Projecting 2014-15 NBA Starting Lineups After Free-Agency Frenzy
Will Andrew Wiggins be starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers when the 2014-15 season tips off? Will he be in the starting five for the Minnesota Timberwolves after inclusion in a trade that allows Kevin Love and LeBron James to suit up on the same squad?
Those are only a few of the many intriguing questions swirling around the Association's 30 starting lineups.
Very few teams have a group of five players that's virtually guaranteed to be on the floor when the new NBA season begins. Almost without fail, there's a job or two up for grabs, with notable challengers trying to take down the initial favorites for the starting gig.
Do note that these projections account for movement that has yet to happen. Contained within this article are inherent predictions for the Wiggins/Love drama, Lance Stephenson's never-ending free agency and so much more.
Projected Starters: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
Notable Challengers: Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore
The Atlanta Hawks may have entered the offseason with plenty of cap space, but general manager Danny Ferry opted for the more conservative route, an approach that was solidified when Luol Deng spurned the Hawks' pursuit for the allures of South Beach.
With Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore looming as the biggest signings, as well as a set of draft picks who will provide more depth than star power, the Hawks don't figure to see any changes to the starting five.
Well, unless you consider the return of Al Horford a change.
The All-Star big man was a mainstay in Atlanta's top group before a torn pectoral muscle knocked him out for the majority of the 2013-14 campaign. It's not like he'll have to fight off anyone to resume his featured spot, though, as he's still the best player on the roster.
Sefolosha and Bazemore could both end up starting instead of DeMarre Carroll at various points throughout the season, but that's really the only notable competition here. The other spots are pretty much set in stone, though Kyle Korver can play at either wing spot and opens the door for some flexibility.
Projected Starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk
Notable Challengers: Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani
The Boston Celtics have quite the crowded backcourt after re-signing Avery Bradley to a big deal and drafting Marcus Smart. For now, money talks, and the incumbent should remain a starter alongside Rajon Rondo, though Smart's potential should ultimately allow him to win the job, whether by forcing his way ahead of Bradley or getting GM Danny Ainge to trade Rondo.
Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger are pretty much locked into their forward spots, leaving just one question.
Who starts at center?
Sadly, there just aren't many good options at the biggest spot in the lineup. Kelly Olynyk has the highest upside, though the former Gonzaga standout has struggled to assert himself in the NBA. Until he starts hitting shots, it's hard to justify putting him on the court.
However, it's not as though anyone else is that intriguing. Vitor Faverani is injured and limited, while Tyler Zeller's ceiling leaves him as a career backup.
Olynyk it is. For now.
Notable Challengers: Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, Mason Plumlee
Thanks to Joe Johnson's size, he can play either at the 2 or the 3, depending on how big or small the Brooklyn Nets wish to go.
Were Jason Kidd still in charge, Jarrett Jack would likely step into the starting five and attempt to do a convincing Shaun Livingston impersonation. However, Lionel Hollins is more traditional, which means there's an exceedingly good chance that "Iso Joe" suits up at his natural shooting guard position. That leaves the door open for Andrei Kirilenko to replace Paul Pierce, though Alan Anderson could also win the job.
At least the center rotation is deep now.
Brook Lopez should be returning from his latest foot injury, and it'll be impossible to keep him out of the starting five. As impressive as Mason Plumlee was when he received an opportunity in the Nets lineup, he's not on the same level as BroLo, who was looking like a legitimate All-Star before he went down yet again.
Projected Starters: Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson
Notable Challengers: Gerald Henderson, Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh
Thus emerges our first surprise.
Even after signing Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts, the Charlotte Hornets have money to burn. Those two don't exactly equal the max offer sheet that Gordon Hayward signed before returning to the Utah Jazz, and the former Bobcats still had cap space left after that.
Enter Lance Stephenson, who has reportedly agreed to terms with the team, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
The only other position up for grabs is power forward, where Steve Clifford is faced with continuing to try out Cody Zeller after a disappointing rookie season, throwing Noah Vonleh into the fire or playing Williams in an undersized frontcourt.
Given Jefferson's defensive limitations, size is necessary. And given the team's desire to compete right away, it's best to start the player with some NBA experience.
Nonetheless, it's clear that Josh McRoberts will be missed.
Notable Challengers: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Mike Dunleavy
You've got to feel bad for Taj Gibson.
