View Full Version : 8/2 - NBA Insider - Underachievers

08-02-2004, 10:53 AM
Monday, August 2, 2004

Mavs, Grizz and Knicks still have work to do

By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider

The free-agent frenzy is over and a number of high-profile teams have a lot to show for it. With NBA spending at an all-time high and trades going down in frantic pace, there is a growing parity in the league that gives hopes to franchises that have had little to cheer about the past few years.

From Boston to Utah to Orlando and even Cleveland, GMs can stand up credibly after a busy summer and tell fans that hope is on the way.

Unfortunately, not everyone can say that. A number of teams that still need help have done nothing. A few more have made only minor, lateral moves that won't likely affect the win column once the season begins.

With all the focus the past few weeks on what a handful of teams have done in an effort to improve, it's just as instructive to look at what a handful of teams haven't done. A number of teams on the list, including the Grizzlies, Knicks and Hawks, came into the summer with high hopes. With nothing to show for it (yet), is it time to write them off or will they still make a big splash this summer?

Insider takes a look 10 teams that still need a major overhaul this summer. Can the Mavs land Jason Kidd? With the Grizzlies finally get their hands on a big man -- Eddy Curry? Will Isiah Thomas finally make the big move he's been promising? Here's our take.

Dallas Mavericks
Cash remaining: None
Players signed/added: Calvin Booth, Marquis Daniels, Devin Harris, Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, Pavel Podkolzine
Players lost: Danny Fortson (Sonics), Steve Nash (Suns)
Skinny: Are the Mavericks rebuilding? That's the question everyone in the league is asking in the wake of their decision not to match the Suns' six-year, $60 million offer to Steve Nash. With the exception of Booth, all four players the Mavs signed this summer are either rookies or have just one year of experience in the NBA. The team has no money left. They had to spend their mid-level exception to re-sign Daniels and their $1.6 million exception to sign rookie Mbenga.

Where do they go from here? Their one major asset is Antoine Walker. Walker is in the last year of his contract and has received heavy interest from the Knicks and 76ers. The Mavs still need a veteran point guard and some defensive toughness in the paint. Can either team deliver? The Mavs want Samuel Dalembert in any package the 76ers put together -- but there's no way Sixers GM Billy King is going to do that. Dalembert is too valuable. The Knicks are trying to sell the Mavericks on a package that includes Kurt Thomas. The Mavs are interested, but only if they take back Jerry Stackhouse, not Walker, in return.

The most attractive option for the Mavs? Working out something with the Nets. The team is cutting costs like crazy right now and it's evident that Jason Kidd no longer wants to stick around for the rebuilding process. A Walker/Josh Howard/Tony Delk for Kidd and Alonzo Mourning trade works under the cap and would give the Nets more than $20 million under the cap next season -- even if they do re-sign Richard Jefferson.

However, given owner Mark Cuban's sudden fiscal responsibility, is he really willing to swallow the last five years, $85 million of Kidd's contract given his recent knee surgery? Probably not, unless, that is, the Nets also are willing to take back at least one big salary in return. The Nets have a $10 million trade exception and could easily swallow a player like Calvin Booth, Jerry Stackhouse or Tariq Abdul-Wahad in return.

Memphis Grizzlies
Cash remaining: $1.6 million exception
Players added: Antonio Burks, Brian Cardinal, Andre Emmett
Players lost: None
Skinny: Brian Cardinal may be the hardest-working guy in the NBA, but he isn't going to be the player who puts the Grizzlies over the top next season. Jerry West has been looking for a legit big man for the past two seasons but still keeps coming up empty. The Grizzlies were the front-runners to land Erick Dampier in a sign-and-trade earlier in the summer, but the Warriors aren't willing to make a trade, leaving Memphis no real options for Damp.

Late last week the Grizzlies turned their attention to landing a younger, but riskier big man -- Eddy Curry. League sources told Insider this weekend that the Grizzlies and Bulls had discussions about Curry and that GM John Paxson is willing to trade him for the right price. The Grizzlies have a ton of assets to throw at the Bulls, and a trade that would send Bonzi Wells and a re-signed Stromile Swift to Chicago for Curry, Eddie Robinson and Chris Jefferies works under the cap.

