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Western Conference Offseason Moves: Big Changes For Suns, Jazz

John Clemeno

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Charlie Zegers

Charlie Zegers

Charlie Zegers writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets

Who's Coming: Al Harrington (NYK), Shelden Williams (BOS)

Who's Going: Linas Kleiza (TOR), Johan Petro (NJ), Joey Graham (CLE), Malik Allen (FA)

A year after making the Lakers sweat in the conference finals, the Nuggets were bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season. In a sign of panic, they let go vice president of basketball operations and 2008-09 Executive of the Year Mark Warkentien. In comes Masai Ujiri, who must deal with Carmelo Anthony’s developing contract situation. Anthony has not accepted the team’s three-year extension, leading to speculation that he’ll become unrestricted in the summer of 2011 (player opt out) or 2012 (when Chris Paul is free). Placating Anthony, if that can be done, is the first order of business. Between that, coach George Karl’s health and option years coming up for Chauncey Billups (team option) and Nene (player), signs point to major renovations beyond this season.

In the here-and-now, not much changes on the court. Billups and Nene join Anthony as the team’s mainstays. The mix of J.R. Smith, Aaron Afflalo and Ty Lawson will get minutes on the perimeter. The only significant change is Al Harrington, a high-volume scorer, who just might thrive in the freedom of the Nuggets offense. Circumstances are in place for him to get 30 minutes a night, as both Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson are coming off knee injuries. Martin’s contract is up this season, and if the knee becomes a real problem, he could be moved during a stretch run for the playoffs. Depth and injury concerns could force a bigger role for Renaldo Balkman. Karl exiled him to the bench, reportedly because of poor practice habits, and gave his minutes to the now-departed Joey Graham and Malik Allen.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Who's Coming: Wesley Johnson (4th), Lazar Heyward (30th), Nemanja Bjelica (35th), Paulao Prestes (45th), Martell Webster (POR), Kosta Koufos (UTA), Sebastian Telfair (CLE), Luke Ridnour (MIL), Michael Beasley (MIA), Nikola Pekovic (2008 draft),

Who's Going: Ramon Sessions (CLE), Ryan Hollins (CLE), Al Jefferson (UTA), Ryan Gomes (LAC), Damien Wilkens (FA), Sasha Pavlovic (FA), Oleksiy Pecherov (FA), Brian Cardinal (FA), Nathan Jawai (FA), Delonte West (FA)

Year 2 of the Kurt Rambis regime looks remarkably like Year 1: lots of roster turnover and young players taking time to learn each other’s games, likely resulting in a long season. And, really, why shouldn’t team president David Kahn blow this team up? The T-Wolves were 2-27 after the All-Star break to finish 15-67, a scant three games ahead of the Nets.

The biggest move, by far, was sending Al Jefferson to Utah for draft picks, Kosta Koufos, and a large trade exception. It looks like Minnesota will roll with a frontcourt of Kevin Love and Darko Milicic. Milicic, still just 24, had a nice 24-game run at the end of last season in Minnesota and got himself a new four-year deal. Michael Beasley will slot in as a backup in the frontcourt, but as we saw in Miami he had trouble defending. The big-man rotation is a little thin, with 2008 draftee Nikola Pekovic and/or Koufos getting a shot.

For the third time in four seasons, the team used a first round pick on a shooting guard. Wesley Johnson joins former first-rounders Corey Brewer and Wayne Ellington. Brewer’s got enough length to play the three, where he’ll battle with Martell Webster for court time. Jonny Flynn is recovering from hip surgery and is not expected to return until late November at the earliest. A combination of Luke Ridnour and Sebastian Telfair will man the point until then.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Who's Coming: Cole Aldrich (11th), Tibor Pleiss (31st), Latavious Williams (48th), Ryan Reid (57th), Daequan Cook (MIA), Royal Ivey (MIL), Morris Peterson (NO),

Who's Going: Kyle Weaver (FA)

It’s hard to believe this is the same organization that won just 20 games two seasons ago. The Thunder improved by 27 wins in 2009-10. That won’t happen this season, but the team should improve its playoff seeding and avoid a Western Conference power in the first round. A key for the young club will be better results in those end-of-game scenarios, something the Thunder struggled with – especially early in the season.

