NBA Teams One Player Away from Playoff Contention
Of the 10 teams with the longest playoff droughts, seven will once again miss the playoffs this season.
The Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets are the exceptions.
An offseason move can make the difference in another year as a lottery team or becoming the next playoff contender.
Of course, not all seeds produce flowers. Ask the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings, franchises that have once again failed to qualify for the postseason in what’s now nine and seven consecutive years, respectively.
But there are examples of teams that added pieces to blossom. This season has offered a few examples.
The Warriors earned their likely postseason with a mixed recipe, drafting shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and trading for David Lee and Andrew Bogut. But it's been the offseason acquisitions of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry that will likely bring a postseason for the first time since 2007.
After missing five postseasons, Brooklyn went on a talent-collection spree this offseason, netting the biggest names to create the closest thing to a mediocre superteam as possible.
The Rockets found their superstar via trade in James Harden and threw cash at Jeremy Lin after missing three consecutive postseasons.
Not all these teams can pull off signing their premier player choice(s), but which non-playoff teams could end their drought with a simple offseason signing?
Dallas Mavericks: Josh Smith
Dirk Nowitzki is playing like he's got a couple more years in his legs. He'll turn 35 years old this June, but he's averaged 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds since the All-Star break.
And he doesn't want to continue on with a lottery team.
Dallas will miss the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, but it has plenty of cap space this summer.
O.J. Mayo has a player option, and the Mavericks will need to decide whether or not he'll be worth the price of competing bidders. Additionally, Darren Collison is a restricted free agent, and it's uncertain that Dallas will offer a qualifying contract.
Shawn Marion has an early-termination clause on his $9.3 million contract next season. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand's one-year deals expire.
So the Mavericks have plenty of decisions. While they're more than one acquisition away, with plenty of question marks, it's up to owner Mark Cuban to find one big piece to play alongside Nowitzki.
One thought would be to toy with bringing Josh Smith in to play forward alongside Nowitzki. While Smith doesn't have the range to be a three—he's shooting 31.7 percent from behind the arc—Nowitzki certainly does.
There was this around the trade deadline:
Then, with the remainder of that cash, Dallas could lure a dynamic scorer out of Milwaukee.
Monta Ellis has an $11 million option he'll likely decline in favor of free agency. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, but has already expressed he wants big dollars and a qualifying offer from Milwaukee which would mean his last season with the Bucks.
A trio of Nowitzki, Smith and either Ellis or Jennings, surrounded by the right smaller pieces, would make Dallas a playoff team.
New Orleans Hornets: Chase Budinger
The New Orleans Hornets have the right pieces moving forward.
Anthony Davis should be the runner-up for rookie of the year; a young post talent is rare in this league, and he'll be a tremendous piece moving forward.
The Hornets also have great value in one of the league's most improved players, Greivis Vasquez, who will return at just $2 million next season.
The Hornets can play a bit.
The talented Eric Gordon, in theory, should be healthy in 2013-14 and will be able to return to his form of 22.3 points and 4.4 assists from 2010-11 with the Los Angeles Clippers. He's averaging 16.7 points and 3.1 assists in 29 games this season.
With young talent that should improve and a healthy Gordon, the Hornets could find a scoring upgrade over Al-Farouq Aminu to play at the small forward.
Chase Budinger would be a perfect fit to pair minutes with Aminu, and it would add to New Orleans' offensive mid-range game without breaking the bank for the future.
The Hornets don't want to go on a spending spree chasing a big name, but rather they should continue to develop young guys and wait for the best moment to strike on the right fit.
Not all additions have to be groundbreaking—think of Jarrett Jack at Golden State—and Budinger, who will be cheap coming off a knee injury that shouldn't affect his game—can provide value as a high-percentage mid-range shooter.
He shot 40 percent from three-point range with Houston in 2011-12, and he would pair well with the range of Ryan Anderson making up for that.
For now, the free agent Budinger could be a difference-maker to pair with the developing core.
