The Toughest Offseason Decision Every NBA Team Must Make
The 2014 offseason has begun for all but four NBA teams, ratcheting up the pressure on a bevy of front offices.
Some rebuilding squads, such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, will simply look to avoid making a catastrophic decision this summer that could set back their progress. Other 2013-14 disappointments, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, will likely stop at no cost to construct a playoff contender.
No team will emerge from the 2014 offseason without confronting at least one major dilemma, whether it's related to a free agent, draft pick or something more abstract. Certain teams must decide upon the direction their franchise will take over the coming years, while others will be in search of the one missing piece that could vault them into the realm of true championship contenders.
Here, let's take a look at the toughest offseason decision every squad in the Association will face—the one choice with the longest-lasting ramifications for each franchise.
Note: All salary-cap estimations are based on the projected cap of $63.2 million, per ESPN.com's Larry Coon.
Atlanta Hawks: How Can They Attract Another Star?
The Atlanta Hawks, who squeaked into the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 38-44 record, put a legitimate scare into the top-seeded Indiana Pacers.
The three-point shooting ability of rookie center Pero Antic proved nightmarish for Pacers big man Roy Hibbert—even though his shot deserted him, to the tune of a 12 percent clip—and the Hawks jumped out to a 3-2 series lead before falling in seven games.
Atlanta must now find a way to build upon its surprising playoff success. Big man Al Horford will return from a season-ending pectoral injury suffered in late December, but the Hawks still lack a clear go-to superstar capable of taking over a game on a nightly basis.
They'll enter free agency with roughly $13 million in available cap space (after factoring in their first-round pick), which will limit their ability to acquire a true superstar that way. Thus, the Hawks' best bet might be to trade Paul Millsap, who will be on the final year of his entirely reasonable two-year, $19 million contract, and another filler to land a budding young star.
ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) conjured a scenario in which Houston sends Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons (in a sign-and-trade) to Atlanta for Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, filling needs for both squads.
The Hawks would have a true center to pair alongside Horford, allowing the former Florida Gator to slide to the 4, and Parsons could emerge as a potential franchise cornerstone in a higher-usage role.
Boston Celtics: Trade Rajon Rondo Before It's Too Late?
The Boston Celtics, in the early phases of a rebuild, have a difficult decision to make this summer: Should they trade All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo now instead of risking losing him for nothing next summer in free agency?
The 28-year-old Rondo will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2014-15 season, and barring significant improvement from the Celtics this season, he'll have little incentive to stick around. That could be why, as Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported, "Rondo may be more available now than ever before."
Celtics president Danny Ainge quickly shot down that line of thinking, telling Bulpett, "Those conversations haven't even been discussed, so that's just speculation." He did admit, however, "Rondo has to see progress and Rondo has to believe that we're going to be contenders and be in the picture and have something."
Thanks to their maneuvers last summer, the Celtics have four extra first-round picks over the next five years (three from Brooklyn and one from the Los Angeles Clippers). However, Rondo may not want to wait for those picks to start paying dividends, which increases the pressure on Boston to trade him while his value remains high.
Brooklyn Nets: Time to Break Up the Band?
The Brooklyn Nets went all-in this past season, trading three future first-round draft picks and flotsam for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. The $190 million roster wasn't enough to dethrone the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, however, setting Brooklyn up for a wave of uncertainty this summer.
Pierce will be an unrestricted free agent, while the 38-year-old Garnett, who has a player option of $12 million for 2014-15, could decide to retire. Three-time All-Star Deron Williams has been a shell of himself since coming to Brooklyn, punctuated by his playoff field-goal percentage of .395 this season.
Sources told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck that the Nets could "look to trade Williams this summer, retool around [Joe] Johnson and [Brook] Lopez, squeeze one more run out of Pierce and Garnett and hope for the best." Brooklyn has "not seriously explored the market for Williams—yet," a source told The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian, but that doesn't mean the team won't.
With the Nets largely devoid of major long-term assets, the best course of action could be blowing up the core and getting anything they can in return. Otherwise, the franchise could be facing years of mediocrity in its near future.
Charlotte Bobcats: How Can They Land a Reliable Floor-Spacer?
