The First Move Every NBA Team Should Make During 2014 Offseason
The all-important summer of 2014 figures to have a profound impact on the structure of the NBA, as bottom-feeders seek to improve via the draft and contenders hope to re-sign their studs and add key pieces in free agency.
Whether it's the New York Knicks offering Carmelo Anthony a max contract, Carlos Boozer becoming the league's next victim of the amnesty clause or the Indiana Pacers doing everything in their power to re-sign Lance Stephenson, there figures to be plenty of transactions to keep us occupied through the dog days of summer.
But which moves should teams prioritize?
When compiling this list, more weight was given to moves that would help keep teams' key personnel in the fold long-term, so you'll notice several franchises' first courses of action involve re-signing players slated to hit unrestricted or restricted free agency.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of March 23 unless noted otherwise.
Move: Explore small forward market
The Atlanta Hawks are set in terms of frontcourt depth with Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Mike Scott and Pero Antic, but they could use some help on the wing, where DeMarre Carroll and Cartier Martin are the team's only options at the 3.
Enter Trevor Ariza, who fits the mold of the 3-and-D threat that would help the Hawks tremendously on the perimeter.
In his second season with the Washington Wizards, Ariza is averaging a shade under 15 points per game while shooting better than 42 percent from beyond the arc, which is easily a career high. In fact, Ariza ranks third among all small forwards in three-point shooting percentage this year.
And with Kyle Korver already locked in at the 2, Ariza could capably slot in at the 3 and help the Hawks spread the floor even more, bolstering their fifth-ranked three-point shooting attack.
Move: Re-sign Kris Humphries
On the surface, re-signing Kris Humphries sounds almost preposterous. But if you've followed the Boston Celtics at all this season then you're likely aware of how integral the overpaid big man has been to the team's success.
In 62 appearances and 24 starts, Humphries is averaging 8.5 points and 6.2 rebounds while posting a career-best player efficiency rating of 18.5, which is the best mark on the Celtics by more than two points.
Humphries also ranks second among all Celtics in terms of offensive and total win shares. Now, that production is by no means worthy of a $12 million annual salary, but he's proven enough in his first year under Brad Stevens to justify a long-term stay in Boston.
A nice complement alongside Jared Sullinger, Humphries can provide the Celtics with frontcourt stability at a moderate price, particularly with Brandon Bass' unrestricted free agency looming in 2015.
Move: Re-sign Shaun Livingston
The big decision facing the Brooklyn Nets has to do with Paul Pierce's impending unrestricted free agency, but inking combo guard Shaun Livingston to a new deal should be at the forefront of Billy King's mind.
Livingston's play this season has been downright revelatory for a Nets team that's often needed its backup point man to step up in place of the injured Deron Williams.
In fact, Livingston's play was so impactful during stints at point guard that Jason Kidd bestowed the label of starting shooting guard upon him, a move which has helped turn the Nets' season around.
Posting a career-best offensive rating of 111 while shooting better than 47 percent from the field, Livingston has emerged as an integral, selfless piece of Kidd's cohesive offensive unit, one that's caught fire and helped the Nets surge up the Eastern Conference standings.
Move: Make a play for Evan Turner
We know the Charlotte Bobcats have had interest dating back to February's trade deadline.
That's why it makes sense for the Bobcats, who have roughly $44 million on the books for next season, will be able to afford the Indiana Pacers swingman when free agency opens.
However, the Bobcats won't be able to make an unimpeded run at Turner, as he's set to hit restricted free agency this summer. The good news, though, is that Turner hasn't exactly flashed the sort of consistency the Indiana Pacers would have hoped (8.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 15 games).
Also consider the Pacers need to save most of their free cash to secure Lance Stephenson long-term, and Turner could conceivably be heading to his third team in less than a year.
A sensible complement alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson who thrives with the ball in his hands, Turner could finally be given an opportunity to fully flourish under Steve Clifford in Charlotte.
Move: Amnesty Carlos Boozer
As Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher recently reported, it's quite possible the Chicago Bulls could exercise their amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer this summer.
The logic behind the move is simple: Boozer is due $16.8 million next season, according to ShamSports, and paying that much for an aging power forward who's producing at near-career-worst rates on the offensive end while producing a player efficiency rating below the league average is hardly ideal.
