Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mock Draft - Picks 1-14

It is that time of year again.  The NBA Draft is just around the corner, and everyone is putting up their mock drafts, taking their stabs at how teams will use their draft picks in 2013.

I guess that means I should do the same thing.  Mock drafts, especially beyond the top 5, are kind of a crap-shoot.  Teams often have different ratings of players, different draft philosophies in terms of selecting for talent or selecting the best available player.

I go about my mock in this way.  First, I consider what a teams needs are.  Then I look at how those needs can be filled at that position.  Finally, I consider whether they would have something to gain from trading down or up.  I put all this together to first indicate the likelihood of a trade, and second to determine who would be picked AT THE PICK.

1st Overall - Cleveland Cavaliers

Needs - Small Forward (immediate), Center (more long term)
- Alonzo Gee, the starter from last season, isn't going to cut it if this team wants to compete in the long run.  He needs to be replaced.  Center is a more long term need, as Anderson Varejao is a nice player there in the immediate future, and Tyler Zeller may develop into a more feasible NBA center yet.

Chance for Trade - 10%
- Despite the Cavs' seeming interest in trading down, there just isn't much market at the moment.  They likely wouldn't get fair value, because the cream of the crop in this draft just is not seen as that stellar.  As such, I don't really think they'll end up trading down.  At the same time, they really don't NEED to trade down.  They don't need more picks.  They already have two (1, 19).

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Otto Porter
- If I'm the Cavaliers, I do not hesitate with Porter.  He's unarguably one of the top 4 players in the draft.  Many argue he has more developmental potential than Noel.  While Noel is intriguing here, his lack of NBA girth means his ultimate role could be a bench role player, while Porter could be a solid starter, if not an All-Star, for a number of years.  Porter is arguably the best player available AND fits a glaring need for the team.


2nd Overall - Orlando Magic

Needs - Point Guard (immediate), Shooting Guard (potentially)
- The Magic actually have a really good young core.  Their oldest position is definitely PG, where Jameer Nelson and Beno Udrih don't really project to be part of the long-term plans.  Shooting guard could also pose a long term need, if Mo Harkless can't develop into a regular 2 guard.

Chance for Trade - 15%
- I could very easily see the Magic trading down as low as possibly 6th, but not really much farther.  They're two big needs won't be as easy to fill beyond 6. 

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Trey Burke
- Orlando needs a point guard of the future.  Burke has been rising on boards since the NCAA Tournament, and is widely thought the best point guard prospect in this draft.  I think they go for Burke, who can be mentored for the next few years under Nelson and not feel terrible pressure to be fantastic right away.

3rd Overall - Washington Wizards

Needs - Power Forward (immediate), Center (long term)
- Its hard to talk about needs with the Wizards, because they were a totally different team in the second half.  That being said, the Wizards did not get enough production from mid-range shots, either from guards or bigs.  Emeka Okafor is not really a power forward, and failed miserably in his attempts to shoot from that far out. 

Chance for Trade - 20%
- I think the Wizards probably have the greatest chance to trade out of any top-5 team.  They don't have glaring needs, but they only have 9 players guaranteed for next season, and could use an infusion of young talent to fill the 3 roster spots.  A team like the Timberwolves, who could offer the 9th and 26th picks for the 3rd, seems like they would be interested in this pick.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Anthony Bennett
- Ultimately, I think the Wizards stay put.  They have the opportunity to pick up the best Power Forward in the draft in Bennett, who many are comparing to a young Larry Johnson.  A big who can be a legitimate scoring threat from beyond the basket-area would be a key piece of the puzzle for the Wizards. 


4th Overall - Charlotte Bobcats (TRADED TO MINNESOTA)

Needs - Center (immediate), Power Forward (still pretty immediate, but slightly less so), Shooting Guard (if Henderson is not retained)
- The Bobcats were terrible last season.  They got run out of the building most nights.  Their biggest problem came from the big positions, where the most consistent contributor was journeyman Josh McRoberts.  Assuming the Bobcats match offers on Henderson, the big positions represent their biggest needs.

Chance for Trade - 15%
- The Bobcats could really benefit from a trade down to acquire more picks, as this team lacks young depth at most positions.  The question is, does the normally inept Bobcats front office recognize what is to be gained from trading down?

