Being an NBA GM is a rough gig at the best of times, but when the job's difficult decisions rear their heads, it can be downright miserable. With a bevy of tough calls looming on the offseason horizon, we're about to see just how unenviable the position can really be.
Unless you've been holing up in a doomsday bunker, you know there are some big-name free agents about to hit the market. Every one of those guys comes with a few question marks, though.
For example, if you're Philadelphia 76ers GM Tony DiLeo, it's going to be unimaginably hard to determine whether or not the injured Andrew Bynum is worth spending the max money it'll almost certainly take to keep him.
The same is true for Danny Ferry's "Josh Smith conundrum" in Atlanta.
There are plenty of smaller calls that head personnel men throughout the league are already struggling with, too. Does John Hammond retain J.J. Redick or Brandon Jennings—or both? And what about Donnie Nelson of the Dallas Mavericks? He's got O.J. Mayo headed for free agency this summer. Does he pay him, or save his money for bigger free-agent fish?
Before we get into the discussion of these and other tough offseason decisions, note that no-brainers are purposely excluded. It's not a difficult call to try to retain the services of Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, so those guys won't be discussed here.
Anyway, on to the ulcer-inducing choices NBA GMs are already facing.
If you're looking for someone to blame for the most poorly constructed roster in the NBA, Sacramento Kings GM Geoff Petrie is your man. Thanks to his accumulation of selfish chuckers with character issues, even his decent personnel decisions have been poisoned by the Kings' toxic environment.
But any complaints had better be logged quickly, as it's unclear whether or not Petrie will be around much longer.
Whether it's him or some other poor sap who inherits the job, somebody in the Kings' front office is going to have to decide what to do with Tyreke Evans. The former Rookie of the Year is set to hit free agency this summer, and his slight rebound from a three-year downward trend makes it especially hard to figure out what to make of him?
It's possible he's salvageable as a rotation player who can score against smaller guards, but what's that worth? And what if his 47 percent shooting this year is a mirage?
Truth be told, the Kings might just want to wipe the slate clean by letting Evans walk away. He's been in Sacramento for all of his four-year career, so he's probably picked up enough bad habits to prevent him from ever being a winning player.
In a lot of ways, though, this decision has one of the most predictable outcomes. Whatever the Kings do will be wrong.
After constructing a makeshift roster full of players on one-year deals, the Dallas Mavericks and GM Donnie Nelson will have enough cap space to make some big changes this summer.
But what if the team's best move is keeping some of their rentals around?
O.J. Mayo, for one, looks like a viable starting 2. As a full-time starter this year, Mayo's been averaging 17.4 points per game on 46 percent shooting. And his three-point stroke (nearly 42 percent) has been a revelation. With relatively few young shooting guards on the market, he's likely to opt out of the second year of his deal and test free agency.
Nelson could bring him back, but doing so would require using some of the funds from the Bank of Cuban, which is theoretically only open for purposes of signing marquee talent.
Nikola Pekovic is a brute-strong seven-footer with good feet and soft touch around the rim, so it shouldn't be surprising when he gets a massive offer as a free agent this summer. And because his negotiating tactic probably involves staring menacingly at the party across the table until the offer improves, he might be in for a payday as humongous as he is.
But Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn has a number of other things to consider along with whether or not to open his wallet to keep Pekovic around.
For starters, Kevin Love is now apparently injury prone and has seemed pretty unhappy ever since he signed his own extension with the Wolves nearly two years ago. So Kahn has to figure out whether it's best to use up nearly all of the team's cap space on Pekovic, or if he should spread it around to retain Andrei Kirilenko (who has a player option) and bring in some other free agents.
Whatever he decides, he should probably keep Pekovic away from the negotiating table. If the team's mascot suddenly becomes a Viking warrior and Pekovic gets a new contract that entitles him to a 50 percent ownership stake, we'll know that Pek's intimidation was a factor in the deal.
Milwaukee Bucks GM John Hammond clearly made a smart move in acquiring J.J. Redick at the trade deadline, but now he's going to have to follow that decision up by figuring out which of his three guards to keep around.
Brandon Jennings is an unrestricted free agent, which means the Bucks can match any offer he gets on the open market. Monta Ellis has a player option he can terminate, making him a free agent, just like Redick will be this summer.
So, what to do?
It seems as though the rest of the NBA community is catching up to the statistically inclined in its perception on Ellis, which is to say everyone is coming to the conclusion that he's not a winning player. Talk about the Bucks' playoff position all you want, it still doesn't change the fact that Ellis is a low-percentage volume scorer who refuses to defend.
Redick is essentially Ellis' polar opposite; he works tirelessly on defense and has made a career out of being a low-mistake player who takes (and makes) good shots. If Ellis gets a big offer elsewhere, Hammond may be off the hook.
But if he decides to stay or could be retained for a reasonable fee, Hammond will have to decide how to allocate money among all three of his guards. That doesn't sound like much fun.
Jarrett Jack has been one of the very best NBA reserves this season for the Golden State Warriors. His late-game heroics have been largely responsible for a number of improbable Dubs victories, and he's been a terrific locker room presence.
But Golden State is basically capped out next year as it is, so GM Bob Myers is going to have to find a way to either say goodbye to an already beloved player or free up money to keep him around.
As a backup to the always fragile Stephen Curry, Jack's 13 points and nearly six assists per game have been invaluable. The rest of the league has probably noticed his 40 percent stroke from three, too. So it stands to reason that he's going to command substantially more than the $4 million he's making in the last year of his current contract.
The Warriors really can't afford to let him go, but Myers may not be able to afford to keep him either.
Not pictured: every Hawks fan cringing.
Well, the trade deadline came and went without Josh Smith ending up in another uniform. That means one of two things: Either Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry thinks he can (and wants to) re-sign Smith this summer, or nobody really wanted the athletic forward.
Whatever the case, Ferry is going to have to decide whether or not Smith, who peppers in at least two ill-advised jumpers for every swoop to the hoop, is worth retaining for big dollars. J-Smoove is an unrestricted free agent, so some of the decision is out of Ferry's hands; if Smith wants to walk for less, he can.
But it's going to be very interesting to see how much effort—or how little—the Hawks put toward retaining their signature player.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Andrew Bynum was supposed to make the Philadelphia 76ers into an Eastern Conference contender with young talent and a bright future.
Instead, the mercurial big man is talking about season-ending surgery on his creaky knees, according to Jason Wolf of USA Today. If that happens, the Sixers will have dealt away two of their three best players (Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic) and gotten nothing in return.
Retaining Bynum is immensely risky for obvious basketball and health reasons, and the city has largely soured on him, as Philadelphia is wont to do. But there's got to be a temptation to at least try to re-sign the center, if only because the Sixers gave up so much to get him.
And the upside is still there—theoretically, anyway. It's actually hard to know if Bynum wants to continue playing basketball, but if he does, the Sixers seem to be in as good of a position as anyone to pay him to do so.
What the 76ers decide to do with Bynum could very well shape the franchise for the next decade. Now that's a tough decision.