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Mock Draft

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The lottery has come and gone which means it’s time to start looking at the NBA Draft. Once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing, Portland, Seattle and Atlanta beat the odds to become the big winners while Memphis, Boston and Milwaukee each got a pretty raw deal. Regardless, every team has to make the best of their current situation, which means they need to quit thinking about what might have been and start thinking about what could be. This year’s group of prospects is considered the strongest since 2003, when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh hit the league. 

While most mock drafts try to predict what team will do, we’re going to focus on what a team should do. As with the NFL Draft, GMs are putting up so many smokescreens that it’s almost impossible to determine a team’s true intentions, but we can identify a team’s strengths and weaknesses and try to find the best piece for their championship puzzle. We’ll also describe each team’s salary cap situation and outline a loose offseason blueprint. Keep in mind that the cap will probably fall in the $53 M to $58 M range, so if your team is over the cap, its ability to sign free agents is severely limited. 

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28. 

1. Portland Trailblazers (32-50)
Team Needs: SF, C, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $57.6 M
Upside/Middle/Downside: Hakeem Olajuwon/Amare Stoudemire/Tyson Chandler
They Will Consider: Kevin Durant
What they’re thinking: The Blazers were the big winners in the lottery and now they’ve got the right to draft whomever they want at #1. They want to build around Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy (a shooting guard) and FC LaMarcus Aldridge, which means both Oden and Durant would be a good fit. Expect the Blazers to go with Oden – he’s the consensus #1, a monster on defense and is improving offensively. Guys with his kind of size and athleticism don’t come around very often. Aldridge has a nice face-up game, so he should be a great complement to Oden on the front line.
Offseason Blueprint: With Oden on board, Zach Randolph becomes expendable. He averaged 23.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg this season, and he’s been a pretty good citizen, so his stock has never been higher. If they go with Oden, they’ll try to move Randolph for a SF or a PG. A sign-and-trade for Andres Nocioni makes a lot of sense since the Bulls are desperate for a low post scorer and Randolph fits the bill. (Now, if the Blazers had only stayed at #3 in 2005 and drafted Chris Paul or Deron Williams, they’d really be set!)

2. Seattle Supersonics (31-51)
Team Needs: C, SF, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $50 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Kevin Durant, SF, Texas
Upside/Middle/Downside: Kevin Garnett/Carmelo Anthony/Luol Deng
They Will Consider: Greg Oden, if he's there
What they’re thinking: Other than the Blazers, no one was happier than the Sonics after the lottery. They’ll gladly take Durant or Oden, whoever’s there at #2. They’ve been searching for a center for years, but since Oden’s likely to go #1, they’ll have to “settle” for Durant, a rangy, athletic SF who is going to be a prolific scorer in the NBA.
Offseason Blueprint:The #1 priority this offseason is to address the Rashard Lewis situation. Lewis will opt-out of his contract and become a free agent. It’s not likely, but with Durant on board, Lewis might be willing to play PF in an up-tempo system. If he’s set on leaving, Seattle desperately needs to work out a sign-and-trade to bring in a big body at center or an elite PG. Considering that he’s probably the best available free agent, it will be a blow to the franchise if they let Lewis get away without getting anything in return. Luckily for the Sonics, Lewis will probably benefit financially by participating in a sign-and-trade, because most teams don’t have the cap room to sign him. 

3. Atlanta Hawks (30-52)
Team Needs: PG, C
2007-08 Payroll: $48.4 M
Upside/Middle/Downside: Chris Paul/Tony Parker/T.J. Ford
They Will Consider: Brandan Wright, Al Horford, Joakim Noah
What they’re thinking: The Hawks passed on Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Ray Felton in ’05, and Randy Foye in ’06, so they have a history of taking forwards (Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams) instead of point guards. Could they do it again? It’s a distinct possibility since the Hawks reportedly love Al Horford and Brandan Wright and also own the #11 pick (figuring that Conley might slip or that they can take Acie Law or Javaris Crittenton there). But they already have enough forwards and it’s not like upsides of Wright and Horford are that much higher than Conley’s. The former Buckeye is a lightning-quick floor general who’ll be able to distribute the ball to the Hawks’ arsenal of finishers. He needs to work on his jumper, but he has already shown the ability to take over games when necessary and seems like a great fit for the franchise.
Offseason Blueprint: Aside from the ownership issues, the Hawks are in pretty good financial shape. They should try to move Josh Childress or Josh Smith to get some help up front. Both players become free agents next summer and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to keep both guys long term. This summer, the Hawks need to address the point guard and center positions. If they don’t, they’re looking at another losing year. They lucked out when the ping pong balls gave them the #3 pick – otherwise, it would have been sent to Phoenix to wrap up the Joe Johnson trade – so it’s important that the team doesn’t squander its recent run of good luck.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
Team Needs: PG, SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $42.4 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina
Upside/Middle/Downside: Chris Bosh/Juwan Howard/Chris Wilcox
They Will Consider: Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer
What they’re thinking: Lottery night was a tough one for the Grizzlies, who had the best chance at one of the top three picks but instead found themselves at #4. Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni will be the new head coach, so the Grizzlies will likely try to adopt the Suns’ up-tempo offense. For that, they’ll need a floor general and Conley fits the bill. If he’s gone (or if the team likes Kyle Lowry), they should look to the most athletic of the big men and Brandan Wright is a fleet-footed power forward who should fit into Iavaroni’s system. Al Horford might be the better prospect (and he tested better at the combine), but he’s not very fluid when he runs. Corey Brewer would really thrive in an up-tempo offense, but the Grizzlies already have two small forwards on the roster (Mike Miller and Rudy Gay, though Gay could play power forward), so unless they plan to move one of those guys or see Brewer as a guard, the pick wouldn’t make much sense. Yi Jianlian would also fit Iavaroni’s offense, but he’s a bit of an unknown at this point.
Offseason Blueprint: Pau Gasol expressed his wish to be traded, but has since backed off. In order for the up-tempo attack to work, Iavaroni will need a point guard that he can trust, so if he’s not sold on Lowry (who did play well before getting injured), he’ll need to find a PG elsewhere. The team has a lot of cap space, so it’s conceivable that they’ll be able to sign a big-name free agent like Chauncey Billups, assuming the Pistons balk at his asking price. The poor man’s Billups – Mo Williams – is another option, but Iavaroni might want more of a pure point guard.

