NBA Free Agency 2012: 7 Teams That Must Make a Big Push for High-Profile Studs

Joel C. CordesNBA Associate EditorJune 18, 2012

NBA Free Agency 2012: 7 Teams That Must Make a Big Push for High-Profile Studs

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    There are plenty of attractive building blocks and more than one potential foundation available during the 2012 NBA free-agency period. These seven teams sure need that.

    Interestingly, there are currently more potential big spenders than iconic free agents. All-Stars like Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Chris Kaman, Gerald Wallace and Roy Hibbert will have plenty of bidders.

    Yet, young up-and-comers like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Brook Lopez, Nicolas Batum and JaVale McGee could provide a longer bang for the buck.

    Nearly every franchise would like to make a big purchase. For now, we can likely discount the completely cap-strapped Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks from anything more than modest signings.

    These seven teams have the cash. Whether they want to make the big push or just remain halfway relevant, they'd better make a huge splash.

Brooklyn Nets

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    I'm not sure if anyone knows what the Brooklyn Nets' plan is, but Deron Williams was somehow supposed to be a part of it.

    The Nets gave up a lot to get him, strangely rented Gerald Wallace with their No. 6 pick to pacify him and have left only four players to build around him. This was all somehow supposed to lure in Dwight Howard.

    Unfortunately, the game has suddenly changed. Dwight is delaying his dip in the free-agency pool, while Deron has opted to test those very same waters instead.

    This is a strange offseason indeed for the Brooklyn Nets. If they can somehow retain Williams, they must either surround him with star power or acquire enough pieces to swap for Howard.

    If that can't be done, they will have to completely rebuild their roster. For now, there's no way to narrow down the options until Deron Williams tips the first domino.

    Trusting GM Billy King is a risky proposition as the team tries to win over their new audience in Brooklyn. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Things have been surprisingly positive for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the post-Lebron James era.

    2011's No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, turned out to be the real deal. The team has a rather versatile and athletic front-line rotation forming around Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels. Head coach Byron Scott kept the vibe positive and the team competitive throughout 2011.

    Yet the Cavs now potentially have over $20 million to spend this offseason, and plenty of major roster holes to plug. 

    There's strong hope that their No. 4 pick can land legitimate wing help for Kyrie Irving. Whether they select a small forward or shooting guard, Cleveland will also need to acquire a young, yet accomplished player at the other respective spot.

    Depending on who they take in the draft, Eric Gordon, Nic Batum O.J. Mayo, Nick Young, Lou Williams or Jeff Green would all fit the next step on the blueprint.  

Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks put all their eggs in one basket by clearing the nest early for 2012.

    By swapping out glue guys like Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson for low-chemistry rentals like Vince Carter, Delonte West and Lamar Odom, the Mavs consciously surrendered a title defense for this shopping spree.

    It's no secret that they wanted Deron Williams AND Dwight Howard. However, with Howard curiously opting back in for another Orlando year, the Mavs have some tough decisions to make.

    Does this become a two-year plan as they wait for the pieces to fall into place? Or, do they push hard for Williams along with lesser catches like Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez?

    What if this completely backfires and Williams doesn't even come? It's unlikely that Dwight would be enticed with a Steve Nash, Raymond Felton or Andre Miller signing.

    The Mavs mortgaged a lot for this long-shot gamble. Failure is not an option.

New Orleans Hornets

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    If the chips fall correctly, losing Chris Paul might end up being the best thing that happened to the New Orleans Hornets.

    This team suddenly has tons of cap space, two top-10 draft picks and a bunch of intriguing youngsters like Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry, Gustavo Ayon and Greivis Vasquez. Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent, but he'll be hard-pressed to find a better rebuilding situation with more money on the table.

    The Hornets could further expand flexibility by using their amnesty clause on Trevor Ariza's nearly $6.8 million or Emeka Okafor's $12.5 million contract. What's more, they have some decent trade chips in Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli, though those could remain as decent rotation players.

    The best-case scenario is moving Okafor and drafting Kentucky's Anthony Davis and North Carolina's Kendall Marshall with the No. 1 and 10 picks, respectively. They need to then re-sign Gordon and steal away a second-tier free agent with upside for the front line. Kris Humphries, Ryan Anderson, Nic Batum or Brook Lopez would all fit that bill.

    The sky's the limit right now for New Orleans, but they'll only get one offseason like this to do it right. 

Boston Celtics

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    Whether or not the Boston Celtics re-sign Kevin Garnett and/or Ray Allen, the "Big 4" era is over as we know it. Or at least it should be.

    The Celtics have long been planning for this offseason. They enter the free-agency period with only six players under contract and nearly half their payroll freed up.

    While a consistent contender like Boston should be able to attract some big-name free agents, the Celtics are likely to end up overpaying on young running mates for Rajon Rondo.

    Their best-case scenario is to snag one headliner and some mid-tier pieces like Roy Hibbert, Jamal Crawford and Anthony Randolph, respectively. Also, retaining Allen and Garnett for sizable hometown discounts, while getting help via their No. 21 and 22 picks, are equally positive hopes.

    On the flip side, it would be an absolute disaster if the Celtics swing out on anything more than a few spare parts, opting out of necessity or nostalgia to build again around their old hands.

Phoenix Suns

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    A Steve Nash departure will leave a gaping whole in the roster and hearts of the Phoenix Suns.

    However, the franchise will also have a huge amount of cap space to work with. That number could grow larger yet if they wisely amnesty Josh Childress' foolish contract.

    As a perennially competitive team slowly sliding into obscurity, the Suns will have to sell the face time a new star could expect as top dog.

    Outside of Marcin Gortat, the roster is redundant and relatively soft, so the Suns need a couple of tough, two-way players who can also create their own shots. That's a pretty big bill if Steve Nash is no longer cashing checks and donating dimes in Phoenix.

    Deron Williams or Eric Gordon are nice dreams, but any combination of Gerald Wallace, D.J. Augustin, Goran Dragic, Nic Batum, Ryan Anderson and a returning Shannon Brown are more realistic pursuits.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers hit the reset button on a game they thought they were winning.

    With long-term losses of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, plus recent arrivals like Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews failing to fully pan out, the Blazers began a total midseason tear down.

    Now they're left with a lot of dollars and questions. Who else is currently on the roster to help LaMarcus Aldridge? Is Nic Batum really a superstar worth paying as such? What will the identity of this new squad look like?

    With two first-round picks, the Blazers need to add both upside AND experience. Would Deron Williams sign in Portland? Probably not. Thus, George Hill or Jameer Nelson could be helpful point guard stopgaps if rookies Damian Lillard or Kendall Marshall are acquired.

    However, the most important thing is reinforcing the front line for Aldridge. Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee, Spencer Hawes or Omer Asik would help at center, while Batum, Jeff Green or O.J. Mayo could fill the small forward spot.