If the soon-to-be Charlotte Hornets hope to build on the second-most successful season in franchise history, they'll need to acquire at least one (if not more) reliable deep threat this offseason.
Charlotte ranked 27th in total three-point attempts (1,471), 25th in made three-pointers (516) and 23rd in three-point shooting percentage (.351) this past season. With Anthony Tolliver, Jannero Pargo and Chris Douglas-Roberts all becoming unrestricted free agents in July, the Hornets are at risk of losing three of their most consistent threats from downtown.
Help could come both through the draft—Charlotte owns the 24th pick—and via free agency. The Hornets could grab an experienced prospect such as Cleanthony Early, who shot 37.5 percent from deep as a senior this past season, and then use some of their $17-plus million in cap space (after factoring in rookie salaries) to attract other long-range bombers.
Despite making the playoffs in 2014, the Hornets likely won't be seen as a marquee free-agent destination this summer, which could force them to overpay players to secure their services. Ideally, they'd find someone such as Kyle Korver, whom the Atlanta Hawks inked to a four-year, $24 million deal last offseason, as the cure to their ails.
Chicago Bulls: Wise to Give Up Taj Gibson for a Star Free Agent?
The Chicago Bulls' glaring lack of offense reared its ugly head during the first round of the playoffs, leading to their early exit versus the Washington Wizards. That's what makes the rumors about Carmelo Anthony heading to the Bulls this summer so tantalizing.
According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, Chicago center Joakim Noah approached Anthony during All-Star Weekend about taking his talents to the Windy City. The idea intrigued Anthony enough to make him begin asking former Bulls players about what it was like to play for coach Tom Thibodeau, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times reported that Noah's wooing of Carmelo didn't stop at All-Star Weekend, noting, "and he has told other Bulls to push hard for Anthony this summer." There's just one condition: Noah doesn't want Anthony's arrival to coincide with the departure of power forward Taj Gibson.
The 28-year-old Gibson is set to make $8 million in 2014-15, which will limit Chicago's ability to offer Anthony a reasonable deal. Even if the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and trade away their two first-round draft picks this summer, they'll already have roughly $50 million in cap space committed for 2014-15.
To offer Anthony anywhere close to a market-value contract, Chicago will likely have to rid itself of Gibson. The Bulls thus may be forced to decide whether that trade-off—losing an elite defender for an elite scorer—is worthwhile.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Can Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters Thrive Together?
The Cleveland Cavaliers have no shortage of major decisions to confront this offseason. Who should they hire as a new head coach? Should they re-ink Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng in free agency? Which prospect should they target in the lottery?
There's no question more important, however, than whether Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can constitute the franchise's backcourt of the future.
In November, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Waiters "has a contentious relationship with several teammates, including Irving," and that he confronted the star point guard during a players-only meeting early in the season. Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon went on ESPN's First Take in late March and said "it might play out better" if either Waiters or Irving were traded.
The two guards addressed reporters together soon after the Gordon controversy surfaced and claimed to be "the best of friends" both on and off the court. However, as B/R's Dan Favale noted in April, the two have, by and large, performed better without one another on the floor.
Both Irving and Waiters are ball-dominant guards, so their struggles together are no surprise, but each can also stroke it from deep. The biggest task awaiting Cleveland's next head coach is figuring out how to maximize both of their talents—i.e., doing the exact opposite of what Mike Brown did this past season.
Dallas Mavericks: Are Vince Carter and Shawn Marion Worth Retaining?
All three of the men featured above—Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion—will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Only one of them, Nowitzki, is all but guaranteed to return to the Dallas Mavericks in 2014-15.
Team owner Mark Cuban will spare no expense to build a strong supporting cast around Nowitzki as he enters the twilight of his career. Without the salaries of Nowitzki, Carter and Marion on the books, Dallas will have about $31.25 million committed for 2014-15, leaving roughly $32 million in cap space.
Nowitzki figures to consume a healthy chunk of that space, but he told reporters last spring that he plans to take a "significant pay cut" to lure prospective free agents. Will Carter and Marion figure into that mix?
