2010 NBA Preview: #16 to #20

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash points down court after sinking a three-point shot against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

This year, I’m going to preview the NBA season by starting with the lowest of the low and working my way up to my Finals picks. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff also-ran, I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason.

#20: Charlotte Bobcats
One thing’s for sure – Larry Brown will have his team competing. But with the loss of Raymond Felton to free agency, Charlotte turns to D.J. Augustin as its starting point guard, while Shaun Livingston is expected to back him up. Unless the light suddenly goes on for one of these guys, the Bobcats are going to struggle to make the playoffs in the much-improved Eastern Conference. I think their main competition for the #8 spot is the Knicks, which should be interesting because the two teams play such different styles. Cap-wise, the Bobcats won’t have any financial flexibility until 2012 when Boris Diaw, Eduardo Najera, and (probably) Gerald Wallace come off the books. The Bobcats are in no man’s land. They’re not good enough to compete for a title, but just good enough to miss landing a sure-fire star in the lottery.

#19: Phoenix Suns
I feel bad for Steve Nash, who will likely go down as one of the greatest players never to play in a Finals. The former back-to-back MVP lost Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks, and the Suns replaced him with Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. I do like the addition of Childress, but if they’re asked to play power forward, Turkoglu and Warrick are going to have a lot of trouble on the defensive end. If Phoenix can keep the incredible chemistry that it developed last season, the Suns could finish a few spots higher and compete for a playoff spot, but without Stoudemire’s finishing ability, the team is going to be overmatched most nights. Payroll-wise, the Suns will have the flexibility to add a good player next summer, but it will mean the loss of Jason Richardson, who is in the final year of his deal. Sadly, I think the days of Nash playing for a legit contender are over. It was fun while it lasted.

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Nuggets plan ‘sit down’ with Carmelo…

…just as soon as they hire a new GM.

Nuggets management is expected to sit down with Melo some time after the team names a general manager, which it is expected to do next week. Former Suns executive David Griffin is the leading candidate.

Denver is certainly taking its sweet time hiring a GM and whoever they hire will be walking into a veritable sh*tstorm. They’ll have the same task that New Orleans GM Dell Demps had when he had to convince Chris Paul that he had a plan to turn the Hornets around. We haven’t heard much about Paul lately because both sides said that the meeting went well, and Paul said that he was hoping to stay in New Orleans.

Will the Nuggets have the same success in their meeting with Carmelo?

First things first — hire a GM already!

Ariza/Collison trade reaction

Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star: If coach Jim O’Brien can’t work with Collison, if he has the same issues with him that he did with Tinsley and Ford, then we can fairly say it’s an O’Brien problem and not a player problem. My sense is, that won’t happen. What this does is put more pressure on O’Brien to produce in the final year of his contract, although it’s the kind of pressure he surely will welcome. Until now, he has been asked to win with lousy players. Now he has some horses. Let’s just say, if the Pacers can’t make a run at .500 with Collison, management’s decision regarding O’Brien’s future will be an easy one. As for Bird and Morway, this one might have been a job-saver. As the weeks wore on without any Pacers news, and news of Donnie Walsh’s imminent departure from New York, it struck me that Walsh might land back here in Indy to replace Bird. But give Bird and Morway credit: They stuck to their guns, refused to take on big contracts for short-term gain, and kept their eyes on the ball. Finally, we’re seeing the dividends.

John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune: One, he got veteran help in Ariza, a 25-year-old, former NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 who’s coming off his best statistical season. Yes, there’s a risk involved. Collison was one of the league’s best rookies last season and viewed as the ideal backup to Chris Paul at point guard. He could become an All-Star, but the key word is could — 40 or 50 standout games as a rookie don’t constitute a career. Meanwhile, Ariza is a six-year pro whose career has arched upward. Two, he got rid of a declining player with a bad contract (Posey) and an unproductive one (Wright) who assured his departure by refusing to play in summer league after new coach Monty Williams asked him to. It doesn’t matter much whether Belinelli can play, though he’s 6-foot-5 and a career 39 percent shooter from 3-point range, compared to Wright, who was as likely as not to airball a foul shot. A Wright-for-anyone trade falls in the addition by subtraction file. As nice as Wright was, no one accused him of actually “getting” it.

Dave D’Alessandro, The Star-Ledger: The deal is low-risk and high-reward for Nets GM Billy King, because it’s rare to land a productive power forward in the prime of his career with an expiring contract, one who is willing to hold a job until rookie Derrick Favors is ready to snatch it from him. The 6-10 Murphy is one of the league’s most unique players, a power forward who can be a game-buster from the arc but can also throw his weight around. Two seasons ago, he became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top five among the league’s rebounders (11.8 rpg) and 3-point shooters (.450).

Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle: The Rockets tried to trade to get Courtney Lee in the 2008 NBA Draft. They tried to trade to get him last year before the Orlando Magic traded him to the New Jersey Nets. They tried to trade to get him after he went to the Nets. Finally Wednesday, the Rockets landed Lee, sending forward Trevor Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets after just one season in Houston to complete a four-team, five-player deal.In two seasons, the 6-5 Lee has averaged 10.3 points on 44.2 percent shooting. He averaged 12.5 points with the Nets. The Rockets, however, were particularly drawn to his defense, citing his ability to defend at three positions. “He’s very intriguing defensively,” Rockets vice president for player personnel Gersson Rosas said. “He’s going to follow the game plan to a T. He eats up direction and guidance from coaches. “He can defend big ‘ones’ like Deron Williams, Rodney Stuckey, Jason Kidd. He gives us a direction we did not have before. He’s cut from the same cloth as Shane Battier. He really values the details, has a great approach. He really takes it personal.”