Paxson has grown weary of Curry's inconsistency and lack of conditioning. He reportedly showed up at the Bulls' training facility 35 pound overweight two weeks ago -- after vowing to get in the best shape of his career as the season ended. The team is beginning to think that Curry, with all the distractions of living and playing in his hometown, needs a change of scenery to succeed. Getting a combo of Wells (who is in the last year of his contract) and Swift allows the Bulls to save some face.

On the Grizzlies' side of things, Curry has the ability to be a dominant low-post scorer in the league. But does he have the head? The Grizzlies believe that coach Hubie Brown can turn his career around. If Brown can do it (the fact that Curry is in a contract year also provides some motivation) the Grizzlies could move into the top tier in the West. Without Curry or a similar dominant big man on board, the Grizzlies could end up sinking a bit this year given the major improvement of several non-playoff teams in the West.

New York Knicks
Cash remaining: Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: None
Players lost: None
Skinny: Isiah Thomas has been in hot pursuit of every free agent on the planet this summer -- but so far he's come up empty. By now you know about the high-profile attempts to work out a sign-and-trade with the Warriors for Erick Dampier, the Bulls for Jamal Crawford and even the Lakers for Kobe Bryant. All three deals look dead at the moment.

The Warriors are telling everyone that they aren't inclined to take on more salary just to get Dampier more money on the open market. Bulls GM John Paxson is insisting that he won't do a deal with the Knicks unless Thomas takes back Jerome Williams and Eddie Robinson. Paxson wants only expiring contracts and Shandon Anderson back in return. The team has also tried hard to pry away Antoine Walker from the Mavericks to no avail.

On the likely chance that all of Isiah's pursuits fall through . . . what's left Knicks fans? The Knicks still have their mid-level, though it appears they're on the verge of giving three million of it to Vin Baker. It doesn't appear there are any unrestricted free agents out there are worth Isiah's time with the extra $1.9 million he'd have left. The team does have the valuable expiring contracts of Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Frank Williams and Cezary Trybanski to work with, which gives Thomas one shot, if he combined all four players, of taking on a contract worth roughly $10.3 million. The Mavs are also pushing Jerry Stackhouse their way if the Knicks would give up Kurt Thomas in return.

New Jersey Nets
Cash remaining: Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: Rodney Buford, Nenad Kristic, Jacque Vaughn
Players lost: Kerry Kittles (Clippers), Kenyon Martin (Nuggets)
Skinny: I don't think there's much hope, Nets fans. There's talk that help is on the way in the form of free agents Eric Williams and Ron Mercer. But don't kid yourselves. Neither of those players replaces Kittles, let along Kenyon. The Nets are burning down the house and team president Rod Thorn is distraught.

Whether Jason Kidd officially demands a trade is irrelevant. The team needs to trade him this summer if it wants any real chance of cap flexibility down the road. The Nets are already talking about a near-max extension with Richard Jefferson (6 years, $75 million) that puts them right up against the cap next season. Assuming they also re-sign Jason Collins, give Williams the three-year, $11.5 million deal they've been talking about and use some of the first-round picks they got in the Kenyon Martin deal next year, they're likely be over the cap again.

What's the point? Without a legit center or power forward the Nets are no longer championship contenders in the East -- even with a healthy Kidd. As Kidd gets older and his contract keeps escalating by 12.5 percent, their flexibility is gone. The challenge for the Nets isn't whether to trade Kidd, it's whether they can right now. He's coming off knee surgery and might not be able to go by training camp.

Is there an owner out there willing to swallow his deal, send expiring contracts or talented young players back in return with that much uncertainty? The Mavericks are the only team to come to mind (though you have to wonder if they're really interested given the contract they refused to match for Nash). The Nets may have to wait until mid-season, when they can prove Kidd is healthy, to trade him.

It's too bad ownership didn't listen to Thorn before the trade deadline when he advocated moving Kidd to San Antonio for Tony Parker and expiring contracts. Thorn saw the writing on the wall and wanted to give the Nets a shot at keeping Martin. Now, the Spurs wouldn't touch that deal and the Nets are in ruins.

