Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LOOKING AHEAD : THE LOTTERY TEAMS PT 2

Not all lottery teams are created equal.  Below, I take a look at the state of each NBA team that didn't make the playoffs this year and what questions need to be answered this offseason.  You can find part one here.

NG = non guaranteed
P = player option/early termination option
RFA = restricted free agent
T = team option

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Jeff Withey (24,NG), Melvin Ely (36,NG)
-          PF           Anthony Davis (21), Ryan Anderson (26)              
-          SF           Tyreke Evans (25), Luke Babbitt (25,NG)                              
-          SG          Eric Gordon (25), Anthony Morrow (29,T), Austin Rivers (22)
-          PG          Jrue Holiday (24)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Alexis Ajinca (26)
-          PF           Jason Smith (28)
-          SF           Al-Farouq Aminu (24)
-          SF           Darius Miller (24,RFA)
-          SF           James Southerland (24)
-          PG          Brian Roberts (28,RFA)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PG          Pierre Jackson (23)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          None

THREE QUESTIONS
-          How can New Orleans surround Anthony Davis with more help?  Davis has certainly proven to be a franchise player and is rapidly approaching superstar status as one of the best players in the league.  Oh, and he only just turned 21.  Obviously injuries played a part in the Pelicans tough season with Ryan Anderson & Jrue Holiday missing a combined 108 contests.  Davis, himself, and Eric Gordon each missed 15+ games while underrated sub Jason Smith missed over 50 games.  Health notwithstanding, New Orleans has $45 million tied up into the top 4 players around Davis and while that group can put up points at an amazing rate, they don’t quite fit together defensively.  Also, it doesn’t leave much money to put a bench together.  Unless New Orleans wins a top 3 pick in the lottery they won’t have any picks in the 2014 draft further complicating the roster build.  Brian Roberts & Alexis Ajinca might have played themselves out of the Pelicans budget as well.  Figuring out how to give Davis as much help as possible will be the number one priority this offseason.
-          What do the Pelicans do with Eric Gordon & Tyreke Evans?  Evans came off the bench all year until the final stretch of games where injuries to other players gave him the chance to start.  In those 22 starts, he averaged nearly 20 points per game and generally filled the stat sheet.  Again, Gordon couldn’t stay healthy for a full season and we watched his scoring output decline for the 3rd straight season since he came to New Orleans.  Gordon has 2 years and $30+ million left on his deal, with the 2nd year being a player option, and Evans has 3 years and over $33 million still due.  Both players certainly have value but not necessarily at the price they’re being paid.  Still, when you add Evans’ deal with Ryan Anderson’s, that’s almost $20 million being paid to two bench players while there are still holes in the starting lineup at center and small forward.  New Orleans would likely move either Evans or Gordon if they could find a reasonable offer but it’s hard to envision that happening.  It’ll be interesting to see if a move gets made to create more flexibility.
-          How will the Pierre Jackson saga end?  New Orleans traded for Jackson on draft night but didn’t include him on their opening day roster.  He signed in France but quickly backtracked out of his deal because he was homesick.  Instead, he took to the D-League where he played for a team that wasn’t even the affiliate of the Pelicans.  He averaged 29.1 points per game and absolutely looked deserved of a call-up.  But it never came, even after the Jrue Holiday injury when it looked as if there was a need for another point guard on the roster.  He requested that his rights be traded at the deadline but again nothing happened.  He finally gave up and headed to Turkey to finish out the year.  Brian Roberts will be a restricted free agent and there is seemingly room for Jackson to become the backup at the point.  Whether or not it will happen remains to be seen but it’s certainly been a peculiar situation.

NEW YORK KNICKS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Tyson Chandler (32), Andrea Bargnani (29)
-          PF           Amare Stoudemire (31,P)           
-          SF           Carmelo Anthony (30,P), Iman Shumpert (24), L. Odom (34,NG)
-          SG          J.R. Smith (29), Tim Hardaway Jr (22), Shannon Brown (28,NG)
-          PG          Raymond Felton (30), Pablo Prigioni (37)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Cole Aldrich (26)
-          PF           Kenyon Martin (36)
-          PF           Jeremy Tyler (23)
-          PG          Toure Murry (24,RFA)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          None