Pick Traded? - Yes

The Trade - Timberwolves send: 9th, 26th and Derrick Williams
                    Bobcats send: 4th, Bismack Biyombo
- This trade works for two reasons.  First, the Timberwolves covet a strong shooter in this draft.  At this position, Ben McLemore remains available, and this trade makes a ton of sense, and the two picks to move up seems a fair price.  Toss in the added benefit of the swap of Williams, who has fallen out of favor with Coach Adelman, for Biyombo, and it makes even more sense for the T-Wolves.  From the Bobcats' perspective, they get a second first round pick, move down only slightly, and also acquire the services of a recent 2nd overall pick for the services of a PF/C who, while a solid rotation player, never fit in as a starter.

The Pick - Ben McLemore
-The Timberwolves need a shooter, and with McLemore still available, I don't see them hesitating at all to make the move and grab their guy.  The price is probably worth paying, considering how good this team seemingly can be when healthy. 

5th Overall - Phoenix Suns

Needs - Wing Player (Shooting Guard OR Small Forward), Center (near future), Power Forward (near future)
- About the only position that is settled in Phoenix is Point Guard.  Everything else is likely open.  That being said, the most imminent need is on the wings.  Jared Dudley can play either position, as can PJ Tucker, but Tucker is best used as a backup and that still leaves one Wing position down.

Chance for Trade - 5%
- The Suns have a ton of picks in the upcoming years, so I can't envision them trading down, but they also have a ton of holes to fill, so I can't imagine them trading up.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Victor Oladipo
- If Noel really falls this far, I think the Suns seriously consider him, but I think Victor Oladipo is really who they target.  He's got the defensive chops to be a contributor right away at the two and with spot minutes at the 3. 

6th Overall - New Orleans Pelicans (TRADED TO OKC)

Needs - Small Forward (immediate), Center (Long Term)
- With Al-Farouq Aminu's contract up and no viable replacement on the roster, Small Forward becomes the most immediate need.  But Center, manned currently by journeyman Robin Lopez, probably could use a defensive upgrade, as well, even with Lopez's relatively affordable contract.

Chance for Trade - 10%
- The Pelicans only have their first round picks until 2016, which will make it difficult for them to stock their bench with young talent.  As such, I could see them bundling this pick and with a player for a few other picks.

Pick Traded? - Yes

The Trade - OKC sends: 12th, 29th, rights to Tibor Pleiss, and Perry Jones III
                    New Orleans sends: 6th, Robin Lopez
- This trade becomes possible with the amnesty of Kendrick Perkins and the waving of Nick Collison.  I'm a little rusty on CBA by-laws, but I THINK this can work.  Makes sense for OKC because it nets them an even higher pick AND a starting caliber center, while at the same time freeing them from some salary they don't want (29th pick and Perry Jones).  For New Orleans, they get the rights to a solid prospect at the 5 from Europe, still get a lottery pick, as well as a late first rounder and a recent past first rounder in Jones.

The Pick - Nerlens Noel
- OKC jumps at the opportunity to take the player many considered the best in the draft.  He has a limited offensive skill set, but that works fine for the Thunder.  His help defense is what makes him such a valuable commodity and perfect fit for this team.

7th Overall - Sacramento Kings

Needs - Small Forward (immediate), Power Forward (long term), Point Guard (long term), Center (potentially)
- The two forward positions were the biggest weakness for the Kings, but lets be fair, they really have a lot of weaknesses.  It wouldn't be surprising to see them pick a player at ANY position.

Chance for Trade - 10%
- The Kings could be looking to clean house, and if they do so, I wouldn't be surprised if they attempted to move down or acquire picks in the next draft, but they are not at an ideal point for trading.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Alex Len
- Len is viewed by some as a better all-around prospect at the 5 than Noel because of his more balanced game and more prototypical size for an NBA center.  Center is not a pressing need for this team, but DeMarcus Cousins has been a problem for the team, and Len provides the team leverage, allowing them to negotiate a sign and trade (see later).

8th Overall - Detroit Pistons

Needs - Small Forward (immediate), Shooting Guard (immediate), Point Guard (long term)
- Detroit has probably the best young frontcourt in the league, with Monroe and Drummond controlling those two positions for the time being.  However, the play at the two wing positions this past season was sub-par.  Kyle Singler is probably a career backup or sixth man, and Rodney Stuckey cannot shoot well enough to man the 2 guard position.