He was a lock to start over Carlos Boozer, whether the big man was still on the roster or leaving via the amnesty clause, and now he has to contend with Pau Gasol for the starting power forward gig. And that's a battle he's going to lose.
Fortunately, he'll have a shot at some awards while coming off the bench, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale elaborates upon:
Bringing Gibson off the bench is the easiest solution. He instantly maintains his candidacy for Sixth Man of the Year and is someone who can guard power forwards and centers; opposing 4s and 5s combined to average a 14.8 player efficiency rating against him last season, per 82games.com.
None of those center inclusions are typos. Gibson should see minutes at center when both Noah and Gasol are out of the game.
So if we allow Gasol and Joakim Noah to start next to one another and make frontcourt basketball as beautiful as possible, who starts at small forward? There are plenty of options, between Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy.
Chances are, Tom Thibodeau recognizes the need for outside shooting, allowing the defense to be stretched out and torn apart by Derrick Rose's assaults on the rim and the high-low game of the starting bigs. Dunleavy would be a fantastic choice, but McDermott is an even better one.
After four years of dominating the college game, Mr. McBuckets is as NBA-ready as it gets. Not only could his perimeter sniping be on the same level as Dunleavy's, but he should be a more well-rounded scorer right away.
Projected Starters: Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao
Notable Challengers: Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett
Yes, that's right.
Kevin Love is nowhere to be found.
The Minnesota Timberwolves power forward remains, well, a Minnesota Timberwolf for now, and it's hard to see the two sides coming to terms without involving a third team. Though the Wolves have absolutely no leverage, they're not going to make any moves without involving Andrew Wiggins. And the Cavs aren't going to trade the No. 1 pick, especially after he's been showing out in the Las Vegas Summer League.
The two sides are at an impasse, and any package that doesn't involve the Canadian forward (no, not Anthony Bennett or Tristan Thompson) isn't going to get the job done. So for now, Love isn't going to be in this starting five.
And yet, it's still an intriguing one. After all, David Blatt has plenty of options at his disposal.
Does he start Dion Waiters and bring Wiggins in off the bench? Does he start the No. 1 pick and allow Waiters to be a ball-dominating scorer while leading the second unit? Does he play small ball and start Waiters, Wiggins and LeBron James while pushing Thompson to the pine?
LeBron allows for plenty of flexibility, but it's in the first-year head coach's best interest to make sure Wiggins is on the court. Defense is sorely needed for this squad, much more so than point-scoring ability when James is on the court.
Expect plenty of tinkering throughout the year, particularly if Bennett continues to improve. At some point, we could even see a starting five comprised of Kyrie Irving, Wiggins, Bennett, LeBron and Anderson Varejao.
But at the moment, the one you see up above is both the best and most likely lineup.
Notable Challengers: Devin Harris, Gal Mekel
The only question here revolves around the point guard position.
Monta Ellis, the newly acquired Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler are surefire starters, and they'll combine to play some of the most effective offensive basketball in the NBA. But unfortunately for the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle doesn't have too many quality point guards at his disposal.
Raymond Felton, sad as it may be, is the top option. Yes, the same Felton who was a dead weight on both ends of the court during his final season with the New York Knicks, one that was capped off by gun charges.
Devin Harris is better suited for a bench role, one in which he can lead the second unit while controlling the rock and helping to generate some offense in the starters' stead. And Gal Mekel is just a bit too unproven, as the 26-year-old point guard is coming off a rookie season in which he split time between Dallas and the D-League's Texas Legends.
It's hard to see a Mavericks team that expects to be immediately competitive starting Mekel just one year removed from averaging 2.4 points and 2.0 assists per game during his cup of coffee in the Association.
Plus, there's a solid chance Felton looks more impressive while playing alongside a great deal more talent than he suited up next to in New York.
Notable Challengers: Garry Harris, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee
Interestingly enough, the two new starters for the Denver Nuggets are players who have worn Denver uniforms earlier in their careers.
Danilo Gallinari is one, as the small forward has never left the roster since he was acquired in the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. He's just been injured since tearing his ACL in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on April 4, 2013. Not only did he miss the rest of that 2012-13 campaign, but a failed procedure forced him into restarting his rehab.
Nonetheless, he should be good to go this year.
