It’s late April, which means not only NBA playoffs (first round, for now), but also that it’s time to start thinking about next year.  Like I did the past two years, I’ll be going through each NBA team, listing their rosters and upcoming draft picks, and making some predictions about what they might try to do during the draft and the offseason.  (The results of last year’s predictions can be found here).  Since last year’s format went so well (at least as far as I’m concerned) I’m not planning any major changes.

This year, the NCAA has drastically moved up its Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline to May 8th (last year it was June 15th) so before long I’ll have a much better idea of which players will be available for the draft.  The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on May 18th, so until then the lottery draft positions will not be set.  The salary cap and luxury tax for 2010-2011 have not yet been set, but the NBA has already released an estimate of $56.1M, which is quite a bit higher than what was projected a year ago, though it is still about $1.2M lower than last year. That would put the luxury tax at just a hint over $70M.

Finally, remember that I’ll be using my alternative positional definitions. Since there really is a large amount of overlap between the PF and C positions, I will group these together as “posts”. Similarly, the traditional SF and SG positions will be lumped together as “wings”. PGs and some SGs (small SGs that can’t really qualify as wings, e.g. Eddie House) will be classified as “guards”, though I will take into account the fact that some guards aren’t primary ballhandlers.

And that is that. Instead of complaining about a bad flagrant-1 called on Tyson Chandler in the Magic-Bobcats game, why don’t I focus on the future of the Atlantic Division instead?

Boston Celtics

Players under contract (years, t = team option, p = player option) and Restricted Free Agents:

Posts(4): Kevin Garnett (2), Rasheed Wallace (1+1p), Kendrick Perkins (1), Glen Davis (1)
Wings(1p+1RFA): Paul Pierce (1p), Marcus Landry (RFA)
Guards(1): Rajon Rondo (5)

Total players under contract next year: 5 + 1 Player Option + 1RFA

Major Free Agents: Ray Allen, Nate Robinson, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Shelden Williams

2010 Cap Situation: about $65M, pushing luxury tax

2010 Draft Picks: First Round: #19; Second round: #52

Every year, I believe that the Celtics are getting closer and closer to the end of their run.  This year, I’m thinking the same thing.  The Celtics have about $65M in committed salary for next season (there’s just no way Paul Pierce is going to opt out of the $21M+ he has coming) and only 6 players and a late draft pick to show for it.  Rondo is great, and Pierce is still solid, but Garnett, great as he is, is running out of gas. Rasheed Wallace has already run out of gas.  And there’s not really any money to sign help.  Worse yet, outside of Ray Allen there aren’t really any FAs on their own roster who they need to bring back, so the whole Bird Rights thing may not have much value to them. The best the Celtics can hope for may be the following:  Ray Allen doesn’t find any other suitors and comes back on the cheap (say a 2-year deal at $6-7M per), and they can land a defensive wing and an offensive PF with their #19 pick and their MLE (like ‘Sheed’s deal last year, it would be nice not to go 5 years on the MLE deal).  Travis Outlaw would be a good MLE target, or even better Josh Childress – a guy looking to get back into the league who really needs a shot to show what he can do but may be unable to land anything above the MLE.  If Damion James were available at the #19 pick, he could go a long way towards extending the Celtics’ window.  (OK, I didn’t find that offensive PF, but I don’t see anybody to help in their range – Tyrus Thomas will likely get more than the MLE and the draft will be void of offensive PFs at #19, so maybe Big Baby will have to step up into that bench role.)  Obviously they’ll need to find a backup guard, but with Rondo in the fold it’s not a priority – they can take whichever guard comes their way.

New Jersey Nets

Players under contract (years, t = team option, p = player option) and Restricted Free Agents:

Posts(2+1p+1RFA): Brook Lopez (1+1t), Yi Jianlian (1), Kris Humphries (1p), Josh Boone (RFA)
Wings(2+1t): Terrence Williams (1+2t), Courtney Lee (1+1t), Chris Douglas-Roberts (1t)
Guards(2+1u): Devin Harris (3), Keyon Dooling (1 unguaranteed)

Total players under contract next year: 6 + 1RFA + 1 Player Option + 1 Team Option + 1 Unguaranteed Contract

Major Free Agents: Bobby Simmons, Tony Battie, Trenton Hassell, Jarvis Hayes, Chris Quinn

