JBL Division Division Power Rankings + Team Ponderings Pt. 1
- By Austin Simpson, Day 1, 2024
JBL Division Power Rankings + Team Ponderings Pt 1
The Pacific has been the strongest division since I joined the JBL and it’s not even close. In 2023 the Pacific averaged 53, 51 and 48 wins over the past 3 seasons. They also have 4 JBL titles and 2 runner ups over the past 6 years. The teams are strong and I don’t see that changing this season. They are still the division to beat and all look like playoff teams as of today.
Oakland Tritons have some interesting off-season decisions. They have picks #13 + 15 and ~$57M in cap space. They will likely need to re-sign Marcus Ivory and Kai Navigato. They have assets to navigate a trade, but will they? Bringing back the same core doesn’t make much sense, so it’s either get younger with the picks or grab a solid player.
Portland Lumberjacks Don’t have much cap space and need to fill some holes in their depth. I’ll be interested to see what kind of money Deonte Christian wants. I’m sure the Lumberjacks are hoping for a discount. Martin has a great contract and McSwine is in for a big improvement in the off-season, or so I think. Money is tight, and there aren’t a ton of options. Will they look to trade Humphries? He’s on a nice expiring contract if $20M and two solid returning players could work well for them.
The Fireballs, headlined by recently crowned MVP Chris LaCruz, are looking a little bare in the cupboard. LaCruz is a top level player who put the team on his back many times last year and makes me wish I could see a Fireballs game live. Carroll was solid, but could put the Fireballs out of reach with his asking price. The acquisition of Reggie Coleman was great last year and he looks like the concrete #2 in LA for the 2024 season. The only question is how does the rest of this team round out?
The newest GM in the league gets the honor of taking the reins in Las Vegas, one of the most successful teams in the past 6 years. There’s not a whole lot that GM Bisbo needs to improve for the 2024 season. Francis is a scoring machine and at his prime. Grant + Clarke are both older players but on very good deals. Derrick Griffin is the glue guy who holds it all together. The depth isn’t great for the Scorpions and that gives me the thought they could make a move. If there was to be a trade in Las Vegas whom would they send away? Well, that always depends on the return and the new GM is not tied to the previous GM’s moves. I can see Grant or Clarke getting shipped out of town as the older players, but if Francis was put on the block, boy would those offers roll in!
The Seattle Thunder have had a rough season. They pulled off a ballsy and league-shattering sign and trade of Dontay Sowder, then fell short of the Championship or bust aspirations. The salary implications in Seattle are pretty hard to swallow. 95% of the team’s cap is tied to three players and there’s not a whole lot of current depth beyond that. Plus the Thunder have decisions to make on Aaron Rowland, who is due to command a big pay raise. My question for Seattle is: has the Sowder experiment run its course? Is it time to move on? A Sowder trade would be big news but could allow Seattle to pivot for more assets. I’m sure they don’t want to forfeit any future 1st round picks again. Personally, I think Sowder is too good to trade. You don’t pull off that S&T then trade him. Shop Ainsley and possibly Ainsley and see what you can do.
I think the Atlantic is the 2nd best division, last year and the next, without a question. They averaged 47 wins last year, had a JBL Championship thanks to the Philadelphia Warriors, and look to represent the east in the post-season again in 2024.
The Boston Crusaders were the weakest team in the Atlantic and are likely rebuilding another year. 2024 will mark the last year of Devon Harrell’s rookie deal and, if he improves his play, could look at a scoring title. They have their All-star in Harrell and can build a contender around him. West looks like a nice prospect with some serious upside. I can see him being a Derrick Griffin-esque player for Boston. The Crusaders’ goal is to maximize cap space for 2025 so they can extend Harrell, sign a max FA and hope for improvements in West and whomever they select at #7. Speaking of which, who will Boston select with the 7th overall pick? Both Mock Drafts suggest Kenyon Fuller PF/C out of Kentucky and, if available, is a no brainer.
New York Renegades
I think the New York Renegades can be a higher seed in 2024 and certainly locked for the playoffs. Jerome Bradley is just slightly passed his prime but can still be the #1 option on for the Renegades. Marcus Dunn, Rashaad Haslem, Omari Kamga, and Darius Whiteside are all solid young players with plenty of room to grow. We can expect improvements out of those players no doubt. If the team drafts well at #17 + #30 and uses their $~$26M in cap space wisely, they can be a force to reckon with in the east. They have their starting 5 locked in and would use the cap to bolster their bench. I didn’t realize until writing this blurb that the Rens can make a serious play for some really good players via trade if they wanted to make a serious upgrade at one position. What would that deal look like? Could it include Dontay Sowder coming to play in the Big Apple?
Baltimore Bullets GM has been quiet this offseason, too quiet. What is he up to? No that’s not the question poised to Trader Bed. I thought Baltimore has made some great moves in the past season. I am a big Isaiah Evans fan and am looking forward to seeing his sophomore campaign. The team is headlined by the other Isaiah, Isaiah Clarkson. Clarkson is in his prime and is a unique player. He is possibly the best shot blocker in the league, a solid passer, and looks to have a good offensive repertoire. I’m curious if he will continue to attempt more three pointers next year. Reggie Goodwin is not even into his prime yet and already a top player in the conference. I think the Bullets take a step forward next year and Goodwin gets his first all-star nomination. On to the problems: there are depth concerns with no cap to spend so the team will likely look to make a trade or two. Frashon Lewis is the easy choice, but I think Bed is bold. How bold is he? Well, he’s scoffed at trading Honeycutt in the past, which makes me think “… he’s going to trade Honeycutt.”