Given Vinsanity's heroics during the 2014 playoffs—he drilled the game-winning shot in Game 3 to stoke Dallas to a 2-1 series lead over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs—it's not difficult to imagine him returning on a slight discount. The 36-year-old Marion, who made just north of $9.3 million this past season, would likely need to take a far steeper pay cut to continue his career in Dallas.
Denver Nuggets: Who, If Anyone, Is Worth Building Around?
The Denver Nuggets find themselves in the NBA's dreaded no-man's land—not good enough to realistically challenge for a championship, but they're not bad enough to land a top-five draft pick.
Denver isn't as bad as its 36-46 record might otherwise indicate. Sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari missed the entire 2013-14 season due to complications with his recovery from a torn ACL, while center JaVale McGee only played five games before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his left leg.
Add those two back to the lineup, and the Nuggets should at least compete for a playoff spot in 2014-15. However, with only point guard Ty Lawson signed past the 2015-16 season, Denver will have many critical roster decisions to make in the coming months and years.
The first such major choice is what to do with Kenneth Faried, who becomes eligible for a contract extension this summer. If Denver and Faried cannot agree upon terms by Halloween, Faried will become a restricted free agent following the 2014-15 season, instilling even more uncertainty into the Nuggets' long-term future.
Detroit Pistons: What to Do About Greg Monroe
Stan Van Gundy's first task as the Detroit Pistons' new coach and president of basketball operations is to figure out what to do with Greg Monroe, who is a restricted free agent this summer.
Two seasons ago, Monroe and Andre Drummond appeared to be one of the most terrifying young frontcourts in the league, but that didn't stop Detroit from signing Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal last summer. The Smith-Monroe-Drummond triumvirate was a tire fire in 2013-14, posting the third-worst plus-minus rating of any three-man lineup that played at least 1,200 minutes together.
Thus, with Drummond all but untouchable and Smith all but untradeable (and not in a good way), Monroe's future in Detroit appears sealed. "There is near certainty among league executives that Monroe has played his last game for Detroit," according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
Grantland's Zach Lowe called Monroe's free agency "a massive organizational moment," given that offensively gifted 23-year-old big men don't exactly grow on trees. Given the choice of letting Monroe walk for nothing in free agency or overpaying him, Van Gundy will be forced to decide between the lesser of two evils.
Golden State Warriors: Who's the Future at the 4?
In all likelihood, the Golden State Warriors have already confronted their most difficult offseason decision: whether to fire head coach Mark Jackson. Despite Jackson having the adamant backing of the locker room, the Warriors' front office axed him and hired first-year head coach Steve Kerr in his place.
That move rubbed some of the Warriors the wrong way, as one player told B/R's Ric Bucher. Kerr now faces the distinct challenge of winning over the locker room and living up to the sky-high expectations of Golden State's front office, which canned Jackson, despite a 51-win season in 2013-14.
To accomplish both of those goals, the coach's first priority should be figuring out a long-term solution at the power forward position. David Lee and Harrison Barnes bring two distinctly different skill sets to the table—Lee thrives on the interior, while Barnes is more in the mold of a stretch 4—so Kerr must decide which player fits his style best.
The Warriors always have the nuclear option, too, given the report from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne that Minnesota power forward Kevin Love would be interested in joining the squad via trade this summer. Once Golden State settles upon its future at the 4—be it Lee, Barnes, Love or a yet-to-be-named option—Kerr can begin putting the rest of the pieces in place for a potential title contender.
Houston Rockets: How to Resolve the Chandler Parsons Situation
In the NBA, striking gold on second-round picks is both a blessing and a curse. For a few years, they're the best bargain in basketball, but the bill eventually comes due on such steals.
The Houston Rockets are rapidly approaching that point with Chandler Parsons, the 38th overall pick from the 2011 draft. If Houston picks up his team option this summer, he'll become an unrestricted free agent next July; if the squad declines the option, he'll be a restricted free agent this summer.
In all likelihood, the Rockets will pick up his option this summer and punt the decision about retaining him long term until 2015. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik's contracts will be off the books by then, leaving Houston upward of $20 million in available cap space for the 2015-16 season.
