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On Wednesday, March 11, news broke that shook the sports world to its core.
Over the following 24 hours, the NCAA called off both its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the NHL suspended play, MLB suspended spring training and millions found themselves glued to TV, computer and smartphone screens thinking, “What’s next?”
The answer to that question is unclear, on a number of levels. On Thursday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s hiatus would last at least 30 days. What happens after that is still a mystery.
That big of a layoff, especially during this late stage of the season, means it’s possible 2019-20 is done. Vince Carter, who is set to retire this offseason, put that into perspective.
“Such a weird night but I am truly thankful for each and every person during this 22yr journey,” Carter tweeted. “If this is really it, I thank everyone for your love and support for all these years.”
There’s a real chance the NBA regular season ended Wednesday. And for at least 14 teams, that means the offseason might be here. All 30 likely have at least the corner of an eye toward the playoffs being gone too.
If 2019-20 is over, how is every squad looking for the offseason?
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Trae Young, 21, is way ahead of schedule. On top of 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game—averages no one else his age has ever accomplished in the NBA—he’s tied for 17th in the NBA in box plus/minus. He’s ninth in offensive box plus/minus.
On that end, he’s already one of the game’s premier engineers. His passing ability and vision, combined with seemingly unlimited range, make him one of the NBA’s most fascinating young players. He has franchise-cornerstone talent. Now, the Atlanta Hawks have to figure out the best way to build around him.
Fortunately, some of their pieces seem to fit. The sample size is small (just 442 possessions), but Atlanta is plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions (96th percentile) with its all-youngster lineup of Young, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and John Collins.
Organic growth from that group, in addition to supplementing the bench with long, switchy defenders is the key. Drastic moves don’t make a ton of sense. Even the potential log jam with Collins and recently acquired Clint Capela deserves time.
Young teams can take a beating during their formative years, but that adversity can refine raw talent into winning. This should be an offseason of patience for the Hawks.
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Gordon Hayward has a $34.2 million player option this summer. Enes Kanter has one for $5 million. And Brad Wanamaker is an unrestricted free agent.
Other than that, the Boston Celtics are pretty much already locked in for next season.
With this being a relatively week free-agent class, it might not be shocking to see Kanter exercise that option. Even Hayward may be tempted to cash in on one more long-term deal, hoping to make up for a lesser salary on the back end of the next contract.
With the main pieces in place, though, Boston is in great shape, regardless of what those potential free agents do.
The Celtics have three 20-point-per-game scorers coming back in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. Marcus Smart’s playmaking and defense is an ideal complement to those three. Daniel Theis’ sneaky switchability makes this team perhaps the real pioneer of small ball.
Like the Hawks, Boston can easily justify a patient approach to this offseason. Tatum already made one superstar leap midseason. His being 22 years old means another may be on the way. Development from him and Brown can solidify this team as a 2021 title contender.
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Focus: Coaching Vacancy
These things happen with plenty of stars, but it felt exponentially more likely with KD (who was accompanied by drama with the Golden State Warriors), Kyrie (whose leadership qualities are, uh, questionable) and Jordan (a 31-year-old veteran who signed an above-market contract because he was friends with the two stars).
Less than a year after Brooklyn exchanged its much-ballyhooed culture for star power (a move it probably couldn’t turn down, even in hindsight), head coach Kenny Atkinson is out. And before the recently signed trio ever took the floor, the Nets are already looking for a new coach to lead it.
That will be the biggest story of Brooklyn’s summer. Will the team go for a big name? How much input will the stars have on the decision? And how much of an impact can any coach have on a roster led by megatalented stars with numerous organizational clashes in their histories?
Unloading ball-handling (Spencer Dinwiddie or Caris LeVert?) for defense may be on the table as well, but the coaching search will dominate this team’s news cycle.
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Focus: The Draft
The Charlotte Hornets moved on from Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist this season. Each found his way to a playoff team shortly thereafter. Will Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller be next?
If Charlotte can’t find homes for either of those veterans through trades this summer or at 2021’s deadline, it’s hard to imagine they’ll finish out these deals with the Hornets.
The rebuilding team is clearly headed in a different direction than the veterans.
Of course, Batum could preempt all that by turning down his $27.1 million player option. But even in an uninspiring free-agent class, he may not be able to make up that money. Batum is just 31 years old, but box plus/minus paints the picture of a steady decline over the last several years.
