NBA

Biggest Question for Each NBA Team Before 2014-15 Training Camps

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2014

Biggest Question for Each NBA Team Before 2014-15 Training Camps

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    Will Kevin Love and/or Thaddeus Young be moved in the coming weeks?
    Will Kevin Love and/or Thaddeus Young be moved in the coming weeks?USA TODAY Sports

    With NBA training camps set to open in fewer than two months, uncertainty is reigning supreme across the league at the moment.

    Between the fit of major free-agent acquisitions, potential trades looming, replacing offseason losses and a few yet-to-be-resolved situations for marquee restricted free agents, few (if any) head coaches can feel completely comfortable about where their teams stand.

    All it takes is one offseason injury—as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George horrifically demonstrated during a Team USA scrimmage on Aug. 1—to transform a would-be contender into a potential lottery team.

    While most squads will grapple with an assortment of questions over the coming weeks, each team has one that rises above the rest. How each franchise deals with said issue will have the greatest bearing on both its short- and long-term future.

    Here's a look at the questions that will keep head coaches tossing and turning late at night over the coming weeks.

Atlanta Hawks: What's the Ceiling for This Roster?

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    The Atlanta Hawks are entering the 2014-15 season in a bit of a no-man's-land situation.

    Despite putting a scare into the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in the 2014 playoffs, Atlanta likely isn't strong enough to knock off a team like the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers or the Chicago Bulls (assuming Derrick Rose remains healthy). The Hawks also aren't bad enough to fall out of the playoffs entirely, leaving them looking like first- or second-round knockout fodder.

    Most years, that wouldn't be a bad place in which to be. However, both Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll are set to become unrestricted free agents next offseason, with Al Horford following suit after the 2015-16 season.

    Thus, Atlanta must take stock of its roster and ask itself whether this core, as currently constructed, could be the foundation of a legitimate championship contender. If not, the Hawks might need to silently shop Millsap before potentially losing him for nothing next summer.

Boston Celtics: What to Do About Rajon Rondo?

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    Over the coming months, the Boston Celtics must weigh their options when it comes to point guard Rajon Rondo's future with the franchise.

    Rondo, whom Boston acquired in a draft-night trade back in 2006, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Unless the Celtics have taken major strides toward contention, it's difficult to imagine him re-signing with the franchise, given the success he experienced early in his career.

    Boston's moves this summer seem to imply that a Rondo trade could be around the corner, as the franchise drafted combo guard Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick, then re-signed Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million deal in free agency.

    NBA.com's David Aldridge called Smart "the obvious heir apparent for Boston at the point," which frees up general manager Danny Ainge to "take his time and make the best deal for Rondo he can."

    The Celtics shouldn't sell Rondo for 30 cents on the dollar, especially since he's now a full year-and-a-half removed from a torn ACL in his right knee. However, they should be actively pursuing deals between now and the start of the season, especially if a star point guard suffers a long-term injury this summer.

Brooklyn Nets: Who Will Replace Paul Pierce?

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    The Brooklyn Nets suffered a major blow this summer when Paul Pierce decided to sign with the Washington Wizards as a free agent.

    One year after Brooklyn traded three first-round picks for Pierce, Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett, only the latter remains a member of the team. Now, Brooklyn enters the year with a 33-year-old Andrei Kirilenko at the top of its depth chart at the 3, with Bojan Bogdanovic and the newly acquired Sergey Karasev waiting in the wings.

    There isn't a player in that trio who can fully replace Pierce's value, especially as a crunch-time scoring option. That means the Nets will likely adopt a committee approach at the small forward position, looking to maximize each player's strengths in different lineups.

    Kirilenko is the best defender of the three, while Bogdanovic touted his shooting ability to Andrew Keh of The New York Times. Karasev, who only played 156 minutes for Cleveland as a rookie in 2013-14, remains somewhat of an unknown, and will thus likely begin the season third on the small forward depth chart.

Charlotte Hornets: Can Lance Stephenson Keep His Cool?

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    Lance Stephenson is one of the NBA's most enigmatic players.

