The first installment of this series rambled through the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. This episode hits a little closer to home, peering into the plans that may potentially perturb prospective playoff positioning for the Suns.
Extensive BSotS draft coverage continues to provide a look at players the Suns may select with their 13th pick, but this preview series will take a brief glance division by division (6 total) to offer insight on the machinations of the Suns' opponents in preparation of the impending free agency period. In our continuing effort to be your primary provenance for all that is NBA, and especially Phoenix Suns, the subject of this offering will be a look at the Southwest Division with a slant at how the actions of these teams may affect the maneuverability of the Phoenix Suns.
Special thanks to contributors from SB Nation sister sites that were gracious enough to provide input.
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**Only guaranteed contracts and player options are being computed into cap numbers for the purpose of this analysis. Cap holds, exceptions, etc. haven't been figured into this number to determine an exact value. This is just to get a general idea of where each teams stands relative to the salary cap, which is expected to be in the neighborhood of $61 million. Salary information courtesy of Shamsports.
San Antonio (50-16)
Draft Picks: 2nd round 59th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$50.7 million for 11 players (Ginobili, Parker, Jackson, Splitter, Bonner, Leonard, Joseph, Blair, Neal, Mills, and Byars).
Options: Blair (Partially Guaranteed). Neal and Byars (Unguaranteed). Mills (Player Option).
Free Agents: Duncan and Anderson (Unrestricted). Green (Restricted).
J. R. Wilco from Pounding the Rock answered the following questions:
In your recent roundtable discussions, power forward (primarily) and back up point guard (secondarily) were listed as areas that needed the most improvement. Are there any specific players the Spurs may be targeting in free agency or trades to address these needs?
Every fan base tends to come to identify with the way their team does things beyond the fact or degree to which they are successful. So it's always eye-opening to interact with fans that follow other NBA teams because the assumptions that lie beneath the questions they ask, reveals something about how their own team does things.
For example, when you ask me if there are any specific players the Spurs may be targeting, while I realize that must be a fairly logical question for you to ask about almost any other team, I have hardly anything concrete to respond with. That's because the Spurs organization is so incredibly tightlipped, that even if there was someone (and you'd have to assume that there is, but that's really the most you can do) there's no possible way that I would know about it because of how secretive they are about those things.
I guess the best I can do is to share with you something that's come to be known as The Wilco Maxim: any rumored deal is not possible in reality because the Spurs only make acquisitions that no one expects. So if there's significant media buzz surrounding a particular trade, free-agent signing, or waiver wire pick up, you can be relatively certain that San Antonio will not be involved.
That said, I'd love to see a deal happen to bring Roy Hibbert to town. Duncan and he have a great relationship, and S.A. dealt with Indy during the last postseason (on the George Hill for Kawhi Leonard deal) and trading partners that do deal that BOTH teams benefit from, often continue to to business with each other.
Is there any evidence as to what type of deal the Spurs are working on with Duncan (years and money)? Is he amenable to a "hometown discount" that would help the team improve in other areas in the coming years?
While there is no particular evidence about a deal that Duncan would sign, the general consensus is that he will do another 2 to 3 years at something between 50 to 75% of his current salary, depending on how intensely the glasses you wear are tinted rose. But it wouldn't be too overly optimistic to think that he would give a significant hometown discount seeing as how he's restructured deals before to make it easier for the team to sign other guys. Also there's the factor that his career can't continue indefinitely, and he wants another championship so badly that he just might decide to take a big pay cut for the betterment of the team.
Green is a young player that showed a lot of improvement this season before falling out of favor in the Western Conference Finals. It will be interesting to see what kind of interest he receives in free agency. The Spurs depth, considered a valuable asset, vanished as the playoffs wore on. The Spurs will likely retool around their core, but don't appear to covet the same the same prospects as the Suns, since power forward and backup point guard appear to be their focal points. Then again, if you apply The Wilco Maxim (and I do love a clever aphorism), who the hell knows what the Spurs are doing?
Are some of the Suns' new clandestine practices (think pre-draft workouts) attempts to change the front office culture into one that is generally more marked by furtive dealings and misdirection? The coming weeks may be revealing and muddling concomitantly, but for some reason Lon Babby doesn't strike me as the Keyser Soze type.
I am also a proponent of applying the nadir of the Tim Duncan contract standard to Steve Nash. 2 years at 50% of his current salary would be a 2 year $12 million deal. I'm interested to see what Duncan actually inks to.
Memphis Grizzlies (41-25)
Draft Picks: 1st round 25th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$62.5 million for 9 players (Randolph, Gay, Gasol, Conley, Allen, Cunningham, Pondexter, Pargo, and Selby).
Free Agents: Haddadi (Unrestricted). Mayo, Speights, Arthur, and Hudson (Restricted).
