As NBA projects go, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are at different stages of their respective rebuilds. The Knicks won 54 games last season and didn't see this sort of freefall coming, so owner James Dolan whipped out his checkbook and gave the legendary Phil Jackson $60 million to come clean up the mess. The Lakers lost big man Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets via free agency but still expected to be in playoff contention this season. Then Kobe Bryant had yet another devastating injury, Steve Nash couldn't stay healthy yet again, and the end result was their worst season since coming to Los Angeles in 1960. As for the Celtics, the end of their memorable era was all but sealed when former coach Doc Rivers decided last June that he wanted to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. So Boston netted a 2015 first-round in return for his services and thus brought their total of first-round picks in the next three drafts to seven, then sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in a trade that officially started this next chapter and led to all this losing. Tom Penn, the former vice president of basketball operations for the Portland Trailblazers and a current ESPN analyst, discussed the three situations with USA TODAY Sports recently. Penn: "My opinion on Boston is that it's really uncertain on what's going to happen, right? They don't have significant (salary) cap room (this summer). They won't have much cap room at all, really, this year. And they've got draft picks. But as we all know, picks aren't really immediate help. They're just building blocks or assets for the future. They've got a slew of picks over the next few years, but they're not going to help win games right now. So (Celtics general manager) Danny (Ainge), better than anybody, was able last time to take a run at getting young and getting great. And it didn't work, and then he masterfully turned all the young assets into a (ready-made) team to go get a trophy (when he landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007). "So that's always the second prong of the plan is that if we can't get great young guys to grow up together like Oklahoma City did, then we'll at least make a strategic trade at the right time – which happened in Boston and happened in Houston (last summer when they followed the Oct. 2012 acquisition of James Harden via trade from Oklahoma City by landing Howard). But projecting and foreseeing the likelihood of that happening is really hard, but the first step of making that a possibility is to get access to a lot of young, promising assets. The best positioned franchise to do that over the next three years is going to be Boston. "New York's situation is – their team is going to come from new leadership, new direction and then the right strategic trade by another great asset in the NBA … That's expiring contracts. Because while we've all written and talked about how disastrous those (Knicks) contracts are, as soon as we hit July 1 they all get pretty appealing (between Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks have approximately $53 million in deals that expire after next season). And you as well as I know that it's almost like the switch flips right then, when it goes from horrible contract to good asset. And then New York has the promise as the backstop … of significant (salary) cap room if they just ride it out (until the summer of) 2015. The trickier turn for me is what's going to go on in LA with the Kobe factor in terms of his timeline and his ability to be great. Do they look to quickly turn that thing and stay mature, good, and relevant, and I think using that top five pick of theirs as an asset – a plum trading piece? It will be really compelling to see if they do an uneven deal, because they're the only ones with the combination of marquee lottery pick and the cap space to do an uneven deal. (Teams that are under the salary cap can do trades in which the salaries exchanged must only be within 150% of each other, plus $100,000, while trades for tax-paying teams must have the salaries match within 125% plus $100,000 for taxpaying teams)."
What's next for Lakers, Celtics, Knicks?
USA Today | Apr 13