"Adesso sto bene. Mi manca il ritmo, ma saró presente al training camp dei miei Denver Nuggets," the forward recently told Gabriele Cattaneo of Sport Mediaset in his native language. Forgive me if my Italian is rusty, but that translates to "I'm well now. I miss the rhythm [of the game], but I will be present at the training camp of my Denver Nuggets."
He'll be joined by Arron Afflalo, who's back with the Nuggets after GM Tim Connelly traded Evan Fournier and a draft pick to the Orlando Magic for his services. The shooting guard was initially sent away as part of the Dwight Howard deal that brought Andre Iguodala to the Mile High City.
Both Afflalo and Gallinari will start, but their spots aren't exactly safe. Gary Harris will be pushing for playing time, especially after debuting in the Las Vegas Summer League with a 30-spot, and Wilson Chandler could displace Gallo if the Italian forward is too rusty.
Notable Challengers: Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Stan Van Gundy didn't hand Jodie Meeks a three-year, $19.5 million deal for him to come off the bench and let less-intriguing shooting guards start on the floor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looks significantly more comfortable, but he's still not ready to start in the NBA.
"The Pistons were very aggressive from Day 1 and that’s what I was looking for, to come in and compete for a starting job," the sharp-shooting signing said at his introductory press conference, as relayed by Perry A. Ferrell of the Detroit Free Press. "They said I was their No. 1 priority and to just come in and play well."
The bigger question is what happens with the frontcourt logjam.
Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are all supremely talented individuals, but they can't thrive next to one another. "Moose" and Drummond are both natural centers, while Smith needs to suit up at the 4 so he stops launching ill-advised three-point attempts.
As David Mayo explains for MLive.com, bringing back Monroe, who's a restricted free agent, is still a top priority:
Van Gundy's major point of emphasis Tuesday was that Monroe is a part of the Pistons' future plans.
Van Gundy said Monroe was the first Pistons player he met with after his hiring nearly two months ago, and at that meeting "made it clear that we want him back and we haven't wavered on that at all."
"We want Greg back," Van Gundy said. "But it's obviously got to be a mutual thing, too. There's been no hesitation there."
Whether the big man returns with a matched offer sheet or elects to play for a $5.5 million qualifying offer before leaving as an unrestricted free agent next summer, the tea leaves forecast him staying in a Detroit uniform.
And given Smith's albatross-like contract, one that makes trading him rather difficult, he should be there as well.
Golden State Warriors
Notable Challengers: None
This is not to suggest there are no worthy challengers, just to indicate that the starting five is set in stone.
Barring the front office altering its stance on Klay Thompson and swapping him for Kevin Love, nothing is going to change from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Stephen Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut are still entrenched in the spots that begin games on the court.
Does that mean the bench is devoid of quality options? Absolutely not.
Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston are all intriguing players who could make spot starts when injuries pop up. They just aren't true challengers to the incumbents.
Projected Starters: Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard
Notable Challengers: Donatas Motiejunas
With Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets boast the best starting five in all of basketball. Bar none, as there's an intriguing and intimidating blend of offense and defense across the board.
When Chris Bosh spurned the Houston Rockets for the Miami Heat, he threw a major wrench into GM Daryl Morey's plans. Instead of building one of the deadliest starting fives in the Association, Morey was left picking up the pieces.
Having already traded Jeremy Lin (Los Angeles Lakers) and Omer Asik (New Orleans Pelicans), the GM had to do so by signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year deal worth $32 million with declining salaries and failing to match the offer sheet Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets are not going to be as competitive in 2013-14 as they were last year, having lost depth and downgrading from Parsons to Ariza. Then again, the former Washington Wizard may be a better fit for this team, given his defensive excellence and ability to knock down triples.
Morey is just playing the long game, though.
By signing Ariza to that declining deal and keeping less money on the books, he's giving himself an opportunity to chase stars in 2015 and—more notably—2016. Don't lose sight of the forest by focusing on the trees.
Notable Challengers: Rodney Stuckey, Rasual Butler, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill, Damjan Rudez
Say goodbye to Lance Stephenson.
By spending their limited funds on Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, Lavoy Allen and Shayne Whittington, the Indiana Pacers basically knocked themselves out of the running. The 2-guard isn't going to take a major discount to come back to this team, and the Pacers aren't willing to go above the luxury-tax threshold.
The numbers just won't work out, not after he firmly rebuffed a five-year, $44 million deal that's well above the upper limit of what the Pacers can offer, even after waiving Luis Scola (which hasn't happened yet).
