The Biggest Hole Each NBA Team Must Fill Heading into 2014 NBA Free Agency
The NBA draft is a lot about finding the league's next great talents, but it's also about filling needs. Basketball is unique because so few players take the floor during the course of a game; having a massive hole in your rotation needs to be addressed.
Some teams did that in the draft and some didn't. As we approach free agency and the offseason, where plenty of wild trades can happen, every team will assess their roster and identify what their areas of need are, both in terms of position and production.
With that in mind, we'll mimic that approach for each of the 30 NBA teams and look at what holes they still need to fill as the free-agency period gets underway, weighing current depth charts, projected developments of young players and more.
While the rosters of some teams look like Swiss cheese compared with others at this point, we honed in on the one positional and production need for each team moving forward.
All advanced efficiency and rating stats are provided by basketball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Positional Need: SG/SF
Production Need: Wing scoring (18th in offensive efficiency).
By taking Michigan State forward Adreian Payne with the 15th pick, the Atlanta Hawks shored up their frontcourt rotation and added insurance should Paul Millsap (expiring deal) be dangled in a big trade or injury-prone center Al Horford go down once more.
Payne projects as a stretch big man off the bench due to his inability to play major minutes, so this pick makes sense even if there aren't major shake-ups in Atlanta. Payne is a deadly pick-and-pop threat and an underrated athlete, and his experience under Tom Izzo should help him play a role from Day 1.
As for the wing scoring, Kyle Korver is an elite shooter and DeMarre Carroll is a nice glue guy, but neither player can create their own offense or handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. In that sense, it's Jeff Teague or bust for Atlanta.
Trading Lou Williams to the Toronto Raptors for cap space might not help in that regard, either. Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
The Atlanta Hawks are clearing salary cap space for free agency, trading away Lou Williams and 2013 first-round pick Lucas Nogueira to Toronto Raptors for John Salmons, a leagues sources told Yahoo Sports.
Salmons has a $7 million team option for the 2014-15 season, which the Hawks will terminate with a $1 million buyout on Monday, league sources said.
Given the offensive limitations of Korver and Carroll and the loss of Williams, the Hawks could desperately use a player who can help bail them out of late shot clock situations and create offense on the wing.
With near-max cap space depending on who gets issued qualifying offers, the Hawks could make a big splash in free agency and land another wing who can add another element to this offense. Shooting will likely be the top desire for head coach Mike Budenholzer, but getting a well-rounded wing could unlock the potential of this core.
Positional Need: C
Production Need: Three-point shooting (28th in three-point percentage).
The Boston Celtics ignored their two biggest needs on draft night, opting instead to take a best-player-available approach by selecting Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart.
While Smart and Rajon Rondo will make for a dynamic pairing defensively, if that's the plan, it won't help Boston's anemic perimeter shooting one bit. Smart shot below 30 percent from deep last year, so it may take some time before that becomes a valuable weapon of his.
Perhaps more curious was Boston's selection of James Young, a freshman shooting guard from Kentucky. Young has the size and length to play either wing spot, and he's a decent shooter (34.9 percent) who should help.
That being said, it was a bit strange to see Boston completely ignore their frontcourt rotation, as the players slated for major minutes like Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Brandon Bass are all completely incapable of protecting the rim and anchoring the back line of a defense.
If the plan is to play Rondo and Smart together for the future and not make any big trades, Boston may be forced to find big men who can space the floor but also alter shots at the rim and be a paint presence. That's sort of like finding a unicorn in the NBA, as Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis are really two of the only players who come to mind, and neither should be available any time soon.
It's understandable if the Boston general manager didn't feel compelled to draft for need given where his team is at in its rebuilding process, but the Celtics are going to struggle without a legitimate defensive option at center and better perimeter shooting. There are big holes to fill.
Positional Need: PF
Production Need: Athletic, mobile defenders (20th in defensive efficiency).
Although it took some time, the Brooklyn Nets began to figure it out last year after a horrid start that included minimal ball movement and slow-as-molasses defense.
The light bulb turning on coincided with Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee receiving more minutes, as they infused the old core with some desperately needed mobility and athleticism.
With Livingston and Blatche both hitting unrestricted free agency, the Nets will have to find a way to replace Livingston's versatile defense and Blatche's scoring and athleticism.
Unfortunately, the Nets had no draft pieces to help accomplish that goal, and they won't have cap space either. That's going to make it tough, because even if Livingston re-signs for the taxpayer mid-level deal, the aging duo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are only going to slow down and need more help than ever from their supporting cast, if they even decide to come back at all.
Offensively the Nets shouldn't suffer too much, especially if Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are healthy, but it's the other end that causes major concern. The Nets battled back to just be below-average instead of horrible defensively for the season, and a big part of that was the speed and length that caused turnovers (third in turnover percentage) in passing lanes.