Even with older players on the roster, though, head coach James Borrego has shown little hesitation to turn the team over to (slightly) younger players such as Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham.
Even those two might be approaching their peak. They’re both 25. That means Charlotte will once again hope for some luck in the draft. A better-late-than-never breakout for Miles Bridges or Malik Monk wouldn’t hurt either.
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After going .500 and making the playoffs in 2016-17, the Chicago Bulls have mustered a .310 winning percentage that ranks 28th in the NBA over the last three seasons. For a franchise that had six titles and 35 playoff appearances over the 51 seasons before this stretch, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
“The Bulls need a fresh voice to hold the power and make the decisions,” Forbes‘ Jason Patt wrote. “That kind of move won’t guarantee success, but the status quo isn’t working as the franchise wallows in irrelevance on both a national and local stage. Excuses about injuries and other pitfalls can only go so far given the recent overall track record.”
With coach Jim Boylen already signed to a multiyear deal, calls for any changes likely start with the front office. Vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have led the team for many of the aforementioned playoff appearances, but their era appears to be ending.
The organization is reportedly on the hunt for a new general manager.
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Focus: Asset Accumulation
Viral videos of Kevin Love smacking the bench or throwing up his arms at teammates were striking images of his season. But taking the lead among players donating to arena workers affected by the hiatus and solid play have changed the narrative around the five-time All-Star forward.
And with a year shaved off his megacontract that will pay him another $91.5 million over the next three seasons, Cleveland likely has to wonder if 2019-20 did enough to rehab his trade value.
He’s been a staple of one of the organization’s most successful periods, but Love doesn’t figure to be a prominent part of the next good Cavs team. That squad is likely years away. And converting that contract into younger players, picks or even cap flexibility could clear the path for that team.
This offseason should be about exploring Love’s market and finding ways to supplement Collin Sexton, who showed in-season growth similar to Tatum’s, though on a smaller scale.
There’s also the question about what will happen with Andre Drummond (player option). Cleveland gave up Brandon Knight and John Henson, who were barely playing, for him. So, it shouldn’t be too bent out of shape if he walks. In fact, that might be the ideal scenario.
It’s time for Cleveland to streamline. Break down the roster to its youngest, most promising pieces, and then build back up around them.
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Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks seem like one of those teams that is always lurking, waiting for a potential opportunity to land a star the moment he’s available. But with this roster, it might not be too big of a deal if such an opportunity doesn’t arise.
Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. (assuming he picks up his $19 million player option) are all under contract for next season. And Dallas was plus-11.3 points per 100 possessions (97th percentile) when they shared the floor.
With Luka recently turning 21, and Porzingis seemingly turning a corner in his recovery from a torn ACL, it’s reasonable to expect they’ll continue to develop. And, perhaps more importantly, the chemistry should continue to grow between those two.
Few young duos are quite as intriguing as this one. With Luka’s ability to exploit any slips a defense might make and Porzingis’ pick-and-pop ability to clear the lane, Dallas has scored at a historically high clip.
As long as they remain surrounded by shooters such as Hardaway, Seth Curry and Maxi Kleber, this bunch will be tough to slow.
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Even with Paul Millsap’s $30.4 million expiring after this season, the Denver Nuggets’ 2020-21 payroll will fall just shy of the projected $115 million salary cap (a number that could drop because of the hiatus). Barring trades, there may not be a ton of wiggle room for this group.
Like several of the other young teams detailed here, that may not be a huge deal.
Denver (43-22) was on pace for a win total in the mid-50s. Jamal Murray is barely 23. Michael Porter Jr., whose play and numbers far exceed his role, is 21. And Nikola Jokic, who ranks sixth in NBA history in career box plus/minus, is 25.
Denver is in great shape. Like Dallas, it would likely pounce on an opportunity to land a third star if it presented itself, but organic growth is a fine alternative.
Jokic’s rare combination of playmaking and post play makes him one of the game’s premier offensive hubs. And the Nuggets have already surrounded him with developing stars who fit his game. Upgrading the minutes of someone such as Torrey Craig, whom box plus/minus considers a below-replacement-level player, is the name of the game this offseason.
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Focus: Asset Accumulation
The Detroit Pistons seemed like they were on the verge of a rebuild from the outset of 2019-20, but it began in earnest around the trade deadline.