Atlanta Hawks
Cash remaining: $10.7 million
Players added: Josh Childress, Jason Collier, Al Harrington, Josh Smith
Players lost: Michael Bradley (Magic), Stephen Jackson (Pacers), Jacque Vaughn (Nets)
Skinny: A member of the Hawks' ownership group objected to my characterization last week in a chat that the front office was a mess and that the ownership group didn't see eye-to-eye on everything. The information came directly from a number of GMs and player agents who have dealt with the Hawks this summer. However, he rightly pointed out the team has made progress. They've cleared more than $10 million in cap space, hired an up-and-coming head coach in Mike Woodson and made a great trade for Harrington.

Given where the Hawks were last season, those are all improvements. Still, cap space is only meaningful if you use it. The Hawks' excuse is that teams are overpaying for free agents and they don't want to fall into the same trap. It's tough to argue with that premise (I've been railing on teams for overspending all summer) but . . . cap space and a team full of shooting guards and small forwards (they've drafted six in the past two years -- Boris Diaw, Travis Hansen, Childress, Collier, Donta Smith and Royal Ivey) don't win games.

Whatever GM Billy Knight's vision is, so far it includes no bigs and no true point guard (Jason Terry will always be more comfortable at the two) -- a recipe for disaster in the NBA. The team has made two high-profile attempts to land free agents. Both have failed. Kenyon Martin turned his nose up at a max contract with the Hawks, choosing the Nuggets instead. Erick Dampier continues not to commit to the Hawks despite the fact that they're the only team with cap room willing to pay him more than the mid-level exception.

With the free-agent market thinning, the Hawks are running out of options. Damp will always be a possibility as long as a team he actually wants to play for doesn't figure out a sign-and-trade with the Warriors. Stromile Swift could be another option if the Grizzlies don't use him in a sign-and-trade first.

After that, there isn't much left. The Hawks can always try to use their cap space or Jason Terry to facilitate a trade. Short of that, however, the team is on the verge of challenging the Bobcats for worst record in the league next season. That's not exactly the progress I'm sure the new ownership was looking for when it headed into the offseason.

Houston Rockets
Cash remaining: $5.4 million trade exception; Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: Reece Gaines, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, Tracy McGrady
Players lost: Kelvin Cato (Magic), Steve Francis (Magic), Cuttino Mobley (Magic)
Skinny: The Rockets pulled off the second-biggest trade of the summer when they swapped Francis and company for Tracy McGrady. A combo of T-Mac and Yao Ming should easily get the Rockets into the postseason next year. But you don't make a blockbuster trade like this unless your gunning for a championship. To that end, the Rockets still have a couple of major holes to fill. Losing Francis left the team very thin at the point guard position. Lue is a backup and Gaines isn't even that yet.

So far their search for a legit, veteran point has come up empty. They flirted with Eric Snow, Derek Fisher, Brent Barry and even Mike James, but all of them are now somewhere else. There isn't an obvious solution to their problem left on the free-agent market. A guy like Charlie Ward might be serviceable, but he isn't ideal either.

The team also has no depth at center. Yao averaged just 33 mpg last season. Who plays the other 15? The good news is that the Rockets have a huge trade exception and their full mid-level to work with. The bad news is there aren't many bigs on the market (free agent or trade) worth wasting their time on.

Sacramento Kings
Cash remaining: $1.6 million exception
Players signed: Kevin Martin, Greg Ostertag
Players lost: Vlade Divac (Lakers)
Skinny: We're still scratching our heads at the Kings' decision to let Vlade Divac go only to replace him with Greg Ostertag. The Kings cited money concerns at the time, but Insider has learned that the Kings actually guaranteed more money to Ostertag than the Lakers did to Divac. Divac's deal is for two years, $10.3 million, but only $2 million of his contract is guaranteed for his second season, bringing his guaranteed money down to $6.9 million over two years. Ostertag's deal is for two years, $8.8 million.

Maybe it had something to do with Chris Webber's diatribe in the Sacramento Bee where he seemingly called out Divac a number of times for being soft, not lifting weights and not having a serious attitude in the locker room. Webber claims that it wasn't Peja Stojakovic he's was railing on in his post-playoff rant but other players who play like their from the "suburbs."

"It's time to stop playing soft and (like) suburban kids. That's what we play like. We play like we're from the suburbs and the best basketball is played in the city. Everybody knows that."

