5 Burning NBA Free-Agency Questions for Bleacher Report Experts

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2013

5 Burning NBA Free-Agency Questions for Bleacher Report Experts

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    The young 2013 NBA offseason has mercifully answered a few questions already. Dwight Howard will be a Houston Rocket, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in regrouping mode, and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has reluctant lenders everywhere reconsidering their long-held beliefs about money growing on trees.

    But for every piece of the summer puzzle landing before our eyes, new questions emerge. We posed five good ones to Bleacher Report's very own NBA Lead Writers, and the answers might surprise you.

    Dwight's relocation may not lift the Rockets as high as you think. The words "Lakers" and "tanking" are ending up in the same sentences for a reason. And on the heels of a frantic kickoff to free agency, there's more than one opinion about who's taken the biggest steps so far.

    Of course, this conversation is just getting started. Where do you stand?


    A big thanks to NBA Lead Writers Josh Martin, Jimmy Spencer and Jonathan Wasserman for taking part in this virtual roundtable discussion and sharing their expertise on what's already proven to be a thrilling offseason.

Where Are Dwight Howard's Rockets in Your Western Conference Power Rankings?

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    Josh Martin

    I have them fifth in the West right now, behind the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies. Those four teams are all plenty talented and sport far more experience together than their counterparts in Houston. 

    The Rockets' tandem of Dwight Howard and James Harden is certainly talented enough to win the West, but I'd hesitate to anoint them favorites until I see A) how Howard's recovery from back and shoulder problems comes along, B) how he and Harden mesh, C) how Kevin McHale decides to employ his new All-Star (and how well Howard takes to that), and D) who else Daryl Morey brings in to fill out the roster.


    Jimmy Spencer

    I do believe that Howard will be much more productive in a renewed environment with Houston. He’s healthier, and he’ll be motivated to prove his doubters wrong.

    The Rockets move up in the West with the signing of Howard, but it’s a leap relative to the steep competition out there. The San Antonio Spurs’ empire remains intact while the Oklahoma City Thunder also remain elite, and they remain the conference’s two best teams.

    Houston gets significantly better with the elite center, but the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers each improved as well. All three teams are now better than the Memphis Grizzlies, creating a fight for the No. 3 through No. 5 seeds.


    Jonathan Wasserman

    I actually don't think Dwight Howard puts the Rockets over the top. I'm a little bit worried that he clogs the lane for James Harden and Jeremy Lin, two guards who excel at attacking. And with Howard unable to play more than 12 feet from the rim, you should at least understand my fear. 

    I still got Oklahoma City and San Antonio at the top of my Western Conference power rankings. I also really liked what Golden State did by adding Andre Iguodala, and I thought the Clippers improved as well with J.J. Redick, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley. These teams go No. 3 and No. 4.

    Let's go with Memphis at No. 5 and Houston at No. 6, followed by Denver at No. 7. I'll say the Rockets crash in the Western Conference semis. 

Should the Lakers Tank in 2013-14?

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    Josh Martin

    Yes, because doing so would improve their odds of landing a superstar somehow. Much has been made of who could be available via free agency in 2014 (e.g. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul George, John Wall, etc.). Tanking this season would probably hurt the Lakers' chances of luring a big name to L.A. to take up some of the prodigious cap space they're expected to have.

    But I have my doubts as to whether any of those superstar talents will actually be available. The 2003 draftees can opt out, but I can't imagine Miami's Big Three parting ways after a three-peat, or 'Melo leaving the playoff-potent Knicks for a rebuild in LA...or the Pacers and Wizards not locking up their youngsters to long-term extensions, for that matter.

    But if the Lakers "try" to stink (which they will anyway), they'll have a shot at landing one of a handful of future superstars set to join the draft pool in 2014 (Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Julius Randle? Marcus Smart? Andrew Harrison? Dante Exum? Aaron Gordon?), who they can then introduce alongside a healthy Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and (perhaps) Pau Gasol.

    Which, ultimately, could make the Purple and Gold that much more appealing come July of 2014 and beyond.


    Jimmy Spencer

    They may have no other choice. With the amnesty of Metta World Peace, there is absolutely no proof that they can succeed with Kobe Bryant coming off a torn Achilles, Steve Nash turning 40 years old or a declining Pau Gasol.

    It’s not as if a team with Bryant is going to quit trying, though. The Lakers will likely end up just missing the playoffs and with a lottery pick too low to snag any of the future big names.

    A quick rebuild will require free-agent help, and unlike Josh Martin, I firmly believe Bryant and the Lakers will convince one of the league’s current superstars to carry the Lakers’ torch in 2014-15.


    Jonathan Wasserman

    I'm not saying the Lakers should tank, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to play the 2013-14 season blindfolded.

    This team isn't going anywhere this year unless the goal is to reach the playoffs. But that can't be the goal. The only goal for the Lakers should be to finish the year in position to pounce on 2014 free agents.

    Create space and contend for the lottery. There's just no point in wasting a year battling for the No. 8 seed. Swallow your pride, Laker fans. It's only a year. I'm a Knicks fan; I did it for 10.

Which NBA Rookie Will Have Greatest Impact in 2013-14?

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    Josh Martin

    I'd go with Victor Oladipo, if not for the fact that Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson are already entrenched in the Orlando Magic backcourt. Instead, I'd look to Ben McLemore with the Sacramento Kings. He should have ample opportunity to start, unless head coach Mike Malone, GM Pete D'Alessandro and the rest of the deciders in Sacramento feel it better to slide Marcus Thornton or John Salmons into that role.

