Can anyone in the Northwest Division catch the Oklahoma City Thunder?
OK, it won’t be Minnesota, but anyone else?
That’s certainly the biggest storyline in the division heading into free agency.
The Thunder should be locked in as a contender to with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant under contract for the foreseeable future.
The Denver Nuggets looked like they were right there last year but they’ve had the off-season from hell thus far and it could get even worse if they lose Andre Iguodala as a free agent.
While the roster remains fairly solid, don’t be all that surprised if the Nuggets take a step back this season if new GM Tim Connelly– not the loser hockey player – is unable to quickly right the ship.
Portland and Utah have been competitive over the years but don’t exactly have the horses right now to contend with the big boys. They’ve hit on some draft picks but need to add more – whether it’s in free agency or the draft – to help their rosters take the next step. It could be a couple years for both of these franchises.
And Minnesota – they’re what you call a long-term rebuilding project… the same place they’ve been since trading Kevin Garnett. Good luck, Flip Saunders. Gotta love the NBA and its retreads.
Over the next several days we will get you prepared for free agency by having a look at each team needs. Today we look at the Northwest Division:
Note: All numbers below courtesy of hoopshype.com
2012-13 record: 57-25
2013-14 contract commitments: $67.8 million
UFAs: Andre Iguodala, small forward (player option), Corey Brewer, guard/forward
RFAs: Timofey Mozgov, centre, Julyan Stone, point guard
Free agent fit: Andre Iguodala, small forward
The skinny: It’s been an especially ugly start to the Nuggets’ off-season as they’ve already seen their general manager, his top aide, and the coach leave town and could soon lose their best player. Not exactly standard business for a 57-win team. Andre Iguodala is expected to opt out of his contract and could be looking to a depart from a franchise that appears to be in flux up top. Iguodala proved to be a great fit in his first season in Denver and the team would be in real trouble at the wing position if they cannot re-sign him and Corey Brewer as free agents this summer.
2012-13 record: 31-51
2013-14 contract commitments: $47.1 million
UFAs: Andrei Kirilenko, small forward (player option), Dante Cunningham, power forward (team option)
RFAs: Chase Budinger, small forward, Nikola Pekovic, centre
Free agent fit: J.R. Smith, shooting guard
The skinny: Will these guys ever get it figured out? At least the Wrath of Khan era (former GM David Kahn) is over. Before focusing on additions in the free-agent market, the T-Wolves need to find a way to re-sign centre Nikola Pekovic. Minnesota isn’t exactly in a position to let talented players go and he’s one of the few players on their team that shines at both ends of the court. Next on their priority list will be adding a significant upgrade at the wing position to compliment Kevin Love up front. That spot is barren right now.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 record: 60-22
2013-14 contract commitments: $66.1 million
UFAs: Kevin Martin, shooting guard, Ronnie Brewer, small forward, Derek Fisher, point guard
Free agent fit: Mo Williams, point guard
The skinny: The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t the same team once Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in the playoffs and can’t leave themselves so thin at point guard moving forward. Trading Eric Maynor away at the deadline didn’t turn out to be the most sensible move as the Thunder were left with just an aging Derek Fisher and young Reggie Jackson at the position. Other than that, determining whether to bring back sharpshooter Kevin Martin will be a high priority for GM Sam Presti. Remember, OKC has the No. 12 pick in the draft – thanks to the James Harden trade (and I guess the Raptors, too.)
Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 record: 33-40
2013-14 contract commitments: $42.4 million
UFAs: Luke Babbitt, small forward, J.J. Hickson, power forward, Nolan Smith, point guard, Elliot Williams, shooting guard
RFAs: Eric Maynor, point guard
Free agent fit: Tiago Splitter, centre
The skinny: Portland hit a home run in the draft last year with Damian Lillard so it appears they’re locked in with three of their five starters for the long haul. They really need to improve the depth of their roster and add some veteran players to help bring their young players along. Despite some progress, they were too mistake-prone and are in desperate need of more experience at this point. Small forward and centre are two spots that really stand out as positions they could look to improve.
2012-13 record: 43-39
2013-14 contract commitments: $25.7 million
UFAs: Al Jefferson, power forward, Paul Millsap, power forward, Randy Foye, shooting guard, DeMarre Carroll, small forward, Jamaal Tinsley, point guard, Earl Watson, point guard, Mo Williams, point guard
Free agent fit: Jeff Teague, point guard (RFA)
The skinny: With four of their five starters set to hit the market, the Utah Jazz are primed for a big run in free agency. The Jazz are in need of a new identity – they haven’t exactly done very much since escorting Jerry Sloan out of town – and have the cap space and room on the roster to bring in a high-priced free agent. But, once again, questions remain whether players are willing to relocate to Utah. Regardless, we imagine the Jazz will prioritize re-signing Paul Millsap and try to bring back Al Jefferson – despite having high picks Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors waiting in the wings.