brewer here. Ronnie makes the Jazz a pretty tough defensive tandem on the wings with Kirilenko. The Jazz also needed a back-up point, and they maybe found one for Deron Williams in his former college teammate, Dee Brown. At #46, he was a great pick-up since he might have been the only point guard of substance still left on the board. The Jazz think they might have the second coming of Malone--not quite. Milsap is not a very good athlete, but his rebounding numbers can transfer over well. GRADE: A

DALLAS: Maurice Ager (Mich. State) (#28)
-- At the #28, picking up a player of Ager's caliber is pretty nice. He provides a sweet insurance policy if you lose Jerry Stackhouse next summer in free agency. Ager also shoots the ball pretty well, so that could come in handy if Jason Terry bolts this summer, as well as Van Horn possibly leaving. GRADE: A

HOUSTON: Steve Novak (Marquette) (#32); Lior Eliyahu (Israel) (#44)
-- They had Rudy Gay in their hands and dealt Gay & Stromile to the Grizzlies for Battier. Some people are up in arms about this trade and think its a fleecing by Jerry West. I don't think its quite that extreme--Battier is a very underrated player who is a good outside shooter & defender. Also, I don't think they were happy with Swift and he is more of a back-up anyways. But on the other hand, Gay shoots the ball pretty well, and has the potential to be a very good defender himself. And I'm not really sure why the Rockets feel the need to have to bring in Battier's defense when their team defense is already very good & is always good under Van Gundy. I think Gay had the potential to give the Rockets a more dynamic 3rd scoring option and I would have held on to him. Houston now has to find a starting quality PF and they only have their MLE, which is probably not enough to lure Chris Wilcox or Drew Gooden away from their teams. I think the Rockets have the second coming of Matt Bullard with Novak and that is the exact same comparison I've been making for a couple months. But I am just not a fan of taking him this high in the 2nd round. First off, he's slow. Not just an average kind of slow, I mean even slower than guys you play with at lunchtime at the YMCA. You know the type-- the middle-aged guy who wears knee pads & Rec-Specs and is a general danger cause he's so unathletic and can't out of the way of fouls. All he can do in the NBA is standstill shoot & is strictly a specialist who can only play like 8 minutes a game. I know the Rockets need shooting around Yao & Tracy, but why not take Pittsnogle, who can shoot nearly as well, and at least has the ability to play more meaningful minutes cause he has the body to guard centers. Novak can't dream of guarding anyone at the next level. GRADE: D

MEMPHIS: Rudy Gay (#8 via Hous.); Kyle Lowry (Villanova) (#24); Alexander Johnson (Fla State) (#45 via Port.)
-- For starting off the day with only one pick in the lower first round, Jerry West showed he still has the ability to work magic. They found a way to acquire Gay, who has maybe the heighest ceiling of anyone in the draft, at the #8 and immediately filled their most crushing need of a potent perimeter scorer. It still must have been hard though to part with Battier because he's one of the best role players in the NBA, but the Grizzlies badly needed someone who can create some offense. They re-acquired Swift in the deal and I am not really sure if that was good or not. I mean he already played in Memphis, and they did not feel the urgency to impede him from going to Houston last summer, so I am not enamoured with him. The other need for the Grizzlies was a point guard, and they found one at #24 in Lowry. Although, I think that Farmar or Rodriquez were better choices at that spot because I don't think Lowry can ever be a starter in the NBA, and the other two possibly can. But its not a total error, because they do need a back-up point right now anyways. Getting Johnson that late in the draft was a minor steal as well. He was being projected as a possible late 1st rounder and could have been even a good pick at #24. GRADE: A-

NEW ORLEANS/OKLA: Hilton Armstrong (UConn) (#12); Cedric Simmons (NC State) (#15); Marcus de Souza (Brazil) (#43)
-- The Hornets had a pretty good day grabbing the best big guys on the board at the time and helped fill their biggest hole in the draft. I proposed Hilton as the optimal pick in my Team Needs, and they got a center they are badly missing. Simmons fell a little lower than expected, and I can't really fault the Hornets for taking him. They have David West at the PF, who was nice surprise this year, but they don't have much depth behind him, so the Ced pick works. You could have made a case that they needed to find a SF, but Shawne Williams was the only one on the board who would have made some sense, so its not a big deal. They might have found a decent SF anyways in the 2nd round in Souza. He was mentioned sometimes as a possible late 1st rounder, so maybe the Hornets have a minor steal on their hands. GRADE: B+

SAN ANTONIO: None (traded the #59 pick, Damir Markota to Milwaukee for future 2nd round picks)
-- San Antonio was probably not going to find anyone at #59 who can help them now and the Spurs' time is now. Although, I am slightly surprised they did not keep Markota because they love to stash Euros picks and Markota has a promising reputation. Will see what they do with their other Euro properties like Luis Scola & Robert Javtokas this summer assuming they only have their MLE to use. GRADE: Incomplete

GOLDEN STATE: Patrick O'Bryant (Bradley) (#9); Kosta Perovic (Serbia) (#38)
-- Alhtough, I am highly skeptical of O'Bryant's future in the NBA, at the 9 spot it was not a bad choice. The Warriors's biggest need was for a center and he was probably the best on the board, besides maybe Armstrong. O'Bryant does showcase more offensive skills than Hilton, and the Warriors are need of some post scoring. I don't think Brewer would have been out of the question here, because the Warriors need a ball-handling SF to play with chuckers like Baron & Richardson. Brewer also brings good defense, another thing missing from the Gold St. attack. Perovic is a big center who's name has been floating around for a few years, but he is very slow, even by Euro standards. GRADE: B-

LA CLIPPERS: Paul Davis (Mich. State) (#34); Guillermo Diaz (Miami) (#52)
-- I really liked what the Clips did at the spots they were picking. The biggest hole for the Clips is frontcourt depth considering they currently only have Zelly Rebraca as their only true post back-up behind Kaman & Brand. So they go pick up the best big on the board in Davis, and a guy who can help right away off the bench. He's a strong guy who can rebound well & be valuable in pick-n-pop situations. With the #52, they got a relative steal with Diaz, a guy who has late-1st round talent. He could work very well next to Livinston as an undersized 2 who can guard points while Livingston can guard 2s. Things seem to be really turning around with this organization. GRADE: A

LA LAKERS: Jordan Farmar (UCLA) (#26); Danilo Pinnock (Geor. Wash.) (#58 via Dall)
-- Although I don't think Farmar is quite the perfect fit to play next to Kobe, for him to drop to #26, its a pretty good idea to grab him. The Lakers needed a point guard, and Farmar was the best on the board. He does not shoot the ball great from deep, but he's alright. The Lakers would prefer a better shooting point, but the Lakers should feel good cause they needed just a point guard of any kind and they got a guy who is potentially starter material. The only other guys that would have made sense at that spot were either Ager or Gibson. Gibson could have been an interesting fit next to Kobe. GRADE: B

PHOENIX: None (Traded the #21 pick, Rondo to Boston; Traded #27 pick, Rodriguez to Portland)
-- If I am a Suns' fan I would be a little concerned right now. There are rumors that owner, Rob Sarver, is let's say frugal, but the Suns moves on draft night were discouraging & puzzling. What was the incentive for giving up Rondo to Boston? Just so Boston would take Brian Grant's $1.5 mil contract off your hands? That's a little scary. If you don't want Grant's contract, just buy it out--its so small of an amount by NBA standards. And you also give up Rondo's contract which is barely $1 mil a year with Grant's to save about $2 mil, when you could use a back-up point, very troublesome. Then you do the same exact thing with another promising PG with an even smaller contract at #27. On top of that, you did not even get a defensive big & you had Boone there who could have helped you right away. I highly doubt now that they resign Tim Thomas & those Marion rumors seem a lot more viable. Maybe the Suns' team is not the wave of the future. The only reason I don't give the Suns a "F" is because they could still win the title with their current roster, so this poor showing should not really effect them this year. GRADE: D

SACRAMENTO: Quincy Douby (Rutgers) (#19)
-- The Kings screwed up this pick, and you usually don't say that when Geoff Petrie's involved. They just added another 2-guard (Douby is a 2, have no delusions he can play PG), after adding a SG the last 2 years. Kevin Martin played pretty well this season and showed a lot of poise in the playoffs. The Kings also have Garcia and you need to give him time to develop. Most importantly, the Kings needed either a back-up PG or defensive big and all the major PGs were still on the boards. Rondo would have been the ideal fit because he could have brought some much needed defense at PG. In the case that Bobby Jackson might come back, then the Kings should have taken Josh Boone who would have given some interior defense that the Kings are lacking. GRADE: F