2010 Cap Situation: $27M + $3-4M for their first round pick, about $25M in cap space.

2010 Draft Picks: First round: #3; Second round: #31.

The Nets had a horrible, horrible season.  But I really think that they’re in position to be the most improved team next year.  With a new Russian billionaire owner, you can bet they’re going to put their cap space out there in order to lure a big name free agent.  It’s possible – just possible – that they might pull off the biggest free agent heist of them all: LeBron James.  Obviously, Cleveland is in the lead for King James and it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere, but if he does leave, why not New Jersey?  Sure, they were the worst team in the the league, and sure, “New Jersey” isn’t sexy, but it’s only one short year until the Nets become the first major sports franchise to carry the proud name of Brooklyn since the departure of the Dodgers and the Nets have a ton of good young pieces: Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee, and a top-4 draft pick (which will presumably be one of guard John Wall, wing Evan Turner, or posts DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors, all of whom project very strongly in the NBA).  You know what?  That supporting cast outclasses what LeBron has in Cleveland right now.  But such a scenario is probably not to be.

The probably ought to put out a qualifying offer to Josh Boone no matter what, but the Nets ‘ offseason will probably hinge pretty strongly on what happens in the draft lottery.  If they get #3 or #4, they draft a post and go after Rudy Gay.  If they get #2, they draft Evan Turner and go after Boozer or Stoudemire (or optimistically, Bosh).  If they get #1 – ay, that’s the rub.  They take Wall, and then they start shopping Devin Harris while targeting any of those free agents.  Any way you look at it, their future is looking up, and soon.  Edit: With the lottery over, the Nets ended up with #3, and barring Evan Turner falling to them in an unlikely scenario, they have to take a post.  With Lopez holding down the C, the obvious choice appears to be Derrick Favors.

New York Knicks

Players under contract (years, t = team option, p = player option) and Restricted Free Agents:

Posts(1p): Eddy Curry (1p)
Wings(2+1u): Danilo Gallinari (1+1t), Wilson Chandler (1), Bill Walker (2 Unguaranteed)
Guards(1+RFA): Toney Douglas (1+2t), Sergio Rodriguez (RFA)

Total players under contract next year: 3 + 1 RFA + 1 Player Option + 1 Unguaranteed

Major Free Agents: David Lee, Al Harrington, Tracy McGrady, Chris Duhon, Eddie House, J.R. Giddens

2010 Cap Situation: about $19M, about $37M in cap space

2010 Draft Picks: Second round: #38, #39

For the last two years, the Knicks have been all-in in the LeBron pot.  Now that they’ve got five calls pre-flop they’ve turned over their cards…and they hold a 2-7 offsuit.  They’ve got Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and that’s about it.  Pretty attractive team to lure a LeBron, eh?  “Hey King James!  Come play in New York where we have NO TEAM to surround you with!”  Their best hope is a package deal, nabbing two of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire, Boozer, Gay…maybe even Yao or Joe Johnson.  But even if they manage to grab two of those guys, they have to build a team around them, and that’s looking pretty grim right now.  Their first-round pick will belong to Utah unless they luck out big time and hit the #1 slot in the lottery.  And #38/#39 are not likely to land them game-changing players.  So the Knicks offseason kind of looks like this: Sign 8+ free agents.  Hope a couple of them are top-tier guys, and overpay for them one year before the new CBA drops salaries precipitously.  Fill the last 5-6 guys on your team with signings for the minimum since you’re over the cap after the first 2-3 free agents.  Look forward to winning 15 fewer games than the Nets next season if you don’t manage to land two stars, and being even with the Nets if you do.  It would be sad, if I cared about the Knicks.

Edit: Time to comment on the rumors flying around that the Knicks would like to trade for Tony Parker.  Umm, with what, pray tell?  See, Knicks fans, if you want to get something good, you usually have to give up something good in return, especially if you want to get something good from a team that is contending for championships year in and year out (we’ll ignore the ignominious bouncing from the second round this year, and assume that the Spurs actually plan to contend for a few more years). But the problem with that principle is this: You. Don’t. Have. Anything. Good.  Let’s make a list of your trade assets: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, Eddy Curry, the #38 and #39 picks this year…and by rule you can’t trade a first-round pick until 2015 at the earliest.  That’s it.  That’s the sum total of your trade assets.  That’s an impressive list of Jack Squat there.  Real good stuff to tempt the Spurs into trading away their all-star starting point guard.  OK, so in principle you could do a sign-and-trade with David Lee.  Still not gonna happen, but that’s the only ray of hope.

