Team Needs: Central Division

Team Needs: Central Division
May 19, 2005, 04:27 am
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Milwaukee Bucks

by Mike Clark

Draft Position:
• 1st Round: Early-mid lottery. Currently the 6th worst record in the league.
• 2nd Round: #36 pick

Background: The Milwaukee Bucks were a team that struggled to make it through the year respectably, but there were positives to the season as well. The acquisition of Mo Williams as a replacement for TJ Ford turned out to be the biggest and best surprise of the year for the Bucks. In mid-April, the organization and its fans were informed that Ford would start working out with the team, as well, which lightened the fans' moods. Michael Redd did his best to carry the team on his back, but it remains clear and evident that he needs help. Desmond Mason stepped into a starting role after the trading of Keith Van Horn, leaving us with an undersized small forward best suited as a sixth man. In the front court, the Bucks can throw out nothing but mediocre or developing players. Zaza Pachulia looks to have the brightest future of those in the front court, but at the tender age of 20 he still needs developing of his raw skills. The team struggles to perform defensively, coming off as if they don't care to even try. A new coach, defensive theory, or an infusion of defensive talent are in order for the team to see any future success, as the team goes 11-42 on the season when giving up 92 or more points.

Team Needs: While the team could use any talent whatsoever, there are two positions that glare obvious at this point as major weaknesses. One is small forward, at which the Bucks currently have Desmond Mason who at 6-5 would be better suited as a backup to both small forward as well as shooting guard. Desmond Mason's numbers were actually better in less minutes as a backup earlier in the season than later on as a starter. The second is at PF/C to combine with our developing talent (Zaza Pachulia, who appears to be best suited as a future supporter / role player) as well as our solid, but only decent talent (Joe Smith, Dan Gadzuric). The Bucks could use a post scorer and tough defender to help draw defenses from the perimeter and bring versatility to our offense as well as help our ailing defense. At the guard spots, with Mo Williams, a hopefully returning TJ Ford, and Michael Redd, the Bucks are likely set unless a player like Chris Paul were to slip into their hands. One of the two options can be addressed in free agency, as the Bucks will have around 10 million dollars to spend on cap depending as well on the new CBA. The Bucks can wait on resigning Redd, as well as Gadzuric and Pachulia with their restricted status while they pursue free agents like Bobby Simmons or Stromile Swift.

Previous Draft Strategy: Unfortunately, the Bucks GM Larry Harris has only been in tenure for one other draft, in which he had no draft picks, so we are yet to see his strategy as a GM concerning drafting as well as in free agency beyond using the MLE. The organization, though, in the past few years has been unlucky in drafting the first round. TJ Ford in 2003 was a huge success before suffering a potentially career-ending injury, and the year prior Marcus Haislip turned out to be nothing but a tweener and waste of athletic ability. The team has seen the most success recently in the second round, where diamond-in-the-rough Michael Redd was found as well as Dan Gadzuric. All of this is virtually invalid, though, since Larry Harris was not at the helm at the time.

Personal Analysis: I believe the Bucks organization will end up drafting for the best player available, although possibly aiming at a frontcourt player. If they don't move into a position in the lottery to draft Andrew Bogut or Marvin Williams, at their current position Tiago Splitter would fall right into their hands and provide them with a player with potential to develop a nice low-post offensive game who already has fearless nerves on defense. This would allow free agency to address the small forward spot and hopefully bring in Bobby Simmons to take over at small forward, letting Mason take his all-important role off the bench as a sixth man. Michael Redd looks to be a sure-fire resign, with both he and the Bucks organization expressing complete interest in the other. All of this allows for Mo Williams to man one more year at the helm and to also allow TJ Ford to attempt a recovery. If neither goes well, the team can address their point guard position in the 2006 draft, and possibly use a second round pick on a player like Aaron Miles as added assurance as well as adding much needed perimeter defense and leadership.