    There's no denying the former Cincinnati Bearcat's talent, as he was one of only four players to average at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game in 2013-14. Stephenson also led the league with five triple-doubles last season.

    His extracurricular antics, however, may have cost him a pretty penny as a free agent this summer. Between blowing in LeBron James' ear, joining the Miami Heat's huddle during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and clotheslining Heat point guard Norris Cole, Stephenson "always tried to get under people's skin," as his former teammate Paul George told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears.

    If Stephenson can maintain a level head, he has the potential to become an All-Star in 2014-15 for the first time in his career. With none other than Michael Jordan now watching over his shoulder, ready to keep him in check, he could be on the precipice of a breakout season in his first year with the Charlotte Hornets.

Chicago Bulls: Is Derrick Rose Back?

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    Two years and three months removed from his initial ACL injury, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose appears to be rounding back into MVP form.

    Before Paul George's gruesome injury, Rose was the talk of Team USA's training camp, drawing praise from all corners.

    "I was ecstatic about watching him today," Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after the first day of training camp. "He's better than four years ago."

    "He's been the most impressive guy here," said Syracuse coach and Team USA assistant Jim Boeheim after the second day of camp.

    "I don’t know how much more I can answer that one," added reigning league MVP Kevin Durant when asked about Rose on Thursday. "How different I can answer, he looks great."

    Given Rose's strong play, Bulls fans have every reason to be cautiously optimistic. If he's back to his former self, Chicago will enter the 2014-15 season as one of the top dogs in the Eastern Conference, alongside LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cleveland Cavaliers: With Kevin Love On Board, Who Takes a Back Seat?

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers are just weeks away from acquiring Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. In return, they'll be sending 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and a protected 2015 first-round pick to Minnesota.

    As Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal touched upon recently, the trade raises absolutely fascinating questions for Cleveland. Though there's no denying the Cavaliers' offensive potential with Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving leading the way, their defensive ceiling appears decidedly weaker.

    Can Cleveland expect to out-gun opponents on a nightly basis, defense be damned? Well, as Fromal noted, no team has won a championship without a top-10 defensive rating during the regular season since the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who, like Cleveland this coming year, touted two superstars at the top of their games (Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant). 

    ESPN's Bomani Jones also raised a thorny issue on Twitter when discussing the proposed trade: Which of the Love-LeBron-Irving trio decides to take upon the "Chris Bosh" No. 3-option role? Unless the Cavaliers start playing with two basketballs at once, all three guys can't receive the number of touches they're used to on a nightly basis.

    The trade seems to cement Cleveland as the championship favorite in the Eastern Conference, but the lessons from the 2010-11 Miami Heat shouldn't be forgotten. Even with a tremendous amount of talent, it takes time to build the chemistry necessary for a title run.

Dallas Mavericks: How Will Chandler Parsons Fit In?

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    The Dallas Mavericks pulled off one of the biggest coups of the offseason by stealing restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets.

    With Parsons in tow, Dallas has the makings of a sleeper team in the uber-competitive Western Conference. He proved fully capable of being an elite third offensive option next to James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, so there's little reason to believe he won't find a similar niche in Dallas alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.

    It's the defensive side of the floor that’s the bigger concern for both Parsons and the Mavericks. Rockets opponents last season scored an additional 2.5 points per 100 possessions with Parsons on the floor instead of on the bench, which isn't necessarily a ringing endorsement for his ability to lock down opposing wings.

    Unless Dallas can bring back Shawn Marion, however, Parsons will likely be expected to shoulder the responsibility of guarding the opponent's best perimeter player, as Raymond Felton and Ellis lack the ability to do so. If Parsons remains a defensive sieve, it will somewhat nullify the contribution he provides on the offensive end of the court.

Denver Nuggets: How to Divvy Up Frontcourt Minutes?

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    The Denver Nuggets are blessed with a plethora of average to above-average assets when it comes to their frontcourt depth.

    Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee likely have the inside track to the starting 4 and 5 jobs, respectively, but J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, Timofey Mozgov and rookie Jusuf Nurkic are lurking as well. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have also spent plenty of time at the 4 during their years in Denver (33 percent and 27 percent, respectively.)

