Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Thursday, April 18, 2002
What the NBA's unlucky 13 need to do

By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com

There is nothing like playoff basketball.

I've covered the Super Bowl, and the World Series, and the Final Four, and the Kentucky Derby, and the Olympics, and the Indy 500, and nothing gets my juices going like a seven-game clash of two well-matched, well-coached squads. The in-game adjustments, the greatness that is displayed at the most crucial moments. Big shots, big wins, championships. This is what they play for, and why we watch.

But what if your team isn't in the dance? What if your squad is at the end of a great run, or at the beginning? What if hope is annually expressed by the number of ping-pong balls your team has before the Lottery, or the siren call of cap room? What if your favorite team is in the midst of more rebuilding than Bob Vila?

We're here to help.

Here, then, are the 13 teams that didn't make the playoffs, who'll be home for the summer. Who they are, what they need, and how they'll get it.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

  • RECORD: 37-45, fifth place, Atlantic.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: A do-everything small forward to replace Michael Jordan or learn behind him. If Doug Collins has his way next season, Jordan's minutes will be reduced in order to save him for more end-of-game situations. "We've got to get bigger at the three," Collins says. "If Michael does play, my inclination would be for him to play guard. When he had to play the bigger threes, like (Ron) Artest and Al Harrington, he had some problems."
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Take a wild guess.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Caron Butler, Connecticut; Jared Jeffries, Indiana.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $37.3 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Popeye Jones, F Tyrone Nesby.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Kwame Brown. If the Wizards are smart, they hire still-in-D.C. Adrian Dantley for the summer and have him work with Brown every day on developing a low-post move. Any low-post move.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    MIAMI HEAT

  • RECORD: 36-46, sixth place, Atlantic.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Youth, especially in the frontcourt. Despite missing the playoffs, defense is not a problem; Miami is still holding opponents to .426 shooting and 88 points a game. But the Heat strain to score against even the most pedestrian defenses, and aside from Eddie House and Anthony Carter, no one in the team's regular rotation is under 30. Vlad Stepania has had moments, but Miami has to start developing a big man if it decides to replace Alonzo Mourning, whose contract is up after next season.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: With owner Micky Arison remaining adamant about not paying a luxury tax, will Riles be able to use the $3.36 million trade exception he got in the Tim Hardaway trade last summer before it expires next August 22nd?
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Qyntel Woods, Northeast Mississippi Community College; Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Duke.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $54.7 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: None.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Anthony Carter. He's had two cracks at the starting point guard job and has not been able to hold on to the spot. He's running out of time to prove he's a starter.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $3.36 million trade exception (Tim Hardaway).

    NEW YORK KNICKS

  • RECORD: 30-52, seventh place, Atlantic.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Ah, let me think, um, it's, uh...SIZE!!!!! Bigs. Any bigs with talent. The Big Unit. Biggie Smalls. This season, the Knicks' opponents' field goal percentage is .445, which is the worst since the team allowed .458 shooting in the 1991-92 season. And New York is getting outrebounded by more than two boards per game-the biggest team deficit since the 1986-87 season. The need for a four or a five that can slow the flow is crucial. Scott Layden has made no secret of his intrigue with Yao Ming. The Knicks' smaller players aren't as bad as they've looked this season; that's what happens when teams have no reason to respect your interior at either end of the floor.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Is Marcus Camby worth it? When he's on the floor he's an extremely effective player, but without a legitimate center or low-poster to play next to, he's an injury waiting to happen. By far the Knicks' most tradeable player.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Yao Ming, China; Drew Gooden, Kansas; Chris Marcus, Western Kentucky; Jason Williams, Duke.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $89.4 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: None.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Shandon Anderson. It's not his fault that he's on an undersized team. But for $42 million, he has to do more than be a slasher and occasional starter.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    MILWAUKEE BUCKS

  • RECORD: 41-41, fifth place, Central.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: This team needs Bill Nye the Science Guy, because it's flunked chemistry. Could the Bucks stand to add a power forward who can get on the glass and score occasionally on the box? Sure. But talent isn't the issue here. Not making the playoffs is an embarassment and almost certainly assures major changes to the current nucleus of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Who's in charge here? There is no way that George Karl will return to coach this bunch again. Will he attempt to exercise more authority over trades and free agent signings? GM Ernie Grunfeld is a great buffer and facilitator, but will Karl have to have the final say?
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Frank Williams, Illinois; Steve Logan, Cincinnati.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $53.3 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Darvin Ham; G Rafer Alston; C Greg Foster.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Joel Pryzbilla. The Bucks expect the Minnesota product to become a shot blocker and defender, especially in the east. He played more this season but adding even more strength this summer to be able to hold his position will be important.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.65 million trade exception (Scott Williams); $1.125 million trade exception (Lindsey Hunter); $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    ATLANTA HAWKS