Compound Boozer's increasing ineffectiveness with the emergence of Taj Gibson as a more reliable two-way threat at a much more affordable rate ($8 million in 2014-15), and cutting Boozer loose a year early is a no-brainer.
Tom Thibodeau has already shown a penchant for relying on Gibson in crunch time (Gibson plays 5.5 minutes more than Boozer in the fourth quarter on average), and at 28 years old still has room to evolve should be eventually be granted the starting power forward gig.
Move: Re-sign Spencer Hawes
Luol Deng may be the Cleveland Cavaliers' most notable unrestricted free agent this summer, but Spencer Hawes should be the team's top priority when the signing period opens in July.
Since the Philadelphia 76ers dealt Spencer Hawes to the Cavaliers at the trade deadline, Hawes has seamlessly assimilated into Mike Brown's offense, averaging 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting a team-high 41.8 percent from three.
Along with the likes of Channing Frye and Chris Bosh, Spencer Hawes has proven to be one of the league's most reliable stretch 5's, and his ability to score, pass and rebound makes him a particularly lethal weapon in the center of Cleveland's attack.
If the Cavs can re-sign Hawes to anything close to the $6 million he's made over the last two seasons, he'll be a relative bargain for a team that desperately needs more frontcourt versatility.
Move: Re-sign Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki has gone on record saying that he'll "likely re-sign" with the Dallas Mavericks for two or three years, according to Sportando, so there's no reason to believe Mark Cuban won't ink him to a deal that makes him a Maverick for life.
The interesting part, according to ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, is that Nowitzki and the Mavericks will likely agree to a deal that's mutually beneficial to both the team and individual: "Dirk Nowitzki has committed to re-sign and take a “significant pay cut” from his $22.7 million salary. The goal is to give him the best possible chance of competing for another championship during his golden years."
Still lighting up opponents to the tune of .492/.395/.914 shooting splits while averaging better than 21 points, Nowitzki has proven he remains one of the league's most versatile scoring talents even at 35 years old.
Nowitzki will undoubtedly be the Mavs' primary focus when free agency rolls around, but keep in mind the franchise figures to have ample cap space ($31.2 million on the books for 2014-15, per ShamSports) to make a run at other game-changing talents who will help propel Dallas into the title conversation.
Move: Capitalize on New York's lottery pick
After a 2012-13 campaign that saw the Denver Nuggets shoot up the Western Conference standings while winning 57 games, Brian Shaw's club has been an unmitigated disaster during his first year as head coach.
Injuries have stripped the Nuggets of several quality talents, including JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson and Danilo Gallinari, leaving last year's darlings extremely shorthanded.
And while the Nuggets will presumably be getting healthy over the summer, they simply won't have the luxury of adding key pieces. According to ShamSports, the Nuggets have more than $70 million on the books next season if Robinson and Darrell Arthur pick up their player options.
So how can Denver improve? Fortunately, they'll be the recipients of the New York Knicks' lottery pick, which would be a top-10 selection if the season ended today.
Assuming the Nuggets end up with a pick somewhere in the 10-12 range, they'll have a chance to add a top talent in one of the deepest drafts of the last decade.
The good news is that Denver has solid depth across the board (when healthy), so they'll have the luxury of adding the best player available regardless of position.
Move: Let Greg Monroe walk
Joe Dumars' frontcourt experiment has spontaneously combusted as the Detroit Pistons have fallen six-and-a-half games out of the playoffs while possessing one of the more perplexing offenses in the NBA.
At first, pairing Josh Smith with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond felt like a potential game-changer for Detroit, but those thoughts proved to be false and fleeting.
Smith is signed to a gargantuan contract that will pay him $40.5 over the next three years and he's done nothing to dispel common sentiments that his game isn't conducive to efficiency.
Through Sunday, his player efficiency rating sits at a subpar 14.2 while his shooting percentages from mid-range (between 16 feet and the three-point line) and the three-point line clock in at 34.9 and 24.3, respectively.
Meanwhile, Drummond has prospered at center, averaging 13.2 points and 12.8 rebounds, but his accelerated growth figures to make him untouchable moving forward.
Which is where Monroe comes in.
With Smith's contract too unsightly to move and Drummond far too talented to consider trading, Monroe is the only logical option to let walk.
