How NBA Lottery Teams Can Make the 2013-14 Playoffs
The breeze of the offseason usually offers hope for NBA franchises who failed to make the postseason.
For each of the league's 14 lottery teams, solace exists through the 2013 NBA draft, free agency and potential trades.
This isn't a crystal ball for how lineups will look entering the 2013-14 season, but rather it's a window to how franchises can turn their respective luck into run at the playoffs.
Of last season's lottery teams, only the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets advanced to the postseason this year.
Which teams are capable of pushing into the 2013-14 playoffs?
Note: The new Collective Bargaining Agreement becomes stricter in 2013-14, as luxury tax payments increasing with every $5 million a team goes above the tax line. This will change the way all teams operate, including this season's lottery teams.
Utah Jazz (43-39)
The problem: The Utah Jazz weren't far away from the saving grace of a No. 8 seed, finishing two games back of the Houston Rockets after a late-season slide that included a stretch of nine losses in 11 games in March.
Looking for a consolation prize for being so close?
Big holes and bigger decisions.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both free agents. Further, Marvin Williams has a $7.5 million early-termination option. Guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye also become free agents.
So where to start?
There's little reason to say the team should return the same talent that didn't earn them a postseason, so picking the right pieces is crucial.
How to fix it: Because Utah owns the Bird rights to both Jefferson and Millsap, the team can offer each of them more money and create options for sign-and-trades. A foundation of talented young names—including Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alex Burks—also assists Utah's hopes of a turnaround.
Jefferson seems to be the obvious piece to return, as he's the team's scoring leader (17.8) and rebounder (9.2). Jefferson's numbers have declined since being traded to Utah from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he's the best center of a free-agent class that dries up after Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. Utah must bring him back.
Then, the team must reinvent itself around Jefferson and its young core. Re-sign Marvin Williams and let Kanter grow while addressing the team's perimeter scoring needs. The team also must make an effort to bring Mo Williams back. He is more of a scorer than a passer, but he can shine with Utah in a full season.
Then the team must seek a sign-and-trade for Millsap, its remaining valuable piece, for a legitimate scoring threat.
If Utah can't find a trade for Millsap, then other potential guards that may fit include Golden State Warriors free agent-to-be Jarrett Jack.
Utah wasn't far from a postseason this past season, but it missed a scoring punch from the perimeter. Losing Millsap could hurt, but the development of younger bigs around Jefferson and the addition of a scoring guard could push Utah ahead.
Dallas Mavericks (41-41)
The problem: The Dallas Mavericks couldn't overcome Dirk Nowitzki's knee surgery that kept him out for the early part of the season.
The rare lost season by the Mavericks was partially by design though, as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban opted to bring in talent on one-year contracts after missing on top-tier free agents.
Nowitzki, who does have a no-trade clause, remains outwardly loyal to Dallas, but he also understands this offseason is vital in how his career will end. The 34-year-old is the obvious starting piece moving into the summer.
Nowitzki told USA Today Sports in early April:
Now that I already reached my goal (of winning it all), I really want to finish my career in Dallas. But saying all that, I don't want another year next year with the same as this year, (with) the frustration and playing for the eight or nine seed. I think we all know that this is a very big summer for us. (Mavericks general manager) Donnie (Nelson) knows. Cuban knows. We want to get back to the championship level.
Cuban has made it clear that he wants to keep his superstar, and Nowitzki is willing to do whatever it takes.
Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News:
I’ve said it all year long — this is a big summer for us. We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If [owner Mark Cuban] needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.
Hot to fix it: There will be plenty of needs.
The list of expiring deals includes Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Anthony Morrow. O.J. Mayo is expected to opt out of his $4.2 million player option.
With its immense cap space heading into next season, Dallas must find itself a legitimate superstar free agent.
The biggest names include: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Josh Smith and the riskier Andrew Bynum. The Mavericks will go hard after all of those guys.
Since Howard seems likely to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Cuban seems too set on winning now to chance it with another lost Bynum season, the top free agent remaining is Smith. He fits well next to Nowitzki because of his defensive presence and versatility as a rim attacker. Dallas needs his defense.
Smith brings instant athleticism to the Mavericks; he averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Certainly Smith could demand max dollars, but it's going to take his type of talent to put the Mavericks back into the mix.