With their limited assets this offseason, the Nets need to find players who can add defensive mobility and be aggressive. There's no room to step back defensively if the Nets want to be a contender.
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Three-point shooting (23rd in three-point percentage).
Charlotte was one of the league's biggest surprise teams last year, primarily because most expected them to take a leap offensively with the addition of Al Jefferson but remain terrible defensively.
Instead, the exact opposite happened. Charlotte finished fifth in defensive efficiency, but struggled to regularly create easy opportunities offensively, particularly once the ball got out of the hands of Kemba Walker or Jefferson.
Charlotte nailed it on draft day, as they took one of the most talented players, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh, with the ninth pick, which was far later than he was projected to go by most.
With Josh McRoberts exercising his player option to become a free agent, the Hornets needed some frontcourt help. With a sweet shooting touch and ability to really stretch the floor, Vonleh should fit in perfectly next to Jefferson while providing some help defensively with his tremendous length. This was my favorite pick of the draft for those reasons.
Vonleh will help, but the Hornets still need some better play from their wings. Gerald Henderson is primarily a mid-range shooter, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a garbage man offensively. That's one of the big reasons why the Hornets traded for former UNC guard P.J. Hairston, an electric catch-and-shoot scorer. His shooting should help a ton, so long as he's able to earn the minutes.
Even with Hairston, the Hornets still have to find a competent offensive option at small forward who can provide spacing and break down the defense with penetration. Right now, too much of the creating duties fall on Walker, and Kidd-Gilchrist makes much more sense coming off the bench. The Hornets are a slash-and-shoot small forward away from being a really dangerous team.
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: An efficient, high-usage scorer (28th in offensive rating).
It's difficult to analyze what the Chicago Bulls really need, mainly because you don't know if you can factor Derrick Rose into the equation. While the Bulls are certainly hoping he's fully healthy to start this season, we aren't sure what version of Rose we're getting, and for how long.
As we've seen over the last two seasons, the Bulls are completely inept offensively without their star point guard.
Joakim Noah can make some pretty backdoor passes out of the high post, Mike Dunleavy can knock in a few jumpers and Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer can score around the rim some, but it's so hard to survive offensively without a consistent threat who can create for himself and others. The Bulls had to fight tooth-and-nail for everything they got on that end, and that wasn't much.
That's one of the reasons why superstar free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony seems to be a perfect match. Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
As re-signing with the Knicks continues to fade as his priority, Chicago and Houston have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
With or without the big scoring provided by Rose and/or Anthony, the Bulls did well to trade up and get Creighton forward Doug McDermott in the draft. McDermott was one of the highest-usage yet most-efficient scorers college basketball has ever seen, and even if there are questions about his athleticism and position, his shooting stroke should help a ton.
Even with McDermott, the Bulls will still need major scoring help. Tom Thibodeau's defenses will always be great, but another proven option offensively next to solid defenders like Jimmy Butler and Noah is necessary for the Bulls to contend for a title.
Positional Need: C
Production Need: Rim protection (29th in blocks).
It's a shame that Joel Embiid appears to be so injury-prone, because he would have been a perfect fit for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs desperately need a big man who can alter shots and protect the paint while finishing easy buckets around the rim, but that void remains unfilled after the draft.
Of course, when it comes to the first pick in the draft, you pick based on talent, and the Cavs got a great one in Andrew Wiggins. His defensive ability should help on the wing right away, which should soften the blow of not having a rim protector.
The issue here, however, is that the Cavs could be looking at giving Tyler Zeller serious time as a starter unless they address this spot in free agency. Anderson Varejao is an excellent rebounder and hustle player, but he's always injured and can't be relied upon for 82 games. Spencer Hawes is an unrestricted free agent and wouldn't help much anyway, and Tristan Thompson is a poor frontcourt defender.
Cleveland is building its team from the outside, but the battle in the trenches is going to be tough to win as is. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can help by not settling for bad outside jumpers, but this offense needs creative design to provide easy chances for their big men. David Blatt should be a tremendous coaching upgrade over Mike Brown in that regard.
Cleveland has the makings of a playoff team, but we've said that before. To take the next step, a reliable defender and finisher up front will have to be added somehow, whether it be through free agency or trade.
Positional Need: PG
Production Need: A lockdown perimeter defender (22nd in defensive efficiency).
The Dallas Mavericks were one of the greatest No. 8 seeds we've ever seen due to the strength of the West. Their ability to push the San Antonio Spurs to seven games says a lot about how close they are to being a contender once again.
Perhaps no team improved their chances more via the draft than the Mavericks did. By bundling up the 34th and 51st picks in the draft and sending Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to the New York Knicks, the Mavs brought back an impact player up front in Tyson Chandler.
By finally solidifying the center position and improving a great deal defensively, the Mavs are just a defensive guard short of being a dangerous team on both ends. That guy wasn't Calderon, who gets blown by regularly, or Larkin, who is probably too small to do anything but annoy ball-handlers.
