The NBA postseason picture's gaining resolution, but you should put your questions to Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton as to what he foresees.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Welcome to the playoffs, everybody. Thanks for joining me today to chat about the NBA at the end of the regular season. With Arcade Fire in the background and my first-round picks sent off to TrueHoop, let's get this thing started.
Bryan (MA): Should the Heat have lost to NJ last night to face the Hawks instead of the Celtics or are the Celts struggling so much that they are the more desirable opponent?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think Boston is definitely the more desirable opponent at this point. I think the Celtics' demise is somewhat overstated, but Boston has been a .500 team for more than half the season and certainly does look old. I think Miami has to be pleased with this matchup and has a very legitimate chance of winning it.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): So: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-paxsondelnegro041310 . Who can we expect next in Chicago? Can Del Negro save his job with a playoff run? What are Del Negro's strengths and weaknesses as a coach? Where might he end up next?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Given this news, yeah, it seems like Del Negro has to be finished even though the Bulls really overachieved down the stretch just to make the playoffs. Maybe if they beat Cleveland it will be impossible to fire Del Negro, but the odds of that are very long.
The more interesting question is what, if anything, comes of this regarding John Paxson. He's been safe in Chicago thus far and probably protected himself a little bit by giving Gar Forman GM responsibilities, but it's not exactly like the Bulls have been phenomenally successfully during his tenure. Also, who replaces Del Negro on the sidelines with the Bulls hoping to lure a marquee free agent to the Windy City?
As a coach, Del Negro badly needs experience. He's not as terrible as he's made out to be, but he could definitely use a few seasons as an assistant coach to one of the league's veteran head men. Maybe, maybe after that kind of apprenticeship he'll get another chance, but I'm a little dubious of that. Hard to shake a first impression like Del Negro has made.
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): I think it's reasonable to assume the Cavs won't have any troubles getting to round 2. What hurdles do you see them needing to overcome against Atlanta, Boston, or Orlando in the rest of the Eastern bracket?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Pretty obviously the big issue is going to be getting everyone on the same page since Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal haven't really played together. It also remains to be seen how much O'Neal will need to play himself into game condition after such a lengthy absence. Cleveland may be able to use the first two series for that purpose, since the real test won't come until a showdown with Orlando that I see as producing the eventual NBA champion.
Jonas (NYC): What is Terrence Williams' role long term? Sixth Man? Starter?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It was a nice run for Williams over the final month of the season or so, though badly needed given how terribly he played early in the year. He still ended up below replacement level in total. I haven't revisited this research in ages, but I recall finding that in-season improvement was much more meaningful for young players, so that's a good sign for him going forward.
Williams is probably never going to be a shooter, so it may be tough for him to be a starter alongside a guy who demands help defense. If he's in a situation where he is the player creating offense with the ball in his hands, I could see him as a starter, especially if he's surrounded by good shooters. Williams may need to find the right fit since his versatile skill set is awfully unique.
Matt (SLC): Why do Jazz fans and most local media insist on questioning Carlos Boozer's character when he is injured? Why can't a guy just be hurt?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, this is not a feature unique to Utah, and Boozer's hot and cold relationship with the Jazz surely doesn't hurt. But it's one thing to question Boozer's motivation during a lost pair of 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and another to do so now, with plenty on the line. Are people saying he's worried about his impending free agency now? I haven't heard that myself.
Brian K (Boston, MA): Why does the NBA have 3 days in-between the games? The Celtics play Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, etc. I know the Celtics are old but come on!
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Like anything else, it's for TV. And I must say I appreciated it last year when I recapped every single game for the first three rounds of the playoffs. Fortunately, Bradford Doolittle will be splitting up those nightly recaps this year.
Mark (Milwaukee): Are guys like John Salmons common? It seems like all he was missing for 5 years was minutes and once they came he produced.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes and no. In his particular case, I'm not sure many people saw his breakout coming when he signed in Sacramento. He wasn't exactly a phenomenal reserve. Opportunity does matter a lot in this league, and Salmons got a chance to be a go-to guy on offense with the Kings and showed he had a lot more skills than people realized. I'm still not convinced that's the ideal role for him, but he's been a great fit for the Bucks since the trade deadline.
One thing on Salmons--if he opts out after this season, I hope Milwaukee is careful, since at 30 Salmons is definitely entering the downside of his career and it may not be pretty if he sees himself as a big-time scorer now.
Harald ((EU)): Doesn't it seem like anyone can beat anyone in the West depending on daily form? I could see all of those 8 teams in the WCF.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's definitely wide open. When you look at the conference in terms of point differential, the spread between the conference's best team (amazingly, it's Utah) and the worst team (Dallas) is 2.8 points per game. Given that, matchups are going to take on paramount importance. Portland has to be thrilled to draw Phoenix in the first round and Utah can't be unhappy about playing Denver. The big loser is Dallas, which has to go through San Antonio in the first round, though the Mavericks also can be happy to avoid the Lakers until a potential Western Conference Finals meeting.