Other Considerations: The Bucks could really use defenders at every position, a small forward with true size and capability, as well as a post scorer. A superstar or another all-star go to player with Michael Redd would help bring the team back to being at the very least a respectable team. Free agency could have a large affect on the draft as stated, or shall I say the draft could have a large affect on the free agency strategy. The Bucks organization prides itself at having hard working guys, so a personality like Chris Taft is likely out of the question. It would be ideal to draft a player that could help the club out immediately, but that isn't to say they need to be putting up all-star numbers. All in all, the team needs more talent, plain and simple.

Chicago Bulls

by Tim Reistetter

Draft Picks: None. The first round pick belongs to Phoenix to complete the terms of the Luol Deng trade and the second belongs to Utah as part of the Bryce Drew trade a few years back.

Background: After a dismal 0-9 start, this year looked like just another chapter in the post dynasty horror story. After a win on December 11th against Minnesota, the Bulls shed the poor play that brought them a 3-14 start and went on a tear playing the last 65 games on a 44-21 pace. New faces and unexpected contributions were the story of this Bulls team. Ten new players and four rookies including Ben Gordon, 6th man of the year, and Luol Deng who along with Gordon was named to the All-rookie first team were key contributors to the turnaround.

The Bulls play emulated their second year head coach Scott Skiles' and GM John Paxson's on court demeanor. Every minute that a player was on the floor they were expected to be playing tough defense, rebounding the basketball and playing smart on offense. This effort and emphasis paid off for the Bulls, ending up with the best defensive field goal percentage in the league. A great deal of this credit has to go to Tyson Chandler, who at only 22 years of age is already one of the best shot blockers in the league.

The offense was predicated on running set plays along with screen and rolls. Eddy Curry provided consistent low post scoring in the first quarter, while Ben Gordon provided the spark off the bench and fourth quarter heroics. Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich rounded out the offensive attack with a fundamental team approach to scoring. Off the bench, Othella Harrington provided good low-post scoring, while Eric Piatkowski and Jannero Pargo came off the bench and hit the outside shot.

For the first time since Jordan, Pippen and the rest of the dynasty, the Bulls reached the playoffs. The first two home games were lopsided in favor of the Bulls with Andres Nocioni having the best game of his career in the first and Kirk Hinrich having an unbelievable shooting game in the second. However, when the Wizards got the Bulls on their home court they turned the tide of the series and dismantled the Bulls. Riding these home victories the Wizards took game three at the United Center. Jannero Pargo hit three three point field goals in the last minute to bring back the Bulls from an impossible deficit. Unfortunately it was not to be as Gilbert Arenas came up big for the Wizards and hit the game winning shot. The series ended in Washington with a hard fought competitive game that was not decided until the last minutes.

Team Needs: The biggest need for the team is the healthy return of Eddy Curry, who has been undergoing testing since March 30th for a heart ailment. Details have been sketchy from the Bulls organization but a concrete picture is expected by the end of the month. There is a palpable fear amongst fans that his career may be over. If Curry's career is indeed over then the biggest need is to fill the huge hole his absence would create at the center position.

Assuming a healthy Curry returning next year, the Bulls do not have any glaring needs. With a top 7 pick at every position the Bulls are loaded with young talent. The biggest need is a backup PF/C to replace the aging Antonio Davis (36). Eddy Curry is a monster in the paint, but struggles on the defensive end and in clearing the backboards. Tyson Chandler is one of the best in the league at rebounding and shot blocking, but has an almost nonexistent offensive game. In essence these two big men are polar opposites on the floor. The third big man needs to have skills that ameliorate the starters' glaring weaknesses. In essence, the Bulls need a solid all around front court player with decent size such as Raef LaFrentz or PJ Brown.

According to many Bulls fans, the team is in need of a defensive minded shooting guard with legit size. The backcourt rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon is undersized with Hinrich being the tallest at 6'3". Certainly when looking at the roster on paper it indeed seems that this is a need, but the results say otherwise. The Bulls had the best defensive field goal percentage and opposing teams PER by position was the lowest at the shooting guard. However, just because something is working very well does not mean it can't be improved upon.

