Multiple teams' offseason challenges are related to Dwight Howard.
With the NBA offseason on the horizon, every team out there is preparing to make some difficult choices.
Whether an organization is making a hard push for a title or dwelling in the league cellar, all the player movement between free agency, trades and the NBA draft creates myriad complications. How front offices respond can shape the league's competitive balance for years.
So does your team need to shoot to win now or keep building for the future? Either way, does it have the means to do so?
Those questions are universal in the NBA; how they present themselves and how they are answered vary.
The Atlanta Hawks are about to come into a lot of money and not very much certainty.
Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Hawks have just $18 million committed to three players: Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins. That gives them ample cap space with which to reload, though little working structure to build around.
With Horford and Josh Smith, Atlanta operated as a semi-starless team committed to strength inside and selflessness outside. Now that Smith is pursuing a max deal, that identity could very well disappear.
Though they could presumably land the likes of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, the Hawks likely won't be the top destination for marquee free agents. That means their free-agent pursuit could get tricky; does Atlanta make a single-minded run at a superstar and possibly miss out on someone of Smith's caliber, or do the Hawks favor prudence and snag someone more on Smith's level?
It's the choice between building a winner around one player and developing multiple players into a winner, and it will define the Hawks for at least half a decade to come.
Is it time to move on from the Paul Pierce era?
That's the $15 million question facing the Boston Celtics.
Pierce's contract expires following the 2013-14 season, but his final expensive year is non-guaranteed. That means Boston can cut Pierce with impunity, moving on from his hefty price tag and committing to making this Rajon Rondo's team.
This is a matter of pragmatism versus loyalty; ignominiously end Pierce's Celtics and NBA career to rebuild an aging roster—knowing full well that Kevin Garnett might follow his teammate into retirement—or put the state of the organization over that of any individual and stand by the financially savvy move.
Either way, this will determine the long-term outlook for the Celtics—whether the rebuilding starts now or waits until 2014.
The Brooklyn Nets are in a very unenviable position for a team that just rode two stars to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
After deciding to go all-in with a core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, the Nets are facing the downside of their gamble: They're not quite good enough to contend for a title, but they have no financial flexibility left to add assets.
Brooklyn has just two options if it wants to win now: Luck out with the 22nd pick in the NBA draft and get some useful vets to play for the minimum, or trade bad contracts for worse ones.
Kris Humphries has one year and $12 million left on his unseemly deal, meaning the Nets could try to shop him for a high-priced player with multiple seasons left on his contract. It only compounds Brooklyn's problem, but there's no chance of cap relief until 2015-16 anyway.
Going for broke might not be so bad.
Of course, that could be more of a midseason strategy, when Humphries' expiring contract will carry more weight. It's Brooklyn's only chance of making any substantial acquisition this summer, though.
There is a silver lining for the woeful Charlotte Bobcats: They finally have a decent young core to build around.
Kemba Walker has three more years before he becomes a restricted free agent, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has four. Considering useful vets aren't exactly clamoring to be Bobcats, this team is likely to keep those young guys for a long time.
Since building through free agency is not realistic for the Cats, what they do with the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft is the key to their offseason.
Though they could use it on a prospect like Anthony Bennett, who could bolster the frontcourt, the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn reports that the Bobcats are willing to take on a high-priced veteran like Chris Bosh. The fourth pick would be essential to pulling off such a deal.
Even if Charlotte pulled such a deal off, this squad is very unlikely to win now. But considering the Cats don't really have another way to land experienced talent, that kind of blockbuster deal has to be on the table.
It's about time for the Chicago Bulls to do something about Carlos Boozer.
The big man has disappointed during his Chicago tenure, contributing less offense than anticipated while providing exactly the expected amount of minus defense. While he has still been a useful player for the Bulls, he's not worth $31 million over the next two years, especially with Taj Gibson making starter money on the bench.
So what would the Bulls look to get for Boozer?
Well, nothing really. Considering Chicago's strict aversion to the luxury tax, the ideal trade partner would be a team simply willing to take on that bloated contract. That's unlikely, so the Bulls would probably have to compromise and bring back a second-unit guy on a cheaper but still unlikable deal.
