Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Offseason Edition

Hornets-Offseason
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1. Cleveland

Last Year: 33-49
Prediction: 54-28

I struggled hard with this one. On one hand, the Cavs just added the greatest player in the game at the peak of his prime AND a Top 10 player (Kevin Love) who fits perfectly opposite Lebron at the other forward spot. On the other hand, aside from King James, the Cavs don’t have a single player under thirty who has any Playoff experience. Also, they have an NBA newbie for a head coach and exactly two players who have positive reputations on defense – one of whom misses 30 games every season (Anderson Varejao).
But I’m gonna go with the Cavs as Beasts of the East mainly because:
A. Offense wins in the regular season – Cleveland will be an absolute FORCE at that end AND…
B. Lebron is the league’s best player and he never gets hurt. Unlike…

2. Chicago

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 53-29

The Bulls have the league’s best defensive coach and the best three-man big rotation in the league now with Pau Gasol joining Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. If 23-year old Nik Mirotic lives up to the euro-hype, you can make that the league’s best four man big rotation.
The questions start at the wings. Jimmy Butler has developed into Kawhi-East and should only get better – he’s still just 24 – but the Bulls are banking on unproven youngsters Tony Snell and Doug McDermott being ready to play meaningful minutes.
Then there’s the Derrick Rose question. Rose hasn’t played 80 games in a season since Obama’s first term. Amazingly, he’s still just 25 – but the last dynamic young guy to miss this much time was Brandon Roy. Hopefully, Rose can avoid that type of future and come back one hundred percent. If not, Bulls’ fans will be getting a steady diet of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks.

3. Charlotte

Last Year: 43-39
Prediction: 47-35

This is where the East gets interesting. Washington, Brooklyn and Charlotte finished within a game of each other last season. Two of those teams improved during the offseason, while the Nets took a step back. I have Charlotte over Washington simply because:
A. The Hornets significantly upgraded their weakest position from last season (Shooting Guard). The Wiz’s biggest move was replacing contract-year Trevor Ariza with 36-year old Paul Pierce.
B. The Hornets have a significant amount of 23 and younger players (Cody Zeller, MKG, Lance, Kemba) who should improve to varying degrees. The Wiz duo of Wall and Beal will get better as well but the jury’s still WAY OUT on guys like Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. who’ve never logged a meaningful minute of NBA action.
C. The Hornets have a significant coaching/GM advantage. Steve Clifford’s defensive system will only get more advanced and more precise. Rich Cho is crafty enough to pull off a midseason deal to improve the team for both the long and short term. Wiz fans are and should be afraid that both Randy Whittman and Ernie Grunfeld signed extensions in during the offseason.
D. The Hornets have the best player on either team. Big Al was All-NBA. John Wall is a fantastic young player but isn’t there yet.
E. The newly rebranded Hornets are going to have a tremendous homecourt advantage. Long time Charlotte NBA fans and old-school Hornets holdouts will be rocking the Hive for all 41 games.

4. Washington

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 45-37

The middle of the East is going to beat up on each other. Don’t expect nearly as many gimmes as there were last season. In fact, the entire SE Divison should be a bloodbath. The Hawks, Heat, Hornets and Wiz will all likely top .500. I like the Wizards chances as a Top 4 seed. They are built to win now and adding Paul Pierce was the right move for a franchise trying to build a winning culture. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaching imbalance and the relatively thin bench behind the starters, I’d have Washington closer to 50 wins in a tougher conference.

5. Miami

Last Year: 54-28
Prediction: 44-38

Yes they lost the best player in the game and are left with a ton of guys on the down swing of their careers. But they also still have Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng on the roster, a fantastic young coach and a ton of super-savvy veteran role players not to mention pride. This team is no lay down Sally. As long as Wade can stay upright, consider the Heat – at minimum – a middle of the pack Eastern Conference contender.

6. Toronto

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 43-39

The Raps did a great job of beating up on their weak home division (11-5) and the bottom feeders of the Conference (32-20 overall). They should be able to win their the Atlantic again this season with the Nets regressing, the Knicks standing pat and the Celtics and Sixers rebuilding. But Toronto is gambling that a combination of continuity and internal growth is enough to keep them in the East’s Top Four. With the middle of the Conference getting crowded, that bet may very well backfire.

