NBA Offseason Grades: Pacific Division

gs warriors champs

Welcome to the final part of my 6 part series of NBA Offseason Grades! If you’ve been keeping up with series, I thank you for lending me your time and patience. If you’re just joining us now, well, better late than never!

For the newbies:

I’ve taken it upon myself to evaluate each team’s offseason transactions. I’ve given each team a letter grade based on whether or not I thought they made good moves considering their respective situations. This includes the draft, resigning period, free agency, trades, firings/hirings, and anything else I deem important. Most importantly, I answer the one pivotal question: Are they better?

I’ve unintentionally saved the most entertaining division for last, as today we discuss the Pacific Division. This division has given us so much in regards to entertainment value since June. We’ve seen a team make NBA history, free agency masquerading as a romantic comedy, the fall of an empire, and Vivek Ranadivé doing Vivek Ranadivé things!

This was awesome!

If you missed it:

Atlantic Division Grades

Southeast Division Grades

Central Division Grades

Northwest Division Grades

Southwest Division Grades

Key: 

  • (R): Rookie
  • (DnS): Draft-n-Stash – players drafted, but playing overseas next year
  • (D): Draft-n-Stash player joining the team
  • Bolded Names: Particularly notable players

And we start with our reigning Pacific Division/NBA Champions:

Golden State Warriors: A+

Re-signed: Leondro Barbosa, Draymond Green

Lost: Justin Holiday, Ognjen Kuzmic, David Lee

Acquired: Chris Babb, Jason Thompson, Gerald Wallace

Drafted: Kevon Looney

Other notable moves: N/A

What did they even do?

Exactly.

The disease of more* runs rampant through championship teams across all sports; and the presence of a salary cap keeps this concept a reality. Winning a championship was great, but the iron is hot. And once the team actually climbs the mountain, self goals often take over for team goals. Players want more money, more playing time, more recognition, a bigger role, etc. And so we see key cogs end up taking huge contracts from other teams and then they disappear, with their new money, into irrelevance; all while their former team struggles to defend their title.

*NOTE: “The disease of more” was coined by Don Pat Riley in his book “Showtime.”

Golden State’s team management were able to avoid the disease of more; at least during this offseason.

Of the 5 team free agents that Golden State needed to make a decision on, only 2 were regular rotation guys. Draymond Green may have gotten a huge raise (5-years/$82 million), but his value to the Warriors is actually fairly represented by his max contract; therefore, is exempt from this rule. And Leandro Barbosa (1-year/$2.5 million) is coming back on a very team-friendly deal.

The David Lee salary dump was a way for Golden State management to save money on the luxury tax. Lee is a solid player, but he really didn’t fit in Steve Kerr’s system anyway. He only played 904 minutes in 49 regular season games in 2014-15 (both career lows), and really only had a cup of coffee in the NBA Finals. Lee may be a good guy to have in your foxhole, but the Warriors certainly don’t need him to defend their title.

(Image from USA Today) Yup, the Warriors are bringing back everyone [who matters].

The drafting of Kevon Looney with the 30th pick sparked a little debate due to the prospect’s health issues (he had offseason hip surgery). This doesn’t worry the Warriors, though. They’re super deep and Looney is likely to ride the pine his rookie season anyway. However, he was expected to be a lottery pick before the report of his surgery surfaced the day of the draft. This makes Looney one of those low-risk/high-reward draft picks. And considering the personnel that the Warriors are boasting next season, they’ll have time to wait on Looney.

So management did their part in avoiding the disease of more. The Warriors will be bringing back just about everyone who mattered on an NBA championship team that boasted one of the 4 best regular seasons of all time. Golden State was right not to tinker with the roster. In this case, less is more. And now we’ll wait and see if Steve Kerr can keep the disease of more at bay during the regular season.

The Warriors may not have gotten better from a personnel standpoint; but they’re still a super deep team with championship experience and arguably the hardest home court for opponents to play on. The Spurs may have won the offseason, but the Warriors are still the champions. And like the Nature Boy Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

Are they better?: No (But dammit they’re still good).

Los Angeles Clippers:  F-   A

Re-signed: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers

Lost: Matt Barnes, Glenn Davis, Jordan Hamilton, Spencer Hawes, Lester Hudson, Dahntay Jones, Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh

Acquired: Cole Aldrich, Branden Dawson (R), Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson

Drafted: N/A

Other notable moves: N/A

DeAndre Jordan was rumored to want a larger role than one he was receiving with the Clippers. Perhaps to finally have an offense built around him. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz reported that DJ also grew tiresome of his relationship with Chris Paul , saying:

He [DJ] was tired of Paul’s constant barking and petty gestures, like distributing high-fives to the three other guys on the floor following a timeout but somehow freezing out Jordan.

And so on July 3rd, DJ agreed (in principle) to sign a 4-year/$80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

A few days later in an interview with Bleacher Report Radio , JJ Redick gave the Los Angeles Clippers his own grade on how they handled their offseason to that point. Keep in mind JJ Redick is still under contract with the Clippers for 2 more years…

Is there an F-minus?

Listen, we had one priority this summer and that was to re-sign DJ and we missed out on that, so barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now. He’s such an integral part of what we did, not just defensively but offensively with his screening, his rolling, his offensive rebounds. His presence down low essentially made teams either commit to the three-point line when Blake [Griffin] or Chris [Paul] penetrated or commit to him, and that either opened up lobs for him or threes for guys like me and Jamal [Crawford] and Matt [Barnes].

So he was a huge part of what we did and missing out and having him leave for Dallas gives us a failing grade.

Yes JJ, I make up the rules for this article, so there is such thing as an ‘F-.’

But on the last day of the free agent moratorium, team owner Steve Balmer, Head Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, and Paul Pierce organized a special ops mission to bring DJ back to the Clippers on a long-term deal. They literally infiltrated his house in Houston, Texas, with the intent of locking DJ inside his house until he agreed to sign a contract. They hashed out their differences, and then they played cards until midnight when DJ was able to officially sign a 4-year/$87 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.

It was an emojional day…

with a few laughs…

and some hurt feelings.

It was the most entertaining offseason day in NBA history.

Getting DJ back puts the Clips in good standing grade-wise. I roasted the Mavericks for even trying to sign DJ; so why would I applaud the Clips for going to such lengths to woo their center back?

It’s simple, the Clippers needed DJ to stay.

DJ is actually a perfect fit with the Clippers, his overpaid price tag be damned. He’s the third best player on a contender (ideal role), CP3 and Blake Griffin are running the offense and are very good passers, DJ is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA, and he anchors the defense.

Obviously I was alluding to the fact that I don’t think he’s worth the $21 million+ per year, but it’s not like the Clippers could parlay that money into other players. The Clippers were already over the salary cap before the DJ contract, and the only reason they could pay him big money in the first place was because they owned his Bird Rights. If they lost DJ, they’re not getting anyone else who can replicate what he does for this team; at least not in free agency.

Last post-season the Clippers beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in a 7-game first round series, and were 1 win away from making it to the WCF. Their starting point guard/league’s best point guard turned 30 in May and is entering year 11 of his career (history suggests he will begin to drop off this year or next), and Blake Griffin is just entering his prime. It’s simple, the Clippers are in win-now mode, and the way they went after DJ during the moratorium confirms that notion. DJ walks, and the Clippers are wasting next season.