Oklahoma City is run by the savvy Sam Presti, who doesn’t spend to the brink of the salary cap/lottery tax, and puts the team in a position to take on a salary, adding potentially useful role players like Daequan Cook, Eric Maynor and Mo Peterson within the last six months. This is a team that will have more depth in 2010-11 and can play more situational basketball.

The Thunder have their big three in place with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green anchoring the starting unit. We should see more minutes for James Harden at shooting guard. He isn’t the elite defender that Thabo Sefolosha is, but his scoring ability will help. The black hole on this team is center, where they got by with Nick Collison, Nenad Krstic and Serge Ibaka last season. Cole Aldrich won’t be ready to step in and play every night for a playoff team and doesn’t have a lot of upside, but he can give the Thunder a post defender and a fundamentally sound center.

Portland Trail Blazers

Who's Coming: Luke Babbit (16th), Elliot Williams (22nd), Armon Johnson (34th), Wesley Matthews (UTA)

Who's Going: Juwan Howard (MIA), Martell Webster (MIN)

It seems a lot of good men are being swept out of NBA front offices this offseason. Blazers owner Paul Allen let the popular Kevin Pritchard go, after firing Pritchard’s right-hand man in-season. The move will hurt Portland in the long run, but Pritchard has built a competitive team, which will be right in the middle of the playoff mix.

Health is the big question for Portland entering the 2010-11 season. The reports on Greg Oden (fractured patella) are mixed as to whether he’ll be ready for training camp. The oft-injured center has played just 82 games in three seasons. His back-up, Joel Przybilla, is coming off a ruptured patellar tendon, which may be worse than Oden’s injury. It may not be reassuring that the healthiest center on the roster is Marcus Camby, but he signed a two-year deal in April and can hold down the spot until Oden is ready. Getting a full season out of Brandon Roy (65 games last season) is paramount. He’s expected to be at full health after suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee in April.

And Portland is not without its drama, as we learn whether or not Rudy Fernandez, who’s unhappy with the way coach Nate McMillan is using him, intends to follow through on his claim to sit out the final two years of his contract. This will greatly impact the minutes handed out at small forward. After the team let Martell Webster go in the offseason, it would seem there are minutes for Fernandez, but the schism between player and coach remains. However, the two talked when Team USA played the Spanish national team in a tune-up for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. In the meantime, Nicolas Batum is slated to start at the three, with free agent Wesley Matthews in the mix.

Utah Jazz

Who's Coming: Gordon Heyward (9th), Jeremy Evans (55th), Al Jefferson (UTA), Raja Bell (GS)

Who's Going: Carlos Boozer (CHI), Kyle Korver (CHI), Wesley Matthews (POR), Kosta Koufos (MIN)

The salary cap has handcuffed the Jazz over the last few seasons. They wouldn’t match Portland’s offer sheet to Wesley Matthews, Utah’s starting shooting guard over the final two months of the regular season and into the playoffs, electing to sign free agent Raja Bell to mitigate the loss. That was after the Jazz gave away 2009 first-round draft pick Eric Maynor to the Thunder, in order to get Matt Harpring’s salary off the books.

Losing Carlos Boozer cleared up some salary space, but the vacuum was filled immediately by Al Jefferson, whom the Jazz acquired in an offseason deal from Minnesota. Jefferson doesn’t defend as well as Boozer, but he’s a nightly double-double. He’s a back-to-basket scorer – as good as there is in the league – but hasn’t been asked to do much of the pick-and-roll game, so there’ll be some adjustment for point guard Deron Williams.

