Five Teams: Time to Rebuild or Retool?
There comes a point for every playoff team when they have they have to plan the next steps in their future. Is it best to attempt to retool around the current core and try to extend the current window of opportunity? Or is it time to say, “Hey, we had a good run but it’s time to tear it down to the bones and start over”? Let’s take a look at five teams facing that very decision: the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs.
Why these five teams? Each of them are either currently playoff teams or have been playoff teams with their current core, are facing age issues with some key members of their roster, and if they do nothing at the trade deadline will be cutting in excess of $20 million from their current cap figure to make them major players in 2012 free agency. They can choose to use their expiring contracts to exchange them for longer term deals in an attempt to get younger and prolong the window, or they can let them expire and head into free agency with a boatload of money to spend.
Boston Celtics (Team Salary)
The Boston Celtics are well into the luxury tax for the 2011-12 season at $78.4 million, but if they don’t make a trade they will be entering the offseason with just $35.5 million committed to just six players. That number reduces by another $4.3 million if Brandon Bass doesn’t invoke his Player Option. Boston still has their Amnesty Provision but could only use it on Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo, which won’t happen.
If the Celtics choose to retool they could do it one of two ways. The first would be to trade Allen or Garnett at the trade deadline for longer term contracts. The trouble with this course is getting value in return. Are the players teams would offer for these players – 36 and 35, a combined $31.2 million in expiring deals – worth it? Will they become suitable replacements to maintain the Celtics place as a playoff team? The second option is they could not make a trade and then re-sign Garnett and Allen at reduced amounts in the offseason, though they will be competing with other teams at that point.
If the Celtics simply let the contracts expire they could go into the offseason looking for big men to add to a core of All-Stars Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce with the ability to offer a max contract. Such an offer has to be tempered by the fact they need a lot of depth, especially up front (which is part of their problem this season). If they are smart with the $20 million or so they have to spend they could add a starter or two plus some depth. They also have two first-round picks in this year’s draft, their own and the Los Angeles Clippers’.
Dallas Mavericks (Team Salary)
The 2011 NBA Champions are about $3 million into the luxury tax this season, but have just $54.3 million committed to nine players for 2012-13. That number can be reduced by almost another $9 million if they choose to waive Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Sean Williams by the end of June. Dallas still has their Amnesty Provision they could use on Shawn Marion or Brendan Haywood.
If the Mavericks go the retool route they would be looking to add existing contracts to MVP Dirk Nowitzki. The non-guaranteed contracts of Odom and Carter may be intriguing to teams who are clearly looking to rebuild and clear some future debt, but would those players match what Dallas wants to accomplish? The Mavericks are still a team competing at a high level and it’s doubtful the players other teams want to move for the non-guaranteed deals would make big impacts.
The Mavericks seem to be leaning towards the rebuild route. There is quite a bit of talk around how it’s possible Deron Williams and Dwight Howard would like to join up in Dallas, but a lot of things would have to fall into place for that to happen, including at least one sign-and-trade deal or the pair agreeing to undermarket (i.e., non-max) contracts. If that falls through the Mavericks still need a point guard with both Jason Terry and Jason Kidd becoming free agents. It’s a tough decision when they have $16.7 million invested in Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion for next season. Dallas has no first-round picks this year, having traded this year’s to the L.A. Lakers to acquire Odom.
Phoenix Suns (Team Salary)
The Suns were not a playoff team last year nor will they be one this year, but they have done very well in the Steve Nash era. This year they sit at just over $64 million, but next season have $31.8 million committed to seven players. The status of Aaron Brooks’ free agency could impact that number as will their reluctance to part ways with Nash. The Suns could use their Amnesty Provision to clear more space in the form of Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick or Channing Frye.
If the Suns choose to retool that would mean re-signing Nash, which they would love to do for two more seasons. That would eat up perhaps half of their available cap room unless Nash gives the team a discount to go out and find some scorers who fit well into Alvin Gentry’s uptempo offense. The team would have a quality bench if they re-signed Brooks, Nash and then used the rest of the money to bring in a power forward who rebounds well and a scoring wing (both Grant Hill and Shannon Brown are also free agents).
If the Suns decide to rebuild it means saying goodbye to Steve Nash (it’s very, very unlikely he is traded) in free agency. Considering the dearth of quality free agent point guards it also means likely bringing back Brooks and paying him starter’s money. If the team makes smart decisions while recognizing the need to address specific niche roles and allowing for the further development of young players like Markieff Morris, they may be in very good shape. A core focusing on Brooks, Morris and center Marcin Gortat could go far. They also have their own first-round pick.
Portland Trail Blazers (Team Salary)
The Blazers didn’t want to be here. Instead of facing a decision like this they would have been more than happy to be well over the cap paying a lot of money to an All-Star trio of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge. Obviously that’s not going to happen, so instead the Blazers are sitting at $66.0 million this season and $41.9 million next season to nine players. If Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford do not invoke their Player Options Portland could be a further $14.7 million under the cap. Portland has already used their Amnesty Provision on Roy.
If the Blazers choose to retool they will be active this trade deadline, looking for a way to move veterans Marcus Camby and Raymond Felton in exchange for players who could take their place and complement a core of Aldridge and Nic Batum (in either option Batum is absolutely seen as part of the team’s future and keeping him in restricted free agency will be viewed as a top priority). The problem with this route is there simply isn’t the quality of centers and point guards available in trade for ending contracts.
Rebuild may be the better option. Portland could use their cap space one on the top name centers on the market not named Dwight Howard, such as Chris Kaman or JaVale McGee; both would complement Aldridge well in the frontcourt. The problem is then what to do about the point guard position, especially if Crawford becomes a free agent and Felton is not retained. A center will take most of the cap space and the point guard class is weak anyway. They do have their own first-round pick.
San Antonio Spurs (Team Salary)
The Spurs sit at about $3 million over the luxury tax line for this season, but have just $49.2 million committed to nine players for 2012-13. They could clear another $2 million with the non-guaranteed contracts of DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal, but waiving them is extremely unlikely. They also could still use their Amnesty Provision, perhaps clearing another $10.2 million in the form of Richard Jefferson (or Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, but Jefferson is more likely).
Retooling for the Spurs means first re-signing Duncan, though at a much lower rate than his current salary of $21.2 million. The question then becomes how much less and after that will they have any cap space left whatsoever? Yes, he will be 36 in April and clearly not the same player, but he can still dominate in bursts and averages 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds. Re-signing him means the Spurs probably will be limited to using the Mid-Level Exception (unless they choose to use Amnesty). By re-tooling they could be active in the trade market now, though it will be difficult to find a taker for Jefferson that will give them value in return, let alone for Ginobili or Parker.
Rebuilding would mean not re-signing Duncan, which would likely only happen if he chooses to retire. There is about zero chance Duncan ever wears another jersey other than San Antonio’s, unless the two sides have a serious falling out (again, very unlikely). The Spurs would have to focus on finding another power forward to replace Duncan. That’s a difficult task with the money they would have to spend even with his reduced production. San Antonio does have their first-round pick.
What do you think the Celtics, Mavericks, Blazers and Spurs should do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 8pm Eastern.