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2016 to Denver (Right to swap)
-          2016 to Toronto (Lesser of own and Denver picks)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Will he stay or will he go?  Carmelo Anthony will opt out and test free agency this summer and what he chooses to do will shape the direction of the franchise.  The likely raise of the salary cap will allow more teams to have an opportunity to bring him aboard.  Melo already said that he wants to visit multiple teams before he decides what to do.  He has also been consistent in saying that winning is more important than money but we’ll see as he would leave roughly $30 million on the table if he left New York.  If he decides to return to the Knicks, they won’t have any cap space to make roster improvements until the summer of 2015 so another long season might be in the future.  If he leaves, they still don’t have much room only the season will be a complete disaster.  However, the long-term possibilities would open up once the contracts of Amare, Chandler & Bargnani come off the books after the season.  It’s likely to be one of the biggest storylines all summer long and the first big dilemma of Phil Jackson’s reign. 
-          Can Phil Jackson be the franchise savior?  The Knicks have been terrible for too long and Phil is the latest to be brought in to shift the direction of the team.  One of the biggest issues has been owner James Dolan’s meddling in basketball decisions so if nothing else the idea that Jackson has final say should breathe at least some confidence.  But can he be a successful executive?  He’s unproven but brings the winning pedigree along with him.  He’s already pushed Mike Woodson out the door and more wholesale front office changes are due to come.  He’ll be without cap space and without draft picks in his first offseason so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do roster-wise before next year.  It’s likely that he’ll be setting up the infrastructure this year with an eye towards 2015 but with a weak Eastern Conference, it should still be playoffs or bust in year one.
-          Will the Knicks continue to trade young players & draft picks for big names?  Knicks fans haven’t seen a homegrown talent developed and able to stick with the team in a long time.  Also, it’s devastating to know that after suffering through this season the team won’t even have their lottery pick to show for it.  2016’s pick is already gone too and rumors persisted all year about Iman Shumpert and even Tim Hardaway Jr. possibly being packaged in various deals.  Most believe the Knicks could survive a complete rebuild because they will always attract big free agents on the open market.  If Melo leaves, can the new management face reality and opt to go in this direction or will they continue to be pressured to bring in overpaid, aging players who casual fans can identify with?  If Melo stays, can they clear out all of the junk and keep their eyes on the future instead of always going with short-term fixes?  Ahh the life of a Knicks fan.