Chance for Trade - 5%
- I just don't see anyone being super interested in trading up to this point.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - CJ McCollum
- McCollum is a great fit for this team.  His ability to both shoot and handle the ball would make him a solid compliment to Brandon Knight.  He could be the offensive threat from the wing this team needs.

9th Overall - Charlotte Bobcats (traded from Minnesota)

Needs - Center (immediate), Power Forward (still pretty immediate, but slightly less so), Shooting Guard (if Henderson is not retained)
- The Bobcats were terrible last season.  They got run out of the building most nights.  Their biggest problem came from the big positions, where the most consistent contributor was journeyman Josh McRoberts.  Assuming the Bobcats match offers on Henderson, the big positions represent their biggest needs.

Chance for Trade - 0%
- They traded down FOR this pick in this mock.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Cody Zeller
- This might seem a little high for Zeller, but athleticism has always been something Charlotte has coveted (see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).  An offensive retinue of Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba and Zeller would be one of the most athletic offenses in the league.

10th Overall - Portland Trail Blazers

Needs - Center (relatively immediate), 6th man wing (immediate)
- The Meyers Leonard project has yet to come to fruition, and with the team letting JJ Hickson walk, they need a starting center.  They aren't likely to get one from the draft, however.  The team also had a terrible bench, with some of the worst production in the league.  They could use a wing to liven up their bench and provide needed offense off the bench.

Chance for Trade - 15%
- They desperately need a starting center, and this is their most valuable, available asset.  If it is moved, it will be in the pursuit of a starting 5.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- Perhaps something of a stretch, but Caldwell-Pope has the ability to orchestrate an offense from the 2 guard spot and be a legitimate scoring threat, something the Blazers have to get from their bench.

11th Overall - Philadelphia 76ers (TRADED TO UTAH)

Needs - Shooting Guard (immediate), Center (medium term), Small Forward (medium term)
- The most glaring need for the 76ers is at the 2 guard, where the team is fairly old and not very efficient.  However, there is also a need for a defensive center and a small forward (sorry, Evan Turner)

Chance for Trade - 10%
- I could see the 76ers trading down here.  They would likely be reaching to take a player here at their position of greatest need.  I could see them moving with a team just outside the lottery that wants to grab an impact player.

Pick Traded? - Yes

The Trade - Philadelphia sends 11th, Evan Turner, Justin Holiday
                    Utah sends 14th, sign and trade of Al Jefferson, Alec Burks
- Jefferson is technically an unrestricted free agent, Utah is more than capably of re-signing him and moving him to Philly, where he is a good fit at the center position for the team, and Burks could be their answer at the 2 guard.  They lose Turner, but he wasn't the long term answer at the 3 spot, and Holiday, who was not likely to have his option picked up anyway.  Utah moves up to get a player they need, get something for Al Jefferson, and pick up a player who's rebounding and volume scoring might go well with the team.

The Pick - Michael Carter-Williams
- Seen as a top-10 pick in many drafts, I have Carter-Williams dropping just out of that range, mainly because of his inability to shoot consistently from anywhere beyond the rim area.  But he fills a desperate need for Utah, and that is why they are glad to move up to select him here.

12th Overall - New Orleans Pelicans (traded from OKC)

Needs - Small Forward (immediate), Center (Long Term)
- With Al-Farouq Aminu's contract up and no viable replacement on the roster, Small Forward becomes the most immediate need.  But Center, manned currently by journeyman Robin Lopez, probably could use a defensive upgrade, as well, even with Lopez's relatively affordable contract.

Trade Chance - 0%
- They received this pick from an earlier trade.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Shabazz Muhammad
- The Pelicans could use a small forward who can be a high level scorer, and Shabazz fits that bill.  He might be a little undersized, but given the uncertain future of starting shooting guard Eric Gordon, that may not be a major problem in the long term.

13th Overall - Dallas Mavericks

Needs - Center (immediate), Small Forward (near future), Shooting Guard (near future), Point Guard (near future)
- Basically every position on the court is a need for the Mavs, as they look at this moment like they will only have 5 players under contract going into the draft.  The biggest need is probably center, where the free agent class is somewhat weak and the draft potential is strong.  Small forward is also a pretty strong need, but as their are more free agents available, it seems less likely they go this direction.  Finally, point guard is a huge need, but the draft is weak at the point guard position, and the Mavs are looking to be competitive soon, so a developmental pick at the guard spot does not seem likely.