The Clippers’ Achilles heal in the playoffs last year was their lack of depth. As I mentioned earlier they didn’t have much in the way of cap room, either. General Manager Doc Rivers turned chicken crap into a half-way decent chicken salad by acquiring depth through means of trades, trade exceptions, and minimum contracts.

They traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for the notorious headache that is Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was a triple-double machine 2 years ago in Indiana, but played his way out of the starting line-up in Charlotte via his 38-17-63 shooting splits and just all around bad attitude. I don’t love the risk of bringing in Lance just because of his tendency to rub people the wrong way; but he’s coming into a situation where there’s strong leadership in both the locker room and organization, and he stands a better chance of being kept in check. I can justify the risk given these circumstances. Good move.

The Clippers will miss Matt Barnes’ toughness, his ability to defend multiple positions, and his ability to hit the 3; but the Clips were able to replace Barnes when they signed Paul Pierce to a 3-year/$10 million deal via the tax-payer’s mid-level exception. Pierce brings the same package to the table as Barnes did, plus a proven leadership presence. Pierce is also a native of Los Angeles and won a championship with Coach Rivers in Boston in 2008, so there’s also a little bit of a full circle narrative in relation to this signing. But hey, Pierce is a guy you want in your foxhole.

Doc also managed to pry Josh Smith away from a Western Conference rival despite only being able to offer a minimum contract. Smith is an 11 year veteran who showed a lot of value coming off the bench for the Rockets in the second half of last season; which instantly makes him an upgrade over the 87 year old Hedo Turkoglu. And I imagine the 14 4th quarter points that Smith threw down against the Clips in game 6 to save the Rockets’ season had a little something to do with this signing, as well. But that’s none of my business.

And the Clips also managed to bring in Cole Aldrich, Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, and Pablo Prigioni to beef up the end of their bench. Solid role players at good prices.

Seems like Doc is getting better at this Coach/GM thing.

Are they better?: Yes.

Phoenix Suns: C-

Re-signed: Brandon Knight 

Lost: Earl Barron, Reggie Bullock, Gerald Green, Andrew Harrison (R), Jerel McNeal, Marcus Morris, Marcus Thornton, Brandan Wright

Acquired: Tyson Chandler, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems

Drafted: Devin Booker

Other notable moves: N/A

I haven’t had a good grip on the Phoenix Suns’ game plan ever since they traded for Isaiah Thomas in 2014 when they already boasted a Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe back court; then essentially traded Dragic, Thomas, the Lakers’ top-5 (now top-3) protected first round pick + spare parts for Brandon Knight.

I can’t base this summer’s Suns grade on what happened in past years, but its worth noting I have no idea what’s going on in Phoenix.

Anyway…

The Suns kicked off free agency by signing Brandon Knight to a 5-year/$70 million deal. I personally like Brandon Knight as an all around player, and I think he gets unfairly lambasted based solely on the amount of times he’s landed on the wrong side of a YouTube clip . But he’s a versatile combo guard who does a lot of things well. For some reason his stats dropped after the trade to Phoenix. Granted the sample size was small (11 games in Phoenix compared to 52 in Milwaukee), so it is possible he may have struggled adjusting to a new system on the fly.

(Image from USA Today) With Phoenix committing to Brandon Knight long-term, could Eric Bledsoe be the next Sun to go?

That being said, the Suns went about this all wrong.

Knight was a restricted free agent and the Suns came in with a massive deal in hand without letting the market decide his value. That’s a big no-no when it comes to restricted free agency, unless the player’s name is Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis of course.

They would have been better off letting him find a deal in free agency and just matching it. Sure, they may have ended up overpaying him to stick around anyway, but it beats overpaying the guy when the only team you’re competing against is yourself.

The Suns also brought in Tyson Chandler on a 4-year/$52 million contract. He’s obviously being brought in to anchor the defense and serve as a positive veteran leader with championship pedigree; which is good. I imagine Dallas would bring him back if they had a mulligan on free agency. The drawback is that Chandler turns 33 in October, has 14 seasons under his belt, and has had trouble staying healthy his whole career. It’s an alright pick-up at a fairly steep price. I can’t imagine that contract ages well, either.

The Suns also traded Marcus Morris (the lesser twin), and let Brandan Wright and Gerald Green walk in free agency. Mirza Teletovic is a nice pick-up as a floor spacer on the cheap; but other than him, the Suns brought in a cast of role players to fill in the blanks.

I liked the decision to draft Devin Booker at number 13. Booker was arguably the best shooter in his draft class, and should develop nicely in Phoenix’s pace-and-space system.

It’s obvious LaMarcus Aldridge was the apple of Phoenix’s eye this offseason. But LMA chose the San Antonio Spurs, and it appears the Suns didn’t have a contingency plan in case that scenario occurred. So now they find themselves in a situation with no star player and no real direction to go in next season.

The Suns went 39-43 last season (10-17 post trade deadline). Given whom they let walk and whom they brought in, I can’t say that the Suns are better than where they were April 15th. Jeff Hornacek is an under-rated coach who’s been really good at bringing out the best in his players; but even he has his work cut out for him this year in the loaded Western Conference.

I don’t really know where the Suns go from here; but it’s certainly not up.

Are they better?: No.

Sacramento Kings: F

Re-signed:  Omri Casspi

Lost: Reggie Evans, Ryan Hollins, Carl Landry, Ray McCallum, Andre Miller, Eric Moreland, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams

Acquired: Quincy Acy, James Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, Duje Dukan (R), Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo

Drafted: Willie Cauley-Stein

Other notable moves: N/A

Congratulations, Sacramento Kings! You just took the Most Dysfunctional Organization in the NBA title belt away from the New York Knicks!

Where do I even start?

How about allowing your 3rd head coach in 1 calendar year the opportunity to alienate your franchise center? Then let said head coach keep his job after he publicly looked to trade said franchise center? Yes, DeMarcus Cousins has 3 years left on one of the best bargain contracts in the league; but there’s no chance in Hell he’s sticking around Sac-Town after the 2018 season.

Or how about paying the Philadelphia 76ers a package of Nik Stauskas (2014 – Round 1, Pick 8), a future 1st round pick, and the right to swap picks in 2 future drafts just to take on Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and their combined $26 million+ salaries over the next 2-3 seasons?

Yes, this trade actually happened.

Forget the fact that they could have used the stretch provision to buy out Carl Landry. Why wouldn’t they just offer this trade to Denver for the right to Ty Lawson? After all, Denver basically ended giving away Lawson to the Houston Rockets following his 2nd DUI of the past year. This would have ultimately been a win-win for both the Kings and the Nuggets had it come to fruition. Instead, Denver dumped Lawson for spare parts and a late first round pick, the Rockets solidified their spot as a contender, the 76ers (briefly) looked like the smartest team in the room, and the Kings ended up tossing their future draft picks away and overpaying for a point guard who’s best years were left behind in 2013.

Speaking of which…

Go ahead and add a 1-year/$10 million contract for Rajon Rondo to Sacramento’s dumpster fire. In case you missed it, last season the Mavericks bet the farm on a Rondo resurgence in the hopes that he would be the missing link to a championship team. Instead, Rondo butt heads with Head Coach Rick Carlisle and played his way out of the rotation in the playoffs. Rondo threw away any leverage he had in a big money contract in free agency, and then the Kings gave him a $10 million deal when no one else even wanted him.