ORLANDO MAGIC

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Nikola Vucevic (24), DeWayne Dedmon (25,NG), J. Maxiell (31,NG)
-          PF           Kyle O’Quinn (24,NG), Andrew Nicholson (24)
-          SF           Tobias Harris (22), Maurice Harkless (21)
-          SG          Arron Afflalo (29), Victor Oladipo (23), Doron Lamb (22)              
-          PG          Jameer Nelson (32,NG), Ronnie Price (31,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          PG          E’Twaun Moore (25,RFA)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 3rd overall
-          Round 1 – 12th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2017 from L.A. Lakers (Top 5)
-          2017 from Philadelphia (Top 14)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          With the addition of two lottery picks in this year’s draft, can Orlando make a playoff run next season?  The Magic are just 42-121 since trading away Dwight Howard and even though they are viewed as the winners of 4-team trade, can they put together a roster that can win now?  Obviously, all eyes are on the future and developing talent but rookie scale contracts only last so long and tough decisions come quickly.  Just ask Oklahoma City.  Orlando has a lot of good, young talent on the roster and a potential franchise player could be available with the number 3 pick.  Their second lottery pick should also net a potential high-upside starter as well.  Orlando should be stacked with lots of talented players who, if they all gel well, could have the Magic sniffing the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  Although it won’t be a disappointment if they don’t, looking at things right now, expectations could change by the time next season starts.
-          What will Orlando do with the Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris extensions?  As mentioned above, having young talent is great but it quickly can put your team into a salary crunch.  Orlando is fine as they don’t have any big contracts currently on their books but deciding what price is right for Vucevic and Harris will go a long way to maintaining future success.  Both players missed chunks of time this year but also have flashed big potential.  Vucevic averaged a double-double for the 2nd straight season and will likely command the higher annual salary being a big man.  Harris didn’t match his production levels from last year after coming over from Milwaukee but has shown flashes all year.  At just 24 and 22 years-old, respectively, both figure to be a big part of the team’s future but how much will that cost?
-          Will Orlando continue the Victor Oladipo as a point guard experiment?  Oladipo’s season has him in the running for Rookie of the Year and he certainly will be a foundational piece in the Magic’s future.  But is he a point guard?  Orlando experimented all year and I don’t think you can overlook the fact that a choice will need to be made if they feel he can handle those duties over the long haul.  It will not only shape their decisions during the draft but also in free agency.  Oladipo’s large amount of turnovers was to be expected but he’ll have to cut that down while also finding a way to be a better distributor if he’s to remain in that role.  There’s no doubting his ability at both ends of the court and it will be interesting to see which way the Magic decide to go with Victor.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Nerlens Noel (20), Byron Mullens (25,P), Jarvis Varnado (26,NG)
-          PF           Henry Sims (24,NG), Arnett Moultrie (23), Brandon Davies (23,NG)
-          SF           Thaddeus Young (26), H. Thompson (23,NG), J. Anderson (25,NG)
-          SG          Tony Wroten (21), Elliott Williams (25,NG), J. Richardson (33,P)
-          PG          Michael Carter-Williams (23), Casper Ware (24,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          SF           Adonis Thomas (21)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PF           Furkan Aldemir (23)
-          PF           Arsalan Kazemi (24)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 2nd overall
-          Round 1 – 10th overall
-          Round 2 – 32nd overall
-          Round 2 – 39th overall
-          Round 2 – 47th overall
-          Round 2 – 52nd overall
-          Round 2 – 54th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2015 to Boston (Top 14)
-          2017 to Orlando (Top 14)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Now what?  Philadelphia gutted their roster on the way to completely bottoming out.  Now the rebuild begins.  They’ll have the 2nd best chance at the top pick and also will likely have New Orleans’ 10th overall pick to boot.  Add in 2 of the first 9 picks in the 2nd round plus 3 more at the back end plus 7 of their returning players are on non-guaranteed deals so this team should look completely different next year.  They’ll start with ROY candidate Michael Carter-Williams at the point and the debut of rookie center Nerlens Noel.  Every other roster spot is subject to change.  Thaddeus Young might be their best player but he still wants out.  Sims, Thompson & Wroten proved enough to be included in the future but in what role?  And can they succeed in those new roles and be happy?  There will be cap space a plenty and even more if Young is dealt but what kind of players can they attract with the current amount of talent?  We still don’t know about Noel but you’d have to think that if the Sixers can hit on both lottery picks again this time around they would be set up for a very bright future and then they will have a lot more choices in free agency by next offseason.
-          What to do with all those 2nd round picks?  The Sixers collected 5 second round picks for this year’s draft in the various moves they made this year.  Both top 40 picks could be looked at as first round picks in any other draft with the depth of talent available.  Philadelphia could also use some of the later picks on draft-and-stash international players to add to their duo of Aldemir & Kazemi.  They could also see fit to take the best player available in all situations and go into the season with potentially 7 rookies from the draft and 8 if you include Noel.  Trades are obviously in the cards as well and draft day is sure to be a wild day for the 76ers.
-          What are the realistic expectations for a return to the playoffs?  We know the East is depleted, and they'll be 4 lottery picks in 2 years on the Sixers roster, but can they really be asked to contend for a playoff spot next season?  It’s doubtful but that doesn’t mean there won’t be raised expectations to start off the year.  I expect the front office to be very careful in building this roster from the ground up so I would think another year of development and laying the foundation for the future is the priority over making the playoffs.  Depending on how next year goes and what free agents they are able to attract, I would think next season is out of the question with an eye towards 2015-16 but only time will tell.

PHOENIX SUNS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Miles Plumlee (26), Alex Len (21), Shavlik Randolph (30,T)
-          PF           Channing Frye (31,P), Markieff Morris (25), Marcus Morris (25)
-          SF           Gerald Green (28)
-          SG          Archie Goodwin (20), Dionte Christmas (28,NG)
-          PG          Goran Dragic (28), Ish Smith (26,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Emeka Okafor (32)
-          SF           P.J. Tucker (29,RFA)
-          SG          Leandro Barbosa (31)
-          PG          Eric Bledsoe (24,RFA)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PF           Alex Oriakhi (24)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 14th overall
-          Round 1 – 18th overall
-          Round 1 – 27th overall
-          Round 2 – 50th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2014 from Minnesota (Top 13, 2015 – Top 12)
-          2015 from L.A. Lakers (Top 5)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Is Eric Bledsoe a max-level player?  Bledsoe missed nearly half the season and didn’t quiet any of the concerns over his health.  But he sure quieted the critics who wondered how he could perform in a starting role.  He averaged nearly 18-5-5 when healthy and the 2-point guard lineup with he and Goran Dragic proved devastating for opposing defenses.  The Suns have vowed to match any offer for Bledsoe, and they surely will, but will that offer be at the max?  Phoenix has the salary cap flexibility to absorb a max deal but Bledsoe’s health must weigh in their decision.  Phoenix would be wise to strike a deal with Bledsoe before he receives other offers in an attempt to keep the cost down but either way he’ll be a high paid Phoenix Sun for many more years to come.
-          What will the team do with those 3 first round picks?  The possibilities seem endless having three first round picks in a highly touted draft and Phoenix can go a number a ways.  They could easily use all 3 of their selections on impact players that can play can be developed and possibly contributed during the year.  They could take one or two guys that fit that mold and also pick a Dario Saric or Clint Capela, if they’re available, and let them continue to develop overseas.  They could package picks for another star player or separately trade them for veteran help.  Either way, you would expect GM Ryan McDonough to only make a trade that works for the team.  He wasn’t bullied into giving up any of those picks at the trade deadline when many thought one or two would be packaged with Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract.  No matter which way they go, Phoenix will be another very interesting team to watch on draft day.
-          Can the Suns become an instant contender next year?  Phoenix had 48 wins and just missed the playoffs by one game due to some unfortunate late game mistakes down the stretch of a very difficult end of the season schedule.  Rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek had the team playing exciting basketball all year long and seemed to get more out of his roster than anyone could have imagined.  There are many offseason roster questions including extensions for the Morris twins, whether or not they can keep restricted free agent P.J. Tucker and what to do with all those picks, but the Suns have a lot of great assets to work with.  Phoenix is sure to be careful that any incoming players don’t affect the chemistry this team has built and, realistically, there is no reason we shouldn’t expect the Suns to be a playoff team next year.  If all goes well, they might even be a dark horse contender for the Western Conference finals.  Quite a far cry from where everyone expected they’d be at this point.