Trade Chance - 15%
- Mark Cuban is actively shopping this pick, but it sounds like he is using it as bait for a team to take on Shawn Marion's expiring, $9 million deal.  I wouldn't be surprised if they find a taker, but my gut tells me its the wrong move, as Marion's deal likely won't be the make or break in attracting free agents

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Gorgui Dieng
- I don't think this is a splashy move, and might be a reach depending on who you talk to, but Dieng looks like he has the ability to contribute right away, a rare find in a center. For a team looking to compete in the next year or two, he's a safe bet.

14th Overall - Philadelphia 76ers (traded from Utah)

Needs - Shooting Guard (immediate), Center (medium term), Small Forward (medium term)
- The most glaring need for the 76ers is at the 2 guard, where the team is fairly old and not very efficient.  However, there is also a need for a defensive center and a small forward (sorry, Evan Turner)

Trade Chance - 0%
- This pick was received in a trade.

Pick Traded? - No

The Pick - Dario Saric
- Saric squeezes into the lottery with the 76ers, who need a small forward after sending Turner to Utah.  Can't talk much about fit since the 76ers don't have a coach, but Saric is young, long, and has by all accounts great basketball IQ.  His actual IQ may be under question, but the 76ers have dealt with situations like that before (with Jrue Holiday) so they may be more willing to take the risk than other teams.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Mavericks' Poorly Thought Out Pursuit of Dwight Howard

The Dallas Mavericks find themselves in a weird situation.  They're coming off their worst season in the Dirk era, and are picking in the lottery for the first time since the late 90s.  The past season was disappointing, as a roster of middling talent, mostly aging veterans on short contracts, together with an ailing Dirk, cobbled together a 41-41 record and just missed out on the playoffs.

Owner Mark Cuban vowed after the season to rebuild the Mavericks as a legitimate contender in the West.  Nowitzki, coming up on the end of his contract, has publicly stated his willingness to take a huge pay cut to help put together a legitimate contender for his last few years in the league.  The team, overall, is in a great position to throw money at some big name free agents this off-season: the team only has $36 million in contract guarantees next season ($40 if OJ Mayo exercises his option, but he is expected to opt-out), which means they will likely have $22 million to play with before they even hit the salary cap, and $34 million before they move into the tax-payers bracket.

The team has made it no secret that they are going to do everything in their power to lure big name free agents.  That makes their first targets this off-season Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.  The received wisdom is that Paul will stay with the Clippers.  I will not even discuss that option here.

Rumors have been flying, however, that Cuban and Mavericks President and General Manager Donnie Nelson are in hot pursuit of Howard.  They have even let it be known that they are looking to sell their 1st round draft pick (#13) in order to clear space to sign Dwight.  This is likely a ploy to dump the contract of Shawn Marion on some team (or at least Vince Carter) in exchange for a younger, cheaper contributor.  The pick isn't seen to represent an immediately impactful player, and is thus expendable.

The whole pursuit of Dwight by the Mavericks seems somewhat troublesome.  First off, lets point out that the main competitors for Dwight appear to be Houston and Golden State.  Both of those teams have much better young talent to offer the Lakers in a sign-and-trade scenario than Dallas does, which is important, because Dwight is likely going to want to maximize his salary, and that can only come through a sign-and-trade.  Houston could offer Omer Asik, another young player (perhaps Donatas Montiejunas), and a future first rounder.  Golden State could offer Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and a future first rounder.  The Mavericks, at best, could offer Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder, and this year's 13th, a decidedly inferior offer when compared to Houston and Golden State.

The second problem comes with Dallas' approach.  As they are unable to compete in the sign-and-trade scenario, they seem to be attempting to clear their books anyway possible in order to indicate to Howard their willingness to build around a Dwight/Dirk core.  There are four issues with this.  First, I fail to see how this is a better pitch than those offered by Golden State and Houston, two young teams that made playoff runs this past season and yet really only feature one dominant player, leaving ample room for Dwight as a face for the team.  Second, trading away pieces like Marion (older, sure, but still a productive player) and a lottery pick actually make the team worse, obscuring the potential competitiveness of the team in the minds of outside observers like Dwight.  Third, the idea of selling Dwight on being part of a core featuring an older player coming off an injury seems like a hard sell, considering his current situation with the Lakers, where the team struggled with injuries to older stars all season.  And fourth, if somehow the team manages to convince Dwight to come, it will have bound its hands in terms of cap space for the 2013-14 season unless it can unload Marion.  With Marion, Carter, Dwight and Dirk alone the Mavs would have almost $50 million tied up, leaving only $8 million left before the cap to pursue a starting caliber point guard and enough bench depth to make the team a legitimate threat.  This seems unlikely.  It becomes somewhat easier if they can swing trading Marion, but his contract seems just a little too large to pawn off so easily.