In a perfect world, Duhon would be replaced by a taller, more offensively oriented version of himself. This would allow Kirk Hinrich to play full time at the PG and only defend shooting guards when Ben Gordon is on the floor. The reality however is that Chris Duhon is a free agent this year and cannot be traded. There is a possibility of a sign and trade, but other teams realize that the Bulls are trying to preserve cap room. Most likely they would offer Duhon a contract they don't think the Bulls will match and hope the Bulls don't match. The chances of a team giving up a shooting guard of Duhon's ability, character or potential in a sign and trade are very slim.

This does not mean that the Bulls have no options or are content to sit pat this off-season. The Bulls can and most likely will explore adding a shooting guard from the NBDL, an undrafted rookie or a veteran on the cheap. GM John Paxson has had recent success in finding players in the NBDL. Ronald Dupree and Linton Johnson both got their first break with the Bulls and are now on NBA rosters. The hope of both the front office and Bulls fans is that one of these cheap players can come in and take the roughly 25 minutes that Jannero Pargo and Eric Piatkowski plays. If this doesn't happen the Bulls are perfectly content for next season and into the future with their back court. In short, a big shooting guard is not so much a need as it is a luxury that the Bulls will look to fill sometime in the future.

GM Strategy

GM John Paxson has built this team on winners and experienced players. His draft picks include two NCAA champions in Gordon and Duhon and players with NCAA finals experience in Hinrich and Deng. Andres Nocioni, a free agent signing of the Bulls won a gold medal in the Olympics on the Argentinean national team along with having success playing in Europe. It is hard to pinpoint whether Paxson prefers to draft for team need or best player available because all of his picks (save Austin) have been both the best player available and filled a need of the Bulls. It is clear however that Paxson puts a high emphasis on winning, experience and character.

Personal Expectations

This looks to be a very quiet off-season for the Bulls without draft picks or cap room to sign a free agent. Paxson's plan from day one has been to be under the cap for the summer of '06 and it doesn't appear that he will deviate from that. In an interview Paxson, has said to expect at most stop gap measures. The Bulls have already invited Mario Austin, Romain Sato and Troy Bell to attend a minicamp. It is also reported that the Bulls have interest in Ricky Minard and Greek combo guard Nikos Zissis. These seem to be the type of additions, if any, Paxson is going to make. If Duhon does end up leaving in free agency, Raja Bell, Sarunas Jasikivicius or Kerry Kittles are viable options to replace him.

At this point in time the Bulls don't have very many assets that they are willing to give up in a trade. The Bulls only have six players under contract for next year, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Antonio Davis, Eric Piatkowski and Andres Nocioni. Out of those, Deng, Gordon and Hinrich will not be moved except for an impossible to pass up deal. Antonio Davis does have a good deal of value around the league with a 14 million dollar expiring contract. Davis along with Piatkowski and his 3 million dollar expiring contract can make up an attractive offer. While a trade is certainly possible, most of the time salary dumps occur at the trading deadline.

By no means does this mean that Paxson has the summer off, he now has numerous free agents to resign instead. Both Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler are expected to garner a great deal of interest from teams with cap room. The Bulls have a right to match any offer they get and it appears that they will. The top priority for Paxson this summer has to be signing both of these young big men to reasonable deals. I expect something along the lines of Troy Murphy's 6 year 60 million dollar extension.

The next priority is retaining surprising rookie Chris Duhon and veteran backup Othella Harrington. Both free agency and the draft are littered with solid point guards, which bodes well for the Bulls. I would expect Duhon to get a deal similar in value to a rookie contract. A 3 year, 8 million dollar deal seems reasonable for both sides. The Bulls only have the right to match offers up to the MLE for Duhon, but I do not expect him to be offered that much. Othella Harrington may garner interest from a contender such as Houston or Miami. The Bulls would certainly like to resign him but will not break the bank to do so. Anything more than 3 years and 10 million dollars and I expect the Bulls to let him walk.

