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NBA free agency series: Central Division

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Part 2 of our walkabout the league peaking into each locker room and checking out the bosses office to discuss payroll and what not.

Check out part 1, Southeast Divsion

Milwaukee Bucks 34 - 48

SBN Blog: Brew Hoop

If you've followed the Bucks closely for the past few years then you are a better fan than I. The Bucks rank right up there with the Sioux Falls Sky Flash Force as teams I don't know much about. Is there another team in the NBA that's made less noise then the Bucks over the past 3 or 5 or 16 years?

Unfortunately for the Brew Heads of the frozen tundra, a quick look at the their roster and salary cap situation will show why this team remains more locked in ice then a 40 thousand year old woolly mammoth.

Salary cap situation

It is always cool when someone else does your homework for you. In this case Frank from Brew Hoop has already done the job of breaking down the Bucks salary situation. Here's a hint. It's not good.

Including their upcoming 1st round draft pick, the Bucks will have 13 players under contract totaling $68m. Which isn't bad until you consider that assumes they don't resign two of their better free agents: Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions.

That only leaves about $3m to try and sign one of both of those guys before they hit the luxury tax. That's not a lot of wiggle room for a young team trying to escape the cycle of fail.

Off season options

With $41.2m of their salary going to Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson and Andrew Bogut it is not hard to see how stuck the Bucks really are. When you add in $13m more for Luke Ridnour and Dan Gadzuric then you really just hope the Brew is better then then the Hoop. Much better.

There were rumors at the trade deadline that the Bucks were trying to move Richard Jefferson and if they can, they should. He's a decent enough player but the Bucks really need to find a way to follow the Sam Presti model and blow it up and start over.

The problem of course will be finding a taker for Jefferson and his $30m over two years contract. One option might be the Spurs who are in desperate need of wing scoring and have the pieces make it work. The Spurs were rumored to be close to a deal that sent cap space and expiring contracts to the Nets for Vince Carter. Call me crazy, but I would take Richard Jefferson over Vince Carter any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The Bucks might also look to package their 1st round pick (which should be around the 10 spot) with a bad but not horrible player/contract like Ridnour, Gadzuric or Damon Jones. This might let them save enough money to then resign Sessions and/or CNuv. This option is probably the safer move for a team that feels like it was better then it's final record due to Redd's knee injury along with a host of other late season scratches. Still, I would be looking for the reset button if I were the Bucks GM (Not that I am pulling a Bill Simmons and applying for the job. I live in Phoenix).

One thing's for sure, Scott Skiles will be wearing out his welcome in a year or two so if I were an assistant coach in the NBA looking to move up I would start now making friends with the GM in Milwaukee. I would also sketch out a multi-year campaign to convince my family not to leave me if I took a job in Wisconsin.

Sorry frozen brew cheese heads. Life does not look too good for your near term prospects.

 

Indiana Pacers 36 - 46

SBN Blog: Indy Corn Rows

Hey, have you heard the news? The Indiana Pacers could be following the Phoenix Coyotes to Canada. I think the exchange rate must be good or something. Maybe it's the beer! No...on second thought it must be the exchange rate.

Salary cap situation

Regardless of where the Pacers play (and seriously folks, could you imagine Indiana without basketball? The Hick from French Lick would sooner root against the Celtics) I am pretty sure their salary cap is calculated in US$.

The Pacers have 10 guys under contract at $68m which puts them at about the same place as the aforementioned Bucks. Stuck in the muck.

Except for this little tidbit of roster grace that Indiana has and Milwaukee doesn't...

The Pacers have a team option on Marquis Daniels which if not exercised would save them $7.3m. Before you feel too good about the Pacers though, remember they also owe Mr. Jamal "Asked to Leave the Team" Tinsley about $15m over the next two seasons and there's no more Isiah Thomas around to pick up that contract.

Off season options

Let's start by assuming the Pacers will choose not to pay Daniels $7.3m to produce 13 points and 2 assists. That gives them about $10m under the lux tax to play with. In this market that's not a horrible thing to have given that Mike Bibby, Andre Miller and Jason Kidd will all be available for less then that (one must assume).

Since they are over the salary cap though they will have to use one of the 372 salary cap exceptions to sign such a free agent. They might even have to do some kind of sign and trade using the free agent rights of Rik Smits to make the deal work. Never fear, I am sure a team of international tax lawyers can figure out the CBA and put something together.

There's not much else the Pacers can do. They need to improve at every position not named Danny Granger and don't really have any way to do it. Vancouver is starting to sound better and better and as Big Country Reeves knows, they LOVE their basketball up there.

 

Detroit Pistons 39 - 43

SBN Blog: Motown String Music

It is hard to kick the Pistons at a time when the auto-driven Michigan economy is so depressed and the Lions posted a winning percentage of .000. Fortunately, Detroit Basketball is poised to make a rapid recovery.