Tom Lorenzo from Straight Outta Vancouver answered the following questions:
The Grizzlies are hitched to a core of 4 players who are scheduled to make $54 million dollars next year, but in most estimations are not capable of putting this team over the top. How likely is it (maybe a percentage) that the Grizzlies move one of these 4? Gay has been involved in lots of trade rumors recently, what kind of return does Memphis expect for a player who is obviously quite talented, but at the same time is scheduled to make $54 million the next 3 years and has zero all-star appearances?
Well, if the Grizzlies do decide to move one of the four, it's absolutely going to be Rudy Gay. There's no question about it. Gay is the one of the "Big 4" who doesn't quite fit into our current system. But, let me say this about trading Rudy Gay; he's a highly skilled basketball player and one of the most underrated defenders in the game, and this is NOT a salary dump by any means. Sure, taking back $54 million over the next three years is a lot of money to absorb, but the rumor-mill is churning out some highly favorable deals. The Timberwolves are rumored to be interested for Gay in return for Derrick Williams and the 18th pick in this year's draft. The reports out of Toronto have the Raptors interested in giving Andrea Bargnani/Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and the 8th pick in this year's draft for Rudy Gay.
Now, sure, it's not as if we're getting Blake Griffin in a deal, but there is plenty of value to be had for Gay. And, really, it's not as if we need to move him. I'm one of the few who thinks that if you put the right pieces around our core of 4 (Tony Allen, Marreese Speights, a 3-point shooter, a backup point guard, etc.) we can make a deep run -- possibly a NBA Finals run. Look, we still haven't had a full season with all four players. We lost Randolph for most of last season and Gay for the final months of the 2011 season. I'd still be interested in seeing what these four can do with a full season together -- especially since Marc Gasol has elevated his game and Mike Conley has become a much more effective point guard.
What is your overall impression of O.J. Mayo and his future as a player in this league?
Ah, O.J. Mayo. Well, I'll say this much, you're not going to see him in a Grizzlies jersey again. It's just not going to happen. First, well, someone is going to pay him more money than the Grizzlies would be willing to pony up. Second, he's already said that he wants to play point guard "somewhere else" next season, so, he's already thinking about moving on. Which is fine. I think the thing with Mayo is -- and I truly mean this -- he's going to have a much better post-Memphis career, probably turning into one of the top 6th men in the league. Mayo needs a change of scenery. It's been clear for years now that the Grizzlies just didn't think he fit in their future plans. I mean, they traded him twice, only to have the deals be rescinded at the last minute -- for Josh McRoberts and for Anthony Morrow. He's a talented player, probably needs someone to boost his confidence a little, and he needs to go someplace where he's wanted. I think if the mental game gets straightened out, he can really be a very good player in this league.
I concur that it would be nice to see what this still relatively young Grizzlies team could do with another opportunity, but keeping their core intact severely restricts their ability to add pieces in free agency. Do they have enough? It's going to be hard to build a bench saddled with their cap situation.
Mayo is a young, intriguing prospect that will garner attention from several teams. I project him as one of the free agents most likely to get overpaid relative to what he has achieved so far in the league. Will he be able to live up to the contract he receives?
Dallas Mavericks (36-30)
Draft Picks: 1st round 17th overall, 2nd round 55nd overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$54.5 million for 9 players (Nowitzki, Odom, Marion, Haywood, Carter, Beaubois, Jones, Wright, and Azubuike).
Options: Odom and Carter (Partially Guaranteed). Wright (Unguaranteed).
Free Agents: Terry, Kidd, Mahinmi, West, Jianlian, and Cardinal (Unrestricted).
Josh Bowe from Mavs Moneyball answered the following questions:
Go cheap, young and potentially under the radar. The Mavericks slashed a ton of payroll for this off-season and if they can't get a big-time free agent, Mark Cuban isn't going to fill the gaps by potentially overpaying older veterans (think Andre Miller, Gerald Wallace, etc.) There are rumors of Jeremy Lin but New York will most likely keep him. Goran Dragic would be a nice, young and cheaper alternative if Williams signs elsewhere and instead of offering Roy Hibbert 13+ million a year, Cuban could offer over half that to Omer Asik, the young back up center in Chicago. If anything, Cuban will keep payroll reasonable for a chance at Dwight Howard in 2013. Also, don't be surprised if can't get Williams, he throws money at Eric Gordon and hopes New Orleans wants to move on.
How much fuel does the Jet still have in the tank (he'll be 35 in November), and is he still looking to get paid or is fit (and winning) going to be more important for him in choosing his next destination?