Portland Trail Blazers: Nikola Pekovic or Jarrett Jack
The Portland Trail Blazers will miss the postseason.
But a young core highlighted by rookie of the year favorite Damian Lillard and a foundation of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews is reason for optimism.
The team will need to address soon-to-be free-agent center J.J. Hickson by deciding how much they trust rookie Meyers Leonard moving forward. Or they can chase a center Nikola Pekovic if Minnesota decides not to match an offer.
But additionally, the team needs to address depth in the backcourt. The Trail Blazers could make a qualifying offer to Eric Maynor, but there's a free agent who could offer a valuable leadership element.
Jarrett Jack will be a free agent and will receive love from his Golden State Warriors, thanks to his sixth man of the year-quality season. Jack may want a starting spot through free agency, but working alongside Lillard would add the backcourt depth that was missing this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Health and Kyle Korver
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been a health insurer's nightmare.
With injuries at varying points of the season to Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, there's plenty of excuses for the team's failure.
This offseason, the Timberwolves have plenty to take care of before they begin thinking about adding a piece.
Minnesota will need to decide whether or not to make a qualifying offer to Pekovic, who will earn a high-dollar offer because of his averages of 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. Budinger will also be a free agent.
Kirilenko has a $10 million player option and holds the cards. He says he plans to wait until the offseason, and it's unclear whether or not he'll return.
Whether or not Minnesota brings those guys back will obviously determine its offseason. If they do return that core, and stay healthy, the Timberwolves could finally end their playoff drought.
But if either Kirilenko and Pekovic receive too high of offers elsewhere, the Timberwolves would have to decide which one to spend their money on.
While there needs completely depend on what they bring back, adding a shooter to the mix of Love inside and Rubio's abilities at point guard would create a dangerous offensive combination.
Minnesota doesn't currently have a three-point shooter at a higher percentage than 35 percent.
Kyle Korver could come at a cheaper price, as he's the highest-percentage three-point shooter in the league (45.8 percent) and currently earning $5 million.
He's more efficient at the price than Oklahoma City Thunder's soon-to-be free agent Kevin Martin.
Adding Korver, and health, might end the streak of failed postseason attempts.
Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum
This one is simple.
The Philadelphia 76ers, with a healthy Andrew Bynum, are a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
The emergence of Jrue Holiday and his 18.6 points and 8.6 assists per game is a tremendous bonus moving forward. With him as a backcourt star, and Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner under contract next season, the 76ers can compete for the postseason.
If Bynum can:
1) Be healthy and
2) Be signed
Bynum is still going to demand big money, as wild as that may seem, and this decision could make or break the Philadelphia 76ers.
If they don't throw money at Bynum, they could opt to keep Spencer Hawes at starting center and bring in Paul Millsap from Utah or lure Tiago Splitter from San Antonio.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrei Kirilenko
If only the Cleveland Cavaliers could get a guy like LeBron James...
That was a joke.
The Cavaliers have a volume of young talent, led by a set of guards in budding superstar Kyrie Irving and current rookie Dion Waiters.
Anderson Varejao's return from injury next season fills a void at the center spot and Tristan Thompson has averaged a near double-double of 11.6 points and 9.3 rebounds. Tyler Zeller is also developing for added frontcourt depth.
The play of Marreese Speights, acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies through trade this season, has provided a layer of 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, but Speights may opt out of his $4.5 million player option.
Luke Walton's $6 million contract and Daniel Gibson's $4.7 million contract are both lifted after this season, and there is money to spend.
Cleveland, especially with a superstar like Irving, could lure a veteran free agent.
The biggest unspoken for position is at small forward though Alonzo Gee has been consistent in that role.
But the team would become deeper and stronger defensively with the addition of free agent Andrei Kirilenko, who could opt out of his $10 million player option in Minnesota.
A lineup of Irving, Waiters, Kirilenko, Thompson and Varejao, supported by a bench that includes Gee and Zeller, is a step toward the playoffs in the East.
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