With just one more game remaining in Rakeem Christmas's Syracuse career, it seemed about time to examine where he'll be taking his talents for the 2015-16 season. Obviously that's the NBA in some form. But where? Well, we take a look...
This week: Atlantic Division
The Celtics are in rebuilding mode and have the draft picks to prove it (at least two in the first round, and three or so in the second). So could one of them be used to bring Christmas aboard? Today, there are just two power forwards on the roster, and only one of them (Jared Sullinger) is currently signed past this season. On top of the picks, Boston will have plenty of cap space, with only $40 million tied up in existing contracts. All of that makes sense for them to select him, but does he fit?
Absolutely. With Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller in the fold at center, Christmas can avoid the larger defensive assignments that gave him some issues at SU. And being as athletic as he is, perhaps that's a further advantage on the inside -- though admittedly, with a lot of 4s and 5s built that way in the NBA, he may have some matchup troubles on the offensive end (we've mentioned similar thoughts this year). There's also the issue of a true point guard, which Christmas would really reap the benefits of on offense, yet the Celtics lack at the moment. That can change, of course. But until then, he's a better option for them on defense.
Brooklyn is caught between a rock and a hard place, possessing the salary situation of a title contender (more than $15 million above the cap next season) but obviously nowhere near that point in terms of the talent on the roster. There's only one power forward on the roster in 2015-16 (Cory Jefferson), but the team also has two options at center in Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee, the latter of which is possibly in the fold through the 2017-18 season. So there are options for Christmas to work his way in once the salary cap situation changes in 2016-17 ($60 million comes off the books). And the Nets' pick -- currently the Hawks' 29th overall -- does fall in line with where Christmas could go.
But there just seems to be too much in the way. The Nets are constantly in a big-money sweepstakes, and you have to imagine that they have big plans for the cap space in two summers. Can that involve Christmas? Sure. They've developed talent here before, though not under the current regime. But will it? I doubt it. Again, it's all about marquee names and a quick turnaround, and Christmas -- who would be the team's best defender right off the bat, but could struggle on offense -- may not fit the bill.
It's well-documented that the Knicks are in the midst of blowing up everything around Carmelo Anthony, but also want to contend quickly. They also potentially have two of the top 31 picks in the draft (the first in each round, respectively), so only one of those could really be in play for Christmas -- unless he suddenly vaults to the very front of draft evaluations everywhere. But without a power forward on the roster for next year, unless you count Melo, is there potential that Phil Jackson's stress for value over flashy names could land Christmas at MSG?
As much as I hope so as a Knicks fan, the numbers -- more than the fit -- just may line up correctly. While the Knicks will never run a zone defense, having two former Orange players could actually be a real advantage for both of their respective successes on that end of the floor. And with a real triangle point guard (maybe?), you can only imagine the types of scoring opportunities Christmas will have as well. I don't think it's likely he's a Knick at all. But there's little that tells me he wouldn't make sense within what that team wants to do next year (and beyond).
The Sixers have continued to amass picks (I'm counting seven or eight this year alone?), and we've yet to see if those turn into talent... rather than more picks. Obviously the team has plenty of money to spend on draft picks and free agents that would want to show up (few), but does it appear that Christmas is in those cards? And do we really know what those "cards" are, given the sporadic actions of this franchise at the trade deadline? That's the biggest issue with evaluating Philadelphia under current leadership.
What we do know, though, is that the current roster is probably full of centers and power forwards, all of whom are very young and very affordable, just like Christmas. Former Orange PF Jerami Grant is already there, though the other 4s are potentially gone. Centers, however, are around, and you have to think at least one of Joel Embiid, Henry Sims or Nerlens Noel gets plugged in at the power forward position -- sort of boxing out Christmas (for now). Still, don't rule out a 76ers selection (which could lead to other deals of various sorts).
Toronto has at least one pick this draft, and it falls pretty close to where many would think Christmas is selected (24th or so). The Raptors salary cap situation makes things seem feasible (nearly $20 million in space available), as does the roster situation that sees half of its power forwards expire at the end of this year. That doesn't mean those players -- Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson -- aren't on the Raptors roster next season. But for now, we can operate under the assumption that Patrick Patterson and James Johnson are the only 4s around unless a better option (like Christmas?) comes along through the draft to back-fill the position.
But does Christmas want to be there in that case? Patterson (25) and Johnson (28) aren't exactly old, though only Patterson is on the roster past next year. That still leaves Christmas in a sixth-man role at best -- but one that he could certainly benefit from playing down low with current Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas. Current Raptors PG Kyle Lowry is a great player, but there's questions about whether he's a true point guard. Toronto's defense is also questionable -- which is both a hindrance for Christmas (too much stress on his presence there), as well as a benefit (if he delivers on high expectations, he quickly becomes essential). This is no clean fit, but right now, I wouldn't count it out either.
And that's the Atlantic. As we keep going through the divisions, we can sort of keep track of where Christmas fits best in comparison to the previous divisions. As of right now, I'd say it goes (from best to worst fit): Boston, New York, Toronto, Brooklyn, Philadelphia.
But what about you? Where do you see Christmas fitting in best based on the teams we've gone through so far? Share your thoughts about that (and why you -- likely -- don't like the NBA) below.
(*all salary cap info obtained via Hoops Hype)