Drummond went to the Cavs for, essentially, the right to avoid paying him next season. Knight and Henson, who Detroit received in the deal, weren’t even permanent fixtures in Cleveland’s rotation. Both of their contracts expire this offseason.
Shortly after that deal, Markieff Morris and Reggie Jackson both received buyouts and signed with the Lakers and Clippers, respectively.
Next up, the Pistons need to explore the market for Derrick Rose. Like Love, he’s done a decent amount to rehab his value this season. He’s in the top 20 in points per 75 possessions in 2019-20. And, for the second consecutive season, he’s posting a positive net-rating swing.
With just $7.7 million guaranteed to Rose in 2020-21, the last year on his deal, it’s easy to imagine a contender would cough up an asset to acquire him as a spark off the bench.
Blake Griffin, meanwhile, has what figures to be one of the least tradable contracts in the game. After his phenomenal 2018-19, injuries wiped out most of this season for Griffin. And knee problems for a player of Griffin’s size (6’9″, 250 lbs) and athleticism are troublesome. Assuming he picks up his $39 million player option, Griffin is owed $75.8 million over the next two seasons. Detroit might have to ride out that contract.
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To no one’s surprise, Klay Thompson didn’t play a single minute this season. He should be fully recovered from his torn ACL by the time 2020-21 tips off. Stephen Curry managed only 139 minutes thanks to a broken hand. He’ll be back as well.
And with the Splash Brothers back in action, the Golden State Warriors should be too.
Contrary to what coach Steve Kerr says, Curry is the Warriors’ security blanket (instead of the other way around). Outside this season, when Golden State fielded a roster that looked more like a G League team, his overwhelmingly positive impact lifted every teammate.
It’ll be fascinating to see how that translates to minutes alongside Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 No. 1 pick who has struggled to approach above-average play during his career.
In lineups that feature Curry and Thompson stretching the floor, will Wiggins be able to exploit driving lanes far bigger than he’s ever seen? Will pairing him with Draymond Green at the forward positions motivate him to play a more committed brand of defense?
Theoretically, a lineup of Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Green at spots 1 through 4 looks an awful lot like the squad that tipped off Golden State’s half-decade run of dominance. Finding a 5 who could be a decent facsimile of Andrew Bogut could be the final piece.
Could Marquese Chriss, who more than doubled his assist percentage and saw his defensive box plus/minus skyrocket for the Warriors, be that 5?
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The Houston Rockets signaled they were all-in on small ball when they traded Capela to the Hawks at the February deadline without getting a big man in return. And, generally speaking, it’s gone well.
Houston is 11-6 (.647) since Capela’s last appearance Jan. 29 and has a plus-3.0 net rating that ranks ninth in the NBA over that span. Most importantly, the move opened up the paint and did wonders for Russell Westbrook.
- Westbrook through Jan. 29: 26.3 points per game, 52.6 true shooting percentage (league average is 56.4)
- Westbrook since Jan. 29: 31.0 points per game, 57.5 true shooting percentage
But if the season is over, it’s hard to make definitive statements about the efficacy of this plan. A winning record over 17 games is nice. A four-game losing streak that included losses to the New York Knicks, Hornets and Orlando Magic is a concern.
Houston needs to take this new philosophy for a spin through the playoffs to know if it should commit to it this offseason.
If the Rockets make a deep run—or, if everything breaks right and they win a title—long-term small ball is easier to sell. If 2019-20 is done or if Houston gets knocked out in the first or second round, that’s a tougher pitch.
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The numbers stabilized during the season, but evidence remains that the Indiana Pacers performed at their best when All-Star Domantas Sabonis had the interior to himself. Indiana was…
- Plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions when Sabonis and Myles Turner were both on the floor.
- Plus-6.0 points per 100 possessions when Sabonis was on the floor and Turner was off.
- Minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions when Sabonis was off the floor and Turner was on.
That may be unfair to Turner, who can stretch the floor a bit and isn’t stepping on Sabonis’ toes inside. But turning his $18 million per year into a player (or two) who is more of a playmaking or scoring forward would modernize the Pacers.
Sabonis is sort of a Jokic-lite, with averages of 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 34.8 minutes per game. Tailoring the roster to him makes sense.
Of course, there’s an argument that Turner already fits well. He’s a vastly superior defender, which covers some of Sabonis’ weaknesses on that end. And again, he seems happy to do a lot of his offensive damage outside.
But surrounding Sabonis with more of the combo forwards who’ve become in vogue in positionless basketball could unlock the next level for the Pacers.