Other free agents include Jared Reiner, Jannero Pargo, Adrian Griffin and Frank Williams. Except for Frank Williams who will be shown the door, the Bulls would like to have all these players back, but will not pay much more than the minimum to do so. I am confident that both Reiner and Griffin will be back, but Pargo may have earned a contract richer than the Bulls want to pay.

A dark horse candidate would be Donyell Marshall. Certainly the Bulls would prefer him over Othella Harrington. It has been reported that Marshall still has a home in the Chicagoland area and he already signed as a free agent with the Bulls once. Marshall was also recently sighted at the Bulls playoff game, further fueling speculation. If he were willing to accept a 3 year, 10 million dollar deal with a player option after the second year, approximately 6 million under the MLE, he could be a Bull next year. Unfortunately this probably is just a pipe dream as Marshall may even be offered more than the MLE.

Detroit Pistons

by Fraser MacKinlay

Draft Picks: The Pistons had another excellent year and as a result have the 26th and 56th picks in this year's draft.

Background: The Pistons, as mentioned above, had a great season. They started out slowly, perhaps still as a result of a tumultuous summer, definitely as a result of the November brawl, but finished strong and won the Central division and the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Despite the resurgence this year of the run-and-gun style in the NBA, the Pistons stuck to their bread and butter defensive style and proved that you can still win without putting up 110 points a night. Larry Brown has had his health issues and that's something that will have to be addressed in the off-season. Other than that, the team seems to be in good order and should be feared in the playoffs.

Team needs: Detroit has one of, if not the most balanced roster in the league. Everyone has a defined role and sticks to it. However, they are not without shortcomings. Their bench isn't as deep as it once was and their current reserves are getting older. The two biggest concerns I see are outside shooting and interior size. Chauncey Billups is an excellent shooter, shooting .426 from behind the arc this season, but the best shooter on their bench was Lindsey Hunter at .274; this is unacceptable from a world class team. The Pistons will be well served to pick up a backup small forward with range who can play and hopefully guard both swingman positions. They also need to get bigger inside. Ben Wallace is a beast, but he can only play so many minutes. Elden Campbell will be 37 this season and is no longer the Shaq-stopper he used to be, while Darko is still a long ways away. If Detroit can address these two areas, either through trades, free agency, or the draft, they will be a contender again and again.

GM Strategy: Joe Dumars has cemented himself as one of the better general managers in the game today. This being said, his draft success has been spotty at best. Tayshaun Prince was a steal in 2002, as was Mehmet Okur in 2001, but both lottery picks that the Pistons have had since Dumars' hiring haven't panned out, at least not yet in Darko's case. It is too early to judge about Delfino so far, but his impact may be made outside of Detroit. Dumars seems to like solid role players and internationals, as the Pistons have potentially the most respected international scout in the business in Tony Ronzone. Four out of nine picks have been from overseas, with three of the four in the last two years, so it would not surprise me if the Pistons went with another international. There will, of course, be some high-caliber role players available at the 26th pick and it would make sense for Dumars to go after a player who is able to contribute right away, although that would go against his past strategies. Suffice to say, the draft hasn't been a great tool for the Pistons the past few years and probably won't be this year either considering where they are drafting. With their late 2nd round pick, roster spot considerations could force the Pistons to draft a European player that they can stash overseas for a few years.

Bottom Line: The Pistons have been one of the most successful teams in the past few years and should continue to be for the next few. However, they are getting older and with extensions due for Prince and Wallace, could be in for some cap issues. Dumars is one of the best though and with him at the helm the Pistons ship should never veer too far off course.

Indiana Pacers

by Jace Gonnerman

Draft Picks: #17 1st round, #46 2nd Round

Background: After an outstanding 2003-2004 season in which the Pacers went 61-21 before losing to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers imploded in 2004-2005. Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson both received lengthy suspensions for their involvement in the brawl at Auburn Hills which I don't need to go into. Top defender and enforcer Ron Artest was suspended for the season after playing only seven games. Add into this injuries to 2004 draft pick David Harrison, former top 5 pick Jonathan Bender, O'Neal, and point guard Jamal Tinsley, and you see that the Pacers were extremely undermanned for most of the season. On the positive side of things, Reggie Miller has truly had a fabulous retirement party. In his final season he has managed to stay healthy and has carried the Pacers down the stretch. Other positives include the rebounding of Jeff Foster and the emergence of Fred Jones as a double digit scorer. At 43-37, the Pacers made the playoffs and have salvaged what could have truly been a disaster.

