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The 66-game 2011-2012 NBA has drawn to a close, and the Miami Heat are the champions. With the NBA Draft and date for clubs to start contacting free agents right around the corner, what teams are gunning for Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh’s title?
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Every Lakers fan is asking him/herself the same hypothetical question: trade Pau Gasol, trade Andrew Bynum or trade both? Bynum really came into his own this past season after being plagued with injuries during the past seasons. With Dwight Howard flocked by many suitors, the Lakers are left without many options for a new center. Gasol was almost traded last season, but after the NBA shot down the Lakers’ bid for Chris Paul, Gasol proved himself to be a valuable asset to Lakers. Gasol might have a few years left in him, but Bynum is only 24, and is now really showing his worth. With Ramon Sessions opting out of his contract , the Lakers should focus on finding a new point guard, or give Steve Blake more time on the court. Lakers Executive Vice President Jim Buss says he’s not looking to make any major changes, but the Lakers need a point guard, so fans might see Blake get more playing time. Kobe Bryant is in his twilight years, and he’s looking to cement his legacy by winning more NBA titles, but one man can’t carry the team alone. The Lakers need to trade Gasol, and use the money freed up from his salary to invest in a quality point guard like Deron Williams. Another option is to trade Bynum, and hope to get Howard, who is outspoken about his desire to leave Orlando.
2. Boston Celtics
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will become free agents, and so will many other Celtics players this offseason. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are staying on the team, which might make Garnett’s decision to re-sign easier. Garnett is weighing his options to either stay in Boston or to retire. Allen will probably leave Boston, but his health makes any potential teams wary about signing him. Although, Allen has expressed interest in a move to Miami. Allen and especially Garnett need to make up their minds before July 1st, because the Celtics could have $25 million dollars to spend in the offseason if Allen and Garnett leave the Boston. If Allen and Garnett do decide to part ways with the organization, then the Celtics should look to big players that can go for rebounds, a major weakness. Deron Williams again becomes a prime target, but a more likely player the Celtics could wrangle up is Kris Humphries (The Brooklyn Nets have become a buffet for teams this offseason). So far president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has not renounced any Celtics free agents, which indicates that the Celtics might re-sign many of their free agents, including Garnett if he chooses not to retire. One thing is for sure, the Celtics need a big and preferably young player who can get rebounds.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The 2011 champions were embarrassingly swept in the first round of last season’s playoffs by Oklahoma City. If that isn’t a sign to recruit younger players, then I don’t know what is. Most of the Mavericks’ starters are in their mid-thirties or older, which isn’t a jab at the players or their ability. The Mavericks need young blood to replace aging stars like Dirk Nowitski, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd, who has hinted at a desire move to New York. Nowitski is the leading scorer in the franchise’s history, but Dallas has to think in the long term after the 34-year-old German power forward retires. Deron Williams comes into play again. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is courting the Dallas native to play for his hometown team. Every young basketball player has dreamed about playing for his/her hometown team, but very few do. Derrick Rose is living the dream in Chicago, and LeBron James left Cleveland for championship glory. Chris Bosh, also a Dallas native, had no interest in playing for the Mavericks. Could Williams have the same sentiment? The Nets are offering Williams a large salary, higher than most teams including Dallas are offering, so if Dallas wants to stay on the Williams chase, they need to sign and trade. Kidd has expressed interest in playing for either the Knicks or the Nets, and that could free up some money for Dallas, but the Mavericks shouldn’t put all their money on one pony. Cuban is also courting Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard, and Williams has expressed interest in pairing with all-star center, so if Howard goes to Dallas, expect Williams to not be far behind.
4. Chicago Bulls
Unlike other teams on this list that have problems with aging stars, the Chicago Bulls problem is their bench, or lack thereof. Bulls fans will be happy to know that Derrick Rose is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation for a torn ACL. Rose tore his ACL in game 1 of the first round of the NBA Finals and is expected to miss 8-12 months, while recuperating. The Bulls lost the series 4-2 against the Philadelphia 76ers, which shows how much the Bulls relied on their hometown hero. With Rose out for what seems to be most of next season, the Bulls need a point guard who can fill the gap, or at least assist Richard Hamilton in shooting. Deron Williams could fill in that gap, but the Bulls aren’t looking to replace Rose completely. C.J. Watson could fill the void, or at least keep the team afloat until Rose makes his return, but with an uncertain salary cap, and the team’s desire to re-sign Omer Asik, Watson may not even return next season. Luol Deng is expected to undergo wrist surgery and could be out for a while, which leaves the Bulls with injury woes. Kyle Korver’s and Ronnie Brewer’s contracts are also not guaranteed for next season, which could free up some space, and make Watson’s return more certain. With Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Omer Asik, the Bulls have no problem with defense, but they need a bench. Their bench is thinner than a 3 a.m. bus stop.
5. Orlando Magic
Orlando’s problems aren’t just with the roster, but also with the front office. Head Coach Stan Van Gundy was relieved of his duties, and general manager Otis Smith stepped down because of dissatisfaction expressed by all star Dwight Howard. Ironically, Howard is adamant about leaving the team, and taking his talents elsewhere. The Magic hired a new general manager, 30-year-old Rob Hennigan who spent his last two years as the assistant general manager at Oklahoma City. Despite an NBA Finals appearance in 2009, last season the Magic had a 37-29 record, and lost in the first round of playoffs for the second year in a row. If the Magic want to escape their downward spiral they need to hire a coach who can keep Howard in check, or the Magic could cut their losses and trade Howard. The latter would be unpopular with fans and the staff because no one else on the team or in the NBA can match Howard’s rebounds. Keep in mind that Howard’s jersey is the fifth top-selling jersey in the world, so his popularity is sure to follow him to wherever team he goes. Former Magic players tried to convince Phil Jackson to join as head coach, but that idea fell flat before talks with the front office even went underway. If Jackson could handle Kobe, he could handle Howard. The Magic should start looking for a new center before Howard leaves due to a trade or the termination of his contract. The Orlando Magic has a long history of grooming young players into all stars: Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, and now Dwight Howard. Orlando is so far without a coach, and if Hennigan can’t convince Howard to stay, they could be without a center. Glen Davis stepped in for Howard during the postseason, while Howard underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his back. The Magic-Howard relationship is like a bad high school relationship, where Howard is the scumbag boyfriend and the Magic are the submissive girlfriend bending over backwards for him.