A restricted free agent this summer, Monroe will undoubtedly garner interest from contenders who still see his offensive potential as slightly untapped.
And while it may be a short-term blow for the Pistons to lose one of their frontcourt staples, it's worth noting Monroe is a member of Detroit's worst two-man pairing (minimum 1,000 minutes). According to NBA.com, Drummond and Monroe are producing minus-7.7 points per 100 possessions in 1,385 minutes on the floor together this season.
Golden State Warriors
Move: Re-sign Steve Blake
With four players set to make more than $10 million next season, the Golden State Warriors don't have much financial wiggle room.
But that's just fine, because the Dubs went out and made their big splash last summer in the form of Andre Iguodala.
With their defense established as one of the league's three best, the Warriors will need to help solidify their offense with some cap-savvy moves.
One of those could be the re-signing of point guard Steve Blake, whom the Warriors acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers at this season's trade deadline.
A reliable three-point shooter (38 percent since joining GSW) and willing distributor who figures to come at a team-friendly price as an unrestricted free agent, Blake is the ideal backup for Stephen Curry.
Move: Make a determination on Chandler Parsons' future
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets will have interest in Carmelo Anthony this summer:
Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.
But before Houston can make a run at Anthony, the Rockets have several decisions to make, including a crucial one regarding the future of small forward Chandler Parsons.
As things stand, Chandler Parsons owns a team option for a shade under $1 million next season. The Rockets can go ahead and exercise that, no problem.
However, they'll just be kicking the financial can further down the road. If Parsons is brought back on a team option, he'll then enter unrestricted free agency the following summer, which would potentially be a detrimental loss to a Houston core that's generated tremendous chemistry.
In addition, chasing Anthony may be an unrealistic goal, as the Rockets aren't saddled with the financial flexibility to do so, according to Bleacher Report's Dan Favale:
Chasing 'Melo then becomes a matter of dumping salary.
Truckloads of salary.
Jeremy Lin's and Omer Asik's salaries.
Both players are slated to earn in the $15 million range next season—poison-pill contracts at their finest, folks— but their cap hits account for nearly $8.4 million apiece. In the unlikely event they find takers willing to assume their contracts without sending back anything in return, the Rockets shed an immediate $16.8 million from their ledger, bringing their bottom line to somewhere around $46.4 million.
Given that relative financial inflexibility, acquiring Anthony feels like a long shot. Instead, the Rockets should turn their attention to keeping Parsons in the fold of what could be a very prosperous franchise for the remainder of the decade.
Move: Re-sign Lance Stephenson
The Indiana Pacers don't have an offseason priority more pressing than re-signing Lance Stephenson, the triple-double machine whose value continues to skyrocket with every captivating performance.
Making just a smidgen over $1 million this season, Stephenson, along with Chandler Parsons, is one of the league's greatest bargains.
But make no mistake. Stephenson's going to get paid this summer, and presumably in a big way.
The conundrum for Stephenson, as Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver so eloquently noted, will be deciding if he wants to take a pay cut in order to keep one of the league's most potent starting fives in tact:
That will likely leave Stephenson with one of pro sports’ age-old philosophical choices when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer: Take the money and run, or find a way to make things work with the Pacers. The latter approach could require agreeing to some measure of a hometown discount, as Stephenson should be the second-best shooting guard in free agency (behind Wade, who isn’t exactly available).
According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, rival executives are "predicting Lance Stephenson will be worth between $7 and $9 million per season in a multi year deal this summer," a price tag that could be pushing it for a team that already has just under $66 million on the books next season, per ShamSports.
Stephenson's willingness to be selfless will obviously be a primary determinant here, but the Pacers should try and do everything in their power to retain one of the league's premier two-way shooting guards.
Los Angeles Clippers
Move: Sign a backup center
Concerns over the Los Angeles Clippers' thin depth at center have subsided slightly this season thanks to Doc Rivers' reinvention of DeAndre Jordan.
And while Jordan figures to earn a nice raise thanks to his play this season (career-best offensive and defensive ratings of 122 and 98, respectively), the Clippers will need to find a worthy backup before they embark on an arduous negotiating process (Jordan has one year and $11.4 million remaining on his deal).
Ryan Hollins' contract is set to expire at season's end, and you can't help but wonder how much more well-rounded Rivers' rotation would be with the implementation of a low-post tactician instead of a bruiser.
