It's never too early to start talking about free agency, is it?
We all have our opinions on what teams need, particularly those who are just a player or two away from being serious championship contenders.
All 30 teams have decisions they need to make not only with their own players who are set to hit the open market, but also with those who will be available.
Some teams have very specific needs in terms of positions that need to be filled or even certain players who could launch them into elite status, while others need more general help. There are also some organizations who won't have much to do with free agency at all.
We won't know exactly how much money teams can spend until the new CBA is agreed upon, and that limits speculation to a degree.
Still, even without knowing if there will be a 2011-12 season, we can make some pretty good estimations as to what holes teams need to fill and which players they should target.
The 2011 free agency class pales in comparison to what was available last summer, but there are still quite a few very capable players who will be looking to relocate.
Let's take a look at what each team's biggest need is, and some goals they should reach for this summer.
The Hawks are in a bit of a difficult spot in that their current group of players need to advance deep into the playoffs at some point in the near future. Their nucleus of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford is under contract until at least 2013, but if they don't show they can win before then, the organization might just decide to blow the whole thing up and start over.
Atlanta can help its cause by picking up an efficient scorer in free agency. The team is currently 24th in the league in scoring at 96.4 PPG, and while their field-goal percentage of 46.3 isn't bad, it could be better. They're only giving up 95.5 PPG, so the key for them is to get better offensively.
With Johnson, Smith and Horford taking up nearly 43 shots per game, they'll need someone who can put up points while hitting a high percentage of their attempts.
They could do this by taking a look at Wilson Chandler or Arron Afflalo. Now, both of those men are restricted free agents, so it might be somewhat tricky to get them.
Either one would help offset the potential loss of Jamal Crawford, however, and Chandler could even be put into the starting lineup in place of Marvin Williams, who might be more effective off the bench.
Afflalo also plays shooting guard just like Crawford, although he might not be thrilled about assuming a backup role behind Johnson since he's grown accustomed to starting for Denver.
Either way, getting someone who can put up points efficiently should be a top priority for Atlanta.
Does the Kendrick Perkins trade make sense to anyone yet? Since the Celtics have been in two of the last three Finals, and would probably have been in three-straight if not for their injuries in 2009, I suppose we need to give management the benefit of the doubt.
Still, it's not quite adding up yet. They supposedly weren't willing to pay Perkins what he wanted (he's a free agent after this season), but they got two guys in Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green who are also set to hit free agency after this year.
Sure, they have Shaq next season, but he can hardly make it through a month without getting hurt. It's really not clear how that move helps them now or in the future.
What the C's need to do, then, is find themselves a center this summer. Maybe they believe they can re-sign Krstic and that he'll be the answer. Or maybe they're looking at Tyson Chandler, Nene Hilario or Marc Gasol as the guys they'd like to bring in.
Whatever they do, they'll need to find someone at the position who is ready to play at a championship level immediately. Their window with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (who might not even be with the team next year) is going to close awfully fast.
A center who is ready to pick up where Perkins left off and keep this team among the elite is mandatory.
While Gerald Wallace was certainly having a down year for the Bobcats, he was nonetheless a huge piece in whatever success they had. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, Wallace averaged 17.4 PPG, hit 48 percent of his shots and got to the free-throw line nearly seven times a game.
That's a lot to replace.
Maybe the 'Cats feel they can find someone in this year's draft to fill that void, although this isn't considered a particularly strong draft class. They could still use the picks they acquired from Portland in the Wallace deal to move up, though, or they could look to free agency to replace their former star.
If they do decide to go the free agency route, they will then have to decide if they'd like to go young or get someone with experience.
If they want someone with youth, they can extend an offer to Nick Young, Shannon Brown or maybe even J.R. Smith. If they're looking for someone with veteran status, perhaps they'll go after Jason Richardson or Caron Butler.
How much any of these moves would help the team is up for debate.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: No team is winning an NBA Championship with Keith Bogans as their starting 2-guard. It's just not happening.
Luckily for Chicago, Bogans' contract is non-guaranteed next year, so the team can cut bait with him this summer. Then they can set their sights on someone who can put them over the top and into the Finals.
Now who could that be?
They could go after Arron Afflalo or J.R. Smith, but the most tantalizing opportunity would come if Ray Allen opts out of his contract with Boston and decides to test the free-agency waters. If that does happen, the Bulls should pull out all the stops in convincing him to reside in the Windy City.
How good would a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Allen, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah be? Good enough for a championship I say.
If the Bulls were able to pull that one off, they would probably have to be considered the favorites for the title next season.
Heck, they might even be the odds-on favorite if they can get someone at shooting guard who can hit more than 39 percent of his shots.