  • RECORD: 33-49, sixth place, Central.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: A point guard to go with Atlanta's young nucleus of Jason Terry, DerMarr Johnson and Theo Ratliff. But the Hawks' first-rounder is bound for the Clippers unless it falls among the top four selections overall. "We'll probably have to be more active in trades to improve the team," GM Pete Babcock says. But if the Hawks get lucky, last season's draft day lesson may impact their decision this season. "We got the 27th pick late, and we were going to take (Tony) Parker," Babcock recalls. "At the last minute-and we had four or five teams really trying to get the pick-the final analysis for us was that we really liked Parker, but we already had JT and we already had DerMarr and we had Dion Glover, so we asked ourselves, 'is it the best thing for us to add a 19-year-old to our team?'" Could also use an enforcer inside to protect Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Can Ratliff stay healthy? He's so anxious to get back on the floor after missing the last year and a half that he's inquired about playing for Atlanta's summer league team, which guys making $56 million generally don't do.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Dajuan Wagner, Memphis; Frank Williams; Dan Dickau, Gonzaga; Logan.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $52.4 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Cal Bowdler.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: DerMarr Johnson. He showed signs late in the season of coming on, but was it real improvement or end-of-the-season fantasy? Regardless, he needs to spend another summer in the weight room.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level.

    CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

  • RECORD: 29-53, seventh place, Central.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Dee-fense. Only the Mavs, Warriors and Magic allow more per game than Cleveland's sievelike 98.5. Equally importantly, after going for futures the last two years, the Cavs have to select someone who can come in and play right away. With free agents unlikely to bite on the Cavs' exceptions, Cleveland has to continue to build through the draft.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Will Andre Miller sign an extension? He's eligible for one entering the final year of his rookie deal, and what he does will have an obvious impact on the franchise's future.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Butler; Gooden; Chris Wilcox, Maryland.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $43.08 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Ricky Davis#, F Michael Doleac, G Trajan Langdon, F/C Brian Skinner.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: C DeSagana Diop. Hampered by foot injuries throughout his rookie season, Diop needs to continue to lose weight and start earning more minutes.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    CHICAGO BULLS

  • RECORD: 21-61, eighth place, Central.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Firepower. The Bulls' young guns have played significantly better for Bill Cartrwright than they ever would have for Tim Floyd. But the backcourt is still an uncertainty. Chicago could use a deadeye shooter who can improve on this season's anemic .432 field goal percentage, stretch defenses and open things up inside for its still-learning big men.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Is Jamal Crawford the real deal? Is he a real point guard or more of a hybrid? And don't the Bulls already have a player like that in Jalen Rose? If Crawford is a legitimate point guard, Chicago is much further along in its rebuilding. But it seems like the Bulls have duplication at places like small forward (Rose and Eddie Robinson) and power forward (Tyson Chandler and Marcus Fizer). Jerry Krause might have to pull off a deal, because with Rose's $93 million contract now on the books, free agency is out.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Kareem Rush, Missouri; Frederick Jones, Oregon.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $42.25 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: G Travis Best.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Eddy Curry. Seems like a prime candidate for Pete Newell's last Big Man's camp. Would also stand to improve if he gets some regular summertime run at Hoops the Gym with a certain 39-year-old swingman.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $465,000.

    L.A. CLIPPERS

  • RECORD: 39-43, fifth place, Pacific.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Maturity. The Clippers are now talented enough to beat bad teams, but to go from a 40-win team to a 50-win squad is the hardest 10-game jump in the league. It requires toughness on the road and mental strength to get through the dog days. Does this group have that? The Clips will likely have two more lottery picks, but the last thing they need is more kids. A veteran who's been through the playoff wars could also help Elton Brand, who's being asked to shoulder an awful lot of responsibility at a still young age.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Will Donald Sterling make a commitment? He has to pay Michael Olowokandi a fair rate for being a quickly-improving young center. Kandi doesn't deserve the max, but certainly more than the mid-level exception price centers like Todd MacCullough and Calvin Booth got last summer.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Curtis Borchardt, Stanford; Darius Songalia, Wake Forest.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $28.6 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: C Michael Olowokandi.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Darius Miles. He's already good, but he can be even better. Just like his partner Q made a big leap this season by working his butt off in the summer, Miles could reach all-star caliber next season if he continues to work on his jumper and becomes more consistent on D.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level.

    PHOENIX SUNS

  • RECORD: 36-46, sixth place, Pacific.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: A true power forward, someone who can bang inside, eat glass and create double-teams. The last time Phoenix had a real power player-Charles Barkley-the Suns made the Finals. They have enough perimeter scorers to make a playoff run next season, but they have to get bigger. With two first-round picks, they'll have a shot at addressing the need.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Would anyone take Penny Hardaway? He's got four years left on his deal at around $56 million. What a big nut to try and move elsewhere. And don't believe the Memphis hype. The Grizz have no interest.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Amare Stoudamire, Cypress Creek (FL) H.S.; Melvin Ely, Fresno State; Carlos Boozer, Duke.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $53.9 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F John Wallace.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Joe Johnson. The word on the rookie was that he wilted a little when faced with real competition in Boston. He'll get every opportunity for minutes and shots next season in the Valley. A Steph-JJ combo in the backcourt could be lethal.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    HOUSTON ROCKETS

