The Western Conference's other playoff teams now find themselves chasing the Dallas Mavericks. What moves can they make to catch Dallas, starting in Thursday's NBA Draft? To answer that, let's look at their biggest looming issues. For each team, we've highlighted one
Statistical Weakness from among ESPN analyst Dean Oliver's Four Factors as well as positions of need.
Statistical Weakness: Offensive rebounding (26th in the NBA)
Weakest Position: Backup PF
The biggest concern for the reigning champs will be re-signing starting center Tyson Chandler, an unrestricted free agent. Unless the new Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it impossible, a new deal for Chandler is a no-brainer for the Mavericks given his key role in the team's playoff run. The trickier negotiations could be with guard DeShawn Stevenson and forward Caron Butler, who are also unrestricted free agents.
Should Dallas bring everyone back, a possible area for improvement is playing more even with Dirk Nowitzki on the bench. Despite Brian Cardinal's success in the Finals, The Custodian is not a long-term solution. A healthy Butler would allow Shawn Marion to slide to a reserve role backing up both forward positions, but that pairing was ineffective without Nowitzki prior to Butler's injury. Unless Nikola Vucevic slips, Dallas is unlikely to find an answer at the 26th pick. Most likely, the Mavericks will think long-term by taking an international player.
Statistical Weakness: Offensive rebounding (27th in the NBA)
Weakest Position: PF
The Nuggets were easily the NBA's deepest team after the Carmelo Anthony trade, but free agency could cut into that. Of the team's top eight players, three are unrestricted free agents (Kenyon Martin, Nene and J.R. Smith) and two more are restricted (Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler). Barring a last-minute contract extension, bringing back Nene must be Denver's top priority. The Nuggets have leverage with Afflalo, but might not want to commit to the salary Chandler could command on the market. Martin and Smith appear unlikely to return, opening up holes Denver must fill.
Power forward is the greatest position of need. Al Harrington can no longer defend quicker fours on the perimeter, leaving the Nuggets to import a starter or re-sign Chandler and play him together with Danilo Gallinari at forward. Kris Humphries could fit well with Denver's young core, while Chris Wilcox represents a value option. The Nuggets have more options in the draft, where they could use bench help at any position besides point guard.
Statistical Weakness: Forcing Turnovers (23rd in the NBA)
Weakest Positions: PG, Backup PF/C
The Lakers were the only playoff team to land on our list of the league's weakest positions, but with Derek Fisher and Steve Blake both under contract, L.A. is unlikely to make a change at point guard. Instead, the hope is that Blake will bounce back after a disappointing first season with the Lakers.
Beyond that, the Lakers could use additional depth in the frontcourt. Derrick Caracter never earned Phil Jackson's trust as a rookie, while Theo Ratliff's season was interrupted by injury. The Lakers will again be competing for veterans willing to play for the minimum like Erick Dampier and Juwan Howard. They also have four second-round picks to use. Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and Oakland's Keith Benson are reasonable targets at that point.
Statistical Weakness: Defensive rebounding (21st in the NBA)
Weakest Positions: Backup PG, Backup C
For an eighth playoff seed, the Grizzlies have surprisingly few weaknesses--provided they're able to re-sign starting center Marc Gasol, a restricted free agent. Memphis should be able to bring back Gasol, but it might mean making other sacrifices, like dealing O.J. Mayo for cap relief. Losing Mayo, the team's best outside shooter, would only exacerbate the Grizzlies' need for anyone who can make a long-range jumper.
Memphis doesn't pick until No. 49 overall in the second round, so it will be difficult to find a player who can crack the rotation. Someone like Mike Dunleavy might make sense in unrestricted free agency, especially if fellow Duke alum Shane Battier heads elsewhere. Michael Redd would be a long-shot option on the perimeter. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, the development of Greivis Vasquez could help solidify the point guard position behind starter Mike Conley.
Statistical Weakness: Offensive rebounding (20th in the NBA)
Weakest Positions: Bench
Just two teams, the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder, were more balanced in Four Factors terms than the Hornets. Yet New Orleans was below average in three of the four offensive categories, pointing to the need for more scoring. In particular, the Hornets could use help on the bench. Besides Carl Landry, who will be difficult to retain as an unrestricted free agent, just one New Orleans reserve (Jarrett Jack) rated better than replacement level last season. The Hornets were forced to rely much too heavily on the inefficient Willie Green, whose .515 True Shooting Percentage was well below league average despite being the second-best mark of his career.
The best thing for New Orleans would be for Quincy Pondexter to return as a sophomore with improved range on his jump shot, especially since the Hornets do not have a first-round pick this year. New Orleans has a little financial breathing room to add players in free agency and could target the likes of Daequan Cook or Sasha Vujacic on the wing and Kwame Brown or Big Baby Davis in the frontcourt.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Statistical Weakness: Forcing Turnovers (19th in the NBA)
Weakest Position: Backup SF
The temptation is to list "none" for the Thunder's Weakest Position. In terms of players 1-10, Oklahoma City was as deep as any team in the league, and the top eight are all under contract for next season. Should Nazr Mohammed walk, the Thunder will somehow make do with more minutes for Nick Collison and either Byron Mullens or Cole Aldrich stepping in as backup center. Re-signing Daequan Cook is a bit more important, since he provides long-distance shooting off the bench, but Cook played less than 15 minutes a game last year.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti will surely look ahead with the Thunder's first-round pick, No. 24. ESPN Insider's Chad Ford sees him taking Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic, a 21-year-old Serbian who's unlikely to come over for several years because of buyout issues but could help Oklahoma City down the road.
Statistical Weakness: Defensive rebounding (24th in the NBA)
Weakest Positions: Backup PG, Backup PF/C
Depending on the perspective, Portland's biggest need is up for debate. Statistically, the Blazers must get better from beyond the arc. Their 34.5 percent 3-point shooting ranked 21st in the NBA, which is worse than it sounds because Portland took more 3-pointers per shot attempt than league average. In terms of depth, the Blazers were lacking in the frontcourt, which forced starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace to log heavy minutes down the stretch. Looking further out, however, Portland must find replacements for veteran starters Andre Miller and Marcus Camby, both in their late 30s. For a team that won 48 games, that's a lot of question marks.
Look for the Blazers to draft an NCAA veteran ready to help right away. Ford expects that to be Morehead State's Kenneth Faried, who would provide depth up front and help Portland on the defensive glass. Boston College point guard Reggie Jackson is another possibility. Otherwise, the Blazers will have to consider a trade using Miller's contract--fully non-guaranteed through June 29--to get a long-term solution.
Statistical Weakness: Forcing Turnovers (27th in the NBA)
Weakest Position: C
With 10 players under contract for next season, San Antonio is unlikely to make big changes in the wake of a first-round playoff exit. Antonio McDyess, who started at center down the stretch, is expected to retire. The Spurs hope they have the talent on the roster to replace him from within. With a full training camp, Tiago Splitter figures to be more comfortable in his second season in San Antonio and in the NBA. Statistically, Splitter wasn't bad as a rookie, but he failed to win Gregg Popovich's trust and secure a regular spot in the rotation. He's got an excellent chance of winning the starting center job, with DeJuan Blair coming off the bench. That would leave the Spurs needing only to add another big man as insurance. Theo Ratliff filled that role during the first half of the 2008-09 season and could do so again.
San Antonio is another team likely to go international late in the first round. Ford sees them taking Latvian forward Davis Bertans to stash in Europe.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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