12 NBA Teams with Toughest Looming Offseason Decisions to Make in 2013
Uncertainty is wringing its hands in the distance, awaiting plenty of NBA franchises this offseason.
He's a reckless friend, ready to propel or destroy teams in ways that could last years.
As the NBA moves toward its postseason and teams begin eying next season, the swirling voices will begin.
The contemporary offseason gives way to business and marketing accommodations before basketball and even bottom-line dollars.
Looks are everything. Young superstars are chasing big markets with established talent. Smaller markets are simply hoping to collect what’s left of the scraps.
But NBA general managers all have the same goal: success.
This offseason will be telling, especially for these 12 franchises.
The Boston Celtics are going to see how this one plays out first.
Despite Rajon Rondo's injury, Boston could climb into a fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and make some noise in the playoffs.
But they won't get past the Goliath Miami Heat, and lead decision-maker Danny Ainge will have some moves to make this offseason.
It won't be easy for Ainge to let go of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, a human element that comes into play when memories of success overshadow the need to restructure.
It may be emotional.
But Ainge cannot bring this same team back. There is no way the ever-aging Celtics can topple the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, not this year and not next year.
It's time to blow it up.
The decision is whether or not to move Pierce and Garnett or Rondo—or all three.
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck told sports talk radio's Mut and Merloni of WEEI, according to Boston.com, that there were plenty of offers for Garnett and Pierce around the trade deadline. They were just all bad.
"They were the topic of conversation with the calls coming into us, because people thought maybe we weren't going to keep it together this spring."
On why the Celtics didn't pull the trigger, Grousbeck said: "I know what the offers were. You wouldn't have taken them."
Those words don't help the Celtics this offseason. If the offers weren't there at the deadline, that might be a clue that teams aren't sold on taking Pierce's $15.3 million deal next season or paying Garnett $12 million in each of the next two years.
Package one of those future Hall of Famers with Rondo though, and teams will listen.
The Celtics have one final push in them this season, but this offseason is a time to rebuild.
The Milwaukee Bucks are in a dangerous situation.
The offense can be breakneck, led by an explosive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
The talent has deepened with the arrival of J.J. Redick and the continued development of budding stars Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova.
But Milwaukee hasn't proven that the collection of talent can win.
They may only have the first round of the playoffs left to discover whether it can work.
Jennings is saying if he doesn't get his max dollars, even if Milwaukee brings him back with a qualifying one-year deal, he'll leave at the end of next season.
He told Yahoo Sports' Marc Spears on March 8: "If I take the qualifying offer and become an [unrestricted] free agent there is no way I am coming back. There is no way."
Meanwhile, Ellis is expected not to take his $11 million option for next season and will demand big dollars. The problem with Ellis is that he's never proven he can win, neither on his own or with another scorer.
So the Bucks would have to decide whether to truly invest all their dollars in the two undersized guards.
It isn't going to happen and it's truly a sad statement on the status of the league. In today's NBA, patience is rare and neither Jennings nor Ellis will stick with a team as talent develops around them.
Jennings wants a bigger market and earlier returns on victories while Ellis is going to chase dollars and opportunity.
The decision for Milwaukee will be which fish they can keep on the hook.
The Bucks should let Ellis go, throw dollars at a guy like Josh Smith, and hope that success next season will be enough to keep Jennings around once he becomes a free agent.
The Dallas Mavericks are back at the poker table.
Last offseason, with plenty of money to play, they left the table with less than desired. Attempts at Dwight Howard and Deron Williams instead returned Chris Kaman.
But because they hit the pause button rather than throwing long-term deals at just any pulse, the Mavericks are going to be big-time shoppers again this offseason.
O.J. Mayo's play this season has earned him more than the $4.2 million player offer on the table, so Dallas will need to decide whether to offer him the cash he'll demand. The Mavericks can also make a qualifying offer to Darren Collison if they choose.
Dallas will need to keep aged superstar Dirk Nowitzki if they hope to entice other superstars to come chase a title—but even that probably isn't too intriguing to free agents.
Nowitzki doesn't have the same salesperson skills as other league stars.
Dallas could push for Chris Paul and Howard, but there's no indication that either would want to leave their better situations in Los Angeles.
Dallas might realistically end up chasing Al Jefferson, or—gulp—Andrew Bynum.
There's no greater uncertainty than Andew Bynum.