7. Atlanta

Last Year: 38-44
Prediction: 43-39

The Hawks confuse me. In theory, a Horford/Millsap/Teague combo should be very good. And they have a tremendous amount of outside shooting and a very good coach and general manager. But Atlanta is also an under-the-radar “old” team. Aside from raw German phenom Dennis Schroeder and 23-year old rookie Adrien Payne, the Hawks don’t have much in terms of young guys who could break out. Also, you have to imagine the best coaches in the East like Clifford, Van Gundy, Spoelstra, etc – spent the offseason figuring out how to neutralize the Hawks gimmicky three point barrage. They’ll be good but don’t expect the Hawks to run away with the Conference even if they manage to stay healthy.

8. Brooklyn

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 40-42

Getting Lopez back will help as will upgrading from Jason Kidd to Lionel Hollins. But they lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston – who were both key starters on last year’s 44 win team. Hell, they might’ve been the Nets BEST starters for much of the season. Kevin Garnett is another year older and can only be counted on for spot minutes. Joe Johnson is a 33-year old wing. The team’s “leader” is Deron Williams and whenever you’re counting on D-Will to lead your team out of adversity, you’re in trouble. Also: 7ft+ guys with foot problems scare me. A lot.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:

Indiana. This team struggled to score with Lance Stephenson and Paul George on the floor. Now they’ll replace them with Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles. This is an ’96-’97 Spurs tank year for Indy – the roster is a Hibbert trade away from being garbage.

New York. They’ll threaten .500 but it’s fairly obvious that the Knicks are more concerned about the next season, not the coming one – once Amare’s contract comes off the books, and Fisher/P-Jax figure out what they’re trying to build, the Knicks will likely be back on the road to relevance.

Detroit. SVG was a great coaching hire. Great GM hire? We’ll have to see about that. Some odd personnel moves were made this summer and the Pistons still haven’t resolved either the Josh Smith or Greg Monroe situations.

NOT WORTH TALKING ABOUT (YET):
Boston, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philly.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Rosterpalooza ’13 | Version 1.0

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No Lottery Luck for the Bobcats

Here’s what the Rich Cho era’s taught us thus far:

1. Full on tanking only works if you absolutely NAIL the Lottery.
The easy part is when Kevin Durant falls into your lap. The challenge is in the mid-Lottery and late rounds, where you find and groom a Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka. Charlotte hasn’t done that.

2. Full on tanking without NAILING the Lottery = Toxic Reputation = Lost Opportunities.
Think Brian Shaw would’ve been a better coach than Mike Dunlap? Think James Harden is a slightly better player than MKG? These two missed opportunities are the direct result of the team’s lowly reputation. Desirable free agents, scouts and executives aren’t going to risk their careers in a situation doomed for failure.

Dispelling the Myth

“But we have to be bad to get good!!!” Eh, not exactly. Bottoming out for a year can sometimes work in a Duncan or Lebron Once-In-A-Generation Lottery but good organizations can find and develop guys like Roy Hibbert, Nicholas Batum, Paul Milsap and Ty Lawson late in the first round. “But we want to build a championship team, not a mediocre one!” Newsflash: Only eight franchises have hoisted a Larry O’Brien since 1984, averaging out to a “new” champion every 3.75 years. At this rate, the Queen City can plan on throwing a parade sometime after June 2095. In the meantime, the Bobcats/future Hornets should strive for the more modest goal of being consistently competitive. With name-brand free agents and coaches refusing to lower themselves to the Bobcats current level, maybe we should be saying “You have to be relevant to have a chance at being good” instead.

Two Assumptions

Before I begin the shameless public rosterbating, let’s set the ground rules.

1. The 2013 NBA Draft is superstar-free. Like all drafts, there’s probably a couple of All-Stars tucked away but the mass consensus is that there is no instant franchise changer this year.

2. Big name free agents won’t sign with the Bobcats unless they SEVERELY OVERPAY them. The team will have up to $20m in cap space with little to no chance of signing anyone that matters. Again, if you’re a name free agent and the money was equal (or even slightly better) why on earth would you put yourself in a potentially miserable situation?

So the Bobcats will enter the offseason with $20 million that nobody (of substance) wants and a Top 4 pick in a Draft with no superstars. How in the heck are they supposed to improve?


Bobcats Baseline Presents: Rosterpalooza ’13 – Version 1.0

Part I: The Draft

With the worst record in the league, the Cats are guaranteed to pick in the Top 4. The good news is that there are a few potential All-Stars (Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel) and a few good starters (Otto Porter, Alex Len, Victor Oladipo), all guaranteed to be there when Charlotte picks. The bad news is that players like Porter and Noel basically duplicate what Charlotte already has in MKG/Biyombo so the organization better pray they score in the top two. For Rosterpalooza 1.0, we’re going to assume they pick 1 or 2.