While the Clippers don't have many glaring needs, finding an upgrade for Hollins would be a nice way to piece together the back end of what's emerged as one of the league's most well-rounded depth charts.
Los Angeles Lakers
Move: Fire Mike D'Antoni
When it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers, what Kobe Bryant says goes. And in this case, head coach Mike D'Antoni isn't going to be too happy with what the Black Mamba is thinking.
According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, Bryant wants a new man at the helm next season: "Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season."
Handing D'Antoni his walking papers makes sense for two reasons, in particular, and they're both personnel related. For one, Bryant wants a regime change, and his opinion is put on a pedestal at the administrative level.
And not only does Kobe want D'Antoni gone, but ridding the Purple and Gold of the 62-year-old would also appease Pau Gasol.
Gasol and D'Antoni have been known to clash regarding the Spaniard's schematic fit in the offense, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted in February: "There might be ongoing disagreement in philosophy with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni—to be expected when D’Antoni came in and so catered to Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Bryant all ahead of Gasol."
Not only that, but Deveney has also reported Bryant has begun lobbying for Gasol's return: "Bryant has let it be known in recent weeks that he would like the Lakers to keep free-agent forward Pau Gasol this summer—a maneuver that can be read as a shot at D’Antoni, with whom Gasol has openly feuded."
With Kobe running the show and the Lakers sitting on ample cap space, firing D'Antoni would jumpstart some key organizational changes.
Move: Sign Ed Davis long-term
Perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies were playing the long game when they traded for Ed Davis last January, because to date he's yet to permanently wedge his way into a prominent role in Dave Joerger's rotation.
After being kicked to the back end of the bench by Lionel Hollins upon arrival, Davis has only averaged 15.6 minutes per game in his first full season with the Grizzlies, 0.5 more than he did in 36 appearances last season.
Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos have made it increasingly difficult for Davis to find a rhythm, but it's hard not to marvel at the explosive potential he possesses, particularly when it comes to the former North Carolina Tar Heel's athleticism.
At 6'10'', Davis is already an imposing presence around the rim thanks to his impressive combination of size and length.
Get this: According to NBA.com, Davis is holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting at the rim, a mark which ranks among the league's top 10 for players averaging better than 15 minutes per game. The mark is also superior to those being posted by Anthony Davis, Serge Ibaka and Joakim Noah, each of whom is considered an elite defensive presence around the rim.
Set to turn 25 this summer, Davis and his gaudy per-36 averages of 13.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks will be worth the investment as he's groomed to become Zach Randolph's successor.
Move: Lock up The Big Three long-term
The biggest story (or what ultimately may amount to a non-story) of the summer will be the ability of the Miami Heat's Big Three to exercise early termination options when free agency begins.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will all be able to opt out of their contracts and pursue new deals, and while they may very well do so, it'd be a shock to see any of them depart South Beach.
In fact, Wade told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson last August he believes Miami's historic trio will remain together beyond the 2013-14 season.
“I have no reason to believe anything else," Wade said. We all love it here. We’re all committed to compete for many, many years to come. Obviously, the business side will take over at one point.”
But why would James and Bosh, in particular, want to restructure their deals? It all comes back to their decision to sign with the Heat in 2010, according to NBA.com's Jeff Caplan:
James and Bosh, both of whom make $17.5 million this season — less than Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol and Amar’e Stoudemire — agreed to sign with Miami for less money to join Wade, who also took less ($17.2 million this season). That made the union possible and gave president Pat Riley the flexibility to put pieces around them.
It's fun to speculate about a Heat team devoid of one of its Hall of Fame-caliber talents, but a parting of the ways doesn't appear to be in any of the players' best interest.
Move: Don't extend a qualifying offer to Ekpe Udoh
According to ShamSports, the Milwaukee Bucks have the option to extend a qualifying offer worth nearly $6 million to Ekpe Udoh this summer.
But doing so would be just another horrendous lapse in judgment by a front office that's made plenty over the last few years.
Udoh has been hampered by knee and ankle injuries all season long, and has seen his minutes hijacked by newcomers Zaza Pachulia and Jeff Adrien in the process. Also consider John Henson remains an integral piece of Milwaukee's frontcourt rotation, and Udoh is clearly the odd man out.
