In the last offering, I dissected the Southwest Division, which promises to be one of the most formidable groups from top to bottom next season with the likely resurgence of the Hornets. This next excursion will delve into a division that boasts 8 of the top 20 free agents according to hoopshype.
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 Atlantic 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.
Flounce forward for further free agency factoids...
**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.
Boston Celtics (39-27)
Draft Picks: 1st round 21st overall, 1st round 22nd overall, 2nd round 51st overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$36.4 million for 7 players (Pierce, Rondo, Bass, Bradley, Johnson, Moore, and Williams).
Options: Bass (Player Option).
Free Agents: Garnett, Allen, Dooling, Daniels, Pavlovic, Pietrus, and Hollins (Unrestricted). Steisma (Restricted).
Roy Hobbs from Celtics Blog answered the following questions:
It appears that the situation with Garnett is still up in the air (we can empathize re: Nash), but staying a Celtic or retiring seem to be more likely than a new destination. What kind of deal (years/money) is Garnett looking for, and who are the Celtics looking to bring in to influence Garnett's decision to stay (if that is the direction they are taking)?
There are two choices for KG: Come back, or retire. I really can't see him signing with another team, although the Nets, Spurs, and other teams have been rumored to have interest. (Really, who wouldn't want him?) In terms of the contract, there's been a lot of speculation that he's looking for a two year deal, in the $8 to $12 million range. Another thing that we've heard is that KG is willing to take less money, but he doesn't want to make less than players being brought in to do less than he does. In other words, don't expect KG to agree to a sub-MLE deal.
In terms of who the Celtics need to bring in to appease KG, in an ideal world the team would probably sign a center, simply because KG doesn't love playing the position (even if he's arguably better there than PF these days). I think KG will be happy if Danny Ainge brings back the same team as this year. I get the sense that KG would be thrilled if the Celtics re-signed Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, and Jeff Green. That may make the Celtics' best strategy to go over the cap (and possibly luxury tax) to bring everyone back, preferably on deals of no greater than two years.
Ray Allen struggled with injuries and saw his scoring average dip to its lowest total since his rookie year, but still set a career high mark for 3 point field goal percentage. How much do you think he has left in the tank and what do you think he'll be looking for in terms of role and compensation from a new team (assuming he leaves Boston)?
I don't want to presume that Ray leaves Boston, just because I think he can still help the Celtics. He clearly still wants to play, and my guess is that he'll sign somewhere for between $5 and $7 million per year. My sense is that Ray wants the security of a two year deal,and with some of his OCD-like issues, a team would be smart to give it to him, as it will provide Ray some comfort. Ray is probably going to want to start, but I think that in an ideal world he'd embrace the 6th man role. At best, he's going to be the 4th best player in most teams' starting lineup. Off the bench, though, he can be a focal point against the other teams' bench defenders, and he won't be mismatched on defense as much.
Either of Garnett’s two choices (as delineated above) throws a potential monkey wrench into the whimsical fancy that was the formation of the League of Extraordinary Old Gentlemen. If the Suns are looking for one year stop gaps, they may have to rummage elsewhere. The Celtics are at a juncture where they could make a pretty clean break (they only have Pierce’s contract left, and it is only fully guaranteed through next season) or renovate around the core that just reached this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
I have a hunch it may be an all or nothing situation with respect to returning the players on expiring deals.
New York Knicks (36-30)
Draft Picks: 2nd round 48th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$64.7 million for 10 players (Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, Smith, Balkman, Shumpert, Douglas, Harrellson, Jordan, and Gadzuric)
Options: Smith (Player Option).
Free Agents: Walker, Bibby, Davis, Jeffries, and Novak (Unrestricted). Fields and Lin (Restricted).
Seth from Posting and Toasting answered the following questions:
What is the Knicks interest level in acquiring Steve Nash in a sign and trade deal? Any thoughts on a potential deal?
The only mention I've heard of Nash is something involving an outright signing. I'm sure that's something that interests the Knicks, but unless the union wins their arbitration and Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak get their Bird rights, the Knicks probably won't have more than the veteran's minimum to offer. I'm sure the Knicks are interested in Nash, but it doesn't seem like a likely match.
Where do the Knicks stand with respect to retaining the services of both Fields and Lin?
They're pretty dead-set on signing Lin whether or not he has Bird rights. Grunwald and Woodson have already spoken about him as if he'll certainly be on the team next year. Fields's status is less clear. If the union loses the case, it seems unlikely that the Knicks would be able to match any offers for Fields (and I assume he'll get some). If the union wins and New York has some money to spend, I still don't think it's a sure thing. Woodson didn't turn to Fields too often this past year, and I wouldn't be surprised if Landry would prefer to start over elsewhere. That said, the Knicks are going to have a thin backcourt with Iman Shumpert out, so that might push them to retain Fields if possible. My guess is that he's gone, though.
Those comments regarding the potential acquisition of Nash don’t exude a rapacious tone. It appears that the emergence of Lin last season (as well as D’Antoni’s departure) have palliated the extent to which New York covets Nash’s services. If another suitor has indeed become less amorous, that portends auspiciously for the keep Steve coalition.
