Masai Ujiri’s Next Move

112013-NBA-Marvin-Williams-of-the-Utah-Jazz-PI-_20131120182251853_660_320

Fans of the Toronto Raptors breathed a sigh of relief this week when Kyle Lowry decided to stay north of the border and sign a four-year, $48 million deal.

Patrick Patterson followed suit re-upping with Toronto for three-years and $18 million.

It looks like another mid-season acquisition from last year, Greivis Vasquez, may be also coming back next season.

Throw in the trade for Lou Williams, and it appears Masai Ujiri is having a solid start to the NBA offseason.

On the other hand, there were two key areas that Masai indicated needed to be addressed at the end of last season: size at the wing position and a rim protector.

Although the moves mentioned above were necessary to ensure roster continuity from a 48 win season, Ujiri now needs to either find some bargain deals in free agency, or pull of a trade to fill out these two remaining areas.

So what’s more important? What are his options?

I believe that size on the wing position is the next area that needs to be addressed. The Raptors don’t have the cap space to flat out sign the likes of Luol Deng, Gordon Hayward, or Chandler Parsons; and I believe that Ujiri is comfortable with going into next season having Terrence Ross as his starting small forward. Ross showed flashes last season that he could be a legit starter in the NBA, which will allow Masai to focus on acquiring a second tier talent to come off the bench next season.

So who is left on the market that fits this mold? Here are three wings that I would like to see the Raptors make a run at.

Trevor Ariza

At 6’8” and 200 pounds, it would have been nice to have Ariza matched up against Joe Johnson in the playoffs. In Washington’s six game series with the Pacers, Ariza held Paul George to 19.6 points per game. Although George did put up a 39 point performance in game four, Ariza held George to 15 points or fewer three time in that series.

Ariza also was a contributor on the offensive end for the Wizards, averaging 14.4 points per game, and shooting 41% from three point land.

However, based on these numbers and with the type of money being thrown around this offseason (Jodie Meeks getting signing a 3 year, 19 million dollar deal), Ariza is probably out of Masai’s price range and will likely cash in on a strong contract year with either Washington or a championship contender.

Marvin Williams

It’s hard to imagine that Marvin Williams was drafted ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA draft. Although Williams has been a solid NBA player, he has never quite lived up to being selected #2 overall, averaging 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

At the age of 27, and having two mediocre season in Utah, Williams may be just what the doctor ordered for the Raptors of the bench.

At 6’9”, Williams fits the mold of a big wing, who could guard both the small forward and power forward positions for the Raptors. Coming off a season where Williams averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds per game, the Raptors can offer Williams a chance to play (first wing off the bench) and a chance to play in the East where it’s easier to make the playoffs.

The only issue with Williams is that with Patterson now re-signed, there may be a little bit of redundancy up front. His numbers were slightly below Patterson’s, so the Raptors may be able to get him at a similar price, possibly around 5.5 million a year.

Al-Farouq Aminu

When you look at the Raptors cap situation, Masai would need to work some serious cap magic to sign either Ariza or Williams next season.

That’s were Al-Farouq Aminu may be a good option.

After being drafted 8th overall in 2009, Aminu has been somewhat inconsistent early in his career. However, at only 24 years of age, and his ability to guard multiple positions, Aminu could be had on the cheap and in a winning environment, he may develop into a solid option off the bench for Toronto.

After making 3.7 million last season, my guess is Aminu won’t demand any more than 3-4 million next season, which would make him an affordable option for Ujiri.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dilemma

121813-young-thaddeus-600

In two weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2014 NBA draft with the first overall pick for the third time in four seasons.

Last season the Cavaliers felt their days of drafting in the lottery were behind them. When they went out and added Andrew Bynum to the core of Irving, Thompson, Waiters, and Varejao, many felt Cleveland would be back in the playoffs for the first time since “the decision”.