The Case for Marcus Smart.

At one end of the Draft’s risk spectrum sits Noel, a seven footer with no real basketball skills coming off a major knee injury; at the other end a 6’4″, 225 pound, 19 year old point guard/artillery vehicle: Marcus Smart combines Russell Westbrook’s intensity and explosion with James Harden’s strength and handle, he has the potential to be an All-world combo guard in a league that caters to All-world combo guards. Like Westbrook coming out of UCLA, Smart’s shooting and court vision need work – which you can teach. What you CAN’T teach is Smart’s aggressiveness and size. He’ll figure the rest out. You can play him alongside Kemba Walker at the beginning and eventually transition Kemba to his perfect role of 3rd guard/6th man/Closer once Smart gets comfortable running the team. Boom. That’s a hell of a one-two punch.

The Case for Ben McLemore.

Imagine Ben Gordon if he were 6’5″, incredibly long and a plus defender. That’s Ben McLemore. He’s not going to put the ball on the floor and create but as a catch and shoot Ray Allen type, McLemore will open up driving lanes for Kemba and MKG, bust zones and double teams and roll off screens for set plays. AKA: all things Charlotte desperately needs.
VERDICT: McLemore’s elite skill (shooting) make him the slightly safer pick and yes, the Bobcats certainly could use some floor spacers but consider this: spot-up shooting is relatively cheap and fairly abundant – skip down to the free agent shooters list below to have a look – you don’t need to spend the 1st or 2nd overall pick in the draft on it. Most of all, Marcus Smart’s size and position could be franchise-defining. He could legitmately be the Westbrook of the Eastern Conference. You can’t pass up that opportunity. If he’s on the board, pick Marcus Smart.

RESULT: Charlotte drafts Marcus Smart, G Oklahoma State.


Part II: Trades

What’s the best way to fill up $20 million in cap space with quality players who wouldn’t sign with you otherwise??? Why, trading for them against their will, of course. But first, a little housekeeping…

$8,000,000.00 per season.

Amnesty Tyrus Thomas.

Like Thomas himself, this move is a no brainer – and also a litmus test. If the Cats don’t amnesty T-Time, we know that Michael Jordan isn’t serious about the team – which would work out just fine for us, we can all check out and follow the Heat, Celtics or Lakers like most NBA fans in Charlotte. That said, I fully expect Tyrus to be gone at the soonest possible moment. And to that I say, good riddance.

Trade Ben Gordon to Chicago for Carlos Boozer (and a little something extra).

A salary dump for the Bulls, shedding Boozer’s deal gives them big cap space next July to re-sign Luol Deng or another near max player. Even if Chicago refused to give Charlotte’s 1st round pick back outright, perhaps they’d be willing to tighten the restrictions to virtually guarantee the Bulls would never receive it in the Lottery. That may seem like small compensation for taking on Boozer’s final two years/$30 million but consider that:

A. The first year is only $2 million more than the Cats would have to pay Gordon anyway – a guy who has attempted to sabotage the lockerroom along with half the games he’s checked into AND…

B. Boozer’s skill set and position are exactly what Charlotte needs: rebounding and post scoring. Think of it this way, would you rather pay Al Jefferson $60 million over 4 years AND pay Gordon $13 million next season OR only pay Boozer $30 million over two? Not to mention that Boozer’s contract expires the very same July the Cats will need to re-sign Walker. Did I mention Boozer instantly becomes the best Power Forward in Bobcats history?

RESULT: Charlotte acquires PF Carlos Boozer via trade.

Trade Portland’s First Round Pick to OKC for Kendrick Perkins and Jeremy Lamb.

Perkins is a one-dimensional player overpaid by at least 40% and with the Thunder approaching the tax line, his final two years, $17.5 million will need to go. So why are the Bobcats giving up a first round pick to take him on?

One of the many photos of Kendrick Perkins squeezing a basketball really hard.

For one, Perk would help bring some real interior defense (as opposed to “defensive potential” defense) to a team that desperately needs to get better on that side of the ball. Again, his contract is perfectly timed with Bismack Biyombo’s extension so the team could make their decision after Biz learns a thing or two apprenticing under Kendrick (first lesson: “defense” is more than just trying to block every shot).

But the real prize here is Lamb. Charlotte gets a Ben McLemore without having to draft one. Long and rangy, Kemba’s former UCONN teammate, has vast defensive potential and can score off the dribble or in the mid-range game. Acquiring Lamb would allow Charlotte to let Gerald Henderson walk, replacing Hendo at around 1/6th the cost.
It’s a deal that nets the team two quality starters and all they have to give up is a mid-round pick and cap space nobody wants. Win-win.