    Thus, dividing playing time in the frontcourt will be of paramount importance to second-year coach Brian Shaw. Denver, which ranked in the bottom third of the league last season in defensive rating, must rely upon its frontcourt rotation to make significant strides in terms of protecting the rim.

    Further complicating matters is Faried's eligibility for an extension this offseason. If he doesn't agree upon one by Oct. 31, he'll be set to become a restricted free agent next summer.

    If the Nuggets aren't confident in their ability to retain him—or believe he'll command a salary in free agency that they will be unwilling to match—they could pre-emptively begin shopping him over the coming weeks. Back in June, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported that Denver was dangling Faried in connection with a potential Kevin Love trade.

Detroit Pistons: What Will Happen with Greg Monroe?

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    Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe entered the offseason this summer dreaming of a long-term, big-money deal. Through the first month of free agency, however, that deal has yet to materialize for him.

    According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Pistons "do want to ink Monroe to a new deal," but they're hoping to "keep the number in the $10-$12 million per year range." Monroe's camp, meanwhile, "wants a short-term deal or a player option so he can hit the unrestricted market if he agrees to a lower dollar deal," Kyler wrote.

    In late July, SI.com's Rob Mahoney questioned whether "part of the reason Monroe is still available is because of how difficult it would be to build a contender around him." He has yet to hit a three-pointer four years into his NBA career, and he's not exactly a lockdown defender either.

    Pistons center Andre Drummond expressed confidence to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press that Monroe would "come on home" to Detroit. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it's easily the biggest storyline the Pistons must confront over the coming weeks.

Golden State Warriors: How Much Is Klay Thompson Worth?

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    The Golden State Warriors' refusal to part with Klay Thompson this summer cost the franchise any realistic shot at Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. Now, the Dubs must determine exactly how much they're willing to spend to keep Thompson around past the 2014-15 season.

    As a member of the 2011 draft class, the Washington State product is eligible for an extension between now and Oct. 31. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement by that date, Thompson will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

    The Warriors thus must ask themselves two questions over the coming weeks: How much is Thompson worth? And if he's willing to ink a less-than-maximum extension now, should they pull the trigger?

    As SI.com's Rob Mahoney noted, Thompson's value as a "Splash Brother" and a dogged defender suit Golden State well, especially when he's paired next to the not-so-defensively-stout Stephen Curry. Inking him to a deal starting around $15 million would send the Warriors over the projected $80 million luxury-tax line in 2015-16, however, which could give the franchise pause.

Houston Rockets: Who Will Be the Sixth Man?

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    The Houston Rockets severely depleted their depth this offseason in a failed bid for Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh.

    After sending center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans and point guard Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets suddenly lack any sort of reliable option off the bench. Their returning reserves, Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Donatas Motiejunas, Josh Powell and Robert Covington, combined for a whopping 24.8 points per game last season.

    Seeing as Houston's bench chipped in only 27.1 points per game last season, which ranked 26th in the league, the Rockets desperately need to find reliable production from one of their reserves. Daniels is likely the best bet to step into the sixth-man role, as evidenced by his 17-point eruption during Game 4 of the Rockets' first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Figuring out how to replace the production of Lin (and Asik, to a lesser extent), whether via a star sixth man or a committee approach, should be one of Houston's top priorities heading into training camp. (Improving James Harden's defensive effort, a far more lofty goal, being the other.)

Indiana Pacers: How to Survive Paul George's Absence?

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    The forecast for the Indiana Pacers' 2014-15 season took a major hit on August 1. During a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas, two-time All-Star Paul George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture, casting doubt about his availability for the upcoming season.

    Without George and Lance Stephenson, the latter of whom signed with Charlotte as a free agent this summer, the Pacers will enter the season down two of their top shot-creating threats from 2013-14. Combined, the two accounted for 35.5 of Indiana's 96.7 points per game last year (36.7 percent of the team's total offense), with George leading the way at 21.7 points per game.