Will any free agents even want to sign with the Cavs? There can't be many guys who are just dying to team up with J.J. Hickson and Christian Eyenga, right?
Cleveland will probably have to settle for overpaying an average-to-below-average player like the Nets had to do with Travis Outlaw last year.
The new CBA is going to look to eliminate such contracts, but there will always be teams willing to give too much money to players who aren't deserving of it.
Unless Byron Scott and Co. can map out a grand future plan and use it to convince free agents that Cleveland will one day be the place to be, the team is going to have severe difficulties in attracting players.
They'll be better off building through the draft and trying to work out some trades.
Dallas was surprisingly quiet at the trade deadline being that their window is rapidly closing. Most of their major contributors are aging and they only have six current players under guaranteed contracts for next season.
So what do they do? Do they try to re-sign their free agents, or do they go after younger guys?
If they do go after players with youth, are they sure they can help the team win a championship while Dirk Nowitzki is still playing at this level?
The future is certainly cloudy for the Mavs, and their main need is to find a way to stay competitive.
Now that the Nuggets have rid themselves all of the circus that was Carmelo Anthony, they'll need to focus on retaining their key contributors.
J.R. Smith is an unrestricted free agent, Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo are restricted free agents, and Nene has an early termination option on his contract.
Maybe one of the reasons the Nuggets wanted Timofey Mozgov was so they could let Nene walk. Even so, losing Smith, Chandler and Afflalo would not be desirable.
Smith is a bit of a headcase, so maybe they're OK with letting him walk, but they shouldn't want to lose Chandler and Afflalo, especially since they just got their hands on Chandler.
As George Karl attempts to reinvent the team in a fashion that will allow them to get defensive stops, keeping those two, who both put in effort on the defensive end, should be a priority.
In Denver's favor, they get first dibs on both Chandler and Afflalo. What happens with Smith and Nene is a different story.
Due to their plethora of combo-guards, the Pistons have been forced to play Tracy McGrady at the point. How's that worked out?
Detroit is a complete mess right now and apparently only six of their current players actually want to be on the team. This doesn't bode well for them in attempting to attract free agents, and to make matters worse, there aren't any really great point guards set to hit free agency this summer.
They could go after Aaron Brooks, but he's the same type of player as every other guard on the roster. The only real option in terms of a true, proven point guard would be Andre Miller, and even if Portland lets him go it's unlikely he would want to play for the Pistons.
The team would probably be best off hoping they can snag Kyrie Irving in the draft.
The Warriors have a young group of players (the average age of their starters is 25) who appear to have some serious talent.
What they could use, then, is a veteran. Someone with playoff experience who would help push them into the postseason. To do this, they might want to consider bringing back Jason Richardson.
If they did so, they could put him at small forward, where he could take advantage of Monta Ellis' drives to the basket. That would give Golden State two players in Richardson and Stephen Curry completely capable of knocking down open shots and making defenses pay dearly for collapsing on Ellis.
It would also enable the Warriors to make Dorell Wright a backup—a role in which he'd be more effective.
Sitting at third in the league in scoring with 105.8 PPG, the Rockets clearly don't need any help putting the ball in the basket. Their problem is that they also give up 105.1 PPG, and that number will likely get worse now that Shane Battier is playing in Memphis.
Unless Hasheem Thabeet can suddenly develop and become the shot-blocking presence he was at UConn, the Rockets will need to look outside the organization to find some defensive help.
The status of Yao Ming is completely up in the air and he might retire. Even if he does decide to play, there's no guarantee that Houston would re-sign him, and with Brad Miller nearing the end and Chuck Hayes playing out of position at center, perhaps that is the spot they should look to fill.
In terms of looking for someone in the middle who can play defense, Tyson Chandler, Kendrick Perkins and even Samuel Dalembert will be available this summer.
Perhaps the Rockets will look to sign one of them.
Indiana can score and is certainly a team on the rise. They have a good shot to make the playoffs this year, although they would likely be ousted in the first round. It takes time for teams to mature and take that next step, and the Pacers can help themselves out by acquiring a shooting guard who can score.
With Mike Dunleavy out, the team is currently using a rotation of Dahntay Jones and Brandon Rush at the 2, and Dunleavy's contract is coming off the books this summer.
According to 82games.com, Indiana is being outscored by 2.1 PPG at the shooting guard position, making the need obvious. If Ray Allen does become a free agent, they could try to lure him to Indiana, but, if there's even a chance of him leaving Boston, he'd want to go to a team able to win a championship right now, not in a few years.
Others options include J.R. Smith, Jason Richardson, Arron Afflalo, Jamal Crawford and Shannon Brown. Getting one of them might be able to help the Pacers advance in the postseason.