Without "Born Ready," the Pacers take a major step backward. There just isn't a quality option ready to step into his shoes, as the starting five you can see up above is the one that would be most competitive.
Unless Indiana can pull off the impossible and convince Stephenson that he should return at a far lower price than ever imagined, this Eastern Conference contender is poised to take a few steps in the wrong direction. A leap, even.
Los Angeles Clippers
Notable Challengers: Reggie Bullock, Jared Dudley
There's no reason for change when it comes to the Los Angeles Clippers.
This is the lineup that would've played quite a few minutes to open games had everyone managed to stay healthy, and it's still the one that's projected to get the 2014-15 season underway. The Clippers haven't made any big offseason moves other than attempting to add depth, and thinking that Spencer Hawes will squeeze his way into the starting five is rather nonsensical.
Chris Paul remains an elite point guard and a top-10 player in the Association. In fact, he's still a top-five player in my book. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are some of the best options at their respective positions, and they're guaranteed jobs.
Only the wing spots aren't locks, but J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are quite clearly the best options at shooting guard and small forward.
There's no need for change in the Staples Center, unless you're talking about this next team.
Los Angeles Lakers
- Eric Bledsoe (restricted)
- Greg Monroe (restricted)
- Lance Stephenson
- Shawn Marion
- Ray Allen
- Ed Davis
- Andray Blatche
- Mike Miller
- Ramon Sessions
- Kevin Seraphin
Projected Starters: Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Jordan Hill
Notable Challengers: Ryan Kelly, Steve Nash, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Clarkson
The Los Angeles Lakers still don't have too many players on the roster, and even the ones they have yet to sign aren't going to be good enough to displace any of the projected starters. They'll be notable challengers, but the Lake Show is pretty much capped out while pursuing a dried-up free-agent market.
According to D.J. Foster's rankings for Bleacher Report, these are the 10 best free agents left:
How many of those players would start for the Lakers? Each of the top three certainly would, though they're all out of the realistic price range. As broken down here, the Lakers only have about $2.3 million in cap space, though that number could creep up by using the stretch provision on Steve Nash and cutting the non-guaranteed contracts.
That leaves us looking at Marion and below, and not many of those players who have a shot at coming to L.A. would start. The Matrix might, but only at small forward so that Julius Randle can get playing time.
Really, the only uncertainty at this stage comes at point guard, where Jeremy Lin will be trying to hold off Nash, Kendall Marshall and Jordan Clarkson.
Personally, I'd love to see a starting five of Lin, Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Randle and Jordan Hill with Nick Young as the sixth man, but something tells me the Lakers' eventual coach (cough, Byron Scott, cough) will be too conservative to go down that unorthodox route.
Notable Challengers: Vince Carter, Courtney Lee, Quincy Pondexter
Landing Vince Carter—in a move that came right out of left field—was huge for the Memphis Grizzlies, but only because it aids the scoring prowess of the second unit. Carter will once more be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, as it makes more sense to have him helping out off the bench than making less of an impact alongside the starters.
Let's not forget that the five-man core of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol performed quite admirably during the 2013-14 season. According to NBA.com's statistical databases (subscription required), that group outscored opponents by four points per 100 possessions.
The Grizzlies as a whole topped opponents by 1.7 points over the same period, per Basketball-Reference.com.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Projected Starters: Jameer Nelson, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen
Notable Challengers: Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier, Udonis Haslem
Kudos to Pat Riley for having an impressive contingency plan, which he hinted at in the second half of his classy statement in response to LeBron James going home, via the Heat's official website:
Over the last 19 years, since Micky [Arison] and I teamed together, The Miami HEAT has always been a championship organization; we've won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We've proven that we can do it and we'll do it again.
Apparently, they really are committed.
Chris Bosh is back on board for a max contract, Luol Deng has agreed to come to South Beach on a two-year deal worth $20 million and the Heat don't appear to be done quite yet. Dwyane Wade has agreed to re-sign, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, and more moves are surely coming.
After all, there are still question marks at point guard and center.
The big-man market is pretty much dried up at this point, leaving Riley to start Chris Andersen and occasionally use Bosh or Udonis Haslem (once he's re-signed) at the 5. But there are still quality point guards who can be had for cheap contracts.
Jameer Nelson is one of them, seeing as he was waived by the Orlando Magic to clear cap space at the start of the offseason. He'd immediately help this team become all the more competitive, giving Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier more time to develop.