That would give Chicago enough leeway to move Gibson into the starting lineup, restore the interior depth and get another wing without breaking the bank. The only question is whether Chicago can find a suitable taker for Boozer to pull it off. Otherwise, it will have to decide between standing pat or getting too little in return.
Is Nerlens Noel enough of a reason to stick with the first overall pick?
The Cleveland Cavaliers, currently slated to pick first in the upcoming draft, still must ask themselves that question.
Not only is Noel the consensus prize of the 2013 draft class, but he is also easily the most attractive center of the bunch. The alternative would be a very raw big or a prospect to run the wing alongside Dion Waiters.
Considering Cleveland's most pressing need is interior scoring, none of those options are perfect—including Noel, who projects primarily as a defensive presence. Trading down and picking up a big who can score would be the best way to solve this.
That sort of deal is an expensive one, though. It remains to be seen whether Cleveland can find a partner willing to give up a valuable enough package of players and picks to suit the Cavs.
Don't expect this issue to be resolved until draft day, as Cleveland is going to want to mull this one over for as long as possible.
The Dallas Mavericks learned this past season just how unprepared they are for life without Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk had not missed more than five games in a season since he was a rookie, and the Mavs had not missed the playoffs during that time. For 2012-13, Nowitzki played just 53 games, and Dallas finished 10th in the West.
Now Dirk is taking a hands-on approach to bringing another star to Dallas, participating in the recruiting efforts and speaking candidly about the matter. His (and the Mavs') favorite targets are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but as he told Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, they can't be the only options.
“Obviously, we’d love not to even go to Plan B. But I think we got to be ready this year for a Plan B. I don’t think our plan this year can be to sign another eight or nine one-year deals. We tried that, and it was OK. It was a decent experience. We still should have made the playoffs, if I was healthy.
“But I think that experience has played out. We got to make some stuff happen. Cubes said in numerous interviews after the season that he’s committed to making this franchise a playoff franchise and a winning franchise. Saying all that, if we don’t get the big boys, we got to do something. There are other free agents out there that are interesting and good.”
Dallas has a financial advantage here. Because the Mavs play in Texas, their players don't have to pay state income tax and keep a significantly larger portion of their earnings.
Even if that's enough to establish Dallas as the front-runner for the superstars, there's still the choice of which one to pursue first. Even when a team has plenty of options, the choices are still difficult.
Following the departure by reigning Coach of the Year George Karl, the Denver Nuggets need to decide on an identity.
You can't simply expect someone to step in and work perfectly with the Nuggets' eclectic roster. Between the pint-sized dynamo Ty Lawson, the raw but effective Kenneth Faried and a cavalcade of multi-dimensional wings, this team was crafted to fit Karl's system. Without him, this roster doesn't make sense.
Denver will look for a new head coach who can make do with essential leftovers like Lawson and JaVale McGee, who was only occasionally utilized under Karl. Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala could depart in free agency, depending how valuable he is to this new regime.
The hardest part of Denver's offseason is actually already done. Making the decision that this Nuggets team had peaked and could not win a title like this was the truly tough decision.
Crafting a new team from the ashes is simply the residual.
When the Detroit Pistons added Andre Drummond alongside Greg Monroe, they were suddenly set in the frontcourt. Who's playing behind those guys is another story.
Detroit drafted Brandon Knight in 2011 to run the Pistons offense and create an inside-out combo with Monroe. Knight has not held up his end of the bargain, showing little ability to run the point at the professional level and leaving Detroit without a long-term perimeter plan.
Fortunately, the Pistons have both a top-10 pick and plenty of money, so they do have the means to add some guards. That said, their offseason strategy hinges on how they view Knight.
If Knight is still the point guard of the future, then Detroit will look to get a scoring wing eighth overall. That will determine whether the Pistons go after C.J. McCollum or reach for a shooting guard like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The same goes for free agency, where the Pistons have the means to add a guard who can contribute now. Detroit could avoid the complication altogether by simply moving on from Knight and using him out of the second unit.
The Pistons will have to decide before the draft what they want now from their 2011 disappointment.
As well as the young Golden State Warriors played in the 2013 playoffs, they will have a tough time repeating that feat.
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry were paid a combined $9.4 million in 2012-13, and both will be free agents this summer. Both made key contributions to the Dubs' run, boosting their market value to the point that Golden State might have to let at least one go.