5. Boston Celtics (24-58)
Team Needs: PF, SG
2007-08 Payroll: $62.0 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Florida
Upside/Middle/Downside: Scottie Pippen/Tayshaun Prince/Darius Miles
They Will Consider: Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Yi Jianlian
What they’re thinking: The C’s need to snap out of this post-lottery funk and realize that they’re going to get a really good player at #5. Boston has a load of young, versatile talent, so they can afford to take a player at just about any position and they should be able to find minutes for him. Paul Pierce can play either SG or SF, so Brewer would be a nice complement. He’s rangy, athletic (though he didn’t test well at the combine) and is defensive-minded. If they’re not sold on Rajon Rondo or Delonte West at the point, Conley (if available) is a possibility, as are power forwards Brandan Wright and Al Horford. The wildcards are Yi Jianlian and Joakim Noah. Reportedly, Danny Ainge really likes both players.
Offseason Blueprint:Right now, Paul Pierce is probably sitting somewhere in the dark, wondering about his future. The Celtics have a lot of young talent, but it’s going to be a few years and a change of luck before they mature into a championship-caliber team, and at that point it might be too late for Pierce, who turns 30 in October, to help. They won’t have any salary cap room until after the 2008-09 season, when Theo Ratliff’s salary comes off the books. Until then, Boston will have to improve through the draft and via trade, but after the Brandon-Roy-for-Sebastian-Telfair debacle, GM Danny Ainge is probably feeling a little gun shy. Some combination of Rondo, West, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Tony Allen could garner veteran help, but the C’s have to decide if they want to mortgage the future for the present (or vice versa). 

6. Milwaukee Bucks (28-54)
Team Needs: PF, SF, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $38.7 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Al Horford, PF, Florida
Upside/Middle/Downside: Karl Malone/Carlos Boozer/Nene
They Will Consider: Mike Conley, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Yi Jianlian
What they’re thinking: Yes, like the Grizzlies and Celtics, the Bucks “fell” three spots, but that puts them right at the cusp of what appears to be a talent drop-off in this year’s draft. The team wants to build around Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, but they need to decide whether or not they’re going to re-sign Mo Williams, who will likely ask for a contract in the $6-$8 million range. He’s worth it, but if the Bucks balk, then Mike Conley becomes an attractive option. If they’re intent on re-signing Williams, then both forward positions become more of a priority. Both Bobby Simmons and Charlie Villanueva are returning from injuries, so which player do they like more? If it’s Simmons, then they’ll likely go with Al Horford, who will give them a much-needed physical inside presence at power forward. He’s got a decent post up game, a nice 15-foot jumper and he tested really well in Orlando. If they prefer Villanueva, they’ll probably go with Brewer, who would be a very nice complement to Redd on the perimeter. In the end, the decision will probably be made for them, unless someone in the top five decides to draft Yi Jianlian or Joakim Noah (or another player vaults up the draft board).
Offseason Blueprint: Mo Williams averaged 17.3 points and 6.1 assists this season and is just 24. He’s worth $6-$8 million, which would leave the Bucks with about $7-$9 million of cap space. After signing their rookie, they’ll have about $4-$6 million to spend on a free agent. Charlie Bell should also be a priority. He’s a nice combo guard who can shoot the ball and defend. If they decide to draft Conley – though if they wanted a PG like Conley, why didn’t they just keep T.J. Ford? – Williams becomes expendable, which means the team would have $10-$14 million (or more, if they waited to sign their draft pick) to spend on a free agent or two. Would Rashard Lewis want to play in Milwaukee? How about Gerald Wallace? If Senator Kohl, the team’s owner, is willing to go over the cap, the team could sign one of these guys and Williams (if Williams agrees to sign after Lewis or Wallace). This is a big offseason for the Bucks and GM Larry Harris.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves (32-50)
Team Needs: C, PG, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $69.4 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Jeff Green, SF/PF, Georgetown
Upside/Middle/Downside: Scottie Pippen/Boris Diaw/Luke Walton
They Will Consider: Mike Conley, Corey Brewer, Yi Jianlian, Joakim Noah, Julian Wright
What they’re thinking: Presumably, the ‘Wolves are still building around Kevin Garnett and last year’s first-round pick, Randy Foye, a talented yet undersized shooting guard. If Conley is still on the board, they’ll give him a hard look. He and Foye would be a very nice backcourt in a few years. If both Conley and Corey Brewer are gone, Jeff Green would be a good fit. He tested really well in Orlando, has an improving face-up game and is a terrific passer.
Offseason Blueprint: The Timberwolves are a mess. If KG doesn’t see drastic improvement next season, there’s a decent chance that he’ll opt-out next summer. GM Kevin McHale would be wise to try to get something for him now instead of getting nothing for him in a year. But “wise” and “Kevin McHale” are two terms that shouldn’t be used in the same sentence. McHale has steered this ship into an iceberg, but Garnett also holds some responsibility; his giant salary ($22 million next season) has put the ‘Wolves in a tough cap situation. We’re probably going to see KG in a different uniform inside of two years; it’s just a matter of where he lands and what kind of mess he leaves behind in Minnesota. 

