Last year, as some of you might recall, I tried to organize a project in which we wrote an off-season fan post about each team in the league, considering their strengths, weaknesses, and needs. However, most of you lazy #$%@!s didn't finish your assignments. I still think it's a worthwhile endeavor, but I'm going to streamline it a little bit by doing teams in groups, starting with the Timberwolves' peers--the Western Conference non-playoff teams.
Phoenix Suns (25-57) 15th in the Western Conference
Salary: $42M committed to 9 players for 2013-14 (NOTE: salary amounts are rough estimates, and will often depend on various team and player options; I will make my best guesses without getting too far into the salary cap weeds).
What they did well: Not a lot. Their poor defense was better than their catastrophically bad offense, but that isn't saying much. Goran Dragic emerged as a legitimate starting point guard. They luckily avoided signing Eric Gordon, who they pursued last summer as a restricted free agent.
What they did poorly: other than signing Michael Beasley? A lot. They shot the ball poorly when they weren't turning it over, they were a bad defensive rebounding club, they gave up more free throws then they took, and they allowed their opponents an efg% of over 51%.
A year after saying goodbye to franchise legend Steve Nash, this is clearly a transition point for the Suns. They have hired a new general manager, Ryan McDonough, who comes from the Boston Celtics, and are currently looking for a coach after Lindsey Hunter took them through the second half of the season as the interim.
The Suns do have some things going for them: no egregious contracts (except for Michael Beasley), several players that might interest other teams in trade (notably Marcin Gortat entering the final year of his deal that will pay him $7.7M) and Jared Dudley (two seasons left at a bargain price of $4,25M per). They also hold several draft picks, including the 5th and 30th picks in this year's first round.
It's hard to say what direction the Suns are heading. What they need is talent pretty much all over the floor. Given that, they are pretty flexible in how they use their lottery pick; the only top prospect they would probably shy away from is Trey Burke, with Dragic in the fold and having used last year's pick on the thus far disappointing Kendall Marshall. Jared Dudley is their only really playable wing, they have a host of underperforming power forwards, and a center position that will need to be addressed.
I don't know what their short term plan is, but this is one team that might benefit from keeping whatever powder they have dry for another year, try to move who they can for younger pieces, collect what talent they can through the draft, play their young guys, and see where they are next summer. Despite my general belief that you should always try to win as much as you reasonably can, it's hard to see how free agent expenditures this summer are going to appreciably help this team in the short or medium term.
New Orleans Pelicans (27-55) 14th in the Western Conference
Salary: Anywhere from $33M for 5 players to $43M for 11 players. The Pelicans have several non-guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, giving them added flexibility.
What they did well: Drafted Anthony Davis. Changed their name to the Pelicans. Rebounded the ball at both ends. That isn't a bad place to start, and there are potentially good things happening in New Orleans. They had an effective front court rotation of Davis, Ryan Anderson (terrific signing), and Robin Lopez (another good signing).
What they did poorly: Drafted Austin Rivers. Matched Eric Gordon's offer sheet. Defend. Their slow pace masked their terrible defense as they gave up easy shot after easy shot to their opponents.
Two years after being forced into trading their franchise player Chris Paul, the Pelicans look like a team poised to take a significant step forward. Interestingly, none of what they got from that trade is helping them do so. Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of that trade, and, presumably worried about losing the featured asset they received after having him in uniform for all of nine games, they matched the Suns offer sheet for him last summer. Now they are on the hook for three more years and $45M for a guy who doesn't stay healthy and isn't that good when he does play. They also received the Wolves 2012 first rounder, which they used on one of the worst lottery picks in recent memory, Austin "Baby Doc" Rivers. Finally, they also got Al-Farouq Aminu, who rebounds well but that's about it. They didn't pick up his option for 2013-14, so he will be a UFA this summer.
On the other hand, Anthony Davis looks like a 20 year old franchise centerpiece, Ryan Anderson is a terrific stretch four, and Robin Lopez is a relatively inexpensive defensive minded starting center. They still have holes, obviously, mostly on the perimeter. As a starting point guard, Greivis Vasquez makes a great back-up. He's in the J.J. Barea mold: high usage, high assist, high turnover, mediocre defense. He'd look great coming off the bench as your change of pace guard. The wing spots are completely up in the air, as Rivers was a disaster as a rookie, they don't really have a small forward, and Eric Gordon can't be counted on. They will probably try to move him, but it's hard to see a team taking on that deal for a guy who has barely played 100 games over the past three seasons.
They hold the 6th pick in this year's draft, and need perimeter help and defense. Either Otto Porter or Victor Oladipo would look good in a Pelican uniform, but both will probably be gone before they pick. They could try to upgrade the center position, or hope they can find their point guard of the future with Trey Burke. They don't really have much to trade, but they should have some wiggle room under the cap to try to patch some holes, and with Anthony Davis entering his second year, the Pelicans should start moving up in the West.
Sacramento Kings (28-54) 13th in the Western Conference
Salary: $41M committed to 9 players.
What they did well: SAVED THEIR TEAM! GOT RID OF THE MALOOFS! Really, this season was about the future of the franchise in Sacramento, and the city staved off a bid from Seattle to relocate the franchise. Of course they did so by committing public funds to an arena project, something that always sticks in my craw, but it's the nature of the beast.
What they did poorly: guard anyone. Get a defensive rebound. Play like a cohesive team. It wasn't a good year on the court for the Kings, who couldn't stop anyone from scoring on them, were forced into unfortunate decisions like starting Isaiah Thomas at the point 62 times this year, and jettisoned their 2012 lottery pick after half a season. From the outside, they look like the biggest mess in the league (well, maybe Charlotte), with their supposed centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins still struggling to figure it out three years in, and a general lack of professionalism across the roster.
Their first order of business is figuring out who is going to run the basketball operations under the new ownership. There is a desperate need for professionalism starting at the top, something that got lost under the last years of the Maloof reign. As for the roster, they have a decision to make about Tyreke Evans, who will be a restricted free agent if they tender him a qualifying offer. They owe the underwhelming wing tandem of Marcus Thornton and John Salmons a combined $15.5M next season and the underwhelming power forward/Center tandem of Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes $11M.
They need to turn over a new leaf under new management. They hold the 7th pick in this year's draft, and need an infusion of talent and good attitude. A two-way SF would be ideal, but that guy won't be available when they pick. If Trey Burke is still on the board, that might be their best bet in terms of acquiring talent. They will need to decide quickly whether they are going to commit long-term to Evans, a decision I'm glad I don't have to make. This is the start of a new phase in Kings history. It's gonna take a while to emerge from the rubble, but at least now it's about basketball.
So what do you think of these teams? What will they do? What should they do? How fast can they get better? What say you?