Cohen: Scoping Out Upcoming Decisions

By Josh Cohen
June 14, 2012

Several top Eastern Conference teams will have some big and important decisions to make this summer regarding free agents and exploring potential trades.

BOSTON CELTICS

After a very inspiring playoff run there is a pressure to reunite the troop. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will both be unrestricted free agents this summer, but many feel it would be worth re-signing them even if flattens the wallet.

It’s true the Celtics were one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals and it’s right to imply that KG is like fine wine and won’t ever fade into oblivion. However, unless Garnett, who reportedly is contemplating retirement, and Allen are willing to accept low-salary contracts this is the perfect time to for Boston to rebuild and think long term.

1) Allow Rajon Rondo to be the cornerstone of the franchise

Rondo has evolved into a top 10 player and arguably is the best floor general in the league. There were reports leading up to the trade deadline that Boston considered dealing him. That thought should be put to rest.

2) Advertise Paul Pierce on the Trade Market

I know how much Pierce means to the franchise, but if KG and Allen are no longer on the roster, it just doesn’t make much basketball sense to keep him if there are teams willing to trade young blossoming talent or lottery draft picks for him.

Would any of the teams presently picking between two and eight in the draft consider accepting Pierce for their lottery selection?

3) Alleviate Salary Cap Space

Assuming KG and Allen are not retained, the Celtics will certainly have cap space starting this summer. There aren’t, however, any marquee free agents worth a big bid in 2012. In 2013, on the other hand, there could be a plethora of upper tier free agents available including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, David West and Andrew Bynum. This doesn’t include the number of potential restricted free agents that may be attainable.

Considering Boston is a large enough market with a ton of tradition, the C’s should try to mirror what the Heat did in 2010 and try and eventually persuade two first-class talents to join Rondo long term.

CHICAGO BULLS

The Bulls are in a pickle. Aside from the Derrick Rose injury and elongated recovery time, Chicago needs to make some very important roster decisions.

If it stands pat and just awaits Rose’s return, Chicago will continue to be the darlings of the regular season but a disappointment in the playoffs.

Listen, and this is no disrespect to the defensively devoted and tactically talented Bulls, but let me be blunt for a second: Chicago as currently constructed is not talented enough to win a championship.

Even when healthy, Rose doesn’t have enough support. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng are good players, but not great and they are collectively damaging the Bulls’ salary cap position.

In effect, I think it would be intelligent to advertise Noah and Deng on the trading block.

I would have liked to mention Boozer as well, but I honestly don’t think there is one team willing to take back his massive contract that doesn’t expire until 2015. More realistically, Noah and Deng are attractive pieces that teams may be interested in.

There are two angles for the Bulls to explore. For one, they can try and net a second “star” to partner with Rose by dealing Noah and/or Deng. For instance, if Miami loses in the NBA Finals, would it consider dealing Chris Bosh to the Bulls for Noah and CJ Watson? The Heat are desperate for more size and more intimidation in the paint and could certainly upgrade from Mario Chalmers.

Though it would be a peculiar blend, perhaps flaunting Bosh, Boozer and Omer Asik up front with Rose in the backcourt would be a more daunting lineup, particularly offensively, for opponents to contend with.

There have been reports that the Bulls may try and trade Deng for a lottery pick in this month’s NBA Draft. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea if they strike gold and obtain a prospect that evolves into a perennial All-Star.

On the other hand, Chicago could attempt to trade Noah and Deng for large expiring contracts. This theory would replicate what I proposed for the Celtics and that is to try and free up enough cap space to make a pitch for one or two upper-echelon free agents in 2013 or 2014.

MIAMI HEAT

If the Heat win the NBA championship in the next two weeks, then obviously no changes necessary. All will be sweet and grand down in South Beach and finally LeBron James can smirk at all of the naysayers and critics.

But let’s just analyze as if Miami loses to Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals. Now what?

Well, it’s possible that all the scrutiny and failed expectations for a second consecutive season may be too overwhelming to conquer. A rather rudimentary coaching change may ensue if Pat Riley feels Erik Spoelstra isn’t quite the right fit. Or, on the other hand, perhaps a dismantling of the Big Three may arise.

It’s extremely aggressive to shatter a team that advanced to the NBA Finals in two consecutive years. In fact, based on simple logic, it would be outlandish to make such drastic changes.

However, we are talking about the once-thought-to-be unassailable and unshakable Heat. You know, not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7…titles.

The runner-up label, though suggesting they are better than 28 other NBA teams, is merely unacceptable for a franchise with such gargantuan expectations.