JET still has tremendous value as a shooter/scorer off the bench and a part time point guard. Problem is, he's been a No. 2 scorer for his entire time in Dallas and that part has almost certainly passed him by. The real mystery is Terry's intentions. He's made comments about how he's "auditioning" for the NBA this year, yet JET always speaks very fondly of Dallas in all situations. But Cuban needs payroll so Terry is most likely headed elsewhere unless he wants to take a massive paycut in both years and salary.
Cheap, young, and potentially under the radar. Amazing how the Maverick plan sounds eerily similar to the Suns if you exchange Williams for Nash... It sounds like the Mavs may be competing for the same free agents as Phoenix if Williams doesn't accept their offer/entreaty. Whatever the case, I think it's safe to say the Mavericks will be a decidedly different team next campaign.
Houston Rockets (34-32)
Draft Picks: 1st round 14th overall, 1st round 16th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$43 million for 12 players (Martin, Scola, Dalembert, Lowry, Fisher, Patterson, Morris, Budinger, Parsons, Smith, Fortson, and Simpson).
Options: Dalembert and Smith (Partially Guaranteed). Budinger, Fortson, and Simpson (Team Option).
Free Agents: Camby, Williams, and Dragic (Unrestricted).
Tom Martin from The Dream Shake answered the following questions:
What are the Rockets likely plans regarding Goran Dragic (who is an unrestricted free agent and many Suns fans have a soft spot for) with Kyle Lowry still under contract? Who do you think is the better point guard?
I think they'll try their darnedest to hold on to Dragic, but I'm not sure how much they'll be willing to spend. For fans, this has turned into something of a make or break summer, and if the front office shares that mindset, you'd think they would try to use the cap space they have to go get somebody better than Goran. But if that's not the case and if they're still willing to take the familiar bit by bit route, I think they'll make Goran a very good offer. Should he accept it, I think it will be under the circumstances that he can legitimately compete for a starting job. That's going to further piss off Kyle Lowry, apparently, so it's looking like it will come down to one or the other. Lowry is the better point guard right now, but Goran's size, quickness and shiftiness may allow him to eventually turn out to be the better player.
The Rockets have lots of talented players, and look to add two more promising prospects drafting 14th and 16th, but no superstar. Will the Rockets ever get their star, and is that still the goal in Houston?
I certainly hope they get their star, but unless they pull off a trade for Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, I doubt they'll do so through the trade market or free agency any time soon. This team has been filled with almost-moments the past three years: they almost make the playoffs, they almost sign big free agents and they almost pull off a big trade... except, nothing ever actually happens. Houston will get its star eventually, but the FO might have to see some losing seasons before that happens - something they're apparently unwilling to sit through.
Another team professes desire to compete for their own free agent (Dragic) when he hits the market. A recurring theme as free agency creeps closer is that quality talent is hard to come by at less than a premium price. There's no fallacy with Houston's possible retention of Dragic either, since a) their propitious cap situation doesn't deter the proposition and b) a second starting caliber point guard gives them additional trade ammunition.
New Orleans (21-45)
Draft Picks: 1st round 1st overall, 1st round 10th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$39 million for 11 players (Okafor, Ariza, Jack, Aminu, Smith, Henry, Ayon, Vasquez, Thomas, Watkins, and Dyson).
Options: Ayon, Thomas, Watkins, and Dyson (Unguaranteed).
Free Agents: Gordon (Restricted).
Will Hibert from At the Hive answered the following questions:
Recent indications seem to point to New Orleans matching any offer for Gordon. Is this your take and where would you put the percentage that he remains a Hornet?
That sounds about right. Monty Williams and Dell Demps have had nothing but praise for Eric Gordon, with Monty recently getting a little frustrated with the constant questions regarding Gordon's desire to be a Hornet, saying that Gordon has given him every indication that he wants to remain in New Orleans. To put a number on it, I'll go with 90%. Demps and Williams have repeatedly said that they plan on building around Gordon, but things could change with a talent like Anthony Davis falling in their lap.
If the Hornets were to match on Gordon, select Davis, and get another player with the 10th pick (possibly a point guard), most would consider that a pretty successful off-season. Do the Hornets aspirations stop there, or will there be more action taken to propel the franchise back to competing immediately?
Frankly, if Davis is going to be as good as I believe he will, I think the team could do nothing else and still become competitive. Of course there is very little chance that Demps and Williams will actually do this. I think they will try to be as competitive as possible next season, without sacrificing the future. The team is going to be young next year no matter what happens, but we saw how hard Monty had a skeleton crew playing this season, and an influx of talent like the one New Orleans will see this summer will make his job that much easier.
Not to intimate that Will's 90% is a peremptory dictum, but for Brightsider's still clinging to hopes of Gordon in purple and orange - competing with other suitors in a 10% pool isn't exactly a sanguine prospect. The Suns face the very stark reality that the Hornets, owners of the West's worst record, could hurdle them in the standings depending on the circumstances of the next month.