8. Charlotte Bobcats (33-49)
Team Needs: SG, PF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $25.8 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Joakim Noah, FC, Florida
Upside/Middle/Downside: Marcus Camby/Tyson Chandler/Anderson Varejao
They Will Consider: Corey Brewer, Jeff Green, Yi Jianlian, Julian Wright, Spencer Hawes
What they’re thinking: This is where the draft gets kind of dicey. The Bobcats would love to see Brewer fall to #8. He’d be a perfect complement to the defensively challenged Adam Morrison on the perimeter. Likewise, Joakim Noah would be a nice addition. He’ll bring energy, defense, rebounding and a pretty good post game to the team. The only knock on his game is his jumper. It’s truly ugly, but he has a consistent release point so his accuracy isn’t bad. He’s a very hard worker who should continue to improve throughout his career.
Offseason Blueprint: Apparently, the Bobcats were planning to take future ROY Brandon Roy last season, but he had a bad workout (due to jetlag and illness) so they went with Morrison instead. (We’re just a year out, but that doesn’t look like it was a very good decision.) The Bobcats have a load of cap space, but have never seemed too eager to use it. It appears they’ll let Gerald Wallace walk since he plays the same position as Morrison, though the Bobcats would be wise to work out a sign-and-trade and try to get something in return. Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter are both possibilities in free agency. Lewis is more of a SF, but he could play PF in the East. Charlotte isn’t an attractive free agent destination, but the right moves this summer could lead to a playoff appearance. We’ll see if Michael Jordan is as good of a personnel director as he was a player. His first stint in Washington didn’t go so well. (Kwame Brown, anyone?)

9. Chicago Bulls (49-33)
Team Needs: PF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $46.7 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Yi Jianlian, PF, China
Upside/Middle/Downside: Dirk Nowitzki/Charlie Villanueva/Raef Lafrentz
They Will Consider: Julian Wright, Jeff Green, Spencer Hawes, Al Thornton, Nick Young
What they’re thinking: The Bulls are probably hoping that Joakim Noah or Corey Brewer falls to them, but if they do not, Chicago will have to decide between filling their ongoing need for low-post scoring or taking the best available player. Conceivably, Julian Wright could play power forward but he’s not outstanding down low (and the team drafted Tyrus Thomas just last year). Yi Jianlian is the wildcard of this draft. He’s 6’11” and athletic, and he can really run the floor and explode to the rim. He also has a nice turnaround jumper in the post. There is some question about his true age. His passport lists him as 19, but there are folks in China who think he’s actually 21 or 22, which would really hurt his draft stock since those two or three years are vitally important to a player’s development. If we don’t find out his true age before the draft, then it’s going to take a brave GM to pull the trigger. The Chinese government is only going to let Jianlian work out for a select number of teams because it wants to be sure he goes to a good situation. Chicago, Boston and Golden State appear to be atop that list.
Offseason Blueprint: Considering how much talent is on the roster, the Bulls are in good financial shape. This isn’t going to last for long because they are going to have to re-sign some of their young players in the next few years. First up is Andres Nocioni, a gritty, sharp shooting small forward who plays the same position as Luol Deng. Nocioni is a free agent so they’ll need to address his contract in the offseason. The Bulls are consistently mentioned as destinations for just about every disgruntled superstar in the league, whether it’s Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant. They have a ton of young pieces who make them an attractive trade partner for teams looking to unload a player. KG would be a great fit from an inside scoring standpoint, but it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere this summer. 

10. Sacramento Kings (33-49)
Team Needs: PF, PG, SF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $54.0 M ($40.5 if Mike Bibby opts-out)
THEY SHOULD PICK: Julian Wright, SF, Kansas
Upside/Middle/Downside: Scottie Pippen/Boris Diaw/Luke Walton
They Will Consider: Acie Law, Javaris Crittendon, Spencer Hawes, Al Thornton, Rodney Stuckey
What they’re thinking: Mike Bibby has an early termination option, but still has two years and $28 million remaining on his contract, so he’ll probably stick around for the money. If he opts-out, it would create a big hole at point guard that the Kings would either need to address in the draft or free agency. Acie Law, Rodney Stuckey and Javaris Crittenton are options, but it’s doubtful that the Kings would pass up Julian Wright (or Jeff Green) if they’re still available at #10. Ron Artest is not long for Sac-town and the team is probably going to build around Kevin Martin, so a strong passer like Wright fits the bill.
Offseason Blueprint: The team appears to be hitting full rebuilding mode and would probably be happy if Bibby left via free agency so they could use the $13.5 M elsewhere. Artest still has a lot of value around the league, especially considering his affordable contract ($7.8 M for 2007-08), but time’s running out – the Kings should take the best deal they can get this summer. Other than Martin, there isn’t a lot of talent on this roster, so if Bibby and Artest leave, the team is pretty much starting from scratch. Rashard Lewis, Gerald Wallace, Mo Williams and Morris Peterson would be good targets in free agency.