The Philadelphia 76ers will be forced to decide whether to roll the dice with even greater risk by signing Bynum to a long-term deal.
The Sixers have received nothing from Bynum—and they've lost a whole lot.
Philadelphia sent All-Star Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a protected first-round pick to obtain the ghost of Bynum. The 25-year-old hasn't played since September because issues of bone bruising and damaged cartilage in his knees.
But what choice do the Sixers have? They either eat the loss of talent and cure the headache, or attempt to bring back, which may be their only option.
The 76ers need a piece to pair with Jrue Holiday
Jason Wolf of the Wilmington New Journal quoted 76ers president Rod Thorn: "Obviously, to have a player of that ilk, a player who can make such a difference, any time you don't have that kind of player it's tough. Who knows what's going to happen when the season's over?"
It's unclear what Philadelphia will do.
They should look at Bynum as just one of many options, but Al Jefferson is an example of a safer investment.
Safe is not always bad.
Los Angeles Clippers
It's less of a decision, and more of a must.
Chris Paul will sign a maximum deal this offseason.
And there's little evidence out there to support him leaving the Los Angeles Clippers.
But even Paul isn't so sure.
The greatest voice in the region, Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, wrote on Feb. 21:
Yahoo.com's Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported inaccurately that Paul is 'planning to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, punctuating his pick-and-roll partnership with Griffin with a maximum contract extension and final say about every move their franchise now makes.'
It sounds good to the Clippers, and might happen. And DeAndre Jordan still might become a force at center for the Clippers.
But Paul said, 'No, I haven't decided what I am going to do next season, and no, I haven't told anyone what I'm going to do.'
When the best-looking girl in the room doesn't wear a ring, suitors are going to make their best offers.
The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are just two teams that will request meetings to make Paul richer.
But what would make Paul want to leave the spotlight and success of the Clippers? Not Dirk Nowitzki or Al Horford.
Plus, Los Angeles can offer him more money and an extra guaranteed year than competitors.
Paul should return to the Clippers.
The good news is that star Ricky Rubio isn't going anywhere.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, between Rubio and Kevin Love, have control over an excellent young tandem for years to come.
Love, who is under Minnesota's control until his player option of $16.7 million in 2015-16, sent some ripples in December when Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski quoted him:
"You walk into the locker room every year, and it's completely turned over. There's new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?"
While the team would love to see the meshed abilities of Love, Rubio and soon-to-be restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic, injuries aren't allowing that to happen.
His right hand is healing properly, & he will continue to increase his conditioning program. Love will be re-evaluated in 2-3 wks. #Twolves— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) March 13, 2013
Minnesota can make a qualifying offer to Pekovic, but it's a substantial decision to tie big money into two bigs who create defensive liability.
It would also be nice to see how Derrick Williams, who is under contract for at least the next two seasons, would shine if Love is active.
Minnesota's window for understanding a decision is shrinking as the season nears expiration.
If the price isn't driven too high, to a level above better options, the Timberwolves need to bring Pekovic back and watch the young nucleus develop.
Pekovic told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press he's in: "I like everything about Minnesota," Pekovic said. "First of all, I like the team. I think we can do a lot when we're healthy. I like the coaching staff."
Minnesota just needs to be sure to sign some cheap interior defenders.
The Sacramento Kings face more uncertainty than any franchise, most notably whether the team will remain in Sacramento.
Looming personnel questions will dominate this offseason, whether it’s the Kings or Seattle SuperSonics.
Coach Keith Smart is a likely scapegoat for the team’s cellar-dwelling play. He’ll be the first to go.
The most significant roster decision will be whether the team brings back the fickle play of guard Tyreke Evans. The Kings can make a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent, money they should spend under new ownership.
While the 23-year-old has never looked as sharp as he did during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009-10, Evans is a unique talent and the heavy share of blame needs to be placed on the Kings’ inability to develop him.
Player development has a been a weak spot for the Kings.
DeMarcus Cousins is another example. A player who obviously needs to be a focal point has seen his attempts dip from 15.6 last season to 14.0 this season. Of course, that could be a result of being kicked out by halftime every other game.
Cousins, a rare combination of colossal size and skilled talent, has become worse in terms of on-court behavior. Cousins has the second-most technicals in the NBA.
But he is just 22 years old and the team cannot give up and trade him just yet. He needs to be surrounded by a strong veteran voice or a coach who will demand his respect. The Kings have likely exhausted all other options.
