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2012-13 Season Free Agency Preview: Pacific Division

It appears the Clippers may want to move him, so where will Mo go?
It appears the Clippers may want to move him, so where will Mo go?

The focus of the last review was the Atlantic Division, which could be in for quite a shake up in the coming weeks. For this new installment we will switch oceans and scrutinize a set of teams that should be of particular interest to the Phoenix faithful.

Extensive BSotS draft coverage continues to provide a look at players the Suns may select with their 13th pick, but this preview 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 Pacific Division with a slant at how the actions of these teams may affect the maneuverability of the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns now have two teams in LA to try to catch, the Warriors will definitely be improved different next year, and the Kings are... still in Sacramento. How will the forthcoming fracas affect the hierarchy out West? Bounce for the breakdown.

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

**Only guaranteed contracts and player options are being computed into cap numbers for the purpose of this analysis. Cap holds, exceptions, 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. Salary information courtesy of Shamsports.

LA Lakers (41-25)

Draft Picks: 2nd round 60th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$83.8 million for 9 players (Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, World Peace, Sessions, Blake, McRoberts, Eyenga, Goudelock).

Options: Bynum (Team Option) and Sessions (Player Option).

Free Agents: Hill, Barnes, and Murphy (Unrestricted). Ebanks and Morris (Restricted).

Dexter Fishmore from Silver Screen and Roll answered the following questions:

Pau Gasol has been mentioned in quite a few trade rumors recently. What are the chances (maybe a percentage) that the Lakers move him during the free agency period, and is there a rumored deal that you like the best?

If you'd asked me yesterday (June 19th), I'd have said it's better than 50/50 the Lakers move Gasol this offseason. But in the Wednesday LA Times, Jim Buss warned not to expect any major moves this summer, specifically casting doubt on the likelihood of a Gasol trade. That might not mean anything. After the Chris Paul fiasco, no one wants Pau to feel like he's being shipped off unless and until it's actually happening, but that doesn't mean talks aren't going on behind the scenes. Let's put the odds of a Gasol deal at 1 in 3. Kobe's not going anywhere and Bynum's not going anywhere unless Dwight Howard becomes available, so if the Lakers do want to shake things up in a big way, it'll have to involve Pau.

How committed are the Lakers to Andrew Bynum? With Kobe turning 34 in August, is the idea to turn the franchise over to Bynum, is he just a trade piece to get the real new cornerstone, or is it still undecided?

As for Drew, the issue isn't so much whether the Lakers are committed to him, but whether he's committed to the Lakers. This past season was a strange one for him, to say the least. He mixed awesome performances and juvenile behavior in about equal measures. There are indications Mike Brown doesn't have his full respect. The 2012-13 season is a contract year for Drew, which pretty much removes both the ceiling and floor in terms of what we might get from him. As far as I know, there have been no discussions yet about a contract extension. The organization would love for him to emerge as a consistent First-Team All-NBA caliber guy, and if he plays like that the first couple months of the season, talk of a max or near-max extension will heat up. The truth is, the Lakers need him more than he needs the Lakers. He can get paid (almost as much) by another team in free agency, but where do the aging Lakers find another huge and hugely skilled young center?

I'm thinking 1 in 3 sounds a little low. The Lakers don't appear to be championship contenders as currently constructed, and their cap situation constrains their ability to make significant changes by another route besides a trade. It doesn't seem logical for the Lakers to sit on their hands while the grains of sand are funneling down Bryant's hourglass. Sometimes doing nothing is the best strategy, but I don't think this is one of those situations.

LA Clippers (40-26)

Draft Picks: 2nd round 53rd overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$59.3 million for 9 players (Paul, Jordan, Williams, Butler, Griffin, Gomes, Bledsoe, Thompkins, and Leslie).

Options: Williams (Player Option) and Leslie (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Foye, Young, Martin, Billups, and Evans (Unrestricted).

Steve Perrin from Clips Nation answered the following questions:

What are the chances that Mo Williams picks up his player option for next year, and do the Clippers want him to?