Jack's importance to the Warriors is twofold: He is a key component to a Dubs perimeter offense that set the tone for the rest of the team, and he is an important safety valve in case Steph Curry's ankle acts up again.
On the other hand, losing Landry would leave Golden State with one less forward, weakening the Dubs' already shallow frontcourt and straining their porous interior defense further.
Unfortunately, the combined $20 million Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins will make in 2013-14 prevents Golden State from clearing much more workable cap room. Without that flexibility, the Warriors will have to let someone go.
Even after landing James Harden last year, the Houston Rockets are not finished with their superstar pursuit.
After failing to parlay their prospects into Dwight Howard last summer, the Rockets are bent on getting either Howard or Chris Paul this time around. Houston also doesn't have to worry about a fickle third party rejecting its offers, and it can offer the same freedom from state income tax that the Mavs can.
Regardless of result, this free-agency effort will have ramifications for the current Rockets.
Following Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are the next highest-paid Rockets, each making just over $8 million per season. If Howard comes to Houston, that likely means Houston will shop Asik; ditto for Lin if Paul signs with the Rockets.
Houston lucked into a superstar and a team identity just prior to last season. This time around, the offseason will be as complicated as ever.
Now that Paul George has surpassed Danny Granger at the small forward position, the Indiana Pacers' old star wing is no longer necessary.
Unfortunately, his true value is an absolute mystery.
Granger played just five games in the 2012-13 season due to patellar tendinosis—a red flag for a small forward on the wrong side of 30. Now there are questions about whether he'll be the same player going forward, for how many games per year and how many seasons.
That's going to make any Granger trade proposal very interesting. He's very much an unknown quantity right now, but the Pacers are going to want to get a legitimate wing upgrade, cap relief or both for their one-time foundational player.
Indy will have to set a bar at some point determining what is worth trading a player of Granger's potential caliber. How trade partners treat that bar will determine where he plays next season.
Chris Paul just led the Los Angeles Clippers to a franchise-record 56 wins, but he might not be around much longer.
Of course Los Angeles wants to re-sign its superstar point guard—that's a given. The issue for the Clippers is that Paul might not be so willing to stay with this organization.
Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, the point guard was angered when Donald Sterling implied in comments that Paul and Griffin were the reason coach Vinny Del Negro was dismissed following the season.
Though it seemed like Paul would surely return to L.A. next season, according to a source close to the situation, this latest controversy could make him reconsider.
"He's angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization," the source said. "Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you've gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you."
The Clippers can fix this. Being able to offer Paul a fifth year on his contract helps, but they need to do more. A public apology from Sterling, a private show of faith from the organization, whatever it takes to make this right. How conciliatory Sterling and Co. are will go a long way toward determining Paul's decision.
The Los Angeles Lakers' top priority this offseason is re-signing Dwight Howard, but what happens if he has his mind set on leaving?
Due to the Texas tax situation, Howard would make more money per season in Dallas and Houston than he would with the Lakers—even though L.A. can offer him a greater salary, both per year and in duration, than anyone.
If Howard wants to go, the Lakers' pridefulness will be worth monitoring. Will the organization see the writing on the wall and work out a sign-and-trade? Or will L.A. keep trying to win Howard over if he doesn't commit to stay before he hits the open market on July 1?
The rationale to keep Howard is obvious: He is the lone Lakers star young enough to build around long term. That said, that logic is not necessarily worth passing over an opportunity to pick up some compensation if he is looking elsewhere. The Lakers brass will have to decide that for sure.
The Memphis Grizzlies were the second team this offseason to fire its head coach coming off the most successful year in franchise history.
Now that Lionel Hollins is sure to go elsewhere, how will the front office go about reshaping this roster?
Per Sam Amick of USA TODAY, defensive assistant Dave Joerger is a candidate to take over as head coach, allowing the organization to move in a different direction while retaining the crux of its grit-and-grind style of play.
Even if they do stay in-house with their signing, Hollins' dismissal indicates the organization is unwilling to play the same bruising, inefficient offensive game anymore.
Such a sabermetrically-minded approach, spurred on by a front office that features John Hollinger as its vice president of basketball operations, could spell the end for certain Grizz players.