11. Atlanta Hawks (30-52)
Team Needs: PG, C
2007-08 Payroll: $48.4 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Spencer Hawes, C, Washington
Upside/Middle/Downside: Vlade Divac/Brad Miller/Raef Lafrentz
They Will Consider: Acie Law, Jeff Green, Tiago Splitter, Javaris Crittenton, Rodney Stuckey
What they’re thinking: There’s a good chance that the Hawks take Al Horford or Brandan Wright at #3. In that case, Acie Law, Javaris Crittenton and Rodney Stuckey will each get a hard look. If they go with Conley at #3, they’ll probably target Spencer Hawes to fill a big need at center. He’s a 7’0” true center who has polished post moves, a great jumper and terrific court vision. He’s perceived to be a little soft because his rebounding numbers weren’t great in college, but he played alongside Jon Brockman, who gobbled up a lot of boards. Hawes is just 19 and should develop into a solid starting center. If they do go with Horford or Wright at #3, they could also trade the pick and pick up Crittenton (who they reportedly like) later on in the draft.
Offseason Blueprint: The Hawks have all kinds of talent at SG, SF and PF, but Speedy Claxton and Zaza Pachulia are atop the depth chart at PG and C. They have to address these two positions this offseason or they’re in for another sub par year. 

12. Philadelphia 76ers (35-47)
Team Needs: PF, C, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $63.3 M
Upside/Middle/Downside: Shawn Marion/Richard Jefferson/Tim Thomas
They Will Consider: Nick Young, Tiago Splitter, Jason Smith, Josh McRoberts, Thaddeus Young, Acie Law
What they’re thinking: The team is building around Andre Iguodala, who can play either SG or SF, and (to a lesser extent) PG Andre Miller, so the Sixers might go big with this pick if Josh McRoberts or Jason Smith impress before the draft. Al Thornton is considered by many to be the next best player. He’s a phenomenal athlete who had some very big games in college against North Carolina and Florida. There are still questions about his basketball IQ even though his consistent play during his final year at Florida State should quell such concerns. The team already has Rodney Carney on the roster, but it will be hard to pass up Thorton’s athleticism at #12.
Offseason Blueprint: Philly’s decision to trade Allen Iverson and release Chris Webber has signaled the rebuilding process. By releasing Webber, his salary doesn’t come off the books until next summer, when the team will finally have some real salary cap flexibility. Iguodala is a rising star, so their top priority should be to sign him to an extension as soon as possible. 

13. New Orleans Hornets (39-43)
Team Needs: SG, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $53.0 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Nick Young, SG, Southern California
Upside/Middle/Downside: Vince Carter/Jason Richardson/Darius Miles
They Will Consider: Al Thornton, Thaddeus Young, Acie Law, Rodney Stuckey
What they’re thinking: Nick Young is a super-talented swingman who has the ability to excel at both ends of the court. He has a pretty jumper and is a good rebounder at 6’6”. The only knock on him is his intensity – he doesn’t seem to have that killer instinct. The Hornets are set at PG (Chris Paul), PF (David West) and C (Tyson Chandler), so they should definitely look at the wing with this pick. If he can prove that he has a heart, Young would be a nice complement to Peja Stojakovic, the team’s big free agent signing in 2006.
Offseason Blueprint: The Hornets were bit by the injury bug last season but are poised for a playoff appearance this year. They overspent on Stojakovic, but if he comes back healthy, they have a very talented front line to go with one of the best point guards in the league. The team doesn’t have a lot of salary cap flexibility, but it makes sense to use their mid-level exception on Morris Peterson, Matt Barnes or DeShawn Stevenson to shore up the wing. 

14. Los Angeles Clippers (40-42)
Team Needs: PG, SG, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $58.8 M
Upside/Middle/Downside: Baron Davis/Sam Cassell/Chucky Atkins
They Will Consider: Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton, Rodney Stuckey, Al Thornton, Thaddeus Young
What they’re thinking: The Clippers’ PG situation went from a position of strength to a position of weakness once Shaun Livingston went down with a brutal knee injury. Though he’s in the midst of rehab, it’s not clear if he’s going to be 100% this season (or ever), so point guard should be the team’s #1 priority. Acie Law has been compared to Sam Cassell in that he’s fearless and has made a number of clutch jump shots. He improved a lot over his last couple of years at A&M and should develop into a solid starter. The team may instead decide to go with a big guard (Javaris Crittenton) or a small-school scoring phenom (Rodney Stuckey), but since the team wants to win now, Law should be able to make the most immediate impact.
Offseason Blueprint: After making the playoffs last season, this year’s near miss was a disappointment for the Clippers. Other than Tim Thomas’ bloated deal (3-yrs/$18 million remaining) they don’t really have a bad contract on the payroll. Elton Brand can opt out after the season, so the Clippers need to be careful not to take another step backwards, or they just might lose their superstar. 

15. Detroit Pistons (53-29)
Team Needs: C, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $50.8 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington
Upside/Middle/Downside: Dwyane Wade/Randy Foye/Flip Murray
They Will Consider: Javaris Crittenton, Tiago Splitter, Jason Smith, Josh McRoberts
What they’re thinking: Considering that Chauncey Billups probably cost himself a few million bucks with his mediocre playoff run, the Pistons should be able to re-sign him, but it wouldn’t hurt to shore up the bench with Stuckey, who would be an upgrade over Flip Murray and eventually replace Lindsey Hunter. He’s a terrific scorer and tested really well at the combine.
Offseason Blueprint: Everything hinges on re-signing Chauncey Billups. If he flies the coop, the Pistons are going to have a big hole at point guard. For the last few years, Billups has been severely underpaid, so he may see this as his opportunity to sign a fat contract, and as they proved with Ben Wallace, the Pistons aren’t going to overspend. If Billups signs elsewhere, Mo Williams is a possibility, depending on where the salary cap falls. 