Note: You can read my take here.

Ariza, Collison involved in four-team trade

Mar. 09, 2010 - Washington, China - (100310) -- WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010 (Xinhua) -- Trevor Ariza (C) of Houston Rockets shoots during the NBA game between Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards in Washington, the United States, on March 9, 2010. (Xinhua/Zhang Jun.

I wouldn’t call this a ‘mega-trade’ but it’s a pretty significant in terms of the players involved and its impact on the potential departure of Chris Paul.

Chad Ford has the (brief) details:

In the proposed deal, the Houston Rockets will send Trevor Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets will send Darren Collison and James Posey to the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers will send Troy Murphy to the New Jersey Nets. And the Nets will send Courtney Lee to the Rockets.

Ford is now reporting that this trade is official.

Here is the deal in the ESPN Trade Machine. Click on the picture to see a bigger version.

Let’s look at the Hornets first since they’re the ones trying to satisfy Chris Paul. They are essentially trading away a good up-and-coming point guard in Darren Collison along with James Posey and the two years remaining on his contract. In return, they’re getting Trevor Ariza, who averaged 15-6-4 while shooting under 40% from the field last season for the Rockets.

I thought they might be able to get a little more for Collison, but Ariza is valuable because he’s an athletic wing who can score a little, but can really defend. He’ll fit in nicely alongside Paul, Marcus Thornton and David West in the Hornets’ starting lineup (assuming Monty Williams starts him). They were also able to shed Posey’s contract, which makes the Ariza acquisition a financial wash for the next two seasons. For the Hornets’ sake, I do wish he could shoot the three a little better, but maybe his 3PT accuracy will rise from its 2009-10 levels (33%) with Paul setting him up for better looks.

Meanwhile, the Pacers get their point guard of the future (Collison) by trading away Murphy, who is in the last year of his deal. Financially, Collison and Posey will cost them an extra $4.2 million because most of their salaries are offset by the loss of Murphy’s salary ($12.0 million) this season. This is really a great move by the Pacers. Collison is going to be a very good point guard in the NBA for a very long time.

As for the Rockets and the Nets — well, the Rockets will shed Ariza’s salary, giving them an additional $4.6 million of cap space heading into the summer of 2011. That should be more than enough to sign a max free agent. Conversely, the Nets add Murphy at the expense of Lee, but his deal is expiring, so it looks like he’ll serve as a stopgap at power forward while the franchise waits for Derrick Favors to develop.

In the end, is this a game-changer for Paul and the Hornets? No, but it’s a step in the right direction. After a summer of treading water (or even losing ground by trading away the #11 pick), the franchise has fully committed to Paul by trading away their backup plan (Collison) for someone who can help him win now.

Given this move, it looks like those who had written off the possibility that Paul would stay in New Orleans were wrong. I don’t think the Hornets would have swung this deal had they thought that Paul was serious about forcing a trade. Either that, or the Hornets have completely misread Paul’s intentions.

What’s really going on with Chris Paul?

John Reid of the The Times Picayune speculates that it was Paul’s new management (LRMR, LeBron’s buddies) who were behind the news/rumors that Paul wanted out of New Orleans.

“I have a friend in the NBA who stays close with him (Paul),” said veteran sportswriter Sam Smith, who used to cover the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan for the Chicago Tribune. “He said Paul has been telling him that he didn’t come up with any list or push to be traded. But part of my sense is that these people have been speaking for Paul, and they are doing a lot of leaking. And Chris has kind of been influenced by these guys, allowing them to kind of walk all over him and kind of confused about what’s going on.

“He’s really hurting himself. I’ve talked to a couple of GMs who said he’s really suffered a blow personally. He’s made himself look like one of these arrogant guys that’s not communicating anything and sort of wasting the tremendous amount of goodwill that he has built up.”

Paul’s own statements about the meeting with the Hornets’ brass indicate that he wants to stay in New Orleans.

“The meeting went well. It was great to get an opportunity to sit down with Coach Williams, President Weber and our new General Manager Dell Demps. I expressed my desire to win and I like what they said about the direction that they want to take the team. I have been a Hornet my entire career and I hope to represent the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana for many years to come.”

Some say that both this statement and the team’s statement was just a smokescreen in order to portray a unified front, to get the Hornets approximately equal value in any forthcoming trade.

Since the meeting last Monday, things have been awfully quiet. It’s been a full week and no new news.

I just don’t know what Hornets’ management could have told Paul in the meeting that would have convinced him that the team would contend in the near future. Thus far this summer, they’ve elected not to use their mid-level exception and they traded away the #11 pick (Cole Aldrich), presumably to save money.

As it stands, the Hornets are projected to have about $10 million in cap space next summer, but that could rise to about $18 million if David West opts out of his deal. If the team can find a taker for Emeka Okafor (possibly packaging him with Darren Collison), they would have enough money to sign two max free agents (under the current CBA). Perhaps Carmelo Anthony and RFA Al Horford would be willing to join CP3 in New Orleans.

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