Unfortunately for Dan Gilbert and Co., the Cavaliers season nose-dived and consisted of the following highlights:

• Andrew Bynum was a malcontent and was eventually traded for 2014 free agent Luol Deng
• There was a reported beef between Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving during the season
• Number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett, looked lost and was a non-factor
• Head Coach Mike Brown was fired one year into a five year deal
• Key free agent signing, Jarrett Jack, was a bust after inking 4 year, $25 million deal
• The team finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 33-49 record

As bad a season as it was, there once again is now a light at the end of the tunnel for Cleveland. The basketball gods have decided to give the Cavaliers another chance at redemption, as they will now have their choice of Embiid, Wiggins or Parker on draft night.

Based on Chris Mannix’s latest mock draft, it appears the Cavaliers are down to either Embiid or Wiggins with the first pick and according to Chris Sheridan, Cleveland would even consider dealing the first overall pick for Kevin Love if they could.

But who should the Cavaliers draft? Or would they really consider trading the first overall pick?

Drafting Joel Embiid

When you look at the front line for the Cavaliers, you can make a strong case that Embiid is the right pick. Anderson Varejao will be 32-years-old next season, and has only played in 44% of games since 2010.

Recent draft picks, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson are solid forwards, but don’t appear to move the needle, and their trade deadline acquisition, Spencer Hawes, is an unrestricted free agent.

Although Embiid has only played serious basketball since he was 16, he would step in right away and be an upgrade to the Cavaliers front court. According to NBA.com, the Cavaliers finished 17th in defensive rating this past season. The addition of Embiid would most certainly improve this ranking, and if Varejao can stay healthy to pair with Embiid, the Cavaliers would have a nice duo on the defensive end.

However, out of Embiid, Wiggins and Parker; Embiid is the riskiest pick. If the Cavaliers do draft Embiid, they will need to be certain that he has a clean bill of health. After the Bennett pick last year, the Cavaliers can’t afford to draft “Greg Oden”, instead of “Kevin Durant”.

Drafting Andrew Wiggins

Making the case for drafting Andrew Wiggins is very similar to that of Embiid. When you look at the Cavaliers wing players, an upgrade is needed. Luol Deng is a good bet to leave via free agency, Dion Waiters seems to have worn out his welcome, and the reserves consist of Alonzo Gee, C.J Miles and Anthony Bennett – not guys who put fear in opposing teams.

Like Embiid, there would be a learning curve for Wiggins, but with his speed and athleticism, he automatically upgrades the Cavaliers perimeter defense and will now make opposing guards work at both ends of the floor.

With a Wiggins and Irving backcourt, the Cavaliers would be set and can look to add pieces up front this offseason. According to BasketballInsiders.com, the Cavaliers could have up to 23.4 million dollars in cap space this offseason, and could also use Waiters, Thompson and Zeller as trade pieces to land a free agent.

Landing a Pau Gasol or Marcin Gortat in free agency would be an upgrade on the front line, and they could also possibly sign and trade Deng to bring in another starter like Chandler Parsons from Houston.

A starting line-up of Irving, Wiggins, Gasol/Gortat, Thompson and Parsons would get the Cavaliers back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Trade the Pick

One of the gutsiest moves the Cavaliers could pull off is trading the pick. If I’m David Griffin, the only chance I trade this pick is if I am blown away with an offer that would put my team into the Eastern Conference elite for not only next season, but for years to come.

The Kevin Love rumours are circulating, but there is zero chance he signs on with the Cavaliers after this season. So unless I get a guarantee from Love, I’m not even thinking of doing a deal with Minnesota.

Cleveland is not a prime destination for players, so the only chance they trade the pick is if they are able to acquire a superstar, with time left on his deal. Right now, when you circulate the market, there really is no big name superstar that is available, and worth the risk of trading the first overall pick. Of course there is LeBron and Durant, but we both know they are not being traded to Cleveland.

The only real name right now is Kevin Love, and with his sights set on LA in 2015, I think it’s a safe bet for Cleveland to stand pat.