NBA Draft Recap & Analysis (East Conference)

BOSTON: Rajon Rondo (Kentucky) (#21 via Phoe.); Leon Powe (Cal) (#49 via Den.)
-- Not a bad day for Ainge, he really stocked up on their biggest hole, PG. He got a point guard who can be a possible starter down the road in Rondo from the Suns for basically a small amount of money. He also picked up Telfair in a trade from Portland. Getting Powe from Denver for small potatoes was a steal in my mind. They don't necessary need him, but a guy who has legit 1st round talent, on par with a Ike Diogu, and to fall that far, why not take a chance. Although, with the two young points coming in you maybe are starting to see signs of that Iverson deal brewing and one of the points being shipped out. GRADE: B

NEW JERSEY: Marcus Williams (UConn) (#22); Josh Boone (UConn) (#23); Hassan Adams (Arizona) (#55)
-- Absolutely loved what they've done. By far, the biggest winner this draft day. They needed a back-up PG. So they have the best point in the draft who should have gone in the top 10 fall to them. Now they have someone they can groom to be their point of the future. They needed a PF who could rebound, defend, & run the floor. Guess what? They fit that need perfectly with Boone. I am a Boone fan and he has the ability to be just as good of a pro, if not better, than the guy who was taken at #5, Shelden. I know he's got desire issues, but I think he's going to be a solid pro. Also, to pick up a guy like Adams that late in the 2nd round, was not too shabby either. He could really work well playing next Kidd, filling lanes on the break. GRADE: A+

NEW YORK: Renaldo Balkman (South Carolina) (#20); Mardy Collins (Temple) (#29)
-- Let's just say I am with the majority consensus. Isiah might want to head down to Kinko's to refresh that resume. The Knicks could have used a role-playing SF, just not this one, especially at #20. They really don't need more guards but when all those point guards started to tumble you have to grab one. I think the NYC fanbase would love an old-school PG like Marcus Williams, but it was not to be. I did not mind the Collins pick at the #29 with the guys left on the board. He's a guy who would work well alongside the collection of undersized 2s of the Knicks and he has good defensive skills. At 20, passing on Boone as well was a little mind-boggling for Balkman. I have to admit that I am not as totally down on this pick as everyone else. Believe me, I think is was mostly bad, but Balkman is the type of player that the Knicks need to look for at the SF position. Its just you need to find a more talented version of Balkman, because I'm not sure he's even NBDL-quality. GRADE: D-

PHILADELPHIA: Rodney Carney (Memphis) (#16 via Chi); Bobby Jones (Wash.)(#37 via Min); Edin Bavcic (Bosnia)(#56)
-- Although, I'm a big Carney fan and believe he should have no way fell pass #11, he still might not be what the Sixers really need. The Sixers have Iggy to do the things that Carney does. I mean its not crazy to stock up on another athlete like Carney, but you really needed a point & all of the top points were still on the board. Marcus Williams would have been my pick. To me though, this could just be a precursor to more deals to come in Philly, based around Iverson. Trading for the rights of Bobby Jones was a great move. Bobby was my ultimate sleeper in this draft and he provides what the Sixers badly need: defense. The Sixers have to get some credit for upgrading their perimeter defense & adding some serious athletes.

TORONTO: Andrea Bargnani (Italy) (#1); PJ Tucker (#35)
-- Not a big surprise. Colangelo had his sight aimed at him for awhile. I would have taken either Aldridge, Morrison, or Gay, but again I've only seen highlights packages of Andrea. The issue about his rebounding has to be put in some context though: over in Europe a lot of the time big guys have to guard away from the basket a fair amount, so who's to say when he guards closer to the basket in the NBA he can't grab more boards. Just a theory to consider. Tucker was a solid pick where they were picking, but I think Denham Brown, a Canadien, might have been just as good. Brown also is a solid defender, which the Raps need. GRADE: B

CHICAGO: Tyrus Thomas (LSU) (#4); Thabo Sefolosha (Switz.) (#13 via Phila.)
-- I am not as hot on these picks as everyone else. They had the guy that makes much better sense in Aldridge & traded him away. They really need scoring from their interior--Thomas is like a smaller version of what you have in Chandler. Another thing, Thomas might have to switch to the 3, and you already have rising talent there with Nocioni & Deng. Sefolosha was the guy they wanted to provide a big defender at the 2. He looks pretty athletic in his highlights, but he might be more of a SF as well. I am not really sure why the Bulls are so concerned about adding these defensive-minded players when they are already one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. And Skiles can get overachieveing effort from any mediocre defender. Its the offense that should be upgraded right now, especially in the post. GRADE: C+

CLEVELAND: Shannon Brown (Mich. State) (#25); Daniel Gibson (#42); Ejike Ugboaja (Nigeria) (#55)
-- I really liked what they did here. At the #25, they got arguably the best player on the board & someone who can fill the void left by Flip Murray by bringing some scoring off the bench. He's also a solid outside shooter that can work well next to LeBron. Then at #42, they got a guy they were rumored to be looking at with the #25, Gibson. I said I liked that rumor in my Team Needs section, and I think he's a great fit next to LeBron. You got a late-1st round talent at 42 who can possibly be your starting point in the future. He's more of a combo, but you don't need a pure point like Farmar who was there at 25, you need someone who can shoot & defend next to Bron. GRADE: A

DETROIT: Will Blalock (Iowa St.) (#60); Chieck Samb (Senegal) (#51 via Lakers)
-- The Pistons only had one pick & it was last one of the night in Blalock. You can't really fault Detroit because one of their main needs was PG, and this guy might be their long-term back-up. GRADE: B+

INDIANA: Shawne Williams (Memphis) (#17); James White (Cincy) (#31 via Port.)
-- I am not really sure I like the pick of Williams. They already have a guy similar to him that they drafted in the same slot last year in Dan Granger. They could be losing Peja, so I guess its not totally misguided. But at that point in the draft they should have went with the best player available & I felt like that in my Team Needs section. Again, Marcus Williams would have been a better call or maybe even Rondo. I do think the White trade for Alex Johnson was pretty good. He might be the best athlete in the draft and the Pacers need to add a little more transition baskets to their plodding offense. GRADE: C

MILWAUKEE: David Noel (UNC) (#39); Damir Markota (Croatia) (#59 via Spurs)
-- The Bucks had only second round picks & went with arguably the best athlete in the draft at #39. But that's all he pretty much is-- an athlete. I would have either went with Leon Powe or Alex Johnson to maybe help fill their biggest hole at the PF. Markota is not a bad pick-up. He's a guy that has gotten good buzz for a couple years now and he's a typical Euro big who can float out & shoot. GRADE: B-

ATLANTA: Sheldon Williams (Duke) (#5); Soloman Jones (So. Florida) (#33)
-- Well, at least Billy Knight keeps his word. They also seemed to luck out a little that Aldridge didn't fall, which would have made their guarantee look really bad. It still looks fairly dumb from my perspective. You had two guys in Foye & M. Williams, who are better players than Shelden & that would have filled a even bigger void the Hawks have. Another thing, quality PGs are a much harder commodity to come by than role-playing 4s, and you should not pass on them 2 years in a row, especially when the free agent crop is shaky. Jones was not a bad pick since there were no quality points left on the board and Soloman maybe gives you a back-up at center, something that is needed. GRADE: D

CHARLOTTE: Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) (#3); Ryan Hollins (UCLA) (#50)
-- It was either Gay or Adam here, take your pick. You can't fault the Bobcats either way they chose. Adam immediately becomes their #1 scoring option. He's going to be asked to do a lot of heavy lifting on offense. I think they liked his marketing potential--they did it last year with Felton & May--although I am not sure if that was the tiebreaking factor. I have to imagine Jordan loves his competitive fire. Hollins was a nice pick-up at 50, cause the Bobcats could maybe use a back-up at center since Mel Ely could be leaving in free agency. GRADE: A-

-- The current champs sat this one out. They have to take care of their bench issues in free agency. Their trade options are very limited--maybe Doleac, Dorell Wright--although Riley worked some magic last year in a similar quandary to get Walker.