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Focus: Run It Back
Whether the Los Angeles Clippers win it all in 2020 or not, they will have a championship-caliber roster for 2020-21.
Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris Sr. and Patrick Patterson are the only rotation players set to enter free agency this summer. And though this crop of free agents is uninspiring, the market for non-shooting bigs figures to remain suppressed.
That means L.A. should have a good shot at retaining Harrell at a reasonable rate while using his Bird rights to go over the salary cap (the Clippers already have $114 million guaranteed to other players for next season).
Morris may have to accept a pay decrease to return at that point, but the prospect of another title chase with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be enticing.
The Clippers figure to be loaded with both top-end talent and depth for 2020-21—just as they were in this potentially abbreviated season.
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Focus: Add Shooting
“Find a third star” could be a bullet point on the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer agenda, but it may not be necessary. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis making up arguably the game’s best top two, adopting the “Big Three” model may not be necessary.
Instead, surrounding the superstars’ two-man game with more shooting would make them even more difficult to defend. Danny Greens don’t grow on trees, but that’s exactly the kind of player L.A. needs a few more of.
In 2019-20, the Lakers made 11.0 threes per 100 possessions, a mark that ranked 23rd in the league. Their 35.5 three-point percentage ranked 17th.
Of course, L.A.’s offense still ranked sixth overall, so the other half of the three-and-D equation may be just as important here.
On the season, L.A. was minus-0.9 points per 100 possessions when AD played without LeBron, with a defense that surrendered a whopping 113.8 points per 100 possessions.
If the Lakers are going to survive non-LeBron minutes next season, the Davis-led lineups have to defend.
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Calling the Memphis Grizzlies a favorite of “Draft Twitter” has become a common refrain on, well, Twitter. And for good reason. Time after time, this front office has secured young players who are adored by both scouts and numbers guys.
With Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke and even Jontay Porter in the sleuth, the Grizzlies figure to be a League Pass favorite for a while (assuming they don’t wind up on a bunch of national telecasts).
They’re ahead of schedule. Memphis was in eighth place when the hiatus kicked in. If the league comes back with a shortened slate, it’ll be significantly tougher (maybe even impossible, depending on the number of games) for the New Orleans Pelicans or anyone else to catch them. The possibility of skipping straight to the playoffs gets the Grizzlies in too.
Sure, they’re likely to get waxed by the top-seeded Lakers, but with Ja getting his team to the games that matter most in his first NBA season, it’s a win. And the playoff experience would expedite the development of the rest of the Draft Twitter darlings.
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The focus for the Miami Heat is patience, but it’s for a different reason than one might think. To this point, that label has generally been accompanied by a focus on internal growth. For Miami, it’s about getting to 2021 free agency, when the team can add a third star.
Yes, the virtues of the two-star build were just extolled in the Lakers slide. But Miami is set up for a new Big Three in just over a year.
Jimmy Butler’s $36 million is on the books for 2021-22, but that’s the only guaranteed money left for the Heat for that season. Bam Adebayo will be a restricted free agent, which means Miami can match whatever offer he signs (if it doesn’t extend him before then).
With those two under contract, the Heat will still have enough left for a max-level free agent from a class that could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, just to name a few.
That is, of course, if they don’t compromise that 2021 cap space with moves this offseason. Look for one-year contracts or deals that have team options ahead of 2021 free agency.
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Focus: The Draft
Without doing anything, the Milwaukee Bucks are already over the cap for 2020-21. And with a roster that seems all but guaranteed to pile up around 60 wins, trades don’t feel all that likely (depending on how you feel about Eric Bledsoe).
That means nailing the draft is perhaps the best way to get help. And even if Milwaukee hits on the draft pick it acquired from the Pacers in the Malcolm Brogdon deal (No. 19), it’ll be tough for that player to crack such a deep, established rotation.
Still, talent is talent. Donte DiVincenzo, the 17th pick in 2018, has been a key contributor to this season’s Bucks. Those contributions from players on rookie-scale contracts can come in handy for teams that have most of their cap space tied up in stars.
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Focus: Restricted Free Agents
“By the time [trade deadline day] was over, the Timberwolves had just two players—Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie—who were members of the team last season,” the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kyle Ratke wrote. “In total, there were 14 players involved in trades and three future draft picks with six different teams.”
Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington were just a couple of the players who left. D’Angelo Russell, James Johnson, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez were among those who came back. The latter two are set to enter restricted free agency this summer, and both did plenty for their value in their short time as Wolves.
After averaging 7.9 points in 18.2 minutes per game for the Nuggets this season, Beasley put up 20.7 points and shot 42.6 percent from three in Minnesota. Hernangomez’s breakout might’ve been even bigger. He went from 3.1 points per game and a 25.0 three-point percentage with Denver to 12.9 points per contest and a 42.0 three-point percentage with the Wolves.
For a team that has over $100 million tied up for next season, matching offers for both may bring a bit of uneasiness, especially in a year without many marquee free agents. But both players fit well alongside Minnesota’s new top two of Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
For one, they can shoot. And experience with Jokic should help both play off KAT, who has the talent to be a similar offensive hub.
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Like the Grizzlies, the Pelicans appear to be well ahead of schedule. Had the season played out as anticipated, New Orleans, which had one of the league’s easiest remaining schedules, may have leapfrogged the Grizzlies.
According to FiveThirtyEight‘s last projection, the Pelicans had a 60 percent chance to snag the eighth seed.
The 111.6 points per 100 possessions the Pelicans allowed gave them the 18th-ranked defense. And that jumped to 113.5 when Derrick Favors was off the floor. Whether Favors, an impending free agent, comes back or not, New Orleans needs more defensive specialists to surround Zion and Brandon Ingram.
In theory, those two have the physical tools to be plus defenders. Ingram has plenty of length and athleticism. Zion is an athletic marvel who had eye-popping steal and block rates in college. They may just need time to develop on that end together.
Bringing in veterans to lead the effort on that end could expedite the development.
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Focus: Chris Paul
In honor of election season, my position has evolved on Chris Paul trades.
Before this year, that a rebuilding team would take that contract from Oklahoma City seemed absurd. There are still two years (player option for 2021-22) and $85.6 million left on it after 2019-20. And CP3 turns 35 in May.
But Paul proved to be a culture-setter while producing like a top-10 player for the Thunder this season. And no one is in need of a culture reset quite like the New York Knicks.
Get Paul around youngsters RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox or whoever else might be left after the trade. Let them see how he works. Let him set them up for easier looks than they’ve seen. Let CP3 run this show for the last two years of this deal.
See if he can legitimize the Knicks, an organization that has struggled immensely over the last 20 years. That ought to be worth about as much as a title as far as legacies go, right?
“The Knicks, according to NBA sources, have been gathering intel on All Star Chris Paul and could make a run at him this summer,” SiriusXM’s Frank Isola tweeted. “Paul, 34, carries a huge contract but he’s had a resurgent season in OKC & is proven leader. (He was also once represented by…[new Knicks president] Leon Rose.)”
New York doesn’t figure to be competitive in the next two seasons anyway. It should offer OKC cap relief and see what else it might take to get a deal done.
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Focus: The Future
During this season, CP3’s trade value transitioned from “would OKC need to attach a pick to unload him,” to “what can the Thunder get back for him?”
His basic individual numbers—17.7 points, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game—aren’t quite as gaudy as they’ve been in years past, but that has more to do with his willingness to cede control of possessions to younger guards such as Dennis Schroder, 26, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 21.
His impact on the team’s 50-win pace (40-24) was undeniable. Paul’s net-rating swing ranked in the 98th percentile this season. His steady hand on offense and intelligence on defense had OKC trending toward its most wins since the Kevin Durant era.
But even as the Thunder were smashing their preseason over/under expectations, it was difficult to imagine they could challenge the higher-tier teams like the Clippers or Lakers.
That likely won’t happen till (or unless) SGA makes a superstar leap. And that’s probably a couple of years away, when Paul’s contract is up, or the aging star finally starts to decline.
If the Thunder can get assets or young players to add to their already loaded trove of picks, they should think about going for it.
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Mediocrity has been the name of the game for the Orlando Magic over the last two seasons. They have an above-average defense, a below-average offense and seemingly limited prospects to move the needle much either way.
If Evan Fournier, probably the team’s second-best offensive player, declines his $17 million option for 2020-21, Orlando will have roughly $10 million in cap space to work with. This year’s crop of free agents likely doesn’t offer a difference-making scorer or floor spacer at that price, though.
Perhaps rekindling interest in DeMar DeRozan might make sense.
