An NBA Offseason Guide: The Northwest Dvision
Well the 2014-2015 NBA season has come to an end which means one thing: it’s time to look forward to the 2015 NBA offseason. This year sees many teams facing an uncertain future and the moves they make in the next few months will shape the outlook of the league for the next few years. Of course you could have written the preceding sentence about any offseason in the past decade or so. But every NBA offseason brings a certain level of excitement, it presents the chance for teams who underachieved to hit the reset button and it allows crazy owners to make crazy trades and dish out mind boggling contracts. Its a time for players to bet on themselves and turn down relatively large contracts (looking at you Jimmy Butler). This guide will look at the entire NBA by division by team giving you a comprehensive breakdown on what teams may be looking for this July. Today we will be looking at the Northwest division.
2014-2015 Record: 30-52, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Darrell Arthur (UFA), Will Barton (RFA), Ian Clark (RFA), Jameer Nelson (UFA).
The Denver Nuggets need to get a plan for the franchise. Right now the only two players the Nuggets have on contract that may be worth building around are Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. However Faried had a down year (12 points, 8 rebounds per game) and Lawson, while a solid player has had some off court issues. The Nuggets also don’t have much in the way of pieces outside of Faried, Lawson and rookie Jusuf Nurkic. Danilo Gallinari came back from an ACL tear this year. The forward played 59 games this season and put up averages of 12 points and 3 rebounds. Those aren’t inspiring averages, but he did score in double digits in each of his last 5 games of the season including a 47 point outburst against the Dallas Mavericks. After the all star break Gallinari averaged a stellar 18 points and 4 boards. If Gallinari can continue to produce these types of numbers he could be a piece for Denver. Or he could be a valuable trade asset (more likely to happen). Gallinari is 26 years old and about to enter the last year of his contract. Teams in need of a forward that can score and shoot the ball may want to trade for him. His contract is rather large at $11 million, but he shoots a career 36% from three and he’s an expiring contract. The same can be said for Wilson Chandler, who is also entering the last year of his contract. Chandler is another solid forward for Denver who can play some shooting guard if the situation calls for it. He only shot 34% from distance this year but for he did shoot 41% just two years ago. If Chandlers on the right team then he may be able to re-establish his shooting stroke. I would expect both Gallinari and Chandler to be moved next year by the deadline. Even if they aren’t traded I wouldn’t expect Gallinari and Chandler to be back next season. Denver is rebuilding and both forwards are a little too old to be a part of the rebuilding project. Denver received two future first round draft picks for Timofey Mozgov and a first rounder and other assets for Arron Afflalo. Given what the Nuggets received for those two the organization is expecting at least a future first rounder for Gallinari or Chandler. The organization probably needs to clean house and start over in order to maybe compete for a playoff spot once more.
It doesn’t look like the Nuggets are going to be chasing any high profile free agents this offseason. If they try to make a big move its probably going to be through a trade. There are only a couple of real impact free agents out there and it doesn’t look like Denver is going to be in a position to sign any of them. They could chase after mid tier free agents, but of the likes of Gerald Green, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, and Jared Dudley, none are really going to help them compete for a playoff spot. They could try to sign Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, or Tobias Harris to an offer sheet. But Chicago seems to want to bring back Butler and San Antonio will do whatever it takes to bring back the reigning defensive player of the year. Which leaves Tobias Harris, a nice forward, but he may not be much better than Gallinari or Chandler. Given the Nuggets probably want more talent than what they already have the front office could balk at giving Harris money he could earn from another team. Denver’s best bet is to rebuild through the draft. The Nuggets have the seventh pick in the draft and have a few options. At number 7 overall Chad Ford has the Nuggets selecting Justise Winslow. Winslow is an athletic wing that could evolve into an all star caliber player. At the very least he looks like he can be a solid two way player in the NBA. It is possible that Mario Hezonja could fall to 7, but his stock has been on the rise recently and looks like he won’t fall past the Kings at 6. Sam Dekker and Willie Cauley-Stein should also get some looks from the Nuggets’ front office. Dekker would be another option on the wing for Denver. Cauley-Stein would give the Nuggets an athletic center that can protect the rim and bolster their defense. Cauley-Stein could also work with Ty Lawson in the pick and roll. However the Nuggets seem to like Jusuf Nurkic at the center spot so this scenario may be unlikely. Instead it seems more likely the Nuggets would try to pick up a wing in the draft.