Raymond Felton won't defend much either, and so the Mavericks need to find a rotation player who can really get after it defensively, especially if Shawn Marion leaves via free agency. He was the one ace defensive player the Mavs had last year, and you have to figure he'll decline a bit on that end even if he does come back.
The good news is, Dallas has plenty of cap room to play with in free agency. Adding a strong two-way point guard like Kyle Lowry could take the Mavs to the next level. But no matter what direction they go in, finding another guard who can limit penetration and force turnovers is needed to supplement the offense of Monta Ellis in the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki up front.
Positional Need: PF/C
Production Need: Better pick-and-roll defense (21st in defensive efficiency).
Once again, it looks like the Denver Nuggets will be back to being two-deep at every single position. With the trade for Arron Afflalo, and the trade down in the draft for big man Jusuf Nurkic (a stash candidate) and shooting guard Gary Harris, the Nuggets bolstered their depth even further.
While it's easy to write Denver off after last year's poor performance, getting two potential starters in Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee back into the lineup could be a huge boost.
Of course, the issues with Denver are the same as they've always been: Who is the star scorer that will take over games late? Which one of their big guys will become a reliable defender?
While Timofey Mozgov proved to be capable last year of blocking shots, the Nuggets still lack a strong pick-and-roll defender. Kenneth Faried should be that guy, but his effort and decision-making defensively wanes. McGee is gifted, but he's prone to making errors on a regular basis. J.J. Hickson is a disaster on that end.
Having Afflalo defending on the perimeter should help, but the Nuggets are going to have issues stopping pick-and-roll action. That's mainly due to the size limitations and inability to switch with Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson, but also the effort and intelligence issues of their big men.
Until that gets solved, Denver might have trouble getting stops on a regular basis, especially if their opponents can manage to slow the game down and force Denver to make multiple defensive rotations. Finding a strong, smart and mobile defensive big man via trade (who can preferably stretch the floor) would do wonders for Denver's playoff aspirations.
Otherwise, going small with Wilson Chandler at the 4 might be Denver's best option on both ends.
Positional Need: SG/SF
Production Need: Three-point shooting (29th in three-point percentage).
After last year's debacle, there's reason for hope in Detroit. Stan Van Gundy is running the show, and Andre Drummond has all the potential to be a dominant big man for years to come.
There are serious needs around those two, however, and big decisions looming. Greg Monroe will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and Josh Smith might be an even worse fit going forward.
Dumping Smith's long-term salary would be good for the books, but the Pistons will still need to find a replacement who can help spread the floor for Drummond down low.
Luigi Datome could be a nice shooting option, but there's nothing from his rookie year that would indicate he's ready to fill that role quite yet. Kyle Singler was a reliable three-point shooter, but Brandon Jennings and the rest of Detroit's roster didn't help space the floor for a giant frontcourt that was doomed from the beginning.
The Pistons scooped up a strong combo guard in the draft via Spencer Dinwiddie, and he should be able to create offense by getting to the rim and drawing fouls. Detroit still has a massive hole on the wing though and no 3-and-D guys on the roster, which are the two areas they need the most help.
The Pistons should have plenty of cap space to deal with depending on what happens with Monroe, and if Van Gundy wants to play similar to how the Orlando Magic used Dwight Howard, he'll absolutely need some more versatile pick-and-roll threats, shooting and defense on the wings.
Golden State Warriors
Positional Need: Backup PG/SG
Production Need: Scoring off the bench.
No team featuring Stephen Curry should rank barely above average at 12th in offensive efficiency, but the inept bench of the Golden State Warriors often sacrificed leads and refused to put points up on the board after the starters scored.
The Warriors tried to address the problem multiple times with trades for Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake, who will both be hitting free agency this offseason, but it didn't work. While part of that can probably be attributed to Mark Jackson's lack of offensive innovation, the Warriors really could have used a more-talented scorer in a sixth-man role.
With no picks in the draft, Golden State will have to fill that gap via trade or the mid-level exception in free agency.
That might even become a bigger need if the Warriors combine assets to trade for a star like Kevin Love. There's hope that Harrison Barnes can become that efficient scoring option off the bench, but he'd likely need to be involved in a deal, and last year's performance didn't inspire much confidence that he can fill that role.
Given Curry's ankle trouble, it would make sense for Golden State to add some insurance behind him anyway. A combo guard with a score-first mentality is a pretty specific need, but the Warriors should be able to find that in a deep free-agent class if a major trade doesn't shake up the roster and address that need first.
Positional Needs: SF/PF
Production Needs: Another good defender in the lineup (13th in defensive efficiency).
Depending on who you ask, the Houston Rockets might not necessarily need a third star. For what it's worth, though, Rockets GM Daryl Morey seems to think the Rockets need something more, as he told Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated earlier this year:
We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team. And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don't have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that -- or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.