However, Patrick Beverley, who's currently signed to a minimum deal for next season, will also become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015, complicating matters a bit for Houston. Thus, the Rockets might consider packaging Parsons in a deal with Lin and/or Asik this summer to land an ideal third banana for Dwight Howard and James Harden. (Kevin Love, perhaps?)
Indiana Pacers: What to Do at the 2-Guard Spot
Whenever the Indiana Pacers' season comes to an end, they'll have little time to make sense of their 2-guard position before free agency commences.
Lance Stephenson, their starting shooting guard, finished the regular season with career highs in points (13.8), rebounds (7.2), assists (4.6) and minutes (35.3) per game, along with a career-best field-goal percentage of .491 and three-point shooting percentage of .352. Through the first four months of the season, Stephenson appeared to be playing himself into the max-contract conversation.
However, the Pacers' acquisition of Evan Turner on the day of the trade deadline sent Stephenson spiraling. Since both players are free agents this summer, they began focusing more on individual accomplishments than team play, per B/R's Ric Bucher, and reportedly got into a fistfight on the eve of the postseason, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Some, such as Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders, saw Turner as insurance for the Pacers in case Stephenson received a more appealing offer elsewhere in free agency. However, the former Philadelphia 76ers' swingman hasn't found much success on either side of the court since joining Indiana, perhaps decreasing the squad's desire to retain him past the playoffs.
Re-signing Stephenson should be the Pacers' top priority this summer, even though doing so could push them above the luxury-tax threshold. Turner will be cheaper to retain, but he's also nowhere near as valuable to the franchise as Stephenson.
Los Angeles Clippers: If Donald Sterling Isn't Forced to Sell, Then What?
The controversy surrounding racist remarks made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling overshadowed his team's thrilling playoff run. Unfortunately, the mess doesn't appear likely to go away anytime soon.
On April 29, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and encouraged the league's other owners to force a sale of the team via a three-quarters majority. However, per Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann, Sterling has no intention of paying the fine and has hired a prominent antitrust lawyer in the first steps toward litigation.
If the NBA fails in its attempt to oust Sterling this summer, the ramifications could be devastating for the Clippers. Coach Doc Rivers told reporters that he was unsure whether he would return to the team next season if Sterling remained the owner, and star forward Blake Griffin echoed those sentiments when speaking with the media a day after the Oklahoma City Thunder knocked L.A. out of the playoffs.
During Silver's late April press conference, the commissioner said that the league was not considering granting Clippers players free agency as a result of the Sterling fiasco. If the league doesn't remove the owner expeditiously, however, it could lead to a player mutiny, as Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski suggested in late April.
Los Angeles Lakers: Make a Splash in Free Agency or Save Cap Space?
The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves torn between two distinct forces this offseason: embracing a rebuild versus maximizing Kobe Bryant's final years.
Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last November, clearly lacks the time and patience for a long-term teardown. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak appears to share those sentiments, based on his comments to ESPN's Andy Katz at the NBA Draft Combine.
"I know our fans in Los Angeles are impatient, so it's not like we're on a seven- or eight-year rebuild schedule," the GM told Katz, per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. "We're going to try to win as soon as possible. It may take more than a year, but we're not going to try to drag it out."
Kupchak told reporters at the combine that the Lakers may try acquiring additional first-round picks, but they also remain open to trading the team's own first-rounder for an established veteran. With over $25 million in available cap space, L.A. clearly can make a huge splash over the offseason; it's up to Kupchak to determine if that's the prudent move for the franchise's short- and long-term future.
Memphis Grizzlies: Who Should Start at the 3?
If the 2014-15 Memphis Grizzlies hope to seriously contend for a championship, Tayshaun Prince cannot be their starting small forward.
The 34-year-old Prince posted a career-low player efficiency rating of 8.2 this past season, and things only got worse in the playoffs. In Memphis' seven-game first-round series against Oklahoma City, he averaged only 3.0 points on 38.5 percent shooting in 16.1 minutes per game, finishing with a PER of 5.2.
