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2012-13 Season Free Agency Preview: Central Division

Will the Cavs hold on to Gee tighter than he holds on to this ball?
Will the Cavs hold on to Gee tighter than he holds on to this ball?

The first official day of summer is June 20th, but it is already sweltering in the scorching Phoenix desert. Things are getting ready to heat up around the rest of the league in the coming weeks as the draft (June 28th), the July Moratorium (July 1st - 10th), and the official free agency period (July 11th) are right around the corner.

The Suns promise to be active participants during the tempest which will ensue, since the roster faces a fairly dramatic overhaul whether Steve Nash remains a Sun or not. The Suns do not operate in a vacuum, though, and the actions of 29 other teams will influence and impact Phoenix's ability to act. To understand the Suns' position as a player in this game, here is a reminiscent offering from the studies of one of the more erudite ex-Suns:

Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of positioning in military strategy. The decision to position an army must be based on both objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective beliefs of other, competitive actors in that environment. He thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment; but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.

This synopsis (Wikipedia page here) of "The Art of War" could easily be applied to the imminent free agency period through the substitution and manipulation of a few words and phrases. Very soon the Suns' fledgling front office will be engaged in "The Art of Rebuilding the Phoenix Suns", and hopefully they will be fastidious, indefatigable, and cunning in employing their strategy.

Extensive BSotS draft coverage continues to provide a look at players the Suns may select with their 13th pick, but this new series will take a brief glance division by division (6 total) to offer insight on the machinations of the Suns' opponents in preparation of the impending free agency period. In our continuing effort to be your primary provenance for all that is NBA, and especially Phoenix Suns, the subject of this offering will be a look at the Central Division with a slant at how the actions of these teams may affect the maneuverability of the Phoenix Suns.

Special thanks to contributors from SB Nation sister sites that were gracious enough to provide input.

Jump if you're curious as to exactly what that input consists of...

*Only guaranteed contracts and player options are being computed into cap numbers for the purpose of this analysis. Cap holds, exceptions, draft picks, etc. haven't been figured into this number to determine an exact value. This is just to get a general idea of where each teams stands relative to the salary cap, which is expected to be in the neighborhood of $61 million.

Chicago Bulls (50-16)

Draft Picks: 1st round 29th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$76 million for 10 players (Boozer, Deng, Noah, Rose, Hamilton, Gibson, Butler, Korver, Brewer, and Watson).

Options: Korver, Brewer, and Watson (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Lucas III, Scalabrine, and James (Unrestricted). Asik (Restricted).

The Bulls are faced with the undesirable proposition of attempting to ameliorate a roster while facing the adversity of an inauspicious cap situation and a serious injury to the team's franchise player. With the uncertainty surrounding an exact return date for Rose, it seems likely that the Bulls may be in the market to upgrade over C. J. Watson at the point guard position. This might be a logical destination for a player of Nash's unique skill set.

Asik may be available at the right price, since the Bulls will easily be into the tax even without re-signing him. Spending may not be a pressing concern for the Bulls, but the new CBA rules do make it more difficult for teams over the cap and tax levels to maneuver. The Bulls will be limited to using exceptions to sign players in free agency, which limits their ability to compete for premium talent. Might the Bulls be interested in moving one of their big contracts like Deng or Boozer? The Bulls also still possess their amnesty provision.

Indiana Pacers (42-24)

Draft Picks: 1st round 26th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$36.3 million for 8 players (Granger, West, Jones, George, Hansbrough, Pendergraph, Collison, and Stephenson).

Options: Jones (Player Option) and Stephenson (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Barbosa, Foster, Amundson, and Fesenko (Unrestricted). Hibbert, Hill, and Price (Restricted).

Ian Levy from Indy Cornrows answered the following questions:

Watching the Pacers in the playoffs, I thought their missing piece was a solid starting point guard (for instance, Steve Nash might work wonders with that roster, although I haven't heard any rumors of him landing there). Do you agree and are the Pacers looking to improve that position? Any particular pg's in your sights?

I don't think point guard is a specific position of need. The Pacers' starting lineup was terrific all season long and throughout the playoffs regardless of whether it was Darren Collison or George Hill leading that unit. Their real problem against Miami, and again all season long, was hugely ineffective bench rotations. They need a lot of help everywhere in that second unit. I would expect to see the Pacers chasing depth in the draft and in free agency, with position being of secondary concern to a player's ability to be productive right away.

