NBA Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics at Crossroads, New Jersey Nets Need Stars

Eitan RosenbergContributor IJuly 5, 2011

With the lockout now in place, there should be some dead time for NBA articles and fans to get their fix.  Still, once that lockout ends, GMs and executives will be quick on the trigger finger to make some moves. 

Thus, it does seem appropriate to go division by division and speak about what the teams' executives should do once that lockout ends in preparation for next season and beyond.


Boston Celtics (56-26 in 2010-2011)

The Boston Celtics are coming off a disappointing postseason run which really magnified their main issues: a lack of a post presence and defensive enforcer.

That is what many "experts" may lead you to believe.

Before we get to that Jeff Green trade which many believe exposed the aforementioned weaknesses since it meant unloading defensive giant Kendrick Perkins, let us straighten out a few items. 

First, the season before, Boston lost in a seventh game to the L.A. Lakers, despite being ahead for most of that contest.  The real reason they lost, however, was not because Perkins was not in the contest—in fact, Rasheed Wallace performed quite well in his place.  The team lost because of a lack of depth at the wings.

Yes, if you re-watch that Game 7 you will see that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were clearly gassed with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter.  The team was clearly lacking a backup wing who could spell the future Hall of Famers for a good 20-25 minutes through the contest.  Boston addressed that issue this past deadline with the addition of Jeff Green.

OK great, so now they had a backup wing: Why did they still lose to Miami in the past playoffs?

If you watched the Celtics play towards the end of the 2010-2011 season and against Miami in the second round in particular, you'll note that the team simply lost due to a lack of firepower offensively. 

Truth is Pierce, Allen and KG (though improved) were not enough to match up with the Big Three of Miami and Rajon Rondo seemed more of a weakness on the offensive end with his still-atrocious jump shot.

If it is true (and I believe it is) that the playoffs expose your greatest weaknesses, Boston's was a lack of pure offense in there with the main culprit not being the disappearance of Perkins from the lineup, but the overall play and skill set of Rondo.

So what can Boston do?

I don't feel Boston can rebuild right now appropriately.  Should they rebuild isn't even the question; it is more of can they rebuild. 

Yes, Garnett and Allen may come off the books after next season, but what about Pierce?

Pierce is on the books until 2014.  He was already part of some atrocious Boston teams to start his career and has recently been part of a team that could make deep postseason runs.  Boston was a 56-win team and really isn't as far off from contention just yet if they can make the right moves and get a bit younger.

A full-fledged rebuild seems too difficult for Boston to assemble anyhow with the current roster in place.  It would make more sense to ensure a roster that could contend as long as Pierce is a Celtic.

Here's how.

Rajon Rondo is still a very valuable commodity and should be able to net a better option at point guard for the current unit and more youth and depth in a deal.

Obviously the new CBA may restrict certain rules, but the following scenario is plausible under the current/old CBA.

San Antonio, another team at a crossroads, seems opting for the rebuilding path (Parker had been mentioned in trade scenarios).  Boston should be able to work out a trade with San Antonio which nets the Celtics Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and perhaps a future pick from the Spurs.  San Antonio gets much younger at point and can better rebuild under that scenario. 

Meanwhile, Boston can accumulate depth and get a more offensive-minded point guard in Parker who will allow the team to further contend in the next several years.

We're not done.

I still feel Boston needs even more if they were going with such a venture and considering their ownership does seem willing to spend the money, they should go all out.

Looking at the Atlanta Hawks, the team seems willing to rebuild and orchestrate the roster around Al Horford at power forward. 

They may regret the Joe Johnson signing last offseason since it does seem the team's better path is to now rebuild.  With that being the case, it would seem plausible to try and work a Allen-for-Johnson swap.

Before you Hawks fans scream, just note that Johnson's deal ends in 2016 where his salary tops out at $25.89 million.  Meanwhile, Ray's contract expires after next season.

The Celtics would need to fill some key reserve roles for cheap if they were to go with such a scenario, but they have done that in the past with some success.  If the team is able to retain most of the same veteran reserves as last season, there is no reason to believe the below roster couldn't be in the title hunt for another three to four years to come:

Starters: J. O'Neal/ Garnett/ Pierce/Johnson/Parker.

Key reserves: Davis/ Green/ Splitter/West.

This is all of course dependent on the notion that ownership is still willing to spend and that the new CBA does not come with a hard cap.  Otherwise, please ignore the last five paragraphs.


New York Knicks (42-40 in 2010-2011)

You couldn't really expect Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire to click immediately.

Yes, the Miami Heat took some time acclimating their talents with one another, but New York's current star duo may need a little bit more time than the Heatles.

Carmelo and Amar'e are not only both used to being their respective team's No. 1 options offensively, but they tend to be more ball-stoppers on the offensive end.  They are both veterans and do understand that if they are able to spread their offense out accordingly that they will eventually be successful.  That aspect will come with experience.