Sam (Portland): Was Andre Miller the free agent acquisition of the year? Other marquee pick-ups like Hedo Turkoglu or Ben Gordan woefully underperformed. Only David Lee was better, but he didn't get any offers when he was a restricted free agent and he essentially just finished out his contract with the Knicks.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, I think that's a pretty good take. Lee was the only player with a higher WARP total who was a free agent last year. Paul Millsap was third. It depends on whether you're comparing marquee signings only or include someone like Channing Frye who provided a ton of production for very little salary, but as compared to the other big-money signings Miller looks terrific with the benefit of hindsight. Hedo Turkoglu, not so much.
Buck (WI): If Bogut doesn't get hurt, how far do the Bucks go?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think their ceiling was the second round no matter what, since I don't see anybody knocking off either Cleveland or Orlando, but I think Milwaukee probably would have been favored to win in the first round, especially if you figure the Bucks likely would have ended up facing Boston in the 4-5 matchup. What a shame.
James (Chicago): Dmitri McCamey threw his name out there. When I see him I see somebody that looks like he has a career ahead of him as a backup PG who specializes in shooting the three ball. But I haven't heard him mentioned as a potential first rounder.
He's back next year, right? Because if he's not, I don't see who could be credible as a point guard on the Illini.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): A little surprised this is the only draft question so far. McCamey should definitely go back to school. Right now, based on the mock drafts and rankings that are out there, he's very likely to go undrafted. Fortunately, since he's a junior, there's no downside to testing the waters without hiring an agent.
There's been a lot of talk about guys entering the draft this year to avoid the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I only see that really affecting the top 10 players or so. I'm not sure the league will change much with rookie contracts anyway, but I don't see a scenario where minimum salaries go down, so second-round picks will be no worse off next year. In fact, since they'll be free to play in Europe with no restrictions in the event of a lockout, next year may be the time to come out if you're a fringe player.
Bryan (MA): Thoughts on Dorell Wright?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I must confess I haven't done a lot of thinking about Dorell Wright this season. He's developed into a pretty nice well-rounded backup wing, though. We'll see if someone wants to gamble on a player who's still relatively young by committing the mid-level exception or thereabouts this summer.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): How do playoff rotations (of players from the bench to the court) differ from the regular season, other than having a shorter bench? Do you start having more sets with two starters on the court with three bench guys?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think there's as much change in rotations in the playoffs as there once were. Maybe this is my mind playing tricks on me, but I recall guys like Hakeem Olajuwon and a young, spry Shaquille O'Neal almost never resting in the playoffs. But inevitably, a shorter rotation is going to mean more of those lineups with 2 starters/3 reserves or 3/2 and you'll almost never see a full second unit. Phoenix might be the exception to that last rule this year.
James (IL): What will the Bulls look to do in FA?
Also, can they get a game from the Cavs?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Sure, if Derrick Rose gets hot, I think they can win a game. I did pick Cleveland in a sweep, however.
I'm guessing Chicago will just go for the biggest name or best player available and figure things out from there. If that's Chris Bosh, then maybe you try to move Taj Gibson for the big shooting guard who can shoot the team has been searching for seemingly forever (it sure seemed like John Salmons would be the answer, didn't it?) or otherwise you've just got a very solid three-man rotation up front.
Ken (VA): Rank these in order of who will be the biggest FA bust of 2010: David Lee, Amar'e, Boozer.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Wait, am I assuming they're all going to be busts? I would see Boozer, Stoudemire, Lee, in that order. I don't see Lee as being particularly likely to bust, and Stoudemire is young enough that motivation is the biggest question mark in his case. Was his second half because of his impending free agency or because he wasn't right after sitting out for so long?
SaberTJ (Cleveland): Thoughts on Jawad Williams? Any chance he plays a bigger role with the Cavs next year?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't see it, unless there are major changes on the wings. While I liked what he did at times, ultimately his numbers were underwhelming and he's not exceptionally young, so he's probably an insurance policy at best.
SaberTJ (Cleveland): You've said you believe the ECF will come down to the Cavs and the Magic. What will Cleveland need to do to get past Orlando? Is it as simple as getting Howard out of the game due to foul trouble?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, if Shaquille O'Neal's addition allows the Cavaliers to defend Howard straight up, that's a major change from last year. And we haven't really seen what this matchup looks like with Antawn Jamison in Cleveland, since the one meeting was either his first or second game with the Cavaliers and LeBron James didn't play in the other. On paper, the matchups seem a lot more favorable for Cleveland this year, but I think Orlando may have the superior talent right now.
Bryan (MA): Do the Knicks (or any other team) successfully snag two elite (max or near-max contract) players this offseason? Or, are we more likely to see the teams with cap room sign one star and a bunch of role players?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it depends how you define elite. I think it is definitely possible that the Knicks and Heat sign a pair of max contract guys, but it's not going to be James and Wade or even probably Wade and Bosh, since I don't think either James or Wade will leave at this point. I would suspect something more like Wade and Boozer in Miami and Johnson and Stoudemire in New York. I'm not sure how likely the Knicks how are to go for a non-star strategy if that's their choice.
Evan (NY): Kevin, if the Knicks do get two max free agents, how will they go about filling out their roster with non-dreck?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): They're going to have to sell guys on the opportunity to play heavy minutes in the nation's biggest media market with some decently talented teammates. Basically, play the discount card awfully heavily.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, I've got to get back to previewing the playoff series--and finishing my taxes! Thanks to everybody who joined us for the chat.
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