16. Washington Wizards (41-41)
Team Needs: C, SG
2007-08 Payroll: $62.1 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Jason Smith, FC, Colorado State
Upside/Middle/Downside: Rasheed Wallace/Nenad Krstic/Michael Doleac
They Will Consider: Tiago Splitter, Josh McRoberts, Nick Young, Rodney Stuckey
What they’re thinking: Given their current personnel, the Wizards want to push the tempo and Smith is a superb athlete who can run, jump and shoot the ball. In fact, he tested as the #8 athlete at the combine in Orlando, beating many guards in the lane agility and ¾ court sprint. He needs work defensively and on the glass, but his weaknesses are correctable. He projects as a power forward for most teams, but could play center for Washington, Golden State or Phoenix.
Offseason Blueprint: Gilbert Arenas raised a few eyebrows recently when he announced that he intended to opt out of his contract after next season in order to cash in on the heels of his recent emergence as a NBA superstar. After Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jaimson, there isn’t a lot of talent on the Wizards’ roster. They are okay at guard with DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels, but they need to shore up the front line. In free agency, Mikki Moore and Anderson Varejao might be had for the mid-level (or maybe less). The key is to find a couple of big players who can run, rebound and score a little in the post and/or facing the hoop. 

17. New Jersey Nets (41-41)
Team Needs: SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $48.9 M (if Vince Carter opts out)
THEY SHOULD PICK: Josh McRoberts, PF, Duke
Upside/Middle/Downside: Chris Webber/Toni Kukoc/Brian Scalabrine
They Will Consider: Rodney Stuckey, Nick Young, Tiago Splitter, Jason Smith 
What they’re thinking: What a difference a year makes! A year ago, McRoberts was a shoe in as a mid-lottery pick, but a sophomore season where he didn’t meet expectations (and a less-than-stellar showing at the combine) has dragged down his stock to the point where he’s actually underrated. He’s still a pretty athletic 6’10” PF who can run and handle the ball in the open court. He needs to work on his jumper (and his temper), but he has the potential to be a solid contributor, maybe even a star. The Nets would love to grab a shooting guard like Nick Young or Rodney Stuckey here (to replace Vince Carter), but if those guys are gone, they’ll probably go big. Tiago Splitter and Jason Smith will also be on their radar.
Offseason Blueprint: With Carter on his way out, the team needs to decide if this is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. Are they still building around Jason Kidd? Or Richard Jefferson? Or are they building around Nenad Krstic and Marcus Williams? The Nets are a team that doesn’t seem to know what direction they’re heading, so as a result, they’re going nowhere. If Carter opts out, they’ll have several million in cap space to spend on a free agent. They’d have to do some work to clear enough space to sign Rashard Lewis, but he’d be a good fit with Kidd and Jefferson. Mikki Moore is a free agent and should be re-signed if they decide against adding another big body in the draft or in free agency. 

18. Golden State Warriors (42-40)
Team Needs: PF, C, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $61.2 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Tiago Splitter, FC, Brazil
Upside/Middle/Downside: Emeka Okafor/P.J. Brown/Jeff Foster
They Will Consider: Jason Smith, Josh McRoberts, Rudy Fernandez 
What they’re thinking: After years of flirting with the NBA, Tiago Splitter is finally set to play in the NBA, though whoever drafts him might have to wait a year if they can’t work a buyout with TAU Vitoria. He’s 7’0” and is one of the best defensive centers in Europe. His offensive game is a little raw, but that has more to do with the role he’s asked to play on his current team, as he’s shown an ability to score when playing for his national team. He has very nice quickness, which would be a nice fit with Don Nelson’s up-tempo attack.
Offseason Blueprint: Free agent Matt Barnes emerged as an athletic, sharp-shooting swingman, but it’s not clear if he’s in the team’s long-term plans. He started a few games late in the playoffs, so Nelson does have confidence in him. Mickael Pietrus is a restricted free agent, and since he and Barnes play basically the same position, the team can probably only afford to keep one. Whoever they draft or find in free agency has to be able to run and clean up the boards, so guys like Mikki Moore and Anderson Varejao seem like good fits. There’s a rumor going around that Nellie might retire this offseason, which would be a blow to all the momentum this franchise has built over the past few months. 

19. Los Angeles Lakers (42-40)
Team Needs: PG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $57.7 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech
Upside/Middle/Downside: Scottie Pippen/Josh Childress/Tim Thomas
They Will Consider: Jason Smith, Tiago Splitter, Josh McRoberts, Javaris Crittenton, Derrick Byars
What they’re thinking: It has already been a tumultuous offseason for the Lakers. With Kobe expressing a wish to be traded, the Lakers would be better off moving this pick as part of a trade to get some veteran help. If they keep it, Thaddeus Young seems like a good fit considering that Lamar Odom (and/or Luke Walton) probably won’t be on the roster next season. He’s a bit short for a SF, but he has long arms and great athleticism. He also has a reputation for being a very hard worker, which is half the battle when trying to make it in the NBA. His teammate, point guard Javaris Crittenton, is another option if the team doesn’t feel like Jordan Farmar is going to turn into a player.
Offseason Blueprint: The Lakers shot themselves in the foot a few years ago when they traded a future All-Star (Caron Butler) away for Kwame Brown. Instead of having three “star” chips to play with, they just have two and really need to move Odom to bring in Jermaine O’Neal or Kevin Garnett. O’Neal is much more probable considering the Pacers will want to trade him to a Western Conference team. To land him, they’d probably have to give up Odom and Andrew Bynum, who was considered untouchable earlier in the season. With Brown’s salary coming off the books after next season, the Lakers would have some cap flexibility next summer, and with O’Neal on board, they’d have a chance to make a move or two to potentially contend in the West. The window is starting to close on Bryant’s prime, so the Lakers need to make a big move soon, or Kobe is going to ask for a trade. (Again.) 