New York is playing the "star" game in that they are simply waiting for the next crop of free agents to pop out and join the aforementioned duo in hopes of contending.  Since that is their plan, what would they do this current offseason to at least have a better building block and selling point as a solid franchise to join for prospective free-agent X?

The team still has holes at center, shooting guard and backup point.  Overall, the Knicks could also use more shooting to help spread the floor for Stoudemire and Anthony.

The one, lonely, valuable commodity that does seem available in any Knick deal may be Landry Fields.

Fields was extremely valuable before the New York Knicks trade, but then saw his value plummet once 'Melo came to the Big Apple.

The Knicks could orchestrate a deal which sends almost all of the current expiring contracts and  other smallish deals (guys like Mason Jr., Douglas, Williams, Balkman and Turiaf) along with Fields to Cleveland to snag starting center Anderson Varejao and backup point guard Ramon Sessions.

The Knicks would have a fairly depleted roster, but should be able to fill in the gaps with veteran free agents (guys like Troy Murphy, Damien Wilkins, Marquis Daniels, Chris Johnson) and use their MLE on a solid starting 2-guard such as Aaron Afflalo.

Yes, the works of such a trade seem pretty implausible, but why would Cleveland not want to revamp their future 2-guard slot while giving up longer deals?

Meanwhile, the Knicks should be in contention for a top-three seed in the East, enough to make at least the second round of the playoffs and become more of a selling point for free-agent point guard Chris Paul in 2012.


Philadelphia 76ers (41-41 in 2010-2011)

The Sixers finished last season at .500 and are still looking for what the future identity of the roster should be.  Here's a helpful hint:

With the 2012 draft poised to be one of the better ones in recent memory, it may behoove the Sixers to look and deal Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand now, especially after a solid 2010-2011 campaign from both of them.

Who is willing to take on over $28 million in salary?

Why the Orlando Magic, of course.  One of the most desperate general managers and teams overall in the league right now has to be the Magic.  With Dwight Howard not making a commitment to the Magic long term and with GM Otis Smith's job on the line, it would make sense to take advantage of the entire scenario from Philly's point of view.

A deal that could work in principle for both clubs would be Iguodala and Brand for Gilbert Arenas, JJ Redick, Brandon Bass and at least two future unprotected first-round picks (one in 2012, and one in 2014 may be ideal because if Orlando loses Dwight, that pick could be in the lottery).

Yes, the Sixers end up landing Arenas, but they should be able to at least collect future picks and valuable rotational pieces in Redick and Bass off such a trade.

Orlando would be in all-out competitive mode with a lineup that features Nelson/Iggy/Turkoglu/Brand/Howard.

Such a lineup should contend for the East and at least give Howard the belief that management is trying to field a contender for him to stay.

The Sixers, meanwhile, go back to their young and athletic ways of several years ago and are able to plop ample minutes for second-year player Evan Turner and surround him with a nice shooter long term in Redick.  The other key to the trade is opening up minutes at the 4 for Thad Young and allowing the young team to properly develop while gearing towards the future.


New Jersey Nets (24-58 in 2010-2011)

I wouldn't call the New Jersey Nets desperate in 2011-2012, but they are certainly in the "high-risk/high-reward" market.

The team's main goals involve two pending free agents in 2012: Deron Williams and Dwight Howard.

Ownership seems willing to spend money on a highly touted free agent and wants the Nets to be contenders once they make the final move to Downtown Brooklyn.  New Jersey needs to field a team that is competitive next season, but still has ample cap space to land Howard and hopefully retain Williams long term.

Options do exist for the Nets to make a strong push for free-agent forward David West.  While West may allow Williams and the Nets to be competitive for the playoffs, he would likely demand a higher salary than he deserves, one that would be offered by at least the Indiana Pacers.

A better option may be to seek a trade, particularly with the Atlanta Hawks (yes, again).

Josh Smith has been swirled around in trade rumors, and management in Atlanta would like to receive a young center they would allow Al Horford to shift to his more natural position of power forward. 

In doing such a trade, New Jersey could likely unload Travis Outlaw's hideous contract along with Lopez to retain Smith from the Hawks.

Such a move would not only give Williams a nice running mate at the 4, but Smith would come in as a much cheaper and logical option long term.  West may demand $15-plus million a year for at least four to five years.  Meanwhile, Smith is on the books for a rather cheap $25.6 million over the next two years.

Smith also seems like a better fit alongside Williams.  Smith could allow Williams to push the tempo and run the ball more, making for more exciting offensive sets.  Defensively, Smith would keep the Nets competitive as he has a knack for shot-blocking and creating turnovers which would undoubtedly help the Nets moving forward.

As a double bonus, of course, the team is able to unload Outlaw.

To fill in the missing pieces, New Jersey should look for short-term veterans.  At center, Kwame Brown, Joel Pryzbilla, Etan Thomas, Sheldon Williams are all nice rugged bigs that would look better alongside Smith and can give the Nets an added interior defensive presence.