The San Antonio Spurs: What Could Have Been

Robinson_duncan

The NBA Draft Lottery was held on May 20th and the Cleveland Cavaliers received the first pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

For the third time in the past four years, the Cavs will again be picking first overall come June.

One day later, the San Antonio Spurs took a 2-0 series lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 35 point throttling and now look to be well on their way to their fifth NBA Finals appearance during their remarkable 17 year playoff streak.

The Spurs were last at the draft lottery 17 years ago. During the 1996-1997 season, David Robinson played only six games before suffering a fractured left foot; the Spurs finished 20-62 that season, finishing with the third worst record in the NBA.

Much to the chagrin of the Vancouver Grizzlies and Boston Celtics, the Spurs landed the top pick in the 1997 NBA draft and selected the prized power forward from Wake Forest; Tim Duncan.

Since that draft, the Spurs have not stepped foot in the lottery; wondering many to think just how have the Spurs survived without a lottery pick since 1997. As we have seen this season with the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, generally there is a shelf life on winning and teams eventually need to hit the reset button for a season or two.

So, how have the Spurs been so successful for so long? Why haven’t they had to hit the reset button? Much of the well-deserved credit goes to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs executives. Over the past 17 years, time and time again have made the right personnel decisions. But what if they whiffed on their big three? It’s always fun to wonder what could have been if San Antonio did not win the lottery back in 1997, or if they missed out on picking Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili.

Scenario #1 – Spurs pick 3rd in the 1997 NBA draft

It’s hard to imagine where the Spurs would have been had they not landed the first overall pick. However, if the ping pong balls didn’t fall their way and they stayed at number three, who would they have drafted? Let’s assume the top two picks go the same way; Duncan goes first overall and Keith Van Horn goes second. The Spurs finished the season with Will Purdue and Carl Herrera on their front line, so it’s safe to assume they were looking to draft a big man. Can you imagine if the Spurs drafted Tony Battie to fill their big man void? Battie was the next big man taken in the 1997 NBA draft going 5th overall to the Denver Nuggets. Although having a serviceable 14 year career, Battie finished with career averages of 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game; with zero all-star appearances.

Even if the Spurs decided to draft Chauncey Billups or Antonio Daniels, who were drafted 3rd and 4th respectively in 1997, it’s safe to assume winning a championship during the 1998-1999 season would have been unlikely without Duncan.

Scenario #2 – Spurs pass on Tony Parker with the 28th Pick in 2001

With the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA draft, the San Antonio Spurs select… Gilbert Arenas! With Avery Johnson leaving via free agency in 2001, the Spurs were looking to add depth at the point guard position. After Parker was drafted 28th overall, Arenas was the next point guard taken at #30 by the Golden State Warriors. While Arenas finished his career as a 3x All-Star, injuries and off the court issues derailed a once promising career.

One could argue that if drafted into the Spurs system, Arenas probably would have had a better NBA career by playing with Duncan and being coached by Popovich. However, it’s also safe to assume that the Spurs would not have been as successful with Arenas as their floor general.

If you had a 2001 draft re-do, you could argue that based on his career Tony Parker would have been the first overall pick and the Spurs got him at #28.

Scenario #3 – Spurs pass on Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in the 1999 NBA draft

What if the Spurs decided not to draft Ginobili with the 57th overall pick in 1999 draft? What if they traded out of the second round, or just stashed their draft pick in Europe with never the hope of bringing him over?

Ginobili has since become a two-time all-star, the 2007-2008 sixth man of the year, three-time NBA Champion and generally known as the key piece in the Spurs dynasty era.

Not taking anything away from Duncan or Parker, but Ginobili’s savvy play and clutch performances have been vital to the Spurs success over the past decade.

Spurs management either totally lucked out in 1999, or new exactly what they were doing when they drafted Ginobili; as you can pretty much guarantee that there are only a few late second round picks that even make it to the NBA, let alone become future hall of famers.

Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom and Johnathan Bender were the top five picks in 1999; again it’s quite possible that if the draft were re-done today, Ginobili could arguably have been the first overall pick.