Philadelphia 76ers

Players under contract (years, t = team option, p = player option) and Restricted Free Agents:

Posts(4): Elton Brand (2+1p), Samuel Dalembert (1), Marreese Speights (1+1t), Jason Smith (1)
Wings(3+1p): Andre Iguodala (3+1p), Thaddeus Young (1), Jodie Meeks (1+1u), Jason Kapono (1p)
Guards(2+1p): Louis Williams (2+1p), Jrue Holiday (1+2p), Willie Green (1p)

Total players under contract next year: 9 + 2 Player Option

Major Free Agents: Rodney Carney, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson

2010 Cap Situation: about $68M, pushing the tax

2010 Draft Picks: First round: #2

The Sixers are the polar opposite of the Knicks this offseason – they pretty much have 11 players coming back.  Willie Green and Jason Kapono seem pretty unlikely to opt out of their contracts, leaving Philly with basically the MLE to spend once they sign their first round pick, which will land either in the 1-3 range or the 6-9 range, depending on how the lottery goes for them (most likely the latter).  Their biggest problem seems to be that Elton Brand is really overpaid.  Their second biggest problem seems to be that Andre Iguodala is kind of overpaid, too.  So what are they going to do this offseason?  They’ll probably try to trade Dalembert.  I mean, they’ve been trying for ages, why stop now?  Brand isn’t going anywhere, and Iguodala…probably not.  So they trade Dalembert for whatever they can get, draft the best player available (BPA, early guess wing Al-Farouq Aminu) at their draft slot, and hope that Marreese Speights figures out why he sucked so much compared to last year and finds a way to be on the floor 2000 minutes.  Think about playing Young (and Aminu?) some minutes at the 4.  And pray the the new CBA next year comes with an “Allan Houston” rule they can use on Elton Brand.

Edit: The lottery was sweet for the Sixers, landing them the #2 pick despite only an 11% chance of landing that high or higher.  I’m not entirely sure that the #2 pick will be an easy decision for them, though.  The consensus #2 player is Evan Turner, and they could definitely go with a ballhandling wing like him to complement the muscular slashers they have in Iguodala and Young, but man, they’d really like him to have more of an outside shot.  And with Brand looking like he’s done, and the franchise seemingly down on Dalembert and Speights still a question mark, Cousins or Favors could very well fall here.

Toronto Raptors

Players under contract (years, t = team option, p = player option) and Restricted Free Agents:

Posts(2+1p+1u): Andrea Bargnani (4+1p), Reggie Evans (1), Chris Bosh (1p), Joey Dorsey (1u)
Wings(3+1u): Hedo Turkoglu (3+1p), DeMar DeRozan (1+2t), Marco Belinelli (1), Sonny Weems (1u)
Guards(3): Jose Calderon (3), Jarrett Jack (3), Marcus Banks (1)

Total players under contract next year: 8 + 1p +2u

Major Free Agents: Amir Johnson, Rasho Nesterovic, Antoine Wright, Patrick O’Bryant

2010 Cap Situation: about $50M, with about $6M in cap space

2010 Draft Picks: First round: #13

Yeah, I know that Chris Bosh isn’t listed as a free agent – because he technically has a player option.  He’ll be opting out and chasing the money.  The question is whether it will end up being in Toronto or elsewhere.  Toronto might end up being a hard sell, because this year was just so disappointing for them.  Calderon and Jarrett Jack went back and forth in the starting PG slot, Bargnani didn’t really get any better, and Hedo had a pretty bad season (though he’s due to bounce back in my opinion…he could use a few more minutes for starters).  Does Bosh really want to come back to that?  I doubt it.  Obviously he’s priority #1, but I’m going to guess he bolts, leaving Toronto with a big hole in the post, and not a lot of cap space to fill it (I estimated their cap number based on Bosh opting out).  They should try to bring back Amir Johnson, but that #13 pick will likely give them a shot at a post player as well – I’ll put Ekpe Udoh or Daniel Orton in there for now, with Hassan Whiteside a failsafe (and long-term project) if those guys are off the board.  But why do I get the idea that Al Harrington is going to end up a Canadian this offseason?