In November, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote, “Multiple league sources say the Magic are scouring the trade market for scoring help and have already expressed interest in trading for DeRozan.”
He’s facing a player option with the Spurs. So, DeRozan would either have to pick that up, or the teams would have to work some kind of sign-and-trade involving Aaron Gordon.
DeRozan brings significant defensive shortcomings, but he just averaged 22.2 points on what was by far his career-best true shooting percentage (.597). Even without Gordon, the Magic might have the personnel and scheme to make up for what the shooting guard lacks on the other end.
If it’s not DeRozan, Orlando still needs to do something to strengthen the attack. Barring some kind of leap from Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac or both, the status quo won’t lead to much improvement.
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Much has been made of the fit between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Would the Philadelphia 76ers be better off surrounding Embiid with four shooters and building a half-court attack around him? Or, would all that shooting be better served alongside Simmons, who could engineer a fast-paced, up-and-down attack that overwhelms opponents in the open floor?
Over the course of the duo’s time together, Philadelphia is at its best when both are on the floor, outscoring opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions. The problem with this season was that the team didn’t have the aforementioned and hypothetical shooting.
If the 2019-20 season is over, the Sixers finished tied for 18th in threes per 100 possessions, 14th in three-point percentage, 16th in offense and 13th in half-court offense. Unless you have a dominant defense, that’s just not good enough to be a title contender.
And if Philadelphia is going to give heavy minutes to below-average outside shooters such as Simmons (2-of-23 from deep for his career) and Embiid (up to 34.8 percent this season, though still shy of the league average of 35.7), as it should, the other three players need to be able to light it up from deep.
The problem, of course, is that the Sixers already have nearly $147.1 million—a figure that is way beyond whatever the cap will be—committed to a roster that just underwhelmed on offense.
It seems that nothing is impossible when it comes to player movement in the NBA, but finding takers for the contracts of Tobias Harris or Al Horford might test that theory.
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The Phoenix Suns might be better than you think.
Over the course of the season, they were plus-7.2 points per 100 possessions (89th percentile) when Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton were on the floor. Add Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges to the mix, and that number jumped to plus-17.6 (100th percentile), though the sample size falls to 472 possessions.
Of course, those lineups weren’t able to carry the team to an above-.500 record or a real push toward a playoff spot. To pull that off, the Suns will have to be better when Booker, Ayton or Rubio are off the floor.
Ayton is still on his rookie-scale contract. And the Suns could wind up with north of $20 million in space, depending on where the cap ends up.
Two role players with starting salaries around $10 million could bolster the bench. One in the $20 million range, along with development by younger players such as Elie Okobo or Cameron Johnson could be an option as well.
Either way, Phoenix already has a top-25(ish) player in Booker, a rising star in Ayton, a stabilizing veteran in Rubio, intriguing wings and a direction.
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Focus: Run It Back
It may seem strange to suggest a sub-.500 team just try again, but the Portland Trial Blazers had enough injuries to justify it.
Jusuf Nurkic never made his 2019-20 debut. Zach Collins and Rodney Hood barely got started before injuries ended their seasons. Even Damian Lillard missed some time.
Moving on from the switchy forwards (Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu) who covered for the defensive shortcomings of Lillard and CJ McCollum still seems like the wrong call. But in the front office’s defense, the new roster didn’t really get a chance to show what it can do.
In 2018-19, Portland was plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions (95th percentile) when Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic were on the floor. If it can’t recapture that in 2020-21, the option to shake things up will be on the board until the trade deadline.
The Blazers have often rebuffed the idea of splitting up the Lillard-McCollum backcourt, but the pressure may overwhelm them if they struggle out of the gate again next season.
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Focus: Bogdan Bogdanovic
Like the Suns, the Sacramento Kings have a group of younger players who are thoroughly outperforming the team’s net rating.
On the season, Sacramento’s minus-2.4 points per 100 possessions ranked 21st. When De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic were on the floor, the Kings were plus-2.1 points per 100 possessions.
Perhaps even more interestingly, over a bigger sample size, they were plus-9.7 points per 100 possessions (95th percentile) when Hield and Bogdanovic were on the floor without Fox.
Long story short, there’s some reason for optimism here too. Sacramento wasn’t likely to make the postseason, but it played well enough since Hield’s move to a sixth man role to give it a chance.
Of course, that bold move wouldn’t have made much sense without a capable Hield replacement for the starting lineup. Bogdanovic was exactly that.