2014-2015 Record: 16-66, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Chase Budinger (UFA), Kevin Garnett (UFA), Justin Hamilton (RFA), Robbie Hummel (RFA), Gary Neal (UFA), Arinze Onuaku (RFA).
Although the Minnesota Timberwolves spent the majority of this season losing games, they got a peek at what rookie Andrew Wiggins could develop into as a player. The rookie of the year posted impressive averages of 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal per game. Wiggins blossomed after the all star break, pushing his scoring output to 20 points per game. Outside of Wiggins there wasn’t a lot for the Timberwolves to be happy with. The team struggled and the current roster is a strange mish mash of older veterans and young rookies. Then there is the Rick Rubio conundrum. Ricky Rubio is a great ball handler, excellent passer, and a solid defender. However he can’t score in the paint and struggled with his shooting this season, shooting a career low 25% from three. In fact the only place Rubio seems to be able to put the ball in the basket from mid range. Rubio shoots 45% from 10-16 feet and 40% from 16 feet to the three point line. These are actually above average percentages from the floor, but it doesn’t make up for his atrocious three shooting and his 33% in the paint. But Rubio did have injury trouble this season and most of the shooting percentages he posted this season were career lows and may very well be outliers. That being said in even in the past he hasn’t been a great finisher in the paint, which is worrying given his role in the offense as the designated driver in the drive and kick. It may be tempting to say that the Wolves should trade Rubio for a point guard that can shoot the ball (Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday), but he is still an amazing, one of a kind passer. Rubio has his faults as a point guard, but for the most part they are correctable and you simply can’t teach some of the passes that he makes on a nightly basis. A perimeter duo of Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio has the potential to terrify the NBA at some point in the future, there’s simply no reason to break that up at this point. The Timberwolves also have potential in two other young guns on the roster with Gorgui Dieng and Zach Lavine. Lavine struggled for the most part but came on later in the season averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists during the last 8 games of the season. If Lavine can build off of that he could be another addition on the perimeter for Minnesota. Gorgui Dieng has proven to be a solid center and slightly better shot blocking option than Nikola Pekovic. With these youngsters on board Minnesota could be competitive within the next few years.
Of course Flip Saunders first has to decide what the heck he is going to do with the veterans Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. Next season it may pay to give Gorgui Dieng some of Pekovic’s minutes and Lavine some of Martin’s minutes. Both veterans are due a significant amount of money and the younger players need to be on the court. This may lead to the Timberwolves trading one of Martin or Pekovic. If Flip Saunders chooses to pursue this route there should be a market for both of these players. Pekovic offers almost nothing in the way of paint protection but he’s solid from the post and has decent touch on his jumper. Kevin Martin is a minus on perimeter defense but he can still shoot the ball very well. That being said, I’m not sure if the Timberwolves would actually find a deal they would like in spite of the offers. They could try to swap Martin for Eric Gordon’s expiring contract, but he would also take up minutes from Minnesota’s young perimeter guys. They could try to convince New York to take on Pekovic’s salary for spare parts and a draft pick (can’t you see New York doing this?). I can’t see Minnesota trying to pick up any of the free agents available, I also I can’t see any of the mid tier guys signing with Minnesota. Expect the front office to merely fill out the roster with lower level free agents. If they do grab a big name it’s probably going to be through a trade. Of course the biggest news regarding the Timberwolves is the draft. Karl-Anthony Towns is the consensus 1st overall pick and Minnesota is largely expected to select him. He would give the Timberwolves shot blocking, a rim runner, and a pick and roll finisher. He may also be a low post bruiser, but quite frankly it’s going to be a lot more exciting watching him run the floor with Lavine, Wiggins, and Rubio. There are rumors out there the Wolves could also go with Kristaps Porzingis with this pick, but Towns two way potential has to be exciting for the Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves front office. Expect them to roll the dice on Towns and hope he turns into a franchise center.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-2015 Record: 45-37, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Enes Kanter (RFA), Kyle Singler (RFA).