Monta Ellis doesn't seem likely, as his big contract would tie up too much salary.
Build around Nowitzki and Smith with lesser contracts.
Some of this extra cap space may depend on whether or not Shawn Marion returns on a player option of $9.3 million.
The Mavericks may not love Darren Collison, but returning him in lieu of an overly competitive offer sheet from another team locks in the point guard position. With money saved there, the team can chase Tony Allen at shooting guard.
With that lineup, the Mavericks certainly move back into the postseason.
Toronto Raptors (34-48)
The problem: The Toronto Raptors began the season 4-19 and never recovered. Kyle Lowry was out a portion of that early rough stretch and lost too much of his season to injury and lack of playing shape.
Roll that disappointment up with the disappointing Andrea Bargnani, who looked bored while shooting just 39 percent for his 12.7 points per game, and yup—Toronto struggled again.
The Raptors made a good move in grabbing Rudy Gay on Jan. 31, and the team went 18-18 after the acquisition.
Losing Jose Calderon was a high price, and Gay is due $37 million for the next two years, but he is the quality of player that the Raptors would struggle to sign otherwise.
The issue for the Raptors is that they are locked into $65.89 million for 2013-14 with much of their roster set.
How to fix it: The team should utilize its team option to bring back Kyle Lowry for $6.2 million.
Do not amnesty Andrea Bargnani, because even though he is owed $23 million for the next two seasons and is underperforming, he's the best talent Toronto is going to get for those dollars.
Guys have down seasons, and letting go of his ceiling would be a mistake. He's only played in 66 games combined the past two seasons, but when playing to his full ability, he is a unique 7-footer who can stretch defenses with his range and can play defense when motivated.
Toronto doesn't have a first-round pick, since it now belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the Raptors need to continue to chase the growth process.
Rookie Terrence Ross wasn't ready in his first year, though fellow rookie Jonas Valanciunas surpassed expectations. Both young players will develop and, frankly, Toronto has no other choice but to wait.
If Linas Kleiza takes his $4.6 million player option, the Raptors will have less money to play with. But with a full roster, the best hope may be to take a chance on center Greg Oden.
Amir Johnson was fantastic this past season, and he is capable of filling in full-time in the frontcourt if Oden doesn't work out. The team will rely on another jump in production from DeMar DeRozan for his scoring, but that still leaves them in need of an outside shooter.
Kyle Korver is the best shooter for the price.
It's not implausible that a full season of having Gay, another season of more-developed youngsters Ross and Valanciunas and an improved season from Lowry could send Toronto into the East's playoffs.
Philadelphia 76ers (34-48)
The problem: Andrew Bynum.
The Philadelphia 76ers gambled to bring in one of the game's great young centers, and Bynum didn't play a single game due to knee issues.
The 76ers didn't have enough offensively, averaging the fewest points per game at 93.2.
The 76ers need to cut their losses and not fall for the alluring potential of the 25-year-old Bynum. Let another team, like the Charlotte Bobcats, take that gamble. Other than losing Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic in the deal for Bynum, the $16.9 million salary stings too (although that contract is insured).
The pieces around a $16.9 million placeholder are there. Jrue Holiday had an All-Star season and appears to be the real thing. The 76ers have plenty of cap space, with Bynum's deal as well as Nick Young and Dorell Wright's contracts coming off the books.
How to fix it: The 76ers, in moving on from Bynum, open up one heck of a spending account.
Rather than spending it frivolously, the 76ers can make smart investments. That starts with going after a guy like Nikola Pekovic, a free agent from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At 27 years old, the 6'11", 290-pound center averaged 16.3 points and shot 52 percent. While he has a few more years on him than Bynum, he's a much safer and less expensive interior presence that Philadelphia needs.
With that saved money, the 76ers can add further inside presence through free agency.
This creates an opportunity to bring Paul Millsap in at power forward, another efficient scorer who will help Philadelphia outwork opponents. Adding Pekovic and Millsap inside likely will only cost $5 million more than bringing back just Bynum.
The new interior would mean the move of Thaddeus Young to small forward. With the frontcourt loaded, Spencer Hawes and wing Evan Turner move into valuable, heavy-minute reserve roles.
