NBA Free Agency 2012: 8 Teams That Must Be Aggressive on the Open Market
With the basketball world caught up in the NBA Playoff madness, it's easy to overlook the coming offseason. That would be a serious mistake, however, considering that we could see one of the deeper free agencies in recent memory.
This year's free-agent class has only one sure-fire All-Star in point guard Deron Williams, but in terms of second- and third-tier talent, it's certainly up there. It has grizzled veterans (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen), a gang of strong young talent bigs (Eric Gordon, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez) and a good collection of strong role players to boot.
But this level of talent doesn't come without a price—teams need to already be planning for the July madness or risk getting left in the dust.
While every team needs to do their best to improve themselves this summer, some teams have a higher need than others. Let's take a look at eight teams that need to be the most aggressive in this coming free agency.
Even if the Heat win their series with the Pacers, the Chris Bosh injury has just continued to prove that Miami is really, really weak in terms of depth.
Shane Battier and Mike Miller have both been close to failures, and their big-men depth is atrocious for a contending team. They won't exactly have a ton of cap space to play with—HoopsHype has them on the books for $78.5 million next season—but they need to convince as many talented veterans as they can to come play for a ring in Miami.
Miami cannot afford to sit complacent and gamble that their big three can stay healthy again next season. They need to add as much cheap depth as possible.
The Kings have kept a league-low salary for almost four years now. If they are in anyway committed to winning, they need to go out there and spend some more dough.
Starting forward Jason Thompson is a restricted free agent, as is wing Terrence Williams. Both had good years last season for the Kings and should be retained, but Sacramento needs to get some more veteran leadership in the locker room and should look to get a real starting-caliber small forward and sign a backup center.
With everything as turbulent as it is in Sacramento nowadays, it's hard to predict what the organization will do in anything, but the Maloof brothers need to be willing to spend money if they want the team to finally put itself out of the NBA cellar.
Los Angeles Clippers
Steps 1 and 1a for the Clippers—get both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin signed to extension and avoid the drama that would come next season if the two of them could conceivably walk in 2013.
Second, add more depth. The Clippers have gotten some good bench production this season, especially in the playoffs, but they need more. When your third-best player is arguably Caron Butler, you aren't a real contender.
Not that the Clippers have cap space or anything—Hoopshype has them just under the cap at $57.7 million—so it's unfair to expect them to go out and sign a All-Star. But they need more talent than what they have, some security when it comes to their star, and maybe, a smarter coach while they're at it.
But if the Clippers remain stagnant, we could see a earlier end to the Paul/Griffin connection that most expected.
The Nuggets were a fourth quarter away from beating the Los Angeles Lakers, but now, they'll face a summer of tough tests.
First off. JaVale McGee is a restricted free agent. He fared well over the season and was a big help against the Lakers but isn't likely worth the price tag he'll command as a big man. Can the Nuggets convince him to stay at a discounted price?
Andre Miller is also a free agent, and while he was an integral part of Denver's successful season his departure wouldn't be crippling. If he doesn't resign, before any extension to McGee the Nuggets will have around $10 million of cap space. How much of that goes to McGee, and how much can be used elsewhere?
Denver has a bunch of great talent, but they need to either find a go-to scorer and/or add some more low-post scoring.
History cannot afford to repeat itself in Cleveland. The Cavaliers must do everything they can to appease Kyrie Irving, their new superstar, but most importantly, they need to add significant talent around him.
Step one comes in the draft, where they sit with the likely fourth overall pick before the lottery. But they also have some of the most cap space in the league in the offseason, so whatever position they don't get in the draft, they can bolster in free agency.
If we pencil in Bradley Beal as the fourth pick to Cleveland (an excellent fit for now, as he'd work wonders with Irving), this would mean the Cavs could go after a small forward or some big-men help in free agency.
If Dan Gilbert throws enough money at Nicolas Batum so that the Trailblazers don't match, and the Cavs got Beal and a healthy Anderson Varejao back along with a few spare pieces (Landry Fields from New York, Ersan Ilyasova from the Bucks)...wouldn't the Cavaliers suddenly look like an exciting, young and dangerous team out of the East?
The Cavaliers have a chance (if the lottery bounces right) to get another star-caliber player next to Irving AND have the cap space to truly make a frightening young team.
It all begins and ends with Deron Williams. Can they convince Williams to stay in Brooklyn, or will he go off and sign elsewhere?
In order to prove to Williams that they are committed to winning, the Nets must: (a). make sure Brook Lopez isn't going anywhere either, (b). hope that Gerald Wallace picks up his player option for next season and (c). use their around $12 in cap space to sign talented depth.
Mikhail Prokhorov is happy to spend his money to sign FA, but he needs to make sure he does it right this time. Remember, it was just two years ago when the Nets when on a spending spree and signed Johan Petro, Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar?
Gotta do better this time.
It's technically possible that this could be the last season we see Boston's big three together, as both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are expiring.
In addition, Jermaine O'Neil and a host of small contracts will come off the books, and according to HoopsHype, the Celtics will only have slightly over $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts next season.
Boston has the dough to go out on the free-agent market and begin the process of building their future franchise around guard Rajon Rondo. Eric Gordon, the current Hornets guard, would be a perfect fit next to the slashing Rondo, but he's a restricted free agent, and New Orleans can match any offer.
Boston needs this free agency to go off right, or it could mean a pissed off Rondo all alone as the Celtics aged Hall of Famers get set for retirement.
Mark Cuban's master plan of signing Dwight Howard and Deron Williams collapsed when Howard "wishy-washed" himself into one more year as a member of the Magic. Still, the Dallas native is an unrestricted free agent, and most experts have it at 50/50 or better that Williams will sign with the Mavericks.
No matter how good Williams is though, he and Dirk Nowitzki wouldn't be a contender on their own. Signing Williams likely means saying goodbye to Jason Terry, and who knows what the 39-year-old Jason Kidd will do.
Dallas really missed Tyson Chandler this season, and their hole in the middle must be fixed somehow. Williams would be a fantastic signing, but Dallas also needs to somehow find a way to sign a good center somehow. Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby and Spencer Hawes headline the unrestricted centers, while JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert are all restricted free agents.
If Dallas signs Williams, somehow convinces Terry to sign for around MLE value and still gets Kaman or Camby, they could easily be considered contenders again. But can they afford it all? Hoopshype has them at just over $41.6 on the books for next season.