All-NBA defender Tony Allen, for example, is a fan favorite and set the tone and mentality for this team, but his shooting difficulties could be too detrimental for this Memphis regime.
The Grizzlies' past formula for success and plan for the future are currently at odds. It remains to be seen how hard the front office will push for philosophy over mentality.
If this playoff run has taught the Miami Heat anything, it's that they have to consider the team beyond the Big Three.
Throughout this postseason, the various flaws of building around three max contract guys have stymied the Heat. LeBron James powered the Heat to the NBA Finals with distressingly little help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the San Antonio Spurs have limited all three.
When Miami's supporting players catch fire, the Heat are impossible to stop, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
If Wade and Bosh are so stoppable—or so little of a threat that opponents can overload on LeBron—then the Heat won't be able to operate as constructed.
And the Heat won't be able to reconstruct while the Big Three are taking up so much cap space. That could mean looking into trading Bosh this summer before he can opt out after 2013-14.
Miami might not make a move this summer, but it will have to figure out what it wants to do after the Big Three era ends. More likely than not, the Heat won't be able to extend it.
Now is the time to figure out how to regroup before the players start leaving.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were a mismatched pair in the Milwaukee Bucks' backcourt. Which one will remain after this summer?
ESPN's Mark Stein tweeted that the Milwaukee front office is favoring Ellis, who has a player option worth $11 million for next season that he has not yet accepted or declined. Meanwhile, Jennings is a restricted free agent, so the Bucks can keep him if they want him.
Ellis and Jennings have a similar set of skills and flaws. They're both volume-scoring combo guards who work better with the ball in their hands and are opportunistic but inattentive defenders. Playing them together diminished their strengths while doubling their weaknesses, so keeping them together is a non-starter.
But will the Bucks still prefer Ellis if he opts out and they have to bid for him? What if other teams share Milwaukee's concerns about Jennings playing the point and he doesn't receive a max contract offer?
Ellis could end this by sticking with his option, but the open market will work this all out if he doesn't.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were expected to make the playoffs before injuries decimated their season. If they want a second chance in 2013-14, they'll need Nikola Pekovic in the fold.
Pekovic's size makes him a necessary complement to Kevin Love. At 6'11" and 290 pounds, his interior presence allows Love to extend out beyond the arc on offense and focus on rebounding rather than rim protection on the defensive end.
However, if the team wants to extend Ricky Rubio and keep Love, it can't afford to pour too much money into Pekovic. That's a figurative statement; Minnesota's cap sheet is very clean, but breaking the bank for Love, Rubio and Pek would hinder the T-Wolves' ability to surround them with talent.
For a small-market organization like Minnesota, such long-term miserliness is regrettably essential. The T-Wolves would be fine giving Pekovic an eight-digit contract, but they have to be cautious if the price tag crawls closer to the max level.
It would be better for Minnesota to miss the playoffs again in 2013-14 than to recklessly overpay Pekovic. For a franchise desperate to win, there's no guarantee that will happen.
The newly christened New Orleans Pelicans will determine on draft day just how they're building around Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.
New Orleans' greatest current strength is its stable of big men. The trio of Davis, Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez played solidly on both ends with the versatility to function regardless of the opponent's style.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are lacking at small forward, with the middling Al-Farouq Aminu departing to free agency.
However, Lopez is not a long-term solution at center, and the former Hornets would prefer Davis stay at power forward for now. So do the Pelicans pick up a lengthy wing to pair with Gordon, or do they take a center project they can develop?
Seeing as the hotly anticipated 2014 draft is rich with swingmen, New Orleans is likely to go with a big like Alex Len or Steven Adams, pick up a stopgap wing in free agency and look towards next summer.
But the young team could go for a small forward now in hopes of keeping its development on track. Both options are valid.
If the New York Knicks want to keep their championship hopes alive, they need to make some savvy choices this summer.
If Marc Berman's New York Post report holds true, the Knicks will re-sign J.R. Smith to a four-year deal starting at $5 million a year. That's a boon for an organization strapped for cash and in dire need of supporting talent.
There's a very real chance the Knicks will lose Chris Copeland this offseason. Since New York is over the cap, it can only offer Cope up to the $3 million mini mid-level exception. Since the rookie forward is likely to pursue a richer, multi-year deal, New York will have no choice but to watch him go.