Memphis desperately needs floor-spacers, having finished last in the league in total three-pointers made (405) and attempted (1,147) in 2013-14. Prince, who shot a paltry 29.0 percent from downtown during the regular season, certainly did not help in that regard.
With both Mike Miller and James Johnson becoming unrestricted free agents this summer, Memphis has a glaring hole to fill at the 3. The Grizzlies are well over the salary cap for 2014-15 already, leaving only the mid-level exception at their disposal, so the draft may be their best bet for finding a long-term solution.
Miami Heat: What Happens If the Big Three Opt Out?
Barring an upset at the hands of Indiana, the Miami Heat will soon be en route to their fourth straight NBA Finals. What happens when they get there could shape the league for years to come.
If San Antonio or Oklahoma City blow out Miami, the odds of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh reconsidering their long-term futures in South Beach would jump significantly. All three players possess early-termination options in their contracts, allowing them to test unrestricted free agency this summer if so desired.
Even if the Heat win their third straight title, team president Pat Riley could work his dark magic and convince all three to opt out and re-sign for less. Or, all three could opt out and decide not to settle for less, which could force Riley to choose between re-signing Wade, a franchise legend whose balky knees have betrayed him in recent years, and Bosh, who helps make Miami's pace-and-space offense work.
The smart money remains on all three players staying with the Heat past this season, whether they opt out or simply don't exercise their early-termination options. However, failing to win a third straight title might throw a wrench into those plans, which could add some extra intrigue into an already spicy offseason.
Milwaukee Bucks: Is Larry Sanders Worth the Headache?
During the 2012-13 season, Larry Sanders looked like one of the NBA's best up-and-coming big men. He averaged 2.8 blocks in only 27.3 minutes per game that year, which ranked second in the league, and the Milwaukee Bucks justly rewarded him with a four-year, $44 million extension last offseason.
That's when everything went to hell for Sanders and Milwaukee. He injured his hand during a bar brawl early in the season, causing him to miss 25 games, then suffered a season-ending fracture to his right orbital bone during a Feb. 8 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Making matters worse, Sanders earned a five-game suspension late in the year for testing positive for marijuana, which prompted him to offer a vigorous defense of his use of the drug. In short, his 2013-14 season was so disastrous that Zach Lowe stopped referring to him as "LARRY SANDERS!"
With Sanders now entering the first year of his extension, Milwaukee must decide whether the 2013-14 season was a one-year anomaly or a sign of things to come. If it's the latter, the Bucks might be best-suited cutting bait for 40 cents on the dollar and building around Giannis Antetokounmpo and their 2014 lottery pick.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Time to Pull the Trigger on a Kevin Love Trade?
Six years into his NBA career, Kevin Love has yet to make the playoffs. He also hasn't been shy about expressing his displeasure with that distinction.
"I haven't been in the playoffs yet," Love told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski back in December 2012. "I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.'"
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor "remains determined to try to convince Love to stick around and will keep resisting trade offers until, as one insider puts it, 'he has no choice,'" ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported back in March.
Grantland's Zach Lowe doesn't blame the Timberwolves for having that attitude, as "a market like Minnesota just isn't going to attract a top-10 player in free agency unless it already has one heading up a very appealing roster."
However, Love is all but certain to decline his 2015-16 player option, making him set to become a free agent in one year's time. His "people reiterated to the Timberwolves this past week that they had better trade him or else he'll leave via free agency when his contract is up after next season," according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.
Minnesota could likely exact a bounty in a trade for Love this summer, given his unique and enticing skill set as an elite-rebounding stretch 4, but his trade value may only plummet as his unrestricted free agency draws closer. The Timberwolves may need to hold their noses and swallow the best offer that comes their way in the coming months.
New Orleans Pelicans: What's the Ceiling for This Roster?
The New Orleans Pelicans went swinging for the fences last offseason, acquiring All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday via trade and signing former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million contract in free agency. Unfortunately, the injury bug wreaked havoc on the Pelicans last year, destroying their playoff hopes.
In theory, a lineup of Holiday, Eric Gordon, Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis should be devastating. That five-man group played together for only 91 minutes in 2013-14, but it averaged 123.5 points per 100 possessions offensively. (Defense was another story entirely.)