With the Bucks in need of as much financial flexibility as possible moving forward, keeping Udoh at such a lofty price would be an indefensible move.
Move: Sign a quality perimeter defender
The Minnesota Timberwolves' offense has all of the weapons necessary to be considered a playoff contender.
And on paper, the Timberwolves look like a rock-solid squad, ranking among the league's top 12 in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency.
However, dig deeper and you'll see Minnesota ranks last in opponent's field-goal percentage, 27th in opponent's effective field-goal percentage and 19th when it comes to defending the three.
But with the Timberwolves cash-strapped and locked into a shade over $66 million in salaries for next season, they won't be able to make a considerable splash when July rolls around.
One solution to the teams' defensive woes, though, could be Shawn Marion, who's set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer.
According to Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster, Marion could provide a contender with a reliable and diverse defensive presence:
Marion has lost a step, but he's still capable of defending multiple positions very well and finishing in transition with that little floater.
Marion could be an extremely valuable weapon off the bench for a team with scoring options, even though he'll be turning 36 this offseason.
Soon to be 36 years old and accompanied by a slightly lower price tag, Marion could be a crafty under-the-radar acquisition.
New Orleans Pelicans
Move: Attempt to trade Eric Gordon
The New Orleans' Pelicans rapid transformation from Western Conference also-rans to perceived playoff contenders hasn't panned out the way general manager Dell Demps would have liked.
Injuries have ravaged a core comprised of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, meaning we still haven't seen what the new-look Pelicans' ceiling looks like.
That said, Year 1 of the rebrand has been painfully difficult, with the Pelicans' defense ranking 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions.
And one of the biggest defensive liabilities? That would be Gordon, whose defensive rating of 113 grades out as the third-worst on a team that's largely inept on that end of the floor.
Still a capable scorer (15.4 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting from the field and 39.1 percent shooting from three), Gordon has value. Just not to the Pelicans.
With Evans, Holiday, Davis and Anderson all in need of touches, Gordon and the $30.4 million of remaining salary on his contract are a better fit elsewhere.
In fact, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, the Pelicans looked to ship Gordon out of the Big Easy at the trade deadline, but were unable to find any suitors.
Hopefully the story will be different for New Orleans this summer.
New York Knicks
Move: Offer Carmelo Anthony a max contract
With Phil Jackson officially in tow, the pressure will be on the Zen Master and the New York Knicks front office to keep Carmelo Anthony in the Big Apple for five more years.
The good news is Anthony has already gone on the record saying he wants to maintain a working relationship with the Knicks, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger:
"I was hoping that I would be part of the future plans," Anthony said before the Knicks played the Pacers. "I never once said that I wanted to leave New York or anything like that. The only thing I said was I'm going to dabble and try the free agency out, that I was going to opt out and become a free agent. ... I'm excited about the opportunity to hopefully work with Phil."
While Anthony would undoubtedly have a better chance of achieving immediate success in a new landing spot like Houston or Chicago, the cash offered from the blue and orange suits at Madison Square Garden may be too good to pass up.
Remember, the Knicks can offer Anthony a fifth year of contractual security and an extra $30 million if he chooses to remain in New York, cash that's too tempting to pass up.
With mutual interest and financial factors working in Jackson's favor, the Knicks should do the sensible thing and grant Anthony the max contract he deserves.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Move: Let Thabo Sefolosha hit the open market
How much do the Oklahoma City Thunder value Thabo Sefolosha's services? With the defensive stopper set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, that's a question we'll soon have an answer to.
The problem for Sefolosha, according to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry, is that the Thunder's cap number is growing by the year, not to mention the team may have other priorities to address this offseason:
Restricting the Thunder's flexibility, though, will be rising salaries on current contracts of Westbrook, Durant, Perkins and the remaining players still on smaller, more affordable rookie scale contracts.
The Thunder also has a more pressing deal to try to get done with Reggie Jackson, a rising star who is eligible for an extension on July 1.
A valuable defensive commodity whose offensive contributions have always been thought of as an added bonus, Sefolosha figures to be expendable given the emergence of Jeremy Lamb and the potential re-signing of Caron Butler on a team-friendly deal.