There's been plenty of talk about both Steve Nash and Deron Williams in the FanPosts at Indy Cornrows but both seem like a stretch for me. Nash actually strikes me as a more likely target because he might be willing to sign a shorter deal, and I don't see the Pacers being eager to use up the block of cap space they've carefully cultivated. But my guess is that Hill and Collison will be the Pacers' point guards again next season.

What is Indiana's level of commitment to retaining George Hill?

I think the Pacers' would definitely like to move forward with Hill. His ability to play both guard spots and defend at a high level is extremely valuable. However, I also feel confident in saying that the Pacers won't overpay him. He really only played point guard full time for the last 10 games or so of the regular season and the playoffs. He still hasn't proven that he's the long term answer in the starting point guard spot. I think not tying themselves to one specific path for the future is more important to the Pacers right now than any one particular player.

The Pacers sit nearly $25 million under the predicted salary cap for the 21012-13 season. After they re-sign Hibbert and Hill (assuming they do) and their draft pick for approximately $17 million combined (guesstimate), however, that shrinks to $8 million to fill out the roster.

As was suggested, I believe it is possible that Hill (Indy Cornrows just posted a review on him which can be seen here) might be had, but what consists of overpaying? 4 years $32 million... more... less? It will be interesting to see what the madhouse of free agency market bears.

Milwaukee Bucks (31-35)

Draft Picks: 1st round 12th overall, 2nd round 42nd overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$49 million for 12 players (Ellis, Udrih, Gooden, Prince, Dunleavy Jr., Livingston, Udoh, Jennings, Sanders, Harris, Brockman, and Leuer).

Options: Livingston (Partially Guaranteed) and Leuer (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Brown, Delfino, and Ilyasova (Unrestricted).

Frank Madden from Brew Hoop answered the following questions:

What is Milwaukee's level of commitment to retaining Ilyasova?

John Hammond has made it clear that re-signing Ersan is a major priority, and with the Bucks in win-now mode it would certainly be a blow to lose a 25-year-old who happened to be their most productive player over the final three months of the season. That said, you can count me among the many Bucks fans who are worried more about overpaying Ersan than letting him walk for nothing, and there's every expectation that Ilyasova will be one of the league's most sought-after free agents in July. It seems likely that Ilyasova will command at least $8 million per season, though I'd hope the Bucks wouldn't go much higher.

If the Bucks don't re-sign Ilyasova, it leaves them with some wiggle room under the cap. What needs would they look to fill and is there anyone in particular on their radar?

Following the departure of Andrew Bogut, the Bucks' biggest hole is clearly in the middle, though they could also use a bigger shooting/scoring wing to complement the smallish backcourt combo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. The Bucks will presumably look at big men Tyler Zeller and Meyers Leonard with their 12th overall selection in the draft, while players like Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Ross and Austin Rivers could be options on the wings. Terrence Jones and Jared Sullinger should also be part of the conversation, especially given the possibility that Ilyasova signs elsewhere. Should they not pick up a big man via the draft, they could also plug the hole more temporarily through free agency. Chris Kaman is probably be the biggest name who might attract the Bucks' attention.

The Bucks are under the cap and could choose to fill out their roster with draft picks without even dipping their toes in the free agent pool. It appears the biggest decision they have to make is whether they will try to retain Ilyasova or attempt to fill the holes in their front line via free agency. This recent post on Brew Hoop discusses their thoughts on Ilyasova as well as potential landing spots (e.g. Nets and Cavs).

The Bucks have two similar backcourt players in Ellis and Jennings (which seems like an immiscible duo) and have been in flux since a roster shake up that sent Bogut to the Warriors. It seems likely that, despite the number of returning players, the Bucks will still be engineering changes to their roster in the coming days.

Detroit Pistons (25-41)

Draft Picks: 1st round 9th overall, 2nd round 39th overall, 2nd round 44th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$63.4 million for 11 players (Gordon, Stuckey, Hamilton, Villanueva, Prince, Maxiell, Jerebko, Bynum, Monroe, Knight, and Daye).