Team Needs: (1st round pick)

Point Guard: When healthy, Jamal Tinsley is a very serviceable point guard. However, after playing in only forty games this year it's obvious that health is a major concern. With the 17h pick in the draft, however, it's very unlikely that a long term solution would fall to them. Raymond Felton, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul will all be gone by pick 17. The only other point guards worthy of first round status would be high schooler Monta Ellis and possibly Jarrett Jack. Monta is an unproven high school shooting guard who will more than likely struggle to learn the point. Jack is a solid college player, but probably not someone to build an NBA team around.

Shooting Guard: With the retirement of Reggie Miller, and the ever uncertain state of being that is Ron Artest, a combo shooting guard/small forward would be a nice pick here. Some possibilities at this pick would be 6'4 Rashad McCants (more shooting guard than small forward), 6'8 European Marko Tomas, 6'5 Rudy Fernandez, 6'7 Francisco Garcia, 6'6 Kennedy Winston, and possibly 6'7 Antoine Wright. All of these players have their strengths and weaknesses, but would be a nice pick at this spot.

Center: A solid counterpart to Jermaine O'Neal would be a nice addition. In the times that I saw David Harrison play, I saw some potential but I don't ever think that he will be a star. Jeff Foster is one of the grittiest players in the NBA, but lacks athleticism. With this pick it would be nice to take a big man who doesn't need to have the ball in hands a great deal, but is a solid rebounder and will complement Jermaine. A good example of a player like this is what Brad Miller did with Chris Webber. Some options at center at pick 17 would be Johan Petro, Randolph Morris, Channing Frye, and Ronny Turiaf.

Team Needs: (2nd round pick)

With the 46th pick the Pacers would be advised to either take a polished college player who can be an immediate backup or a project at the center position. Two players who immediately come to mind are two players who the Pacers should be very familiar with: Kentucky's Kelenna Azubuke and Indiana's Bracey Wright. Both of these players made big mistakes in coming out early but would be able to contribute off the bench right away. There are very few intriguing second round center prospects so it appears that this pick will be used on a 2 or 3, the best player available or potentially a European to stash overseas.

GM Trends and My Analysis

Looking back over the past few years of drafting there have been very few trends for the Pacers. They have drafted a college big man (David Harrison), a point guard (Jamal Tinsley), a high school stringbean (Jonathan Bender), an undersized athletic guard (Fred Jones), and swingman James Jones. With this year's uncertainty in the backcourt, and a weak point guard class depth wise, I would be very surprised if a guard or a combo guard/forward wasn't drafted.

Cleveland Cavaliers

by Troy Wingate

Draft Picks: None.

Background: The Cleveland Cavaliers had made some improvements from the 2003/04 season, despite losing Carlos Boozer to Utah via free agency. They recovered from that by dealing Tony Battie to Orlando for Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao. The Cavs got off to a great start to the season, led by first time All-Star LeBron James, and led the Central Division for almost 2 months. Going into All-star weekend, things were looking great, sitting very nicely with a 31-21 record. But then everything went downhill, including a new owner (Dan Gilbert), a 6-game losing streak and the firing of Head Coach, Paul Silas, after LeBron's 56 point performance in a loss at Toronto. The Cavs went from being central divison leaders to barely holding on to a playoff position. Their playoff fate came down to the last day of the regular season, and despite the victory, they were eliminated by New Jersey because the Nets held the tie breaker over Cleveland. The next day, General Manager Jim Paxson was fired by owner Dan Gilbert.