Move: Sever ties with Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson has been a member of the Orlando Magic for the entirety of his professional career, but it may be in both parties' best interest to part ways.
Although Orlando remained strangely quiet at this year's trade deadline, Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler reported back in February the Magic's silence was planned, with long-term organizational structure in mind:
The Magic could and likely will change course as the deadline and the offers get real, but don’t be surprised if Orlando sits out the trade deadline and makes their moves around the draft to jockey for better position or to swap veterans for better fitting rookie scale players.
If we're to believe Kyler, then Nelson and his partially guaranteed contract may be walking out the door this summer.
Nelson's financial situation may give Orlando pause (only $2 million of the $8 million team option is guaranteed, per Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling), but with the franchise looking for its point guard of the future, keeping Nelson around could conceivably stunt the young core's growth in the short-term.
Move: Set draft board, strike gold in NBA draft
It's crazy to think about, but the 2014 NBA draft lottery may be the most important moment in Philadelphia 76ers franchise history since the team reached the 2001 NBA Finals.
Mired in mediocrity for more than a decade, the Sixers abandoned basketball purgatory and sought to reinvent themselves like no franchise before, setting new benchmarks for historic futility in the process.
But in the long run, it's for the best.
As of this writing, the Sixers own the second-best odds of obtaining the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Not only that, but they're likely to find themselves owners of the New Orleans Pelicans' lottery pick (via the Jrue Holiday blockbuster), which would most likely wind up being the 11th overall pick if the season ended today.
With the odds in their favor, the Sixers have to be salivating at the talent they can add. In need of a dynamic, go-to scorer on the wing, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker would each be natural fits in Philadelphia.
Where things get really interesting is further down in the lottery, where the Sixers will be able to add another wing talent or a key frontcourt cog.
Consider this: The Sixers may not only snag the draft's premier perimeter talent, but they'll have the ability to set their sights on a name like Noah Vonleh, Rodney Hood or Gary Harris.
And don't forget: General manager Sam Hinkie has loaded the Sixers up with five second-round picks, two of which are projected to fall within selections 31-40.
Move: Re-sign Eric Bledsoe
Saddled with three first-round draft picks and ample cap room, the Phoenix Suns could be one of the biggest players in what's setting up to be a momentous summer of moving and shaking.
Examining the Suns' roster, there are two clear positions of need: small forward and center.
And while signing star attractions like Luol Deng and Pau Gasol may emerge as priorities down the line, the Suns absolutely need to lock up guard Eric Bledsoe no matter the price.
The good news is that Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is committed to keeping Bledsoe in the family, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:
"Obviously we don't have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don't have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him."
Whatever it takes?
"Correct," McDonough said. "Any reasonable offer."
In the midst of a breakout season averaging 17.4 points, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals alongside running mate Goran Dragic, Bledsoe has the Suns' future looking tremendously bright at a time when prognosticators believed they would be vying for the draft's No. 1 pick.
Portland Trail Blazers
Move: Sign LaMarcus Aldridge to a multi-year extension
Following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, LaMarcus Aldridge will have one year remaining on his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.
But given Aldridge's tremendous campaign, the most sensible move for both sides would be to move towards a contract extension before either side can even contemplate his impending free agency in 2015.
And according to a January column from the Portland Tribune's Kerry Eggers, Aldridge would have no problem discussing a new contract: "I would like to re-sign here," he says. "If they want to talk about it, I would talk about it. They haven't yet, but I'm looking forward to the chance to do that."
The cornerstone of the Blazers' top-ranked offense (in terms of points per 100 possessions), Aldridge possesses a lethal tool power forwards in today's game have abandoned: A potent mid-range jump shot.
Shooting 39.1 percent between 10 and 16 feet and 43.8 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line, Aldridge has helped accelerate Portland's growth and thrust them into the Western Conference title conversation.
San Antonio Spurs
Move: Agree to terms with Patty Mills
The San Antonio Spurs will need to make calls on a trio of key unrestricted free agents this summer, but inking Patty Mills to a long-term deal should be at the top of R.C. Buford's wish list.
Before making any determination on the futures of Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, the Spurs should move quickly to lock up Mills, who's averaging 9.7 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.6 percent shooting from three.