But the team still needs a shooting guard to lead the perimeter scoring next to Holiday. J.R. Smith is going to be too pricey.
So Philadelphia may look to the draft and grab Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA if he is still around; he's enough of a scorer to fill that role. If not, and if enough cash is remaining, the team can snag O.J. Mayo from the Dallas Mavericks.
It looks like Philadelphia is chasing Golden State Warriors current assistant coach Mike Malone and, by the Warriors' success, that's a good choice.
With a new coach and a revamped frontcourt to team with Holiday and a scoring rookie, the 76ers will have enough to move forward in the Eastern Conference.
Portland Trail Blazers (33-49)
The problem: The nucleus of the Portland Trail Blazers, which includes the established core of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, played to expectations.
The addition of Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard was an obvious boost, and center J.J. Hickson was far better than expected.
But the bench was lousy. Portland's bench scored a league-low 18.5 points per game. That's incredibly low considering the second-lowest bench, that of the Indiana Pacers, scored 25.7 points.
The Trail Blazers are in a good position with dollars tied into the right pieces, but they are in a rough spots in terms of decision-making on complementary pieces to add.
The Trail Blazers have a decision on whether or not to make a qualifying offer to Eric Maynor as a backup point guard. With a slim free-agent market on guards, Maynor will come at an increase over his current $3.35 million for next season.
Aldridge is signed for $29 million for the next two seasons and Batum is signed through the 2015-16 season. The team also has the decision to return Hickson, an unrestricted free agent, but it looks certain that won't happen.
How to fix it:
Portland general manager Neil Olshey made it clear Hickson won't return, according to Jason Quick of the Oregonian:
For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center. I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.
So instead, the Trail Blazers can chase an authentic center this offseason, such as San Antonio Spurs restricted free agent Tiago Splitter, to work with Leonard.
Big men develop more slowly than other positions. But at 7'1" and 245 pounds, Leonard is an ideal lane-clogger.
As insurance, the Trail Blazers should draft nearby Gonzaga star Kelly Olynyk.
Bring back Maynor at a somewhat reasonable price, and sign veteran swingmen and a post presence to round out the roster.
There is no big money to tie elsewhere, but the growth of Lillard and development of Meyers along with a deeper bench would help to push Portland into the postseason. Corey Brewer might be a good fit as a reserve if his price tag isn't too inflated.
Portland has a core that's playoff-ready; an improved bench gets it there.
Minnesota Timberwolves (31-51)
What's the problem: Injuries devastated the Minnesota Timberwolves, and another lottery pick now looms.
David Kahn is out, and the team's new president (and minority owner) is Flip Saunders. He's here just in time.
The Timberwolves have an offseason of decision-making that may direct the franchise back into the playoffs or deeper into another tenure of mediocrity.
The team can't lose sight of its most pressing need, which might be to keep Kevin Love happy. Love is the team's greatest talent and, along with Ricky Rubio, he must be made the cornerstone.
Loved told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports in December:
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?
And he isn't wrong.
Saunders has a couple of nice pieces under contract moving forward. Love is signed until the 2015 season, when he can exercise a player option to jet Minnesota if he chooses. Rubio is under team control until 2015-16, when the team can make a qualifying offer.
Talked with Love and Rubio even more excited about #Twolves.— Flip Saunders (@Flip_Saunders) May 5, 2013
How to fix it: Minnesota has the option to bring back two guys from this past season, but it will cost the ability to chase other players of impact.
Forward Andrei Kirilenko and center Nikola Pekovic are going receive high-dollar offers elsewhere. Now, Minnesota must determine whether or not it can bank on a healthier version of last season's lineup to get more successful results next season.
The Timberwolves should invest in Pekovic and let the older Kirilenko walk. The Wolves are missing a dynamic scorer, a guy who can score in the lane and also occasionally stretch the defense from the three-point line.
Sign 25-year-old O.J. Mayo to a reasonable contract.
The core of Love and Rubio, and if Rick Adelman decides to return as head coach, creates an attractive landing spot for a free agent like O.J. Mayo.
One plus of the Timberwolves' injuries and losing is that it has allowed Rubio to develop without pressure. With him and Love, the Wolves must stick to the process and put complementary parts around them.