ORLANDO: JJ Redick (Duke) (#11); James Augustine (Illinois) (#41)
-- The Magic made a big mistake passing on Carney & also passing on Brewer. Too high for JJ. Carney provides you with pretty good shooting, not as good as JJ, but good enough for the defense to respect him. On top of that, he's better in every other aspect of the game by a lot. Carney could really be a terror to stop going to the hole with the tight hand check rules. You think you can say the same about JJ? Also, you really need someone to play defense between the less than stellar Nelson & Hedo. I have a feeling Darko & Howard are going to be picking up fouls like crazy trying to clean up all the defensive lapses from their perimeter. Augustine's not a bad choice there, hopefully adding some depth behind Darko & Dwight, but maybe a guy like Hassan Adams might have been better since the Magic are going to need some defensive perimeter help.

WASHINGTON: Oleksiy Pecherov (Ukraine) (#18); Vladmir Veermenko (Russia) (#48)
--To me, the Wizards did not have a really productive draft night. They had major needs for a pure point or a defensive big, and they failed to address them. They had a handful of points sitting there on the board at #18 and they passed on all of them. Rondo would have been a great fit here cause he can bring a little defense to the porous Wiz defense. I don't know much about Pecherov, but it does not seem in his scouting report is any mention of defensive prowess. Not sure what Grunfeld was thinking. GRADE: D-

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NBA Draft Preview--Top 25 prospects (Part I)

Most people do mock drafts this time of year and I myself do love examining mocks from all over the World Wide Web. But this year's draft is the most unpredictable affair I can remember in awhile. You could really shuffle the top 5-7 players into a variety of permutations, and there is by no means a consensus #1. All this uncertainty has led to a rash of trade rumors with teams looking trade up or down, or even completely out of the 1st round, which can shred a mock to pieces.

Instead of a mock, I decided to just rank the players. This is not the order I see them being picked, this is just the order I feel that they should be ranked by talent & potential. This list only has NCAA players. I did not rank foreign guys because I've only seen limited, edited highlight packages of them, so I don't feel like I have a good handle on them.

I decided to rank 25 players because it seems like a consensus that there will be 5-6 foreign guys drafted in the 1st round, which equals the 30 first round prospects. The foreign players being mentioned for the first round are: Andrea Bargnani, Sergio Rodriguez, Saer Sene, Thabo Sefolosha, Ole Pecherov, & Joel Freeland. Bargnani has a great chance of going #1 to Toronto and it seems he's at least a sure-fire top 7 pick. The obligatory Dirk comparisons have been made ad nauseum, but he could have some Gasol in him--his Euroleague stats were similar to Pau. Sene is a super athletic, super long 7-footer who seems to be climbing up the charts & might creep into the late lottery

1) LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) 6-11 PF/C-- Very good athlete who hits the boards very well. Has a very nice turnaround jumper with a nice smooth release. Very good rebounder who can get them out of his area. The major knock on him is he's soft mentally & physically. He's thin now but he has a good frame that is capable of filling out, should not be an issue. I think its debatable about his desire, but I feel his package of size, athleticism & solid offensive skills makes him the best player in the draft.

2) Rudy Gay (UConn) 6-8 SF-- Was the consensus #1 pick at the start of the NCAA season, but dropped a little when questions arised about his tendency to float thru games. I agree he does disappear sometimes and it does give you some pause. Although, he has great size & length for the 3 spot and combines that with superb athleticism. Shown a solid skill set with a sweet high-arching jumper that he can hit coming off screens fairly well. Needs to work on his ball-handling somewhat. Has the ability to be a very good defender. Might have the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft & could become the best scorer to come out of this draft.

3) Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) 6-8 SF-- Well he's not Larry Bird, but he's got the potential to be a pretty good NBA player. The better comparison might be Wally Szczerbiak with some Glenn Robinson & Bernard King sprinkled in. He's got a better mid-range game than Wally, and has the rare ability of hitting shots anywhere on the floor 25 feet & in. His athleticism is definitely not great, but a little better than it seems. He probably will not be able to get his shots off quite to the degree as he did in college, but I think he will be successful enough to possibly average 20-22 pts/game. Can he be #1 scoring option in the NBA? Not sure. But I think he can be a very good #2 option and at worst you have a great 3rd option giving you 15-17 a game like Wally. Has good passing skills, he just does not use them much. He will be a defensive liability, especially on the ball. He eats, sleeps, & drinks basketball and is highly competitive.

4) Brandon Roy (Washington) 6-6 SG-- I know its been said ad nauseum, but he probably is the most complete player in the draft. Does a little bit of everything. Great ball-handler who can initiate the offense and is a very willing passer. Likes to utilize a nifty little mid-range post-up game where he uses spin moves well, then usually finishes with either hand. Plays within himself, and might be the smartest player in the draft--high b-ball IQ. Very good defender who can guard 1s, 2s & 3s. Better athlete than he gets credit for; great hops. Outside shooting is alright but not great--his shot is a little flat, not sure if he has NBA 3pt. range. Can contribute right away. I don't feel he will be an explosive scorer but I think he can give you 17-18 a game with 5 rebs, 5 assts & a few steals a game.

5) Randy Foye (Villanova) 6-3 PG/SG-- I feel he's more of a two-guard, but still think he will be fine cause of his above-average athleticism. Not Dwayne Wade, but felt like he's comparable to Ben Gordon for a couple months, maybe even somewhere on the spectrum between Wade & Gordon. Can get into the teeth of defense, ability to draw fouls with a very strong build. Should really prosper under the new rules. Does have the ability to play some point, and could possibility start there if you place a ball-handling 2-guard next to him--Joe Johnson is a good example. But I think he's better served creating shots for himself. His shooting percentage was a little shaky at 41%--Wade's was 50% his last year at Marq., Gordon's was 43%, but he did shoot 43% from 3pt., Foye shot 35% from 3pt.

6) Tyrus Thomas (LSU) 6-8 SF/PF-- Crazy athlete. Probably the best athletic package in draft. Long reach. Plays with tremendous energy. Very active on the defensive end. A lot of people are salivating over him and have him #1. But even with all that, I am just not sure what we have here. First off, where are the offensive skills? I have not seen much in the way of refined fundamentals either for a 3 or a 4. That leads to the other problem--what position do project him at? A couple weeks ago, he was looked at as a 4, but then the measurements came out & he had the same exact specs as Gay, even being 5 pounds lighter than Rudy. We might have another Stromile Swift on are hands after all. That's not that bad, but Swift has a tough time playing the 4 because he can't hold position on the block & is a liability as an on-the-ball defender. And he's a full inch taller than Tyrus. I have to admit his athleticism is enticing, and he might be able to be a Shawn Marion hybrid type forward.

7) Rodney Carney (Memphis) 6-6 SG/SF-- Another crazy athlete with long arms. Has the potential to be an explosive scorer especially with the new rules on hand checking. When he gets a lane to the basket, its over--tremendous finisher. Solid shooter from the perimeter to keep defenders from totally sagging. Needs to develop a more varied mid-range game and improve his ball-handling somewhat. Pretty good defender and can definitely be a great defender on the perimeter in the NBA. Sometimes known to be too passive, but has wonderful physical tools for the NBA.

8) Marcus Williams (UConn) 6-3 PG-- Old-school, super savvy, pure point. Flat-out the best passer in the NCAA this year--he's great in the half-court or in the open floor. Always looking to get his teammates involved & sets them up wonderfully. Not a good athlete for a point. Lateral movement suspect and should lead to issues on defense; wasn't a good defender at UConn. But even with the lack of speed still can get places with his dribble. Very savvy & smart with his dribble getting into the lane. Uses deception & change of pace well. Sort of like Nash, another suspect athlete. Not a great shooter from deep. Has a very slow set-up & release on his shot. Although, has a knack for hitting mid-range runners in the lane & is willing to take tough shots & made quite a few at UConn. Needs to lose some weight: last listed at 215, which is too heavy for an already slow point.

9) Shelden Williams (Duke) 6-9 PF-- Known for his defensive presence. Great shot-blocker with impeccable timing off the floor & he follows the ball well with his hands. Big, burly build that makes him ready to tangle with the big boys right away. Great rebounder who goes out of his area to get them. Little bit better athlete then he looks. Very limited offensively. Somewhat robotic in his moves. The kind of player who needs to look down at his feet and slowly think out his footwork in his head. Did not show much scoring ability outside of 5 feet. Compare him somewhat to Okafor. Some people obviously compare him to Brand & Boozer. But one minor issue to come up with Shelden was his standing reach came in at 8-8, that's lower than some SFs. Brand, Boozer, & Okafor all have reaches around 9-2, that's a pretty significant difference. These long reaches help Brand & Boozer clear their shots off over taller guys, so an already shaky offensive player could have even more problems adjusting to the NBA. This could possibly affect his shot blocking prowess in the NBA as well, probably not though, because I think it has more to do with his great timing, but something to examine a little.