SACRAMENTO KINGS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             DeMarcus Cousins (24), Jason Thompson (28)
-          PF           Carl Landry (31), Reggie Evans (34), Willie Reed (24,NG)
-          SF           Rudy Gay (28,P), Derrick Williams (23), Travis Outlaw (30)
-          SG          Ben McLemore (21), Jason Terry (37), Quincy Acy (24,NG)
-          PG          Ray McCallum (23)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Aaron Gray (29)
-          SG          Jared Cunningham (23)
-          PG          Isaiah Thomas (25,RFA)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 7th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2015 to Chicago (Top 10)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Will Rudy Gay opt in?  The early-season deal for Rudy Gay showed that the new Kings owners were serious about winning.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect and Sacramento will be picking in the middle of the lottery yet again.  The Kings went 22-41 after acquiring Gay while Toronto surged to the 3rd seed in the East.  Gay has a $19+ million dollar option for next year and is very unlikely to see that type of annual salary somewhere else but long-term security is always a concern with players so we shouldn’t be surprised if he does take less money now for more later in a better situation.  Rudy did put up career numbers in points, field goal % and assists in his 55 game stint so maybe he feels comfortable staying.  Whatever he decides will shape the offseason in Sacramento.
-          Will Isaiah Thomas be back and, if so, at what price?  Before the all-star break, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Sacramento would make Thomas a big part of their future.  Then the rumors came out around the trade deadline that they were reconsidering and possibly shopping him for a better option like Rajon Rondo.  Thomas, however, put up over 20 points & 6 assists per game and will be due for big contract this offseason.  He’s restricted so the Kings can match any offer but will they?  That decision could be greatly affected depending on what happens with Rudy Gay.  I find it hard to believe that the Kings would let 2 of their stars leave at the same time with no compensation and it may be more likely that they pay Thomas a little more than they want to in order to not take another step in the wrong direction.
-          Can the Kings actually expect to make the playoffs any time soon?  Sacramento hasn’t been in the postseason in 8 years and hasn’t even cracked 30 wins in the last 6.  They locked down DeMarcus Cousins as their franchise player and were rewarded with nearly 23 & 12 per game.  Thomas out-performed expectations as the starting point guard and Rudy Gay gave the team a little-big three.  Whether or not they can become a playoff team depends first, and foremost, on the return of both Gay & Thomas.  They will also need to see improvement from last year’s lottery pick Ben McLemore who had some moments at the end of the year but was generally disappointing in his shooting numbers.  Carl Landry will be back after missing the entire year and will hopefully provide more production down low.  The Kings absolutely must hit on this year’s pick and a little lottery luck wouldn’t hurt at all.  With the roster as currently constructed, I’d still be hard-pressed to predict they’ll be in the playoffs next year but with the right tweaks you never know.