Surely, the Rockets could form a great team even if Dwight Howard and James Harden were the two biggest names. More than anything else, the Rockets actually need another competent defender in the lineup, as Patrick Beverley and Howard can't do it all by themselves.
There seems to be a hole at the forward spot for an impact player to come in. While, understandably, the Rockets wouldn't pass up a chance to add an elite talent like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, those aren't necessarily "needs" considering that Houston already had the fourth-most efficient offense last year.
With Omer Asik already dealt and Jeremy Lin likely next to clear the requisite cap space for a max free agent, the Rockets will need some depth in the form of a backup point guard and center. First-round draft pick Clint Capela is a stash candidate, so the Rockets may have to look to free agency to fill those voids.
Restricted free agent Chandler Parsons should be back, so the biggest hole in the starting lineup is at either forward spot (since Parsons can play both), and the biggest overall need is defense, not star power. Although, if you can get a star in the NBA, you probably shouldn't pass up the opportunity. Role-playing defenders can fill out the roster once everything else is in place, and that's likely what Houston will look to do this offseason.
Positional Need: PG/SG
Production Need: Better playmaking offensively (23rd in offensive efficiency).
The Indiana Pacers are in a tough position to improve their core and fill needs, as they didn't have any draft picks and don't have cap space. With Lance Stephenson hitting unrestricted free agency and no real players who look like capable backups, this could turn ugly pretty quickly.
If Stephenson does leave, the Pacers will need to use their mid-level exception on a shooting guard who can start games. If Stephenson stays, the Pacers could stand to upgrade in the backcourt anyway, as George Hill has been quietly unproductive as a point guard in a league full of talent at that position.
Putting a little pressure on Hill for his starting job seems like the most reasonable avenue for the Pacers to improve, other than finding the chemistry that allowed them to start last year off so hot.
The big issue is always Indiana's offense, and getting another playmaker who can put pressure on defenses and play drive-and-kick basketball would be huge. Hill is solid, but he takes no chances to the point where it's often detrimental to his team. The Pacers are 26th in turnover percentage anyway, so Hill deferring to others so often probably isn't helping.
Wherever they can find it, Indiana needs to improve the bench, add more scoring and just try to get this offense off life support. Keeping Stephenson is a must, despite his issues, but there's room for improvement and needs to address outside of that.
Los Angeles Clippers
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Defensive frontcourt depth.
There isn't much to complain about when it comes to the Los Angeles Clippers' offense, as they ranked first in the league in offensive efficiency and feature two of the best offensive players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
The area where the Clippers need to improve, however, is holding leads in the second unit and defending much better up front. The Clippers were ninth in defensive efficiency. But with no viable third big man and Matt Barnes getting a year older at the starting small forward spot, there are big holes to fill.
That's part of the reason why the Clippers using the 28th pick on C.J. Wilcox, a shooting guard that seems to overlap with J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Reggie Bullock, didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Perhaps the Clippers are planning on trading some of their wing depth for help up front, which would probably be beneficial since the Clippers ranked 26th in defensive rebounding percentage last year. If Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan were to get hurt or are in regular foul trouble, the Clippers currently don't have a viable solution.
Veteran players will likely be lining up to join Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, so bringing in some veteran help shouldn't be an issue. Still, the Clippers would be wise to be proactive and acquire proven help outside of free agency. As the San Antonio Spurs showed, it's helpful to have depth that can match up against different types of opponents on the way to a title run.
Los Angeles Lakers
Positional Need: C
Production Need: Interior defense (28th in defensive efficiency).
Put the blame on Mike D'Antoni's system or all the players on expiring deals if you'd like, but the Los Angeles Lakers were truly awful defensively last year.
With Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and first-round pick Julius Randle the only projected starters on contract, the Lakers have a chance to be just as bad next year.
Nash can't stay in front of anyone even if he's able to stay on the court, and Bryant's defensive abilities slipped quite some time ago. Randle projects to be a good post scorer, but his steal and block rates in college were awfully low, and he probably lacks the size and length to be a real difference-maker on that end.
In a stacked Western Conference, having a good offense just simply won't be enough if the Lakers don't at least play average defense. With cap room in free agency, the Lakers would be wise to chase the big stars and hope they land one. Failing that, bringing in a few defensive-minded big men could help a lot since the perimeter D projects to be awfully leaky.
The Lakers may not want to add contracts beyond next year, so finding good size and defenders on short-term contracts may be pretty difficult. That's the problem with not fully rebuilding while still trying to build a winner around Bryant. But perhaps whoever ends up coaching the Lakers can help fashion a defense out of duct tape like Steve Clifford did in Charlotte last year.
Basically, the Lakers just need talent all over the floor, but defense should be prioritized over scoring, as Bryant can handle that if he's anywhere close to his old self.
Positional Needs: SF
Production Needs: Better penetration offensively (15th in offensive efficiency).