    Thanks to George's freak injury, the Pacers' depth chart now looks woefully thin at the 3. Solomon Hill and Chris Copeland, the two remaining small forwards, combined for 5.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game last year.

    Indiana could apply for a $5.305 million disabled player exception if doctors determine George will miss the entire 2014-15 season, but the free-agent market likely won't bring a savior. Shawn Marion provides more defensive value than offense at this point in his career, while last year's Andrew Bynum experience could dissuade the Pacers from bringing in someone like Michael Beasley.

Los Angeles Clippers: Which Third-String Center to Sign?

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    The Los Angeles Clippers' lack of frontcourt depth proved to be an Achilles' heel in the 2013-14 season. L.A. doesn't appear inclined to repeat the same mistake this coming year.

    Early in free agency, the Clippers signed Spencer Hawes to a four-year, $23 million deal using the entirety of their midlevel exception. They also brought back Glen "Big Baby" Davis on a one-year veteran's minimum deal, but he and Hawes remain the only two backup bigs behind starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

    The Clippers wisely don't seem inclined to enter the season with just those four. According to ESPN.com's Jorge Sedano, they'll be welcoming Andray Blatche, Greg Oden, Andrew Bynum and Emeka Okafor for workouts throughout the week.

    All four of those players come with significant warts—Bynum and Oden, in particular, have a laundry list of medical concerns—but any could be worth a veteran's minimum flier. However, because the Clippers used their midlevel exception on Hawes, they're hard-capped at $80.8 million for the coming season, which restricts them from signing more than one additional frontcourt player.

Los Angeles Lakers: Who to Start at the 4?

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    The Los Angeles Lakers face quite the predicament when it comes to their power forward position.

    They drafted Julius Randle with the No. 7 overall pick, then picked up Carlos Boozer off waivers, re-signed Ryan Kelly to a two-year, $3.4 million contract and outright stole free-agent forward Ed Davis with a two-year, $2 million deal. Though Kelly and Davis could play spot minutes at center, they're both best suited for the 4 spot.

    That leaves the Lakers in a bit of a pickle, as they're suddenly overstocked with talented big men deserving of playing time. Randle figures to see major minutes as a future face of the franchise, although L.A. could opt to ease him in slowly as to not stunt his development by throwing him to the sharks before he's ready.

    Sorting out the frontcourt rotation will be one of the greatest challenges for new Lakers coach Byron Scott, who didn't take long before beginning to espouse the value of defense. Thus, whichever power forwards give the most effort on the lesser-heralded end of the court—here's guessing it won't be Boozer—could end up earning the most playing time in the early going.

Memphis Grizzlies: Should Tayshaun Prince Continue Starting?

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    By signing Vince Carter to a three-year, $12 million deal over the summer, the Memphis Grizzlies set the stage for an intriguing training camp battle this fall.

    The Grizzlies' current starter at the 3, Tayshaun Prince, hasn't exactly set the world on fire since coming to Memphis in a three-team trade in late January 2013. He finished this past season with a career-low player efficiency rating of 8.2, by far the worst of any Grizzlies starter.

    Carter, meanwhile, seems to have discovered the Fountain of Youth that the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three has been tapped into for years. Despite being 37 years old, Vinsanity averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per 36 minutes last season, finishing the year with a slightly above-average PER of 15.9.

    Because Carter provides more a scoring punch than Prince at this point in their respective careers, Memphis could elect to bring the former off the bench as its sixth man. If Prince continues regressing offensively, however, the Grizzlies may end up giving serious consideration to moving Carter into the starting lineup in his place.

Miami Heat: How to Move on from LeBron James?

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    Unfortunately for the Miami Heat, there's no easy way to replace a four-time MVP.

    When LeBron James announced he'd be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers this July, he left Miami in a state of disarray. Though the Heat convinced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to remain in South Beach, the days of the squad entering the season as a presumptive title favorite came crashing to a halt on July 11, the day LeBron made his Decision 2.0.