Even if it takes a good chunk of the Kings’ 2020-21 cap space to bring him back, they probably should. And according to NBC Sports’ James Ham, the Kings are “likely to match any offer” for the restricted free agent this summer.
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Focus: Asset Accumulation
It’s time for the Spurs to rebuild. The goal to remain competitive in the wake of the Kawhi Leonard trade was admirable, but this team is so far from title contention, it just doesn’t make sense to proceed as is. Even if the season had played out as expected, San Antonio had almost no shot to extend its postseason streak.
Over their two seasons together, the Spurs were minus-0.9 points per 100 possessions when DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were on the floor and plus-4.5 when both were off. But the minutes for the latter lineups totaled less than half of the 3,704 given to the Aldridge-DeRozan pairing.
This season, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, perhaps the organization’s two most promising talents, shared the floor for only 102 minutes. For a team nowhere near contention, that’s unacceptable.
The front office needs to make this call easier for Gregg Popovich. Do what it can to clear the deck of veterans, and force Pop to play the youngsters.
At the moment, DeRozan appears ready to help the Spurs on this front. According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, he’ll reportedly decline his player option for 2020-21 and enter free agency.
Aldridge, meanwhile, will turn 35 before next season starts and is still owed $24 million in 2020-21. That won’t be an easy deal to trade, but there’s at least one intriguing potential suitor.
“I keep telling [Lillard] I’m going to come back and finish [in Portland],” Aldridge told The Athletic’s Jason Quick last year. “That’s something him and I have talked about—playing together again.”
Given their respective teams’ directions, now might be the time to explore that possibility.
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Focus: Passing the Torch
The Toronto Raptors’ post-Kawhi Leonard contingency hit a home run. As of FiveThirtyEight‘s most recent projection, Toronto was one of seven teams with a 2 percent-or-better chance to win the title. Few, if any, thought it’d have a shot at defending the Larry O’Brien Trophy when Leonard bolted in the summer.
Steady veterans such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka helped keep the Raptors in the hunt for this season. But 2020 will be Masai Ujiri’s shot to transition to the still-developing OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell.
Lowry will be around to pass the torch, but Gasol and Ibaka are set to enter free agency. Replacing them with younger bigs should be one of the primary goals of the offseason. And Toronto figures to have around $30 million in cap space to do that.
This is a short-track rebuild that other organizations can only dream of replicating. Toronto is the new standard-bearer for finding and developing talent outside the lottery. That will allow it to remain competitive, even as the franchise moves on to another era.
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Focus: Jordan Clarkson
The Utah Jazz’ 2019-20 campaign was something of a roller coaster, but when their top three in minutes—Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic—were on the floor, they played like a contender.
That means Utah has a couple of tasks ahead of it for the offseason.
First is re-signing Clarkson. The 27-year-old sixth man had by far his most efficient season. And if you sort every NBA player with 500-plus minutes by the average of their ranks in various catch-all metrics from around the internet, Clarkson actually finished ahead of Mitchell.
He went a long way toward stabilizing Utah’s bench, but he probably drove up his value in doing so. Utah has Clarkson’s Bird rights, but re-signing him would likely put the team in striking distance of the projected luxury-tax threshold of $139 million.
Barring another move, that will make it more difficult to reinforce the rest of the bench.
Something drastic, like a Mike Conley trade, may not be the answer either. He’ll be on an expiring contract in 2020-21, but he showed signs of decline in his first season with the Jazz.
The best route to improvement may be for Conley to stay healthy and play like he did from Feb. 1 on.
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John Wall still has $132.9 million and three years left on his deal after this season. With his growing injury history, including a dreaded Achilles tear, that’s a daunting figure.
But Wall hasn’t had a chance to play as the clear second fiddle to Bradley Beal, who exploded for 30.5 points per game this season. Perhaps a slightly reduced role for Wall would lead to less wear and tear and fewer possessions against the opposition’s top perimeter defender.
We also haven’t gotten the chance to see Wall play with Davis Bertans, one of the game’s premier floor spacers.
Washington scored 121.7 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when Beal and Bertans shared the floor. With him pulling bigger defenders all the way out to 25-30 feet from the rim, Wall should have more room to operate inside. Re-signing the 27-year-old sharpshooter should be a top priority.
With a little development by Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Troy Brown Jr., it’s not difficult to envision roughly this same roster competing for a playoff spot as early as 2020-21.