So, what should Miami do in such a scenario?

I think it depends.

For one, Bosh is the only Big Three member worth trading if the Heat want a return of several high quality role players. James and Dwyane Wade are too good to trade unless another top-tier superstar is available.

On that note, would both Miami and Orlando entertain the idea of a LeBron-for-Dwight swap? Would Howard commit long term to play with Wade and Bosh in Miami? Would James relish the thought of taking his talents to Disney World? If nothing else, it’s perfect water cooler chat.

It would seem only rational that if the Heat traded any of the Big Three, they would demand a return of a dominant center and/or a premier point guard since those are the team’s weakest spots.

Let’s remember also, Miami is way over the salary cap and won’t have much financial flexibility to make a pitch for this summer’s top free agents. Would a Steve Nash, for instance, take less money to create a Fantastic Four in South Beach?

This analysis is so premature considering the Heat are still in contention to win the title this year. But it’s interesting to hypothesize what may or should happen if they don’t.

ORLANDO MAGIC

It’s a debate that will generally depend on philosophy. If Dwight Howard does not commit long term and sign an extension in Orlando, whomever the new GM is will have a very intricate decision on his plate.

Naturally, the hope in Orlando is that Howard does pledge his dedication to the Magic and chooses to spend at least the next five years in Central Florida.

Dwight is already an all-time great center, the preeminent defensive player in the NBA and the most menacing presence in the league. He is a top five, maybe top three player and someone any team would love to build around.

If he doesn’t commit, however, the contemplation of trading or not trading Howard this summer will return.

It was revealed last winter that if Howard were to not stay in Orlando, he had three preferable destinations including Brooklyn, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Both the Nets nor Mavericks really have much to offer in a potential trade package and the Lakers will have some decisions to make on what they decide to do with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

The philosophy of the new GM may dictate the evaluation process.

We saw in Denver and Utah a specific viewpoint. When the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony and when the Jazz dealt Deron Williams, they both desired the acquisition of several young blossoming players (ex. Danilo Gallinari, Derrick Favors) who have room to grow.

We saw, on the other hand, in New Orleans a generally different perspective. When the Hornets traded Chris Paul, they chose to focus more on “starting from scratch.” In addition to obtaining a second lottery pick (Minnesota’s), the Hornets had a meager season and ultimately struck gold by landing the top selection in this month’s NBA Draft. They also received Eric Gordon, a young promising talent, and Chris Kaman’s big expiring contract.

If neither of those options appeal to the new GM, it remains plausible for the Magic keep Howard for next season even if he doesn’t commit long term. This would keep Orlando in championship contention for next year with a risk of losing him next summer in free agency.

Aside from Howard, the looming free agency of Ryan Anderson and potentially Jameer Nelson (if he opts out) will be big sticking points this summer.

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NEW YORK KNICKS

It’s still ambiguous whether the Knicks will have a limit to sign Jeremy Lin to a restricted amount when he becomes a free agent this summer or if he will be given Bird Rights to stay in New York for any maximum amount.

The CBA specifically implies that Bird Rights are warranted to players if they switch teams “by trade.” The union suggests that the rule should also apply to players taken off waivers, which is how the Knicks added him to the roster last December.

If the union wins the hearing, which reportedly will be finalized by July 1, then forget basketball, the Knicks need to lock Lin up for the next 100 years. Lin is a global sensation that drives revenue. This is one example of where business and marketing supersedes on-the-court potential.

If the league wins the hearing, on the other hand, expect a mega free agent frenzy to allure Lin to their teams and cities. Any team with cap space will likely make a pitch for the point guard sensation that created an unprecedented stir last February because of his unforeseen performance.

New York, meanwhile, should try and entertain offers for Amar’e Stoudemire, who since Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in early 2011 has not reached those lofty expectations.

At this point, it may be safe to conclude that a Melo-Amare mix is not going to work.

However, it remains very uncertain what Stoudemire’s value around the league is. I recently proposed a deal that would deliver STAT to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin and Samuel Dalembert. Martin is entering the final year of his contract and would give the Knicks help in the backcourt, especially with Iman Shumpert recovering from his ACL tear.

Just like it was for them in 2010, the Knicks should certainly survey the class of 2014 and try and become a salary-cap-friendly team by that summer. This would mean attempting to once again dump payroll over the next two years.

After two consecutive First Round eliminations in the playoffs, it just doesn’t appear that the Knicks have the package to become contenders even though they have plenty of star power. Some retooling, starting this summer, may be necessary.

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