Salary cap situation

Joe Dumar's made a tough call in shipping out Billups and in doing so sent a clear signal that this season was over. Mix in a coach who reportedly doesn't have direct communication with Rip Hamilton and you have a team that did not deserve to be in the playoffs. And they knew it.

We can forget all that now since Detroit is perfectly poised to rebuild it's team exactly how it wants. The Pistons have only 9 players under contract totally a measly $39m. That puts them about $20m under the cap and $33m under the luxury tax. Only the Grizzlies have more financial flexibility this summer.

The core group left in Detroit include Hamilton, Prince, Maxiell, Bynum and Stuckey. I wouldn't even consider that set in stone since the Pistons could easily trade an aging Prince and some of that precious cap space to acquire pretty much any player on the market.

Off season options

It is hard to even know where to begin with this team. They are like a 6 year old in a candy store with an AMEX Black card. There is no deal they can't do and no free agent that they can't afford.

It isn't often we get to see a team under go such a radical summer make over and I can't wait to see what the Pistons do. You can bet that with so many teams looking to dump salary, Dumars' phone will be ringing off the hook.

 

Chicago Bulls 41 - 41

SBN Blog: Blog a Bull

The lovable Bulls, living on the remnants of fading glory. I would like to be more optimistic about this team given it's performance in the 1st round but really I can't quite get there.

This team was widely inconsistent and despite Brad Miller is very young and immature. With the inexperience of Vinnie and Rose combined with a lot of athletic talent there is just no way to understand where this team really is and therefore what they should do this summer. Overall, it is a very confusing picture in the Windy City.

Salary cap situation

The Bulls have long term contracts on the books in the form of Deng and Heinrich paired up with the final year of Brad Miller. Those three account for just under half of the team's $65m in returning contracts. When your three top paid players aren't your three best players then you generally aren't in a great position to win.

The big discussion of course is Ben Gordon. He's looking for a long term deal in the range of $10m. Personally, I don't think he deserves more then the $6m he's been making. Too streaky. Too one dimensional. Too much of a black hole.

Oh, and the Bulls will be paying Jerome James $6m next year. Seeing teams paying guys like this makes you wish for non-guaranteed contracts in the NBA but of course GM's and owners could just stop giving these guys such big contracts.

Off season options

The Bulls certainly have the ability to give Gordon a long term deal that he is looking for. They would likely go into the luxury tax by a few million but that would only be for one season. The question is how long to you want to be tied to Ben Gordon. He strikes me as a guy that 3 or 4 years from now is going to be dead weight on someone's books. Remember when Larry Hughs was worth $13m/yr? I don't either, but someone with a bigger checkbook then mine did.

Beyond Gordon, the Bulls have some movable pieces - both Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah and certainly could look to put some kind of deal together to go after a bigger name big like Amare Stoudemire.

Rose and Amare would make for a nice draw and Chicago could be a place that Amare might feel is big enough to hold his off the court ambitions making the chances of him staying that much greater.

With Deng coming back you've also got a log jam with Salmons so perhaps a deal that put Salmons together with Noah and Tim Thomas for Amare and Tucker. Even better for Phoenix would be Tyrus Thomas, Tim Thomas and Salmons for Amare and Tucker. That's a deal I could get behind.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers 66-16

SBN Blog: Fear the Sword

What else can you say about the NBA champions in waiting and LeBron James. I'll stop there because you've already heard it all before and are about to hear it all again over the next few weeks.

Salary cap situation

The Cavs have the 3rd highest payroll this season at $91m but that includes the likes to Wally Z and Eric Snow who are coming off the books. The Cavs, assuming Big Z doesn't opt out (and why would he) and Andy V's option is picked up by the team (and why wouldn't they) will go into next season with a more respectable $71m on the books. That assumes the Cavs pick up the non-guaranteed final year and Sasha Pav's deal.

Off season options

One would think that coming off this season, the Cavs aren't going to be looking to make too many big moves. The one very valuable contract they have for possible deals is Sasha Pavlovic. He's under contract for $4.7m but with only $1.5m gauranteed could easily be moved to a team looking to save some money.

If the Cavs do that though they need to get back a bigger defensive oriented SG to replace Sasha and Wally. For example, they could move Sasha to the Hornets for Rasul Butler or even Mo Pete in deal that could save the Hornets quite a bit of money if they then waived Pavlovic.

The best thing the Cavs have going for them though is going to be veteran free agents that are willing to play for cheap deals to play with LeBron. Rasheed Wallace said he will retire if he doesn't get $8m but maybe he takes a one year minimum deal instead. Anthony Parker would be a good fit in Cleveland too.

Danny Ferry must understand that this summer is his last chance to impress LeBron and keep him from opting out in 2010. I would not expect the Cavs to shy away from going after any free agent if they feel they need. In fact, you could pretty much guarantee that LeBron will have a lot of input into what the Cavs do this summer. This is the summer of LeBron.