The quality and depth of the 2014 draft is enticing teams to advance the schedule on any rebuild projects. Half of the Eastern Conference is in rebuild mode, nearly clinching the playoff teams far before the season has even begun. Some teams are in poorer shape than others, but there's not much doubt they lack the quality to be competitive and appear focused on maintaining financial flexibility and stockpiling draft picks for the future.
The Western Conference isn't quite so blatant about it, but there are obviously teams that are looking to the next draft to infuse talent into their team rather than through free agency.
The key to our off-season is obviously the decision of D12 but also the decision of Josh Smith. Our hope is that D12 leaves for Houston and Houston tries to create their big three by signing Smith. That would make Omer Asik and Lin expendable, as evidenced by reports citing their availability should a Howard signing happen.
Houston has already laid the groundwork for the first domino in D12 by trading "The Wayward Son" (That Kansas Song seemed appropriate) Thomas Robinson to clear the needed cap space to make the offer. As stated already, the contingency plans for the next domino are already made (or being made) by offering Asik and Lin. Determining who will acquire the players is more problematic, but not by much.
First, only a competitive team would be willing to take on contracts like these due to their back-loaded payout. The salary cap wouldn't be effected, but teams don't throw money around with impunity unless you're in a large market or Paul Allen.
Second, Houston's goal is Josh Smith, so they're looking to unload the contracts without taking back any salary. That limits their partners further to teams with cap space.
Finding the sweet-spot of competitive team with cap space is where we shine through. In the East, only the Pistons seems to match the requirements with their aggressive FA posture. They could use a PG but don't need a center. Lin. In the West is New Orleans and PDX. NO just threw their wad at Evans, but nothing is signed. PDX could use a center. Asik.
The notion that the Hawks would take on one or both of the contracts in a S&T seems doubtful. Both of these players are COMPLIMENTARY pieces. Combining them with Horford (another complimentary player) makes for a nice car without an engine. It would almost guarantee that they would be good enough for a playoff spot without the hope of success against teams like Indiana and Miami. Their best chance is to maintain their financial flexibility and acquire draft picks and young prospects with the potential to become great. Once they have a star player, they can then use that flexibility and those young assets to surround him with COMPLIMENTARY pieces.
Here's how I break down the team's strategies:
Boston- tank. Save the cash, let Rondo heal and get his head straight.
Bobcats- just bad. They'll lose games, but they'll be fighting to improve. They're going to be a fringe playoff team next year simply because of all the tanking.
Bucks- tank. Sanders, Ilyasova, and Jennings are it. Like the Bobcats, they'll fight but are lacking the horses.
Orlando- tank. Season their young pieces and try for one more haul to get them into a good position for the future.
Toronto- tank. A full rebuild is underway. Zero chance of success. I'd be surprised if they didn't have a fire sale for draft picks, assuming anyone would part with that kind of asset for hot garbage.
76ers- tank. Still trying to clean up the pieces from Doug Collins' personnel decisions. They've already demonstrated a desire to accumulate deferred talent in Noel (may not even play this year) and a future pick.
BKN, NYK, Miami, Indiana, and Chicago are all competitive teams that lack the cap space to acquire high priced pieces.
Cavs and Wiz are both looking to take the next step with their young talent. Both have their PGs and have already invested in the center position.
Pistons- Aggressively hitting the FA and trade market looking to upgrade their roster. They're looking at Will Bynum and Jose Calderon to run the PG spot and are stacked with quality big men. They might be interested in a PG capable of generating offense and creating an international buzz.
Kings- just bad. I don't think they'll intentionally tank, but their roster needs an overhaul and they're not looking to get ANOTHER ball-dominant PG or a center that would make Cousins look bad.
L@kers- tank. Losing Howard and an injured KO-B spells doom for any playoff hope. They'll cut payroll and bank on their blackmail scam of Adam Silver to get them the winning lottery pick. Typical.
Mavs- just bad. Their weak hope of getting D12 doesn't seem to have a decent back-up plan in place. They may get another big-name at an ungodly price tag, but they've got too many holes to fill to be truly competitive next year.
Utah- Good, not great. They'll be good, but they're completely overhauling their front court with Kanter and Favors. Add in a rookie PG and they're looking at a year of growing pains. Their future is bright, however. Look out.
Suns- tank. Bledsoe and Len. How many draft picks do they have again? They'll take the year to groom the two positions that require the most seasoning: PG & C.
Spurs, OKC, Memphis, Clips, and Houston- All elite clubs looking to compete.
Minny- Decent, not great. They'll come back healthy, but they'll be losing the defense of AK47 for the offensive punch of Kevin Martin. They'll make a run for a lower playoff seed.
Denver- depends. They've got their C and PG spots locked up with McGee and Lawson, but they're in flux with Iggy, a new GM, and a new coach.
GSW- solid playoff team. Not elite, but they should have a pretty stable roster in which to season. They've also got their C & PG position locked up.
NO- Growth and development. They're looking to get some quality pieces on that team, but they haven't got anything signed yet. They could use a center to pair with Davis, but it looks like they're focusing on the back-court. Nothing's been signed yet, however.
PDX- borderline to good. Need a center to defend the paint, grab rebounds, and set solid picks. Possess a good chunk of cap space and a desire to use it.
In the end, it will come down to a confluence of other team's apathy, fortuitous planning, and a whole lot of luck, but we should come out of this off-season with The Wayward Son (I just like that name...and the song), Omer Asik, Jermaine O'Neal, and another back-up veteran using the room exception.
We may not make it out of the 1st round of the playoffs, but the experience gained by the freshmen and sophomore players this season should help turn their potential into consistent reality.