Bernucca column: Questions for 30 teams after lockout ends

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You know what it smells like? Victory.

Victory for the owners. And you know what else? Some day, this war is gonna end.

When it does, all 30 teams, from the champs to the chumps, will have limited time to find the answers to their most burning questions in what will be an extremely abbreviated offseason activity period.

So let’s look at those questions, along with some answers.

ATLANTA: Is one ball enough? It says here that the Hawks should dump either Jamal Crawford through free agency or Joe Johnson through the amnesty provision. One less ball-stopper will help the development of point guard Jeff Teague, make the roster younger and keep the team from approaching tax territory.

BOSTON: Is this an experienced team or an old team? Two years ago, they were a couple of plays away from a title. Last year, they looked like the balding guy at your local gym who’s getting by on guile. Ray Allen is 36, Kevin Garnett is 35, Paul Pierce is 34 and Jermaine O’Neal – who has to play this season – is 33. First order of business is deciding whether to keep free agent Glen Davis?

CHARLOTTE: Can Michael Jordan build a winning team? As an executive, Jordan has drafted poorly (Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison) and traded even worse (Richard Hamilton, Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace). The current roster has black hole Corey Maggette as the new first option and unproven rookie Kemba Walker as the potential cornerstone.

CHICAGO: Can they find a shooting guard who can make Derrick Rose’s job easier? The Bulls are close to a title but won’t get any closer without an upgrade at 2-guard. They have no flexibility in free agency, so they may need to luck into someone like Hamilton through the amnesty provision. And keep in mind that whoever they add might have to guard Dwyane Wade in a playoff series.

CLEVELAND: How long will it take for the Cavaliers to be competitive again? They have hope in Kyrie Irving, a huge chunk of cap room next summer and eight first-round picks between now and 2015. LeBron James will have at least one title by then, right?

DALLAS: How do they keep free agents Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea without getting hammered by the luxury tax? Owner Mark Cuban historically has regarded the tax threshold the way Boston drivers regard red lights – as suggestions. But the proposed tax “cliff” could include limitations on mid-level exceptions and sign-and-trades, and retaining Chandler and Barea will cost between $15-20 million – which puts the champs in luxury tax territory if they do not use the amnesty provision on Brendan Haywood.

DENVER: How do the Nuggets get half their team back from overseas? Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Ty Lawson (Lithuania) and Timofey Mozgov (Russia) have out clauses, and free agents Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler are all in China, where there are no out clauses. Right now, the Nuggets have five players under contract for the 2011-12 season.

DETROIT: Can Rodney Stuckey and Lawrence Frank co-exist? Stuckey is a tremendous talent but butted heads with coach John Kuester last season and took part in a player protest. Now there is talk that the Pistons may move Stuckey to shooting guard. The fiery Frank expects commitment and hard work. Stuckey would do well to keep his mouth shut, play well and made the most of the shots Hamilton (amnesty) used to get.

GOLDEN STATE: Can Mark Jackson coach? He is yet another in a long line of star players who ascended to the top job without a pit stop as an assistant, and the Warriors are by no means a ready-made situation. He has no former head coaches on his staff and said he doesn’t plan on watching film until his eyes bleed. He should lean on consultant Jerry West as much as possible.

HOUSTON: Who is playing center? Perhaps new coach Kevin McHale can start himself in the pivot. His options for now are clueless Hasheem Thabeet, rookie Marcus Morris or undersized free agent Chuck Hayes. Despite the absence of a 7-footer, the Rockets held their own on the boards last season. But they need a real center to block shots and anchor the defense.

INDIANA: Can the Pacers lure a top free agent to become competitive again? They have waited a long time to loosen the shackles of the salary cap, and they have the flexibility to use their room either this offseason or next. But they have the league’s worst attendance and may have to overpay to lure a David West or Jason Richardson. They might be better off waiting until next summer.

LA CLIPPERS: Does owner Donald Sterling finally get serious about winning? There is dual star power in Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, a potential defensive monster in DeAndre Jordan and a nice financial chip in Chris Kaman’s expiring contract. With some of the West’s mainstays looking a little long in the tooth, now would be the time.

LA LAKERS: Is Kobe Bryant on board with Mike Brown? He wasn’t consulted on the hiring of the new coach, who plans to retain very little of Phil Jackson’s triangle and wants a lineup laden with 30-somethings to look for early offense. Bryant is coming off his second offseason knee surgery in as many years and creeping up on 50,000 career minutes, including playoffs. This could be a bumpy road.

MEMPHIS: Now that the Grizzlies are a contender, are they going to spend money like one? Recently, they have, retaining Rudy Gay and re-upping Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. But this question will be answered not by how they approach Marc Gasol – whom they promised Randolph would be re-signed – but how they handle Gay, who scored zero points during their unlikely playoff run and has trade value.

MIAMI: How does LeBron James overcome his reputation? More important than the perception of James as a villain is his penchant  for postseason flameouts. His teams are on a three-year run of falling woefully short of expectations, and his performance in those losses has gotten progressively worse and inexplicable. No one player needs a ring more.

MILWAUKEE: Will the real Brandon Jennings please stand up? The slight point guard played all 82 games as a rookie but missed 19 games with an injury last season. He has spent the lockout “bulking up” to 180 pounds, strengthening his right hand and learning to finish with contact. If the Bucks want to get back to the postseason, they need a healthy and improved Jennings.