It's hard to imagine him finding a spot that would offer him more playing time on a contending team.
Projected Starters: Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, John Henson, Larry Sanders
Notable Challengers: O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia
The Milwaukee Bucks are going to have one of the most confusing rotations in the NBA.
Not only are they brimming over with young talent, but they don't have any pieces who are truly established. Hell, Brandon Knight could even get pushed by Nate Wolters if he doesn't show some improvement in 2014-15, though that's not worth listing with all the other uncertainties.
For all intents and purposes, Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the two locks in the starting five. The Greek Freak is certainly going to get major playing time during his sophomore season, and shooting guard is the best fit given the wealth of options at the forward spots.
We'll also consider Larry Sanders a near-lock, though the 2013-14 disaster—one created by injuries and legal issues—puts his massive contract into question. With only Zaza Pachulia pushing him from the bench, he's a safe bet for the time being.
But what about the two forward spots?
For now, I'm betting that Jason Kidd plays his most talented guys, even if Ersan Ilyasova was, inexplicably, the only name he mentioned during his introductory presser. Jabari Parker can line up at either the 3 or the 4, and John Henson deserves a shot, even if that comes at the expense of Ilyasova and Khris Middleton.
Chances are, this will be one of the teams that uses roughly 82 different lineups during the 2014-15 campaign.
I'm not entirely sure how hyperbolic that is.
Projected Starters: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Notable Challengers: Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad
Now that Flip Saunders is replacing Rick Adelman on the Minnesota Timberwolves' sideline, inexperienced players have a chance at carving out much larger roles. However, that doesn't mean the young guns—Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and, to a lesser extent, Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III—are ready for starting gigs.
No, the five starters should remain the exact same as they were in 2013-14.
Will they finish the season that way? Now that's a better question.
Kevin Love is the central figure in so many trade talks, and the Wolves really don't have much leverage. After all, he could just walk out on them after the season draws to a close, leaving them with absolutely nothing coming back in return.
Despite that, Minnesota isn't budging. It won't accept anything less than a quality offer, and Andrew Wiggins basically has to be on the table for him to go to Cleveland.
Who else is offering a comparable package thus far?
Inconceivable as it may seem, the Wolves don't seem likely to work out a deal prior to the start of the season, even as disgruntled as Love has been throughout the past couple months. But once the season starts and teams have a firmer idea of where they stand and what they need, that's when it's exceedingly likely he ends up on a different roster.
New Orleans Pelicans
Projected Starters: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik
Notable Challengers: Ryan Anderson, Omri Casspi
Now that Omer Asik is finally a member of the New Orleans Pelicans via a three-team trade, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the starting five is pretty clear.
Asik and Anthony Davis will combine to create one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in the Association, and they'll be joined by a trio of guards—Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Even if Evans has been better at the 1 and 2 in the past, that's the lineup that allows the Pelicans to get the most talent out on the floor.
Plus, there are no legitimate challengers at the small forward spot. Omri Casppi is worth a mention but nothing more.
Unfortunately for Ryan Anderson, this has him on the outside, looking in at that starting five. Don't be surprised when his name starts popping up in trade rumors, though having a stretch 4 like Anderson coming off the bench is quite valuable for a team hoping to stay healthy and competitive in the tough Western Conference.
It would be falling prey to the gambler's fallacy to expect the injury imp to avoid the bayou entirely, but surely karma has to be on NOLA's side at some point.
New York Knicks
Projected Starters: Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Samuel Dalembert
Notable Challengers: Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Andrea Bargnani
Don't be surprised when head coach Phil Jackson Derek Fisher gets a bit creative with the starting five, pushing players out of their natural spots in the lineup so that he can keep some of the scoring talent in the starting five.
Having Carmelo Anthony play at power forward in the triangle offense is smart, as it allows him to spend more time in the post and use his underrated distributing skills from the blocks. Plus, getting an extra guard on the court allows the New York Knicks to up their passing game even further.
J.R. Smith could easily end up in the starting five. So could Amar'e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani, assuming Melo is lining up at his natural spot in the lineup.
However, this is the unit that works in the Knicks' best interest. And with Jackson running the show, it's hard to see them doing anything but making the right choice, even if it's not the one that results in the most traditional lineup.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Notable Challengers: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams
Scott Brooks has two tough decisions to make when it comes to his starting five.
