6 NBA Teams That Could Accelerate Their Rebuilding This Offseason
Goran Dragic enjoyed an incredible 2013-14 season, breaking out while running the point for the Phoenix Suns and becoming one of the most enjoyable players to watch on any of the Association's 30 rosters. Ty Lawson was just one of many players who couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, as he's doing up above.
But how many franchises are going to be turning a corner during the 2014-15 campaign?
Plenty of teams are rebuilding, but that's often a slow process. Only a select few have the ability to get around that corner (or over the hump, if you prefer that metaphor) by accelerating the rebuild this offseason, making significant moves that lead to immediately increased levels of competition.
For the sake of this article, only teams that finished out of the playoffs last year will be featured here. Playoff teams may still be rebuilding, but they're not in the same type of dire straits as many lottery-bound squads.
So, who has cap space? Who can make trades? Who seems most motivated to get that rebuild speeding along as quickly as possible?
The Charlotte Hornets rocked the NBA draft, adding Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston to shore up immediate needs on the wings and in the frontcourt. They still have money left over, money that could be used to land a more established player at either shooting guard or small forward.
Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward, Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng would all be great fits, as each player is a capable defender (excellent, in the case of Parsons, Stephenson and Deng) with the ability to knock down three-pointers in the right situation.
So, why is Charlotte only receiving an honorable mention?
Before changing the team's name, the Bobcats made the playoffs in 2013-14. They're automatically disqualified from a featured spot by not landing a lottery pick without using a trade, though the ability to accelerate the rebuild is still worth noting.
The Philadelphia 76ers have the cap space necessary to go out and get a veteran player, one who could immediately make them more competitive rather than struggling for anything other than a finish in the NBA's basement. There's just been no indication that's the route of choice for general manager Sam Hinkie.
Why else would he have drafted Joel Embiid, a high-upside big man who's going to miss at least a portion of the season while seeing his development and adjustment to the NBA delayed while he recovers from his foot injury? Why else would he have followed that up by taking Dario Saric in the lottery while well aware the versatile forward wouldn't make his NBA debut until 2016-17 at the earliest?
Hinkie is playing the long game.
Sure, the Sixers could accelerate the rebuild. They won't, though.
The Boston Celtics sure don't seem like they're planning on keeping Rajon Rondo around for much longer.
Drafting Marcus Smart out of Oklahoma State was the first sign that the C's might be going in a different direction, and that feeling was only exacerbated when Avery Bradley agreed to re-sign on a four-year contract worth $32 million, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe.
Now, it may seem weird to think of a team potentially trading its best player as one that could be accelerating a rebuild, but think about the technical definition of acceleration.
Though colloquially used to refer to an increase in speed, the definition used in physics revolves around changing velocity, even if the change is just a directional one. A car is still accelerating if it maintains constant speed while going around a turn, for example.
Using that definition in the NBA would be stupid, because every team is technically changing direction, but we'll make an exception for the Celtics, who could be going backward in order to go forward at a much faster rate.
Not only would Boston be picking up a new, high-upside contributor (Isaiah Thomas, perhaps?), but it would also be handing over the reins to Marcus Smart, thereby seeing if he has what it takes to emerge as the franchise point guard and possible face of the organization.
Of course, the Celtics could also just sign a player with their excessive cap space.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have already made significant improvements during this young offseason, simply by selecting Andrew Wiggins at No. 1 in the 2014 NBA draft and signing Kyrie Irving to a max extension.
Just by virtue of adding the two-way small forward with an immeasurably high ceiling, the Cavs have accelerated the rebuild, making the right decision rather than taking the NBA-ready Jabari Parker, who often struggles on defense.
But Cleveland doesn't have to be done, as Terry Pluto hints at for The Plain Dealer:
Yes, the Cavs are meeting with restricted free agent Gordon Hayward. But it's doubtful any offer sheet will be coming in the next day or so for the 24-year-old small forward.
Nor has the team decided to make the Utah's leading scorer a maximum offer. That would be $63 million over four seasons -- although it may eventually come to that.
Even if those initial whispers of a max offer prove to be fallacious, the interest is telling. And there's assuredly interest at this stage, even if an offer sheet isn't immediately forthcoming.
The Cavs know they could become more than just a fringe playoff contender by adding a piece like Hayward. Plus, if there's money to make such an offer for the Utah Jazz standout, there's certainly enough to re-sign Luol Deng or take a run at another elite free agent.
Chances are, Cleveland won't make any huge signings. That could easily end up being false, but matched offer sheets and opportunity for ball-handling responsibilities could both prove to be massive deterrents.
Nonetheless, the Cavaliers have already improved this summer.
The Denver Nuggets have already made major moves this offseason, and not a single squad has managed to make smarter, more beneficial decisions up to this point in the summer festivities.