Williams has stated in no uncertain terms that he will exercise his option and remain with the team, and there's no reason to believe that he wasn't being honest. So while nothing is ever completely certain until the ink is dry on the contract, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that he'll be back.

Whether the Clippers want him to remain with the team is a different question. Williams was quite good for the Clippers last season, but there's an obvious problem. The team's best player is 6'0", the up-and-coming Eric Bledsoe is 6'1". Since Chris Paul is Chris Paul, and Bledsoe figures more prominently in the team's future plans than Williams, that leaves Mo as the least important of three small guards on the roster.

Assuming he does exercise his option, the Clippers will definitely shop him in hopes of flipping him for a shooting guard or small forward that will balance the roster better. What value Williams has on the trade market is an entirely different question.

Billups, Foye, and Young are all free agents. What is the priority on keeping these players, or do the Clippers have their eyes on any specific replacements?

I think that the Clippers would love to keep both Billups and Young at the right price, but Foye is probably done in L.A. For Young, the "right price" would have to be less than $4.4M -- that's what they can offer him without using the mid level exception. Young lost his Bird rights when he accepted the trade to the Clippers, but even as a non-Bird free agent they can offer him up to 120% of what he made last year. It's hard to know what Billups' price tag will be, but the Clippers would like to keep him if only for his locker room presence.

Foye is a Early-Bird free agent, but the bottom line is that the Clippers believe they need a different starting two guard, and the backcourt is the one spot where they're deep right now, so Foye is likely the odd man out. I can only see Foye returning if both Young and Billups move on.

As for targets, Ray Allen will certainly get a phone call -- the Clippers would love a two guard with size and range, and he fits that description. Allen has the obvious downside of being well past his prime, and if they want to look at a younger player, Courtney Lee of the Rockets would seem to be a good choice, but Lee is a restricted free agent and it's unlikely the Rockets would let him go.

It appears the Clippers are looking to rotate their stock at the guard positions, and I'm sure that getting bigger and younger are the ambitions of the exchange. Between Mo's skill set and expiring deal, I would anticipate that the Clippers will be able to find a willing trade partner. The Clippers don't have cap space, so the Suns will be able to make more lucrative offers to prospective free agents if they become enamored with the same players to fill their deficiencies at the 2 and 3.

I could actually see Allen in LA if things go awry in Boston, but I surmise that other teams also have his phone number.

Golden St. Warriors (23-43)

Draft Picks: 1st round 7th overall, 1st round 30th overall, 2nd round 35th overall, 2nd round 52nd overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$56.7 million for 9 players (Bogut, Lee, Jefferson, Biedrins, Dorell Wright, Curry, Thompson, Tyler, and Jenkins).

Options: Jenkins (Partially Guaranteed).

Free Agents: Ford, McGuire, and Robinson (Unrestricted). Rush, Chris Wright, and Gladness (Restricted).

Nate Parham from Golden State of Mind answered the following questions:

What is the interest level in retaining Brandon Rush? Is he likely to be the Warriors' starting shooting guard next season? Will the inability to replace him in free agency (cap situation) force the Warriors' hand in this situation?

First, it looks like the Warriors are pretty set on Klay Thompson being the SG for next season and into the future. The improvement from his last college season to the end of his first NBA season has been amazing to watch and there's no reason not to expect more. But to answer your question directly, by all accounts, the FO appears like they want to re-sign Rush unless he gets some bizarro contract offer (which doesn't seem likely).

Re-signing Rush would put the club over the cap, but it would be wise to take advantage of his Bird rights, since their only means for signing any free agent is the MLE anyway. In other words, if they don't re-sign Rush, they will neither have the flexibility to go out and sign someone else of his caliber nor have any money left offer to fill the other major needs for this team (i.e. bigs and a backup PG). That would put the club over the cap but under the luxury tax threshold, which seems to be the more important figure anyway. And Lacob seems far more committed than former owner Chris Cohan to putting money into this operation.