It's up to general manager Dell Demps to decide the next course of action to get this team into the highly competitive Western Conference playoff race. "We're still confident with the core group that we have, but we obviously want to do everything we possibly can to improve this team," he told reporters in mid-April.
Demps is well aware that the team, with just under $5 million in cap space for 2014-15, isn't in position to be a significant player this offseason without a major trade. Unfortunately, the most likely candidate for a trade (Gordon) likely won't draw much interest among other teams, as "he's not the same player he was before the injuries," as a general manager told NBA.com's David Aldridge in February.
New York Knicks: How to Maximize Carmelo Anthony's Value
The New York Knicks are damned if they do and damned if they don't when it comes to Carmelo Anthony's impending free agency.
New York traded away far too many valuable assets for Anthony back in February 2011 to lose him for nothing this summer. However, re-signing him to a five-year maximum contract would likely be a death knell to the team's chances of competing for a championship, barring massive increases to the salary cap in the coming years.
Anthony told reporters during All-Star Weekend that he'd "without a doubt" take a pay cut if it meant allowing the Knicks to lure other big-name free agents, and new team president Phil Jackson is already pressuring Carmelo to stay "true to his word." If New York can't attract another marquee free agent, however, there's less incentive for Anthony to re-sign instead of joining another potential title contender.
Given their dearth of young talent and draft picks, the Knicks should hope a team bowls them over with an irresistible sign-and-trade offer for Anthony. However, other teams know that the Knicks lack leverage in the negotiations for Carmelo and will use that to their advantage in any potential sign-and-trade talks.
Whatever happens this summer, New York simply cannot afford to allow Anthony to walk away without receiving anything in return. Maximizing the return on Anthony—whether through a smaller-than-maximum contract extension or a sign-and-trade—will be imperative for Jackson and the Knicks.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Is It Time to Amnesty Kendrick Perkins?
Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer is the player most likely to be amnestied this summer, but Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins isn't far behind.
Last offseason, despite the fact Perkins finished the playoffs with a player efficiency rating of minus-0.6, the Thunder elected not to exercise their amnesty on him. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti told reporters last May, "We just haven't considered using the provision."
Perk has been markedly better this postseason, having harassed Memphis forward Zach Randolph into a subpar series in the opening round, but he's still a liability more often than not. Given the emergence of rookie center Steven Adams as a younger, more athletic threat, the Thunder could decide Perkins isn't worth the roughly $9.15 million he's set to earn in 2014-15.
His performance against Randolph could make OKC think twice about pulling the amnesty trigger, but keeping him around will limit the squad's ability to make other major moves in free agency this summer. The Thunder could decide to bite the bullet for one more year and allow his contract to naturally expire following the 2014-15 season, but if the right free agent comes along, Perkins could get axed.
Orlando Magic: Is Victor Oladipo Best at the 1 or the 2?
After grabbing Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo second overall this past June, the Orlando Magic wasted no time experimenting with him. They gave him major run at point guard during summer league, with admittedly mixed results. ('Dipo averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 4.8 turnovers per game.)
After that four-game experiment, James Borrego, the team's lead assistant coach and head summer league coach, told reporters, "I could see him being a 2-guard for us. I think I can see him being a 1-guard for us. And where he ends up, I don't know."
Oladipo did end up playing major minutes at both positions this season—he spent roughly 59 percent of his time at the point and 36 percent at shooting guard (along with spot minutes as a small forward). He averaged 22.4 points, 7.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 5.9 turnovers per 48 minutes at the point, compared to 20.2 points, 4.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 turnovers per 48 minutes at the 2, per 82games.com
Orlando thus must decide at which position Oladipo is better-suited to play over the long haul. That could end up determining who the Magic draft with their first lottery pick in June, as prospects such as Dante Exum and Marcus Smart could fill a major hole at the point if they decided Oladipo is best at the 2.
Philadelphia 76ers: Time to Trade Thaddeus Young?
The Philadelphia 76ers won't have any shortage of youth on their roster for the 2014-15 season. Along with sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and de facto rookie Nerlens Noel, the Sixers could bring as many as seven 2014 draft picks into training camp this fall.