Believe it or not, the Clippers actually have something good going on here. That may mean that the end of days is near and the world will end before they're able to do anything with it, but, for now, it's not so bad to be a Clippers fan.
In order for the team to continue the upward trend, they'll need to find a small forward—a position from which they're getting absolutely no production.
They might be able to fill that need in the draft, or they could look to sign someone like Caron Butler or Thaddeus Young.
Whatever they do, it appears the Clippers finally have a chance at long-term success.
At some point the Lakers will obviously need to start looking toward the future, but for right now they are fully in Win Now mode. They'll need to get younger at point guard in the coming years, but they still have Derek Fisher under contract for at least one more season and Steve Blake for the next three.
One of the sore spots for L.A. has been small forward with Ron Artest.
Artest was supposed to be the defensive stopper who would take tons of pressure off Kobe Bryant, but it just isn't working out right now. Artest has slipped defensively and has been awful on offense.
And herein comes Shane Battier.
The Lakers could either choose to keep Artest as a backup or find a way to trade him (we all know someone would do it), which would allow Battier to step in at the starting small forward spot.
Battier is one of the best defenders in the league, is extremely intelligent—meaning he'd have no problem picking up the triangle offense—and can score efficiently when called upon.
With Battier on board, the Lakers just might be able to make a couple more runs at a title.
Memphis has the small forward position on lock with Rudy Gay, but they face the potential of losing their other two frontcourt starters, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, in free agency this summer.
The Grizzlies could avoid this by re-signing their own guys, or they could keep one and let the other walk, or try to fill both spots with other players.
While no one knows exactly what the Grizzlies will do, we do know where they need to look.
The Heat have seven players under guaranteed contracts for next season and not one of them is a point guard.
When LeBron James is on the floor this is not a problem. He can handle the duties of scoring and distributing whenever he's out there.
When he has to take his necessary breathers throughout the game, however, that will be an issue. The team needs someone who can help out Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and whoever else they're handing out minutes to during these instances.
If Portland lets Andre Miller go, he would seem like a perfect fit. If not, perhaps Miami will look to re-sign Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers.
Milwaukee is a pretty solid defensive team. They give up only 92.9 PPG (fourth in the league) and hold teams to a 44.6 field-goal percentage (seventh overall). The problem is that, at a measly 91.4 PPG, they are the worst scoring team around.
If they could get J.R. Smith to play under control and to his potential, he might actually be a pretty good fit for the team and could certainly push the pace along with Brandon Jennings.
They could also go after Caron Butler. Butler's production has gone down some in Dallas, but in his last three full years with Washington he scored around 20 PPG and was pretty efficient in doing so.
Maybe a change of scenery would help Butler which would in turn help the Bucks get their offense together.
Scoring 101.3 PPG is good, but it isn't enough when you're allowing a league-worst 107.4 PPG.
Now, we can look at Darko Milicic's stats and see that he's averaging over two BPG, which could tell us that he's a phenomenal shot-blocker, or that the T-Wolves perimeter players allow too much penetration which gives him so many opportunities to swat away shots.
Being that they give up so many points, the evidence points to the latter theory. Minnesota could offer Shane Battier a ton of money and hope that his preparation, work habits and intensity rub off on the younger players, or they could look elsewhere.
No matter what, they need to find a way to shore up the defense.
While it was undoubtedly one worth taking, the Nets took a huge risk in trading for Deron Williams. If they can get him to sign an extension the move is genius and they'll be relevant again before long.
If, however, they're unable to keep him, they'll look incredibly foolish, and the only way they'll be able to sell him on staying with the team is if they bring in some very good, or great, players.
Being that they have some extra draft picks, New Jersey could look to do this through trades, or they could delve into free agency and make some smarter moves than giving Travis Outlaw a five-year, $35 million deal.
Zach Randolph or David West—if he's available—would be good choices, or they could go younger and get an efficient scorer like Wilson Chandler or Arron Afflalo.
Whatever it takes to keep this man in town.
It's a different circumstance because Paul has been with the Hornets his entire career, but the team faces the same crisis the Nets do with their point guard.
Paul can opt-out of his contract after next season, and since he supposedly wants to join Carmelo and Amar'e in New York, there seems to be a good chance he will.
The only way for New Orleans to prevent this is to get some talent on the team, and it doesn't help that they might lose David West this summer.
The Hornets also have only five players who are guaranteed to be on the team next year, so there's really no telling which positions they'll look to fill. All that really matters is that they find a way to make Chris Paul want to stay on the team.
The Knicks already have at least four positions locked down for next season, and if they play every game like they did against Miami Sunday night they're clearly in very good shape.