Fields is intriguing. He labored through his sophomore season after a promising first year, but the Knicks as a whole were a discontinuous jumble for most of last season and many players had less than banner seasons. I think that Fields can have a very solid career and that a change of scenery, maybe to somewhere slightly less chaotic, might serve him well.
Philadelphia 76ers (35-31)
Draft Picks: 1st round 15th overall, 2nd round 45th overall, 2nd round 54th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$56 million for 7 players (Brand, Iguodala, T. Young, Williams, Turner, Holiday, and Vucevic).
Options: Brand and Williams (Player Early Termination Option).
Free Agents: Hawes, Brackins, and Battie (Unrestricted). S. Young, Meeks, Allen, and Silas (Restricted).
Jordan Sams from Liberty Ballers answered the following questions:
It would appear that the Sixers will either be wallflowers or participants in free agency depending upon whether they choose to amnesty Brand. Will the team wade into the pool to see what's available before making that decision on July 11th? Do you even know who (gm) will be making that decision?
If I had to put odds on it, I'd say 60/40 the Sixers amnesty Brand, in hopes of acquiring a veteran big man in free agency. A lot of it will depend on the upcoming draft and any potential Andre Iguodala trade.
The Sixers top 4 scorers shot a combined 38% from the field last season. What is the future for these guards and wings with the team, since it would seem to be too many inefficient scorers?
Lou Williams is as good as gone. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner will likely be back, as they're the future of the team. Jodie Meeks will certainly not be back. I think they'll address the need for an efficient-scoring guard in the draft, where they have three picks.
The 76ers have almost $33 million slotted to Brand and Iguodala and there’s a chance that neither will be back with the team next year. Throw in the speculation that Lou Williams, Spencer Hawes, and Jodie Meeks will be searching to capitalize on the prodigal nature of the free agent market, and it seems inevitable that Philadelphia will be a restructured squad next year.
I hope that for the sake of Sixers’ fans they amnesty Brand and for the sake of Suns’ fans some other team wins the Lou Williams prize in free agency.
Toronto Raptors (23-43)
Draft Picks: 1st round 8th overall, 2nd round 37th overall, 2nd round 56th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$42 million for 9 players (Calderon, Bargnani, A. Johnson, Kleiza, Derozan, Davis, J. Johnson, Forbes, and Alabi).
Options: Alabi (Team Option).
Free Agents: Gray, Butler, Carter, and Magloire (Unrestricted). Bayless, Anderson, and Uzoh (Restricted).
Adam Francis from Raptors HQ answered the following questions:
Are the Raptors interested in Steve Nash, and if so, do they consider themselves a serious competitor to land him?
Are the Raptors interested in Nash? Without question and yes, I think they consider themselves a serious contender. Sure, there's talk of him wanting to play for a contender, but most contending and pseudo-contending clubs already have elite point guards. The only other teams that have had playoff success with PG needs are ones like Indiana, and it's hard to fathom Nash choosing markets like that over Toronto. New York? Don't see it either. Nash would need to take less money to play there, and it's doubtful the fit would be that great with Melo. Oh, and the team fired Nash's guy, D'Antoni.
What are your thoughts on Bayless as a player and what is Toronto's position on retaining his services?
Jerryd Bayless is an enigma. Here's a recent lottery pick who looked like a bit of a bust, albeit never got much chance to show what he could do before arriving in Toronto. Under Dwane Casey he flourishes...but as a starter and only for a brief time period before injuries shelved him for the season. So indeed, what do the Raptors do with him? He's not a pass-first PG but he's got that coveted ability to get to the rim, and his ability to run a team has improved. But is that enough to put down some serious dough on his future? I think the Raps would like to keep him around and he'd like to stay (I saw him today at pre-draft workouts so he's been sticking around TO this summer), but I think a lot depends on what happens with the draft and Steve Nash.
Any specific prospects on the Raptors' free agent radar?
As for prospects on the Raptors' free-agent radar, there haven't been any names mentioned outside of Nash. That being said, there have been lots of rumours flying about the Dinos' interest in acquiring a proven swingman, especially Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala.
Toronto has been bombinating this off-season, as they have been mentioned in connection to several players of notoriety. Whereas some teams are best advised to bide their time, I think that the Raptors would love to make impactful moves this off-season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a big name land in Toronto this summer.
The U of A connection makes me take pause with Bayless. Not because I have been desiderating for his return to the desert, but because I wonder if that association alters the scrutiny Phoenix directs his way.
Brooklyn Nets (22-44)
Draft Picks: 2nd round 57th overall
Cap Number with Options: ~$41 million for 7 players (D. Williams, Wallace, Farmar, Morrow, Petro, Brooks, and J. Williams).
Options: D. Williams, Wallace, and Farmar (Player Options).
Free Agents: Humphries, Stevenson, James, S. Williams, Bogans, and Green (Unrestricted). Lopez, Gaines, and Johnson (Restricted).