All things considered, the Memphis Grizzlies are in really good shape going into the season. With Zach Randolph re-signed, Memphis can focus on using its mid-level exception on a talented offensive forward who can slash-and-kick, play in the pick-and-roll and open things up a bit.
Aside from replacing Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup at small forward, the Grizzlies don't have many holes or needs. The offense took big leaps with Mike Conley playing better than ever, and the added shooting from guys like Mike Miller and Courtney Lee was just what the doctor ordered.
Miller and James Johnson are both unrestricted free agents this offseason, and Prince has declined to the point where he should be considered a fringe rotation player. The Grizzlies will get Quincy Pondexter, a legitimate 3-and-D guy, back from injury this season, so that should help bolster the wing depth.
Taking UCLA guard Jordan Adams with the 22nd pick could be a big steal, as he was one of the more efficient players available. Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes could very well replace Ed Davis, a restricted power forward.
The Grizzlies got younger and cheaper this offseason, but offensively they could still use another player who can create offense for himself and others. The wing rotation right now is still a bit of a mystery and lacking scoring punch. So adding a true small forward with the MLE who could fight for a starting job could turn the Grizzlies into one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Again, there aren't many positional or production needs here, but Memphis is probably one legitimate piece away from being able to challenge for a title.
Positional Needs: SF/PF
Production Needs: Rebounding (29th in ORB percentage, 24th in DRB percentage).
It's pretty difficult to define the needs of a team that has two players actually on contract (Shabazz Napier, Norris Cole), as we're still not sure what the grand plans of Pat Riley and the Big Three really are. Will all three take pay cuts? Will there be cap room for a fourth star? Will someone like Chris Bosh actually leave?
Assuming that everything stays relatively the same and the Heat keep their core intact, finding a forward who can play next to LeBron should be viewed as imperative.
The Heat started washed-up Rashard Lewis in the NBA Finals, after all, while the decline of Shane Battier and absence of Mike Miller seemed to hurt the Heat more than people acknowledge. Yes, Wade's dip in production didn't help, but there was a big hole in the starting five this year.
Ideally, this forward could come in and help the Heat on the glass, where they've struggled with Chris Bosh playing a small 5. Finding a good defender would be nice as well, but that would probably be sacrificed for a player who could space the floor effectively. Depending on how much money Miami has to play with after everyone re-signs, this hole should be filled rather easily.
So long as Napier lives up to his potential and Cole improves, the Heat can survive at point guard, particularly since re-signing Mario Chalmers on the cheap isn't out of the question. The bigger needs are to find someone who can maintain Miami's system while adding some extra scoring and rebounding.
Whether that's another star like Carmelo Anthony or someone on a much smaller scale in free agency remains to be seen, but Miami knows there's work to be done.
Positional Needs: SG
Production Needs: Perimeter defense (30th in defensive efficiency and three-point percentage allowed).
When you have the worst record despite there being other teams actively gunning for it, you probably have quite a few holes on the roster.
That's certainly true for the Bucks, even if there is some decent talent in place. Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, John Henson and Larry Sanders form a solid crew in terms of talent, but they can't be surrounded by players who put forth lackluster efforts on both ends.
While it may be tempting to try to revive O.J. Mayo, thereby improving his stock enough to trade him, that might do more harm than good. Milwaukee could use a solid defender and distributor to play shooting guard going forward, even if Mayo is technically capable of doing both those things.
Basically, Milwaukee needs to determine who they can trust and who should be kept going forward.
That may cause the needs to change as the season goes on, but any time you have such a young team and are coming off a year where you ranked dead last in defensive efficiency, finding intelligent defenders willing to put in the work probably makes a lot of sense.
Milwaukee needs a lot, but getting the defense at least up to par should be the primary focus.
Positional Needs: PF
Production Needs: Stretch offensively (26th in three-point percentage)
Let's assume that the Minnesota Timberwolves trade Kevin Love, as the writing seems to be on the wall that he won't re-sign there in 2015. Here's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com with more on Love:
Kevin Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Although sources say Love has stopped short of demanding a trade, his position could effectively force the Timberwolves to deal the All-Star forward before next season -- or before the trade deadline in February 2015 at the latest -- if they hope to dodge the risk of losing him without compensation.
While it's going to be almost impossible for the Timberwolves to replace Love's production offensively and on the glass, Minnesota will simply have to find a way to insert more perimeter punch into the lineup once he leaves. Even with a great shooter like Love, the Wolves were a poor three-point shooting team last season.
With Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic as the likely building blocks going forward, the Wolves will be starved for space and players who can create offense. With no viable replacement for Love on the roster, Minnesota will need to find that via trade, especially after ignoring the frontcourt depth by selecting shooting guard Zach LaVine.
Minnesota is probably better off bottoming out and acquiring future assets to try to rebuild, simply because no team can offer a player as versatile and productive as Love in a trade. Because the Wolves are unlikely to have cap space, trying to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference after dealing a talent like Love is probably a futile plan.