First, what does he do with the shooting guard spot?
Behind one door, he has the newly acquired Anthony Morrow, who has turned himself into one of the game's elite shooters. During the 2013-14 season, he drilled 45.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc for the New Orleans Pelicans, and that was only the third-best mark of his career. Seeing as he's played just six seasons, that's rather notable.
Behind the other door, Brooks can play either Reggie Jackson or Jeremy Lamb, whom he often let slip out of the rotation toward the end of the previous go-round. Both are all-around upgrades for the Oklahoma City Thunder, especially because Morrow's shooting impact is partially negated by the strength of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Still though, Morrow is the better choice, for the same reason that Thabo Sefolosha often started when he was still with the team. Having the offense provided by Jackson and Lamb off the bench is more beneficial during a grueling season.
The other "tough" decision is at center—Kendrick Perkins or Steven Adams?
Even though it's increasingly hard to justify playing the former over the latter, Brooks has always been rather stubborn when it comes to Perkins. Don't expect that to change any time soon.
Projected Starters: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Channing Frye, Nikola Vucevic
Notable Challengers: Aaron Gordon
Youth, youth, youth.
The Orlando Magic have made no pretenses about trying to be competitive right away, as their veteran signings (Channing Frye and Ben Gordon) were accompanied by cost-cutting moves, like severing ties with Jameer Nelson, who's obviously more ready to lead an NBA team than Elfrid Payton. Payton should have a strong rookie season, possibly competing for Rookie of the Year, but Nelson is still effective, after all.
Quite frankly, the Magic don't have many tough decisions to make.
Aaron Gordon clearly isn't ready to play major minutes until he develops more of a presence in offensive sets, and Frye's arrival leaves no doubt who should start at the 4...for now. The rest of the choices are even more obvious, unless the Magic inexplicably bring in more veterans to steal minutes from their young guns.
Projected Starters: Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten, K.J. McDaniels, Thaddeus Young, Nerlens Noel
Notable Challengers: Jordan McRae, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant, Henry Sims, Joel Embiid
No team has more notable challengers than the Philadelphia 76ers, and that's not because the bench is brimming over with talent; it's because the starters aren't exactly established options.
Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel can be Sharpied into the lineup. Then again, you might want to use pencil with Young, because there's no telling whether he'll spend time at the 3 this season.
The other spots are just up in the air, and there are plenty of options. For now, Tony Wroten is the most experienced of the bunch, especially because he's put up some monstrous games while earning playing time for terribly ineffective squads. Who else has a triple-double to his credit, much less one in his very first start?
Picking K.J. McDaniels might not be the safest decision, but the Sixers are going to need defensive help, even with Noel protecting the rim this season. Though the Clemson product fell to the second round in the 2014 NBA draft, he's still capable of making an immediate impact on the less glamorous end of the court.
Projected Starters: Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee
Notable Challengers: Isaiah Thomas, P.J. Tucker
The Phoenix Suns finally get to throw out the lineup they wanted to use in 2013-14, assuming that Eric Bledsoe is brought back.
So far, there's no indication to think anything else will happen.
"Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, but the Suns are trying to sign him before he inks an offer sheet for another team," explained ESPN.com news services while reporting the sign-and-trade that brought Isaiah Thomas to the desert. "General manager Ryan McDonough has said Phoenix would match any offer sheet Bledsoe signs."
AZCentral.com's Paul Coro helped confirm this:
The Suns could be protecting themselves for Dragic's uncertain future beyond next season but their immediate priority is to retain Bledsoe (they have rights to negotiate a new deal or match an offer sheet) and bolster this season's backcourt with Thomas as a sixth man.
Note the timing. Once more, this analysis came after Thomas had already joined the team.
Given Jeff Hornacek's desire to run with two point guards, having three quality ones is a need, not just a want. Bledsoe and Goran Dragic should still start, as they did before the former's meniscus injury last season, and the rest of the pieces are fairly obvious.
P.J. Tucker is a starting-caliber player, but according to Basketball-Reference.com, he split minutes between only shooting guard and small forward last season. Without Channing Frye there to stretch the court, the minutes at the 4 will go to Markieff Morris, not the ever-underrated Tucker.
Portland Trail Blazers
Notable Challengers: None
Why mess with a good thing?
Better yet, why mess with a good thing when the challengers are, at best, lackluster?