At small forward, New Jersey can take a look at some underrated veteran options at the cheap end like Josh Howard, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Grant Hill, Marquis Daniels, Julian Wright and Mo Evans.

Overall, the team would improve defensively and become more exciting offensively without breaking the bank on a likely overpaid free agent.  This should keep the team in contention for the playoffs and seem more attractive for Deron Williams to stay long term and possibly for Dwight Howard to consider signing in 2012.


Toronto Raptors (22-60 in 2010-2011)

The Raptors are on the right path.

Fresh off a draft in which the team may have drafted the best player with the fifth pick, Jonas Valanciunas, things may be looking better in this international city.

Long term, JV and Bargnani may be sensible for a future power forward/center combination, but what about the contract just handed out to Amir Johnson and promising second-year player Ed Davis?

Toronto should be in the "market or develop" stage.  Either put players in a scenario (by allotting minutes to them and ensuring their lineups make sense for them to succeed) where you can develop them or market them for other teams to make an offer.

Right now, the "market or develop" technique should work for their current starting core.  Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani (despite what new coach Dwane Casey and GM Bryan Colangelo may say) are not necessarily pieces the team believe could be key parts to the future.  Both do have large salaries, so either way it would make sense to play them significant minutes, with the right units to market them to other teams (more in Jose's case) or perhaps develop them (maybe more for Andrea).

The team does have a quandary in regards to Bargnani in particular.  Coach Casey believes Bargnani would be most effective at power forward (he's right), but would need to be paired up with a defensive presence at center who can make up for his shortcomings on the glass and defensive end.  To do this, Toronto management has already said they may look to free agency.

Players like Samuel Dalembert and perhaps Tyson Chandler may be options with the former being a Canadian citizen and the latter having a good relationship with Coach Casey.

Still, in order to sign either one of these defensive stalwarts, the Raptors may need to spend an excess of $10 million per year for at least the next four to five years.  Considering the team just drafted their center of the future in Jonas, this is not a viable option.

Chandler seems far less likely of an option considering the Mavericks just won the title, but perhaps Toronto management could offer Samuel Dalembert a front-loaded, two- to three-year contract that would allow Bargnani to be more of an asset in the short term (perhaps in hopes of trading him) and would still ensure that Jonas is the starting center for the future.

If not, Joey Dorsey and Amir Johnson may be viable options in the short term until Jonas is ready.  Though those are risky options.

A more logical approach may be to look for a trade.  The Raptors, as a rebuilding team, should still be in asset accumulation mode and could use the expiring contract of Leandro Barbosa to perhaps net a future pick.

A team to look at for such an approach is the New Jersey Nets.  With backup combo guard Sasha Vujacic a free agent, it may make more sense to the team to perhaps unload the contracts of Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar for Leandro Barbosa.  The Raptors would also ask for that Houston protected pick as part of the package (that pick is top-14 protected until 2017 when it becomes a second-round pick).

The Nets do not have much use for that pick and it doesn't seem that the Rockets are locks for the playoffs anytime so soon, so in the next few years that pick may not have much value.  Barbosa's expiring deal should also free up an extra $7 million for New Jersey management next summer.

For Toronto, they don't need to worry about cap restraints like the Nets and could end up nabbing a valuable pick down the line via that protected Rockets pick.

Now let us go back to the original quandary on the roster: the logjam at power forward.  If Andrea Bargnani is going to be playing power forward in Toronto, then what will happen with minutes to Amir Johnson and Ed Davis?  One of those athletic big men will need to be traded.

Amir is on the books for another four seasons and would fetch less in a trade than Davis.  On top of that, with Bargnani and Calderon both being fairly weak defenders, it will be necessary for the team to retain their best defensive presence in Johnson, especially under the defensive mind of Coach Casey.

So if Davis is the logical choice to be traded, who or what should Toronto look for?

Again, as a rebuilding team and still without a legit future superstar, the Raptors need to be in the asset-accumulation process.

The team should be looking for future potential that could help in a position of need, like a future draft pick.

A good candidate for such a trade venture would be the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers have loads of cap space and just used their most recent pick to address their need for a combo guard off the bench (George Hill).

If the team were able to also land a nice young power forward on a cheap rookie deal, such as Ed Davis, they would still have their plethora of cap to spend and a nice bright young future in case they did not land a prized free agent.

From Toronto's perspective their ideal scenario would be attaching a bad contract along with Davis (such as Linas Kleiza) and net a nice pick in next year's deep and talented draft.

I think we know what this would lead to.

Davis and Keiza to Indiana for James Posey (expiring contract) and Indiana's 2012 first-round pick should work for both teams.

The Raptors would be adding a nice valuable pick to their likely lottery-bound one, will shed future salary (which again could be used to gain more assets in the following seasons as teams shed cap for hopes of landing a superstar free agent in 2012) and un-web a logjam.

It may sound ugly for the present if you're the Raptors, but the team is just a few solid moves away from assuring an extremely bright future.


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