20. Miami Heat (44-38)
Team Needs: PG, SF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $64.6 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Derrick Byars, SF, Vanderbilt
Upside/Middle/Downside: Josh Howard/Shane Battier/Jared Jeffries
They Will Consider: Javaris Crittenton, Taurean Green, Thaddeus Young, Marcus Williams
What they’re thinking: Point guard is more of a pressing need, but Dwyane Wade handles the ball so much, the team basically needs a shooter in that position. Antoine Walker isn’t getting any younger, so the team could go SF with the pick, and SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars should be able to help immediately. Like Brandon Roy, he’s one of those guys that isn’t spectacular in any one area, but just seems to do everything well. Javaris Crittenton has a lot of upside, but can the Heat wait for him to develop?
Offseason Blueprint: Shaq’s not getting any younger, but the team needs to ride his knees as long as they can. He’s set to make $60 M over the next three years. The bottom line is, if he and Wade are both healthy come playoff time, they have as good of a chance as anyone in the East of making the Finals. The rest of the roster is getting older and slower, so the team could elect to sign Matt Barnes or Morris Peterson at the mid-level and try to grab a point guard in the draft. The onus will be on guys that can knock down the open shots created by all the attention paid to Wade and Shaq. Jason Kapono, James Posey and Eddie Jones are the team’s major free agents. Of those three, Kapono is probably the most valuable to the Heat. 

21. Philadelphia 76ers (35-47)
Team Needs: PF, C, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $63.3 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech
Upside/Middle/Downside: Steve Francis/Jamaal Tinsley/Jeff McInnis
They Will Consider: Rudy Fernandez, Taurean Green, Tiago Splitter
What they’re thinking: Don’t be surprised if the Sixers package two (or three) of their first round picks and try to move up for a better player, but Crittenton has too much upside to pass up if he’s available here.
Offseason Blueprint: They are building around Andre Iguodala, who can play either swing position, which gives them some options. Andre Miller isn’t a long-term answer at point guard, so the Sixers will have to think about replacing him eventually. 

22. Charlotte Bobcats (33-49)
Team Needs: SG, PF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $25.8 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain
Upside/Middle/Downside: Kevin Martin/Sasha Pavlovic/Marko Jaric
They Will Consider: Javaris Crittenton, Taurean Green, Tiago Splitter
What they’re thinking: Rudy Ferndandez has been the best youngster in the Euroleague and won the Rising Star Trophy. (Andrea Bargnani won last year, though he wasn’t as clear of a pick.) Fernandez is a very efficient shooter and is a capable defender. He isn’t going to carry an NBA team offensively, but he could develop into a valuable second or third option.
Offseason Blueprint: The Bobcats need to balance their two first round draft picks with their free agency plans. With their two first round draft picks and loads of cap space, the Bobcats have more opportunity than anyone to make a leap this summer. 

23. New York Knicks (33-49)
Team Needs: PG, SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $87.8 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Morris Almond, SG/SF, Rice
Upside/Middle/Downside: Corey Maggette/Bobby Simmons/Jason Kapono
They Will Consider: Taurean Green, Daequan Cook, Derrick Byars, Marcus Williams
What they’re thinking: It appears that the Knicks are building around Eddy Curry, David Lee and Channing Frye, which means they should be looking to the backcourt with this pick. Morris Almond is a crafty scorer who can really shoot it from deep, giving the team a guy who can knock down jumpers when teams double-team Curry. Isiah Thomas might fall in love with Daequan Cook as well, deciding to go with upside over the ability to help immediately.
Offseason Blueprint: An incredible $50 M comes off the books this summer as the team is finally rid of five bad contracts. But this still leaves the team with one of the league’s highest payrolls and zero salary cap flexibility. They could probably afford Matt Barnes or Morris Peterson at the mid-level. Sasha Pavlovic, Charlie Bell and Mickael Pietrus are a few other (possibly cheaper) options on the wing. Both Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury have two more years on their deals (at a combined cost of $75 M), so the team won’t have any real salary cap flexibility until the 2009-10 season. 

24. Phoenix Suns (61-21)
Team Needs: SF, SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $76.5 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State
Upside/Middle/Downside: Michael Redd/Larry Hughes/Rashad McCants
They Will Consider: Marco Belinelli, Rudy Fernandez, Petteri Koponen, Derrick Byars, Marcus Williams
What they’re thinking: The Suns were arguably the biggest losers at the NBA Lottery. They were due to get Atlanta’s pick, but when the Hawks landed at #3, the Suns lost out on a top seven pick. They do have two first round picks and may use them to try to move up a bit, but Daequan Cook seems like a pretty good fit. The Suns can always use another shooter, and Cook is one of the best scorers in the draft. He was overshadowed at Ohio State, but showed flashes of his potential. He didn’t test that well athletically at the combine, but his ¾ court sprint was quick, and that’s the most important stat for the Suns. Marco Belinelli and Rudy Fernandez would also fit in with the Suns attack.
Offseason Blueprint: If not for those suspensions in the San Antonio series, the Suns might be celebrating their first title right now, so expect them to keep the Nash/Marion/Stoudemire core together for at least one more season. They don’t really need multiple picks, so they’d be wise to move the two picks to try to move up for Nick Young or Thaddeus Young. 

25. Utah Jazz (51-31)
Team Needs: SG, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $58.9 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy
Upside/Middle/Downside: Manu Ginobili/Mike Miller/Jiri Welsch
They Will Consider: Derrick Byars, Jared Dudley, Rudy Fernandez, Taurean Green
What they’re thinking: The Jazz made a big jump this season with the emergence of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, but they’re still looking for a shooting guard. Belinelli is a sharpshooter who can also play defense, something is a must when playing for Jerry Sloan. He has long arms and is very athletic for the European league, so he should be able to hold is own in the NBA.
Offseason Blueprint: The Jazz appear to be a piece or two away from seriously contending in the West. Moreover, their four big names – Boozer, Williams, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko – are locked in for two more years. Since they need a guy who can score, they could sign Morris Peterson for the mid-level, but since they’re over the cap, any other changes would have to be made via trade. 