NetsDaily from Nets Daily was posed the following questions:
What do you see as the endgame with Williams? Does he appear to be leaning one way or another, maybe you could offer a percentage on him being a Net next season?
What is the extent of the fallout in Brooklyn if Deron leaves (this might be easier to answer after Wallace opts in/out today)? Does Brooklyn have a backup plan to deal with this crushing blow?
I haven’t received responses from Brooklyn yet, but Wallace has chosen to opt out of his contract since I sent the queries. The Nets seemingly have a lot more to lose than gain this summer. Injuries didn’t help their cause last year, but this team was just two games away from the second worst record in basketball and has 4 starters that are free agents and no first round draft pick.
A debacle in free agency could cast a caliginous cloud over the coming season and quell the enthusiasm arising from the relocation to Brooklyn. Deron Williams is going to make some team very happy this summer.
Syracuse sophomore SG Dion Waiters (6'4", 221 lbs) got a promise from some team in the lottery on Day 1 of the NBA PreDraft combine that they would pick him when their turn came up on June 28. That team somehow convinced Waiters to hang up his sneaks for a few weeks, ignore calls from other NBA teams and generally hide out until the draft.
Rumor had it that Toronto, Portland or Phoenix were the promising team. Since then, both Toronto and Portland GMs adamantly denied they were the promissor, leaving a quiet Suns front office as the default answer. Many BSotS fans thought that draft promise was idiotic, especially to a kid who - at the time - was ranked in the 15-20 range on most media draft boards and didn't even start for his Orange team in college.
What a difference a week and a half makes. Despite refusing to attend any individual team workouts or interviews, Waiters is rising quickly up everyone's draft boards. His ability to get his own shot no matter who's defending him along with his passing ability and alpha-dog mentality has NBA front office salivating over his potential. In fact, the lowest you'll see him these days is at the Suns #13 spot. But don't hold your breath that Waiters will be there anymore when the Suns pick.
Even though they didn't make any promises to Waiters, there are a lot of whispers around the media that Toronto (#8) still loves (and needs) him, as does Portland (#6 and #11). Even New Orleans (#10) is being floated as a spot for him. Add in the potential for all three of those teams to trade their pick to team willing to give them a veteran wing player (who would then probably need a new wing player in return), my guess is that Waiters is long gone by the time the Suns #13 pick comes up.
But is that a bad thing? How the heck did Waiters rise so quickly?
One reason Waiters is because teams have stopped watching players (and stopped focusing on the fact that he didn't start at Syracuse) and started doing analytical models for projections. And when those models spit out results, it appears that Waiters is one of the best NBA prospects in the draft. It's no wonder that the Suns, with their new analytics department, identified Waiters early on as a high draft pick.
According to mothership statistician John Hollinger, Waiters is the 4th-best prospect in the entire draft (behind only Davis, Robinson and MKG) in terms of projected NBA PER, which is entirely weighted in productivity stats and void of defensive numbers beyond rebounds and steals. Hollinger's Draft Rater "analyzes college stats to predict NBA performance" in the form of "a giant regression model that gets incrementally smarter as we fill it with more data each year."
According to Hollinger, his Draft Rater does its best work on wing players. He admits that it overrates bigs and underrates point guards (and is a total crapshoot on Euros), but the projections for wing players has been remarkably strong. Waiters projects to a 14.12 PER in the NBA. Of the 8 wing players his model has rated above a projected lifetime PER of 13 in the past decade (he explains in his article why 13 is a good thing, so let's just go with it), the worst of them was Josh Childress -- who, remember, was a 6th-man-of-the-year candidate back in his Atlanta days. Five of the 8 have been all-stars, a sixth is Rudy Gay and the other one is Kawhi Leonard.
So, according to Hollinger, Dion Waiters will be a very productive and efficient pro. Again, the model does not predict defensive value -- it focuses on stats and shooting percentages.
The Suns' only chance to get Dion Waiters at #13 at this point is to hope teams won't spend a lottery pick on a kid who wouldn't work out for them. Fat chance there, but at least the Suns tried (if it's true that they are the promissor).
But if the Suns don't get Waiters, is that really a bad thing? The other shooting guards mentioned for the Suns (Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Ross) all projected lower than Waiters but no too shabby either. In fact, Lamb projected lowest of the four.
Yet Hollinger admits that guys like Lamb, Ross and Rivers are not ideal for his modeling tool. Ross and Lamb provide defense, which is ignored in this model. And Rivers was a one-and-done freshman, which doesn't provide enough data for predictable projections.
So Waiters is now a "sure thing", and the other three are still where they are.
For reference, Hollinger predicted Ty Lawson's pro success by rating him #2 overall in 2009. Lawson still went 18th, but turned out to be a steal. Hollinger also predicted a terrible NBA career for Goran Dragic in 2008, and a great career for someone named Sylvan Landesberg a few years ago too. So, his model is not all-powerful, to be sure.
Projecting stats from one situation into a completely different, higher-caliber situation is fraught with danger. But it is a tool, and can help you make decisions when all other things are equal.