Regardless, the Wolves will need a solid frontcourt match for Pekovic, who is on a long-term deal. Gorgui Dieng is more of a center, so getting a stretch 4 who is mobile defensively would certainly seem to make sense.
New Orleans Pelicans
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Perimeter defense (27th in defensive efficiency).
The New Orleans Pelicans did their defense and Anthony Davis a big favor by trading for Omer Asik, especially since no current talent was sacrificed. After two years of playing next to a rotating cast of centers, Davis can form a nice chemistry with Asik and really solidify the paint on both ends.
With no cap space and the Pelicans receiving no help in the draft, finding a 3-and-D small forward could be the missing piece to make New Orleans a surprise playoff team. Davis is a true two-way star, and the return of Jrue Holiday should help the Pelicans on both ends.
The lack of a legitimate small forward could hold the team back, though. There aren't enough shots to satisfy a lineup featuring Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Davis, and you have to remember that Ryan Anderson will need to get plenty of looks so long as he remains on the roster.
A pure spot-up shooter who can defend perimeter players is a serious need, particularly since Evans should probably be relegated to a sixth-man role where he can get more opportunities.
Given the injury-prone nature of this roster, there should be holes that pop up throughout the season. Finding valuable role players who can keep the defense performing at a high level while opening up space for Davis and the guards to penetrate should be viewed as critical, even if New Orleans will have limited assets to accomplish that.
Ideally, a trade involving Gordon, Evans or Anderson for a lower-usage, stronger defender could happen at some point. This is a strong top seven when healthy, but how all the pieces fit together is still worrisome. This team needs a glue guy.
New York Knicks
Positional Need: C
Production Need: Interior defense (24th in defensive efficiency).
The biggest need for the New York Knicks is to find a way to convince Carmelo Anthony to re-sign this offseason. Players with that level of talent only come around so often, and in order to use the massive cap space that will be available in 2015, a star will likely need to be in place already to recruit other great players.
Anthony is at the core of all this, but there are short-term holes elsewhere that have to be filled if the Knicks have any intention of being somewhat competitive this season. Perhaps the plan is to tank, since the Knicks actually have their own draft pick next year, but if it's not, adding a center is crucial.
After trading Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin, the Knicks face the very real possibility of playing Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire alongside Dalembert in lots of lineups.
That's scary, mainly because all three players have serious effort issues defensively to go along with their athletic shortcomings. Eventually you'd like to see New York get a young frontcourt player who can help protect the rim, especially since the wing needs were addressed in the draft instead.
Should Anthony leave, New York will have serious scoring issues. J.R. Smith will take more shots than ever, for better or worse, but finding someone who can operate out of the pinch post in the triangle will be necessary to at least give Derek Fisher a fair chance at building a respectable team.
Anthony can be that guy, but the Knicks will sorely miss Chandler defensively, just like they did last year while he was hurt. As it stands now, no one on the roster can protect the rim.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Positional Need: SG
Production Need: Low-mistake offense (21st in turnover percentage).
The biggest issue for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the years has been their inability to take care of the ball, as they routinely rank among the league's worst teams in turnover percentage.
Considering how dangerously efficient Kevin Durant is as a scorer, having other players around him who won't unnecessarily cough up the ball could take Oklahoma City's offense to the next level.
With Thabo Sefolosha hitting free agency and Derek Fisher leaving to coach the New York Knicks, it's hard to tell whether Oklahoma City will look for a proven veteran with the mid-level exception, retain Sefolosha for cheap, or let Jeremy Lamb fill his playing time and take over with the starters. This has been a strange wing rotation lately, and it's hard to tell who Scott Brooks will trust.
While Lamb is probably a better offensive prospect than anyone the Thunder could get in free agency, OKC might want to complement Russell Westbrook better defensively in the backcourt with someone who doesn't need touches and will focus on the little things, like adding possessions. The Thunder will be great because of their stars, but as we saw in this year's Finals, role players can make all the difference.
Low-mistake wing players without egos aren't always easy to find, but the Thunder are on the brink of being a championship-quality team so long as they surround Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka with the right cast.
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Scoring on the wing (29th in offensive efficiency).
The Orlando Magic addressed their biggest need in the draft by trading for point guard Elfrid Payton after nabbing a great talent in Aaron Gordon. With Victor Oladipo sliding over to shooting guard full time, Orlando is hoping the backcourt of the future is in place and ready to go with Payton and Oladipo.
By trading Arron Afflalo to Denver, however, the Magic have created a serious hole on the wing in terms of shooting and scoring. Afflalo was often the top option offensively last year, and while Evan Fournier is a promising young player, he's a long way away from being nearly as capable as Afflalo was on that end.
Maurice Harkless is still young and could stand to take on more of the scoring load, but his 10.9 points per 36 minutes last year is less than encouraging. Tobias Harris is gifted, but he's more of a small 4. Unless Oladipo really transforms into a great spot-up threat, there are going to be some spacing and scoring issues on the wing.