UTAH JAZZ

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Enes Kanter (22), Rudy Gobert (22)
-          PF           Derrick Favors (23), Erik Murphy (24,NG)                             
-          SF           Jeremy Evans (27), Malcolm Thomas (25,NG)
-          SG          Alec Burks (23), John Lucas III (33,NG)
-          PG          Trey Burke (21), Diante Garrett (26,NG), Ian Clark (23,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          PF           Marvin Williams (28)
-          SF           Gordon Hayward (24,RFA)
-          SF           Richard Jefferson (34)
-          SG          Brandon Rush (29)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PG          Raul Neto (22)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 4th overall
-          Round 1 – 23rd overall
-          Round 2 – 35th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2017 from Golden State (No protection)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Will Gordon Hayward remain in Utah?  Hayward put up career highs of 16-5-5 but also saw his 3 point shooting fall off a cliff this year.  His field goal percentage has dropped steadily in each of his first 4 seasons as well.  Word before the season was that it was possible that Hayward could see a max offer from another team.  That would be unexpected at this point but could another team throw an offer out there that makes the Jazz think twice?  Theoretically, Alec Burks could start at shooting guard and Utah could address the small forward position with the number 4 pick.  That would free up more money for free agency and future extensions to some of their other young players.  Will it happen though?  Most believe Utah won’t allow Hayward to hit the open market but his recent play has to give one pause.
-          What about the extensions for Kanter & Burks?  Kanter lost his starting job early in the year before seeing spot starts at the end of the season.  He ended the year with 4 straight double-doubles and will be just 22 at the beginning of next season.  Burks came off the bench almost exclusively but nearly doubled his output from last year while getting to free throw line at an amazing rate.  Now, can Utah find a middle ground on contract extensions with both players?  If Hayward is re-signed and both Kanter & Burks receive big deals then Utah will be locked into that core group, along with Favors, moving forward.  The good news is they are all under 25 years old.  The bad news is they would still be paying more for potential than actual production.
-          Can the Jazz take the next step?  Favors averaged 13.3 & 8.7 after receiving his big extension that kicks in next year.  He continues to improve but they’ll need him to make a bigger jump next season to justify that contract.  If Hayward returns, and Utah brings 2 more first round picks, they could have 6 lottery picks from the last 4 drafts plus Rudy Gobert & this year’s 23rd overall selection.  That’s quite the collection of under-25 talent but they need someone to put the puzzle together.  Tyrone Corbin was just fired as head coach so the answer to the question might come in the form of who is next in charge.  The youth movement in Utah was clearly the correct direction but can they start putting W’s on the board?

Monday, April 21, 2014

LOOKING AHEAD : THE LOTTERY TEAMS PT 1

Not all lottery teams are created equal.  Below, I take a look at the state of each NBA team that didn't make the playoffs this year and what questions need to be answered this offseason.  You can find part two here.  I only included the draft rights held players who may actually still have a chance to come over in the near future and limited future draft picks to first rounders so it didn't get overwhelming.  For a complete breakdown at each NBA team you can check out this google doc

NG = non guaranteed
P = player option/early termination option
RFA = restricted free agent
T = team option

BOSTON CELTICS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Jared Sullinger (22), Vitor Faverani (26), Joel Anthony (32,P)
-          PF           Brandon Bass (29), Kelly Olynyk (23)
-          SF           Jeff Green (28), Chris Johnson (24,NG)
-          SG          Gerald Wallace (32), Keith Bogans (34,NG)
-          PG          Rajon Rondo (28), Phil Pressey (23,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          PF           Kris Humphries (29)
-          SG          Chris Babb (24)
-          SG          Avery Bradley (23,RFA)                
-          PG          Jerryd Bayless (26)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          F/C         Colton Iverson (25)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 5TH overall
-          Round 1 – 17TH overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2015 from L.A. Clippers (No protection)
-          2015 from Philadelphia (Top 14)
-          2016 from Brooklyn (No protection)
-          2017 from Brooklyn (Right to swap)
-          2018 from Brooklyn (No protection)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Are the Celtics confident enough that Rondo can be the face of the franchise or will they look to move him this offseason?  He has made it known that he won’t sign an extension and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.  They were rumored to have a deal in place with Sacramento around the trade deadline but Rondo refused to sign an extension and the deal was nixed.  Rondo is what he is at this point, as both a player and personality.  The length of the upcoming rebuild could hinge on this decision.
-          Can Boston package some of those future 1st round picks to unload Gerald Wallace’s contract?  Wallace is due $20 million dollars over the next two seasons.  He let his unhappiness show through the media at times having no problem throwing teammates under the bus for their lack of effort.  Taking on his contract was necessary to make the trade with Brooklyn happen, but the Celtics could really use the cap space on much more productive players.  But are there any takers?
-          How much will Avery Bradley command on the open market?  He missed some time with injuries but has shown the two-way ability to be a nice piece in the rebuilding effort.  The Celtics can match any offer but will have to hope another team doesn’t throw a large offer his way.  Not saying they wouldn’t match but it would limit their ability to bring in other players this offseason.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Anderson Varejao (32,NG), Tyler Zeller (24)
-          PF           Tristan Thompson (23), Anthony Bennett (21)
-          SF           Alonzo Gee (27,NG), Sergey Karasev (21), Carrick Felix (24)
-          SG          Dion Waiters (22), Scotty Hopson (25,NG)
-          PG          Kyrie Irving (22), Jarrett Jack (31), Matthew Dellavedova (24,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Spencer Hawes (26)
-          SF           Luol Deng (29)
-          G/F        C.J. Miles (27)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PF           Milan Macvan (24)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 9th overall
-          Round 2 – 33rd overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2015 from Memphis (Only if pick is between 6-14)
-          2015 from Miami (Top 10)