The only issue—or non-issue depending on how you look at it—is that they have just six players under guaranteed contracts heading into next year.
There are far too may players to list that could entice the Knicks, but one glaring hole could be center, as Ronny Turiaf has a player-option on his deal after this season.
New York doesn't really need a dominant 5, they just need someone who can protect the rim and put the ball in the basket when needed.
If Oklahoma City lets him get away, Kendrick Perkins would seem to be a good fit, or they could go after someone like Nene Hilario or Tyson Chandler.
The right move could put them over the top.
Everyone in the NBA should be terrified about how good the Oklahoma City Thunder will be in the coming years if they can keep Kendrick Perkins along with gaining some more playoff experience this season.
The only thing OKC was lacking was some interior toughness, which the acquisition of Perkins immediately fixed.
There's really nothing else to say about this team. They have all their other players right where they need them contract-wise, so the only thing left to do is make sure they're able to hold onto Perkins for the long haul.
What else is there to say? The Magic need to appease Dwight Howard, and being that they're already locked into over $74 million in contracts for next season it's going to be hard to do.
Free agency might not be the place to look, and their only option might be to pull off some fantastic trade.
This whole situation must be bringing up terrible flashbacks for Magic fans when they think about Shaquille O'Neal.
What Philadelphia decides to do with the team this summer will largely depend on whether or not they believe Evan Turner will eventually warrant his No. 2 overall status.
He hasn't lived up to his draft position by any stretch of the imagination this year, but perhaps the Sixers believe he'll figure it out. If that's the case, their emphasis will likely be on re-signing their free agents and filling in some of their backup positions.
If they don't think Turner will pan out, shooting guard should be their top priority, as they have the other positions filled with good players and have first dibs on their key free agents (they're restricted).
The Suns' plans this summer will be completely determined by what happens with Steve Nash.
If Phoenix keeps him, they'll have to sign some guys that can make the team a championship contender right now, and if they do indeed trade him away, the only thing that would make sense is for them to bring in young guys with potential and try to rebuild the franchise.
Until the Nash situation is resolved and we know for sure what the team is going to do, there's really no clear answer as to what they should do in free agency.
It doesn't appear that the Blazers will have much flexibility in terms of cap-space, so the only real option they have is to stay the course with their current roster. Either that or make some trades.
Being that they just brought in Gerald Wallace, it seems as though they're going to try to get it done with the team as-is.
If Brandon Roy can stay healthy from here on out, their chances of being a legit contender increase exponentially, and if the same can be said of Greg Oden then the league should look out.
Portland does have a good amount of money coming off the books in the summers following this one, so if they're going to attack free agency, then would be the time.
Much like Golden State, Sacramento has a roster littered with young players. That's all well and good, but it helps to have some veteran guys who can show the youngsters the ropes and maybe help DeMarcus Cousins grow up a little bit.
The Kings are going to have a ton of cap room this summer, so they should be able to attract some free agents if they're willing to spend the money.
At 14-43, the Kings are still many years away from being a good team again, so it can never hurt to bring in players who have been around the league and can help the young guys grow.
When was the last time the Spurs made a bad move or brought in a player who didn't eventually produce for the team?
Exactly. No one can tell San Antonio what to do because they already know exactly how to go about their business.
While Tim Duncan being near the end of his career is certainly a big issue for the team, I have no doubt that they already have a plan in place to keep winning.
Until the Spurs start making bad personnel moves, I will just let them do their thing.
Allowing opponents to hit 48.3 percent of their shots will not win you many games, and the Raptors are finding this out the hard way.
Toronto scores at a decent rate (98.9 PPG on 46.6 percent shooting), but that defense is atrocious.
This team needs to get some guys with heart, who won't let opposing players go to the rim with ease and who will put up a fight.
Then again, will anyone even want to sign with Toronto?
With the resignation of Jerry Sloan and the surprise departure of Deron Williams, signs point to a rebuilding project in Utah.
The Jazz don't normally spend a lot of money on free agents anyway, and with young players who need to go through some growing pains in Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, Utah will probably hope the team can eventually come together.
They can also use the draft picks they acquired from New Jersey to help the cause by either trading up or selecting some good players in the coming years.
Even though the Wizards have some players with potential, they face a very steep uphill battle in regaining respectability.
This will start with keeping one of their biggest bright spots in Nick Young.
In his fourth year in the league, Young is averaging 17.8 PPG while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40.3 percent on threes.
Depending on how JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche develop, the Wiz could actually have have four positions locked down for the future with John Wall and Young also on board.
Luckily for Washington, Young is a restricted free agent, so they should have a good chance at keeping him so long as no one else ponies up a ridiculous offer for him.