Yes, Boogie Cousins and Rondo will play for a team coached by George Karl. This instantly makes the Kings a must-watch NBA League Pass team. Not for the games themselves; rather for the comedy. Boogie, Rondo, and Karl could end up choking each other out on any given night! No seriously, its going to be Survivor: Sacramento Kings in 2015-16.

A couple other moves I’m not a huge fan of:
1.) Kosta Koufos – 4-years/$33 million. Bleh.
2.) Drafting Willie Cauley-Stein with the 6th overall pick; passing on Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Stanley Johnson (8), and Justise Winslow (10). I love WCS as a prospect; but the last thing the Kings needed was another center. There were better options at number 6, even if they planned on trading Boogie.

I’ll close with this. Pardon me while I borrow/touch-up a quote from Billy Madison that I think correctly reflects the Sacramento Kings’ offseason:

[Sacramento Kings], what you’ve just [done this offseason] is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever [seen]. At no point in your [embarrassing], [franchise debilitating moves] were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational [plan]. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having [witnessed] it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Original Version!

Are they better?: No.

Los Angeles Lakers: D

Re-signed: N/A

Lost: Vander Blue, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price

Acquired: Brandon Bass, Michael Frazier (R), Jonathan Holmes (R), Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams

Drafted: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown,

Other notable moves: N/A

This summer we witnessed the end of an era. Sure, the Lakers haven’t won a championship since 2010, and they last made the playoffs in 2013. But I’m not talking about wins and losses. Down years happen to just about every franchise, and the presence of a salary cap has made it especially difficult to maintain dominance over consecutive years.

Instead, I’m referencing the aura and the mystique that once upon a time surrounded the Lakers franchise. 16 championships, a big market, an LA lifestyle, establishing a legacy; what star player wouldn’t be drawn to these elements? Especially if the money was equal.

After all, good things would just happen to the Lakers throughout NBA history. Stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal would just fall onto their laps.

But not this time. There was no LaMarcus Aldridge; nor Greg Monroe. Instead their was Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert.

It’s not just failing to get a star, it’s why they didn’t get a star. Aldridge sat down with the Lakers twice, where they pitched branding, young pieces, and the opportunity to play with Kobe Bryant; but LMA was turned off by LA’s old-fashioned style of play. And he had no interest in being the Pau Gasol to his Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile Greg Monroe turned down both the Lakers and the Knicks to play for the small-market Milwaukee Bucks because he believed they had the best chance of winning.

It was a bigger loss for the Lakers than it was for the Knicks. The Knicks have sucked for the better part of the last 15 years, and have swung-and-missed on a number of premier free agents. The Lakers aren’t used to this. This uncharted waters.

This summer was one of the last chances for the Lakers to extend Kobe’s career by adding another star, and yet it ended horribly.

I mean, the sum of the parts gained is actually fairly better than the parts lost. Brandon Bass cancels out the loss of Ed Davis, but Roy Hibbert finally gives the Lakers a rim protector. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is a good pick-up assuming the Lakers keep him in that role and not try to shoe-horn him into the starting line-up with Kobe.

I also LOVE D’Angelo Russell as a prospect. But even D’Angelo drew the ire of Lakers Nation when he had the cajones to call Tracy McGrady the GOAT when one Kobe Bryant is on his team. Take a lap, young fella.

The Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves (temporarirly) stripped of their competitive advantages. Now they are forced to rebuild the old fashioned way like the rest of the teams in NBA: through draft picks and smart business decisions. Truth be told, it’s not the worst way to rebuild in this league. But this was not the gameplan GM Mitch Kupchak drew up. So this is going to cost them.

Are they better?: Yes.


 

 

6 divisions and 30 NBA teams later, and we’ve have completed the NBA Offseason Grades series! I’ll revisit these grades somewhere around the all-star break just to see where each team stands and see how accurate each representation was. Only 7 more weeks until opening night!

Thank you very much to basketball-reference.com , espn.go.com/nba , and hoopshype.com for the stats and information used in this article.

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DiMoro’s Call: Landing Spot Predictions for 5 Top Free Agents

(Bruce Ely/The Oregonian)

As we inch closer to the official start of 2015 NBA Free Agency and rumors are swirling, I wanted to take a look at 5 of the Top Free Agents and where I project them to end up signing. I based my predictions on what I have gathered from reading reports, my gut feeling and how I perceive the free agent landscape panning out once Wednesday arrives.

For each free agent I’ll provide a darkhorse team to watch. So, just in case you haven’t had your fill of NBA free agent speculation (is there ever enough?) here are a few more tidbits to help feed the appetite for more free agency talk.

For those looking for LeBron James on this list, he isn’t. Why? Because I don’t think for one minute he won’t re-sign in Cleveland.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge’s schedule of visits reads like a band’s national tour.

According to reports he is scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers first. After he meets with the Lakers he’ll then meet with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks (in that order).

Many people have Aldridge signing with San Antonio but I’m not completely sold that it’s pretty much a “lock” he ends up in silver and black. Yahoo Sports is reporting that Tim Duncan will reportedly join Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich when they meet with LaMarcus Aldridge in Los Angeles on Wednesday so it appears San Antonio is preparing their full court press.

But I don’t think the Spurs are interested in anything dragged out in terms of Aldridge’s decision process. So, if Aldridge leaves the meeting without a deal with the Spurs ironed out, I think it’s more likely he ends up in another uniform.

So who could that team be?

Although many would think the Mavericks or Lakers would be my choice, I think the Phoenix Suns could be a team to watch here. They have a young roster and a big need (no pun intended) for a low-post presence like Aldridge. This move would make a lot of sense and the style the Suns play could appeal to the offensive-minded Aldridge.

This is if, and a big if, he leaves his meetings with the Lakers and Spurs without deals.

Signs with: San Antonio Spurs

Darkhorse: Phoenix Suns

 

Kevin Love

Cavalier fans may not be too high on Kevin Love but he certainly is in their long-term plans.

I don’t anticipate anything dramatic happening unless the negotiations drag out a bit. The only team I would think could put a wrench in the Cavs’ plans to re-sign Love would be the Los Angeles Lakers, but I think with LeBron James putting pressure on the organization to improve the quality of talent of their roster the Cavs will get this nipped in the bud.

I anticipate Love being signed on Day 1 of free agency.

Signs with: Cleveland Cavaliers

Darkhorse: Los Angeles Lakers

 

Marc Gasol

This might be the most boring of the list.

All report are indicating the the Memphis Grizzlies are re-signing Gasol and Gasol has no visits scheduled outside of his meetings with Memphis.

I think of all the names on this list, Gasol re-signing with the Grizzlies is the closest to being a “lock”

Signs with: Memphis Grizzlies

 

DeAndre Jordan

According to ESPN, Jordan is 50/50 split between returning to the Los Angeles Clippers or signing with the Dallas Mavericks. Bottom line; he is likely staying in Los Angeles. How’s that for a headline?

At the end of the day I think Jordan will ink with the Lakers. The fact that he is even 50/50 on a decision to stay or leave isn’t a good sign for the Clippers in my opinion and I don’t think many Clipper fans are going to be heartbroken over his departure (judging from your reactions on social media)

There isn’t really a ‘darkhorse’ here since it’s pretty much a three team race, but I think the allure of a fresh start with the Lakers will be too good for Jordan to pass up.