Chris Kaman is one of the few who could make some noise, and that's only because Robin Lopez is the weak link in the starting five. However, there's a clear talent gap between the two aforementioned big men, and things worked out quite nicely for the Rip City starting five of the past, present and future.
The Portland Trail Blazers' downfall was a bench that couldn't be relied on whatsoever, not the talent level of the starters.
There's no reason to dally here. Let's just move on.
Projected Starters: Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Notable Challengers: Ray McCallum, Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams
Even though Darren Collison is the clear-cut favorite to land the starting gig, he could be given a run for his money by Ray McCallum. The second-round pick from last year's weak and shallow draft has stood out during the summer league, doing more than just posting good numbers.
Chances are that he'll still be the backup, but his progression could be one of the reasons the Sacramento Kings inexplicably let Isaiah Thomas get away.
The other backcourt spot is even more up for grabs, as it should be handed to the winner of the competition between Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Given the Kansas product's one year of NBA experience, he should be the favorite for the job at the start of the season, though he'll have to play much better to keep a stranglehold on that role.
Amazingly enough, those aren't the only noteworthy fights for playing time.
At power forward, there's a trio of options, as Jason Thompson, a healthy Carl Landry and an improved Derrick Williams could all stake their claim. Until something points in a different direction, this is still Thompson's job to lose, though.
Consider the Kings another team that could make significant changes to the starting five throughout the season.
San Antonio Spurs
Projected Starters: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
Notable Challengers: Boris Diaw
The San Antonio Spurs were forced into using roughly 3,678 different starting fives during the 2013-14 season, but that was only because injuries and the need to avoid those pesky maladies kept forcing Gregg Popovich's hand.
If he has everyone at his disposal, he's going to keep using the same starting five that's worked in the past.
Having Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard or Tim Duncan come off the bench is still blasphemous, despite the advancing age of two of the three. On top of that, it still makes the most sense to run with Duncan and Tiago Splitter instead of Duncan and Boris Diaw, as the former pairing helps preserve The Big Fundamental for the inevitable postseason run.
And, of course, the last spot gets filled in by Danny Green, helping provide the necessary floor spacing for the other four members of the lineup.
Nothing new here.
Projected Starters: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas
Notable Challengers: Patrick Patterson
There won't be many changes here, as general manager Masai Ujiri successfully re-signed Kyle Lowry and spent the rest of his early offseason bringing back players rather than adding big names who spent 2013-14 in a different jersey.
Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will continue to form a backcourt that's capable of sending two players to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Terrence Ross will still be the starting 3, even if the team desires a bigger wing and can't exactly count on him for too many more 51-point outbursts. Jonas Valanciunas is entrenched as the starting center, although his development hasn't gone as quickly as the Raptors would've hoped.
The only spot up in the air is power forward, but that's still Amir Johnson's job until Patrick Patterson (or someone unexpected) proves otherwise. Johnson started 72 games during the 2013-14 campaign, and there's no reason to think that number tails off in the follow-up go-round. Especially since he started throughout the playoff run and is still only 27 years old.
Projected Starters: Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter
Notable Challengers: Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Trevor Booker
Will the new rookies earn starting jobs during the 2014-15 season? Not yet.
Rodney Hood, even though he was drafted after Dante Exum, is actually more likely to be on the court when the season kicks off, as he can play small forward while Gordon Hayward shifts down one spot in the lineup and sends Alec Burks to the bench. Putting Dante Exum at the 2 doesn't add enough shooting to justify playing him and Hayward together right now.
Chances are, though, there won't be any changes.
The Jazz still aren't trying to make the playoffs, instead focusing on acquiring assets and testing them out to see how effective they can be. That seems to be the play once more, and it's not as though the two first-round picks will lack playing time while coming off the bench.
Projected Starters: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, Marcin Gortat
Notable Challengers: Otto Porter
Welcome to the nation's capital, Paul Pierce.
With Trevor Ariza taking his talents to the Houston Rockets, Otto Porter still developing and Martell Webster out with a back injury, it's quite clear that The Truth will immediately jump into the Washington Wizards' starting five.
Beyond that, nothing is different.
John Wall and Bradley Beal make up arguably the league's most talented young backcourt. Nene and Marcin Gortat are both excellent—and highly paid—contributors in the frontcourt. There's no reason to expect any of them to lose starting jobs.
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