11. OJ MAYO AWARD
Given annually to the player who out-produces the new contract he signed directly before the season. Bonus points for multi-year deals.
Winner: Paul Millsap (2 years, $19 million)
Falling Short: Andrei Kirilenko, Metta World Peace, Marco Belinelli
In an offseason where Kyle Korver, Jarrett Jack, Kevin Martin, Jose Calderon, Martell Webster and kinda JR Smith commanded four-year deals at annual salaries in the same ballpark as Millsap’s, it’s truly unbelievable that the Hawks stole such a talented power forward on just a two-year deal. Still only 28, Millsap is showing no signs of decline and could fetch a sweet package of young guys + picks if the Hawks want to re-blow things up in the next 18 months. This one’s not close, even though there were some nice minimum signings.
12. RUDY GAY AWARD
Given annually to the best player traded during the season.
Winner: Rajon Rondo
Falling Short: DeMarcus Cousins, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic
Lotta good names here. I think the safe pick is Gay to win his own award, as he’s overpaid in the final year of his max contract and Toronto has a new GM in place. That being said, I don’t think Rondo stays in Boston through the season.
With a new roster and coach in place in Boston, it doesn’t make sense to keep Rondo. At 27, he’s not an ideal guy to build around, largely because of his unique skillset which is tough to maximize around the likes of Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford. Also, he’ll be up for an extension in 2015, when Boston will have some cap flexibility for the first time in the post-KG/Pierce era.
PS: Rondo proposal: Boston sends Indiana Rajon Rondo and Oklahoma City Courtney Lee (absorbed into Kevin Martin trade exception); Indy sends Oklahoma City Danny Granger’s expiring contract; Oklahoma City sends Indiana Thabo Sefolosha; Boston receives Lance Stephenson, Solomon Hill and a first-round pick from Indiana and Kendrick Perkins (contract expires in 2015), Perry Jones III and two first-round picks from Oklahoma City. (Don’t sleep on the value of bringing Perkins back to Boston to help lead a young core.)
Basically, the Thunder add Granger as the potential final piece of the puzzle, the Pacers grab Rondo to take the next step and the Celtics get three picks, two potential prospects (Jones III and Hill) and a good player they can either re-sign in 2014 or trade for more assets (Stephenson).
13. MARTELL WEBSTER AWARD
Given annually to a to-be free agent whose contract-year performance jacks up his market value.
Winner: Marcin Gortat
Falling Short: Kyle Lowry, Trevor Ariza
Having the max contract in place means that really good players never get vastly overpaid on new contracts. There’s a cap on how bad a deal can be (until said players start re-signing with new max contracts, and things like this and this happen). But paying decent players like really good players happens all the time.
Gortat is a solid player and major improvement over the Kevin Seraphin/Trevor Booker combo the Wiz would have had to rely on without this weekend’s trade. But he’s really just an 11-and-9 guy who needs a good ball distributor to make noise on offense. In his first two years in Phoenix, playing with Nash, Gortat averaged about 13 points per game on 56 percent shooting. Last season, those numbers dipped to 11 points per contest on 52 percent shooting without Nash around.
All of that being said, if he stays healthy (he’s missed 47 games over the last three seasons), he could be looking at a max or near-max contract next summer. Serviceable centers always get big money (examples A, B, C, D, E, F), and Gortat is going to be the top center on the market in 2014. Only I’d hate to commit to the 29-year-old for more than a couple of years, and I’d really hate to promise him $10+ million annually. How good can your team be if a fifth of your payroll (~$12 million) is going to Marcin Gortat? One big man-needy team will get sucked into overpaying.
14. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AWARD
Given annually to the team that misses the Playoffs but appears to have the brightest future.
Winner: Orlando Magic
Falling Short: Utah Jazz
If they play their cards right, here’s what the Magic could have a year from now: Oladipo, Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and two could-be prospects in Kyle O’Quinn and Doron Lamb; a top-five pick in the best draft in a decade; picks and prospects received in trades for Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis, who they’d be crazy not to trade this year for tanking/asset-piling purposes; three future protected picks owed to them from the Howard trade; massive 2015 cap space.
It looked like Orlando blew the Howard deal a year ago, but today it looks sweet. The future looks bright for the Magic right now, and should only get better once we’ve seen Oladipo in action and know where Orlando will pick in the Draft. I think they’ll contend for a Playoff spot in the next two or three years.