Signs with: Los Angeles Lakers

Darkhorse: Dallas Mavericks/ Los Angeles Clippers

Greg Monroe

Detroit is likely to lose the services of Monroe, who will be seeking a lucrative short-term deal to test life outside of the Pistons’ organization.

A lot of reports link Monroe to the New York Knicks and it makes plenty of sense, but I think team’s like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers could come calling if they lose out on LaMarcus Aldridge.

Don’t count out the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trailblazers either, but something tells me the biggest threat to a union of Monroe and the Knicks are the Toronto Raptors.

Signs with: New York Knicks

Darkhorse: Toronto Raptors

 

 

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Pool of Talent to Entice NBA Teams

(Associated Press)

The start of the work week couldn’t be anymore enticing for an NBA team looking for a boost during their respective playoff run. With the NBA trade deadline on the horizon and contract buyouts being discussed and consummated, there should be a plethora of options for teams looking for that little push down the stretch.

Whether on the cusp of a playoff spot or looking to solidify a championship caliber team, a handful of NBA teams will be salivating at some of the options to be up for grabs via trade or free agent signing.

In the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million contract with the New York Knicks, Amare Stoudemire plans to sign with a playoff contender once he clear waivers. Stoudemire should easily clear waivers because any team to claim him in the waiver process would require that team to take on his $23.4 million salary. Too steep a price to make that move a logical one. Injuries have impacted Stoudemire’s tenure with New York and he is on an obvious decline, but his 12.0 ppg and 6.8 rebounds could benefit a team primed for a playoff push.

It is reported that the Dallas Mavericks are the front-runners for his services while the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns also have interest.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports. “Over time, we will see how things pan out. You give yourself a break during the All-Star break. You think about it with your family. That will give me a good solid week on how to weigh out the rest of the season.”

Another option for NBA teams could come out of Milwaukee. According to reports the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders have started buyout discussions.

Sanders  served a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program but has not returned to the team and is not expected to play for the Bucks again. Sanders has been listed out for “personal reasons” in Milwaukee’s last 3 games, so his exit from the organization seems inevitable.

After agreeing to a four-year, $44 million contract extension with the Bucks in 2013, Sanders has appeared in only 50 games due to injuries and suspensions.

At just 26-years old and an impactful defensive player when on the floor, Sanders is an intriguing option.I would expect teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, among others, to all express interest in the big man.

But Sanders isn’t the only big man that will entice teams. Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, is unhappy in Utah and is looking to exit the team.

According to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune Kanter’s frustrations are legit: “Frustrated by his role during his three-plus years in Utah, center Enes Kanter told The Salt Lake Tribune he hopes to be traded before this year’s deadline. Kanter grew tired of empty promises of playing time during his time under Tyrone Corbin and remains frustrated by the inconsistency of his role.”

At just 22-years of age, Kanter who averages 13.8 ppg and 7.8 rebounds would be a headline-making move at the deadline. The Boston Celtics have been reported to have real interest in the young big man.

The Phoenix Suns apparently could be both buyers and sellers.

While rumors have circulated that the team could move Goran Dragic, who is in the last year of his deal and has seen his numbers drop from last year, reports are now indicating that Phoenix would prefer moving Isaiah Thomas instead of Dragic.

General manager Ryan McDonough admitted his team was overloaded in the backcourt on Arizona Sports Radio last week :

“I think our roster balance is a little off, and that’s my fault,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “We are a little too backcourt heavy, especially in terms of guys who, you know, I think you’d define primarily as scorers in the backcourt.

“So I think at some point we’ll need to balance that out, try to get a little more size, a little more frontcourt scoring and rebounding.”

Trading Thomas instead of Dragic is a risky move for Phoenix. Dragic is slated to test free agency and there has been a lot of scuttlebutt that the Los Angeles Lakers could make a max-offer for his services. Doing so would likely make Dragic a Laker and leave the Suns, who had 3 point guards, with only Eric Bledsoe (if they opt to trade Thomas). Additionally, Dragic would garner more return on the trade market.

Another team that has been heavily discussed in a number of scenarios are the Brooklyn Nets who may be purging their roster.

In recent weeks Brook Lopez’s name has been linked to a few potential trades that ended up fizzling out. The Nets also may move Joe Johnson and Deron Williams along with Lopez.

There has been talk that Charlotte Hornets’ Lance Stephenson would like to play for Brooklyn, but it doesn’t appear as though the interest is mutual. There’s apparently no market for Stephenson who led the NBA in triple-doubles last season, according to Yahoo Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski .

The Philadelphia 76ers reportedly could move Luc Mbah a Moute for a large, expiring contract and another draft pick, according to Tom Moore of the Philadelphia Intelligencer .

The Sacramento Kings could also be moving a couple of players as well.  According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News: “‘They have been as active as anyone,’ one general manager told Sporting News. ‘Obviously they want to make a lot of changes, and they’re pushing hard to get something done.’”

Sacramento seems to be inclined to move Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and rookie Nik Stauskas.

The Portland Trail Blazers are “aggressively exploring the trade landscape” and Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, who both believe they will be traded, could be the ones getting moved if a trade materializes, according to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian .

It should be an exciting and busy week in the NBA. Trades, buyouts, signings and enough speculation to keep things interesting as we wait for the 2nd half of the NBA regular season to tip off.

 

 

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Mid-Season Awards

(Photo from www.experience.usatoday.com)

We’ve reached the midway point of what has been an exciting NBA season. Some players have lived up to, and even surpassed expectations, while others have disappointed. Although roughly three months of basketball remain and much has yet to be decided, a handful of players deserve recognition for standing out among the fray. It’s time to hand out the mid-season awards.

Mid-season Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins. Go back to mid-December and it’s hard to put a finger on who most deserves the award. In the last four weeks, however, the Minnesota guard has taken off. He’s averaging 15 points and has reached double-figure scoring in 16 consecutive games. After a game against the Lakers, Kobe Bryant said that Wiggins reminds him of himself when he first came into the league. Not too bad.

Mid-season Most Improved Player: Jimmy Butler. After averaging no more than 13 points a game his first three years in the league, the Marquette product spent this past offseason consumed by basketball. No TV. No internet. Just basketball. As a result, 21 points per contest, a sure-bet first time all-star appearance and more than likely a Most Improved Player award to boot.

Mid-season Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas. If he isn’t a part of a three-guard rotation, he’s starting somewhere and isn’t in the running for this award. The 5’9″ guard, selected dead last in the 2011 draft, is averaging 15 points and four assists per game. Thomas is one of the quickest guards in the league, can shoot from anywhere in the gym and despite his size, plays like a bulldog. The reserve role hasn’t kept him from appearing late in games. He’s usually always on the court in crunch time.

Mid-season Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan. Leading the league in rebounding, second in blocks, DeAndre Jordan is a dominating force around the rim. He’s the most athletic center in the league, and probably the most underrated as well. It’s about time he gets his due.