    Assuming McLemore wins out, he has the talent to shine as a sharpshooter with outstanding athletic potential on both ends of the floor. He was an outstanding marksman during his redshirt freshman season at Kansas, hitting 42 percent from deep and 87 percent from the line.

    With a pass-first point guard in Greivis Vasquez by his side and a newly steady organization under the ownership of Vivek Ranadive to support him, McLemore should be plenty productive in Sactown from the get-go, especially if the Kings get out on the break.


    Jimmy Spencer

    Trey Burke will be the Damian Lillard of next season. I like Burke’s ability as a top-tier rookie to embrace the freedom he’ll be given in running the Utah Jazz.

    He’ll be learning an entirely new offensive system, compared to what he ran at University of Michigan, but that stuff should come naturally to the gifted guard.

    Burke’s greatest quality is his competitive drive, and it’s one thing that can get lost in draft analysis. There’s an extra drive to Burke, and it will make him a star in the NBA.


    Jonathan Wasserman

    Victor Oladipo should be able to impact games even without a jumper, thanks to his athleticism, motor and instincts. But through a couple of summer league games, it looks like his improved shooting percentages as a junior at Indiana were no joke. 

    I try not to get too excited over summer league, but he clearly has the confidence to knock down shots. And now I have the confidence to pick Oladipo over Otto Porter and Kelly Olynyk. 

    He probably still would have been my pick if you asked me the day of the draft, though. Orlando has plans of putting the ball in his hands. He's got the game and team fit to make an immediate impact.

Which Team Has Improved Most This Offseason?

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    Josh Martin

    Is there any choice other than the Houston Rockets? I like what the Brooklyn Nets did, but adding four guys in their mid-30s probably isn't going to vault that team into the title hunt.

    The addition of Dwight Howard, though, will give the Rockets a fighting chance at a spot in the Western Conference Finals in 2014 and put them in position to contend for years after. Of course, this all depends on the factors I mentioned earlier, but adding a guy who's a top-five (if not a top two or three) talent when he's motivated and in peak condition is about as much as any team could reasonably hope for.

    (Unless you're talking about the Miami Heat, circa 2010.)


    Jimmy Spencer

    The Philadelphia 76ers rerouted the direction of their franchise away from stagnant mediocrity and to pure rebuilding. The Houston Rockets grabbed the best free agent, and the Los Angeles Clippers grabbed an elite coach.

    But it’s the Brooklyn Nets who improved their team most for next season. The Nets snatched up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce—two winners who can change the Miami Heat’s stranglehold on the East. (Not to mention Andrei Kirilenko.) I don’t believe any team improved its chances at winning a title more than the Nets.

    It’s hard to be sold on the idea of Jason Kidd transitioning so quickly to the role of head coach, but the addition of veterans Garnett and Pierce into that huddle helps.


    Jonathan Wasserman

    It pains me to say it, and if I could use a smaller font here I would. But that Brooklyn Nets roster is ridiculous. 

    This team previously lacked toughness and experience, so they added Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, champions who were tiring out as the top two options in Boston.

    They're now No. 4 and No. 5 options for Brooklyn behind Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. The Nets also added Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, along with a solid backup point guard in Shaun Livingston and an NBA-ready rookie in Mason Plumlee. 

    I don't think they knock out the Heat, but they replace New York in that mix with Chicago and Indiana. Although I hope not.

Which New Head Coach Has Most Work Cut Out for Him?

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    Josh Martin

    Jason Kidd gets the nod here. Of all the new hires, he's the least experienced (even less than Brad Stevens, who at least coached on the collegiate level) and is under the most pressure to win big—and right away. Kidd's first game as a coach of any kind will come as the leader of the NBA's next $100 million roster—one that doesn't figure to improve much (if at all) from year to year, due to league-imposed restrictions on big spenders.

    As such, the onus will be on Kidd to get a roster built on the backs of All-Stars and big names who are either on the decline (Paul Pierce, Jason Terry), injury-prone (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez), or both (Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett).

    Not that anyone should weep for Brooklyn, but getting out of the Eastern Conference will be as tough as ever, what with Miami holding court while the Pacers, Bulls and Knicks come a-chargin'.

    Will Kidd be able to learn on the job amid the pressure of making Mikhail Prokhorov look anything other than foolish for predicting the Nets would win a title within five years of his ascension to ownership? Or will the task at hand prove too daunting, even for one of the greatest point guards to ever play?


    Jimmy Spencer

    Kidd has plenty of pressure as a first-year coach with championship expectations. I don’t feel, however, that he has the most work to do thanks to his core of veterans.

    The biggest task falls on Kevin McHale with the Houston Rockets. He becomes the new Mike D'Antoni—or Mike Brown—trying to make a roster work around Dwight Howard. McHale now has colossal expectations with a roster that will take time to gain experience and chemistry. If he doesn’t succeed right away, though, he could become a quick scapegoat.


    Jonathan Wasserman

    Whoever takes on the Philadelphia 76ers gig should be a man prepared for failure. After dealing its best player for an injured rookie and future draft pick, Philadelphia's current roster pretty much stinks.

    Michael Carter-Williams will get the rock as a rookie, and though his long-term potential is promising, his short-term results could be scary. What's worse is that he won't have weapons around him. We could be looking at record turnover numbers for M.C.W. Nerlens Noel is likely to miss a good portion of the season, which leaves Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. Yikes.

    "Give in for Wiggins" seems to be the plan here.