Extreme NBA Makeover: The Imaginary Player Edition - Part 2: Western Conference

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.

June, that tantalizing mistress for NBA players, is just around the corner. For two prosperous teams, the change of the calendar means destiny and potential immortality awaits them on that grand stage we laymen call the Finals. For the other 28 squads, it means another summer thinking about what might have been as they retool and rebuild in the offseason. Of course, some teams have more work to do than others; perennial playoff squads may need only a few tweaks to refine their rosters for another run at the Larry O’Brien. They are not in the position of, say, the Knicks. But while teams already eliminated from postseason play might not need an extreme overhaul, they should not think themselves sheltered from summer renovations. As the Bulls displayed this year, previous success means nothing when the ball is tipped again in November. With the L’s version of the Final Four now in full swing, I felt it was appropriate to analyze the state of the other 12 squads from this season’s Playoffs as they head into the offseason, with an eye to what should be done compared to what will probably happen. Friday we examined the East. Today, we go West, young man.

8th: Denver Nuggets
Prospective Roster Changes: Yakhouba Diawara (Restricted), J.R. Smith (R), Anthony Carter (Unrestricted), Allen Iverson (Player Opt-out), Eduardo Najera (U) (Bobby Jones, Taurean Green have Limited Salary Protection)

Draft Position: 20th

What Needs to Happen: Something. Anything. The Nuggets cannot trot out a reprise of the same roster next season, at least not if they intend to make the Playoffs again. The Melo-lead Nuggets have been to the postseason five years running…and have never won more than a single game in a series. On paper, this year’s team should have been one of the most talented in the league, featuring prolific scoring and terrific individual defenders. But they continue to underachieve. Iverson is highly unlikely to use his option based on his salary. Anthony Carter’s main asset is providing veteran savvy, which the team does not need more of, particularly when Green provides a better skill set at a lower price. For all the hustle and savvy that Najera brings, Kleiza’s emergence has made him expendable. The most obvious and important question for Denver remains what to do with Anthony. That he is an All-NBA talent is undeniable, but there are more than whispers that the team’s patience for his off-court issues has run its course. I am still of the opinion that they should not trade him, hold onto the Answer until his contract ends next year and then reload with the money they save on AI to pair Melo with a younger star that might actually play both ends of the floor.

What Will Happen: Sadly, it appears unlikely that Melo will be back in Denver, given how public the trade talk surrounding him has become (his agent’s denial simply highlights how publicized it is). They are likely to ship him for an aging superstar (JO? Vince?) who can mesh with AI for another year or two, and then if it doesn’t work out they are clear of lots of cap space to try to rebuild, though those KMart and Nene contracts are albatrosses right now. Iverson comes back, and likely signs a four-to-five year extension for his troubles. The Nuggets will have to match anything Smith gets offered elsewhere after his performance in the Playoffs, but thankfully his attitude will keep other teams from going wild in their offers. They will let Najera, Carter, Diawara and Jones go, and hope that Green can step into the backup point role. Denver will use its draft pick to get a big like Kosta Koufos or Serge Ibakaas as an insurance policy on Nene/KMart.

Next Season: 49-33, tied for Ninth. The Nuggets will just miss the postseason next year, whether they have Carmelo or not. There is no other team in the L that underachieves like this one, and it would not be a surprise if Karl gets the blame and is released next January. That a team can win 50 games and be labeled underachieving is outrageous, but such is life in the Western Conference (they would have had home-court in the East). Portland, who has four more picks this year in addition to getting Oden (and that’s before they bring Rudy Fernandez over next year, who might be the most talented guy in Europe right now) will steal a playoff spot, leaving Denver dazed and confused.

7th: Dallas Mavericks
Prospective Roster Changes: Jose Juan Barea (R) Malik Allen (U), Devean George (U), Eddie Jones (Player Option), Juwan Howard (U), Tyronn Lue (U), Jamaal Magloire (U), Antoine Wright (U) (Brandon Bass has Limited Salary Protection)

Draft Position: 51st

What Needs to Happen: I don’t even know where to begin, and most likely, neither does Donnie Nelson. Rick Carlisle has all kind of work ahead of him if he hopes to get the Mavs back to the playoffs. The positive thing for both Nelson and Carlisle is that they work for an owner who will pay whatever is needed to improve the team. The downside is that the core of the roster is ancient and unmotivated, with the exception of Dirk. Eddie Jones will probably use his option to return and collect cheques. I cannot see any way George comes back after the hassle he caused them last season during the Kidd trade. Allen and Barea need to be resigned but Magloire, Wright and Lue are definitely gone, same with the corpse of Howard. Jarvis Hayes might be a nice pickup for them, and with Cuban’s money they might want to try to outbid for Josh Smith or Marion in an attempt to get fresh legs and players to run with JKidd.