A guy like Mayo still has the type of ceiling that could grow with Love and Rubio. Though the Timberwolves lose pieces, overall health and the addition of a scoring guard like Mayo can push the Timberwolves into the postseason under Adelman.
And Saunders gets to be the hero.
Washington Wizards (29-53)
What's the problem: It's amazing how quickly an 0-12 start can snowball. The Washington Wizards ended their season early, sitting at 5-28 through Jan. 7 before John Wall returned.
It was a long, cold winter in Washington.
With Wall back, however, the Wizards were 24-25 for the remainder of the season. Wall averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists in his 49 games. Missing valued rookie Bradley Beal for much of the final stretch also hurt.
The Wizards don't have too many decisions regarding what to bring back.
Trevor Ariza will exercise his $7.2 million player option to return unless the Wizards can somehow move him through a trade. Ariza will be overpaid for a guy who shot 41.7 percent for 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Emeka Okafor will also return for $14.5 million this upcoming season.
Martell Webster would be a nice keep for the Wizards, as he came on strong later in the season with the return of Wall. He is an unrestricted free agent, but he has voiced his desire to return and will be important as a starter or key reserve.
Webster: “I would love to be here next year but this is a business & we’ll see what happens. I’m having an extraordinary time here" #wizards— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) March 17, 2013
How to fix it: The Wizards don't have much flexibility with $65 million already in the books for next season.
It won't take much to reach the postseason in the Eastern Conference, and a fully healthy season from Wall and Beal is a step in that direction.
As for the frontcourt, though both are pricey, Okafor and Nenê Hilario are at least formidable during this time of rebuilding. The Wizards allowed the eighth-lowest points per game in the NBA in the regular season, and defense will need to continue to be a staple.
The Wizards will have a ton of cap space for the summer of 2014 to begin making real moves. This season, an added point guard to support and guide Wall would be best. Mo Williams would be a good fit.
In need of a wing with a high ceiling, the Wizards' currently slotted No. 8 pick could be used on UCLA Shabazz Muhammad. The athletic small forward would be an ideal fit alongside Wall and Beal.
Banking on health and remaining true to the process of young development is Washington's best chance at a turnaround.
Detroit Pistons (29-53)
The problem: The Detroit Pistons were too young and had too little scoring punch to allow Lawrence Frank to keep his job.
The team began the regular season 0-8 and never recovered. There was never a consistent big-scoring threat, and Greg Monroe became the team's lone bright spot. The oversized salaries of Corey Maggette, who didn't receive minutes as a team decision, and Charlie Villanueva, who underperformed, weighed heavily on the Pistons.
But there is finally good news for the Detroit Pistons: The only pieces the Pistons must retain are good ones at good value.
The young core of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler stays intact.
The $10.9 million salary that Maggette collected last season is now off the books. If the team amnesties Villanueva, there is real room to operate.
Without Villanueva, the Pistons will have more than $40 million to spend in cap space.
How to fix it: Detroit can opt to be a big spender here.
Re-sign Jose Calderon as a necessary veteran piece. Even though he'll be 32 years old at the start of next season, there is a need to surround Detroit's younger players with guys who have league experience. Calderon can take care of the ball and help feed post players like Drummond and Monroe.
Sign free-agent power forward Carl Landry. The veteran inside scorer with a mid-range game has been a tremendous value for the Golden State Warriors. He is an excellent model to Detroit's young post players.
Trade the contract of Rodney Stuckey for a veteran swingman type like Francisco Garcia and move Brandon Knight into a reserve role to add guard depth alongside Will Bynum.
Then the big splash: Monta Ellis.
The Pistons will overpay a bit for the 27-year-old guard, but his scoring from the perimeter in a backcourt alongside Calderon is dangerous.
Detroit suddenly has an up-and-coming frontcourt combined with an offensively gifted backcourt. Kyle Singler may be more of a role player at the small forward, but a sized shooter mixed with Garcia is formidable.
With that lineup, and a coaching hire like Brian Shaw who can work well to develop young players, the Pistons could reach the postseason.
Sacramento Kings (28-54)
The problem: The Sacramento Kings took on the apathy from above. The lack of direction from the ownership dripped down into the performances of its coaches and players.
In place is a dynamic roster that's top-heavy without much of a foundation beneath.