Mills' per-36 numbers paint an even more encouraging picture. Gregg Popovich's backup point guard is averaging 19.1 points and 3.5 dimes per 36 minutes while posting a player efficiency rating of 18.19, which ranks No. 14 among all floor generals, per ESPN.
For context, that PER puts Mills in the same company as Deron Williams, Damian Lillard and Eric Bledsoe and ahead of Jrue Holiday, Kemba Walker, Jeff Teague and Rajon Rondo.
And while he'll certainly garner interest on the open market, Mills would be wise to learn from Gary Neal's mistake of signing with the Milwaukee Bucks and re-up with the Spurs.
Move: Re-sign Isaiah Thomas at all costs
The Sacramento Kings continue to hover around the Western Conference cellar, but the future is looking increasingly bright thanks to the presence of point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Selected with the final pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Thomas has molded himself into a point guard fit for today's NBA. That is, Thomas is a score-first point man who's also a capable passer.
Here's the evidence: This season, four players are averaging at least 20 points and six assists while shooting better than 44 percent from the field. According to Basketball-Reference, those four names are Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Goran Dragic and Thomas.
A restricted free agent at the end of the season, Thomas is the sort of unique talent the Kings can't afford to let walk. Fortunately for Sacramento, there doesn't figure to be a considerable demand for point guards this summer with so many quality floor generals signed to long-term deals.
With perimeter scorers in Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore and DeMarcus Cousins holding down the paint, signing Thomas would allow the Kings to address their underwhelming power forward depth via the draft.
Move: Make a call on Kyle Lowry
Along with Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry figures to be one of the few hot commodities on the point guard market this summer.
Where he winds up, though, is anyone's guess.
Why, you ask? Well according to NBA.com's David Aldridge, the Toronto Raptors are wary of paying Lowry for one season's worth of production:
Which makes GM Masai Ujiri's job all the tougher. The Raptors do not want to give Lowry a big-money contract this summer along the lines of what other point guards who've signed extensions recently: Denver's Ty Lawson (four years, $48 million), Golden State's Stephen Curry (four years, $44 million) or New Orleans' Jrue Holiday (four years, $41 million from Philadelphia).
Averaging career highs of 17.4 points and 7.8 assists while posting a career-best player efficiency rating of 20.1 that ranks sixth among all point guards, per ESPN, Lowry has proven that his two-way talents are among the league's best in the backcourt.
Although the Raptors could conceivably afford to pinch pennies and roll with Greivis Vasquez as their floor general, they'd be sacrificing a tremendous amount of defensive intensity and off-the-dribble scoring.
That may cost a little more than Masai Ujiri likes, but it'll be worth it.
Move: Re-open negotiations with Gordon Hayward
ESPN's Marc Stein reported at the start of the season Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz were unable to come to terms on a four-year contract extension, one that would have prevented the swingman from hitting restricted free agency this summer.
Now, the Jazz will have to duke it out with other interested suitors, although they will be given an opportunity to match any offers that come in for their leading scorer.
Depending on the market, though, Utah may be able to get Hayward at a slightly lower cost than it would have prior to the season, as the former Butler Bulldog's shooting splits have nosedived down to .412/.306/.811 from marks of .435/.415/.827 last season.
That said, Hayward would be a nice perimeter piece to have in the fold as Utah ramps up its rebuilding efforts this summer.
Move: Lock up Marcin Gortat
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Washington Wizards have interest in retaining Marcin Gortat, going so far as to offer him a contract extension this season:
According to the latest whispers out of the nation's capital, Gortat has been presented with the option of signing a contract extension between now and June 30 by the Wizards, who acquired the Polish big man from Phoenix just days before the season started in late October.
The Wizards, though, are apparently resigned to the idea that Gortat will become a free agent July 1 after playing out the final season of his current contract, which is valued at $7.27 million.
The move is one that makes complete sense for the Wizards, who have no viable options to replace Gortat and are in need of a sturdy presence in the middle.
And while we normally don't equate Gortat's style of play with gaudy numbers, there's one statistic of note that we should mention.
According to Basketball-Reference, Gortat is one of three players averaging at least 12.5 points and nine rebounds while shooting better than 53 percent from the field this season. The other two are Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard.
There's nothing flashy about Gortat's game, but his offensive consistency and defensive tenacity (career-best 3.1 defensive win shares this season) have helped make the Wizards one of the league's top-10 defenses.