Mid-season MVP: Stephen Curry. At this point, it’s virtually a toss-up between Steph Curry and James Harden. I ultimately gave the nod to Curry because his team owns the league’s best record. The sixth year guard is already a master at his craft, averaging 23 points, eight helpers, five boards, 40% from deep and is clearly a fan favorite. He received the most all-star votes this year, ending the three-year top vote-getter streak by LeBron James.

Mid-season Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer. Although a strong case can be made for Steve Kerr, Budenholzer is the front-runner in my book. The Hawks are without a bonafide superstar, and yet, sit atop the Eastern Conference. Winners of 15 straight, the team really seems to be picking up what Budenholzer is putting down. Their playing style mirrors that of the Spurs: crisp ball movement and a stout defense. 36-8 speaks for itself.

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The Wild, Wild West

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The Cleveland Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference’s 5th seed, are currently 19-18. Thankfully for them, they don’t play in the West. As of now, one game above the .500 mark is good enough for the 9th spot out West, not to mention a grind among the likes of Phoenix, New Orleans and OKC for the final few playoff spots.

On the other hand, the Sacramento Kings are 15-21, owners of the 12th seed in the West. They sit 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and with the aforementioned teams ahead of them, postseason hoops in Sacramento seem bleak at best. If the Kings were an Eastern Conference team, they’d be tied with Miami for the 8th spot.

The ultra-competitive, highly-talented Western Conference makes for intriguing story lines. If the playoffs began today, there isn’t a matchup lacking excitement. Portland vs. San Antonio. Houston vs. LA Clippers. Memphis vs. Dallas. Golden State vs. Phoenix. Of course, it’s only January and a lot can change from now to then. Only five games separate spots three through eight.

But what interests me the most is the possible 1st vs. 8th seed matchup. Despite only being two games in front of Portland for the top spot, I feel as if the Warriors have a firm grasp on the 1st seed and will remain there come April. They’re hands down the best team in the league right now, having already won 16 games in a row, and are currently winners of six straight.

That being said, Golden State could very well end up in quite a predicament. The Oklahoma City Thunder have been ravaged with injuries thus far. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have both missed significant time due to injury, and the Thunder find themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in. They are three games behind Phoenix for the 8th spot, but if the two stars can stay healthy, it’s difficult to picture a season where OKC doesn’t earn a postseason birth. They’re far too talented with Durant and Westbrook in the lineup to finish a season out of the top eight. If they could settle into the 8th seed, a potential encounter with Golden State looms. Just the mere thought of an OKC/Golden State first round series makes me quiver with angst.

As entertaining as it is to discuss potential playoff matchups, it’s also important to keep things in perspective. Like I said, it’s only January and there is still plenty of basketball to be played. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: the wild, wild West will be a joy to watch unfold.

 

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DiMoro’s Call: Who Will Win the West

(David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

The NBA is back! The long grind of the 82-game regular season is has tipped off and until June we will be thrust into the exciting world of the NBA. The other day, I posted my breakdown on how I see the Eastern Conference breaking down , now it’s time to give the West some love!

Note: These are not playoff seeding predictions, but Overall Rankings in order of how good I feel a team is compared to the others

 

1. San Antonio Spurs

The mighty Spurs still stand atop the NBA Mountain, which includes the Western Conference. Until they are dethroned, the Spurs will remain atop this list, as they should.

 

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Sure, they will have weather the storm until Kevin Durant returns from injury, but this team is scary good. Minus Durant, they are still a viable contender and should go on a thrilling run when Durant hits the floor.

 

3. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are the scariest team in the West. Scary because they should worry the upper-elite teams like San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

Memphis is extremely deep and well-rounded which would make them a nightmare in a 7 game series. The Grizz have been the “sexy” pick for a deep playoff run yet again, but this year they have more experience to help them along the way

4. Portland Trailblazers

Having a productive big like LaMarcus Aldridge makes Portland viable. Adding in a dangerous scorer like Damian Lillard makes Portland a contender. Add in the growth of Nicolas Batum as a viable scorer and Robin Lopez as a factor in the paint and the Blazers should be among the Final 4 teams battling it out in the Western Conference Playoffs.

5. Golden State Warriors

This team is just getting started in their ascension. The duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is as potent as they come in the NBA. With Andrew Bogut healthy and Harrison Barnes set to take the next step in his progression, the Warriors should find themselves in a deep playoff run.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers should have a much less dramatic season this year and this unit should be one of the best examples of chemistry in the West. With much of their core returning and Chris Paul at the helm, the Clippers can certainly put together long runs in the regular season and be a lethal opponent come playoff time

 

7. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are on the verge of sinking further down my charts. While James Harden is a bonafide star, I maintain my question marks around Dwight Howard who continues to confuse me. Howard should be such a dominant force that his presence alone makes the Rockets a favorite to dethrone the Spurs. For various reasons, that just hasn’t been the case.

While Houston interchanged some firepower in the offseason, I still struggle justifying putting them in the Top 5.

 

8. Phoenix Suns

The Suns boasted a tremendous backcourt duo in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. This year the pose a 3-headed monster with the addition of Isaiah Thomas that makes the Suns that much more explosive. If they can find a suitable replacement to fill the shoes of the departed Channing Frye and keep their core players healthy, expect the Suns to secure a playoff berth this year.

 

9. Dallas Mavericks

Do the Mavs have one more run in their bones? I love the re-addition of Tyson Chandler who is an absolute force in the paint and was a key factor in Dallas’ first NBA Championship.

But can Dallas survive the marathon battle in a deeply talented Western Conference?

 

10. Denver Nuggets

Denver is a hard team to figure out. Staked with talent and the return of Arron Afflalo have many liking this Nuggets’ team. A healthy Danilo Gallinari should provide a boost, but Denver needs Wilson Chandler to bounce back from a subpar 2013-2014 campaign and Timofey Mozgov to continue his progression to have a real shot in the West.

11. New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans is my wild card team in the West. Young and loaded with talent I am becoming a bigger fan of how this team is put together.

Anthony Davis is coming into his own and with Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson helping in the front court the Pelicans could be a contender for a 7th or 8th seed down the stretch.

I need to see more out of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans before projecting the Pelicans into a playoff spot.

 

12. Utah Jazz

On paper I like the Jazz lineup. Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Try Burke & Alec Burks are a nice combo to trot onto the court. But beyond that, there isn’t much to get excited about with the Jazz.

Sure Enes Kanter is certainly showing progression and Dante Exum could be a great asset, but both players are extremely young and unproven. It’s clearly rebuilding mode for Utah, but the future is bright if they can keep this core intact and the progression moving along.

 

13. Sacramento Kings

The Kings could be a surprise team this year, seriously. Okay, so maybe not a surprise in the sense of making the playoffs but the Kings could see the start of a turnaround. DeMarcus Cousins is continuing his growth into a legit force in the NBA and if Rudy Gay can produce they could come close to a .500 record.

That would a be huge step for Sacramento

14.  Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers aren’t a team to get excited about and for good reason. With the loss of Randle and Nash this season, things look even more bleak. It’ll be a long year for the Lake Show.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves

The most exciting thing about the Minnesota Timberwolves should be and is Andrew Wiggins, who is a future superstar.

The Wolves will battle the Lakers in the basement of the West and could overtake them in the standings. Imagine that.