26. Houston Rockets (52-30)
Team Needs: PG, PF, C
2007-08 Payroll: $60.3 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Gabe Pruitt, PG, Southern California
Upside/Middle/Downside: Devin Harris/Antonio Daniels/Daniel Ewing
They Will Consider: Taurean Green, Rudy Fernandez, Arron Afflalo, Aaron Brooks
What they’re thinking: Rafer Alston isn’t going to get the Rockets to the NBA Finals. The Mike James trade is a good start, but he’s getting on in years, so it would be wise to take a point guard. They might be better off going with a proven champion like Taurean Green, but Gabe Pruitt has a ton of athletic ability and can score in a number of ways. With Tracy McGrady handling the ball so much, the Rockets don’t need a guy that’s going to average eight assists, they need a guy who is going to knock down open shots.
Offseason Blueprint: Is a McGrady/Yao Ming combination going to get the Rockets to the Finals? Heck, can they even get out of the first round? The franchise has two options: (1) move McGrady now, while he still has quite a bit of value or (2) continue to build around the duo and hope they can make a leap. It would be a coup if they could get Kobe Bryant for McGrady, but that’s not likely. Rashard Lewis is from Houston and rumor has it the team is willing to send Battier to Seattle in order to acquire the talented forward. Ironically, the Rockets passed on Lewis three times in the 1998 NBA Draft. Ouch!

27. Detroit Pistons (53-29)
Team Needs: C, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $50.8 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Jared Dudley, F, Boston College
Upside/Middle/Downside: Shane Battier/Ryan Gomes/Brian Cardinal
They Will Consider: Petteri Koponen, Taurean Green, Aaron Brooks, Sean Williams, Aaron Gray
What they’re thinking: DraftExpress picked Dudley as the undisputed MVP of the Orlando camp. The ACC Player of the Year has had to fight and claw his way into the first round by playing in Orlando (something most ACC POYs would never do). Dudley is not a spectacular athlete, but he tested ahead of guys like Brandan Wright and Julian Wright at the combine. The guy can play and he fits the mold of one of those underrated “glue guys” that every team needs to win games. He could be this year’s Josh Howard.
Offseason Blueprint: If the Pistons don’t think they’ll be able to re-sign Chauncey Billups, they might go point guard with both first round picks hoping that one of the players is able to stick. If Billups does re-sign, they could go big at #15 and draft 19 year-old Petteri Koponen here. A lot of scouts have him ranked as the #4 PG in the draft. He could be an eventual successor to Billups. 

28. San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
Team Needs: SF, PG, C
2007-08 Payroll: $65.0 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Marcus Williams, SG/SF, Arizona
Upside/Middle/Downside: Steve Smith/Ricky Davis/Desmond Mason
They Will Consider: Petteri Koponen, Taurean Green, Sean Williams, Aaron Gray, Jared Dudley
What they’re thinking: For years, the Spurs have been looking for a good center to play alongside Tim Duncan, so they might go big here. They also need to look towards the future and try to find a replacement for Bruce Bowen, who isn’t going to be a defensive stopper for much longer. Marcus Williams isn’t that guy, but he is a hard worker with a nice jumper and a good handle. The team might decide to draft Sean Williams, the troubled Boston College center, figuring that the winning environment in San Antonio would be conducive to his development.
Offseason Blueprint: The Spurs are sitting pretty. They just won their third title in five years and have all three of their stars locked in through 2009-10. In addition to finding a better center and an eventual replacement for Bowen, the team would like to find a backup point guard that would allow the team to rest Tony Parker a bit more. The Spurs are in the enviable position of being a landing spot for talented vets in search of a ring. For example, they should offer Gerald Wallace a mid-level deal and see if the defensive stopper would be willing to take less money to play for a winner. Morris Peterson would also be a great fit. 

29. Phoenix Suns (61-21)
Team Needs: SF, SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $76.5 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Petteri Koponen, PG, Finland
Upside/Middle/Downside: Steve Nash/Luke Ridnour/Beno Udrih
They Will Consider: Ramon Sessions, Taurean Green, Sean Williams, Aaron Brooks
What they’re thinking: Petteri Koponen’s stock has really shot up in the past few weeks due to a great workout where he looked as good as Taurean Green, who is two years his elder. Koponen recently worked out for the Suns and has said that Steve Nash is his idol. It seems like a great fit.
Offseason Blueprint: There are rumors flying that the Suns are going to cut salary by moving Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw or (gasp!) Amare Stoudemire, but the team should (and probably will) keep the core together for another run. Steve Kerr is on board as the team’s new GM, so it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition from the broadcast booth to the front office. 

30. Philadelphia 76ers (35-47)
Team Needs: PF, C, SF
2007-08 Payroll: $63.3 M
THEY SHOULD PICK: Taurean Green, PG, Florida
Upside/Middle/Downside: Mo Williams/Jameer Nelson/Chucky Atkins
They Will Consider: Sean Williams, Ramon Sessions, Aaron Brooks, Alando Tucker, Jared Dudley
What they’re thinking: If the Sixers don’t go point guard with either of their first two picks, they should grab Green here. Even if they do grab a point guard earlier in the first round, Green is too steady to pass up. He’s a proven winner and already has NBA three-point range. He’s not a phenomenal athlete, but he’s quick enough (and heady enough) to stick in the league. If Sean Williams is on the board here, it would be tough for the Sixers to pass on his considerable skills, even with his considerable baggage.
Offseason Blueprint: The team doesn’t seem sold on Samuel Dalembert, so it has a few holes on the front line. If they don’t address these in the draft, don’t expect the team to be too active in free agency. Philly is in full rebuilding mode, so it doesn’t seem too likely that they’ll use their mid-level exception unless they feel they’re getting a good value. In general, they want to cut salary and acquire good prospects. 