Russell Westbrook had one of the most glorious and magnificent seasons a player could possibly have, averaging 28 points, 7 boards, 8 assists, and 2 steals per game. This included a jaw dropping stretch where Westbrook single handedly willed the Thunder to win after win in February by averaging 31 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was a brilliant performance and one of the greatest stretches of individual basketball we have seen in our lifetime. Westbrooks performance combined with a trade that brought in Enes Kanter, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler (essentially the Thunder’s bench) almost pushed the Kevin Durant-less Thunder into the playoffs. But thanks to Anthony Davis (put up 40 in San Antonio to clinch the Pelicans’ playoff berth) the Thunder went on to miss the playoffs in spite of Westbrook’s brilliance. Going into next season the Thunder are in a strange position. Scott Brooks has been replaced by Billy Donovan and next offseason Durant is a free agent. The rumors that Durant is going to leave next season are a little overblown, OKC can offer more money and a nucleus of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook is more talented than any other in the NBA right now. However it’s not guaranteed that Durant will return and Billy Donovan will need to sell Durant on his plan for the team moving forward. It will be interesting to see how Donovan chooses to incorporate all of the pieces on the team. Some of the Thunder’s new bench pieces have never been on the court with Kevin Durant and will need to learn his spots on the court and when they can get their own shot. The good news for the Thunder is that this roster is the most talented the team has had since 2012, when they went to the finals. If healthy next season would also be the first time the Thunder have had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the court at the same time on a consistent basis. Westbrook played just 46 games in the 2013-2014 season and Durant missed the majority of this season with a busted foot. This is a very scary team when healthy and they could very well be title favorites.
This team doesn’t really have a ton of cap space to sign free agents. Most likely Sam Presti will focus on keeping his own free agents over signing others. Enes Kanter was key to helping keep the Thunder afloat and in the playoff race this season. He is a complete minus on defense but is a capable low post player and works well in the pick and roll. As long as he shares the floor with Ibaka you can live with his bad defense and this Thunder team could use the scoring. Kyle Singler didn’t play much this season but he’s a good three point shooter and passer. I would assume the Thunder are going to retain his services since they require backup wings. The Thunder may also go after Mike Dunleavy or Mike Miller. Both are serviceable wing shooters who can pass fairly well. Outside of those two there may not be any other free agents that are both affordable and skilled enough to help the Thunder. They are the most talented team in the lottery and are picking 14th. They are slotted to pick up Cameron Payne as a backup point guard for Russell Westbrook. The team has DJ Augustin under contract but he’s undersized for the position. The team could also go with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, to give them another wing defender and shooter. If they don’t think Andre Roberson will ever develop a solid jump shot this could be a good option for the Thunder.
2014-2015 Records: 51-31, 4th in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Wesley Matthews (UFA), Arron Afflalo (UFA), Lamarcus Aldridge (UFA), Steve Blake (UFA), Joel Freeland (RFA), Alonzo Gee (UFA), Robin Lopez (UFA), Dorell Wright (UFA).
The Portland Trailblazers managed to go from trendy, underdog title contender, to a guaranteed first round exit with one injury. The absolutely devastating injury to Wesley Matthews robbed the Blazers of their best two way player and perimeter shooter. Combined with various injuries to Lamarcus Aldridge, the team’s leading scorer, Portland didn’t really have a shot in the series against the Grizzlies. Now the Blazers have to find a way to convince Lamarcus Aldridge that he can compete for a title in Portland with the supporting cast general manager Neil Olshey has put together. Aldridge has said all the right things in regards to his free agency and sounds like he wants to return. However, there have been various rumors linking the Spurs and the Mavericks. Both teams are based in Texas, Aldridge’s hometown. Then there is the issue regarding Wesley Matthew’s new contract. Before his injury Matthews was one of the best two way shooting guards in the game and headed for a max contract. Now that max contract is in flux and no one is certain exactly what type of money Matthews will command in free agency. The Blazers could just give him a max contract and hope that he could return to form this season. But that is a big risk to give someone that type of money who is coming off of an achilles tear. The conversation between Matthews and the front office will be awkward, but it’s in the best interest of the team to bring him back. They don’t have anyone else on the team that can replicate his combination of shooting and defense. Adding to the to do list, the team also needs to figure out what they are going to do at center. Robin Lopez is going to be a free agent this offseason and Olshey has to decide if Lopez is their guy at center. Rolo is a solid rebounder, pick and roll finisher, and a decent rim protector. That being said, Omer Asik, a superior shot block and rebounder will also be available. Asik could be paired up with Aldridge and give Portland their best interior defender that they’ve had in a while. However Asik isn’t nearly as good as Lopez on offense. Asik has a bad case of stone hands and in spite of his defense it may not be worth it for Portland to bring in a center that is as bad as he is on offense.