 

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Best of the West Big 3s

(Photo Courtesy of imgarcade.com  

The NBA season starts in just THREE DAYS! 3 Days! Tres días más! Encore trois jours! You get the picture. 3 more days til we see where amazing happens. But, in the meantime I’d like to rank the best Big 3s in the most competitive conference in the NBA. In order to do that, we must establish two things:

1. What is a Big 3?

2. What teams have a legitimate Big 3?

A Big 3 (in my opinion) is a trio of players who are undoubtedly the focal point of their team. Their numbers or accolades stand out from the rest of the pack. The game plan runs through these guys. Some examples of past Big 3s in the past decades:

Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich (71-72′ Los Angeles Lakers)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,  Magic Johnson, James Worthy (84-85′ Los Angeles Lakers)

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman (96-97′ Chicago Bulls)

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett (07-08′ Boston Celtics)

In today’s game, you can make cases about a lot of teams that have a Big 3 or if they just have a legitimate team. It’s hard to decipher if some teams have a true Big 3. For example, who would the Lakers’ Big 3 be? Kobe? Yes. Boozer? Yes. But then who? Jordan Hill? Jeremy Lin? Wesley Johnson? You can pick one of them and make a “Big 3″ but it wouldn’t be unanimous. Plus, they are just sub-par players. Personally, I wouldn’t draft any of them in my fantasy league. A tougher example would be the San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker? Yes. Timmy D? Yes. But after last year, would you substitute Kawhi for Manu? Do we need another solid full year before we add Kawhi to the trio? Once again, it’s not unanimous. Same with Phoenix. You have Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic that are for sure in that Big 3 discussion. But who do you add to that group? Do you go with Gerald Green who just produced the best season of his 7-year career? How about newly added Isaiah Thomas who 20ppg over in Sacramento? Or how about the up and coming Miles Plumlee? You can make cases for any of them so it’s still an unanswered question. Other teams who either have too many good players or too few proven players are the Mavericks, Timberwolves and Jazz. With those exclusions, that leaves 9 teams (Pelicans, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Nuggets) that I believe have a true Big 3. From the 9 teams, I’m going to rank my top 3 (see what I did there?).

#3 – The Splash Brothers & David Lee

How could I not include arguably the best shooting tandem in NBA history? Stephen Curry is one of the best, if not the best, point guard in the league. He has a light-outs jumper to go along with amazing handles. He’s a good defender and is in the top 15 in steals to prove it. His partner in crime is easily becoming a fan favorite as he is blossoming as an all-around player. Klay can knock down 3s with the best of them but as a 6’7″ shooting guard, he can also take you to the bucket (and also probably one of the most underrated defenders in the NBA). Speaking of underrated, the last piece of the the puzzle is David Lee. Lee nearly averaged 20ppg and 10rpg last season and you still only hear his name whispered. At 31, he still is a solid contributor and a key player for Golden State’s success. However, this group is only at number 3 because I foresee another early exit in the playoffs for this young team.

Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Chris Paul, Big 3

#2 – Lob City

CP3 always hovers over the best point guard discussion. What more could you want in a pg? He’s an excellent play maker, dominant passer, great handles, precise shooter, team player, hard worker, team leader, etc. I can go on & on about CP3’s attributes. Then, you have Mr. Highlight Reel himself. Blake Griffin. He evolved from simply a posterizer to an well-rounder big man… who will still posterize you. His mid-range game has significantly improved and his play making ability has refined as well. And lastly, you have the reigning leading rebounder in DeAndre Jordan. He’s no stranger to Sportcenter’s top ten either (just ask Brandon Knight). He’s not going to give you the consistent offensive production you may want in a center but he will definitely protect the rim with his long frame and unbelievable vertical.  Just as last year, they have a chance to take the Clippers deep into the postseason but as a complete unit, the defense needs to improve. A depleted Warriors team should have not forced a 7 game series to be decided in the final game.

#1 – Russ, KD & I-BLOCK-a

Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. Reigning MVP. 3-time scoring champion. 2nd best player in the world. Not to mention one hell of a public speaker (haha). In the absence of KD, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will have their time to shine. I believe both are more than capable to carry the workload and not let their playoff hopes slip in a matter of months. They won’t be as dominant as the Clippers were last year when Chris Paul went down but they will continue to be a force to reckon with in the West. And when KD does return, he will come back like he never was gone. When healthy, this triad of stars will bullrush opponents to fight for homecourt advantage as they peak back to the top of their game.

Thunder Westbrook Durant Ibaka

 

 

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Steve Nash Should Consider Retirement

It’s been a disappointing run for Steve Nash as a Los Angeles Laker. Slowed by injuries and hampered by an anemic offensive void of game-changing young stars Nash has spent more time as a spectator to the downfall of the Lakers than he has on the court. It’s been hard to watch Nash on NBA League Pass even when he does play, which is a rare occasion.

Nash, who recently turned 40 years old,  had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly 3 months because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. But that was until he exited the Lakers’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday because of nerve irritation in his left leg, he would not return to the game.

Nash seemed skeptical about the recent setback:

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.

[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again, I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”

Regardless of his optimism or the lip service, Nash needs to evaluate further.  From an injury standpoint, Nash will be re-evaluated Monday, but Nash needs to evaluate his career and strongly consider retirement.

From the get-go Nash and the Lakers have been a bad fit. In 2 seasons with the Lakers he has been limited to only 59 games. His last season with the Phoenix Suns in the 2011-2012 season he played in 62.

Speaking of that last year in Phoenix he avergaed 12.5 ppg and 10.7 assists. His first season in Los Angeles he boosted his scoring to 12.7 ppg but his assist total dropped to 6.7. This season, the decline continued with his scoring dipping to8.2 ppg and his assists plummeting to 5.0, in 9 games of total action.

Prior to his move to L.A Nash was the definition of durability and production. In fact, many marveled at his ability to remain as efficient and productive as he had for so many years.

phoenix-suns-guard-steve-nash-doesnt-plan-on--L-7kMIyWBut that was nearly 3 years ago.

The Laker version of Nash is a shell of what he once was in Phoenix. Hobbled, lost and at times forgotten. It’s hard to attach those words to someone like Steve Nash, a legend, a Hall of Famer, but they fit today.

You can blame it on the offensive system in Los Angeles , the constant changes the Lakers have undergone in terms of personnel, coaching and schemes, or the fact the Lakers’ training staff is light-years behind what Nash was accustomed to during his days in Phoenix.

Whatever the case may be, it’s time for Nash to hang them up.

While a mid-season retirement has been speculated, I doubt Nash would go out like that.

Maybe he rides this season out and hangs them up at the end of the season. Or maybe the Lakers send him back to Phoenix to let him ride out the rest of his limited playing time there, either on the bench or in a limited support role.

As a fan of Nash I would enjoy seeing him return to the Suns to end his career. His presence would be great for the young squad, the fans would love him to close out his career in the Valley of the Sun and frankly, Steve Nash deserves better than hobbling into the unknown with Los Angeles.

While it sounds poetic, it’s unlikely the scenario I just painted has any tint of reality to it.

Which makes the sad story of the tail-end of Steve Nash’s career even sadder. Los Angeles Lakers’ fans are spoiled and don’t have the memories of what Nash once was the way Suns fans do. To them Nash is just a broken down waste of a roster spot. They would rather discard Nash quickly and move on.

It’s the sad reality of where we are. Regardless of where Nash hangs them up, the time is now.