10) Cedric Simmons (NC State) 6-9 PF-- Very good athlete for a PF. Active on both ends of the floor. Good shot-blocker. Somewhat raw offensively but might have a better upside than Shelden. Hard to truly gauge his low post acumen cause he played in a Princeton-style system that pulls bigs away from the rim a fair amount & is more about ball movement. Has shown some signs of having a decent jumpshot. Good rebounder in college, but could improve a little, and has the ability & motor to corral rebounds out of his area. Wouldn't be surprised if he turns out better than Sheldon in the long run.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

NBA Draft Preview--Top 25 prospects (#11-25) Part 2

Part II--#11-25 draft prospects:

11) Ron Brewer (Arkansas) 6-7 SG/SF-- Great athlete with a strong build & long arms. Great ball-handler with point guard skills. Very good & willing passer. But has an ugly shooting stroke that could be a major liability at the next level. Very good defender who can guard multiple positions & get plenty of steals. Decent rebounder for a primary perimeter player. Could be similar to Josh Howard, although not quite the rebounder Josh is, but a better playmaker on the perimeter.

12) Patrick O'Bryant (Bradley) 7-0 C-- One of the few true centers in the draft, most likely the best. Good size with a good reach and decent frame that can handle more weight. Alright athlete for a center. Solid back-to-the-basket skills, maybe the best in the draft, although there aren't many who have much. Good shot-blocker at Bradley. I am a little hesitant about him panning out. You always have one or two guys per draft that you get a bad vibe about--he's the main one for me in this draft. You know it could just be me, but I think he's going to be one of those big guys who is going to be hard to motivate consistently. Its just a gut feeling, no real background info about him, just a personal feeling.

13) Rajon Rondo (Kentucky) 6-2 PG-- Very good athlete with extremely long arms. Uses his speed to get in the lane & can finish well at the hoop. Great rebounder for a point guard and good defender who can translate it to the next level. The one thing holding him back from a high lotto pick is his ugly shot mechanics. Opposing defenders sag off, daring him to shoot and this will certainly continue in the NBA. Has the ability to be a career starter in the NBA.

14) Jordan Farmar (UCLA) 6-2 PG-- The second best passer in the draft after Marcus Williams. Just has the look of a player who was born to play point; great natural feel for the game. Sees the floor very well and sets up teammates well. Likes to shoot floaters in the lane. Nothing special of a perimeter shooter. There were some questions about his athleticism during the season, but has tested out extremely well. Not much of a defensive stopper either. Tries to do to much some times & this leads to a fair amount of turnovers. I feel he can be a long-time starter in the pros.

15) Hilton Armstrong (UConn) 6-11 PF/C-- Very good athlete for a center. Has a long, lean build but weighs more than you would expect. Really improved year-by-year at UConn and only started this year. Very active defender who covers a lot of ground to change/block shots. I think he's a great asset for the new wave of the NBA, where you need athletic frontcourt defenders who can go out on the perimeter and also recover fast to challenge all the penetrating guards. Alright rebounder, but the numbers are hard to judge cause he had to fight Boone & Gay for boards. As of right now, not too much in the way of offense. But has shown some sparks of post skills with occasional spin moves. Not a bad interior passer either.

16) Josh Boone (UConn) 6-10 PF/C--Similar to his UConn frontcourt partner. A good athlete, not quite as good as Hilton, but still good. Very long arms which could help him guard centers. Has a frame with wide shoulders that can handle more weight. I've felt for awhile he reminds me of PJ Brown. Great all-around defender. Fundamentally sound like PJ. Good on the ball and is not flustered moving out on the perimeter. Block shots as well. Runs the floor well & can catch the ball on the move. Very good rebounder since he's been at UConn & his numbers could be higher cause he has to share with all the other UConn post studs. Same with Hilton--not much in the way of offense. Has showcased a little jump-hook here & there, but not much variation after that. The big stumbling block with Josh is he has a rep right now of being too passive, and its dropping him down the charts. It's justified, but he still has the ability to be a better pro than Shelden.

17) JJ Redick (Duke) 6-5 SG-- Probably the most hotly debated prospect in the draft for the last year. Some people see him as the next Jeff Hornacek or even Rip Hamilton and other people see him as a Steve Kerr-clone or even worst Trajan Langdon, Jr. I think he falls somewhere in between. The one thing that's not debatable is JJ can flat-out shoot the ball, and this fact alone will keep him floating around the league for 10-12 years. The other fact that is not debatable is that JJ will be a major liability on defense. He maybe can be a decent help defender, but there is no doubt he will get abused trying to defend one-on-one, especially with the new hand-check rules. The debate comes too a head when trying to decide if JJ will be able to consistently get his shot off in the mid-range. I am in the camp that he will really struggle to do it. I know he improved his mid-range game in his senior season, but was he getting his shot off vs. 6-6 great athletes every game? Not nearly enough. And guess what, he will be matched up vs. a 6-6 athlete every night in the NBA. He struggled in the LSU game, he did not want anything to do with any mid-range shots vs. Carney, Mardy Collins bothered him as well. Needs to be in the right situation to start--preferably next to a dynamic SF who can slash & draw doubles, the Rockets & the Cavs are places he could start. Not a very good ball-handler, so the idea of him being a combo-type like Kerr is not likely.

18) Maurice Ager (Michigan St.) 6-4 SG-- Very explosive athlete. A little undersized for a 2, but makes up for it with long arms & great physical gifts. Pretty good shooter and defenders just can't sag off to try to neutralize his speed. Solid rebounder for a SG with roughly 4 per game this year. Questions about if he has a mid-range game--its either perimeter shots or drives all the way to the rim with him. Needs to develop more variety to his offense. Has the ability to be a very good defender.

19) Shannon Brown (Michigan St.) 6-3 SG-- Basically could just copy the above synopsis of his teammate. Seriously, they're clones. The only minor difference is that Brown is slightly smaller. Not much difference & separation between the two Spartans.

20) Shawne Williams (Memphis) 6-9 SF-- Shows the potential to be a multi-faceted SF in the future. He seems to handle the ball decently & has solid passing skills. Solid athlete, although not overwhelming. His shot is not great & needs a little work. He did not shoot the ball particularly well at all this year--41% overall, 31% from 3pt. Pretty good rebounder for a SF. Tough to tell what kind of defender he will be--has good size, but his lateral movement is not amazing.

21) Leon Powe (Cal) 6-7 PF-- A lot of people have him in the 2nd round, but I love what he brings to the table, & I don't see too much of difference between him & Ike Diogu who went #9 last year. Yes, I know his height is an issue, but he does have long arms & is built rock-solid just like Diogu. I also understand that his knees are a question mark as well, but he moved well this year & he seems to me to have pretty solid athleticism. Averaging 20 & 10 in the Pac-10 can't be tossed aside, similar to what Ike did. Ferocious rebounder, and this usually transfers over well for undersized PFs. Offensively, he's not as polished as Duncan, but he's not bad either. His footwork is solid, and he is surprisingly good driving to basket when facing up from around 12 feet & in. Not a bad ball-handler & improved passer. His shot is a little awkward, & he needs to improve that so to take bigger 4s away from the paint. Solid post defender, but not nearly the shot-blocker that Diogu was. I think he can have a long career as back-up, & wouldn't be stunned if he starts down the road.

22) Mardy Collins (Temple) 6-5 PG/SG-- Has the ability to play the point which always perks up the interest of NBA GMs cause he's 6-5. Nothing special of an athlete. Very good ball-handler & understands how find his teammates with good passing. Very good defender who can guard multiple positions, but might be in doubt a little if he can pull it off in the NBA with his lack of great speed. Got a lot of steals this year. Very good rebounder for a guard, he got nearly 5 per game. Does not shoot the ball particularly well--he shot 43% overall, 30% from 3pt.

23) Guillermo Diaz (Miami) 6-2 PG/SG-- Very explosive athlete who's well-built. Great hops, and uses it to rise up high on his jumper. Much more of a 2-guard, and this brings some pause to GMs cause of his height. But I think his crazy athleticism can make up for a lot of it. Needs to work on his ball-handling & passing, but has only been playing basketball for a couple years. Needs to make better decisions with the ball, sort of relies on his speed too much & get way out of control sometimes.