In addition to Matthews and Boozer, the Jazz also lost Kyle Korver. Those three played nearly 77 minutes a night for coach Jerry Sloan. In terms of playing time, the Jefferson/Boozer switch is a wash. At shooting guard, some combination of C.J. Miles and Bell will get most of the minutes. While Sloan isn’t prone to playing rookies, there’s an opportunity for Gordon Heyward to crack the rotation and find minutes at small forward behind Andrei Kirilenko. Mehmet Okur, 31, is coming off a ruptured Achilles’ injury. Whether or not the injury lingers, Jefferson will play some center with Paul Millsap subbing at the four.

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors

Who's Coming: Ekpe Udoh (6th), Charlie Bell (MIL), Jannero Pargo (CHI), Dorell Wright (MIA), David Lee (NYK), Dan Gadzuric (MIL), Jeremy Lin (FA)

Who's Going: C. J. Watson (CHI), Anthony Morrow (CHI), Corey Maggette (MIL), Kelenna Azuibuike (NYK), Anthony Randolph (NYK), Ronny Turiaf (NYK)

It’s not looking good for the Warriors for a third consecutive season. A team that won 48 games in 2007-08 dropped to 26 wins last season, and now there are some new parts added to some disgruntled holdovers. More than anything, this franchise needs stability, and the sale of the team can be the first step toward that end. While the new owners await league approval, they might want to consider buying out head coach Don Nelson, the chief architect of instability.

Looking at the roster, we expect Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, David Lee and Andris Biedrins to hold down starting spots. Biedrins recently vented to a Latvian news outlet, complaining of Nelson and expressing a desire to play for a team that practices “better teamwork.” If you’re looking to gamble on someone on the roster, check out Brandan Wright. He’s been a bit miscast as a power forward under Nelson, but could earn big minutes at the three. A bigger gamble is undrafted rookie Jeremy Lin, who had a nice five-game run for Dallas’ summer-league team. Nelson has been known to roll with D-Leaguers and undrafted free agents. Elsewhere in the rotation, Jannero Pargo and Charlie Bell will get the reserve minutes in the backcourt, while former D-Leaguer and Nelson-fave Reggie Williams gets an opportunity to build on his productive run last season (15.2 ppg in 24 games). First-round draft pick Ekpe Udoh will be out until January at the earliest because of a wrist injury.

There’s also the potential that the new owners make a move on Nelson during the season and not wait to start anew in 2011. If so, look for the team to clean out the contracts of Biedrins and Ellis.

Los Angeles Clippers

Who's Coming: Al-Farouq Aminu (8th), Eric Bledsoe (18th), Willie Warren (54th), Brian Cook (HOU), Ryan Gomes (MIN), Randy Foye (WAS), Marqus Blakely (FA)

Who's Going: Drew Gooden (MIL), Steve Blake (LAL), Travis Outlaw (NJN)

The franchise has a new coach (Vinny Del Negro) and is sporting a Clippers-brand of optimism following its 10-game improvement to 29 wins in 2009-10. And there’s reason for some optimism, as 2009 first-round pick Blake Griffin is set for his NBA debut after a knee injury cost him his rookie season. He’ll rejoin the team as the starting power forward, forming a frontcourt with Chris Kaman at center. Craig Smith and DeAndre Jordan fill out the big-man rotation.

The emergence of shooting guard Eric Gordon gives us another reason to be optimistic. Gordon has range and can finish at the rim when defenders crowd him. Baron Davis joins him in the backcourt. Del Negro is not under pressure to produce a playoff team right away, so handing backup minutes to first-round pick Eric Bledsoe would be prudent. There are a lot of miles on Davis, so preparing his replacement should be one of the coach’s goals this season. Veteran Randy Foye will add a defensive component and outside threat.

Small forward could be an area of tinkering throughout the season. Del Negro’s agenda should include getting Al-Farouq Aminu playing time. Aminu is a tireless worker, who still has some room to grow offensively, but will defend right out of the gate. If Del Negro doesn’t want to incorporate two new guys to the starting rotation right away (Griffin being the other newbie), he has Rasual Butler and Ryan Gomes on hand. Butler had a nice year for Los Angeles last season, but he’s not a consistent shooter. Ryan Gomes is a bit of tweener (three/four), but is an NBA rotation player.