Team Needs: The shooting guard and point guard positions are a big need for the Cavs, as LeBron James will play SF, while Jiri Welsch, Lucious Harris, DaJuan Wagner, Jeff McInnis and possibly Ira Newble could all be goners. The Cavs will try to re-sign free agent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a deal starting at less than $10 million per (preferably $8 million) and if they fail to reach an agreement, Big Z will be gone too, and the center position becomes a must need. If Big Z is not re-signed, this opens up roughly $21 million for the Cavs to spend in free agency.

Shooting Guard: Players the Cavaliers will look at for the SG position are likely Michael Redd (Milwaukee), Joe Johnson (Phoenix), Ray Allen (Seattle), Larry Hughes (Washington), and Bobby Simmons (LA Clippers). Michael Redd is the most likely to be signed by Cleveland, mostly because he went to college at Ohio. But Joe Johnson and Ray Allen seem to be the favorites by Cavs fans, as they have more overall skill than Redd, as well as 3 point shooting. No matter who Cleveland signs from this crop, it will take big bucks to get them. Kings guard Cuttino Mobley is another option for Cleveland.

Point Guard: The Cavs thought they found their point guard last season when they traded Darius Miles to Portland for Jeff McInnis. J-Mac made an instant impact for Cleveland last season, and it was thought he would be even better this year. Despite his career numbers, Jeff's attitude has reverted back to what got him traded from the Clippers and Blazers, and now his days in Cleveland appear numbered. DaJuan Wagner, once thought to be the answer to the Cavs problems, has an uncertain future with Cleveland, because of his never ending injury and health problems. The list of available free agents is small for Cleveland, but there are some options like Earl Watson (Memphis), Steve Blake (Washington), Damon Stoudamire (Portland), Dan Dickau (New Orleans), Mike James (Houston) and Antonio Daniels (Seattle) being the most talked about by Cavs fans.

Center: Re-signing Ilgauskas is top priority for Cleveland. But it's been reported he's asked for as much as $14 million as a starting salary, while the rumors say that the Cavs have offered Zydrunas less than $8 million as a starting salary. If the Cavs and Big Z can't agree on something reasonable that works for both parties, Ilgauskas will not be a Cavalier next season. Options for Ilgauskas' replacement could look like this: Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia), Kwame Brown (Washington), Eddy Curry (Chicago), Tyson Chandler (Chicago) being the best free agent centers available. If the Cavs can't land a center in FA, they could look to sign and trade Ilgauskas.

Draft strategy Apart from LeBron James and Luke Jackson (injured), former GM Jim Paxson's selections in the draft were very difficult to figure out. Paxson has passed up players that have blossomed into stars in favor for the likes of DeSagana Diop, DaJuan Wagner, and Trajan Langdon. But Cavs fans may have forgiven Paxson for those blunders when Cleveland selected LeBron James with the #1 pick on the 2003 draft. That's all a moot point now because the Cavs don't have a general manager yet, and no picks either.

Personal Expectations Dan Gilbert must hire a new General Manager and Head Coach before the FA period begins. Players hate negotiating with teams with the key positions like Head Coach and GM in uncertainty. But once these positions are filled, I believe our GM will be looking at Michael Redd first, then likely Larry Hughes, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson. JJ is left last because he is a restricted free agent and Phoenix can match any offer for him. As to what may actually happen, it will all depend on what happens with Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In a perfect world, the Cavs would re-sign Big Z for a starting salary of $8 million, leaving roughly $13 million to spend on free agents. So with that $13 million, the Cavs will pursue the guys I mentioned earlier. If Z is not re-signed, the Cavs may look at Samuel Dalembert, Kwame Brown, or Eddy Curry.

Other considerations: Once all the major free agent moves are completed, Cleveland needs to look at adding some role players who know what their job is to surround LeBron. The most important role players that need to be added are defenders. Defense wins championships, and Detroit proved that last season, as did the great Chicago Bulls teams of the 90's. The new coach must also emphasize the importance of defense. We have the offensive fire power in LeBron James, Drew Gooden, the possible FA SG pickup, so we need to add defensive guys who can shut down their man.

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