Offseason Plans: Point Guard
We have officially entered the dog days of spring.
There’s a month and a half to go until anything of substance happens for the Heat (i.e., the NBA draft) and two months until free agency begins.
Most of the playoff match-ups feel a bit boring to me. And the games are spaced way too far apart for me to take an active interest. So I figure now is as good a time as any to put on my general manager hat and suggest some avenues Riley can take in the offseason.
I think by now everybody realizes the first Riley call should be to LeBron James, but he’s simply not going to pick up. In all realism, Riley will target Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. That much we know. If he cannot get one of the two to sign on the dotted line, this summer (and the three seasons preceding it) will be a failure. Chris Bosh… then what?
The Heat has enough cap space for two max contract free agents and a third player making $10 million. But to spend that much on a third player is not the most effective way to build a well-rounded team.
While there are a host of free agent options (a list of all free agents by position, as well current salary cap projections and a team-by-team list of projected cap space can be found at this link), my first move as general manager would be to think trade. The target would be Darren Collison.
Collison was supposed to spend his rookie season in New Orleans watching and learning from the league’s best. But when Chris Paul went down with a left knee injury on January 29, Collison was prematurely thrust into a starting role.
The short and slender guard has responded in a big way. Collison is just 6’0″ and 160 pounds but he plays much, much bigger than that. Since taking over the starting role, Collison averaged 19.0 points (on 50% shooting), 8.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 40 minutes per game. The agile ball-handler with exceptional quickness has strung together a variety of highlight-worthy plays lately – everything from blow-by lay-ups to tough running floaters, breakaway dunks, clutch 3-pointers and pinpoint alley-oop lobs.
He does remain prone to rookie mistakes. Collison has turned the ball over a shade under 4 times per game during the same stretch. But given how aggressively he plays and the fact that he’s just 22 years old, it is certainly something that can be tolerated and improved upon.
In Collison, the Hornets have found a diamond in the rough. They know it. The price will be extremely high.
Throughout the past season, hopeful Heat fans kept a keen eye on the financial troubles faced by the Hornets. Why? Because it gave us irrational hopes that New Orleans would dump the long-term contract of the league’s best point guard, Chris Paul. That was probably never true. Regardless, all lingering hope certainly ended when billionare Gary Chouest took over.
Still, the Hornets are quite plainly a bad team. And no matter how much Chouest has in his personal coffers, he must still operate within the confines of the salary cap. He can’t simply spend his way out of it. The Hornets have a committed payroll of $71.8 million next season. That puts them not just over next season’s projected salary cap, but over the tax threshold.
The first step to rebuilding is dumping horrific contracts. Peja Stojakovic’s $14 million is far and away the worst. But that expires after next season; it’s not a major long term problem. The bigger problem is Emeka Okafor. Okafor is simply not a good fit for the Hornets, and he still has 4 years and a whopping $53 million left on his contract.
Emeka’s not bad, but his $72 million contract was certainly an unwise investment by the Bobcats. Despite being undersized for a center, standing 6 feet and 10 inches tall, his strong shot-blocking instincts and ferocious work on the glass, coupled with the fact that he stays on the floor, can provide the backbone of a strong defense. But the weaknesses are glaring. Okafor simply cannot hit the broad side of a barn door if he’s standing more than two feet away from it. He’s a Michael Beasley clone, in that he gets a ton of his shots blocked. He also rivals Shaq for free throw ineptitude.
Utilizing whatever leverage Chouest has to dump Okafor could be a wise long-term strategy for the franchise. Collison’s trade value will never be higher than it will be this offseason. Given the paucity of available free agent point guards, interest from around the league will be high. Miami would be foolish not to take an interest. But, as Heat fans have so painfully learned, desire does not equal ability.
There are several reasons why Collison should remain a Hornet. His salaries are $1.27 million this season and $1.36 million in 2010/11. New Orleans has a team option for 2011/12 at $1.46 million and another team option in 2012/13 on Collison for $2.32 million. They appear to have a high-quality point guard at a bargain price.
In any Collison trade scenario, the Hornets will certainly be looking for a combination of talent, draft picks and/or cap relief. Miami has no talent to offer. At the very least, a trade for Collison would require the Heat to swallow the contract of Emeka Okafor as well as a first (or perhaps second) round draft pick. Would you pull the trigger? Would the Hornets?