24) Kyle Lowry (Villanova) 6-0 PG-- Probably the most overrated player in the draft right now in my estimation. I see a lot of people have him in the mid-teens, & project him as the 2nd best PG. No way I take him over Farmar or Rondo, and this Rodriguez guy from Spain sounds better than him. First off, he's 6-0--not good. Next, he does not shoot the ball well. You combine those two things & your off to a bad start right there. Personally, I don't think he possesses the pure point guard instincts of a TJ Ford or Telfair, which does not make things easier. He's no where near the distributor that either of those guys is. I know he was a scrappy college point, but that was all he was--a very good college point. To me, he projects to be a Lindsay Hunter or Jacque Vaughn-type career back-up who will play 15 minutes a game & provide a change of pace. He does have the ability to put pressure on the ball & be a nuisance on defense like Hunter for limited minutes. The good thing for Lowry, a lot of teams need this--Sacto is one team in particular at the #19, maybe the Nets with the 22 or 23.

25) Bobby Jones (Washington) 6-7 SF--This might be a little high for Bobby, but I think he's the draft's ultimate sleeper. One of the best defenders in the NCAA. Moves his feet extremely well, uses quick choppy steps like Bruce Bowen. And that's the guy he should pattern his career after. Can guard multiple positions, anywhere but the center position. He did a great job on Dee Brown in the tourney. Very good athlete. Good rebounder for a SF. Not much in the way of offense. Shot needs a lot of work. Does run the floor well & can finish well in transition. Would be a great addition to any club as a rotation guy, and just maybe break into a starting lineup like Bowen.

NBA Team Needs--Pacific Division

*--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

GOLDEN STATE (MLE) (#9, #38): SF; Center
-- The Warriors should just be called "the Knicks of the West Coast" from now on. The Warriors are locked into about 9-10 players for a couple more years and they don't seem to play well together, sort of like the Knicks. For a bottom dwelling team, they don't have the requisite cap flexiblity that is usually accorded to a losing squad. The Warriors' front office have made some very dubious decisions the last few years and are stuck with bloated deals with multiple years left on them: Dunleavy, Murphy, Derek Fisher, and probably one of the worst deals in NBA history--Adonal Foyle. The consensus seems to be that they don't love Dunleavy too much, and he was definitely overrated coming out of Duke (Guys being overrated from Duke? Gee, that never happens.) I think they should target more of a role-playing SF with ball-handling skills to offset all ball-domination by Davis & Richardson. They could especially use a point-forward since Baron likes to look for his own offense so much. If he can play a little defense that would be nice, seeing as the Warriors are none too special on that end of the floor. At #9, Ron Brewer would be absolutely perefct if they want a SF. Gold State could also look for a center since you know they have to start Foyle right now. That's not good for anybody. It would not hurt if the player could block some shots and provide some low post scoring, two things the Warriors badly need. At #9, Pat O'Bryant has to be their main target and maybe Hilton Armstrong as their second choice. Besides that they might have to be careful dishing out their MLE cause of their aforementioned cap issues--they were actually one of the few teams that did not use their MLE last summer. I think the only way this team can make some serious progress is thru trades, but they have some pretty difficult contracts to move.

LA CLIPPERS ($6-8 mil) (#34, #52): Back-up 4/5; Shooter; PG
-- The biggest chore facing the Clips this summer is what to do with Cassell & Radmanovic. I know Sammy is looking to get paid, but how high should the Clips go & for how many years. I don't give him more than 2 years, maybe 2 with a team option for a 3rd. I am not sure about the yearly amount--maybe $8 per at the most. To tell you the truth, I don't think the Clips are going to have to give him much more than the MLE, because I highly doubt Sammy will want to play for any of the teams with cap space. The other player to decide on is Vlad Radmanovic. This is a tougher call. You have Maggette at the same position, but the Clips seemed to be shopping him hard for about a year now. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Corey's game. Sometimes he really impresses me with his strong drives to the rim which often lead to him making a living on the foul line. The great defensive rebounding from the SF position wins high marks from me as well. But he can infuriate you at the same time with incredibly boneheaded turnovers and horribly misguided shot selection. In the space of the same game you can go from proclaiming him an all-star to the next minute saying the Clips need to deal him as quick as possible. Vlad provides great outside shooting that the Clips could use and he can play the 4 when the Clips want to downsize. It is definitely not an easy call--if you can get him for around the MLE, then you might want to keep him. The Clips definitely need to acquire a back-up 4/5 about 6-10 or bigger, because right now Zelly Rebraca is there only post player behind Kaman & Brand. At the #34, they can look for guys like Paul Davis, Pittsnogle, Alex Johnson or Leon Powe. Guys like Reg Evans & Kel Cato could make sense in free agency. If they can't resign Radmanovic, they could look to get a bench player who can shoot--Van Horn, Harpring, & Dev George could be availiable.

LA LAKERS (MLE) (#26, #51): PG; Post player; Back-up wing
-- First order of business for the Lakers is to identify a point guard to go alongside Kobe. Similar to the Cavs, the Lakers do not need a classic pure point cause you have such good ball-handlers in Kobe & Odom. Also, the triangle offense does not really require it. What they need to look for is a guard who can drill it from deep. The big problem with this years's point guard crop is that all of the top guys are poor shooters. The Lakers might be better off trying to trade up, cause at #26 nobody really makes sense for what they need. If they do stick there, they could go for a wing who can be a back-up to maybe fill the void that could happen if Devean George leaves. In free agency, the Lakers could possibly use their mid-level to entice guards like Mike James, Marcus Banks, Flip Murray and there's even rumors that Cassell might move across the hallway. They could also look for the best post player availiable at #26 if they are not impressed with the guards there.

PHOENIX (MLE) (#21, #27): Size; Rebounding; C; Back-up PG
-- They have to target someone 6-10 or bigger that can provide some interior presence defensively & on the glass. They seem to be high on guys like Sene, Boone, & Armstrong and each guy brings the requisite size, board work, defensive prowess & good athleticism to boot, which Phoenix loves. There also seems to be a push for a back-up point even before a big; I think they would not hurt themselves to target a PG with the other pick, its just not anywhere near as important as a big. They definitely need to cut down on Nash's minutes, although I don't think Barbosa can't handle the back-up minutes for time-being like most people are stressing. Here's the deal--anyone trying to sub in for Nash is going to look like a serious downgrade, Barbosa is not as shaky as people think covering for Nash. They do have the rights to Milos Vujanic over in Europe who happens to be one of the best guards over there with legit NBA athleticism, so they have options. But you do have to look at guys like Farmar & Kyle Lowry because Barbosa's contract is ending soon. The Suns also have to make a call on Tim Thomas. Tim did a wonderful job in the playoffs and he seems to thrive the Suns' system where he's perfect cause all he wants to do is chuck up 3s & there's no requirement to play defense. But its a tough call because you could have a very crowded frontcourt with Amare, Kurt, Diaw, Marion & possibly Tim fighting for minutes plus whatever big they bring in thru the draft. Also, its tough because the Suns are soon to be bumping up close to the luxury cap and they still have to decide on Diaw & Barbosa's deals, which are ending in the next year or two.

SACRAMENTO (MLE) (#19): Back-up PG; Back-up defensive 4/5; Wing Shooter
-- This team should be better off the bat defenesively just because having Musselman there and having Artest at the start of the season. I like the hire of Musselman because this team needed a coach who demands tough team defense. But they could still use some good individual defenders to bring off the bench. At the #19, Kyle Lowry could be a very good fit as a back-up for Bibby. Although, I am not a huge Lowry fan and think many people have him overrated. I think he can have a long career as back-up in a sort of Lindsay Hunter role. But his main calling card is defense and that is badly needed at the point for the Kings since Bibby makes Jason Williams look like a 1st team defender. Rondo's also a strong candidate if he falls, & should be taken ahead of Lowry if he does. At the other bookend, the Kings have to get someone who can defend on the frontline and hopefully block a couple shots. Someone athletic would be nice like Hilton Armstrong, Boone or Sene, and all might be there at #19 as well, so the Kings might have to make a tough choice between a PG or a big. Their decision might be made easier if the rumors of Bob Jackson wanting to return back to Sacto are true. They could use some or all of their MLE on Jackson, then they could take a big at #19. Another option the Kings have in their arsenal is the expiring contracts of Corliss Williamson & Potapenko. They equal about a combined $10 Mil, and could be turned into a big or PG, or they could maybe exchange them for a wing shooter to replace some of Peja's lost marksmanship.