Los Angeles Lakers

Who's Coming: Devin Ebanks (43rd), Derrick Caracter (58th), Matt Barnes (ORL), Theo Ratliff (CHR), Steve Blake (LAC)

Who's Going: Jordan Farmar (NJN), Josh Powell (ATL)

The core of the two-time NBA champs is signed long-term, so we’ll be seeing pretty much the same top six players in the rotation we saw last season – just maybe not as much of them. The Lakers biggest need was to solidify their depth, as they had five players averaging over 30 minutes a night. And it looks like they’ve added some pieces to that end.

Theo Ratliff isn’t turning back any clocks, but he can spell both Andrew Bynum (30.4 mpg in 2009-10) and Pau Gasol (37 mpg). Lamar Odom returns to give the Lakers a good four-big rotation. Matt Barnes, who accepted a minimum contract in hopes of winning a title, will replace Luke Walton in the rotation at small forward, where the defensive intensity will remain high when he subs for Ron Artest (33.8 mpg). Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. He played though some injuries last season, and will probably do it again this season. At point guard, Steve Blake may get as much, if not more, playing time as the 36-year-old Derek Fisher.

Phoenix Suns

Who's Coming: Gani Lawal (46th), Dwayne Collins (60th), Josh Childress (ATL), Hedo Turkoglu (PHO), Hakim Warrick (CHI)

Who's Going: Leandro Barbosa (TOR), Amar'e Stoudemire (NYK), Taylor Griffin (FA)

The Suns re-tooled on the fly in 2009-10, one year after finishing in the lottery, and nearly knocked off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The team scrambled again this offseason, as Amar’e Stoudemire opted out and left for New York. That’s a big hole to fill in the paint. Phoenix has done well to offset the loss – adding Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick – but no one will be giving the Suns the scoring force that Stoudemire brought nightly.

Thankfully, they still have Steve Nash (last year of contract), and he can make any combination of players work. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill return on the wing, with Childress expected to back up both spots. It’s in the frontcourt where things get dicey. Turkoglu will be asked to play power forward, while Robin Lopez returns from a back injury to start at center. Turkoglu could thrive offensively for the fast-paced Suns, but it will be an adventure at the other end.

The Suns go 10-deep in their rotation, so while there may be some matchup problems along the way, they’ll have enough bodies to keep up the pace. Goran Dragic, Childress, Jared Dudley, Warrick and Channing Frye give Phoenix a second unit that can still produce points. Unfortunately for second-year man Earl Clark (14th overall pick in 2009), it looks like another year of largely remaining on the bench.

Sacramento Kings

Who's Coming: DeMarcus Cousins (4th), Hassan Whiteside (33rd), Samuel Dalembert (PHI), Darnell Jackson (CHI), Antoine Wright (TOR), Pooh Jeter (CLE)

Who's Going: Spencer Hawes (SAC), Andres Nocioni (PHI), Jon Brockman (MIL)

From a bottom-line perspective, the Kings’ 25-win season last year wasn’t all that much better than the 17-win debacle in 2008-09, but Paul Westphal’s first season showed some optimism for the future. Sacramento will be a fun team to follow, especially if they crank up the running game as summer-league coach Mario Elie was preaching in Las Vegas. They should crack the 30-win barrier, and be well under the cap for the summer of 2011.

Tyreke Evans will continue to lead the team. He played a lot of point guard last year, but he was really a combo guard in disguise. He could find himself playing more off the ball this year with Beno Udrih, coming off his best season as a pro. A healthy Francisco Garcia will come off the bench in the backcourt, but fantasy players banking on Garcia’s health tend to lose their leagues. There’s some uncertainty on the wing at small forward, with Omri Casspi and Donte Greene. It will depend on whether Westphal wants a knock-down shooter (Greene) or a tougher defender (Casspi).