What Will Happen: They might try to move Howard this offseason based on his decline in play and, um, questionable tact with the media, but their will be few buyers in the market for an overpriced, overrated former All-Star that is creeping up on 30. Nelson will get ‘Carlisle guys’ to fill out the roster, which means hardworking, defensive minded veterans. They will most likely sell their draft pick, a casualty of their luxury tax payment. Basically, more of the same, with more aging role players and an increased role for Brandon Bass.

Next Season: 49-33, tied for Ninth. I don’t see how this roster, another year older and more disgruntled, makes it back to the show with GState and Portland looming. Dallas’ window has officially closed, and they now must play out the string on the JKidd deal and hope they can still pair someone with Dirk after next year to reload.

6th: Phoenix Suns
Prospective Roster Changes: Gordan Giricek (U), Grant Hill (PO), Linton Johnson (U), Sean Marks (U), Eric Piatkowski (U), Brian Skinner (U), (D.J. Strawberry has Limited Salary Protection)

Draft Position: 15th, 49th

What Needs to Happen: You mean other than getting a new owner who is actually willing to spend money in the name of winning? For starters, they need to sign Kurt Rambis or Paul Silas as Head Coach and avoid the Little General like he is the plague, because his controlling nature would be awful with Nash. Next, they need to invest in bionic limbs for Grant Hill (who will probably use his option, unless he bolts to San Antonio) and Nash. Giricek should be brought back, and D.J. Strawberry needs to have a more featured role next season. Their pick could go a number of ways. First, they could look for Donte Greene and his athleticism and shooting touch. Alternatively, they could take Joe Alexander, if still available, because his versatility, size, and touch would work beautifully next to Nash and STAT. Lastly, they could take DeAndre Jordan and have him learn behind O’Neal for a season before pairing up with Amare as a great young frontcourt. Assuming they had an owner that would spend money, they should also make a play for Maurice Evans or Roger Mason.

What Will Happen: They will most likely do the exact opposite of all of that. They will refuse to spend money, will sign Avery Johnson or Dan Majerle, will sell their draft pick (again!) because they do not want to face the luxury tax, will bring back Piatkowski or Marks because they are cheaper than Giricek, will not hire a chef to get Diaw in shape, and will slap Steve Nash in the face, over and over and over again.

Next Season: 53-29, Fifth. Somehow, in spite of all of that, Nash will lead them to Fifth in the West and another date with the fourth place Spurs in Round 1. The Shaq Experiment was actually rounding into form well at the end of the season, and if they take Game 1 from the Spurs maybe they are still playing.

5th: Houston Rockets
Prospective Roster Changes: Carl Landry (R), Steve Novak (Team Option), Dikembe Mutombo (U) (Mike Harris, Loren Woods have Limited Salary Protection)

Draft Position: 25th, 54th

What Needs to Happen: The Rockets’ most glaring weakness is truly just staying healthy. Yao is the face of the franchise and the best true Centre in the game (his offensive skill set pushes him past Howard, whose freak athleticism masks his lack of post moves) but he has had serious injuries each of the last three seasons. His durability will only get worse as he ages. Clearly some kind of shakeup is needed to get this team out of the first round, but realistically there is little leeway. TMac is still under contract for another two seasons and with his salary is extremely difficult to move. Mutombo should be retained for what seems like his 38th season in the league, if only to protect for when Yao goes down. Novak’s option should not be picked up, whereas Landry’s must be given how well he played after the All-Star break. Steve Francis will probably retire and free up some cap room, and Daryl Morey might look to package Chuck Hayes, Bobby Jackson and Luther Head for a quality contributor or backup for Rafer.