That leaves the Knicks with just two options: Scrounge the free-agent market for veterans willing to play for the minimum or exchange cash for a second-round pick to add a cheap asset.
Neither of those options are ideal, but then again, that's how Copeland came to New York in the first place. With the Knicks' cap situation, they have no choice but to keep pursuing that sort of bargain-hunting.
The biggest piece of the James Harden trade might not have a place on the Oklahoma City Thunder any longer.
Kevin Martin is hitting free agency after earning upwards of $12 million for his work as a sixth man this past season. By no means is he worth that much on the open market. Rather, he'd be lucky to make more than the mid-level exception for his bench scoring.
Even so, he might not be OKC's best target for that money.
Depending on how the organization feels about Jeremy Lamb, another shooting guard acquired in the Harden deal, the Thunder might decide a big man with some scoring ability like Golden State's Landry could be more useful than Martin.
If the league is down on the serviceable yet unspectacular Martin, OKC might retain him for the right price. He may not be a priority for the Thunder, though.
The Orlando Magic aren't winning next year, and they want good position in the stacked 2014 draft, so stockpiling prospects is the way to go.
In the meantime, the Magic have the second overall pick in 2013 to work with, so they'd be well-suited to simply pick the player they consider to be most talented.
That's a backhanded advantage of having a poor roster—Orlando doesn't have to think about drafting for need when it needs just about everything.
Even if the Magic picked a wing like Victor Oladipo to join Aaron Afflalo, Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris, Orlando will simply develop its players and figure out positioning later.
The hope is that the young guys develop enough to be viable first-unit contributors and/or trade bait in a Harden-esque blockbuster. Orlando doesn't have many other concerns at the moment.
There's no telling what's about to happen with Andrew Bynum.
No player in any major sport has a more volatile stock right now. On one hand, Bynum just missed an entire season with catastrophic injuries to both knees.
He may never be the same player again. That said, if he does return to form and passable health, he will be one of the best centers in the NBA.
How much of a risk are such talented, damaged goods worth?
The Philadelphia 76ers will get the first crack at deciding.
Philly got absolutely nothing out of Bynum in the final year of his contract, but the Sixers did acquire the big man in the first place for his potential dominance. If Bynum is willing to limit his demands and his guaranteed money, he could get another shot in Philadelphia.
The Sixers' appraisal of Bynum will also impact the rest of the league should they choose to let Bynum hit free agency. Since their doctors know his status best, other teams would be right to be wary if Philly is not high on him.
It's all speculation and assumption when it comes to Bynum. He could end up working out in Philly and becoming a bargain star, or he could fade away as a shell of his former self. Both scenarios are entirely in play.
The Phoenix Suns roster has so little promise that it's necessary to restock this offseason.
Just two players on the Suns—Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat—are actually productive members of the team right now. Guys like Luis Scola and Michael Beasley defend so poorly they offset their scoring contributions, while Marcus and Markieff Morris haven't shown enough upside to justify their status as prospects.
That's not a core worth building around. With Jeff Hornacek stepping in as coach, Phoenix needs to adjust to this new regime by parting ways with much of its dead weight.
Guys like Scola and Beasley can be shopped to teams in need of bench scoring, as can Jared Dudley as a defense-and-threes guy. Even if the trades don't yield much, they will clear the old locker room and make way for new free agents under Hornacek.
It's not an ideal strategy, but nothing is for this Phoenix franchise. It's tough to acknowledge rock bottom as a competitive organization, but the Suns must do so.
The Portland Trail Blazers have the money to offer a max contract this offseason and add another talent to their promising core, but they will have to balance that impulse with the need to fill out the roster.
Last season, the Blazers' undoing was a paper-thin bench that forced them to overextend their starters. Rookie Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum both finished in the top five for minutes per game, and LaMarcus Aldridge also made the top 10. No other team had more than one representative in the top dozen.
That workload was born out of necessity and lack of talent. It is not a sustainable strategy to fall back on in order to grab a single player. Portland could certainly better itself by upgrading on the departing J.J. Hickson with the likes of Al Jefferson, but that's not the kind of support the current Blazers need.
It can be hard to recognize that a big move is not necessarily the best move. Whether Portland agrees will determine how viable this team is as a Western Conference playoff contender moving forward.