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2015 to Chicago (Right to swap, Top 14)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Will Kyrie sign a max extension?  The rumors have been there for a long time that Irving wants out of Cleveland but will he pass up max money to leave?  Owner Dan Gilbert recently said that he would trade any player that rejected a max contract offer seemingly giving Kyrie the leverage in the situation.  Nobody questions his offensive skills but most wonder whether or not he is a franchise player.  His teams have continued to lose a lot of games and his leadership has come into question.  Regardless, it would be a brutal blow to the Cavs if they can’t keep him long-term.
-          Can Anthony Bennett develop having to play behind Tristan Thompson?  Bennett showed a few flashes late in the year but struggled mightily for the most part.  The Cavs refused to send him to the D-League where he could have gotten big minutes and instead slowly incorporated him into the rotation.  He recorded only six double-digit scoring games all year and found minutes hard to come by.  Whether or not you think he is a bust, we’ll never really know unless he gets more playing time.  With a 23-year old top 5 pick ahead of him in the pecking order, it seems like a tall task for him to have any chance to prove us all wrong.
-          What will the Cavs do with the center position?  Varejao is one of the most energetic players in the league, but 4 straight seasons of health issues have sapped him of his value.  He’ll be 32 to start the year and his contract is only partially guaranteed for $4 million.  Spencer Hawes is an unrestricted free agent and Cleveland will likely have to overpay to keep him.  That’s very possible but could come back to haunt them if it’s not a short term deal.  Zeller has been productive at times but is likely best suited for a reserve role.  Whoever the new GM is will have plenty of issues to deal with and, even though this one isn’t a top priority, it is a question that must be answered.

DENVER NUGGETS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             JaVale McGee (26), Timofey Mozgov (28), J.J. Hickson (26)
-          PF           Kenneth Faried (24), Darrell Arthur (26,P), Anthony Randolph (28)
-          SF           Danilo Gallinari (26), Wilson Chandler (27), Quincy Miller (21,NG)
-          SG          Randy Foye (31), Evan Fournier (22)                                       
-          PG          Ty Lawson (26), Nate Robinson (30,P)

FREE AGENTS
-          SF           Jan Vesely (24)
-          PG          Aaron Brooks (29)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          C             Chu Chu Maduabum (23)
-          C             Izzet Turkyilmaz (24)
-          PF           Joffrey Lauvergne (23)
-          SG          Erick Green (23)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 11th overall
-          Round 2 – 41st overall
-          Round 2 – 56th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK CREDITS
-          2016 from New York (Right to swap)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Can a healthy year put this team back in the playoffs?  Denver lost a full year of development from both Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee.  On top of that, Ty Lawson & Wilson Chandler each missed 20 games.  Lawson had an incredible season but there just wasn’t enough talent on the floor when you add in the fact that Andre Iguodala fled to Oakland before the season.  The Nuggets need Gallinari to not only return to form, but also take that next step.  McGee has always been a wild card and his improvement might not be as vital with the play of Mozgov, but they have invested too much money in him and need to see a return.
-          Is there any way the Nuggets can relieve some of their salary cap pressure?  Denver will be over the cap when you include their 1st round pick.  They have 3 players making just over $10 million next season.  Lawson and Gallinari, if healthy, seem like fair deals.  McGee’s could be if he shows improvement but his trade value is low after missing all but 5 games.  In reality, it’s the mid-level contracts of Chandler & Hickson plus the eventual opt-ins for Arthur & Robinson that hurt the team’s flexibility.  Denver has a deep roster that sorely lacks a star player.  Say what you will about the Carmelo trade but Denver is a good example of how the sum of the parts they acquired isn’t better than the superstar they had.  Denver could look to package some of those ‘reasonable’ contracts with a future pick to try and move some of their depth for a more quality player.
-          Can the Nuggets find lottery luck?  I know this a question you can ask for any team, but Denver has the unique situation of having both their own and the Knicks pick when the ping pong balls are drawn.  As it stands, they’ll pick 11th but if by some miracle they could land a top 3 pick then it would open up so many trade possibilities that could quickly land Denver back into the playoffs.  Granted the odds are stacked against them but it never hurts to wonder how the Melo trade would be viewed if the Nuggets pulled a top 3 pick from New York.