It;s the only decision that makes perfect sense. Because this run with the Lakers, certainly made none.

 

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Complete First Round Mock Draft

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The next crop of talent will join the NBA on Thursday night, as the 2014 NBA Draft will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. There are plenty of of intriguing storylines surrounding this year’s draft, but none bigger than the injury to the projected No. 1 overall pick, center Joel Embiid out of Kansas. The question now becomes, what will the Cleveland Cavaliers do with that pick?

Each and every year, there are surprises and I’m sure this year’s edition will be no different. With that said, here are my predictions for the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers- SF Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

The Cavaliers had their eyes set on center Joel Embiid, as that is their most pressing need, but his Jayhawk teammate wouldn’t be a bad alternative. I’ve  debated  back and forth between Parker and Wiggins, but Wiggins may be a better fit if  the Cavs  make a push for LeBron. While he didn’t quite live up to the hype, Wiggins has tremendous athleticism and great upside.

2. Milwaukee Bucks- SF Jabari Parker, Duke

The Bucks need help in a lot of areas, but they need a serious upgrade in talent. Parker is arguably the most talented player in this draft and provides an immediate boost on offense. He’s also versatile, being able to play either forward position.

3. Philadelphia 76ers- PG/SG Dante Exum, Australia

The Sixers have taken some steps in the right direction for their rebuilding process by drafting Michael Carter-Williams and trading for Nerlens Noel. At 6’6″, Exum is comparable to MCW and this move would give them one of the biggest and most athletic backcourts in the NBA.

4. Orlando Magic- PG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St

Orlando needs help in a few areas, but their first priority should be point guard. Jameer Nelson is no longer in his prime and Smart is gifted on both ends of the court. The guy is a playmaker with a very high motor and should be able to contribute immediately. This will also allow Victor Oladipo to move to his natural shooting guard position.

5. Utah Jazz- PF Noah Vonleh, Indiana

The Jazz are in good shape with two young cornerstones to build around in Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. Vonleh is a guy who can help solidify their frontcourt, which currently includes Favors and Enes Kanter. He’s capable of creating his own shot in the post, as well as knocking down jumpshots.

6. Boston Celtics- C Joel Embiid, Kansas

The Celtics are clearly in a rebuilding phase,, so they are willing to wait for Embiid to get healthy. They are in dire need of talent, so Embiid has too much upside for them not to take a chance on him. The seven-footer gives them elite talent on both ends of the court. He’s a good post scorer  and  a great post defender.

7. Los Angeles Lakers- PF Julius Randle, Kentucky

This pick is purely about talent. Randle has the potential to be a very special player and contribute immediately, provided he heals well from his foot surgery. He has a high motor and doesn’t need anyone to motivate him, which I’m sure Kobe would love. Randle is a physical presence, which would give the Lakers some toughness down low.

8. Sacramento Kings-PG Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette 

Isaiah Thomas is a free agent and may command more money than the Kings are willing to spend. In comes Payton. Payton has great size, quickness, and  athleticism  for the position. He’s also a pretty solid defender, which is definitely an upgrade. If he can add some consistency shooting the ball, the Kings won’t miss Thomas too much.

9. Charlotte Hornets- SF Doug McDermott, Creighton

The Hornets’ foundation is built around Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, but they still need to add some more scoring because they have no other dangerous threats. McDermott is a consistent scorer with range and he also brings in a winning mentality.

10. Philadelphia 76ers- SG Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Philadelphia could use some more backcourt help and Stauskas would bring a different dynamic than Carter-Williams and Exum. He is easily a top ten talent. The Big Ten Player of the Year is a phenomenal shooter, which the 76ers haven’t had since Kyle Korver left.

11. Denver Nuggets- SG Zach LaVine, UCLA

The Nuggets could use an upgrade at the 2-guard position and LaVine, at 6’6″, provides a nice complement to Ty Lawson. He’s a gifted athlete, great ball handler, and is capable of providing some much needed offense in Denver.

12. Orlando Magic- PF Dario Saric, Croatia

The Magic will have already addressed their backcourt needs by selecting Smart, so the focus should shift to improving the frontcourt. Saric would’ve been a lottery pick in last year’s draft beofre withdrawing. He’s one of the most skilled players in the draft and would be a good fit with a young team like Orlando.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves- SF/PF Aaron Gordon, Arizona

The T’Wolves should probably start to prepare for life after Kevin Love, who will most likely go elsewhere this offseason. Gordon would obviously add some much needed talent to this roster. He is an explosive player who is athletic enough to play small forward and big enough to play power forward.

14. Phoenix Suns- SG Gary Harris, Michigan St

 Harris would give any team a boost in both athleticism and shooting. Eric Bledsoe is a free agent and may be asking for too high of a number, so this would be a very good pick for the Suns. Harris is just too talented of a player to pass up.

15. Atlanta Hawks- SF Rodney Hood, Duke

The Hawks have a solid 1-2 punch in the frontcourt with Al Horford and Paul Millsap, but need an upgrade on the wings. Rodney Hood is just that. He has good size, versatility, and the ability to score the ball from anywhere on the  court.

16. Chicago Bulls- PG Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

There is so much uncertainty surrounding Derrick Rose and his knees and the Bulls need more security at the point guard position. Ennis was one of the best freshmen in the country and has the ability to make an immediate impact with his playmaking ability.

17. Boston Celtics- SG James Young, Kentucky

At this point, Boston needs as much talent as they can get. Young gives this backcourt an offensive boost. He would be great coming off the bench whenever the team needs some scoring. He provides a lot of energy as well. Young could even slide into the starting role if the Celtics don’t retain Avery Bradley.

18. Phoenix Suns- PF Adreian Payne, Michigan St

The Suns have some decent role players in the frontcourt like Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, and the Morris twins, but you can’t really build around those guys. Payne has really expanded his offensive game and is now capable of stretching the floor and knocking down three pointers. He’s very physical and athletic, which would be a good fit in Phoenix.

19. Chicago Bulls- SF Kyle Anderson, UCLA

The Bulls are already a strong defensive team, so it wouldn’t hurt to add some more options on offense. Anderson is a great ball handler for a guy his size. He’s extremely versatile too, as he can play both inside and out.

20. Toronto Raptors- SF T.J. Warren, N.C. State

The Raptors lack a player at the small forward position ,who is actually worthy of starting. Warren is a prime candidate to fill that void. He is a gifted scorer and can easily create his own shots. Warren has a high upside as well.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder- SG P.J. Hairston, D-League

Thabo Sefolosha is a free agent and may not even be worth retaining, leaving Jeremy Lamb as the only viable option at shooting guard. Hairston may have a questionable past, but there’s no denying that he can ball. He averaged 21.8 points while playing for the Texas Legends in the D-League.

22. Memphis Grizzlies- SF K.J. McDaniels, Clemson

The Grizzlies need an upgrade at both the 2 and 3 positions. McDaniels is a guy who could be a good fit for them on the wing. He filled the stat sheets at Clemson. He can score, rebound, and guard multiple positions. McDaniels has elite athleticism, which is more than they can say about anyone else they have at the position.

23. Utah Jazz- SG Jordan Adams, UCLA

The Jazz already addressed the frontcourt with Vonleh. Now they can focus on adding depth to the backcourt. Adams is a natural scorer and is also not afraid to get in your grill on defense.