    Once James left, Miami inked Luol Deng to a two-year, $20 million deal, the second year of which is a player option. USA Today's Sam Amick described the signing as Heat president Pat Riley doing "as well as he could have possibly done given the circumstances," which sums it up well.

    Between Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts and Udonis Haslem, Miami will enter the 2014-15 season with reasonably strong options at the 3 and the 4. But since LeBron was the squad's focal point for the past three years, the Heat will likely endure some tough times at first as they grow acclimated to his absence.

Milwaukee Bucks: Is Larry Sanders Worth Building Around?

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    It didn't take long for the Milwaukee Bucks' 2013-14 season to take a turn for the worst.

    Just three games into the year, starting center Larry Sanders, whom the franchise had signed to a four-year, $44 million extension during the offseason, tore a ligament in his right thumb during a bar fight. He returned at the end of December but suffered orbital bone fractures in early February that threatened to sideline him for the rest of the season.

    Adding insult to injury, Sanders earned a five-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy in early April. As SB Nation's Tom Ziller explained, the Bucks re-activated the oft-troubled center so he could serve out the suspension as the 2013-14 season wound down, ensuring that he'd be ready to go for opening night this fall.

    With Sanders entering the first year of his four-year extension, the Bucks now must decide whether last season was an anomaly or a sign of things to come. If they believe it's the latter, don't be surprised to see the young center's name floated in trade rumors as Milwaukee attempts to solidify its long-term core beyond Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Minnesota Timberwolves: How to Adjust in the Post-Kevin Love Era?

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    According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Kevin Love era in Minnesota is coming to an end later this month.

    Per Woj, the Timberwolves will send Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick, the protections on which will be revealed once the trade becomes official. The two teams can't make the deal until Aug. 23 at the earliest, which is the first day that Wiggins becomes eligible to be traded.

    Losing a top-10 player like Love won't be easy to recover from, but Wiggins (and, to a lesser extent, Bennett) should help take some of the sting out of his departure. The two No. 1 overall picks could feasibly become starters for the next decade, especially with Bennett now facing a fresh start after his disastrous rookie season.

    Minnesota will be decidedly worse this year with Wiggins and Bennett in place of Love, but the rebuild might not take as long as some observers might think. Add a top-10 draft pick in 2015 to the Bennett-Wiggins-Ricky Rubio core, along with Cleveland's protected first-rounder, and the Wolves could be back in the playoff conversation as quickly as the 2015-16 season.

New Orleans Pelicans: Who Will Be the Primary Wing Stopper?

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    With Omer Asik and Anthony Davis manning the middle, the New Orleans Pelicans should have one of the NBA's most fearsome interior defenses. Their perimeter defense, on the other hand, will be a major question mark heading into training camp.

    Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the team's best wing defenders from the 2013-14 season, left to sign with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent this summer. That leaves the Pelicans drawing from the likes of Tyreke Evans, Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller and Eric Gordon as their top options to defend opponents' primary perimeter threats.

    Seeing as Gordon and Evans had the two worst defensive ratings of the nine Pelicans who played at least 1,000 minutes last season—they allowed opponents to score 110.4 and 108.7 points per 100 possessions, respectively—that leaves New Orleans in a precarious position.

    The big-bodied Jrue Holiday (6'4", 205 pounds) should have little trouble locking down most opposing point guards he faces, but elite swingmen could pose a significant matchup problem for the Pelicans.

    Since top wing defenders don't exactly materialize from thin air, New Orleans might be forced to adopt a system similar to what Indiana has utilized in recent years—funneling as much action as possible to the interior. So long as Evans and Gordon stay glued to their men, Asik and Davis can handle the rest of the dirty work.

New York Knicks: Where Should Carmelo Anthony Start?

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    The New York Knicks accomplished their main goal this offseason, re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a five-year, $124 million contract that all but guarantees he'll be spending the rest of his prime in the Big Apple. Now, New York must determine where he fits best in its starting lineup.

    Over the past two seasons, Anthony has logged 66 percent of his minutes at the 4, compared to only 32 percent at the 3. He also posted career-best PERs over that timespan—24.8 in 2012-13 and 24.4 last season—suggesting that he's better suited to play power forward than small forward in the coming years.