RESULT: Charlotte acquires C Kendrick Perkins, SG Jeremy Lamb via trade.


Part III: Free Agency

Quick roster assessment after the moves:
Guards: Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jeremy Lamb
Wings: MKG, Jeffrey Taylor
Power Forwards: Carlos Boozer
Centers: Kendrick Perkins, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

There’s an obvious need for depth at Power Forward and you’d love to have a long distance shooter at the SF spot, thus…

Sign a Shooter.

Free Agent Gunners Available this Summer: Kevin Martin, JR Smith, Rip Hamilton, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, Nick Young, Carlos Delfino, Martell Webster and… RAY ALLEN HIMSELF! Who needs “the next Ray Allen” when you can get the original at a discount.

THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY YOU DON’T DRAFT BEN MCLEMORE!

Why not sign this guy?

All these guys can absolutely light it up from beyond the arc, all will be available in July and a few will come dirt cheap. Of the bargain gunners, I like Delfino. He’s 31 and probably has another season or two of quality game left. Carlos gives the team another ball handler who can play either wing positions and is an underrated defender who can absolutely stroke the 3-ball when he gets hot. He signed a one year $3 million deal with Houston last July, so another one year, $3.75 million overpay from Charlotte will probably get it done.

RESULT: Charlotte signs G/SF Carlos Delfino.

PF Depth.

Byron Mullens or Josh McRoberts? Do we even need to have this conversation? Josh McRoberts has been a perfect fit since his arrival. His abilities as a ball handler, floor spacer and playmaker have vaulted the former Dukie from the end of Orlando’s bench to Charlotte’s starting five. Two years, $7m should do the trick and you could even go three if the team was sold on him as their Nick Collison – Josh is amazingly only 26 years old.

RESULT: Charlotte re-signs PF/C Josh McRoberts.

Let’s Roster-Assess Once More:
Guards: Walker, Sessions, Smart, Lamb
Wings: MKG, Delfino, Taylor
PF: Boozer, McRoberts
C: Perkins, Biyombo, Haywood

That’s a quality 12 man roster that, depending on the young players’ development, could certainly challenge for a Playoff spot in the East and could be one of the Conference’s best teams for a decade. Check out the salary structure:

Nerd Numbers

In July of 2015, Charlotte could have up to $30 million in cap room. Some of the money will go towards re-signing Kemba but the team will have enough prospects and wins under their belt to lure the big name, max-players that they can’t today.

In the meantime, Charlotte goes into next season with:
+ An incredible young backcourt of potential All-Stars Walker and Smart, a veteran playmaker in Sessions and a major prospect in Lamb.

+ Gerald Wallace 2.0 (MKG) improving at the 3 spot with a change of pace ballhandler/shooter in Delfino to back him up.

+ A real deal post presence slash double-double guy in Boozer with McRoberts as a solid backup at Power Forward.

+ One of the league’s elite defensive centers (Perkins) mentoring a still young defensive prospect (Biyombo) with Haywood staying on as an emergency big.

+ Better protection on their 1st round pick owed to Chicago should Charlotte not make the Playoffs and a likely Lottery selection from Detroit still owed to them. They can use either of these picks on a young big to eventually replace Boozer/Perkins.


Part IV: The Final Step

Decide if Dunlap is the guy.

I don’t know the specifics of Mike Dunlap’s contract but it’s doubtful someone at his experience level has any guaranteed money in year two. Dunlap has done his best and is obviously someone who works hard and loves the game but this franchise must decide if he’s the leader this young squad needs or if the job is better left to a veteran coach like Jerry Sloan, Mike Brown, Nate McMillan or Stan Van Gundy: All of whom may find this much-improved Bobcats roster to be surprisingly enticing.

-ASChin
@bobcatsbaseline

Stay tuned for Rosterpalooza ’13 Version 2.0 aka “The Re-sign Gerald Henderson Edition”

Charlotte Bobcats Post-Trade Deadline Blueprint

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Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries and Ben McLemore are key Bobcats offseason targets

The NBA’s Trade Deadline has come and gone with the Bobcats keeping most of their 13-win roster intact. They are still young, they are still inexperienced and they are still pretty bad. There is reason for hope however as the team’s lack of major activity at the deadline essentially telegraphed the front office’s plans going forward. Let’s take a look at the potential blueprint:

First order of business: Roster Assessment (Now – May)

The Bobcats front office must determine what they have and what they need heading into the offseason.