Toronto has had tremendous success the past few seasons, even making it to the finals in 2022. They had 65 wins in 2022, a slight drop to 62 wins last season and look to dip again with the likely max contract of Houston. Toronto has 3 all-stars on their team in Brandon Terry, Darius Barry, and Vionte Houston, who are young and look to continue to be all-stars in the future. The only problem is paying them all going forward. They will send a no-brainer max offer to Vionte Houston, leaving them with ~$9M in cap space to fill out the rest of the roster. The question for Toronto is: how long do you keep this trio together, without a championship, before one gets traded? And who will it be? Quavius need to get paid next year, Terry + Barry (reminds me of Ambiguously Gay Duo for some reason) are each going to get another max. It’s only going to get harder as Toronto goes forward.
Philadelphia gets all the credit in the world for winning the JBL Championship, even though I thought we had them for a second. The Warriors will try to put together a string of JBL titles, but will find it hard to do with their current team structure. Their team has ~$11M to spend and only 6 players under contract. They likely want to bring back Obradovic and possibly Foster, where they may get good deals in FA. The Weaver – Craig experiment worked and produced a championship, but how long will this duo stay together? Will Craig have a hissy fit and force his way out of town? Will he pull a gun on Weaver over a $500 gambling debt? These are the important questions we cannot answer just yet. Don’t be surprised if Craig gets shipped out of town for…you guessed it… a point guard. In all seriousness Philly is likely at the top of the east going into the 2024 season.
The Southwest had some strong teams like The Phoenix Vultures, Mexico City Jaguars, and Denver Dragons who averaged 57 wins last season. The Austin Rockets and Dallas Predators were rebuilding and dropped that to 45. I think the Division is still going to have some winning teams next year, but some roles may change a little .
Dallas finished in the bottom 5 in offensive rating and will likely still be rebuilding another year or so. I think Keyon Barber and Deandre Stackhouse are both sure-fire core guys to build around in Dallas. I think they need to take a longer look at a rebuild and trade Kellen Chambers, who has a $15M expiring contract, and see if they can get anything of value for Jermaine Wade. Their biggest offseason focus is making sure they hit on the #6 pick in the draft. I think they are in a great spot because the two players Mocked to them are Spencer Allen and Terrell Sanford and can help their team right away. Regardless of which they get, it will allow them to have a rookie starting SG get lots of experience and move Wade to the bench as a 6th man. Dallas also has the option to try to hit it big in free agency with ~$32M available to spend. Will they spend that money? Or do they save it for the next offseason when they have an additional $36M to spend? Another top pick and two max free agents next year sounds better than playing the “middle of the road” team for a few years.
So Dallas was really bad at offense, the Rockets are really bad at defense; finishing in the bottom 5 in the league. The Rockets front court is locked in and likely not changing for the foreseeable future. They have Zion Jeffries, Qwan Songalia as starters then Omari Woodley as a bench player. They also have Zach McCray who plays SF for the Rockets, who I think would be better served playing PF due to his solid post defense vs. weak perimeter defense. The main concern with the Rockets is positional balance. They have plenty of money, ~$43M, so they can certainly address their issues. The team is hard to predict where they will be since they can do a lot to change via FA. My question for the Rockets is what direction do you want to take your team? Tear it down and make some moves to be more competitive?
Denver is in a fun spot this year. This is the last year before all of their current contracts expire. That’s right, they have $0 committed to 2025 and beyond. Bracey will get the max, Novak will get the max and the rest will have to fall into place. If the Dragons were going to do something big, this is the year while those guys have cheaper contracts. As built I see the Dragons about the same as last year 50-55 wins. They have ~$7M in cap available to spend on free agents. They could trade Fortier’s $28M expiring, but I’m not sure that helps the Dragons. Do the Dragons bang their head against the wall again, or do they do something drastic?
Mexico City Jaguars
The Jags had a storied post-season run that just fell short. They have already lost L-Train, but I don’t think they will miss him. They already have L-Train 2.0 in J-Train, recently crowned ROY. The Jaguars have such a balanced team both from a position standpoint but also a financial standpoint. Really had to even find a possible scenario to put them in other than just running their same players back, with improvements, and making a run for the JBL title again. Will this team win a JBL title before one of their players are nominated as an All-Star?
The Vultures were steamrolling in the regular season but it didn’t matter much as they were nearly swept in the 2nd round. Phoenix is bringing back Drayton Banks (1st team All-JBL), Rasheem Fisher (All-Star), and Jamaya Sprinkle. And…that’s about it. They have ~$26M in cap space with free agents like Kendall Nash, Opheus Swayda, and Sasha Vidmar. The team could have a hefty bill and, personally, I’d like to see it break the record – whatever that may be. Phoenix also has the #14 pick in the draft where they can address a position and let one of these marquee FA walk, which might not be a bad strategy. It just begs the question, what does Phoenix want to do and when? If it’s win next season they should do whatever they can to achieve that. Let’s see that Luxury tax balloon!