The Kings have two valued talents that new ownership has to play with: DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans.
The issue is finding the best third guy to make it fit. Evans is better with the ball in his hands, as he's best when attacking the hoop on his drive rather than receiving looks off the pass. The issue is that he's not a traditional point guard and the team starts fellow scorer Isaiah Thomas at point guard.
Without direction from above, it's no surprise the roster is a puzzle of mismatched pieces.
New Orleans Pelicans (27-55)
The problem: The New Orleans Pelicans are in full-on rebuilding mode, but the team's highest-paid player, Eric Gordon, doesn't fit.
The guard was the team's high scorer at 17 points per game, but he also missed 40 games this season with a knee injury that cut into the end of the 2011-12 season. There was also a screaming match with head coach Monty Williams, an obvious sign that he may be disgruntled.
Gordon isn't the right match for the growth process of the Pelicans, who have a new name, a new owner in Tom Benson and should have a new plan.
Gordon's contract is a red flag:
|Eric Gordon||$14.28 million||$14.89 million||$15.51 million|
How to fix it: Trade Gordon.
The Pelicans are a team on the rise, and with smart money spent everywhere else on the roster, it makes sense to move Gordon. He isn't happy.
General manager Dell Demps told the Shreveport Times:
It was tough on Eric coming back from injury, not having training camp. I thought he really tried to fight through the situation, and there were times he played with pain . But to say I anticipate him being back or not being back, I don't know if that's something I can answer right now.
Gordon underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in early May. Last offseason, he opted not to have microfracture surgery on his right knee.
Obviously his health is going to be a concern for potential trade partners. But one team wanted him badly enough last offseason to make him a four-year offer: the Phoenix Suns.
New Orleans matched the offer and brought Gordon back against his desires. Now that a year has passed since the offer sheet was made, the Pelicans are eligible to trade Gordon to Phoenix. But new Suns general manager Ryan McDonough might not be such a fan of Gordon.
However, a longer-established basketball man, Flip Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves, would be. His team has a clear need for a scoring 2-guard. Gordon, still just 24 years old, is the right talent.
A sign-and-trade for Gordon in exchange for center Nikola Pekovic helps both sides. The Pelicans move a contract while adding a piece they might seek in free agency anyway. A frontcourt of Pekovic and Anthony Davis would bring immediate success.
The Pelicans would have depth in the post, with Robin Lopez able to be brought back for an economic $5.1 million next season.
Greivis Vasquez, second in Most Improved Player voting, and Ryan Anderson round out a strong core with promising rookies Austin Rivers, Darius Miller and Brian Roberts.
Needing to fill a wing position, the Pelicans may have the opportunity to take Otto Porter of Georgetown. The team can then chase Chicago Bulls free agent Marco Belinelli as an additional scoring guard.
With that lineup, and a push from the young guys, the Pelicans can be a playoff team.
Phoenix Suns (25-57)
The problem: The Phoenix Suns simply didn't have enough firepower this past season.
Goran Dragic's 14.7 points and 7.4 assists were a lone bright spot on a roster of ineffective talent. No. 13 overall pick, rookie Kendall Marshall, showed little as a difference-maker.
The problem is this payroll doesn't offer too much bend. The Suns have $53.37 million tied into their current roster, losing Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal.
So where to go?
How to fix it: The Suns' new general manager, 33-year-old Ryan McDonough, revealed he hopes to maintain youth according to USA Today:
The most important thing to find in our head coach is someone who is a leader. We need someone who commands the respect of the players, commands the respect of the entire organization. We also need someone who is a teacher, who can help our young players develop and get better and maximize their individual talent.
One such candidate to lead a young Suns team, as mentioned by Randy Hill of Fox Sports Arizona, is current San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. He's a native of Arizona, and the Spurs have done a fine job developing young players in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
But to ignite the rebuilding process into a 2013-14 postseason? It will take some tinkering.
The biggest pieces of trade value include Dragic, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Each make reasonable salaries, and because of that they can help begin a roster overhaul.
Keeping Dragic works best if he's paired with a slashing, bigger guard. Enter Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings. If the Kings don't reunite with Evans, he's a nice fit with the Suns.