Monday, June 26, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Southwest Division

Arguably one of the best divisions alongside the Central Division, although the Pacific is gaining fast. You have two of the best teams in the NBA, the Spurs & Dallas, who had to slug it out in a legendary playoff series one round too early cause of a flawed seeding system. They also have another team in Houston, who if they can avoid the injury bug, has to be considered a legit title contender as well. Memphis is no slouch itself and finished with the 4th best record in the West. Conf. this season. The Hornets also were a huge surprise this year (I thought they would win 15 games at the most), nearly making it to the playoffs with not much apparent talent on their roster. Each team looks to have the ability to make the playoffs, and three teams have a chance to get very deep. Dallas should still be top-notch, but they have a big decision to make on Jason Terry. San Antonio is by no means in some rebuliding mode, they just need to make some tweaks to bring in some more athleticism at the forward spots. Houston's biggest problem has more to do with getting their current players healthy. Memphis still looks to be solid, but they aren't going to make a step up to the next level unless they get some scoring pop around Gasol. The Hornets look headed in the right direction and they have multiple picks in the top 15 & roughly $15 mil. to toss around in free agency.

*--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.

DALLAS (MLE) (#28, #58): Back-up PF; Shooters; PG
-- While still probably licking their wounds and pitching conspiracy theories to the media, the Mavs look to be a serious contender once again and do not have too many ends to tie up. Although, the one outstanding issue for the Mavs this off-season is what to do with Jason Terry. It's a tough call: do they resign him to a significant deal to be their point guard or do they put their faith in the developing Devin Harris? They could also just say they want Terry & Harris to be their backcourt of the future. I am not really sure how I feel on Terry--I waver back & forth, so will see what happens. One thing they need to add from outside the organization is a back-up 4 who can provide some low-post scoring and defense behind Dirk. One thing absent from the Dallas offense is a consistent low-post scorer. Dirk will go down there sometimes, but it just seems he's reluctant to go down low consistently, and the Mavs have to mix up their jumpshooting-centric offense. The problem is there is really no one who fits that description in this free agent market. Another thing that Cuban might want to examine is the possible need for a shooter or two. The Mavs could be losing free agents Van Horn & Terry, and they could lose Stackhouse next summer when his deal expires. So all of sudden, the Mavs could be in dire need of some shooters. With the #28 pick, I would not be surprised for the Mavs to look oversees so they can keep the pick over there & groom him. But on the other hand, they did find Josh Howard with #29, so maybe they think they can strike gold once again.

HOUSTON (MLE) (#8, #32): SG; Post player; PG
-- The Rockets are coming off a season that was completely decimated by injuries. By the end of the year, they were relying on guys who were barely NBDL-level talent for serious minutes. If they can avoid these injuries, especially McGrady, they have a legit chance to compete for the West Conf. crown. The problem I see is that McGrady's back issues could very well be chronic and this could really muddy the future for Houston. With that in mind, I think the Rockets' first item of business is to draft a SG or SG/SF who can relieve some pressure off McGrady. Some people have Redick plugged in here at the #8, thinking his shooting is a perfect fit with the doubles that Ming & McGrady attract. I agree he's makes a great compliment on offense, but its the defense that worries me. With Redick there, you are putting a lot of pressure on McGrady to defend the opposing team's best wing player since JJ's a major liability. And if it was my call, from now on I would try to conserve McGrady as much as possible during the regular season and let him focus his energy on the offensive end. This is why I think Rod Carney is the best fit next to Tracy. He's obviously not as good a shooter as JJ, but he's good enough to keep the defense from totally collapsing on Yao & McGrady. And there no doubt he has the ability to be a top-notch defender who can spell Tracy at the SF as well. There's some talk they need to look for a point, but I'm not so convinced. They have Rafer Alston who is solid and needs more time for evaluation because of injuries this year. They also have Luther Head as a combo guard who did a somewhat better than expected job in his rookie season. They also have the rights to Vassilis Spanoulis, a young 6-4 point who has been pretty good over in Europe. They might be better letting things play out for a year or two with the points they have, then evaluate. The Rockets could also look to add another post player, presumably one that is athletic and play both PF & C; athletic is the key word since the Rockets have Mutombo & Juwan Howard as their only other post players. The Rockets don't seem enamoured with Stro Swift and seem to prefer him coming off the bench. So maybe if they don't go with a SG at #8 they will look at guys like Shelden or Ced Simmons. Other than that, there really are not many options in free agency that will be an upgrade from Swift. With the #32 pick, the Rockets could look for a guy like Paul Davis or Alex Johnson to groom behind Yao since Dikembe is playing on fumes.

MEMPHIS (MLE) (#24): Scoring wing; Center; PG
-- Even though they finished with the 4th best record in the West Conf., the Grizzlies have a lot of work to do if they want to break out of the middle of the pack. Most people seem to think that Memphis's primary need is for a rugged center, but I disagree. I don't deny they need someone to pair with Gasol to do the dirty work, but the Grizzlies most glaring need is someone who can flat-out score on the perimeter. I mentioned in my 1st round preview for the Grizz-Mavs series that Memphis' lack of scoring around Gasol would cost them and it eventually did. Mike Miller is nice, but he's not going to create a whole heck of a lot of scoring chances. Plus, he's seems fine with coming off the bench and if you have a guy like that willing to be a 6-man it really makes your bench scoring even better. On top of this, Ed Jones is in the last year of his deal and is a complimentary player anyways. The problem for the Grizzlies is they only have the #24 pick where they will probably not find a dynamic scoring wing. Maybe guys like Shannon Brown, Mo Ager could be considered, or even a guy like Guillermo Diaz from Miami. At the #24, they could also make a play for Jordan Farmar if he's there since their only point guard right now is Damon Stoudamire, and he's coming off a major injury & is going to be 33/34 next year as well. Like I mentioned before, the Grizzlies do have to look for post player opposite Gasol, especially since Lo Wright is a free agent. Someone like Josh Boone could be a good choice at the #24 to provide some rebounding and good solid position defense. Nazr Mohammed is a possiblity in free agency for a big.

NEW ORLEANS/OKLA ($15-17 mil) (#12, #15): Center; SF; Back-up PG
-- The first hole the Hornets have to address in the center position. They have PJ Brown manning the 5 spot admirably but he is winding down his career and is going into the last year of his deal. So honing in on a guy like Hilton Armstrong, Pat O'Bryant, or Saer Sene with either the 12 or 15 pick is the right move. The next maneuver after finding the best center is trying to pick up the best SF on the board with the other pick. Draftees like Ron Brewer, Carney, Shawne Williams or Euro Thabo Sefolosha would make some sense. Desmond Mason is going into the last year of his deal and he's better suited coming off the bench. But they are not forced to get a SF in the draft, they could go get another post player if they want, because they can turn their attention to the FA market. The SF position is by far the best represented position in the overall FA field with guys like Peja, Radmonvic, Al Harrington, Tim Thomas, Devean George, & Jared Jeffries (restricted) available. And with Chicago & Atlanta comfortable at their wing spots, the Hornets only have to compete with Toronto & Charlotte. In the Hornets' favor, I have to imagine that FAs will look more highly on a team that just missed the playoffs & the chance to play alongside Chris Paul. Speaking of Chris Paul, the Hornets also need to find a back-up for Paul since Speedy is a F.A. The Hornets don't need any one great and should look for a vet, so they don't have to worry about a point in the draft. Possible candidates are: Bobby Jackson, Chuck Atkins, & Lindsay Hinter fit the bill.

SAN ANTONIO (MLE) (#59): Athletic post player; Defensive wing; Back-up center
-- The furor over the demise of the San Antonio Spurs is way premature. They could have easily won that Dallas series if a couple things went their way--for example, what if Manu does not make that unnecessary foul on Dirk. But the one thing that stood out in the series is that they got beat on the boards too much cause they had to downsize to try to guard Dirk. What I think this team needs is basically a younger version of Bob Horry. Someone who's in the 6-9, 6-10 range who is athletic enough to defend on the perimeter. I think the Spurs should really consider moving Duncan to the 5 permanently and placing an athletic 6-10 or bigger guy next to him. Nowadays what centers are really going to physically overwhelm Duncan defensively? Yao, Shaq & maybe to a lesser degree Ilgauskas. That's really it. So when you play those teams you just start a guy like Nazr (if you resign him) at the 5. In the new wave of the NBA, I think you need to look for athletic frontlines without sacrificing the size like Phoenix does. The problem for the Spurs is that they only have the #59 pick in the draft and will more than likely use it on an obscure Euro they can stash oversees. The Spurs also have to be concerned in finding a young wing who can eventually fill the defensive role of Bruce Bowen. Bowen is still very good, but he's at that precarious age where you're in danger of getting slow & falling off the map overnight. It does not help that their back-up wings Finley & Barry are also around 33-34 years old as well. Looking at the FA market, the one guy that stands out that could answer both questions of a defensive 3 & a guy 6-10 or so, all in one package is Jared Jeffries. I think he would be a great fit for the Spurs because he can switch between the 3 & 4. The only problem is he is a restricted FA, so the Wiz have the ability to match any offer. Other guys the Spurs can look at in free agency are Dev George and Lo Wright to possibly fill the void left by Rasho & maybe Nazr.