Options: Maxiell (Player Option)

Free Agents: Wallace and Wilkins (Unrestricted). Macklin and Russell Jr. (Restricted).

Brian Packey from Detroit Bad Boys answered the following questions:

Is it fair to say that the Pistons are still (at least) a year away from achieving flexibility relative to their cap situation? Will achieving that goal of a benign cap number be Detroit's driving force between now and next offseason?

Yes, it'll be at least a year before the Pistons have some flexibility with the cap. It's even possible the Pistons don't become serious players in free agency until summer 2014 because Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva both have expensive player options for the '13-'14 season that they'd be crazy not to pick up. One may be amnestied and another way to free up some space would be by trading Tayshaun Prince, but I don't think the Pistons are as focused on freeing up the books now as they are on building through the draft (3 picks), bringing back Kyle Singler from Spain and possibly value FAs.

What players on the roster is Detroit looking to build around and which are expendable?

It certainly feels like Detroit is looking to build around Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight. Monroe is probably the only player on the team who should be a "sacred cow," but those are the three constantly marketed as the future of the team.

Due to the Pistons cap situation, it seems likely they will fill out their roster with draft picks and don't appear to be a potential adversary for the Suns on the free agency battlefield. Prince's skill set could still be useful to a team, but at his age and price point it seems dubious the Pistons will have much luck moving him at this juncture.

I think I agree that at this time the Pistons would have to pay somebody to take Gordon or Villaneuva, but next year they might become valuable expiring deals. Patience seems to be the operative word for Pistons' fans this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45)

Draft Picks: 1st round 4th overall, 2nd round 33rd overall, 2nd round 34th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$33.9 million for 10 players (Varejao, Walton, Irving, Gibson, Thompson, Casspi, Samuels, Harris, Sloan, and Kennedy)

Options: Gibson (Partially Guaranteed). Samuels, Harris, Sloan, and Kennedy (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Jamison, Parker, Hollins, and Kapono (Unrestricted).

Johnf34 from Fear the Sword answered the following questions:

It looks like the Cavs are on the right track with a favorable cap situation and a young core that will be augmented by this year's #4 pick. How long is the timeframe to return to a level of competing?

I expect the team to compete for the late playoff spots next year without a doubt. While most people see that as potentially a gift, it can be a curse if we don't get the right players in before Irving makes the Cavaliers too good to ever get a high draft pick again. If the player with the fourth pick becomes a stud, the Cavs could become an upper half EC team very quickly. We're lucky to have the 4th pick. If Irving and Varejao played over 60 games each we'd already be around the 10th pick.

Speaking of cap space, it looks like Cleveland needs help at the wings (like the Suns). Is this the team's greatest need and do you have a pecking order for free agent targets at the 2/3?

The biggest need definitely is at the wing. Personally I want the Cavaliers to draft Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal based on which of the three Charlotte and Washington don't take. I guess I would say they have huge needs everywhere but point guard and the point is just to find another All-Star regardless of position. If I absolutely had to pick a position that is the worst on the team it no doubt would be SG, but that doesn't mean I want Beal the most. Oh, and about free agents I don't think the Cavs really are going to be a player. Nobody came when LeBron was around. Good luck getting somebody now. I guess I must admit I don't ever really think about FA's coming to Cleveland, haha.

There have been recent rumors swirling that the Suns might have interest in Alonzo Gee (a 4 year $16 million offer was speculated). What is Cleveland's level of interest in retaining him?

Cleveland's interest level in retaining Gee is high. He really had a breakout season and was someone who few people noticed but showed great progress. Their level of interest could change if they drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but it's a situation they'll monitor in July. I don't think they'll let him go if all they have to pay him is $16 million over 4 years.

Interesting feedback here. The Cavs could fill out their roster with draft picks and still have $20 million in discretionary cap space. Whether Cleveland is a destination franchise or not, free agents by and large will play for the highest bidder. They have to spend to the salary floor (80% of the cap this season), so I can see Cleveland as a potential opponent of the Suns in the free agency bazaar (e.g. the rumor they are interested in Ilyasova).

From the answer above, it also appears the Suns may need to be prepared to make a liberal offer to Gee if they wish to extricate him from the Cavs. The response indicates that he will not be available for a pittance. Here is a link to the recent article exposing the Suns' possible interest in Gee.

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