    It's not hard to see why Anthony experienced so much success at the 4 in recent years. His ability to stretch the floor is a nightmare for traditional power forwards who prefer to roam the paint, and his advanced post-up game gives him an advantage against slower, plodding big men.

    However, even after trading forward Jeremy Tyler and guard Wayne Ellington to Sacramento for forwards Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy, the Knicks' frontcourt rotation appears overstuffed. Carving out enough minutes at the 4 and the 5 for Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich will be one of the greatest challenges awaiting rookie head coach Derek Fisher.

    New York could opt to slide Anthony back to the 3, but that would go against two years of empirical data. Expect the conversation around the starting lineup—and particularly Melo's role—to heat up as training camp approaches.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Who Should Start at Center?

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    Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks has remained stubbornly committed to starting Kendrick Perkins at center over the past few seasons, despite undeniable diminishing returns from the former Boston Celtics big man.

    After finishing the 2013 postseason with both a negative player efficiency rating (minus-0.6) and negative win shares (minus-0.5), some fans began clamoring for the team to exercise its amnesty provision on him. OKC resisted that temptation, however, and Perk responded with a PER of 6.3 during the 2013-14 regular season.

    Meanwhile, Steven Adams, the No. 12 pick in the 2013 draft, came on strong toward the end of last year, finishing the regular season with a PER of 11.2 and 2.9 win shares. Despite playing 53 fewer minutes than Perkins in the postseason, Adams nearly doubled his PER (11.0 vs. 6.6) and win shares (0.7 vs. 0.4).

    Essentially, the only argument against starting Adams is that Perkins is such a net minus offensively—he hasn't recorded a fraction of a positive offensive win share since 2009-10, his final year in Boston—that he'd be even more of a detriment when surrounded by reserves. He's quickly approaching break-glass-in-case-of-emergency territory, although it remains unclear if Brooks sees things the same way.

Orlando Magic: Should Elfrid Payton Start from Day 1?

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    When the Orlando Magic drafted Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 overall pick in June 2013, they immediately made noise about moving him from shooting guard to point guard. They followed through on that stated mission—he logged nearly 60 percent of his time last season at the 1—with mixed results.

    After pulling off a draft-night trade for Louisiana-Lafayette floor general Elfrid Payton this past June, the Oladipo-as-full-time-point-guard experiment appears to be at an end. The two could prove effectively interchangeable when playing alongside one another, but Payton will likely command a higher usage rate than Oladipo, especially once he becomes acclimated to the rigors of the NBA.

    That raises one question for the Magic: As they continue their long-term rebuild, should they throw Payton into the deep end right away? Or, should they start Oladipo and the newly acquired Evan Fournier at the 1 and 2, respectively, at first, helping to ease Payton's transition to the Association?

    In all likelihood, the gangly haired guard's performance during training camp will go a long way toward deciding that for Orlando. If he proves comfortable running the offense, there's little reason to hold him back, but if he struggles, Fournier will likely earn the starting nod on opening night.

Philadelphia 76ers: Time to Trade Thaddeus Young?

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    The Philadelphia 76ers are still in the early phases of a rebuilding plan that coach Brett Brown says will take "three to five years," according to Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com. Thaddeus Young, the franchise's No. 12 overall pick from 2007, doesn't sound inclined to wait that long for something promising to blossom.

    Back in December, Liberty Ballers' Jake Fischer broke the news that Young had submitted a formal trade request to the Sixers. Though the Georgia Tech product denied the report, per Lynam, that hasn't stopped his name from being floated in trade rumors this offseason.

    On July 28, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves were eyeing Young "as a potential replacement for Kevin Love," who appears destined to be en route to the Cleveland Cavaliers later this month. In a radio interview on Aug. 4, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst suggested that the Cavaliers, Sixers and Timberwolves had agreed in principle to a three-team trade that would send Young to Minnesota and could have 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett coming to Philly in return.

    That trade looks dead, but the Young-for-Bennett window could still be open.