Altogether, then, there are some serious problems with the Mavericks' pursuit of Dwight.  The problem is, if they don't pursue Dwight, arguably the premier free agent of 2013, then what do they do to get better for next season?  Without a doubt, the free agent pool this off-season doesn't look particularly appealing.  However, that does not leave them without options.  If I am in the Mavericks' front office, I look at a few scenarios:

1.) Look into the possibility of trading for DeMarcus Cousins.  As Amin Elhassan points points out here, there are a multitude of reasons to believe the Kings will be looking to move Cousins.  Cousins could use a change of scenery and a more veteran locker room, and he looks likely to get that in Dallas.  Cousins could potentially be had for the #13 pick, Marion and Jae Crowder.  The advantage for the Mavs is that, given Cousins' reputation, he does not look likely to command a max contract in his restricted free agency year next summer, especially given how many good free agents will be available.  This means extending Cousins before the season starts could be done for potentially as little as $12-$13 million, a bargain for a center of his size and skill.  Overall, Cousins represents a smarter long-term investment than Dwight, given his fewer years in the league, his already comparable production, and the likelihood that he could be had for cheaper.

OR

1a.) If Cousins either is not available or cannot be had for what the Mavs can offer, pursue a big in free agency and draft a center or a small forward with the 13th pick.  Pursuing a big in free agency is an obvious decision.  If Cousins cannot be acquired, the team will need a solid anchor at the 5 for at least the next season or two.  Perhaps the most interesting 5 that is likely to be available this off-season is Marreese Speights.  Despite never really playing starters minutes, Speights has contributed with solid rebounding and defense in spite of being somewhat undersized for a center.  Speights could likely be had for somewhere in the $5-$7 million range, and at 25, could be with the franchise for a while.  Another option would be Timofey Mozgov.  Mozgov poses more of a risk, as he is less proven than Speights, but he is more of a true center in terms of size, and might be a better pairing with Dirk.  No matter who the team picks up as a free agent, they should then prioritize either a small forward or a center with the 13th pick.  Since the Mavericks are interested in competing right away, we can somewhat throw out the idea of them picking Dario Saric (as predicted in a number of mocks).  He likely won't be ready to come over for another year or two.  As such, he seems an unlikely target.  Instead, the Mavericks could consider Rudy Gobert, the center out of France who, though still needing to develop, looks much more ready to contribute this season than Saric.  Or they could consider Gorgui Dieng out of Louisville who, though offensively raw, could be a defensive presence in his first season.  Or they could consider someone like Tony Snell, who would likely be considered something of a reach but represents Kawhi Leonard-like upside and looks like he could contribute right away.

2.) Pursue a competent point guard.  The point guard play for Dallas was arguably their biggest weakness last season.  The team has options on Rodrigue Beaubois and Darren Collison, but it is widely expected they won't pick them up.  The team is reportedly pursuing free agents Jarrett Jack and Jerryd Bayless to succeed them.  I like the idea of Jack, but to me the free-wheeling Bayless does not fit the offensive scheme of a Dirk-centered offense.  Instead, the Mavs' front office should consider pursuing Jose Calderon or potentially Pablo Prigioni (if he becomes available).  Calderon would be ideal, with his quick but measured style of play seeming to complement Dirk's well.  Given his age, he might be had relatively cheaply (in the $5-$6 million a year range for 3 years), whereas the competition for the services of Jarrett Jack could get quite expensive and long-term in nature.  Whether they go Jack or Calderon, either would be a major improvement over last year's play at the position.

3.) Look for a catch and shoot 2 guard.  OJ Mayo, with his volume scoring potential, was not a good fit with the Mavericks last season.  Rick Carlisle's offense seems more catered to a shooting guard who is highly efficient, especially from the three, considering how often Dirk when healthy draws double teams in the high post.  While there aren't going to be a ton of free agent 2 guards this season and the competition for signing them will be fierce, there are a few to be had.  The obvious candidate would be JJ Redick.  Redick, however, might command big money in free agency, and might not be worth the terms of the contract for Dallas.  There are other options.  Catch and shoot expert Kyle Korver should be available at a relatively affordable price (probably the $3-$5 million range) and would represent a much lesser defensive liability than Redick.  After his recent, woeful playoff performance, Kevin Martin might be had for a relatively good contract (probably in the $7-$9 million range).  Finally, Gerald Henderson is in his RFA period, and depending upon how the draft goes in Charlotte, might be cut loose.  He would represent the best possible option, given his combination of age and shooting touch, but also likely the most hotly pursued player.