MINNESOTA: Can Ricky Rubio play? It’s finally time to turn off the hype machine – driven by fawning American media at the 2008 Olympics – and find out if Rubio really is Pete Maravich with training wheels or just another Spanish star who finds out how good NBA players really are. Just FYI, Rubio averaged 1.5 points and 2.1 assists while shooting 7-of-30 and attempting one free throw in 11 games at Eurobasket 2011.  At least he won’t have to learn the triangle, with Rick Adelman replacing Kurt Rambis.

NEW JERSEY: Can the Nets lure a big name that will convince Deron Williams to re-sign and play in Brooklyn? They will be a player in the free agent market and could target New Jersey native David West. Or they could try to put together a package featuring Brook Lopez for Dwight Howard. Moves of that significance may get Williams to sign an extension and create a true river rivalry between the Knicks and Nets.

NEW ORLEANS: What do the Hornets do about Chris Paul? With all due respect to GM Dell Demps, an owner has to sign off on whether to trade or try to keep Paul, a plan that would have a lot of moving parts. Thing is, the Hornets don’t have an owner right now. If they can’t re-sign David West, Paul is as good as gone.

NEW YORK: How do the Knicks fill out their roster with players on one-year contracts and retain the cap room to go after a third max guy next summer. Between now and then, they have to find about a half-dozen players willing to take one-year deals that will help them return to the playoffs, which is tougher than it sounds.

OKLAHOMA CITY: Will Russell Westbrook forever be happy being Robin to Kevin Durant’s Batman? The issue that never was raised during Westbrook’s playoff struggles and perceived pouting was whether he is considering the Tracy McGrady route – in other words, does he want a team of his own? Because if he does, that will never happen with Durant entrenched as the face of the franchise.

ORLANDO: What do the Magic do about Dwight Howard? They can fix their finances pretty quickly if they let Jason Richardson walk in free agency, use the amnesty provision on Gilbert Arenas and trade Howard. That would land them in the lottery, where they can start a long rebuilding process.

PHILADELPHIA: Should the 76ers trade Andre Iguodala and give the team to Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young? This would be a clear step backward for the city’s fourth team, which already struggles at the gate. But Rod Thorn rebuilt the Nets quickly by trading his top player and stockpiling draft picks, and Iguodala is the only player on the roster who can do that for him.

PHOENIX: Do the Suns blow it up and start over? They don’t have anywhere near enough talent or toughness to compete and conceivably could be the worst team in the Western Conference. Miserly owner Robert Sarver likely will hold onto Steve Nash through the final year of his contract to keep the seats filled, and they will have cap room and a potentially high lottery pick next summer.

PORTLAND: Can the Trail Blazers find and keep a GM? On draft day 2010, owner Paul Allen fired Kevin Pritchard, whose solid draft maneuvering ended the “Jail Blazers” era. Less than a year later, he canned Rich Cho, who had landed Gerald Wallace. The Blazers currently are without a GM with a whirling dervish of an offseason approaching.

SACRAMENTO: Where will the Kings be playing at this time next year? A new arena in Sacramento is pegged to potential city parking revenue and a possible investment from AEG. If that falls through, this could be a lame-duck season, with young bucks Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins still putting stats ahead of wins.

SAN ANTONIO: Is this Tim Duncan’s last season? Both Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich are in the final year of their contracts, and some believe they will both walk away at the same time. The Spurs won the title after the last lockout, but that was 13 years ago. They have the tools to contend, but you have to wonder if Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker can withstand the rigors of a compressed season. Another early playoff exit may have Duncan calling it quits.

TORONTO: Is DeMar DeRozan a better building block than Andrea Bargnani? He doubled his scoring average from his rookie season. There’s not much else here, so this would be an ideal season for new coach Dwane Casey to turn him loose and find out.

UTAH: Should the Jazz throw the kids to the wolves? In the next year, they could easily transition their frontcourt from Andrei Kirilenko, Al Jefferson and Mehmet Okur to Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Throw in Gordon Hayward, rookie Alec Burks and a veteran point guard in Devin Harris, and the time seems right. It would start with a trade of Jefferson, who has value as a low-post scorer.

WASHINGTON: Is Flip Saunders the right coach for this group? Saunders developed a reputation as a softie in Detroit. The Wizards have a ton of young talent desperately in need of discipline and direction. Does Saunders have enough of an edge to lead a team that is the polar opposite of the ones he coached in Auburn Hills?

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Thursday. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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  1. Nice write-up to start the season (fingers crossed) with. About the Jazz, Jefferson is not THAT old. He’s just as old as Millsap, and has still much more in him than Kirilenko and Okur. I’m not sure it would serve the Jazz to trade him. I think they;re looking at a Jefferson / Favors front court.

  2. I agree with Mr. Bernucca’s analysis of the Clippers.

    However, I disagree with his analysis of the Raptors. By almost ever respected advanced statistical metrics Amir Johnson is the Raptors best player. The only Raptors player even close to Amir Johnson is Calderon when measured by advanced statistical analysis. Hollingers PER may be the one exception because it reward high usage players which Johnson is not.

    Is he any good? Guess we will have to watch the Raptors play next season to find out if he has a break out season next season at 24 years old.

    • Buddahfan,

      Thanks for reading. Raps have SO many questions. Don’t dislike Amir; I’m just not a big PER guy. I’m a bit older so I’m more a “know-what-I-see” guy. But I do know that under any rating system, Raps will be tough to watch. CB

  3. Wow, that was a sobering review; no wonder small market owners fought so hard to take money back from the players; 80% of this league stinks. Lockout or not, 14 lousy teams will be back in the Lottery in May. I predict these same owners will shoot themselves in the foot over the next 6 seasons with poor drafts, trades and free agent signings of players who can’t help them get to the next level. The saving grace may just be the 2012 Draft, which may rival 2003, at least at the top 7.

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