    Young has an early termination option in his contract next summer that he is almost certain to exercise, so Philadelphia would be wise to move him this year before losing him for nothing. At this point, it appears as though it's a matter of when, not if, the longest-tenured Sixer finds a new home.

Phoenix Suns: Will Eric Bledsoe Stay in Phoenix?

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    Eric Bledsoe's ongoing free-agent saga qualifies as one of the larger surprises of this NBA offseason. Perhaps due to the threat of the Phoenix Suns matching any offer he received as a restricted free agent, Bledsoe has yet to get an offer sheet from other suitors.

    The Suns reportedly extended a four-year, $48 million offer to Bledsoe, but he swiftly rejected it, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard. Broussard said the former Los Angeles Clipper is seeking a five-year, $80 million max deal.

    Paul Coro of AZCentral.com spoke with "four current NBA executives and two prominent agents" about the Suns' reported offer, all of whom unanimously agreed that Phoenix "made a fair offer to Bledsoe and that he does not merit a maximum-salary contract now."

    In a radio interview on Aug. 1, Phoenix owner Robert Sarver echoed those comments, saying (via Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com), "I think you could argue, you know, I mean some would say it's maybe a little high; some would say it's low."

    The contract negotiations have put Bledsoe's relationship with the Suns "on the express lane to being ruined," a source told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, but there's not much he can do about it. He could decide to accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer, but that's a risky move for a player who missed two months last year due to a torn meniscus.

Portland Trail Blazers: Will Any Bench Players Break Out?

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    During the 2013-14 season, no team's bench provided fewer points per game than the Portland Trail Blazers' (23.6). If Portland is to build upon its surprising second-round playoff appearance, the squad must unearth more production from its bench this coming year.

    The offseason signings of center Chris Kaman and point guard Steve Blake could go a long way toward shoring up that weakness. Kaman averaged 10.4 points in just 18.9 minutes per game last season for the moribund Los Angeles Lakers, while Blake chipped in 6.9 points in 27.2 minutes per game for the Lakers and Golden State Warriors.

    Add those two to the returnees—Will Barton, Dorell Wright, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Thomas Robinson, most notably—and the Blazers bench appears primed for a major uptick in production this coming season. While none of those players seemingly have Sixth Man of the Year upside, the committee approach should work just fine in Portland.

    The starting five of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are more than capable of shouldering a majority of the offensive load. They just can't be expected to carry the league's worst bench for the second straight season if they're hoping to advance deep into the playoffs.

Sacramento Kings: Was Signing Darren Collison a Mistake?

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    The Sacramento Kings made one of the more perplexing moves of the offseason when they signed Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal, effectively closing off any chance they had of re-signing restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas.

    As Akis Yerocostas of Sactown Royalty noted, the Kings' decision to sign Collison over Thomas effectively boiled down to their reluctance to pay the latter his market value. Sacramento was reportedly willing to pay Thomas in the neighborhood of $5 million to $6 million per year as a "super sub," per Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee, but wasn't prepared to match an offer in the $8 million to $9 million range.

    There's just one problem, as Voisin highlighted in the lead of her report: "Darren Collison is not a better overall player than Isaiah Thomas." ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan (subscription required) wrote that "the Kings replaced Thomas with a poor man's version of him; they share the same flaws, except they are more glaring in Collison's case."

    Collison thrived as a backup behind Chris Paul, both with the then-New Orleans Hornets in 2009-10 and with the Los Angeles Clippers this past season. With a $16 million contract now in hand, it's on the former UCLA product to silence all his doubters by having a career year and praying Thomas doesn’t do the same in Phoenix.

San Antonio Spurs: Will Kawhi Leonard Sign an Extension?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Fresh off locking up point guard Tony Parker to a three-year extension, the San Antonio Spurs can turn their attention to the biggest fish of their summer: Kawhi Leonard's extension talks.

    Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hasn't shied away from anointing Leonard as the future face of the franchise in recent years. In an NBA.com fan mailbag from the summer of 2012, Pop heaped praise upon the young swingman, writing, "I think he's going to be a star… At both ends of the court, he is really a special player."