One thing’s for certain, not many teams will out-rebound them. This year’s version is BIG, adding DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert to a lineup that already had Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. They’ll be an interesting matchup for a team like the Lakers. And we didn’t even mention shot-blocker extraordinaire Hassan Whiteside. Cousins flashed some good offensive skills in the summer league, but also wore down over the course of a week. Fortunately, he won’t be asked to play big minutes over the course of the 82-game season. The organization hired Cousins’ high-school coach to help with his transition to the pro game.

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks

Who's Coming: Dominique Jones (25th), Tyson Chandler (CHR), Alexis Ajinca (CHR), Ian Mahinmi (SAS)

Who's Going: Erick Dampier (CHR), Matt Carroll (CHR), Eduardo Najera (CHR)

The Mavericks didn’t do much in the offseason free-agent market, as the organization was focused on retaining in-house pieces. Their best moves came at last year’s trade deadline when they acquired Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler from the Wizards and went on a 23-6 run to finish the season, qualifying for the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year. Unfortunately, for the third time in four tries, Dallas was bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

This summer, re-signing Dirk Nowitzki was priority number one, followed closely by bringing back Haywood. Following a trend of going big in the West, the Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler, who will back up Haywood. Chandler’s best seasons come when he’s had a top floor general directing the team, and they don’t get much better (at least in terms of ball-distribution) than Jason Kidd. The Mavs have options at small forward with Shawn Marion and Caron Butler in place. Until Roddy Beaubois’ foot injury – he’ll miss training camp at least – the plan was to move Butler from shooting guard to the starting three, with Marion coming off the bench. That still may be the case, as the Mavericks have DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Terry, though it’s likely they keep Terry as the sixth man, a role in which he’s thrived the last two seasons. J.J. Barea will fill out the guard rotation. Coach Rick Carlisle has lots of decisions to make about his lineup and rotation. He’ll need to find the right blend to enable this talented team to reach the next level of the playoffs.

Houston Rockets

Who's Coming: Patrick Patterson (14th), Courtney Lee (NJN), Brad Miller (CHI)

Who's Going: Trevor Ariza (NOR), David Andersen (TOR)

After a brief flirtation with Chris Bosh, the Rockets set their sights on retaining guys on their roster and filling in pieces for their rotation. They matched the Cavaliers offer sheet to Kyle Lowry and re-signed Louis Scola to a five-year deal. Looking outside Houston, general manager Darryl Morey rescued Courtney Lee from New Jersey and signed free agent Brad Miller, who rejoins coach Rick Adelman, for whom he played in Sacramento.

And what of Yao Ming? The center with the creaky feet has been working out since late May, and participating in contact drills in recent weeks. He’s in the final year of a contract and has mentioned the possibility of retiring if his feet fail him. He and Miller will get all of the minutes at center. Scola returns to start at power forward with Chuck Hayes in reserve initially. The Rockets will give Patrick Patterson a shot at moving past Hayes and second-year man Jordan Hill.

The rotation gets a little crowded the further away from the basket we move. Shane Battier will start at small forward with Chase Budinger pushing for more minutes in his second season. Lee and Kevin Martin figure to get most of the minutes at shooting guard. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry fill up the rotation at point guard. Those are six guys capable of being any team’s rotation.

Memphis Grizzlies

Who's Coming: Xavier Henry (12th), Greivis Vasquez (28th), Tony Allen (BOS), Acie Law (CHI)

Who's Going: Ronnie Brewer (CHI)

The Grizz came together better than we thought they would last season, finishing at 40 wins while playing little defense and having little bench support. Now, as the franchise enters its 10th year in Memphis, owner Michael Heisley celebrates by setting playoff expectations for his team. Heisley can certainly help the cause by signing the team’s most recent draft picks. Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez remain holdouts over stipulations in their rookie contracts requiring performance incentives to earn the maximum dollars. When the Grizzlies drafted them, they were counting on both to contribute right away and shore up the bench. There’s still time to get deals done, but Heisley’s promise will be an empty one without more bench help.