"At some point, they do need to look at themselves and say, 'We need a veteran leader here,' and [general manager] Sam Hinkie values that," Christopher Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times told B/R's Adam Lefkoe. "And that guy, unfortunately for Thad Young, is him."
According to Liberty Ballers' Jake Fischer, Young submitted a formal trade request to the Sixers early last season, although he quickly shot down those rumors. However, he floated the possibility again when speaking to reporters at the end of the season, saying, "I just want to see how this draft plays out…It depends on where we're going and what we're trying to do."
Sixers coach Brett Brown has sung Young's praises all season, crediting him for setting a positive example for the younger players despite the squad's on-court struggles. That leadership wouldn't be easy to replace if Philadelphia did pull the trigger on a trade, but Young's early-termination option following the 2014-15 season could have the Sixers' front office nervous about losing him for nothing next summer.
Phoenix Suns: Match a Max Contract for Eric Bledsoe?
The Phoenix Suns easily qualify as one of the most pleasant surprises from the 2013-14 season. They more than doubled their preseason over/under win total as the dual-point-guard combo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe wreaked havoc on the rest of the league.
Though Phoenix fell just short of a playoff spot, the team is exceedingly well-equipped to make noise in the coming years. It has three first-round draft picks this June, one or more of which it will likely trade away to land a veteran player ready to contribute to a playoff push immediately, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper.
Bledsoe, who is a restricted free agent this summer, will determine the future of the franchise more so than anything else. At the beginning of the season, a source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Bledsoe "is probably going to want a max deal. If he plays the way he thinks he is going to, he will get it, too."
After averaging 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in only 32.9 minutes per game this season, a max deal appears all but certain. Phoenix's front office has sworn repeatedly that it will match any offer Bledsoe receives, but we won't know for certain until July rolls around.
Portland Trail Blazers: Can This Core Win a Championship?
Coming off their first conference semifinals appearance in 14 seasons, the Portland Trail Blazers have little time to savor their progress. Three of their five starters—All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, center Robin Lopez and shooting guard Wesley Matthews—are entering the final year of their respective contracts.
Thus, as ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan suggests (subscription required), "Portland stands at the fault line of what could be a seismic event: Do you continue to build the team around this core, or do you attempt to swing a blockbuster to move these more attractive pieces?"
One thing is for certain: This core will not win a title if it can't improve significantly on the defensive end. The Blazers ranked 16th in defensive rating during the regular season, the third worst of any playoff team (ahead of only Dallas and Brooklyn).
In all likelihood, Portland will stay the course and seek out supplementary pieces this summer instead of pursuing a massive shake-up. If the opportunity presents itself, however, the Blazers should remain open to trading some of their bigger pieces, especially those whose contracts expire following the 2014-15 season.
Sacramento Kings: Is Isaiah Thomas the Answer at PG?
Isaiah Thomas, the 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft, has been anything but "Mr. Irrelevant" since coming into the league. The diminutive point guard has started 153 of the 216 games he's played with the Sacramento Kings, with career averages of 15.3 points, 4.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.
This past season, after Sacramento sent out Greivis Vasquez in the deal that netted Rudy Gay, Thomas erupted, averaging 21.2 points on 45.1 percent shooting, 6.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He also drilled 127 of 364 three-point attempts (34.9 percent) on the year, which helped him finish with a career-best player efficiency rating of 20.5.
Thomas is entering restricted free agency this summer, and based on his offensive statistics, he'd seem like a no-brainer to retain. However, two things complicate that decision: One, he's 5'9", which limits his ability to hold his own against bigger floor generals such as Russell Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams, and two, he's a defensive sieve.
Kyle Lowry should be the big catch on the free-agent market in terms of point guards, but Thomas could rightfully be seen as a none-too-shabby consolation prize. Sacramento must decide by draft night how much it's willing to spend to retain Thomas, as point guard prospects such as Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis will likely be available when the Kings are on the board.
San Antonio Spurs: How to Load Up for Tim Duncan's Last Stand
It's difficult to ascertain what lies ahead for the San Antonio Spurs this offseason, given that they have a very real chance of winning the 2014 NBA title.