First was the trade with the Orlando Magic, one that sent Evan Fournier and a second-round draft pick across the country for Arron Afflalo. Next was the draft-day deal with the Chicago Bulls, which transferred the No. 11 pick to the Windy City for No. 16 and No. 19. Those selections turned into Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, respectively.
With a starting five of Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov/JaVale McGee, as well as arguably the most depth in the Association, the Nuggets are already emerging as a dark-horse contender in the Western Conference.
However, they don't have to be done making moves.
Sure, Denver is pretty much capped out. But despite the lack of financial flexibility, every single player on the roster—except McGee—is a tradable asset, one who can easily be moved along with someone else (or another pick) in an effort to land a true star.
Let's not forget that the outstanding offer of Faried and Afflalo is perhaps the best on the table for the Minnesota Timberwolves, should they look to move Kevin Love before he opts out and gets away for nothing.
Even if that's not the ultimate plan for Denver, which insists that Afflalo is not going to be dealt right after he was acquired, this team can trade anyone in an effort to establish even more present-day legitimacy.
Los Angeles Lakers
Does anyone think the Los Angeles Lakers are going to be content sitting back and waiting to rebuild until the 2015 offseason?
I didn't think so.
"Lakers made it clear to Melo today they'd offer the maximum, 4-yr, $97mil contract they can, if he chose them," tweeted ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne on Thursday night.
Inability to sit back confirmed.
The Lakers are always going to pursue marquee free agents, which this year means they'll be heavily targeting Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James until both superstars have either signed with them or agreed to a deal elsewhere. And if the latter comes true, L.A. will still pursue the best players on the open market, whether they're restricted or unrestricted free agents.
Right now, the Lake Show has Kobe Bryant, Kendall Marshall, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre under contract. That's it, but it won't be the case for long. In addition to Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson signing their official rookie deals, others will surely join the Purple and Gold.
"We're prepared," general manager Mitch Kupchak said in late June, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin. "If any of those players do want to make a move, we're prepared. And if we get word, when we're allowed to get word, we will go all out."
Going all out is a nice way to accelerate a rebuild.
If Anthony eventually chooses the Lakers, they feel they have a good chance of bringing Gasol back.
"If the Lakers get Carmelo, Pau will stay," said a person familiar with Gasol's thinking.
Even if that doesn't work, chances are the Lakers will figure out a way to be more competitive than they were last year.
There shouldn't be much doubt about that.
"The Magic waived Jameer Nelson on Monday, parting ways with their longest-tenured player in a move to save valuable salary cap space and turn a page toward the future," reported The Associated Press via NBA.com. "Nelson's departure comes just weeks before the team would have owed him $8 million for the final year of a three-year contract."
General manager Rob Hennigan has been patiently acquiring assets—young and cheap ones—during a prolonged rebuild for the Magic, but he could use some of that space to strike and acquire an established talent, one who would immediately make Orlando significantly more dangerous.
Could that be Greg Monroe?
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports the Magic have shown interest in the restricted free agent who last played with the Detroit Pistons, and he'd be a nice fit in an Orlando uniform. Though he's not an adept rim protector, he's certainly a credible option on the offensive end of the court.
Prying him away from the Pistons, who may well match even a max offer, would be difficult, but the interest shows that Hennigan is no longer exercising an inordinate amount of patience. Too many moves this offseason—the Afflalo trade and the Nelson waiving, as well as any additional roster trimming to come—have pointed toward a follow-up move, or else the GM is unnecessarily pushing his squad below the minimum salary threshold.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, LeBron James' agent met with the Phoenix Suns—along with three other teams—while the four-time MVP was on vacation.
The Suns can offer LeBron the max contract he covets while allowing him to pick a teammate to join him in the desert. They have that much cap space at their disposal, letting him have his choice of anyone from Chris Bosh to Pau Gasol, all while keeping Eric Bledsoe by matching any offer sheet he signs.
Paul Coro of AZCentral.com explains:
With a unique mix of salary cap space, cap holds to relinquish and potential salary-clearing trades, the Suns have the maneuverability to sign two maximum-salary free agents (or trade for a second, like Kevin Love) while re-signing Bledsoe and keeping Goran Dragic and other key players. James is an unrestricted free agent but Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, giving the Suns rights to match any offer sheet he might sign.
Yes, the Suns can legitimately throw out a starting five of Goran Dragic, Bledsoe, LeBron, Bosh and Miles Plumlee, which is one that would immediately make them the favorites in the Western Conference. Maybe even the prohibitive favorites.
Even if Phoenix doesn't end up going down that route or LeBron chooses a different location as the ultimate destination for his talents, the Suns still have the cap space to add a major target, preferably a small forward or a power forward with skill in the post.
Phoenix was one of the biggest surprises during the 2013-14 season, and general manager Ryan McDonough surely isn't going to be satisfied with any sort of regression in the follow-up campaign. His franchise is perfectly set up to enjoy that type of acceleration we've been talking about.