DETROIT PISTONS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Andre Drummond (21), Josh Harrellson (25,NG)
-          PF           Josh Smith (28), Jonas Jerebko (27,P), Tony Mitchell (22)
-          SF           Kyle Singler (26), Luigi Datome (26)
-          SG          Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21), Chauncey Billups (38,T)
-          PG          Brandon Jennings (25), Will Bynum (31), Peyton Siva (24,NG)

FREE AGENTS
-          PF           Greg Monroe (24,RFA)
-          PF           Charlie Villanueva (30)
-          SG          Rodney Stuckey (28)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 8th overall
-          Round 2 – 38th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2014 to Charlotte (Top 8, 2015 – Top 1)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Do the Pistons match any offer to Greg Monroe?  The frontcourt experiment imploded quickly this year and Josh Smith’s contract seems untradeable at this point.  I don’t think Monroe will see a max offer but it’s certainly not out of the question.  Can Detroit afford to match that or lose a 24 year-old budding star because they overpaid the wrong guy?  A sign-and-trade could be a possibility but is there any chance at getting fair value back?  It’s certainly the biggest question for whoever the new general manager will be.
-          Can Andre Drummond get some more damn shots?  Drummond posted 57 double-doubles and finished the year averaging over 13 points and 13 rebounds per game.  We know he’s a monster on the boards and he needs to cut the fouls down but, my God, can we make him a focal point of the offense already.  Possibly the worst thing that came out of the Smith & Jennings signings was the lack of shots for poor Andre.  He’s just 21 but ready to explode and he must become the superstar we expect for Detroit to have any chance of respectability in the near future. 
-          What if the Pistons don’t get to keep their lottery pick?  Detroit tanked down the stretch all the way to eighth and will keep their pick unless one of the six teams behind them gets very lucky.  But what happens if they do?  It’s not as if the 8th pick will be a certain franchise player but, with such a deep draft, this team desperately needs to add to more talent around Andre Drummond.  Otherwise, Detroit could be toiling in lottery hell for a few more years.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Robert Sacre (25)
-          PF          
-          SF          
-          SG          Kobe Bryant (36), Nick Young (29,P)                                       
-          PG          Steve Nash (40)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Chris Kaman (32)
-          PF           Pau Gasol (34)
-          PF           Jordan Hill (27)
-          PF           Ryan Kelly (23,RFA)
-          SF           Xavier Henry (23)
-          SF           Wesley Johnson (27)
-          SG          Kent Bazemore (25,RFA)
-          SG          MarShon Brooks (25)
-          SG          Jodie Meeks (27)
-          PG          Jordan Farmar (27)
-          PG          Kendall Marshall (23)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 6th overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2015 to Phoenix (Top 5)
-          2017 to Orlando (Top 5)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          What if Kobe can’t come back at full strength?  The Lakers gave Kobe $48.5 million dollars over the next 2 years and he promptly rewarded them with 6 games played.  We all know that Kobe will do everything in his power to get ready and he’ll never be outworked but he’ll be 36 years old at the start of the season.  If he is a shell of his former self then where does that leave the Lakers?  Nash is proof that it can happen and happen fast and the Lakers can’t afford two former superstars sitting on their bench for another year.  
-          Will Mike D’Antoni and/or Pau Gasol be back next year?  If the money is right I think we’ll see Gasol back regardless of who the coach is.  The Lakers would be wise not to overpay another aging star but who knows at this point.  Some players love playing for D’Antoni because of his run and gun style but will the Lakers realize there’s no chance they’re winning with a depleted roster and D’Antoni at the helm?  I wouldn’t be surprised if both stayed or both left, but if you’re a Lakers fan I would have to think you prefer the latter.
-          Can the Lakers do enough this offseason to contend again?  L.A. has the 6th overall pick right now which should net them a potential stud.  They’ll have cap space to work with to attract another star but who’s out there.  Trades aren’t possible because their roster is only 3 deep, if Young opts out.  They owe Phoenix their 1st round pick next year and it’s only top 5 protected.  So it seems that this is the year to make moves if they really think Kobe can push them to one more playoff run.  I can’t see them waiting another year unless they completely strike out in free agency and who knows where Bryant will be with another year of wear and tear on his body.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Larry Sanders (25), Zaza Pachulia (30), Miroslav Raduljica (26)
-          PF           Ersan Ilyasova (27), John Henson (23)                   
-          SF           G. Antetokounmpo (19), Khris Middleton (23,NG), C. Wright (26,NG)
-          SG          O.J. Mayo (26), Carlos Delfino (32)                         
-          PG          Brandon Knight (22), Nate Wolters (23)