Webber's list of tough guys? Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby and Darius Songaila. That leaves just one player, Brad Miller, left on the team in CWebb's doghouse. It isn't likely that the Kings will trade Miller, given that he and Ostertag are the only big guys left on their roster. However, Stojakovic and Christie have been offered around the league. If a trade doesn't work, it appears that the team has some serious interest in bringing Nuggets free agent Rodney White into the fold.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Cash remaining: Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: Fred Hoiberg, Troy Hudson
Players lost: None
Skinny: The Timberwolves shook off that first-round playoff hex and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season. Do they have what it takes to go all the way this year? The only player who may not be returning is starting two guard Trenton Hassell. The Blazers gave him a six-year, $27 million offer sheet that may be too rich for the Wolves' blood. Hassell's defensive intensity will be missed, but his loss shouldn't be a major impediment to the Wolves' quest for the Finals.

Still, with so many teams improving in the West, should the Wolves stand completely still? They have their full mid-level exception at their disposal and one very valuable trade asset -- Wally Szczerbiak. The Blazers have been after Wally for a while. A combo of Wally and Michael Olowokandi for Shareef Abdur-Rahim or a combo of Derek Anderson, Vladimir Stepania and a re-signed Darius Miles could help put the team over the top next season.

New Orleans Hornets
Cash remaining: Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: J.R. Smith
Players lost: Robert Traylor (Cavs)
Skinny: Yawn . . . . Once again it's a relatively quiet offseason for the Hornets. They did make a bold run at restricted free agent Morris Peterson, but the Raptors quickly matched, putting an end to that quest. There was heavy speculation last week that the Hornets were making a play for Vince Carter, but Raptors GM Rob Babcock blew that out of the water claiming there was nothing to the rumors.

The team has plenty of money to spend and one semi-valuable asset in Jamal Mashburn they're trying to trade. Short of that, there isn't much going on. A new high-profile coach, Byron Scott, and hot shot rookie J.R. Smith, who lit up the summer league (for whatever that's worth), will have to be enough to propel the Hornets out of mediocrity in the Western Conference this season. Right now, the odds of that don't look too hot.

Seattle SuperSonics
Cash remaining: Mid-level exception; $1.6 million exception
Players added: Danny Fortson, Robert Swift
Players lost: Brent Barry (Spurs), Calvin Booth (Mavs)
Skinny: The Sonics are in perpetual rebuilding mode. They made no significant improvements to a team that won just 37 games last year and lost its starting point guard, Brent Barry, to the Spurs. Fortson should give the Sonics some needed toughness in the post, but there's a reason he couldn't get off the bench in Golden State or Dallas the past two seasons.

Jamal Crawford and Stromile Swift both would make some sense in Seattle, but the team knows that the mid-level won't be enough to land either guy. There is significant trade interest in a number of their players from Ray Allen to Rashard Lewis to Vladimir Radmanovic. However, the only guy they've been close to moving is backup point guard Antonio Daniels. Something has to give in Seattle or the team faces the real possibility that they'll challenge the Clippers and Warriors for the worst record in the West next season.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

08-02-2004, 11:13 AM
I think the Knicks will overachieve this season.

08-02-2004, 11:31 AM
I found it very interesting that Rod Thorn suggested that the Nets should have traded Kidd for Parker at the trade deadline.

I am expecting Thorn to resign before too long,

08-02-2004, 12:09 PM
I found it very interesting that Rod Thorn suggested that the Nets should have traded Kidd for Parker at the trade deadline.

I am expecting Thorn to resign before too long,

I think the Spurs are very happy they didn't sign/trade for Kidd. They have put together a team that is young enough to grow and winn for years to come. If they are able to add a healthy Malone this fall they could be the favorites.

08-02-2004, 02:15 PM
I think the Knicks will overachieve this season.

So they'll win 20 games?? ;)

Even that would probably win them the Atlantic. :devil:

08-02-2004, 02:34 PM
I think the Knicks will overachieve this season.

So they'll win 20 games?? ;)

Even that would probably win them the Atlantic. :devil:

I actually believe the Knicks will win 40+ games.

Then again, I thought Mike Sweetney would be rookie of the year last season.