  • RECORD: 28-54, fifth place, Midwest.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: A power four would be nice. A five would be better. Either way, the Rockets have to get a big man that commands attention. Their three-guard rotation of Steve Francis, Cat Mobley and Moochie Norris is as good as anybody's, but in the west, you can't win without superior talent in the paint. Rockets will have their first-rounder and Toronto's.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: How does Houston break its logjam at power forward? Maurice Taylor is on schedule to return next year from his achilles' injury, Kenny Thomas had a Most Improved Player-like season and rookie Eddie Griffin showed flashes of greatness. At least one and maybe two of these guys, it would seem, might have to go.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Marcus; Borchardt; Marcus Haislip, Tennessee.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $44.3 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Walt Williams; C Kevin Willis.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Kelvin Cato. He's a solid defensive center but he needs to care more about the offensive end of the floor if he wants to really help his team. He's improved his mental approach to the game, but a summer developing a hook or drop step would be beneficial.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level.

    DENVER NUGGETS

  • RECORD: 27-55, sixth place, Midwest.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Wow, where does one begin? How about one, two, three and five? I guess they're okay at the four, with Antonio McDyess. Otherwise, they need talent at every position, and they'll start at the point and at center. Or maybe I'm wrong. Here's GM Kiki Vandeweghe: "believe it or not, a lot of the pieces are in place. I like the way our team is shaping up for the next two years." Translation: Most of these guys' contracts are up after next season, and I'll have some cap room to sign some real players.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Will the Nuggets move McDyess? He has an out after next season that he will most assuredly use. Imagine his power game with a team like the Rockets or Mavs, two teams that just happen to have a surplus of players that could be moved.
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Dunleavy; Woods; Gooden; Butler.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $52.4 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: G Calbert Cheaney; G Voshon Lenard; F Scott Williams.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: James Posey. Increased his scoring average slightly this season (10.7 per game) but he's never shot better than .429 from the floor in his first three seasons. Needs to find a jumper this summer if he's ever going to break out.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

  • RECORD: 23-59, sixth place, Midwest.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: Shooting. "We need a guy that can really make a shot," Coach Sidney Lowe says. "Or a guy that we can get the ball to that can score for us. When the clock's running down, he can create his own shot. We don't have that kind of player. We need someone like that. Jason (Williams) is a very good player when he's got people around him that can score. He can get them the ball and when they're making shots, he loves that. He thrives off of that." Problem: if Memphis' draft pick isn't in the top five, it goes to Detroit.
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Can Michael Dickerson come back? Memphis gave him a cool $43.3 million extension even though he didn't play this season with a severe groin injury. When he was healthy the two previous seasons, he was a solid scorer (18 and 16 per game, respectively).
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Jason Williams; Wagner; Tayshaun Prince, Kentucky; Butler; Rush.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $53.1 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: F Grant Long.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Stromile Swift. Showed signs of getting it in his second season but still hasn't exploded like a second pick overall in a draft should. Has to pick it up on the glass a little more and do more than dunk offensively.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $1.4 million.

    GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

  • RECORD: 21-61, seventh place, Pacific.
  • AREA OF GREATEST NEED: An upgrade at center over Erick Dampier and Adonal Foyle. With the Bay Area's large Chinese population, Ming would seem to make sense. But the Warriors won't be averse to looking at adding another ballhandler who can shoot-and help Golden State's dreadful .429 field goal percentage (fourth worst in the league). "If we go for a guard, you're looking at Vinnie Johnson, Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas for 10 years," GM Garry St. Jean says. "We could had a hell of a threesome with Jason Williams, (Gilbert) Arenas and (Jason) Richardson...we've proven that just leading the league in rebounding doesn't mean you're gonna win."
  • BIG QUESTION THIS SUMMER: Where will Larry Hughes wind up? Both Hughes and the Warriors know that the free agent guard won't be coming back; a sign-and-trade is inevitable. Would his ability to get to the basket help a certain gel-laden coach in the South Beach area? The Warriors have a surplus of threes and fours that could probably be moved, too. What they'd really like to add is a veteran with some playoff experience, "who's a good player who really has won, who knows what it's about in the locker room," St. Jean says. "We don't have that. That is a deficiency for us."
  • DRAFTABLE PLAYER(S) WHO COULD HELP: Jason Williams; Ming; Wagner.
  • COMMITTED* 2002-03 DOLLARS: $43.2 million.
  • FREE AGENTS TO RE-SIGN: G Mookie Blaylock; F Cedric Henderson; C Dean Garrett.
  • CURRENT PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Troy Murphy. A solid rookie season, but if the Warriors are ever going to be a real factor out west, Murphy will have to become a big-time presence at the three and four spots. His passing and shooting skills make him an ideal high-post player, so he has to better his 42 percent shooting.
  • CAP EXCEPTIONS AVAILABLE: $4.6 million mid-level; $880,000.

    (Notes: * Does not include "cap holds" on free agents to be; team will have to re-sign or renounce those players. # Restricted free agent.)

    David Aldridge is an NBA reporter for ESPN.