Insider 2/24/2006 - Looking ahead to what's next in the NBA


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Oct 3, 2002
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Looking ahead to what's next in the NBA

By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider

We expected an unprecedented flurry of player movement at the trade deadline Thursday and were left instead with Steve Francis, Earl Watson and the splinter patrol changing places.
What did (and maybe more importantly, what didn't) go down in the past few weeks will have ramifications not only on the playoff race but also on what could be an equally snoozy offseason.
With a fairly weak draft (at least in terms of star power) and an even weaker free-agent crop (you know you're in trouble when Al Harrington and Vladimir Radmanovic are considered among the prizes), the good are likely to stay good, and the bad …
That's what makes it all the more surprising that many of the NBA's worst teams weren't active at the deadline. They may come to regret it later.
Now that the trade deadline hangover has subsided, Insider breaks down what it all means and how it should affect a number of teams' plans for this summer.

Before we get into exactly what teams are planning to do this summer, it's probably appropriate to start at the top, where a number of changes in the front office and coaching staff could go down when the season is over.
Two high-profile GMs look like they're poised to move this summer, if not earlier.
Suns GM Bryan Colangelo has already had serious negotiations with the Raptors about their head position. The Raptors are going all out for Colangelo, offering him a deal that is reportedly worth three times what he makes in Phoenix.

That makes sense for the Raptors. They have no organizational credibility. As much as they need talent, they have to change their culture at the top first. Wayne Embry's done a nice job restoring order in Toronto, but he's in it for the short term. It's time to let a heavy hitter like Colangelo take them the rest of the way.

The Suns won't stop him if he wants to go. While Suns owner Robert Sarver is trying to work an extension for Colangelo, it's been rumored for more than a year that he'd really like Steve Kerr to take the reins in Phoenix. Kerr is ideally suited for the job, has a close relationship with Sarver and would make an ideal replacement for Colangelo in Phoenix.
Nuggets president Kiki Vandeweghe's contract is up in Denver. Owner Stan Kroenke refused to give Vandeweghe an extension or pay raise last summer, meaning he's as good as gone.

The Blazers will probably make a big run at him, and don't count out the Lakers -- Vandeweghe has a great relationship with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant.

Don't expect the Nuggets job to open up this summer, however. The word on the street is that director of player personnel Mark Warkentien -- a close associate with George Karl and Kroenke's main confidant, Bret Bearup -- will take over and do the bidding of Karl and company.
Timberwolves VP Kevin McHale could be out of a job if the Wolves continue to falter. Then again, we've been saying that for years. McHale's inability to get a better trade done before the deadline (the acquisition of Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks and Mark Blount has yet to pay dividends) and Kevin Garnett's growing surliness could do McHale in.
Everyone in the league wonders how Hawks GM Billy Knight still has a job. His missteps in Atlanta have been legendary. This year has been especially tough.

First he passed on Chris Paul in the draft. Marvin Williams will be great someday, but he'll never be a point guard or a center, the two things the Hawks still desperately need.

Then, he overpaid Joe Johnson. Johnson has played great, but when you consider what he gave up -- the contract, the draft picks and Boris Diaw -- to bring him to Atlanta, it was too much.

His failure to move Harrington before the deadline is his latest stumble. The Hawks will have to either overpay to keep Harrington this summer or watch him walk away for nothing. Neither is appealing if you are a Hawks fan. If Knight drafts another small forward in this year's draft, his fate is sealed … right? Maybe. Remember, the remaining owners of the Hawks went to court to back this guy. Firing him a year later may be a little more than their egos can handle.

Two spots everyone thought would open up, with the Magic and Hornets, probably won't now. Both Otis Smith of Orlando and Jeff Bowers of New Orleans/Oklahoma City have done great jobs this season managing the payrolls and team assets. Suddenly, two of the NBA laughingstocks look like they are both heading in the right direction.
Of course, there's still one NBA team that seems to dig a deeper and deeper hole every year. Knicks fans are so worked up about Isiah Thomas that they're now sending e-mails pleading with David Stern to invoke the Ted Stepien rule on the Knicks.

Remember, Stepien was such a terrible owner (he traded away just about every asset the team had, especially draft picks) that the league stepped in and offered the Cavs some compensatory draft picks to keep it alive.

That's not happening this time, Knicks fans.

But if Isiah's latest gamble on Francis blows up in his face the way everything else he's touched has, how can owner James Dolan stick with him? There are too many talented young executives in the league right now to let Isiah keep playing demolition derby with one of the league's most elite franchises. Possible new GMs?
Put Indiana Pacers VP David Morway at the top of the list this year. He almost got the job in Cleveland last summer before Larry Brown entered the picture. Nurtured at Donnie "The Don" Walsh's side the past six years, he's got a lot going for him: youth, a great leadership style, cap knowledge and a keen eye for talent.
"He has the background; he's paid the dues," Walsh told Insider last year just before the Cavs interviewed for their head job. "I think he's ready. When you're talking about a GM, you're talking about an executive. The job is more multidimensional than just scouting. That person has to know the finances, the cap, has to have experience assembling a team, has to know how to lead. It isn't just, can that guy play basketball? I think David fits the bill."
As for coaches in jeopardy, there will be plenty:
Rick Adelman's contract is up with the Kings this summer.

Doc Rivers has never seemed like a great fit in Boston, though Danny Ainge has been pretty loyal to him.

Mike Woodson's position in Atlanta has been tenuous all year.

There's been talk that Bernie Bickerstaff may step down as coach this summer to focus on his front office duties with the organization.

The Warriors' Mike Montgomery could be in deep water if the Warriors' playoff drought continues.