If they do win, do Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili decide to call it a career? Does head coach Gregg Popovich ride off into the sunset with them? Or if they fall short, what caused them to stumble en route to the fifth title in the Duncan-Popovich era?
No matter what happens in the 2014 playoffs, the Spurs will have a few critical decisions to grapple with once the offseason rolls around. Their star-in-the-making swingman, Kawhi Leonard, will be eligible for an extension this summer, and it's a matter of how much, not if, the sides agree upon it.
Beyond that, with Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes all eligible for free agency this summer, it may only be a matter of San Antonio reloading its supporting cast for Duncan's last stand in 2014-15. Given the Spurs' ability to routinely unearth diamonds in the rough, don't be surprised when an unheralded contributor plays a major role for next year's San Antonio squad.
So it goes.
Toronto Raptors: How Much to Spend on Kyle Lowry
After the Toronto Raptors sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento in early December, the team reportedly began shopping point guard Kyle Lowry, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein. The New York Knicks attempted to land him, but owner James Dolan ultimately scuttled those talks, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Instead, the Raptors kept Lowry through the trade deadline and finished the season with a franchise-high 48 wins, topping the Atlantic Division for only the second time ever. Their first playoff berth in six years ended at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round, but given the expectations for Toronto immediately following the Gay trade, the season can't be considered anything but an unmitigated success.
Now, the Raptors must swallow the bitter pill of that good fortune, as Lowry will enter unrestricted free agency on July 1. Back in February, NBA.com's David Aldridge reported Toronto did "not want to give Lowry a big-money contract this summer" in the $10- to 12-million-per-year range, although the playoff berth may have changed the front office's thinking.
Given the other recent point guard extensions—four years and $48 million for Denver's Ty Lawson and four years and $44 million for Golden State's Stephen Curry—Lowry's contractual floor appears to be $10 million per year over four years. Toronto must decide whether to bite the bullet and build upon this season's success or let Lowry go and risk infuriating the fanbase.
Utah Jazz: How Much Is Gordon Hayward Worth?
The Utah Jazz entered contract-extension negotiations with swingman Gordon Hayward last fall, but they failed to find common ground. Hayward was seeking a deal in the four-year, $50-million-plus range, sources told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, leaving the two sides "several million dollars apart."
Utah's reluctance to ink Hayward before the 2013-14 season may end up being a wise decision. Once Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson departed as free agents last summer, the Jazz turned the offense over to their fourth-year swingman, but he failed to seize the day and prove capable of being a No. 1 option offensively.
Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this past season, but he shot a career-low 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range. Without having reliable twin towers down low to draw defensive attention away from him, he struggled carrying the squad's offensive load.
Thus, with Hawyard entering restricted free agency and center Enes Kanter now eligible for an extension, Utah must decide how much it's willing to commit to the swingman. His lackluster shooting percentages from this past season may drive his value down some, but Hayward's college coach, Brad Stevens, could encourage the Boston Celtics to fire off a lucrative offer regardless, forcing Utah into a tough decision.
Washington Wizards: Re-Sign Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza?
The Washington Wizards' surprising postseason success could prove costly this summer. Had the Wizards fizzled out quickly against the Chicago Bulls, the idea of losing center Marcin Gortat or swingman Trevor Ariza in free agency would have been much more palatable than it is now.
According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, the Wizards are interested in re-signing both players, who are expected to get "something between $15 million and $20 million per year combined on the open market, likely on three- or four-year contracts." Washington has just a shade under $49 million committed for 2014-15, not counting either player.
The Wizards could easily re-sign both (assuming another team doesn't drastically overpay either player) and remain under the luxury tax, but doing so will limit the team's flexibility moving forward. "The Wiz would appear to need a third All-Star type to really chase the ring going forward," Lowe noted, but re-signing Ariza and Gortat "would obliterate Washington's cap room in each of the next two summers."
Washington thus finds itself at a crossroads this summer: Re-signing Ariza and Gortat could limit the team's ceiling, but letting both walk would dampen the enthusiasm generated by this year's unexpected playoff run. The Wizards' front office must pick its poison once the calendar flips to July.