The Kings are uncertain of what to do with Evans alongside scoring point guard Isaiah Thomas. They can let him walk, sign him to a long deal or perhaps create a sign-and-trade for returned talent. The Suns can package Scola in the deal as a veteran to play alongside DeMarcus Cousins.
Next to a more traditional point guard like Dragic, Evans makes more sense. Evans averaged 20 points, five rebounds and six assists in his rookie season. His second year was plagued with plantar fasciitis, and he became lost in the bermuda triangle of the NBA in Sacramento.
With a backcourt of Dragic and Evans, the Suns can chase Nerlens Noel or Cody Zeller in the draft depending on how they luck out in the lottery.
The higher pick would give Phoenix a shot at Noel, who will enter the season still hurt (ACL).
Meanwhile, regardless of where Phoenix falls in the lottery, Zeller should be available. His size matched with a high on-floor IQ makes him ready to step in with a heavy role in his first season.
A healthier Gortat remains a necessity for inside scoring. Gortat and his expiring contract could also be used as valuable trade bait near next season's deadline to fill potential needs.
To round out the wings, the Suns can sign Evans' former teammate, free agent Francisco Garcia, as a defender and wing shooter. Matt Barnes is also available. Both offer veteran perimeter presence and each has a high-level motor.
The young Suns will need veteran passion on an otherwise young team. Rapid development will be needed to push into the postseason.
Cleveland Cavaliers (24-58)
The problem: The Cleveland Cavaliers are closer to curing the LeBron James hangover than their record last season indicates.
Kyrie Irving only played in 59 games due to various injuries, but despite the team going 19-40 when he played, he is one of the league's elite stars—and just turned 21 years old.
Missing Anderson Varejao for most of the season was another detriment. The 30-year-old center averaged 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 25 games before missing the remainder of the season with a quad injury.
Varejao is under contract for $9.1 million next season and has a $9.8 million team option for 2014-15. He's the highest paid player on a team that has money tied into all the right places.
Luke Walton's $6 million salary is off the books, and so is the $4.8 million owed to Daniel Gibson.
How to fix it: The Cavaliers have just $32 million tied up to 10 players next season, and that includes a $2.2 million team option of C.J. Miles.
The Cavaliers aren't far from the postseason.
With most likely a top-three pick in the draft, the Cavaliers have an opportunity to add a starter or key reserve through the draft. Otto Porter will be there if Cleveland assumes its third spot in the draft.
Porter, out of Georgetown, may never be a superstar in this league—few from this draft class seem to have the chance—but he is another nice wing addition alongside Irving and Waiters.
With young scoring talents on the perimeter and Varejao and Tristan Thompson inside, the team already has a core. But with the addition of top-tier free agents, suddenly the Cavaliers have talent and depth that would make them true players in the East.
The Cavaliers want to be cautious about using all of their cap space this offseason. The team is still clinging to the hope that James could return in 2014 free agency. So instead, Cleveland should opt to use its money on a free agent who brings versatility to the franchise without swelling its bottom line.
Paul Millsap is the perfect dirty-work guy to pair alongside Varejao. He can be brought in at just under $10 million per year. Thompson still plays valuable minutes, and the two power forwards create an interesting mix alongside Varejao.
The young backcourt then has all the support it needs.
With that young talent, and the additions of Smith and Millsap, the Cavaliers could thrive in the postseason.
And they will still have plenty of cash left over.
Charlotte Bobcats (21-61)
The problem: It's a bad sign when the typical observation of a franchise is that one of its lead decision-makers was an incredible player.
Jordan's golden touch doesn't extend into the front office.
The only positive of Charlotte's 21-61 season was that it was a relatively monumental jump from its historically low 7-59 record in the prior lockout-shortened season. The Bobcats were one of the worst offensive and defensive teams in the league this past season.
The Bobcats let go of coach Mike Dunlap, who was the man actually developing the young talent.
General manager Rich Cho has done a better job than Jordan at rebuilding a team, though. He has stopped the signing of mediocre talent that led to mediocre results. The team now has salary space and draft picks heading into the offseason.
How to fix it: The Bobcats can continue to rebuild while giving themselves an opportunity at the postseason in 2013-14.
Kemba Walker is not a cornerstone player. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.7 assists this past season, but he carried too much weight to be efficient.