The franchise, wherever it may be, must hold on to both of these pieces moving forward.
Free agents aren’t headed to Sacramento—or Seattle.
The Brooklyn Nets have plenty of cash—but no cap space.
The team's payroll will move upward next season even without signing rookies or shedding minimum contracts. They will remain over the luxury tax, stuck in mediocrity.
This money is tied up for a long time.
Joe Johnson's contract will climb to $24.8 million in 2015-16. In that same year, three seasons away, Deron WIlliams will be earning $21 million, Brook Lopez can exercise a $16.7 million player option and Gerald Wallace will make $10 million.
Add Kris Humphries, who is paid $12 million through next season, and that's five guys in double-figures. Value piece Andray Blatche will depart this offseason with free-agency cash.
The Nets must find any method to blow up the failed attempt at a super team.
It's not that the Nets are miserable; they're just not a title contender. Unless they can move some pieces.
Franchise owner Mikhail Prokhorov isn't seeking a ceiling of early-round exits.
The Atlanta Hawks fully settled into average this season.
No longer an up-and-coming threat, Atlanta is now a low-end Eastern Conference playoff team, taking on an identity of little brother. The team is more of an obstacle than a contender.
This offseason is time to change flight.
The Josh Smith era will end as he leaves as a free agent. Atlanta also rids itself of the $8.5-million contract of Devin Harris.
Al Horford and Lou Williams remain, but the problem is that neither Horford nor Williams are enough to sell free-agent talent on signing with Atlanta.
Dwight Howard and Chris Paul aren't coming.
Atlanta must keep restricted free agent Jeff Teague, one of the league's more undervalued guards, and mimic what the Dallas Mavericks did last season with one-and-done test deals.
The Hawks can stay out of salary trouble by not throwing dollars at any tempting big name other than Howard or Paul.
New York Knicks
This was supposed to be the year it all came together for the New York Knicks.
But suddenly, Amare Stoudemire is out six weeks after knee surgery and Carmelo Anthony's knee has issues of its own.
The Knicks are reeling.
The oldest team ever assembled is approaching an offseason of stagnancy unless Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald can figure something out.
It would be tough to move the unstable knees of Stoudemire and his $21 million contract for next season through trade. The team likely will lose restricted free agent Chris Copeland but will keep the $4.4 million contract of Marcus Camby.
The enhanced play of J.R. Smith means he'll probably opt out of his player option and find money elsewhere as a free agent.
Might Grunwald be tempted to pursue offers for Anthony? It could be the only way to change course, especially if the Knicks don't show well this postseason.
While anything is possible, it seems unlikely the Knicks would part with one of the league's top superstars. Even if it means New York has to remain still this offseason.
The complete collapse of the Utah Jazz will be the final way this unbalanced roster will be remembered.
Overloaded in the frontcourt this season, the lack of balance hurt the team's consistency.
Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye all become free agents this offseason, and Marvin Williams has an early termination option.
The most likely candidate to return is Jefferson, the team's leading scorer and rebounder. The 28-year-old center qualifies for Bird Rights, so he can sign a max deal without throwing Utah above the luxury tax line. The same goes for the 28-year-old Millsap.
Bringing those two back in the frontcourt would be ideal for Utah this offseason.
But if the team is to bring the pair back, adding to Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, then it must dramatically improve its guard talent.
Mo Williams, who hasn't been able to remain healthy this season, may be the team's best option. Other potentially available guards include Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings or Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers' offseason, naturally, will lead the league in speculation.
So much depends on how this season finishes. If the Lakers hurdle Kobe Bryant's hurt ankle and find themselves standing on two feet into the postseason, optimism will benefit the return of Dwight Howard.
Even this late success proves that it can work between the two high-profile superstars.
Los Angeles can give Howard the best contract, a max deal at five years. They can also offer the aspiring actor a presence in Hollywood.
Investing in Howard is investing in the Howard-Bryant partnership. The dedication to those two, in addition to a massively increasing luxury tax, will mean further roster moves.
One option that has been discussed is triggering the amnesty option with Pau Gasol, who is owed $19 million next season. The same move would work in ridding the $7.7 million tag on Metta World Peace.
The remainder of the offseason could be spent finding cheap, athletic talent that jells with Bryant, Howard and Steve Nash.
Jimmy Spencer is an NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @JimmySpencerNBA.
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