As I mentioned last week, change is good but chaos is better.
The Indiana Pacers need all of the help they can get to make some drastic moves this summer since they don't have much headroom under their current salary cap. The more teams desperate to make changes this summer the better for the Pacers. Fortunately, the playoffs this year were unkind to almost every team with leaving even the Lakers andCeltics with unanswered questions heading into the offseason.
The Western Conference has been the home of several strong and steady playoff contenders for most of the past decade. Making the playoffs in the West has been the sign of an elite team or a team moving toward the elite. This year though, some of those traditional WC powers faltered in the playoffs leading to much speculation that the run may be over for those a notch below the Lakers and major changes needed to stay among the elite for the long haul.
The Pacers can benefit from any ripple effect produced by these teams trying to re-tool on the fly. After the jump, I take a look at the issues facing the Western Conference playoff teams.
Oklahoma City Thunder (8th seed) - Last seen making the Lakers sweat before losing in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder's long-term future leads the league led by budding superstar Kevin Durant. Tons of young, exciting talent to go along with oodles of cap space and two first round picks in this year's draft. Life is good, but does OKC cash in some of those assets to bring in some veteran talent? Why not start getting serious about contending?
San Antonio Spurs (7th seed) - Last seen abusing the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs before getting swept by the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semis. Age and health issues made it look like the Spurs'long run of consistent excellence with the core of the current roster may be coming to a close. George Hill emerged as a viable point guard option, which has put Tony Parker's name in many a trade rumor so far this offseason. Do they keep the band together for one more year and hope adding Tiago Splitter (assuming Splitter arrives stateside) will be enough to re-energize Tim Duncan and the Spurs' front court attack?
Portland Trail Blazers (6th seed) - Last seen getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs 4-2 by the Phoenix Suns. Last year at this time, the Blazers resembled the current state of OKC. They added a veteran presence with Andre Miller and a cheap Juwan Howard who turned in a magnificent season in return. They also picked up Marcus Cambyin the middle of the year. But with the veteran presence in place, the young talent had trouble avoiding injuries. Greg Oden missed most of the season. Nic Batum and Rudy Fernandez also missed key time and as the season came to a close, Brandon Roy was playing through injuries to try to keep things afloat. Good health will go a long way to improving the Blazers, but there are tons of issues with the team's front office. Kevin Pritchard is still the GM but on the way out, so where's the true direction coming from? There will be shuffling on the bench with new assistant coaches also. Will the new voices, especially the GM, try to put their stamp on the team?
Utah Jazz (5th seed) - Last seen getting swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semis after taking out the Denver Nuggets 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs. The Jazz could keep the core of their talent together but after getting swept out of the playoffs a new direction may seem more appealing. That means not breaking the bank for free agent Carlos Boozer. Also, may try to move the monstrous expiring contract of Andrei Kirilenko whose health kept him from factoring into last season much, if at all. The Jazz do have plenty of young, attractive assets and will pick 9thin the draft thanks to a past deal with the Knicks. Will adding a talented young piece in the draft be enough? If Boozer goes elsewhere, who fills the front-court void?
Denver Nuggets (4th seed) - Last seen fading away early in the playoffs losing in the first round 4-2 to the Utah Jazz. The Nuggsare a tumultuous collection of young talent that seems to mix well with George Karl. When Karl was forced into a battle for his life while going through cancer treatments, the team was unable to come together on their own and play good basketball. Like the Jazz, the Nuggets core has been at it for a few years now and seemed to have plateaued. Will they shake up the roster with some key trades this summer? We're well aware that young reserve point guard, Ty Lawson is on the block. If so, is anyone safe on the Nuggets roster?
Phoenix Suns (3rd seed) - Last seen losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The Suns bested all expectations last season when many thought the uncertain future of Amar'e Stoudemire would keep the team in turmoil all season. Instead, Stoudemire played some great ball while Steve Nash and Grant Hill added some special veteran presence and play. It seemed to all come together in the playoffs until finally succumbing to the Lakers. Hope for a repeat next season was quickly dashed when Stoudemire expressed and interest to opt out of Phoenix and test the free agent market. Can the Suns keep Stoudemire? Do they want to? Also, GM Steve Kerr up and left abruptly shaking up the team's leadership. Can the Suns attract another free agent should Stoudemire flea for good?
Dallas Mavericks (2nd seed) - Last seen dumbfounded after getting bounced 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. Easy to second-guess all of the trade deadline changes the Mavs made since the altered roster was unable to come together and deliver Mark Cuban anything close to the NBA championship he thought he was chasing. Dirk Nowitzki is trying to help by opting out of the final year of his contract. Is he willing to take a significant pay cut to help the Mavs improve? Which players among Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion will be moved? Will Jason Kidd really accept a lesser role to let Rodrigue Beaubois develop as a point guard? If so, can the Mavs contend with a young, developing floor leader?
Los Angeles Lakers (1st seed) - Last seen passing around the LOB trophy while celebrating another NBA championship. The Lakers are locked andloaded for next year (the next few if they so choose) with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum all under contract for multiple years. Derek Fisher and the bench are in limbo but I'm sure there will be plenty of talented role players willing to join the team cheap with a chance to win a title. I'm looking at you, Earl Watson. The key question for the Lakers: Will Phil Jackson return to coach the Lakers? If not, where does he go andhow does that move impact the free agent movement around the league this summer?
As you can see, even in the powerful Western Conference (is that changing?) there are pleny of unanswered questions to resolve for several teams this offseason. Which teams offer the best chance to include the Pacers in a deal?