Charlotte will need to decide whether or not to match competitive offers to restricted free agent Gerald Henderson, who transformed into one of the team's rare positives this past season. His option should be picked up even if it's just to set a precedent of rewarding development.
To eliminate unnecessary salary, the Bobcats should amnesty Tyrus Thomas and move away from the roughly $18 million he is owed through the next two seasons.
Charlotte is stuck with the $13.2 million owed to underperforming guard Ben Gordon next season. Shopping him before the trade deadline was unfruitful, and the team may be stuck with him. Gordon's salary came via the Detroit Pistons, who gave the Bobcats a conditional first-round pick that has deferred to 2014 because it's in the top 14.
That doesn't help the Bobcats for next season, so reaching for the franchise's second postseason ever will have to be done with him. A backcourt of Gordon and Walker could be bound for the playoffs with right pieces.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist delivered as advertised his rookie season—as a defensive glue guy who still can't shoot. With money to spend, Charlotte can go after a scoring forward to play off Kidd-Gilchrist.
Sign power forward David West. At 32 years old, West would add defensive experience and passion to play alongside Kidd-Gilchrist. He can also score numerous ways and create a post game for Charlotte.
Byron Mullens, a restricted free agent, and Josh McRoberts, an unrestricted free agent, should be brought back for frontcourt depth if it can be done at a savvy price.
With the final chunk of spending money, Charlotte should be the franchise to take a chance on Andrew Bynum. Certainly he comes with great injury risk. But he is still a 25-year-old 7-footer with dominant talent in league shallow of big men.
It may cost in the range of $16-$18 million per year for four years, but the Bobcats are in need of a lucky gamble.
If the dice roll the Bobcats' way, it could mean a top pick in Ben McLemore as a shooter out of Kansas. He'd work nicely off the bench with Walker, Gordon and Kidd-Gilchrist.
If health and development are on the side of the Bobcats, that lineup can make the Eastern Conference postseason.
Orlando Magic (20-62)
The problem: The Orlando Magic have a combination of nice young pieces paired with high-priced contracts that don't fit with the team's growth plan.
The rebuild was underway after the departure of Dwight Howard, but not all of the old pieces could be moved right away.
Hedo Turkoglu is the biggest slouch taking up cap space. He's set to earn $12 million next year after a season riddled with injuries and and a 20-game suspension. When he did play, he averaged just 2.9 points on 26.4 percent shooting. Ouch.
Al Harrington is another veteran who doesn't fit, and he's owed nearly $15 million over the next two seasons.
How to fix it: The good news about both the Turkoglu and Harrington deals is that each are only half-guaranteed, according to a piece by Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
Harrington is due $7.15 million in 2013-14 and $7.6 million in 2014-15, but his salaries in those seasons are only half-guaranteed. So if the Magic waive him this summer, the team would owe him about $3.6 million for 2013-14 and $3.8 million for 2014-15.
... Turkoglu, 34, is due to earn $12 million in 2013-14, but only half of that salary is guaranteed. Turkoglu has minimal trade value, and if the team can't find a taker for him by the draft, the team likely will waive him.
Since neither piece is tradeable, the team's best option is to eat half the salary and move on.
To make the postseason in 2013-14, the team should stick with its not-so-old-just-yet veterans, namely Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson. All those guys would make good trade bait midseason if necessary, but they're proven role players still young enough to be a part of Orlando's future.
Jameer Nelson still fits in the team's plans, averaging 14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game, a career high in assists, in a season cut short to 56 games due to injury. The contract of Nelson's backup, Beno Udrih, is off the books.
Orlando already has its center of the future in Nikola Vucevic, and rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are also developing talents.
The Magic still need a top-flight scorer, like what Damian Lillard gave to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Orlando has the best shot to land the top pick, and the best bet is Ben McLemore out of Kansas. As a freshman at Kansas, McLemore was one of the elite scorers with athleticism. He's just what Orlando is missing. But he is also the same position as Afflalo.
If the Magic want someone like Lillard, they need to chase Trey Burke out of Michigan. His passion is unmatched, which is something Orlando needs. He may make an immediate impact in the way the Rookie of the Year was this past season.
By continuing to grow their young talent, receiving healthy play from their core of still-young veterans and getting high-volume returns from their draft pick, the Orlando Magic could recover to slip into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
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