15. LOS ANGELES LAKERS AWARD
Given annually to the team whose season finishes in total ruins. Bonus points awarded for head coach firings, star player trade requests and/or serious star player free agency chatter.
Winner: New York Knicks
Falling Short: Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat
I wrote about this stuff during the offseason, but basically here’s what the Knicks are facing in the 2014 offseason: (1) Unrestricted free agency for Carmelo Anthony. (2) Roughly $60 million committed to Andrea Bargnani, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire in ’14-15, instantly capping the team out next summer even without Anthony on the books. (3) Zero draft picks in a crazy-exciting draft. That’s more or less all you need to know about next summer.
Before they get there, though, New York should have a funky ’13-14 season with one or two or sixty questions to answer. Will Chandler bounce back from a brutal postseason? What is Amare’s role on this team? Is he capable of having a role anymore? Can Iman Shumpert be the second-best player on a good team? Has there ever been a more natural marriage than Bargnani and New York? On second thought, has there ever been a more natural marriage than Metta World Peace and New York? Can Bargs play alongside Chandler? Will he block Melo from playing as a stretch-four? What’s the deal with JR Smith’s knee? Will Melo be playing with one foot out the door the entire year?
In some ways I actually like this Knicks roster—I think Shumpert is in for a big year, the team had nice minimum signings and I love watching Melo play about as much as anybody in the game. But there’s a potential disaster at every position on the team, and that’s before we think about Mike Woodson and his lack of postseason success.
This is a boom-or-bust year for the entire Knicks franchise, which spent years lining up the team they’ll put on the floor in ’13-14. If it’s simply not good enough, they’ll have to take major steps back before they take steps forward… again.
The Nets are an obvious backup choice for the award, so I won’t dive too deep into their potential issues. In short, here are three major things to keep an eye on in Brooklyn: (1) Deron Williams’ ankle problems rivaling Stephen Curry’s (2) Jason Kidd (3) Deron Williams’ ankles again.
Don’t sleep on the Heat, though. Obviously they’ll roll through the regular season completely unlike the way the Lakers played for 82 games last year, but they’ll need to deliver in the postseason. Two-outta-four titles might not be enough to keep LeBron around, and they’re looking right at a messy situation surrounding a potential D-Wade extension. He brought them a title in ’06 and two more so far since LeBron joined, but what’s he worth going forward? How many years can you lock into paying Wade $20+ million? Would the Bulls let Deng walk and cut Boozer to make a run at him? Plus, how will the repeater tax play into things if the Big Three want to return? Big, big year for Miami’s dynasty hopes.
16. MIKE BROWN AWARD
Given annually to the first coached fired once the season begins.
Winner: Randy Wittman (Wizards)
Falling Short: Dwane Casey (Raptors), Mike Woodson (Knicks)
Predicting the first coach fired is tough. Teams with a shot at a title won’t fire their coaches midseason unless they desperately need a shakeup (making Scott Brooks’ job safe). The worst teams know they’re in for long seasons and are unlikely to fire their coaches (making Ty Corbin’s job safe). First-year coaches probably won’t get canned during the year, either (making Jason Kidd’s job safe). So to qualify for the Mike Brown award, (1) Candidate must have coached the team for at least one season and (2) Expectations for the season have to be set on making the Playoffs, but not necessarily winning a title. We have three such candidates this year: Wittman in Washington, Casey in Toronto and Woodson in New York
Woodson is probably safe since the Knicks will win plenty of regular season games. Toronto is likely good enough, too. There’s potential for breakout seasons from Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan. Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay will be playing for new contracts, Amir Johnson is weirdly good and the bench—Ross, DJ Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough, Austin Daye, Landry Fields, Aaron Gray—could be worse.
That leaves the Wizards, who I have marginally high hopes for but are the best bet to get off to a slow start. Landing Gortat to replace the injured Emeka Okafor was a nice move, but let’s not forget that Nene and Gortat each missed about 20 games last season. It’s a thin frontcourt behind those guys.
Washington went 2-5 in the preseason (I know, I know), and have to travel to Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas and Detroit during the first two weeks. A tough start could get Wittman canned.
17. ’96-97 BOSTON CELTICS AWARD
Given annually to the bottom-dweller that makes the most losing-friendly moves during the season. Bonus points given if star player is traded. Extra bonus points given if star player misses extended time with minor injury. Automatic victory if star player sits out for extended time with minor injury and is traded in same season.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
Falling Short: Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz (Charlotte was DQ’d following the Al Jefferson signing.)