FREE AGENTS
-          C             Ekpe Udoh (27,RFA)
-          PF           Jeff Adrien (28)
-          PG          Ramon Sessions (28)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 1st overall
-          Round 2 – 31st overall
-          Round 2 – 36th overall
-          Round 2 – 48th overall

THREE QUESTIONS
-          You gotta pick Embiid, right?  If Milwaukee retains the right to pick first in the draft it is going to be a very tough choice.  The consensus top 4 prospects all play positions in which the Bucks have a young, talented player.  The Greek Freak would seemingly rule out Wiggins, unless you think he can play the 2-guard spot.  The Bucks have Henson & Ilyasova at power forward so Jabari and Randle seem redundant.  And yes you did give Larry Sanders all that money but do you trust him after this year?  If you had the opportunity to pair Embiid with Antetokounmpo could you really pass that up?  Yeah, Exum is out there too but if Embiid’s back checks out, the Bucks could have two players with the highest ceilings in the game.
-          Is Brandon Knight the point guard of the future?  Knight is up for an extension this offseason when he will still be just 22 years old.  He upped his scoring average, albeit on a lot more attempts.  You have to assume he’s going to command upwards of $10 million dollars per season which is in line with recent young point guard contracts.  If he’s your guy then great.  There’s plenty of room for improvement and maybe in 2 years we’re looking back and saying how the Bucks got a great deal a la Denver and Ty Lawson.  But, if there are doubts, they should move on now.  There’s no reason to give big money to a guy that you don’t see in your future plans if you’re starting over. 
-          Does O.J. Mayo have a future in Milwaukee?  I gotta think the answer is no on this one.  Mayo had one of his worst seasons as a pro and found himself benched early in the season.  He makes $8 million a year over the next two seasons, his trade value couldn’t get much lower and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to change the way he plays.  I’m not sure Milwaukee could get fair value here but both parties would best be served to go their separate ways and look for a fresh start.  Where does that leave Mayo though?  It’s been a rough ride for the once celebrated talent.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

RETURNING PLAYERS
-          C             Nikola Pekovic (28), Gorgui Dieng (24), Ronny Turiaf (31)
-          PF           Kevin Love (26)                                
-          SF           Corey Brewer (28), Chase Budinger (26), Luc Mbah a Moute (28)
-          SG          Kevin Martin (31), Alexey Shved (25), Shabazz Muhammad (21)
-          PG          Ricky Rubio (24), J.J. Barea (30)

FREE AGENTS
-          PF           Dante Cunningham (27)
-          SF           Rubbie Hummel (25,RFA)
-          SG          Othyus Jeffers (29)

DRAFT RIGHTS HELD
-          PF           Nemanja Bjelica (26)
-          PF           Bojan Dubljevic (23)

2014 DRAFT PICKS
-          Round 1 – 13th overall
-          Round 2 – 40th overall
-          Round 2 – 44th overall
-          Round 2 – 53rd overall

FUTURE FIRST ROUND PICK DEBITS
-          2014 to Phoenix (Top 13, 2015 – Top 12)

THREE QUESTIONS
-          Kevin Love?  We all know he’s opting out after next season and the Wolves have been steadfast about not trading their superstar but at what point do they have to make a move?  If they wait until the trade deadline it could derail yet another season.  If they don’t move him at all, they risk getting nothing in return when he leaves.  Their best chance at maximizing their return would be to move him around the draft but will they actually shift their thinking and do so?  Minnesota has been unable to put a contending lineup around him and although the reality of losing a superstar player must hurt, it will only get worse as the season wears on and the questions keep coming and coming.
-          Ricky Rubio?  The reason Love didn’t get the 5-year max contract was because it was supposed to be saved for Ricky.  Well that’s not going to happen now but Rubio is still due for an extension this offseason.  There’s no way Minnesota lets him walk with Love surely to go.  That sets up a no-win situation where Rubio is going to make far more money than he is worth.  But you have to do it if you’re the Wolves.  Rubio is the type of player that can make other players better and he’s going to be the future face of the Minnesota franchise so prepare for that contract when it happens.
-          Can the late season emergence of Gorgui Dieng allow Minnesota to shop Nikola Pekovic’s contract?  Pekovic is owed around $48 million dollars over the next 4 years and while he puts up great numbers, Minnesota might look to find a way to rid themselves of all big contracts if they decide to move Kevin Love.  Dieng, meanwhile, put up a couple of 20 rebound games as well as registering at least 2 blocks in 7 of his last 8 games.  He’s a defensive-minded center who has shown flashes on the offensive end and would be a cheap replacement in the interim.  I’m not saying Minnesota wants to move Pekovic after just giving him that big deal but it’ll be interesting to see how the dominoes fall.