Memphis returns a strong starting core, with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. The organization hasn’t been enamored of Mike Conley at point guard, and even tried experimenting with Mayo at the point during summer-league games. It wasn’t pretty (6:15 A:TO ratio, poor decision making), but they’ll continue to dabble with the notion during training camp. The 6-6 Vasquez, a four-year collegian, was drafted to back up Conley (6-1) and give the Grizzlies some height in the backcourt. In addition to his contract situation, Vasquez required summer surgery to remove a bone spur in his right ankle. This explains the decision to sign Acie Law. Law, still only 25, has very little NBA mileage on him. Tony Allen should help as a defensive stopper, but the second unit will suffer at the offensive end. Henry was supposed to help out there.

New Orleans Hornets

Who's Coming: Craig Brackins (21st), Quincy Pondexter (26th), Trevor Ariza (HOU), Marco Belinelli (TOR), Mustafa Shakur (D-League)

Who's Going: Darren Collison (IND), James Posey (IND), Julian Wright (TOR)

Did you hear Chris Paul wasn’t happy in New Orleans? After years of first-round busts and a weak bench, Paul made his unhappiness public, asking the team to get some players and show a commitment to winning. Apparently he didn’t think much of the team’s lone summer transaction – the re-signing of free agent Aaron Gray. And it got ownership moving. Soon after Paul spoke, the Hornets got rid of general manager Jeff Bowers, replacing him with San Antonio front-office assistant Dell Demps. His first order of business was to meet with Paul and assure him the franchise is committed to winning and adding personnel to help Paul.

Paul has since rescinded his trade request, but the Hornets are somewhat limited in what they can do to improve his surroundings. Darren Collison was traded in a four-team deal that netted them Trevor Ariza. From a resource standpoint, dealing Collison made sense as he was going to be buried behind Paul. But Ariza’s not the answer to keeping Paul in NoLa. While useful as a finisher and a good player on the defensive end, Ariza cracked under the pressure of being a go-to scorer in Houston’s offense last year, struggling with shot selection (39.4 percent FG) and consistency.

Getting rid of Julian Wright is addition-by-subtraction. Marco Belinelli should be able to squeeze out some minutes in the backcourt behind presumed starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton. Ariza also gives the Hornets something they haven’t had the last few seasons – a reason to put Peja Stojakovic on the bench. Consistent power forward David West and defensive minded pivot Emeka Okafor finish off the starting lineup, with Darius Songaila and Gray the chief backups.

San Antonio Spurs

Who's Coming: James Anderson (20th), Ryan Richards (49th), Tiago Splitter (2007 draft), Gary Neal (Italy)

Who's Going: Roger Mason Jr. (NYK), Keith Bogans (CHI), Malik Hairston (FA)

The Spurs are looking to reshape their roster without falling out of the playoffs. Last season, the team finished seventh in the Western Conference, but showed enough of that old resolve to dispatch the perennially under-achieving Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.

The most underreported roster development of the NBA was Richard Jefferson’s decision to opt out of his final year at $15-million, to re-sign a team-friendly four-year deal. His first season at the Alamo was underwhelming – he was the Spurs fifth-leading scorer while hauling in the second-highest salary. A season of adjustment to the pick-and-roll offensive scheme is behind him, and he should be better in year two. The most important addition is 2007 draftee Tiago Splitter, who finally was able to leave his Spanish-league team. Splitter figures to need half a season to transition to the NBA game, but he should eventually move past Antonio McDyess and give the Spurs a player that can keep Tim Duncan fresh for the long run without losing much in the switch. The highly efficient DeJuan Blair is back to grab more minutes in the big-man rotation.

Health in the backcourt will be key. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return after a season of injuries. George Hill is perfectly happy to serve as Parker’s backup and a combo guard, while first-round pick James Anderson and summer-league star Gary Neal can provide some shooting off the bench, which was something Roger Mason had done so well in 2008-09, but not so well last season.

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