    Two years later, Leonard now has both an NBA title and a Finals MVP award to his name, proving Pop frighteningly prescient. Those accomplishments, mixed with a wild free-agent market, could have Leonard staring at a maximum-salary offer next summer if he and the Spurs can't reach an agreement on an extension by Oct. 31.

    Jesus Gomez of Pounding the Rock explained how this offseason complicated matters in terms of Leonard's extension talks, noting that "the current market climate seems to pretty much ensure a max contract for players like Leonard, unlike what happened when Parker and [Manu] Ginobili reached free-agent status."

    According to Fox 29 San Antonio's Maximum Sports, Spurs fans have little to fear, as "an NBA source is very confident" that Leonard will sign an extension with San Antonio before the start of the 2014-15 season.

Toronto Raptors: Which Third-Year Player Will Make the Leap?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Toronto Raptors, fresh off their second-ever Atlantic Division title, could be primed for their best playoff showing since the Vince Carter days if one (or both) of their third-year players makes "the leap" this season.

    Shooting guard Terrence Ross and center Jonas Valanciunas took major strides forward between their rookie and sophomore seasons, but neither player consistently dominated last year.

    Ross, who erupted for 51 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 25, only cracked the 20-point threshold seven other times, while Valanciunas would go from averaging a double-double one week to recording six points and seven rebounds per game the next.

    If either player—or, ideally, both—can reach the level of consistency that separates the good from the great, Toronto will only improve upon last season's success. Having Ross and Valanciunas as reliable complementary options to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will make the Raptors a nightmarish matchup for opponents.

    Both players are still young enough—Ross is 23, Valanciunas is 22—to make the prospect of a breakout season entirely realistic. The rest of the Eastern Conference should be on high alert if either player begins generating major buzz heading into training camp.

Utah Jazz: Can Trey Burke and Dante Exum Co-Exist?

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    After spending the No. 9 overall pick on point guard Trey Burke in the 2013 draft, the Utah Jazz turned around and selected Australian combo guard Dante Exum fifth overall this past June. Though the 6'6" Exum has the size to play the 2, he told reporters leading up to the draft that he fancied himself a point guard.

    "I see myself as a point guard," Exum said at the draft combine. "I have always played the point guard position and I am comfortable at that position. That is what I am entering myself into the draft as and that is what I want to play."

    During Vegas Summer League, Burke slotted in at the 1 and Exum at the 2 for most of the week, but the Aussie did have a chance to take the reins of the offense when an upper respiratory infection sidelined Burke for Utah's final game. Exum finished summer league with 14 assists and 15 turnovers over the five-game span, averaging 7.2 points in 26.6 minutes per contest.

    The Jazz didn't spend the No. 5 pick on Exum to have him flounder playing out of position. If he can't acclimate to being a shooting guard, Utah could be forced to reconsider the long-term future of him and Burke.

Washington Wizards: What Will Otto Porter Provide?

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    If second-year forward Otto Porter Jr. lives up to his lofty status as the No. 3 overall pick from 2013, the Washington Wizards have all the makings of being a dark-horse Finals candidate this upcoming season.

    A hip flexor injury sidelined Porter for much of summer league, training camp and preseason last year, which noticeably hindered his development. With Trevor Ariza in the midst of a career-best season, the Wizards never relied upon Porter as a major contributor, instead largely restricting him to mop-up duty.

    With a full offseason under his belt, Porter looked significantly more confident in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 19.0 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting from the floor and 38.9 percent from three-point range.

    Though he won't be a lockdown wing defender like Ariza from day one, he demonstrated during his Georgetown days an ability to contribute positively on the lesser-heralded end of the court.

    Losing Ariza in free agency will be a blow to the Wizards, but Paul Pierce should have little trouble replacing his offensive output. If Porter can slide in and help shut down opposing wings, don't be surprised if Washington finishes the season as a top-three seed in a much more competitive Eastern Conference.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics and rankings come from NBA.com/stats, Basketball-Reference.com and HoopsStats.com. All contract figures come from Spotrac.com.

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