As everyone's attention turns to the playoff teams surging toward the finish, a few of the league's worst clubs are stuck with the less exciting—but just as critical—task of evaluating themselves in advance of massive summer overhauls.
The NBA's elite clubs are set, but the teams filling out the lower reaches of the Association will have to make some changes before they'll be ready to take a step up the ladder. In addition, a couple of clubs on the fringes of playoff contention will also have to take long looks at themselves before busy summer free agency periods.
That means deciding what to do with cap space and making tough decisions regarding team options.
As the saying goes, "change is good." For these struggling clubs, it's also necessary.
The Detroit Pistons have lost nine out of their last 10 games, so it's no surprise that coach Lawrence Frank has made it clear that nobody's job is safe.
According to David Mayo of MLive.com, Frank said:
To me, there are no guarantees. When you've won the amount of games that we've won, I don't care who you are, no one should feel safe. Me as coach, player...There shouldn't be a player on the roster with a record like we are who thinks, 'Oh, I'm here next year.'
In addition to the lack of job security that comes with a 24-47 record, there are a handful of Pistons who could be gone next year simply because their contracts have expired.
With Corey Maggette, Jose Calderon, Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum all set to hit unrestricted free agency, Detroit will be able to clear over $30 million from its cap without lifting a finger. Toss in the team's ability to buy out Rodney Stuckey and Viacheslov Kravtsov, the possibility of using the amnesty provision on Charlie Villanueva, and the non-guaranteed nature of rookie Kim English's deal, it's clear the Pistons will be able to go on a spending spree if they want to.
Next year's Pistons will be vastly different. Whether or not they're better depends on how wisely the front office spends its mountain of cap space.
It stands to reason that the league's worst team would be among those expected to undergo some pretty substantial changes this offseason. After all, if it is broke, you probably should fix it.
According to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan told an audience of season-ticket holders Tuesday that he anticipates off-season change and that everyone in the organization—basketball and business side—will be evaluated come spring.
It's great that Jordan's Bobcats want to shake things up, but because the organization has saddled itself with some pretty indefensible contracts, real change will be hard to come by.
Ben Gordon is a lock to exercise his $13 million player option this summer, and Tyrus Thomas is basically impossible to move because of the two years and nearly $17 million remaining on his deal.
Plus, Gerald Henderson's recent play makes it seem likely that the team will keep its restricted free agent around next season.
But Charlotte will be able to rid itself of DeSagana Diop, Josh McRoberts and Reggie Williams, which will get its cap figure down around $40 million.
A sure lottery pick and a couple of new rotation players could really go a long way toward making the changes Jordan is promising.
A few things will stay the same for the Dallas Mavericks next year: Mainstays Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion each figure to return on the last years of their contracts. In addition, Vince Carter and Jae Crowder should be back as useful rotation pieces.
Other than that, owner Mark Cuban is primed to open his wallet this summer.
The likely departures of Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright (all of whom are free agents) will create enough space under the salary cap to bring in a max-level player or a couple of less expensive pieces.
And if O.J. Mayo decides to opt out of the second year of his contract, the Mavs will have even more room to tinker.
Dallas has made a habit of acting boldly in the past, but under the new rules of the Collective Bargaining agreement, it has recently exercised some prudence, as well.
With the team almost certain to miss the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years, expect a splash or two before next season.
The New Orleans Hornets are in the somewhat unusual situation of being in total control of their roster changes this summer. Unlike most other teams in the league, the soon-to-be Pelicans don't have a single player option or restricted free agent on their payroll.
Four players, including Robin Lopez, have team options, but that still means the organization is in control of whether or not they return next year.
If New Orleans declines its various options, it'll go into next year with under $30 million in salary obligations. And in the event the team brings back Lopez for $5 million next year, there will still be plenty of cap room to spend on a lottery pick and a free agent or two.
With Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon looking like a solid core—assuming Gordon wants to be there—the Hornets can swap in a whole bunch of complementary pieces to surround their mainstays.
Someone like Josh Smith or Paul Millsap might look pretty nice alongside the blossoming Davis on the front line. Just saying...
No team figures to undergo a more substantial transformation than the Utah Jazz this offseason. With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap both primed to hit the free-agent market, the Jazz could very easily be without two of their most dependable starters next season.
In addition to the bigs, both Mo Williams and Randy Foye are unrestricted free agents, too.
That means Utah could feature a starting lineup next year that looks absolutely nothing like the unit it has trotted out for a huge portion of the 2012-13 season.
It's possible that the Jazz will bring back some of these guys, but with Jefferson and Millsap likely to command big dollars on the market, it's almost financially impossible for all of them to return. That may be a good thing, considering the way Utah has faded down the stretch this year.
A little new blood could be what the Jazz need to start over.
It might be easier to list the members of the Milwaukee Bucks' rotation that will actually be back on the team next year. But in the interest of accuracy, here's who Milwaukee could be missing next season: Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Marquis Daniels, Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert, and J.J. Redick.
That's a pretty solid group, but every one of them has the ability to leave town this summer.
Ellis is basically the first domino, as what he decides to do with his player option will set in motion a series of subsequent decisions that will redefine the way the Bucks look next season. If he decides to stay, it stands to reason that one or both of Jennings and Redick will be goners.
And if he leaves, the team could make a big offer to Redick and then decide whether it wants to match whatever deal Jennings gets on the restricted market.
Up front, Dunleavy, Daniels and Dalmebert are all expendable, as Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova look like great young options. Plus, rookie John Henson could use a few more minutes next year to continue his development.
Add all of the potential moves up, and it's pretty clear that the Bucks are in for a busy summer.