What Will Happen: Expect Houston to use their first rounder on Mario Chalmers or Ty Lawson as a backup one, with the outside chance they take
Nicolas Batum and keep him in France to develop and eventually takeover for TMac. The Rockets will look to make a splash with a trade this offseason, but short of giving up Yao (which would never happen given how much cash he makes them internationally) or finding someone to have McGrady’s contract, they have few options beyond Scola. They might look to sign Mickael Pietrus or Chris Duhon in the offseason to give them younger legs, but for the most part they will make due with the same core roster and hope Yao doesn’t get hurt.

Next Season: 52-30, Sixth. There will be no 22 game win streak this season to boost the Rockets into the West’s elite, but this team will still win 50+ games on the shoulders of McGrady and (if healthy) Yao. That said, without a major improvement to their scoring and depth they will not get out of the first round.

4th: Utah Jazz
Prospective Roster Changes: C.J. Miles (R), Paul Millsap (TO), Jason Hart (PO)

Draft Position: 23rd, 46th, 53rd

What Needs to Happen: The Jazz fought hard against the Lakers and still have great promise moving forward to own the West for years to come. In fact, if Carlos Boozer had have played against LA, it might have been a different story…wait, he did play? He wasn’t injured? Oh…well then. Miles does not contribute much and while he has improved every season, his numbers can easily be replicated by one of the three draft picks. Hart’s steady veteran guidance is only an asset for DWill and Price, and can be maintained for a very reasonable rate. There is no question the team will exercise their option on Millsap and should try to work out a longer extension for him this summer.

What Will Happen: Look for the Jazz to return all three players, and most likely trade their two second round picks for cash or future considerations, because the team already has all of the necessary pieces to be great, they just need more time for the young stars to develop together. The Korver trade last winter gave them the shooting threat and late game closer from the foul line that they needed. Given how Okur and Williams show up in big moments in big games, it seems to only be a matter of getting Boozer to stop playing like Karl Malone in crunch time to get this team over the top. Their pick will go towards shoring up the frontline via J. J. Hickson or Robin Lopez if he is still on the board.

Next Season: 55-27, Third. Expect the added experience of this year and the postseason to get Utah to play better on the road next year while still maintaining their home dominance. As the Spurs get another year older and more banged up, the Jazz will slip just past them into third.

2nd: New Orleans Hornets
Prospective Roster Changes: Chris Andersen (U), Ryan Bowen (U), Melvin Ely (PO), Jannero Pargo (PO), Bonzi Wells (U)

Draft Position: 27th

What Needs to Happen: Very little. In fact, given that all they need is an athletic wing that can also shoot, if they had kept J.R. Smith two seasons ago, their roster wouldn’t need any changes whatsoever. As it currently stands, the Hornets are better positioned than any team not playing in Los Angeles to be excellent for the next decade. Paul, West and Chandler make up the best young foundation in the game. Given how little Bowen contributes there will be no tears shed when he is let go. Pargo will use his option to return, though if I were Jeff Bower I would immediately look to move him for whatever I could get given how he shot the team out of Game 7 last week. Bonzi and his forlorn attitude have no place with this group of young, likeable kids, so he should be allowed to walk. If Maggette leaves LA, they would be foolhardy to not push extremely hard for him. Short of that, they should look to add Matt Barnes if possible, who GState will not be able to resign with how much they will have to give Ellis and Baron.

What Will Happen: NO is likely to bring back the Birdman, who will not be costly and stayed out of trouble since his return. Ely will surely exercise his option, as will Pargo. The team and its coach will deflect any criticism of Pargo and his hero routine, though I doubt he sees meaningful minutes next spring. It is unlikely Wells will be brought back unless they are utterly unsuccessful in the market this summer for more depth at their wing spots. Surely many free agents will jump at the opportunity to play with CP3, meaning the signing of a Shannon Brown-type athlete or Eddie House-like shooter is possible. Assuming they stay in the draft, the Hornets might look at Wayne Ellington to provide better shooting or Bill “Sky” Walker for a boost of athleticism.

Next Season: 57-25, Second. There is no reason to think this team will do anything but continue to grow and improve. West is an elite-level talent and Paul is the best point guard in the game; they will surely have the Hornets back atop the conference next season.

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.

One Response to “Extreme NBA Makeover: The Imaginary Player Edition - Part 2: Western Conference”

  1. AJ Says:

    As a one time Syracuse supporter and occaisional Jason Hart follower, I love the phrase “Hart’s steady veteran guidance…”

    Now, if only the recently fired Miles Simon can resurrect his playing career, I’ll be one happy camper…

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