If Brian Hill doesn't get with the rebuilding program in Orlando soon, he could be looking for work.

The Sonics might want to replace Bob Hill, depending on what he does the last third of the season.

And it's tough to see what Sam Mitchell is bringing to the table in Toronto. If a new GM takes over there, Mitchell could be kicked to the curb.
Who's out there to replace them?

Jim O'Brien has had the whole year off to recharge.

Many GMs are very high on Grizzlies assistant Eric Musselman. He's been the only guy in the last decade to give the Warriors a fighting chance to make the playoffs and he did it with less talent than they have right now.

And don't be surprised if Stan Van Gundy gets some love somewhere. His version of the Heat was arguably better than the one that Pat Riley produced.

A number of teams have two first-round picks this summer.

The Bulls have the best two (their own and the Knicks').

Other teams with multiple first-round picks: The Blazers (their own and the Pistons'), the Knicks (the Nuggets' and the Spurs'), the Hornets (their own and the Bucks'), the Nets (their own and the Clippers') and the Suns (their own and possibly the Lakers').
It looks as though five teams -- the Bobcats, Bulls (via the Knicks), Hawks, Blazers, and Magic -- will battle it out for the best chance at the top pick in the draft. This year's draft lacks star power at the top. Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge, UConn's Rudy Gay and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison are the only three prospects that scouts agree are indisputably worthy of a top-five pick in the draft.
So who's No. 1? It really may depend on the team. The early indications I've received are that the Bulls and Hawks would lean toward Aldridge based on need. The Blazers and Magic are high on Morrison. The Bobcats, I'm told, like Gay.
With high school players now banned from the draft and a thin crop of international players this year (only Andrea Bargnani, Tiago Splitter and Rudy Fernandez are considered locks for the first round), college players will be in the spotlight this year.
The good news for NBA teams drafting later in the first round is that while there isn't much star power at the top, scouts feel the draft has excellent depth.
"This is going to be one of those drafts where the difference between the eighth player in the draft and 31st player in the draft isn't going to be very wide at all," one veteran NBA scout told Insider. "There will be some dramatic mistakes at the top and some great steals at the bottom."
The most interesting subplot of the draft may center on Duke's J.J. Redick.

Typically, undersized shooting guards without great athleticism don't find homes in the first round. But Redick may be different. He's been so outstanding this season that scouts are now beginning to waffle just a bit on their low projections of Redick.

While most GMs and scouts Insider has spoken with have him in the mid teens or early 20s on their draft boards, one NBA GM told me he thought Redick would be a top-10 pick, maybe even a top-5 pick, on draft night. The thinking goes that teams need what Redick delivers -- great shooting, toughness and a winning attitude. Whether he has the physical tools to become a star in the NBA may not be as important in this case.

Who will the players be in free agency?

Assuming there's a $51 million cap (it came in at $49.5 million last season but league sources are expecting a slight uptick), the Bobcats will have the most salary cap room in the league, with roughly $21 million to spend (assuming they don't pick up player options, and counting draft and minimum player cap holds).
The Hawks and Raptors will have roughly $15 million in cap room. The Bulls and Hornets will have about $13 million. The Clippers will be approximately $9 million under and the Jazz will be almost $7 million under the cap.

What does this mean? Not as much as it first appears given this year's free-agent class, because the free-agent market is pretty thin this summer.
This is why it was so surprising that many teams (especially the Bulls) valued cap space this summer over making a trade before the deadline that made them better now. Sure, teams can always use free agents to broker sign-and-trades and use cap space to facilitate cap room deals … but that doesn't happen very often.
Ben Wallace is the elite free agent on the market, but just about everyone believes he'll re-sign in Detroit at around $10 million per year for four or five years.
The way Peja Stojakovic is playing lately, he could garner major interest. The Bulls might make a run. They're the one team that's appeared to be really enamored with him. The Pacers are saying all the right things about keeping him, but it may cost them more than they're willing to spend.
Other hot names among the top unrestricted free agents include Harrington (who couldn't have picked a better year to put up career numbers and hit the free-agent market), Jason Terry, Radmanovic and Joel Przybilla. That's about it for unrestricted free agents expected to command more than the midlevel exception.
A handful of restricted free agents, including Nene (if his knee heals properly) and Drew Gooden, may also command offer sheets for more than the midlevel if they can convince interested teams that the home team won't match. A few other restricted free agents, including Chris Wilcox, Trevor Ariza and Melvin Ely, may also garner interest.
Looking for some midlevel free-agent bargains? Here's where the pickings look much stronger.

Here's an early list of who might sign with your team, even if it's over the cap: Banks, Nazr Mohammed, Speedy Claxton, Sam Cassell, Mike James, Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Matt Harpring, Tony Battie, Reggie Evans, Bobby Jackson, Bonzi Wells, Fred Jones, Jiri Welsch, John Salmons, Jarron Collins and Michael Olowokandi.

Of course, the free-agent market isn't the only way to add players to your team. You can bet that many of the prominent names you heard before the trade deadline will be mentioned again once the summer comes around.

If Minnesota can't get its act together, do the Wolves finally get serious about trading Garnett?

Ainge continues to insist that he has no intention of trading Paul Pierce. But if the right opportunity comes up this summer, will the Celtics pull the trigger?

Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kenyon Martin, Lamar Odom, Zach Randolph, Jamaal Magloire and Carlos Boozer are expected to be the other hot names once the season ends.

And, of course, the Knicks will be in the mix, trying to deal their new expiring contracts (Jalen Rose and Maurice Taylor) and possibly trying to thin out their loaded backcourt of Francis, Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson.

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