  • PG: Kemba Walker is awesome. Ramon Sessions is very good. Next.
  • SG: Gerald Henderson becomes a restricted free agent in July; Ben Gordon enters into the final year of his contract.
  • SF: MKG is potentially awesome; Jeffrey Taylor is signed for two more seasons at around $800k per. Next.
  • PF: Byron Mullens becomes a restricted free agent in July. Tyrus Thomas is, well, let’s get to that later.
  • C: Bismack Biyombo is young, good at many things on defense, bad at many things on offense. Brendan Haywood is a cheap backup signed for two more seasons.
  • Jeff Adrien, Gana Diop, Reggie Williams and Josh McRoberts are expiring contracts.

Second order of business: Draft Lottery, 2013 NBA Draft (May-June)

The Bobcats have THREE different scenarios which they could explore heading into the draft, one VERY likely, the others less so.*
DRAFT SCENARIO ONE: Shooting Guard (80% Likely)
With Henderson looking for a big raise, the Cats could leverage the Class of 2013’s strengths by drafting his replacement. If Charlotte nets the 1st or 2nd overall pick, they’ll likely have a shot at Kansas guard Ben McLemore. If not, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammed would be the runners-up.
DRAFT SCENARIO TWO: Center (10% Likely)
The Bobcats determine Biyombo’s lack of offense outweighs his defensive potential and select either Indiana’s Cody Zeller or Maryland’s Alex Len.
DRAFT SCENARIO THREE: Power Forward (10% Likely)
The Bobcats get the feeling that Byron Mullens would rather play elsewhere or is looking for far more money than Charlotte is willing to pay. In this case, the Bobcats select Larry Johnson-lite, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett.
LIKELY RESULT: Charlotte selects Ben McLemore, SG Kansas.
(*I’m presuming Portland’s pick owed to Charlotte falls inside the Top 12, allowing the Blazers to keep it)

Third order of business: Pre-Agency, Free Agency, Offseason Trades (July)

FREE AGENCY Step one: Once the team has drafted a SG, they’ll attempt to find a sign & trade partner for Gerald Henderson, if only for the trade exception. Should the process become drawn out, Charlotte could opt to simply renounce Henderson’s rights, freeing up his sizable cap hold ($7.75m).
FREE AGENCY Step two: Enter into negotiations with Byron Mullens. Rich Cho has always been high on the artist formerly known as BJ, the question is how much is he going to cost. Anything less than $6 million per season is probably a bargain. More than $7.5 million is overpaying. 4 years, $26 million or 2 years, $13 million sounds about right.
FREE AGENCY Step three: Amnesty Tyrus Thomas. This will be a bitter pill for Michael Jordan to swallow as he’ll have to pay Thomas $18 million over the next two seasons to play for another team (presumably overseas or in another dimension) but removing T-Time from the payroll would put the Bobcats around $9 million under the cap AFTER signing their Top 3 pick and Mullens.
FREE AGENCY Step four: Aggressively shop for an All-Star or future Lottery pick using Ben Gordon’s expiring contract ($13.2m) and the $9 million in cap space. With the new CBA penalties for luxury tax payers, someone is likely to bite. For example: a Gordon for Carlos Boozer swap could alleviate tax problems for the Bulls and return Charlotte’s future 1st round pick owed to Chicago.  If this fails…
FREE AGENCY Step five: Absorb an expiring contract with cap room (ala Kris Humphries) and parlay both Humphries and Gordon into a very real $20-$25 million in cap room the following summer (July 2014). This prevents the team from overpaying UFAs this July when half the league’s teams will have cap space with few high-level free agents to spend their money on (aka overpaying).

 

Bobcats Salary Blueprint

Select Image to Enlarge the Chart

Re-Assess: Training Camp (October)

Worse case scenario, the Bobcats enter camp with:
PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions
SG: Ben McLemore (or Victor Oladipo), Ben Gordon
SF: MKG, Jeff Taylor
PF: Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries
C: Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.
On the surface this is basically the roster they field today, behind the scenes however – between the draft picks owed and the unbelievable amount of cap space the team will have in July of ’14 (the year BEFORE they have to extend either Kemba or Biyombo) – the team could be setup for a near decade-long Playoff run. This is a far cry from where the roster was just two short seasons ago when Larry Brown left the team capped out with precious few assets.
Cheer up, Bobcats fans. It may take another 36 months but the team is on track to generate some serious Buzz for a very long time.

-ASChin