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.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Southeast Division

Looking ahead to the 2006-07 season, the current world champs look to be right back into the thick of things at the top of the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference. Miami is a legit title contender again with the entire starting unit under contract for next year. But not everything is quite rosy in Miami-- they could have serious questions about the status of their bench and don't have a ton of resources to replenish it. Washington should be able to make another playoff run, but the question remains-- is do they have the personnel to advance deep in the playoffs. They must tighten up their defense and get better at moving the ball if they want to be in the upper echelon of the East Conf. with Miami, Det., & the Nets. Orlando has an outside chance of grabbing one of the last playoff spots in the East, but is not ready to be a serious contender for at least a couple years. I expect Atlanta & Charlotte to be bottom feeders once again in the East, and neither team has a real good chance of sniffing the playoffs. Although, both teams have as much cap room as anyone to possibly improve, the problem for them is the free agent crop is pretty mediocre.

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.

ATLANTA ($16-18 mil) (#5, #33): PG; Post player; Defense
-- I really think the Hawks have to pick up Rudy Gay if he's still around at the #5. Well, not really, but knowing Billy Knight & Co. I can't say I would be really stunned if they went with a wing. Don't worry Hawks' fans (all 20 of you), I think Knight learned his lesson last year, at least that's what I am telling myself. Although, the current rumor of Atlanta making a promise to Shelden Williams at the #5, does not really make me feel more confident in Billy Knight's GM skills. Why do you make a guarantee to a guy who's 99.9% sure going to be around at the #5? It does not add up. What if Aldridge happens to still be on the board? This is why I am very skeptical of this report. Plus, #5 is too high to take Shelden anyways, you would be better served making a deal to move down a couple spots. Shelden does fill a need for some defensive toughness on the frontline that the Hawks are clearly lacking. Other guys who they have to consider are O'Bryant (Bradley) and Ced Simmons (NC St.), although #5 is probably too high for them as well. If they don't feel comfortable with any of those guys, they have the ability to be a major player for free agent bigs like Nene, Wilcox, Przybilla, and maybe even Ben Wallace. I personally think they should take Marcus Williams at the #5. They desparately need a point (they blew their chance last year) and the free agent crop is pretty shaky--Mike James might be the best bet, but he's going to be 31/32, that's a ten-year difference right there. Williams is the best pure point in the draft with great passing ability and has a knack for getting places with his dribble, even though he's not the greatest athlete in the world. Another guy who could make sense at #5 is Randy Foye. He's more of a 2-guard in my estimation, but he would be able to split up the ball-handling duties with Joe Johnson. But for the Hawks' situation, I would prefer the pure point who's main objective is to find his teammates with precision passes

CHARLOTTE ($22-24 Mil) (#3, #50): Scoring wings; Back-up Center
-- Well, the Bobcats are officially no longer an expansion team with the fact that they are allowed a full salary cap of $50 mil as opposed to the expansion-limit $37.5 mil. So the grace period is close to being over and its time to join the big boys at the grown-up table. The Bobcats have a ton of money to play with, but there are still some rumblings that Bernie Bickerstaff might be conservative this year and try to make a big splash next year when the FA class looks to be much better. But now with Mr. Jordan entering the fold, I just can't see him sitting idlely by waiting for this team to develop gradually. So maybe they will try to throw some dollars at guys like Peja, Radmanovic or Bonzi. With the # 3 spot, I think the Bobcats should be locking in on three guys, and you're assured one guy will be there: Rudy Gay, Morrison, & Brandon Roy. All guys can bring some desparately needed scoring on the perimeter. This team's #1 scoring option right now is Okafor, not a good situation, so finding scoring is of utmost importance this summer. Foye has to get some consideration as well. He would make for an undersized backcourt with Felton, but he could possibly be an expolsive scorer in the NBA. You know looking at Aldridge at #3, if he falls, is not out of the question. Brezec is servicable, but Aldridge is a definite upgrade. Melvin Ely is a restricted free agent, so the Bobcats should look to get a free agent big like Nazr, Przybilla, or Cato if they grab a perimeter guy as expected with the #3.

MIAMI (MLE) (None): Bench help; PG; Wing shooters; Back-up 4/5
-- Miami does not have much recourse about adding new pieces besides the MLE and their vet min. contracts. They have no draft picks right now and they really have no trade assets besides maybe Doleac. But then again Riles did not have much last year and he strung together some spare parts to fool Danny Ainge into sign & trading Ant Walker, so stay tuned. (Side note--Do you realize Ainge had his hand in 2 of the last 3 NBA titles: he sign & traded Walker in exchange for basically nothing and in a roundabout way he allowed the Pistons to acquire Rasheed at the trade deadline in '04. And both of these deals did not have to be made.) The Heat's starting unit is intact for next season, but their 3 main bench performers' status is uncertain. Payton is a free agent and is considering retirement. Ditto for Alonzo. James Posey has a player option for $6 mil that he still as to date not made a decision on, but it has to come in the next few days. So you can see that Miami could have big holes on their bench. Even if Payton were to come back, the Heat need to find a younger, defensive-minded PG or combo guard. Without a draft pick, Miami might have to look at a guy like Marcus Banks in free agency. They could use a back-up wing because they could be losing Posey, Shandon Anderson (FA), and Derek Anderson is done. If your offense is going to revolve around Wade iso-ing at the elbow for the next 10 years, you should try to make sure the wings you go after can stroke from deep. Guys like Harpring, Devean George, & Van Horn could fit the bill; Kukoc, Lamond Murray & Piakowski could be short-term solutions for a year or two. A guy 6-10 or bigger who can swing between the 4 & 5-spot would help the Heat and provide a little more size at the 4-spot, especially with the prospect of Zo's retirement.

ORLANDO (MLE) (#11, #41, #44): SG; SF
-- Here's a team who came on strong late in the season and made an unexpected push for the playoffs. They have a promising, young core to bulid off of Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard and even Darko showed some sparks of untapped talent after the trade. In this draft, the Magic are one of the few teams that does not really have to worry about their frontline with Dwight, Darko, & the rights to Fran Vasquez. Maybe with their second round picks they can look for bigs, but at the #11 they will not find anything better than what they have, and they have a bigger need for a SG. I think Rodney Carney would make a lot of sense at 11, and there is a good possibility he's still there (right now he's projected in the 7-15 range). Other players who could be at # 11 & make sense are: Ron Brewer (Arkansas), Redick, Mo Ager & Shannon Brown (both Mich St.). I would prefer Carney there because he's the best package of defense, shooting, & size of any of those guys. And the Magic really need to think defense at the SG cause you have liabilities surrounding the position with Nelson & Turkoglu. Carney can move over to SF in a pinch and the Magic might need this with Grant Hill's contract winding down. Brewer would be my second choice if there, cause his ball-handling could allow Nelson to play off the ball some and he can play three positions as well. Although, the Magic don't need to look for another young big in the draft, it would not hurt them to look for a veteran back-up to help out--someone like Lo Wright or Nazr would work.

WASHINGTON (MLE) (# 18, #48): PG; Center; Defense
-- A lot of people will say that the Wizards already have a pretty good point guard in Arenas. I don't think so. Gil is not a very good point guard--he's a very good 2-guard who needs a ball-handler next to him to let him just worry about attacking the rim. Gil's just a poor decision maker with the ball, which is backed-up by high number of turnovers, terrible asst/TO ratio & one of the worst shot selections in the NBA. I've felt this way for a couple years now, and the Wizards' brass agreed with me last year by bringing in Antonio Daniels, but he seemed to underachieve this year. At the #18 pick, Rajon Rondo could be there and would provide a much needed jolt to a porous defensive team. Jordan Farmar would also make sense. Another possibility would be Mardy Collins, a 6-6 combo guard who could allow Arenas to guard opposing points. Washington also needs to look for a post player that can provide some consistent defensive effort. They have Brendan Haywood in the middle, but you just can't count on him to give a consistent effort every night. At #18 if Rondo's gone, the Wizards could look toward the two UConn interior defensive stalwarts--Josh Boone & Hilton Armstrong--to back-up Heywood. Another priority for the Wiz, is to resign Jared Jeffries. He did a superb job guarding Lebron in the playoffs and he is one of the few guys on the roster that actually thinks defense first. The Wiz are stocked in the scoring department with Arenas, Butler, & Jamison capable of getting 20 every night; its the overall defense & decision making that is an issue.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NBA Team Needs--Central Division

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.