Dallas Mavericks (67-15)
Team Needs: SG, C
2007-08 Payroll: $81.5 M
How They Lost the Pick: Dallas gave their pick (#30) to Golden State as part of the Erick Dampier trade in 2004. The Warriors then sent it to Denver for Nikoloz Tskitishvili. The Nuggets then sent it to the Sixers as part of the Allen Iverson trade in 2006.
Offseason Blueprint: The Mavs are probably still reeling from their first round playoff exit at the hands of the Warriors, but they need to address Jerry Stackhouse, who becomes a free agent this summer. If they want to replace him, Matt Barnes and Morris Peterson make a lot of sense and could be had for the mid-level. Grant Hill is another possibility. They should also decide on Devin Harris – is he their point guard of the future? If not, he still has a lot of value around the league, so they could use him to get Chauncey Billups or another more experienced guard. The Mavs do have three second round picks, so they should be able to get a good player out of the draft. Mark Cuban has tied his wagon to Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry. It remains to be seen if that trio has the collective cojones to bring home a title.  

Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)
Team Needs: C, PF, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $64.4 M
How They Lost the Pick: The Cavs gave their pick (#24) to Boston for Jiri Welsh (ugh). The Celtics sent it to Phoenix for Rajon Rondo.
Offseason Blueprint: Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic are free agents, so expect the Cavs to sign each to a long-term deal this summer. It’s true that they both struggled in the Finals, but so did the entire Cavs team – the Spurs do that to people. The team is probably regretting giving big, multi-year contracts to Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Hughes has been good when he’s healthy, but the guy just can’t seem to stay on the court. Ilgauskas simply doesn’t fit the style of play that the team should be implementing, though for the money, he’s a decent value. Donyell Marshall, Eric Snow and Damon Jones are all signed through the 2008-09 season, so the Cavs won’t have real money to spend until they are off the books. In the meantime, they could add Jason Kapono, who would give the team a guy (other than Daniel Gibson) who can actually knock down a few shots from long range. Matt Barnes and Morris Peterson are two more good shooters potentially available for the mid-level. 

Toronto Raptors (47-35)
Team Needs: SF, SG
2007-08 Payroll: $51.0 M
How They Lost the Pick: The Raptors sent their pick (#22) to Cleveland for LaMond Murray who then sent it to Charlotte for Sasha Pavlovic.
Offseason Blueprint: It was a good year for the Raptors, though they have to be disappointed with their performance in the playoffs. For some reason, the team soured on Morris Peterson, so they’ll be looking to build around Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and T.J. Ford. Gerald Wallace would be a good fit, but he’s probably a little pricey. Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and Mikael Pietrus are cheaper options. If they can keep that Bosh/Bargnani/Ford core together, the Raptors best years should be ahead of them (especially in the very weak Eastern Conference). 

Denver Nuggets (45-37)
Team Needs: PG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $77.2 M
How They Lost the Pick: The Nuggets sent their pick (#21) to the Sixers as part of the Iverson trade.
Offseason Blueprint: Talent-wise, the Nuggets are in pretty good shape, though it remains to be seen if an Allen Iverson/Carmelo Anthony combination can truly work. The team needs a bigger, pass-first point guard who can cover shooting guards on the defensive end, allowing Iverson to cover the other team’s point guard. (Man, that sounds a lot like Andre Miller!) Unfortunately for the Nuggets, none of this summer’s free agents really fit the bill. If they can find a way to unload Kenyon Martin’s enormous contract – which has four years and $59 M left to go – more power to ‘em. It’s obvious now that the Nets were smart to let Martin walk. 

Orlando Magic (40-42)
Team Needs: SG, PF, PG
2007-08 Payroll: $46.0 M
How They Lost the Pick: The Magic gave up their pick (#15) when they traded with Detroit for Darko Milicic in 2006. If they aren't able to re-sign and develop Darko, they'll end up with nothing.
Offseason Blueprint: Billy Donovan’s sudden reversal has the franchise floundering. Luckily, they’ve got a budding superstar in Dwight Howard to build around and some cap space this summer to address their needs. The team needs to decide what to do with Darko Milicic. Is he worth the $8-$10 M a year that some team will surely throw at him? He was spotty this season, but Stan Van Gundy may decide that he fits the bill. (By the way, between Stan and Jeff, it looks like the Van Gundys’ mission is to coach every team in the league!) The other glaring need is at shooting guard, making Vince Carter an obvious choice, but it’s doubtful that he’s going to lead the team to contender status, so the Magic would be wise to spend the money elsewhere (or wait until next year to make a big move). The team has three second round picks so they should be able to land a player or two in the draft. 

Indiana Pacers (35-47)
Team Needs: PG, SG, PF
2007-08 Payroll: $62.9 M
How They Lost the Pick: The Pacers gave their first round pick (#11) in the 2006 Al Harrington trade. A few months later, they traded Harrington and Stephen Jackson for Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu. Ouch.
Offseason Blueprint: Jermaine O’Neal could opt out of his contract, but he has three years and $64 M remaining, so it’s not likely. If he really wants to play for a winner, he should walk away from the money and sign elsewhere for less. Regardless, the trade that sent Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to Golden State (for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy) backfired. Both Dunleavy and Murphy have big contracts that last another four years. Until the future of O’Neal is clear, the Pacers are going to struggle to move forward.