In the last two days, three Central Division teams [out of the five that made the playoffs] have bitten the bullet. All were underdogs....all faced division champions. And all are looking to next year.
CHICAGO: The Bulls set up a bit nicely. They have some cap room and, at worst, the #5 pick in the draft [if everything falls according to plan, it would be the #2 pick]. They lose Tim Thomas' and Eddie Robinson's huge contract numbers off their books. Their young guys, Andres Nocioni, Ty Chandler, Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Sweetney and Luol Deng, all have small contracts and still have at least a year remaining. So this nucleus that's been together for two years already can add a guy like a LeMarcus Aldridge or Tyrus Thomas thru the draft or a grab a big man thru free agency.
BUCKS: Also a young team, the Bucks could be another team on the rise. Michael Redd is one of the top guards in the NBA and Andrew Bogut looks like he will be a solid pro for a good time in the league. The problem lies in what will they do with some of the other guys. Milwaukee played Jamaal Magloire and Bogut on the same front line all year. They like Magloire, but he makes $8M next year and that contract is expiring. Should they keep Magloire....let Bogut develop one more year....then use the cap space when his contract expires?? Or should they deal him to a team looking for some help and that could net the Bucks either a better player [with a longer contract] or a couple mid-range players? Same thing with Calvin Booth and Joe Smith...who both are entering contract years and who both are making $6.8M each next year. That's over $21M in expiring contracts that Milwaukee could deal away and get something of value back in return. Stay tuned for that!
PACERS: This one's a bit more dicey. You could say that no team has been as disappointing over the past two years than Indiana. The Brawl of 2004 killed last year's team....and the Artest issues spilled over to this year, dragging on way too long. In the deal, they got Peja Stojakovic who shows the heart of a tin man [a stark contracts to the intensity that Artest brought]. Peja could walk [he has an option to] or try to get a richer, longer termed contract from Indy. Austin Croshere and Jonathan Bender are both in contract seasons in 07. They are way over the cap, so free agency won't be too big a help. But there are rumblings that this team could be blown completely up. It isn't a talent issue as much as it is an attitude issue. It wasn't a "team" in any stretch. Scot Pollard may have said it best....."It was (expletive) ridiculous this season. I've never seen or been a part of a more messed-up situation in my career. It was a combination of a ton of things. If they were by themselves it wouldn't be a problem, but when they all hit there's nothing you can do about it." Pollard is a free agent.
SOON TO BE MISSING.....The Kings must beat the Spurs tonight to stay alive......Also tonight, the Wizards must beat the Cavaliers to force a Game 7.....On Saturday, the Suns and Lakers have a on-game dance to see who moves on to face the Clippers.