The Sacramento Kings need someone willing to pass if any of its scorers are going to develop.
DeMarcus Cousins hasn't had the luxury of playing with an able distributor since he was back with John Wall at Kentucky. Isaiah Thomas, a solid young guard and Sacramento's leading passer last season, led the team with a paltry 4.0 assists per game.
Herein lies the philosophical questions: Do the raw Kings get the most promising point guard available in the draft? Or do they seek out a veteran free agent to add some experience to this team?
The difficult reality is that there is no guarantee that this type of seasoned veteran is even interested in Sacramento. Better to nab a guy like Michael Carter-Williams on draft day and pick up a backup point guard able to mentor the team.
Sacramento's new ownership group, front office and coach will have to prove to free agents that this is a new, more respectable organization. Figuring out that sell will be their hardest decision of all.
After the San Antonio Spurs' remarkable Finals run concludes, the ever-reliable franchise will focus on a future without two of its pillars.
Tim Duncan will surely call it a career by the time his contract expires at the end of next season. He could hang it up even sooner if the Spurs win it all and allow him to leave a champion.
Per Dan McCarney for Spurs Nation, Gregg Popovich is resolved to follow his longtime big man as soon as he is ready to go.
“When he doesn’t think he can, he’ll stop. It might be in the middle of a game. I can see him walking off the court saying, ‘Nah, I’m not pulling my weight anymore. I’m gone.’ And he’ll walk. And I’ll be right behind him, like this. No pride, no nothing.”
Fortunately, the Spurs will still have Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and plenty of cap space to add pieces around them. As long as San Antonio has a plan in place to continue Popovich's system following his departure, the Spurs should be fine.
In fact, the front office task this offseason shouldn't even be an issue. R.C. Buford and Co. have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to keeping San Antonio competitive.
Keeping that locker room committed to the dynastic tradition once the legends leave is something harder.
The Toronto Raptors have acquired a lot of intriguing talent at the wings—too much, in fact.
Between Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson, the Raptors have more athletic scorers than they can actually use. Throw in Landry Fields and his onerous contract on top of them all, and there's a logjam in the depth chart.
Gay is certainly staying, and Fields is basically unmovable, but Toronto must do some cost-benefit analysis to determine which of the other three to keep.
Ross is on his rookie contract and seems most likely to stay, but he could be shipped out if Toronto decides to deal for a center or trade into the upcoming draft.
Meanwhile, DeRozan would also be a valuable trade piece, while the Raptors could either let Anderson walk or re-sign him as a cheap bench scorer.
Toronto has talent and options for the first time in years. How it handles that luxury will impact whether the Raptors can end their playoff drought.
This issue revolves around Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and their development as cornerstones of the new Utah Jazz.
With Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson departing this offseason and finally allowing Favors and Kanter to become regular starters, the focus shifts to getting them the ball inside.
Mo Williams is leaving in free agency, leaving a void at the point guard in Utah and a number of directions the Jazz could go in filling it.
A combo guard like Williams or Jarrett Jack would help take the scoring load off Favors' and Kanter's shoulders, while a pass-first guy like Jose Calderon would facilitate their offensive development, as well as that of Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks.
Speaking of development, Utah's point guard could be the difference between the Jazz vying for a low playoff berth in 2013-14 and slipping into the lottery for a fruitful draft class. Utah's choice will also likely reflect what the team wants to get out of its upcoming season.
After John Wall returned from his injury last season, he looked like an All-Star, while Bradley Beal became a budding sidekick, and the Washington Wizards went 24-21 after a 5-28 start.
The only worthwhile player departing this offseason is Martell Webster, who the Wiz could easily re-sign if they wanted to. With just one more piece, Washington would be a surefire playoff team.
However, the Wizards don't have quite enough money to go after a max player, so they'll have to look for smaller pieces.
One method could be outbidding teams looking to pay a guy like Carl Landry the mid-level exception, using their cap space to sign him to slightly more. The alternative is to use the third overall pick on an Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett to bolster the frontcourt scoring.
Washington's tasks are easy; the stakes make them tough. After years of humiliation and failure, the Wiz are about to finally make it back.
How they decide on the piece that puts them over the top will be crucial, and therefore it will be very difficult.