View Full Version : 9/17 ESPN Insider = Some teams just aren't ready

09-17-2003, 12:51 PM
Standing pat might be Portland's best option
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Wednesday, September 17
Updated: September 17
9:24 AM ET

Wouldn't it be nice to be the Lakers right about now?

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is the type of guy who does his Christmas shopping in July. A hall of fame free-agent bargain power forward here. A top-flight veteran point guard there. Wrapped. Under the tree with two months to go before training camp.

Not everyone can be so lucky. While the majority of the league appears to be set for training camp in two weeks, a few stragglers are looking at their roster right now and cringing. No center. No power forward. No point guard. No playoffs.

On Tuesday, we took a look at seven homeless free agents still looking for a job. Today the focus shifts away from jobless players to four teams that still need to get their house in order before training camp begins in two weeks.

Portland Trail Blazers

The problem: A shake-up in the front office and a new penny-pinching philosophy by owner Paul Allen has stalled what was supposed to be a fairly major overhaul this summer. To date the Blazers have yet to sign a free agent, and have lost three key players -- Scottie Pippen, Arvydas Sabonis and Antonio Daniels. New GM John Nash has been in trade talks for the past month, but has been unable to close a deal because of concerns about bad contracts.


The solution: If the Blazers are just concerned with the bottom line, they'll probably do nothing. Rasheed Wallace's $17 million comes off the books next summer. Another $25 million comes off the books in 2005 when Dale Davis, Damon Stoudamire and Jeff McInnis hit free agency. If the Blazers don't throw too much money Zach Randolph's way two years from now, the Blazers could be $10-15 million under the cap in the summer of 2005.

If Allen expects the Blazers to compete in the West, something fairly dramatic has to be done. The top five teams in the West have all gotten significantly stronger. The team is still weak in the middle and at the point. If there is any truth to the rumors that the Blazers are holding up a deal that would bring Antonio Davis and Kenyon Martin to Portland for Rasheed Wallace and Dale Davis, they should jump on it. The deal won't help Paul Allen's wallet -- Davis has three years left on his deal and Martin wants a max extension -- but it does guarantee that the Blazers will stay competitive for a long, long time.

Utah Jazz

The problem: We knew that the loss of Karl Malone and John Stockton would be devastating, but who knew it would be this bad? GM Kevin O'Connor did his best this summer to land a top free agent, but the Jazz stuck out twice trying to snag a restricted free agent, and lost out on everyone else they pursued. They get an "A" for effort, but a "D" for the final result.

The solution: It isn't Keon Clark. Clark was the only significant addition to the Jazz this summer. While he will give them energy, shot blocking and much needed athleticism, he can't address either of the Jazz's biggest needs -- low-post scoring and point guard play. Had they landed Jason Terry, one of their problems would've been solved. Without Terry, the Jazz are in big trouble this season. The free-agent pool is essentially empty. The Jazz have a lot of flexibility with trades given that the team is still $15 million under the cap. But the key for O'Connor is getting players who aren't overpaid and who don't have too many years left on their contracts. As it stands, the Jazz will clear another $13.7 million next year when Clark and Greg Ostertag get off the books. They can afford to swallow one big contract, but not much else.


They've already made the calls to Atlanta, trying to pry away Shareef Abdur-Rahim. With the new ownership finally in place, will the Hawks be anxious to start cutting payroll and make a deal? If that doesn't work, the Jazz don't have many options. The Nets are trying to dump Dikembe Mutombo. The Raptors are shopping Antonio Davis. The Blazers are trying to move one long-term contract. It's doubtful the Jazz are interested in any of those trades. One option might be to dangle Ostertag as part of the deal now. Several teams like the Grizzlies and Knicks are still desperate for a center. Ostertag isn't much to look at, be he did average 9.2 ppg and 8.6 rpg in the playoffs last season. What about an Ostertag-for-Kurt Thomas-and-Charlie Ward deal? That would give the Knicks their big man and leave the Jazz with plenty of cap flexibility as Ward comes off the books next season. Another interesting option would be Ostertag and a future Jazz first-round pick for Stromile Swift and Brevin Knight. The Grizzlies have been insisting that they don't want to move Swift, but Ostertag size may make them think twice.

Atlanta Hawks


The problem: With the ownership of the team in limbo, the Hawks were grounded all summer. Their only significant free agency signing was Jacque Vaughn. While they did alright for themselves in the draft and appear to have Jason Terry locked up for the next three years, it won't be enough to dig them out of the cellar in the East.

The solution: Burn it down. The temptation to keep this crew together and try to make things work will be strong. It would be a mistake. This team isn't a championship contender. Could it make the playoffs? Possibly. But that's about it. If Belkin wants to win it all, it's time to move guys like Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed and even Abdur-Rahim if that's what it takes. Several teams are drooling over Rahim and a few are even interested in guys like Ratliff and Mohammed. If the Hawks can land young, promising talent, expiring contracts and draft picks in return, they should bite the bullet and do it.

Several weeks ago, Insider suggested that the Hawks move Abdur-Rahim to Houston for Eddie Griffin and Glen Rice (who's in the last year of his deal). We also suggested the Hawks move Ratliff, Mohammed and Chris Crawford to Memphis for Stromile Swift, Wesley Person and Brevin Knight (Person and Knight are in the last year of their deals). Both trades give the Hawks three coveted things: prospects (Griffin and Swift), lots of cap space (about $16 million next summer) and a shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Here's one other option worth noting. The Sonics have been interested in Abdur-Rahim for years. A deal involcing Brent Barry, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jerome James and Joe Forte for Rahim works under the cap. While it doesn't clear as much cap space as the Houston deal, it gives the Hawks a player in Radmanovic, who could also be a star and gives them a shot, with the addition of Barry and James, of being respectable this season.

Indiana Pacers


The problem: The luxury tax. The Pacers are on the verge of it, and ownership doesn't want to pay it. Fear of the luxury tax already cost the team Brad Miller this summer and it's handcuffed what the team can do via free agency or trades. While Donnie Walsh and company feel that they're comfortable with the team they already have, it's no secret that they'd like to add some more backcourt help, especially at point guard. They haven't given up on Jamaal Tinsley, but know they need a decent veteran to help out during the team's playoff run.

The solution: Pacers sources claim that talk of them trading Ron Artest to Seattle are ridiculous (not to mention impossible because of Artest's base-year status). They also laugh off suggestions that they're going to let Al Harrington go without major compensation in return. But most GMs around the league believe strongly that the Pacers will try to move either Artest or Harrington in an attempt to change team chemistry.

If the Pacers are really talking to the Sonics, doesn't this trade make more sense? Brent Barry and Vladimir Radmanovic to Indiana for Al Harrington and Fred Jones. Barry's ability to swing between the one and the two is a perfect fit. That fact that he's in the last year of his contract doesn't hurt either. Radmanovic is a superb prospect who can fill in, at times, at both the three and the four. For the Sonics, Harrington gives them a player who's a better, more athletic fit at the four. Jones' athleticism in the backcourt will be a good fit behind Ray Allen and Antonio Daniels.