4.) Get deep by being 2013's version of the Miami Heat.  In order to compete in the NBA you need to have depth.  You need bench players who can contribute, who can provide a solid lift every night.  The Heat have created that depth in the past by pursuing veterans on relatively modest contracts with the promise that, at the very least, they would be competitors for the championship.  The Mavericks should sell themselves in a similar way to free agents this offseason.  Guys like Jose Calderon, Antawn Jamison, Chauncey Billups, Corey Maggette, Matt Barnes, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal and Samuel Dalembert could all be swayed by the chance to compete on a team that is looking to be a legitimate title contender.  These guys, while all past their primes, are solid contributors, and the infusion of just a few of them on the Dallas bench could potentially add a lot of potential to the team's chances to win.  Remember, the Mavericks have a pretty dry cupboard in terms of the roster next season, with only 5 players guaranteed, with three of those almost definite bench players.  Picking up some strong bench assets, then, becomes a priority for this team.


How does this leave the team?  Well, let's assume they succeed in the Cousins trade.  The roster, if all the steps are followed, looks something like this:

Center: DeMarcus Cousins ($12 million), Jermaine O'Neal ($1.5 million)
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Antawn Jamison (probably around $2 million)
Small Forward: Matt Barnes (probably around $3.5 million), Jae Crowder ($1 million)
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin (probably around $7 million), Jared Cunningham ($1.5), 2nd round draft pick ($1 million)
Point Guard: Jose Calderon (probably around $7 million), Chauncey Billups (probably around $2.5 million), Petteri Kaponen (rights held from earlier draft, probably around $1.5 million)

Team salary:  $63.2 million

That team projects to be competitive.  If given the right breaks, that team could even compete for a Western Conference Championship.  Would they beat the Heat?  That is debatable, though its pretty much a guarantee they'd be the underdog.  But it would feature some lights out outside shooters (Martin, Calderon, Billups), really strong interior presence players in Dirk and Cousins, and good perimeter defenders in Barnes and Crowder.

Say the Cousins trade falls through?  Then the team breaks down something like this:

Center: Timofey Mozgov (probably around $6 million), Gorgui Dieng ($1.5)
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Antawn Jamison (probably around $2 million)
Small Forward: Shawn Marion ($9.3 million), Jaw Crowder ($1 million)
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin (probably around $7 million), Jared Cunningham ($1.5 million), 2nd round draft pick ($1 million)
Point Guard: Jarrett Jack (probably around $9 million), (maybe Devin Harris, who can play both guard positions, at around $4 million)

Team salary: $65 million

This team still likely projects as a playoff contender, though more marginally.  It would likely scrap for a 7th or 8th seed, but the combination of Martin and Jack in the backcourt with Dirk playing some point forward (as he is wont to do) would be a fairly dangerous combination.  And the added bonus would be that the team would see at least $9 million coming off the books at the end of the season, and assuming Nowitzki takes a Duncan-esque hometown discount deal and signs for around $11 million, and factoring in the money coming off the books from Harris, Cunningham, and Jamison, the team would likely be able to offer a max contract to a free agent target in the stacked 2014 free agent class.

Both of these options, then, seem to be realistic alternatives to the pursuit of Dwight.  They make the team competitive (really competitive, I think, in the Cousins scenario) without tying the team down to Dwight's max contract, which is seemingly outside of their grasp anyway.  They also maintain enough flexibility that the team could feasibly pursue enough veteran pieces with which to surround Dirk that a championship doesn't seem entirely far fetched.

Introduction

I like basketball.  I like to talk about basketball and write about basketball.  After annoying people on Facebook, G-Chat and other services looking to talk about basketball, I decided I should just start posting my thoughts on the NBA, the NBA Draft and my favorite team, the Phoenix Suns, on this blog.  I like to have discussions, so feel free to post comments, pose questions, etc.  So welcome, and enjoy my (hopefully thought provoking) ramblings.