CHICAGO ($15-18 mil) (#2, #16): Low post scoring; SG with size
-- Talk about a team sitting pretty going into this off-season. All the other teams with this amount of cap room and favorable draft picks have these things for a reason...they are not very good. But the Bulls are team who arguably played the current World Champs as tough as anyone in the playoffs and are in a good drafting slot thanks to that wily GM, Isiah Thomas. The Bulls have a great young core to build around but its a little too concentrated on the perimeter. Their biggest chore this summer is to find some sort help for Chandler on the frontline. Chandler can bring the defense & boards, but he's severely lacking offensive skills and Sweetney is better suited for the bench, so a guy 6-9 or bigger who can provide post scoring is the answer. There is a lot talk that Tyrus Thomas is their man at #2; I don't like this idea. Thomas right now is basically a smaller version of Chandler and has shown very little in the way of refined offensive skills. On top of that, he might have to play the SF in the pros cause of his small frame--he has the exact same specs as Rudy Gay, even a little lighter than Gay. To me, Aldridge is a no-brainer if he's not taken at #1. He shown some nice scoring skills this year and a nice touch on his turnaround jumper. Granted, I know there is some questions about his desire, but I think Thomas has question marks about if he will ever improve his skill set and what position he's going to play. If Aldridge goes at #1, maybe the Bulls could look at Brandon Roy to give them a defensive 2-guard and then try to use their free agent money to go after a scoring big like Gooden or Wilcox. As you can see, Chicago has a variety of ways to go about their business this summer.

CLEVELAND (MLE) (#25, #42, #55): PG; Back-up center; Shooters
-- For a team that overachieved in the Conf. Semis, there are not too many glaring holes to fill; they should concentrate on letting their young talent develop organically. But if there is one place they can look to upgrade, its their point. They really do not need a classic pure point, they need a point who can flat-out shoot and defend decently. Eric Snow does a commendable job doing the little things & bringing defense, but he's a major liability in the shooting department. On the other hand, Damon Jones can stroke it, but brings absolutely nothing else to the table besides his reserved personality and understated sense of style. Now if you could somehow combine those two guys, you would have the perfect point for the Cavs. There was some speculation that Jordan Farmar or Kyle Lowry (Villanova) would make sense at the #25 spot. But I never really liked that thought process because neither guy is a very good shooter and that's what you need next to Lebron. The Cavs don't really have to worry about their point being a great playmaker or distributor, because Lebron's there and he becomes their defacto point guard in 4th quarters anyway. I do like the current rumor of a promise to Daniel Gibson at #25 though. He's more of a combo guard, but he can shoot, and does not have to handle the ball as much with Bron & Hughes capable of doing the brunt of it. Now can he defend well enough? Will have to see, but I still think he's a much better fit than Lowry or Farmar. Also, the Cavs could use a back-up for their frontline who can play both the 4/5 to protect them if they lose Gooden in free agency. (Drew is restricted, so the Cavs have the ability to match any offer another team gives him)

DETROIT (MLE) (#60): Back-up PG; Back-up Post player; Slasher
-- Well, for a team that could do no wrong during the regular season, some rust spots started to be exposed in the playoffs for the team from Motown. Basically, the Pistons are going to have to do their damage in free agency or trades since they only have one pick in the draft, and its the last one. The biggest question facing the Pistons this summer, is what to do with Big Ben. Ben's future was a foregone conclusion about 6 weeks ago, all that had to be to be done was the official signing of the contract. But after the rough outing in the Cavs series, then the Heat series that magnified Ben's liability to his team on the offensive end, Dumars & Co. possibly became a little reticent about the idea of re-signing 32-year old Ben to a six-year, hefty deal. And things became muddier for both sides when Ben hired an agent a couple weeks ago after not saying he needed one most of the season. Teams like Atlanta, NO/OK, Toronto all have the money & need to lure Ben away. The question is--does Ben just take the money to play for a rebuilding squad? I doubt it. My gut feeling is that Dumars & Ben work something out. But just in case and even if Ben does come back, they could use a back-up big. It would be probably nice if they could get their hands on a young big with all their current post players, besides Maxiell, being 30 years or older, but I am not sure anyone of substance will be around #60. Maybe they need to look at a guy like Reggie Evans in free agency or maybe they could just resign Cato. Another area that needs to be addressed is a back-up for Billups. Delk & Hunter are free agents. As mentioned before the free agent PG crop ain't special if you're looking for a starter, but if you just need a veteran back-up like Detroit, guys like Speedy Claxton or Bobby Jackson could work in a pinch. Another thing the Pistons have to consider adding is someone who can provide some dribble drives. This is one thing that is lacking from the Piston offense, and with the new rules favoring slashers, Pistons don't want to be left behind. If they could find a combo guard who can penetrate they could kill two birds with one stone--former Piston Mike James is one of the better combo guards on the market, but he might have priced himself above the MLE by his play this season. Flip Murray could be a more reasonable target.

INDIANA (MLE) (#17): Center; Wing; PG
-- There seems to be a lot of doom-n-gloom around this team, and I just don't get. If O'Neal & Tinsley are healthy, not to mention Foster, and they make the trade for Peja earlier in the season, this team is a legit title contender. There is a lot of talented pieces still on this roster and an extremely underrated coach to guide the roster. This talk of O'Neal being moved need to be squelched, unless he's being moved for another superstar in return like maybe Garnett. The Pacers' first priority is to make a decision on Peja. He is near the top of the list of this year's FA class and he could fetch a contract close to the $10 mil mark. Toronto, NO/OK, Charlotte could all be in the hunt for Peja. But if the Raptors take Bargnani it should take them out of the running, so does Peja really want to play in a rebuilding situation. The Hornets maybe, the Bobcats not so sure. This possible lack of competition could help the Pacers keep the pricetag reasonable. The other free agent quandary has to do with restricted-FA Fred Jones. Jones really emerged this past season as a viable scoring option off-the-bench and has shown an improved outside shot. With the fans and seemingly the rest of the team irritated by Steve Jackson's mercurial ways, Jones could be the answer to step right in if Jackson is dealt. You can see why the Pacers might need to grab a wing player in the draft just in case Peja & Jones bolt, because Indiana would be left with only Granger & Jackson to cover the wing spots. The Pacers could maybe look to go after a center who can shoot from 15ft. to help draw defenders off O'Neal. Although, I don't see too many guys who fit that description in the draft or free agency. If guys like Pat O'Bryant (Bradley), Hilton Armstrong, or Saer Sene (Belgium) are available at 17, Bird has to give them heavy consideration. There also seems to be some consensus that the Pacers need to look PG at #17, but I'm not so sure. Tinsley is pretty good when he's healthy, but the catch is--when he's healthy. Right now the Pacers have three PGs on the roster making a combined $13 million, so maybe bringing another point is not the a crushin need with servicable guys like Anthony Johnson & Sarunas still around. At # 17, it might be in the best interest for the Pacers just to take the best player available as opposed to worrying about the filling an exact need.

MILWAUKEE (MLE) (#39): PF; Back-up wing
-- Milwaukee is similar to the Nets in their primary need for an athletic PF to pair with Bogut. Magloire & Bogut started on the frontline this year, but this is not a long-term solution because of Magloire is going into the last year of his deal and he does not seem to interested in re-signing cause he understands Bogut's future is better suited for the 5-spot. Magloire is the hot topic of trade talk and the Bucks hopefully could exchange him for that coveted PF they need. They have Joe Smith as their only true PF on the roster, but he's better suited as a back-up at this stage and he's also entering the last year of his deal. The Bucks could use some auxiliary talent behind Redd & Simmons on the wings. With Kukoc a free agent, the Bucks really have no depth at the SF and are forced to use Mo Williams at the 2-guard more than they like cause they don't have any viable true SGs behind Redd. So if they could find a guy 6-6 to 6-8 who can bring a little defense off the bench that would help. At the #39 pick, players like Bobby Jones (Wash.), Hassan Adams (Arizona), James White (Cincy) could be around and make sense. The only guys on the FA market that make sense for the MLE or less, are Devean George or Deshawn Stevenson, maybe Harpring.