The Warriors aren't set up to make a big splash in free agency (just the #7 pick and Rush would put them well over the cap). Are they comfortable with trying to make a run at the playoffs as the roster is currently constructed, or is there a chance for more restructuring?

At this point, the team is coming off a season in which a major change was made (moving Ellis) and we have yet to see how well the revamped roster will work (with Bogut). At this point, it might be wise to hold off on making any further changes before seeing what a Curry/Klay/Lee/Bogut combination can accomplish.

But their other constraints make the draft potentially more significant for the Warriors, whether they are able to package one or more of their four picks in a trade or find a prospect that can become a contributor. Although SF is the glaring need in the starting lineup, a backup post player and a backup ball handler (as insurance for Curry) are also needs that could probably be filled with the talent in this draft. So it will probably be much easier to say whether more changes are necessary or wise after the draft.

It seems highly unlikely that the Warriors will keep all four of their draft picks (as Alex mentioned in his recent post). The Suns should inquire about the possibility of acquiring #30 or #35 from them.

Brandon Rush also intrigues me. He is restricted, but I wonder if the chance to compete for a starting position, as opposed to backing up Klay Thompson, might be appealing to him. He has started over 1/3 of the games he has played in during his four year career. I doubt he gets anything "bizarro", but the contracts that result from the free agent market are driven more by demand than value. If the Suns were to make an offer to Rush, it could a) improve the Suns while weakening a division rival (assuming they get him) or b) force a division rival to pay a premium price to retain their talent. Of course that strategy can backfire if the Suns overpay and/or he underperforms...

Sacramento Kings (22-44)

Draft Picks: 1st round 5th overall, 2nd round 36th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$44.1 million for 11 players (Salmons, Thornton, Garcia, Hayes, Evans, Cousins, Outlaw, Fredette, Honeycutt, Whiteside, and Thomas).

Options: Whiteside and Thomas (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Williams (Unrestricted). Thompson and Green (Restricted).

Section214 from Sactown Royalty answered the following questions:

Given the needs on the Kings roster, what are the chances that the player selected with the #5 pick is starting next season?

The player that the Kings draft at five will almost certainly get a great chance to compete for a starting job. Let's guess that (after Anthony Davis), the Kings would select Thomas Robinson, MIchael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes or Bradley Beal. One of those players would have to be available at #5. Beal is the only one of that bunch that would come into a bloated depth situation, with Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton all at the guard position already (Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons and Francisco Garcia, too). If the Kings land Robinson, it could impact the desire of the Kings to match contract offers for Jason Thompson. Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes would be competing with the likes of Travis Outlaw and Tyler Honeycutt for the starting small forward job. A likely scenario would be the Kings landing Barnes, starting him, and then running a "small" configuration by bringing Thornton in off the bench and sliding Evans over to the 3.

The Kings have a little bit of money under the cap. What is Sacramento's level of interest in using some of it to retain Thompson? Do they have anyone else in mind in free agency to use the rest, or might they stay a little bit under to leave themselves trade flexibility?

Ownership has shown little desire to attain anything more than the salary cap minimum over the past couple of years. While the organization is expressing an interest in re-signing Thompson, the sad truth is that cash is King for the brothers Maloof, so I don't anticipate any aggressive free agent spending. And that's too bad for Kings fans, as the franchise could come into this summer $18m under the salary cap if they amnestied Salmons. As it stands, the Kings can attain the minimum cap by simply signing their 1st and 2nd round draft picks. My guess is that they will be willing to spend roughly $28m over 4 years for Thompson, but only if they don't draft a frontcourt player.

There can be advantages to a team being under the cap. The Suns would be in a much better position to maneuver if they had space now as opposed to having to wait until July for the reset. The reasons for being under the cap are of paramount importance, though. Is it because of strategy or parsimony?

There are 4 basic situations a team can find itself in. Good with cap space, good with no cap space, bad with cap space, and bad with no cap space. This July the Suns and Kings will occupy the same tier according to this ranking system.

It appears unlikely that the Suns and Kings will be dealing with or competing against one another this off-season.

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