24. Charlotte Hornets- PG Vasilije Micic, Serbia

The Hornets would love to get a talented point guard to back up Kemba Walker. Micic has been compared to Suns guard Goran Dragic. He has good size at 6’5″ and is reported to be very athletic. He is also a skilled passer who can put his teammates in good position to score.

25. Houston Rockets- SF Glenn Robinson III, Michigan

The Rockets are planning to go after Carmelo Anthony in free agency, but they will have a lot of competition, so it would be smart to draft a swingman just in case. Robinson is a strong scorer, who needs to be more assertive at times and he’s also a superb athlete.

26. Miami Heat- PG Shabazz Napier, UConn

Napier may not be the best point guard in the draft, but he’s definitely one of the most NBA-ready. He proved his worth in the NCAA Tournament, leading the Huskies to a national championship. The Heat need a point guard who they can depend on for skill and heart night in and night out.

27. Phoenix Suns- PF Clint Capela, Switzerland

The Suns should continue to build up their frontcourt to make them formidable again. Capela may not be ready to contribute immediately, but he has loads of potential. He’s very athletic and is a pretty good shot blocker as well.

28. Los Angeles Clippers- PF/C Mitch McGary, Michigan

This pick could turn out to be a steal for the Clippers. They desperately need a big man to spell Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Up until now, they haven’t gotten much from their bench. McGary is very physical and is a great rebounder. He’s very skilled with ball in his hands for a guy his size too.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder- C Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia

By no means is Nurkic a star, but he’s the second best pure center in this draft class and is a strong physical presence in the post. It’s definitely necessary that the Thunder address this position because Kendrick Perkins’ ability is very limited and Steven Adams is still working to improve his game, so some depth couldn’t hurt.

30. San Antonio Spurs- PF Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee

If the Spurs don’t add anyone else, they could easily contend for another title next year. However, Tim Duncan has yet to make a decision about next season and it wouldn’t hurt to add more frontcourt depth. Stokes is undersized, but he’s super strong, which allows him to snag rebounds and score in the paint.

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2014 NBA Draft Grades: West

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Denver Nuggets: B+

No. 16- C Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

No. 19- SG Gary Harris, Michigan St

No. 41- PF/C Nikola Jokic, Serbia

The Nuggets already have a solid core of big men, so both Nurkic and Jokic could be stash picks. Nurkic may be able to find a spot in the rotation though because of his size and ability to knock down shots. The real gem for them was Harris. Many teams passed on him and they’ll regret it. He’s a superb talent on both ends. He probably won’t start because of the Afflalo trade, but he will get plenty meaningful minutes.

Houston Rockets: B+

No. 25- PF Clint Capela, Switzerland

No. 42- SG Nick Johnson, Arizona

No. 53- SG/SF Alessandro Gentile, Italy

Capela was an upside pick for Houston. He has the measurables and defensive ability, but there’s a possibility that he goes to develop overseas. Johnson is undersized at the 2-guard position, but he’s very athletic and can score the basketball. He should be a solid role player.

I’m not too familiar with Gentile, but from what I hear, he’s a project and will likely take a few years before he’s ready for the NBA.

Los Angeles Clippers: D

No. 28- SG C.J. Wilcox, Washington

Don’t get me wrong, Wilcox is a really good player and an incredible shooter, but he’s not what the Clippers need. They already have capable players at the position like Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, and Jared Dudley. The Clippers sorely needed to draft a big man to help shoulder the load on Griffin and Jordan, but failed to do so.

Los Angeles Lakers: A

No. 7- PF Julius Randle, Kentucky

No. 46- PG/SG Jordan Clarkson, Missouri

Randle at the 7th pick is a steal. He’s a very strong post player who is good with the ball in his hands. His decision making was a bit questionable in college, but playing with Kobe will only make him better. He does need to develop a jumpshot and if he does, he’ll be a force.

Clarkson may be an even bigger steal. He’s a combo guard who has great size and athleticism. He’s a pretty good slasher and shooter as well. He needs to work on his defense a little, but he has good upside.

Memphis Grizzlies: A+

No. 22- SG Jordan Adams, UCLA

No. 35- PF Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee

The Grizzlies had a need for a wing player who can provide offense and they addressed it by taking Adams. He’s an elite scorer and shooter and should contribute from Day 1. While he may not be the greatest athlete, he has solid instincts on the defensive end.

I’m high on Stokes and a bit surprised he fell this far. He’s one of the superior rebounders in this class and is continuing to develop his post game. He’ll be a great addition playing behind Randolph and Gasol.

Minnesota Timberwolves: A

No. 13- PG/SG Zach LaVine, UCLA

No. 40- SF Glenn Robinson III, Michigan

With Love likely heading out of town, the T’Wolves desperately need to add some talent to the roster. LaVine is still raw and not fully developed just yet, but he has loads of potential. He is a great athlete and is a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Robinson adds even more athleticism. Like LaVine, he’s a pretty good shooter and will get his chance to shine in Minnesota.

New Orleans Pelicans: C

Russ Smith is a very good basketball player with great athleticism and ball skills. However, in order to acquire him, the Pelicans traded away the rights to Pierre Jackson, who they drafted last year. Jackson had been lighting it up in the D-League, which makes this move questionable, but Smith should still pan out.

Oklahoma City Thunder: B

No. 21- PF/C Mitch McGary, Michigan

No. 29- SF Josh Huestis, Stanford

I really like the McGary pick because the Thunder are no longer getting much production from Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. It’s rare that a guy his size can handle the ball the way he can. He’s a physical presence and given his offensive skill set, is an upgrade at the position. The second pick was clearly a reach. Huestis is a solid shooter and great defender, but he most likely would’ve been available later in the draft.

Phoenix Suns: B+

No. 14- SF T.J. Warren, NC State

No. 18- PG Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

No. 27- SG Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia

No. 50- C Alec Brown, Wisconsin-Green Bay

Warren was a bit of a reach at 14 for Phoenix but he is a good fit. He gives them depth at the forward position and is a gifted scorer. The Ennis pick surprised me, but he’s also a good fit. The Suns like the two point guard set and he’s talented enough to step in should Bledsoe sign elsewhere. Bogdanovic will like be stashed. Brown is a mountain of a man and is a great shooter for his size.

Sacramento Kings: A

No 8-  SG Nik Stauskas, Michigan

The Kings had only one pick but they made it count with Stauskas. He’s a phenomenal shooter from anywhere on the court. They desperately needed shooting help and Stauskas gives them that. He works well on defense as well.

San Antonio Spurs: A+

No. 30- Kyle Anderson, UCLA

No. 54- Nemanja Dangubic, Serbia

Anderson is a perfect fit for the Spurs system. He’s an intelligent player with a bevy of different skills. He isn’t all that athletic but neither are many of the Spurs players. They make it work. Once again, the Spurs take an international player to stash for the future. Typical Spurs.

Utah Jazz: A+

No. 5 PG/SG Dante Exum, Australia

No 23- SF Rodney Hood, Duke

both of these picks were of great value for the Jazz. Exum is really talented. He and Trey Burke will form a dnagerous young backcourt. Hood’s a very underrated player, who should’ve gone higher. He can score both inside and out and adds depth, especially if Gordon Hayward returns. The Jazz are definitely headed in the right direction.

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