A few notes from around the NBA's Central Division.
The coaching carousel this offseason is personified by Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek. The former Jazz player was a smart shooting guard next to Hall-of-Famer John Stockton, in the backcourt of some consistently excellent Jazz teams. But even with less than three years of experience on the Jazz bench, he's become a go-to interview for teams with a coaching vacancy.
Brad Rock of the Salt Lake City Desert News opines on Hornacek's bonafides as a head coach somewhere in the league, while current head coach Tyrone Corbin is also in a state of flux, but appears set to return to the sidelines next season after a vote of confidence from general manager Dennis Lindsey. In a summer of discontent for 29 NBA teams (and the city of Seattle), there are still plenty of question marks, like Hornacek, with uncertain, yet bright futures. Like the next item on our list...
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times heard from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau that Joakim Noah might require surgery on his right foot this summer but will opt for rehab as his first option. Cowley also mentions that Chicago will likely have to find a way to re-tool their bench with several one-year deals again, as Thibodeau said that the market will dictate whether or not they'll be able to carry over several of their key role players - namely Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, and Nazr Mohammed - into next season. Here's more out of the Eastern Conference tonight:
Typically, when we examine a free agent's value, as we have for a number of players in our Free Agent Stock Watch series so far, we'll make an educated guess about his next contract based on his performance heading into free agency. So when a player hasn't actually seen NBA action in nearly three and a half years, evaluating his recent on-court production becomes a little trickier.
That's the case for Greg Oden, 2007's first overall pick, who hasn't appeared in an NBA game since December 2009. A layoff that extensive generally means we won't ever be seeing the player in an NBA uniform again, particularly when his absence from the Association is due to injuries rather than, for instance, playing overseas. But Oden is still only 25 years old, and has his sights set on a return to the NBA for the 2013/14 season.
Given Oden's history of knee problems, his health has to be the first factor taken into account when we consider whether he'll even land a contract this summer. Having undergone multiple microfracture surgeries on his knees, Oden is still working his way back into playing shape. If he can't get healthy, an NBA comeback will be impossible, but for our purposes, let's assume (and hope) his rehab continues to progress well, without any setbacks.
Despite being out of the league for years, a healthy Oden would still likely draw plenty of interest around the league. Even this season, as rumors swirled that Oden was considering signing immediately in order to rehab with NBA team doctors, we heard plenty of clubs linked to the 25-year-old. The Heat, Cavaliers, Spurs, Bobcats, Mavericks, and Celtics were among the teams rumored to be kicking the tires.
That amount of interest seems to suggest that Oden wouldn't necessarily have to settle for a minimum-salary contract if he's healthy. In fact, his decision to wait until the summer rather than signing a multiyear deal this past season suggests to me that he and agent Mike Conley Sr. will be seeking more than the minimum. During the season, many of Oden's preferred suitors, such as the Heat, were only able to offer a minimum contract, whereas those teams should have more cap exceptions available in the offseason. Miami, for instance, will have the taxpayer mid-level exception at its disposal.
Perhaps paying someone with Oden's injury history more than the minimum salary seems like an unnecessary risk, but as we've seen before, former No. 1 picks continue to make out well on the open market even after it seems like they're destined to be busts. Kwame Brown, for example, has never been more than a passable backup, but after the lockout he received a $6.7MM salary from the Warriors. After missing most of the 2011/12 season, he still managed to land a multiyear deal worth about $2.9MM annually from the Sixers.
Brown has been healthier than Oden, to be sure, but he no longer has the ex-Blazer's upside. Oden has played in a full season's worth of games in his NBA career, recording 9.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, a .577 FG%, and a 19.5 PER in 82 contests (22.1 MPG). It's probably unlikely that he'd match that production after such a lengthy layoff, even if he were injury-free. But it's not hard to imagine at least one NBA team talking itself into rolling the dice on the Ohio State product, perhaps as a cheaper alternative to another risky free agent big man like Andrew Bynum.
As Oden and his agent search for a new deal this summer, there will be plenty of uncertainty and apprehenesion surrounding the former top pick. If he's healthy though, I could see Oden landing a deal similar to the one Brown got last summer -- a two-year contract worth between $2-3MM annually with a second-year option. That would make Oden a nice value if he could provide even 10-15 good minutes per game, and wouldn't be a disaster for the team if he couldn't stay on the court.
It would be a great story for basketball if Oden makes it back to NBA relevance in '13/14, so I'll be rooting for him as he continues his rehab and searches for a contract this summer.
Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer answered a handful of questions from Cavaliers fans earlier, pointing out that the team will most likely build through the draft and trades. If they were to find someone in free agency, Boyer opines, the Cavs definitely don't want to overpay in order to land their target. She also doesn't see Dwight Howard being a real option, nor does she think Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge will be available on the trade market. You can find more of her noteworthy points below:
Greg Oden and the Cavs appeared to engage in heavy flirtation last night, as the former No. 1 overall pick sat in one of owner Dan Gilbert's courtside seats at the Cavs-Grizzlies game. While Oden regards Cleveland as one of his favored destinations for a return to the league, the Cavs haven't made him an offer, agent Mike Conley Sr. tells Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida (Twitter link). Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld believes the big man will eventually sign with the Heat, based on multiple sources who insist Miami will be his choice, in spite of the ability other teams have to offer him more money and a longer contract (Twitter links). Oden isn't expected to sign with any team until the summer, so we'll likely be hearing plenty more about him in the coming months. In the meantime, here's more from around the league:
With the trade deadline behind us, some teams are already looking toward this summer's free agent class. Here is a roundup of the latest buzz on that front:
Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden has been linked to several teams in the past few months since making it known he's interested in a comeback, but one of the most prominent has been the Cavaliers. Oden was close to signing with Cleveland last month, and though a deal never happened, Oden tells Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal he's still interested in joining the Cavs.
Wherever he signs, it likely won't happen until this summer, as agent Mike Conley Sr. reiterated to Lloyd, in keeping with what Conley has previously indicated. Lloyd reported in February that the Cavs were preparing a three-year deal for Oden that included a team option for 2014/15. It's unclear how much the contract would have been worth, but the Cavs have plenty of cap space now and for this summer, so they could outbid many other teams. Their advantage is somewhat reduced, however, if Oden waits to sign until the offseason, when other clubs will free up more space and have cap exceptions to use on the big man.
Oden, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and attended Ohio State, is at tonight's Cavaliers-Grizzlies game as a guest of Memphis point guard Mike Conley Jr., the agent's son. The Cavs invited Oden to move down into one of owner Dan Gilbert's front-row seats adjacent to the team's bench, Lloyd notes, and Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio noticed Oden talking with Cavs reserve Luke Walton (Twitter link).
Oden, as his agent has in the past, said the Cavs' partnership with the Cleveland Clinic will be a factor in his decision.
"With my process, one of the top two things I have to think about is the medical staff and how is it going to help me," he said. "I want to play and I want to play for some time. Not just come in and see what happens. I want to be able to have a career."
The NBA's longest current winning and losing streaks both belong to Southeast Division teams, and will be on the line tonight. The Heat are hosting the Magic, in search of their 16th straight win, while the Bobcats will look to snap a seven-game losing streak at home against the Nets. As we wait for the Eastern Conference's best and worst clubs to get underway tonight, let's round up a few notes out of the Southeast....