Portland’s lack of a bench unit has been a problem for a couple of years now. Portland tried to bolster the bench by trading for Arron Afflalo, and it may have worked out had it not been for Matthews’ injury. The emergence of CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard has given Portland a couple of different reliable bench options. However they are still weak on the wing and having only one competent backup big man isn’t going to cut it for the course of the 82 game season. Kosta Koufos could be a good fit for the Blazers in a backup capacity. He’s built a reputation in the league for being a player that can come in for 20-25 minutes and provide solid defense. On the wing they may want to bring Afflalo back as the team’s backup for Matthews (when he gets healthy). Marco Belinelli and Jared Dudley are two other options for the backup wings. Both are excellent three point shooters and would fit well in Portland’s offense. They are also capable of playing multiple positions giving Portland some lineup flexibility. The front office could also look for perimeter help in the upcoming draft. RJ Hunter is currently slotted to fall to the Blazers at 23. Justin Anderson is another option for the Blazers as a 3 and D wing.
2014-2015 Record: 38-44, missed the playoffs.
Free Agents: Jeremy Evans (UFA), Joe Ingles (RFA).
The Utah Jazz may have finished the season below .500 but they have an incredibly bright future. The Jazz are the second youngest team in the league, with the average man on their roster being 23. However that youth did not stop the Jazz from having one of the best defenses in the league limiting opponents to 94 points per game. The insertion of Rudy Gobert into the starting lineup gave the team an amazing rim protector and good pick and roll big man. Rookie Dante Exum didn’t blow the world away this year (averaged 4 points and 2 assists on 34% shooting) but is young and shown flashes of being a good player. The other Jazz rookie Rodney Hood however has shown that he could be a contributor to the team rather soon. In the last month of the season Hood turned in averages of 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors both turned in solid seasons, proving their that they are going to be building blocks for the Jazz. A core of, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert could one day become an intimidating nucleus. The biggest question surrounding the Jazz rotation remains at point guard. As I mentioned earlier, Exum struggled in his rookie year, but second year guard Trey Burke didn’t fare much better. Burke averaged 12 points and 4 assists on 36% shooting from the field. Alec Burks, one of the Jazz’s combo guards averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, but only played 27 games thanks to a shoulder injury. It’s unclear which of Burke, Burks, and Exum will rise to become Utah’s starting point guard of the future. They are all young and haven’t been in the league long so Utah will have to wait it out and watch the three guards develop. All three look like they could be at least sixth men off the bench, but Utah is probably that at least one of them can make the leap to be a good starting guard.
While Utah is deep in the backcourt they are pretty shallow in the frontcourt and the wing. Right now the only centers Utah has on contract is Gobert. Utah has a few other bigs like Trevor Booker and Jeremy Evans, but Booker is to short for center and more of a natural power forward, and Evans isn’t big enough to play center either. There are no centers in free agency that fit the Jazz’s youth movement. The Jazz are also lacking in competent wings to back up the main rotation of Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and Alec Burks. None of the three played 82 games with Hayward leading the way at 76 games played. The Jazz could try for one of the young wings in Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, or Kawhi Leonard. But all three of those are going to command max or near max contracts. The Jazz are eventually going to have to pay Rudy Gobert and there other young guys and handing out big contracts to a one of these wings would restrict future cap space. A few wings they could sign for less money aren’t as talented or young, but might help Utah if they want to make a playoff push. Players that fit the bill are Jared Dudley, Marco Belinelli, Gerald Green, Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson, Demarre Carroll, and Khris Middleton. All of these players are great three point shooters and at least solid on defense. Middleton is a restricted free agent and Milwaukee is determined to bring him back, but Utah may try to bid for his talents. Otherwise Utah will have to look to the draft to pick up depth. Chad Ford has Utah picking up Myles Turner for frontcourt depth. Turner projects to develop into a big man who could stretch the floor, something the Jazz don’t have on their roster. Other options for the Jazz could include Frank Kaminsky, Kelly Oubre (for an athletic wing), Bobby Portis, and Trey Lyles.