Orlando is surely hoping that its young guys will develop with more time, and it's certainly possible that a top scorer emerges out of this core somewhere down the line.
As of right now, though, this looks like an offensively challenged roster, so finding a small forward who could consistently create for himself and knock down shots would be huge.
It's unlikely Orlando spends in free agency quite yet despite cap space, however, so this is a hole that will likely remain unfilled while players are given the playing time needed to grow into something more.
Positional Need: SG
Production Need: Wing scoring (30th in offensive efficiency).
If you haven't figured it out yet, Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie is willing to put everything else on the back burner in order to acquire the best talent possible, even if it's a shaky fit.
By drafting Joel Embiid (foot) and Dario Saric (draft-and-stash), the 76ers made it clear they aren't in a hurry to win right away, and actually might rather stay bad in order to accumulate better assets.
With that in mind, it's hard to view Philadelphia's "needs" in terms of what's missing on the court. The 76ers just need talent, particularly on the wing, as it looks like point guard and center are the only positions locked up going forward.
The 76ers took some interesting wings in the second round, and they'll surely get a chance to prove their worth, even if they probably won't help Philadelphia climb all that much from being the 30th-ranked offense.
Essentially, don't expect Philadelphia to acquire anyone that isn't dirt cheap and a potential trade piece down the road. They are clear-cut sellers in every sense, and so it's pretty unlikely any needs other than the shedding of salary and acquiring of draft picks will be filled.
Positional Need: C
Production Need: Interior defense (27th in opponent's FT/FGA).
The Phoenix Suns are probably one interior defender away from being a dangerous playoff team in the Western Conference.
After drafting T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis to help on the wing and in the backcourt, Phoenix appears loaded for years to come, especially if Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe continue to shine together.
While there's certainly some hope that Miles Plumlee or Alex Len can fill that role going forward, it's never a sure thing with prospects. Plumlee probably doesn't have the size and length to protect the paint properly, and Len may still be a few years away.
Phoenix's defense was average on the whole (15th in defensive efficiency) but was excellent on the ball and protecting the three-point line, where they finished second in league opponent three-point percentage.
The main issue was that, when opponents got the ball inside or hit the glass hard, Phoenix would have little choice but to foul and send opponents to the line at an alarming rate. The defensive principles are sound, but the Suns can't make the leap defensively until they have someone protecting the rim and altering shots without fouling.
The offense should be just fine with Dragic, Bledsoe and shooters all over the floor, but getting a legitimate big man in the middle is going to be necessary at some point to become a real contender.
Portland Trail Blazers
Positional Need: SG
Production Need: Playmakers defensively (30th in opponent turnover percentage).
It doesn't seem like the Portland Trail Blazers have any big needs, save for improving their bench. The starting lineup is filled with solid names across the board, and the offense was second in league efficiency. There's a lot to like here.
That's not to say the Blazers couldn't stand to upgrade, particularly on the wing. Damian Lillard isn't a good defender, and Nicolas Batum's reputation isn't in line with his production. Wesley Matthews is tough, but he's lost a little something since he's played with so many injuries over the years. LaMarcus Aldridge is pretty pedestrian, and Robin Lopez is a good rebounder and post defender, but he lacks mobility.
All that adds up to a pretty average defense that can struggle against teams that really run their stuff and don't get bogged down with isolation play. Portland's inability to knock offenses off the track and cause turnovers is a major issue, and it's almost scary to think how good Portland would be with more fast-break and easy chances off turnovers.
Aside from a trade on the wing, which feels unlikely, the Blazers could benefit from signing a bench player like James Johnson on the cheap. Theoretically, he could contribute a few extra possessions a game with steals, blocks and rebounds that others might not get so easily, and it wouldn't cost the Blazers an arm and a leg.
Given the lack of movable assets, and with no help coming via the draft, Portland will have to supplement their explosive core with some playmakers defensively in order to be a tougher out for teams like San Antonio out West.
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Better perimeter defenders (29th in three-point percentage allowed).
The Sacramento Kings didn't quite make the strides some had hoped under defensive guru Mike Malone, as they still let up a high percentage of shots from good areas on the floor.
That makes sense, mainly because Sacramento doesn't really have any solid defenders in the rotation. DeMarcus Cousins plays awful pick-and-roll defense, Rudy Gay doesn't play much help and Isaiah Thomas is just too small to fight over screens or limit penetration.
While that core is intriguing offensively, they'll need help on the other end. There are questions as to whether guys like Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and the other rotation players can do that, as that's no one's calling card.
Another year in Malone's scheme will help, but there's a talent and effort deficiency on that end. Sacramento's best hope is to try to chase shooters off the line and bait teams into taking mid-range jumpers, as they allowed teams to get threes and layups constantly last season.
With Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams both better suited as small-ball power forwards, the Kings have a positional logjam at the 4 and could really stand to turn someone into a 3-and-D small forward who can help limit the damage. Until Cousins gets paired with a big who can help protect him, though, the Kings will be limited. The names look good, but that's about it.
San Antonio Spurs
Positional Need: SG/SF
Production Need: More free-throw attempts (30th in free throw rate).
Well this just feels like nitpicking, doesn't it? Other than finding the fountain of youth (again), there isn't much roster improvement necessary for the San Antonio Spurs this offseason. Mostly, it will be about retaining the existing talent more than anything else.
The Spurs will need to hold on to Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, who are both scheduled to be free agents. Diaw particularly played a huge role on both ends, and Mills stepped up as a shot-maker this season.
There's always room for improvement, though, and the Spurs could stand to get to the free-throw line a little more often. With Manu Ginobili getting up there, another slasher on the wing who can get into the teeth of the defense in isolation and pick-and-rolls would definitely be nice, especially since first-round pick Kyle Anderson is more like Diaw on the wing.
By getting a boost of athleticism with a slasher, San Antonio's offense can be a little more efficient and might get a few more offensive rebounds here and there.
Kawhi Leonard taking a bigger role offensively will probably solve a lot of this naturally, but it's something to keep in mind this offseason. The Spurs will have at least their mid-level exception to add a piece, and there aren't very many weaknesses otherwise. That's why they're the champs.
Positional Need: SF
Production Need: Another offensive playmaker (21st in total assists).
There's surprisingly little to fix on the Toronto Raptors for once, as the team finished in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, even after a rough start.
Kyle Lowry bloomed into a star as the season went on and DeMar DeRozan's improved shot selection and scoring did wonders. With Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross getting another year to develop, the Raptors could be really good going forward.
It doesn't seem like much instant help was provided by GM Masai Ujiri in the draft, despite the selection of two small forwards in Bruno Caboclo and DeAndre Daniels, as both might be a while away. Ross can slide over to the 3 and provide athleticism and perimeter shooting, but Toronto would be well-served to find a forward who can distribute and play in the pick-and-roll to take pressure off Lowry.
Of course, re-signing Lowry will be the first priority, as Toronto would be a little lost on both ends without him.
The trade of John Salmons' expiring contract for Lou Williams will add some much needed scoring pop off the bench, so long as Williams keeps recovering from his knee injury. Still, even with Williams, the Raptors might want to look for someone who can create offense and provide spacing.
Toronto is on the brink of being a serious contender in a weak Eastern Conference, but a little more talent at forward would help considerably.
Positional Need: PF
Production Need: Interior play on both ends (25th in offensive rating, 29th in defensive rating).
The Utah Jazz were sort of a mess last season, as they were younger and less talented than just about every team they came up against. One of the main issues was a lack of post presence on both ends, as the pairing of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter rarely provided results.
Kanter was particularly bad defensively last year, even though he has the size and athleticism to make an impact. Utah's young players just looked lost more often than not, and with Favors projecting to be more of a 5 in a space-obsessed league, the Jazz could use a star power forward who could help protect the paint and score at the rim.
Favors is still incredibly young, so it's possible he'll eliminate some of that need with his improved play. Big guys usually take some time to develop, but Utah's offense is going to sputter without a reliable big to finish on pick-and-rolls and get easy points inside.
The good news is, Utah's perimeter is shaping up very nicely. First-round pick Dante Exum and Gordon Hayward should form one of the most versatile wing combinations out there. And Trey Burke's shooting should eventually come in handy. Ditto for fellow first-round choice Rodney Hood.
Building from the outside in can be a little dangerous, so Utah will need Favors, Kanter and maybe even Rudy Gobert to grow up quickly in order to be more competitive right away and allow the wing players to flourish on both ends.
Positional Need: PF/C
Production Need: Inside scoring (30th in FG/FTA).
The Washington Wizards have an excellent backcourt in place with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but it's a bit of a mystery which players will be next to them for the future.
Given the unrestricted free agency status of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, it's possible the Wizards go through some major changes this offseason. With Nene being so injury prone and Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker both being eligible for restricted free agency, the Wizards would be wise to stock up on some frontcourt depth and plan for the worst-case scenario of Gortat leaving and Nene getting hurt, which might not be all that unlikely.
With no draft picks, the Wizards will have to look to free agency or trade to fill that need. Otto Porter could potentially play some small 4, but if Ariza leaves, he may have to take the majority of the minutes at 3. Some depth is needed here.
Production-wise, Washington really needs to start getting to the free-throw line instead of settling for mid-range jumpers. Despite the talent on the roster, Washington was just 16th in offensive efficiency and dead last in FG/FTA. So getting a big who can draw fouls around the rim and attack opponents will take some of the pressure off the backcourt.
With Wall and Beal in place, focusing on the starting frontcourt this offseason is the way to go.