Tough battle here. Phoenix is obviously trying to get the inside edge early, as they just traded their second-best player for an injured guy. Plus, they’re moving their best player, Goran Dragic, out of position, and having Eric Bledsoe, an unknown entity, run the show.
But the Jazz aren’t gonna let Phoenix run away with the award. Utah intentionally acquired Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson in the same trade without moving a Joe Johnson-type contract. Incredible! Playing Biedrins and Jefferson more than 25 minutes combined nightly might sew up the award for them.
Still, though, my money is on Philly, who wisely look like they won’t risk playing Nerlens Noel this season. They’re entering the year with James Anderson as their starting shooting guard in an utterly tank-tastic move, and I think trades for one or all of Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are on the horizon. If they make those deals, they’ll take home the award named for the team that pulled off the most incredible tank job in NBA history, only to get screwed out of Tim Duncan in the lottery.
A few months ago, then-Celtics coach ML Carr had this to say about that magical C’s season to ESPN.com: “I remember one game in particular, when David Wesley was hitting jump shots and 3-pointers all over the floor, I had to get him out of the game…He came over to me and said, ‘Coach, what are you doing? I just hit four shots in a row.’ I said, ‘I know, David, but I’m experimenting…’ I’ll tell you, it was brutal. Those players were smart. They knew what we were doing.” Read that again with Thaddeus’ name in place of Wesley and you’ve got the ’13-14 Sixers.
18. ANDREW WIGGINS AWARD
Given to the team which will pick first in the 2014 NBA Draft. (Note: different from team with worst ’13-14 record.)
Falling Short: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah (maybe Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, Sacramento, LAL)
This is a total gut-feeling award. Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, Sacramento and the Lakers will win a few too many games to land the top pick, though everybody’s got a shot in the lottery. The race for the worst record will likely come down to five teams: Charlotte, Philly, Orlando, Phoenix and Utah.
By process of elimination, I’ve irrationally crossed off two of those five: Charlotte because the Wiggins/MJ thing would be too weird, and Orlando because Oladipo and Wiggins playing together would be 4,000 times too cool to actually happen.
From there, it’s all about imagining Wiggins in the three remaining teams’ jerseys. I could see Philly and Phoenix, but not Utah.
The Sixers’ roster is so horrific that I don’t think they’ll end up with the top pick, similar to the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. Congrats, Phoenix.
19. TERRENCE JONES AWARD
Given annually to the first-round pick who plays the most minutes in the D-League during his rookie season.
Winner: Shabazz Muhammed
Falling Short: Mason Plumlee, Solomon Hill
This one’s got Shabazz’s name written all over it. I didn’t like his game in college, and he landed on the wrong team. It’s a classic double-whammy that should lead to a nice season for the Iowa Energy, Minnesota’s D-League affiliate. How many minutes could he possibly see while competing with Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham on the wing? Perhaps the better question focuses on why the TWolves drafted Shabazz at all.
20. DANNY GREEN AWARD
Given annually to the player who revitalizes his career after being presumed dead for at least one season.
Winner: James Anderson
Falling Short: Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Kwame Brown
I know I just picked on Anderson, but I actually like him. There’s no reason for Jason Richardson to play all this year, Turner and Thaddeus will probably be on the trade block and the next-best wing players on Philadelphia are Tony Wroten and Darius Morris, a pair of relatively big point guards who will probably be forced to play some shooting guard.
Anderson was a good player out of the 2010 Draft who got buried on the Spurs bench and probably just lost his mojo. New Sixers coach Brett Brown worked with Anderson in San Antonio, and I think it probably means something that he’s taking a chance on him in Philly.
Anderson played 20-25 minutes nightly during the preseason, and responded by scoring 15+ points in four out of seven games while hitting at least two threes in each contest. He’s capable of handling a starting gig, so long as the team doesn’t plan on winning a ton of games.
BONUS PREDICTION: NBA FINALS
Clippers over Bulls
The Clippers are the same team that ripped off a perfect December last season, only they’ve swapped out Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Vinny Del Negro for Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, JJ Redick and Doc Rivers. I’m a fan of Reggie Bullock (though I doubt he’ll have much of a role in his rookie season) and Antawn Jamison was a good pickup for the minimum.
The Bulls are going to be playing really, really, really angry—gotta love D-Rose with the League’s biggest chip on his shoulder. I don’t think Miami will three-peat, I don’t trust the Pacers’ offense quite enough and I don’t fully buy the Knicks or Nets.
Clippers win it in six. Enjoy the season, everybody.